THOSE WHO WEREN’T KIDS AT THE TIME may not remember Fred Dekker’s extremely 1980s homage to the great Universal Studios horror movie monsters of the 1930s and 40s, but for kids who saw it on cable and rented it multiple times from the video store, it just wouldn’t be Halloween without a screening of The Monster Squad. The 1987 classic is now available via VOD services and to buy digitally and on Blu Ray for your nostalgic reviewing pleasure.
Be warned, it’s not quite the same without the tracking marks of an old-school VHS copy, which is how most people watched it, as it didn’t do very well in theaters. But when it did started popping up on cable, it quickly became a cult classic, which makes sense, since it’s basically The Goonies, but with monsters, guns, and some mildly nasty language.
While it was supposed to be a direct tribute to the Universal monsters, a deal with Universal didn’t work out, and consequently, the filmmakers couldn’t use the designs or names of some of the monsters. “Dracula” and “Frankenstein” are in the public domain, so using those names was OK, but the design of Frankenstein’s Monster couldn’t look too much like the Universal makeup originally worn by Boris Karloff and later by several other actors. Likewise they could have a werewolf that walked around on two legs, but they couldn’t call him “The Wolfman” and he couldn’t look anything like Lon Chaney Jr.’s iconic character.
Sometimes I wonder how much more awesome this movie would have been if they’d actually been able to create 1980s versions of the actual Universal monsters—but as a kid, it wouldn’t have mattered. And we can just try to forget the CGI-soaked attempt Universal made at doing this many years later with Van Helsing (2004).
So here’s the setup: a group of horror-obsessed middle schoolers, plus one junior high kid, band together to stop the forces of evil, including Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula, The Wolfman (referred to simply as a werewolf) and The Creature From the Black Lagoon (credited as Gillman) and a reanimated mummy. The monsters gather in the kids’ suburban town for a once-every-1,000-years ritual (and to find the amulet that will let them do so, hidden in the New World long ago by none other than Dr. Abraham Van Helsing).
While normally that premise might sound like a torturous movie, in the hands of screenwriter Shane Black (Lethal Weapon series, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) it became something memorable and unique.
Despite all their planning and mystical mumbo jumbo about opening a portal to limbo to suck up all the monsters (which they pull from an old journal written by Van Helsing), the kids do a pretty fine job of dispatching the bad guys themselves once they get their hands on some weapons.
The opening of the movie shows Abraham Van Helsing, the famous vampire hunter from the original Dracula novel by Bram Stoker, attacking Castle Dracula in the late 1800s with a band of peasant fighters, armed with a variety of weapons.
At least two of the peasants have double-barrel shotguns and one is armed with what looks like a Webley revolver. The rest have a variety of crossbows and other implements. They succeed in opening a portal to limbo, but the overall attack doesn’t go so well, and we flash forward to the 1980s when things look most dire for Van Helsing.
The leader of The Monster Squad is Sean (Andre Gower) who starts the group along with his best friend Patrick (Robby Kiger), Horace (Brent Chalem) and the younger Eugene (Michael Faustino) mostly as an excuse to geek out over horror movies and monsters. Eventually, Junior High student Rudy (Ryan Lambert) joins the club, along with Sean’s younger sister, Phoebe (Ashley Bank).
Sean learns about the monsters in his town when he overhears his father, Del, a local cop, telling his mom about a man who came into the police station screaming that he was a werewolf. He then stole a gun off a deputy and had to be shot, but the coroner’s van was found empty with the driver dead that same night (we see this first hand as a rather impressive and harried action sequence).
Additionally, a mummy had been stolen from a local museum (lol).
Del’s Snubnose Revolver
After a healthy, but not excessive, period of disbelief, Del realizes there is something more than just criminals at work in his town and comes to the aid of his son.
He speeds home after Dracula’s phantom limo passes through his sedan and finds that Dracula has blown up his son’s clubhouse. He fires a few shots, but you can see from his face he doesn’t expect them to do anything, and they don’t.
Dracula: “I will have your son…”
The ancient vampire then turns into a bat and flies away.
We don’t see the gun in enough light to identify it, but it looks to be a snub-nosed revolver similar to a Smith & Wesson Model 36.
Del comes a little heavier later in the film, attempting to blow Dracula up with a stick of dynamite.
Smith & Wesson Model 15
When the Wolfman comes into the police station, in human form, demanding to be locked up, he steals a cop’s gun and fires a few shots into the ceiling before the young police officer above puts him down with a Smith & Wesson Model 15 revolver, which seems to be the standard sidearm for the department.
Smith & Wesson 3000 Shotgun
Rudy (Ryan Lambert) is the heavy hitter of the club. He uses a compound bow to take out the Mummy (he attaches the end of his bandages to an arrow that he fires from a moving car into a tree…and the Mummy unwraps until he’s just a skull on the road. Why not? “See ya later, band-aid breath!”) and then uses it again later to kill Dracula’s brides (by shooting sharpened stakes from it instead of arrows).
When the Wolfman, who pulls himself together after being blown up by some dynamite, comes at him, Rudy picks up a fallen police officer’s Smith & Wesson Model 15, loads one of the silver bullets he made earlier in shop class (good thing it was a .38), and “Bang,” the Wolfman is gone.
“See? Only one way to kill a werewolf.”
Cue Gillman who enters via manhole.
The Gillman is the last monster left, other than Dracula who is busy fighting Frankenstein’s monster—who turns out to be a pretty cool dude.
While the Gillman is busy crushing cops’ skulls in the street, Horace (Brent Chalem) grabs a pump-acton Smith & Wesson 3000 shotgun from a fallen cop and takes care of the Gillman with a blast to the heart.
“My name. Is Horace.”
Then, finally, the Old German Guy and Phoebe are able to get the vortex to Limbo opened, which sucks up all kinds of stuff, including the dead bodies…and live ones of cops (this local police force is in trouble after this), cars, monsters, and as it’s dragging Dracula away with Sean in his clutches, the Squad leader stabs him in the chest with one of Rudy’s stake-arrows before Van Helsing comes from the vortex and drags Dracula in with him. Even after all these years, I have yet to understand the physics of the Limbo vortex.
The movie then has what is arguably the goofiest ending ever—in a nod to the horror/sci-fi movies of the 1950s (I think) a whole platoon of soldiers show up, with a tank, in response to the crayon scrawled letter we saw Eugene write earlier to the “Army Guys.” So, the implication is that the Army is so aware of and worried about monsters that they deployed based on a young child’s poorly written letter…or that it’s just a goofy ending…which comes before Sean actually poses and says, “We’re the Monster Squad” and the rap theme song specially written for the movie cues up for the credits.
And, just to get you in the spirit, what would an 80s movie be without a serious preparation montage? Check it out below and get in the spooky mood:
Casting Silver Bullets
During the montage above, we get a brief sequence of Rudy in shop class. First he’s sharpening wooden stakes on a large belt sander, and then we see him melting down Sean’s .mother’s silver spoons and using a bullet mold to cast silver bullets.
Did junior high metal shop classes really have the equipment for students to work with molten metal and cast bullets, all while being totally unsupervised, even in 1987? In this town they do!
Also during that preparation montage, Rudy is seen hanging around an archery range, possibly also at his school, and stealing a compound bow and quiver left unattended on the ground. It’s also worth noting the other shooters he passes are all using recurve bows.
We first see him use it to dispatch the mummy, but tying the end of its bandages to an arrow and sticking it in a tree from the back of a moving truck…which causes the dusty dude to unravel from the feet up, leaving nothing but an old skull.
Later, Rudy uses the bow, along with the stakes he was shown making earlier, to dispatch two of Dracula’s brides—well, he manages to shoot one with a stake, and the other gets on top of him to fast, so he just stabs her with the stake arrow.
I didn’t realize it until now, but the bow Rudy is using looks to be a Hoyt Rambo Torque compound bow. In 1985, Hoyt made the bow used in the hugely popular Rambo: First Blood Part II, based on their Spectra model, and then released a version of the Rambo Torque bow on the market complete with logos from the movie and appropriate accessories.
If you look at the lower riser on Rudy’s bow in the photo above, you can see the “BO” of the Rambo logo. This makes sense as Rambo 2 came out two years before this movie was released, and there’s also a reference to Rambo in the dialog between Phoebe and the guys near the beginning.