Mad Monster Party

  • Reviewed by: Dr Adam Jahnke
  • Review Date: Oct 03, 2012
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Director

Jules Bass

Release Date(s)

1967 (September 4, 2012)

Studio(s)

Rankin/Bass (Lionsgate)

Review

When I was growing up, it always struck me as a little unfair that there were a lot fewer Halloween cartoons than Christmas specials. You could basically watch animated Christmas specials every night for the entire month of December. But Halloween had It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and that was pretty much it.

The exception to the rule was Mad Monster Party?, a 1967 stop-motion feature from Rankin/Bass, creators of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and other holiday perennials. Making it even more of a treat was the fact that it wasn’t all that easy to see. Since it wasn’t a 30-minute TV special, MMP didn’t have a regular network berth like the Peanuts cartoons. As I recall, I first saw it at a Halloween party held at my elementary school.

Boris Karloff provides the voice of Baron Boris Von Frankenstein, who has just perfected his latest and greatest discovery, a formula that destroys all matter. To celebrate, he hosts a gathering of ghouls on his remote island where he intends to announce his retirement and name a successor. Dracula teams up with the Baron’s assistant, Francesca (who looks like Christina Hendricks on Mad Men and sounds like Kathleen Turner), to ensure his place in line while the Monster’s Mate (Phyllis Diller) believes the reanimated couple should inherit everything. But the Baron has other plans, summoning his dweeby nephew Felix to the party.

For a monster-loving kid, MMP remains one of the most enjoyable assemblages of creatures since Abbott and Costello met Frankenstein. Jekyll and Hyde, the Invisible Man, the Werewolf, the Gill-Man, a zombie army and even a fab band of mop-topped skeletons all turn up. Adding to the fun is a healthy infusion of the MAD Magazine sensibility. The script was co-written by founding MAD editor Harvey Kurtzman and the character design was by legendary EC artist Jack Davis. The story is admittedly a little too episodic and rambling but the movie’s one-of-a-kind look creates a world that’s a delight to get lost in.

Mad Monster Party? originally arrived on DVD from Anchor Bay back in 2002, then reissued in “special edition” form by Lionsgate in 2009. Now on Blu-ray for the first time, the picture quality is good if not great. The print absolutely shows its age from time to time with faded colors, occasional scratches and inconsistent color grading. But the good outweighs the bad here. At its best, the fine details of the puppet work truly shine through. Audio is presented in a mono DTS-HD Master Audio track which is unspectacular but suits the material just fine.

While there’s no new bonus material, at least everything from the Lionsgate DVD is carried over (in standard definition). These include an interesting 15-minute making-of featurette featuring interviews with producer Arthur Rankin, Jr., multitalented voice artist Allen Swift and others, a brief contemporary how-to called It’s Sheer Animagic! with animators Mark Caballero and Seamus Walsh demonstrating some of the secrets to stop-motion, and a brief interview with composer Maury Laws on the movie’s songs. You also get a trailer and two sing-along songs. All of the original Anchor Bay extras, including an extensive booklet and production galleries, are unsurprisingly not included.

I’ll be the first to admit that a large reason behind my fondness for Mad Monster Party? is nothing more than nostalgia. I think it’s a lot of fun but it’s definitely from another era. I really don’t know if modern kids will groove to Mad Monster Party? or not. I’d like to believe they would and that Jack Davis’ interpretations of Dracula, Frankenstein and the rest of the gang will go on to delight future generations.

- Dr. Adam Jahnke

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