October 10th, 2013
|10:00 pm - 31 Days of Halloween: Mad Monster Party?|
When people think of Rankin/Bass Productions, they generally think of their Christmas TV specials, specifically Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and Frosty the Snowman. In addition to those, Rankin/Bass did quite a few other specials (most justly forgotten (ahem, A Year Without A Santa Claus)), and a number of theatrical movies. Kids who grew up in the '80s probably remember The Hobbit, The Last Unicorn, and The Flight of Dragons. Wikipedia also tells me they were responsible for Thundercats. Did you know that? I had no idea.
Mad Monster Party? is one I hadn't heard of until a few years ago. It was a stop-motion feature released in theaters in 1967 and came out on DVD in 2003, but I really hadn't heard of it until it started showing up in used DVD stores (remember those, way back in 2007?). It's a nostalgia piece for people who are a decade or two older than I am. I hadn't seen it before, and I wasn't unfavorably impressed, but it's the kind of thing I'd have appreciated much better as a child.
Mad Monster Party? opens on Evil Island. Baron Boris von Frankenstein has created an elixir which can cause living things to combust in spectacular stock footage explosions. Having achieved one of his greatest ambitions, he releases a colony of bats, each carrying an invitation to a convention that he intends to hold at his castle. We see the invitations accepted by count Dracula (voiced by Allen Swift), The Wolf-Man (voiced by Allen Swift), The Creature from the Black Lagoon (voiced by Allen Swift), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (voiced by Allen Swift), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (voiced by Allen Swift and Allen Swift, respectively), The Mummy (voiced by Allen Swift), The Invisible Man (voiced by Allen Swift), and mild-mannered stock-boy, Felix Flanken (voiced by Allen Swift).
Incidentally, I don't know who Allen Swift is, but he did all the male voices in the movie, except for Baron Frankenstein, ably played by Boris Karloff who was only required to sound like himself. It's pretty impressive.
Anyway, Baron Frankenstein lives with his attractive assistant Francesca, The Monster (referred to here as Fang), and The Monster's Mate (which is the character's actual name). During the preparation for the party, the Baron explains that IT is explicitly not invited ("You remember how bad things were the last time IT came to the island!"), and lets slip to Francesca that he plans to hand control of the world's monsters over to Felix, who happens to be his nephew. Francesca is not pleased. The Baron tells her she'll learn to like him.
The monsters begin to arrive, and we get a lot of corny, Munsters-style monster hijinks. Dracula makes a lot of borderline risque neck-biting jokes, the invisible man keeps startling people by not being where they expect him to be, and Felix's poor eyesight causes him to mistake the Wolf Man for a woman. This is pedestrian kiddie "horror" material.
At dinner, Frankenstein announces that he's going to step down, and will name his successor tomorrow. The monsters begin discussing their eligibility for the position of ruler of the monsters, and each one has his own good argument ("Mmmmm mmm mmmmm mm mmmm," explains the mummy, in great detail).
At some point Felix is outed as the Baron's choice, though I'm not sure when or how this happened because I wasn't paying enough attention, apparently. They begin trying to bump him off, but he's oblivious until Francesca finds herself in danger, and he must rescue her. Then a bunch of other stuff happens, including the appearance of the aforementioned IT, and an explosion which kills nearly everybody.
Should I not have mentioned the explosion? Sorry. The Baron's elixir shows up again at the very end, and it's a surprise, not for plotting reasons but because this very few kid's movies end with a character committing suicide and taking everyone else with him. Felix and Francesca survive, because that's how movies work.
Mad Monster Party? was co-written by Mad Magazine's Harvey Kurtzman and that doesn't surprise me. Mad has always employed a style which involves shoehorning as many jokes onto the page as possible; one page might feature fifteen competing punchlines. Some might fall flat, but nobody cares as long as there are a couple of good ones. Unfortunately, it's a lot easier to do that on paper than it is in a movie where you can't pile dialogue on top of itself. The jokes seem to be chosen for their kid-friendliness, and a lot of them are just not very clever.
The voice acting is pretty good, by which I mean that Allen Swift is pretty good. I don't really know the man's work, but IMDB says I've heard him before. He's a good enough mimic that my wife had to ask if Felix was voiced by Jimmy Stewart, and he does an impressive Peter Lorre. I was not fond of Phyllis Diller as The Monster's Mate. She laughs at about a third of her own dialogue, and it becomes grating after a little while.
If nothing else, it's a good-looking film. Rankin/Bass dabbled in various types of animation, but they really do a nice job with stop-motion (which they called "Animagic"), and Mad Monster Party? is a rare look at what they could do with a higher (but still modest) budget. It's fun, but if you're old enough to be reading this you're probably looking for something a bit more sophisticated.
Click here for the trailer.