Van Helsing totally blew it. Thankfully, within a hundred years would come a time when kids were better at anything, including hunting monsters. In a hundred years would come—the Monster Squad.
Eminently, eminently, quotable, although it may not be quite enough of a cult classic for those quotes to get you very far (I’ve included several below the body of the post). SPOILERS throughout, but, really, Monster Squad isn’t the sort of the movie that can be spoiled. Monster Squad answers the main question on the minds of all kids in 1987—if the monsters from the original classic Universal monster movies were to return and band together to attack our town, could me and my friends defeat them? Of course. This was the 80s. It was Morning in America. (Thanks, Reagan!)
So Van Helsing screwed up and didn’t kill Dracula. Now he’s back, in a random town in America, and putting together a monster squad of his own. None of this is given much explanation, nor is much needed. (Ok, some later, but who really cares?) And pretty soon Wolfman is trying to check himself in to the local jail and 2,000-year-old dead men are getting up and walking away from the local museum. The full list of monsters includes Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, Wolfman, Gillman, and the (a?) mummy. The names of some and the costume design are changed, presumably in part to avoid legal issues.
The monsters are kind of all over the place. Gillman and the mummy look pretty great. Wolfman looks terrible, and only very, very vaguely wolf-like (although the transformation scene is pretty good). Dracula looks like he threw some white powder on his face and the makeup team called it a day.
Of course Monster Squad isn’t very realistic. It’s hard to believe that a group of kids can beat monsters led by a Dracula who can do things like spell his name backwards to hide his identity.
Nor does Monster Squad go in for the sort of innovation in monster hunting that we would later see in, for instance, True Blood. Van Helsing fired a wooden stake from his crossbow (and was so cocky he didn’t even feel the need to reload!). Rudy fires a stake from his bow. (They do weaponize the garlic on a pizza, though.)
Debate rages on over who the worst nerds are. Is it Star Trek nerds? Music nerds? Political nerds? (It’s definitely political nerds.) But of course the best nerds are monster nerds. I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member, unless it made me pass a monster test first. And besides, monster trivia isn’t trivial at all. The only way to kill Wolfman can be very, very practical knowledge.
Monster Squad is kind of the ultimate 80s movie. Or at least a poor man’s ultimate 80s movie. How many great 80s movies have no one who you recognize? The kids are wonderfully mean, which is great. Not because kids being mean is great, but because kids are terrible, and it’s funny. And because one of the mean kids is Wayne from The Wonder Years. Those kids aren’t so terrible that their parents won’t let them babysit a 5-year-old. They’d throw you under the jail if you tried that today. Plus they have a sweet treehouse. One day I want a house as nice as their treehouse. The 80s were a time when kids were better at everything, from fighting Commies to fighting monsters.
That’s not all. What is more 80s than Dracula walking away from the treehouse after throwing a stick of dynamite into it while saying “Meeting adjourned”? “Bogus” is a catchphrase, and Van Helsing throws a thumbs up. It even has a training montage!
The movie is full of callbacks to the original Universal versions (and the scary German guy who is a Holocaust survivor looks like Nosferatu). Including Frankenstein’s monster meeting Phoebe the feeb by a lake. (Frankenstein’s monster also gets referred to as a “walking dead guy.”) This is a Frankenstein influenced not by the book, but by the 1931 movie version. By 1987 movies had a far greater influence on pop culture than books. I wasn’t the only kid to grow up watching Super Scary Saturday, and TBS wasn’t the only station to run that sort of creature feature program. (How else did the kids pick up their knowledge? Rudy is asked whether Frankenstein is the monster or his creature in his entrance exam.) And so Dracula uses electricity to reanimate the monster. He’s got the ill-fitting suit jacket and the big boots. He’s obviously simple, and barely speaks. But Frankenstein has gone full circle. Gone entirely is the malevolent, bitter creature of Shelley’s creation, tortured by the rejection of his creator and humanity. His creator doesn’t appear at all. And he gets redemption for one of the most famous scenes from the 1931 movie—killing the little girl by the lake. He not only doesn’t kill Phoebe, he befriends her, and even saves her at the end. Instead of going from man to monster he goes from monster to man.
“I think science is cool! I dig it, man!!”
“I mean, a priest said ‘man and wife’ and he was ok with that?”
“Wolfman cannot drive a car.”
“Get out of here, Phoebe the feeb!”
“That’s ‘discrimination’ jerkoid! Prescription is drugs, which you’re on if you think you’re getting in here!”
“Now Van Helsing, he’s the one who fights Godzilla, right?”
“If they blew him up, put his head in a blender, and mailed the rest of the pieces to Norway, he would still return from the grave.”
“2,000-year-old dead guys do NOT get up and walk off by themselves.”
“I just want to say three words: Scary. German. Guy.”
“[Frankenstein’s monster] wants to be friends with us. Come on, don’t be chickenshit!”
“Maybe we could be Math Squad instead?
“Wolfman’s got nards!”
“Like really religious, Sean, we might as well go do it at Burger King!”