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Friday, December 8, 2023

‘The Monster Squad’ 4K Review – Kino Lorber Upgrades Fan Favorite ’80s Movie for a New Generation

With a love of cinema woven into its DNA, The Monster Squad helped indoctrinate ’80s kids to the classic monsters. The generation that grew up watching it on home video and HBO look back on the 1987 film with the same reverence director Fred Dekker (Night of the Creeps, RoboCop 3) had for the Universal monster movies, and now they’re passing it down in a similar fashion. There’s no better way to introduce the next generation than with the new 4K edition.

Conceived as “The Little Rascals meets the Universal Monsters,” the cleverly-plotted film clocks in at a tight 82 minutes. The punchy script by Dekker and Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Iron Man 3) doesn’t have an ounce of fat on it, save for the casual homophobia, misogyny, and body shaming of the time. Drawing inspiration from Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, human characters offer well-placed levity and a bevy of memorable one-liners, but the monsters are played straight.

The Monster Squad consists of a ragtag group of adolescents — fearless leader Sean (Andre Gower), loyal sidekick Patrick (Robby Kiger, Children of the Corn), cool older kid Rudy (Ryan Lambert, Kids Incorporated), timid “fat kid” Horace (Brent Chalem), runt Eugene (Michael Faustino), and Sean’s cherubic little sister, Phoebe (Ashley Bank) — who bond over their mutual appreciation for horror movies.

The club’s monster knowledge is put to the test when their suburban town is invaded by real-life monsters: Dracula (Duncan Regehr, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), Frankenstein (Tom Noonan, Manhunter), Wolfman (Napoleon Dynamite‘s Jon Gries pre-transformation; Carl Thibault after), Mummy (Michael Reid MacKay, Batman & Robin), and Gillman (Tom Woodruff Jr., Alien vs. Predator).

The Monster Squad

Like E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, The Goonies, and other coming-of-age classics of the era, The Monster Squad isn’t afraid to offset its Spielbergian whimsy with a fair share of darkness. Approaching the story from the perspective of relatable kids makes it accessible to younger viewers, but it doesn’t coddle them when it comes to the frights. That sense of danger is precisely what makes gateway horror so effective.

The kids’ dialogue is realistic, warts and all, and even the adult characters are nuanced. The neighborhood’s “Scary German Guy” (Leonardo Cimino, Dune) is subtly revealed to be a Holocaust survivor. Sean’s police officer father (Stephen Macht, Graveyard Shift) and homemaker mother (Mary Ellen Trainor, The Goonies) are given additional dimension with marital strife that plays out in the background. The snappy repartee between Sean’s dad and his partner (Stan Shaw, Snake Eyes) is a precursor to Black’s Lethal Weapon dynamic.

Regehr channels the fearsome menace of Christopher Lee in his memorable turn as Dracula. Frankenstein’s tear-jerking finale puts Noonan’s performance among the best in the classic monster’s long history. Wolfman earns a couple of clever transformation scenes — and, of course, he’s got nards. Despite a frail demeanor, Mummy is the subject of a great monster-in-the-closet gag and unraveling demise. Gillman is underutilized, but the fact that the design rivals that of original Creature from the Black Lagoon is praiseworthy in and of itself.

Universal passed on the movie, crushing Dekker’s hopes of recreating Jack Pierce’s classic monster makeup, but the blessing in disguise allowed special effects guru Stan Winston (Jurassic Park, Terminator 2, Aliens) to evoke the iconic designs while putting his own spin on them. Winston sketched concept art for each creature then delegated the builds to trusted collaborators: Alec Gillis (Aliens) for Dracula, Tom Woodruff Jr. (Aliens) for Frankenstein, John Rosengrant (Terminator 2) for Wolfman, Shane Mahan (Terminator 2) for Mummy, and Matt Rose & Steve Wang (Predator) for Gillman.

In celebration of its 35th anniversary, The Monster Squad has made its way to 4K Ultra HD via Kino Lorber with a three-disc set that also includes the film on Blu-ray, archival extras, and the 2018 documentary Wolfman’s Got Nards. It features reversible artwork: a piece by Abrar Ajmal on one side, and a revised version of the original poster — righting a 35-year-old wrong by adding Phoebe to her rightful place among the squad — on the other.

The film has been newly restored in 4K from the original camera negative with Dolby Vision/HDR, allowing the detailed creature effects to shine with new clarity. Colors are bold, from the vibrant green glow of the hallowed amulet to the red fabric of Sean’s oft-parodied ‘Stephen King Rules’ shirt. The warmth is practically palpable during the memorable shot in which the squad walks off into the golden rays of sunset. While a new Dolby Atmos soundtrack would have been grand, the existing DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 options are more than adequate.

Two commentaries originally recorded for Lionsgate’s 2007 DVD are ported over. Dekker and director of photography Bradford May deliver an informative look at the technical aspects of the production. They’re both proud of the result despite some hardships endured. The second track is a fun one with Dekker, Gower, Lambert, and Bank. Viewers will once again long to join their club, as the camaraderie among the child actors on screen is still present into adulthood.

Previously only available separately, Wolfman’s Got Nards is not just a glorified bonus feature. Gower directs the 88-minute doc, giving it a sentimental touch — although I would’ve liked for him to delve even deeper into his personal connection with the subject matter. It’s neatly segmented into 10 parts: “The Film,” “The Script,” “The Production,” “The Effects,” “The Release,” “The Discovery,” “The Cult,” “The Resurgence,” “The Loss,” and “The Impact.” “The Effects” is a highlight for practical effects fans, “The Loss” is a moving tribute to Chalem, who tragically passed away in 1997, and “The Impact” brings it to a close with poignant fan stories.

Gower sits down with many of the cast and crew along with notable fans and genre favorites like The Goldbergs creator Adam F. Goldberg, filmmakers Chuck Russell (The Blob), Adam Green (Hatchet), and Joe Lynch (Wrong Turn 2), and actors Heather Langenkamp (A Nightmare on Elm Street), Zach Galligan (Gremlins), and Seth Green (It) — who reveals he auditioned for the film. Another important figure is Eric Vespe (then of Ain’t It Cool News, now co-host of The Kingcast), who hosted a reunion screening in 2006 that made Dekker and company aware of the film’s rapid fanbase and eventually led to the push for the film’s DVD debut.

The Monster Squad

Monster Squad Forever, a 2007 retrospective with the cast and crew, is also included. Newly tightened up by director Michael Felsher (Just Desserts: The Making of Creepshow), it now clocks in at 74 minutes instead of 88. It consists of five parts: “The Monster Master,” delving into the project’s origins; “The Monster Makers,” about the special effects; “The Monsters and the Squad,” dedicated to the cast; “Lights, Camera, Monsters,” detailing the production and scoring; and “Monster Mania,” exploring the film’s legacy.

A lot of information is repeated between the commentaries and the documentaries, but each one offers different perspectives. Other special features include: an on-set interview with Noonan in character discussing Frankenstein’s career; 13 deleted/extended scenes; a storyboard-to-scene comparison of Mummy’s final encounter with the squad; a gallery of stills, lobby cards, and artwork; two TV spots; and the theatrical trailer.

At its core, The Monster Squad is a movie about outsiders. Frankenstein’s monster is the archetypal misunderstood monster. The squad members are motley misfits; even Rudy, who’s portrayed as the epitome of cool, hangs out with younger kids. Scary German Guy is ostracized by his community. The film itself is a maverick; a flop upon release that nearly tanked Dekker’s career is now a beloved cult classic. The evergreen feeling of being the “other” and searching for belonging allows The Monster Squad to continue to resonate after 35 years.

The Monster Squad is available now on 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray.

The post ‘The Monster Squad’ 4K Review – Kino Lorber Upgrades Fan Favorite ’80s Movie for a New Generation appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.



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