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Oh how I’ve been waiting for this one, and oh how I thought the day would never come. Understanding that we’re right around ten years into the format’s existence and a time when virtually everything and anything has been released in one form or another I’d all but given up hope on a few of my childhood favourites ever coming to DVD, but here it is—Fred Dekker’s The Monster Squad—and you won’t find a happier camper anywhere this summer.

The Monster Squad
For the uninitiated who didn’t grow up in the 80s and never got a chance to see it, the basic storyline is pretty simple and straight forward stuff. A group of kids are into monsters and horror movies in a big way and spend all of their time going over how to kill various beasts and baddies and dreaming up new ones. They get more than they bargain for though when their paths cross that of Dracula himself—along with his minions The Mummy, The Gillman, The Wolfman, and Frankenstein’s Monster—in a battle over an amulet that in the bloodsucker’s hands could plunge the world into eternal darkness, but in the hands of good could send the forces of evil into Limbo forever. Like I said it’s pretty simple and straight forward stuff.

I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that The Monster Squad is the absolute greatest movie ever to put to film, because it’s certainly not. It has more faults than weaknesses to be sure, and a lot of my wanting it on DVD has a lot to do with the fact that I recall watching it over and over again as a child to the point where buying it probably would have been cheaper than asking mom to rent it every week for a solid four-months straight and it’s been a really long wait for the DVD to finally get here. It goes without much saying then that the strong nostalgia factor and the fact that we all really want what we can’t have has definitely played a part in my love for the flick over the years.

The Monster Squad
The Monster Squad suffers from a really contrived plot that relies way too much on total coincidence, a problem that always existed in the big monster mashups of the 1940s and more recently Universal’s Van Helsing. Getting all of these monsters together, giving them all a reason to be, and wrapping some sort of plot around that idea is something that like so many before it the movie never really pulls off quite well. I’m still not even sure what the purposes of the Mummy and Gillman actually are besides tormenting one kid in particular by hiding in his closet and stealing his snack cakes. Throw in some bad dialogue here and there, some scenes that really don’t fit or make much sense, and the dreaded trappings of films of the 80s like the obligatory montage and you get a movie that by all rights shouldn’t hold up some twenty-years later.

Maybe part of its lasting appeal is because it’s precisely the type of movie that the PG-13 rating was made for back when it wasn’t looked upon as a way to tone down movies that have every right being R-rated in the first place to increase marketing numbers. The set up—which is basically a riff on The Little Rascals squaring off against The Universal Monsters—is cute and played for laughs on one hand and played straight and for frights that might be too intense for the younger set on the other. The kids cuss, smoke, and do all sorts of other non-politically correct things in between their cuteness, and Dracula goes around doing nasty things like trying to blow them up with dynamite and threatening a five-year-old girl by calling her “a bitch”. Maybe it’s appeal comes from the fact that Stan Winston’s creature shop did all of the work on the monsters themselves, and their take on Universal’s most popular scream characters are frightening and hold up pretty darn good even today. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s because Wolfman’s got nards and the The Monster Squad’s just plain, silly fun to begin with.

Part of me wanted to write this review of the movie itself like the opinionated, intelligent adult I imagine myself to be and considering the time at which the film was made award it a five out of ten, but apparently the eleven-year-old who watched it countless times on video and cable isn’t having any of that and has even gone so far as to kick me repeatedly in the shins and threatened to not be my friend anymore if I don’t award it a solid ten out of ten. He is willing to compromise though, and seeing as my legs are getting pretty banged up and I don’t want to lose him as a friend I’ll go ahead and give The Monster Squad the middle ground with a seven out of ten. Hopefully the eleven-year-old won’t notice that seven is a little less than exactly between five and ten, but he never was good at math anyways.

The Monster Squad
Video
One of the real joys of this DVD package is that outside of an incredibly hard to find Japanese laserdisc this is the first time that The Monster Squad has been presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio on home video, and the resulting anamorphic transfer is a good one to boot. There are hardly any artefacts that pop up from dirt or debris on the source print and the video has been allotted a decent bit rate so that the transfer to DVD-Video itself doesn’t suffer from too many problems such as compression artefacts or edge enhancement. The whole film is given sort of a soft look with vibrant colours when appropriate, and the DVD does a nice job of keeping these things intact. The closest I’d previously been to seeing the film in its original aspect ratio was when the Monsters HD channel began running it a while back at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, so it’s a real treat to now see the film as it was originally intended. Overall the movie could have used a little bit more work on the re-mastering side of things as this isn’t a perfect transfer, but it’s a good one to be sure.

Audio
Lionsgate Home Entertainment has provided viewers with the choice of either a newly re-mastered Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track or the film’s original Dolby 2.0 Stereo Surround audio track on the DVD, and The Monster Squad has never sounded better. There aren’t any glaring defects to be found anywhere in either track, and there’s some nice effects thrown in here and there on the newly re-mastered one that might send a shiver down your spine. The sound field on the 5.1 track isn’t separated as much as you’ll find while watching more recent movies, but that’s to be expected since it was never intended for that format in the first place. The inclusion of the film’s original audio is a welcome addition to the package for you purists out there, and honestly it’s my preferred track for enjoying the movie simply because that’s how I heard it growing up.

The Monster Squad
Extras
The Monster Squad’s wait for DVD immortality has been a long one, and I’m sure I’m not alone when I say it represents The Holy Grail as far as DVDs are concerned for many children of the 80s. Fittingly, Lionsgate has made a two-disc set that lives up to expectations with plenty of special features spread throughout.

On disc one of the set you’ll find two audio commentaries—the first featuring writer and director Fred Dekker along with Monster Squad members Andre Gower (Sean), Ryan Lambert (Rudy), and Ashley Bank (Phoebe) and a second with Fred Dekker and director of photography Bradford May. Both tracks are entertaining and offer up a lot of information on the film with the first focusing more on the kid’s perspective of the shoot and the second leaning more towards the technical aspects of the film overall, which brings a nice balance of facts about The Monster Squad to light.

Moving on the disc two of the set the first option available is the five-part retrospective “Monster Squad Forever!”, which is presented in anamorphic widescreen with a running time of right around 88-minutes. Here you get interviews from a number of folks involved in making the film such as Fred Dekker, Producer Jonathan A. Zimbert, Composer Bruce Broughton, Tom Woodruff Jr., and Bradford May just to name a few, along with cast members Duncan Regehr (Dracula), Tom Noonan (Frankenstein), and Squad members Gower, Lambert, and Bank. It’s in this retrospective that the real meat and potatoes of the set’s information comes from as the documentary covers all aspects of the production starting off with the creative process and moving on towards the filming and marketing of the picture, while finally ending on reflections of the film’s status as a cult classic and it’s revival over the past few years. It’s all good stuff to be sure with plenty of anecdotes and inside information shared across the board.

The next feature is an oddball one of sorts as Tom Noonan gives an interview as Frankenstein’s Monster in a featurette entitled, “A Conversation With Frankenstein”. In this vintage piece, Frankenstein answers all of the burning questions that enquiring minds want to know, such as why he has such a bad reputation with children and what future movie projects he’d like to work on. Sure it’s a pretty corny piece of material, but it’s all in good fun and worth a look.

The rest of the features are rounded out by a series of deleted scenes—mostly revolving around the parents and their marital difficulties—that are nice addition, an animated storyboard sequence of the Squad's confrontation with The Mummy, a stills gallery with a good selection of on-set photographs, production stills, and lobby cards, the movie’s theatrical trailer, a television commercial, and promotional spots for other Lionsgate releases. Overall, there isn’t much more that could have been packaged with the film, and Lionsgate has made sure that this special edition really is something special.

The Monster Squad
Overall
Before I sat down to comb over the audio commentaries or any of the other special features in the set I went ahead and popped The Monster Squad in to watch with my seven-year-old, and he seemed to enjoy it as much as I did nearly twenty years ago. After the movie was over he wanted to watch it again, and if it weren't already two-hours past his bedtime I might have been obliged to have another go at it with him. There’s definitely something to be said for that, and even though there are a lot of things I could say to criticize the movie the fact remains that it’s still an entertaining little film that I’m thrilled can now take its rightful place on my shelf alongside other childhood favourites such as Flash Gordon and the spot I have reserved for Rad. As far as the two-disc set goes Lionsgate has made the long wait for the The Monster Squad’s DVD release well worth it with a nice presentation and the inclusion of some great extras that any fan will thoroughly enjoy.

Overall, it’s safe to say you can pitch all of your old, VHS tapes and bootleg DVD copies out the window— The Monster Squad has finally come home.


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