Tales from the Video Store: Meeting “THE MONSTER SQUAD”
Welcome to TALES FROM THE VIDEO STORE, where FANGORIA unspools their experiences in the eerie age of VHS. We’ll traverse our memories as if they were shelves filled with video insanity, and we invite you to join us in revisiting analog nightmares…
My childhood was somewhat defined by variety. Between a tight knit community, the dawn of advanced console gaming and the video store subculture, there was no single configuration to how one could spend an afternoon. In this way, I never quite became satisfied with a singular hobby or experience; in fact, my penchant for mixing these worlds only fed into my overactive imagination.
It should come as little surprise then, that I began searching down the rabbit hole of odd, obscure cinema very young. I felt that most major releases could be borrowed or, for the right price, bought, so I felt it was important to find something new and unfamiliar at the video store when I wasn’t catching up on pop culture.
Yet at the ripe age of 7, there wasn’t much I could do in the way of deeper, darker titles of unspeakable horror. My flirtations with the grimmer side of VHS was one of special caution, since anything explicitly gruesome was often ripped out of my fascinated grip by either my parents or any self-righteous video store cashier. In fact, it was this relationship with “forbidden” horror films that incited my hunger for bootleg culture in my teens, as my eyes scanned the world of international cinema for new ways of breaking through my tolerance for viscera. Before that, I often had to sneak views via video collections of friends with older, indifferent (or better yet, mischievous) siblings or rentals with my pretty awesome babysitter (stories will be for a different day).
Nevertheless, I had to settle for strange yet tame titles. Soon, video store visits were more akin to a race against time than a simple rental experience; in the precious time allotted, I had to find weird selections that were new, scary and within my rating boundaries. I knew if I could make a convincing argument, I could probably walk away with a PG-13, but I’d also likely have to compromise on a better known title my parents had a context of via trailers or word-of-mouth. Nevertheless, I’m grateful for this process, as it eventually set me on a path to see a film that changed my tastes forever.
One fateful summer day in 1996, my family went to the supermarket and decided that we would stop at the nearby Joe’s Video rather than our normal rental spot, Merchant Square Video. Although the location was bigger than Merchant Square and closer to many of our frequented shopping destinations, Joe’s Video was also more expensive than Merchant Square and had higher late fees as well. But Joe’s also had more titles and one specific advantage that suited my needs: its horror section was directly adjacent to the family section, turning it into a close quarters experience that suited my time restrictions.
And it was on that day that I came across a film that immediately caught my eye. On the cover, there was Dracula… and the Wolfman… and Frankenstein’s Monster… and The Mummy… and even the Creature from the Black Lagoon, all in one space. The closest I’d seen that group together was a stage show at Universal Studios Orlando on vacation, as ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN did not come until years later. And then I saw the assemblage of kids beneath these creatures, right above the title: THE MONSTER SQUAD. PG-13 or no PG-13, that movie was going to be mine.
I immediately grabbed it off the shelf and surprisingly enough, my parents were completely okay with my rental despite not knowing what it was. I was ecstatic, and I couldn’t wait to get home as every second on the car ride back was spent imagining what this film could be. Once we pulled into the driveway, I got into my room as quickly as possible, popped out the last VHS and rewound the tape to the beginning. Any plans for outdoor playtime or games had to wait, as I was dead set on watching THE MONSTER SQUAD.
And while THE MONSTER SQUAD hit every base I wanted to and more, I felt like I was watching something more important than a movie where kids were pit against the Universal Monsters. The dialogue felt more realistic than either the kids’, or even the horror movies, that I’d seen previously. The kids from THE MONSTER SQUAD were funny, mischievous and at times antagonistic towards one another, but they were always equals. There was an exceptional feeling of empowerment as a kid watching THE MONSTER SQUAD, as if there was no role you could not fill with the right amount of courage. Paired with some truly awesome creature SFX, THE MONSTER SQUAD was both food to my imagination and to my pride as a child.
In a strange way, this empowerment was not something I could share by words. None of my friends had heard of, let alone seen, THE MONSTER SQUAD, and my descriptions did little to inspire them to do so. After all, if it wasn’t at Merchant Square, half of my friends wouldn’t be able to see it, and the other half were too busy trying to catch up with what they didn’t see in the theater. It actually wasn’t until much later in my teens that I was able to find friends who had somehow seen THE MONSTER SQUAD, and the quotes from the film almost acted like a secret handshake among horror fans.
Now, with time being what it is, THE MONSTER SQUAD is considered a retroactive classic of horror cinema for kids and adults alike. Is it corny? Sure, but it’s also funny, smart , scary and risque in all the right doses. And while future generations will discover THE MONSTER SQUAD on glorious Blu-ray or perhaps even at a specialty screening, there will always be a special place in my heart for the faded VHS cover that gripped my imagination, and, to this day, has refused to let go.