DV members who roam around in our shoutbox will have noticed my message that British director Roy Ward Baker has died. If you’d play the association game with me, two things would pop up: the television series The Avengers (for which Baker directed eight – good to stand-out – episodes) and Hammer. Here at DV I already reviewed Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde as well as The Anniversary, but Baker also helmed Quatermass and the Pit, Scars of Dracula,The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires and The Vampire Lovers.
But it’s not just Hammer Roy Ward Baker directed for: he gave Amicus Asylum, The Vault of Horror, The Monster Club and And Now The Screaming Starts. Just rest your eyes for a second and look at that list. Aren’t you aware we’ve lost an icon of British horror?
The Monster Club may seem like an odd choice as a salute to a late director, but it was the last film he made. Throughout the 80s and the early 90s Baker was still productive, but he kept himself busy by directing episodes of television shows. The Monster Club is definitely not his best work, but it does have an interesting cast. Vincent Price! John Carradine! Donald Pleasance! Patrick Magee! Anthony Steel! Britt Ekland! And UB 40. The only way the cast could’ve been more impressive is if Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing had joined in. Well, it’s not as if they weren’t asked. They refused. Because they felt it would be a betrayal to be in an Amicus production, shortly after the Hammer studios had closed business. Two years later, one Pete Walker would manage to line Lee, Cushing, Carradine and Price up in one movie: House of Long Shadows. It also starred Sheila Keith.
The Monster Club, like Asylum, is an anthology film. The three stories are presented in the format of Erasmus (Price) inviting a famous writer (Carradine) to a monster club and telling him monster stories. They meet because Erasmus is hungry for blood, bites the writer (but not enough to turn him into a vampire) and only then does he recognize the author. Surely the man who’s written so many great horror stories could do with a visit to a club full of werewolves, ghouls and other four-eyed monsters. Well, at least that’s what we’re meant to believe: the awful special effects do make it look like the Monster Club is holding a macramé evening for the disabled.
The famous writer looks at a chart which shows the bloodlines of various monsters. It’s quite informative if you want to know the correct name for the child that’s the result of a werewolf and ghoul breeding. Erasmus tells the story of a Shadmock, a monster quite low on the chart and only capable of whistling… Doesn’t sound too awful? Well, tell that to Angela (Barbara Kellerman), who – together with her boyfriend – had the lacklustre idea of robbing the shadmock of his most expensive possessions…
The second story presents itself: film producer and vampire Lintom Busotsky (Steel) is the VIP of the night and he’s there to present his latest film, an adaptation of his own youth transferred to the modern day. “Lack of budget,” Price’s character whispers to the writer quite mockingly. The film shows Busotsky as a young boy, unaware of what his father does (he thinks he’s some kind of butcher). But while his mother (Ekland) tries to shield him from the truth, a group of government officials (led by Pleasance) try to hunt down the notorious vampire.
For the third and final story, the writer points at a seemingly harmless girl on the monster chart. She is a humghoul, daughter of a human and a ghoul. It is then Erasmus tells her story: she’s Luna (Lesley Dunlop), the innkeeper’s daughter in a foggy village. An arrogant director, in search for an ideal location for his horror movie, ends up in the village and is soon surrounded by the locals, who look as if they’ve been living since the fourteenth century. Things don’t look too good for the director but Luna wants to help him escape. Will they succeed?
It is not for me to reveal this, that is the job of Erasmus. When the story is finished, the writer wants to go home but Erasmus has one more suggestion. Why not have the writer, a human, become a member of the monster club? The other monsters protest: surely a human being is no monster! “Oh no?” Erasmus responds and mentions the several wars and torture methods the humans have thought of. The monsters agree: no monster even comes close to the awfulness of the humans and thus the writer is accepted into the club.
Are you sighing? I know I was. Or better, I was eating up my glass out of frustration having to sit through such a preachy finale. (Well, there’s one more scene after Erasmus’s plea, a song’n’dance that is equally horrible.) Opinions can differ, but for me the music intermezzos in the film were distracting and irritating rather than brief and welcome interludes.
And it’s not as if the film is worthy of a lot of praise. The first story is slow, the second lacks some atmosphere (apart from a couple of good scenes) and it’s only the story of the humghoul that managed to captivate me. But every time I thought the film was picking up pace and quality, we returned to the club for another excruciating number. (Unless you’re into The Viewers, UB 40, B.A. Robertson and The Pretty Things.)
All in all, I’d give The Monster Club a 5 out of 10, so it’s not a complete waste of time, but don’t you just wish a director’s final film would be better than a lacklustre production? It’s as if the producers thought adding a couple of hip young bands would turn their film into a hip young horror movie. None of it works. The stories don’t match and the coathanger story fails to wrap up the stories. It’s an ideal film for Halloween but stay away from this on the other 364 days of the year (or 365 if you’re reading this in a leap year).