Written By: Daniel Kinsley
A cult classic usually refers to a film that has a small but significantly dedicated fanbase, one that never caught on with the mainstream. Much like underrated or masterpiece, it is a label that gets thrown around a bit too casually in the Twitter age, but if there were a case to be made for Fred Dekker’s The Monster Squad (1987) then a lovingly crafted retrospective documentary made by one of the film’s original stars is one hell of an endorsement. Wolfman’s Got Nards (2018) which was released on VOD today may not inspire the same degree of devotion as the film it celebrates, but it remains a heartfelt, if meager, look at what makes a film endure.
Growing up, this writer was privy to plenty of provocative films meant for children. No doubt this can be partly attributed to having cool parents, but also because the 1980s were a very different time, particularly for family entertainment. The likes of Time Bandits (1981) or Gremlins (1984) were not only deeply weird and imaginative, but they thrust their young protagonists into genuinely harrowing, dangerous situations. No matter how outlandish the circumstances (and if you have seen either film, you know they are pretty outlandish) the stakes were real, and these films reflected that. For a young kid, this was essentially confirmation that the world was as strange and wonderful and terrifying as you always imagined, and adventure could be waiting around any corner. Enter The Monster Squad, a film which was originally envisioned by Dekker and co-writer Shane Black as The Little Rascals-meets-Universal Monsters, where Van Helsing’s diary can be found at a garage sale, and the neighborhood misfits are the only ones who can save the world. Whether it was due to a genuinely bizarre ad campaign, or being released only two weeks after smash-hit The Lost Boys (1987), Squad was a massive bomb at the box office, a failure which effectively stalled Dekker’s career and resigned its pleasures to relative obscurity. While it found a brief post-theatrical life thanks to HBO, it would be nearly 20 years before the film got its due.
In 2006, Eric Vespe and Tim League of the Alamo Drafthouse put together a cast reunion screening, which led not only to a huge resurgence for The Monster Squad but helped those involved in the film realize just how many people had discovered the film and truly loved it. Through interviews with the original cast and crew (along with a litany of die-hard fans, including some familiar faces) Wolfman’s Got Nards takes a BTS look at the30-year journey of The Monster Squad, from its heartbreaking original reception to its rightful recognition as a seminal genre film. The documentary is broken up into different chapters exploring each facet of the film from the writing process to the Stan Winston led special effects, the latter of which is especially interesting as Winston and his team recreate the classic monster designs with a new spin.
It is a largely joyful affair, and the actors in particular are brimming with enthusiasm and joy at the late, unexpected success of their work. It is particularly wonderful to hear from Duncan Regehr, the actor who played Dracula as well as Ashley Bank, who played Phoebe, the beating heart of the original film. Director Andre Gower (making his debut behind the lens) gets a lot of mileage out of the nostalgia factor as the enduring enthusiasm of those involved is wildly infectious, particularly for those viewers (like this one) who grew up with the film. Despite its euphoria, Wolfman’s Got Nards is not without gravity, as during the portion of the film that focuses on the untimely death of Brent Chalem, the actor who played Horace, a character who remains a fan-favorite for having arguably the coolest moment in the original film.
If there is a weak spot, it comes in the final third of the doc which becomes less an exploration than a victory lap. While it is wonderful to see the legions of fans (as well as filmmakers) talking about what the movie meant to them, it makes for slightly less compelling viewing when it is stretched out as much as it is. Writer-director Fred Dekker maintains a largely ambivalent relationship to the film as well as its legacy, which he describes as “my best movie…and it sort of killed my career for a period of time.” It would be difficult to begrudge Gower his victory lap, but it nonetheless feels like a missed opportunity not to have further explored those feelings, as it lends the film a degree of complexity that might have pushed it beyond commemoration.
There will always be debate about whether the films we saw as children hold up into adulthood, and in this case, the answer remains a resounding yes (at least for this writer!). It has remained an October staple for many years, and it is lovely to see the film come full circle. As co-writer Shane Black explains toward the end of the film, “…I think it’s the love of kids and monsters…that sustained it.” While it is difficult to say whether Wolfman’s Got Nards has as much to offer to new fans, but if nothing else, it seems to confirm without a doubt that while the love for The Monster Squad may have shown up late, it is here to stay.