The Monster Squad - 20th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Review
Monster Squad looks very good indeed in resplendent, colourful and wonderfully three-dimensional 1080p. This was always a nice, highly polished, comic-book of a film and the transfer to Blu-ray, via MPEG-4, is a cracker.
The anamorphic lenses used at the time have resulted in some blurred peripheral detail from time to time, most notably of the posters and paraphernalia in young Eugene's bedroom (how come a kid as young as him has a poster of the Punisher on his wall?), but this is a product of the production, itself, and not something that you can cite as being an error of the encoding. Edge enhancement is, for the overwhelming majority of the film, minimal to none-existent, but there are occasions when it becomes apparent - a hazy, dusk-lit walk against the horizon, Stand By Me-style, does result in some unnecessary sharpening. But this is a wonderfully film-like image that has not seen the adverse hand of DNR scrubbing away at it. Grain is retained all the way through, though it is thin and appreciably textured. Tiny little flecks and pops appear from time to time, but these really are small and not at all distracting. There are, however, some rather obvious black marks that mar the image right at the start during the bygone-times prologue. Again, they are small, but my eye was drawn to them continually.
Colours are excellent. The film is vibrant and pushed towards the comic-book spectrum and the disc handles all elements with warmth and stability. The odd flash of blood is bright and splashy, the aquatic tones of the Gill-Man terrific. Frankenstein Monster has convincingly earthy flesh-tones and the brown of the Wolf Man stays just the right side of ginger. Duncan Regehr's pallid, blood-drained visage strikes a nice contrast against the deep black and lush red of his cape, and there is a great tinge of green during his feral snarling and hissing. Neon lights and cop-car/ambulance flashing lights ignite the screen and the lush greens of the trees out the back and the eerie blue of swampland provide plenty of visual nuances.
Detail is also very rewarding. The film is a little soft when compared to newer releases, naturally. But this image is deep, tight and rich with information, from leaves and stones on the ground, Wolf Man fur and the stitching in the Monster, to the powdery dregs of an unwrapped Mummy and the finite scales on the Gill-Man. The image is also great for hi-def three-dimensionality, which is something that I hadn't expected. There are some wonderful shots of the tree-house, the gardens and the swamp that provide a very impressive level of visual depth, making The Monster Squad literally come to life in a way that no other version of the film has been able to do.
And with black levels that are deep and satisfying, with no detail crushed within, this is a marvellous transfer from Lionsgate and a very strong 8 out of 10.
Well, there had to be a downside somewhere, didn't there?
And, well, truth be told, this isn't, strictly speaking, an error. It is just that the disc is given a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track that, given the nature of the film and the quality of some of the newly mixed lossless surround tracks that I've heard lately for older movies, I had sort of been looking forward to. However, what this track fails to deliver is anything in the surround channels worth talking about. This is front and centre, with only some agreeable depth and separation across the front three speakers to provide any life to the proceedings. What there is, by way of atmosphere, is fine enough but it just doesn't seem to warrant any extra channels.
You won't have any problems with the dialogue, be it the high-pitched kid-speak, the leathery-lipped mumbling of the Monster, the howling and growling down the phone from the Wolf Man and the little Latin recitation from Phoebe. The sudden gunshots that ring out in the police station to fell a certain person who is going berserk have a really good, deep impact. The bass levels throughout, in fact, are reliably strong, nothing to worry the neighbours, I should add, but certainly enough to provide some decent heft where necessary. But where the track definitely comes into its own is with Bruce Broughton's majestic score, which swells and shimmers throughout, graced with high end clarity for the soaring female choir and sweeping warmth for the woodwinds and the brass, and some good meaty bass and percussion presentation. So, for fans of the score, this track will do them proud.
The film's original stereo track is also provided, courtesy of Dolby Digital, but this, by comparison, sounded weaker and less vigorous.
Overall, I'm awarding this a 7 out of 10. Forgetting what I hoped this would sound like, Monster Squad actually comes across well, given the limitations of the source ... and at least Lionsgate haven't botched things by adding anything "BO-GUS!" as Frankenstein's Monster would say.
This 20th Anniversary Edition follows the format of the previous SD release and omits nothing.
Beyond that fabulous animated menu system, we get two commentaries, and both are good enough to learn more about the shooting of the film and the feelings that the participants have for it, but there is a sort of hit and miss quality to the overall impact that these chat tracks make with regards to the story genesis and the screenplay evolution. Dekker, who natters alongside his DOP, Bradford May, wears his heart on his sleeve and his passion and enthusiasm are beyond doubt, but there is a vague sort of bitterness about his feelings to a project that was much-loved by himself and by all concerned, but proved ultimately detrimental to his career and a wistfulness towards the slow-burn affection that the film eventually attained. By contrast, the cast chat (which also features Dekker along for the ride) is more free-wheeling and comical, though the passing of the years and advancement of each person involved does lead to a strange sort misty-eyed reverie. Neither track is quite as revelatory or as entertaining as I'd hoped, but both are worth your while.
The Deleted Scenes are a fine bunch that work well with the little text-page introduction that explains their genesis. There are quite a few of them, some just extensions of what is already in the film, but the most emphatic thing that we learn is the entire subplot revolving around Sean's mum deciding to leave his dad. Most of this revolves, over several scenes, around Mary Ellen Trainor who is slowly coming to the conclusion that her marriage is over. I can see why this element was dropped - only a brief shot of her packed suitcases remains in the final film - but it is still nice to see how much more thought had originally gone into the domestic situation that births the Monster Squad. Listen out for the name-dropping in-jokes during one segment that recalls the original 1931 Frankenstein.
We also get a short storyboard to film comparison montage of the Mummy attack on the car which puts up both the drawn images alongside the live-action footage. Reasonable.
Tom Noonan gives us an amusing 8-minute on-set interview in full costume, in which he remains in-character and discusses the Monster's filmic career to date and how he now feels he should move on and retire from the business.
But, above all of this and the Stills gallery and trailers, the release benefits from the enormous 5-part retrospective making-of entitled Monster Squad Forever. Best played as one massive documentary, this covers literally everything that went into bringing Fred Dekker's vision to the screen, how it fared and how it has gone on to become a cult item cherished by many. We hear about the ideas that kick-started it all and about Dekker's adoration for the Universal classics. The cast are given ample room to discus their experiences and we hear from the producers, the effects people, Bruce Broughton and we get to meet some rabid fans at the Alamo Draft House in Texas where the film was screened just prior to its SD Anniversary release. Dekker has a moment or two of maudlin, but he is on fine form throughout most of this. Honest, informative and clearly still in love with his dream-project, he is the backbone to this far-ranging and comprehensive presentation. There is a poignant moment when Brent Chalem is remembered by everyone but, by and large, this is an excellent, feature-length chronicle of a film that too many let slip by.
Far more enjoyable than The Lost Boys, although considerably dafter, and a little cheekier than The Goonies, though admittedly inferior, The Monster Squad is justifiably a cult classic of horror-parody/homage. Possibly the catalyst, and most certainly a progenitor of the runaway successes of teen monster-battlers in both literary and cinematic forms that have proliferated in the last two decades, Fred Dekker's film is a sly little interloper that takes a well-worn genre and mixes up the conventions whilst still adhering to the creature-feature rulebook. It is silly. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense. But it is enormously entertaining and imbued with a genuine sense of nostalgic charm and laced with a deliciously dark wit that still holds up exceptionally well today.
It looks wonderful on Blu-ray, too, clearly presenting a worthy upgrade from the long-awaited version that came out on SD a while ago. I'm not overly impressed with the lossless audio makeover, though. There just isn't that much activity or presence to the track. But the disc gets back on top and wins you over with its thoroughly excellent selection of extras that really go the distance for such a small, and mostly forgotten monster movie and actually puts many a grander, more ballyhooed release to shame.
It came as a pleasant surprise back then, and it is somewhat reassuring to know that Wolf Man has still got nards!
My mate was wrong - The Monster Squad rocks.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £12.39
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