Review Date: March 3, 2011
Released by: Lionsgate
Release date: 11/24/2009
Codec: VC-1, 1080p
Widescreen 2.35:1 | 16x9: Yes
If there was a complaint to be had with Lionsgate's 2007 DVD release of The Monster Squad
, it was that there was no high definition release on blu-ray. In late 2009 Lionsgate rectified the situation and released The Monster Squad
onto blu-ray. It was a day one purchase for me but it quickly went up on the shelf and began collection dust ever since. Like any extensive review, I spent nearly a full day with The Monster Squad
on DVD. Between listening to commentaries and watching documentaries, I was all Monster'd out for the past few years. Here we are in 2011 and enough time has passed that I felt compelled to start off my first vacation of the year by dusting off the blu-ray and giving it a spin on my new Samsung 50 inch plasma TV. Lets take a look.
One hundred years ago in Transylvania, Dr. Abraham Van Helsing (Jack Gwillim) and a group of freedom fighters conspired to rid the world of vampires and monsters. They failed. Flash toward to current day (well, make that 1987). A group of misfit middle schoolers - Sean (Andre Gower), the leader; Patrick (Robby Kiger), Sean's best friend; Horace (Brent Chalem), also known as "fat kid", Rudy (Ryan Lambert), the bad boy from Junior High; and Phoebe (Ashley Bank), Sean's younger sister - run a monster club out of Sean's tree house. They're obsessed with everything monster related. So much so that they spend time in school making up and drawing monsters to put on the tree house walls. After school they spend most of the time discussing monsters and "Scary German Guy" - a mysterious old man that lives in the neighborhood and that they believe is a monster.
The monster club is about to face the ultimate threat. Dracula (Duncan Regehr) has risen from his grave, determined to destroy a mystical amulet that will allow all evil to rule the earth. To help aid him in his quest, Dracula resurrects Frankenstein (Duncan Regehr), the Wolfman (Carl Thibault), the Mummy (Michael Reid MacKay), and Gillman (Tom Woodruff Jr.). Since Sean's father, Del (Stephen Macht), is a police detective, Sean learns of all the strange occurernces happening in town. First a man claiming to be a werewolf is shot and seemingly killed, until the body disappears from the morgue later that night. Then a mummy disappears from the museum, even though there were no signs of a break-in. Sean puts two and two together and realizes there in an influx of monsters in town.
Sean's mother gives him Van Helsing's journal, which she found while cleaning out a church. The kids turn to "Scary German Guy" for an English translation of the German writings. It is then they learn of Dracula's apocalyptic intentions. Now the group of misfits, along with "Scary German Guy" and another unlikely ally, band together as the monster squad. They must use their expertise of monster folklore and the instructions in Van Helsing's journal to battle Dracula and his monster minions in hopes of sending them back to the netherworld before the amulet is destroyed.
Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolf Man, Gillman, and The Mummy - what more can you ask for? They're all here, and they look great. Given there are five main monsters, I was pleasantly surprised at how good the makeup and costumes were. No doubt this is due to special effects guru Stan Winston being in charge of the monsters. He's worked on everything, from The Thing to Terminator 3.
Duncan Regehr does a wonderful and accurate portrayal of Dracula. He's evil, heartless, and determined to succeed in his quest at all costs. Besides the other monsters, there's little character interaction with Dracula because the children and police are just minor annoyances in his path. This works well, though. He treats them like flies buzzing around his head - a minor annoyance, but nothing a quick swish of the hand can't take care of. Tom Noonan also does a fine job as the cursed and misunderstood Frankenstein. It's only the children that can look past Frankenstein's exterior and see the good inside of him. It is only they that can befriend this gentle giant. The other monsters have lesser roles and less screen time as a result, but they look good and act convincing. There are some great scenes with the Wolf Man too, including a partial, less than stellar transformation and a few humorous scenes.
The child actors each give fair performances; they are convincing in regards to their friendships and their love of monsters. They come across as normal, everyday friends thrown into this surreal situation, which is exactly how it should be. Most are no longer acting today, though many will recognize Jason Hervey (he plays E.J. - Horace's nemesis) who later went on to play Wayne Arnold on The Wonder Years TV show. I was saddened to discover Brent Russell Chalem (Horace) died at the young age of 22 back in 1997.
What works about The Monster Squad? EVERYTHING! It's a fun story with lots of humor and jabs regarding monster mythology. He's an example of when Sean and Patrick are walking home from school discussing the Wolfman:
Sean: Look, Wolfman doesn't go to work. He's not like a guy.
Patrick: What are you talking about? He walks around, he wears pants.
Sean: He had to wear pants. Those movies were made in the 40's. He had to wear them so you wouldn't see his .... 'wolf dork.'
Okay, maybe that particular example had nothing to do with monster mythology. Or did it? Does the Wolfman have a ... 'wolf dork' or not? There are several scenes like this, and you find the answer to many of them at later points in the movie. They're entertaining to watch and connect.
The Monster Squad's
primary appeal is no doubt towards children. It's Rated PG, there's no gore or hardcore killings to speak of, and all of the central characters are children. So yes, the story is a bit juvenile, but there's no reason why adult monster fans cannot enjoy it as well. I love this movie, but I'm bias since I watched it a lot as a child. There's no doubt anyone who has seen The Monster Squad as a child will love it even today. For those that haven't seen it, make it a must see! Unless you're only interested in hardcore horror, you'll definitely find The Monster Squad entertaining on many different levels.
The blu-ray is the same transfer used on the DVD and like the DVD, it is stunning. This time around I'm viewing it on a much larger TV yet thanks to the additional bitrate and resolution of blu-ray, it looks every bit as good as the DVD on my smaller TV. Colors are generally well balanced and vibrant, but there are several scenes where they appear slightly subdued. The image is razor sharp and no MPEG artifacts are present. Much of the movie takes place at night and many of the nighttime scenes do contain some grain; nothing substantial, however. It's a solid transfer that will leave fans extremely pleased. I'm rating it with a B+.
Lionsgate included a DTS-HD track for the blu-ray but I really didn't see much different from the Dolby 5.1 track on the DVD. The track itself sounds wonderful in regards to clarity; it's just there is little in terms of channel separation or LFE activity. A Dolby 2.0 track is also included on the blu-ray. I found no disortion or flaws in either track.
While the DVD was a two disc set, the bluray is condensed onto a full 50gb disc. Given the movie is only 82 minutes long, putting everything on a single BD50 does not sacrifice any of the video quality. First up are the two commentary tracks with cast and crew. The first track is with Writer/Director Fred Dekker and "Squad Members" Andre Gowe (Sean), Ryan Lambert (Rudy), and Ashley Bank (Phoebe). The second is Writer/Director Fred Dekker and Director of Photography Bradford May. The first track was a blast to listen to. Initially I thought it was going to be a bore; none of the cast members were talking much at first. But once the film got rolling, everyone joined in on the commentary. While there were several tidbits shared about their experiences making the movie, the majority of the track was the group goofing on the movie by pointing out many of the inconsistencies. It wasn't done in the sense they were putting down the movie; it was clear they all love it. It was more of a group of friends reminiscing and having fun. I enjoyed it a lot and laughed along with them. The second track with Dekker and the DP was much more technical. Obviously it focuses on filming details such as sets, effects, and challenges they faced. There were no gaps of silence and both did an equal amount of talking. I enjoyed both but would say the first track with Dekker and the Squad was more enjoyable.
The main documentary is a five-part retrospective titled Monster Squad Forever. The five parts are: The Monster Master; The Monster Makers; The Monsters and the Squad; Lights, Camera, Monsters!; and Monsters Mania. There's tons of great information in it - how Dekker formed the idea and got the movie made; cast and crew interviews where they shared stories about the filming; effects; the fan phenomenon to Monster Squad
; and so much more. I really enjoyed it; fans are going to have a blast with it. At a runtime of 90 minutes, which for fans will go by in a heart beat, you just couldn't ask for more. But wait, there is more!
Next is an interview with Frankenstein/Tom Noonan, though the interview is actually with the character of Frankenstein. It's a bit odd, and I suppose it's meant to be taken as tongue-in-cheek, but I found it rather boring myself. Seven deleted scenes are included, all of which contain a brief introduction to the scene. The quality is rough and there's nothing substation in any of the deleted scenes. The only one of real interest was a gag featuring the Gillman. Wrapping up the extras are a storyboard sequence, theatrical trailer and TV spot, and a still gallery.
What a blast I had going through all of these supplements. Two commentary tracks, a 90 minute retrospective, deleted scenes, trailer, TV spots, still gallery, and a storyboard sequence. Fans just couldn't ask for more from Lionsgate. They did a great job; a solid A.
For the 2009 blu-ray you will get what you expect over the 2007 DVD: improved picture quality. The same great movie and the same great extras are present on both the DVD and bluray. Whether it's worth the upgrade or not depends on your home theater and your appreciation of the movie. If it's a childhood favorite for you like it is for me, chances are you already own it. For those on the fence, I would recommend it for the $15.00 and to avoid any concerns of it going out of print someday. The Monster Squad
is a top notch monster movie that both adults and children can enjoy. It has great makeup effects, a decent story, and a good dose of humor. It's been a long wait for the DVD, but Lionsgate really outdid themselves.
*Because of the quality of the HD format, the clarity, resolution and color depth are inherently a major leap over DVD. Since any Blu-ray will naturally have better characteristics than DVDs, the rating is therefore only in comparison with other Blu-ray titles, rather than home video in general. So while a Blu-ray film may only get a C, it will likely be much better than a DVD with an A.
Movie - A
Image Quality - B+*
Sound - B+
Supplements - A
- Running time - 1 hour 22 minutes
- Rated PG-13
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- DTS-HD 5.1
- Dolby Digital 2.0
- English and Spanish subtitles
- Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Fred Dekker and "Squad Members"
- Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Fred Dekker and Director of Photography Bradford May
- Monster Squad Forever! A five-part retrospective
- A Conversation with Frankenstein
- Deleted Scenes
- Still Gallery