13 Spooky Facts About The Monster Squad

Lionsgate Home Entertainment
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!”

11 Fun Facts About Them!

Joan Weldon and James Arness star in Them! (1954).
Joan Weldon and James Arness star in Them! (1954).
Warner Home Video

In the 1950s, Elvis was king, hula hooping was all the rage, and movie screens across America were overrun with giant arthropods. Back then, Tarantula (1955), The Deadly Mantis (1957), and other “big bug” films starring colossal insects or arachnids enjoyed a surprising amount of popularity. What kicked off this creepy-crawly craze? An eerie blockbuster whose impossible premise reflected widespread anxieties about the emerging atomic age. Grab a Geiger counter and let’s explore 1954's Them!.

1. Them!'s primary scriptwriter once worked for General Douglas MacArthur.

When World War II broke out, the knowledge Ted Sherdeman had gained from his career as a radio producer was put to good use by Uncle Sam, landing him a position as a radio communications advisor to General MacArthur. However, the fiery conclusion of the war left Sherdeman with a lifelong disdain for nuclear weapons. In an interview he revealed that upon hearing about the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima, he “just went over to the curb and started to throw up."

Shifting his focus from radio to motion pictures, Sherdeman later joined Warned Bros. as a staff producer. One day he was given a screenplay that really made his eyes bug out. George Worthing Yates, best known for his work on the Lone Ranger serials, had decided to take a stab at science fiction and penned an original script about giant, irradiated ants attacking New York City. "The idea appealed to me very much,” Sherdeman told Cinefantastique, "because, aside from man, ants are the only creatures in the world that plan to wage war, and nobody trusted the atomic bomb at that time.” (His statement about animal combat is debatable: chimpanzee gangs will also take organized, warlike measures in order to annex their rivals’ territories.)

Although he loved the basic concept, Sherdeman felt that the script needed something more. Screenwriter Russell S. Hughes was asked to punch up the script, but died of a heart attack after completing the first 50 pages. With some help from director Gordon Douglas, Sherdeman took it upon himself to finish the screenplay. Thus, Them! was born.

2. Two main ants were built for the movie.

Them! brought its spineless villains to life using a combination of animatronics and puppetry, courtesy of an effects artist by the name of Dick Smith. He constructed two fully functional mechanical ants for the production, with the first of these being a 12-foot monster filled with gears, levers, motors, and pulleys. Operating the big bug was a job that required a small army of technicians who’d pull sophisticated cables to control the ant’s limbs off-camera. These guys worked in close proximity and often crashed into each other as a result, prompting Douglas to call them “a comedy team.”

The big insect mainly appears in long shots, and for close-ups, Smith built the front three quarters of a second large-scale ant and mounted it onto a camera crane. During scenes that required swarms of ants, smaller, non-motorized models were used. Blowing wind machines moved the little units’ heads around in a lifelike manner.

3. Them! features the Wilhelm Scream.

Fifty-nine minutes in, the ants board a ship and one of them grabs a sailor, who unleashes the so-called "Wilhelm Scream." You can also hear it when James Whitmore’s character is killed, and the sound bite rings out once again during the movie’s climax. Them! was among the first movies to reuse this distinctive holler, which was originally recorded three years earlier for the 1951 western Distant Drums. Since then, it’s become something of an inside joke for sound recording specialists. The scream has appeared in Titanic (1997), Toy Story (1995), Reservoir Dogs (1992), Batman Returns (1992), the Star Wars saga (1977-present), all three The Lord of the Rings movies (2001-2003), and countless other films.

4. Leonard Nimoy makes an appearance.

In one brief scene, future Star Trek star Leonard Nimoy plays an Army man who receives a message about an alleged “ant-shaped UFO” sighting over Texas. He then proceeds to poke fun at the Lone Star State, because, as everybody knows, insectile space vessels are highly illogical.

5. Many different sounds were combined to produce the screeching ant cries.

Throughout the movie, the monsters announce their presence with a haunting wail. Douglas’s team created this unforgettable shriek by mixing assorted noises, including bird whistles, which were artificially pitched up by sound technicians.

6. Sandy Descher had to sniff a mystery liquid during her signature scene.

Like Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, Them! has a deliberate pace and the massive insects don’t make an onscreen appearance until the half hour mark. Douglas took credit for this restrained approach, saying, “I told Ted, let’s tease [the audience] a little bit before you see the ant. Let’s build up to it."

So instead of showing off the big bugs, the opening scene follows a little girl as she wanders through the New Mexican desert, listlessly clutching her favorite doll. That stunning performance was delivered by child actress Sandy Descher. Later, in one of the most effective title drop scenes ever orchestrated, a vial of formic acid is held under her character’s nose. Suddenly recognizing the aroma, the traumatized youngster screams “Them! Them!” Descher never found out what sort of liquid was really sloshing around in that container.

“They used something that did smell quite strange. It wasn’t ammonia, it was something else,” she told an interviewer. Still, the mysterious brew had a beneficial effect on her performance. “They tried to create something different and it helped me a lot with that particular scene,” Descher said.

7. Them! was originally going to be filmed in 3D and in color.

To hear Douglas tell it, the insect models looked a lot scarier in person. “I put green and red soap bubbles in the eyes,” he once stated. “The ants were purple, slimy things. Their bodies were wet down with Vaseline. They scared the bejeezus out of you.” For better or for worse, though, audiences never got the chance to savor the bugs’ color scheme.

At first, Warner Bros. had planned on shooting the movie in color. Furthermore, to help Them! compete with Universal’s brand-new, three-dimensional monster movie, Creature From the Black Lagoon, the studio strongly considered using 3D cameras. But in the end, the higher-ups at Warner Bros. didn’t supply Douglas with the money he’d need to shoot it in this manner. Shortly before production started on Them!, the budget was greatly reduced, forcing the use of two-dimensional, black and white film.

8. The setting of the climactic scene was changes—twice.

Yates envisioned the final battle playing out in New York City’s world-famous subway tunnels. Hughes moved the action westward, conjuring up an epic showdown between human soldiers and the last surviving ants at a Santa Monica amusement park. Finally, for both artistic and budgetary reasons, Sherdeman set the big finale in the sewers of Los Angeles.

9. Warner Bros. encouraged theaters to use Them! as a military recruitment tool.

The film’s official pressbook advised theater managers who were screening Them!& to contact their nearest Armed Forces recruitment offices. “Since civil defense in the face of an emergency figures in the picture, make the most of it by inviting [a] local agency to set up a recruiting booth in the lobby,” the filmmakers advised. Also, the document suggested that movie houses post signs reading: “What would you do if (name of city) were attacked by THEM?! Prepare for any danger by enlisting in Civil Defense today!”

10. The movie was a surprise hit.

Studio head Jack L. Warner predicted that Them!, with its far-fetched plot, wouldn’t fare well at the box office. So imagine his surprise when it raked in more than $2.2 million—enough to make the picture one of the studio's highest-grossing films of 1954.

11. Them! landed Fess Parker the role of TV's Davy Crockett.

When Walt Disney went to see Them!, he had a specific objective in mind: Scout a potential Davy Crockett. At the time, Disney was developing a new television series that would chronicle the life and times of the iconic frontiersman, and James Arness, who plays an FBI agent in Them!, was on the short list of candidates for the role. Yet as the sci-fi thriller unfolded, it was actor Fess Parker who grabbed Disney’s attention. Director Gordon Douglas had hired Parker to portray the pilot who ends up in a psych ward after an aerial encounter with a gargantuan flying ant. And while his character only appears in one scene, the performance impressed Disney so much that the struggling actor was soon cast as Crockett.

By the Texan’s own admission, his good fortune may’ve been the product of bargain hunting. “Walt probably asked, ‘How much would Arness cost?’ and then ‘This fellow [Parker], we ought to be able to get him real economical,” Parker once said.

George R.R. Martin Doesn't Think Game of Thrones Was 'Very Good' For His Writing Process

Kevin Winter, Getty Images
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

No one seems to have escaped the fan fury over the finals season of Game of Thrones. While likely no one got it quite as bad as showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, even author George R.R. Martin—who wrote A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series upon which the show is based, faced backlash surrounding the HBO hit. The volatile reaction from fans has apparently taken a toll on both Martin's writing and personal life.

In an interview with The Guardian, the acclaimed author said he's sticking with his original plan for the last two books, explaining that the show will not impact them. “You can’t please everybody, so you’ve got to please yourself,” he stated.

He went on to explain how even his personal life has taken a negative turn because of the show. “I can’t go into a bookstore any more, and that used to be my favorite thing to do in the world,” Martin said. “To go in and wander from stack to stack, take down some books, read a little, leave with a big stack of things I’d never heard of when I came in. Now when I go to a bookstore, I get recognized within 10 minutes and there’s a crowd around me. So you gain a lot but you also lose things.”

While fans of the book series are fully aware of the author's struggle to finish the final two installments, The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring, Martin admitted that part of the delay has been a result of the HBO series, and fans' reaction to it.

“I don’t think [the series] was very good for me,” Martin said. “The very thing that should have speeded me up actually slowed me down. Every day I sat down to write and even if I had a good day … I’d feel terrible because I’d be thinking: ‘My God, I have to finish the book. I’ve only written four pages when I should have written 40.'"

Still, Martin has sworn that the books will get finished ... he just won't promise when.

[h/t The Guardian]

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