I was born too late to enjoy the Saturday morning TV of the 1960s and 70s, so I don’t get to immerse myself in the same kind of nostalgia that some viewers might enjoy. To a child of the 1980s, the insanity of a show like Monster Squad rivals the controlled insanity of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, which happens to be my generation’s standard for bizarre kids’ TV (and an id-and-pop-driven extension of the ‘clubhouse’ shows of yore, anyhow).
Monster Squad, a TV show which aired in 1976, is sheer, uncontrolled madness. Pee-Wee’s world had rules; you had to answer the picturephone, you had to get the secret word out of Konky, and you had to tolerate Miss Yvonne’s unabashed narcissism. Monster Squad’s world starts in the weirdo basement of a wax museum where a plucky intern named Walt has built a nigh-magical crime computer in an unused sarcophagus. More science-magic happens and the sheer awesomeness of this computer brings three wax figures to life: Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster, and the Wolf Man. These monsters, despite being wax figures of literary fiction, retain the memories of their past misdeeds and seek to atone for them by fighting crime. The series never really explores why these monsters think they were real, but I suspect severe psychological manipulation on the part of intern Walt. No one who’s that positive all of the time can be up to any good. It’s a brand of high-pitched madness that knows no rules or logic, and the total insanity of the series only develops an increasingly dangerous depth through the first episode.
Dracula does his best Bela-Lugosi-as-a-sexy-goofball (and would alter play the voice of The Scarecrow on Batman: The Animated Series). The Wolf Man smiles and fawns over everything. Frank N. Stein plays an almost-offensive developmentally delayed monster man.
The trio goes out to fight surrealist crimes perpetrated by low-rent supervillains like The Tickler, Music Man, The Astrologer and The Weatherman, none of whom seem to present much of a threat based on their self-chosen monikers, but whom often rely on 1960s-Batman-styled goons — which is no surprise. Some of the same creative team was involved in both shows, and the same Shark Repellant Spray Logic is employed, even though this show was created seven years later.
By way of introduction: the first episode features the monsters fighting Queen Bee (who you might recognize as the housekeeper from Bewitched), as well as her minions, Bumble and Spelling. If you think that this is bad news, you’re right, and you don’t know the half of it.
Dracula, in bat form, infiltrates her crime-hive (located in a residential neighborhood) after she threatens to basically sting the entire world to death with her bee soldiers. After lounging around on pillows, eating honey and talking about making bat-bee-babies together, the Queen discovers that Dracula is a spy when his enormous communication belt goes off, because ‘airplane mode’ didn’t exist in 1976. She throws him into the impossibly small vat of honey they’ve been eating out of, just before tossing him into a very clearly labeled cage with a bear. You know, in case the bees forget what was supposed to go in the giant bear cage. Organization is key when you’re managing a hive.
Dracula, in his wet costume, rubs back and forth across the back of the cage as him and the bear shuffle around in weird battle of who can do nothing the most ineffectively, leaving wet smears across the wall. Eventually, the Monster Squad shows up in their amazing van and smokes the bees into submission and the world is saved… but not before the Queen informs the audience that yellowjackets and wasps are different insects (they’re not) and that the queen bee kills her mate (she doesn’t, and she mates with hundreds of drones, so Spelling and Bumble were probably pretty busy). Not only is the show filled with glorious nonsense, but it’s filled with glorious misinformation.
But this isn’t a review of the show. This is to let you know that this exists, and it’s so weird that it’s worth watching. The DVD includes all 13 episodes of the show on two discs, for 312 minutes of insanity. DVD extras are minimum, and are simply still screens that copy the DVD’s liner notes. There’s not a whole lot of extras that could have come from a one-season show, but perhaps an interview with now-US House of Representatives member Fred Grandy, who played Walt, would have been nice. The guest stars are a who’s who of 1970s comedians and character actors, so that’s another interesting aspect of the show. If you’ve ever wanted to see Avery Schreiber as an evil weatherman or Julie Newmar as a witch, you’ve got it here.
You can score this DVD for around 15 bucks, and it’s a steal for that much. If you’re a glutton for delightful punishment and puns that don’t even seem to make sense in a stretch, Monster Squad is perfect for you. And if your friends aren’t down with this kind of thing, put this DVD on to clear them out after your wicked Halloween party.
[DVD graciously provided by the publisher.]