1980's The Monster Club is a sort-of Amicus film. I say sort-of, because while it's made, produced, and acted (among other things) by many of the same people behind Amicus, and it shows, that company was defunct at this point in time, and the movie was instead made through ITC. The film's more of a spiritual successor to the horror anthologies that came before, as well as a goodbye, thanks to the changing market...
By the way, I keep mistakenly remembering the title to be The Monster Party, to the point where I was looking forward to reviewing this, then Mad Monster Party! Alas, that was not to be. Oh well...
Horror author R. Chetwynd-Hayes is taking a nighttime stroll when he's attacked by a vampire. Only sucking a little blood, the apologetic vampire introduces himself as Eramus, and offers to take Chetwynd-Hayes to the Monster Club, to make up for the blood he took. There, he regales the writer with spooky tales of creatures, and cruelty, malice and malediction, and much more...
A Mr. Raven has posted an ad in the newspaper seeking help in cataloguing his extensive antiques collection, and a woman named Angela has come to his door answering it. Remaining mostly in the shadows, Raven warns her about his features, and tells her that she need not be frightened...And naturally Angela's immediate reaction to seeing his face is to up and leave the house without a word! She of course comes back, but her reasons are far from noble. She and her boyfriend have been looking for jobs, but not for work. Rather, they plan on scoping out a place they think will have valuables, so they can get close, and steal what they can. Seizing this seeming golden opportunity, Angela pretends to bond with Raven, but his features terrify her, worrying her greatly. Things come to a head after she reluctantly accepts Raven's marriage proposal, and attempts to empty out his safe. Soon, she'll learn the dreadful effects of a Shadmock's whistle...
This story starts off on the wrong foot by having a borderline flashback within a flashback setup, but that's forgiveable enough, I suppose, though it does make one wonder why the boyfriend is the one in the asylum, when it's his girlfriend Angela who's the viewpoint character. This too becomes apparent later, so again, it's not a big problem.
The plot here is pretty heartbreaking! Raven is a kindhearted, yet vulnerable guy, and has clearly not had a very happy life due to others' reaction to his face. He finally believes he's found happiness with someone else, but she turns out to be a craven bitch. He's awkward as heck, but nice, and so forgiving, even when catching her stealing from him, yet she still messes things up for the dude by shattering his hopes, and meets with a most sticky punishment. Not nearly as great as what Raven's been subjected to though! The ending is sad, with great imagery.
Raven is a Shadmock, which is a low-tier supernatural creature/human hybrid in the world of this movie, armed with a powerful whistle that scares even high-up monsters, and an unnatural face that frightens regular people. The reveal of his face is a bit botched however, because it's so dark, we can't see what's wrong with it. He looks pretty normal from what we can see. It's only in better light that we see his face is pallid, and he has dark rings around his eyes. Even still, he doesn't look monstrous or terrifying at all, but he does look subtly ghoulish. Another problem is the abrupt editing. The segment probably could've been longer. Thankfully it doesn't feel too constrained in its running time. It tells the story it needs to in enough time. There are just a couple of things it rushes through to fast, like the aforementioned marriage proposal (as well as his admission to being a Shadmock), which immediately cuts to later, when Angela's criminal boyfriend is pressuring her to go through with it, then once again the film immediately cuts to an overjoyed Raven, Angela having accepted his proposal offscreen.
There are a couple of little things I was wondering regarding Raven's character, like how he has a huge mansion and so much money. I suppose he was just lucky and born into a rich family of ghouls. Not too hard to believe. I also have no idea how the two thieves think they're going to get away with this! Their go-to plans are already super obvious, but one involving going as far as getting engaged, just to steal some cash and antiques? Look guys, if you get hired as a worker, steal a bunch of stuff, then bail, everyone's already gonna know you're responsible, but that's at least easier to handle than outright getting engaged. How are you going to leave without arousing extreme suspicion, even before your mark notices his riches have been plundered?!
Other amusing little touches are the amusing spaghetti western type music when we see the prowling cat watch Raven's beloved bird friend. The sound of the whistling is effectively eerie, and the masks at the ball during the climax all look really neat, with their translucent design. While some might take issue with how they're all very similar, I like that, as it makes the proceedings look quite surreal.
This is a great opener, though it also clashes the most with the framing story, as it's a deadly serious tale right after the more silly opening act.
Lintom is a young boy, with bully troubles, and a loving but mysterious father, who sleeps during the day, and works all night with an unknown job. One day, a kindly priest approaches Lintom, quizzing him about his home life. It turns out the so-called priest is actually a vampire hunter, and he and his associates have been looking for Lintom's father for quite some time...
First off, I dig the fact that rather than being a flashback the movie cuts to, this segment is actually a short film the characters are watching! Even better is that while the story is said to be just a portion of a larger movie in production, which could be pretty clumsy given you'd expect this to be a complete story, it manages to work. I could buy this story being part of a larger movie, in a slice-of-life sort of way.
The problem I have with this part of the film is that this kid (who is the luckiest kid on earth, by the way, because he has Britt Ekland for a mother!) is an idiot! He knows well enough to not let a stranger take him home, but despite being vocal about that, he answers every one of the inquisitive priest's incredibly intrusive questions without a pause, up to and including his suspicions about his father possibly being a fugitive. Also weird is when e goes down to the cellar, on prompting from the 'priest', and sees his father, then runs of screaming. No idea what he's so scared about. He knows his father sleeps in the room, so what's so scary about seeing him asleep there? Sure, he's in a coffin, but he's not looking monstrous or anything. He could just be a neato goth dad! Being fair to the kid though, the questions he foolishly answer don't actually help the vampire hit squad. They already know where the guy lives, and all Lintom told them was that his father sleeps downstairs, which would've been easy enough for them to find out on their own. This is good, as it means the climactic events of the film where the family is in great danger don't occur because the son is an idiot.
The effects are ok. Prop fangs and packets of tomato sauce. Nothing to write home about, but nothing too terrible either. As for locale, I like the fact that this suburban English home has a very ooky Transylvanian castle style cellar to it. The scoring here is pretty amusing!
The ending starts off a bit of a downer, but is also darkly funny, with a bit of poetic justice, and a fun and somewhat heartwarming happy ending. Despite once again being too short, I liked this part of the movie a lot. It had some neat and funny concepts, great scenes, and a nice family dynamic, in a way.
A director is scouting locations for a horror movie he's working on, and decides to check one out in person. That turns out to be a bad mistake though, as the bleak and blasted village Loughville is a little too authentic, filled with man-eating ghouls...
This is honestly the worst segment for me. It started off great, but the problems started quickly. The story has the least to it, even by the standards of the short previous segments. The story is so basic, and there's no buildup at all, nor any lingering tension. It sprints from Point A through to Z without any stop-off, culminating in a super short tale with very little in the way of character, or plot. The twist ending is one you can see a mile away, and doesn't even make a whole lot of sense. Aside from that, it also renders the entire escape attempt portion pointless. All of this is infuriating, because this segment probably held the most promise for me.
I liked Luna, the lone villager helping the lead, well enough, but her character is likewise super rushed. She and the director meet as she's giving him food, and this instantly segues into a conversation where she tells him everything about the town in extensive detail, they immediately plot the ins and outs of their escape, and they do it. Even worse is her death scene (barely a spoiler). She's killed somehow by a rock flung at her head. I don't doubt that someone tossing a rock at your skull could cause a serious injury, but I imagine it's not the kind of thing that kills instantly for dramatic effect.
The effects here are pretty cool, with a great location, and neat ghoul effects. Less impressive are the monster teeth at the end, though. There's a diary flashback scene done through drawings, and they look quite good, fitting the scene very effectively. It's probably the best scene in the story. Another positive is the scoring, which is quite neat and ooky! Just a shame the rest of Ghoulsville couldn't live up to those.
Getting into Monster Club as a whole, the film has a weird feel to it. It was released in 1980, but has a very 70's feel to it. I guess that results from it being made at the tail end of the decade. Whatever the case, it's certainly weird watching a low-budget British 70's horror flick with such a rockin' 80's American soundtrack! Welcome though, as the musical performances shake things up, making this different from all the other Amicus type anthology horror movies of the day.
The somewhat out-of-time feel not an issue, but what is is how tonally awkward the movie's framing segments are with the rest of the film, which are otherwise serious horror tales, unlike the more comedic moments with Eramus and Chetwyn-Hayes. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the segments are actually in continuity with the framing story! That is to say, with anthology movies, even though the stories are meant to be set in the same world, they usually tend to feel pretty standalone, but in Monster Club, there are little continuity details in the stories that pop up here and there and connect them with the larger story. It's a nice level of consistency that I appreciate.
The effects in the framing sequence are noticeably inferior to the rest of the movie. Not necessarily because the segments had all that great effects, but rather the ones on display during the monster party scenes are a little embarrassing! They look like Halloween masks (minus a pretty good Wolf-Man)! Good Halloween masks, mind you, but still, it's a downgrade.
Delving deeper into the soundtrack, it's interesting. On one hand, whether or not it fits at all with the rest of the movie is up for discussion, but if nothing else, the presence of these rock songs between each segment really makes Monster Club stand out, and feel more unique. I really like the main theme (Monsters rule, ok!), as well as I'm Just a Sucker for Your Love, and Stripper. The latter culminates in a niiiiiice striptease that turns into a delightfully ghoulish silhouette animation. The former is a highly enjoyable song, but with painful staging! Not only is the camera only focusing on the singer's face and nothing more, but it keeps zooming in and out, in and out, in and out, and it's nauseating!
The final number is my least favourite for two reasons. First, I just don't like it much, and that's enough to sour the ending a tad. Secondly, I discovered this film thanks to a clip on Youtube, of Vincent Price singing The Monster Mash (opening with the great speech he gives at the end). I was looking forward to that ending as I made my way through Monster Club, knowing it'd be a great way of closing out the movie!...As it turns out, that was a re-edit, with an overlay of Vincent singing Monster Mash, and clips from elsewhere interspersed with the finale. Goddammit! Instead, we just get a random rock song to play the movie out. Not even a particularly good one, either! A crying shame, because I thought the ending was really special!
There's plenty of acting to discuss here, that's for sure! Vincent Price is as great as ever, delivering his lines with such an infectious glee. The man was a true king of horror! John Carradine is entertaining as the author behind the stories the movie is based on. Donald Pleasence is a ball of fun, but doesn't get much to do, due to the length of the segments. The rest of the acting, from Barbara Kellerman, James Laurenson, Britt Ekland, and more, is all fine.
When it comes to being an adaptation, The Monster Club isn't the greatest, and R. Chetwynd-Hayes was pretty peeved at how it turned out. It's not hard to see where he's coming from, what with the film's goofy humour, and the ill-fitting rock musical interludes, as well as his stories being altered too much to his liking. Still, I like the film nonetheless. Another anecdote I've read is that apparently Christopher Lee was offered the role of Chetwynd-Hayes, but instantly turned it down upon hearing the movie's title, which if true is NOT fucking cool. Talk about judging a book by its cover! It's probably untrue though. I doubt a title like The Monster Club was too much for Lee, not only because it's not exactly an outlandish title (especially compared to other films in Lee's extensive filmography), nor do I think he'd be against acting in a comedy. If I had to guess, he probably was offered the role, and did turn it down, but more because of horror burnout. This was after all the time he started branching out to other genres.
One final thing of note are the in-jokes, including the name of the filmmaker who opens the second segment, named Lintom Busotsky, an anagram/spoonerism (maybe?) of Milton Subotsky, the film's producer (and producer of many prior Amicus films).
Well this sure was a long review! Funny, considering how little I had to say about Asylum (the only other Amicus film I've reviewed thus far)! The Monster Club is a fun horror movie, and regarded by many to be the 'last hurrah' of classic horror before the genre changed, and more slasher and gore movies came onto the scene. I sure hope classic horror makes a comeback. While part of me is afraid that it can't be recaptured, and these films could only have been made back then, I have faith that more will come in the future, no doubt!...