The Thing I Like About …

Monster Squad: the part where the old man reveals his tattoo.

In Monster Squad, a group of kids realize that there are monsters – the vampire/werewolf variety – roaming around their neighbourhood. They initially suspect The Old Man, because he is very old, and very quiet, and very irritated-looking. He speaks with a German accent, in a harsh way, and he always glares out his window at the boisterous children when they go by his house.

But somehow the kids are obliged to hide in the house of The Old Man … and they realize that he is just an old man, with a German accent and a lot of wrinkles, and that he likes kids fine, and is happy to serve them tea and whatnot. In fact, he believes them about the monsters, and helps them as best he can.

And when the kids leave, they say how surprised they are that The Old Man is actually okay, and that he believed them about monsters.

He looks down for a moment, and we see the tattoo the Nazis had put on his arm – he had been in one of the death-camps, and survived. And suddenly we realize that he knows all about monsters.

The kids live in a world where “monsters” are supernatural … but in reality, the human race is capable of enormous monstrousness. It feels sometimes like you can’t swing a stick without hitting a monster – and all of them are actually just human beings, regular people who might live right next door. We’re each of us only a few poor decisions away from becoming what’s wrong with the world, and unfortunately all the silver bullets and garlic in the world can’t change that.

But it also turns out that even suspicious-looking characters like The Old Man are probably not monsters. The people we fear, the people we assume are some sort of negative presence, are more likely to be just human beings, regular people who wouldn’t hurt anyone. In fact, you can’t swing a stick without hitting someone who looks dour, or wrinkly, or strange, but who has actually done extraordinary things, and faced the worst of monsters armed with nothing but the determination to escape.

It turns out that monsters and heroes are everywhere. Some of the heroes are kids who aren’t believed or old men whom no one notices anymore. Some of the monsters are werewolves, and some of the monsters are Nazis. And the only way to figure out which is which is to look with our hearts instead of our eyes.

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