There’s something very disconcerting about the actor Donald Pleasence and even more so when he’s in a vicar’s dog collar and bowler hat. And well so there should be since he is head of the Bleeney Squad, a special police unit dedicated to wiping out the curse of vampirism in the second episode from 1981 portmanteau horror movie The Monster Club, now re-released as a sumptuous Blu-Ray disc by our friends at Network as part of their The British Film series.
The film opens with author Ronald Chetwynd-Hayes (played by Universal horror veteran John Carradine) admiring a bookshop window display of his own works, lurking in the shadows is Erasmus the vampire (Vincent Price), who in return for a drop of fresh blood introduces Chetwynd-Hayes to his exclusive members club.
Within the Monster Club, the author is introduced to the world of monster genealogy, watches a vampire movie, learns of the consequences of monster-human hybridisation and is subjected to some very variable music from the likes of BA Robertson and The Pretty Things.
Like many of the Amicus portmanteaus of the 1960s and 70s, there is a grim sense of fun and tragedy running through the three stories that make up this movie. In The Shadmock, con-artists Angela and George (Barbara Kellerman and Simon Ward) attempt to rob a wealthy recluse, little realising that Raven (James Laurenson) is a shadmock, the ultimate pooling of the genes of vampires, werewolves and ghouls. When they get mad Shadmocks may only whistle, but the consequences for Angela when she breaks Raven’s heart and sets him off sure aren’t pretty.
The Vampires live a normal suburban life with dad working at night and sleeping by day. Only he sleeps in a coffin in the basement so no wonder Donald Pleasence and the Bleeney are after him.
Best of all is The Ghouls where a movie director seeking locations for a horror film stumbles upon a dilapidated village after driving through a mysterious bank of fog. His car sabotaged he has no choice but to stay the night, where half human Luna (Lesley Dunlop) reveals that the villagers are flesh-eating ghouls and they are bloody hungry.
As with the Amicus episodic horrors, there is a great supporting cast spread throughout the film’s three stories including: Patrick Macnee as a spectacularly grotty ghoul innkeeper, Anthony Valentine, Richard Johnson, Britt Ekland, and Anthony Steele as movie producer Lintom Busotsky (an in-joke, since the film was produced by Amicus alumni Milton Subotsky). Each episode is nicely shot and any element of parody never oversteps the mark into cheap mockery. There’s even a nod to director Roy Ward Baker’s The Vampire Lovers (Hammer, 1970) as a backlit gauzy clad female descends into a crypt in the opening sequence of The Ghouls.
Up until fairly recently, UK filmmakers rarely ever managed to get an authentic handle on ‘pop’ music and The Monster Club was no exception. As to the club based links I can remember how much they made me cringe when I first saw the film back in the 1980s. The club interior was obviously cobbled together from some Chinese restaurant props and the monster audience kitted out with joke shop masks, which seems a tremendous missed opportunity since the UK Goth scene was just kicking off at the time of production and I was sure a far more interesting audience could have been procured from a Cure or Bauhaus gig. Oddly enough with the benefit of age these scenes now seem to add a certain innocent charm.
Musically the stand out track is probably ‘The Stripper’ from Night, an LA-based band of Brit session players featuring the powerfully lunged Stevie Lange on vocals, other than that we have the fairly disposable ‘Monsters Rule OK’ by the Viewers, ‘I’m Just a Sucker for your Love’ from BA Roberson (not quite as bad as most of his material) and a reggae hued ‘Down at the Monster Club’ by 60s legends the Pretty Things, whose previous form includes the first rock opera, SF Sorrow. They got Price and Carradine up for a spot of dancing at the end of the movie and its worth a watch for that alone.
In its way this darkly humorous film marks a fond farewell to the relatively innocent age of the Hammer Gothics and the Amicus portmanteaus of the 1950s, 60s and 70s. It bombed at the box office since by the 1980s a new kind of sensibility had been ushered into the world of horror cinema and the future was being shaped by the likes of Cronenberg, Carpenter and Romero.
An affectionate goodbye to a much-loved era I give The Monster Club a 666/666.
The Monster Club is out now on Blu-Ray from Network price £14.99 in the UK
- John Carradine played Dracula in both House of Frankenstein (1944) and House of Dracula (1945)
- Ronald Chetwynd-Hayes thought Carradine was too old to play himself and hated both the music and the humour
- The role of Chetwynd-Hayes was turned down by both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee
- Erasmus is the only vampire Price has ever played on the big screen
- The Pretty Things had a song featured in the soundtrack of The Haunted House of Horror (1969)
- Stevie Lange is the former partner of Def Leppard producer Mutt Lange
Review by Simon Ball
Connect with Simon: @RealShipsCook or here.