Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Ask Me a Question: The Monster Squad

As if four movies on Saturday weren't enough, it was time for the weekend's fifth on Sunday with a matinee of 1987's The Monster Squad at The Ace Theatre in downtown. As I already mentioned, it was frigging hot this weekend and The Ace is right next door to the Eastern Building where they shot Predator 2. So going into scorching hot downtown was in a sense, like reliving Predator 2 since that took place during a heat wave. The great folks at La-La Land Records invited us after attending He-Man & She-Ra Day at The Egyptian last month. La-La had new copies of Bruce Broughton's excellent score available in the lobby and co-host Creature Features had tables full of prints, posters and other cool stuff. Upstairs there was a VIP reception where you could mingle with attending cast and crew but honestly I wouldn't recognize anyone besides F/X gurus Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr. The bar(s) were open so I enjoyed a couple of Jameson and ginger ales before and during the flick. We saw Back to the Future here a while back and I feel like the inside changed somehow, the seats seemed closer to the stage or something...

Eric "Quint" Vespe from Ain't It Cool News was the host and apparently he organized the first revival screening of Squad back in 2006 in Austin. Since then the flick has experienced a resurgence thanks to many a repertory screening and a 20th anniversary special edition DVD. Creature Features hosted a Monster Squad event at The Aero years ago and it played during last years Beyond Fest. Sadly composer Broughton couldn't attend but Vespe brought out actor Stephen Macht, cinematographer Bradford May, Gillis and Woodruff for a pre-movie panel:

- May was a young camera man hired by non-union director/producer Peter Hyams to shadow him. Ended up on Monster Squad and had a great time.
- Film shot for just over 3 months, utilized much of Warner Brothers backlot including Hazzard Square, the lake featured in the film is now office buildings.
- Peter Hyams' wife liked Stephen Macht in a television series, Hyams asked actor if he wanted to be in the movie, they shook hands and that was it.
- Macht's movie wife Mary Ellen Trainor (Lethal Weapon, The Goonies) was a terrific human being and the two became lifelong friends. Had no clue she was ill and sadly passed away in May.
- Stan Winston's studio hired to do the Mummy, Wolfman, Dracula, Frankenstein and Gill-Man f/x. Wolfman is based on Winston's own personal appearance and hair style. Gill-Man was first time Woodruff was in a suit, would later be the Alien in several films. Was in Gill-Man suit for 14 hours once. While shooting in lake, didn't want to pee in suit as he thought it might change material color.
- Originally wanted to use Universal monsters but studio passed.
- Gillis is still semi-embarassed they used remote control cars to move bodyparts around.
- Tom Noonan was method and stayed in character as Frankenstein, would answer direction with grunts and never let child actors see him without make-up.
- Macht doesn't think the film could be remade because it was a simpler, more idealistic time in the 80's. His son Gabriel (The Spirit, Suits) grew up on the film and still loves it.

While I own The Monster Squad and played it in the background, I've never actually sat down and watched it so seeing it on The Ace's beautiful screen was absolute best way to experience it. Basically, a crew of teenage kids who love monster movies (Andre Gower, Robby Kiger, Brent Chalem, Michael Faustino, Ashley Bank and Ryan Lambert) end up in possession of Van Helsing's diary. There's an amulet, a prophecy and virgins involved but Dracula and his monster cronies have returned and it's up to the kids to stop them. Directed by Fred Dekker with a script assist from Shane Black, Squad is a great 80's flick where kids curse, monsters are scary and realized practically, a kid can write the Army a letter in crayon and they show up while still injecting some real life drama like fighting parents and child bullying. Plus there's a big score by Broughton and a montage set to a snazzy 80's pop tune. In addition to the kids cussing, you also get one of them killing the monsters via wooden stakes and arrows then making and shooting silver bullets and it's no big deal. See? Don't coddle children, let them eat dirt, it'll be fine.

After the flick, Vespe introduced cast members Andre Gower (Sean), Ashley Bank (Phoebe) and Ryan Lambert (Rudy):

- In true Shane Black fashion, some of the dialog has a hard boiled detective/pulp novel feel. Gower was instructed to deliver the final line of the film with Clint Eastwood style steely aplomb.
- As kids they had no idea what a big production the film was, they could only work 6 hours a day and had 3 hours of school a day.
- On set teacher watched out for them, objected to Lambert climbing up into the treehouse set.
- All remember Treehouse set being great, so detailed and realized.
- Shooting in square was hard as giant fans were blowing them around, debris everywhere.
- Bank's scene and terror with Dracula Duncan Regeher was real as she had never seen him with his evil red contacts and he really frightened her.
- None of them knew the film had such a cult following. Lambert was in San Francisco playing in bands when first heard. They've attended multiple screenings around the country and love seeing film with fans as each crowd responds to different things.
- Fat kid Horace actor Brent Chalem was shy at first but eventually gelled with crew. Sadly passed away from complications with pneumonia in 1997.
- As adults, give major props to the crew who actually made the film while they went home.

Everyone involved looked back fondly and really appreciated that the film was still playing so well nearly 30 years later. After the Q&A, the actors hung out signing posters and taking photos while I grabbed Bradford May a moment. You see, May went on to have a prolific directing career mainly in television with Nash Bridges, The Equalizer, The Twilight Zone, Dallas, JAG and multiple TV movies making up his 100 plus credits directing and as a cinematographer. For me it all comes back to Michael Biehn as May directed 1997's Asteroid, a $20 million dollar, 4-hour miniseries that was watched by 30 million viewers. Biehn starred as the gritty and heroic leader of FEMA and May told me it was a huge production, shooting for nearly 4 months, mostly in Denver. I have a copy on VHS at home even though it omits some 60 minutes of footage from the original broadcast. But May is a great talker, he had stories and decades worth of technical knowledge in his computer but somehow doesn't make it dry or hard to understand. It was a nice cap to a very fun afternoon.

1 comment:

  1. Aww, such a great post! I was there at this screening too! Really awesome time.
    P.S. I'm doing a printed zine dedicated to Rudy from Monster Squad, it will be out soon!
    If you have Instagram, you can come by at @iheartrudy :)