In 1987, Hollywood released the Avengers of Universal Monsters. A film about a group of normal kids who had to fight Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolfman, Mummy, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Almost no one saw it.
The Monster Squad grossed under $US4 ($6) million upon release and was considered a failure, but it was the 1980s and movies had other outlets. Over the years, people found The Monster Squad on TV and at the video store, and slowly it gained a group of devoted fans. Fans like me, who created his very own “monster squad” with his little brother complete with business cards, put the film’s poster on my bedroom wall, and reenacted scenes outside with friends. Now, at age 40, I can say I was interviewed in a documentary all about it.
Over 30 years since its release, the story of how fans like me kept The Monster Squad relevant has now been dissected in a documentary. André Gower, who played the squad leader Sean, directed the film about how, and why, this box office bomb became a cult classic. It’s called Wolfman’s Got Nards and, after years of delays, it’s finally being released on-demand and Blu-ray today.
“[The Monster Squad] endures because for some reason this movie connected with people when they saw it,” Gower told me over Zoom recently. “I sum it up in two words: ‘heart’ and ‘authenticity…’ That was the catalyst for a documentary of why this happened here because it was different than any other fandom that I was kind of seeing across the convention hall.”
For years, Gower had seen Monster Squad fandom get bigger and bigger. It began in 2006 when the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas sold out multiple repertory screenings of the film. That led to its first DVD release. Those events were the first time the filmmakers and stars realised people not only had seen their movie, they liked it. A lot.
Eventually, Gower thought the film’s journey would be a fun story to tell, but it had to be done right. “I was very adamant…from the beginning that I don’t want this to be about us,” Gower said. “We don’t want this to be about me. We really wanted to find a way to turn the focus on the fans because they’re the only reason that this movie is still alive 30 years later. And how do we tell that story?”
Gower did so with the help of writer and producer Henry McComas. McComas and Gower met by chance on a Los Angeles footpath, quickly bonded over McComas’s love of The Monster Squad, and Gower brought up this idea he had.
“I was a fan of Monster Squad and just started to fan out,” McComas recalls. “And when he was talking about the documentary, I really started dialling into that because Pilgrim [the film’s eventual production company] does a lot of unscripted material. I’m a filmmaker myself and I don’t love fan documentaries. So when I heard there was an opportunity to attach to one of them and set an aesthetic that makes it a little more premium, I really wanted to be a part of that.”
But the clock was ticking. This was right around 2017 — the film’s 30th anniversary — and Gower was scheduled to attend a bunch of events where there would be opportunities to talk to fans. They had to get going.
“I wrote the whole movie out from our conversations in outline form,” McComas said. “And it’s funny. Before we even started rolling tape, if you take a look at the outline, what it was before to what the final product is, it’s not that different. We were pretty close before we started rolling tape.”
They rolled tape on everything. A 30-city tour of The Monster Squad screenings, fan conventions, and tons of interviews with famous fans like Seth Green, wrestler Zack Ryder, and directors Joe Lynch and Adam Green. And while I was an easy get, there was a slightly more famous person they were not able to secure time with.
“There are a ton of Monster Squad fans out there that are notable names and my favourite is Ryan Gosling,” Gower said. “I actually spoke to him. We were at the same restaurant one time and I walked up to meet him, and it was great to see his reaction talking about Monster Squad. But then I don’t know if I did a very good job of inviting him into it…it didn’t work out. But hopefully, maybe in the future we’ll be able to sit down.” (Coincidentally, Gosling’s next movie? He plays the Wolfman.)
McComas and Gower also talked to Monster Squad co-writer Shane Black, who went on to find fame and fortune writing Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and directing Iron Man 3, as well as speaking to his co-writer and the film’s director, Fred Dekker. Interestingly enough, McComas said Dekker was the most difficult person to get.
“[Fred] loves the movie to death. He loves being a part of The Monster Squad. He loves what happened and how the fans received Monster Squad. But he’s a little sore about how it was perceived when it first released…This is a movie that took 30 years to fill the theatres,” McComas said.
In the doc, Dekker explains his reluctance by talking about how hard it has been for him to rationalize how a thing he thought was a failure and derailed his career, wasn’t a failure at all. “There’s such a disconnect between what you did and the response that it’s really hard to codify emotionally,” Dekker says in the film. “It’s like shooting a basket in 1987 and it doesn’t go in until 2006. That’s weird. That’s really hard for me to make sense of.”
Which, in a way, is basically the story of The Monster Squad. It’s a movie that found its life in such a roundabout way, so long after its release, and without anyone knowing it was happening, that it is very hard to make sense of. Which is why it’s so cool Wolfman’s Got Nards now exists.
Oh, and if you’re wondering if Wolfman’s Got Nards was always the film’s title? No, it was not. But in the end, Gower and McComas realised it really was the only choice. “It’s the line,” Gower said. “There’s no other thing.”
That’s how I feel — not just about The Monster Squad, but appearing in the documentary. That I was able to give back in some way to this silly little movie I fell in love with years ago is one of the proudest achievements of my life.
Wolfman’s Got Nards is available on-demand and Blu-ray today.