Before I kick this off, I want to extend a huge thank you to Tromeric for asking me to contribute to Horror with Training Wheels. Guts and Grog is a daily stop for me, and has been for some time. It’s quite the honor for yours truly to be writing a post here. Also, I think this is a fantastic idea for a theme week, and I’m glad to be a part of it.
Being a horror fan and a parent is tough. Being a horror fan and a single parent is even tougher. I know it sounds easy to just wait until the kids are asleep before indulging in a good old splatter fest, but only people without kids actually believe stuff like that happens in real life. When you factor in a full time job, then your second full time job (being a parent), and the exhaustion that comes with both, staying up until midnight, even on the weekends, rarely occurs. Not to mention, having to explain what’s on the television if one of the little ones wakes up and sneaks up on you in the living room. I would rather have to explain porn to my 8 year old than I would attempt to explain A Serbian Film to him.
Enter movies like the one I’m here to talk about, The Monster Squad. This is one of those extremely rare gems that appeals to kids of all ages. It somehow magically manages to be absolutely full of monsters, has a bit of the red stuff, a fairly significant body count, some genuinely creepy moments, and yet still I have no problem whatsoever sitting down with my kids to watch it. It’s a movie that’s been in my life for almost as long as I’ve been alive. I know it by heart, can quote it verbatim, and I still come back to it at least once a year. In fact I think there may be only one or two movies that I’ve seen more times than I have The Monster Squad. It’s that important to me.
The movie opens with Abraham Van Helsing and a small band of villagers raiding Castle Dracula, virgin in tow, making a desperate attempt at ridding the world of monsters by opening up a portal that sucks everything around it into limbo. To do so, they must find an ancient relic, and a virgin must read from a tome in German. Now, one would assume that if Dracula was in posession of such a relic, he might have it well hidden, deep within the bowels of the castle, heavily guarded. Nope, not this Dracula, he’s got it sitting right out in the open, atop a podium facing the front door. Drac’s a cocky fucker like that. Van Helsing and crew manage to get the portal open, however being that they do so with nary a monster around, all they end up doing is trapping themselves.
Fast forward to the present, and we’re introduced to Sean and the rest of the Monster Squad. I tell you no lie when I say that I would’ve given anything to have been a part of something like this when I was a kid. In fact, I still would. A group of friends who are convinced monsters are real, constantly draw pictures of them, investigate strange happenings, watch horror movies, and have daily meetings in their tree house. How do you get to be a member of the Squad? Easy, monster test. I would’ve been in that shit with a quickness. The one stipulation? No girls. This one I might have some qualms with today, but when I was a kid, I would’ve been all about this rule too.
It seems Dracula is searching for the present day whereabouts of his beloved amulet. He’s also bringing in some heavy hitters to lend a helping hand, The Wolfman, Mummy, Creature, and Frankenstein’s Monster. All the classics, and all designed by the legendary Stan Winston. To say they look amazing would be an understatement. I especially dig the Creature, Wolfman, and Frankenstein’s Monster in this movie. The Creature here is a bit more fish-like than the one from the Black Lagoon, but it works just fine. The Wolfman looks about as perfect as werewolves get for my taste, he walks on hind legs, still has tattered clothes on, and has a half-snout. I’m not crazy about full snout, and I hate when it’s just a regular looking guy with yellow contacts and some extra hair around the face. Tom Noonan as Frankenstein’s Monster is spot-on. Frankey has only ever looked better once, and that was when Boris Karloff wore the makeup.
Turns out Sean’s parents are pretty much as cool as he is. His mom runs across Van Helsing’s Diary at a yard sale and picks it up for him. As expected he’s as stoked as any one of us would be in a similar situation, but owning it also brings about the interest of Dracula. Sean first discovers this when he sees a message that he’s gotten a phone call from a “Mr. Alucard” who is interested in buying it from him. And what’s Alucard backwards?!? DRACULA! Oh shit, this is definitely a case for The Monster Squad.
Their first order of business is to find somebody who speaks German to translate the diary. Luckily there’s a really old house in their neighborhood where a man they refer to only as “Scary German Guy” lives. This is the kind of house they tiptoe past on the way home from school, and run like hell if they even get the notion that the owner is watching them from the window. When they muster up the courage to approach the house though, they discover that Scary German Guy isn’t scary at all, and is all too willing to help them decipher the book. Here, they learn of the amulet, and it’s ability to open a portal to limbo once every hundred years to rid the world of evil. As luck would have it, the next day is exactly 100 years to the day of Van Helsing’s attempt.
The first monster to pay the kids a visit is Frankenstein’s. He runs up on Sean’s little sister Phoebe in one of my favorite scenes in the movie, while she’s sitting beside the lake near the tree house. It’s such a great little homage to Mary Shelley’s novel. The Monster ends up not being evil at all though, and actually befriends Phoebe. Subsequently, Phoebe is the first female inductee into the Monster Squad, and they have themselves a pretty damn impressive ally.
The next day, Sean’s alarm clock buzzes, and we are treated to a staple of every single fucking awesome movie from the 80’s...A MUSIC MONTAGE! The Squad’s got work to do, preparing for the big throwdown and midnight, and it’s going to take nothing short of Michael Sembello’s “Rock Until You Drop” to get all of it done. Carving stakes in woodshop, writing letters to the “Army Guys” asking for help, melting their parent’s silverware to make a silver bullet, and all the while Phoebe’s back in the tree house playing dress up with Frankenstein. As far as music montages in movies go, this one is easily in my top 3.
Next up, is to retrieve the amulet, which is in an abandoned mansion on Shadowbrook Lane. The only problem is, Dracula’s already there. It’s this scene that provides us with not one, but two of my most favorite lines in movie history. The first comes when the Creature emerges from the lake outside the mansion, and scares the shit out of Eugene, making him drop his Twinkie in the process. When he returns to the rest of the group, he looks at them and says “Creature stole my Twinkie”. I freakin love it, laugh every single time. I even have the Fright Rags shirt with that line on it. The next one comes when the Squad is inside the mansion and The Wolfman attacks. It’s here that the age-old question is officially answered, does The Wolfman, in fact, have nards. Sean’s screaming at the top of his lungs at Fat Kid to kick him in the nards, and despite his assurance that Wolfman doesn’t have nards, he eventually kicks him anyway. When The Wolfman buckles over in pain, grabbing his crotch, Fat Kid looks down at him and says “Wolfman’s got nards!”. Again, I laugh every single time. I don’t have the Fright Rags shirt for this line, but I do have a shirt I got from Ript that has a picture of The Wolfman from this movie and the text “Got Nards?” at the bottom of it. In fact I’m wearing it right now.
After narrowly escaping their run in with the werewolf, Sean and company finally find and get their hands on the amulet. On their way out though, they’re caught by Dracula, who would’ve easily taken it from them if not for Fat Kid having a slice of pizza, covered in garlic, in his jacket pocket. Ok, while this is hilarious, I can’t help but take offense. I was a fat kid when I was little, and I’m pretty sure that I never walked around with slices of pizza in my jacket pocket. I mean, just how hungry is this fucking kid? Anyway, the pizza horribly burns Dracula’s face when Fat Kid touches him with it, and the kids escape with the amulet.
The Squad converges on the main road outside the mansion on Shadowbrook Lane, Sean and cew with the amulet, Rudy and Patrick have the virgin (Patrick’s teenage sister), and somehow Phoebe knew they would need the help of Scary German Guy, who has conveniently and inexplicably hopped in his Jeep with a four year old little girl he’s never seen or met before and headed out to find her older brother and his friends to fight monsters. Even as a kid this part bothered me. As I got older, I began to wonder exactly what the intentions of Mr. German Guy were with Phoebe. Maybe he would have indeed earned the name “Scary” had it turned out the monsters were in fact, not real. But it’s a movie, and sometimes you just have to ignore shit, and go with the flow.
It’s time for the main event! The Squad decides the church downtown is the best place to open the portal, and as Patrick’s sister begins to read from the tome, Dracula and company show up ready to kick some ass. The police show up, and eventually all Hell breaks loose at town square. It’s the Monster Squad vs The Monsters with the fate of the world hanging in the balance! Will Patrick’s sister get the portal open? Will Fat Kid also have fish food for the Creature in his jacket? Will the Army Guys Eugene wrote ever show up?! Do you really think I’m going to spoil the ending for you?!?!
The Monster Squad is a goddamn National Treasure as far as I’m concerned. There are only a handful of movies I hold in as high a regard as I do this one. In fact when I think back to the Alabama Summers my brother and I spent inside the house on the couch enjoying the air conditioning and watching movies, the three that come to mind the most are Rad, Summer School, and this one. For as much as I loved it, I have spent my life doing everything in my power to get any and everyone I come into contact with to watch it. I’ve never shown The Monster Squad to anybody and they not love it. Sure, no movie is going to be for everybody, but this one comes as close to it as I’ve seen. I’m also attempting to ensure that the legacy of the film continues on for years to come by watching it with my own kids. In fact, it’s my newest Halloween tradition. My daughter is four now, and starting last year, on Halloween eve, I sit down with both of my kids and watch it. I attribute my love for monster movies to my father, and I have every intention of my children saying the same.
Being that the theme is “Horror with Training Wheels” I feel like I should warn any parents out there who may be reading this, and might be a bit more uptight than I am, that The Monster Squad does earn it’s PG-13 rating. There’s a bit of colorful language, most of which is spoken by younger actors. It’s a monster movie, and as I mentioned earlier, it’s pretty damn full of monsters, most of whom are scary. And yes, there are deaths, blood, and even some gore. But most of that is to be expected going into a horror film, and even though it’s one with a lighthearted tone, this is ineed a horror film. Still, if you’re reading Guts and Grog, and if you’re at all like me, you’ll be perfectly fine with sharing this classic with your little ones.
I imagine at this point that I’ve rambled on way longer than Tromeric had intended for me to, so I should probably wrap this up. If you are a parent who is at all into horror, even if it’s just your thing for the month of October, I can’t recommend this movie enough. It’s entertainment for the entire family, and shouldn’t cause any significant nightmares or permanent scarring for the kids. Unless, of course, your kids are pussies. If that’s the case, well, I can’t help but feel like you’ve failed as a parent, and that’s your problem, not mine. Once again, I want to give a huge thanks to Tromeric for giving me the keys to Guts and Grog, and letting me do my thing. I hope I’ve been at least somewhat entertaining, and I sincerely hope you enjoy “Horror with Training Wheels”. I already know I’m going to.
Mitch Reaves is a double-bacon genius burger, and just a little druuuuunk! Check out Tales From the Batcave for more of his awesome.