'Monsters: The Complete Series' Is a Boon for Nostalgia Buffs

The monsters in Monsters look laughable, but if you're a fan of the show already, you probably won't care.


Distributor: E One
Cast: Linda Blair, Rob Morrow, Steve Buscemi, Pam Grier, Matt LeBlanc, et al.
US release date: 2014-02-25

Monsters was a half-hour syndicated anthology TV series that ran from 1988 to 1991, and featured an array of storylines and approaches that focused around, unsurprisingly, monsters of various sorts. These ran the gamut from vampires and space aliens to demons and an array of original creations like spider-women and pig people. Produced by Richard P. Rubenstein, the man responsible for its sister series Tales From the Darkside, Monsters never took itself too seriously, which was both a weakness and a strength. It developed a sizeable audience of faithful fans who have been waiting for years for an official DVD release. Well, here it is.

In retrospect, the most interesting thing about the show was the range of guest actors and actresses who paraded across its dinky little sets every week. As an anthology series, each 21-minute episode is self-contained, so there are no ongoing characters. Future stars like Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire), Matt LeBlanc (Friends) and Rob Morrow (Northern Exposure) rubbed elbows with established actors such as Linda Blair (The Exorcist), Pam Grier (Foxy Brown) and Wil Wheaton (Star Trek: The Next Generation). It’s always fun to spot a familiar actor out of context, and watching Joey Tribbiani arguing with Wesley Crusher about the spooky old barbershop is really a haven for vampires is good for a chuckle or two. Other notable guest stars include Frank Gorshin, Darren McFadden, David Spade and Jerry Stiller.

Unfortunately, the best acting in the world couldn’t overcome the biggest shortcoming of Monsters: it looks cheap. The series was shot on video, as were many shows at the time, and the flat colors and lack of contrast, combined with the flimsy sets and plastic-looking props only undermine the stories the show wants to tell. Worst of all, the monsters themselves are almost universally laughable. Whether it’s the bee woman from “New York Honey” or the pig-faced monster who faces off against Steve Buscemi in “Bed and Boar”, the intelligent stop-motion rats from “Stressed Environment” or the Devil himself in “Hostile Takeover”, the monsters are almost always a letdown. For a show like this, that’s unforgivable.

There are exceptions. In “Shave and a Haircut, Two Bites”, two young men discover a horrible secret in an isolated basement – and what they find is actually pretty gross. There are moments of unease elsewhere too, as in “The Cocoon”, a show that relies more on psychological creepiness than outright horror. Ditto with “La Strega”, the episode starring Blair and Morrow, and one which keeps the viewer guessing about which one is the evil one right up to the end (and beyond, actually, as the resolution isn’t entirely clear). But these moments are few and far between, with many more episodes falling flat than succeeding.

The tone doesn’t always help, either. Different screenwriters and directors aimed for different effects from one episode to the next, so the slapstick silliness of “New York Honey” bumps up against the claustrophobic anxiety of series opener “The Feverman”. Mixing comedy and horror is always a tricky thing, and this show was not particularly successful at it; throw in the low production values and cheesy farfisa organ music, and you have a result that is, at best, low-budget, and at worst, amateurish.

Maybe it’s just a question of perspective. For me, movies from the '50s were the mother lode of kitschy laughs; by the '60s and ’70s, sci-fi and monster movies were actually getting pretty good (2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet of the Apes), and the '50s seemed as remote as ancient Rome. This series engenders the same sort of kitsch-loving mirth as '50s films like The Astounding She-Monster, but it was made 40 years later, and feels like a lost opportunity to make something that was actually good.

E One’s presentation of the Monsters is a bare-bones affair. Each season is presented on three DVDs, so nine in total, with eight episodes on each disc. There are no extras.

It seems unlikely that this set will appeal to anyone who isn’t already a fan of the show. TV has come a long way in the past 25 years, and these episodes are badly dated by contemporary standards. The writing is often weak and the acting often stilted; the monsters are unconvincing. This set holds nostalgia value for viewers who are already fans, but anyone who isn’t driven by nostalgia is unlikely to get much out of this other than novelty value of seeing Adrienne Barbeau or Debbie Harry or Meat Loaf collecting a paycheck.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.