Saturday, October 31, 2020

Halloween Doc Watch: Wolfman's Got Nards (2018)

Watched:  10/29/2020
Format:  Amazon Streaming
Viewing:  First
Decade:  2010's
Director:  Andre Gower

I saw The Monster Squad at Showplace 6 on a weekday in late summer when I was a kid.  I must have said something about the movie and thinking I'd miss it (it wasn't released until mid-August of 1987, which would have been just as school was starting), so I'm guessing I thought the clock was ticking.  My dad loved movies, too, when we were kids.  Not like some of your dads who showed you Carrie or whatever, he just liked going to the movies or making a bucket of popcorn at home and watching a movie with us.  

All I know is that on a weekday in the few weeks Monster Squad was out, my dad took the afternoon off work - came home and got me, we watched the movie - and then he dropped me off and went back to work.  I don't think he remembers this at all, but it meant a lot to me when I was 12.  

What I recall is that the movie was kind of all over the place - and I loved it for that.  The kids were about my age, and they were - as my friends and I were at that age - aware of sex, Nazis, and bad things in the world - but only on a playground level.  But they were also on that verge before girls really enter the picture, where toys are still in your room, but now collecting dust.  Where Goonies and other movies had villains who would grab a kid's wrist - these monsters were monsters.  They might straight up murder a kid and go about their evening.  Parents in the movie were having real marriage issues - and if that wasn't our house, we all knew a kid like that, and the sick feeling in the stomach of not being able to control that world around us.

I liked the Universal monsters in the abstract, but growing up in the 1980's - those movies didn't air on TV anymore (and Hammer really didn't air in Austin, Texas at the time, to my recollection.  I would have watched those for the decolletage alone, but stuck around for Grand Moff Tarkin).  If video stores carried them, I don't recall.  Weirdly, I remember them for sale, but they were always very expensive for my budget.  My friends didn't care about the Universal Monsters - and they were kind of unhip now.  Unseated by Jason, Freddy, Michael Meyers... etc...  Maybe even a Critter or whatever.  We HAD our monsters and didn't need those old ones.  So I'm pretty sure I was the only one I knew who saw Monster Squad in the theater, if not the only one who bothered to watch it that I knew of.  

I had no illusions of my own Monster Squad at home - and frankly, my parents frowned on straight horror films getting got from the mom and pop rental shop we went to pre-Blockbuster.  But, man, Monster Squad hit me where I lived, and for years, I'd bring it up, and no one had seen it.  

Being twelve is a sonuvabitch.  

The documentary, Wolfman's Got Nards (2018) is about the surprise popularity of a movie which - by 1987 standards, was an utter disaster, but which then spent decades slowly and quietly building a rabid fan base and is, even now, finding it's place in the horror pantheon (it was just airing on Sundance and finished 20 minutes ago). No one involved was really aware of the fandom, and thought the movie was more or less forgotten - and now it's an every day part of their lives, offering reconsideration of the work of director Fred Dekker, putting another star on the career of screenwriter Shane Black, and a more modern interpretation of classic monsters to the basic cable audience.  

The film follows the main cast, now men and women in their 40's, as they enjoy touring with the film, finds super-fans of the movie, interviews creatives who were part of or were inspired by the film.  

In 2008-ish, I apparently saw the second wave go at a Monster Squad reunion, the first occurring in 2006, just before I moved back to Austin.   Neither Jason nor Jamie had seen it and were disinterested, so I went with JackBart, and it was amazing.  A sold out theater full of people absolutely thrilled to be there and see the cast, most of us around their age.  

Austin is funny that way.  Sometimes it's like it's a bellwether for uncovering the secret status of a film as a cult film as the Alamo staff talk amongst themselves and throw things at the wall.  The spirit of the "let's have fun with movies" thing the Alamo did is fading now as it becomes more corporatized, but it's how I saw Elvira live, met the director of Commando and saw the cast and crew of Monster Squad talk about the movie for over an hour.  

The doc picks up around 2016-2017.  Director Andre Glower is, in fact, one of the lead kids from the film.  And, wisely, brought cameras along to document a cross-country roadtrip as parts of the cast hit 17 cities.  But it also interviews director Fred Dekker, who never recovered career-wise from the hit of Monster Squad's incredibly bad opening (it made $3.8 million on a $12 million budget).  He's refreshingly realistic about the movie, it's resurgence and his place in the grand scheme of things.  

I share my own experience, because I guess I am one of those fans who shows up for these things.  I was aware of the movie's initial inability to catch on - which I blame now on a terrible release date (August is a dumping ground as kids return to school), a general disinterest by kids in that collection of monsters in 1987, and a near non-existent marketing campaign.  Even today, there are no action figures or doo-dads of the Monster Squad's version of Wolfman, Mummy, etc.. which is crazy.   And Tom Noonan is absolutely not talking about his turn as the Frankenstein Monster, and I'd love to hear what he has to say on it.  FORTUNATELY, Duncan Regehr (who I also liked as Zorro on a circa-1990 version of the show) does participate, and he's charming as hell.  It does also discuss the early passing of one of the film's stars.

In addition, the film doesn't land Jon Gries, who did attend the Alamo show I saw, and a few others - but it does have some really interesting side stories from the make-up and creature talent, and the bit about Phoebe and being scared of Dracula is - well, it's good stuff.

But, yeah, if you ever liked Monster Squad and enjoy a story of how a movie made good, even all these years later - and the kids who grew up into adults who never knew they weren't supposed to like this thing - it's a pretty darn good doc.

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