John Rowall takes a look at Network’s new Blu-Ray of a late anthology movie from the indefatigable Milton Subotsky.
Based on the book of the same name and placing a fictionalised version of the real-life author R. Chetwynd-Hayes at the centre of the storyline, The Monster Club represents the last in the family line of the portmanteau horror films that were a staple of Amicus Productions from the mid 60s to the early 70s. Whilst strolling around town, Ronald Chetwynd-Hayes (John Carradine) happens upon, and is then attacked by, an ailing stranger who reveals himself to be a vampire in the process. The attack itself is a brief, relatively bloodless affair as the vampire, Eramus (Vincent Price), reveals his benign intentions as merely an attempt to recover his strength having been long without sustenance. Complimenting Ronald on the quality of his blood, Eramus is delighted to discover that his ‘donor’ is none other the celebrated R. Chetwynd-Hayes, and is sufficiently honoured to request Ronald’s company as his guest at a private members’ establishment known as The Monster Club. Here Eramus takes the opportunity to introduce Ronald to an underground world of vampires, werewolves and ghouls, and through a series of tales educates him on their genealogy.
From a promising start the film quickly runs into problems from which it never recovers. Within the horror genre even the best portmanteau films tend to be uneven affairs by virtue of their structure, however assuming the component parts are strong enough the end product need not be fatally flawed. The major issue here is that not only are the individual stories weak, lacking any substantial atmosphere, menace, scares or even genuine laughs, but the Monster Club conceit which anchors the whole piece is the worst offender of the lot, in the main eschewing horror for comedy and falling well short on both counts. The club setting has the look and feel of a garish school disco peopled almost exclusively by extras in fancy dress and exhibiting a tone that can be most kindly described as tiresomely frivolous. To top it all off the decision to pad out the action with the inclusion of a succession of dire pop songs from long since forgotten acts must be the most egregious misstep of the lot.
In hindsight this only serves to sound the death knell of a certain type of horror cinema desperately attempting to modernise a tired, dated format and make it relevant for a younger audience who had most likely moved on to more visceral thrills being offered up elsewhere. Ironically such artistic and aesthetic choices only conspire to stymie the best moments of the film. In particular during his climactic rallying cry for humanity to take their rightful place as members in the Monster Club, Eramus eloquently advocates the case for the human race due to their unrivalled capacity for violence, cruelty and wanton destruction. This stirring speech is Price’s finest scene in the film yet the pathos of the moment is completely undercut as we segue swiftly into another musical number requiring Price and Carradine to dance with the other club patrons. Whilst both men appear to take all this in their stride, positively revelling in the toe-curling awfulness of it all, it is safe to say that in a film which fails to hit its marks so consistently, this is where the real horror of The Monster Club truly lies.
Whether such an undistinguished feature deserves such reverential treatment is debatable but Network have done a fine job with the transfer. Presented in its OAR of 1.85:1, The Monster Club looks in excellent shape; rich in detail, blacks are solid, colours are vibrant, and grain is well balanced. Similarly the LPCM Mono soundtrack feels robust and punchy delivering dialogue and music clearly and consistently.
Extras comprise an isolated music score, original theatrical trailer (and a textless alternative) and an image gallery. Additionally there are also textless film elements comprising a section of the opening scene (without sound) and end credits sequence as well as a Monster Club promo piece which is an extended montage sequence of film highlights – none of which add any real value to the overall content.
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