Little Monsters: Vestron Video Collector's Series [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (29th March 2021).
The Film

Vestron lives! After allowing their popular line of cult classics to lay dormant for well over a year Lionsgate has finally ramped up production again and delivered two most-wanted titles to fans, one of which is the dark “kids movie” Little Monsters (1989). This is one of those titles I remember renting on VHS sometime in the early 90's and I haven’t seen it since – and I’ll be honest, the ensuing thirty-ish years have not been kind. What I recalled to be a slightly sinister monster-y movie aimed at adolescents is actually a misguided mishmash of genres, anchored by one of the most annoying leading characters ever put on screen.

The Stevenson family has just moved into a new home in the suburbs of Boston and no sooner have they gotten settled when strange, destructive occurrences begin to happen. Brian (Fred Savage) is blamed for most, though he tries to pin the blame on his younger brother Eric (Ben Savage), who claims a monster has been wreaking havoc in his room. On a bet Brian agrees to spend one night in Eric’s room and, after setting a series of elaborate booby traps, captures the monster – an overgrown man-child-beast named Maurice (Howie Mandel). What Brian doesn’t know is there exists an entire world beneath his bed – every bed, really – in which these monsters have access to scaring and pranking every child on the planet. Sounds a lot like a certain Pixar film made years later…

Anyway, Brian and Maurice become fast friends and since time passes differently in their subterranean hangout the hours of partying and doing all the fun stuff kids love without parental advisory has Brian practically living down there… until he begins to notice he’s slowly turning into one of the monsters, too. It’s all fun and games until Maurice and his buddies want to take the scares up a notch and Brian bails, leading to a falling out between the best buds - and a problem for Maurice, whose boss, Boy (Frank Whaley), expects to be compensated for the loss of having Brian join the fold… by kidnapping Eric in his place.

I wanted to enjoy this film again. My vague memories only recalled the creepy underworld of the monsters and a slight idea of how Maurice appears. What I had forgotten entirely is that Maurice is nearly insufferable, cracking awful jokes and chattering like someone who did enough cocaine to fund Scarface’s empire for a year. The guy never shuts up. Ever. And even if that’s a credit to Mandel as a performer, because I cannot deny the level of energy it takes to do this kind of work – and he’s under heavy make-up – the fact is he’s just a lot to take for a sustained period of time.

There is a distinct lack of rhythm to the story, too. Tonally this film can’t figure out of it’s a total kids movie, a horror movie, a comedy – it’s trying to be all three and failing at each. So much of the movie is spent with Brian and Maurice just hanging out that it never quite develops a cogent narrative and it isn’t until the third act when a villain and nefarious plan are revealed, by which point I had long since checked out of being invested.

Seeing the Savage brothers share the screen made for a nice pairing, and I always like seeing Daniel Stern, even though his father character is mostly a jerk and he refuses to hear anything his kids try to say. The most enjoyment I got here was in seeing the level of creativity that went into the production design and monster make-up effects. Frank Whaley’s Boy has a head that looks like it would’ve worked in "Nightbreed" (1990) – and he’s not the only one. I can see this scaring the hell out of kids young enough, which again seems strange because tonally it feels like it’s catering directly to that crowd.

Video

No information is provided as to what, if any, work was done on the film’s 1.85:1 HD 1080p 24/fps image and from the look of things my guess would be “very little”. The picture is averagely defined, with a natural color palette and moderately heavy grain. Day scenes offer the best appearance but most of this film takes place in darkness and those scenes are lacking in true black levels and solid shadow delineation. The overall image is devoid of crispness, instead providing poor definition and a picture that looks like it’s stuck in the void between DVD and HD. This might have been more acceptable in the early days of Blu-ray but in 2021, and from a big studio, I expected more.

Audio

There are no technical issues with the film’s English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo track, though a sporadic, slight hiss is heard. Otherwise, dialogue is prioritized and levels are acceptably high. The score by composer David Newman attempts to wring some emotion out of the picture but it fell flat for me. Likewise, a number of source music options were just plain bad. Subtitles are available in English, Spanish, and English SDH.

Extras

An audio commentary with Jarret Gahan, editor-in-chief of CultMonster.com is available.

Isolated score selections and audio interview with composer David Newman is included, too.

“Call Him Maurice – An Interview with actor Howie Mandel” (1080p) featurette runs for 18 minutes and 39 seconds.

“Beneath the Bed – An Interview with producer Andrew Licht” (1080p) featurette runs for 13 minutes and 54 seconds.

“Monsters Big & Small – An Interview with special make-up effects creator Robert Short” (1080p) featurette runs for 14 minutes and 55 seconds.

“Vintage Interviews with actors Fred Savage, Ben Savage, Robert Short, and director Richard Alan Greenberg” (SD) featurette runs for 29 minutes and 2 seconds.

“Behind-the-Scenes Footage” (SD) featurette runs for 11 minutes and 37 seconds.

“Making Maurice – Vintage Footage of Howie Mandel’s Make-up Transformation” (SD) featurette runs for 16 minutes and 16 seconds.

“Vintage EPK & VHS Promo” (SD) featurette runs for 9 minutes and 19 seconds.

A theatrical trailer (SD) runs for 1 minute and 28 seconds.

A still gallery (1080p) runs for 3 minutes and 36 seconds.

A digital copy code is included.

Packaging

The single disc comes housed in a standard Blu-ray eco-case. A slip-cover is included on first pressings.

Overall

Obnoxious to a fault and virtually devoid of real emotion, this is a film that works perfectly when you’re a kid and terribly when you’re not. Still, I am glad to see Lionsgate keeping the Vestron Video line alive and I hope we continue to see more cult titles getting this sort of treatment.

The Film: D+ Video: B- Audio: B Extras: A+ Overall: C

 


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