October 11, 2011

Monster Love: a guest post by Louise Bohmer

Louise Bohmer is a freelance editor and writer based in Sussex, New Brunswick. She edits for Permuted Press, and is an associate editor with KHP Books. You can read her short fiction in Old School, The Red Penny Papers, and Courting Morpheus. Her poetry can be read in Death In Common.

I wrote a little bit about The Monster Squad last year, but Louise offers a much better and more enduring testimonial to the film than I could ever write. If you haven't seen the movie I suggest you do so soon, but not before you read this.
Monster Love: Thanks to the Squad and Universal
by Louise Bohmer

It was the summer of 1987. I was ten years old, and one of my greatest loves in the world was monsters. Vampires in long, black cloaks, mummies shambling out of their tombs, werewolves howling at a full moon, endearing abominations constructed by mad scientists, or creatures lurking in black lagoons. It didn't matter which of these appeared on afternoon or late night TV movies, if it was a monster, I would watch it.

So you can imagine my tiny, pre-adolescent heart squealed with glee when I saw the trailer for The Monster Squad. All the aforementioned monsters were included in this flick about a group of pre-teens who have to fight the forces of evil, who come in the form of classic Universal monsters contemporized just a bit for a late 80s crowd.

But, alas, it was not to be. Monster Squad, complete with awesome monsters styled by creature creator Stan Winston, bombed. The initial release would gross less than four million, with an estimated budget of twelve million to make the film. (This just proves some people don't get greatness the first time around. But I digress…)

So no Monster Squad for little Louise. In my tiny town of Castlegar, British Columbia, we had one decrepit theater (how that building remained standing for as long as it did, I'll never know; I think it might still be standing, but no longer in operation). Said decrepit theater would not be bringing Monster Squad in. To say my tiny heart was crestfallen would be accurate.

Nevertheless, I would not be defeated. My parents wouldn't get a VCR for three more years (and the first one Dad picked up was a 'hot' Beta that never worked right anyway, but that's another story). So, renting the movie was out. And what some of you whippersnappers reading this might not realize is, back then, we had to wait a whole year to two years for movies to come out on VHS anyway. I know! The horror. Still, there was television, and TV usually played a movie a year to two years after it was released in the theaters. For now, I'd have to dream of the day when I would see Monster Squad (ahhh, simple pleasure).

Two summers later I would get my chance. While visiting cousins in Alberta, the commercial flashed. Monster Squad on cable tonight! My tiny heart skipped a beat. Visions of snarling vampires, growling werewolves, and the whole cavalcade of classic monsters danced in my head. Tonight, I would have my chance!

If my older, larger cousins didn't ruin it. Three to five years my senior, these hockey playing hulks towered over me. But my mighty mite self would emerge victorious. If I had to bite their ankles, I was watching Monster Squad that night. Of course, being teenage boys, they teased me mercilessly, threatening to thwart my monster viewing pleasure. There was a hockey game on tonight they just had to watch. Or Video Hits was doing an all Metal special they just couldn't miss. I caterwauled and stomped my little foot in response. I kept vigil in front of the grainy, rabbit-eared TV. (Truth be told, like most 80s – 90s teens, they loved monsters enough themselves they were curious to see the classic creatures too. They just wouldn't admit it.)

The sun set and nine o' clock came. It was summer, so I was allowed to watch the whole movie. No school to go to bed early for. The opening flashes lightning on a grim and grey cemetery, sending a thrilling shiver up my spine. A statue of a grim reaper hovers over the camera, and the blood red letters "The Monster Squad" appear. By this time, my heart is thumping with anticipation, and I can feel my eyes bugging from my head. Soon, the monsters will show themselves, and I can't wait. In my lap, I wring my fingers, waiting, waiting…

The camera pans over to a looming castle on the hill, more thunder, and by this time I'm sure the smile on my face is huge. So close! Soon, the vampire will show himself. Three coffins in a murky dungeon, and my heart beats harder still. I lean a bit closer to the screen, (since I can barely see through the bad reception), and watch as one slips open, revealing gnarled fingers that end in claws.

I swallow.

A cave-like ceiling swarming with red-eyed bats is shown, and then the biggest, hairiest bat I've ever seen comes into view. It opens a fanged jaw wide and spreads leathery, webbed fingers. Dropping down from its roost, the webbed hand becomes that of a man's. Now, a finely garbed vampire stands before me. The ring leader of the classic monster collective. In red-lined cape and black suit complete with ruffled shirt, he cuts quite a dashing figure. But make no mistake. He's cold, calculating, and ruthless. If this Dracula seduces you, you will be joining his creatures of the night. (To this day, this remains my favorite kind of vampire, and he remains my favorite of the classic monsters, with Frankenstein's creature coming in a close second, and the werewolf a close third.)

One of my favorite scenes, if not my favorite, comes close to the half hour mark in the movie. We return to the swamp, where we've earlier seen caskets plunge into the fog shrouded water, while a red-eyed bat watches. Now, the werewolf lumbers into the shadowed swamp, softly growling as he approaches in torn, bloodstained shirt. His growls rise as he meets someone, but a snake-headed cane strikes out, pointing at the werewolf's furry chest, stilling his bestial rage. The glimmering cane head swings to the side, and a mummy clad in dirty, tattered bandages lurches from the gloom. Together, these three approach the water's edge. The surface bubbles and churns, the film's soundtrack thrums up an octave, and soon the gill man from black lagoon fame emerges, with the final coffin held high above his head. He hurls this, and we see the name "Frankenstein" stamped into the side (however, we horror lovers all know the creature is not Frankenstein, but is, rather, Frankenstein's creation). The lid is removed and we get a peek at the monster. Here, as a child, was my pay off. All the monsters gathered in one creepy scene. It was pre-teen bliss.

What started with Frank Langella's Dracula was spurred on in me by movies like The Monster Squad, and later by Hammer Horror. Though I had to wait two years to see it, it was worth it. Like many before and after it, the film satisfied and encouraged my love of classic movie monsters, my love of horror and horror comedy (soon to be further fueled when I discovered Army of Darkness about three years later). Movies like The Monster Squad encouraged me to go back and discover those classic monsters as they began, with actors like Bela Lugosi playing the suave Count Dracula, Boris Karloff as the terrifying yet lovable Frankenstein's monster, and Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man. It was through this movie I discovered Stan Winston, creature creator, and subsequently decided, for a brief time in my teens, I was going to be a makeup artist and, eventually, a creature creator.

Today, almost twenty-five years after The Monster Squad's release, I still love those old school monsters. The film has become somewhat of a cult classic among horror film lovers of my generation. A 20th anniversary special edition DVD was released in 2007, but I still have my old VHS copy. At least now I can watch it on a television with far better reception, and anytime I want, with no hulking hockey player cousins to bother me, either.


  1. Great post!

    I really need to see this movie. It somehow managed to escape my viewing pleasure after all these years.

  2. Wow, that brings back all kinds of fuzzy memories. Especially Dad and his prize VCR.

    We used to have the old top-loader that was built like a tank and never worked properly. Oh the fights that ensued trying to get that bastard thing to work.

  3. Somehow I didn't see this as a kid. I don't know how, it's exactly the type of movie I was watching back then. I actually *just* watched it for the first time 2 days ago. Good stuff :-)

  4. Louise, you hit the nail on the head when it comes to letting greatness slip under the radar. Hard to believe this movie flopped in any way at the box office.

  5. I love this movie so much. I bought the anniversary edition on DVD shortly after it came out and it was just as wonderful as I had remembered from childhood.

  6. Thanks, Gef! You have to wonder how much behind the scenes stuff, like distribution, played a part in films like this tanking. Sometimes I think it takes the home video market to create cult classics, once a film gets exposed to that wider market and finds it niche audience. I really have to snag the anniversary edition!