Ever since those fateful Easter weekend screenings of The Monster Squad at Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas, in 2006, André Gower and Ryan Lambert – who played Sean and Rudy, respectively – have had plenty to do. Coming directly from a 17-day tour that encompassed visiting 17 Alamo Drafthouse theaters across America, their efforts have finally brought them to the cinematic oasis that is the Prince Charles Cinema in London, England.
Located just off Leicester Square, the Prince Charles Cinema has long been known for its eclectic selection of cult films and classics, and it therefore seemed like the perfect location for a 30th anniversary screening. In keeping with the film’s recent surge in the popularity that prompted the Alamo Drafthouse tour, the queue of excited fans snakes its way around the corner from the entrance at Leicester Place into Lisle Street, extending far down the latter. With their trusty documentary crew in tow, Lambert and Gower walk along the long, winding queue to greet people and ensure that no one has mistaken this for the queue for the 30th anniversary screening of Dirty Dancing, which is playing at one of the large cinemas in Leicester Square.
Having gained a significant and very dedicated following of fans both young and old, there can be no question about the lingering appeal of The Monster Squad, not only as a nostalgic gem, but also as a creative work that transcends time. With the script being a cooperative effort shared by Shane Black and director Fred Dekker, the film is saturated with excellent wit and sincere charm, and the studio’s faith in the production was not missed on Lambert during production.
Ryan Lambert: “I grew up like everyone in that era; I watched Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars, E.T., Close Encounters, all those things. Then I’m suddenly of the set of The Monster Squad, and I remember thinking to myself that I was probably in one of those films and that I was going to be a frigging action figure! I thought all of these things were going to happen, especially in the last 20 minutes of the film with the big climactic ending; they’d yell action and then 15 gigantic wind machines would turn on and they’d throw debris at us, stop signs would be hitting us in the face… And we were harnessed up, flying through the air or shooting things and killing stuff – it was huge! It was something I thought I would never get to do, and it did feel like this giant budget, Spielbergian action piece.”
And there is indeed no moment as you are watching the film that you ever get the sense that this was going to be marketed as anything less than the more well-known 1980’s action adventure films featuring kids as the main cast. A such, it is highly evident from the final product that the $12,000,000 budget was competently put to use, suggesting that the studio had enough confidence in the film that the idea of The Monster Squad having multiple sequels seemed highly plausible.
Unfortunately, in spite of the excellent creative efforts put into The Monster Squad, it would be almost 20 years before the film would find success and Lambert would finally get his own action figure. With such a substantial delay from release to recognition, it begs the question why the film initially flopped in spite of having so many components that not only seemed to match the zeitgeist of the 1980’s, but have also proven to be sufficiently competent and intriguing to enable such a noteworthy resurgence, a question that Gower has also considered.
André Gower: “I think the reason was kind of twofold. Firstly, our marketing campaign was really… odd. It was kind of a rad marketing campaign that was like a call to action, which would’ve been great if there had been the internet or somewhere else to go, because the main marketing push was ‘wanted’ posters of the monsters.”
However, the marketing department clearly had not thought the campaign through, as Lambert adds that the Dracula poster did not even feature Duncan Regehr, who portrayed the bloodthirsty count in The Monster Squad, but instead a random guy in subpar makeup and cheap plastic fangs. Gower agrees that a photo shoot with Duncan Regehr would have been awesome before further elaborating on the wanted poster campaign.
Gower: “They listed these corny crimes for all of them, which didn’t make sense in the first place because this wasn’t a police procedural movie where we are hunting down the monsters. But the thing that killed me was the mummy one. It listed three crimes that the mummy was wanted for; crossing state lines to avoid burial, arms bandage and statutory wrap…”
While the 1980s are hardly remembered for their political correctness, it is still baffling to consider that not only did someone think of that problematic pun in the first place, but also that at no point in the process from brain fart to billboard did anyone think to put a stop to this questionable piece of marketing. Awkwardly inappropriate as it was then, one shudders to think about the kind of unbridled outrage such an ad would cause today.
Gower: “The other thing that I really think is the main reason why the movie didn’t do well, is that the trailer is pretty dark and scary, and the ads were as well, so I don’t think parents of 10-year-olds wanted to take them to see the movie because it was rated PG-13. On the other hand, The Monster Squad was too kid-oriented for all the cool kids that were old enough to go by themselves, so they went and saw The Lost Boys instead.”
“I always joke that we made the first tween movie, a market that wasn’t a thing then, but now it’s a big thing, so I always make this corny joke that had they known that and marketed it for that, we would’ve made The Monster Squad 11: Breaking Dawn by now.”
To make matters worse, The Monster Squad has a 15 rating in the UK, making it entirely impossible for the target audience to see the film on the big screen. Unsurprisingly, The Monster Squad only lasted a week in London back in 1987, which was absolutely unheard of at the time, not to mention even less time than the two to three weekends the film managed to stay in American theaters. Some very young fans at the 30th anniversary screening in London lamentably learn about the strict reinforcement of the BBFC rating the hard way by being refused entry into the screen, but the cinema and the two actors have prepared for this by keeping the youngsters and their parents entertained in the lobby before the kids are allowed into the screen for the subsequent Q&A session.
However, as discrepancies between the MPAA and the BBFC have long proved to be unavoidable, it is easy to see why the British decided that the film was deserving of a more severe rating; the fish man is breaking necks, vampire brides are being staked, and Dracula has a murderous penchant for lighting dynamite with his mind, but there are also other and perhaps even darker elements at play at a more subtle, thematic level.
One of the these themes is the subplot regarding the increasingly negative tension between Sean’s parents. Going as far as having his parents argue over marriage counselling – which in itself is hardly standard fare for a kids’ action adventure movie – but Gower notes that it did not stop there.
Gower: “Most people will have seen the film in a format with a morphed image. On the big screen, you would be able to see the luggage outside the house near the finale because the mom’s about to leave for good.”
Another unusually dark element is the presence of Scary German Guy; while the words ‘scary ‘ and ‘German’ have certainly been synonymous for yours truly in terms of linguistic studies, the character of Scary German Guy is a lot more than the oft used strange, supporting character whose arc goes from potential threat to helpful ally. A simple, but clever line followed by a pensive expression on actor Leonardo Cimino’s face and a closeup of his forearm adds substantially to not only the arc of that character, but also to the proceedings as a whole, essentially transforming Dracula from a campy, supernatural monster into a parallel of one of the most atrocious human monsters of all time.
“A lot of people refer to that scene where we see his concentration camp tattoo and learn that he’s a survivor of the Holocaust because the movie gets different then; it gets real. It adds this extra layer that’s really impactful because it’s a kids movie, but then all of a sudden you’re bringing in this survival story. And that’s what’s interesting about the character of Scary German Guy; he’s not only the funny, old, weird dude that helps you, he’s seen that kind of evil before, and because of that, he’s one of the only people that recognizes the peril and understands what’s going on in a different context. He’s not in the film much, but even as an older, frail guy, he steps up to face off against Dracula to show that he will not allow such evil to go unchallenged.”
On a lighter note, another aspect that attests to the enduring appeal of The Monster Squad is how quotable the film is. While Gower attributes the great characters and camp factor to Fred Dekker’s imagination, co-writer Shane Black – who was at the brink of stardom with Lethal Weapon – was unsurprisingly the mastermind behind the witty banter and buddy cop comedy dynamic that would make Lethal Weapon such a big success. However, the presence of Shane Black’s career-making knack for snappy dialogue would not only benefit the lingering appeal of The Monster Squad, Black’s involvement with the film would also become the selling point for a Hollywood A-lister to star in one of the best films of 2016.
“There is a great story about The Nice Guys, which a lot of people may not know. Ryan Gosling gets maybe 20 scripts a year, but he specifically chose to do The Nice Guys because he is a big fan of The Monster Squad and wanted to work with the guy that wrote his favorite movie of all time.”
While on the topic of the masterminds behind The Monster Squad and considering the amount of reboots and sequels inhabiting the contemporary cinematic landscape, it seems only natural to ask the dynamic duo whether Fred Dekker and Shane Black have discussed revisiting the world of assertive kids who battle evil monsters.
Gower: “They have certainly talked about it and if it was the right situation, they would both want to do something, but it all comes down to timing and availability. Shane has been quoted as saying that he would love to revisit that world because it would be fun to see what that would look like, but it’s up to them or other powers that be to put something in motion.”
Alas, despite the exchange of ideas, there is therefore no official sequel to The Monster Squad in the works. Likewise, the proposed reboot of the 1987 film was also cancelled to make way for Universal’s Dark Universe, which was supposed to be the vehicle to introduce the classic monsters to a new generation, however, the 2017 version of The Mummy left this new franchise as dead in the water as a victim of the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Another point of interest when discussing the resurgence of The Monster Squad is of course the current trend of revisiting all things 1980’s, with Stranger Things being in the driver’s seat of the seemingly unstoppable nostalgia train.
Lambert: “I think that the filmmakers, directors and writers that grew up in that era have now reached an age where they make their own content, so the Duffer Brothers are just drawing from their youth; that’s their jam. They’ve taken their influences and made Stranger Things, not as a rehash, but as an homage to the filmmaking associated with a different time period.”
A significant element of contemporary popular culture is meta content. With some of the more self-aware and tongue-in-cheek elements of The Monster Squad, it is therefore tempting to draw a parallel between the inventive wit of the 1987 film and the current popularity of meta-filled narratives, just as conventions such as the various comic cons across the globe are booming and allowing people to bond through their fandoms. Thus, is it possible that part of the resurgence of The Monster Squad is owed to the film being ahead of its time and only now having a broader appeal thanks to contemporary tastes?
Gower: “I actually think that the resurgence of The Monster Squad pre-dated that a little bit, but it was supplemented by that. Our original fans finally had a place to congregate and talk to each other, and then it just expanded out to events and conventions, which built into that, and now everything’s about that. I think we slid in right before that kind of dynamic happened, but it just reinforced it because now those events and conventions are about what’s new, whereas it used to be about celebrating the stuff that only a few people like; the whole thing has been turned upside down.”
There is no doubt that the surge in popularity geek culture has experienced over the last couple of decades has enabled people to effortlessly find peers who share their interest in all manner of entertainment, be it film, TV, comics or whatever else you can think of. Whether it is huge conventions or packed 30th anniversary screenings at an independent London cinema, celebrating your favorite pop culture content has never been easier. However, in the case of The Monster Squad, Lambert and Gower have embarked on a quest to thoroughly unearth the true reason for the delayed celebration of their film.
Lambert: “We weren’t sure if it was just a one-time thing you could attribute to a bunch of people that got together and decided to go see The Monster Squad, but then there was another screening, and then we went to a convention, and then we went to Comic Con and then the DVD came out and we did the commentary for that. After the DVD came out, we went to San Diego Comic Con and the line was around the block, and it was then we realized that something was going on, something that was different from other fandoms. If a new Captain America movie comes out and Chris Evans is attending, obviously there’s going to be a giant line around the corner, but that’s expected; we wanted to know why this was happening to our movie now as opposed to when it came out. There’s a story there, so what’s that story? It’s just something that became a giant question that I think had to be answered.”
Sharing Lambert’s zest for wanting to explore exactly what it is that draws people to The Monster Squad, Gower would eventually set the wheels in motion to create a documentary about the fandom, the release of which is imminent. Elaborating further on Lambert’s thoughts about the appeal of The Monster Squad, Gower follows up on Lambert’s musings, adding his perception of the appeal of their film.
Gower: “Some people say it’s a cult film, some people say it’s not a cult film, and to me it’s just a classic film because it was a big hit to me right off the bat. So we have this great back-and-forth between fans, academics and industry people who all have a different answer to what this film is and why we are experiencing this resurgence. We have so many people that care so much about this movie, which we appreciate so much, and it kind of gives us new life almost every day that this discussion happens, it just energizes us even more. It is something special and that’s what we’re trying to capture in this documentary; the essence of these experiences that we have and explain what that means to us and what it means to the fans. For 30 years, the fans have been celebrating this film, so what I want to do for the documentary is turn that celebration around and shine it back on the fans because we wouldn’t be here 30 years later without them.”
As the investigation into the motivations of the fandom spawned from The Monster Squad continues and the release of their documentary looms on the horizon, Lambert and Gower are currently hosting the second season of their show Short Ends. Available on Nerdist’s premium channel Alpha, Short Ends is an online short film festival that sees the duo curate short films, while also engaging in goofy gags and interviewing the filmmakers.