The crazy world of Hammer-Amicus is back…
We all know that the Amicus filmmakers love their monsters. A lot. Crazy a lot. So why not go nuts? Instead of one or two monsters, how about a whole slew? That’s what 1981’s The Monster Club is about, and if one can get past the bouncer, there’s plenty of Amicus’s trademark chills to behold. First released as a feature and then dying at the box office, The Monster Club was repackaged as a TV movie, which gave it a small measure of popularity. It has an ensemble cast with two aging horror greats, Vincent Price and John Carradine.
We first see a London street with a lighted window in a bookstore called George Engel & Son, showing books by various masters of literary horror. The focal point is a poster of R. Chetwynd-Hayes (John Carradine), who, coincidentally, comes walking past. He surveys his giant face with satisfaction before moving on, but a hand reaches out from around the corner. It’s Vincent Price, playing Eramus, a vampire. Mr. Chetwynd-Hayes thinks Eramus is a homeless man at first and offers to buy him a meal. Eramus doesn’t want food, of course, but he’s not above taking a drink from the august writer’s neck.
Later on, the two of them are comfortably chatting, and Eramus offers to help Mr. Chetwynd-Hayes get material for his next story. There’s a little place he goes to where everybody knows his name, and it’s called the Monster Club.
Admit it, you never saw that coming. Oh, wait…
The Monster Club is like a head-on collision between a costume supply store and a frat party. Eramus and Mr. Chetwynd-Hayes take seats at Eramus’s usual table, where their waiter, Wolfgang, suggests Mr. Chetwynd-Hayes to order tomato juice because it looks less conspicuous. Eramus contents himself with a glass of Type O blood because Type B is off.
Mr. Chetwynd-Hayes spies a large poster on the wall, and Eramus helpfully explains that it’s a rundown of monster geneology. In the confusing tangle of weregoos, maddies, and mocks, there are a few simple rules to remember about monsters.: Vampires suck. Werewolves hunt. Ghouls tear. Shaddies lick. Maddies yawn. Mocks blow. Shadmocks whistle.
Well, a Shadmock’s whistle isn’t only a whistle. Eramus launches into the first of three stories, “The Shadmock.”
A young woman, Angela (Barbara Kellerman) takes a job cataloguing antiques at a grand estate. Her boss, Raven (James Laurenson) is a pallid, nervous fellow who can’t leave the grounds or be around a lot of people because the noise wigs him out.
Things go swimmingly until a cat kills one of Raven’s pet pigeons, and Raven lets out a whistle. Angela goes outside to not only find the cat dead, but its body melted and charred.
Angela’s boyfriend, George (Simon Ward) thinks Angela should stick with the job because Raven is loaded and in love with Angela. She at least needs to hang in there until she can get hold of Raven’s money. This turns out to be easier than expected, at least theoretically, because Raven asks Angela to marry him. The night of their engagement ball, Angela sneaks in and opens the safe. Will she succeed at stealing Raven blind, or will Raven catch her, and heaven forbid, whistle?
After a few words from the Club’s secretary (Roger Sloman), the next story commences. Or rather, rolls, as it’s a movie within a movie, and the producer (Anthony Steele) proudly says it’s based on his childhood. The movie concerns a loving family of vampires, the Busotskys, and in particular Lintom (played as a child by Warren Saire), a shy kid who’s bullied at school. Lintom’s parents warn him constantly, “Never talk to strangers,” and “Beware of men carrying violin cases.” Good kid that he is, Lintom is happy to comply.
Lintom wonders why his dad can’t play with him in the daytime, but his parents are pretty tight-lipped as to the reason. He’s even more confused when he tells a friendly, albeit mysterious priest about his dad sleeping in the basement during the day, and the priest tells Lintom to go down and check it out while his mom runs errands.
These creeps are, no shock, vampire hunters who have been tailing Lintom’s dad, and are rather gleeful at having tracked him down. However, Lintom’s dad is full of surprises, and not all of the intruders will make it out alive. They may not even be able to open the gate.
After an odd little interlude with Janis Joplin-esque singer, Stevie Lange and a stripper who goes down to her bones (only backlit, animated nudity is briefly seen), Eramus tells his final story, and this one is about a humegoo, or a human-ghoul hybrid. An American film director, Sam (Stuart Whitman) is scouting out a location for his latest movie, and he wants something creepy and remote.
Welp, he finds it. While poking around in the wine cellar of a decrepit, cobweb-covered inn, he meets a toothless old man who’s nonplussed when Sam tells him he wants to make a movie there. Heck, the guy doesn’t know what a movie is. He also doesn’t know what a phone is when Sam asks to make a call. Sam turns around to find a gaggle of hungry-looking ghouls staring at him.
What’s more, Sam’s not allowed to leave the village. His Porsche won’t start, and he’s shown to a room at the inn, where a strange girl in a nightgown, Luna (Lesley Dunlop) brings him rabbit stew. She haltingly regales him about how the villagers get everything they need from boxes in the ground. Food, clothes, books, everything.
Sam realizes to his horror that Luna’s referring to grave-robbing. He glances out the window to see that every grave in the village is empty. No wonder the villagers are looking at him like he’s a Porterhouse steak.
Unbeknownst the the ghouls, Sam sneaks over to the church, where he finds a diary entry from the late vicar detailing how the ghouls took over: Basically, one was found in the woods, and instead of killing it, the vicar takes it home, cleaning it up and taking care of it. Then he sees the ghoul in the graveyard gnawing on a cadaverous arm, and chases it away. However, this only has the effect of bringing dozens more ghouls, who overrun the village.
Sam uses a cross to get he and Luna the heck out of Dodge. He’s promised her that she’ll come back to London with him, where she’ll live just like any other person. Inevitably, things aren’t so easy.
It’s been real, or not, but all good things must come to an end, and Mr. Chetwynd-Hayes stands to leave. However, he can’t go yet, because Eramus says he needs to be a member of the Monster Club. Will our respected writer join them, or will he lurch out into the night and wonder if it was all a dream?
The Monster Club doesn’t lay on the pulp like its studio mates often do, but it has camp in spades. It could have been a different film from what it was–Hammer-Amicus regular Christopher Lee and the durable Peter Cushing had both been offered parts, but turned them down because they didn’t like the name of the movie. Lee didn’t question Price taking the part of Eramus, because he figured it must have been to Price’s taste, which was all fine. Price played Eramus with a wry twinkle in his eye, enjoying every minute of the experience.
I think Vincent Price was what won me over, not just because he’s Vincent Price, but because of his approach. The stories are suitably weird, but again, they’re more campy than anything. Price’s delivery is just straight enough that it makes it all believable. While it might be tame for the hard-core purists, I like that it’s relatively light on gore and jumpscares compared to other titles in the Amicus and Hammer catalogues. The film was clearly a low-budget wonder, but it doesn’t matter because it’s fun. I’m thinking of playing it next Halloween during the witching hour, although it’s definitely not for kids, so I will proceed with caution. 😉
For more Hammer-Amicus goodness, please see Gill at Realweegiemidget Reviews and Barry at Cinema Catharsis. Thanks for hosting, guys–it was fun dipping into the Hammer Amicus world again. Thanks for reading, all, and I hope you’ll come back tomorrow for the Clark Gable Blogathon…
Pohle, Robert Jr., Douglas C. Hart and Rita Pohle Baldwin. The Christopher Lee Encyclopedia. Lanham Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017.