This article was last modified on June 25, 2018.


Cinepocalypse 2018: Wolfman’s Got Nards

This heartfelt documentary explores the power of so-called “cult film” told through the lens of the 1987 classic “The Monster Squad” and the impact it has on fans, cast and crew, and the industry.

The film starts out by asking, “What is a cult movie, and is this one of them?” In response, we get thoughts from many in the horror community – Joe Lynch, Seth Green, Chuck Russell, etc – on the film that stuck with them in their formative years and has since achieved cult status. Which, of course, transitions to people who feel “Monster Squad” was that film for them. For me, however, it does not belong in that category. Yes, it has a following and certainly its reputation has improved with time, but “cult” is going too far. A great many horror films took years to blossom, but it diminishes the word “cult” to apply it to all these films that blew up on home video.

The film’s genesis is interesting in that it came from the minds of Fred Dekker and Shane Black. Dekker has gone on to be a beloved figure in the horror genre, though never really “made it” in the eyes of the general public. Black has been more successful (depending on how one defines success), not least of which because of his scriipt for “Lethal Weapon”. The third, less often recognized, figure is producer Peter Hyams (a director in his own right). As Dekker tells it, Hyams had a firm hand on the picture and really provided a master class in directing and the importance of master shots while on set (despite Dekker already having made “Night of the Creeps”).

In one segment, Duncan Regehr (Dracula) explains the sociopathic versus bestial approaches to Dracula. His success in the portrayal is evident by how much he scared his child co-star, Ashley Bank (who we see in behind-the-scenes footage is even more amazing than we already knew). Regehr is not a big name by any means, but we have to admire his approach and thought process. Dracula has been done so many time, he could become a caricature or one-dimensional. That Regehr put really consideration into the motives behind the monster is commendable.

The back-and-forth with Universal on what could be done with their intellectual property is interesting and explains why some of the creatures look like off-brand versions. Presumably, this turned some viewers off upon its initial release. Perhaps more interesting is the line from makeup and effects master Stan Winston through Tom Woodruff and right on up to Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water”. Everyone knows that “Creature from the Black Lagoon” was a direct influence on “Shape”, but did anyone pick up on the “Monster Squad” connection?

A common thread in “cult film” stories involves them missing their audience the first time around. On this standard, “Monster Squad” really fits the bill. Going up against “The Lost Boys”, it was destined to bomb. And some established critics (like Vincent Canby) were not overly kind to it, either. On a personal note, while I grew up in the 1980s, it was not until the 90s that I was aware of the film. As it turns out, this was probably very common – a slow, word-of-mouth building of its reputation in the VHS rental and HBO years.

The one thing missing here is we have no interview with either Tom Noonan or Jon Gries. While this is not crucial, it would have been nice. Noonan has had a great career, largely in horror. And Gries really had his career take off after playing Uncle Rico in “Napoleon Dynamite”. Hearing him on the record regarding a pre-fame role would have been a treat. Plus, he played the titular wolfman, so it seems fitting.

The only real drawback to the documentary is that Michael Felsher already made a feature-length look at “Monster Squad” in 2007, so much of this is not new ground. But, “Nards” is written and directed by Andre Gower, the original film’s star, which goes a long way. And Felsher does appear here, talking about the DVD release, so it can fairly be said that this documentary supersedes the old one.

Now, if you’ve never seen “Monster Squad”, you probably shouldn’t see this documentary. That would not make much sense. And also, shame on you — go watch it! But if you have seen it, this is guaranteed to add to your appreciation of the original film and the people who made it. “Wolfman’s Got Nards” screened June 24 at Cinepocalypse 2018 in Chicago. It will no doubt be making the festival rounds the rest of the year.

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or another one of the writings of Gavin.

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