Saturday, August 15, 2009

Monster Squad – review

dvdDirectors: various

First aired: 1976

Contains spoilers

This should not be confused with the 1987 movie the Monster Squad, though this did use the staple Universal monster combination – albeit with the names changed slightly – of Dracula (Henry Polic II), Frank N. Stein (Mike Lane) and Bruce W. Wolf (Buck Kartalian). However, perhaps the opening voice over will explain the show:

Fred Grandy as Walt“My name is Walt (Fred Grandy). I work as night watchman here at Fred’s Wax Museum to put myself through criminology college. It used to be lonely until recently when I plugged in my crime computer, suddenly oscillating vibrations brought to life three legendary monsters… Dracula, The Werewolf and Frankenstein. Creatures hated and feared for centuries, now determined to make up for their past misbehavings by fighting crime wherever they find it. Together, we’re the… Monster Squad!”

Now, I never saw this show back in the day, so there were no rose-tinted glasses through which to look at it through. However, all 13 episodes are now on DVD and there was something familiar and campy about the show. You see the show was created by many of the people behind Batman (1966-68) and the crap effects, campy action, pantomimic villains and comedy underlay are much the same. This made me feel all warm and glowy about the series and just because it was a steaming pile of cheese, and pretty darn rubbish, didn’t stop the wry grin spreading across my face.

Henry Polic II as DraculaOf course Dracula was the main focus for me and he did, in the main, seem to be the primary character. In Bela Lugosi finery, with a faux-Eastern European accent he was pretty much what you would expect. He is threatened at one point by a stake, though sunlight is not an issue as he has to be back on his pedestal at the wax museum during the day anyway. He is on the wagon when it comes to blood and has no reflection – a sore point as he doesn’t know what he looks like.

crap bat syndromeHe can also turn into a bat and what a crap bat he is. Be it silhouetted against the moon or jerking around on set, made out of rubber with an obvious wire, he really suffers from crap bat syndrome. He also seems more vulnerable in that form, in one episode he is shot from the sky by a yokel with a shotgun and in another a ‘radar jammer’ causes him to fly repeatedly into a wall.

a werewolf wall climbAs for our other two monsters, Frank is very strong (though not too bright) and able to walk through walls, bend bars etc. Bruce the werewolf has a good sense of smell and can climb sheer walls – in a method that seems all too reminiscent of a key batman sequence! Actually, one feels that the ability should have been Dracula’s but Bruce needed a little more to do. He is a particularly short wolfman and is vulnerable to silver bullets. Frank is scared of fire.

the squad vanThe episodes followed a general pattern of one off crimes with Walt consulting his criminology computer and sending the squad to investigate (through limited sets). Frank and Bruce would tend to take the Monster Squad van and Dracula would fly. Walt normally did not get involved himself (he had to look after the Wax Museum after all), though occasionally he would appear for the fight or to rescue his friends.

Julie Newmar as UltrawitchThe villains were unique to the series, though some such as the Tickler (Ivor Francis) seemed to owe a debt to batman. Some were strangely ordinary – such as Music Man (Marty Allen) who stole money to put himself on at Madison Round Gardens and hire himself an audience. Some were just strange, such as the half man and half woman Albert/Alberta (Vito Scotti). Others yet seemed to have powers of their own, for instance Ultra Witch (Julie Newmar).

The Mummy is brought to lifeOther monsters (of a more Universal standard) did appear. In one episode The Skull (Geoffrey Lewis) brings the Mummy to life to help him with his crime and occasionally we see a waxwork of the Invisible Man – though why he was not brought to life by the oscillations was never discussed. Indeed the Squad seem more than the waxworks they are meant to be, with the full memories and back history of the monsters they appear to be.

the SquadThis was utter rubbish but it was also great fun. In the right mood it is the sort of programming to put a big old smile on your face (if you are of a certain age at least). The score I’m going to give this tries to balance just how rubbish it is with how much fun it is. 5.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


Christine said...

Sounds cute and fun. Or maybe it is just too silly? I must to check this out. And aaw, cute rubber bats are here again! Thumbs up!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Christine - if you can watch the 60s batman you can watch this.