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Little Monsters

Video Rewind tells the stories behind forgotten VHS favorites from the video store era, one rental at a time! This month’s movie is 1989’s “Little Monsters”.

Andrew Licht and Jeffrey A. Mueller met in 1980 at the University of Southern California while attending the Peter Stark Motion Picture Producing Program. The program was named after the late son of producer Ray Stark (Funny Girl, Annie, Steel Magnolias), and aimed to teach participants all about the film business. Upon graduating, Licht and Mueller formed the Licht/Mueller Film Corporation, which, according to Licht, consisted of business cards and a phone in his apartment. The producing duo would eventually sign a deal with Warner Bros. that included an official office on the studio lot in Burbank, California.

Word spread that the young producers were willing to read everything and anything, and the Licht/Mueller Film Corporation was soon flooded with scripts. After producing their first feature film, the 1988 Corey Haim/Corey Feldman comedy License to Drive (future films would include Waterworld, The Cable Guy, and Idle Hands), the producers found a script that stood out from the rest. Although that particular script was ultimately rejected, it was so well written that Licht and Mueller set up a meeting with its writers, Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot.

They asked the writing duo what other ideas they had, and after 7 different pitches, they offered a story that caught the attention of Licht and Mueller: a story about a boy who discovers monsters under his bed.

While Licht and Mueller gave notes on the pages that came in from Rossio and Elliot as they worked on the script for Little Monsters, the producers had Fred Savage in mind for the lead role from day one. Savage, 12 at the time, was a child actor in high demand, having starred in The Princess Bride in 1987 and more recently as Kevin Arnold in the hit, critically acclaimed debut season of The Wonder Years. Playing the role of Kevin Arnold would garner Savage two Golden Globe and two Emmy Award nominations for a lead performance in a television series, earning him the distinction of being the youngest nominee for that category in the history of both award shows.

While on break from The Wonder Years, Savage would play the role of Brian Stevenson in Little Monsters when filming began in August of 1988.

Brian is a boy who just moved to a new town and feels lonely without any friends. Sneaking out of his room one night to watch late night TV and eat a peanut butter and onion sandwich (eyebrow raising, but Brian’s favorite), leads to Brian getting blamed the next morning for a string of incidents the boy insists he did not do.

But when his mom, Holly Stevenson (played by Margaret Whitton) finds the evidence of the half eaten peanut butter and onion sandwich left on the couch, his story is hard to believe. Who else could have been up for a midnight snack? Who else could have accidentally put the ice cream in the cupboard instead of the fridge, causing it to melt and fall out all over Brian’s dad, making him late to work? Who else would have left Brian’s bike out in front of the garage, causing his already-late-to-work dad to hit it with his car while backing out, breaking the tail light?

Brian says he didn’t do it, but certainly it wasn’t the monster his little brother screamed was under his bed the night before, right?

Playing Brian’s dad, Glen Stevenson, is Daniel Stern, an actor who shares an interesting connection to Fred Savage in The Wonder Years.

Although Stern is never seen throughout the 6 season run of the hit TV show, he provides the pivotal voice-over narration of the adult Kevin Arnold looking back on his childhood as a young boy, who Savage portrays on the show. Daniel Stern has the perfect demeanor to effectively pull off the role as Brian’s stressed, overworked father. The actor can turn on that crazy glint in his eye in a nanosecond, giving the impression of a stern (stern, get it?) father figure who is often hard on Brian. But Stern also possesses that natural goofball quality, turning into the corny but loving father who really does care for his kids.

There’s a scene where Glen jokes around and tickles Brian while putting him to bed that was reportedly improvised by Stern, with the smiling and laughing from Savage being a genuine reaction. He’s a good actor in the way he can play both sides of the role like that, and his performance, like that improvised moment, deepens the story by layering the relationship between father and son.

Brian’s troubles continue as he gets into a fight with the school bully, Ronnie, played by Devin Ratray. One year after Little Monsters, Ratray would be forever known as Buzz, the older, constantly teasing brother to Macaulay Culkin’s Kevin in Home Alone, the biggest box office hit of 1990 (also starring