The Monster Club is one of Milton Subotsky’s post-Amicus productions. It is an anthology film: embedded in a frame narrative, three separate horror stories are told. The film was directed by Roy Ward Baker, director of The Vampire Lovers, Scars of Dracula, and The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires. The screenplay by Edward & Valerie Abraham is based on a novel of the same name by Ronald Chetwynd-Hayes, whose career saw a prolific output of pulpy horror stories very few of which ever made it to the screen.
In this film, the author Chetwynd-Hayes exists as a character, but he is played by John Carradine.
One fateful night, horror writer Chetwynd-Hayes runs into a man in need of nourishment. Pitying him, the writer offers to give him some money for food, but the stranger, called Eramus, is in need of a particular form of sustenance: human blood. After having refreshed himself, Eramus (Vincent Price) offers to repay Chetwynd-Hayes by leading him to The Monster Club, where Eramus believes the author will find a lot of inspiration for future stories.
This frame narrative is rather campy and entirely geared towards humour. Some of that humour works, some does not, but Price certainly carries the campy tone well. It is said to be the only time that Price ever played a vampire, and in that regard it is a bit of a waste that he only appears in the brief scenes of the frame narrative.
Over the course of its 91 minute net running time, the film tells three stories of roughly equal length, with the frame narrative taking place before, after, and in between those stories.
The first tale is played entirely straight, as a mystery-drama. Loneliness and a tragic love story are themes in this tale, and the location and the score music give it the appropriate ambience. The cast, lead by James Laurenson and Barbara Kellerman, are entirely devoted to this “straight” story, and Laurenson in particular offers an engaging earnestness and a depth in character. Unfortunately, he is a bit let down by the make-up department. His character, Raven, is meant to be a hybrid of a hybrid of a hybrid – almost human in appearance. So they merely made him look pale and darkened the area around his eyes. But we are constantly told in this story that Raven avoids contact with the outside world because he is so hideous, and we are made to believe that people recoil when seeing him. Surely some prosthetics or special make-up would have been necessary to sell that idea. As it stands, Raven looks more human than the majority of Tory MPs.
The second tale is a vampire story, but it is unfortunately by far the weakest of the three. We follow a young boy who is bullied at school for being pale and whose family home is dominated by a rather curious routine. Strangers are not allowed in the house, and his father (Richard Johnson), who “works” at night, sleeps in the basement all day long.
The story of the bullied schoolboy is told with the same earnestness as the first tale, also thanks to a great performance by Warren Saire. But the story suddenly turns rather silly towards the end. Not only does one of the vampire hunters who stalk the boy have an amusing line or two, the entire resolution of the story is silly – and far too weak to justify the long, elaborate set-up.
The story’s tone is moody and traditional, with the father’s German accent and the Hungarian-style music by John Georgiadis being the dominant stylistic elements.
The third tale is the most eery and creepy story of them all, and very well-made at that. A film director (Stuart Whitman) in search of a spooky location gets far more than he bargained for. This segment benefits from its sets, Alan Hawkshaw’s electronic score, and from the makeup and wardrobe of the villagers. The only weak points are unconvincing mist created by a poorly-positioned fog machine and the fact that the story is, all things considered, rather by-the-numbers. It is, however, the only story which seems to get the pacing right, whereas the first two feel like a rather small and simple story has been told in a rather longwinded way.
The frame narrative then concludes the film, by Price’s vampire asking the other monsters to consider accepting Chetwynd-Hayes as a member of their club, even though he is human. His argument basically begin that humans have killed millions of other humans in many “inventive” ways, so they are monsters in their own right. Therefore, Chetwynd-Hayes being human should not disqualify him from membership.
As I mentioned above, the acting in this film is very good. The fact that the campy tone of the frame narrative does not really fit the tone of the short stories (especially the first and the third one) is not the fault of the interesting cast which apart from the aforementioned actors includes people such as Britt Ekland and Donald Pleasance.
Each bit of the frame narrative – four in all – feature at least one full-length rock-song in the style of the time. Artists include The Pretty Tings, Night, and B. A. Robertson; while some work by UB40 was included in the background soundtrack. That may be a selling point for some music enthusiasts, but as it is a type of music I really do not like, these musical interludes were rather annoying for me.
Another point of disappointment are the mostly poor monster costumes that are used to represent members of the frame narrative’s Monster Club. It looks like a poorly-made fan-film trying to imitate Star Wars’ cantina scene.
I enjoyed the little asides that were peppered throughout the film, for example when Stuart Whitman’s director character remarks with a sigh: “I’ll have to sort out the whole mess in the cutting room, as usual”. Or when Chetwynd-Hayes is surprised about a film producer being a vampire and Price’s character replies: “Aren’t they all?”. Or when said film producer remarks that his story has been moved into a “modern-day setting”, as if it were an artistic decision, and Price’s character supplies Chetwynd-Hayes with a two-word explanation: “Lower budget.”
Overall, I found this film rather well-done and enjoyable, especially if you go in knowing what to expect: an anthology film whose stories differ in tone from the frame narrative – with music that much betrays its early ‘80s date of birth, while the looks and style of horror seem more rooted in the ‘70s.
So, all things considered, I am going to rate this film at 6 out of 10 – with the caveat that the actual vampire short story (the second of the three tales) is considerably weaker than that.