Horror. Worldview. Faith.

The Monster Squad – Review

The Monster Squad – Review

Jun 26, 2011

reviewed by hallo
directed by Fred Dekker, 1987

Although not financially successful, Fred Dekker managed to direct two of the more memorable and long-lasting cult horror films of the 1980’s – Night of the Creeps and The Monster Squad.  I recently sat down for a re-visiting of the latter; I was all smiles throughout.

The Monster Squad follows a “club” of children led by Sean (Andre Gower) who gather in a super cool tree house to discuss monsters and mayhem but really have nothing much to do.  Sean sports a “Stephen King Rules” t-shirt most days and entrance into the club is mandated by the passing of a horror movie quiz.  Things begin to heat up for the squad when Sean is given the ancient diary of Van Helsing, the famed vampire killer.  After utilizing the services of the local “Scary German Dude” in order to read the German text of the diary, they realize that a special amulet which maintains the balance between good and evil becomes vulnerable to destruction once every century – and that time is now!  Sean begins piecing local disturbances together and realizes that Dracula has invaded their city in search for the amulet.

In order to assist Dracula in his search for the amulet, he enlists the services of the Wolf-Man, Gill-Man, the Mummy, and Frankenstein.  The race is on between the monsters and the Monster Squad to find the amulet and use it for their own advantage.  Frankenstein is eventually befriended by the young 5 year old Phoebe and turns against Dracula in the search.  The movie works its way to a climatic finish where a portal into another dimension is opened and the monsters are ultimately cast away for another century of peace.

The Monster Squad has several elements working in its favor that help make this a great movie for all ages.  First, the monsters look incredible.  Legendary monster maker Stan Winston (Aliens, The Thing, Terminator 2) had a bit of a challenge when creating the look for the monsters in the film.  Universal Studios owned the copyright to their “look” of the classic monsters.  Thus, Winston had to create a version of Dracula, Frankenstein, and all the rest that both differed enough from Universal’s monsters to keep them out of court but also make it very clear who these monsters were.  He did a superb job.  The classic monsters are some of the best looking creatures in any horror film and they are fun to watch throughout.

Second, the casting for the film, especially the monsters, was excellent.  Tom Noonan as Frankenstein and Duncan Regehr as Dracula provided powerful, near epic performances for these famed characters of legend.  The children are believable and incredibly funny.  The movie provides some classic one-liners, the most famous being Horace’s proclamation that “Wolfman’s got nards!”  As with many movies of this genre type, the group of children are just a blast to watch and provide a reminder throughout that we should not take this too seriously.

Having said that, the film does go into some fairly dark directions on occasion.  After visiting the “scary Germad dude” for help with the text of Van Helsing’s diary, Dekker takes just enough time to zoom in on the German’s arm as he closes the door – on it is a Nazi concentration camp tattoo, a subtle reminder that not all monsters live in the world of the undead.  Also, at the end of the film, young 5 year old Phoebe is picked up by Dracula.  Dekker does not hold back one iota as Dracula screams into her face, “Give me the amulet you BIT**.”  Pretty dark stuff for this type of film.

All in all, The Monster Squad is memorable, very re-watchable, and worth your time.  Sadly, the box office failure of the film, despite the cult following it enjoys today, added to the disappearing of Fred Dekker’s career.

Click Here to purchase The Monster Squad

Body Count Podcast #1108

Body Count Podcast #1108

Jun 25, 2011

Hallo and Danny discuss Super 8, the Wrong Turn series, and offer a detailed conversation on the 1987 film The Lost Boys.


Primal – Review

Primal – Review

Jun 23, 2011

reviewed by Skot
directed by Josh Reed, 2010

Go into the remote wilderness with a handful of happy-go-lucky friends to study prehistoric rock paintings.  Become contaminated in a pond and metamorphose into a frenzied omnivore with a bad case of piranha mouth.  Eat your friends or die trying.  That is Primal, a 2010 Australian picture written and directed by Josh Reed.

Let me perfectly clear.  This is not a multi-layered thinky art film.  But even the flimsiest horror movies suggest certain grander topics.  And for me, that’s why the genre is so terribly interesting.

For instance, what does the title mean?  I don’t want to read too much between the lines, but the word, Primal, seems to suggest that the transformation the characters undergo takes them back to an earlier form of humanoid, like evolution in reverse.

This back in time trajectory is foreshadowed by the opening scene of Mr. Caveman drawing his pictographs (a warning?) on the rock wall.  The journey to a state before human beings domesticated their primal urges is further prefigured by the Range Rover trek of our adventurers into the Aussie jungle.  In literature and film, the wilderness represents untamed dangerous forces.  Consider the Bible itself.  In Mark’s Gospel, it says, “At once the Spirit sent [Jesus] out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him (Mark 1:12,13).” Why the zoological observation about being with the wild animals?  It sets a mood.  When you leave civilization, monsters will get you and bad things will happen.

Physical transformation is a major element for body horror.  We want to know what a human being really is.  What are the limits of humanity?  Where are the boundaries and what happens when they are crossed?  The first person to transform is Mel.  When the others decide that she may have to be put down, her boyfriend is reticent to harm her.  But the clear thinking Last Girl, Anja, tells him repeatedly, “That’s not Mel anymore.”

With Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, we get to see the beast that lives within.  Primal does something similar.  It says that underneath the constraints of our civilized veneer, we are all ravenous maniacs, barely more than animals.

You may think you’ve seen this movie a thousand times before, but Reed does have a few surprises.  At first blush a garden-variety cannibal zombie flick, it develops shades of Lovecraftian cosmic horror.  Sadly, this is a weakness for the movie instead of a strength.

Don’t scrutinize it too long.  The holes in the plot are large enough to walk a camel through.  What is the deal with the pond and what causes the happy campers to transform?  Is it a virus?  Something supernatural?  Why the impregnation?  How does the uber-monster factor in?  I think it just tries to do too much in the last half hour.  Primal is not a great film, but it’s not bad.  It might even be better than I thought.

Click Here to purchase Primal

Super 8 – Review

Super 8 – Review

Jun 16, 2011

reviewed by Danny
directed by J.J. Abrams, 2011

When I returned home from seeing Super 8, I had to fight the urge to look through my VHS movie collection to make sure I didn’t already have it on tape.  It is that much of a throwback to the works of Spielberg and his halo of directors in the 70’s and 80’s.  Add some additional hints of Stephen King, and the overall effect is one of almost overpowering nostalgia.  If that was all the film had going for it, it would be ultimately unsatisfying, but Super 8’s real strength is its characters and their stories, which in the end are far more compelling than the sci-fi horror fiction that serves as their backdrop.

Super 8 opens with a wake for protagonist Joe’s mother, who has been killed in an industrial accident.  At the wake, we meet not just Joe, but his group of friends who are in some ways stereotypical adolescent film characters but ones who lean much closer to the underlying truths of the stereotypes than to their flat shadows.  This becomes more and more evident as the film progresses and we get to see the characters behave realistically to a variety of fantastic events.  I was especially glad to see (as weird as this will sound) one of the friends vomit in panic as one particularly frightening event played out.  Unlike so many genre films, we never get the sense that Super 8’s characters are taking the extraordinary situations for granted.

Those extraordinary events start when the kids witness the spectacular wreck of a military train carrying some unusual cargo.  Pre-release publicity makes it pretty clear that there is an alien on board the train, but I’ll avoid any more details since learning about the creature and its motivations is so closely intertwined with the young characters learning about themselves, and that character growth is, refreshingly, the real meat of the story.

At the heart of those stories is the relationship between Joe and his deputy father.  Apparently estranged before the mother’s death, the father and the son are struggling.  Refreshingly, Joe’s father is a good guy, and he is trying to make up for the past.  For his part, Joe can’t get separation from his mother’s memory, a fact symbolized by the fact that he carries his mother’s locket with him at all times.

This is clearly Joe’s film, but, like Goonies and Stand By Me, it is the ensemble of characters around him that truly make the film work.  It is such a success that it seems ridiculous that it has taken this long for a Hollywood to get back around to this model.  Of course, it takes great young actors to make the formula work, and Super 8 has an abundance of them, led by the stand out performance of Elle Fanning as Alice, a the troubled daughter of the man whose failure to show up for his shift put Joe’s mother in harm’s way.

For the first two and a half acts, Super 8 gets everything just about perfect.  It isn’t until the ending that Abrams’s film breaks down a little.  Clinging so closely to Spielberg’s conventions means Abrams is forced to give us a larger-than-life conclusion.  Here, it is not so visually spectacular to truly impress and, worse still, comes at the expense of not allowing the film’s sub-plots to come to a natural conclusion.  There is a hurried reconciliation between the two troubled teens and their estranged parents and then, “Cue the awesomeness.”  For a film that has spent so much time allowing us to learn about and care about its characters, the rush to climax is especially disappointing.

That quibble aside, Super 8 is a remarkable film and a great time at the theater.  In many ways, it is Abrams’s best movie and one that leaves me wondering just how great a director he is capable of being.

Body Count Podcast #1107

Body Count Podcast #1107

Jun 4, 2011

Hallo, Danny, and Skot discuss the return of Tom Savini, the cheese factor of Bait 3-D, and describe the movies that have provided the greatest amount of paranoia over the years.  This is a fun one.