Directed by Andre Gower
Wolfman’s Got Nards Review: a Surprisingly Heartfelt Look at The Monster Squad
Who loves The Monster Squad, that schlocky, but fun 80s flick about a bunch of kids taking on
Directed by Andre Gower, who played squad leader Sean in the film, Nards is strictly for diehard fans who still get teary eyed when little Phoebe tosses her doll to Frankenstein right before he gets sucked into a vortex at the film’s climax; and those who still get goosebumps at the site of Dracula assembling the aforementioned horror greats as his own personal avengers team. All others need not apply. Here is a documentary that treats a film featuring foul mouthed youngsters, silly special effects and a running gag about Wolfman’s “nards” as one of the great movies of the last several decades. Indeed, an inordinate amount of time is spent determining whether Monster Squad earns its “cult classic” moniker or truly is a great film along the lines of It’s a Wonderful Life — a late-blooming classic that also bombed upon its initial release.
That’s all well and good. People can have opinions, but even ardent fans of The Monster Squad may laugh at the reverence adorned upon Fred Dekker’s cheesy flick; and yearn for more production stories/secrets and less fan obsession.
Here’s the gist for the uninitiated: in August of 1987, TriStar Pictures released The Monster Squad, a high-concept action-horror comedy directed by Dekker from a script by Shane Black, just three months removed from delivering his Lethal Weapon screenplay. Bland marketing and an inability to distance itself from the surprise vampire hit The Lost Boys proved too daunting a task and Squad exited theaters with a meager $3.7M worldwide gross and a ho hum reaction from audiences and critics.
Then, something happened. Younger audiences who missed out on the theater experience discovered the flick on TV and warmed to its gritty tone and relatable characters. Now, fans line up for hours just to get a glimpse of the now-adult stars or partake in the many theatrical re-releases and conventions across the country. For Gower and his fellow cast members, Squad marked a high point in their film careers and you can tell via the numerous interviews and interactions with fans that it’s an experience they cherish even to this day.
Others, like Dekker, the film’s director, aren’t as enthusiastic.
“It’s the best movie I’ve ever done,” Dekker says at one point in Nards. “And it sort of killed my career for a while. It’s probably my epithet. It’ll probably be on my gravestone and I’m ambivalent about that.”
Melodramatics aside, its these honest-to-God reactions from Decker, Black and the cast and crew as they reflect on Squad’s initial failure that really strike a chord.
“I wanted it all to go away. I didn’t want anyone to know that that happened,” one of the film’s stars, Ryan Lambert, says. “And so I would never talk about it. I wouldn’t let anyone know. I wouldn’t let girlfriends know.”
As filmgoers, we often overlook the amount of sweat and blood that goes into these enormous productions; and the heartache felt by the artists involved, right down to the unsung heroes working behind-the-scenes on the challenging special effects, should the film fail. Dekker still feels the sting of disappointment to this day, and obviously wonders what might have been had the film turned into the success many expected.
“I put my heart and soul into [Monster Squad] and no one noticed for twenty years,” he laments.
At its best, Wolfman’s Got Nards offers a fascinating look at the impact The Monster Squad had on those involved in its production — right down to the guys crafting that amazing looking Creature From the Black Lagoon suit — and even takes the time to delve into the personal relationships established along the way. There’s a sad moment where the film’s stars shed tears in front of a packed audience for the late Brent Chalem, who passed away in 1997; and even a hefty amount of reflection on the late, great Stan Winston, whose designs gave life to Dekker’s monsters. And while the documentary does lean too far into the dramatics, particularly towards its lengthy, drawn-out conclusion, there’s still a fair amount of awesome production material, interviews and monster talk for fans to soak in.
Even the silliest films have a magical ability to touch, nay, change lives, for better or worse. Wolfman’s Got Nards doubles down on that notion and reveals how The Monster Squad, for all its imperfections, ultimately outlasted the critics and truly became a one-of-a-kind phenomenon with nards of steel.