Shadowvision: “THE MONSTER SQUAD”
Welcome to Shadowvision, a regular column in which Fangoria.com will be revisiting modern horror films in black and white. The purpose is to analyze these films through a new lens, seeing if the classically informed viewing experience will give a new angle to familiar images. If you’d like to watch along at home, it’s simple: go into your TV settings and desaturate the picture completely, then adjust the contrast and brightness to fit either standard or high definition.
When embarking into the world of Shadowvision, I decided to begin with a film that I have long wondered how it would play in black and white: Fred Dekker’s THE MONSTER SQUAD. A longtime favorite, it’s a film that offers much in the way of classic horror iconography, while also being fundamentally different from the movies that inspired it. I wondered how monochromatic versions of these monsters would differ from the Universal fiends of yesteryear, and if the film’s lighting and color scheme would be palatable within the altered viewing experience.
If you choose to have that experience yourself, make sure the contrast is adjusted properly. With just the color removed, the film appears incredibly dark at points, especially during the scene of Dracula (Duncan Regehr) taking the crate holding Frankenstein’s monster (Tom Noonan) from the cargo plane. However, with proper contrast adjustment, the image will become clearer and lighter, and many of the excellent creature designs will pop out in a very nostalgic fashion.
The film itself feels different, if not entirely separate, from when it’s properly viewed, but its inspirations are considerably more apparent in black and white. The opening sequence feels straight out of a Universal horror classic, and the set design seems more authentic when experienced monochromatically. Furthermore, the FX appear incredibly era-appropriate when stripped of their color, especially the wormhole that shows up in the bookending scenes.
In terms of storytelling, THE MONSTER SQUAD holds up equally well, and it contains a possibly unconscious mix of tones that works wonders in black and white. The scenes with the villainous monsters feel straight out of a James Whale film, while the moments with Rudy (Ryan Lambert) being a teenage bad-ass feel much more in line with the rock ’n’ roll movies of the ’60s. However, the sharp and funny script by Dekker and co-scribe Shane Black is unmistakably of the ’80s, and thus the film never deviates too far from its roots.
Still, there’s a sense of wonderment to THE MONSTER SQUAD that is amplified by removing the color, especially backed by Bruce Broughton’s fantastic score. The scene in which the squad is cornered by Dracula and his brides in his hallway holds more dread than it would in color, and its humorous punchline is even more effective as a result. The scene in which the gang are attacked by the Mummy (Michael MacKay) and Dracula in their truck feels reinvigorated with the new look, and the performances as a whole feel less campy and more appropriate.
Of course, THE MONSTER SQUAD’s narrative is contingent on specific colors during several scenes, so that will always be the preferred version. However, the black-and-white experience is quite rewarding, even if the film has a pedestrian shot for every exceptional frame. The creature FX will be the highlight for many who revisit the film this way, and even though they’re no Lugosi or Karloff, Regehr’s Dracula and Noonan’s Frankenstein look magnificent at their most monstrous.
Recommended for black-and-white consumption?: Yes.