We’re back for another round of Haunted MTL’s Notes from the Last Drive-In with S4E6, featuring The Monster Club (1981) and Hellbender (2021). I’ve been somewhat critical of the stated themes over the season. Still, I am happy to report that isn’t an issue this week as the show delivers on the stated theme of “musical horror,” which is fantastic. Plus, we get a horror anthology to boot!
The film quality is undoubtedly a step up from last week’s Slaughterhouse, that’s for sure. So, what was the night like for Shudder‘s premiere movie hosting show? Can Joe Bob embrace a horror anthology for a change? Let’s dive in.
The Monster Club (1981)
The Monster Club (1981) is a British horror anthology directed by Roy Ward Baker, which also was his final film. The film was written by Edward and Valeria Abraham and adapted from the works of horror author R. Chetwynd-Hayes. The Monster Club is also notable for being the last film of producer Milton Subotsky, best known for his association with Amicus Productions.
The horror anthology movie is a cult film owing to the cast and the soundtrack. Vincent Price, John Carradine, Donald Pleasance, and Stuart Whitman headline the film, with Price and Carradine featuring heavily in the framing narrative about the club. The film’s soundtrack is pretty iconic, featuring B. A. Robertson, The Viewers, and The Pretty Things. NFilms’lso appears in one of the most iconic sequences of the film.
The Monster Club follows a vampire named Eramus (Vincent Price), who is helped to some blood by a writer, R. Chetwynd-Hayes (John Carradine). Eramus thanks the writer by inviting him to a secret monster club, where he learns the genealogy of monsters and takes in the sights and sounds of the club.
What will catch most first-time viewers of The Monster Club off guard is the movie’s tone. The horror anthology framing narrative of Eramus and Chetwynd-Hayes is pretty goofy and upbeat. These scenes almost make the film a musical comedy and are filled with sight gags and nods to the Amicus Films’ history (though this was not a production of Amicus Films). However, this is contrasted by the serious and frightening nature of the horror anthology stories within the film, of which there are three.
The first tale of the horror anthology, “The Shadmock,” is a deathly severe story about a couple who attempt to take advantage of a reclusive estate owner, Raven (James Laurenson), who is one of the hybrid monsters called a Shadmock. The second tale, “The Vampires,” features a boy (Warren Saire) who has a vampire father. The story follows the boy accidentally leading a vampire hunter (Donald Pleasance) to the home, but the tone varies widely within the story. Lastly, “The Ghouls” is the most frightening of the stories. The final segment follows a movie director (Stuart Whitman), who discovered a village of ghouls while scouting for a filming location. He befriends a ghoul named Luna (Lesley Dunlop), but the tale is bleak.
The changes in tone may be challenging for some viewers to swallow, but the format evokes some of the classic comic anthologies such as Creepy and Tales from The Crypt. The mixture of horror and comedy is pretty standard, such as in the Creepshow, which would come out a year later, and is even seen in The Last Drive-In week to week. What helps ease casual viewers in is the glee by which Vincent Price and John Carradine play their roles and embrace the scenes among goofy monsters in plastic masks as ska-infused music plays in the background. The Monster Club is ultimately a lit”le goofy but might b” He’seat film to introduce people to horror and monster media. However, fans of horror, you’re likely to be left wanting.
The film is relatively average from a technical and aesthetic standpoint. Peter Jessop’s cinematography is fine, but visually the film shares many Hammer Horror hallmarks. The editing by Peter Tanner is effective but does not do anything particularly innovative either. The costuming and set design is probably a highlight because it is relentlessly silly for the club scenes. The horror anthology itself is pretty rote, but the wrapping is quite adorable.
Joe-Bobservations on The Monster Club
Joe Bob perhaps summarized the movie’s tone the best during the closing break for the first half of the evening, saying that the film is “so fucking charming.” He’s not wrong. It was a nice, joyous night’s first half with a cute movie. We don’t get many of those on The Last Drive-In, but when we do, they stand out. For example, I’d consider The Legend of Boggy Creek, Sorority Babes at the Slimeball Bowl-o-Rama, and Deathgasm among the cuter films shown on the show. Your mileage may vary, of course.
The lecture elements of the show here were solid, as usual. But British horror is also one of those topics that has been covered so much that insights and discoveries were few to be had. I do consider that the typical member of the Mutant Family has a great deal of awareness of horror films, so many revelations about the British horror scene were somewhat familiar. The background on Amicus Films was great, however. Also fun was Joe Bob being happy with an anthology film as he usually disparages them.
Also, one can’t help and smile at the monster dance party across two of the host segments. Much like The Monster Club, they were “so fucking charming.”
Final Thoughts on The Monster Club
Intensely silly and ultimately harmless, The Monster Club feels like an all-ages answer to horror anthology films such as Creepshow. The film is quite charming, and though the tone varies wildly, it is entertaining throughout. The film doesn’t aim too high and appears quite aware of what it is. While the anthology stories are hit or miss, with “The Ghouls” packing the most robust punch, they come off stronger when framed by scenes of John Carradine and Vincent Price being the icons they are. Their sense of glee elevates even the roughest aspects of the movie.
In his Drive-In Totals, Joe Bob Briggs gave the film 4 out of 4 stars. I think that is fair; The Monster Club is a classic at this point, warts and all. Had the stories been stronger, this movie would have fared a bit better. I give it 4 out of 5 Cthulhus.(4 / 5)
Best Line: “Can we truly call this a monster club if we do not boast amongst our membership a single member of the human race?” – Eramus
Hellbender is a 2021 horror film from the creative family behind 2019’s The Deeper You Dig. The film was written and directed by John Adams, Zelda, Adams, and Toby Poser. It also stars Zelda Adams, Toby Poser, John Adams, and Lulu Adams. This independent production is an exciting example of a family working together, and they are pretty prolific, with many films under their belt already. Truly a fascinating and unique example of independent cinema.
The film follows a teenager and her mother who lives in an isolated cabin. The teen, Izzy (Zelda Adams), is told she has an illness by her mother (Toby Poser) that prevents her from being around other people. In time, Izzy meets some locals, such as Amber (Lulu Adams) and a hitchhiker (John Adams), and learns that she may be isolated for the protection of other people due to her witchy heritage.
Hellbender is a solid film with a lot going for it but is not without its problems. The film’s highlights are the visuals and soundtrack. The movie makes the most out of consumer-grade digital video cameras and shows that fantastic cinematography is achievable with a practiced eye and affordable technology. Drone shots are also used frequently in the film to provide some distance and ethereal glimpses of the eerie woods of the Catskills as well. If that wasn’t enough, the film’s special effects are pretty impressive as well, between gore and trippy, dreamlike imagery. One particular shot with a key and a hand is genuinely remarkable.
The score, composed and performed by the band Hellbender, comprised of the same family involved with every stage of the film’s production, features an original score of atmospheric dread punctuated with performances of the witchy band and their original compositions. It’s pretty fun, and in many ways, the film could also be a series of music videos for an eventual album as the songs and the narrative seem to work in tandem.
The performances are solid. Zelda Adams handles her role as an increasingly bold and independence-seeking teen quite admirably. She also plays well against Toby Poser’s mother character, which is a necessity since most of the runtime comprises scenes between the two. If I had to give one of the actresses the advantage, I’d say that Poser has the more demanding challenge and the more complex performance. Her unnamed character has to deal with a complex series of fears and anxieties, and she does a fantastic job conveying them.
The most significant concern I have with the movie is that the middle section drags quite a bit as Izzy begins to explore her heritage. There is some beautiful imagery, and I feel the journey is important, but overall the pacing slows to a crawl. I had a similar issue with one of the family’s earlier films, The Deeper You Dig. The limited cast stretches the narrative too thin. I think the movie could have lost an easy 15 to 20 minutes and still worked quite well. On the other hand, if the film’s length was necessary, an additional narrative hook is needed to help introduce some more tension into the middle section. There is too much brilliantly shot narrative padding, which puts a damper on the film.
Though I also think the film’s plot is a bit barebones, and the ending makes sense, it feels abrupt and with minimal setup. The relationship between Izzy and her mother is never quite shown to be as bad as the ending would indicate it was, rendering the inversion of their roles seemingly arbitrary. The film would have benefited more from the introduction of more tension in the central relationship because, as it stands, it is relatively idyllic. The dramatic weight isn’t there.
Joe-Bobservations on Hellbender
For the second half of the evening, Joe Bob’s host segments mostly comprised a series of questions and answers with Zelda, John, and Toby. These sequences were a lot of fun, especially as they came out in greasepaint, evoking the musical sequences in the movie. Of the interviews, I feel the segment where it was Joe Bob and John Adams discussed the techniques and John’s surprising past as a model was most enjoyable. This is mainly due to the focus, as the couch filled, the conversation felt less specific. Then again, this happens with most multi-person interviews on the show.
Outside of the interview element, Joe Bob opened the second half of the night with a fun discussion about music in horror but found himself somewhat outclassed by Darcy, who raised several influential horror music composers. However, he did bring up a salient point about the usage of noise in horror films, suggesting a “best achievement in noise” Oscar. I can get behind that.
Final Thoughts on Hellbender
Hellbender is an impressive independent film project that evokes the steady hand of experience. The fact it is the work of a family that has built up this library of independent film is very admirable. The movie looks great and has a strong concept and soundtrack; however it suffers from a significant pacing issue. The film could also benefit from an additional plotline or further complications to pay off its exciting ending.
Joe Bob gave Hellbender 3 out of 4 stars in his Drive-In Totals. I think he’s spot on with it, as there are some admirable elements to the movie. I found the runtime bloat a bit too insurmountable myself, however. I give Hellbender 3 out of 5 Cthuhlus.(3 / 5)
Best Line: “You opened a door that once it’s opened can be hard to shut.” – Mother
Haunted MTL Drive-In Totals
As always, here are the official totals, straight from Shudder.
As for our totals, we have…
- 3 instances of “thee-ate-er”
- 3 dance parties
- 12 monster lineages
- $1.7 million dollar budget
- 200 short stories by R. Chetwynd-Haze
- Opening rant with 4 points and 3 digressions
- Familial vomit bonding
- Gratuitous Drive-In Academy Awards
- Gratuitous ghoulery
- Darcy birthday shenanigans
- Horror host verbosity syndrome
- Safe robbing
- Stripper Jokes
- Irish Jokes
- Clipboard Fu
- Whistle Fu
- Kung Fu Review Fu
- Darcy Cosplay: Skeleton Stripper
Episode Score for the Last Drive-In: S4E6 – The Monster Club and Hellbender
For me, this week’s episode would fall in line with an average episode of The Last Drive-In. The movies were entertaining, and the host segments were good. It’s not a bad way to spend five hours on a Friday night. I also appreciated the night’s stated them, “musical horror,” actually playing out across both films. Sweet, sweet unity.
I’ve been a bit critical of the themes this season because, in at least a few episodes, they’ve been weak and unsupported by the chosen film pairings. That’s not the case here at all. Everything is copacetic. We’ll see how next week goes.
I give The Last Drive-In season 4, episode 6, 4 out of 5 Cthulhus.(4 / 5)
What did you think of the films? Were you already a big fan of The Monster Club? Did you enjoy Hellbender? What about the music? Let us know in the comments.
Can’t get enough of The Monster Club?
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