Monday, October 31, 2011

“Quickly! Into the air, zombie bird man!”

And at last its time to close out October the same way it was begun. With Boris Karloff. In 1967, the good folks at Rankin/Bass released into theaters a feature-length monster movie done in the same animation style as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Except instead of annually overplayed Christmas joy, it was a swingin’ celebration of misanthropic movie monster madness. Its Mad Monster Party?

Its simple really. Dr. Baron von Frankenstein is getting on in years and wants to retire from the whole “Mad Science” business. So he decides to throw a party for all of his friends/relatives at which he will name his successor. Among the invitees is an unassuming pharmacy clerk who’s a long-lost nephew, and the intended heir. The monsters involved then try to scheme and backstab their way into getting this guy out of the way.

Baron Boris von Frankenstein: Boris Karloff! Dr. Frankenstein lives on a Bond Villain’s island and has developed what is essentially anti-matter that can blow up ANY matter it touches. So yeah, that whole “law of conservation of mass” thing? Irrelevant now. And he’s actually one of the nicer characters. The model he voices looks a little like his Frankenstein’s Monster around the forehead.

Felix Flankin: Allen Swift voices Frankenstein’s nebbish nephew who works in a pharmacy and has a catastrophic case of allergies. Nearsighted and generally oblivious to the nature of the monsters.

Francesca: Gale Garnett voices the Doctor’s mind-bogglingly proportioned (essentially Christina Hendricks) assistant with a sultry voice. She wants to inherit Frankenstein’s fortune, and can scheme with the best of them.

The Monster/“Fang”: He’s mute and strong, and a henpecked husband.

The Monster’s Mate: Phyllis Diller voices the Monster’s bride if instead of a bird-like, screaming woman, it was Phyllis Diller and the two settled down.

Dracula: Allen Swift (Allen Swift pretty much voices everybody else in the movie, so I’ll leave it off to save time) voices Dracula…oddly. I can’t quite place the accent, but its not Bela Lugosi-like. The design kind of makes me think of Sid Caesar, which…is random.

The Invisible Man: The Invisible Man walks around in a smoking jacket and fez and speaks like Sydney Greenstreet.

Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde: Pretty much your standard Jekyll/Hyde thing, except he sure loves drinking his transformative serum out of the flask hidden in his cane.

The Mummy: Mummy’s got some sweet dance moves.

The Werewolf: He howls a lot and likes stowing aboard ships to not have to pay.

The Creature: The Gill-Man, basically. He garbles and gurgles a lot.

Quasimodo: Also mute, he and the Mummy become roomies for a while. I’d pay to see more of that. One’s a mummy, the other’s a hunchback. They fight crime.

Yetch: He’s basically a zombie version of Peter Lorre, which…is a bit odd, since he’s not playing a Lorre character. Anyway, Yetch is Frankenstein’s butler/steward/whipping boy who’s madly in love with Francesca and his limbs tend to fall off a lot.

“It”: Not referred to by his real name because of copyright reasons, “It” is the one guest Frankenstein didn’t want to invite because he always made a mess of things. A giant, hairy, ape-like mess who likes girls and tall buildings.

Directed by Jules Bass, it’s the same “Animagic” style that marks other Rankin/Bass productions. However, it’s a refreshing difference from the Christmas ones, and the art department gets to go wild with crazy designs. A lot of the designs were based on the Mad Magazine artist Jack Davis. There’s a lot of physical comedy and there’s a hell of a lot of intricate and detailed work for the sets, and the movie delivers a few things I’ve never seen before, like a squadron of zombies flying biplanes.

Written by Arthur Rankin Jr., Len Korobkin, Harvey Kurtzman, and maybe Forrest J Ackerman, though there’s varying stuff I’ve read about Forry actually being involved or not. The script really, really, really feels a lot like an issue of Mad Magazine, which makes sense because Kurtzman founded it. Be ready for a lot of puns, a lot of physical comedy, and a lot of saucy that slips in under the radar.

What, me worry?
Original music by Maury Laws. The extremely James Bond-esque title song is by Ethel Ennis, with a few songs by Phyllis Diller and Gale Garnett dashed in for good measure. The soundtrack is actually quite amazing, with the swingin’ jazz combo sound working surprisingly well for a group of monsters that date back to the turn of the century. The songs aren’t quite as memorable as the Christmas special ones, but they’re not bad by any means.

Mad Monster Party? is actually quite awesome and I was pleasantly surprised by it. Yes a lot of the jokes fall flat and Felix’s character is not a particularly bright or likable protagonist, but the movie oozes style, features good-natured camp, throws in pretty much every major monster, and has ZOMBIES FLYING BIPLANES. If you don’t think that’s awesome, then you have murdered your inner child and there’s no hope for you. Totally recommended.

Mummy's got a theme song, yo.

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