One hundred years after Abraham Van Helsing and allies fail to annihilate Dracula, the vampire arrives in a small American town looking for an amulet that, if destroyed at the prescribed moment, will usher in a reign of darkness. Recruited to aid in this project are versions of the Wolfman, the Frankenstein Monster, the Mummy and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Opposing Dracula is the titular Monster Squad, a group of monster-crazy boys and one very little (and very adorable) sister, who befriends the Monster.
I first caught this film during its original theatrical run, and enjoyed it then. Twenty years later, it looks even better. This is the kind of movie that Stephen Summers (The Mummy, Van Helsing) evidently thinks he is making, even though he is utterly unable to do so. Director Fred Dekkerâ€™s acknowledged model is Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, and as in that film, the monsters are treated with respect, remaining figure of fear, not of fun. There is much humour in the film, but the stakes are real. There is a sense that the battles could have a real cost to them (and when the monsters attack, people do actually die). There are also enormously poignant, heartfelt moments (when was the last time you teared up at a Summers film?). The special effects have aged somewhat, but have accrued all the more charm for that. Dekkerâ€™s love of the classic Universal films imbues every frame, right down to replicating the out-of-place armadillos and phony-looking bats from the original Dracula. This is, from top to bottom, the dream of every classic monster fan made flesh.
The original 2.0 is on offer, along with a new 5.1 mix. While the gesture of the new soundtrack is a nice one, it remains little more than that: a gesture. The score sounds terrific, and it is what feels most fleshed out in the surround department, though it does suffer from an odd hiccup at the moment of layer change. Otherwise, there is very little by way of environmental effects. The dialogue sounds fine, though its age is signalled by a slightly flat sound.
Reds are a bit of a problem here, with scenes tinted that colour looking soft and losing definition. The blacks, however, are terrific, and the colours are generally very strong. Grain is minimal outside of the red sequences, and the contrasts are excellent. By and large, the film doesnâ€™t look twenty years old, and seeing its 2.35:1 format for the first time since its theatrical release will please many a fan.
Disc 1 has two commentary tracks. Dekker is joined on the first by cast members Andre Gower, Ryan Lambert and Ashley Bank, while on the second he hooks up with DP Bradford May. Some repetition is inevitable between the two, and the latter track is the more informative of the two. Disc 2 has an 87-minute, 5-part documentary charting the origins of the film through to its cult revival. This is easily the meatiest of the extras, and is very engaging. What few deleted scenes there were are included here (though footage for an excised part of the prologue has been lost). Thereâ€™s an animated storyboard of the final battle with the Mummy. The still gallery is scored, and thereâ€™s a fun interview from 1986 with Tom Noonan remaining in character as the Frankenstein Monster. Finally, thereâ€™s the theatrical trailer, the TV spot, and some previews.
A love letter both to classic monsters and to their fans, this is a film that is getting better with every passing year.