Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Monster Club (Great Britain, 1980)

This portmanteau film — that's golden-snot vocabulary for anthology film — is the final feature film directorial effort by Roy Ward Baker (Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde [1971] and The Legend of Seven Golden Vampires [1974]) and, contrary to what many people believe, is not an Amicus Productions. The vignettes are based on the tales of the British horror author R. Chetwynd-Hayes — as is the final Amicus anthology movie, From Beyond the Grave (1973 / trailer) — and John Carradine, the headlining star alongside Vincent Price, plays the author in, clearly, a fictionalized form.
An enjoyable if less than stellar effort, The Monster Club is a highly uneven ride that is at times entertaining and at times excruciating, almost never truly scary but often good for a laugh — as it was obviously intended to be — and enjoyable above all simply for the presence of the two headlining Old Masters, Carradine and Price, during the interlocking scenes. Neither seems to be trying to hard, but then they don't have too: they exude a relaxed and lightly wry presence achieved by years of experience and practice, and are a pleasure to watch and hear. They seem to be having fun, and it carries over to the viewer. 
Elsewhere, during the horror vignettes themselves, other favorite faces show up occasionally for the ride as well; Elke Sommers (Hotel der toten Gäste [1965] and Flashback – Mörderische Sommer [2000]), Donald Pleasance, Patrick Magee (Dementia 13 [1963 / trailer / full movie] and The Masque of the Red Death [1964]), and Stuart Whitman being the immediately recognizable ones for us here at A Wasted Life. This in turn also helps make the somewhat mundane and less than spectacular tales more palatable. Indeed, if the vignettes are examples of the horror that R. Chetwynd-Hayes wrote, the movie hardly inspires one to search out his work. Still, there are worse stories (and movies) out there... 
The wrap-around sequence concerns the elderly horror author Chetwynd-Hayes (John Carradine) who is out and about one night enjoying the sight of his books in a bookstore window when Eramus (Vincent Price), a starving vampire fan, takes a lite lunch from him and then invites Chetwynd-Hayes to the titular Monster Club as a form of repayment and possible inspiration. (The idea of such clubs was used again later, of course, in both the TV series Buffy (1997-2003) and its spinoff Angel (1999-2004), not to mention the monster of all monster-club movies, From Dusk to Dawn [1996 / trailer].) The place is hilarious, intentionally of course, as the whole movie does not really try hard to be serious at all, but one must say that the monster masks look less burlesque or humorous than simply badly made and dirt cheap. But the dilettantish execution of the masks reflects the general mood of the film, as The Monster Club, which doesn't really have a nasty bone in its body, is definitely aimed more at pre-teens with an odd sense of humor than anything else.
Eramus sits down to his glass of blood, Chetwynd-Hayes to his tomato juice (so as to look less conspicuous), and we are treated to a rather long lecture on the family tree of monster interbreeding, the concept that is common to all three stories, which feature characters of different mixed blood. The first tale, "The Shadmock", is perhaps the ickiest one of them all, if only because it is so sad that a beauty like Angela (Barbara Kellerman of Satan's Slave [1976 / trailer]) meets the fate that she does, while her slimebag boyfriend (Simon Ward of Deadly Strangers [1975 / full movie], Dominique [1979 / trailer], Holocaust 2000 [1977 / a trailer] and Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed! [1969 / trailer]) only ends up insane. The "monster" of the segment, the "shadmock" Raven (James Laurenson of Assault [1971 / trailer]), looking much like a first cousin of the Addams Family, is more tragic than terrible, and in the longer run is perhaps in greater need of a good shrink than a girlfriend. (Some websites claim that Klaus KIinsky had been offered and turned down a role in The Monster Club; it is easy to imagine that this may have been the part.) 
The middle section, "The Vampires", introduced by an chuckle-inducing swipe at film producers, is perhaps the weakest if funniest of them all, and features both Donald Pleasance (Raw Meat [1972], Prince of Darkness [1987], The Mutations [1973]  and Django II  [1987]) as a vampire hunter, Eklund as a human vampire bride, and Richard Johnson (of Zombies II [1979 / trailer], The Haunting [1963 / trailer], Beyond the Door [1974 / trailer], The Comeback [1978 / trailer], The Great Alligator [1979 / German trailer], The Night Child [1975 / trailer] and much more) as the absentee vampire father; the first twist at the end is rather effective and funny, the second twist only gives the viewer the feeling that the filmmakers wanted their cake and to eat it, too. In other words, it is less funny than simply too much and actually damages an already too-humorous segment... Still, kids who like happy ending will like it. 
And then comes the final tale, "The Ghouls", featuring Patrick Magee as one of the bad ghouls and Stuart Whitman (of Eaten Alive [1977 / trailer], Night of the Lepus [1972 / trailer], Ruby [1977 / trailer], Devil's Hand [1981 / trailer], Horror Safari  [1982 / trailer], Welcome to Arrow Beach [1974 / trailer] and Deadly Intruder      [1988 / trailer]) as the director in search of a shooting location. If one overlooks the one blaring flaw of the story — the ghouls can't stand the cross yet have for years taken dinner from a graveyard full of cross tombstones* — it is perhaps the most successful of the lot: blackly humorous and extremely fatalistic, it is horrendous even as it tries not to be overly serious. It comes the closest, in our opinion, to the tales found in the classic EC comic books, which were, as everyone knows, the biggest influence on the British (if not most) anthology horror film as of the 1960s and 70s.
Two other highpoints of the movie include Price's closing monologue, a convincing argument that humans are far more the true monster on the world than all other monsters combined, and a funny striptease (done by an unknown Suzanna Willis) to some group called Night that we have often seen as a GIF but had never previously known whence it came. It gets a good laugh from those who don't know it — and almost as good of one from those who do. It is also the only music interlude that doesn't make the viewer cringe...
Stevie (Vann) Lange  of Night sings — The Stripper Scene:
Speaking of the music interludes: they are biggest flaw of the movie, and The Monster Club would well have been better served had they been dumped in favor of a forth episode. But they are there, and they are not good, almost as bad as those found in Night Train to Terror (1985), but instead of only one crappy new wave group (as in the legendary Night Train), in The Monster Club there are four or maybe more — we've tried desperately to forget — and they are not all new wave, old wave or of any wave at all. The oldest wave is of course The Pretty Things, who show up for a song and thus only reveal how deep of a commercial rut they were already in when the movie came out. The best number is of course that of the token female singer Stevie Lange, but as killer as her voice is, like all the songs in the movie, it's not like you will find yourself really wanting to hear it again. 
But good or bad, the crappy music is made worse by the fact that Roy Ward Baker, while a serviceable and experienced director more than capable of making a professional if almost generically-styled movie, obviously hadn't the foggiest clue of how to film music videos despite obviously trying to do so whenever the bands are on stage. He fails completely: never once looking to Russ Meyer or Eisenstein (MTV wasn't around for another year) for a clearer concept of montage and quick edit, or even trying to combine the song to the image or edit, he instead opts to do nothing special or, for one blue-faced guy (a laughably serious and miserable B. A. Robertson singing a generic-sounding 80s new wave turd entitled Sucker For Your Love), going crazy with the zoom — and, by doing so, managing to show the world, if only due to comparison, that Jess Franco as actually a master of the zoom. Major ouch. The songs and technique are a far cry from, say, the equally dated but nevertheless successful appearance of Bauhaus in The Hunger (1983 / trailer) singing Bela Lugosi Is Dead.
Opening titles to The HungerBela Lugosi Is Dead:
The Monster Club: fun enough but hardly earthshaking, its plus points outweigh its flaws, but on the whole it is not the best movie of the director or of any of the familiar faces found in it. Go in with low expectations, and you might enjoy it, but we for one can't help but wonder why it should enjoy some sort of cult popularity...
*Actually, there are really so many other small logical flaws in every narrative that one really has to decide to consciously ignore them or the entire movie will become somewhat of a drag.
B. A. Robertson singing Sucker For Your Love:

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