The Monster Club (1981)
"You'll meet some interesting people and hear some great songs at The Monster Club"
After an encounter with a mysterious old gentleman who turns out to be a vampire, a writer of horror stories is invited to a "monster club" in order to give him some new writing material. Here, he is told three gruesome stories: a "shadmock" who has the ability to kill people by whistling falls in love with a woman who wants to rob him; a famous vampire who has fled his previous life as a Count is now a family man with wife and children; and a movie director on a location scout comes across a village inhabited by real ghouls.
Producer Milton Subotsky had been the driving force behind many horror anthologies during his time with Amicus Productions in the 60s and 70s (Dr Terror's House of Horrors, The House That Dripped Blood, Asylum, Torture Garden, The Vault of Horror, etc) which starred the who's who of British horror and shared much of the same behind-the-scenes talent as their Hammer rivals. So it's nice to finally get the chance to see this rare swan song of his from 1981. The basic formula of the anthology film that Subotsky had been wheeling out for years sees a group of short stories linked together by an overall wrap around story, usually with some sort of dark twist at the end. Throw in a bunch of famous genre actors and you've got the classic anthology film. Well maybe not so because, although there was always one decent story, there were always a couple of stinkers thrown in too. The Monster Club follows the exact same template as before, only this time the formula was well and truly past its sell-by date in an era of Friday the 13th and teen slashers.
The Monster Club features veteran genre actors Vincent Price and John Carradine doing the main bits in the wrap around story. And to be honest, it's actually a decent enough set up for the film. You know right from the start when Price's vampire character apologies for "helping himself" to Carradine's neck and blood that the film is going to be light-hearted, even goofy at times. Having an underground club where monsters congregate could have been a gold mine for some decent stories. But instead the club turns out to be some corny nightclub where loads of people dance around in fancy dress masks (OK I know there's supposed to be actual monsters but the masks look horrible) and listen to terrible 80s bands all night long (who all play their full songs for the benefit of the camera which was a nice bit of free advertising for them, especially the then-unknown UB40). Poor Vincent Price and John Carradine have to pretend that they're enjoying themselves here amongst the youths. They do add a touch of class to the proceedings though and their performances aren't in question. It's just that I'd envisioned the monster club to be classier and, well more monster-ish. You know, werewolves playing chess with each other, vampires smoking in dinner jackets, zombies serving cocktails, etc. Something a bit more like a social club as opposed to a nightclub.
As for the stories themselves, well they're not great in all honesty. I would have thought the writers could have come up with something better than the three on display here. Given that it was a monster club, why did they randomly make up some silly monsters to base two of the skits around? Why create the whole ‘monster genealogy’ chart that tells you what you get when a ghoul mates with a werewolf? These lesser creations lack the impact of a well-known monster so it's no coincidence that the best story on display is the one about the vampire. Subotsky wanted to create an anthology film that was suitable for children and attempt to tap into a younger market but that could have been done using more established creatures from lore.
The first segment about the ‘shadmock’ starts off stupidly, continues to disappoint and then ends on a real low note. It's just such a pointless story. The pale-skinned hermit who lives in the mansion could have been any monster at all so there was no need to turn him into a stupid whistling beast. He's a weirdo who feeds his pigeons and... well that's all he seems to do in life. The ending to the segment is a bit heart-breaking as the guy clearly thinks he had fallen in love but had to dispose of his wife-to-be because she was going to rob him. Welcome to the real world, pal. Ever heard of those scheming Russian brides who come over and clean you out?
The second story about the vampire offers a slightly different spin on the usual material. It seems that a famous Count from Eastern Europe (never mentioned by name but we can assume its Dracula) has fled to the UK to start a family. He lives with a human wife and they have a little boy. He sleeps during the day and then "goes to work at night" whilst avoiding men carrying violin cases. It seems that these men are the ‘V-Squad’ - a team of vampire hunters led by Donald Pleasance who have been hunting him for years and finally get a chance to kill him when they befriend the little boy and follow him home. There's a decent effort to inject something fresh into the vampire story, simply by having him as caring family man but the whole thing is too timid to really work. Pleasance gets little to do including a staking but even in his small role, he still adds some much needed credibility to the segment. Britt Ekland is also here in a throwaway role as the wife.
The third story is basically a zombie film with ghouls as the film director is desperate to find a spooky village to film his new horror movie. He finds a seemingly-deserted town which turns out to be inhabited by some creepy-looking townsfolk who want to have him as their tea. The segment is basically an extended chase scene after about five minutes in but it's got a superb atmosphere and is the best of the three stories. Clearly filmed on a sound stage instead of outside, the village seems to have a mystical fog that hovers just above the houses thus giving the whole place an eerie unnatural light. There's also a decent, if somewhat predictable twist at the end. Amicus regular Patrick Magee (this would be his fifth time working for Subotsky) is the token 'old hand' to add a bit of experience to the segment. Again, outside of the spooky atmosphere, there's nothing here to get worked up over and you can really tell this was designed for a younger audience.
The Monster Club was one of the dying breaths of the Anglo-Horror cycle and it shows. Running like a silly Halloween party, it's got some decent ideas and performances but is bogged down by its childishness, obsession with playing as much 80s music as possible to fill the running time and generally poor writing. Good enough to watch but nowhere near the genius of the earlier anthologies. It reeks of an old man trying to make a horror film for kids and thinking he knows what they want to see. A younger production team on the cusp of teen culture might have fared better.
The Monster Club
Director(s): Roy Ward Baker
Writer(s): R. Chetwynd-Hayes (from the novel by), Edward Abraham (screenplay by), Valerie Abraham (screenplay by)
Actor(s): Vincent Price, Donald Pleasance, John Carradine, Stuart Whitman, Richard Johnson, Barbara Kellermann, Britt Ekland, Simon Ward, Anthony Valentine, Patrick Magee
Duration: 94 mins