Each episode of Monsters opens with an unconventional and highly meta title sequence: from an establishing shot of the Earth on high, we pull in through the atmosphere on to a suburban neighborhood, and then move in closer still toward an average suburban home. The family residing there, we discover, is not unlike that of your average sitcom from the Leave it to Beaver-era… except, of course, that they’re monsters. As it happens, Mom and daughter are both cyclopes and Dad is, well, some sort of caterpillar/plant man thing… I guess. Gathering around their television set for some quality, monster-family time together, Mom exclaims with glee that their favorite show is just starting: Monsters!
This odd little scene is important to this review because it helps establish two very important things. First, it shows how the series approaches its subject matter, which is to say, with an eye for the satirical. No episode of Monsters plays out without lampooning (often corporate) greed, patriarchal social structures, bigotry, or any of a dozen or more such topics rooted in the selfish and immoral behavior of mankind. In this way, even though every episode centers on a different type of monster (be it a vampire, a zombie, or something far less conventional than that), the series is just as much about the monstrousness of man as it is about awesome creature effects.
Secondly, the opening of Monsters fairly accurately mirrors the way my own family interacted with the series, as I, my mom, and often my brothers would rush to the living room whenever the series’ unmistakable theme would come on. You see, the late-1980’s and early 1990’s were characterized by more than a few anthology horror and science fiction series, even if many were only airing in rerun at any given time. If you’re not familiar with the term “anthology series,” I guarantee you’re at least familiar with one of them. Simply put, anthology series are programs that tell a different story every episode. During the era in question, sure, you could easily catch reruns of Twilight Zone or Night Gallery, but the most notable of the then contemporary horror anthology series were probably Tales from the Darkside, The Hitchhiker and later, the most iconic of 80’s/90’s anthology series, Tales from the Crypt.
Monsters, one such anthology series of the era, aired in syndication for three seasons (1988-1991) and would most prominently be rerun on Sci-Fi Channel (now Syfy) during the channel’s early years. And that’s where I saw it. And I watched it religiously, because frankly it had something no other anthology series could claim at the time, something that spoke directly to my little horror hound heart: a monster in every episode! Monsters was easily my favorite, followed probably by Tales from the Darkside, a series which originated from producer Richard P. Rubinstein, who would in fact put Monsters into production the very year Darkside came to a close. The thing is, in Darkside there were often monsters, and even if there wasn’t a monster in a given episode, you could at least expect some sort of supernatural/fantasy element.
Now, what about Tales from the Crypt? Everybody loves Tales from the Crypt, right?! Yeah. They do. And I’m fond of it as well. It had enormous production value and a slew of Hollywood directors behind the camera. But I always had one fundamental problem with Tales from the Crypt: there were, on occasion, no monsters or supernatural elements whatsoever. Sometimes it was just a murder story. Sometimes all you’d get was a slightly-above-average crime caper in which a woman kills her husband for the life insurance money with the aid of her boyfriend, or something like that. And that’s fine and all, but honestly if I wanted a good murder story in that vein, I’d turn to, oh I don’t know, Double Indemnity!
So nope, it’s Monsters for me. Because I got to see those creatures! I just have to have those makeup effects by Dick Smith (the award-winning makeup artist for films such as Scanners and The Exorcist who’s credited on every episode of Monsters). And damn if Monsters doesn’t deliver on the creature effects every single time.
What’s more, many folks I know tout Tales from the Crypt for its many celebrity appearances, but Monsters too had no shortage of noteworthy stars. To name a few, the series features Steve Buscemi, Pam Grier, Tony Shalhoub, David Spade, Deborah Harry, Meatloaf, John Saxon, Adrienne Barbeau, Jerry Stiller, Lili Taylor, Tom Noonan, Linda Blair and Mary Woronov. Hell, even the late Russell Johnson shows up early in the series to get eaten by a T-Rex thing… which is amazing!
So maybe you’re thinking that you’ve never heard of this show, but you’re thinking you’ve always liked Tales from the Crypt and maybe even Tales from the Darkside so this might be right up your alley. Or maybe a flood of happy Monsters memories are flooding back to you as you’re reading this. Either way, these are happy times indeed for you all, I tell you, because the complete series of Monsters, all 72 episodes, is in fact now available from Entertainment One in a 9-DVD box set. It may not boast any special features, but I’ll tell you right now, that doesn’t matter one bit. This is the most monsters you’re ever going to get for your money by volume. Period. We’re talking 25 straight hours of cheesy yet satirical TV horror anthology greatness, jam-packed with well over 72 monsters! And who could argue with that? Not me, I tell you.