Tuesday, May 06, 2014

The Monster Club – review

Author: R. Chetwynd-Hayes

First Published: 1976

Contains spoilers

The blurb: Hidden beneath the streets of London is a dark and dreadful establishment known as The Monster Club, where vampires indulge in a rather different kind of Bloody Mary and ghouls tear into their gruesome repasts. Here, along with the usual monsters - vampires, werewolves, ghouls, and some of Dr Frankenstein's more freakish creations - you'll find other, less familiar ones. You'll meet the frightening Fly-by-Night, the hideous shaddy, the horrible mock, and the dreaded shadmock, perhaps the most terrible of all.

When Donald McCloud offers a starving man a meal, he unexpectedly discovers that the man is a vampire - and he's the main course! Accompanying the vampire, Eramus, to The Monster Club, Donald encounters a whole host of strange monsters, who, in a series of five linked stories, recount to Donald their monstrous exploits. But as Donald is regaled with these tales of monsters and their unfortunate human victims, it gradually dawns on him that as the only human in a club full of bloodthirsty monsters, he might be in a bit of a predicament. . . .

First published as a paperback original in 1976, R. Chetwynd-Hayes's The Monster Club was adapted for a 1981 film starring Vincent Price, John Carradine and Donald Pleasence, and both book and film have gone on to become cult classics. Told in a wry, tongue-in-cheek style, the tales in The Monster Club are simultaneously horrific, comical, and curiously moving. This edition is the first in more than twenty years and features a new introduction by Stephen Jones and a reproduction of John Bolton's painting from the comic book adaptation of the film.

The review: Though I gave the vampire section of the film the Monster Club a respectable 6 out of 10, the film as a whole is a favourite from my youth and is more than the sum of its parts. Readers may not be aware, however, that the film was based on this book. Or should I say in part based, whilst the film section the Village of Momsters was a rather accurate filming of the story in the book the Humgoo, the Shadmock section of the film was more a very loose adaptation seemed to borrow elements of a couple of the stories within as well as make much up and the above mentioned My Mother Married a Vampire was actually based on a story from a different Chetwynd-Hayes anthology.

The book takes the form of a portmanteau, with prologue, epilogue and interludes introducing human Douglas to vampire Eramus and then to the monster club itself. Within are five stories. The first is the story of the Vampire and the Werewolf, told by their hybrid offspring Manfred the werevamp. The next three stories centre on hybrids of one sort or another (though the story of the Mock involves some full on vampire characters too) and the final story is of the Fly-by-night, an Australian monster now found as an immigrant in Britain.

The joy of R. Chetwynd-Hayes is in his inventiveness and also in the actual prose. It is a sprightly style with an ever present undercurrent of humour that works especially well for its dark nature. The book was devoured by me in a day and left me hungry for more of Chetwynd-Hayes’ prose.

The vampire lore is fairly standard – sunlight burns, crosses repel and a stake through the heart followed by decapitation finishes one off. The main piece of lore however is a cross-monster rule that suggests “vampires sup, werewolves hunt, ghouls tear, shaddies lick, maddies yawn, mocks blow, but shadmocks only whistle”. To get to the bottom of that lore I’ll direct you to the book and say no more as I really don’t want to spoil the stories at all. Of course the book does come highly recommended. 9 out of 10.

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