It’s the time of year when we all, at one time or another, start to get wistful about the passage of time. The leaves are falling. The days are getting shorter. Nature herself seems to be poking and prodding us to remind us that the wheel of time is spinning on and on.
So it’s good to have little breaks along the way to help us ease into the fact that a New Year is just around the corner. The next big holiday for a lot of us here in the U.S. is Halloween, and if you’re anything like me, you’re already thinking of fun movies you can watch before, during, or even after the sugar buzz has worn off and the costume party hangover has set in.
Slasher films like Evil Dead 14 and Friday the 13th Part 27 (sic) may be too gory for the family, though, and Rocky Horror may be too risque for the young’uns. And you’ve already taken them to the theater to see Tim Burton’s new Frankenweenie film, right?
If you’re jonsing for some perfect Halloween family fun, why not dig up Mad Monster Party, the classic stop-action animated film from by Rankin and Bass?
Mad Monster what? Rankin and who?
Okay, let’s fire up the Wayback Machine, jump ahead two more holiday, and stoke the fires with a couple of other animated holiday shows from Rankin and Bass that you probably do remember: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman.
‘Member them? I thought you would!
Those were made by the Rankin/Bass production company.
THAT WAS THEN, THIS IS THEN-ER
Rudolph debuted on the little screen in 1964.
By 1967, things were getting a bit trippier and darker all around society, what with the Summer of Love, the hippie movement, and psychedelia all in the shadow of the ever-escalating Vietnam War. What better time to make an animated TV special for the kiddies?
Perhaps encouraged by the success of the Peanuts specialIt’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown a year earlier, it seems the good folks at Rankin/Bass decided the time was ripe to make a Halloween special that year.
My guess is that something probably got lost in the hallways of TV-dom during the making of Mad Monster Party as the film is indeed way weirder than great pumpkins or even a snow monster named Bumble from the Rudolph film a few years earlier.
Mad Monster Party is a whole lot of mad fun, make no mistake. Yet it is also very much an of-the-era artifact, with a wonderfully odd script and somewhat sinister (and quite possibly sarcastic) underpinnings of a story.
In this tale, Dr. Frankenstein — voiced by the legendary horror film star Boris Karloff, who played Frankenstein’s monster in the original 1931 film — is having a “retirement party” (if you will) to celebrate his latest and greatest invention: not the ability to create life (that would be too cliche) but the ability to destroy all of humanity and life.
So much for peace, love and tranquility, eh? Its a tad Dr. Strangelove-esque in that sense. Accordingly, a bit like Rocky and Bullwinkle, this is a film that you can watch on a couple different levels.
The kids will find the animated skeletons, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the Wolfman, the Hunchback of Notre-Dame, Dracula, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon fun, cool, and goofy.
Kids and parents both — especially you fans of TV cooking shows — will appreciate the sequence where the Chef runs through all his gruesome menu of not-of-this-earthly delights for dinner. And those of you looking for other underlying playfulness snuck in by the animators may chuckle when the oh-so-macho Italian chef pinches the butt of the hapless Peter Lorre-looking-and-sounding, Igor-esque character Yetch.
(Gasp! Was there a Gay Agenda in Toonland?)
The Wikipedia entry for the film reveals some interesting details that give insight to why Mad Monster Party works on such different levels:
Mad Magazine creator Harvey Kurtzman penned the script (with another writer, Len Korobkin) and Mad artist Jack Davis designed many of the characters. Davis was a natural for the job, being famous both for his humor work and his monster stories in the pages of EC Comics. It has long been rumored that Forrest J. Ackerman had a hand in the script, but while the dialogue is rife with Famous Monsters of Filmland-like puns, Ackerman’s involvement has never been confirmed.
SKELETONS AND MUMMIES ALWAYS ROCK
A favorite scene of course is where the Phyliss Diller character — voiced by Diller herself (R.I.P.) — has an extended dance scene with none other than the Mummy. The band — comprised of skeletons in fetching, mid-sixties San Francisco style, shoulder-length wigs — is playing of course a song called “Do The Mummy.”
Mad Monster Party came out on DVD finally several years back and it looked pretty groovy. Imagine my surprise to find it out on Blu-ray now, and pretty significantly enhanced. The film is presented in its original 4:3 aspect ratio, and looking and sounding better than ever in groovy mono DTS-HD Master Audio.
While the film could benefit from some digital restoration — some scenes are faded and washed out — the majority of the film looks pretty spectacular. Now you can see the grain on Baron Von Frankenstein’s puppet head and the hairs of the Beatles wigs in the rock band dance sequence. Colors pop nicely, and the addition detail also reveals clever cheats (if you will) on the animation process — for example, the character voiced by Phyliss Diller does not have a mechanical mouth, yet her lips move thanks to an ever changing series of (probably paper) applique lips, which when animated appear to speak.
For less than $10 on Amazon, the Mad Monster Party Combo Pack BD + DVD is an absolute no-brainer. You should get it, if only for the dance sequences, to enjoy a fun romp from another time, place, and mindset.
Here’s hoping you have a safe and spooky Halloween season ahead!