I've worked remotely for more than 15 years, so the transition to pandemic life wasn't as jarring as it was for some, but even I wasn't mentally prepared for will likely be 2+ years of us being in lockdown. It's been a real struggle to watch anything that's super serious (I'm still waiting to see Relic!), and I've turned to some of my favorites as horror movie comfort food, including... The Monster Club!
Those who have listened to our Corpse Club podcast over the years know that this has been a favorite of mine for quite some time now. It's easily the movie I've watched the most in the last ten years and no other movie comes close, but it isn't nostalgia driving my interest in re-watching this. I didn't see the movie until maybe 10-15 years ago, but thanks to the Code Red Blu-ray release, it's been a regular watch ever since.
I've spent a lot of time thinking about why this particular film has captured my attention so much and I've come to the conclusion that it's for similar reasons to why I'm in love with George A. Romero's Day of the Dead: the anthology horror movie format is applied so similarly throughout the sub-genre and, even though I absolutely love anthology horror, the reason why I LOVE The Monster Club so much is that it goes against anthology horror norms to create something that, while imperfect, is unique and special.
Based on the book by 1976 book by R. Chetwynd-Hayes (and recently re-released by Valancourt Books), the movie was directed by Roy Ward Baker. He's Hammer and anthology horror royalty, having directed (among others) The Vampire Lovers, Scars of Dracula, Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde, and The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires. And one could argue that he's been even more successful with anthology horror films, having directed what is widely considered to be one of the best Amicus anthology films, Asylum, and one of Scott Drebit's personal favorites, The Vault of Horror.
This is especially important, because while The Monster Club is very tonally different from its Amicus cousins (it was produced by Amicus co-founder Milton Subotsky), it's important not to confuse the intentionally campy tone (and what may have been a smaller budget) with the caliber of talent on and off screen. This is a love letter to horror from genre veterans.
An anthology horror film can live or die based on its "wraparound" segment and, for The Monster Club, the "wraparound" IS what makes this film an unforgettable cult classic. The movie opens with a fictional version of R. Chetwynd-Hayes (played by John Carradine), who is bitten by Eramus, a vampire played by Vincent Price. As a "thank you" for the extraordinarily tasty snack, Eramus takes the author to "The Monster Club," a nightclub exclusively for monsters.
Throughout the 97-minute runtime, we're presented with three standalone segments and are taken back to the club for the wraparound, where viewers are treated to performances from The Viewers, B. A. Robertson, Night, and The Pretty Things (and even though they do not perform, there's additional music from UB40 as well). It's this musical act-based wraparound that is unique to the film and also really helps maintain the "club" atmosphere. I dare you to watch this movie a few times and not have "Sucker for Your Love" or "Stripper" stuck in your head! The musical acts are not only varied, but also play with the idea of this being a "Monster Club," so elements like having the animated dancer shed her skin is a nice added touch to keep the musical acts grounded to the theme.
The segments each follow a different part of the "monster tree," showing us The Shadmock, The Vampires, and The Ghouls. And with roles played by Stuart Whitman, Richard Johnson, Britt Ekland, and Donald Pleasence (among others), we're treated to solid performances. Although The Shadmock and The Ghouls segments are significantly more serious in tone than when we're at the club, the scares are relatively light and there is minimal makeup effects on display, which may not have won over younger audiences who would have recently seen Friday the 13th the year before and were getting Part II in 1981. The Vampires segment feels like it's a little more "at home" with the tone of the Monster Club itself, with the humor and camp that you may be expecting for the other segments. That said, all-in-all, these are relatively solid segments when comparing them to similar output from Amicus.
For those who saw this film in 1981 (and even people watching now), I can understand why the overall film may seem tonally jarring. Any of these segments would have felt at home in another anthology horror film, but none of them reach the heights that we've seen from some of the Amicus segments in Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, or Asylum. And the movie sacrifices a segment or two in favor of the music acts, so if you're not into the "The Monster Club" setting, it's unlikely to win you over on the segments alone. This movie is a great example of old and new styles of filmmaking and pop culture clashing, and it's easy to see how this wouldn't interest young horror fans who were being exposed to slasher films. But 40 years makes such a difference, and horror fans have such diverse tastes in films. So for someone like me, who loves 80s horror (and music) as much as I love films from any other decade, it's an excellent and unique blend made for monster kids.
Spoilers: The movie's conclusion has John Carradine's character officially admitted into The Monster Club, after Vincent Price gives an impassioned speech about how humans are really the worst monsters of all. And while it's certainly delivered in a tongue-in-cheek manner, Vincent Price has a way of conveying all of the horrible things mankind has done with a bit of sadness to the audience as well. It's unfortunate that humans continue to be the worst monsters and that his comments are as true now as they were 40 years ago. For a movie that may act on the surface like it doesn't take itself very seriously, it certainly does where it counts.
The Monster Club ends with a monster dance party and if Vincent Price's infectious presence throughout the film hadn't won you over already, I promise that his dancing will leave a smile on your face! While by no means a perfect film (and how many films really are?), The Monster Club is perfect horror movie comfort food for this monster kid and many others. It's a movie that strives for something different, knows what it wants to be, and delivers on creating a fun, memorable anthology horror film with some incredible performances on display. This is a film that has a lot of fun celebrating the genre we all love and is worth a first time watch or re-evaluation! Monsters Rule, OK!
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