The harsh reality of the movie business is that films often live or die on their opening weekends. Whether a film is seen as a success or failure depends mightily on those box office receipts from Friday to Sunday. However, some smash hit movies do tons of business and fade from the collective memory while some notable flops slowly build a reputation as dedicated fans maintain the legacy of an overlooked masterwork. When The Monster Squad first debuted in 1987, it wasn’t a hit. Director Fred Dekker’s ode to classic monster movies bombed in its initial theatrical run but over the decades amassed a dedicated cult following. Andre Gower, one of the young stars from the film, examines the robust of legacy of The Monster Squad as a documentarian with Wolfman’s Got Nards, a film that just had its Midwest premiere at Cinepocalypse 2018. The good people at Cinepocalypse provided me with a screener for the documentary that gets its titles from one of The Monster Squad’s most famous lines.
Credit where it’s due, Andre Gower doesn’t just look at The Monster Squad as this cult movie phenomenon because he was in one of the starring roles. Gower is genuinely interested in examining every aspect of the film and its fandom as a means to explore how a commercial flop finds a second life as a cult classic.
Gower starts off interviewing director and co-writer Fred Dekker as well as co-writer Shane Black. Each provide their backstory for the genesis of their original screenplay, and how these two unknown creators found themselves hurled into a monster movie production. Wolfman’s Got Nards explores the genesis of the production, with Dekker and Black offering candid assessments of their youthful endeavors of creating a film. Gower also talks to the team that created the creature effects for the film, and how Universal Studios preventing the use of their classic Famous Monsters presented a unique challenge for the team of artists.
Interviews with the cast and crew are punctuated with behind the scenes footage from the Warner Bros. backlot where the film was shot. But it’s not just the players and creators of The Monster Squad who are interviewed. Gower takes the time to discuss the film and its impact with critics such as I09’s Germain Lussier, filmmakers like Mayhem’s Joe Lynch, and monster obsessed fans that attended revival screenings of the film worldwide. From the creature design to the film’s naturalistic dialogue, Wolfman’s Got Nards is very adept at getting to the root of what people connected to about The Monster Squad.
Andre Gower is also willing to examine why the film flopped. It had the unfortunate timing to come out two weeks after The Lost Boys. Adding to the problems, the film came out before Lethal Weapon, which made Shane Black one of Hollywood’s biggest screenwriters and possible selling point. The Monster Squad was not a critical darling at the time, and the PG-13 rating made the film seem intended for more mature audiences. The film opened and was D.O.A.
But how does a flop become a cult classic. Wolfman’s Got Nards follows the path of The Monster Squad’s box office failure and how it found a second life thanks to the combination of the rise of home video and the rise of HBO. The prices to purchase VHS tapes was prohibitive, so kids repeatedly rented the monster movie. The Monster Squad also benefited from repeat showing on HBO, kids tuning in to watch the film over and over. And though the film was out of print and disappeared for nearly two decades, its dedicated followers kept the legacy of the film alive until its DVD release.
And yet, despite the film’s cult status, there’s a hint of sadness to Wolfman’s Got Nards. Fred Dekker doesn’t hide the fact that film’s box office failure had a negative impact on his career before it ever really took off. The director considers the film his best work, but must lament that its success is far too late to do much to boost his career. (Sadly, Fred Dekker hasn’t directed a film since 1994’s Robocop 3, though he is a co-writer on Shane Black’s upcoming film The Predator). The other tragic element to Wolfman’s Got Nards is the untimely passing of Brent Chalem, who played Horace and tragically passed away at 22 years old.
The film concludes with Gower and his co-stars, including Ashley Bank who played young Pheobe, touring the country at revival screenings of The Monster Squad. That’s the big takeaway from Wolfman’s Got Nards – that immediate success is just fleeting and it’s the enduring impact that we leave on others that truly matters. Wolfman’s Got Nards is a celebration of cult classic, its genesis and its fans. It won’t change how people see the monster mash but it’s a love letter for all those who have ever sat down and watch that plucky group of kids take down an unholy gang of monsters.