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The hugely successful partnership of Milton Subotsky and Max J Rosenberg – under the studio name Amicus – resulted in a string of hugely profitable horror anthologies made right here in the UK; the first of these was the infamously titled Dr Terror’s House of Horrors, which saw Peter Cushing as the eponymous character.  Greeted with the ringing of tills from more countries than they even hoped, Amicus capitalised on it by unleashing numerous cinematic short stories, all to varying levels of financial and critical success.

Vinnie takes a deep breath as he prepares to run through the Monster's Geological Chart...

All things must pass, and Amicus shut up shop at around the time the movie-going public became sick of horror anthologies, but Milton Subotsky went out on his own and created Sword and Sorcery Productions. As well as being convinced that portmanteau films were still the way to go, he was armed with the believe that kids where not only society’s future but his too, sporting the notion that his new horror films should also be suitable for the kiddies to see!

During the company’s heyday, Amicus had scored the tricky double-header by having both a huge critical and commercial hit in their cinematic adaptation R Chetwynd Hayes’ book From Beyond The Grave.  With numerous announced projects like The Incredible Hulk failing to get off the ground, Subotsky decided to buoy the fortunes of the company and drew from the Hayes well again, but the invigorating water that was obtained from the earlier movie was had turned a little stagnant this time…

The Monster Club opens with writer R Chetwynd Hayes (John Carradine) walking through a foggy London street late at night - he is approached by what looks like a derelict, but this bum turns out to be a vampire, who literally goes for the jugular. This bloodsucker, Eramus (Vincent Price), in return for this most intrusive of acts, promises the author that he can give him material for his next book by taking him to the Monster Club. Like most clapped-out writers, Hayes readily accepts the chance to pick up a load of new ideas for free and accompanies the erudite Eramus the titular establishment, where he hears three spellbinding tales of unrequited love, obsession and cannibalism.

The three stories presented here are of wildly differing quality - the opening tale, which involves a couple of scheming grifters (Barbara Kellerman and Simon Ward) trying to fleece a lonely Shadmock (it’s one of the lower breed of monsters - don’t ask!) of his substantial wealth. Looking vaguely like Lon Chaney in Phantom of the Opera, the only supernatural power this creature possesses is the ability to burn and melt flesh and bone with a terrifying whistle. The female half of the unscrupulous couple ingratiates herself with the Shadmock and wins his affections, but she begins to realise that she may be in over her head when she finds the incinerated remains of a local ginger tom that pissed her employer off.

As the day of the great rip-off nears, our lovesick Shadmock proposes to her and invites her to a grand ball and to meet the other members of the family - when the heartless hussy decides to make off with the contents of his safe, all the while pouring scorn over his demonic appearance, she discovers that a woman scorned has nothing on the whistle of an heartbroken Shadmock…

This tale comes frustrating close to working, but there are a few elements that prevent it from being the best story of the bunch; Kellerman puts in a great performance as the confidence trickster who starts getting cold feet and James Laurenson as Raven, the lovesick Shadmock, is wonderful as he displays a heartbreaking vulnerability that actors rarely show in horror films. The real issue is that director Roy Ward Baker carefully builds up the tension to Raven's reveal by having him in shadow, in long-shot before finally showing him and having a horrifying music cue to underscore the moment - only the problem is that he just looks a little pale and with dark circles around his eyes, which is hardly the image of terror that the reveal suggests. Raven just looks like he needs a good night's sleep.

The devastating effect of a Shadmock's whistle - or a Saturday night out on the Isle of Sheppey...

The second story is arguably the weakest of the bunch, though many regard it as the best merely because it has a heavy emphasis on comedy. A physically weak young boy is told of his eastern-European heritage by his mother (Britt Ekland) and discovers that his father (Richard Johnson) is a Count and his she herself is a Countess, logically making him a Viscount. After being bullied at school the next day, the child’s boasting of his recent entrance into the aristocracy brings him to the attention of Pickering (Donald Pleasance), head of the BLINI a covert governmental vampire extermination department, and backed up by Anthony Valentine and wonderful character actor Neil McCarthy. The BLINI then head back to stake the vampire in question, but dear old Dad - the cheeky Count - fakes his death and returns the favour by turning him into a creature of the night, leaving him at the mercy of his over-efficient underlings as they brandish the stakes! Upon leaving, the Count reveals - in one of the poorest punch lines in movie history - that he was wearing a stake-proof vest. Jesus. And the vampiric trio all (sort of) lived happily ever after…

All the best anthologies all share a duff segment, but the fact that The Monster Club only has three stories means that any naff ones instantly make up a large percentage of the running time. The middle story, involving Richard Johnson as the vampiric Count just seems to fall flat on his face, though it is nice to see Donald Pleasance doing a comic turn, even if the material he has to work with is pretty poor. Johnson was funnier when he appeared on Kenny Everett’s TV show around the same period, far more than here, where he is given little to do except speak with a ropey European accent and deliver the aforementioned piss-awful punch line, being so dire that your jaw will hang open, leaving you to wonder how the hell they decided to include it in the first place. It is worth noting that this story was not based on any of the stories in Chetwynd-Hayes’ novel, and it certainly bloody shows. Being that the movie is aimed at kids means compromises had to be made, leaving vampires being dispatched via the lightest of from a hammer to the business-end of a stake - literally!

Finally, the longest story involves grouchy American movie director (Stuart Whitman) location-scouting for his new horror opus. After taking a wrong turning, he finds himself in the secluded village of Loughville, just the kind of creepy town he is after. Naturally, the inhabitants turn out to be ghouls, all determined to have this cinematic auteur around for dinner. After his swanky sports car is disabled, he appears to finds salvation in Luna, a Hum-Goo, a human/ghoul crossbreed, who explains the history and gives her life to help him find his way out of Loughville. However, when he makes it back on the motorway, he realises that it is impossible to escape from his fate…

There are many differences between the book and the movie - the most notable being character of Eramus - here he is tall, elegant, refined and well-spoken, whereas Hayes originally wrote had him as a short, gruff Cockney taxi driver. It was probably the case that because Milton Subotksy was desperate to get another film off the ground and that Vincent Price was available, artistic integrity could go fuck itself.

When selecting which stories to use from the original novel, Subotsky only remained faithful to one of them: The Hum-Goo. The ever-canny producer obviously decided to play it safe when choosing his material, leaving out some of the juicier stories which might have given it a more restrictive rating. Most notable among these was the tale involving the results a night of inter-species sex between a Fly-By-Night and its terrified young victim, a story which might have kept kids and teenager up all night, both for different reasons!

The Hum-Goo story is certainly the most faithful adaptation, creating a surprising sense of atmosphere in the mist-shrouded village of Loughville - everything is grey and grimy, with the ghoulish inhabitants sporting a deathly pallor that is in keeping with their surroundings. One scene shows Stuart Whitman reading the final diary entry in the local church, presenting in illustrated form just how the village became overrun with ghouls in the first place. This unconventional (not to mention cost-effective) way of dramatising a lot of expository narrative adds greatly to the atmosphere of the sequence. The production designer, obviously working with a very limited budget, was able to perform minor miracles, with the locations appearing almost exactly as described in the novel - be sure to check out the handles on the chest-of-drawers in the hotel…

The atmosphere in the first and last segments have a feel that is very much of the period - there is a something very reminiscent of Tales of the Unexpected or Hammer House of Horror about these two stories, being filmed in a time where just about anything was possible when it came to twist endings.

Aside from the kick-ass tunes heard in the club itself, the music throughout the film is right on the money. The doom-laden electronic sounds from stock-library genius Alan Hawkshaw really sets the grim tone for the final tale, but it is John Williams (the guitar-playing composer who really should marry into a family named D’Otherone purely for the sake of convenience) who really takes the trophy, turning in a truly haunting score based around Faure’s Pavane, gives the Shadmock tale of yearning more heart than director Baker could have mustered on the set, and is just a beautiful piece of work.

It could be argued that the props department of The Monster Club was responsible for the break-in at the hardware store in Halloween’s Haddonfield in preparation for filming. Halloween masks: check. Rope: check. Couple of knives: check. Sheriff Brackett had better alert Interpol, as the perpetrators have fled to the UK. Indeed, the whole clientele of this most monstrous of assemblies seems to have gotten dressed-up via a smash-and-grab on a provincial joke-shop, with roll neck jumpers used to seamlessly blend the tell-tale line between moulded rubber and disco-dancing extra. To our continual amusement, one such denizen dressed in a tacky monster mask and red roll neck bears more than a passing resemblance to Bernard Bresslaw in Carry On Behind

Bernie, monster.  Monster, Bernie.

The Monsters’ Genealogical Chart provide the biggest of unintentional laughs in the movie, as dear old Vinnie rattles off the various species and abilities of monster-dom. He might have made mayonnaise out of a stream of egg puns in Batman, even managed to carry off selling pickles for Heywards with a commendable amount of suave, but no actor on this earth could come up smelling of roses when having to tackle the terminology of monsters’ offspring; “A Weregoo and a Werevamp would produce shaddy; a Weregoo & a Vamgoo would produce a Maddy; a Werevamp and a Vamgoo would produce a Raddy” Quite. The genealogy is very interesting when reading the novel, but it’s cinematic suicide when trying to explain it all on screen.

Going back to the vampire tale, though we are revealing the punch-line to the second story here, but it must be addressed if just for the preposterous notion it expects audiences to swallow in the getting of a cheap laugh. Work-at-night vampire Johnson employs the policy of “feed-without-greed” when he goes out to find sustenance of an evening, and the slimy BLINI squad track him down through his naïve son, even dressing as a priest to gain the childs’ confidence and track down his father, the count! With pen-pushing efficiency, Johnson is staked by the odious Pickering, and adds to his record as a “departmental legend” in offing over 200 “vamps”. Just when things look all over, Johnson rises up and bites the obnoxious vampire hunter and brings him into the fold. Turns out that the patriarchal night-stalker was wearing a “stake-proof vest”, so even though the shaft of wood was driven right into him, it wasn’t fatal. Now: how the fuck does that work? Is a protective cocoon formed around the point of stake, carefully pushing aside all vital organs and closing up once removed? Is it a miracle of quantum mechanics whereby an inter-dimensional portal is created when a foreign body tries to enter the jacket, transporting the incoming object into another reality rather than into the heart? But then it might just be the punch-line to a crap joke.

The formula that had worked so successfully with Subotsky’s other anthologies (and, ironically, at its critical zenith with R Chetwynd Hayes’ From Beyond The Grave) crashed and burned here, bringing to an end a cottage industry that held its own against the major Hollywood productions that packed out the soundstages in the UK. Was it a lack of interest from distributors? Had every possible twist been turned in every tale? No. Its very concept was a fatally flawed one: a horror movie for kids. Milton Subotsky had been wanting to eventually make chillers that would be suitable for children. Give a twelve year old a shandy when he wants a beer and he’ll tell you where to go. regardless of if you tell him he'll still get drunk on it if he drinks it upside-down. He doesn’t want something harmless tailored to him, he wants the same stuff his parents are getting loaded on. When kids want Leatherface and all they are getting is an end-of-the-pier show with cheap monsters, bad word is going to kill such a British movie quicker than the axing of a tax concession.

With such seemingly negative criticism, what’s actually good about The Monster Club, we hear you ask? Well, considering the bad rep that the movie has been saddled with since it was first unleashed upon an unprepared and disinterested public, there is a fair bit to enjoy: Vincent Price is his usual flamboyant self, although maybe a little more so in this, as The Monster Club marked his first proper horror movie since 1974’s Madhouse. The most telling sign that Vinnie was clearly enjoying himself and not taking the proceedings TOO seriously occurs during the closing musical number, when he dances with outsized actress Fran Fullenweider in a manner that skates perilously close to being camp. Price’s gleeful manner confirms that he was an actor who wasn’t averse to anything, no matter how silly or preposterous, just as long as he was having a good time, in stark contrast to Christopher Lee, who was allegedly approached to play Eramus, but turned it down merely after being told the title of the film by his agent. It’s nice that Tim Burton and George Lucas chipped in together on that operation to eventually have the huge stick removed from Lee’s arse.

Concept art - as seen on the end credits!

As mentioned earlier, it’s nice to see Donald Pleasance sending himself up in a role that was to vampires what Loomis was to Michael Myers; it's evident that Subotsky called in a favour to have Pleasance in the film (Pleasance's memorable turn as the old soldier in From Beyond the Grave was one of the highlights of that particular anthology). The interaction between Vincent Price and John Carradine is great fun, with Price delivering even the most risible of dialogue with his customary eloquent gusto and Carradine listens to the indigestible dialogue like and the old trouper he is, nodding and interjecting occasionally to prove that he has not slipped into a coma. There is no truth to the rumour that Carradine’s assumption that The Monster Club had an open bar played a large part in his agreeing to do the movie.

Aside from the horror veterans on-screen, director Roy Ward Baker had helmed numerous films for Hammer and even worked for Amicus (he directed Asylum), and was probably persuaded by Subotsky to help out his new - and short-lived - production company. Roy Ward Baker brings a degree of style to the individual segments (especially the Hum-Goo tale), but even he couldn't hide the threadbare production values inside the titular establishment. This would not only prove to be Baker's final horror film, but also his last feature film, as he directed for television for the remainder of his career.

With all manner of hideous creatures lurking around, there needs to be balance, and this is provided in the form of the delectable Lesley Dunlop, who puts in a great performance as the half-breed Hum-Goo trapped in an environment in which she does not feel entirely at home. Dunlop’s turn is a revelation for those who have only seen her in either bleeding-heart medical soaps or remember her back in May To December

Then there’s the music! Made at a time when punk was winding down and Ska & two-tone were coming in, Milton Subotsky managed to use still impressive influence to get hold of some artists who he thought would fit the bill, rustling up an impressive mixture of musical forces either pretty big or up-and-coming: noted band The Pretty Things actually reformed for The Monster Club, which kick-started their short-lived reggae period; newcomers UB40 tinged the atmosphere with the cool background music for the club and BA Robertson turns in the pun-laden number I’m Just A Sucker For Your Love. More conventional anarchy-based fare is provided by The Viewers in the form of Monsters Rule OK, playing on the popularity of phrases like “punk rules OK” and “kids rule OK,” (and even "Snoopy Rules OK", which can be seen on a poster during the film!) not to mention being the anthem of the club itself. Finally, Night contribute with the rousing number The Stripper, and should anyone of a certain age be thinking: “hang on - I know that jet-engine-like vocals!”, then it’s our duty to point out that the lead singer is none other than Stevie Lang, would go on to lend her unmistakable tones for the Bodyform TV commercials in the late eighties/early nineties. Oh, and the “TRIIIIIIIIIIIII-O” ones of the eighties.

Bodyformed for comfort - the tampons were well-designed, too...

Video


The Monster Club was released on DVD in the US back in 2006 from Patherfinder Entertainment and had a disclaimer saying the original materials were not available and that the best possible materials were used for that particular (dull and uninspiring) transfer. OK, it was just flat-out lousy, coming from a video-based master - we bought it and were disappointed. When we put the Network Blu-ray release of The Monster Club into the drive and saw it start-up, it was undeniably apparent that Network had access to the negative, as the results are nothing short of phenomenal.

The richness of the image really was something we were not expecting; we have seen the film in various incarnations and on various formats over the years, but nothing really prepared us for how vibrant the transfer is. The colours really pop in a way that they never have before; the vibrant reds and greens used so prominently in the club itself are wonderfully rich and there is an abundance of detail in the image.

The musical numbers really benefit from the wonderful upswing in quality, in a way which we didn’t expect. The breathtaking resolution brings the bands right into your home, and we say this knowing full well that such bold claims have been made to sell just about every CD player in the eighties. It gives them all a tangible quality, and sells the whole movie as being right in the middle of the coolest cabaret act on the planet. Take a look when Night take the stage: the piercing vocals combined with the stunning clarity drop you right in the audience, but without the distraction of looking though eyeholes in crappy masks. Yes, the image quality is THAT good.

The bitrate averages around 32mbps, which is one of the advantages of having minimal extras and there is not sign of digital interference, such as DNR. If there is a minor caveat have with the transfer have with the transfer occurs during the ghoul segment, where the dull grey hue that is present in the village of Loughville seems to have been dialled-down considerably - this is possibly an error during the striking of the new transfer, but considering how amazing the transfer is in general, it's something we can live with.

The only other real issue of having a transfer as razor-sharp and detailed as this is that it tends to augment the threadbare production values – you can practically see the bored expressions of the extras through the eye-holes in the cheap masks they are wearing. These are minor complaints, as the transfer is generally stunning.

Stuart Whitman could get bitten in the Reverend James Johnson...

Audio


The Blu-ray release of The Monster Club is presented in DTS HD-MA, and although it is flagged as 1.0, it seems to actually be in 2.0, allowing for a more pleasing, wider spread across the front sound-stage. The music really packs a punch, and brings the songs to life in a manner not previously experienced outside of a theatrical screening of the film.

Extras


Trailer: Narrated by actor Anthony Valentine (putting on a really silly voice), this is a cool little look at the madness that awaits inside The Monster Club. The trailer highlights the horror aspect (which isn’t really there, considering that the film is effectively child-friendly) and has a parade of the musical special guests.

Photo Gallery  Now this is pretty nice!  A wonderful collection of pictures are gathered (from a most reliable source!) for your delectation, including on-set shots, behind-the-scenes snaps publicity stills and marketing material.  There is something to please any fan, and can imagine one or two images being used yo decorate desktops.  The candid picture of Vincent Price with the fangs in is pretty freaky, though...

Music Only Track  This is as it says: the entire soundtrack of the movie but without dialogue or effects.  If you can live with the dips in the audio where dialogue one was, then you will be greeted by a wonderfully fresh rendering of the score, as well as all of the songs.  It beats the shit out of the crappy, muffled version offered on the Pathfinder DVD of yore..

Textless Trailer: The same as above, but it doesn’t include any of the on-screen captions; this was presumably made available to foreign distributors who wanted to put foreign language captions on the trailer for their particular territories.

Textless Opening and Closing Credits: As it sounds – the opening scene and the end credits are presented here without credits. Whilst it’s cool to see the opening sequence without the impediment of on-screen credits, the closing credits just has around two-and-a-half minutes of the cool concept painting of the club.

Montage: This is pretty pointless, really – it’s just a montage of scenes and images from the film to bolster the fairly paltry amount of extras on the disc, however, it does feature Monsters Rule OK by The Viewers playing over it.

John Carradine hangs out in the Monster Club - his son preferred hanging out in wardrobes...

Overall


Whilst not exactly reaching the same lofty entertainment heights as Amicus’ cream of the crop, The Monster Club will give people of a certain age a nostalgic feel; the first and third stories are almost strong enough to outweigh the shortcomings of the weak middle segment and the lousy monster masks in the titular establishment. It was thrown to the wolves when initially released and now that over two decades have passed, it’s pretty safe to say that The Monster Club is long overdue for reappraisal - Milton Subotksy may have been barking up the wrong tree with kiddie-friendly horror movies, but there is a certain indefinable something that makes this movie a delight to watch.

The extras might be a little disappointing, but the transfer really IS a thing of beauty and even those of us who have seen The Monster Club more times than they care to admit will discover things here they hadn't previously noticed. We can still remember the poster of it outside our local cinema (ah, Images - long gone...) and were by a 1000 megaton blast of nostalgia watching again, in no small part due to it being the very best presentation it will ever have.  Hats off to Network for bringing this much-maligned film to high-definition. Monsters rule OK indeed.

* Note that the images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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