|Seriously, Who Ya Gonna Call?|
The 80s was a great decade for a lot of different film genres. There are so many great animated films, comedies, action flicks, martial arts films, science fiction, fantasy, you name it. Straight up horror films had, in my opinion at least for the most part, become a lesser entity than they had been from the 20s-60s. They became more about gore and shock value than about telling good stories and providing genuine chills. There were of course exceptions to the rule, as there almost always are, especially when someone like John Carpenter was concerned. Another such player who didn't get the chance in Hollywood that he deserved, but he absolutely delivered on content, was a man named Fred Dekker. I'm going to write a separate piece about him, his works and his tragically short career at another date. But it bears saying that he was living proof that at least in the entertainment industry, the cream does not always rise to the top, as it deserves to.
Dekker worked on several projects before Monster Squad, but this film is where he really came into his own and honed his craft. Released in the summer of 1987, two years after the world was gifted with Richard Donner's "The Goonies", Monster Squad has a very similar feel to it. In fact, while certainly not a ripoff, you could honestly describe this movie to people as "The Goonies with monsters in it". The story (which was co-written by Dekker and Shane Black) focuses around four kids: Sean, monster obsessed pre-teen, Patrick, Sean's skate-boarding best friend, Horace aka "Fat Kid", the awkard nerd of the group, and Rudy, slightly older, black wearing, cigarette-smoking "cool guy". These four fill out the main membership of their own exclusive little club, known as "The Monster Squad", along with it's junior member Eugene (and his dog Pete), as well as eventually Sean's little sister Phoebe. The aim of their group, of course, is to both obsess over monsters, but also to discover whether real monsters exist. And thankfully for the plot, it turns out they do.
|Say Cheese! And yes, The Wolfman does indeed have nards.|
The main set-up is this: Dracula was somehow being shipped, along with Frankenstein's Monster via airplane, and then arranges to get dumped into the local swamp outside of the small American everytown where the Squad happens to live. Dracula is on a quest to revive the Monster, and gathers around him other monsters, such as a mummy from a local museum, a gill-man from the swamp, and a local tormented werewolf, to aid in his cause. His ultimate goal is to capture this mystic red amulet that is the embodiment of good, but once every hundred years, when good and evil are in balance, it can also become pure evil and give Dracula ultimate power. Dracula also turns three local high-school girls into his three vampiric consorts (referencing the original Dracula tale) to do his bidding. In the prologue to the film, it shows Dr. Abraham Van Helsing and his followers finding Dracula's lair in Europe, 100 years prior, and attempting to use the amulet to open a portal to cast the fiend into Limbo forever. Instead, shit went wrong and Dracula managed to escape, while Van Helsing and many of his followers were sucked into Limbo instead. His remaining followers took the gem and tried to hide it in America, in a mansion that just so happens to be on the outskirts of the Squad's town as well.
|The kind of monster you can bring home to mom.|
After Dracula successfully revives the Monster, he sets about his plans. But in the meantime, ol' "Frank" has other ideas, as he is not an inherently evil creature, so he escapes and wanders off into town. As you can see above, he is discovered by little Phoebe, who then uses her new friendship with him to gain her own long-sought entry into her brothers' "boys only" monster club. In the interim, Sean's mother, knowing he's obsessed with monsters, finds him (miraculously) a copy of Van Helsing's private notes, which he is thrilled about, until he finds out they are written in German. The Squad decides to take the book to this old man who they all call "Scary German Guy" (because he is old and German and lives alone in a creepy old house), to see if he'll help them decipher it. In spite of them being terrified that "Scary German Guy" will kill them, it turns out he's a sweet, lonely old man who knows a thing or two about monsters, as he is a Holocaust survivor. He can indeed read Van Helsing's notes, and tells the boys about the amulet and how to stop the monsters that are even now invading their little burg.
|These kids wrote the book on Cool.|
And so, without spoiling too much, that is the plot in a nutshell. It all leads up to an epic showdown, and has a lot of great action-filled (and funny) moments along the way. Dekker showed an adeptness at blending elements of horror, action and comedy in his previous works, and especially so here. I would say, hands down, this film is his masterpiece, and the fact that it went so unrecognized in it's theatrical run is a crime to cinema. But sadly that happens a lot in the film world, so many great movies missing the success they so richly deserved, while often other crappy films see big success. Thankfully, even though I myself never got to see this until I was an adult (yet another awesome thing I missed out on as a child), this movie did find a cult following when it hit home video, and has maintained at least a respectable cult status ever since, even though not nearly enough people know about it to this day.
Sadly, one of the Monster Squad couldn't be at that interview, as Brent Chalem, who played Horace, passed away at the tender age of 22 in 1997. So not to end on a downer note, but I think I'll end this piece by honoring his memory, and the great job he did in his role, without which the movie wouldn't quite have been the same. He didn't have a major film career (neither did any of the kids really), but he (and they) did make one genuinely great, classic film, and that's more than a lot of actors ever accomplish. So go see it, and find out for yourself! See you next time, and Happy Haunting!
|Don't call him "Fat Kid", his name...was Horace. Brent Chalem (1975-1997), RIP.|