Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Mad Monster Party (1967) Review

Director: Jules Bass
Stars: Boris Karloff, Allen Swift, Gale Garnett, Phyllis Diller
Genre: Family, Musical, Horror

What a perfect film to watch for the Halloween season. It's from Rankin/Bass Productions, the same guys that did those stop-motion Christmas films, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman. Mad Monster Party was their take on Halloween, and though it's not a very popular film, it frequently comes up in horror fan's favorites.

In this film, for some reason, Doctor Frankenstein is the leader of all the monsters. I have no idea why...but he is. He is voiced by legendary horror star, Boris Karloff, so I suppose it kind of makes sense. Yes, that's right, legendary horror star Boris Karloff is in this. 

Anyway, Doctor Frankenstein wants to retire his leadership, and he wants to let his nephew, who knows nothing of his experiments and dealings with monsters, take over as leader. So he gathers all his monster friends to his castle, and I do mean all of them. There's Dracula, The Wolf Man, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, Frankenstein's monster, Bride of Frankenstein, Quasimodo, The Creature, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, and even a King Kong-like creature. Oh, there's also a caricature of Peter Lorre in here, which imitates his appearance and voice. Pretty damn cool.

But, all the monsters don't like the idea of Doctor Frankenstein's nephew taking over, as they all feel the spot is rightfully their own. So what do the monsters do? Well, they try to kill his nephew of course. It's quite a good plot for a film of this nature, and it has a pretty satisfying and intense ending as well.

Dracula in Mad Monster Party

The animation looks pretty good but what will really stand out is the set design. It is wonderfully creepy, from the dark swamps to the gothic interiors of the castle. It's a great atmosphere and nails the Halloween/Gothic Horror feel perfectly. The theme and atmosphere are definitely one of the film's strongest points. Each scene is beautiful.

Plus there's an extremely well done and highly memorable soundtrack. And I'm not just talking about the musical song-and-dance parts, the mood setting background music is what really did it for me. The actual songs the monsters sung were alright too, though I've never been much of a fan of musicals. They had a very '60s feel to them, and they were superb, but they kind of didn't fit with the feel of the film.

This film's visual style was actually a direct influence for many of Tim Burton's animated films (Vincent, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Frankenweenie), so any fans of his will probably enjoy this.

The humor here is actually pretty funny. There is some adult humor, and it really is a film that can be enjoyed by all ages. I even laughed out loud a few times. The part I found the funniest, whether it was intentional or not, was when the nephew smacked the girl and then she fell in love with him. It was just so absurd. The script was actually penned by Harvey Kurtzman, the creator of MAD Magazine, so of course you'll get a few laughs.

Mr. Hyde in Mad Monster Party

If I have any complaints it's that some of the monsters didn't get enough screen time. The Creature was hardly shown at all, as with the Invisible Man. The film really focused mostly on Dracula, which I suppose is as good a monster as any to focus on. Just wish some of the monsters didn't feel completely pointless. But it is great seeing all the Universal Monsters on screen, and this film doesn't desecrate the characters like some films, but it rather honors them. Although, I will say that the Bride of Frankenstein was kind of annoying, though she was voiced by the talented Phyllis Diller. Francesca, an original character to the film, who played the femme fatale role, was actually surprisingly enjoyable.

A superb holiday film for the family, with all your favorite monsters and some great visuals and atmosphere. Quite funny at times, and quite enjoyable overall.  

4/5 stars
Purchase Mad Monster Party: Blu-Ray/DVD - Stream
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