Lionsgate // 1967 // 95 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // September 8th, 2009
It'll leave you howling with delight!
For many years, the concept of having multiple literary monsters appear in an action-packed extravaganza has proved a reliably appealing draw. For better or worse, movie audiences have thrilled to the likes of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, The Monster Squad, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Van Helsing, and other such outings. However, it could be argued that the Rankin-Bass "animagic" production Mad Monster Party (officially titled Mad Monster Party?) is the best (or at least the most purely enjoyable) of these macabre festivals. Though Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass were best known for their timeless (and not-so-timeless) Christmas specials, Mad Monster Party is easily one of their finer achievements, perhaps only falling short of the classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
The set-up is immensely simple. The evil Dr. Frankenstein (Boris Karloff, who of course essayed the monster created by the good doctor in the original Frankenstein) has just created the invention to end all inventions...and everything else, for that matter. It's a formula that destroys matter. Just as Dr. Frankenstein first achieved greatness by creating life, now he hopes to gain greatness yet again by destroying it. For no particularly logical reason, Frankenstein determines that he must invite all of his notorious monster acquaintances to his castle on Evil Island in order to inform them of his great discovery. The guest list includes Dracula, The Wolf-Man, The Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde...oh, and also Dr. Frankenstein's hapless nephew Felix Flanken.
This actual story isn't terribly important, as its primary function is to set up an entertaining batch of cheerfully macabre monster-themed humor. For instance, as all of the monsters are arriving at the castle, the characters offer delightful pun-filled commentary. "You see, I was the original Bat-Man," Dracula declares. As they sit down to have dinner, we take time examining the monstrous meal they're about consume. It kicks off with a salad made of poison oak, poison ivy, and poison berries (with arsenic and nitroglycerin as dressing). Yes, Mad Monster Party is little more than a 95-minute adaptation of "The Monster Mash," but it's crafted with such love and joy that it's hard not to be sucked in by its charms.
I've always been a big fan of stop-motion animation, particularly the more old-fashioned sort on display in this film. There is a unique handcrafted look that I admire a great deal. Some say that it's too jerky; that the movements look unnatural. That's precisely the reason I like it; you can tell that each moment was crafted by a real person. The jerky awkwardness of the characters' movements somehow makes them seem a bit more...well, authentic. You say potay-to, I say potah-to. With subtle adjustments to each and every frame, there isn't a single scene in the film that fails to be inventive and visually gorgeous. I adore the aesthetic of Mad Monster Party, which blends mod '60s hipness with classic gothic gloom. The score and songs in the film veer firmly toward the former, and proves generally engaging if not quite as memorable as the tunes in Rudolph.
The voice work is quite good throughout, particularly from Boris Karloff (who seems to deliver his lines with a wink and a smile). Most of the key voices were provided by Allan Swift, who relies on a series of familiar stereotypes: Frankenstein's assistant Yetch is yet another Peter Lorre homage, Dracula is of the Bela Lugosi school of speech, and Felix Flankin is a slightly broad take on Jimmy Stewart at his most innocently hopeless. As the voluptuous Francesca, Gale Garnett boasts a lusty quality similar to Kathleen Turner's later turn as Jessica Rabbit. The only misfire is Phyllis Diller as "The Monster's Mate." Her voice has always had a tendency to grate on the nerves, and that doesn't change in this film.
The transfer on this new special edition is quite solid, though it doesn't appear to be dramatically different from the solid work done on the previous DVD release. A handful of flecks and specks appear from time to time, though otherwise you'll find the colorful imagery vibrant and detailed. Audio is occasionally just a tad pinched, but not enough to complain about. The primary reason for the new special edition is the addition of a few special features. While these are a bit less substantial than I might have hoped, they're still worth a look. Three featurettes are included: "Mad Monster Party: Making a Cult Classic," "It's Sheer Animagic! Secrets of Stop-Motion Animation," and "Groovy Ghouls: The Music of Mad Monster Party." These cover the exact territory the titles suggest, and they're pleasant informational pieces I enjoyed. Beyond these, we get two sing-a-long numbers and a trailer.
For kids of today and particularly kids of yesteryear, Mad Monster Party is a lot of fun. Pick up this disc and make it an annual Halloween viewing event for the family.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 1967
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Sing-Along Songs