Another week means another dose of LRM’s Retro-Specs! Last week we took a look back at 1986’s Rad in preparation for the 4K release. That brought us an awesome interview with Cru Jones himself, Bill Allen. This week has us looking at another film many may remember from 1989.
Monster stories have existed for a long time. They’re sometimes used to keep kids in line (think Krampus) or to warn kids of dangers in the real world (The witch in Hansel & Gretel) and they also exist as entertainment. In film, we’ve seen giant monsters like Godzilla destroy cities and more normal-sized ones creep out of the closet to scare kids and capture their fear. But there’s something different with Little Monsters.
Little Monsters starts out with our young lead, Brian, and his family moving into a new house. Brian (Fred Savage) has a voice over with some early exposition. Basically he’s mad they had to move and leave all his friends. We also find out not all is well between mommy and daddy as they fight a lot. Brian’s younger brother, Eric (Ben Savage), has an encounter with a monster one night. Eric and his new friend Toad dare Brian to switch rooms with him to prove that monsters are real. What happens that night? Brian meets Maurice (Howie Mandel) the monster and life completely changes. After another encounter or two, Brian has become friends with Maurice and the monster brings Brian to the monster world, which accessible under his bed.
Brian learns that there are monsters of all shapes and sizes that make it their goal to get kids in trouble. They sneak up from under the bed and do things like cut doll hair, put peanut butter on a phone receiver, and track mud on the pristine carpet in that room no one is allowed in. They are in the misery business and business is good.
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At first, Brian enjoys helping Maurice wreak havoc upon unsuspecting victims, including the school bully. However, Maurice destroys a school report created by the girl Brian has a crush on. This begins Brian’s retreat from the monster world and it is solidified when Maurice, and a handful of other monsters, scare an infant. Brian tells Maurice that it’s cruel to scare babies and exposes the monsters to light from a hallway. When the light hits Brian’s arm, it disappears and he realizes he’s turning into a monster.
This couldn’t happen at a worse time as Brian’s parents are going to separate. Brian has now lost his family and his best friend. Brian cuts the legs off all of the beds in the house to prevent Maurice or any other monsters from coming into the house and tries to get back to a normal life. Back in the monster world we learn that Brian was actually a target of Boy, the leader of the monster world. Boy wanted Brian to be the newest monster and his personal play partner. Brian’s capture of Maurice caught Boy’s attention and he tasked Maurice to help Brian transition into the monster’s world and mentality.
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When Boy realizes Maurice failed, he sends his minion Snick to kidnap the younger Stevenson brother, Eric. Snick uses monster magic to force open the couch hide-a-bed in the Stevenson living room and kidnaps Eric. Brian leads a rescue mission using lights and power cells collected from the school with the help of a few minor characters, Todd, Ronnie, and Kiersten. At the end of the day Maurice redeems himself by helping the kids destroy Boy and Snick and escape.
The escape from the monster world is funny and plays with time-space. The sun has come up on the east coast where the kids are from, so Maurice, Brian, and the others start heading “west” to find a bed they can escape from before becoming stuck as monsters. The movie ends with a heartwarming moment between Maurice and Brian and wonderful use of The Talking Heads song “Road to Nowhere”.
This movie created a world that makes logical sense. Those of us with siblings have been blamed for their bad behavior and vice versa, there’s missing socks, and electronics shorting out when they shouldn’t. Why not blame it on a race of mischievous monsters. Gremlins have been blamed, and also spawned an amazing film, but the idea that fear is part of the job of monsters too is interesting. Maurice calls scaring the baby “character building.”
Fred Savage and Howie Mandel have great chemistry and Howie rules as Maurice. He embodies the punk rock rebel his clothing choice identifies him as. The movie keeps us from knowing what is really going on in the background, creating a mystery we didn’t even know exists until the end. It’s fun and fantastical and timeless. Other than clothing styles.
What Doesn’t Work
The special effects are lacking, much of the monster world looks like a dirty warehouse with sparklers flying through it. Not all of the characters get proper development and it is goofy. This doesn’t make the film bad though, but it isn’t perfect.
What Can Be Done With the Franchise?
This property is ripe for a remake. One that goes with the mini-series on a streaming service approach. How did this world come to be? What are the lights floating around? How did Boy get to be in charge? There’s so much world-building that can be done with this property. While part of me wants to keep it kid-friendly, another part of me wants to see it go the route of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.
I want to see it avoid two plot-holes though, the YA feel of CW shows and the agenda-driven narratives seen too often in new shows. I would like to see the remake focus on building the history of the monster world and telling a fun story of Brian escaping the daily grind as a kid. Escaping fighting parents, school work, and bullies. Show us the character arc of Brian going from selfish kid to saving his brother.
There’s even room to make this a multi-media project with comic book tie-ins. This could help flesh out the creation of the monster world and what happens after Boy is defeated. This movie is literally built on imagination and has plenty of room to expand on its foundation.
Little Monsters is a great film for anyone six and up. If you were raised in the 80’s that is… If you are overprotective of your kids then maybe wait until eight. There’s a funny scene where Brian gets pantsed and a monster remarks “nice ass” and knowing the mischief, you can decide.
I love this film with a passion and watch it a couple of times a year. It is funny, heartfelt, and has a good soundtrack. However, I am not sure a 30+-year-old person that has never seen it could appreciate it, but I do think it is perfect for a new take.
Do you have any memories of watching this film? What’s your favorite part? Let us know in the comments below.
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