By Andreas Charalambous

‘The Monster Club’ is another film I watched early on as a youngster which made a big impact and contributed towards my love for the horror genre. The opening sequence where we see horrific busts of monsters displayed in the dingy shop window had me hooked instantly.

This is a weird little film, directed by Roy Ward Baker,¬†which is essentially an old-fashioned anthology, presided over by two of the genre’s iconic elder statesmen – John Carradine and Vincent Price, no less. Despite these two genre heavyweights, the film itself is a strong, yet funny film which makes clever points about human nature. Essentially, the message is “Can’t we all just get along?”. The ‘Species diagram’ displayed proudly within the Monster Club itself, charts the not-always pleasant integration of humans and monster, and is thus a metaphor for race relations.

The film itself begins with a suspiciously homoerotic encounter in a dark alley at night, next to the shop previously mentioned. Horror novelist R. Chetwynd-Hayes (Carradine) is standing at the shop window admiring a display of his latest novel and photo portrait, when he is quite literally reached out to by the famished vampire, Erasmus (Price). Erasmus asks the stranger for a rather intimate favour – to drink his blood. The writer agrees to help the vampire however he can, and after quenching his thirst, a new friendship is forged. Erasmus recognises that he has just drank the blood of one of his favourite horror authors, and in gratitude he offers to take him to a place “not too far from here” to show him a world where he could gather ideas for his future horror novels. Even at the young age I was when first viewing this film, I always wondered why Erasmus did not take the short trip to the club in the first place if he were that famished, for an ice-cold drink of blood, rather than drink from a stranger in a dark alley. Then again, this wouldn’t have made much of a film!¬†The monster club

At the Monster Club, Erasmus begins to tell the tales of men and monsters and their difficult history together.

The first story tells the tales of a lonely Shadmock who is exploited by two crooks, one being a beautiful woman named Angela. “You have no idea what meeting you has meant to me”, the tragic ghoul tells Angela, unaware of her treacherous plan. She ultimately finds out the hard way that a Shadmock’s special ability to whistle often results in a slow and painful death. Throughout this story, the Monster is portrayed sympathetically, which can’t be helped as we see him weeping from a broken heart.

The second story is a reversal of the conventional vampire tale – again showing the monster in a sympathetic light. This is essentially a family drama. A young boy is horrified to find out that his father – a vampire- is being hunted by a ruthless vampire killer (played here by another horror great, Donald Pleasance). This vampire family, immigrants from ‘the old country’, are simply trying to get on with their existence in a new world, but the vampire hunter is a bad, bad man who will not rest till he rids the world of one more blood sucker. He dresses in black – initially approaching the unsuspecting boy disguised as a vicar – and carries a violin case, and generally looks like a classic Mafia mobster, only the violin case does not contain a machine gun. Instead, it houses a stake and hammer.

This story cements the theme that monsters are a misunderstood and non-aggressive minority in society. The young boy’s vampire father’s motto is, “Feed without greed”, which suggests that although some unpleasantness has to take place in order for their survival, the vampire is not a lethal predator, as portrayed in other genre films. Fortunately for this family, the climax to the story ends happily for them. The father was smart enough to wear a stake-proof vest (I shit you not!) and the boy grows up to become a vampire film producer.

The third story of this film involves a humgoo – the result of cross-breeding between a human and a ghoul. This is an interracial monster that although primarily still human, has picked up the genetic make-up from the ghoulish side of the family tree and feeds on the dead. An unlucky horror film director is scouting for locations for his next film when he comes across a remote village which looks perfect for filming. Unfortunately for him, this village is populated entirely by ghouls. I always felt as a child that this was by far the most frightening of the stories within this anthology, and I still stand by that today. The village has a misty gateway separating it from the outside world, leading to a gloomy, frightening place with no telephones… but plenty of monsters! The director is there to exploit the locals for his film, but ultimately, the tables get turned on him.

After the final story plays out, the action settles down inside the Monster Club where Erasmus proposes Chetwynd-Hayes be allowed to join as a full member of the club. The chairman of the club – a bespectacled werewolf – protests, “But, he’s a human!” Erasmus then launches into a monologue of how humans and monster do have some common ground. He suggests that humans are probably the best of monsters. stating that in the past sixty years they have destroyed millions of their own kind. When questioned what special abilities a human has, seeing as they do not have fangs or claws… or whistle(!) Erasmus explains that the human has invented guns, tanks, extermination camps and atomic bombs. This logic is accepted by the rest of the monsters and so the first human is admitted as full member to The Monster Club.

To celebrate this, we are treated to Carradine and Price ‘getting down’ on the dance floor as yet another monstrous band (each story within the film is separated by a band playing live on stage in the club) plays on into the night.

The 1970s was probably the great age of British horror anthologies, with films such as ‘Tales from the Crypt’ (1971) and ‘Asylum’ (1972) amongst others, but ‘The Monster Club’ makes a good showing for the 1980s… rubber-masked disco-dancing monsters, and all!

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