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Candy Critters: My Top 5 Favorite Episodes of Monsters
Monsters was an extremely low-budget anthology series that ran from 1988 to 1991 and is now streaming on Tubi and The Roku Channel. The theme of the show was—you guessed it—monsters. Each episode featured one monster, up to five human characters, and no more than two interior sets (absolutely no exteriors). It even had a super campy intro that featured a family of monsters sitting down to watch the show.
Monsters was made by most of the same people who made Tales from the Darkside, so you’d think it would be good, right? Wrong. Like The Ray Bradbury Theater, it only had 10 watchable episodes. Of those 10, here are my top five favorites...
#5: The Mother Instinct
Season one, episode 15, “The Mother Instinct” is about a wealthy, elderly woman (Elizabeth Franz)—only referred to as “Mother” in the credits—whose daughter, Sheila (Finn Carter) has tragically bad taste in men. Sheila’s husband, Nelson (Tom Gilroy) is a broke loser who sports a unibrow, gambles away all their money, and refuses to get a job.
Nelson and Sheila visit Mother to ask her for money for what is clearly not the first time. Mother refuses, and Nelson gets mad. He strikes out by hitting Sheila, which prompts a surprising reaction from Mother: She leaps out of her wheelchair, lifts Nelson up, and pins him against the wall. Sheila is shocked by her mother’s sudden burst of superhuman strength and asks how it was possible. Mother explains that it’s from the enzymes in the melon juice she drinks, but unfortunately, the effect wears off very quickly. When Nelson hears this, he starts devising a plan to exploit the enzyme for profit. He tries to talk Mother into going into business with him, but naturally she turns him down.
Nelson, not one to take no for an answer, persuades Sheila to find out what the enzyme is so he can steal it and start making his own juice. Mother tells her that it’s not the melons themselves that produce the enzyme, it’s these creepy-looking worms that live in the soil. Nelson, of course, devises a plan to steal the worms. Will he get away with it? You’ll have to watch it to find out.
The best part about this episode is the performance by Elizabeth Franz. You can see Mother’s seething anger at Nelson and her enduring love and pity for Sheila all simmering beneath the surface until she drinks some melon juice and it all comes exploding out of her in one brief flash of energy. The ending is a fun twist that gives a whole new meaning to the title, “The Mother Instinct,” and will leave you feeling very satisfied.
#4: The Moving Finger
Whenever there’s an episode based on a Stephen King story, it’s bound to make my top five list. The series finale, "The Moving Finger," takes a simple premise and somehow makes it terrifying. Tom Noonan plays a man named Howard, who finds what looks like a human finger sticking out of the drain in his bathroom sink. He’s extremely disturbed by his discovery and spends the whole episode trying to get rid of the finger in every way he can think of, like pouring drain cleaner on it and chopping it off with a weed whacker. Meanwhile, his wife, Violet (Alice Playten), has no idea what’s going on and thinks Howard might be losing it.
That’s pretty much the whole plot of the episode. What makes it so entertaining is Tom Noonan’s performance as Howard. He doesn’t have much dialog, it’s mostly just him reacting to the finger and slowly losing control as he continues to try to fight it. Tom Noonan was made for shows like this. He’s super tall and intense with a mischievous smile and the build of Frankenstein’s monster (in fact, he played Frankenstein’s monster in The Monster Squad). Watching him wrestle with a disembodied finger in a bathroom that looks like it’s straight out of the 60s is extremely amusing if slightly frightening.
Like all the best Monsters episodes, this one is infused with comedy. There are some really funny moments, like when Violet catches Howard pissing in the kitchen sink and remarks, “Howard! You’re a CPA!”
The bloody mayhem culminates in a bizarre but not surprising ending that puts a nice bow on a fun and freaky episode. Of course, you’ll have to watch it to find out what it is.
Season one, episode 17, “Taps” follows a professional dancer named Suzy (Mary Jo Keenen), who’s fed up with dancing and wants to become an actress. The problem is her partner, Gary (Neal Jones), doesn’t want her to quit and refuses to let her out of their contract. But Suzy’s a problem solver, and she solves this problem by murdering Gary, chopping his body up into little pieces, and shoving him into a trunk. Then she packs up and moves out to Hollywood.
Time elapses, and we find Suzy struggling with her new acting career. The jobs are limited, the reviews are terrible, and she’s back in the crappy room where she used to live when she was dancing with Gary. One night, she starts hearing tapping sounds in her room. She looks around and spots a red tap shoe sticking out from under the curtains. When she pulls back the curtain, it reveals that the shoe is attached to a bloody stump of a leg: Gary’s leg. It seems that part of Gary has returned from the dead to take his revenge on Suzy. How could a leg possibly do that? You’ll have to watch it to find out.
This is one of the funniest episodes of the whole show. It was co-written by Larry Charles, who was a writer on Seinfeld, and it stars Mary Jo Keenen, who appeared in an episode of Seinfeld as an old neighbor of George’s who thinks he’s gone insane. As George would say, “That’s what I call co-me-dy!”
The whole thing is full of hilarious puns and one liners, but the best part is when Suzy’s cutting up Gary’s body. She says things like, “I guess letting me out of that contract cost you an arm and a leg,” and, “You always said I’d be a hack actress, but all I need are some good parts.” It’s the kind of cheesy, gory shit I absolutely love.
#2: My Zombie Lover
The only episode funnier than “Taps” is season one, episode five, “My Zombie Lover.” It’s set in a world where the dead rise from the grave one night a year to feast on the flesh of the living. It sounds horrifying, but it’s actually hilarious.
The story focuses on a family of four as they prepare for the annual night of the living dead. Mom (Marcella Lowery) and Dad (Ed Wheeler) are geared up for an evening of zombie killing, while their young son, Brad (Eugene Byrd), is all set to protest in support of zombie rights.
Their daughter, Dottie (Tempestt Bledsoe), is a college freshman and a classic bookworm who’d rather spend her time reading. While Dottie is home alone with her book, she hears a knock on the door. When she asks who it is, a voice replies that it’s “Paul Nichols from French class.” Dottie doesn’t remember a Paul Nichols from French class, but she opens the door and lets the young man in. That’s when she remembers that Paul Nichols died in a car crash. Paul (Steve Harper) is a re-animated decomposing corpse in a letterman sweater holding a bouquet of flowers and wearing a nervous smile. He’s there to confess his undying love for Dottie, something he was too shy to do when he was alive.
Dottie is initially terrified of Paul, thinking he’s there to eat her brains, but soon she warms up to him, and the two snuggle on the couch together, commiserating over their mutual shitty high school experience. Then suddenly, Paul changes and tries to eat Dottie. He apologizes profusely and swears it’ll never happen again, but Dottie tells them they’re just too different to be together. Paul sadly agrees to leave, but before he goes, he asks if he can sign Dottie’s yearbook.
As Dottie is upstairs getting her yearbook, Mom, Dad, and Brad come back from their night of zombie hunting and protesting to find a zombie in their living room and Dottie conspicuously absent. Dad assumes Paul ate Dottie and aims his shotgun at him. Will Dad kill Dottie’s would-be zombie lover? You’ll have to watch it to find out.
What makes this episode so good is its complete abandonment of reality and total commitment to pure silliness. Despite the addition of zombies and violence, it plays out like an episode of a classic sitcom with everyone learning a heartwarming lesson. The parents act like exaggerated 1950s sitcom parents, especially Marcella Lowery as the overly happy and accommodating Mom with a huge smile constantly plastered on her face.
Steve Harper is fantastic as zombie Paul. He plays him like a normal, shy, nervous teenager that just happens to be dead. There’s one scene where he tugs on his ear and it falls off. His comedic timing is perfect as he tries to quickly hide the severed ear before Dottie notices.
My favorite part is when Paul first arrives and Dottie calls the “Zombie Hotline.” It plays a recording with options like, “if a zombie is in your house, press two,” and “if a zombie is eating your body, press three.” She selects an option and gets put on hold.
Surprisingly, there’s a moral to this story that actually works quite well. It’s funny, spooky, and educational. What more could you ask for?
#1: Holly’s House
In season one, episode two, “Holly’s House,” our old friend Marilyn Jones from Tales from the Darkside’s “Ursa Minor” plays Kathy, the creator and star of a kids show called—you guessed it—“Holly’s House,” in which she controls and voices a life-sized robot girl named Holly. Kathy just found out she’s pregnant by Lenny (Perry Lang), who plays Mike the Mailman on the show, and she’s trying to decide if she wants to have the baby or not. Having the baby would mean leaving the show and marrying Lenny, and she’s not sure she’s ready for that.
Meanwhile, the Holly robot has started doing and saying things that aren’t in the script. Everyone assumes Kathy’s just lashing out, but Kathy claims the robot is doing it on its own because Holly doesn’t want her to have the baby.
Finally, Kathy decides to have the baby, and Holly the robot goes apeshit and kills Lenny. Did Kathy do it pretending to be the robot? Or is Holly really alive? Watch the episode to find out!
This episode has a lot going for it: great actors who double as dramatic characters and over-the-top kids show performers; a simplified, pulsing soundtrack that makes everything 10 times creepier; a nightmare-inducing robot (actually actor Michael J. Anderson, whom you might remember from Twin Peaks and The X-Files, in a costume); multiple layers of tension with the possible evil robot underscored by Kathy’s major life decision; and hints of dark comedy. *chef’s kiss* It’s got all the ingredients for a perfect anthology recipe.
I can’t talk about “Holly’s House” without mentioning the standout performance by Pamela Dean Kelly as the nameless actor who plays Early Bird. She’s hilarious as the bird and stunning as the actor. She’s equally adept at playing a big, googly-eyed scarlet ibis (but she plays it as a duck) as she is at reciting Shakespeare, which she does in one scene followed by Bird’s trademark “Honk-honk!” Also she has impossibly long hair, which I just have to point out because I’ve never scene anything like it on TV. Unfortunately, she only has two acting credits to her name. What a shame.