The Monster Club (1980)

In this horror anthology, John Carradine plays horror author R. Chetwynd-Hayes, who is admiring a display of his works in the window of a bookshop one night, when he is suddenly accosted by an emaciated vampire, Eramus (Vincent Price). When the author tells the poor unfortunate that he's happy to do anything to help him out, Eramus helps himself to a drop of Chetwynd-Hayes's blood to quench his vampiric thirst. In repayment, Eramus offers to aid the author's research and introduce him to The Monster Club, a place where ghouls, monsters and vampires hang out, drink blood and get groovy to 1980s rock music.

Britt Ekland, Richard Johnson and Donald Pleasence
Britt Ekland, Richard Johnson and Donald Pleasence

While at the club, Eramus explains to Chetwynd-Hayes the hierarchy of different monsters, from vampires and werewolves to ghouls, werevamps and shadmocks. To illustrate his points, Eramus tells Chetwynd-Hayes three stories, each featuring a different monster.

In the first story, two con artists, Angela (Barbara Kellerman) and George (Simon Ward) attempt to exploit a wealthy recluse, Raven (James Laurenson), when Angela takes a job as his secretary and archivist. Raven falls for Angela, something that she and her partner think they can exploit to get their hands on his riches. But little do they know that Raven is a shadmock, whose deadly whistle can have fatal consequences.

In the second story, a young boy, Lintom (Warren Saire), wonders what kind of work it is that his mysterious father (Richard Johnson), who sleeps in the cellar and claims to be a "night worker", actually does. When Lintom is rescued from some bullies by a mysterious clergyman (Donald Pleasence), he accidentally leads a group of cheerful vampire hunters, including Anthony Valentine and Neil McCarthy, to his slumbering father.

In the final story, Stuart Whitman plays an American film director in London, who is after the perfect location for his horror film. So he sets out to look for a creepy, atmospheric old village that he can use for filming. Unfortunately, his location recce is a little too successful, and after passing through a strange fog, he finds himself stranded in the village that time forgot, and harassed by the bloodthirsty inhabitants.

John Carradine and Vincent Price
R. Chetwynd-Hayes (John Carradine) with Eramus (Vincent Price)

Between 1965 and 1973 British film company Amicus became known for its horror film anthologies, including Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965), The House That Dripped Blood (1970), Tales from the Crypt (1972) and Asylum (1972). By the mid-1970s Amicus was moving out of the horror genre and into fantasy films like The Land That Time Forgot (1974) and At the Earth's Core (1976). But producer and Amicus co-founder Milton Subotsky was enthusiastic enough about the horror anthology format to keep making them, with or without Amicus.

The Monster Club was based on the 1975 novel by R. Chetwynd-Hayes, a now almost forgotten British horror novelist whose works were popular in the 1970s. The work of Chetwynd-Hayes had also previously provided the stories for Amicus's 1973 film From Beyond the Grave.

In the novel of The Monster Club, Chetwynd-Hayes created his own miscellany of monsters, including mocks, shadmocks, werevamps, shaddies, maddies and humgoos. In a tweak to the original novel, in the film version it is the author himself who is invited to The Monster Club by the vampire Eramus. This kind of twist was not uncommon at the time, as in John Huston's version of The Man Who Would be King (1975), that places original author Rudyard Kipling into the film's narrative, or Nicholas Meyer's Time After Time (1979), that has The Time Machine novelist H. G. Wells travelling in an actual time machine to modern day San Francisco.

The Monster Club marks a limp end to Milton Subotsky's series of horror compendiums. The film has only three stories, whittled down from the novel's five. This is instead of the usual four or five we're accustomed to seeing in Amicus's anthology films. To make up for this, the film instead pads out its running time with irrelevant musical numbers in The Monster Club itself.

The film's low budget is all too obvious, none of the stories are very interesting, and even the cast feels a little second tier. Worse, for a horror film, The Monster Club just isn't at all scary. In fact, there's very little here that would disturb your granny, or your grandchildren come to that. As a horror film, it's hobbled by Subotsky's insistence on an 'A' rating (the equivalent of a modern PG certificate), making it difficult to be either genuinely scary or gory. And at a time when an adventure film like Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) could conclude with a graphic scene of the bad guys' faces gorily melting, the "horror" of The Monster Club seems lame and tame in the extreme.

Stuart Whitman being attacked by group of people
Film director Sam (Stuart Whitman) gets friendly with the locals

Evidence of the cheese-paring budget comes in the form of the hokey and cheap masks of the supposed monsters we see in The Monster Club itself, which look as if someone just dashed down to the local joke shop and bought up their cheapest horror masks. And in a small but telling incident, a minor goof, when Stuart Whitman's character's Porsche indicates left as it leaves the main road, pulls over and then accidentally indicates the wrong way, was kept in the film. Presumably because it was considered too costly, or hardly worth the bother, of filming it again.

Disappointingly, the film doesn't deliver on its implicit promise of monsters. All we see in the individual stories are a vampire (yawn), a shadmock (just a pasty-faced guy who whistles) and some shuffling villagers. And I'm not even going to count those cheapjack monster masks we see in the club.

The best sequence in the film is one entirely illustrated by drawings. Stuart Whitman's character discovers an old journal in the abandoned church of the spooky village. In it, one of the villagers tells of how he rescued a strange creature from being killed by hostile villagers and took it in, only to find that he had brought a monster into their midst. Soon the whole village was overrun with flesh-eating creatures. These are the only moderately interesting creatures we see in the film and this sequence is the only time it approaches anything spooky or atmospheric. These drawings were by John Bolton, who also created the diagram of the monster hierarchy that we are shown earlier in the film.

There are also two okay in-jokes, which I'll repeat so you can skip the rest of the film. One character refers to a film producer who's a vampire and Price quips "Aren't they all?" And in the same scene, a film producer (Anthony Steel) says that his film is based on his own childhood, but has been given a contemporary setting. Price says to his companion by way of explanation, just a little too knowingly, "Lower budget". According to the credits, the name of the film producer is Lintom Busotsky, an anagram of Milton Subotsky, someone who obviously knew all about the different ways you could trim a film's budget down.

None of this is anywhere near enough to save the film, and by this time Milton Subotsky's brand of horror looked well past its sell by date. Subotsky's hokey conception of the horror genre was old-fashioned a decade before, but by 1980 it was comically behind the times, more like a child's idea of a horror movie. A recurring problem in Subotsky's Amicus anthologies is a tendency to head too far in the direction of spoofiness. In The Monster Club that tendency is unfortunately given free rein.

The film's one concession to contemporary tastes is the inclusion of rock music performances in the club itself. But it's obvious that these are just padding, and there's always something embarrassing about seeing old geezers trying to embrace the yoof. Worse, the film's director, Roy Ward Baker, clearly has no idea how to film these musical sequences and so just randomly zooms his camera in and out in the hope that this will add some interest (it doesn't).

Roy Ward Baker had made some high quality films and was usually credited as just Roy Baker until the late 1960s. His films included the thriller The October Man (1947), war drama The One That Got Away (1957) and Titanic drama A Night to Remember (1958). He later became associated with Hammer horror in particular, directing Quatermass and the Pit (1967), The Vampire Lovers (1970) and Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971) for Hammer and later working for their rivals Amicus, including making the horror anthologies Asylum (1972) and The Vault of Horror (1973). The Monster Club was his last feature film and marked an inauspicious end to his film directing career.

The Monster Club's few locations were all in Hertfordshire and were obviously chosen for their proximity to the film's studio base at EMI Elstree Studios. These included the village of Aldenham and Knebworth House, which plays the mansion in the shadmock story. Knebworth House is a country house in the Tudor Gothic style and has appeared in many other films and TV Series, including playing Wayne Manor in the 1989 Batman film.

James Laurenson at a country house holding a dove, with Barbara Kellerman
Raven (James Laurenson) with Angela (Barbara Kellerman)

While the cast isn't the most heavyweight to grace one of Subotsky's portmanteau horrors, it is at least eclectic, from a slightly uncomfortable John Carradine to an enthusiastic Vincent Price and an eagerly hamming Richard Johnson, by way of Britt Ekland, Stuart Whitman and reliable horror stalwarts Donald Pleasence and Patrick Magee.

Several of these actors had featured in the earlier Amicus anthologies, including Britt Ekland in Asylum and Patrick Magee in Asylum and Tales from the Crypt, while Vincent Price had previously made several films for Subotsky and Amicus, including Scream and Scream Again (1969) and Madhouse (1974). Amicus anthology regular Geoffrey Bayldon also appears as a psychiatrist in the first story. Bayldon (forever known as Catweazle to Britons of a certain age) had also appeared in The House That Dripped Blood, Asylum and Tales from the Crypt.

Unfortunately for the makers, 1980 audiences could see similar horror stories to these, only done better and shown for free on television, in the contemporary TV series Hammer House of Horror. That series ran from 1980-81 and even included Barbara Kellerman and Anthony Valentine among its performers, two cast members from The Monster Club. Although it went out under the "Hammer Horror" label it was, ironically, produced by a company called Chips Productions, who were also involved in making The Monster Club.

By this time there was also heavyweight competition in the horror stakes from films like Halloween (1978), Alien (1979), The Shining (1980) and An American Werewolf in London (1981). So it's no great surprise that The Monster Club struggled at the box office and seems to have failed to find a U.S. cinema release. The film makes a disappointing ending to Subotsky's British horror anthologies and to Roy Ward Baker's career as a film director. The only thing remarkable about it is the fact that it got made as late as 1980, when this sort of thing was a long way past its best and when its box office prospects must have been minimal.

The Monster Club

Year: 1980
Genre: Horror Anthology
Country: UK
Director: Roy Ward Baker

Cast  Vincent Price (Eramus), John Carradine (R. Chetwynd-Hayes), Anthony Steel (Lintom Busotsky), Barbara Kellerman (Angela - Shadmock story), Simon Ward (George - Shadmock story), James Laurenson (Raven - Shadmock story), Geoffrey Bayldon (Psychiatrist - Shadmock story), Donald Pleasence (Pickering - Vampire story), Richard Johnson (Father - Vampire story), Britt Ekland (Mother - Vampire story), Warren Saire (Young Lintom - Vampire story), Anthony Valentine (Mooney - Vampire story), Neil McCarthy (Watson - Vampire story), Stuart Whitman (Sam - Humgoo story), Lesley Dunlop (Luna - Humgoo story), Patrick Magee (Innkeeper - Humgoo story), Roger Sloman (Club Secretary), Fran Fullenwider (Buxom beauty), Suzanna Willis (Stripper)

Screenplay Edward and Valerie Abraham, based on the novel by R. Chetwynd-Hayes  Producer Milton Subotsky  Cinematography Peter Jessop  Production designer Tony Curtis  Editor Peter Tanner  Music John Williams, UB40, Expressos, Alan Hawkshaw, John Georgiadis, Douglas Gamley  Songs B. A. Robertson, Night, The Pretty Things, The Viewers

Running time 97 mins  Colour

Production company Chips Productions, Sword and Sorcery Productions  Distributor ITC (UK)

See also: Tales That Witness Madness (1973)


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