Horror Drive-In: A Loving Look at The Monster Squad

I look back at the nineteen-eighties, which some consider the Golden Age of Horror. I was a rabid fan at the time and I continue to be one. There were milestones in the genre in this renowned era, especially, I’d say, from 1984 to 1988.

Stephen King’s It certainly qualifies. Clive Barker’s The Books of Blood brought a baroque aesthetic to horror fiction. John Skipp and Craig Spector’s The Light at the End ushered in a new breed of horror and a new breed of fan. Robert McCammon’s Swan Song would make the list.

Then there is David Cronenberg’s The Fly, a movie that perfectly blended the director’s uncompromising vision with broader commercial appeal. Evil Dead 2 was massively promoted by Fangoria and it lived up to the hype for most of us. Street Trash exploded onto home video and was itself kind of a swan song of urban grindhouse exploitation. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 exemplified MTV-era horror and is arguably the most entertaining of the Freddy movies.

One of the biggest, most perfect moments for me was in 1987. A movie called The Monster Squad was released. Studio advertising seemed to portray The Monster Squad as another Ghostbusters, which I consider to be inaccurate. I don’t hate Ghostbusters, but it always seemed to me to be a horror comedy from people who had no particular affinity or knowledge of the genre.

The Monster Squad was made by Fred Dekker, a dyed-in-the-wool horror fanatic. Those who saw his previous film, Night of the Creeps, were well aware of his influences and his deep affection for horror. Most of us who saw Night of the Creeps loved it. So we were ready.

It was a Sunday afternoon. The middle of August probably wasn’t the best time to release this one. The Monster Squad would have almost certainly fared better as an October release. I guess Columbia/TriStar was hoping for another summer blockbuster like Gremlins.

I was pretty poor at the time, and didn’t even own a car. I caught a ride to a local theater. I was incredibly excited. I sat down in the cool theater and the years melted away. I was no longer a twenty-six year old man, existing in 1987. No, I was nine years old again, sitting in delicious agony watching Sir Graves Ghastly Presents.

I was always attracted to the dark side, but I really came alive (He’s alive! HE’S ALIVE!) as a horror fan with Sir Graves Ghastly. I watched many of the Universal Horror movies on the show. The Wolf Man, Son of Frankenstein, House of Dracula, and The Invisible Man Returns were among the first I saw. They were far, far from the last.

The Monster Squad brought all that back, but it did so with a modern sensibility. ’80s kids (which despite my age, I was), hip to horror, taking matters in their own hands to destroy the monsters.

The monster-hunting kids subgenre wasn’t exactly a new thing then, but it wasn’t driven into the ground as it is being done today. Stranger Things, the It movies, and way too many books have made nostalgic coming of age horror a standard cliché.

The Monster Squad was similar in structure to Explorers. In fact, there is at least one scene that seems to have been lifted directly from the Joe Dante film. That’s okay. Fred Dekker never made any bones about being an original director. His movies are beloved homages to horror and SF movies he loves.

I watched The Monster Squad in awe. It was and is a perfect movie for someone like me. A guy who grew up with classic horror. Came of age with the slasher movies. Who thought that Stephen King ruled. The one who knew every title in the “Horror section” of the neighborhood video store. Who trembled with anticipation for the new arrivals of The Twilight Zone Magazine, Night Cry, The Horror Show, Fangoria, and Deep Red. A boy in a young man’s body who went to the multiplexes and the last remaining local drive-in theater and saw all the horror movies that came out. And liked just about every single one of them.

A guy who dealt with being an adult as best he could manage, but was really a preteen adolescent dreaming about how cool monsters are.

The years have flown by since then. I’ve held on to my love of horror throughout it all. I’ve seen the trends come and I’ve seen them go. I’ve seen the genre go up and down in popularity.

Horror seems as popular now as it has ever been. Even more so. It was once a rare and distinctive thing to be a horror fan, but now they are everywhere. All our hopes and dreams come to fruition.

Yet I have grown jaded in many ways. It’s almost impossible not to. We’re talking fifty years of being a fan of horror. As I’ve grown older, many of the newer trends hold no interest for me. It reminds me of the old fogies who decried slasher movies. Highbrow critics like Siskel and Ebert and Harlan Ellison not only denigrated those movies, but the individuals who made them successful.

When I want to bring it all back. When I want to take myself back to that nine year old who felt exaltation from old black-and-white horror movies. To the teenager thumbing his nose to the world as he watched slasher movies. Who read King and Grant and Straub and Bloch and Campbell and Wellman and Matheson and was transported from this dull, mundane world to places of magic and wonder.

When I want all that, I go back to The Monster Squad. No other film captures the magnificent thrills I had in my innocent youth. There isn’t a drop of cynicism in The Monster Squad. It is pure and perfect. And as my eyes water, as they always do, at the final line of the movie, when Sean says “We’re the Monster Squad!”, I know that I will always be one of them. Until the day I am no longer breathing. And for all I know, even after that.

Editor’s Note: This column’s author may be too modest to mention, but he has a huge new book out from Cemetery Dance (455 pages!) that collects a decade of his articles about the genre, covering movies, books, trends, and other issues that will strike the drive-in nostalgia nerve of CD readers. He Who Types Between The Rows: A Decade of Horror Drive-In is currently available as a trade paperback for only $18.99.

Mark Sieber learned to love horror with Universal, Hammer, and AIP movies, a Scholastic edition of Poe’s Eight Tales of TerrorSir Graves Ghastly PresentsThe Twilight Zone, Shirley Jackson’s The Daemon LoverThe Night Stalker, and a hundred other dark influences. He came into his own in the great horror boom of the 1980’s, reading Charles L. Grant, F. Paul Wilson, Ray Russell, Skipp and Spector, David J. Schow, Stephen King, and countless others. Meanwhile he spent as many hours as possible at drive-in theaters, watching slasher sequels, horror comedies, monster movies, and every other imaginable type of exploitation movie. When the VHS revolution hit, he discovered the joys of Italian and other international horror gems. Trends come and go, but he still enjoys having the living crap scared out of him. He can be reached at horrordrivein@yandex.com, and at www.horrordrive-in.com.

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