When Can I Watch ‘The Monster Squad’ with My Kids?
Hard to believe it’s almost time to trick-or-treat as the Halloween season inches closer. Fandango’s already looking ahead to the holiday-scare season, launching our new House of Screams section (check it out, if you haven’t already) and tracking the scariest movies coming to theaters near you.
You might not associate “horror” with family friendly… and yet, there are definite chilling features that you can begin to share with your older kids as they get ready for Halloween. In the coming weeks, we’re going to make suggestions for our favorite horror movies, telling you – in our When Can I Watch format – why we think this is a good movie to share, potentially as a family unit.
And where better to start than The Monster Squad, Fred Dekker’s ripped-from-the-drive-in horror comedy that has street-smart and pop-culture-savvy suburban teenagers standing up to vintage versions of the creatures that crawled from Universal’s scare vault. It’s also an ideal bridge from the animated adventures of Scooby Doo to the filmography of Boris Karloff.
So, let’s find a virgin who can read German, kick Wolf Man where it counts and figure out when you can watch The Monster Squad with your kids.
The Monster Squad may have teenage heroes, but Dekker didn’t make a kid movie.
Dekker’s a true horror geek. He helmed the deliciously evil Night of the Creeps and directed an episode of HBO’s Tales from the Crypt. Squad also benefits from the contributions of Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), who collaborated with Dekker on a screenplay that is equal parts homage to Universal’s classic monsters AND a sarcastic comedy made for modern (at the time) teen audiences who’d already gorged themselves on Ghostbusters, Gremlins, The Goonies and more.
The Monster Squad treats its horror seriously, which is a potential red flag for parents of younger kids. Makeup artists Katalin and Zoltan Elek rose to the geek challenge of bringing Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy, the Wolf Man and the Creature from the Black Lagoon to life on the same screen, then upped the ante with deadly skeletons, shrieking female vampires, a sucking vortex and a creepy, old character literally named Scary German Guy (who’s ends up being gentle and quite helpful).
The roughest patches for parents watching The Monster Squad with their kids, though, might come from the more realistic problems the young characters in screen face. Leader of the pack Sean (Andre Gower) endures parents who are on the brink of a divorce, and no longer bother hiding their verbal fights. Then there’s Horace (Brent Chalem), better known as “Fat Kid,” who -- surprise, surprise -- contends with bullies at his elementary school. Be prepared to talk about divorce and bullying during Monster Squad, because your kids might bring it up.
More than likely, though, you’ll be watching it with older teens. The language in Monster Squad’s about what you’d expect to hear out of a PG-13 script. Tough kid Rudy (Ryan Lambert), a new addition to the club, also spies on Patrick older sister (Lisa Fuller), the Squad’s beautiful young neighbor, and catches her in her underwear. Later in the film, she also stands in as the required virgin who has to read sacred text, so you might want to come up with an explanation for that term, if it’s a new one around your house.
That’s why I’m leaning toward older kids. A screening of The Monster Squad might have your children believing in the very same creatures that you’ve been telling your kids don’t exist. Just remember, as the boys’ principal tells them, “Science is real. Monsters are not.”
All of those things I mentioned about Dekker and Black being bona fide horror aficionados turn out to be green lights, as well, for parents who are watching The Monster Squad with their older kids. For Dekker’s Monster Squad can be campy, but it’s never corny.
Sean and Patrick (Robby Kiger), like most kids their age, have an unhealthy interest in monsters. They obsess over every single detail… even wondering if Wolf Man has nards. (He does.) Young Sean, with his “Stephen King Rules” T-shirt, is our movie-geek selves in actor form. I love the conversation he has with his father about needing to see a horror film called Groundhog Day Part 12 because his friends will blab the plot if they see it before him.
These are some of the little treasures littered throughout Monster Squad. Tom Noonan gives an incredibly sympathetic turn as the misunderstood Frankenstein monster, while Duncan Regehr cuts an intimidating cameo as Count Dracula.
And it’s short. At barely 85 minutes, Dekker’s Monster Squad is a tight, clever, intelligent, geeky creature thriller meant to introduce new horror fans to the genre. It’s a gateway drug that could lead to Lon Chaney, Boris Karloff, Vincent Price and Freddy Krueger.
Plus, Rudy’s one of the coolest role models your kids might find at this young age. The line he bravely utters before staring down the vampire babes -- “I’m in the goddamn club, aren’t I?” -- remains one of the absolute favorites from my cinematic childhood, and it makes me smile every single time I hear it.
Once again, the PG-13 rating pretty much gets it right. The Monster Squad has enough soft-core gore, abrasive language and scares to disturb kids younger than the advertised age. Your teenagers will love it. Follow it up with a surprise subscription to Fangoria. Who knows? You could be raising the next Rick Baker, Tom Savini or Dick Smith.
For previous entries in the "When Can I Watch That with My Kids?" series, click right here. Some of the films covered: Star Wars, Back to the Future, The Goonies, Lucas and The Sound of Music, to name just a few.
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Sean O'ConnellFandango Bloggers
Sean is a film reviewer for The Washington Post and daily contributor to Fandango.