"The Monster Squad" (citywide) is such fun, it makes you wish you were a kid again. Although you can never regain childhood innocence, you can find compensation in being able to appreciate the artistry with which director Fred Dekker and co-writer Shane Black (who also wrote "Lethal Weapon") have brought to this horror comedy-adventure aimed at youngsters.
It seems that once every 100 years there's a chance to tilt the balance between good and evil--provided you can get your hands on the ancient amulet, a glowing jewel which controls that balance. Wouldn't you know that the amulet has ended up in a derelict mansion on the edge of a typical American town? Anyway, Count Dracula (Duncan Regehr) is so determined to get his hands on it that he's rounded up some old pals--Frankenstein's Monster (Tom Noonan), Wolfman (Carl Thibault), Gill-Man (Tom Woodruff Jr.) and the Mummy (Michael MacKay)--to help him out.
What Dracula hasn't reckoned with is the Monster Squad, a group of adolescent boys who have formed a fan club in celebration of their favorite monsters. Not surprisingly, when Dracula starts brewing trouble, it falls to the boys to ward off evil, because of course their parents don't believe in monsters. "The Monster Squad" honors the imagination of children.
The squad's natural leader is Sean (Andre Gower); his pals are played by little Michael Faustino, feisty Robby Kiger and hefty but game Brent Chalem. Somewhat older--the only one in the group who's discovered girls--is handsome Ryan Lambert, who drifts into the squad when he rescues Chalem from some schoolyard bullies.
These are great kids, likably real and not maddeningly precocious in the hard-dying tradition of movie brats. Tagging along but not really welcome (until they really need her, naturally) is Sean's little sister Phoebe (Ashley Bank), who befriends Frankenstein's Monster, who this time around wouldn't hurt a fly.
Although "The Monster Squad" has for economy been shot largely on sound stages and back lots, there's been no stinting on special effects. Visual effects producer Richard Edlund, winner of four Oscars for the "Star Wars" trilogy and "Raiders of the Lost Ark," has come up with such dazzlers as a vortex that sucks people into another dimension. Monster makeup effects supervisor Stan Winston (another Oscar winner with "Aliens" and "The Terminator" among his credits) is another strong contributor. His monsters honor the originals yet seem more individual and more expressive than is usual.
Among the grown-ups are Stephen Macht as Sean's father, a loving husband and parent but overworked as a cop, and Stan Shaw as Macht's partner. But the one human adult who really counts is played by veteran character actor Leonardo Cimino, cast as an elderly recluse whom the boys call the Scary German Guy.
What they don't realize is that he is, in fact, a concentration camp survivor who knows about evil firsthand and, far from being scary, is actually willing to help the boys. In Cimino's character the film makers score a point about the dangers of judging by appearances--and they afford a fine actor, so seemingly sinister with his heavy-lidded eyes, a welcome change of pace from his usual villains.
Since "The Monster Squad" has been made in a hearty spirit of spooky make-believe, it seems unnecessary that some of its characters actually die before it's over. Perhaps even more perverse, however, is the film's PG-13 rating, since it's preteens for whom the film is so clearly intended and that's the only age group likely to find it scary.