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Book Review: The Monster Club by R. Chetwynd-Hayes

“Buy the book.”

The Monster Club1Ronald Chetwynd-Hayes was regularly one of the top ten authors whose work was borrowed from British libraries throughout the seventies – so says Stephen Jones in his excellent introduction. In fact Jones does such a thorough job it leaves this reviewer with nothing new to say about the man or his work other than to waffle on for several hundred words then end with a recommendation to buy the book.

Today you’d be hard pushed to find anything of his currently in print – which is a great shame indeed because, as he shows in the five stories here, he possessed a mordant wit missing from much of the genre. Quite why he is overlooked today may well stem from this less than serious approach to the subject, but he is a writer ripe for rediscovery. As The Monster Club best exemplifies, Chetwynd-Hayes populated his books with a whole new genealogy of monsterdom alongside such standards as vampires, werewolves and ghouls. In this slim volume alone we meet Fly-by-Nights, Shaddies, Maddies, Humgoos, Mocks and Shadmocks – all possessing their own special talents and peculiarities.

Aside from the connecting story the book shares little with the 1981 film adaptation. Only two of the stories are retained and of those only one, The Humgoo, resembles Chetwynd-Hayes’ original and all lack the author’s sly humour, replacing it with something broader along with an array of tacky monster masks that appear to have been picked straight off the shelf of the local branch of Woolworths. Chetwynd-Hayes had previously been brought to the screen by The Monster Club’s producer Milton Subotsky with From Beyond the Grave. Both he and John Dark, associate producer on that film, are name checked in anagram form as Limton Busotsky and Dark John.

The book opens with Good Samaritan, Donald McCloud (reworked as Chetwynd-Hayes himself in the film) helping an unfortunate stranger, called Eramus, on a London street. It is only after Donald brings the half-starved Eramus back to his lodgings that it is clear that the only thing that can satiate the poor man’s hunger flows through Donald’s veins. By way of an apology for taking advantage of Donald’s kind nature Eramus introduces him to the shadowy denizens that frequent The Monster Club – many of whom seem only too happy to relate stories of how hard done by their kind have been by the “humes”.

The first two stories, The Werewolf and the Vampire and The Mock, both take the monster’s point of view, cleverly inverting the form to present the humans as the real monsters (a concept that becomes quite relevant for Donald by the end).

All the stories are eloquently written, the combination of humour and horror giving them a slightly cosy feel that actually works in their favour (given the outlandish nature of Chetwynd-Hayes’ own monsters, the comedy seems integral). In the case of the first story the ending is all the more tragic because of the writer’s less than serious approach to the subject. Even on its original publication – the literary world of horror by then in the thrall of the likes of Stephen King and James Herbert – Chetwynd-Hayes’ style must have seemed rather old-fashioned. None of the stories feel particularly contemporaneous to the period (The Monster Club was first published in 1975), indeed there is more of a post war Festival of Britain vibe to the proceedings – but with the monsters clearly not feeling that sense of optimism experienced by the rest of the population.

Chetwynd-Hayes’ greater popularity as a writer may not have outlived him, but his writing is fully deserving of reassessment. Perhaps Mister Jones and Valancourt will dig a little deeper into the archive.

Buy the book.

NEIL WILLIAMS

Publisher: Valancourt Books
Paperback (188pp)
Introduction by Stephen Jones

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