The 80’s were a time when horror anthology series were everywhere on television. Tales From The Crypt, Tales From The Darkside, Freddy’s Nightmares, plus a reboot of The Twilight Zone gave horror fans a nigh-endless stream of weird self-contained stories that wrapped up in a single episode. Among the horde of anthology shows was Monsters. It was not the most reliable show in terms of delivering memorable stories, or high productions values, but every now and then it would have an episode where all of the production elements came together perfectly. Fans can now sift through all 72 episodes looking for those hidden gems with the long-overdue complete series DVD set.
As an anthology show, it featured a new story each week, with a new cast and new characters. Unlike many other such shows, it didn’t have a host character like the Crypt Keeper to introduce the episodes, and it wasn’t concerned with maintaining the same tone from week to week. Each episode featured some sort of monster, usually a scary creature out to kill the protagonist, but often the monsters were friendly, funny or tragic. Sometimes they were supernatural, but often the show used aliens and other science fiction “Monsters”.
It had guest spots from recognizable name celebrities at the time, including the likes of Debbie Harry, Adrienne Barbeau and Frank Gorshin. However, in watching the show 25 years after it aired, viewers will see early performances from people who went on to become famous. A very young Steve Buscemi fights a pigman in a hotel room, David Spade delivers meat to a carnivorous child, and there’s a terrific episode in which Wil Wheaton teams up with Matt LeBlanc before LeBlanc became “Joey” from Friends.
Some episodes were adapted from short stories by notable authors like Stephen King, but there are also a few episodes written by now-legendary writers like a pre-Batman Paul Dini, and Dan Simmons who was creating the Hyperion Cantos at the same time he was writing Wil Wheaton’s episode.
Production values range drastically from episode to episode. Often a good episode would be ruined by the sudden arrival of a silly monster costume. In the first season this sort of thing was quite common as the ambition of the writers exceeded the resources available for the show. The otherwise excellent “The Space Eaters” episode has a classic Lovecraftian story of alien invaders, which ends with goofy floating eye monsters.
There were still quite a few great episodes in the first two seasons that managed to live within their budgets. Claustrophobic locations and small casts helped this, and it resulted in some exceptional episodes like a post-apocalyptic story called The Waiting Game which infused a post-nuclear tale with supernatural horror.
However the third and final season was the most reliable (It’s a shame that the show went under just as it was beginning to really excel). The third season episode Outpost being a dramatic highlight for the series. In it a pair of veteran actors (Patricia Mills and Tony Fields) were cast in a serious story that just happens to be set in outer space. Fields wore one of the better monster outfits of the series, while Mills played her role with the same emotional depth that would be expected of a non-monster-suit story.
Other memorable episodes from the third season include the Zombie / Vietnam War hybrid story The Hole, plus the Wil Wheaton / Matt LeBlanc episode A Shave and a Haircut, Two Bites.
The new Complete Series boxed set has all 72 episodes on 9 DVD’s with each season in its own case. It doesn’t have any bells and whistles, unfortunately. There are no commentary tracks or “Making of” videos. This is an unfortunate commission, especially since many of the people who contributed to the show went on to become famous.
Despite the lack of DVD bonuses, Monsters: The Complete Series is something that fans have been wanting for decades. The series didn’t have enough episodes to be a strong candidate for syndication, and it originally aired in the VHS days. Viewers who aren’t fans from long ago will still find many terrific episodes hidden among the low-budget monster suits. It is available now.