Thirty years ago today, the Universal Monster Avengers hit the big screen. Of course, they weren’t called that, but still, it was a massive team-up that the movie world had never seen before. In the world of cinematic universes we now live in, it’s impossible to ignore the forward thinking of director Fred Dekker’s cult favorite film, The Monster Squad.
Co-written by Lethal Weapon writer and eventual Iron Man 3 director Shane Black, The Monster Squad is actually the name of a group of kids who fight monsters. Specifically Dracula, Wolfman, the Mummy, “Gill Man” ( the Creature from the Black Lagoon) and Frankenstein. It was a team-up of the Universal Monsters decades before Universal decided Tom Cruise needed Mummy issues. Instead, it owed more to the goofy, occasional monster crossover movies of the ‘40s and ‘50s. Well, that and the foresight of Dekker and Black.
I could go on and on about how much I love The Monster Squad, how it influenced me growing up, how I’ve geeked out about it over the years since, but I won’t. That hasn’t changed. Instead, specifically thinking about the film in 2017 made me realize something: Universal should have used The Monster Squad as the blueprint to kick off their Dark Universe.
Universal’s attempt to start a shared universe with all of the aforementioned monsters began with Tom Cruise’s The Mummy, which isn’t a good movie for a lot of reasons. Among them are it’s too preoccupied with kicking off a shared universe, and that the monster isn’t the star—by which I mean the monster is what people come to these movies want to see.
The kids of The Monster Squad are the protagonists of the movie, sure. But the stars are Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolf Man, Gill Man, and the Mummy. They’re so ingrained in pop culture that we don’t need their origin stories. And we know that when these five monsters band together, they create a near insurmountable enemy.
Imagine the Dark Universe kicked off with all the monsters together in one movie, joining together to reign terror on the world. If that first movie worked, audiences would’ve automatically been invested in each of these characters and wanted to see more of them, leading to spin-offs aplenty. Instead, in 2017, we barely got a Mummy, and the chances of us getting those other announced movies in the Dark Universe are slim indeed.
Look, I know it’s hard to start with a team-up movie. Marvel had to introduce its comic book characters to mass audiences to make The Avengers work, while WB has flubbed the character-packed Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad. But those are comic book characters. These are the Universal Monsters—characters that have been around for hundreds of years, seen in innumerable different iterations, and represent horror itself. They aren’t just monsters, they are icons.
With the right attitude, tone and respect for the characters, a team-up monster movie can be fun, exciting and stand the test of time. The Monster Squad is proof.
So happy birthday, Monster Squad. Even if Universal never manages to get its monstrous stars right ever again, we’ll always have you.