CLOSE
Original image

Annihilation at Tannenberg

Original image

The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that shaped our modern world. Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 141st installment in the series.

August 26-30, 1914: Annihilation at Tannenberg

The saying “victory has many fathers” is especially true when it comes to the Battle of Tannenberg. One of the greatest triumphs in history—which saw the invading Russian Second Army totally destroyed by the German Eighth Army in East Prussia—Tannenberg was the unlikely offspring of successive commanders, aided, oddly enough, by miscommunication and downright disobedience on the German side.

Russians Rush Into Action

Like the other Great Powers, Russia’s general staff had drawn up elaborate plans for mobilization and opening moves in the case of war. One of the main goals was an immediate invasion of East Prussia, in order to keep Russia’s promise to its ally France. Both knew Germany would probably throw most of its forces against France when war broke out, assuming that Russia would take about six weeks to mobilize. By invading East Prussia much sooner than that—ideally within two weeks of mobilization—the Russians hoped to force the Germans to withdraw troops from the attack on France in order to defend the Fatherland.

Following the decision to mobilize against Germany and Austria-Hungary on July 30, 1914, the Russians kept their promise to France by rushing forces into the field before mobilization was complete, with the Russian First Army under Paul Rennenkampf (192,000 men) invading East Prussia from the east, and the Second Army under Alexander Samsonov (230,000) invading from the south. The armies were supposed to converge on the German Eight Army (150,000) under Maximilian von Prittwitz to complete a classic encirclement; however there were some obstacles (literally) in the form of East Prussia’s patchwork of lakes, which made it hard to coordinate the movements of the Russian armies, while poor communications and logistical issues delayed Samsonov’s advance even more.

After crossing into Germany on August 12, Rennenkampf’s First Army suffered a minor defeat in the Battle of Stallupönen at the hands of Hermann von François, a headstrong corps commander in the German Eighth Army with a habit of disobeying orders, on August 17. Encouraged by François’ modest victory, Prittwitz decided to abandon his defensive stance and advance east against the Russian First Army, while the Russian Second Army was still struggling to move up from the south. However, the German attack was rebuffed at the Battle of Gumbinnen on August 20, leaving First Army in control of the field.

Alarmed by this reverse and the plodding advance of Samsonov’s Second Army, which (finally) threatened to encircle Eighth Army, Prittwitz decided to retreat to the Vistula River, sacrificing East Prussia to defend the route to Berlin. But German chief of the general staff Moltke was unwilling to give up the Prussian heartland so easily and fired Prittwitz, handing command of the Eighth Army to Paul von Hindenburg, an older general called out of retirement, advised by a young, dynamic chief of staff, Erich Ludendorff. Moltke also transferred one regular and one reserve army corps from the Western Front to East Prussia, further weakening the German right wing in Belgium and northern France (just as the Allies hoped).

As Hindenburg and Ludendorff hurried to East Prussia, Prittwitz’s talented deputy chief of operations, Colonel Max Hoffman, was devising a daring new plan. Eighth Army would use East Prussian railroads to suddenly shift François’s I Corps south and catch the Russian Second Army unprepared. To gain time XX Corps under Friedrich von Scholtz, currently the furthest south, would hold off the Second Army as long as possible.

This plan was very risky, since it left Eighth Army’s flank open to attack by the Russian First Army—but, luckily for the Germans, Rennenkampf showed no sense of urgency about following up the victory at Gumbinnen, and First Army advanced at a decidedly sedate pace. His delay provided a crucial window of opportunity for Hoffman’s plan, which was already in motion when Hindenburg and Ludendorff took over command of Eighth Army on August 23.

In fact, the new commanders had been contemplating a similar move, but they now faced huge logistical challenges, working to hurry the artillery for François’ I Corps south by rail, while Scholtz’s XX Corps staged a fierce fighting retreat against forward elements of Second Army, throwing the Russians back at Orlau-Frankenau on August 24. Then on the evening of August 24 the Germans had a stroke of luck, intercepting uncoded radio messages sent by the Russian Second Army headquarters, which gave away its location and direction of march. With this vital information in hand, Hindenburg and Ludendorff now made the crucial decision to order XVII Corps under August von Mackensen and I Reserve Division under Otto von Below to move south by forced marches to complete the encirclement.

The following day Hindenburg and Ludendorff ordered François, whose I Corps was now arriving west of the Russians, to attack—but the normally bellicose commander flatly refused because his artillery was still in transit. Furious at this open insubordination and worried by (exaggerated) reports that the Russian First Army was approaching from the north, the Eighth Army leaders paid a personal visit to François’ headquarters and forced him to issue the orders under their direct supervision. However François, stubborn as ever, found ways to put off their implementation until his artillery finally arrived.

As it turned out, François was probably right: delaying the attack created more time for Mackensen’s XVII Corps and Below’s I Reserve Corps to march south and defeat the Russian VI Corps on August 26, while Scholtz’s XX Corps brushed aside a division from the Russian XXIII Corps and kept the XIII and XV Corps busy in the center. After a fierce daylong battle the VI Corps was in a headlong, disorderly retreat towards the Russian border, leaving Samsonov’s right flank vulnerable and thus opening the way for encirclement. Meanwhile the Russian troops were hungry and demoralized after three days of marching with no food, due to supply failures resulting from the rushed deployment.

On the evening of August 26, with I Corps’ artillery in hand at last, François ordered an attack on the Russian I Corps guarding Samsonov’s left flank the next day, opening with a devastating “hurricane” bombardment at 4am. John Morse, an Englishman serving in the Russian Army, described the artillery duel in this area:

The air, the ground, everywhere and everything, seemed to be alive with bursting shells… Generally the sound of it was a continuous roar. The heavens were lit up by the reflections of discharged guns and exploding shells, and the pandemonium was dominated by a shrieking sound… [from] the rush of projectiles through the air.”

In terms of casualties, Morse noted, “Of course the loss of life was very great. I can only say the ground was heaped with dead and dying.”

As François’ I Corps pushed the Russians back on August 27, Scholtz’s XX Corps was locked in a ferocious battle with the Russian center, still attacking, while Mackensen’s XVII Corps and Below’s I Reserve Corps closed in from the northeast, officers urging exhausted troops towards the thunder of great guns to the south.

By the evening of August 27, the flanks of the Russian Second Army were in complete disarray, falling back towards the frontier all along the line. Alfred Knox, the official British military observer attached to Second Army, described the chaos unfolding just behind the front, on the Russian side of the border:

A long convey of wounded has entered the town… Losses, according to all accounts, have been dreadful, and chiefly from artillery fire, the number of German guns exceeding the Russian. A plucky sister [nun] arrived from Soldau with a cartload of wounded. She said there had been a panic among the transport and the drivers had run away, leaving the wounded… She said that the artillery fire of the Germans was awful.

And things were about to get much, much worse: Unbeknownst to the Russian troops streaming southward, by this time François’ I Corps had sent the Russian I Corps reeling back into Poland and thereby succeeded in turning Second Army’s left flank. On August 28 François followed up with a sweeping attack to the east—once again disregarding Ludendorff’s explicit orders—cutting Second Army’s line of retreat into Russian Poland and completing the encirclement.

The disaster was total: As the remnants of the Russian I and VI Corps dragged themselves to safety in Russian Poland, from August 28 to 30 the rest of Second Army was surrounded and annihilated. The scale of the defeat was breathtaking, as the Russians suffered around 30,000 killed and missing, 50,000 wounded, and 90,000 taken prisoners (below, Russian soldiers surrender) for a total of 170,000 casualties, versus just 14,000 casualties in all categories for the Germans. Along with the horrible human toll, another casualty of Tannenberg was the legend of the “Russian steamroller,” which would flatten all opposition in its irresistible progress to Berlin. Germany was safe, at least for now.

Hindenburg and Ludendorff had scored a victory that surpassed all their hopes, but in truth it was due just as much to Russian failings as German skill. Knox, the British observer, summed up the deficiencies:

The whole machine was inferior to the German machine. There was no proper co-operation between corps commanders. The men were worried by orders and counter-orders. The morale of all ranks was much affected by the number of the enemy’s heavy guns … [The generals] forgot the wonderful capacity of the East Prussian railway system. They sent the 2nd Army forward without field bakeries, imagining, if they thought of the soldiers’ stomachs at all, that a large army could be fed in a region devoid of surplus supplies.

Knox also recorded a firsthand account of the fittingly tragic denouement for Second Army’s commander, General Alexander Samsonov, who threw caution to the wind and rode to the frontline as the fortunes of war turned against him, then found himself cut off in the wholesale retreat:

All the night of the 29th-30th they stumbled through the woods… moving hand in hand to avoid losing one another in the darkness. Samsonov said repeatedly that the disgrace of such a defeat was more than he could bear. “The Emperor trusted me. How can I face him after such a disaster?” He went aside and his staff heard a shot. They searched for his body without success, but all were convinced that he shot himself.

Desperate Fight at Le Cateau

As the Russian Second Army was obliterated on the Eastern Front, on the Western Front the terrible Great Retreat continued, with the French and British armies falling back before the onrushing Germans following the battles at Charleroi and Mons, slowing them where they could with rearguard actions. On August 26, the British II Corps commander General Horace Smith-Dorrien disregarded an order from Field Marshal John French (apparently a frequent occurrence with headstrong commanders in the early days of the war) and decided to make a stand at Le Cateau, about 100 miles northeast of Paris.

The British II Corps faced three divisions from the German First Army under Alexander von Kluck. After an opening artillery barrage, the German infantry advanced in close formation over open ground towards the British lines, as at Mons, and with similarly bloody results, as massed rifle fire and shrapnel shells cut swathes in the attacking units. A British officer, Arthur Corbett-Smith, described the carnage:

A blue-grey mass of enemy infantry appears advancing with steady, swinging pace. At 500 yards or a trifle more one of your regiments opens rapid fire on them. You can actually see the lanes in the German ranks ploughed through by the British rifle-fire. Still they advance, for the lanes are filled almost immediately. Nearer and nearer, until that regiment which began the advance has almost ceased to exist. The remnant breaks and scatters in confusion, and as they break away another new regiment is disclosed behind them. Such is the method of the German massed attack, overwhelming by sheer numbers.

Philip Gibbs, a British war correspondent, quoted an ordinary “Tommy” (British soldier) with a similar, if more succinct view: “We kill ‘em and kill ‘em, and still they come on. They seem to have an endless line of fresh men. Directly we check ‘em in one attack a fresh attack develops. It's impossible to hold up such a mass of men. Can't be done, nohow!”

As casualties mounted, the Germans attempted to outflank the British from the west but were rebuffed by the newly formed French Sixth Army under General Michel-Joseph Maunoury, hastily created by chief of the general staff Joffre with troops from the Army of Lorraine. Nonetheless by mid-afternoon the German frontal assault was beginning to wear the British down and Smith-Dorrien, seeing himself hopelessly outnumbered and with a breakthrough imminent, organized an orderly retreat to the south, covered from the west by French horse artillery. The British had suffered 7812 casualties, including around 2500 taken prisoner, while 5000 Germans lay dead; perhaps more importantly, Le Cateau helped delay the German advance on Paris.

After the battle the Great Retreat resumed, pushing French and British troops to the limit of their endurance. Gibbs, attached to a cavalry unit, recalled:

For twenty miles our cavalry urged on their tired horses through the night, and along the sides of the roads came a struggling mass of automobiles, motor-cycles, and motor-wagons, carrying engineers, telegraphists and men of the Army Service Corps. Ambulances crammed with wounded who had been picked up hurriedly from the churches and barns which had been used as hospitals, joined the stampede… Many who were wounded as they tramped through woods splintered by bursting shells and ripped with bullets, bandaged themselves as best they could and limped on, or were carried by loyal comrades who would not leave a pal in the lurch.

The retreat was made even more difficult by huge columns of refugees, mostly peasants and villagers fleeing Belgium and northern France. A British Corporal, Bernard Denmore, recalled:

The roads were in a terrible state, the heat was terrific, there seemed to be very little order about anything, and mixed up with us and wandering all about over the road were refugees, with all sorts of conveyances—prams, trucks, wheelbarrows, and tiny little carts drawn by dogs. They were piled up, with what looked like beds and bedding, and all of them asked us for food, which we could not give them, as we had none ourselves.

However there was a silver lining, as the journey was equally onerous for the pursuing Germans. John Ayscough, a chaplain with the British Expeditionary Force, wrote his mother: “A German officer taken prisoner yesterday say that their men had had nothing to eat for four days, and had to be driven to fight at the point of the bayonet.”

As the enemy closed in on Paris, the Allies began clearing out of vulnerable positions. On August 28 the British commander, Field Marshal French, ordered the evacuation of the British forward base at Amiens, followed the next day by the main supply base at Le Havre and the strategic channel port of Boulogne; the new British base would be at distant St. Nazaire on the Bay of Biscay. Arthur Anderson Martin, a surgeon serving with the BEF, happened to be present at Le Havre, where he witnessed the chaotic scene at the harbor, involving all the trappings of a modern army:

Everyone was shouting and cursing; contradictory orders were given… The stage between the ship and the big sheds was packed with all sorts of goods in inextricable confusion. Here were bales of hospital blankets dumped on kegs of butter, there boxes of biscuits lying packed in a corner, with a forgotten hose-pipe playing water on them. Inside the sheds were machine-guns, heavy field pieces, ammunition, some aeroplanes, crowds of ambulance waggons, London buses, heavy transport waggons, kitchens, beds, tents for a general hospital, stacks of rifles, bales of straw, mountainous bags of oats, flour, beef, potatoes, crates of bully beef, telephones and telegraphs, water carts, field kitchens, unending rolls of barbed wire, shovels, picks, and so on.

Meanwhile as August drew to a close the chief of the French general staff, Joseph Joffre, decided to relocate his headquarters from Vitry-le-François, located on the Marne River about 60 miles east of Paris, to Bar-sur-Aube, about 30 miles further south, and the military governor of Paris, General Joseph Gallieni, advised the government that the capital itself was no longer safe. Across the channel, on August 30, The Times published a brutally honest account by Arthur Moore, later known as the “Amiens Dispatch,” giving the British public its first unvarnished view of the war to date; farsighted observers now understood that Britain was in for a protracted conflict that would require all her strength.

But unknown to even the highest authorities, the tide was already turning in the Allies’ favor. On the evening of August 30, von Kluck, commanding First Army on the German right, decided to shift his direction of march from due south towards the southeast, to pursue the retreating British. However this would open his fight flank to attack by the new French Sixth Army under Maunoury, drawing on troops scraped together by Gallieni from the garrisons in Paris. Meanwhile Joffre also created a new special army detachment under Ferdinand Foch, one of the most aggressive French generals, with troops from the Third and Fourth Armies.

The stage was set for the Miracle on the Marne.

See the previous installment or all entries.

Original image
New Line Cinema
arrow
entertainment
10 Unforgettable Facts About The Notebook
Original image
New Line Cinema

In 1996, Nicholas Sparks published his first book, The Notebook. He would go on to write several more romance novels, many of which would be adapted into films. But 2004’s film adaption of The Notebook remains the highest-grossing Sparks adaptation, making $115 million worldwide against a $25 million budget. It was Rachel McAdams' breakout lead role (it was released just a few months after Mean Girls); it solidified Ryan Gosling as a “hey girl” heartthrob; and it swept all eight categories it was nominated for at the 2005 Teen Choice Awards, winning in categories like Choice Movie Love Scene and Choice Movie Liplock.

The book and movie follow a young couple named Noah (Gosling) and Allie (Adams) in 1940s North Carolina (the movie was filmed in South Carolina). Despite some obstacles, the couple fall in love, marry, and spend the next 60 years together. In present day, it’s revealed that Allie, now an old woman (played by Gena Rowlands), has Alzheimer’s, and her doting husband (James Garner, as an elderly Noah) helps her remember their storied past. In 2003, Sparks published a loose sequel called The Wedding, featuring the characters Allie and Noah. Here are 10 facts about the beloved romance.

1. IT WAS BASED ON A TRUE STORY.

Nicholas Sparks’s book was based on his then-wife Cathy's grandparents, who spent more than 60 years together. Cathy was close to her grandparents, and visited them frequently. The grandparents were too ill to attend their wedding, in 1989, so the newly-married couple brought the wedding to them. They dressed up in their wedding clothes and surprised them at their house. Cathy's grandparents told the Sparks how they met and fell in love, decades ago.

“But though their story was wonderful, what I most remember from that day is the way they were treating each other,” Sparks wrote on his website. “The way his eyes shined when he looked at her, the way he held her hand, the way he got her tea and took care of her. I remember watching them together and thinking to myself that after 60 years of marriage, these two people were treating each other exactly the same as my wife and I were treating each other after 12 hours. What a wonderful gift they’d given us, I thought, to show us on our first day of marriage that true love can last forever.”

Unfortunately for Nicholas and Cathy, their love didn’t last forever—they divorced in 2015

2. NICHOLAS SPARKS THINKS THE BOOK WAS SUCCESSFUL BECAUSE IT WAS RELATABLE.

Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images

“It seems that nearly everyone I spoke with about the novel knew a ‘Noah and Allie’ in their own life,” Sparks wrote on his website. He also said the book was short enough (224 pages) for people to read it quickly. “I think that readers also appreciate that the novel didn’t include foul language and its love scene was tasteful and mild compared to what’s found in many other novels,” he said. “These factors made people feel comfortable about recommending it to others.”

3. THE SCREENWRITER HAD TO WORK HARD TO MAKE THE CHARACTERS SEEM REAL.

The Notebook screenwriter Jeremy Leven had the daunting task of adapting Sparks's book into a script. “The problem with the book is that it’s melodramatic and sweet, and you have to find a way to appeal to an audience that is apprehensive about yet another sweet movie,” Leven told The Harvard Crimson. “So you have to give it an edge, make it real, and make the choices the characters face real.” That “edge” probably includes the love scene in the rain.

4. RACHEL MCADAMS AND RYAN GOSLING DIDN’T GET ALONG—AT FIRST.

Melissa Moseley/New Line Cinema

Even though they played lovers in the movie and then began dating in real life, the couple clashed during production. Director Nick Cassavetes told MTV a story about an incident when Gosling and McAdams weren’t getting along on the set one day: “Ryan came to me, and there’s 150 people standing in this big scene, and he says, ‘Nick come here,’” Cassavetes shared. “And he’s doing a scene with Rachel and he says, ‘Would you take her out of here and bring in another actress to read off camera with me?’ I said, ‘What?’ We went into a room with a producer; they started screaming and yelling at each other ... The rest of the film wasn’t smooth sailing, but it was smoother sailing.”

5. MCADAMS AND GOSLING’S ON-SCREEN CHEMISTRY PROBABLY WASN’T REAL.

“[Our later relationship] certainly wasn’t something that either of us had expected would come out of that filmmaking experience,” McAdams said, “which goes to show you that you can engineer chemistry on-screen just by telling the audience that these two people love each other.” She said it was attributed to the acting. “As an actor you don’t have to feel it. You don’t have to feel anything. Just imagine it.”

6. JESSICA BIEL WAS BUMMED SHE DIDN’T GET TO PLAY ALLIE.

Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for NBC

Unlike Gosling, McAdams had to audition for the role of Allie, and so did Jessica Biel. “I was in the middle of shooting Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and I auditioned with Ryan Gosling in my trailer—covered in blood,” Biel told Elle. “That’s one that I wanted so badly. But there’s a million that get away. We’re gluttons for punishment. It’s just rejection.”

7. MCADAMS FELT A LOT OF PRESSURE TO DELIVER A GOOD PERFORMANCE.

The actress told Film Monthly she knew she had to be good in the movie, because she had to carry it. “At first I put way too much pressure on myself and realized that it wasn’t getting me anywhere,” she said. “I was just a ball of stress, and eventually the character kicked in where she’s sort of free-spirited, doesn’t care what people think, and chases down those things she wants.” She eventually found the right balance.

8. JAMES MARSDEN THOUGHT THE MOVIE WAS GOING TO BE “SCHMALTZY.”

Melissa Moseley/New Line Cinema

James Marsden played Allie’s fiancé—and Noah’s rival—Lon Hammond Jr. The actor told Out Magazine how he tries not to make a bad movie, but they sometimes turn out that way. “Then there are some movies that I’ve been in that I was sure people would laugh at, that have become huge,” he said. “I thought The Notebook was going to be a schmaltzy Movie of the Week–type thing, and here we are!”

9. NICK CASSAVETES WAS THE FOURTH CHOICE TO DIRECT THE MOVIE.

New Line Cinema acquired the rights to Sparks's novel in 1995, before the book was even published. In 1998, Variety reported that Steven Spielberg wanted to direct the film. Jim Sheridan was also interested, but he decided to direct In America instead. In 2001, The Mask of Zorro and GoldenEye director Martin Campbell almost signed on, but in 2002 New Line brought Cassavetes aboard.

10. JAMES GARNER RUINED HIS FIRST TAKE SHOOTING WITH GENA ROWLANDS.

Melissa Moseley/New Line Cinema

Nick Cassavetes—son of legendary director John Cassavetes—cast his mother, the great Gena Rowlands, as the elderly Allie. Garner recalled the first day he and Gena filmed together. “She's going to come out and I’m sitting on the porch in a chair or something. And I hear Nick say, ‘Okay, mom. Action.’ Well, I ruined that take because I just broke up. That was so funny. That tickled me to death. But he showed his mother great respect. He was gentle with her and worked with her. What I loved about it is that she listened to him. Here’s a professional actress who’s one of the best ever, and she’s listening to her son tell her about things. I really admired that in both of them.”

Original image
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
arrow
entertainment
13 Spooky Facts About The Monster Squad
Original image
Lionsgate Home Entertainment

One part The Goonies, one part Ghostbusters, and one part Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, after being overlooked in its initial release, The Monster Squad has been reanimated as a cult classic. On the 30th anniversary of its release, let's take a look back at some of its behind-the-scenes trivia.

1. DIRECTOR FRED DEKKER WAS REJECTED BY TWO FILM SCHOOLS.

As a teenager, Fred Dekker applied to become a film student at both USC and UCLA. However, those universities both had other ideas. “Both film schools rejected me,” said Dekker on The Monster Squad’s 20th anniversary DVD, “but both accepted me in their curriculum, so I just couldn’t necessarily be in the film department.” The aspiring director enrolled at USC, where he reluctantly pursued a bachelor’s degree in English. “The fact that I was an English major was just kind of a nuisance. What I really wanted to do was just hang with my friends and make movies.”

2. THE FLICK GOT A BRIEF SHOUT-OUT IN NIGHT OF THE CREEPS.

When he received the greenlight for The Monster Squad (which he’d co-written with Shane Black), Dekker was busy shooting 1986’s Night of the Creeps. The cult classic involves alien parasites that enter their victims’ mouths and turn them into walking, braindead corpses. Pause the above trailer at the 29-second mark and, in a shameless plug, you’ll notice the words “Go Monster Squad!” conspicuously graffitied onto the bathroom wall.

3. THE CREATURE DESIGNERS WORKED HARD TO AVOID LEGAL PROBLEMS WITH UNIVERSAL.

First and foremost, The Monster Squad is an affectionate tribute to Universal’s iconic horror movies of the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s. Nevertheless, the studio passed on producing the film, which was ultimately picked up by TriStar. This forced The Monster Squad’s visual effects team to get creative.

“Although we were doing a movie that was a takeoff on the Universal classics,” said legendary monster creator Stan Winston, “… none of our designs infringed on the original designs of the Universal characters. There were subtle changes; we had to be sure that nothing about them could be considered a copyright infringement of a design.” Which is why Dracula has no Lugosi-esque widow’s peak, Frankenstein monster’s neck bolts have migrated to his temples, and Wolfman has pointy ears and a face that Dekker describes as “more lupine” than what Universal had come up with.

4. CASTING THE MUMMY INVOLVED A BIZARRE WANT AD.

Mummies aren’t usually noted for their girth. “I’ve always been super skinny,” says actor Michael Reid MacKay. One fateful day, a friend pointed out an unusual casting advertisement in Variety. “It said, ‘Looking for an extremely thin actor on the verge of anorexia,” MacKay recalled. He headed straight for the studio and, after showing off some creepy gestures, won the part of the Mummy.

5. ASHLEY BANK TURNED DOWN A ROLE IN FATAL ATTRACTION TO PLAY FIVE-YEAR-OLD PHOEBE.

Lionsgate Home Entertainment

“Monster made me an offer first,” remembers Ashley Bank. “Had Fatal Attraction been shot in Los Angeles, I probably would have done both, but it was in New York, so I had to do The Monster Squad. My parents wanted me to have more fun. It was a bigger part, and it would be a kids’ movie that I could actually see … I never regretted it at all.”

6. AN EARLY DRAFT OF THE SCRIPT INVOLVED VAN HELSING FIGHTING DRACULA WITH MACHINE GUNS.

The Monster Squad co-writer Shane Black initially wanted a far more overblown—and expensive—opening scene. In the 2007 DVD documentary Monster Squad Forever, Dekker recalled that Black envisioned Van Helsing laying siege to Dracula’s castle “on a zeppelin with machine guns.” Racing out to meet him would be “40 vampire brides riding horses.” Dekker quickly burst Black’s bubble. “‘I said, ‘We can’t make this. This is the first five minutes of the movie and [we’d have] already spent … $100 million!’”

7. THE MONSTER SQUAD’S TREEHOUSE IS LITTERED WITH HORROR EASTER EGGS.

You’ve got to hand it to these kids: they know how to decorate. Wallpapering their arboreal hangout spot are posters and stills from movies that span the history of horror, including fan favorites like This Island Earth (1955), Vampire Circus (1972), and The Being (1983).

8. DUNCAN REGEHR BEAT OUT LIAM NEESON FOR THE ROLE OF DRACULA.

In 1986, Liam Neeson was still a relative unknown and, like many struggling actors, decided to try out for a horror movie. Apparently, he nailed his audition with a superb take on the Count. “We thought for sure we [were] going to hire this guy,” producer Jonathan Zimbert revealed in Monster Squad Forever. “Then Duncan came in and was not only as brilliant, but he was terrifying also.” Twenty years later, Wizard magazine named Regehr the “greatest Dracula of all time” for his chilling performance in The Monster Squad.

9. GILLMAN KO’D A STUNT MAN DURING THE FILM'S CLIMAX.

Creature builder Tom Woodruff, Jr. had always wanted to climb into a monster suit and wreak havoc in a major motion picture. With The Monster Squad, he smelled a golden opportunity. Late in the pre-production phase, nobody had yet been cast as Gillman (a.k.a. the Creature from the Black Lagoon). So Woodruff, who was working on Wolfman’s animatronics, asked to be considered for the job.

His wish was granted, but the gig wasn’t all fun and games. The Monster Squad’s final battle sees a few sherriff’s deputies clubbing the fishy humanoid. Though these prop weapons were soft on the outside, they had hard interiors. As sculptor Matt Rose notes 25 minutes into the clip below, Woodruff winced with every strike.

“They were wailing on him,” Rose recalled. “They’d stop and Tom would just say through the Gill mask ‘Hey guys, do you mind just taking it easy a little bit?” Alas, these pleas fell on deaf ears. After a few tiring takes, Rose remembers that, “One of the bigger guys was in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Since Woodruff’s vision was limited by the suit, he didn’t see the stunt man and accidentally slugged him right in the face.

“[He] fell like a sack of potatoes, straight on his a**,” said Rose. For a few unsettling moments, the stunt man just laid there with a glazed look in his eyes. Evidently, there was a pair of badly-placed rivets on the inside of his helmet. The blow drove these into his forehead and, once the hat was removed, two streams of blood spurted forth. Thankfully, he wasn’t seriously hurt.

10. DRACULA AND FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER NEVER BROKE CHARACTER IN FRONT OF THE KIDS.

Tom Noonan (Frankenstein’s Monster) made it a point to never greet the young stars with anything more than a grunt, and he never let them see him without his monstrous makeup. “The first time that I met Tom, I was 25,” Ashley Bank quipped. “I never met Tom [on the set]. I only met Frankenstein.”

Regehr, too, always stayed in costume around the children. Yet, he did make one minor adjustment whenever Bank walked by: Near the end of the picture, the script calls for Dracula to lift up Phoebe by the chin; as he clutches her, his teeth sharpen, his eyes redden, and he lets loose a mighty hiss. To really get a good scare out of her, Regehr made sure that Bank never saw him wearing his fangs or crimson contact lenses. When the time came to shoot the moment in question, he put them on when she wasn’t looking.

Dekker—who knew all about Regher’s plan—told Bank “You’re gonna have to scream in this scene.” “When?” she asked. “Oh, you’ll know,” he replied. And sure enough, she did. Bank’s terrified cry was, in her own words, “100 percent real.”

11. WHILE DELIVERING THE FINAL LINE, ANDRE GOWER WAS TOLD TO IMITATE CLINT EASTWOOD.

Moments before the credits roll, a victorious Sean (Andre Gower) looks squarely at the camera lens and says “We’re The Monster Squad.” Wanting the line to sound cool without getting campy, Dekker instructed Gower to “do it like Clint.”

12. THE MOVIE SPENT JUST TWO WEEKS IN THEATERS.

Released on August 14, 1987, The Monster Squad was both a commercial and critical flop. Vincent Camby of The New York Times called it “a silly attempt to cross breed an Our Gang comedy with a classic horror film, which usually means that both genres have reached the end of the line.” After a two-week theatrical run, the movie was pulled. However, it slowly built a following via video rentals and cable broadcasts.

Today, The Monster Squad commands a dedicated fan base. When the cast and crew reunited for a special two-night showing at Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in 2006, both screenings sold out. As Dekker once put it, “It took 20 years for the movie to find its audience.”

13. TRAGICALLY, BRENT CHALEM (“HORACE”) DIED OF PNEUMONIA AT AGE 22.

He’ll always be remembered for his talent, his warmth, and the immortal line “Wolfman’s got nards!”

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios