Monster Squad (1987)
Watching Monster Squad for the first time – as a capital A Adult – I couldn’t help but feel short-changed by my childhood. Why hadn’t I seen this movie? It’s basically Goonies with classic horror monsters. Young Jon would have lost his shit to see this.
The plot is just a MacGuffin, an excuse to bring Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster, the Wolfman, The Mummy, and the Creature (From the Black Lagoon) into one movie set in the 80’s. There’s a mystical amulet, a once-a-century cosmic event, an eternal battle between the forces of good and evil blah blah blah. Like most kids’ movies from back then, the details aren’t important.
The tone of it is pretty much exactly like the Goonies. A small ragtag group of pre-teen boys, reluctantly allowing a girl to tag along, obsessed with a particular subject (in this case, monster movies), including a stock “cool kid” and a stock “fat kid”… it’s all here. And the 80’s existed as a particular limbo for children’s movies, when foul language, violence, and sexual content could be included in a movie aimed squarely at kids. Society was getting more and more desensitized to explicit content, but it was before the surge of political correctness that set rigid barriers between adult and children’s entertainment.
As such, the tone is 100% 80’s – synth soundtrack – montage-having cheese, but with a few left-field instances of shocking inappropriateness. Dracula calls a 5 year old girl a bitch, while holding her up by the neck. Impalement and decapitations litter the monster-on-human battle scenes. The cool kid smokes cigarettes on his bicycle. And the kooky foreign neighbor who helps the Monster Squad translate an ancient document later reveals a concentration camp ID tattoo.
Of course, it’s all in good fun. It’s not a scary movie by any means, it’s predictable and extremely dated, but it’s impossible not to be charmed by the Monster Squad if you can relate on any level to being a kid that’s into horror.
When I saw the American remake of this film, 2008’s Quarantine, I found it to be a fairly effective, serviceable found footage movie with a semi-unique take on zombies, but I didn’t think much beyond that. It didn’t really stick with me for whatever reason, and it ended with the “dragging the girl” trope, which by that point had already become a cliche.
Any respectable film fan is required to declare the foreign language original of anything to be vastly superior to the American remake when such a situation occurs. Often the merits of each are debateable, and as is the case of a movie like The Ring, I find that the original is typically more subtle and cerebral and the remake is usually more visceral and in your face with the scares. So going into [REC], I wasn’t sure how it would play out.
I can say without any hint of pretense that the original, in this case, is indeed better. Maybe not drastically so, but the choice is clear. Although the two movies are remarkably similar, sharing many of the same shots and playing out scene for scene nearly identically, [REC] just has an ease and a believability to it that I didn’t quite get with Quarantine. I chose the subtitled version over the dub (the film is Spanish), so the language barrier might be a factor, but I felt that the acting was really top-notch. The dialogue seemed very naturalistic and at times even improvisational, which is more important in found footage than in any other genre of horror.
Events escalate at a satisfyingly perfect curve, going from “we have to treat this man’s injury right away!” to “maybe at least one of us can survive?” in the course of a scant 78 minutes. It seems short but it’s the perfect amount of time to tell this particular story.
Although Quarantine was a doggedly faithful remake in almost every way, they committed the cardinal sin of American remakes – changing the ending. I will not spoil the differences here, but I can say that the ending of [REC] took a FAR creepier (and more chilling) turn than Quarantine, which went for a more predictable, mundane approach.
Unless you are one of the many for whom found footage just rubs them the wrong way, I highly recommend [REC].
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
When I reviewed the 1956 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers I noted that it was quintessentially “of the 50’s”. The sci-fi/horror movies of that decade are very distinct, as the American public was afraid of two things – Communists and nuclear power. Horror movies from that era almost always acted as a metaphor for one or both of those. With Invasion of the Body Snatchers, it was the Commies. Vaguely defined aliens descend on small town America and begin replacing honest, decent citizens with clones that show no emotion and exist only to serve the hive. It’s not hard to see the strings there.
So with that in mind, I wondered how the well-received 1978 version would portray that threat since the sensibilties and insecurities of the late 70’s were so different. And the answer is, well, not that differently. It’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers with a 70’s skin over it. The pace is still fairly slow, the origin of the threat is still vaguely extraterrestrial, the “pod people” thing is intact… The biggest difference is that instead of pointy brazzieres, three piece suits and fedoras, there are corduroy blazers, turtlenecks and sideburns. And Donald Sutherland’s curly afro.
Leonard Nimoy’s in this, as is Jeff Goldblum, and it’s weird to see both Nimoy in full-on 70’s garb and Goldblum doing “Jeff Goldblum” so long ago. Appropriately for the era, the acting is more naturalistic and believable. People have actual conversations in this movie instead of playing to the back row like actors in the 50’s always did. Not every single line of dialogue exists to provide exposition.
The special effects are understandably more explicit but still pretty tame. It’s not a gory movie by any means (imagine if this had come out in the mid-80’s), but there is a really batshit crazy scene in the end right as things have gone totally FUBAR that made my jaw literally drop. I can’t in good conscience spoil it.
In my review of the original I pointed out how horror movies of the 50’s loved to end with a “dire warning to the audience”. Kind of a parting scare you can take home with you. Doing so in a late 70’s remake would have been hilariously incongruent with the tone of the movie, so instead they went with a more modern “twist” ending. And when I say modern, I mean like, today modern. It reads as a little goofy now and comes out of nowhere, but it gets the job done.