A Little Bit of Sentimentality, or The Waiting is the Knardest Part
By Desmond Reddick
16 October 2006 — It's 1987. Let me set the scene: The Iran-Contra was cooling down. The Unabomber was blowing up. Rudolf Hess was found dead in his prison cell two months after Ronald Reagan challenged Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down that wall." In a show of stunningly poor judgment, the British people elected Margaret Thatcher to Prime Minister... for the third time (you Brits are gluttons for punishment). The world's stock markets and the Peruvian soccer team's airplane plummeted while the world's population rose to a nice, round five billion.
Why the preamble? Well, I've got a loose word count I'm trying to match each week and, more importantly, I wanted to let you folks know what was going on in the world the year my life changed. I had watched horror movies prior to 1987, but I don't think that I was particularly cultured until one fateful day.
I was seven years old and deeply steeped in 80s slashers. My enabling mother would take me to the local video store and, while she picked out what we'd all watch together as a family, I spent the time walking up and down the horror aisle looking for what appealed to me. I generally picked things with cool covers (often a mistake when renting horror films) or films that, in a slightly clandestine way, looked like they may contain boobies. Boobies are a fascinating thing to a seven year old.
A film caught my eye. The cover promised monsters I was familiar with through television, comic books and those cheesy movie monster digest books one could buy from the school's book fair. The cover also promised kids. Kids fighting monsters! Even better, they had a name like a street gang: The Monster Squad!
I was so young and naïve when I watched this that when the movie transitioned from the past (a great opening with Van Helsing) to the present and the subtitle says "Present Day" I got pissed off. I was pissed off because American kids got to celebrate a holiday based solely on presents in what appeared to be the springtime. And worst of all, the darn Americans in the movie didn't even seem happy!
Essentially, the classic Universal Monsters resurface and it's up to a group of rag tag kids and a creepy German guy to bring them down. The monsters consist of Dracula, Dracula's three brides, the Wolfman (whom, as we discover, has knards), Frankenstein's monster and the Creature (of Black Lagoon fame). The monsters resurface in our time, on Present Day no less, and wreak havoc. Only the children know what's going on because adults, in their infinite wisdom, don't believe them.
I could talk about Monster Squad for pages upon pages but the real point is that this movie did something no other movie could: it opened my eyes to an entirely different world of cinema. I sought out the original Universal Monster movies, even the bad ones. I devoured them and became entranced with their leading men. Bela Lugosi and his mesmerizing gaze. Lon Chaney, Jr. and his soft but mysterious good looks. And Boris Karloff with his quiet sadness. I wanted to be them like kids want to be astronauts and basketball players. After all, why couldn't I star as Dracula in a black and white film? I never connected with the Invisible Man or the Creature (not really a sea monster guy if it has nothing to do with Lovecraft), but the aforementioned stars kept me entranced. I even loved their subpar sequels with the exception of The Bride of Frankenstein (which I believe to be even better than its predecessor). I loved that they seemed to all belong in some surreal, self-contained universe where trees were craggy and lightning struck... a lot. An appreciation for old horror movies is not the only thing I was granted.
When my grandfather discovered I was watching films he watched when he was a kid, he threw other genres at me. Gramps introduced me to John Wayne's Westerns and to film noir. I devoured these. Cagney, Bogart, Lorre and Welles took their rightful place beside the great Universal Monster stars in my idealistic mind. I was the only 10 year old I knew whose favorite film was Angels with Dirty Faces. Touch of Evil still stands as my favorite today.
These movies brought me closer to Gramps, whose war stories and tales of beating up zoot suiters were even more entertaining than the films he introduced to me. He passed away a few years ago but I can still remember some of his interjections at certain points during the films. I looked at him in confusion back then; I laugh hysterically now. Bela Lugosi's "Who farted?" pose and Lon Chaney, Jr.'s "constipated look" make the slight campiness of the Universal films hysterical even today. The best was the way he'd shush me (or whoever else was in the room) right before the scare or the gunfight. He didn't want me to miss the best parts.
And for all this I thank you Monster Squad. Now if only Sony Pictures would release this on DVD. That's the hardest part, waiting to relive these memories.