Synopsis: This heartfelt documentary explores the power of cult film told through the lens of the 1987 classic The Monster Squad and the impact it has on fans, cast and crew, and the industry.
Director: André Gower
Running Length: 91 minutes
TMMM Score: (9/10)
Review: After horror, if there’s one genre that I just can’t get enough of it has got to be documentary features. There’s something about that reality of interviewing real people or hearing a true life tale recounted that produces a similar charge within that I get from watching a movie meant to send chills up my spine. So a documentary about a favorite horror film from my youth? I’m SO there. Most often, these documentaries are relegated to a bonus feature on whatever special edition DVD/BluRay has been produced from a long-lost classic finally making its debut in a restored print. That’s cool and all, but on the rare occasion a behind the scenes insight into a film’s genesis and staying power is created for distribution in cinemas…well now, that’s an event to be celebrated.
In the past several years, documentaries on beloved horror/cult classics have upped their ante with lengthy explorations on the Friday the 13th (Crystal Lake Memories) and Nightmare on Elm Street (Never Sleep Again) series prime examples of those that have exhaustively covered the work. What makes a documentary like Wolfman’s Got Nards so unique is that in 91 minutes it manages to amply cover the highlights of the making of 1987’s The Monster Squad while also exploring it’s unexpected resurgence as a cult classic taught in college curriculum and as a touchstone for numerous genre aficionados from the heartland to Hollywood.
By all accounts, when it debuted two weeks after The Lost Boys in August of 1987, The Monster Squad was a total bomb. Mis-marketed and poorly reviewed, it likely should have been held back a bit longer and built on the success of screenwriter Shane Black’s (Iron Man 3) current project Lethal Weapon, which had been released the previous March. Fading from theaters and the minds of most people shortly thereafter, a core group of hardcore fans held the movie close to their hearts for years. I vividly remember renting the movie numerous times from my local video store; after all, I was the target audience for a PG-13 rated film surrounding pre-teens doing battle against a horde of monsters out to rule the world.
It wasn’t until 2006 when a longtime fan partnered with the Alamo Dratfhouse in Austin, TX to hold an anniversary screening that the film started getting the long lost love it richly deserved. Surprising the cast and director Fred Dekker more than anyone, it kicked off a whirlwind of press and promotion that resulted in the movie making its much heralded debut on DVD and numerous screenings over the last decade. It also inspired star André Gower to team up with Henry Darrow McComas to produce this documentary about the film, how it’s reputation changed over time, and what that shift meant to those involved.
This is one of the best documentaries made about a movie I’ve seen in quite some time. Obviously, with Gower involved there’s going to be some sort of level of reverence to the piece, but even if the original film has flaws that’s not what we’re sitting down and watching this for. It’s also not a straight making-of documentary either. At my screening, Gower and McComas were present to introduce the film and they mentioned it wasn’t a behind-the-scenes or where-are-they-now film and they’re right. While it covers the elements of making the movie (which I was grateful for) and includes tidbits not found on the DVD making of doc, it’s more interested in committing to film interviews with fans and supporters who have championed the movie over time and can pinpoint exactly what about the experience of the film is so important to them.
I was surprised at how unexpectedly emotional it was on top of everything else. One of the most loved characters in the movie is Horace (aka Fat Kid) and the actor who played him, Brent Chalem, sadly died at 22. Many fans, including myself, only found this out when the collectors edition DVD came out and it’s been a sensitive subject ever since. This documentary interviews three family friends who give us a bit more information on Brent as the person while several of the film stars get choked up thinking about what he would have thought about all this newfound popularity of his character. Sitting in the theater watching this sequence, I found myself shedding a tear or two – definitely didn’t think that was going to happen. While it would have been nice for the doc to acknowledge the several key cast members that are also no longer with us (including the brilliant Mary Ellen Trainor, who played Gower’s mom), I do get why Brent/Horace got his own special shout-out.
Handsomely produced with little padding to extend its running time to 91 minutes, this is a blueprint for how to produce a movie doc that’s not just about how the script came together and why the director cast the actors. The interviews with the technicians that worked on the film are fascinating and the amount of fan interviews featuring people from all walks of life was astounding. These types of serious-minded reflections can only happen decades on and I’m glad Gower and company were moved to take the approach they did with this look back on a popular title that continues to gain new fans. I even stayed after and re-watched The Monster Squad for the first time in a theater and was reminded what a fun watch it was…so is this documentary.
Check out my original review of The Monster Squad right here: