New Doc Showcases the Monster Cult of 1987’s ‘The Monster Squad’

by Nick Spacek on October 27, 2020

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Minor Rock Fist Up]

Available on demand now.

Director Andre Gower‘s documentary, Wolfman’s Got Nards, is about 1987’s Fred Dekker movie, The Monster Squad, in which he starred as horror-obsessed middle-schooler Sean, who – along with his friends – must defeat Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the Gill Man, the Wolf Man, and the Mummy before they bring darkness all over the world. However, in addition to being about the movie itself, it looks just as much at the fan cult which has grown up around it.

“When it was released in 1987, The Monster Squad was deemed a film no one cared much about but over the last three decades, word of mouth has turned this sleeper hit into a cultural phenomenon. Wolfman’s Got Nards explores the relationship a dedicated audience (including celebrities and filmmakers) has with The Monster Squad. This documentary takes an in-depth look into the film’s conception, response, cult status and revival. Through interviews with the cast, crew, screenwriters, directors, academics and original reviewers as well as through never-before-seen footage, it turns the lens on an audience of self-proclaimed misfits who have kept The Monster Squad alive for more than 30 years.”

I’ll be absolutely straight: Wolfman’s Got Nards is a documentary about fans, and it is a documentary for fans of The Monster Squad. If you’ve never seen the Shane Black-scripted, Fred Dekker-directed “kids versus the Universal Monsters” film, this is not really for you. If you grew up obsessed with this video store and HBO staple, though, you’re in for a treat, because you’re going to learn some things about this legit cult classic.

“Cult” is a word thrown around with abandon these days, but The Monster Squad is kind of the textbook definition of the term. It’s a movie which bombed at the box office, saw much of its kid cast not go on to much else after, and was really only discovered by word of mouth and video shelf happenstance. It wasn’t readily available until the 20th anniversary DVD in 2007, and despite the fact that Wolfman’s Got Nards demonstrates that the film’s fanbase is absolutely rabid, it’s still not a cultural touchstone in the way that The Goonies became.

Part of the appeal of the film is that kids act like kids, the horror is actually scary, and it’s pretty much non-stop from start to finish. There’s no slow-burn start, here. The film opens with Dr. Van Helsing attacking Dracula’s castle in 1887, and from the moment we see a vampire bride gnawing on a rat, it’s go time.

But you can find the plot summary on Wikipedia. What you really need to know is that, thanks to a cast reunion screening at the Austin Alamo Drafthouse, the film ended up getting a DVD release, and then Andre Gower started reaching out to people who were fans of The Monster Squad and hence, we have this documentary, wherein he speaks with those who made the film and those were influenced by it. The first half of the doc is dedicated to the making of The Monster Squad, and the response to it upon initial release, and the second half sees the long tendrils of its influence winding their way through horror movie fandom.

Wolfman’s Got Nards is well-balanced in that regard, in that it’s not quite a making-of, and it’s not quite a full-bore fan letter, but somewhere in the middle. Thanks to the fact that Gower, along with his Monster Squad co-stars Ryan Lambert (leather-jacket wearing, cigarette-smoking cool kid Rudy Holloran) and Ashley Bank as (Sean’s little sister, Phoebe) toured the country doing screenings of the film, there is scads of footage of the fans discussing this film – not just TV and movie folks like Adam F. Goldberg, Heather Langenkamp, Chuck Russell, Adam Green, and Joe Lynch, among others.

While it’s cool to see the show-runner and creator of The Goldbergs discuss just how much the film affected him (including a highlight reel of the show’s numerous uses of “nards”), getting to see regular folks who grew up with the film getting to just openly enthuse about why they’re 30 or 40-something and attending a screening of a 30-year-old horror movie aimed at middle schoolers is heartwarming. The sheer love for The Monster Squad, and just how much Gower, Lambert, and Bank get from knowing that this thing which almost broke them – to the point where Lambert left acting after its release – is heartwarming to the point of tear-jerking.

Again, though the film is exceptionally well put together, and Gower does a super job of talking with as many people involved in its making as possible, this isn’t likely to resonate quite as much for casual fans as it did for me and other die-hards who have been watching this on grainy VHS copies and DVD bootlegs since they were barely double digits.

Still, if you’re on the fence about whether The Monster Squad might be your kind of movie, the sheer barrage of positivity coming from fans and the folks it inspired is like a tidal wave of “you must see this!”

Nick is a self-described “rock star journalist,” which is strange, considering he’s married with two kids and three cats. This is just further proof that you can’t trust anyone online. In addition to his work for Scene-Stealers, Nick can be found bitching about music elsewhere on the Internet at his blog, Rock Star Journalist, and as Music Editor for The Pitch.

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