Nostalgia is a hell of a drug, and when I heard Vestron Video was releasing 1989’s Little Monsters I couldn’t have been more excited for the long overdue HD upgrade. Not only was this one of the first VHS tapes I owned growing up, but it was also part of this string of films Fred Savage did in the 80s before landing his gig starring on The Wonder Years. In all of these films he sort of encapsulates the essential 80s tween, he’s independent, irreverent and isn’t afraid to give the grown-ups a piece of his mind. If you’ve seen Stranger Things or grew up in the 80s yourself, you knew it was a wonderful time to be a kid.
It had been forever since I saw Little Monsters and to be honest I was curious what I would think of it now. One thing I’ve noticed while collecting films I once adored, was some fared better than others. Luckily this was one of those better films, fueled by an infectious soundtrack and a color pallet robbed from Dario Argento, the film is the 80’s precursor to Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. But instead of living in closets, monsters live under beds and spend their nights not only scaring the kids, but also wreaking havoc in the sleeping kid’s home, that would later be blamed on the kids. Fred Savage plays Brian the older brother, who after a run in with the monster terrorizing his younger sibling (played by his real-life younger brother Ben Savage) decides to attempt to catch the monster in the act, after being blamed for leaving his now destroyed bike in the driveway.
This is where it gets shockingly dark. Brian falls down a rabbit hole trying to catch and prove the monster’s existence to exonerate himself, as we witness his parents fight and drift apart in the background. Brian does actually catch the monster, Maurice (Howie Mandel), who is blue with some badass devil horns (thanks to creature makeup by Robert Short) sporting a battle jacket. As Maurice befriends Brian, it becomes increasingly clear he’s attempting to groom Brian into joining him on the other side. Through this process we discover the disfigured monsters we see in the interconnected world underneath the beds are in fact children that have run away from home, and can never return. Brian is ultimately faced with a hard choice, to join the monsters in their neverending night of fun or his fractured family, but given this is a family film you kind of know where this is going to go.
The transfer here thankfully is a huge upgrade from the MGM DVD and really highlights the gorgeous giallo-esque cinematography by Dick Bush, who also shot Friedkin’s Sorcerer. The image has a very film like quality to it, with a good grain presence, and comes paired with a DTS-HD stereo mix. Since this is a Vestron Collector’s Series, the film comes with a plethora of special features both old and new. Along with some recent interviews with Howie Mandel and vintage ones with Fred Savage, you also get some of the old school VHS marketing materials, which was my personal favorite. This reminded me of the good ol’ days working in a mom and pop shop rental where we would sometimes get screeners with similar marketing intros/outros.
It’s easy to see now looking back how Little Monsters gateway drug for so many into the horror genre. While the film had the trappings of your normal tween flick, there’s some truly horrifying things there under the hood that would no doubt spark an interest in similar films or sub-genres. This is pointed out in the exhaustively thorough audio commentary by Jarret Gahan, podcaster and editor in chief of CultofMonster who delivers a very comprehensive one man discussion on the film that I can’t recommend enough. So this one might be better than you remember, it definitely hit harder than The Wizard, and might genuinely surprise you with its story of one boy’s coming of age in a world full of monsters.
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