The Monster Squad Blu-Ray Review
Blu-Ray Review- The Monster Squad
Distributor: Olive Films
Street Date: February 19th 2013
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, Color, 2.36:1 Aspect Ratio
Runtime: 82 Minutes
As a child, my Father would hook up the old Betamax player to our small kitchen television, put it on a rolling cart, and set it just outside the front door for Trick or Treaters on Halloween night. The extension cord would strain so much that it came close to snapping around the door frame, but this was important to him. I wouldn’t call my Dad a big Horror fan, but he grew up on a specific set of Horror films that were very dear to him: the Universal Monster classics. Lugosi’s Dracula, Chaney Jr.’s Wolf Man, Karloff’s monster, these were the films that spawned a genre and terrified the baby boomers for years to come. Though as an adult I grew very fond of the Hammer Horror series as well, the Universal Monsters will always hold a special place in my heart. When I “got too old” for Trick-or-treating, I took over for my Father and wheeled out the old Betamax cart, often becoming so entranced by the movies themselves that I would just hold the candy bowl with an outstretched arm for the kiddies to grab what they may.
In 1987, Shane Black and Fred Dekker wrote and directed a film that paid enormous homage to the Universal Classics from my childhood: The Monster Squad. Released to theaters as some sort of hybrid between Stand By Me and The Goonies, it failed to gain momentum at the box office. The good news is that the film quickly turned into a VHS favorite among Horror fans, and has gone on to become a minor cult classic.
In The Monster Squad, Sean and his friends are middle-school misfits who idolize the classic movie monsters, hold secret meetings in their tree fort, and bond over absent fathers and bullies. Sean’s Dad is a local Police Detective, and his younger sister Phoebe is desperate to be a part of the treehouse gang. Our story is set in motion when Sean finds a treasure among pre-teen creature fanatics: the personal diary of Dr. Abraham Van Helsing. The boys reach out to a local elderly man (dubbed the “scary German guy”) who translates the diary for them. In it, Van Helsing warns of a powerful amulet that maintains a balance between good and evil, but becomes vulnerable every hundred years. The boys soon find out that Dracula himself has conjured up nearly every creature imaginable to help him find the amulet including Frankenstein, The Creature from the Black Lagoon (Gill-man), The Wolf Man, and The Mummy. Our young heroes set off on their journey to find the amulet before the monsters can take over the world. If their successful, they can use the amulet and the diary to open a portal and cast the monsters back from whence they came.
More than twenty-five years later, the film remains an absolute treat. There’s swearing kids, monsters, battles between good and evil, and even The Wolf Man getting kicked in his junk. It’s the kind of movie that is purely 80’s, and would never get made today. It’s also an odd genre mix, too scary and inappropriate for the little kids, and perhaps a bit too goofy for extreme Horror fans (there is little to no blood in this film). A product of its time and place, The Monster Squad remains a fun and creative venture in the genre, with especially great writing from Shane Black. Revisiting it once again reminded me of being twelve years old, wheeling that Betamax cart out on Halloween night, and letting my imagination run wild.
Despite the reservations I had going into this release lacking any bonus material (see below), the High Definition transfer actually bests the previous version on the Lionsgate release, but it’s not perfect by any means. The picture is very clean with no noticeable artifacts or blemishes on the transfer itself. Colors are intact, bright, and authentic. Black levels are a bit on the dull side, but it’s barely noticeable to the naked eye. Detail in makeup, costumes, and sets are very clear for a film that stems from late 80’s film stock. Grain levels remain authentic to the film source material, and digital noise is at a minimum.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is disappointing. While dialogue comes through clear, background noise and effects are unbalanced and seem to waver in and out. It’s especially concerning because the previous Lionsgate edition included a 5.1 Surround mix, which is undoubtedly more pleasing to the ears. I couldn’t pinpoint whether or not there was a legitimate error in the audio encode, but it sure could have been handled better for this release.
Zero. Zip. Nada. Not a single feature is carried over from the Lionsgate Anniversary edition, likely because of licensing issues, which is understandable. But with that being said, honestly? Not even a theatrical trailer or vintage featurette? A new commentary recorded for the release? A booklet featuring an essay on the making of the film? Unfortunately this is per the norm for Olive Films, whose transfers and audio mixes are anywhere from satisfactory to fantastic, but fail to provide any substantial bonus material on their releases, if any at all. If you were lucky enough to snag a copy of the Lionsgate release, you will find a wealth of bonus material worth perusing. Unfortunately this Olive Films release is completely bare bones, even the menu screen is about as basic as it gets.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this Blu-Ray edition features some beautiful cover art, far eclipsing the art utilized on the Lionsgate release. Besides the nice disc art, there is a small pamphlet with pictures of other Blu-Ray titles from Olive Films such as Cujo, The Boogens, and The Quiet Man.
Though I adore the film, this Blu-Ray release from Olive Films leaves much to be desired for fans of this 80’s classic. Sporting an authentic and clean video transfer and newly commissioned cover art was a great start, but unfortunately you have to weigh in a disappointing audio mix and lack of bonus material as well. If you already own the previous Lionsgate Anniversary edition from 2009, consider yourself lucky. It is now out of print and selling for unreasonable prices from third party sellers. If you just came for the movie itself, it holds up after nearly 25 years, looks great, and is currently on sale at Best Buy for nearly ten dollars.
Doctor Macabre M.D.