My notes on the documentary Wolfman’s Got Nards (2018), which screened at FrightFest.
There’s a throwaway line in this documentary about the 1987 movie The Monster Squad that suggests its commercial chances were scuppered because it came out two weeks after The Lost Boys – which was a huge hit, and perhaps sucked up any enthusiasm for seeing a movie in which kids fight vampires. A jokey moment later on has director Andre Gower, one of the now-grown-up members of the Monster Squad, cut an interview short and storm comically out of the room at the mere mention of The Goonies. This fuels the notion of The Monster Squad as an overlooked underdog, which gained fan traction over the years – through US cable TV rotation and VHS – even as its director Fred Dekker struggled to get past the flop and its co-writer Shane Black moved on to other things.
I’m older than Gower & Company and most of the fans featured in this documentary – which is more focused on the rediscovery of the film than its making – and I gave The Monster Squad a more favourable review than either The Lost Boys or The Goonies, which I didn’t like in the ‘80s and haven’t warmed up to since. I despised Top Gun more, for what that’s worth. I find the kids in The Monster Squad more engaging than any member of the Corey-associated gangs, which has a lot to do with Black and Dekker’s (yes, they must know that joke) saltier, 15-in-the-UK-rated dialogue (just mentioning nards bumps it up a level – though that also served to limit the audience) – but the USP for me was the original pitch of ‘The Little Rascals vs Universal Monsters’. The Rascals (or other similar Hollywood kid gang troupes) weren’t part of my childhood film culture (we had the Children’s Film Foundation in Britain) but the Monsters were touchstones for my attachment to horror as a kid and remain important to me. Given the bungling of the franchise at its home studio in successive botches of The Mummy, Van Helsing, Dracula Untold, etc., The Monster Squad stands as almost the last decent attempt to present the Aurora Hobby Kit pantheon with respect – a Dracula who is fiendish but sharp-witted, a Frankenstein Monster who’s a lumbering innocent, a mummy who comes unravelled in a Scenes We’d Like to See gag (not mentioned here), a vicious Lon Chaney Jr/Oliver Reed-style werewolf and an impressive, non-copyright-infringement Gill Man.
The extras-packed 2005 DVD release of The Monster Squad pays attention to the creatures, but they are less of a presence here – Duncan Regehr (Dracula) and Tom Woodruff (Gill Man) are interviewed, but not Tom Noonan (the Monster). There’s only a precis of the process whereby the Stan Winston studio had to redesign the classic monsters when the one studio who should have got behind the project passed and withheld its IP. The heart of the film for Gower is the Squad, and much of this movie follows him – and fellow cast members Ryan Lambert (the cool kid) and Ashley Bank (the little moppet) – as they attend revival screenings, drop in on fans (one touching scene has them pay a surprise visit to a fellow in hospital who missed their local appearance), talk with academics, contemporary filmmakers (Adam Green and Joe Lynch, of course), genre types who must have been hanging around conventions (Chuck Russell, Heather Langenkamp), visit the Alamo Drafthouse and the Prince Charles, and generally take a road trip (I’d have liked more of them just hanging out – getting the squad back together). A section is devoted to the late Brent Chalem, the sweet-natured fat kid in the group, but remaining Squadders Robby Kiger and Michael Faustino are in the wind. The underlying message is that there’s a place for all of us who love monsters in the Monster Squad – and that’s hard to argue with.
It’s overwhelmingly genial, and segues quite quickly from the specifics of the film, its making and immediate reception to the decades-later story and an embrace of the positive energy of the genre convention-festival-fan scene – since this isn’t a project that wants to touch on any of the downsides of current genre culture. The melancholy is saved for a final word from Dekker, who is grateful for the acclaim but obviously still rues the fact that The Monster Squad wasn’t a hit.