Saturday, March 22, 2008

Wolfman's Got Nards!

In his recent round-up of L.A.'s current glut of fantastic revival screenings, Dennis Cozzalio covered just about everything going on in the Southland that could make a film lover drool. But he missed one very special double feature that made my heart leap.

Last night, at the New Beverly Cinema, the marquee looked like this:

When I was a young lad in the Philadelphia suburbs, the local cable service included a channel called Prism. It carried all the Philly sports games, concerts recorded at Philly venues and just about every movie I recall fondly from childhood. (Remind me to tell you one day of the epic arguments my childhood friends and I still have to this day about which Mannequin movie is better. It's the first one, just so you know.)

My sister and I recorded The Monster Squad from Prism, and probably wore out the VHS tape watching it so much. Here was a movie where little kids cussed, read Stephen King, and fought monsters by kicking 'em "in the nards". It seemed designed specifically for me.

Before last night, I hadn't seen the film in a good fifteen years. I was worried. I didn't want to end up realizing this fond childhood memory is actually a terrible, terrible piece of shit.

Thank God, it's not. That feeling when I was ten years old -- that the movie was designed specifically for me -- came about because it was designed specifically for me, and all the wide-eyed, movie-loving youngsters like me. For those who don't know, the movie's about a group of monster-obsessed grade-schoolers who are somehow pitted against the "forces of evil", embodied by just about every famous movie monster ever:

I'm embarrassed to admit that I got a little choked up at some of the film's sentimental shots. The best among them involves one character watching a drive-in horror movie through binoculars from the roof of his house, munching on popcorn with his father. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a screen grab of that one, but I did find this one, which illustrates every young boy's wildest dream:

I wasn't the only one looking for a trip down memory lane. The show was sold out, something I've never seen before at the New Beverly, though it's easy to see why: not only were they showing the only 35mm print of the film known to exist (loaned by a private collector, they said), but the director of both films on the bill, Fred Dekker, was in attendance for a Q&A between screenings. Dekker was good-humored and friendly, and provided an interesting look at someone who didn't have great success in the industry. After making the two films from last night, he directed Robocop 3, which he described as "a film everyone hated." Though the audience clearly had great affection for The Monster Squad, the reality is it was a box office flop. "If these movies had done bettter," said Dekker, "you would've seen a lot more from me."

Then, as if someone had scripted a scene illustrating the tenuous nature of Hollywood relationships for our amusement, the moderator announced that the co-writer of The Monster Squad, Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), was in the theater. He waved to the crowd and to Dekker, who proceeded to give Black shit (in a jocular way) for not returning calls about appearing on the DVD of The Monster Squad. He told Black that Sony wanted to do a Blu-Ray of the film, which would include an extra where a box appears in the bottom corner of the screen, in which one sees Dekker and Black discussing the film. "I'll talk to you about it after this," said Dekker. The moderator asked for questions from the audience, at which point Black walked down the aisle and said to Dekker, "I've got a question: what's your goddamned phone number? I have to leave." Dekker said he'd give it to him after the Q&A. Later, Dekker called out to Black for help answering a question. Someone from the back of the theater shouted: "He took off!" Awkward!

After all this mayhem, it was time for Night of the Creeps, which I'd never seen before. It's missing the nostalgia and sentiment of The Monster Squad, but it's still a funny little zombie B-movie with intentionally corny dialogue. During the Q&A, many audience members made pointed references to James Gunn's movie Slither being a rip-off of Creeps. It's possible -- the alien slugs slithering along the ground and leaping into humans' mouths did seem awfully familiar -- but Dekker tried to be kinder about it, mentioning that there was a TV show in the 70s called The Monster Squad that featured Dracula, Wolfman and Frankenstein's monster that he'd never seen.

I think it's ideal to see Night of the Creeps in an environment like last night's -- 300 rowdy movie lovers wildly applauding every inane moment, such as a gold-hearted sorority girl strapping on a flamethrower to battle a swarm of undead fraternity boys.

Last night was a reminder of the giddiness that comes about from the shared experience of movies that are just plain fun. I know we all love films that aspire to be more than just a good time, but out with it: what are some movies that make you feel like a kid again?

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