Directed by Roy Ward Baker. Written by Edward and Valerie Abraham. Cast: Vincent Price, Donald Pleasence, John Carradine, Stuart Whitman, Richard Johnson, Barbara Kellermann, Britt Ekland, Simon Ward, Anthony Valentine, Patrick Magee, Anthony Steel, James Laurenson, Geoffrey Bayldon, Warren Saire, Lesley Dunlop, Fran Fullenwider, The Viewers, B.A. Robertson, Night, The Pretty Things. (Unrated, 98 mins)
Anthology, or portmanteau horror films weren't a new concept when they became hugely popular in the 1960s. 1945's DEAD OF NIGHT, anchored by the classic ventriloquist dummy segment with Michael Redgrave, established the template, Roger Corman's Poe anthology TALES OF TERROR (1962) was a big hit, and TV series such as ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, THRILLER, THE OUTER LIMITS, and THE TWILIGHT ZONE got fans accustomed to compact, 30-minute stories. But when the British company Amicus, led by Max J. Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky, produced 1965's DR. TERROR'S HOUSE OF HORRORS, the style really took off, generating many similar, frequently star-studded anthology outings with titles like TORTURE GARDEN (1967), THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1970), ASYLUM (1972), TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972) and THE VAULT OF HORROR (1973). By the mid-1970s, the subgenre's popularity began to fade, with lesser titles like TALES THAT WITNESS MADNESS (1973) and FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE (1974) paling in comparison to the anthology's heyday. With shocking horror films like THE EXORCIST (1973) and THE OMEN (1976) rendering classic horror passé with 1970s moviegoers, the omnibus film of the Amicus sort quietly faded away, much like Amicus itself as Subotsky (1921-1991) and Rosenberg (1914-2004) parted ways in the mid-1970s. Similar to the in-name-only resurrection of the legendary British horror house Hammer, the Amicus name would be revived in the 2000s, but we haven't heard much from it other than Stuart Gordon's STUCK (2008) and the atrocious 2009 remake of Larry Cohen's 1974 cult classic IT'S ALIVE. As far as the British anthologies go, a few stragglers wandered in, like 1977's Canadian/British feline-centric collection THE UNCANNY, but by this time, audiences moved on.
Night, and The Pretty Things, who had just reunited and contributed the title track as Price and Carradine can be seen busting moves on the Monster Club's dance floor (with Price almost grinding on a large actress named Fran Fullenwider). Carradine seems a bit miscast and more than a little bewildered (Peter Cushing would've been perfect; Christopher Lee was approached for the role and reportedly declined when he heard the title), but Price is clearly having fun with his sole big-screen appearance as a vampire.
biggest monsters of all. None of this is to say that THE MONSTER CLUB is filled with deep insight, but it is better than its reputation as the last gasp of a dying subgenre. Anthology films didn't go away--they just changed shape: George A. Romero's CREEPSHOW was in theaters the next year, Price would similarly appear in the wraparound segments of the much more grisly 1987 horror omnibus THE OFFSPRING (aka FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM), and more recently, the two V/H/S films and THE ABCs OF DEATH have found an audience with newer and apparently more lenient horror fans. But THE MONSTER CLUB was the last of its kind: the British portmanteau rooted in classic horror. Fittingly, it was also the last feature film directed by Baker (1916-2010), whose career began with Hollywood fare like the Marilyn Monroe thriller DON'T BOTHER TO KNOCK (1952). He's best known among serious cineastes for the Titanic classic A NIGHT TO REMEMBER (1958), but not long after that, he became a go-to horror guy for Hammer and Amicus, helming such genre favorites as FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH (1967) and THE VAMPIRE LOVERS (1970), among many others. After THE MONSTER CLUB, Baker moved into British television until retiring in the early 1990s. Late in his life and still sharp and full of stories, he contributed several commentary tracks on DVD releases of some of his classic horror films.
THE WHALES OF AUGUST, is very much the elegant raconteur here, candidly talking about his classic films and his old and, in some cases, departed Hollywood friends. This same interview, previously released as its own DVD by Image, is featured on Shout Factory's upcoming Price box set from his AIP/Poe days.