British studio Amicus Productions carved out their niche in the horror market throughout the '60s and '70s largely through anthologies like Dr. Terror's House of Horrors, Torture Garden, The House That Dripped Blood, Asylum, Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, and From Beyond the Grave. After a string of unsuccessful attempts, the final nail in Amicus' coffin was struck in 1980 with their release of their last film, a tongue-in-cheek anthology called The Monster Club.
The wraparound story centers around starving vampire Eramus (Vincent Price) and his prey, successful genre writer R. Chetwynd-Hayes (John Carradine). To repay Hayes for his arterial generosity, Eramus drags him as his guest to the members-only club subtly hinted at in the film's title. There, three tales of monster-dom are spun. The first follows a discussion of monster geneology, delving as deep as the mongrel combination of seemingly every type of creature, the Shadmock. Raven is one such Shadmock, a not entirely pleasant-looking fellow who's immensely wealthy, but the curse of his heritage keeps him bound to his stately manor. He desperately avoids people whenever possible, but in need of having his immense collection properly catalogued, Raven hires a pretty woman named Angela to tackle the feat. Angela is a conwoman whose only interest is pilfering Raven's safe, but her new employer is smitten. To get closer to the loot, she agrees to marry him. When he has the family over for a lavish ball to introduce to them his bride to be, Angela becomes unnerved and discovers what happens when a Shadmock whistles.
The second story is told by vampiric film producer Lintom Busotsky, who reproduces his childhood on celluloid. His pop may have been a vampire, but he was a working stiff just like everybody else, if a bit more literally. The pale, sickly Busotsky has no idea that his father's fangéd, just that he keeps late hours and snoozes away downstairs during the day. The elder Busotsky's only advice to his son is that he steer clear of men in violin cases. Of course, several of 'em quickly come around -- while being tormented at school by bullies, he's rescued by Pickering (Donald Pleasence), chief of the B-Squad and card-carrying vampire slayer. When the squad bursts into the Busotsky homestead to rid the world of one more creature of the night, things get a little messier than anticipated. The third and final tale also involves the film industry. A director scouting for locations for his horror movie stumbles upon a tiny village inhabited by flesh-eating graverobbers. He's rescued by a "Humgoo", a half-human, half-ghoul, biding their time together in an abandoned church. They attempt to make their escape with the arrival of the Elders, and, naturally, things go horribly awry.
The Monster Club tries to be too many things to too many people, not really succeeding at any of them. The balance of horror and comedy flounders -- it's too tame and corny to frighten much of anyone, and the humor generally revolves around bad puns. The movie attempts to appeal to audiences young and old, with a lack of blood, gore, nudity, or explicit language, but it seems too dull to me to inspire much interest in viewers of any age. It's silly and cornball by design, but just because it's intentional doesn't mean I have to like it. The Monster Club does benefit from the presence of familiar faces like Donald Pleasence, John Carradine, and Vincent Price. Whatever payday they may have had apparently gobbled up the bulk of the movie's budget. There are hardly any makeup effects, and many of the monsters themselves appear to be wearing off-the-shelf Halloween masks. The best moments are sandwiched between the stories, particularly an attractive stripper who doesn't stop at her clothes. There are also several full songs performed throughout the movie. I have an inexplicable adoration of jerky new-wave, particularly in the context of an early '80s horror movie a la The House on Sorority Row. The Monster Club offers up some of the best-slash-worst-slash-best-again of the genre, with goofy monster-inspired lyrics (well, except for Night's "The Stripper", although I guess they do go bump in the night) and unnecessarily catchy hooks. Among the performers are B.A. Robertson (Mike + the Mechanics) and a reformed Pretty Things. UB40 makes some musical contributions as well with "25 Per Cent" from their debut album, offering their most embarrassing soundtrack appearance this side of Speed II: Cruise Control. Because these are standard-length songs, their inclusion decimates anything bearing a passing resemblance to pacing, but they get a free pass since they're more fun to watch than anything else in the movie.
The Monster Club attempts to be silly and succeeds. It doesn't put much of an effort towards being entertaining and really isn't. At least it's an unconventional failure. Pathfinder has released The Monster Club with a decent, if warmed over, presentation and a healthy assortment of extras.
Video: Any DVD that opens with a disclaimer about spotty video quality isn't likely to be lavished with the sort of flowery praise DVD reviewers are known for spouting. The Monster Club doesn't really warrant its disclaimer, though. The DVD, non-anamorphic and letterboxed to an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, looks like a rehashed Laserdisc transfer, and in the scheme of things, that's really not so bad. There isn't any notable print damage, just some moderate speckling. Detail is passable, if completely unremarkable and occasionally murky, in the colorful image. The last time I caught The Monster Club was on television years ago (an appearance on TNT's Monstervision, I believe), and even though I wasn't particularly discerning about video quality at the time, I vaguely remember thinking that the movie looked terrible. I didn't come away from the DVD with the same impression. The visuals aren't great, but they aren't disappointing either, and its flaws aren't intrusive enough for me to recommend passing on that basis alone.
Audio: The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono audio (192Kbps) is similar in quality -- not wonderful by any stretch, but not wretched either. Light underlying background noise is noticeable, and some of the dialogue sounds a bit muffled. Music used throughout the movie occasionally drowns out dialogue as well. The songs come through decently enough, and really, that's all that matters. There are no subtitles, closed captions, or dubs, for anyone keeping track at home.
Supplements: Although Pathfinder couldn't dig up more pristine source material for the presentation, they made up for it by loading up The Monster Club with an armful of extras. Chief among 'em is what looks to be the entire soundtrack album. Eleven tracks are included in total -- "Monsters Rule O.K." and a reprise by the Viewers, "Sucker for Your Love" by B.A. Robertson, "The Stripper" by Night, "25 Per Cent" by UB40, "Valentino's Had Enough" by Espressos, "Pavane (Faure)" by John Williams with the Douglas Gamley Orchestra, "Transylvanian Terrors" by John Georgiadis, Johann Strauss' "Vienna Blood" played by the John Georgiadis Orchestra, "Ghouls Galore" by Alan Hawkshaw, and the title track by the Pretty Things. I mean, I've seen isolated scores and all before, but an entire soundtrack album on a DVD...that's a first, at least for me.
Luke Y. Thompson and Gregory Weinkauf contribute an audio commentary, following similar tracks on Pathfinder's Black Belt Jones 2: The Tattoo Connection and Ed and His Dead Mother. Referred to on one message board as
"[an] incredibly awful commentary, possibly the worst ever" and generally derided on other DVD reviews, I'll be the sole voice to say that I dug it. It's geeky, rambling, and mocking, three qualities near and dear to my two-sizes-too-small heart. Any commentary that has a line like, "You say amusing things. I'm going to see if Roy Ward Baker is dead" is at least worth a rental. There's some information about the movie, such as the first segment having been shot at the same house as Wayne Manor in Tim Burton's Batman, alongside a lot of discussion about the cast. The fun really comes in the completely random directions the commentary takes, like Luke singing UB40 singing Neil Diamond, Dennis Miller impressions, nods to Buster Poindexter, obscure Muppets characters, The A-Team, quoting liberally from Lord of the Rings, extinct flightless birds, the Dungeons and Dragons flick from a few years back, Bat Boy, Bond villains, the rogues gallery from the '60s Batman TV show, Dead Alive, The Smurfs, Fox News, Dr. Seuss, Christopher Lee going Hawaiian with The Brady Bunch, and numerous mentions of Australian director Phillipe Mora. Oh well. I liked it.
There are also several text-based extras, beginning with detailed biographies of Vincent Price, John Carradine, Stuart Whitman, Donald Pleasence, Britt Ekland, Patrick McGee, Roy Ward Baker, and Milton Subotsky. The original press notes penned around the film's 1980 release have been provided as well. Finally, George Reis from the phenomenal genre site DVD Drive-In contributes a lengthy essay providing background information on Amicus, this project in particular, and why he looks back so fondly on it.
The disc's still gallery consists of 31 images, including promotional stills, shots of home video releases, lobby cards, and scans from a comic book. Rounding out the clearly-marked extras is a letterboxed theatrical trailer running just under two and a half minutes in length. Clicking on the doctor's stomach in the 'Special Features' menu launches a twelve minute interview with British actor Sean Barry Weske, who played a rock-slinging ghoul in the third segment of The Monster Club. He snagged the role largely because he knew how to handle a sling without shattering any nearby cameras, and the interview, conducted by Luke Y. Thompson, closes with a demonstration. He also discusses the origins of the British equivalent to the middle finger, buying cigarettes in full ghoul makeup, a film career that began over sixty years ago, his role in Sharon Tate merchandise, and Ingrid Pitts' issues with ding dongs.
The Monster Club is divided into eighteen chapters, and the disc is packaged in a keepcase with no insert. The cover art has photos of Carradine and Price rather than the original poster art. The DVD sports a set of static 4x3 menus.
Conclusion: Uninitiated horror anthology and schlock completists might want to give The Monster Club a rental, but it's too tepid for me to recommend going out of your way to track down sight-unseen. At least the movie tries to be different, even if it doesn't really work. Hopefully established fans of the movie -- apparently there are a handful lurking around somewhere -- will be pleased with the effort put into this DVD. Rent It.