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Director: Roy Ward Baker
Writer: Edward Abraham and Valerie Abraham
Cast: Vincent Price, Donald Pleasence, John Carradine, and Stuart Whitman
Length: 104 min
Release Date: August 18, 2014
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Audio: English:LPCM 1.0
- Isolated music track
- Musical promo
- Gallery of stills
- Original theatrical trailer
1981 was the year of the slasher–many sub-genre greats such as The Prowler, The Burning, Evilspeak, Bloody Birthday, and My Bloody Valentine were released that year. The scene was literally saturated with new horror. Fulci also released his seminal The Beyond; memorable video nasty titles were popping up left, right, and centre–such as Lenzi’s Cannibal Ferox or Żuławski’s gargantuan epic Possession. Lest we not forget this was also the year that saw two genre defining films An American Werewolf in London and The Evil Dead unleashed on audiences. It cannot be overstated what a hotbed of activity, creativity, and excitement this period was for the genre. In amongst the throng, Amicus founder and producer, Milton Subotsky, was making a stand-in, producing The Monster Club–a film that harked back to the classically styled British horror of the former decade. The past few years had seen the virtual death of Hammer Film Productions–who, crippled financially, had resorted to TV programming by this time–and Tigon had disappeared into the abyss. Subotsky, on the other hand, in a ploy to keep things going, made The Monster Club–although, despite his association with Amicus, this is not a studio film. The Monster Club can be viewed as a statement that he was not going down without a fight. So that is how this oddly styled extravaganza of camp classic horror came to be. This is a film which represented something dead and buried at the time of its release, but, in retrospect, can be appreciated as the last battle cry for an era sadly now gone. It is also a film that has since become a cult classic for those who appreciate its kitsch seventies styling’s, despite its obvious flaws. Over the years it sadly became one of those titles that seemed to get left by the wayside by a wider audience, but now, thanks to Network, the film has been given a new lease of life.
If you consider the names featured in the cast and crew of The Monster Club, it reads like a who’s who of classic British and American sixties and seventies horror. Subotsky picked the crème de la crème of the era, and had it been made ten years earlier it is reasonable to assume it would have garnered more acclaim than it did. As it stands, when you consider the context of the genre at the time of its release, it merely represented to eighties audiences something dated. However, the film did manage to pick up an Audience Award at the 1981 Fantafestival in Rome.
Subotsky’s somewhat misguided decision to slot in a pop music angle to appeal to young, hip audiences of the time can sadly be considered the film’s biggest flaw. Essentially what you have are two very disparate themes, the wrap around story of a vampire, who lures a horror writer to ‘The Monster Club’–where eighties bands put on a show–and then a series of three portmanteau segments that are delivered in classic Amicus style. Because of this, the film carries a strange hybrid air, being neither one thing nor the other, resulting in the final product being a bit of a mishmash of themes and tonal quality.
Vincent Price stars as Eramus, a polite vampire who, after feasting on horror author R Chetwyd Hayes, decides to invite him to an exclusive club. The Vampire, on entering this club, attempts to give his new writer friend the lowdown on monster hierarchy–in an attempt to thank the Chetwyd for his donation, and help him in making his stories more realistic. The club is where these odd wrap around scenes occur, which deliver the following: a cheap array of people in costume (we are talking bargain basement quality here), and a number of musical acts, like UB40, the Pretty Things, and B.A Robertson, who put on a show for the club patrons. While all this is unfolding, Eramus sets about telling the author three different stories, which feature various incarnations of monstrous inbreeding. The result is a bizarre hotchpotch of themes in some highly entertaining anthology segments that are presented in seventies’ style. The overarching theme is a surprising one, questioning who are the real monsters? Pitting supernatural figures against their human counterparts.
While this may all seem like a bit of a disaster on paper, The Monster Club is not as bad as it seems. With a gap of thirty odd years since its initial appearance, the film no longer seems partly dated while reaching out to a young audience, because, now, it is uniform. It does carry the benefit (for classic horror fans) of seeing two genre greats, Vincent Price and John Carradine, go head-to-head. Both actors at the time were winding down their careers, and this represents some of their final moments for the genre, and therefore there is great value based on this aspect alone. It goes without saying, both actors give 110% to their performances, despite the obvious production flaws involved in this project. In fact, the pair seem to be having a ball. Other names attached to the feature are Donald Pleasance, Britt Ekland, Stuart Whitman, Simon Ward, Richard Johnson, and a very young Lesley Dunlop–who currently is known to British audiences for her role as Brenda in the hugely popular soap opera Emmerdale. All of the cast involved do their best, and regardless of the obvious budgetary constraints, The Monster Club still makes for a solid piece of British B-grade horror.
Stand out mention goes to the third and final segment, The Ghouls, a creepy and atmosphere-laden tale about a strange village with a population that feasts on dead bodies in the local graveyard. This piece is perhaps the most memorable of the three, the aforementioned Lesley Dunlop gives a sympathetic portrayal of Humghoul–half human, half ghoul–Luna, who wishes with the help of newcomer Sam (Stuart Whitman) to escape her limited existence in the village. The story comes with a great twist and tragic ending. That is not to say that the other two stories are not without merit. The Shadmock provides some camp entertainment and a brief moment of cheesy special effects in the initial story; and the third installment riffs on the old Dracula films of Hammer to provide a bit of minor comedy relief, with Britt Ekland cast as a doting housewife, and Donald Pleasance a crusading vampire slayer priest in The Vampires.
Helming the production is director Roy Ward Baker, known for, among many titles, his Hammer classics Quatermass and The Pit (1967 ), and The Vampire Lovers (1971), as well as his work on defining Amicus anthology tales Asylum (1972) and The Vault of Horror (1973). Baker, in this his last directorial spot, does a great job holding everything together, and, as a result, the film has weathered a lot better than could have been expected. Also providing skilled camerawork is Peter Jessop, who is known to fans of British horror for his work with Britsploitation legend director Pete Walker. All in all, despite the rough around the edges approach involved in the structuring, The Monster Club does carry a certain charm that will appeal to all those who love this type of horror. A pastiche in some ways of the classic features that came before, the film can now be seen and appreciated for what it is, a fun, campy celebration piece with a strong air of nostalgia.
Restored from original film elements, Network have done a brilliant job of returning this title to its original glory in a 1080p high definition package. The print is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and retains all its charm and flavor. The upgrade is strongly detailed, for example beads of sweat on skin, facial lines, and hair are displayed with bold clarity. Skin tones are well balanced and appear natural, while the use of colored lighting and some strong colors, shine from the screen. The quality of the restoration for such a low-budget feature is quite a shock to behold for any of those who have been accustomed to the previous vintage lackluster TV showings during the eighties. There does not appear to be any incidence of haloing or shadowing associated with DNR processes. One downside of this quality upgrade are those cheap looking masks and make-up now have nowhere to hide, high definition can be quite unforgiving on B-grade features in that respect; and here is a perfect example. This release is furnished with its original mono audio track. The sound levels are well mixed, and the, almost, ever present music track does not at any point threaten to overpower the dialogue. Levels do not appear to have any damage or flaws in respect to age, nor is there any distortion present in the higher vocal ranges.
The film comes with the benefit of an isolated music track, a musical promo (which is basically restored scenes from the film edited together with the main ‘Monster Club’ theme playing over the top, in music video style). There is also an original theatrical trailer included, and a gallery of stills.
This slightly obscure piece of early eighties B-grade horror is a film that has amassed quite a hardcore following of fans since its release. A fun take on classic horror, the film was a little dated in its approach for a 1981 audience, but the benefit of time has made this aspect less of an issue. A worthwhile pick up for fans of Amicus anthologies, or British seventies horror. The film boasts a strong British cast, not to mention the inclusion of two Horror icons Vincent Price, and John Carradine, and benefits greatly from this fine quality Network upgrade to blu-ray.