MY FAVOURITE HORROR MOVIE: DAN PALMER
DAN PALMER IS AN ENGLISH WRITER, ACTOR AND PRODUCER WHO HAS STARRED IN HORROR COMEDIES SUCH AS FREAK OUT AND EVIL ALIENS. LAST YEAR HIS MOVIE STALLED (ABOUT A JANITOR TRAPPED IN A TOILET CUBICLE DURING A ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE) PREMIERED AT FRIGHTFEST AND WAS A SMASH HIT WITH AUDIENCES AND CRITICS ALIKE. HERE HE TALKS ABOUT HIS FAVOURITE MOVIE OF ALL TIME, THE MONSTER SQUAD.
There was a flea-pit cinema on the edge of town. Don’t bother looking for it, it’s long gone now. My family rarely went to the cinema and we sure as hell didn’t go to this one. Although I’m positive that my old man would have dearly loved to as it primarily showed ‘blue’ movies.
Beside said perv emporium was a set of traffic-lights. Whenever the family wagon would get the red-light, on the way back from the weekend shop, a countdown would begin whereupon I would have an indeterminate (but always cruelly brief) amount of time to absorb as much information as possible from the newly mounted posters on the cinema’s facade.
One particular weekend Emmanuelle was taking a well-earned break, so something called ‘The Monster Squad’ was filling her vacant slot. Wolf-Man! Dracula! The Mummy! Frankenstein(’s Monster)! An ultimate rogues’ gallery of the legendary monsters that had scared me witless and shitless via TV, books, comics and, ahem, ‘The Groovy Ghoulies’ was glaring back at me in sinister unison. What was THIS? Just as the lights turned from red to amber my pre-pubescent peepers caught the poster’s tag-line. ‘You know who to call when you have ghosts. But who do you call when you have monsters?’
As a rabid ‘Ghostbusters’ fan this blew my fragile little mind. It had been two whole years since the release of the original ‘Ghostbusters’ movie, and we were about three years away from ‘The Real Ghostbusters’ cartoon, so the most lean reference to the best movie ever made had me bouncing off the walls of the Volvo as the traffic-lights turned green and that beautiful quad poster turned into a postage stamp sized spec on the horizon.
I had to see this film.
Now, ‘The Monster Squad’ may have been PG-13 in the States but it was Certificate 15 in the UK. There was no way my parents’ principles would allow me to see this film …I would have to wait for the video release as it would cost them less money. Cut to my birthday the following year: video night with my sister and cousins. We are stood in the New Releases section of my favourite rental store ‘Video Plus’ (don’t bother looking for it, it’s long gone now). That foreboding image from the flea-pit, branded on my brainium, is now staring down at me in the form of a shiny VHS rental.
I was mere moments away from finding out the answer to who I would call when I have monsters (I already had a pretty good idea).
Alas, it was not to be. You see my older cousin was one of those faux too cool for school types but was actually secretly terrified of horror movies (one time, during a viewing of Victor Salva’s ‘Clownhouse’, she pretended to read a trembling newspaper for ninety minutes). Using her little brother as an unwitting patsy she suddenly declared that this piece of filth would be too intense for my younger cousin. ‘But I’ve seen Robo Cop!?’ was his ignored response. So, ‘Adventures In Babysitting’ it was. My older cousin really enjoyed my birthday.
I finally got to see Fred Dekker’s sophomore effort aaaages later (the following weekend) and, needless to say, it did not disappoint. Like a lot of my favourite movies it had an immediate ‘What the Hell is this?’ quality. Not quite a horror movie (umm ..so, maybe I should have picked ‘Fright Night’ for this article?) and not quite a kids’ film.
I have since read that this was a possible reason for the film’s poor box-office performance, but ‘The Monster Squad’s heady fusion of Saturday night creature-feature and Spielbergian kid quest is what made it such an exhilarating watch for a pint-sized me. I love ‘The Goonies’ as much as the next retro t-shirt wearing man, but in comparison, the ‘Squad’ are a far more rough around the edges mob. They seem less Hollywood, more naturalistic and ..well ..more like me. At the time I even looked a teeny bit like Sean; the monster mad, school-hating kid of ever-arguing parental units. All things that I could readily identify with.
The fusion of scary movie and children’s adventure wasn’t the only bizarre mongrelized splicing that was on display here. When casually observed from the video-store shelf ‘The Monster Squad’ embodied the signifiers of a low-budget 80s monster movie (a la ‘The Gate’, ‘C.H.U.D’ or ‘Vamp’) but in the same vein it also boasted a valiant attempt at studio blockbuster sheen with sumptuous cinematography and a bombastic score from the underrated Bruce Broughton (who’s victoriously sweeping finale theme still brings me to tears).
The lack of compromise in Dekker and Shane Black’s screenplay is most notable in the manner in which they treat their child protagonists. These kids swear, smoke, squabble and talk ‘virgins’ and ‘homos’. This initial relatability makes the peril that the gang later find themselves in wholly authentic and surprisingly doom-laden for such a picture.
These kids ..these children face real fear and witness actual death (sometimes by their own hand). Yet, they are not super-human, smart talking movie kids. They don’t roundhouse kick raptors around the face whilst crossing their arms and saying ‘Totally awesome!’. They are accordingly scared. They snivel. They whine. But they step up to the plate when they realize that there is no other option. Their courage realized via believable actions and executed with genuinely age-appropriate skills and capabilities.
Along the way they experience a decidedly non schmaltzy organic discovery of solidarity and, in Sean’s case, confirmation that his self-education in arts (yes, arts) previously mocked, or belittled, by so-called authority figures were of significant validity to him as a young man, a young man finding his way through a shitty world that is about to get far shittier if he doesn’t utilize his, now invaluable, edification.
Which brings us to the monsters. These monsters are scary! They break policemen’s necks, they kill paramedics, they blow up the only black cast member with dynamite! Oh yes and they hold five year old girls aloft and scream ‘Give me the amulet ..YOU BITCH!’ into their faces. That moment alone had me pinned to the sofa in an adrenaline soaked soup of fear and excitement (and maybe a little bit of pee).
Although a heart felt tribute to the great movie monsters of filmland this little gem was especially appealing to an 80s kid because it dared to stick an affectionate middle- finger up at the stately Hammer Horror movies that were concurrently screened on our TVs ad nauseum. This movie opens with Van Helsing fucking up! It also depicts the classic character of the Wolf Man being kicked in the nuts! That singular boot to the balls kick starts the Squad’s ascendancy to a force to be reckoned with and also acted as the ultimate revenge for a legion of sleep deprived kids haunted by late night werewolf TV escapades.
The fact that the eclectic themes and elements of this movie did not result in a tonal mess in the fashion of Roland Emmerich’s pre-blockbuster Amblin aping offerings (ie. ‘Ghost Chase’, ‘Making Contact’) is something of a commendable achievement. The fact that it is a mini-classic is astronomically remarkable!
This is all down to one man; Fred Dekker. His direction is assured, the performances he secured from his adolescent thesps are pitch perfect and his ability to ping-pong from humourous to heartfelt to horrific is seamless. A blueprint I have attempted to apply to my own stuff.
Possibly due to its impossibility to pigeon-hole, ‘The Monster Squad’ does not get mentioned alongside either horror/comedy giants such as ‘An American Werewolf in London’, ‘Gremlins’ or ‘Fright Night’ or uttered in the same breath as kids’ fantasy classics such as ‘Ghostbusters’, ‘The Goonies’ or ‘Back to the Future’. But this film deserves its day in the sun as much as its lead antagonist does.
‘The Monster Squad’ was the first VHS I ever owned (#1 Christmas gift from mum and dad), it became a gateway drug to more ‘adult’ horror movies and simultaneously egged on my love for horror/comedy. A character’s t-shirt encouraged me to pick up my first Stephen King book. I even spent a good part of a year drawing the entire movie in comic book form!
Needless to say, this was a very formative movie for me. On a dark Saturday night, one week after my birthday, a miniature me was filled with inspiration, awe, wonder and joy. Don’t bother looking for it, it’s long gone now.