Late Night Clubbing -- REALLY Late


The Monster Club - 1981
Written by Edward & Valerie Abraham
from the Book by R Chetwynd-Hayes
Directed by Roy Ward Baker

It's interesting to me that The Monster Club was released only a year before Creepshow, because they're a generation apart in terms of presentation -- which isn't necessarily a bad thing for one or the other.

While not a Hammer Films production itself, it comes from production companies that did work with Hammer in the past, and falls at the end of the British horror arc defined by Hammer through the 60s and in-decline throughout the 70s, so that's the tradition of which it is a part.  As if in tribute to that history, it brings horror legends Vincent Price and John Carradine together as the vampire Erasmus and his (ahem) dinner guest, writer R Chetwynd Hayes, respectively.  Erasmus snacks on Hayes, but not enough to kill him or turn him, and then takes him out to The Monster Club to see how the night creatures enjoy the night life.  Curiously, in all of Vincent Price's career, this is the only time he ever played a vampire, and he was getting a little, shall we say... long in the tooth himself.

At the club, Erasmus delivers what initially appears to be a "chalice from the palace" schtick, explaining the hierarchy of the monster family tree, which turns out to actually be important to the three tales that are about to be told.  And therein lies the movie's main structure.  Price gets two outstanding monologues bookending three tales, each followed by a stage show at The Monster Club.

Erasmus' first tale is about a Shadmock, which evidently is not a very highly regarded crossbreed of monster.  Where "Vampires suck, Werewolves hunt and Ghouls tear" a Shadmock whistles, but "they don't do it very often," and so we will hear the story of what happens when one does.  The Shadmock in question is named Raven -- picture Javier Bardem in ghoulish stage make-up.  He has, seemingly despite his circumstances, made something of himself and lives alone in his mansion.  Having advertised for an assistant to alleviate his loneliness, he hires the beautiful young Angela, unaware that she is only there to case the joint so she and her loutish boyfriend can loot the place later.  With the soul of a poet but the face of a butt, Raven falls in love with Angela, and Angela is torn by conflicted feelings.  Somehow you just know that it's not going to end well for her ...when the Shadmock whistles.

The next story concerns an actual vampire and features actual Donald Pleasence as a by-the-book vampire hunter.  It's shown, however, from the perspective of a young boy who doesn't understand why his father sleeps all day and can't be around to play with him.  Bullied at school, he thinks he's found a sympathetic ear in the mild-mannered priest who's suddenly taken an interest in his home life.  Now granted, the sudden interest of a priest in a young boy is scary enough, but this isn't that kind of horror.  Sure enough, Dad's a vampire, and the priest is hunting him.  Will his businesslike approach to monster hunting be enough to save him?  And what of the boy?  Wha-a-at?

Getting back to the twisted genealogy of monsters, the final tale concerns a Humegoo, which is the result of a human mating with a ghoul.  An illustrated sequence (by John Bolton!) of the most action-packed part of the story explains how this came to be.  A Humegoo doesn't have any particular talents and really must lead a rather tragic life, trapped in the world of ghouls (essentially zombies in our modern context).  A film director was scouting locations when he found the most perfectly creepy isolated village, somewhere in the English countryside.  It wasn't until he decided that he needed to leave that he found out how creepy and isolated.  It turns out the village is largely populated by corpse-eating ghouls, who having cleaned out the graveyard, aren't too picky about making their own fresh corpses, given a chance.  He meets a young girl who speaks in Tonto-like broken English.  She's a Humegoo, and while she certainly has a taste for meat from the earth, she's not so sure about the killing.  Can the two of them, together, outwit a village full of ghouls?  Probably not.

Throughout the framing sequences, I kept expecting the monsters to chow down on Hayes at the end, so it came as a pleasant surprise when, in the most unexpected twist in the film, that the monsters had decided to offer him membership in the club.  This is where Price delivers his second great monologue, explaining that Man is the greatest monster of them all, with far more brutal sins to his credit than any old creatures of the night.  And thus, Hayes is inducted into their club and we get our last musical number.

Comparisons to Creepshow seem unavoidable, given their relative history and their contrasting approaches to story and humor (and that I watched Creepshow the night before).  The make-up and effects are a world apart, but where I found those to be the most redeeming factor of Creepshow, I wasn't really bothered by the antiquated stage make-up techniques and (really) old-fashioned effects in The Monster Club because the storytelling was so much better.  SO much better.

Make no mistake, The Monster Club IS still corny and the product of another time, but it manages to feel more classic in 2014 (not counting the musical numbers), where Creepshow just seems dated to me.  That being said, The Monster Club cares much, much more about storytelling and characterization.  The music is creepy and orchestral, creating classically ominous moods.  The tales have structure to them, allowing for a beginning, middle and end rather than just a set-up and a telegraphed twist.  Heck, the characters actually get just a little development, and although it's not strictly scary, it's a little bit sad when the Shadmock's heart breaks, or the boy Lintom is shoved around at school, or we recognize the loneliness of Luna the Humegoo.

While the stories tend to end as they must, they're not as blatantly predictable as Creepshow's obligatory "shock" endings.  The three tales show more variety as well, each playing on its own scale, relative to the characters involved rather than their ultimate fate.  The whole thing is just more human, more personal.

I certainly wouldn't make The Monster Club the staple of your Halloween night horror-fest, unless you're entertaining third-graders that you don't want to get overly jaded just yet.  But if you're hanging around in sweats some lazy gray Saturday afternoon, you could do a heck of a lot worse than to pass a hundred minutes with The Monster Club.

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