Color, 1980, 98m.
Directed by Roy Ward Baker
Starring Vincent Price, John Carradine, Donald Pleasence, Stuart Whitman, Richard Johnson, Barbara Kellerman, Britt Ekland, Simon Ward, Anthony Valentine, Patrick Magee, James Laurenson
Scorpion (Blu-Ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), Pathfinder (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.781:), Network (UK R2 PAL)
This fun, still underrated ghoulish anthology film is often regarded as a footnote in the history of Amicus Films, the biggest British horror movie competitor to Hammer and source of such beloved omnibus titles as Tales from the Crypt and Dr. Terror's House of Horrors. Producer Milton Subotsky, one of the two founders of Amicus, mounted this as a sort of last hurrah and essentially a sequel to the company's last official anthology, From Beyond the Grave, which was based on stories by writer R. Chetwynd-Hayes.
His work also serves as the source here, though in a novel twist, actor John Carradine actually plays Chetwynd-Hayes and gets in on the action right from the start when he bumps into a vampire and gushing fan (Price) who gives him a nip on the neck and takes him to meet a bunch of real-life monsters at the title club. Surrounded by monsters (mostly extras in Halloween masks) and accompanied by colorful glam rock and post-punk music acts, Price rattles off a trio of stories about the often unpredictable secrets lives of monsters. First up is the story of a Shadmock, a sort of mongrel monster endowed with a deadly whistle. An institutionalized guy named George (Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed's Ward) has just had a run in with one, apparently, involving a scam he planned with his girlfriend, Angela (Kellerman), to bilk a rich recluse (Laurenson) with a fondness for birds and masked balls. Needless to say, their plan hits a very nasty snag.
Next is the obligatory comic segment with a vampire hunter named Pickering (Pleasence) setting his sights on the half-bred son of a vampire (Zombie's Johnson) and a human (The Wicker Man's Ekland). It all builds to an incredibly silly punch line, though you do get to see Pleasence hamming it up at full throttle, which is always amusing. Finally in the third and best tale, an American movie director (Eaten Alive's Whitman) goes down the wrong road during an afternoon drive and ends up in a cursed, foggy village populated by flesh-eating inhabitants (including Patrick Magee, so you know something's off right away). Aided only by the one apparently rational girl in the area ( a humgoo, or half human/half ghoul), he holes up in a church in a harrowing fight to stay alive. Boasting rich atmosphere straight out of Horror Hotel and a terrific electronic score by stock music veteran Alan Hawkshaw, this one is worth the price of admission all by itself.
At least in concept, The Monster Club sounds like it should be a mess as it combines veteran horror actors with club sequences that feel like an unholy collision of The Muppet Show and Rocky Horror. Somehow the whole crazy thing works though, especially during the great striptease sequence (which is strictly PG-rated but something you'll never forget) and the terrific chemistry between Price and Carradine, both clearly having a blast. On top of that it's also a unique snapshot of the British music scene as it was transitioning to new wave, complete with appearances by names as diverse as the Pretty Things (doing the title song near the end), UB40, and B.A. Robertson. Of course, it's the song "Monsters Rule OK" that will really stick in your head, so it's no surprise that one gets played twice.
Despite plentiful coverage in monster mags at the beginning of the 1980s, The Monster Club wasn't destined to play American theaters thanks to the demand at the time for more graphic slasher films. Instead it went straight to TV and popped up on VHS from ThrillerVideo, complete with wraparounds featuring Elvira. In 2006 the film appeared on DVD in both the U.S. (non-anamorphic widescreen) from Pathfinder and the U.K. (full frame) from Network, with the former winning out thanks to the inclusion of the trailer, a welcome rip of the rare soundtrack LP in glorious stereo, and a hidden video interview with actor Sean Barry-Weske, who plays one of the ghouls in the third segment. There's also a completely disposable audio commentary by "fans" Luke Y. Thompson and Gregory Weinkauf, neither of whom have much to say. The transfer itself was passable at the time but nothing special, with pale black levels and muted colors.
While completists may want to hang on to their Pathfinder DVDs just for the extras, that release is handily stomped into the ground by the 2013 reissue from Scorpion on DVD and Blu-ray, the latter featuring a stunningly beautiful transfer that truly makes this feel like an entirely different film. Licensed from ITV and obviously several generations higher in quality, it looks stunning from start to finish with eye-popping colors and far better detail and black levels. It's easily the best-looking release from Scorpion to date and impressive enough to win over converts who were never too fond of this film in the past. The DTS-HD mono audio sounds excellent as well, with an optional isolated music and effects track thrown in, too. The film also be played as part of the label's "Katarina's Nightmare Theater" line with hostess Katarina Leigh Waters (and her porcine companion Mr. Pickles, here in a Dracula cape) bouncing around to "Monsters Rule OK" and offering the usual avalanche of trivia about the folks in front of and behind the camera. Apart from the theatrical trailer and a handful of bonus previews (Grizzly, House on Sorority Row, Death Ship, Day of the Animals), the extras are all Vincent Price-centric with the participation of David Del Valle (returning from his gig on Scorpion's Tower of Evil). First up is a 62-minute video interview with Price from 1987 around the same time as The Whales of August, basically a career-spanning overview with the genial icon of the macabre obviously in good spirits. This one was previously released on DVD as the centerpiece of Vincent Price: The Sinister Image, and on a similar note, there's also an audio interview with Price and Del Valle covering some more of his memories on some of his horror projects, running 40 minutes. Then Del Valle returns again for a new HD featurette (10 minutes) with Waters in which he chats more about Price on a personal level, talking about his time hanging out with the legendary star and discussing what a good person he was (which seems to be the consensus of everyone who worked with him). Finally the packaging sleeve also contains liner notes on the reverse side by DVD Drive-In's George Reis (updated from his notes on the prior U.S. DVD), a thorough overview of the film's musical highlights and the connections of the director and cast members to the glory days of Amicus.
Reviewed on October 9, 2013.