When you’re a kid and you fall in love with a movie, you assume the rest of the world falls in love along with you. It’s only as you get older that you realize the universe doesn’t center around you, and others dare to have opinions different than your own. Yes, that’s a cold bummer of a realization. Bogus.
After I squeezed about every ounce of joy from Star Wars, my eight-year-old turned his attention towards The Monster Squad. These kids who waged war against the classic Universal Monsters (despite the film being a Paramount production), using their own deep-rooted geek knowledge, were the neighborhood pals I was desperately seeking. Filling my bedroom with comic book posters, Hammer Horror model kits, and a never-ending parade of action figures found validation in one weirdo kids flick.
While the film initially tanked at the box office, The Monster Squad found a second life on VHS and cable television. For years, the creators were unaware of the phenomenon growing on the fringes of the film community. The audience might not have shown up on opening weekend, but decades later they refuse to let go, and I’m right there with them. The Monster Squad vindicates time well spent in the pages of Fangoria Magazine or glued to the boob tube for late-night creature features. This knowledge is important.
Inspired by the seventeen-city 30th Anniversary tour that took the stars of The Monster Squad all over the country and across the pond to England, André Gower (who once led the squad as Sean in the totally rad “Stephen King Rules” t-shirt) was compelled to turn the camera on the hordes of fans that lined the blocks for the film so many years later. What was so special about this ’80s answer to Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein? Why do fans tattoo their bodies with the Gil-Man? Why do they paste their walls in fan art?
Partnering with Henry McComas, Gower crafted what could have been nothing more than a glorified DVD special feature into a triumphant recognition of the fire that feeds both the art and the audience. Their documentary, Wolfman’s Got Nards, is not simply preaching to the choir. In detailing the struggles and strife that went into producing the original Monster Squad, and the shock of its cult status in the wake of its commercial failure, Gower and McComas have delivered a universal saga of creative passion.
Fellow FSR writer William Dass and I traveled to the Chattanooga Film Festival where Wolfman’s Got Nards had its world premiere. There we sat down with both André Gower and Henry McComas to discuss the inspiration for turning the camera on the fanbase, and their desire to concoct a legitimate narrative rather than a series of trivial vignettes. We chatted for a long time, and I’m sure you can sense my own ridiculous enthusiasm for finally making it into a room with Sean from The Monster Squad.
Here is our conversation in full.
Brad: William and I were talking about The Monster Squad on our drive over, and for us, it was such a major movie in our childhood. When I got older and I realized that maybe not everyone had seen The Monster Squad, and I was like, “You haven’t seen Monster Squad?!” Then I got the pleasure of showing people The Monster Squad. From your point of view, you make this movie and you go away from it for a while, and it’s not a major success, but now it’s this massive cult hit. What is it like to come back to that film and discover this rabid fanbase?
André: Watch this documentary. The fact that you opened up with the idea that, “I saw this movie, it was huge to me, but then I realized that not everyone had seen it, and it blew you away, like how did you not see it?” You’re not the only one. So you’re part of this larger club of people who do that. And so the fact that you just said that, you need to see this documentary because that’s exactly what this is about and that dynamic. And so interestingly enough, the 20-year absence of this movie, it tanks in the box office, but it eventually finds it’s home. Some people did see it in the theater, it was bigger to some than others, and we have those stories. Like, my theater was packed and I thought it was the most rad thing ever, and then it disappeared.
Brad: Hey, I saw it in a theater.
André: Some people didn’t get to see it in theater, because it was gone after a weekend or two wherever they lived, but then it goes away, and it finds it’s home on VHS or HBO which actually found the other 75% of the audience over time. That’s the interesting story. And you know, when we were starting this concept of this doc, I had a totally different idea of what it would be and should be but then I got together with Henry and his team at Pilgrim, and it became something else and deeper and that’s what we have today, and it’s so much better. It really kind of embodies what we find in the story, we find a story that I’d never seen until I was an adult, and that’s fabulous.
Now we have a whole second generation. But to be part of that dynamic, of something that dies and then gets resurrected 20 years after it was out, and I don’t want to say it’s gigantic, but it’s gigantic for what it was. And I’ve been busy for the last 10 years traveling around and doing appearances and conventions and screenings and retro screenings…we did 17! 30 years later. You’re talking about a movie that tanked in the box office? Tanked, not didn’t underperform, tanked. But that shows something about what the movie was to the people that actually saw it, whenever they saw it. Something was perfect about it, or right about it and struck a chord with someone and it never left them. That’s the story that we wanted to tell with the documentary, finding out what that means.
William: Well so how does that work for you though? For me as an audience member, like you were just saying, I watched it as a kid, I was the VHS kid that saw it, and I shared it with my daughter when she turned 8 and that was a thing for her, she had nightmares for a week after that, but she enjoyed watching it. But that’s our experience, because the way you’re talking about it, I get the impression that you’re sort of looking at it from the perspective of “I’m going to tell this story about people and how they relate to this movie and the generation moving forward.” But where do you see your ownership in it?
André: I think it’s, first off, it’s fascinating. It’s also super interesting to be a part of something like that. I’ve always said, especially after seeing this dynamic, I’d rather be a part of something that has a 30 year life, that people want to wait in line in Winchester, Virginia and take a picture, or talk a little bit, for the 90 seconds you can give them, because there are a 100 people behind them. I’d rather do that 30 years later than be the lead in the number 1 movie in ‘87 that no one remembers what it was. And so, I don’t take any ownership of the success of that, I’m certainly appreciative that I’m included in this awesome dynamic.
I don’t think we can sit here and make a list of a lot of things that the same thing has happened to. I think it’s very unique, and I’m certainly appreciative and respect the fact that I was just very lucky to be a part of it, and then now the ownership I take in it is wanting to explain that story, no one else is going to talk about this dynamic. Everyone enjoys this dynamic, and I said, you know what, this story is so interesting, let’s tell these people’s story, and then it became the story about its life and it’s death and it’s resurrection. But I wanted to tell the fan stories about why they would line up; they’re very individually focused but also very collective.
Henry: Andre’s being very humble. He’s also the gatekeeper to the fans. And it’s been so interesting to see, not necessarily on purpose, but he knows how to connect people from all over the world, whether we’re in London, or we’re in the United States in a small town in Ohio. Whatever’s going on, if you’re a fan, he’s going to spend the time to have a personal connection with you, find out what made the movie tick for you. Now you have this place you can live and interact with the people that made this movie, to the point where if they’re commenting on Fred [Dekker]’s Facebook, he’ll be there to correspond, and he’ll point them to the next screening. So what’s very interesting and unique, and you’ll see in Wolfman’s Got Nards, is that much like the genre industry as a whole is a family, The Monster Squad is a much tighter family. So when you talk about your first experience, can I ask you a question?
Henry: Have you ever tried to explain that experience to someone else that didn’t know The Monster Squad?
Brad: Oh yeah, definitely.
Henry: How did that go for you?
Brad: Explaining what the movie meant to me? It’s hard to put into words.
Henry: So imagine that first time, the first time you showed your daughter, the first time you saw The Monster Squad, and that feeling you got in a dark room at the theater or at your house, and so that movie washes you over and it takes you to a new place, and you’re inspired, ever since from that one experience. And then try to explain that to someone, that’s a little hard to do. I think what Andre did and what we did in making this movie is capture that experience, so you don’t have to have the conversation anymore, you can play the movie and be like, this is why I love the movie. And this is why I fucking love The Monster Squad.
Brad: I’m not going to lie, when I get a copy of this film, or if it comes to play at the Winchester Alamo, I’m taking my parents. The film acts as a validation of a misspent youth obsessing over Ninja Turtles.
André: And what’s interesting is you said your parents, which becomes a generational thing, because I think this era, we talk a little bit about it, cause we had to go back and do a little bit of commentary on this dynamic because movies of the 80s, especially with the kids, was really the first time that those entertainment brands or experiences or pop culture type things really kicked into effect. Our parents didn’t have that generation. They had their Beatles, and that changed the world, it inspired them, but it didn’t change their world, because they were so disconnected from it. But we had these big paradigm shifts in these movies of the 80s were especially kids started becoming part of the story. And that’s what you kind of connect with. Who didn’t want to be Elliot, who didn’t want to fight an alien in their closet and be friends? Who didn’t want to band together with their friends in the treehouse and fight monsters, or who didn’t want to save their neighborhood from a developer, that’s The Goonies. We’re kind of obligated to mention them.
It doesn’t matter because there are tons of Goonies fans and that’s because these kids banded together and became the story, they weren’t just afterthoughts or the offspring of the lead of the movie and that’s what changed in that time. It’s not Ninja Turtles who are important. Ninja Turtles were part of the concept and that new paradigm shift. We look at that a little bit because you need to think back and realize what happened and we cover that a bit and what happens will be a part of that.
But like Henry said, Monster Squad is a section of a section, and it’s this tight little gravity ball of people. That little ball is growing over the years because we now have a second generation of people, but they thought that they were the cool club themselves. If you were a Monster Squad fan and you showed up to a party and you were wearing a “Stephen King Rules” shirt, you went, that guy knows.
Brad: You’re my new best friend!
André: That guy knows.
Henry: And the goddamn Squad as opposed to “Oh yeah I love IT.” The ones that are like “I love Stephen King,” they’re getting–
André: They don’t know. So that’s an interesting dynamic inside of a movie. So you show up to a party in a homemade “Stephen King Rules” shirt, you’re like, wait a minute, we’re the same, we now connect but only connect because we were misfits, me and my one other buddy that liked the stuff that we liked. That’s a unique thing. We found that story a ton, that’s what’s fascinating to me. I didn’t realize that. I promise I’ll let you ask questions.
Brad: No, no, no. No one is listening to this for me.
André: I realized something was there with this dynamic when it didn’t wane out after a year or two after 2006 right? It kept going and just got stronger and the base got deeper, and it was like, this is incredible. Like Henry said, I’m a little more engaged with everybody so I saw it more. Ryan [Lambert] and Ashley [Bank] and Fred see it as a whole different thing. I’m going to leave that on its own and you watch this documentary to understand it from Fred’s perspective. But Ryan was like this is lame, why are people talking to me? I don’t understand this. And it took a couple of years to realize that this is something real. To say, let’s service this. And then it’s not only let’s service this to have fun with it, it’s now let’s engage and appreciate this a little bit more, but it takes a little while because it’s so fascinating.
Henry: And it took him across the world.
André: It took you to places you’d never feel like you were going.
William: So what’s the genesis of the doc? You come back and you start doing tours for the 20th anniversary right?
Brad: And you do the podcast too.
André: That all comes out of the 10 or 11 years. Really the seminal moment was the 2006 original downtown Austin Alamo Drafthouse screening, which only because of a confluence of events that actually happened. They found a 35 mm print that no one knew existed. Two guys in North Carolina owned this print, they rented it to the Alamo, and then from that weekend on, it was rented out almost every weekend across North America. After that 2006 event, we start doing conventions and other retro screenings and appearances and festivals and that culminates into something like our 30th anniversary year where we do 17 Alamos in 17 days. There was only one of those 17 that didn’t have a jam-packed theater. And half of those, we had to do two. Houston, or San Antonio, even wanted to do a third screening of this thing, and they pulled it the day before, like okay…
Henry: The genesis of the doc is a 30-year success story. It’s also diving deep into the relationship between the two champions, the movie, and the audience. And you can’t have the success without having both of those parties. It’s fascinating especially because Andre’s known it and he’s been around it his entire life, but going out and shooting this and talking to the cast, the crew, the critics that reviewed the movie when it first came out.
William: Dude, I was reading one of the reviews from the New York Times; it’s on the Wikipedia page for the movie – God damn.
André: Watch the doc. That’s Vincent Campo–
André: Jen Yamato from the LA Times has something interesting to say there.
Henry: One of the fascinating aspects is that the fans that end up being creators themselves because of what they’ve learned from The Monster Squad. If you look at this film back in the day, who’s that creature team? It’s Stan Winston’s boys. Stan Winston did some sketches and did great amazing work, but it’s the people working under him that put in the hours. They go on from doing the Gill-Man (Tom Woodruff Jr) to being Pumpkin Head to being Alien, to being Goro from Mortal Kombat, to being every gorilla in every Hollywood movie.
André: And the Predator.
Henry: And so, it’s amazing how that all started with his first performance in The Monster Squad. Now we have 30 years later, The Predator is coming out. Do you guys know who wrote that movie?
Brad: Shane Black.
Henry: And? Fred Dekker, the director of Monster Squad. So they’re coming back together and they’re going to do a major blockbuster called The Predator, with the creative team from The Monster Squad and the creative team who designed the Predator is Tom Woodruff Jr.
Brad: That’s nuts. That’s magic.
André: Another magic thing we captured was the story of this teenager in the UK. He went to his local Cinemaplex and that same summer Dream Warriors comes out. The cinema owner asked this kid, “Hey, would you come out and dress up like Freddy Krueger and interact with the audience because this new movie is breaking out.” He said “Yeah, I kind of like that. I’ll dress up as Freddy Krueger and do some stuff and kind of scare the audience before they show Nightmare on Elm Street 3.” And he did that. Then a month or two later, that theater calls this kid up again and said, “Hey, we’ve got this other movie coming in called The Monster Squad and it’s got a bunch of these classic universal monsters. Would you and your friends come up dressed as the monsters and do the kind of same thing?” And the kid was like, “Oh I’d love to do that, I can’t wait to see this movie.” Because this kid is interested in dressing up and doing makeup and stuff like that.
He did that for this theater for Dream Warriors, and for Monster Squad, and for other stuff. This lead to a network production company in London calling him and saying would you come do some makeup work on our show? His name is Mike Hill and he’s the guy who created Amphibian Man for The Shape of Water.
Brad: That’s awesome.
André: So now, not only is this guy a very well known creature maker in Hollywood, he’s making the fourth Creature from the Black Lagoon that’s ever been seen on camera, that was also co-built, and made with Shane Mahan and John Rosengrant from Legacy who made The Mummy and The Wolf Man in Monster Squad. So there’s another mind blow for you.
Henry: I’ll give a smaller one, that’s equally as interesting. And then we’re going to stop spoiling because you guys are going to promise to go see it.
William: Oh yeah, we’re going.
Henry: When the movie went to the United Kingdom, we looked into why the movie didn’t do well there when it first released. For the United Kingdom, it’s because they had something called the 15 rule. If you were under 15 even if you had a parent, you could not go into the movie theater. So if the Monster Squad’s going over to England, who’s going to go watch it? It’s the first young adult movie, it’s going to be pre-teens. So here we are 30 years later at Prince Charles Cinema, showing The Monster Squad and outside, was a young girl, who is a huge fan, and she couldn’t get into the theater. The 15 rule is still going on.
André: 30 years later, she couldn’t come to our special screening. She couldn’t come into the building while the movie was playing. But we got her into the Q & A. And called her out.
Henry: She got her photos, she got to meet the guys, and she was the most excited person in the world.
André: The 15 rule is like PG-13, plus a kick in the butt.
Brad: Better put your fake mustaches on.
Henry: We’ve got a bunch of behind the scenes stuff for you too, talking about shooting it and going all over the place.
William: I want to see that Blu-ray.
André: So do I. Because here’s the thing, as a filmmaker, as we make this thing, Henry’s like, “We can’t get that in there.” Because you work on this thing for so long and you get so much great stuff and that staple foundational stuff that you think is the core of your thing starts getting pushed down and out by stuff that comes in that’s better.
Henry: Because you find your tight story.
André: And you’re like, “Oh my God. That was one of the original greatest things.”
Henry: It’s called deleted scenes. It’s called bonus features.
André: But it’s all so great. That’s a testament to Henry and everything these guys captured. Henry was really the one, what you’re seeing here is pretty much all Henry and the rest of our guys like Aaron [Kunkel] and Wes [Caldwell] and a few that really put in a lot of man-hours. This guy right here is the guy who really put–
Henry: Please credit also 1620 Media.
André: That whole group are the ones who put the work in. Once we were kind of, and I want to make sure that’s a point, because yeah my name’s on it as the filmmaker, but I was really, I set the plan in motion, this is what I want to capture, and then we worked as a team the whole way. These guys just put so much effort and work into it, they weren’t just producers and editors and camera guys. These guys were in it to win it, from day one.
Henry: We were all fans. As soon as we heard the idea, we grew up on this movie, fuck yes, we’re going to make this. It’s important that we let you know that the aesthetic because movies are so important to us as fans, looked almost like a narrative and a scripted movie. It didn’t feel like a fan doc or something like that, it was just this experience. It’s about that experience of the first time you sat in a movie theater, that’s what we were going for.
André: My original concept was just to turn the celebration around on the fans because I wouldn’t have been talking about this 20 and 30 years later if it wasn’t for the fans.
William: That’s the word, man, celebration.
André: They’ve been celebrating us for 30 years in their basements and their festivals, and I wanted to turn that around on them. But then we started making it and it got even deeper. So, you’ll see where that goes. But fans made this movie, with the people that were in it. Even our music is provided by fans.
Henry: Fan music, fan art.
André: Everything in it is all part of the fandom.
Henry: All the animated elements are fan art.
André: That’s what’s important.
Wolfman’s Got Nards has only just started its festival circuit. Next up on the tour will be The Overlook Film Festival in New Orleans. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for its next stop along your way.