DirectorRichard Alan Greenberg
Release Date(s)1989 (September 15, 2020)
Studio(s)Vestron Pictures/Lionsgate (Vestron Video Collector’s Series)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: C+
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: A-
One of the odder family films to come out of the late 1980s, Little Monsters had plenty going for it with one of the most famous child actors in the world at the time, Fred Savage, front and center, as well as a popular physical comedian, Howie Mandel, pulling costar duties in full prosthetic make-up. It’s a mostly sweet story with a dark edge to it, and with films like Return to Oz, The Dark Crystal, and The Neverending Story, established the 1980s as the decade of dark and disturbing films for children. Nevertheless, the film’s playful side, thanks in no small to the shenanigans of Howie Mandel who was very well cast, made it more appealing than frightening. Sets made of wooden palettes hit with gelled lighting emphasize the size of its budget, but on the whole, it’s a well-made and enjoyable little film. Unfortunately, Little Monsters was not a hit theatrically, but it did well enough on home video to garner a minor cult following over the years. Indeed many forgot it existed until 1980s nostalgia became a permanent fixture in modern pop culture, allowing many to reassess and reevaluate many disregarded relics of the era.
Brian (Fred Savage) and his little brother Eric (Ben Savage) have moved to a new neighborhood. Being a loner, Brian doesn’t have many friends, though he has a crush on a girl named Kiersten (Amber Barretto) and must avoid the wrath of school bully Donnie (Devin Ratray). Meanwhile, Brian is also troubled by his family since his parents (Daniel Stern and Margaret Whitton) are always fighting. One night Brian catches a silly horned monster in his room named Maurice (Howie Mandel) who’s been sneaking around and causing havoc in the real world. Quickly becoming friends, Brian goes with Maurice to the monster world where there are no rules and the two go to the real world together every night to play pranks on various children. Knowing this, the ruler of the monster world, Boy (Frank Whaley), and his muscle Snik (Rick Ducommun), want Brian to become a monster too, kidnapping Eric in order to sway him. But since Brian knows that a monster’s weakness is a flashlight, he and Maurice come to monster world armed with enough illumination to defeat Boy and Snik, rescue Eric, and return to the real world.
Little Monsters comes to Blu-ray for the first time as part of the Vestron Video Collector’s Series. It’s sourced from an older master, which itself appears to be have been taken from either a low grade interpositive or a print. Detail, stability, and saturation are lacking from scene to scene, but it’s a mostly healthy presentation with good contrast that never appears processed. Certain shots and scenes appear quite strong, but don’t work in tandem with the rest of the presentation. Grain is high, even noisy at times, and the overall image is a tad soft. Blacks tend to be crushed and leftover damage is limited to mostly dirt. There’s also a digital blip at 0:57:31, which almost looks like a frame splice but appears to be inherent in the digital master itself. It only lasts for a single frame, but it’s obvious. On the whole, this is definitely a watchable presentation. It’s also a step up from the now ancient DVD release, but going in with a few caveats might be the right move on this one.
The audio is included in English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio with optional subtitles in English, Spanish, and English SDH. Originally recorded and mixed using Dolby SR, it’s characteristically spaced out at times. Sound effects, especially ambient activity, is often relegated to the far left or far right for a slight bit of envelopment. Occasional moments of speaker to speaker activity are present, including the sounds of the magic floating through the air in monster world. David Newman’s score also has nice depth to it, and dialogue reproduction is clear and precise. It’s a surprisingly robust recording in most respects. It’s also clean and free of any leftover defects.
The following extras are included:
- Audio Commentary with Jarret Gahan
- Isolated Score Selections and Audio Interview with David Newman and Michael Felsher
- Call Him Maurice (HD – 18:39)
- Beneath the Bed (HD – 13:54)
- Monsters Big & Small (HD – 14:55)
- Vintage Interviews (Upscaled HD – 29:02)
- Behind-the-Scenes Footage (Upscaled HD – 11:37)
- Making Maurice (Upscaled HD – 16:16)
- Vintage EPK & VHS Promo (Upscaled HD – 9:19)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 1:28)
- Still Gallery (HD – 39 in all – 3:36)
In the audio commentary with podcaster and editor-in-chief of cultofmonster.com Jarret Gahan, he provides an excellent education on many facets of the making of the film, as well as backgrounds on various members of the cast and crew, and the history of Vestron Pictures. The second audio commentary features isolated score selections and an audio interview with composer David Newman by Michael Felsher. The two discuss Newman’s career at length, as well as his work on the film. In Call Him Maurice, Howie Mandel candidly and hilariously talks about his experiences making the film, including his friendships with cast and crew members, how little he enjoyed being in prosthetics, and how much he got out of being in the film. In Beneath the Bed, producer Andrew Licht discusses his background, how he got into film school, finding Little Monsters, Brad Bird almost directing the film, getting involved with Vestron Pictures, almost casting Macaulay Culkin, shooting in North Carolina, problems during production, the film’s fate at the box office and on home video, and running into fans of his films. In Monsters Big & Small, special make-up effects creator Robert Short discusses his background as a stuntman before becoming a make-up effects creator, working on Beetlejuice, the designs of the monsters, working with Howie Mandel, his favorite monster designs, a deleted scene that he appeared in, and the cult appeal of the film. The Vintage Interviews feature on-set promotional interviews with Fred Savage, Ben Savage, Robert Short, and director Richard Alan Greenberg. The Vintage EPK & VHS Promo features some of the same interview footage mixed with promotion for the film and a 1-900 phone number contest. Making Maurice features raw footage of Howie Mandel in the make-up chair with a camera crew asking him questions. The Still Gallery consists of 39 images of behind-the-scenes photos, posters, and home video artwork. The disc comes in a standard amaray case with a Digital code inside. Everything is housed within a slipcase featuring new artwork.
Long out of circulation on home video, the Vestron Video Collector’s Series release of Little Monsters does what many special edition home video releases do best: it entertains, informs, and makes you appreciate a film that you hadn’t previously, or had forgotten about entirely. Or in the case of fans who will definitely want to pick this release up, appreciate it even more.
- Tim Salmons