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Old 06-13-2004, 03:51 AM
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Monster Squad - Japanese




Reviewer: Dave
Review Date: June 9, 2002

Released by: Herlad Videogram | Vestron Video
Release date: 1989
MSRP: $??.?? (Out of Print)
NTSC
Widescreen 2.35:1




This is the usual spot where I explain why laserdisc remains so great, so necessary, and so essential a format to every horror fan. Well, it's true. That's right, it's rant time once again. DVD has depreciated so many wonderful laserdiscs. The Fog, Phantasm, Evil Dead 2, The Omen, Rosemary's Baby, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Night of the Living Dead are just a few examples of laserdiscs that were once expensive but are now a dime a dozen on epay thanks to their DVD counterparts. And that's just the domestic laserdiscs; don't get me started on Japanese laserdiscs. Anyone else pay big bucks for the Japanese Evil Dead LD? It may sound like I'm griping here, but I'm not. This is natural evolution in home video. Something superior comes out, making the older, inferior product depreciate. The same thing will happen with DVD some day (GASP!!!!!).

I write these laserdisc reviews for several reasons. 1) I love laserdiscs. 2) I love Japanese laserdiscs. 3) To remind people why laserdisc is essential to any horror fan's home theater. 4) To remind people that while many horror movies are making their way to DVD, there are still plenty that have yet to do so. And that these particular movies MUST be released on DVD. We need to build interest for these movies and start letting the studios know we want them on DVD!

Today's review is for the 1987 classic, Monster Squad. A domestic pan & scan laserdisc of Monster Squad was released back in the late 80s; a disc I once owned with tremendous pride. Sure, it was pan & scan and it's only advantage over the VHS tape from the 80s was no degradation in quality after repeating viewings. But hey, it was the best one could do, right? Wrong. Several months ago I came across a newsgroup posting indicating there was a widescreen Monster Squad laserdisc released in Japan. After a surprisingly short search I managed to find a copy of this rare disc for a somewhat reasonable price. Why the rush to obtain the widescreen laserdisc? Monster Squad was shot in 2.35:1. Watching a pan and scan presentation when not absolutely necessary - especially when the OAR is 2.35:1 - is a downright crime.

Is this Japanese laserdisc - released in 1989 - worth the high price tag? Or perhaps the more important question is, is Monster Squad good enough of a movie to warrant paying the high price tag? Lets take a look and see if we can answer both questions.

The Story

inline Image 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.


inline Image 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 occurrences 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.

inline Image 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.

inline Image 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.

inline Image 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.

inline Image 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.

inline Image 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.

Image Quality

Note: This laserdisc was reviewed on a Japanese Pioneer LD-S9 laserdisc player. This particular player has advanced circuitry not found in American players that significantly reduces chroma noise and displays a superior image overall. As a result, anyone viewing this disc in a lesser quality player may see an inferior image then what is described below.

This Japanese laserdisc of The Monster Squad presented in a widescreen transfer, preserving the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. It's a dated transfer but that isn't all that surprising considering it was released in 1989. On my LD-S9 player the chroma noise is minimal, though there is still some present. The image is soft overall and contains no visible grain. Colors are subdued and are consistently too bright - especially whites. In comparison with the domestic P&S laserdisc, I'd say the Japanese disc wins overall. It's not as soft and has less chroma noise than the domestic disc. And, of course, it's in widescreen which is certainly the biggest advantage. The domestic disc wins on colors, however. They're more vibrant and accurate than the Japanese disc.

While I'm happy to own The Monster Squad on widescreen laserdisc, the transfer is barely satisfactory. If this disc were P&S I'd probably give it the same grade as the domestic P&S LD. But this disc is widescreen, which makes a big difference and scores it extra points. While the colors aren't as good as the domestic LD, I'll take inferior colors in order to watch it in its proper aspect ratio. I'm rating it with a C.

The screen shots below give a few examples of what is butchered in the P&S version. Note that the screen shots above in the story outline have portions of their sides cropped by me. That is done so I can shrink the shots to a reasonable size in order to put them next to paragraphs. I never crop essential information, just what I consider 'dead space.' The following shots were not cropped in any way, so they're an accurate comparison.


inline Image inline Image




inline Image inline Image



Notice anything missing? Oh, not much; just some people! You'll notice in the first set of shots that a little boy, a dog, and some brush are missing from that P&S shot. In the second set of shots you'll notice that Rudy is missing entirely from the P&S shot. It's disgusting. It's these sort of shots that are the best argument for widescreen. These are just two examples. There are countless more.

Sound

Monster Squad is presented in Dolby Surround sound. The sound is crystal clear throughout the movie. Dialogue is clear and no distortion was evident. Unfortunately, there was very little activity on surrounds, which is disappointing.

Supplemental Material

This disc is from 1989. A time when supplements weren't very common. Still, there is a theatrical trailer and it's widescreen - a very nice surprise.

Final Thoughts

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. I highly recommend it. The transfer on this laserdisc is satisfactory at best, but I do recommend it over the domestic laserdisc primarily because of the widescreen presentation. Given this laserdisc is from 1989, it's hard to fault anyone for what was most likely considered a decent transfer (minus the overly bright colors) back then. This is a movie that SCREAMS for a DVD release. It would be great to get all the kids together (ala Goonies) for a commentary track. Unfortunately, it seems The Monster Squad isn't destined to hit DVD anytime in the near future. No studio is fessing up to owning the rights. Last I heard, Paramount owns the rights, but they won't confirm or deny that. In the meantime, this laserdisc will have to suffice. For those planning on looking for a copy: good luck! This is a rare and expensive disc. But if you're a big fan of the movie, it's definitely worth trying to locate.


Rating

Movie - A
Image Quality - C
Sound - B-
Supplements - C

Technical Info.
  • Color
  • Rated PG
  • 1 Disc
  • English Dolby Surround
  • Japanese Subtitles (burned in)
Supplements
  • Theatrical trailer

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