Monsters: The Complete Series DVD Review
Written and directed by various
1988-1990, Region 1 (NTSC), 1560 minutes, Not Rated
DVD released on February 25, 2014
Frank Gorshin as Ward Ellers
Adrienne Barbeau as White Magic Practitioner
Steve Buscemi as John Dennis
I was in high school when Monsters first hit the airwaves. It ran from 1988-1990 and was ostensibly a horror anthology about a family of monsters sitting down for family time to watch their favorite program. It was very much in the vein of Tales from the Crypt, Tales from the Darkside, or any of that ilk. And much like its predecessors, it culls its tales and their morality from the old EC Comics, in which nefarious characters always experienced some twist to their tale that resulted in an unfavorable comeuppance.
The episodes themselves are a little hit and miss. Most of them are good, and feature surprisingly strong performances for low-budget television. The cast includes a who's who of hey-I-know-that-person players; performers you may not recognize the names of immediately but that are great actors, like Frank Gorshin. If you grew up on the Adam West Batman, you know him as The Riddler. Adrienne Barbeau from John Carpenter's The Fog shows up, as does Linda Blair, Pam Grier, Steve Buscemi, Meat Loaf, Tom Noonan, and many, many more guest stars. It's fun to go back and watch someone like Buscemi who's so recognizable today in an early role and see how far they've come.
The episodes are quick, running at about 22 minutes apiece, so it's easy to breeze through the collection and get caught up. They often feature some really well-done special effects and make-up of a caliber one wouldn't normally expect from such a mass-produced, non-serialized fare. They may not be up to par with the Tales from the Crypt series HBO produced in that same time frame, but I'm sure they didn't have the same budget either. Story-wise, they are on a fairly even keel, and some even rise above.
Some of my favorites include the Meat Loaf starring "Where's the Rest of Me?", about a mad scientist doctor who develops a serum to keep the dead alive for organ transplant. What could go wrong, right? And then there's "The Feverman", which was the very first episode and sets a very specific tone for the series. It involves a doctor who can heal people by literally drawing out the sicknesses as real monsters to fight. I also have a weird affection for "Parents from Space", the Frank Gorshin starrer that had a sad little child living with abusive foster parents who are temporarily replaced by kind alien creatures stranded on our planet. There's a real moral ambiguity to the end of the story that I find quite lovely.
Monsters is an undervalued property that a lot of people (including myself) had forgotten. This release of the whole series is an excellent opportunity to revisit an old friend and spread the word to a new generation who missed it in its initial run.
Video and Audio:
Monsters was initially made for television, and shot well before the advent of widescreen, so it's presented here as aired in a 4X3/1.33:1 full-frame aspect. Those of us old enough to remember the first run of the series will feel much at home, while newcomers will probably be fine, but resigned to a lesser quality transfer. The picture has been scrubbed and cleaned, but due to the age and original quality, it's not exactly hi-def. There's a fair bit of pixelation and lines, but it's not overly distracting or enough to lessen the overall enjoyment.
The audio is similarly constrained by time and lack of technology. It sounds fine, but the Dolby Digital 2.0 isn't the same as modern outputs.
This is the biggest letdown of the set. There are literally no special features to be had here at all. A little background, making-of, or even a commentary by the show runners would have kicked it up a notch.
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