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Mad Monster Party?

     "I've done it ... created the means to destroy matter. They must all know. Know that I, Baron von Frankenstein, master of the secret of creation, have now mastered the secret of destruction. The invitations must be sent at once..."

--  Herr Baron von Kookoobird   

 

     

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Sights &
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Mad
Monster
Party?
(1967)
 Rankin/Bass Productions /
 AVCO-Embassy Pictures

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Mad Monster Party?

 

We begin on the Isle of Evil somewhere in the Caribbean Sea. Zooming in we POV our way from the beach, through a jungle, to a spooky old castle. We keep going, to the highest parapet, into the lab of Baron Frankenstein (voiced by Boris Karloff) as the mad doctor puts the finishing touches on his latest creation: a beaker full of some strange liquid. Putting an electrical charge into this new isotope, which causes it to ominously glow, Herr Baron then puts it to the test by dabbing a small amount onto his pet raven before releasing it out a window. When the bird flutters to a nearby tree and gently lands, the volatile chemical violently detonates -- complete with a large mushroom cloud! (Quote the Raven, "Nevermore." Har-har.) With his experiment a complete success, the Baron has now mastered both the power of creation [his monster] and the power of complete destruction [his new explosive]. Drunk with success, the Baron wants to announce this new discovery to his monster brethren as soon as possible. To do this, he sends out a batch of invitations to a party, via bat couriers -- a party that the Baron muses theyíll never forget! 

When his Monster -- here, affectionately dubbed Fang, lying on it's slab, getting a recharge -- groans in agreement, the James Bondian theme song cranks up, powered by the massive pipes of Ethel Ennis, as weíre introduced to the Baron's associates: from his sandy tomb comes the Mummy; in Paris, the bats find the Hunchback ringing his bells; a ways more east in Transylvania, Dracula eagerly sharpens his teeth with a nail file in preparation; meantime, they find the Invisible Man in an abandoned house (-- with a bunch of empty liquor bottles lying around, which makes me wonder if this was an inside joke. The first of many probable inside jokes yet to come); elsewhere, out in the country, the Werewolf bays at the moon in excitement; moving on to the foggy streets of London, Dr Jekyll gets his invitation, drinks his potion, and transforms into Mr. Hyde; and then the last bat drops an invitation into a murky lagoon, sinking to the bottom, where the Creature awaits. All are excited, and all will attend.

Meanwhile, Felix Flankin (voiced by Allan Swift, who also did the voices for all the other monsters unless otherwise noted), a bumbling pharmacist assistant, gets into trouble with his boss again. Allergic to everything, seems Felix has a bad habit of accidentally destroying the store during one of his sneezing fits. Coming off as a hypochondriac, our boy has his own special concoction for his allergy attacks. And after each attack, Felix quickly overmedicates himself (-- so no wonder heís more than a little jittery). Oddly enough, Felix receives an invitation as well; an invitation to "a gathering of notables" on the Island of Evil. Since itís pretty obvious that Felix isnít the brightest bulb in the world it's no surprise when he mistakes this invite for a pharmacistís convention at some posh Caribbean resort. (See what I mean on the over-medicated thing?) His boss gladly gives this walking disaster a week off to attend, in fact, he insists Felix take the whole month.

Back at Frankensteinís Castle, the Monsterís Mate (voiced by Phyllis Diller) catches Fang lustfully watching the Baronís shapely secretary, Francesca, and warns that if he lets his eyes wander on those twin torpedoes again, sheíll keep them in a jar for a week -- just like she did the last time. Still, the Bride loves the big brute -- so much so, that she sings him a song. (This is a Rankin/Bass animated film, so musical numbers, no matter how out of place they may seem, are expected and appreciated.) Meanwhile, Francesca (voiced by Gale Garnett) reports that all the monsters have RSVPíd except for IT. Before we find out what an IT is, the Baron says he didnít invite him because IT was such a royal pain in the ass at the last social, he was left off the guest list. (But stay tuned to find out who IT really is.) Francesca also received word that Felix is coming. The Baron is very happy to hear this, and when a confused Francesca wants to know what kind of monster this stranger is, he admits that Felix is a mere human, and he disguised the real nature of the gathering so Felix wouldnít be frightened off ... It seems Felix is the Baronís only living relative; the son of his sister -- the white sheep of the family, he says -- who ran off to the United States with a traveling salesman. Apparently, the Baron plans to announce his retirement, name his nephew as his successor, and turn all of his secrets over to Felix, making him the new leader of the monsters. Francesca is livid over this revelation. Feeling she is the rightful heir to the Baronís legacy, not some human milksop, she starts to plot to bump Felix off. But to do this, sheíll need help...

I remember, back when I was wee Beerman, coming home from church one Sunday morning and catching about the last two minutes of Mad Monster Party on a local TV station. Again, all I really saw was mostly the closing credits but I knew I had missed something great. Back then, I never even knew what it was called. And over the years since that brief encounter the movie was forgotten, and I never really thought about it all that much, until my good buddy Naked Bill told me he had a surprise and found something I really had to see. He was right. Getting together like we always did to watch some cinema oddity and consume a metric ton of beer, he popped this newly unearthed treasure into his trusty TV/VCR combo and I finally got to see all of Mad Monster Party.

Inspired by George Pal's Puppetoon's shorts Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass, a former art-director and advertising-jingle lyricist for ABC, respectively, who had just formed their own production company, decided to make a holiday special in the same, stop-motion animated vein. The result was the wildly successful Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, that captured over 50% of the nation's television screens during its primetime premiere in 1964. And with that success, others soon came calling, hoping to cash in on Rankin and Bass' "Animagic." One such person with a piqued interest was Joseph E. Levine, a mini-movie mogul based out of Boston, who made his bones importing foreign films like Godzilla and Hercules that were quickly devoured by the American market, who quickly signed the fledging company to a three picture deal for his Embassy Pictures.

Following the all but forgotten The Daydreamer, based on the tales of Hans Christian Anderson, and the equally elapsed Wacky World of Mother Goose, returning to a holiday theme, hoping to recapture some of Rudolph's magic, picking the subject matter for that pivotal third project proved a no-brainer, as the country was once more in the grips of yet another surge of monster-mania. The Addams Family and The Munsters were ratings winners on the tube, and The Creeplies had just moved in next door to The Flintstones, and all those hair-brained drive-in monster-bashes from the late 1950's were just starting to circulate on the tube, along with those old standards from Universal, which provided the basis for about 95% of the characters for the film. And to connect with those old fright flicks even more, the production scored a real coup when Boris Karloff signed on to voice Baron Frankenstein, who was just coming off another holiday-themed smash, serving as the narrator for How the Grinch Stole Christmas. And with a little help from a few more familiar names, who really put the MAD in Mad Monster Party, this raucous and rambunctious entry into the R&B universe was soon revved up and ready to go. And we'll be getting into the nuts and bolts of that in a minute, but for now, let's get back to the movie, where the action moves to the docks of some unknown port city, where the S.S. Herring is about to cast off and depart. 

Lingering near the gangplank, the Captain (Yukon Cornellius) is upset because they only have one paying passenger, a Dr. Jekyll, which confuses his first mate (Herbie The Dentist), who thought it was a Mr. Hyde. (Ba-dump-bump -- ching!) The Captain is also angry because the rest of his crew has jumped ship, so the cargo (-- including the Mummyís sarcophagus --) hasnít even been loaded yet. When the Hunchback shows up, they quickly shanghai him into loading all the cargo -- which he does, using only one hand, astounding the two sailors. While they're distracted a bat flutters into view and changes into Count Dracula, who then asks what passage to the Isle of Evil would cost. Trying to fleece the well-dressed Count, the Captain's attempt to inflate the price backfires, when the vampire proves such a tightwad he decides to turn himself back into a bat and fly over on his own. Shocked and terrified by what he's just witnessed, the Captain mistakes Felix for another monster and lets him on board for free -- if he promises not kill them. As the boat sets sail, the Werewolf barely makes it on board before they shove off.

Below deck, Felix barely survives a few encounters with the assembled monsters -- saved mostly by his own ineptitude ... He thinks Dr. Jekyll is just seasick after turning into the green-hued Mr. Hyde. Then, losing his glasses, he mistakes the Werewolf for an old lady in a fur coat. Still unable to find his glasses, he bumps into the Invisible Man next and apologizes for not seeing him. Later that night, while Felix sleeps, when the spook-rattled Captain refuses to stop at the haunted isle all the monsters bail off and start swimming, flying, and paddling toward their final destination ... Back at the castle, the Baron inspects his zombie house staff and gives them instructions. Now, if Francesca is the Baronís greatest creation, then Yetch is the worst. (A zombified Peter Lorre with a penchant for losing his head, literally.) Yetch has a thing for a Francesca, but this isnít mutual. He constantly drops to his knees in her presence and waxes poetically over her beauty, usually earning him a punch him in the head. Anyways, Yetch takes a few zombies to the castleís hangar, where several automata man some very cool looking ultra-lite aero-planes and start patrolling the island just in case IT shows up. (Our first clue to ITís real identity.) In the main hall, the Baron plays a large pipe organ as Fang and his Bride, decked out in tuxedo and evening gown respectively, enter and await the arrival of the other guests. Here, each monster is allowed to make a singular grand entrance down the large staircase into the great hall. After theyíve all arrived, they toast to the gathering, and, when Dracula states that the convention will be a howling success, the Werewolf bays in agreement. Then, while the monsters drink cocktails, Yetch retreats into the kitchen to check on Chef Machiavellianís preparations. We then get an extended (-- and unfortunately, not very funny --) scene where the chef makes lame jokes about whatís on the menu. It does, however, pick up a little when the main course tries to eat Yetch.

When the food is finally ready, the assembled monsters gather around the dining table, eat, and await the Baronís big announcement. And as the Baron starts his speech, Francesca quietly conspires to get Draculaís help in eliminating Felix. Realizing Francesca's up to something, the Monsterís Mate tells Fang that theyíll have to keep an eye on her as the Baron shows them all his new invention After impressing his audience, the old man announces that his impending retirement, and that he will name his successor tomorrow night. (For the record: all the monsters secretly wish that they, personally, will be the new chairman of the monster board.) With that said, the Baron excuses himself for the evening and turns the entertainment over to Little Tibia and the Fibulas (-- a skeletal rock-n-roll band with Beatle mop-top haircuts). As the blighted band cranks up the hard driving song "Do the Mummy" the Monsterís Mate grabs the actual Mummy and they start cutting a rug. And while the others quickly join them and start to boogie down, Francesca nabs Dracula to talk in private out on the balcony, where she tells him all about Flankin. Promising that if he helps to get rid of this interloper, Francesca will share the Baronís secrets. When the Count agrees to these terms, Francesca celebrates with a fabulously sultry song until it is crudely interrupted when they discover the Monsterís Mate has been eavesdropping on them, and she heard everything. Dracula almost puts the bite on the spy but Fang intercedes, and while he holds the Count, the Monsterís Mate and Francesca tear each otherís clothes off -- down to their underwear, and have one helluva bitch-slapping catfight. This dust-up quickly spills over into the main hall, where all the monsters are soon involved as the fracas quickly degenerates into a pie fight, and, before you know it, weíre neck-deep in a drunken monster brawl and free for all.

Sometime later, after things have settled down, we take a slow tour of the castle and view the aftermath of the carnage as the monsters try to cure their hangovers or just sleep it off ... The next morning, Felix borrows one of the Herring's lifeboats and paddles ashore, where the Baron and Francesca greet him. And while the Baron takes him on a tour of the castle, Francesca secretly meets with Dracula. Seems sheíll be taking Felix on a picnic later that afternoon, so they map out three spots for an ambush. But once again, Felixís unwitting ineptitude saves him from successive attacks by the Mummy, the Werewolf and Dracula. That evening, the Baron shows Felix his laboratory, where he reveals Felixís birthright as the last of the Frankensteins. Felix is overwhelmed, and in a true Rankin and Bass moment, heís quickly overrun with cute little critters that accompany an inspirational song crooned deftly by the Baron. But when the inspirational song ends, Felix still isnít sure if he can handle the responsibility. Wanting to think it over, he asks if there is anywhere he can fish because he does his best thinking while fishing. The Baron sends him to the moat.

Meanwhile, in Draculaís room, as Francesca and the Count argue over those bungled assassination attempts, Fang and the Monsterís Mate barge in are shocked to find Francesca there. Smelling out the double cross, Francesca is backed into a corner, but escapes through a trap door that dumps her into the Baronís lab. Angry at Dracula's betrayal, Francesca swears vengeance on everyone. To do this, she begins by writing an invitation to the mysterious IT, releases the bat courier, and then starts ransacking the lab, looking for the Baronís explosive formula. Meantime, the other conspirators decide that they must eliminate Francesca before she can reveal their treachery to the Baron. Following her down the trapdoor, they spill into the lab and attack, but Francesca manages to escape by jumping out the window and lands safely in the moat -- well, safe until the crocodiles get her. And as the aquatic reptiles close in for the kill, from out of nowhere, Felix pulls her to safety. But Francesca proves so hysterical Felix has to slap her to bring her out of it. She is first dumbstruck by Felix's actions, and then immediately swoons for him. (Does anyone else find this a little disturbing?) They embrace and kiss. We then cut to waves crashing, lighting flashes and a palm tree falls over (-- which caused soda to rocket out of my nose. All weíre missing here, folks, is a rocket launch or train going into a tunnel -- if you know what I mean.)

Elsewhere, Dracula is ready to clear out, but the Monsterís Mate talks him into staying, and together, they concoct a new plan to rally the other monsters against the Baron for appointing a mere human as their leader and take over. Back on the beach, when Francesca tells her new boyfriend that he's in danger and why, Felix tells her not to worry because he plans to turn down the Baronís offer. But, it's too late for that, she warns; the other kooks and spooks won't listen to reason anymore. On top of that, sheís done something rather rash and insists that they have to get away and off the island immediately. Asked how, Francesca reveals she has a boat hidden on the other side of the island, which they can use to escape ... Meanwhile an impromptu monster caucus unanimously votes to overthrow the Baron and eliminate Francesca and Felix. Heading into the jungle to find them, the Werewolf and Yetch catch up to them first and steal Francesca away from Felix, leaving the other monsters to surround our hero and close in for the kill. Luckily, Felix picks that time to have another allergy attack and pulls out his vial of medicine. (A vial that looks very familiar.) Mistaking this for the Baronís explosive the monsters quickly back off. And as Felix pushes the bluff, and demands to be taken to Francesca, his attackers immediately turn tail and flee -- but not because of Felixís threat ... IT has finally arrived and just surfaced right behind him. Thus, Felix turns and comes face to face with a fifty-foot ape. (So IT was King [name withheld over copyright issues] the whole time.) Felix faints dead away.

Stepping over our hero and heading inland, IT destroys the castle, and then turns Francesca into Fay Wray. The Baron, meanwhile, finds Felix, orders him into the escape boat, and promises that heíll save Francesca and take care of that dastardly ape and those turncoat traitors once and for all. Commandeering one of his aero-planes, the Baron pilots it toward the big ape that has taken root on the tallest peak of the island. IT has Francesca in one hand and all the other monsters in the other. And as the Baron buzzes the creature relentlessly, the ape puts Francesca down so he can swat at the plane, allowing her to escape and meet up with Felix. After several more swipes, IT finally snags the Baronís plane, and, as he crushes it, the Baron watches as the two young lovers shove off and get a safe distance away. He then pulls out his explosive, chastises his fellow monsters for their pettiness and drops the vial, allowing it to fall to the ground, where it detonates on impact ... From the boat, Francesca and Felix watch as the island is totally obliterated in the resulting explosion. When the smoke clears, the two lovers head toward civilization, which brings us to...

The E..

Well, not quite ... Stick around for one more shock o' surprise.

The End

Long rumored to have been scripted by an uncredited Forest J. Ackerman -- and with all those horrible puns, this is an easy assumption to make -- in truth, Rankin and Bass had the better idea of turning to another famous magazine and comics writer, Harvey Kurtzman, to punch up and add some more anarchy to Len Korobkin's original script; and, better yet, the animation duo also conscripted artist Jack Davis for all the character designs. Kurtzman and Davis had made a name for themselves with the macabre EC Horror Comics [Tales from the Crypt, Shock Suspense Stories] but Dr. Wertham and his no-fun crusade had torpedoed those pulps, so Kurtzman turned his creative juices on a new venture, Mad Magazine, with long time collaberator William Gaines. Working together once again on Mad Monster Party, the monsters are brilliantly realized and look like they crawled right off of Davisís drawing board. 

Taking these horror icons and giving them a hip, mondo-'60s twist, Davis' designs are truly hilarious. And my favorite has to be the Invisible Man ... nothing but a pot bellied smoking jacket, sunglasses and a fez free-floating around, talking like Sydney Greenstreet, that had me laughing to no end. Kurtzman and Korobkin's script does drag in spots, but this can mostly be blamed on several hurriedly slapped together scenes that were inserted to expand the project to feature length, in accordance with Levine's demands, including the initial scenes with the aero-planes and the entire kitchen sequence, which was, let's face it, pretty rotten and sticks out rather sorely. It's long been touted that there is a shorter director's cut out there that eliminates a lot of these additions, but it, as of yet, hasn't seen the light of day.

Another contributing factor to the success of this movie that cannot be overlooked is the music. Knocked together by Bass and composer Maury Laws, the instrumentals sound like a capricious mash-up of Vic Mizzy's scatter-brained horns and Xavier Cugat's scorching xylophones, and are as catchy as hell. For the main title theme, noted jazz-singer Ethel Ennis added another joke by caricaturizing the newly minted James Bond theme for Goldfinger, belted out by Shirlie Bassey. But, Gale Garnett steals the show with the boisterous number "Our Time to Shine" and the sultry, but powerful, ballad "Never Was a Love Like Mine." Garnett, an Emmy-Award winning folk-singer, had the earlier hit "We'll Sing in the Sunshine" and would shortly after tune in and drop out, if you know what I mean, with the band Gentle Reign.

On top of everything else it does right, what I really like about Mad Monster Party is, once again, the attention to detail the creators have and their obvious love for the subject matter. Rankin and Bass's animation studio was based at Japan's M.O.M. studios, and was supervised by head animator, Tad Mochinaga. And whether itís a gag like a band-aid on the front of the Mummy, Dracula using a nail file to sharpen his fangs, or a skeletal rock group called Little Tibia and the Fibulas, their efforts had me ginning from ear to ear. Brief moments like the Baron feeding his pets also bring smiles, like when he puts a fly into a jar with a toad but it's the toad that gets eaten. Then, he comes upon his doghouse, puts out some scraps, but Spot turns out to be the Blob, who oozes out and starts eating. He then dips his hands into a bucket labeled: human-fresh and feeds the scraps to his giant Venus Fly-Trap. Word also must be mentioned for the wonderful sets the 8-inch animated marionettes frolic around in. I caught my eyes easily wandering away from the action to study what they stuck in the corners and itís truly amazing.

Mad Monster Party is, in the end, a visual delight. Itís a big can of corn, sure, but if you can ignore Felix as much as possible (-- as he can be very grating at times), I have a feeling you will enjoy it as much as I did. And it's too bad that this forgotten gem isn't standard Halloween viewing like it's animated Christmas counterparts. Seems that Levine wasn't thrilled with the lackluster results of their first two collaboration, leading to a limited, matinee only release, before it was yanked from circulation. This also scuttled plans for an official soundtrack release. But today, both the film and the CD are readily available and I cannot recommend them highly enough.

Mad Monster Party? (1967) Rankin/Bass Productions :: AVCO Embassy Pictures / EP: Joseph E. Levine / P: Arthur Rankin Jr., Jules Bass / AP: Larry Roemer / D: Jules Bass / W: Arthur Rankin Jr., Harvey Kurtzman, Len Korobkin / C: Tad Mochinaga / M: Maury Laws / S: Boris Karloff, Phyllis Diller, Allen Swift, Gale Garnett

Originally Posted: 08/05/01 :: Rehashed: 10/05/2010

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.
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