Tuesday, July 31, 2007

THE MONSTER SQUAD

After two decades of grotesquely panned and scanned, grainy VHS dupes and late night/early morning pay cable airings, Fred Dekker’s heartfelt valentine to the Universal monster films of Hollywood’s Golden Age, THE MONSTER SQUAD (1987), finally makes its way to the digital format with a beautiful, 2-disc 20th Anniversary Edition from Lions Gate.

Best described as "The Little Rascals (or The Goonies) meet The Universal Monsters," THE MONSTER SQUAD tells of a group of 80’s kids who must save the world when Count Dracula, The Frankenstein Monster, a werewolf, a mummy and the Creature from the Black Lagoon’s clone show up in their small Southern bayou town in search of a magic amulet. The amulet is the key to keeping Good & Evil in cosmic balance, and Drac wants to tip the scales.

A charming, somewhat Spielbergian family film, SQUAD features a top-notch cast of talented young and veteran actors, fantastic monster make-ups by Stan Winston (PREDATOR) and his crew, a superior musical score by the underrated Bruce Broughton (SILVERADO), and a funny, yet suspenseful script by director Dekker and a young Shane Black (LETHAL WEAPON, LAST BOY SCOUT), filled with quotable dialogue and memorable moments.

For fans of classic horror, the movie is a treasure trove of references and homage – armadillos inexplicably haunt Dracula’s castle, just as they did in the 1931 Tod Browning DRACULA, the Monster first encounters little Phoebe (Ashley Bank) at the side of a pond, evoking strong memories of Boris Karloff and his doomed playmate in the original FRANKENSTEIN – but more than that, the film treats the classic creatures with respect and allows them to be scary. Most notable, perhaps, is Duncan Regehr’s Dracula, who combines Christopher Lee’s imperiousness with Lugosi’s reptilian menace, in a portrayal that ranks among the undead Count’s finest.

Lions Gate new 20th Anniversary Edition DVD is a 2-disc package. Disc 1 contains a gorgeous, 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer from pristine source material, and a new, 5.1 Dolby Surround mix. This disc also includes two commentary tracks. On the first, Dekker sits with cast members Andre Gower ("Sean"), Ryan Lambert ("Rudy") and Ashley Bank ("Phoebe") for an anecdote-filled, trip down memory lane. On the second, Director of Photography Bradford May joins Dekker for a more technically informative audio commentary.

The second disc is dominated by "Monster Squad Forever," a five-part documentary that recounts the making of the film and it’s slow rise to cult status, with extensive interviews with crew and cast. A lot is covered here, including the studio’s concerns over the kids’ occasional use of expletives, the difficulty in marketing the film back in ’87, and the disappointing downward arc of writer/director Fred Dekker’s filmmaking career. It’s a great, nostalgic documentary, filed with fascinating anecdotes. Disc 2 also includes a few deleted scenes, the original theatrical trailer and TV Spots, a still gallery, and a "Conversation with Frankenstein" – an amusing interview with actor Tom Noonan in the Frankenstein Monster make-up, conducted during the original filming. It’s cute, but runs a little too long.

I’ve been a dedicated fan of this flick for years, and I’m grateful to Lions Gate for finally bringing it to DVD in a well-produced, thoughtful special edition. They’ve really treated the film well, and I cannot recommend this set – and this movie – more highly.

BUY: The Monster Squad (Two-Disc 20th Anniversary Edition)