Universal may have stumbled this summer with Tom Cruise's "The Mummy," the studio's first entry in what is to be a franchise that will unite its classic movie monsters. But a low-budget kiddie horror comedy got there first, three decades ago, and did it with enough wit and charm to endear itself to a generation of fans. That'd be "The Monster Squad," released 30 years ago this week, on August 14, 1987.
The movie pitted Dracula, the Mummy, the Wolfman, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon against Frankenstein's monster and a group of brave misfit kids. It wasn't a box office hit, but it developed a cult following on video that considered "Monster Squad" as essential an '80s coming-of-age adventure as "The Goonies" or "Stand By Me." Plus, it launched the career of one of Hollywood's most successful screenwriters, Shane Black (the "Lethal Weapon" series, "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," "Iron Man 3").
If you've ever found yourself chuckling at the line, "Wolfman's got nards," you're a member of the "Squad" squad. And yet, you still may not know how the film came together, which current A-lister nearly got to play Dracula, or why all the monsters don't look exactly like they did in the old Universal movies. Read on for the secrets of "Monster Squad" -- no translation by a Scary German Guy necessary.
1. Shane Black and director Fred Dekker were film school classmates at UCLA. (Insert "Black & Dekker" joke here.) They collaborated on the "Monster Squad" script while Black's "Lethal Weapon" was in development and Dekker was preparing to direct "Night of the Creeps."
2. When their film was greenlit, Dekker gave it a small shout-out in "Creeps," in a shot where graffiti on a bathroom wall reads, "Go Monster Squad!"
3. A little-known actor named Liam Neeson auditioned for the role of Dracula but lost it to Duncan Regehr, then best known for playing Hollywood icon Errol Flynn in the TV biopic "My Wicked, Wicked Ways." Dekker said later that he had planned to use Neeson as Dracula's double in one scene, but the scene was never filmed.
4. The production hired no less than the late Stan Winston to create the look of the monsters, the monster-movie makeup legend who -- at the time -- just won an Oscar for "Aliens." Winston had also just designed the title creature in "Predator," a movie where Black had a bit part.
5. Because Universal wouldn't license its classic monster likenesses to the rival TriStar studio, Winston had to make the monsters look a little different (for instance, putting the Frankenstein monster's electrodes on his temple instead of his neck), enough to avoid copyright infringement while still making them recognizable.
6.Tom Noonan, whose career of terrifying performances includes the villains in "Manhunter" and "Last Action Hero," applied his usual Method intensity to the role of Frankenstein's monster. In fact, he never let the kid actors see him without his monster make-up. Ashley Bank, who played five-year-old Phoebe, joked that she never met Noonan until she was 25.
7. Regehr was always in makeup around the kids -- mostly. For the scene where Dracula lifts Phoebe, Dekker told Bank she would have to scream, and that she'd know the right moment. When the cameras rolled, Bank saw Regehr wearing red contacts and fangs for the first time and let out a shriek of real terror.
8. Bank could have been in a landmark hit film that year, as she was up for the part of the daughter in "Fatal Attraction." But that would have meant shooting in New York, instead of at home in Los Angeles. Besides, "Monster Squad" offered her a bigger role, and it was going to be a movie she was not too young to watch. "I never regretted it at all," she said of her decision.
9. Black's initial opening scene would have been a prologue where Van Helsing (Jack Gwillim) strafes Dracula's castle with a zeppelin armed with machine guns, facing off against 40 vampire brides on horseback. Dekker quickly nixed the budget-busting idea.
10. Also not in the film: a scene where Sean (Andre Gower) and Patrick (Robby Kiger) trade baseball cards with a schoolmate, played by Dustin "Screech" Diamond. Dekker said the scene didn't work, so the future "Saved by the Bell" star's big moment got cut.
11. If you originally saw the movie in theaters or (more likely) on VHS, there's a lot you may not have noticed. Like how Sean and Phoebe's mom has her suitcases packed, like she's about to leave their father. Or that her note about the Van Helsing diary refers to it as the "Van Helen diary." Or how Scary German Guy (Leonardo Cimino) has a number tattooed on his arm, indicating that he's a concentration camp survivor. Or that the naked snapshot of Patrick's sister Lisa (Lisa Fuller) that Rudy (Ryan Lambert) flashes at her to blackmail her isn't actually a naked picture at all; if you freeze-frame the DVD, you'll see that Fuller's fully clothed. (It's a PG-13 movie, folks.)
12. There are a couple of goofs involving the trio of vampire brides. In one shot, their reflections are visible in a mirror. Also, Rudy kills two of them, but what becomes of the third? Dekker's explanation: Don't think about it too much, it's just a movie.
13. "Monster Squad" cost an estimated $12 million to make. It earned back just $3.8 million in theaters.
14. In the early 2010s, a "Monster Squad" remake was in development at Platinum Dunes, the Michael Bay production company that's specialized in remakes of '70s and '80s horror classics. By 2014, Platinum Dunes had declared the project dead.
15. In 2016, however, Black said it "could be fun" to write a sequel, along the lines of Stephen King's "It," where the now-grown squad members have to confront evil again 30 years later. No word on whether he'll ever actually write that script, but he did reunite with Dekker to write a new "Predator" sequel, due in early 2018.