Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Yucky Movies of October (Jay's Review edition): Mad Monster Party?

Over at my review of the Rankin/Bass children's film you didn't grow up with is up... and it's perfect for Halloween for the kids. Another cheat for October as I did watch it the last weekend in September, the timing is perfect to share...

3) Mad Monster Party
Before Baron Von Frankenstein (Boris Karloff) can retire as head of the powerful Worldwide Organization of Monsters, he must inform his faithful group on ghouls. How to deliver the news? Through a Mad Monster Party, of course! Von Frankenstein's guests include a who's who of Halloween favorites, including the Werewolf, Dracula, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, the Mummy, the Invisible Man and more in this frighteningly fun holiday classic from Rankin/Bass that will leave kids of all ages howling with delight!

"Animagic" is the proprietary term Rankin/Bass had for their stop-motion animated films. I'm sure you recall the most famous reindeer of all in their holiday classic Rudolph and all their other holiday specials that are dragged out every year to delight us. There's no Heat Miser in Mad Monster Party, but this lesser seen Halloween appropriate feature from 1967 has a lot of charm.

In collaboration with MAD Magazine artist Jack Davis, along with the voice talents of Boris Karloff and Phyllis Diller, Mad Monster Party has a coalition of every 40s Universal Monster convening on the Isle of Evil for a party. Dracula, the Wolfman, the Frankenstein Monster (here named "Fang" thanks to Diller's presence), the Invisible Man and more join Jimmy Stewart-like everyman Felix Flanken in a race to attain a secret formula with monster-appropriate humor and musical numbers popping up to keep things moving.

There are charms to be had here. The Peter Lorre inspired Zombie Butler with his army of undead bellmen bring a smile and the Lizbeth Scott-sounding Francesca has a few fairly good songs, but on the whole it hasn't aged well. I don't know if it's a feature of digital remastering or just the film itself, but the stop-motion here seems much jerkier than in any of the Christmas specials. While I'm a fan of Phyllis Diller, her "Ha-Ha!" laugh and sheer individuality (she's always Phyllis) gets a bit grating by the end of the movie. Also plenty of padding to the story to stretch it out to 95 minutes means there's a few tedious slogs and some even more tedious slapstick.

In the end though there's a lot going for this film. You should see it at least once if you're of the generations that grew up on Rankin/Bass and their unique holiday fare. I first saw this one 5 years ago, meaning I missed out on it in my childhood. A shame, because I think if I'd grown up on it I'd look forward to seeing it every year.

There's a lot to enjoy here for both the connoisseur of Animagic and the average viewer.
-the trailer for Mad Monster Party ("You don't get invited, you get committed"), along with trailers for 3 other Lionsgate family features.
-MAD MONSTER PARTY?: MAKING OF A CULT CLASSIC -a 14 minutes doc on the making of the film, highlight the designs by Jack Davis, the animation process (the Animators did it all by memory, which allows you to forgive a lot of the stutter in the stop-motion), and the voice actors including Alan Swift, who did all the other male voices in the film. I’m still not clear why there’s a question mark in the title though.
-IT'S SHEER ANIMAGIC! SECRETS OF STOP-MOTION ANIMATION -an educational featurette on how Animagic stop-motion animation is done.
-GROOVY GHOULS! THE MUSIC OF MAD MONSTER PARTY -a short featurette on songs in the movie
-SING-A-LONGS: OUR TIME TO SHINE and ONE STEP AHEAD -two songs complete with follow the bouncing skull lyrics!

A lesser-known Rankin/Bass production, this family-friendly Halloween-perfect production has not aged well, but for Animagic fans, 40s movie-monster fans, and kids who like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer it's a must have. For the rest of us with fond magic of those specials from our childhoods it's a must-see at least once.


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