Who doesn’t love a good cinematic reappraisal? A misunderstood film plucked from time and obscurity, lovingly placed in a revisionist context. It’s been the de rigueur parlor game for film scholars and enthusiasts since the French “discovered” film noir, and one that taps into the romantic idea of righting a past wrong. For the unabashedly sentimental documentary Wolfman’s Got Nards, the subject is the 1987 teen adventure movie The Monster Squad, a box office flop upon release that has enjoyed a rebirth of appreciation over the last decade. And while the doc is little more than a fawning love letter, it is at times a fascinating look at the ways we attempt to recapture our childhood, and more importantly, how we struggle with the past.
If you are unfamiliar with The Monster Squad, the film tells the story of a group of generic archetype kids who must save their town, thus the world, from an influx of classic Universal Studio monsters, with Dracula as the ringleader. Its style and tone mimics Spielberg’s Eighties output (E.T., The Goonies, etc.), the prepubescent heroes’ journey tinged with scares and humor. Directed by Fred Dekker (Night of the Creeps) from a script collaboration with Shane Black (Lethal Weapon), the film suffered from mixed reviews and an unfortunate timing of being released right on the heels of juggernaut hit The Lost Boys. At least that’s the argument of one of the film’s young stars, André Gower, as he traces the history of the film. A 2006 sold-out repertory screening at Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse cinema, engineered by local film critic Eric Vespe and Alamo founder Tim League, brought the film back from the video store graveyard, and subsequently sent Gower, Dekker, and assorted cast on a whirlwind tour of connecting with the fans who have obsessed over this film that made such an impression on their formative years. Much of the film is devoted to those fans, surrounded by the ubiquitous nostalgic paraphernalia, waxing euphoric to Gower and crew. If you count yourself in that particular camp, Wolfman’s Got Nards will give you more than your fill of fuzzy recognition.
But the film, whether intentional or not, operates on a couple of levels. There is Gower and his co-stars, clearly embracing like a drug the fawning praise and attention from fans, filmmakers, and college academics that they were denied upon the film’s initial release. Gower particularly is quite the ham, his arched eyebrow and impish smile addressing the camera every few minutes. But then there is Dekker, clearly still having a difficult time processing the film’s belated appreciation. With a ruminative bitterness, he ironically posits that The Monster Squad was his best film and the one that killed his career, and it casts a melancholy shade onto an otherwise self-congratulatory affair. The juxtaposition of Gower’s wide-eyed embrace with Dekker’s obvious resentment of this film’s history is the most interesting aspect of Wolfman’s Got Nards, but unfortunately, the film is more interested in singing to the castrati.
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