THE MONSTER CLUB (1981) (Blu-ray)
Director: Roy Ward Baker
Scorpion Releasing

England's Amicus Films was best known for producing a series of successful terror anthologies that started in the mid 1960s and ended in the mid 1970s. After founders Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg went their separate ways, Subotsky revisited the theme in the early 1980s, producing yet another anthology, THE MONSTER CLUB. Directed by Roy Ward Baker (veteran of several Amicus efforts) and based on stories from R. Chetwynd-Hayes (FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE), the film stars horror movie legends Vincent Price and John Carradine, holding things together in the framing narrative.

An older, kindly vampire named Erasmus (Price) puts the bite on another elderly man during his nightly stalkings. He doesn't bite deep enough to turn his victim into a bloodsucker, and when he discovers that he's the famous horror novelist "R. Chetwynd-Hayes" (Carradine), he invites him back to a club where all the patrons are monsters. Always looking for writing material, Chetwynd-Hayes accepts his offer, and a monster genealogy chart is the topic of discussion and helps unveil three macabre tales.

In the first tale, shifty couple George (Simon Ward, FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED) and Angela (Barbara Kellerman, SATAN’S SLAVE) plan to swindle a wealthy but homely recluse out of his fortune. Angela pretends to be in love with Raven (James Laurenson, IN THE DEVIL’S GARDEN), who in fact is a ghoulish Shadmock, and agrees to marry him. Shadmocks can not whistle, or else... and the couple discovers this the hard way!

The second story is played strictly for laughs. It's introduced by actor Anthony Steel (FIONA) as film producer "Lintom Busotsky" (an obvious homage to Subotsky) as a new movie about his childhood. Young Lintom (Warren Saire, Ken Russell’s SALOME’S LAST DANCE) is tormented by his school mates and is curious as to why his father (THE HAUNTING’s Richard Johnson, looking a lot like Robert Quarry's "Count Yorga") works at night and sleeps all day. Something of a legendary vamp, dad is hunted down by the B-Squad, a troop of well-dressed, professional vampire hunters led by Donald Pleasence (THE MUTATIONS), Anthony Valentine (PERFORMANCE) and Neil McCarthy (CLASH OF THE TITANS). The mom is played by a glamour-less Britt Ekland (THE WICKER MAN).

The last and best story involves an American film director named Sam (Stuart Whitman, CALL HIM MR. SHATTER), and his quest to find an authentic location for a horror movie shoot in England. Sam's drive takes him to a remote village that appears different than the rest of the world. Foggy and primitive, the town is inhabited by flesh-eating ghouls who dig up graves for food and clothing. Sam tries to fight them off with the help of kind and naive Luna (Lesley Dunlop) who happens to be a Humghoul (half human, half ghoul), and daughter of the innkeeper (Patrick Magee, TALES FROM THE CRYPT). They attempt to escape, but naturally, it's not going to be that easy!

In between these satisfying stories is the priceless chatter between the two horror stars (who despite their advanced age and Carradine's crippled arthritic hands, were still in pretty good shape and they share all of their screentime together), there are energetic pop/new wave musical performances by the likes of Night, B.A. Robertson, and one of my favorite British Invasion bands (and one of my top five favorite bands of all time), The Pretty Things. The music has stirred some negative criticism from fans, but like the film, it grows on you with repeated viewings (how can you resist “The Stipper” by Night, lead by Chris Thimpson, former singer for Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, and the amusing animation that accompanies it). The different stories have individual and very different composers: John Georgiadis, Alan Hawkshaw and Amicus staple Douglas Gamley (AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS, THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT), all which add to the lively atmosphere that accomplished director Baker has created. Don't expect blood and guts or anything too sophisticated; THE MONSTER CLUB is just a good old fashioned horror film in a welcomed retro style of Amicus and Hammer, and plays like one big fun (and sometimes silly) Halloween party (with a lot of extras in eccentric rubber monster masks).

Seeing THE MONSTER CLUB since it was sold to TV and through all its rather murky looking video presentations (including Pathfinder’s non-anamorphic DVD of a few years ago), this new Blu-ray presentation truly takes the cake, and is something of a revelation (and it’s obvious that Scorpion went back to the original elements for the transfer). Anyone who has seen this film in the past will be amazed at just how excellent it now looks, with a fresh appearance that’s honestly like seeing it for the first time. The AVC encoded image has the film in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, and it looks splendid all around. Colors are vibrant the way they should be, with skin tones looking especially natural. Detail is also excellent, so much so that you’ll be able to make out things in the picture that you couldn’t see in the previous video transfers (the final story, which appears purposely dismal, still does, but it has a great clarity about it never witnessed before). The 2.0 DTS-HD MA audio definitely has bite to it, with dialogue coming through clearly and the music also pleasing to the ears. An isolated ME track is also included.

Included here (in standard definition) is "Vincent Price: The Sinister Image", which was available on DVD from Image Entertainment and is now also on Scream Factory’s “The Vincent Price Collection” Blu-ray set. It’s still the ultimate supplement to accompany any Price feature on DVD or Blu-ray. It’s a 62-minute interview with Price conducted in 1987 by film historian/writer David Del Valle. This was intended as a pilot for a proposed cable TV series called "The Sinister Image," but the show was never broadcast. The videotaped interview was shot during the time when Price had just done THE WHALES OF AUGUST and was celebrating 50 years in the film business. This was the perfect time for such a career-inclusive interview, as Price was still very active, very happy and content, and was still in good health and physical appearance. If we have to remember Price at the end of his life, seeing him here is a fine image to behold.

At the time of the interview, Del Valle's association with Price had a 20-year history of various meetings and correspondence, and the veteran actor is obviously very comfortable speaking with him. The stage has Del Valle and Price sitting in chairs across from each other with a small table in the middle (much like "The Actor's Studio," which wouldn't make its mark for another decade). A blue ski-colored backdrop with four poster-sized images of Price complete the set. Stills from the various films of topic are shown when appropriate. Del Valle conducts the interview in a graceful, professional manner, and he effortlessly keeps this historic Q&A session moving along chronologically. The conversation focuses on Price's "fantasy" film credits beginning with Universal Studios efforts like TOWER OF LONDON and THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS, to the groundbreaking HOUSE OF WAX, the "Fly" films, and his unforgettable twosome for William Castle (HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL and THE TINGLER). Price then spends a generous amount of time talking about his long association with American International, and Del Valle also asks him about some of the fascinatingly interesting people he worked with (Boris Karloff, Basil Rathbone, Peter Lorre, etc.). Price is as charming and distinguished as ever, with his celebrated sense of humor in check, and this interview is a treat from start to finish.

A “Katarina’s Nightmare Theater” introduction has host Katarina Leigh Waters comically doing karaoke to “Monsters Rule OK” (dancing with a hand puppet) and sharing information about the cast, crew and musical performers (she also returns after the feature to wrap up). Katarina also conducts an on-camera interview with Del Valle (10:22) who talks about his first meeting with Price in the late 1960s, and the friendship he had with him throughout the years. He also defends THE MONSTER CLUB and the fun time to be had, and he touches upon the recent books he authored. The original British trailer is included, as are Scorpion trailers for GRIZZLY, DEATH SHIP, THE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW and DAY OF THE ANIMALS. The liner notes on the flip side of the cover were penned by your’s truly. (George R. Reis)