Camp David

CAMP DAVID SEPTEMBER 2013:THE MONSTER CLUB

By • Sep 12th, 2013 •

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In honor of my 1987 Vincent Price interview being included in both the forthcoming Blu Ray release of THE MONSTER CLUB from Scorpion as well as THE VINCENT PRICE COLLECTION from Shout factory which will showcase five of Vincent’s best horror films {including WITCHFINDER GENERAL} I decided to take a look back at the final film to be produced by Milton Subotsky (whose company, Amicus, released some of the best anthology films since DEAD OF NIGHT} known as THE MONSTER CLUB.

This particular film seems to have a loyal fanbase among Horror addicts for a number of reasons, the first and foremost being the on-screen teaming up of horror icons Vincent Price and John Carradine, with an equal amount of screen time for once, something they did not have together in HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS (another English production made down the road a few years after this one). Both these films represented a throwback to more conventional filmmaking for these character stars, with old fashioned scripts with a decided lack of gore and violence, more of which was waiting just around the corner for the Horror genre. The film also represents the last anthology film done under the guidance of Milton Subotsky, whose credits go back to such films as CITY OF THE DEAD and DR TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS.

One can trace the history between Price and Carradine all the way back to their early days at Universal when John Carradine was just still doing walk-on’s in films like THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933) and THE BLACK CAT (1934). During this same time, Vincent was on Broadway with Helen Hayes, longing to come to Hollywood and begin his career. This would happen in 1936 with SERVICE DELUXE, somewhat of a false start for the young actor as his stardom was several years away at this point. Both Vincent and John would pay their dues in films like TOWER OF LONDON and INVISIBLE MAN sequels until genre roles allowed them the showcase to bring out their unique personalities.

My personal history with these men goes back a few decades as well…I first met Vincent Price while I was a junior in High school. He came to Sacramento, California in the summer of 1969 with his tribute to the painter Vincent Van Gogh entitled DEAR THEO, reading the letters between the two brothers with great style and grace. Vincent had just filmed WITCHFINDER GENERAL and was singing the praises of his young director to me backstage. Little did I know at the time what a rocky road that relationship had been, because by the time Vincent reached Sacramento he had already screened the film in Hollywood and was over the moon with his performance in it, telling me “This young man Michael has it all, David. He knows film history like an academic and also knows his business on a set and is not shy about telling you about it. He brought such vitality to our work together, I am going to work with him again very soon.” Sadly, THE OBLONG BOX would come and go without the “vitality” of Michael Reeves.

John Carradine was a hoot as an actor, and to finally meet him in person was even more of one, believe me. I had been at San Francisco State when John came to town to work on one of those hopeless paycheck jobs that he did throughout his career just to meet the rent. This one was called SUPERCHICK, and as you can imagine it was dire to say the least. John was paid $500 to fly up for a day to shoot his cameo as a dirty old man in a Berkeley Barb ad…a newspaper that advertised all kinds of wild and kinky want ads. My friend Dan Fariss who owned The Cinema Shop and was always hip to anything related to Hollywood that might come to town, knew the guys who were in charge of taking Carradine around for his one nighter in this ‘Bagdad By the Bay’ as it was called by the press in those days. I will never forget my time with him that night, as he loved to recite the Bard and on this occasion he was a bit tanked and in need of some food so we took him to a local fast food joint on Van Ness called DOGGIE DINER, a name he kept saying over and over again. Finally, after he had sampled two of their famous hot dogs, he then required, as he put it, “some libation,” only the diner did not serve beer or wine, so after looking at all of us, he placed his own personal curse on the place by turning around at the front door and saying in that unmistakable booming voice, “Well then, fuck Doggie Diner!” And that was my first encounter with the actor who replaced Bela Lugosi as Dracula at Universal.

There are many stories I could relate regarding both these talented men, however we are here to discuss THE MONSTER CLUB, so in regard to that let me say that by the time I was doing my Sinister Image cable shows in LA I had gotten to know them both very well. I had done half a dozen of these cable shows before I finally got the backing to do a more elaborate version with Vincent, which of course is now on the BluRay for THE MONSTER CLUB… However the follow up to that was to have been an hour with John Carradine and to that end I drove up to his current address near Santa Barbara to do a run through with him as well as interview him for John Kobal on the subject of DeMille. The result is here on the Camp David site. I had already been up there once before to film his bits for the PBS documentary THE HORROR OF IT ALL so I knew he would be in good form to discuss anything and everything regarding his many years working in Hollywood.

John loved to talk about show business and who better to discuss it with than a survivor. I knew he had done this film as well as HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS since the writer for SHADOWS, Michael Armstrong, was still living with me at the time.

John had great respect for Vincent as an actor and felt that, like himself, he had been exploited by producers who wanted to milk his name and reputation in this field for all it was worth with projects decidedly unworthy more often than not…. John loved going to London for the theater there. THE MONSTER CLUB was yet another excuse for him to travel and see his friends across the pond as well. “Vinnie Price is a great guy and very talented. He knows his craft and simply gets on with it.” John explained that THE MONSTER CLUB was the first time Price had played a vampire and I hated to correct him but we all know that Vincent had dabbled a bit on television doing a comic version of Dracula on F TROOP as well as THE SNOOP SISTERS with his favorite leading lady Helen Hayes. Both Vincent and John took issue with the cheapness of the masks used in the wrap around segments and this is a major point of contention even with fans of the film. The masks put together for THE MONSTER CLUB were done by a man named Vic Door and they were primitive children’s Halloween masks that should never have been placed in a motion picture like this one where at least the three tales presented were done in a highly professional manner in keeping with the previous Amicus films like the HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (regardless to what fans think of the quality of the screenplays for each one).

I decided then and there that John Carradine would be my next guest on Sinister Image after Vincent Price, and that night I prepped him on what I wanted to discuss. We had a great chat sitting on his sofa, about Universal, his infamous refusal of the Frankenstein monster in 1931, and of course “Poor Bela”. I am one of those fans that would like to believe that John was invited to at least test for the role of the Frankenstein Monster, however whether he was really in line for the part is anybody’s guess. I think Whale may have tested a lot of actors before spotting Karloff in the dining room at Universal. Who is to say? John did make a point of saying that “the monster was a curse for Boris, creating an image he simply could not shake off to do more important work.” This is not my opinion because the Frankenstein monster made Karloff a star and hence it also made his career. Vincent Price also benefited from certain key roles like HOUSE OF WAX, then THE FLY, and of course HOUSE OF USHER, that made him a Horror star around the world. This career-changing moment never happened to John Carradine, in spite of all the roles for John Ford, nor did his work at any other studio ever allow him star billing, except in very low budget films like BLUEBEARD for PRC. As I remember it we decided on a specific date to film his show and I even went to Fox to rent another backdrop to showcase his five decade career. He phoned me a week before we were to shoot explaining that he had to leave for Europe and we would have to postpone until he returned. This would be the last time I would ever speak to John as he died in Italy a few months later with all his sons at his side.

Vincent Price and I would sit down together in 1987 and tape his Sinister Image show which is now on THE MONSTER CLUB BluRay for all to see just what a fantastic personality he was in person. I am revealing something here for the first time regarding MONSTER CLUB…one of the things I was trying out with Vincent for discussion were some of the camp, not to mention over-ripe, dialogue given him by overzealous screenwriters over the years…. The only one that remained on film was his speech towards the end of PIT AND THE PENDULUM which of course you can see for yourself when you watch the interview. However I had taken this excerpt from THE MONSTER CLUB and read it back to Vincent the night before we taped. He begged off reciting it again and I withdrew it even though I thought it was so dear and funny, especially the way he would look doing it….here is the speech he recited to John Carradine in the film explaining the mating ritual of the monster race: “A vampire and a werewolf would produce a werevamp, but a werewolf and a ghoul would produce a weregoo, but a vampire and a ghoul would produce a vampgoo. A weregoo and a werevamp would produce a shaddy, a weregoo and a vampgoo would produce a maddy, but a werevamp and a vampgoo would produce a raddy. Now if a shaddy were to mate with a raddy or a maddy the result would be a mock.” By this point his very arch wife, Coral Browne, had a word about all this, reminding both of us that the screenwriter of this film “…could not write fuck on a dusty Venetian blind.” So much for reciting THE MONSTER CLUB dialogue on my show.

One prop Vincent did especially enjoy using on THE MONSTER CLUB were his fangs, although as he told me, “you simply can’t say a line of dialogue while wearing them.” In fact his favorite line from that film involved fangs: it was when John Carradine as the author R. Chetwynd-Hayes asked the vampire “where are your fangs?” To which Price smiled and replied “They are retractable when not in use.” It is interesting to note that the hit vampire cable series TRUE BLOOD uses retractable fangs in almost every episode for the past five seasons. It all started on THE MONSTER CLUB.

I have always enjoyed watching THE MONSTER CLUB when the spirit moved me simply because it is a lot of fun if you really are a fan of this genre and especially if you have grown up as a “MONSTER KID” yourself then these moments are to be cherished. I remember screening this over and over again just for the musical number by NIGHT called THE STRIPPER performed with Janis Joplin-like gusto by Stevie Lang, a former backup singer for Elton John. Both John and Vincent got a kick out of this particular act and it shows on film as they react to her performance. Vincent remarks “Beautiful Bones,” to which Carradine replies “Magnificent.” It was clear that while they both knew they were not committing a classic of the genre to film, they were still entertaining their fans and frankly that was enough for them to simply get on with it.

My favorite tale in the film is the final one with Stuart Whitman where he plays a film director who scouts his own location for a horror film only to discover a Lovecraftian village of ghouls who have been without a meal for too long. It was a pleasure to see the great character actor Patrick Magee again playing the village elder. He of course had played an important role in MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH with Price where the two became friendly. Sadly they did not have an opportunity to meet again on this final film. I had asked my friend Barbara Steele to put me in touch with Stuart Whitman to ask about his time on this film since he is the godfather to Barbara’s son Jonathan. I spoke with him briefly on the phone and all he could seem to remember about it was having a five star lunch with Milton Subotsky during the filming where he got to chat up Vincent afterwards, about which he told me “Vinnie was a great guy and a fine actor. He always deserved better material than they gave him. A class act always.”

While the three tales presented in THE MONSTER CLUB are a bit disappointing to those accustomed to the usual five stories in an Amicus portmanteau, with perhaps more defined plots and less comedy (as was the case with the vampire tale in the middle with Richard Johnson), the first segment has fine atmosphere with James Larenson as the ghoulish shadmock looking for a mate in a gothic manor filled with riches. The elegant masked ball where Barbara Kellerman meets her relatives is very stylish if not economical in content. Roy Ward Baker directs all this with his usual knowing hand, and this would be his last foray into Horror films as well.

The one thing I notice about the way the fans feel today about THE MONSTER CLUB is certainly based on how young they were when they first watched it, and in my case how much admiration one has for actors like a Vincent Price or a John Carradine to begin with. It is interesting to note that both actors were not the first choice of the producers to play these roles. I know that Christopher Lee turned down playing one of the two parts, most likely the vampire, with good reason considering how Lee always felt about such roles in the first place. I think enough time has lapsed that we now view a film like this for what it does achieve rather than what it does not. THE MONSTER CLUB is the final film in the Anglo-Horror cycle and while it was produced without the budget or imagination of the more classic films by Amicus it is not without its charms, and so I think it is safe to say that MONSTERS RULE. OK!

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3 Responses »

  1. Another well written piece from my favorite Film Historian! Thoroughly enjoyable and funny, especially the quote from Coral Browne! OMG! I loved it. I dusty Venetian blind, indeed.

  2. A very enjoyable read. I hated The Monster Club’s awful masks. They ruined the picture. Just Price and Carradine alone in the wrap-arounds would have been fine. The stories themselves are well-done especially the Whitman film. I have a Brit comic book version of the film that was fairly well done.

  3. I think THE MONSTER CLUB is plenty charming, even if it lacks some of the polish from the earlier Amicus hits. I have a preference for the lead story, “The Shadmock.” It’s got a killer masked ball scene, and its depiction of Laurenson’s general decency in spite of his outwardly gruesomeness is a nice look at what it means to be “a monster.”

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