Saturday, September 19, 2009

Artifacts of our Childhood #4: Mad Monster Party

This is an example of something we saw as a kid, but since it only happened once before so many years ago, we wondered if it was all a dream.

It was around Halloween time, and for some reason we were in a bookstore, most likely Borders. I'm assuming that it was a special occasion of some sort, since they were playing Mad Monster Party on a TV screen in front of the CD/DVD section. Now that I think about it, I don't think I knew what a DVD was at the time, and Mad Monster Party was probably still only on video.
Anyway, a bunch of kids were sitting around in chairs or maybe on the floor in front of the screen, and we probably went "Oooh, cartoons!" and joined them. What played was this bizarre and kinda creepy stop-motion animated thingy, with a bunch of monsters including Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (whose transformation was particularly memorable to me), a werewolf, a vampire, and many others. The only things I could remember were the opening sequence- and I don't remember any music- the monsters arriving at the party, and a big explosion at the end that the main character compared to the 4th of July, who turned out to be a robot (SPOILERS!!).

My impressionable imagination etched these nightmarish images onto my brain, and I carried them with me for many years, not knowing what on earth they were. As I said, I thought I may have dreamt it after a while...

So imagine my excitement when we figured out what the heck it was a couple years ago. In fact, the images in my heads practically haunted me, so I sort of became obsessed with getting the DVD.

Turns out it's not quite as creepy as I remember- I certainly haven't gotten the same feeling when I watch it yet- but it certainly is even more bizarre and kooky than I ever expected.

Mad Monster Party was made by Rankin-Bass, the same people who brought you Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Mad Monster Party is probably the most popular of Rankin-Bass' excruciatingly rare Halloween and/or horror-themed works, especially since it influenced Tim Burton's classic Nightmare Before Christmas. It's a horror-comedy, starring Boris Karloff and Phyllis Diller, and some people impersonating Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, and Jimmy Stewart. It would seem that Rankin-Bass wanted to do something more snappy and hip, so they hired writers and artists who worked for Mad magazine (hence the word "Mad" in the title). The film was released in theaters in 1967.
This sort of macabre movie monster crossover was popular in the '60s, starting with The Addams Family and going on to The Munsters. Dracula, the Wolf Man, Frankenstein's Monster had pretty much become clowns in the eyes of the public, and Mad Monster Party threw in every other iconic monster, including parodies of Igor (which, as far as I can tell, is the first instance of a Peter Lorre impression filling in for that type), the Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Invisible Man, the Mummy, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, and King Kong (called "It" here).
The dialogue is filled with macabre gags and puns, and while they're not quite as subtle as Disney's Haunted Mansion, they're certainly a lot more clever than Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School.

In the end, watching it sort of feels like a bizarre macabre freakout, and while the jokes are lot of fun, and ending is pretty grim when you think about it, I'm not so sure if it's as sophisticated as more famous horror-comedies. Nevertheless, it feels good to finally see it again after all these years, even though it's not quite how I remember it.

Now if I could only figure out what that dialogue-less stop motion short I saw in elementary school about a couple of guys bringing a tiny Frankenstein monster to life with a drop of blood or potion and gradually growing him into a giant was...

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