Most people who are fans of the genre started when they were young. Whether they began watching at that age or weren’t allowed to watch, but learned about them anyway, a fascination with horror was born. Like many people, I started on the Universal monsters. Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, The Mummy and others all presented the sorts of creatures I wanted to see without anything approaching the level of gore in modern horror. If you can get kids to sit through the Universal classics, that’s great. But in all likelihood, that’s not going to happen and this why The Monster Squad is a healthy alternative.
Fred Dekker’s sophomore feature—which sadly made no more money than his first, Night of the Creeps—reimagines all of the classic monsters with a sense of 1980’s charm and fun. Sure, many kids of today won’t sit through an ‘80’s horror movie either, but comedies are a different story. Plenty of parents show their children The Goonies and The Monster Squad is a logical next step. After all, The Monster Squad is simply The Goonies for horror fans.
The movie is centered on a group of kids who are huge fans of horror and monsters, so much so that they meet in a tree house and form a monster club. When the group’s makeshift leader Sean realizes that real monsters may have come to town, he knows that adults will be useless to put a stop to what’s happening and decides that it’s up to the kids to take matters into their own hands.
This movie is definitely about kids and for kids, but it doesn’t ever talk down to them. In fact, the treatment of kids in this feature is as realistic and genuine as the portrayals in Stand by Me. It could easily have been a coming of age comedy if it weren’t for all the monsters. But, naturally, it’s the monsters that will make kids want to watch it.
Each classic monster gets a physical update here. It was the 1980’s and practical FX led them to look more monstrous, but they also contractually could not look too much like the Universal monsters or they would be sued. So each design had to be slightly tweaked. The effects by Stan Winston more than handle the job. From The Mummy to the Gill Man, these are some of the most memorable screen appearances of these monsters to date.
Even though the makeup can be as scary as any other 80’s horror movie, kids won’t be too scared watching because the characters are up to the challenge. They know all the rules of vampires and werewolves and such, backwards and forwards, the way that most kids do. Who doesn’t, as a child, imagine putting that knowledge to use somehow?
That, more than anything, is why The Monster Squad is perfect viewing for a kid. It’s the horror fan’s biggest dream. Any kid who likes the genre will get picked on or at the very least told that their interests are incredibly strange.
It’s always great to fantasize a situation in which it’s the monster-obsessed kid who has to step up and save the day when nobody else knows what’s going on. Some books and features, like Salem’s Lot, devoted sub-plots to the idea. But in The Monster Squad, it’s everything.
This movie has everything needed to turn a kid’s morbid curiosity into a lifelong obsession. Whether or not that’s a good thing is up to the parent, naturally, but I think I can speak for most fans when I say that I don’t think any of us are complaining.