Sunday, 11 January 2015

Horror Anthology - The Monster Club (1981)

Following on from the Amicus series of horror anthology films produced during the 1960s and 1970s, director Roy Ward Baker decided he wanted to make another film in a similar vein, having directed both "Asylum" and "The Vault of Horror" (he had also worked with many of the actors before whilst directing numerous "Hammer Horror" films). Filmed in 1980 and released in cinemas in 1981, the film ended up being a major flop, as it was unable to secure distribution in the US, and critics savaged its low production values, camped up acting and bizarre musical sequences. The film ended up becoming a small cult hit in later years, following its release in video and an intermittent place in the late night film schedules.

As is the norm for anthology films, the story of "The Monster Club" consists of three short stories, linked by a framing story...

Late one night in London, a man (John Carradine playing a fictionalised version of British horror author R. Chetwynd-Hayes  whose book "The Monster Club" served as the basis for this film ) is approached by what appears to be a drunken tramp (Vincent Price) who claims to be starving. The man offers to get the tramp some food, to which the tramp responds by biting the mans neck.
When he comes to, the now revitalised tramp introduces himself as the vampire Erasmus, and, as a token of thanks for his "small donation", he offers to take the man to an exclusive gentlemans club for drinks, the man, still in shock from being bitten, accepts.
Erasmus takes the man to "The Monster Club", a private club where various supernatural creatures drink, dance and make merry. They sit at a table and are served with drinks, Erasmus complains that the glasses of blood they have been served aren't as good as the fresh stuff, but better than nothing. 
They talk a while and then Erasmus directs the mans attention to a picture on the wall, showing how the various types of monsters can interbreed and create new creatures with characteristics and powers in a class of their own, although all hybrid monsters are descended in some fashion from the "big three", Vampires, Werewolves and Ghouls.
The man points to a creature at the bottom of the pecking order called a "Shadmock", saying he has never heard of them before, so, Erasmus tells him a story about one...

The Shadmock
 Angela and her controlling boyfriend are in serious financial trouble. While Angela tries to find a job, the boyfriend spends all his time plotting to steal or swindle money from somewhere, but both of them agree that all they need is one "really good chance" to get some money from somewhere and they will be well away.
The chance comes when Angela responds to an advertisment for a librarian from a mysterious man named "Raven".
Raven lives alone in a secluded manor house, with only birds for company, he explains that he does not have any friends and his family members are scattered all over the world, so he doesn't see anyone that often. As he offers Angela the job, she sees his face for the first time, he is hideous to her, with a pallid complexion and sunken, blackened eyes, but she accepts the job after being persuaded to by her boyfriend who realises that Raven is actually quite rich, and they would probably be able to steal from him.
Time passes, and Raven goes about his odd daily routines of playing with his birds in the gardens while Angela cleans and tidies the house, however one day a stray cat makes its way into the garden and kills one of Ravens birds. He is so distraught by the loss of the bird he reveals his dark power...anything he whistles at is burnt by hell fire, as Angela discovers when she finds the burning remains of the cat when she investigates what the strange high pitched whistling sound is.

Raven eventually shows Angela his safe, which contains money, gold and jewels worth millions, but Raven says he would trade it all for love, he then asks Angela if she will marry him.
Angelas boyfriend is delighted at this news, he tells her to say she will accept on the proviso that Raven gives her a 3000 year old ring he showed her as an engagement ring, then, when Ravens family are invited to their engagement party, she is to slip away, open the safe and steal as much money as she can carry and make a run for it. Angela reluctantly agrees.

Raven is overjoyed when Angela says she will marry him, and has no hesitation about giving her the ring she asks for, he also says he will have a masked ball to celebrate their engagement, with everyone wearing masks as some of his family members may be a bit much for her to take.
On the night of the party, Raven tries awkwardly to explain to her that he is not a Human, but a Shadmock, but fails and says his uncle, a werewolf, might be able to explain it better than he can.
As the assembled guests dance and make merry, Angela slips away and begins rifling through the safe, but Raven catches her in the act. He tells her that the riches he has accumulated over the centuries mean nothing to him, and if she wants to take it all and give it away then she can do so if that what she want to do, but he still wants to marry her, and hopes that despite his odd appearance, she could still love him. Angela says she was only ever interested in the money, and tells him that she could never love a creature like him, heartbroken, Raven starts to whistle....

Angelas boyfriend hurriedly packs their things, ready for Angela returning to him with untold wealth.
The door to their flat swings open, and Angela, wearing a hooded cloak, enters and runs straight for a dark corner, the boyfriend asks if she has the money, to which she simply replies "you could still love me", before removing her hood and revealing that Ravens whistle has reduced her face to being a charred, oozing and repulsive mess. Angela walks towards the boyfriend, pleading with him to love her, he stands there speechless and horrified, and the sight drives him into an incurable state of catatonic insanity.
Back at his mansion, Raven is comforted by his assembled family members......

After a brief musical interlude, Erasmus and the man further discuss the intricacies of monsters. The man asks if monsters can breed with humans, Erasmus replies that they can, just then, a man takes to the stage and introduces himself as the famous film director Lintom Busotsky (an anagram of the films producer, Milton Subotsky, whom was also responsible for many the "Amicus" anthology films), who has come to the club that night to show the patrons an excerpt from his latest film, which is a semi autobiographical account of his own childhood....

The Vampires
Lintom is relentlessly bullied at school. Despite having both a mother and a father, he rarely sees his father as he works at night, and spends most of the day sleeping in his private room in the cellar of their house. He asks his mother (Britt Ekland) what his father does for a living, but she is unable to give him a straight answer. When his father finally awakes that night, he asks him the same question, to which his father replies that he "takes a little food from those who have lots of it for the betterment of all", Lintom assumes this to mean his father works in the food industry in some fashion, but is still unhappy as he is unsure why his father must always work at night and sleep all day. The father avoids going into further detail but offers one piece of advice to his son...avoid men in suits who carry violin cases... however, before he can elaborate on this bizarre statement, Lintoms mother steps in and says now is not the time to be discussing the family business.
The next day, his mother tells him that his father came from eastern Europe, where he is a count, making her a countess and Lintom a viscount, Lintom finds this news pleasing, however later when he blurts out his new found noble heritage in front of the bullies at school, it just earns him further teasing.
While the bullies are delivering a beating to him, a man wearing a suit shoos the boys away and save Lintom from being attacked. The man, who introduces himself as Pickering (Donald Pleasence), says he will escort the boy home, but Lintom refuses when he sees Pickering is wearing a suit and carrying a violin case.
As Lintom arrives home that night, he finds that Pickering and a few other men similarly attired, have followed him home in a van, where they burst in and demand that they be taken into the cellar.
While down there, they find Lintoms father, who is revealed to be one of the last vampires in England, asleep in a coffin. Pickering and his men methodically proceed to stake him through the heart, but, just as Pickering leans over the vampires body to make sure it is dead, Lintoms father sits up and bites Pickering, drinking deeply, before passing out.
Pickering recoils in horror, and demands that his men get him to a hospital quickly, but, as Lintoms mother points out, as he has been almost completely drained of blood, he too is now a vampire, and thus Pickerings men, who are all a gang of inept vampire hunters, are duty bound to destroy him by staking him through the heart too!. Pickerings men grab him and stake him there and then, despite Pickerings best efforts to try and escape, and once they are sure he is dead, they put him on a stretcher and carry him out to the van, apologising for any inconvenience they have caused.
Lintom and his mother return to the cellar to mourn, however, Lintoms father sits up and pulls the stake from his chest, revealing that he, being the cleverest vampire in England, had always been one step ahead of Pickering and his men, and thus always wore a stab proof vest under his shirt, with a bag of tomato ketchup over it to make it look like blood. He turned Pickering into a vampire because he wanted him to know what it felt like to be as despised as he was, and the plan had worked, and, with Pickering gone and his gang believing him to be dead, he was now free to live a proper life without having to watch his back all the time....the family rejoice.

After another musical interlude, the man declares that he must leave, as he has things he should be doing. Erasmus wont hear of it and implores the man to stay, offering to tell him another tale of monster life...

The Ghouls
A temperamental movie director is scouting for locations to use in his latest film when he comes across the quaint village of Loughville in Norfolk. He asks around to see if anyone can give him permission to use the village as a shooting location, but the dim witted locals aren't much help. As he tries to leave, he finds his car wont start, and when he checks the engine, he finds that it has been smashed beyond repair, he demands an explanation for this, but is told he cannot be allowed to leave, and is then promptly knocked unconscious.
He awakes to find himself locked in an unkempt room, his only company being a young woman called "Luna" who brings him food. He notices that her clothing appears dishevelled, and she replies by saying that it came "from the boxes, just like most of the food they have does". As it turns out, the boxes she mentions are in fact coffins, unearthed from the local cemetery, and Loughville is actually a village inhabited by ghouls.
Luna herself is only half ghoul (a "huugoo"), as her mother was an outsider. Her mother died when Luna was born, and, after she was put in a box, she was dug up a year later and was "good eating!". Luna explains that the local cemetery has now been emptied, and the ghouls have taken to kidnapping outsiders in order to replenish their food supply, with the director being their next meal once they've killed him and buried him for a while.
The man balks at this and says he intends to escape, Luna says she will help him provided he takes her with him to the outside world, where she has heard they have nice clothes and the London underground has some really "good eating" (it is explained huugoos are human in every respect apart from they have an almost insatiable craving for human flesh), she tells him to hide in the church, because the ghouls cant enter it, then during the day, they will sneak away.
The ghouls rumble this plan though, and as Luna and the man try to escape, Luna is killed. The man manages to escape to a motorway, where he is picked up by a police car, unfortunately for him though, the police men are ghouls, and they just take him straight back to Loughville, where he is still on the menu for the ghouls upcoming feast.

The man says it is now definitley time for him to leave, and he thanks Erasmus for his hospitality, Erasmus stops him from leaving, and says that as a further token of his gratitude, he will make him an honorary member of the club. The club secretary, a werewolf, and most of the assembled clientele, object, as the man is a mere human, and not a monster in any way, but Erasmus explains that humans, despite not having fangs, claws or supernatural powers of any description, have somehow managed to come up with the most horrible weapons and devices of torture imaginable, and, that in the previous 60 years, humans have managed to find many and creative ways to kill off 150 million of their own kind. To sum up, humans are the biggest monsters of all.
The assembled monsters are won over by this logic, and welcome the man to their number, while the resident band plays another song to welcome him.

The film itself fails miserably to be a "Horror" film, as the story lines wouldn't be out of place in a childrens film, minus the odd bit of gore of course.
The scenes featuring Price and Carradine are superbly acted, with the two veterans hamming it up almost as if they were trying to out-ham each other, however the musical interludes, where the monster clubs resident bands play a series of songs, are just cringeworthy in the extreme, as numerous "monsters", most of whom are just wearing unconvincing rubber masks, disco dance. Most cringeworthy of all is that at the end, Price and Carradine join in with the poorly co-ordinated dance routines.

Of the three stories featured in the film, "The Ghouls" is probably the best, however "The Shadmock" is the most disturbing, simply for the "reveal" scene at the end which features Angelas disfigured face.

Its no surprise that to many, this film marked the end of Subotskys career as a biggish film producer. Although he did produce numerous other films and TV productions after this films release, none of them were ever "big".

A semi famous anecdote about this film states that when Christopher Lee was approached for the role of R.Chetwynd-Hayes, he refused to even look at the script after being told the films' name, so too did Peter Cushing when he was approached for a role. Also, this film marks the one, and only time that Vincent Price played a vampire in a film, despite starring in numerous vampire films in the past.

One thing I liked about this film was the portion of the sound track played in "The Ghouls", which featured some electronic music that was particularly catchy.

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