This month at Nightmare On Film Street, we’re doing the Monster Mash, so I thought I’d blow the dust off The Monster Club. While there isn’t a single mohawk or spiky jacket to qualify this 1981 horror anthology as a “punk” movie, it can be argued that its music falls into the category of New Wave, the pop-oriented cousin of punk rock.
The Monster Club had all the ingredients to become an instant classic: it was produced by Milton Subotsky, who had produced a number of successful horror anthologies in the 1970s like Tales From the Crypt and the House That Dripped Blood through his studio Amicus Productions. The film was directed by Roy Ward Baker, who had previously worked with Subotsky on anthologies like Asylum and the Vault of Horror. The stories are adapted from horror writer R. Chetwynd-Hayes’ 1975 book of the same name. Subotsky had also produced a film adaptation of Chetwynd-Hayes’ anthology From Beyond the Grave in 1974.
On top of all that, The Monster Club starred two legendary classic horror actors in the lead roles, Vincent Price and John Carradine, who played Count Dracula five times in his career, most notably in House of Frankenstein (1944) and in House of Dracula (1945). Despite these big names, The Monster Club flopped hard at the box office and was torn apart by critics. Subotsky never produced another anthology ever again and Baker went back to directing for television. But over the years, The Monster Club gained a cult following and the movie was released on Blu Ray in 2014.
Vincent Price plays Eramus, a thirsty vampire stalking the streets of London. He bumps into horror writer R. Chetwynd-Hayes (portrayed by John Carradine) and helps himself to a bit of the writer’s blood, without penetrating his neck deep enough to kill him or turn him into a vampire. As thanks for his blood donation, Eramus invites Chetwynd-Hayes to a secret after-hours club, populated by monsters of all kinds, to give him inspiration for future writing projects.
While sitting at their coffin-shaped table, Chetwynd-Hayes notices a genealogical chart hanging on the wall next to them. Eramus briefly explains generations of cross-breeding between vampires, werewolves and ghouls, and what monster hybrids would be produced if a Werevamp were to mate with a Weregoo or a Vampgoo, and what creatures would be birthed if their offspring hooked up, and so on and so forth. Price’s explanation is all very scientific and to the point, but I couldn’t help but imagine a massive monster orgy over the years. It’s strange that these mixed monster breeds were never mentioned in any other movies.
Further down the chart, the monster mutts develop strange abilities, like a Shadmock, which has a powerful destructive whistle. This kicks off the first story about a young (human) woman who attempts to seduce a Shadmock in order to steal his riches. But when she’s caught by the Shadmock, she learns—the hard way— what a Shadmock’s whistle can do. The next two stories concern monsters mating with humans. A young boy finds out his father is a vampire, and has unknowingly led a group of vampire hunters (led by Donald Pleasence) straight to him. In the final story, an American film director is out scouting locations for his next movie, and comes across a town overtaken by ghouls. His only hope of escaping before being eaten depends on a Humgoo, the daughter of a ghoul and a human.
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Many critics panned the scenes set in the club as dull filler between the three stories, but personally, those are my favorite parts of the movie. The green and red lighting in the club is much more appealing to the eye than the dreary pallet of the stories. Additionally, the mood in the club is quite bohemian compared to the rather stuffy bourgeois societies depicted in the stories. It’s also wonderful to see two horror legends bouncing witticisms off each other. The monster costumes in the audience at the club are outrageously goofy, many looking like cheap Halloween masks you would buy at a dollar store. And lastly, there’s the musical entertainment (bitterly reminding me how much I miss seeing live music).
As Eramus and Chetwynd-Hayes first walk into the Monster Club, the Viewers are rocking out on the stage, performing their song “Monsters Rule, OK!” The song is reminiscent of early punk, with the singer trying to list off every monster he can think of. But what does it for me is the squealing saxophone solo. As our main characters discuss monsters squeezing out mutant babies, the mesmerizing dub of UB40 (of “Red Red Wine” fame) plays in the background.
Next on stage is B. A. Robertson with his vampire love song “Sucker For Your Love.” Robertson appears very pale with his face painted white and his lips painted purple. He is constantly shaking, yet remains stiff in all his movements. During the verse, he puts on a baritone voice that sounds like a combination of Elvis and Peter Murphy of Bauhaus, before going into a higher register for the tongue-in-cheek chorus.
Robertson uses a handful of double entendres that can apply to both a complicated romance and the vampire lifestyle, like “Have a drink” or “I’m a pain in the neck.” During the bridge, he replaces words to the chorus with gross slurping sounds, followed by a spooky surf guitar line that’d fit perfectly in a song by the Cramps. Later in the decade, Robertson wrote and produced “Power Play” by Eddie and the Tide for The Lost Boys soundtrack.
My favorite song comes on an hour into the movie. “The Stripper” by Night features the rocking vocals of frontwoman Stevie Lange. Her voice starts off sensual, bringing in a bit of grit as she hits the higher notes. By the chorus, she’s wailing like a passionate soul singer, with her backing band hooting along to her melody. The lyrics are surprisingly progressive, the overall thesis being “Sex work is real work and I shouldn’t be shamed for doing it.” At the instrumental break (with yet another saxophone solo), the curtains come up, revealing a burlesque dancer with a feather boa and a Dracula cape. Bit by bit, the dancer removes her clothing, throwing the pieces into the audience. The lights go down until all we can see is her silhouette, stripping off her skin down to her bones until only a skeleton remains.
After the final story, Eramus proposes to the club’s werewolf secretary that they include Chetwynd-Hayes as a member. When the members object on the basis that he’s a human, Eramus argues in an impassioned speech—that’s very much on-brand for Vincent Price— that humans are the greatest monsters of all. This is a common argument in classic horror, especially found in the Atom Age of science fiction. Sure, a vampire or a werewolf or a ghoul might eat the occasional human, but humans have single-handedly killed hundreds of millions of their own kind, despite their lack of “a fang or a claw or even a whistle worth talking about.” Humans demonstrate their monstrosity through their ingenuity, by inventing weapons of mass destruction and various methods of torture. Upon hearing this, the club members enthusiastically welcome the reluctant Chetwynd-Hayes into their organization.
The Pretty Things close the movie with the club’s theme song “Monster Club,” a slow rocksteady number that everyone dances along to, including Price and Carradine, who hobble around awkwardly and clap off-rhythm (keep in mind they were in their seventies at the time). The song signified a new musical direction for the Pretty Things, who started off in the 1960s playing electric blues, before evolving to psychedelic rock, then hard rock, and then new wave. Unfortunately, the band didn’t rake in the success they were hoping for with the release of The Monster Club, leading to them splitting up for a second time.
If anything, The Monster Club feels like it came out at least a decade too late. It might have been more successful had it been released in the 1970s when Amicus was at its peak, or in the 1960s when Price and Carradine were more in their prime. The music might have been better too. The 1960s and 1970s had revolutionary music movements, such as the psychedelic rock of the hippie movement, the emergence of powerpop, the new wave of British heavy metal, and the birth of punk rock.
At the beginning of the 1980s, everyone was banking on New Wave to be the next big thing in music. Many New Wave groups were very successful, thanks to the creation of MTV and the soundtracks of John Hughes movies, and are still enjoyed to this day. But by the mid-1980s, the music had become stale, and other genres, such as grunge, grew out of a distaste for the poppiness of New Wave. Many bands were left in the dust, including the artists mentioned above, which is why I couldn’t find any of these songs on Spotify to add to the Gut the Punks playlist. Instead, I’ll be adding a couple songs from the album Monster Club by horror pop punk band Groovie Ghoulies, who were merely inspired by the title of The Monster Club, but weren’t interested in touching on any of its content.
What did you think of the music in Monster Club? Who are your favourite punks in Horror? Got any good music recommendations? Let us know over on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and the official Nightmare on Film Street Discord. Get more horror delivered straight to your inbox by joining the Neighbourhood Watch Newsletter.