Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Greatest Monsters of All


John Carradine, Vincent Price and friend 
fail to liven up this banal portmanteau.

PRODUCED by former Amicus supremo Milton Subotsky and directed by Hammer veteran Roy Ward Baker, THE MONSTER CLUB opens with horror writer Ronald Chetwynd-Hayes (John Carradine) being attacked by Eramus (Vincent Price), a vampire faint from lack of blood. Assuring the victim that his bite was not deep enough to cause effect, the grateful Eramus takes the author to the title establishment, where Eramus explains the basic rules of Monsterdom, and illustrates with three tales. We see the story of Angela (Barbara Kellerman), her bullish boyfriend George (Simon Ward), and Raven (James Laurenson), the gentle but repulsive Shadmock whose lethal power is his whistle. Secondly we learn of Lintom (Warren Saire), whose father (Richard Johnson) is a vampire. Lintom is having trouble at school and is befriended by what seems to be the local vicar, but is actually Pickering of Special Branch (Donald Pleasence), concerned with eradicating the undead. Finally, an American horror filmmaker (Stuart Whitman) is on a location scout, and finds what he is looking for in a village of ghouls. In the coda, Erasmus proposes Ronald for membership. But the creatures protest that Ronald is a human being, whereupon Erasmus, citing man's ingenuity for destruction, proves that humans are the greatest monsters of all.

Linking these stories are rock bands - including B.A. Robertson swathed in blue for 'I’m Just A Sucker For Your Love' and Stevie Lange singing the sordid tale of 'The Stripper' - while extras wearing mail-order monster masks gyrate their dance moves. Even in the wake of DAWN OF THE DEAD and FRIDAY THE 13TH, Subotsky ploughed on undeterred with his quaint, juvenile brand of terror. Moviegoers no longer identified with ghosts and vampires, let alone a joint full of them, but at least THE MONSTER CLUB doesn't take itself too seriously. The second story - re imagining the childhood of Subotsky as "Lintom Busotsky, vampire film producer" - has been justly cited as one of the worst stories to grace any anthology, and is certainly on the same disastrous scale as the killer piano from TORTURE GARDEN. But Pleasence relishes his role; no-one could have possibly, even in 1980, uttered lines like "I'll see you home from school. It’s alright, I’m not a stranger, I’m a clergyman" with such aplomb.

"You could still love me": a page of John Bolton artwork for the fabled THE MONSTER CLUB comic magazine.

The most interesting thing about THE MONSTER CLUB is its unorthodox evolution. With Price, Carradine and Pleasence signed, but no time to shoot any footage to promote the project at Cannes, Subotsky turned to Dez Skinn, publisher of House of Hammer magazine. The producer had always been envious that his main rival had a promotional outlet, and asked for a comic strip adaptation to sell the film. Writing the strip himself, Skinn assigned artists John Bolton (stories 1 and 3, plus framing sequences) and David Lloyd (for story 2). With a print run of just a few hundred copies, Subotsky had his tool to target buyers, but also had a document that would act as a unique storyboard and source book for the production. The strip later surfaced in Quality's relaunched Halls of Horror, and was also part of Eclipse's John Bolton's Halls of Horror comic under the title 'The Monster Cabaret'. Amusingly, Eclipse took the notion further by dovetailing Bolton's adaptations of THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF and ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. from House of Hammer into this two issue 'Micro-Series,' with Eramus acting as an EC-style horror host. For Bolton, his conceptual art lead to work on the movie itself, producing the striking 'Tree of Monsters' plaque in the club, and the 'Ghoul history' in the final segment.