Friday, October 21, 2011

The Forms Evil Takes: Monster Squad

The 1987 film Monster Squad is important because it explicitly tells parents that kids need to know what kinds of "monsters" are going to rule over them when they engage in pre-marital sex and the problems they will have even after they get married. By gathering all the monsters in cinema's arsenal to teach kids the most important lessons of life, Monster Squad bridged the gap between the old world of Van Helsing and the modern world of marriage counseling and divorce courts.
One of my all-time favorite insignificant moments in film is at the beginning when Abraham Van Helsing has entered Dracula's castle and calls for the girl, the virgin who will read the incantation, to be brought in and begin. The camera focuses on her feet, which are bare, and that symbol means "she's been exposed" as not being a virgin; because she's not a virgin, evil and darkness is released to rule over the world. She is like the "brides of Dracula" who are sucking on the rats, she fulfilled her appetites.
Sean holding the amulet that symbolizes virginity and keeps the monsters away.
Why does Sean know that monsters are real when the principal tries to tell him they are not? Because of the fights his parents have. The drawings Sean and Patrick make where there is a "spider with human head" illustrates their awareness that evil takes many forms, and when we act less than human, we become monsters ourselves. This is the reason why Dracula can become a bat: a bat, as a rodent, is on par with what Dracula himself is, and a human, when they "spin a web of lies," can become a spider. But they also know how to overcome this evil: only a silver bullet can kill the werewolf and a wooden stake is needed to kill a vampire, and a virgin is needed to read the incantation and a family needs the father and the mother so the kids can grow up.
The Wolf  Man under Dracula's power.
There's a great part where Sean is sitting on the house roof watching through binoculars the drive-in horror film that has been re-made a ridiculous number of times and his dad comes up and watches with him, discussing how the villain, even if he had his head put in a blender and his body parts sent to different places in the world would still manage to come back... and he's absolutely right, he would, because evil will not be vanquished until the Day of Judgment, and while we can overcome it and discipline ourselves against it (the hope is) that doesn't mean that everyone else will, too, and that's just enough to keep evil alive.
No matter the form, it's all the same evil.
Evil takes many forms, but the way we conquer evil is always the same: purity and chastity, devotion to genuine love and being our brother's keeper because of the inherent dignity of each and every person. And this brings us to the "Scary German Guy," which is his official name in the movie. The moment we discover the most about him is when the kids are leaving his house and they pay him the ultimate compliment, telling him he certainly knows a lot about monsters; closing the door, his shirt sleeve reveals a tattoo number on his arm and he says, yes, I certainly do. That moment harkens back to the film Harold and Maud when, seeing a number tattooed on Maud's arm, Harold realizes she had been in a Nazi concentration camp. The Nazi's are the reason the "Scary German Guy" knows so much about monsters, and that's the reason the diary of Van Helsing is written in German.
In the house of the "Scary German Guy" as he reads from Van Helsing's diary.
Linking basic human dignity to World War II and the attempted Nazi extermination of the Jews inexplicably brings to the audience's mind the importance of each and every person, our God-given dignity, and how monsters--political and artistic--seek to destroy that. This is why Van Helsing's diary is written in German: it's a language the kids can't understand (sexual education) but has a long history involved in the welfare of humanity, but they need someone wise who can translate what it means so they can understand.
Sean has just retrieved the amulet and Dracula catches him.
Even our work attempts to undermine our dignity by tearing us away from genuine priorities as Sean's father, Del, discovers as his work increasingly takes more and more time away from his family. There is a point where Del's partner gets blown-up in their "squad car" (a reference to Del being in the "wrong" squad) and that symbolizes that, at that moment, Del finally realizes that his "old self devoted to his work first and foremost" must die so he can protect his family, and he does this.
Sean's father Del who forgets his first responsibility.
There is something else blown up as well: the kids' tree house. Dracula takes dynamite and blows it up, "Meeting adjourned," he says, walking away from the devastated scene. Yea, the kids will no longer be kids after this night, they have learned too much; however, because they have fought evil and saved the world this night, their childhood might actually be prolonged, having now the knowledge to protect themselves from the monsters who roam the world.
Rudy shooting wooden stake through vampire girl's heart.
The most important aspect of the film is Dracula. I think Monster Squad is the only film to show Dracula as a half-human, half-bat when Del has injured him, and the reason this moment is so important is that is Del himself: half policeman, half husband, not much of a father. And if this was the dominant white male in the film, the father, husband and breadwinner of the family, then it was probably also meant to be every white male in America because of the "rat race" of balancing work and family (the cult classic Ferris Bueller's Day Off also explored this concept; please see my posting Abe Froman the Sausage King of Chicago). Another aspect of Del's self-identification with Dracula in this image is when Del takes a stick of dynamite and tells the monster, "Suck on this," because Del "sucks on cigarettes" all day long. But Dracula being injured is a sign that Del is becoming stronger and is being healed.
Patrick, Rudy and Sean in Monster Squad.
This is similar to Rudy, who has two sets of monsters he has to overcome because, like Jules in Tarantino's hit Pulp Fiction, Rudy has "drunk deeply of life" for already being in high school and that's why, when Sean and Patrick ask him if he knows any virgins, he spews his soda all over the place because he doesn't want to know the virgins, he wants to know the girls who are easy (please see my post Pulp Fiction: A Study In Plato and Aristotle for more on Jules). Rudy has two sets of monsters he must overcome: first the girls who have been turned into vampires by Dracula and then the Wolf Man. The vampires girls now have their own sexual appetites and "will come to Rudy" to get them satisfied, so he has to kill them to save himself. But that's not all: he also has to kill the Wolf Man, which is inside of him, his own animal appetites. How did they get the silver to make the bullets? They smelted down Sean's mom's silver; the eating utensils are directly related to the appetites, so for Rudy to say that only a silver bullet can kill a werewolf, is him saying that the only way to kill the wolf in a man is to kill it completely (please see The Bright Autumn Moon: The Wolf Man for how and why silver kills a werewolf). But Rudy can win these battles because he already defended Horace ("Fat Kid") from other kids, so having made that brave stance for Horace's dignity, Rudy will be able to defend his own.
Elsa Lancaster and Boris Karloff in The Bride of Frankenstein.
Why does Frankenstein have to go?
He has taught the kids important lessons (as the novel and film versions of Frankenstein still teach us today) but there are two reasons why he can't remain with the kids. The first reason is, he had an unnatural relationship with his "bride." Having been rejected, he can't offer the kids a good role model in overcoming their problems and forming the kinds of relationships they need in order to grow to maturity and, "frankly" continue the human race because he couldn't continue on with his own race.
Frankenstein sucked into limbo with Phoebe's stuffed animal.
Even while he "betrays" Dracula and throws him onto the fence so he's impaled (a reference to the tradition that Vlad the Impaler was the inspiration for Dracula) Frankenstein is still "on the fence" himself, a border figure, and the kids can't be risked when so much is at stake. He takes Phoebe's stuffed animal because, at Phoebe's age, her animal passions are "cute," like she is, but in this battle for evil, when she's been called a "Bitch" by Dracula and put, literally on the level of a female dog in heat, she won't want anymore of those animals passions and so they are sent into limbo with Frankenstein.
Eugene knows that his family has "monsters in their closet" even though his dad can't see it. This will get more attention when we discuss The Family Graveyard: Poltergeist.
In conclusion,  it might seem like a campy film today, but it serves an important purpose: "What do you mean you're not a virgin?" is even more prevalent today than in 1987, so there's still a lot of work for the Monster Squad to do in getting rid of the monsters and saving the world, and we each have our own part to play.