After years of creating some of the most beloved holiday specials ever, including Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Little Drummer Boy and Frosty the Snowman, the production team of Rankin-Bass turned their attention (and their innovative stop-action animation techniques) to the scarier holiday of Halloween for their big screen debut, Mad Monster Party.
Released in 1967, Mad Monster Party teamed the legendary animation team with the creator of Mad Magazine, Harvey Kurtzman. Together they combined the traditional Hollywood monster with the campier monster silliness that found popularity on (then) current television shows such as The Munsters. The result of this hybrid of styles was a classic spoof of horror movies, musical numbers included, and would go on to become a cult classic.
Having achieved the megalomaniac milestone of developing a secret formula that destroys all matter, the formidable Baron Boris Von Frankenstein decides to end his storied career on this impressive high note. He announces his retirement party, a gala event to be attended by a who’s who of the monster community. Besides his own self-created creature and the creature’s slightly smarter mate, the guest list includes The Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Mummy, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Dracula, the Werewolf, and an up-and-coming ghoul named Yetch (inspired by Peter Lorre.) At the party, the illustrious doctor announces that his nephew, Felix Flankin, will be replacing him in the family business. It soon becomes evident to all involved, however, that Felix is an incompetent failure. Soon the monsters are conspiring to take the nerdy nephew out of the picture. The only person the poor sap can turn to is the beautiful Francesca – a fembot lab assistant (who was reportedly modeled after Ginger from Gilligan’s Island.) Together, they will need to use a combination of wits and catchy musical numbers if they want to emerge victorious.
There was no shortage of voice talent on hand for Mad Monster Party. Leading the pack was horror movie icon, Boris Karloff, who lent his voice to Frankenstein (Sadly, it would also be his final film appearance.) Providing her distinctive voice and sarcastic wit to the “creature’s mate” was famous funnywoman, Phyllis Diller – who, along with Karloff, performed on one of the film’s many musical numbers (other memorable ditties were provided courtesy of those skeletal superstars, Little Tibia and the Phibbeans). Almost all other voices in the film were provided by legendary voice actor Allen Swift (Alan Swift in the film’s credits.) His previous work included all of the character voices on the original Howdy Doody show, as well as the evil Simon Bar Sinister from the Underdog cartoon.
And yet, even with all of this iconic talent, catchy music and general silliness disguised as horror, fans didn’t warm to Mad Monster Party until years later, when it found regular rotation as part of the Saturday afternoon “Creature Feature.” Then audiences started to catch on and its emerging cult status raised it from the dead. Less fortunate was the little-remembered television sequel that Bass-Rankin produced in 1972 called Mad, Mad, Mad, Monsters. Besides the noticeable absence of Karloff and the various plot inconsistencies with the original, the most glaring problem was that it was produced using cell-animation, rather than stop-motion. Fans of the original weren’t impressed. As a result, it garnered about as much attention as an unwrapped invisible man.
The original, however, has won the hearts of a dedicated fan base over the years. One such loyal fan is filmmaker Tim Burton, who cites it as a major influence for his own stop-action holiday-hybrid offering, The Nightmare Before Christmas. Fans of both films are certain to see the similarities – not only in the look of the characters, but in some of the musical numbers as well. A fitting tribute indeed to a classic film that has warmed the hearts of many a horror fan over the years.
If you have fond memories of this animated monster flick, we’d love to hear your thoughts in our comments section – as we tip our hats, yet again, to Rankin-Bass for another endearing classic.