I saw The Monster Club in the cinema when it came out. My mum took me to see it in a double bill with The Giant Spider Invasion in which the main giant spider is quite obviously a VW Beatle with black ‘legs’ attached to it. The Monster Club with whistling vampires, zombie strippers and a whole village of ghouls was clearly the better film. Another point worth mentioning is that it was an “AA” certificate which at the time meant over 14s only. I was nine and clearly my mum cared less about the laws of the land and more about a small boy’s happiness. I have a very great mum.
The Monster Club, following in the footsteps of Amicus’ Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror is an anthology of weird stories, this time with a wrap around tale involving John Carradine being bitten by vampire Vincent Price. After Price has taken a pint, the two old hams find they get on rather well so the vampire takes his victim to his private members’ club.
There is a concept painting in the background of the closing credits which shows off the Monster Club of the film, it’s all wild bands with a werewolf having a cocktail with Dracula while various hideous fiends dance around drunk. It’s a great, macabre work of art, and I imagine it was used to sell the idea for the film. If they had have made thismonster club I imagine we’d be watching a very different film. However a lack of time and budget seems to have scuppered this. The club we are presented with is like a poorly thought out school disco. There are dreadful, forgotten bands playing between each story. Because it’s 1980 there’s a mixture of new wavers and light rockers singing songs with terrible puns like “I’m a sucker for your love” or just outright monster references like “Monsters rule Okay?” (God, I think I loved that song when I was little, but have chosen to blank it out it until now) Meanwhile Price and Carradine talk embarrassingly about how much they like the songs, like a couple of unhip granddads. And then we have to listen to the whole bloody song – three minutes or more and they are all crap. The only highlight of this section is a bizarre bit where a stripper performs during an elongated guitar solo and, using traditional cell animation, she strips off her skin until she’s just a bunch of bones dancing around. It’s actually kind of charming.
What ain’t so charming are the other guests at the club. Looking at the various creatures, dancing around the tacky discotheque, the main words which spring to mind are “cheap”, “ill-fitting” and also, surprisingly, “spandex”. Basically the monsters are extras wearing cut-price, badly made masks and stumbling around in shiny leotards. And when I say badly made I mean you can see the actors’ skin through the eyeholes and the necks aren’t even tucked into the costumes, so they look just like the crappy masks they indeed are. One guy spends the entire time pretending to rub his chin, as if out of some intellectual curiosity about the proceedings, but it is blindingly obvious that he is just trying to stop his mask falling off. This monster club won’t be getting me as a member.
The three stories are a different matter. The first concerns a monster known as a Shadmock. The Shadmock, played by James Laurenson, is a rich, pale looking fella who loves pigeons but would rather have human company. Enter Barbara Kellerman, whose boyfriend wants her to scam the poor old creature and nick everything he’s got. Of course the Shadmock falls in love with Barbara and her Kate Bush hairstyle and as his sinister power is making things melt when he whistles, you know it’s all going to end in big blobby tears (of flesh). This isn’t a bad little story, Laurenson acts his socks off playing a rather pathetic character raising the game to create a genuinely sad little tale. The fact that he looks like Lon Chaney in The Phantom of the Opera adds to the creeping tragedy. It’s a shame that this story is blasted through in about ten minutes so we can get back to club and more bad singing. A bit more time allotted to develop the characters would have increased the emotional impact; still, it’s not a bad start.
This is more than can be said for the second story, about a boy who lives with his parents and rarely sees his dad because he “works the nightshift”. This vampire tale is meant to be a comedy but its jokes are so poor I’m not sure who would find it funny. The great Donald Pleasance pops up, but even he can’t elevate the proceedings and Ingrid Pitt has nothing to do as the boy’s mother, so much so that her character doesn’t even get a name. Thankfully, this tale is also rather brief, although the relief is short lived as we are then forced to hear a song sung by the woman who used to sing the Bodyform tampon advert them tune. This is the most horrific moment of the movie.
The final tale, thank god, is probably the highlight of the film. A Hollywood horror producer goes to check out an old English village as a potential location and comes a cropper to the ghouls who’ve been living there for years, surviving on the corpses in the graveyard. The ghouls themselves aren’t really seen, only the grey looking villagers who are never explained very well and have a bit of the Monty Python medieval extras feel about them. It should all be a bit silly, and okay it kind of is, but the village itself has a real sense of something horrible happening and of having happened here. This is most noticeable in a flashback scene using drawings by John Bolton (who used to work on 2000 A.D. Comic in its heyday… okay when I read it).
They show what happened to villagers when the ghouls first arrived and this has a rather nasty but authentic feel about it. There’s also a good sense of a larger story going on, although this is not explored much because we have to go back to that loopy club and those stupid extras in rubber masks, again…
Okay, so ultimately The Monster Club isn’t really up to very much and maybe it would be better to have left the film just as a lovely memory I have about my mum. But it’s there now, I’m stuck with it. It has a few moments and four horror icons doing their thing, five if you include the Lon Chaney impersonator. But don’t expect me to go back to the other film in that double bill. Even at nine I knew that The Giant Spider Invasion was a load of old shit.