Over/Under: ‘The Goonies’ vs. ‘The Monster Squad’

Back in 1985, releasing a family film that was directed by Superman’s Richard Donner and had Steven Spielberg’s name plastered all over it as a writer and producer was pretty much the antithesis of a risky proposition. At this point in the mid 80s Spielberg and his crew of cohorts were at the height of their powers, churning out family friendly blockbusters one after another. So The Goonies never really had an uphill battle to climb. It was probably always going to be a success. The way that it took the ball and has continued to run with it, even twenty-six years later, is a little astounding though. This is a huge movie. If ever someone admits to not having seen it, they instantly get hit with an incredulous, “WHAT? YOU HAVEN’T SEEN GOONIES?” It’s almost to the point where the DVD gets sent to suburbanites in the mail with Peter Frampton records and samples of Tide.

On the other end of the spectrum, The Monster Squad is a total cult movie. While it’s loved passionately by a small group of geeks, a normal person would have to very randomly stumble across something deep within the heart of the Internet to ever realize that this movie even exists. There aren’t any college frat boys wearing out their copy of Monster Squad like they are their copies of Goonies. There isn’t a new generation of young kids catching on to Fat Kid and Frankenstein the way they are Chunk and Sloth. If you find someone else who even knows what this movie is, it’s like a drink of water in the desert. Generally any conversation that happens between two people who both like this film contains a very excited, “YOU KNOW MONSTER SQUAD? YES!” Forget about samples in the mail, suburbanites can’t even get this film stocked on the shelves of their big box stores.

What do they have in common?

These movies both tell adventurous tales where young kids take on forces far more powerful than anything they should be able to handle. In The Goonies the kids are avoiding centuries old booby traps and being pursued by a murderous crime family. In The Monster Squad the kids are fighting all of the old Universal Monsters, who have come to town and are hatching schemes right under the noses of the authorities. And neither of these movies are about the cool kids, or even the average Joes; these kids are the misfits, the outcasts.

The Goonies are a bunch of tech geeks and history buffs, the members of The Monster Squad are obsessed with the macabre and horror culture. The similarities between the two don’t stop with the kids either. They both have classic 80s movie pop song breakdowns. They both have adult language that’s kind of shocking for a family film. If Sloth and Frankenstein teamed up they could be the dynamic duo of dim-bulbed, kid-loving juggernauts. These two movies are cut from the same acid-washed cloth.

Why is The Goonies overrated?

When you watch The Goonies as a kid, or at least a kid in the mid 80s, it seems like a sprawling adventure beyond anything that you could imagine. But, really, how much can a five-year-old imagine? When you watch the film with adult eyes you realize that it’s actually a very claustrophobic, set bound film that tells a pretty small story. The kids are so cramped in these tiny little set pieces they’re practically climbing all over each other. And most of what they find down there just leads to them shouting at each other about taking bathroom breaks and the ethics of wishing wells. This movie needs a big action sequence to liven it up. Something equivalent to the mine car chase in Temple of Doom. Instead, all the peril that the kids really face is a couple of ridiculous puzzles and the world’s slowest foot chase with the cheesy Fratelli family. Really, I think that kids like this movie so much just because it deals with booby traps, and when you’re a kid, booby traps are about the coolest thing ever. Why people continue to watch it into their adulthood, I’ll never know.

The Goonies is tensionless and dopey. The bad guys are bumbling idiots who disappear and reappear as the script needs them to. The whole time we’re supposed to be on some great race to the pirate treasure against the Fratellis, but the kids are constantly stopping to reminisce, marvel at things, or monologue along the way. And, oh, those monologues. Has there ever been a kid more sappy and overly earnest than Sean Astin’s Mikey? He’s a sentimental dweeb, and I’ve never known a real life kid who would let him indulge in his big speeches. Plop these characters into real life and even Mouth and Data would be shouting him down and calling him a geek at every turn. Quite frankly, in order to really hold up, The Goonies needs to be cooler. It needs some risk, it needs some danger, it needs a group of kids that you’d really want to hang out with. Not a bunch of geeks you’d roll your eyes at if you ever actually met.

Why is The Monster Squad underpraised?

The opening scene of this movie alone is so creepy and filled with atmosphere that it’s instantly a more macabre experience than 90% of the horror movies that get aimed toward the teenage crowd, and this film is skewed toward a much younger audience. We’ve got dilapidated buildings, cobwebs, fog, creepy crawlies; this is the sort of stuff that horror movies too often forget. The bad guys here are the monsters from all of the great Universal films of old, and they’re all presented in their classic designs. When you think about Dracula, he looks like the Dracula in The Monster Squad. All down the line, from The Wolf Man, to The Mummy, to The Creature From the Back Lagoon, to Frankenstein’s monster, the ghouls are realized in their most iconic forms (while avoiding horrifying copyright infringement). They look the way they look in Halloween decorations, and they give The Monster Squad a timeless feel that still holds up today, even though this thing couldn’t be any more from the 80s. Really, other than The CommieNazis, there may be no better villains than these classic freaks, and The Monster Squad gets them just right: they’re evil, deadly, and not afraid to call a little girl a bitch.

The kids here are pretty cool too. They’re misfits, but they’re not goonies. They’ve got sass and spunk, and even the fat kid manages to get some big moments and avoids looking like a whining annoyance. When faced with the ultimate evil, these kids decide that it’s up to them to carve wooden stakes, forge silver bullets, collect mystical amulets, and make friends with an old scary German guy. Whatever it takes to get the job done. They’re not just wandering around down in some subterranean caves having things happen to them, they’re getting proactive and aggressive, and it makes for an exciting story. There’s a grittiness to these kids that you just don’t see today. They cuss, they smoke, they talk about boobs, they call each other fags (or at least Jason Hervey, playing another Wayne Arnold type jerk does); they feel like real kids in the way that kids in modern family movies never do. Everything has become homogenized and overly politically correct when it involves children. But kids aren’t wholesome, they’re generally just little jerks. The best you can hope for is that sometimes they’re funny little jerks like the members of The Monster Squad.

Evening the Odds

My whole life has been a non-stop cacophony of quotes from The Goonies. You’ve got all the classics that people love to repeat: “Hey you guys!”; “Sloth love Chunk”; “Goonies never say die”; and “Baby Ruth!” This movie will forever be ingrained in our heads as an important piece of pop culture. But The Monster Squad is tons of fun too, and it’s got even better quotes. Why don’t I always hear people making reference to the fact that, “Wolfman’s got nards!”; “Old scary German guy is bitchin’!”; “Creature stole my Twinkie”; or  “My name. Is Horace!”?

Drunken dudes should be screaming these things at parties, but this movie just never got the attention it needed to get on their radars. If nostalgia is enough to keep adults engaged while sitting through their 1000th viewing of The Goonies, then it should be at least enough to make The Monster Squad a lasting hit as well. But, unfortunately, not enough people saw it back when the timing was right. Now it’s up to us to do what’s right and show this movie to a bunch of kids, STAT.

Celebrate the uncelebrated with more Over/Under

Weaned on the genre films of the 80s. Reared by the independent movement of the 90s. Earned a BA for writing stuff in the 00s. Reviews current releases at templeofreviews.com

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