To celebrate New Year's Eve, my fiancé and I decided to watch a couple of films on DVD. One of these was The Monster Club, a 1980 film made by Amicus which follows the usual format of short horror tales linked by a continuing story. I enjoy these horror anthologies and this had the added attraction of a stellar cast including two veterans of this genre - Vincent Price (who was then around seventy) and John Carradine (who was 74).
The interlocking story features these two actors with Carradine playing the writer R. Chetwynd-Hayes (whose short stories form the basis of the movie) and Price as the jovial vampire Erasmus. They meet one night in the street and Erasmus offers to take the author to The Monster Club, where he may find inspiration for his next stories. The club is what you'd expect, a kind of social haunt for a variety of vampires, werewolves, ghosts, ghouls and assorted people in bad masks. For some reason, each club scene features a live music act which we lucky viewers get to watch perform a song and most of these are pretty awful. B.A. Robertson is one of these, who I remember from my childhood, but the others were unknown to me.
The three main stories are all suitably creepy and worth watching. The first one is The Shadmock, which stars James Laurenson, Barbara Kellerman and Simon Ward. The premise is that a man called Raven (Laurenson) advertises for someone to help him catalogue all the valuables in his huge house. A couple called Angela (Kellerman) and George (Ward) plot to rob him, with Angela taking up the post and befriending Raven. However, Raven is no ordinary man and has unnatural powers... This is an interesting and intriguing story, Laurenson is very good as Raven and there are a couple of gruesome bits in it too, as well as some plastic masks I found quite unsettling.
The second story is The Vampires, which stars Richard Johnson, Britt Ekland and Donald Pleasence. A young boy called Lintom lives with his parents, but has a slightly unusual kind of life. His father (Johnson) works at night and sleeps in the basement during the day, while his mother (Ekland) is a pretty blonde who goes out to do the shopping as normal. Lintom stands out at school as being somewhat unusual, so he gets bullied a lot and one day, a man called Pickering (Pleasence) approaches him in the playground... I always find Donald Pleasence a joy to watch and here again, he is excellent, as is Richard Johnson as the father. While the story appears to be heading down a predictable direction, it suddenly changes tack and becomes incredibly camp and funny, almost farcical, which makes it fun to watch and something a bit different. Sadly, Britt Ekland just proves over and over again that she can't act, but at least she's decorative.
The third and final story is called The Ghouls and stars Stuart Whitman, Lesley Dunlop and Patrick Magee. This was the segment that gave my fiancé nightmares when he watched it as a child. The story is that Sam (Whitman) is a movie director looking for a suitably eerie location for his next horror film. He finds the perfect place - a village called Loughville, which is decidedly creepy. As he enquires who he needs to talk to, he finds the inhabitants of the village are less than welcoming. The only helpful one is a girl called Luna (Dunlop) who advises him to hide in the church. While there, he discovers the legend surrounding the place and why the graveyard seems particularly empty... This does have a quite terrifying idea behind it, so I can see why my fiancé remembered it so well from his childhood. It is the bleakest of the three tales with very little humour but lots of atmosphere and some quite shocking images. This story alone is probably responsible for the 15 certificate!
Overall, it is a fun anthology and worth watching if you are into this kind of thing. Vincent Price and John Carradine both seem to relish their roles, which is good to see and although the main substance is in the three separate stories, their linking segments are nicely done and add to the general tone. The music acts in the club are overlong and rather annoying, but they do add a good dated feel to the club scenes - far more 1970s than 1980s - and make this feel slightly different to other Amicus productions.
I enjoyed it and rated it 8 out of 10.
The Monster Club is rated a 15, runs for 104 minutes and the DVD is currently available from Amazon UK for just £5.99.
The Monster Club is a 1980 British anthology horror film directed by Roy Ward Baker and based on the works of author R Chetwynd-Hayes. The film is a last gasp attempt to get the British horror compendium film back on its feet, or at least given a fond farewell of sorts, with Amicus veterans Roy Ward Baker and Milton Subotsky heavily involved. The framing device features Vincent Price and John Carradine in a rather camp and dated bright garish nightclub/disco where all the patrons are apparently monsters of some kind - conveyed by and large by Halloween masks for (presumably) budgetary reasons. Price plays Erasmus, a kindly older vampire who, feeling a bit peckish, takes a nip of horror writer "R Chetwynd-Hayes" (Carradine) while out and about at night. Erasmus is decent enough not to take too deep a bite though and in order to show his gratitude for this welcome sup of blood he invites Chetwynd-Hayes, who he is happy to meet as one of his favourite authors, to the aforementioned club where all manner of strange things are loitering around including, most horrifically, someone called BA Robertson who performs a few musical interludes with blue face make-up and fangs (in addition to The Pretty Things) in the film with his somewhat naff and rubbish New Wave band. Chetwynd-Hayes, seeking inspiration for his stories, accepts the offer of a visit to "The Monster Club" and is shown a "monster genealogy chart" as Erasmus duly shares three spooky tales...
The first story revolves around scheming young couple George (Simon Ward) and Angela (Barbara Kellerman) who earn a living scamming and stealing from the rich. Things are not going well for this pair of con artists though - until that is they spot a job advertisement asking for someone to work in a remote stately mansion cataloging antiques. Angela is persuaded to take the job by George, who is soon plotting to steal the fortune of the mysterious and deeply reclusive employer, a ghoulish but gentle character known as Raven (James Laurenson). Angela, egged on by her heartless git of a boyfriend, pretends to be in love with Raven and the lonely bachelor eventually asks her to marry him, which makes it all the more tempting to string him along and pilfer his safe. The only problem is that Raven is a monster hybrid known as a "Shadmock" and Shadmocks have a deadly secret power which they must always suppress for reasons that will become obvious over the course of this segment. Despite the overt campiness and tongue-in-cheek nature of The Monster Club's disco framing device, the anthology does contain two genuinely creepy stories with one or two chills and this first tale (unlike the classic Amicus compendiums the separate segments are not individually titled) is one of them. The always watchable James Laurenson gives a strong and moving performance as the cursed Raven, doomed to sad isolation in his huge mansion for fear of his secret ability - which has terrifying consequences if used - manifesting itself. He's a tragic figure, shuffling around his lonely manor grounds looking after pigeons and falls hook, line and sinker for the pretty Angela's pretend affection. This segment is always interesting and includes a really good sequence set at a lavish costumed ball which adds a nice element of weirdness and scope into the story. The single most memorable moment or twist in the film, and certainly the scariest, occurs in the final scene of this story which contains a good deal of tension towards the end.
The second story is more of a comic tale and is introduced by Anthony Steel's film producer "Lintom Busotsky" (a pun on Milton Subotsky) as being based on his strange childhood. The young Lintom (Warren Saire) is bullied at school and curious to know why his father (Richard Johnson) only works at night and is never seen during the day. Even more strange is the clergyman (Donald Pleasence) who seems inordinately interested in the family. Warned by his mother (Britt Ekland) not to talk to strangers ("Beware of men with violin cases," adds his father), young Lintom gradually comes to realise his family is not like other families and may soon be in danger. Although it begins promisingly, this segment soon descends into farce and is therefore never that scary or intriguing ultimately. It comes as no surprise to learn that Lintom's father is a vampire and Pleasance and Anthony Valentine are soon after him as inept vampire hunters. The weakest of the three segments here although Richard Johnson is quite good fun while Mary Goodnight, I mean Britt Ekland, reminds us once again why she never quite managed to win that Oscar. It's nice of course to see Donald Pleasance too although this isn't one of his more memorable roles.
The final story revolves around American film director Sam (Stuart Whitman) who is looking for the perfect spooky and authentic location while shooting a horror film in Britain. "I'll find it myself at the weekend!" the frustrated Sam booms to his crew and the resulting drive takes him off the beaten track to a misty, primitive village that seems to belong to another time. Not only that but everybody there seems to be a ghoul of some sort with a fondness for digging up graves. The location is a bit too authentic for Sam who is soon eager to escape from this nutty place - with the help of friendly local ghoul Luna (Lesley Dunlop). This segment is a solid and atmospheric final addition to the anthology with an effective recurring nightmare feel and an enjoyable performance from Stuart Whitman who goes from arrogant and confident big shot film industry type to absolute scared desperation over the course of the story. The remote village location is nicely conveyed with copious use of the fog machine and the legendary and frequently barking mad Patrick Magee, veteran of Amicus compendium classics Asylum and Tales From the Crypt, also pops up in this story. The central premise here of someone becoming trapped in a strange isolated place and being apparently unable to escape is always quite effective for horror purposes - I recall reading a Pan horror short story once that was remarkably similar to this segment - and is always quite well done here with a suitably spooky twist ending.
Overall, although The Monster Club doesn't have much of a reputation and seems to have been largely forgotten in the pantheon of British compendium horror films, it's actually not a bad film on the whole with two relatively strong segments that would have been more than capable of gracing any of the Amicus films produced in their early seventies heyday. The nightclub scenes are - naturally - horribly dated but it is fun of course to see Vincent Price and John Carradine together, adding a touch of class to proceedings as they dispense various monster gibberish and even take to the dance floor at one point. The nightclub framing device does also contain an inventive cartoon striptease down to the bone and - away from BA Robertson and company - The Monster Club has a good score courtesy of John Georgiadis, Alan Hawkshaw and Amicus staple Douglas Gamley. The film suffers a little perhaps from its inconsistent tone and you'll either enjoy the naff musical interludes as a bit of camp dated fun or feel they affect the pacing of the film somewhat. While The Monster Club is hardly a classic, the presence of Price and Carradine and two decent and interesting segments make it worth a look for anyone interested in the British compendium horror film.