There's been a great push in the last 10 years or so for people to "find their tribe," to recognize they can be "weird" in some way and there is a group of like-minded people with whom they can commune, even if they're hard to find. So often, these tribes are people with shared experiences and love of a particular piece of media. Find the group of people who love that TV show/movie/obscure comic book, and revel in being fans together. It's harder, though, when that media is unavailable for decades.At Beyond Fest in Los Angeles--one of the best genre festivals in the world, and itself a tribe worth finding--there's a healthy mixture of premieres and classics, and rarely do they ever repeat films from year to year. Until this year, when they decided to screen Fred Dekker's 1987 horror-comedy The Monster Squad along with Wolfman's Got Nards, the documentary about the cult that's sprung up around the former film since 2006. The documentary--by the original movie's young star Andre Gower--is a celebration of gathering together with other outsiders.
I confess, while I'd heard of The Monster Squad in my youth--I was three when it came out and thus the perfect age for it when it was on its HBO run--I'd never actually seen it until a few years ago. It's a delightful mix of classic Gothic horror tropes (taken from but not directly emulating the Universal Monsters) and kid adventure. Can these goofballs prevent the end of the world at the hands of Count Dracula and his minions? I was immediately struck upon first viewing how much it doesn't shy away from being actually frightening, something which movies aimed at kids--and especially comedies aimed at kids--don't usually display. Upon a revisit, I found it astounding how well the effects by Stan Winston's amazing team and much of the comedy holds up, and how much some of the un-PC elements feel particularly dated.This was followed by Wolfman's Got Nards, named for easily The Monster Squad's most famous line, which I remember kindergarten kids quoting. Andre Gower, who plays Squad leader Sean, directed the documentary chronicling the making of the movie--there are some great behind-the-scenes anecdotes and footage--the subsequent flop at the box office, people finding it in the nascent days of Home Box Office, losing it again for decades at a time, and a massive resurgence following a now legendary 2006 screening at Austin's Alamo Drafthouse. Gower and his costars, and Dekker himself, have found new life in the eyes of fans who discover The Monster Squad, and have learned just how much the movie has meant to so many people.By rights, Wolfman's Got Nards should probably be over three hours long. There's so much to cover, and Gower and his crew do an astounding job of being as thorough as possible. There are really three parts to the documentary. The first is a making-of, interviewing the major players and getting the story of how the movie was made in the first place. In this section is also how the movie utterly died on the vine, due to a bad mixture of terrible marketing, and a release date hot on the heels of The Lost Boys.Â This was my personal favorite section, as a fan of documentaries chronicling the making of movies, but that's ultimately not what the documentary fully is.The second section, the real meat of the movie, is about the fans who sprung up after The Monster Squad began showing in regular rotation on HBO and in video stores, bringing in audiences who probably would have seen it in theaters if given the chance, but now get to watch it over and over again. This goes into how people fell in love with it, how it affected their lives, and how hard the movie became to find in the subsequent years.And the final part shows the surprising return and recognition of The Monster Squad as a "cult" movie (though there are arguments within the interviews as to whether it even is one) and the shock the makers of the film felt at being secretly beloved for so many years. We get a look at the mega-tour Gower and costars Ryan Lambert and Ashley Bank went on in 2017 for the 30th anniversary, and we get a heartbreaking section about a member of The Monster Squad cast who didn't get to see this sudden popularity.So it's sort of difficult to judge the documentary on its own filmic merits. Sure, it could tighten up in places and expand in others, and it glances by parts that I would think should have a lot more time spent on them, but it has to accomplish so much, and really it's a movie for people who love The Monster Squad and want to celebrate and explore the fandom. And I saw it in the best possible setting, in the sold-out Egyptian Theatre, immediately following a 35mm print of The Monster Squad itself. What's not to like? We're all in the goddamn club, aren't we?
4 out of 5
Images: TriStar/Pilgrim Media Group