So how did I miss Rankin/Bass’ full-length Halloween movie, Mad Monster Party? The box art and description didn’t ring a bell. But since I was in need of a kids’ movie to review for October, I sat down with Dash to check it out…
After creating the secret formula for destruction, Baron von Frankenstein (Boris Karloff) – head of the Worldwide Organization of Monsters – assembles all the great classic monsters (the Frankenstein monster, the Mummy, Dr. Jekyll, Dracula, the Werewolf, and the Invisible Man) at his castle to announce his retirement. He’s chosen his mild-mannered, klutzy nephew Felix (Allen Swift) as his successor, much to the dismay of the monsters – who plot various schemes to double-cross one another and get rid of Felix once and for all.
According to the hyperbolic, editor-starved liner notes in the DVD, Mad Monster Party was a commercial dud when it was released in theaters. Can’t say I’m surprised, because it’s a ponderous, flat, unfeeling film that substantially lacks the charm of its Rankin/Bass brethren.
Many of the scenes play out way too long and seem detached from each other, like their own little vignettes, each with nearly the same formula: scene plays out, punchline is delivered, fade to black... scene, punchline, fade…
Also, the musical numbers come out of nowhere and are largely forgettable (except for the peppy “One Step Ahead”). And outside of the musical numbers, there’s virtually no background score to keep things lively.
After the first 30 minutes, I was bored. At 45 minutes, Dash was asleep on the couch (this was a two-night viewing). Had Mad Monster Party been trimmed to a one-hour TV special, rather than a 95-minute film, it may have been more effective and enjoyable. (Interestingly, several scenes were added at producer Joseph E. Levine’s request, despite Arthur Rankin, Jr.'s protests that they slowed down the film.)
Watching Mad Monster Party is a cold, sterile experience – and not just because the majority of the film takes place in Dr. Frankenstein’s castle. Yet much like Frankenstein’s monster, the movie lumbers aimlessly.
A weird postscript: Turns out I had seen Mad Monster Party as a kid; I just didn’t remember any of it, except for one random scene: Dracula hacking through the woods near Frankenstein’s castle with a machete. For some reason, that one scene had stuck in my head since childhood, but I never would have guessed it was from this film. I guess the liner notes said it best: “Many adults remember seeing [Mad Monster Party] as a child but weren’t sure of the title or even if it was an actual film because it didn’t repeat [on TV] year after year in most areas.”
Trivia: The voice of Francesca (Dr. Frankenstein’s assistant/creation) was singer Gale Garrett, who had a hit in 1964 with “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine.”
What did Dash think?He was a little apprehensive based on the creepy box art, but he agreed to watch it. Did he like it? Well, he paid attention, laughing heartily only once (as did I, at the same scene). When it was over, he shrugged and said, “It was okay.” We both then agreed, it ain’t no Rudolph.
Will your kids like it?Most kids today don’t have the attention span for older kids’ movies and shows, and Mad Monster Party will definitely put their interest to the test: It’s slow and a bit longer than most of today's kids’ films.
In terms of content, there are a few questionable elements:
• Some of the creatures and their jerky animation may be a bit scary for preschoolers or younger
• Near the end, Felix gets so distraught over losing Francesca to a giant monster that he declares he’ll kill himself
• The film ends, essentially, with (SPOILER ALERT!) a mass murder of the monsters by Dr. Frankenstein, who also perishes with them
Will your FilmMother want to watch it?Even if she loves Rankin/Bass shows and/or Halloween, be forewarned: Mad Monster Party is a struggle to sit through. Pass on it and wait a couple more months to enjoy the true R/B classics of Christmastime.
Mad Monster Party
• Director: Jules Bass
• Screenwriters: Len Korobkin, Harvey Kurtzman
• Stars: Boris Karloff, Allen Swift, Gale Garnett, Phyllis Diller, Ethel Ennis
• MPAA Rating: G
Buy Mad Monster Party for less at Half.com >>
Rent Mad Monster Party from Netflix >>