American directors, producers and writers, Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass, have been filling eyes with wonder since founding their own production company, Videocraft International, Ltd. in 1960. The company later became Rankin/Bass Productions, Inc. and enjoyed great success producing animated features geared towards nationally celebrated holidays. Rankin/Bass Productions enjoyed a creatively robust life before shutting down production in 2002.
While the heart-warming and imaginative narratives encompassing the American Christmas holiday gave Rankin/Bass the characters and material for their most often quoted and referenced works—Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), Frosty the Snowman (1969), Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town (1970) and Jack Frost (1979) —, the duo didn’t just work for Claus.
Enter Mad Monster Party (1967), quite the thrilling treat for the little monster fans.
Like the previously mentioned Christmas-themed classics both before and after it (excepting Frosty the Snowman), Mad Monster Party is a Rankin/Bass feature showcasing the aesthetically unique and unforgettable “animagic” technique that so distinguishes Rankin/Bass productions from others. Pioneered by Japanese animator, Tadahito Mochinaga, animagic is the process of animating three-dimensional objects using stop-motion photography. The results are stellar, and this recently discovered 35mm print used for the DVD release is an absolute beaut.
Featuring the voice of horror legend Boris Karloff, the multifariously, wickedly talented Allen Swift, Gale Garnett and Phyllis Diller, as well as jazz singer Ethel Ennis—the voice behind the enchanting title track—, this DVD release of Mad Monster Party serves up a sumptuous feast of the originally mesmerizing, mischief-ridden images crystal-clear.
Hungry eyes will be satiated. Ears will be filled by the superb clarity of the wonderfully eclectic blend of stylish sound in Maury Laws’ expertly crafted soundtrack. Truly no great task to see and hear the care that was rendered to a proper release of this work.
And what sights! as numerous classic, A-List movie monsters come to life on screen, animated by the flightiness of their character (Dracula in particular) as much as the entrancing animation that finds comedy and light-hearted, kid-friendly spookiness in uncanny facial expressions, gestures and puckish deeds.
Though embodying fear, the colorfully decorated monsters are simply too much fun to scare (most) young one’s outright; dialogue contributes to this. Flat as they are, the puns flying out of several mouths are fun with kids in company, and forgivable by adults buzzing on sweet nostalgia.
Story-wise, writers Len Korobkin, Harvey Kurtzman and Arthur Rankin, Jr. contributed a plausible tale uniting the monsters. Goes something like this . . . Having worked through a life rich in scientific abomination on the Caribbean Isle of Evil, Dr. Baron Boris von Frankenstein (Boris Karloff) decides to step down as head of the illustrious band of Monsters. He organizes one last powwow, the infamous “party.”
Courier-bats send word the world over, drawing to the island these most distinguished guests: Dracula, The Wolfman, The Mummy, Quasimodo, Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, The Invisible Man, The Creature. Present also are Dr. Frankenstein’s house specials: stunning, conniving assistant Francesca (Gale Garnett), the oafish Monster (referred to as “Fang”) and his bossy, hellcat Mate (voiced by Phyllis Diller) as well as the airheaded zombie butler Yetch (a Peter Lorre impersonation per Allen Swift).
At table, Dr. Frankenstein announces his retirement, introduces his successor (clumsy, but harmless, nephew Felix Franken, also voiced by Allen Swift) and reveals his most recent success, the fruit of his diabolical science, t-o-t-a-l destruction—a volatile, incandescent cocktail held within a small phial capable of deconstructing any matter within seconds. A monster’s delight, right?
Such a concept as total destruction proves as tantalizing to the monsters as it does to Dr. Frankenstein himself. Which induces great stress with palpable results. And that’s when the story really blasts off . . .
. . . Each monster reacts in its own distinctive way to the dark dream of possessing such a resource. Jealousy, lies and betrayal—beasts of man, in short—congeal from their dank, murky depths, sparking who’s-the-real-monster-here? thoughts down the sharp turns of a twisting tale.
Tack on a new generation of viewers. Tack on several, the effect is the same. Since its release, Mad Monster Party has given audiences a monster-filled thrill of awesome creative power.