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29.7.16

WRITTEN REVIEW: Monsters: TV For Couch Potatoes & Cyclopes

By CORY CARR
Since the success of Twilight Zone and spooky radio dramas before it, television networks have been trying to cash in with their own branded version of horror anthology. Horror on television has become a big business with shows like The Walking Dead and American Horror Story. Seasons of these shows now get big Hollywood budgets and have top notch make-up effects. But this hasn't always been true. Made for t.v. horror has ridden a long hard road to mainstream success. There was From Beyond, The Outer Limits, Night Gallery and after those and several others, came Monsters.

While Monsters occasionally dabbled in science fiction and fantasy, more often than not the stories focused on it's namesake – monsters – set in some alternate reality where the dead live, or an upscale apartment building plagued with demons. Every episode featured some sort of vampire, zombie, demon, mutant or alien. The show was a practical effects smörgåsbord which was consulted by renowned make-up man Dick Smith. And if that wasn't enough for monster fans, the show enlisted an entirely new effects talent and/or company for each episode.

The series varied between stories that are told straight faced and macabre, to the occasional episode that was presented as tongue and cheek camp. The episode “My Zombie Lover”, for example, contains all the over acting and schlocky humor that would commonly be found on a traditional horror hosted public access creature feature.


Whether the newest episode to hit the air-waves was for fun or something more serious, there always seemed to be some social, or environmental subtext to the stories. This made it seem like the writers were trying to convey more than just cheap thrills. Something that has become a long standing tradition in the horror genre.

The only downfall of Monsters is it's limited budget. While most episodes seemed to be acted well, they weren't always edited or filmed in a way that made the most of the monsters. The old saying; “less is more” doesn't seem to apply here. In the episode “All In A Days Work” Adrienne Barbeau battles a pint sized demon that has found it's way into her home. The demon is a puppet, and it's filmed in such a way that it looks like...a puppet. A well crafted puppet, but still a puppet never the less, which leaves the episode feeling none too frightening.


The VHS collection, courtesy of Horror Break Down.

Another element that gave Monsters a bit of personality was the shows introduction. Every episode began with a family of three sitting down to watch some evening television. The family consists of a mother and daughter who are cyclopes, and a father who has a potato for a head. He's literally a couch potato. Yeah, it's goofy, but it's a fun monster twist on what a middle class atomic family would look like within the world of Monsters.

Monsters was produced by Richard Rubinstein, who was also responsible for Tales From the Dark Side. Another anthology horror series of similar look and feel. Monster seems to be the spiritual successor to Tales From the Dark Side, as it hit the air-waves just after Tales was canceled.

Speaking of which, the series originally aired between 1988 through 1991. It has been shown in syndication through the early '90s on the Sci-fi Channel and more recently on Chiller.


I'm not old enough to have watched Monsters as it aired – nor have I seen it on Sci-Fi or Chiller, but I did manage to pick up several episodes on VHS at a local flea market. I'm glad I stumbled upon this opportunity to check out one of the lesser known horror anthology.

The series has it's shortcomings, but the creatures and stories are all very creative and worth checking out if you ever get a chance. Fortunately you won't have to scour the internet or second hand stores to find episodes of the show on VHS. It received a DVD release by eOne Entertainment back in 2014.

MONSTERS

★ ★ ★ ½

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