Joe Rates: Monsters season 1, part 1
March 02, 2019
I used to watch a show with my dad in the late '80s: Monsters. It was a horror anthology series that lasted three seasons, and was a successor to another such program called Tales from the Darkside. Obviously, Monsters focused more on antagonistic creatures than Tales did, from garden variety beasts like zombies or vampires to more imaginative critters (e.g. a bed that eats people, anthropomorphic bees, a "cancer vampire," etc.).
After purchasing a Roku television, I found that the complimentary streaming service Roku TV had the complete series of Monsters, so naturally I've been spending time watching it (when the kids aren't around, of course). So far, I've gotten through a quarter of season one, and my findings aren't surprising: quite of the bit of the show hasn't aged well. Imagine that. Other episodes, though, resonate more with me now that I'm an adult.
As for the ones I've watched so far:
Episode 1.1: The Feverman
Featured monster: A fever, which manifests as a massive demon.
Noteworthy names: David McCallum (Ducky of NCIS
A period piece revolving around a miracle healer called a "feverman" (McCallum), this one is about a desperate father who brings his ailing, feverish daughter to the feverman's abode. The man's family doctor and hardcore skeptic accompanies him, trying to dissuade him from purchasing the healer's services. As you can imagine, it turns out the skeptic is wrong, and the fever is actually a monster possessing the little girl, which the alcoholic faith worker battles.
Ending spoiler: The doctor inadvertently distracts the feverman during his ritual, allowing the fever to mortally wound him. The doctor then steps in and kills the fever, only to find out that he is the feverman's successor, as chosen by an amulet the healer wears. The little girl recovers and leaves, and right afterward another client appears...
A more or less okay beginning that doesn't go overboard. It's entertaining and shows us that the show can be topical, to a degree, while maintaining a bite-sized narrative.
Episode 1.2: Holly's House
Featured monster: Implied possessed animatronic puppet
Noteworthy names: Perry Lang (TV director and '80s B-list actor) co-stars; Michael J. Anderson (The Man From Another Place on Twin Peaks) stars.
Cathy is a puppeteer who works on a show called Holly's House. She controls and voices the titular puppet (Anderson), while her close friend plays a humanoid duck and her boyfriend Eddie (Lang) plays a mailman. The series has lasted four seasons, which is awfully long for a late '80s kids show. Holly reveals to her boyfriend that she's pregnant, and everyone on the show, including her boss, urge her to retire, grow up and start a family. Instead of accepting, she resorts to childish behavior to avoid talking about the issue. Around the same time, she begins to notice that Holly moves and talks on her own, as if she's possessed--although it's possible that these are figments of Cathy's imagination, as begins to crack up.
Ending spoiler: Holly murders Eddie with a pair of scissors and stuffs his body into a compartment on the show's set. His body falls out during a taping, Cathy loses it and destroys the puppet on stage. In the epilogue, we see Cathy at an institution holding her baby and singing the Holly's House theme.
This episode plays heavily with implication. It's entirely possible that Cathy imagined all of Holly's movements, and that she controlled the puppet from the shadows when it killed Eddie. Perhaps she externalized her reluctance to "grow up," feeling so passionately about her work that she would rather dispatch her boyfriend than lead a standard, tedious existence. At the same time, the show has you questioning if it's possible that Holly's upgrade--shown briefly during a scene--perhaps brought her to life, resulting in an intelligent puppet that didn't want to be abandoned by her puppeteer. You never really get the answer, but that's what gives this episode its punch.
Episode 1.3: New York Honey
Featured monster: Anthropomorphic bee
Noteworthy names: Lewis J. Sadlen (character actor) stars; Andrea Thompson (Babylon 5, JAG) co-stars.
An apartment dweller (Sadlen) confronts his noisy neighbor, and discovers that the man basically has a farm in his apartment, complete with beekeeping quarters. The neighbor offers the protagonist some of the honey, which is not only very delicious, but an addictive aphrodisiac. He later tries to market his awkward neighbor's honey and make him a business partner. It's then that he meets the neighbor's wife, a beautiful woman who can somehow control the bees.
Ending spoiler: Sadlen's character woos the mysterious woman, despite both of them being married. She eventually commands the bees to sting the neighbor and Sadlen's wife to death. The two of them begin making out, and she transforms into a monstrous queen bee in his arms. She then grabs him and flies him out a window, where she drops him to his death.
This was a more comedic episode, with schtick that just didn't work. Everyone spoke in over-exaggerated tones, and it just came off as typical, needlessly cheesy '80s junk. The ending was not at all surprising, and fact that the monster didn't appear until the very end made the episode very chore-like. It gets cool points for having a pretty unique story, though.
Episode 1.4: The Vampire Hunter
Featured monster: Vampire
Noteworthy names: Robert Lansing (12 O'Clock High Noon)
A vampire cleverly kidnaps a retired hunter's assistant to take revenge on him.
Ending spoiler: Vampire kills the assistant, and the hunter takes due revenge.
This is the kind of series where you can explore the concept of monster-based horror without having to fall into well worn genres. I'm not big on vampire hunter movies because they're typically slow and very samey. This one is no different, although it's a bit more palatable because it's shorter. Not a bad episode, but not a great one, either. I like that the vampire looked and acted more like a supervillain.
Episode 1.5: My Zombie Lover
Featured monster: Zombies
Noteworthy names: Tempestt Bledsoe (The Cosby Show) stars
During a night when the dead walk the earth, a zombie hunter's daughter meets with an old crush from high school. Of course, he's undead...
Ending spoiler: The hunter returns home to find a zombie hanging out with his daughter and attempts to shoot him. She throws herself in front of the bullet, dies and becomes a zombie herself. Mom and dad learn to be more tolerant of the undead as a result. The ending implies that they might devour the protagonist's little brother.
Once again, this is an episode played more for laughs that fall flat. It's nice to see Bledsoe outside of The Cosby Show, but episode did little for me.
Episode 1.6: Where's the Rest of Me?
Featured monster: Reanimated man
Noteworthy names: Meat Loaf stars; Franco Harris (NFL- Steelers, Seahawks) co-stars
A scientist discovers a way to reattach all body parts from a person, regardless of blood type or other proportions. Using a serum, the organs bind to a new body and adapt to it, plus the serum can preserve corpses for years so that their parts can be harvested at any time. Unfortunately, someone inadvertently ups the dosage of the juice on a corpse and reanimates him. He then goes on a killer spree to recover his missing body parts.
Ending spoiler: The corpse kills everyone, reclaims his harvested parts and leaves the house shouting "Viva la revolucion!"
This one wasn't bad. It was pretty graphic for a late '80s TV show, too. My main complaint is that the setup felt a little too convenient. This guy discovered a serum that preserves body parts and binds them to a new body, regardless of possible complications? I dunno. This also takes place during a revolution somewhere in South America (I don't remember where), and that backdrop felt unnecessary. It's almost like they included all of the stuff about the revolution to give the episode a false sense of depth, as they didn't utilize the concept to its fullest. It's not like the genre is new to exploring social or political concepts, either.
Tune in next time for (hopefully): The Legacy, Sleeping Dragon, Pool Sharks, Pillow Talk, Rouse Him Not, Fool's Gold. No Glim-Glim yet. I don't know if I'm ready for that one again. Glim-Glim didn't deserve what happened to him.