Saturday, 6 September 2014

The Monster Club (1980)

       There's not a lot of love around for THE MONSTER CLUB.
There are a number of very good reasons for this. Limping along in 1980 as the death rattle of a very specific subgenre (the Amicus-style British anthology horror film), it's a sad example of one man not knowing when to stop and perhaps, with his final contribution, showing he didn't really understand why the kind of film he'd popularised had worked in the first place. Milton Subotsky, Amicus producer who ended up going it alone with his self-named Sword & Sorcery Productions, should really have left the anthology format alone with FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE, one of the very best Amicus anthologies and a fine British ghost story movie in its own right. But he didn't, instead giving us the fairly hopeless cat anthology THE UNCANNY (1977) before killing the subgenre stone dead with THE MONSTER CLUB, a horror movie aimed at kids (what?) with intermittent rock music numbers from performers who had mostly crawled out from under stones for their three minutes and thirty seconds of fame when what they really should have done is remained in the damp and the dark.

On paper THE MONSTER CLUB looks great, but that's because on paper THE MONSTER CLUB was a book by R Chetwynd-Hayes, author of the collections THE UNBIDDEN, COLD TERROR & THE ELEMENTAL, from which the stories for FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE were taken. So pleased was RCH with the result of that film that he consciously wrote THE MONSTER CLUB as an Amicus movie, with a framework story tying five short stories together. It's a great book - witty in some places, disturbing and scary in others. Every now and then the silly sense of humour that marred some of his later work creeps in, but on the whole it's kept in check.
For some reason, Subotsky seems to have started with 'silly sense of humour' as his baseline. He then jettisoned all but one of the stories (The Humgoo), used the title and concept of another to come up with a completely different story (The Shadmock) and then to finish off, picked a story from COLD TERROR (My Mother Married A Vampire) and had that completely rewritten as well to come up with one of the most embarrassing segments in any British film ever. Why any of this was thought to be a good idea is anyone's guess. Suffice to say, it's the script and Subotsky's attitude to the material that kills what could have been a great movie before it even has a chance.

Against my better judgement, there's a tiny, masochistic part of me that can watch the film without cringing, simply because it IS the final bow of a subgenre I love. It's the last time we get to hear Douglas Gamley writing music for a British horror film (he does the titles and The Shadmock sequence and he does it well -this film does not deserve him). It's the last time we get a story with an Amicus-style punchy ending (The Shadmock story again and come on - it almost works). It's the last time we get to see Geoffrey ASYLUM Bayldon doing his psychiatrist routine (no producer used him better than Subotsky did). It's the last time, and by the end titles, when Vincent Price and John Carradine are dancing to that awful song amongst all those people in those shitty masks, we are glad of it. It's a movie that achieves that rarest thing of making me feel terribly sad, as well as rather stupid for having watched it.

       THE MONSTER CLUB is a film I could write about for much longer, and I have probably watched it more times than I should, mostly because every time I want it to be so much better. The opening has a bookshop window filled with actual books by R Chetwynd-Hayes who, more than anyone, embraced the Amicus style. It should have been a great start to a great film. But sadly it's all downhill from about a minute in.
        Network's Blu-ray of THE MONSTER CLUB might just look ever so slightly better than its Scorpion Releasing Region A counterpart. Extras include the option to play the film with an isolated music score, a trailer, a promo, textless title sequences and an image gallery. Someday someone is going to find that edition of ITV children’s movie show CLAPPERBOARD where Subotsky was interviewed. He had the skeleton used for the stripper animation on his desk and demonstrated at least one of the awful masks, telling the presenter about the milkman he had discovered who made them as his hobby. Or perhaps they have, but, like so much else, Milton Subotsky’s version of THE MONSTER CLUB doesn’t really deserve it.

Network released Milton Subotsky's version of THE MONSTER CLUB on Region B Blu-ray on 18th August 2014


  1. I still have a huge affection for this movie, for all the reasons you mention above, I also think it's a little better than Dr Terror's House of Horrors, so it's only the second worse of Subotsky's portmanteau films. Perhaps most of my affection comes from the fact that the first time I saw the film it wasn't as a film, but as John Bolton's comic adaptation that appeared in the newly revamped Halls of Horror. That was a much better film. Bolton did the paintings used in the flash backs of the third tale, which you didn't mention. I thought this was quite an effective tale, even with the small budget and it remains my favourite of all Hayes's stories. It really scared me when I read it in the book.

  2. I loved the movie and have secured a copy of the book and can't wait to read it. RChetwyndHayes