The Monster Squad's André Gower & Ryan Lambert on their 80s cult hit and celebrating short f
André Gower and Ryan Lambert, two of the stars from the 1987 cult smash The Monster Squad, talk to us about their experiences of the fan response to the film 30 years later, how social media might have affected its original release, and their celebration of short filmmaking with Short Ends.
30 years ago, a group of regular American kids got together to save not only their neighbourhood but the whole world from some of the most famous monsters in history - Wolfman, Gill Man, the Mummy and Count Dracula - in Shane Black and Fred Dekker’s hotly anticipated The Monster Squad.
However, despite a superb script, solid performances and brilliant SFX, it would be nearly 20 years before The Monster Squad officially achieved cult status and received the recognition that it deserved. Since then, the cast has enjoyed regular screenings and convention appearances.
As a huge fan of the film, I was thrilled to catch up with André Gower (Sean) and Ryan Lambert (Rudy) for a swift half following the 30th anniversary screening of the film at London’s Prince Charles Cinema, right after a lively Q&A during which one audience member was soundly applauded for asking about a long-standing Squad conundrum - “What happened to the third female vampire?”
The Monster Squad was made in the eighties, when André and Ryan were teen actors. Meeting again as adults after so many years must have been surreal but thrilling. I’m guessing it didn’t just happen via Facebook...
AG: The true spark, the thing that set this all in motion and why we’re still doing this today, was the original cast reunion screening at the Alamo Drafthouse in Texas back in Easter 2006. We got invited and we were really excited about it but we also didn’t know what it was going to be like. We were like, “Hey this could be really cool or really lame!”
RL: The thing was, we hadn’t seen each other in a very long time. When I first got the call, my reaction was, “I guess we’ll go and sit in the theatre and there will be two people there!” I really couldn’t imagine what it was going to be like but I knew it would be great to see André. When we arrived, there were two sold out screenings and literally thousands of people, screaming their heads off. Every cool line that happened on screen, they were like, “Yeah!” At that point, we realised it was something special.
AG: That started it all, really. Everything we’ve done in the last ten years came from that moment. If it wasn’t for that event we wouldn’t be sitting here today, doing this screening in the UK and talking to you. It’s kind of awesome.
The film has become a cult favourite over the years. But perhaps it wasn’t until the arrival of social media and film websites that the love for it became more obvious.
RL: Every once in a while I’d get recognised, maybe in a restaurant or something. I’d be like “Wow, you liked the movie? That’s cool!”
AG: It’s more noticeable that you get recognised once it’s out there. Once it was on the internet it just grew and grew. After the screening, we started to go to conventions and film festivals and we thought it would last for maybe a year. But it’s been 11 years now and still going strong!
The issue of the film’s popularity amidst such a huge buzz around the release is often a point of discussion. It must have been really cool to be involved with it as a teen actor, however as a working actor, I guess you had to just move on to the next role, regardless.
RL: Yeah, it was a job like any job and so I did my work on it and it wasn’t up to me whether it was popular or not. It didn’t do as well as it was hoped but we all moved on. It wasn’t that big a disappointment for me personally, I just went on to the next job.
AG: At the time, we were able to have that mentality; we could just go back to our other acting jobs. Especially Ryan, as he was in Kids Incorporated at that point.
RL: At that point, you’re just thinking about the fact that you have your whole life ahead of you. People look back at it now and think that because it’s become a cult favourite, it must have meant a lot to us. Of course, it did because it was a really great job as a kid and a great film to be part of, but it didn’t do that well so we were able to think, “Ok, well now it’s a chance to do something else.”
Hopefully, there are always other things on the horizon! Still, reuniting after so many years must have been quite a moment?
AG: It [the Alamo screening] was fascinating, it was mind blowing and it was humbling. Once you start travelling around and you find that there are people waiting in line, and they’re waiting for ages to have maybe 90 seconds with you, to tell you their story... it’s really humbling and you have to appreciate it, because you can walk down the street but you won’t see a line of people waiting to speak to everybody. You absolutely have to appreciate and respect it, and enjoy it while it’s happening.
That’s quite a responsibility to take on and something you couldn’t have foreseen back in 1987. A person’s connection to a film is inevitably personal and unique. It must feel like a privilege to be a part of it.
AG: Yes, it is. We talk often about the overall concept of it, of people caring so much about it. We’ve had grown men and women crying when they meet us because there’s a story about it, like they met their husband because of it or it was their dad’s favourite movie but he died. We do a lot of events like the one tonight and you might have 200 people standing in line but you’re their only one, so you feel that you have a responsibility to return that. It’s not fake; we genuinely like to do it but what we don’t like is that we don’t always get to spend enough time with everyone.
RL: We go to a lot of conventions and I’ve seen some extremely famous people across from us and they’re just like, beep, beep, next! Barely looking at the people in the line. I do understand that but there’s something so special about this. We’re flabbergasted that this is our life and that we get to meet these amazing people. That’s not something we would ever want to shun. Tonight, we had a great crowd and I wanted to hear everyone’s story. There’s no reason for us to be here other than because these guys are here. People tell us stories about the film and their connection to it. Every once in a while, we hear something totally unique and we’re like, you did what? And that’s incredible. That’s why André wanted to make this documentary, the Squad Doc, because of those stories. We’ll grab them out of the line and film them. Like tonight, we’re here in London and we met some great guys from Scotland with a cool tale to tell!
AG: I cherry pick them a little as although I want to film everyone, sometimes you get someone who you absolutely have to feature in the doc, someone you can’t miss out, like those Scottish guys!
We discuss how marketing affects a film’s reception, citing Crimson Peak as an example. Considering the current media circus surrounding the actors from IT and Stranger Things, we wonder: if social media had existed in 1987, might the Squad have fared better?
RL: 100% yes. We would have been able to market it ourselves. We wouldn’t have needed those Wanted posters! [Editor’s note: The Monster Squad’s original marketing included Wanted posters featuring the monsters from the film alongside some rather questionable copy]. If we’d had social media back then, we’d have been able to convey what the film was supposed to be. The marketing was a huge part of it although other factors were involved. I don’t think they knew what to do with it.
AG: They were in a tough spot; you could almost understand it. There were two things; the marketing was the second reason. The first was that they didn’t know where it was supposed to fit and with whom. I always joke that it was the first tween movie because it was too much for the 9-10 year olds -The Goonies audience - but it wasn’t oriented for 15 year olds, who wanted to see The Lost Boys. It was for the group in between, which was niche back then. These days they know how to market to that age group and it’s not niche anymore.
RL: Although... maybe it wasn’t too much for the 9-10 year olds.
AG: Well, yeah, but their parents weren’t going to let them see it! So when those kids that didn’t see it at the theatre they saw it on TV or got it from the video store because their friends told them, “You need to see this movie!” that’s when it became a word of mouth. They passed it around their pals in Junior High. It’s definitely true that if we’d had social media it would have impacted that, Ryan’s point about that is spot on, but also the big dynamic is that the fans would have shared it and created that buzz in an analogue way. They would have done that thing where they covered up the tab on the VHS and copied it!
RL: Social media has really helped this movie come back though. So, although we made it when we were kids, in a way we may as well have just made it a year ago as everyone is talking about it now.
Social media is brilliant and terrifying in equal measure. It can be an incredibly powerful tool in the industry. André and Ryan are active on Twitter and Instagram, much to the delight of their fans - do they notice the impact?
RL: It’s still so weird. We’ll post a picture of us from Short Ends or at a con, and then you go off to do something, then you look at your phone and there are 400 likes in an hour.
AG: The thing is, we don’t have that level of social media attention like some actors do – just look at someone like Millie Bobby Brown, she’s incredible - but we really appreciate that all of our followers are real, they exist out there. We don’t buy them, although some people do. But what is unfortunate is that in this industry, the number of followers you have on social media is a now a commodity. Producers, directors, even casting agents… you meet them and they’ll say, “Ok, but you don’t have that many Twitter followers!” It’s a huge deal. It doesn’t matter that your CV is fine. To do social media correctly, you have to make a concerted effort. If we did it that way we’d probably have four times as many followers but it wouldn’t be authentic or half as much fun.
RL: It’s a really good feeling when you do a post about an event like this, for example, and then you wake up the next morning and you’ve jumped up 50 followers on Instagram and they’re real people. It’s amazing.
One of the many positives about the Monster Squad revival is that it has led to some new projects. You've already mentioned you’re making a documentary about the impact of The Monster Squad (The Squad Doc), as well as a super funny podcast (Squadcast) but as Exit 6 is a huge champion of short films, I'm keen to hear about latest project, Short Ends.
RL: A year or so ago, André had a great idea. He wondered, where do you actually get to watch short films other than at film festivals? There are some incredible short films out there but you often have to track them down and rely on word of mouth. He goes to a lot of film festivals and so he figured, let’s make a show about short films, where people can actually watch them and discuss them. We pitched it to Alpha and for some reason they bought it. André asked me to host with him and so now we get to scour the world for awesome short films.
AG: We have a phenomenal producer called Ben, who curates. Ryan and I also curate. We showed around 40 in our first season and we put them per theme in each show, so for example, Body Parts (featuring the now legendary Crow Hand!!!) or Monsters. We didn’t want it to be just high end or low end films, so we cherry picked and also looked at programming guides, thanks to some friends at film festivals. Ryan, Ben and I scoured the internet and found mostly current stuff, but we also included some older gems that had to be talked about. We formulated the show and shot 12 episodes over three months – four per day on a Sunday! Then season 2 was ordered so we had to do 10 episodes in just one weekend. It went down really well. It works because Ryan and I bounce off each other really well. We’re very similar but we’re completely opposite! We ramp that up on the show.
RL: We poke at each other, although we don’t do that in real life. It came completely natural to us actually, the gags in between. I’ll be the boob and he’ll be the straight man, so when he does something that makes him look dumb, it’s funny!
AG: Yeah, because I’m not being the straight man all of a sudden, it works. It’s actually a natural evolution of our podcast, the Squadcast, which is why it works. These things always flow if you have a natural chemistry with the other person.
RL: We’re not reviewing stuff, we’re just two guys talking about what we liked about the films. While at the same time I’m dressed as something we just watched, like a surgeon or whatever! It’s been a really organic process and a lot of fun. It just turned out that way.
AG: When we were first developing the concept, it was really important to us to make sure it wasn’t a critical review show. We wanted it to be a celebration of shorts and the people that make them. You probably won’t see something that you don’t like; we’re not going to watch something and then rip it off. We’re just going to try to explain what didn’t work about it. A person might not have had a big budget, only one camera and no lights, but hey, they still made it! We celebrate that. We do talk about technical aspects too and interview the filmmakers to try to find out how they made their films - anything that might help and inspire other short filmmakers. Making shorts can be tough, especially if you don’t have the money to do it or people who have your back.
So each episode is pretty much a crash course in filmmaking, then.
RL: That’s why we interview the filmmakers in each episode. Why did they make it? How did they do it? How did they make those SFX on that budget?We’re trying to show how these things are done; maybe how you find a location or how you got that camera trick. It’s amazing what you learn from it. Especially with VFX - there’s one with these eyeballs in it called The Man from Death, this crazy Kung-fu Western, where people get poked in the eye with knives. I was like, wow, how did they do that? I didn’t know you could do that.
AG: They jabbed giant eyeballs that they built with giant pencils! If the filmmakers have it, they send us behind the scenes stuff. It ends up being not a critical review and instead being a celebration of these filmmakers and what they are trying to do. Shorts are a platform for so many people to start their career, or they can be a proof of concept, or an anthology – so many things. That’s what we’re trying to capture.
After all, not everyone can go to film school, right?
RL: That’s exactly it. You don’t have to go to film school!
So after all that eyeball jabbing, do you follow up with the filmmakers to see what life after Short Ends is like? Any big successes so far?
AG: Hopefully we’ll have chances to give something new steam that hasn’t had much opportunity at a festival. We’ve had a viewer-submitted film before, which was really cool, and of course we showed it. As the show continues and we get deeper into that world, there are plenty more possibilities. A festival programmer’s goal is to find those gems and nuggets that nobody else has seen and give them a platform to become a thing.
RL: We do call ourselves a film festival.
So, in 1987, it was “Who do you call when you’ve got monsters?” and now it’s “Who do you call when you’ve got a short?”
AG: Absolutely. The original goal was to create a short film festival that viewers can vote on, with categories, like the jury at a film festival. Then at the end of the year, have a physical awards event.
RL: You know what? We should make an award that features Andre’s head and my head and the winner’s face in between. That would work!
AG: How creepy is that? We really need to do that!
We take five while the giggles subside, much to the amusement of the bar crowd. It’s clear that the rapport between the pair is real and it’s no wonder that Short Ends and the Squadcast deliver such a feast of chuckles. An opportunity, then, for filmmakers and Monster Squad fans all over the globe to present their own work to the duo?
AG: We absolutely welcome submissions from anywhere. We’ve had movies from all over the place.
RL: My favourite film from season one was a Norwegian film. It was beautifully shot and acted well, and the ending is perfect. I love it when an ending is open and you can decide what happens, and you’re like, what now? You know, like at the end of Freddy vs Jason < spoiler alert, Ryan! > where he winks at the camera and you’re like, “He’s not dead!”
So, discussing other people’s shorts every week looks easy but have you made a lot of shorts yourselves?
RL: I’ve been in some. We have a few ideas that we want to shoot now, too, so hopefully we’ll get to those eventually.
AG: I’ve also been in some, but I’ve got some ideas now and so has he. We’re like, “Yeah that’s a short!” Short Ends is helping us too in that regard. The thing is, you don’t even need a lot of money to make one; the hardest thing to do is actually to just do it. Just go do it! Yes, of course you could make it better or use better FX or whatever, but you have to actually go and do it!
RL: As an example, we had an idea for a short and we decided we were just going to do it, but we needed to find the right location. Andre found the perfect spot but it turned out to be on the back of the Warner Brothers set in Burbank. So, he just went ahead and called up the guy who owned it and just asked if we could use it. That’s dedication! If you want something, you have to just go and do it. Build your own set if you have to! In one of the horror shorts, Knob Goblin, the filmmakers built this horrible, incredible creature themselves and filmed it. They sent it to us and we had it on set, it was so much fun.
AG: And that’s important too – it should always be fun, above anything else. Is it mind- boggling? No. But is it fun? Yes! A film like Knob Goblin is a great example of where some great technical aspects are used. The guy who made that movie is using great techniques. It’s really authentic and it works.
RL: It even became a meme. We put it on our show and it became a meme! Now people are talking about it. So basically, it’s simple. You just go and make your short. Just do it! And we’ll put it on our show! And then it becomes a meme…
I'm certain Exit 6 readers are keen to hear their best advice when making a short, so I ask them to hit us with it!
RL: Do you have an idea? First, can you execute it? Second, do you have the drive to make that idea into a reality? Don’t just sit in your bed and think about it. Put your feet on the ground. Call your friends, order pizza, get a six pack of beer, and just make it. It’s easier than you think.
I ask this often of filmmakers but it never stops being important. Do you think making shorts is an essential part of the career process?
AG: You have to. Just like a feature, a short has a beginning, a middle and an end: the same elements. But it’s also harder to make a good short film.
RL: It’s harder because it has to have those elements. It’s the same with a short story. To me, the master of short story writing is Stephen King and also Breece D’J Pancake. They both understand simplicity. If you can do that, then you can make a film.
AG: Shorts are important because that’s how you can learn to make anything. You can expand on them for a longer feature once you’ve learned. Shorts are also super important now because of audience attention spans; there’s a lot more short form content out there, whether it’s a TV episode that is now only 12 minutes long instead of 22, or whatever. So, something that has been a traditional staple with shorts is now a short form staple, it’s a natural fit. With all this proliferation of technology you still have to make something good. Joe Bob Briggs talked about that exact thing.
RL: Just because you have the means, doesn’t mean you should.
AG: I’m going to rip off two quotes from other people. One is Joe Bob Briggs and he said something that I love. “The things that make your movie, whether it’s short or feature, have nothing to do with budget.” The other is by Kevin Smith, and it’s about the fact that you have to surround yourself with enthusiastic people who get what you’re trying to do. “Don’t surround yourself with people that say ‘Why?’, surround yourself with people that say ‘Why not?’” You then step back and realise that these are the people you hang out with and you’ve sat in your bed for six months saying that you want to make something but you haven’t done it. They’re not the people you need to talk to. Find your “why not” people.
Ryan and Andre are definitely “why not” people and I can’t wait to see what they do next.
While you’re at it, if you haven’t seen The Monster Squad, then shame on you! Far more than just an 80s classic, it boasts awesome effects, a funny, dark and mature script, superb performances and forever quotable lines like, “Wolfman’s got ‘nards!”