Today's Pick: The Monster Squad (1987)
Sean (Andre Gower) is the leader of a group of outcast kids who meet together in a treehouse and call themselves The Monster Squad, because of their love for the classic movie monsters. However, their knowledge is about to be put to real world use when Dracula (Duncan Regehr) rises from the grave and reunites all of his creature compatriots to take over the world once and for all.
It's always hard to consider how to get kids into horror films. On one hand, you don't want to sugarcoat things and have them watch some milquetoast kiddie fodder (I'm looking at you, Halloweentown), but you don't want to traumatize them right out of the gate with The Exorcist or anything. The Monster Squad manages to land perfectly in the middle of being kid-friendly but not in a demeaning way. There's still blood and bad words, but not in such a degree that kids probably aren't already aware of by the time they see the film. It doesn't hurt that the movie is lots of fun, but never at the expense of the monsters (except for one classic moment).
Not only does this film reunite almost all of the classic Universal monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, the Wolf-Man, the Mummy and the Gill-Man), but it redesigns them in ways that feel fresh but still true to their original incarnations. It's also really cool to see all the monsters together, something that never occurred during the classic cycle of monster movies. All of the monster performers do great work and show why these characters will never go out of style.
But, the real heart of the film is the titular Monster Squad. The kids are such a believable bunch of misfits that any lifelong horror fan can't help but see a little bit of themselves in them. Their scene discussing how to kill a werewolf feels like a conversation you had with your friends at least once. The other big sell of the film is the effects. you can tell that they spent their budget wisely on getting great creature design (including the legendary Stan Winston) and special effects work. It's definitely a great example of practical effects.
But, like I said earlier, this isn't some Casper Meets Wendy cookie cutter crap. The monsters are played as serious threats and there are moments of genuine terror throughout. However, this is perfectly offset with a childish sensibility. The most classic part of the film is when one of the kids is trying to escape from the Wolf-Man and gives him a swift kick to the groin, causing him to howl in pain. This leads to the infamous line, "Wolf-Man's got nards." That's the kind of mindset The Monster Squad has, alleviating the horror with juvenile pleasure. That's what being a goofy horror fan is all about.
Let's see, for tomorrow's pick, I'm thinking we watch a really good slasher movie. ...Wait a minute, it's a really good slasher movie that's a straight-up comedy? That should be fun!