DVD Review: “The Monster Squad: The Complete Collection”
Released By: Virgil Films and Entertainment
Release Date: June 23, 2009
Number of Discs: 2
Approximate Running Time: 300 Minutes
Special Features: Show / Episode Synopsis, Stills Gallery
Suggested Price: $29.95
The Source: College criminology student Walt takes a night watchman job at Fred’s Wax Museum. When he activates his home made crime computer, it brings to life the wax figures of Frankenstein, Count Dracula, and the Wolfman. To atone for their previous misdeeds, the terrifying trio decides to fight crime, with Walt’s help, as The Monster Squad.
The Fanboy Factor: Children, especially young boys, have always loved monsters and superheroes. Combining the two would seem like a sure fire hit. I know when I first saw the announcements for The Monster Squad premiering as part of the NBC fall 1976 Saturday morning line up, I knew I was going to be there to watch it. Unfortunately, the show arrived during a time when children’s programming was beginning to be scrutinized for violent and unsuitable content, so the potential for action and excitement was neutered while the program was still on the drawing board. It is obvious the writers saw this coming and packed the show with a plethora of awful puns for the kiddies and some relatively sophisticated humor for adults. They also took inspiration from the 60’s Batman television series, a popular staple of weekday syndication at the time, by filling out the villain roster with colorful celebrity cameos. Over the course of its thirteen episodes, Alice Ghostley, Avery Schreiber, Jonathan Harris, Geoffrey Lewis, and even the beautiful Julie Newmar contributed their talents as the bad guys.
The main cast of this low budget production, which seldom exceeded two sets per episode, was an impressive combination of predominantly screen veterans. The one notable exception to this was Fred Grandy, who had only racked up a few years of television cameo spots and a supporting role in the feature Death Race 2000 by this point in his career. Following the cancellation of Monster Squad, Grandy would immediately sign on as Yeoman-Purser Burl ‘Gopher’ Smith aboard The Love Boat for the next eight television seasons. As the monsters, Mike Lane, Henry Polic II, and Buck Kartalian, as Frank N. Stein, Dracula, and Bruce W. Wolf respectively, had a combined total of decades of acting under their collective belts. Interestingly, Lane and Kartalian, who had both been acting since the 1950’s, were given the least to do on camera in favor of increasing the screen time of Polic’s Dracula. While Polic was also a relative newcomer, having only appeared a year earlier in the Mel Brook’s sitcom When Things Were Rotten, he proved he was more than up to the task and continued acting steadily for almost thirty more years.
What The Monster Squad lacked in anticipated violence and horror appeal, it tried desperately to make up for with sight gags, puns, witty dialog, and slapstick humor. Some of the sequences were very clever, such as a duel between Dracula and The Wizard using invisible sabers – which did not violate any of the recent sanctions against inappropriate material for children. Other topical humor like the Ultra-Witch’s “Ronald Ray Gun” or Walt reading a book titled The Care and Feeding of Nuclear Reactors, remember the Three Mile Island reactor had only come online about a year and a half earlier, sailed right over most kid’s heads including my own. In retrospect, some thirty plus years later, it’s amazing what they were able to pack into a half hour children’s program every week.
The Product: In a rare move considering its origins, The Monster Squad was produced entirely on film. The stock is grainy but it gives the show the look of a low budget movie on late night television which works in its favor. The episodes do not have chapter indexes so the viewer does not have the option to skip the credits or jump forward in the story. The extras are almost non existent, just some a precursory synopsis of the show and its episodes and a few publicity photos. Since the show only ran one season and was not syndicated, it is not surprising that there isn’t much in the way of bonus material to include but interviews with the actors would have been nice.
The Bottom Line: In the 1970’s, live action Saturday morning television programs were dominated by two production companies, Krofft Entertainment and Filmation Studios. The few series not produced by these two giants have fallen into obscurity over the years and seldom see any type of legitimate home video release. Monster fans are extremely fortunate that this D’Angelo-Bullock-Allen Production, who also did Big John, Little John and television sitcoms including Alice, is now available. Virgil Films and Entertainment is to be commended for providing fans of classic Saturday morning programming this rare show. We can only hope that the Holy Grail from this era, The Kids from C.A.P.E.R., will follow!