An anthology of stories within a story, The Monster Club was a movie I’d seen countless times on late night public access television as a kid. I recently conjured up the 1981 film via that necromancer’s delight known as Tubi. Initially, I was worried that, once the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia were removed, it would be a hot pile of schlock that should have been kept in mothballs.
Thankfully, The Monster Club was just as good as I’d remembered it. It’s not without some flaws, but hey, few films are perfect all the way through!
The film features horror legends Vincent Price and John Carradine, tying together the anthology’s story-within-a-story. The two actors, in the twilight of their careers, clearly have a good time playing their parts for intentional laughs. Yet, both still take their craft seriously enough to suck viewers in with solid performances. Okay, it’s not Shakespeare in the Park, but Carradine and Price (in particular) effortlessly flit between comedy and gravitas when needed.
The Monster Club: Stories Within a Story
The events kick off when horror author R. Chetwynd Hayes (John Carradine) is out for a nighttime stroll. In a neat bit of trivia, the character is named for the real-life author who wrote the basis for many of the stories contained in The Monster Club.
Hayes encounters a starving vampire named Eramus (played by Vincent Price, sporting fangs for the only time in his extensive career outside of The Muppet Show). Hayes politely offers his neck for a snack while Eramus gratefully accepts the victuals without “turning” the author. Upon learning the identity of his blood benefactor, Eramus is delighted to have met the acquaintance of one of his favorite authors, saying “Everybody likes to read about themselves. Their own kind!” – proving that representation matters, even for vampires. Eramus offers to repay him in kind by giving him story fodder in the form of a visit to an exclusive nightclub where monsters hang out.
At the club, Price and Carradine’s character’s quaff blood and tomato juice (respectively), as they swap stories and get to know each other. The first of the film’s three stories, “The Shadmock,” stems from a conversation piece hanging on the club’s wall: a genealogical chart detailing what sort of monster results from the various permutations of pairings between vampires, werewolves, and ghouls. (Fun fact: All art in the film — including said monster genealogical chart — was done by British comic book artist, John Bolton.)
The Shadmock: or, Monsters Make Dating Mistakes Too
First up is “The Shadmock,” perhaps the most memorable story in The Monster Club. The result of the mating of several different monster hybrids, the Shadmock isn’t particularly scary… Until he whistles. That’s when shit goes down and people (and/or bird-killing felines) wind up looking like an overdone grilled cheese sandwich.
The Shadmock is actually a very sweet, very lonely, and very wealthy figure. Supposedly, he’s “hideous,” although I’ve thrown myself at much worse. He just looks like he hasn’t quite wiped off all of his corpse paint from The Misfits show the night before and then changed into an Edwardian tweed ensemble.
Preying upon the Shadmock, a young woman and her live-in boyfriend attempt to scam the unfortunate creature. He falls in love with her and she plans to rob him blind during a masquerade ball attended by his (masked, and supposedly equally hideous) family in honor of their engagement. Hell hath no fury like a Shadmock scorned!
Growing up, “The Shadmock”‘s final scene was (literally) burned into my brain. The producers probably blew most of their special effects budget here, as the rest of the practical effects throughout the film consist of bad rubber masks. But who cares?! The vignette offers a satisfying ending, especially if you’re the type who roots for the “monster.” (Raises hand.)
The Vampires: A Memoir
The Monster Club‘s second story, “The Vampires,” revolves around the idyllic home life of a young British boy in the 1950s. The boy’s family is headed up by Dracula himself, a loving husband to a human wife and father to their young son – who becomes a famous director and turns his unique upbringing into a feature film. Monster Club patrons were given a “sneak preview” of this “film” by the director himself, making for a nice segue to introduce installment #2.
The story is clichéd but fun, made all the more fun by ace scenery-chewer Donald Pleasance as an intentionally cut-rate Van Helsing-type who attempts to take out Drac. Pleasance is a bit more restrained than you’d expect him to be, but proves he’s capable of playing a role for laughs when things turn slapstick. In the role of the half-vampire boy’s mother is Britt Eklund, who also had a memorable role in the 1973 cult classic The Wicker Man alongside horror icon Christopher Lee. (Fun-and-tangentially-related-fact Part Deux: The Wicker Man wasn’t the only film where Eklund appeared with Christopher Lee. She took on the role of Bond girl, Mary Goodnight in The Man With the Golden Gun with Lee in the title role.
“The Vampires” is a fun bit of comic relief and the second best offering in The Monster Club. Again, if you root for the “monsters,” you’ll get a kick out of this one.
The Humghoul: More like Hum-Drum
“The Humghoul,” (pronounced “hume-ghoul”) the third story of the film, is the weakest of the bunch. Heading back to the “monster chart” again, this tale sees a director (played by Stuart Whitman) whose shoot takes him to a quaint British village populated by cannibals. The lone, kindly resident of this creepy village is a Humghoul named Luna – the offspring of a human and a ghoul who looks a lot more human than the villagers of The Town That Never Saw Toothpaste.
If you’ve seen a lot of horror movies, this segment of the film is pretty predictable. It isn’t fleshed out terribly well and the story skips around a bit. Actually, the most interesting part of “The Humghoul” is when it skips around to tell the village’s origins, illustrated by artist John Bolton’s renderings of bloodthirsty ghouls.
And Special Musical Guests!
What would a night club be without music? The Monster Club also tosses in some post-punk/not-quite-New Wave musical acts that serve to cleanse the palate between courses. Macabre-themed songs like B.A. Robertsons’ “Sucker For your Love” and “The Stripper” by Night — the backdrop for a skin-shedding burlesque show — eat up some time, but still prove themselves to be entertaining ear worms. The songs also make for some memorable moments in the flick, particularly The Viewers’ rendition The Monster Club theme (“Monsters Rule OK”), featuring both Price and Carradine cutting a rug on the dance floor.
Despite being dated, The Monster Club is a sweet classic gem that makes monsters the heroes and touts humans as the worst monsters of them all (as alluded to in the film’s final moments and surprise induction ceremony). Featuring two of horror’s greats in the final acts of their storied careers, there is a bit of wink-winking and nudge-nudging, but it’s done rather respectfully to the genre and the actors.
Despite the film’s low budget in terms of production values and special effects, there isn’t a bad performance in the film. All of the leads in the various vignettes offer up solid performances — sometimes weaving in comedy alongside horror. Budget be-damned, Price and Carradine still give it their all!
The Monster Club is a unique example of anthology horror, a subgenre which hasn’t made the comeback it should have by now, barring a few fun and fairly-recent exceptions like Scare Package, Trick ‘r’ Treat, and The Mortuary Collection. That said, the film stands as one of the few decent horror movies that hasn’t been remade… yet! Get your claws on this one to see how good the original was before anyone gets any bright ideas! (Although if Robert Englund and Tony Todd were to fill John Carradine and Vincent Price’s winklepickers, I don’t think I’d be mad at that.)