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Welcome to a night of frights with Monsters: The Complete Series! Step inside a haunted house of horrific delights as things that go 'bump' in the night enter your rec room to scare you silly! Each episode of Monsters will introduce viewers to an ooey-gooey ravenous creature of the night that never plays by the rules in stories that will curdle your blood! Watch as famous guest stars—including Linda Blair (The Exorcist), Adrienne Barbeau (The Fog), Tony Shalhoub (Thir13en Ghosts), and Ashley Laurence (Hellbound: Hellraiser II)—meet a gruesomely satisfying end at the hand of these Monsters!
The late 1980s and early 1990s sure were a great time for being a horror fan. Aside of all the great films released during this time, TV fans also got a double dose of anthology horror. The first was on HBO's Tales from the Crypt, which featured the decaying Crypt Keeper oozing out stories that gave viewers both goose bumps and giggles. Also on around the same time, but to lesser success, was the syndicated show Monsters which ran for three seasons from 1988 to 1991. Much like Tales from the Crypt, Monsters's episodes often had a twist ending, or at the very least ended with someone getting their comeuppance by a drooling, bug eyed baddie. The episodes were never very complex in their execution, giving just enough space for a set up and then letting the eventual aforementioned beasts free on the main characters.
One of the biggest difference between Tales from the Crypt and Monsters was the production budgets. Whereas Tales from the Crypt was produced by powerful Hollywood producers (Joel Silver, Robert Zemeckis) with relatively deep pockets, Monsters ended up getting the short stick when it came to monetary funds. This meant that the most impressive asset in the show was the make up effects (all practical, since this was right before the dawn of CGI), which were pretty good, all things considered. The other big difference between the two shows: Monsters was never able to reach the dizzyingly horrific heights of the superior Tales from the Crypt. Produced by Richard P. Rubenstein (who also shepherded the 1980s anthology series Tales from the Darkside) and overseen by legendary makeup creator Dick Smith (The Exorcist), Monsters is often too light hearted to be horrifying, and too terrifying to be truly funny.
The one thing you can't fault Monsters for is overreaching its goals. The stories fall into every category, from romance ("My Zombie Lover") to mutant rodents ("Stressed Environments") to alien invasions ("The Space-Eaters"), and everything in between. Like most horror anthology movies or TV shows, the stories themselves don't link up to each other, which means you can jump right into Monsters any place and never feel like you've missed something. Monsters is a show that feels like cable TV candy. While it's insubstantial and rather ridiculous, the series is still fun in relatively small doses; taken in only one sitting and it can make you feel sick to your stomach. Each of these episodes is executed with a liberal dose of exaggeration and silliness.
None of the actors in Monsters: The Complete Series takes any of the material seriously, often giving performances that are just this side of parody. One of the elements that made Tales from the Crypt work so well is that the actors all seemed to play the material generally straight (except for rare episodes that were meant to be goofy), which made the scary stuff scarier and the funny stuff funnier. In Monsters everyone seems to be winking at the camera as if to say, "Yeah, I know how ludicrous this material is…but hey, it's a job!" None of the actors are all that memorable, which isn't surprising considering the title of the show is Monsters, not Human Actors. Although it's fun to see some B-level stars pop up once in a while (hey look! It's Meat Loaf and David Spade!), there's a reason why Monsters isn't a very noticeable gig on their resumes.
Anthology movies and TV shows tend to sink or swim on how tightly written their episodes are. Monsters is all over the map. Some of the episodes are actually expertly penned while others feel half baked, as if a few more passes over the script were in order. One of the stranger episodes features an upstairs neighbor who turns out to be a hive of bees. When the downstairs neighbors complain about their loud music, the bees (disguised in human form) offer up some honey as a mea culpa…and the final frame closes with a monstrous bee queen taking away her lover into the skies. This episode encapsulates why Monsters often doesn't rise above mediocrity—while the general idea is sort of amusing, the story itself (there's a queen bee upstairs) is almost non-existent. Other episodes feature a young teenager (The Cosby Show's Tempestt Bledsoe) carrying on a love affair with a young zombie, a children's TV show doll that comes to murderous life, and using microchips to control a dead corpse's brain. I hate to keep coming back to Tales from the Crypt, but that particular show often did a better job of at least giving the endings an ironic twist.
It may sound like I'm down on Monsters, and I don't really mean to be. For what it was—a basic cable creature feature series for those with insomnia—it got the job done well enough. Horror fans who fondly remember this show will be happy it has finally arrived on DVD.
Each episode of Monsters: The Complete Series (72 in total, 24 in each season) is presented in standard def 1.33:1 full frame. Entertainment One has done a decent job bringing this show to DVD for the first time, but it's hardly revelatory. The image quality is just above passable and the transfers are never much better than serviceable. Each soundtrack is presented in Dolby 2.0 Stereo, a front heavy mix that doesn't feature much in the way of surround sounds or directional effects. This isn't a big surprise considering the show's age and budget. That being said, that weird, creepy main title theme sure does sound freaky coming out of my home theater system. There are no subtitles, alternate language tracks, or bonus features included with this set.
Monsters is one of those television shows that works best around 11:30p, when everyone else has gone to sleep and your internal quality sensors have shut down. This wasn't a great television show by any means, but it did feature a lot of slime covered latex monsters, and for that I give it a passing grade.
Horror with a side of cheese.
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Studio: E1 Entertainment
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