Here’s a small cult gem from the early days of the rise of the PG-13 movies. Oh how times have changed since then. What we have here is basically The Goonies meet the classic Universal monsters. A fun concept certainly, but in the end, not really my cup of tea. The thing is, I almost certainly would have loved this movie as a child. Now, it’s entirely okay to sit through once, but without any type of nostalgia involved, it just kinda meh experience. If anything, to me the most interesting thing about this movie is that it’s co-written by Shane Black of all people.
The movie is simply pure 80s cheese down to its bone marrow. The characters are all entirely stereotypical arc types, the plot is nothing more than a thin excuse to get the kids combat the monsters, and the bad guys themselves are baddies because, hey, they’re monsters so of course they’re evil! Well, except for Frankenstein’s monster. He is suppose to serve Dracula, but really, he’s more like a goofy, slightly senile uncle that just hangs out with the kids a little rather than pose any type of real threat.
Anyway, the story is laughably simple. There’s a plot device, the monsters want it because destroying it somehow makes evil reign the world or whatever, the kids more or less by chance stumble into the evil plot and then the rest of the movie is the kids starting combat the monsters and save the day. As you might expect, it’s all rather silly. And I frankly like that about this movie. They have unapologetic fun with the monsters and their lore and manage to turn what could have been easily a really corny kids movie to be relatively okay to watch even as an adult, thanks to the humor and smart way they use comedy in defeating the monsters. For example, as well know, vampire’s are allergic to garlic, so at one point of the fat kid of the group uses a slice of garlic pizza (that he naturally was carrying with him as a late night snack) as a weapon against Dracula. With the monsters who have no clear established weakness, the movie goes for another route. With the Gill-Man, from the Creature of the Black Lagoon movie, the fat kid just shoots him dead with a shotgun, because why not? The Mummy’s defeat is almost ingenious. What they do is basically defeat him by unwrapping his bandages, resulting in the Mummy disintegrating to a point where only his skull is left when there’s nothing to hold him together. Okay there is slightlt more than that to it, involving a car and a tree being shot by a arrow, but that’s the basic idea to his defeat.
There are even some nice moments where the tone suddenly takes a more serious, even a bit darker turn and gives you real life issues for the more mature audience members, perhaps best conveyed when you get a subtle Nazi concentration camp reference when an old German guy’s arm reveals a tattoo that implies that he was a Holocaust survivor as he closes the door, just after the kids had made a small remark about how he seems to have much knowledge about monsters. There’s also a superfluous subplot about Sean’s parents having marital trouble that goes nowhere, but it’s kinda fascinating how it actually exists in the movie. It lends a small touch of grounding normalcy to the setting before Sean puts 1+1 together and discovers Count Dracula is stalking in the neighborhood and its time for small kids to defeat the forces of darkness with the power of friendship and PG-13 plot armor.