1988’s “Monsters” was one of the many anthology shows in the eighties that managed to cash in on the anthology boom of the decade and offer up its own demented take on the concept. Like “Tales from the Darkside,” and “Twilight Zone” every episode provided its own story steeped in horror, science fiction, or fantasy but had on rule: It had to feature a monster in every episode. Every episode had a monster in one form or another.
Most times it was rather clever, other times it missed big time in its efforts to deliver something new (ahem–I’m looking at you, “My Zombie Lover,” and “Taps”). “Monsters” very much approached the genre with a mixed bag of tricks offering up some dark comedy, thick terror, and often ironic climaxes that succeeded in being a fun and unique series for genre buffs. While sadly fading in to obscurity, it’s still a very entertaining show, and it’s one I fondly re-visited after so many years off the air. To celebrate the lost formula of the anthology, we offer our top ten episodes of the series run.
10. The Gift
Director: Jeffery Wolf
Jeffery is a petulant rich kid who has just been kidnapped by two armed thugs, one of whom is played by the great Abe Vigoda. The thugs are planning to hold him for ransom and take him to an abandoned house to await the money. When they take him in to the basement, they discover a furry beast lurking below and shoot it dead. Leaving Jeffery to die as they wait for the ransom, the young boy discovers that the beast can talk.
During the stress of fright and horror, Jeffery quickly redeems himself by gaining a friend and tending to the fur covered beast who is actually a sentient being who is alive to bring down the wicked. As the two bond and the beast tries to help him while healing from the fatal bullet wounds, Jeffery learns about being an adult, making sacrifices, and valuing life above all else, even at the cost of ones own. “The Gift” is one of the few really sweet episodes of “Monsters” in the tradition of the equally heartbreaking “The Glim Glim,” and is a great lesson learned in nobility and heroism.
9. Far Below
Director: Debra Hill
This is an utterly demented episode of “Monsters,” and one that implies a lot of goings on behind the scenes that never actually resorts to gratuitous violence. When a tax auditor is sent to the local transit system to go over the finances, he discovers a secret fund and demands to know what it’s being used for or else. The manager of the system then reveals to the auditor that there is something in the darkness of the subway system that no one knows about, something fierce and disturbing that is not only living underground, but is also feeding on the homeless population allowing the city to control the overflow of the homeless. By the time the auditor realizes this situation is grotesque and he must forget he ever discovered this, the transit manager decides that he simply can’t be allowed to know this information and live. Things go from crazy to bat shit insane in minutes flat.
8. The Offering
Director: Ernest D. Farino
This episode of “Monsters” adds a face and rationality to the cruel disease known as Cancer. When Louis suffers a concussion from an auto accident, he ends up in the same hospital as his mother who is dying from cancer. This head wound allows him the inexplicable second sight to see what causes cancer, and it is a horrible bug like beast that feeds on its human victims and injects them with larva, breeding the sickness.
What’s even worse is that Louis suspects the doctor caring for the Cancer patients is the monster in disguise and he has to figure out a way to stop the bast once and for all, lest many other people suffer this cruel sickness. “The Offering” is a dark and grim story that gives the disease a form, and allows us to glimpse at a heroe’s sacrifice to allow his loved one a few more years to of life of happiness from the wrath of this beast.
7. The Waiting Room
Director: Benjamin Carr
No matter how much you try, everything you do in life will eventually re-surface, and every crime you commit against someone will eventually come back to bite you in the end. In the case of “The Waiting Room” it happens to be affecting young Katharine. Traveling to an old motel with her husband John and Father in law Benjamin (as played by John Saxon) to re-live his anniversary, John eventually gets lost in the motel and disappears in to the dark room. Katharine discovers that Benjamin’s first and only affair has returned and his lover, a mysterious beautiful woman who waits in the darkness of every room, has been waiting for Benjamin to return for many years.
Benjamin engaged in a sexual relationship with the dark woman promising her a child, and then abandoned her to return to his wife. Learning to avoid running in to her by turning on lights before entering a room, she’s now taken his son and is unwilling to release him. Worse, Benjamin is willing to sacrifice his son. Katharine must figure out how to get Benjamin to trade places with his son and free him from the clutches of the mysterious woman and Benjamin’s demonic nightmare child. With a truly ambiguous monster in the episode, and an utterly demented final scene, “The Waiting Room” is definitely one of the memorable episodes of the series.
6. Sleeping Dragon
Director: Michael Reaves
When I was finished with “Sleeping Dragon,” I found myself angry because this is one of the very few episodes of “Monsters” capable of becoming a movie. While the majority of “Monsters” episodes are one and done installments with short form stories, “Sleeping Dragon” was an episode I wanted to see more of and transformed in to a feature length monster film. When young Merrick brings his professor and daughter Lisa what looks like a Dragon egg to be examined for the school, they discover that the egg is genuine.
From its hell a powerful man hungry dragon has been unleashed and the trio have nowhere to go, especially now that the environment outside is nothing but frigid cold and suffocating snow. “Sleeping Dragon” feels like something of an iteration of “John Carpenter’s The Thing,” where the trio have to find ways to outwit and out match the dragon while fighting it off and looking for help. The episode itself is great, but the ending delivers a surprise twist that signals there’s so much more to this story that we’re not seeing. Even though I’d really like to.
5. Pool Sharks
Director: Alan Kingsberg
This episode is primarily based around a classic battle of vampire and vampire hunter, except it’s based in a pool hall in the outskirts of a city. Gabe is a man who has walked in to the local pool hall prepared to drink himself silly and gazes as the local pool denizen manages to win every single game and earns himself a kiss from the absolutely sexy and alluring trophy girlfriend Natasha. Every time he wins, she allows him a kiss, and every time he loses, she manages to collect. Gabe pays particular attention to the hearse outside, and manages to get Natasha’s crony to leave.
The two form something of a very palpable chemistry, engaging in flirting and gazes across the table. That is until Gabe makes a bet with Natasha. If she wins the game, she can have him. If he wins the game, he can assuredly have her and do whatever he wants to her. But Natasha isn’t so hellbent on letting him win and this raven haired goddess reveals herself to be much more than a babe in a tight black dress. “Pool Sharks” is more a game of wits than a horror story, but it unfolds in a classic series of twists and turns and ends like a classic Dracula movie. It’s definitely one of the most entertaining.
4. Holly’s House
Director: Theodore Gershuny
There’s always been that interesting topic in all of pop culture that behind the screens of kids shows and some of the most popular children’s show hosts are a dark side we’ve never seen. Sometimes it’s a dark side we really don’t want to see. Katherine is the wiz behind the hit kids show “Holly’s House,” a somewhat eerie, but apparently popular show about a robotic little girl named Holly. Technician Katherine operates her through radio waves and bodily movements bringing Holly to life in her show. Katherine is a woman so devoted to Holly, she refuses to grow up. And in spite of her co-workers insistence that she move on to another profession for adults, Katherine just won’t let Holly go.
Now that Katherine is pregnant with co-worker Eddie’s child, she has to make a final decision if she wants to stay on the show or grow up and widen her horizons. But her creation Holly will have nothing of it. Appearing to her in the darkness of the studio, Holly insists that Katherine stay on the show and play with her forever, but Katherine can’t decide what she wants. Deciding for her, Holly goes on a violent rampage on the sound stage and soon we’re left wondering if Holly is carrying out Katherine’s inner most desires, or if Katherine is merely posing as Holly to get rid of the elements in her life urging her to mature. The climax is especially dark and twisted, relying on subtle and utterly demented imagery along with an utterly ambiguous final scene that will keep many viewers discussing what they’d just seen for hours. “Holly’s House” is a dark and dread soaked episode in a series mostly dependent on dark comedy.
3. The Match Game
Director: Michael Brandon
This episode is worth watching if only to see a very young Tori Spelling get her face melted by a zombie. Co-starring the gorgeous Ashley Laurence and Sasha Jenson, “The Match Game” is a perfect Halloween episode that is not quite about the holiday. Four teenagers break in to the local house in the neighborhood that’s purported to be haunted. During the night, the foursome play the match game, in which they light a match and have to make up a portion of a scary story, telling their part before the match goes out. When the foursome decide to engage in the game during a violent thunderstorm, they soon learn that their story about a cursed old man and his vengeful spirit may not be fictional after all.
The story may be all too real. But what has caused the fictional story to suddenly manifest itself. Filled with a great setting and some really good special effects, “The Match Game” is a creepy and entertaining testament to a good horror story featuring some great horror sequences, and convincing performances from the entire cast. including star Byron Thames. Much of the episode depends on how convincing the actors can be with their scary story to sell the hook of the episode, and it works with effective impact and a finale that’s pretty indicative of things to come for some of the characters in this group. Sometimes if you believe a story enough, it can come true.
2. The Hole
Director: David Severeid
Much of the eighties decade was based around using media as a form of looking back at the events of the Vietnam war and either analyzing it or completely questioning how and why it happened. “The Hole” is one of the many eighties throwbacks to the horrors of the Vietnam war throwing in one of biggest sources of nightmare fodder for me. American soldiers Sergeant Kenner and Corporal Torres along with a Vietnamese corporal blast their way in to an underground tunnel hoping to discover some information from the enemy while making their way through to the other side.
While there they discover a wounded Vietcong who warns that when the Vietnamese soldiers were digging the tunnels they disrupted a hallowed ground where the dead reside. Hiding inside the walls and under the ground, the dead are looming inside the tunnel prepared to grab anyone and anything for the crime of dropping so much blood on their sacred lands. While inside the soldiers experience many a booby trap and find clues of life, but soon learn they’re being followed. By whom or what remains mystery. As the noose tightens the soldiers soon discover they’re being led in a wild goose chase as the tunnels seem almost endless and their markers end up in places they never set them down in. Soon the terror escalates and the man discover that bloodshed has a price, and the dead are very angry when their holy ground is ruptured to make way for more bloodshed. With a creepy finale and a surprise final scene, “The Hole” is definitely an episode to remember.
1. The Waiting Game
Director: Bruno Spandello
What’s an eleven letter word for tenacity? This is easily my favorite episode of “Monsters,” because not only is it the one I remember watching most, but because even years after its original airing, it’s still a creepy and absolutely nightmarish episode that really elevates the series to almost “Twilight Zone” levels of irony and surprises. Tyler and Levitt are two air force officers tasked with watching a nuclear bunker overnight. Ready to wait until their shift is over Tyler drowns himself in his vacation brochure, while Levitt keeps himself entertained by a crossword puzzle. Due to an unexplained circumstance, the two men are ordered to launch the nuclear warheads from the silo and set off a world changing explosion that sets the land in to nuclear winter and eternal darkness across the globe.
As Tyler and Levitt hide in the safety of their bunker prepared to wait out the radiation and emergency help, they begin to hear random noises outside their bunker. Surprisingly there’s another officer alive in a bunker far from them named Graza who is shaken by the explosion and has sadly lost her partner. He’s decided to go outside and look for help, and has yet to return. Even worse, there are also random noises and moans outside her bunker and, frightened, she forms a bond with the two officers. The attempt to keep their sanity fades as desperation and cabin fever kicks in and the officers are lured outside in to the wasteland one by one. Who… or what is outside? Emergency workers? Survivors? Or maybe something more? Filled with searing tension, incredibly thick atmosphere, and ending on a utterly maddening note almost ripped out of our worst nightmares, “The Waiting Game” is a haunting episode that drops our characters in a hopeless situation. And just when you think things can’t get any worse, they discover that there is something much worse waiting in the darkness beside radiation and perpetual winter.