Rankin/Bass’s 1967 animated “Mad Monster Party”: The grooviest ghouls of all time

By on October 29, 2016

One of the memorable television experiences of our childhood always occurred sometime around, on or near Halloween, when we’d be able to once again see this 1967 animated film Mad Monster Party — the onscreen title included a question mark: Mad Monster Party? — filmed using the familiar “Animagic” stop-motion animation process, seen in other Rankin/Bass Productions.

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The cinematography for Mad Monster Party was by Tadahito “Tad” Mochinaga, the pioneering Japanese stop-motion animator, who worked on many of the Arthur Rankin/Jules Bass 1960s TV specials/movies at his own studio, called MOM Production, in Tokyo.

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You may also know Mochinaga’s stop-motion (sometimes called stop-action) work from Rankin/Bass’s very successful TV special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, which was first broadcast on December 6, 1964, and it continues to be broadcast on network TV each Christmas, celebrating its 50th Anniversary last year.

Mochinaga is also listed as a “puppet technician” on the film, from designs by illustrator and “puppet designer” Jack Davis of Mad Magazine fame.

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Mochinaga’s stop-motion films proved to ve very influential, particulary on Tim Burton, if you’ve seen his stop-motion films Vincent, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Corpse Bride.

Mad Monster Party also memorably featured the voices of Boris Karloff — who lent his voice during his final years to projects like this, and the TV adaptation of  How the Grinch Stole Christmas) and Phyllis Diller, who essentially plays herself.

Just about all of the other voices were personified by voice actor Alan Swift, who impersonates Jimmy Stewart (when voicing Felix Flankin), actor Sydney Greenstreet (the Invisible Man), and Charles Laughton (the Freighter Captain) and several more.

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The plot isn’t too different from the kinds of campy horror movies that Abbott & Costello or the Three Stooges were doing in live-action films at the time. It all centers around a weekend party being hosted by the evil Baron Frankenstein (Karloff), at his mansion on a Caribbean isle, where he has figured out some kind of formula that will allow him to destroy the world, which is pretty much the ultimate evil, right?

In fact, he’s so evil, his island is called the Evil Isle of the Caribbean Sea.

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Frankenstein looks like he has a pretty good life on the island. He’s got a butler, Yetch (voiced by Swift, doing Peter Lorre), a chef named Mafia Machiavelli, zombie bellhops and servants, but he’s getting old and has decided to announce his retirement as the head of the Worldwide Organization of Monsters.

He intends to name his successor during a large banquet-style dinner, and decides to inform all of his monster friends at the party, which will feature musical entertainment by his skeletal rock n’ roll combo, Little Tibia & The Fibians.

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His close friends — who also live on the island — include Fang (the good doctor’s own creation, essentially another Frankenstein-type monster) and Fang’s gal pal Phyliss Diller (who always referred to her husband in her stage act as “Fang”), but others who have to travel to the island to attend include Count Dracula, the Mummy, Quasimodo (aka “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”), the Invisible Man, the Werewolf, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon (called, simply, “the Creature”).

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Stumbling into this storyline is Frankenstein’s incompetent, asthmatic nephew, Felix Flankin, who Frankenstein has decided will be his successor, which doesn’t quite sit well with his cute red-headed secretary Francesca, voiced by Gale Garnett (Flankin immediately falls for her, and we think we had a little crush on her too).

There’s a few plots twists along the way, and some twisting on the dance floor to the Beatlesque skeleton band, and a little twist at the end too.

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Mad Monster Party was directed by Jules Bass, and was written by Len Korobkin and celebrated cartoonist and Mad Magazine creator Harvey Kurtzman, whose incredible career has so many highlights it’s impossible to list them all in one blog.

Many know him for his work with Mad, writing and editing from 1952-1956, or from his sexy and satirical comic strip “Little Annie Fanny,” which was published in the back of Playboy magazine from 1962 until 1988. He also worked on a clever spaghetti western fumetti (“The Good, The Bad and the Garlic”) for the January 1970 issue of Playboy with Richard Reicheg, which we mentioned here.

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He also edited the low-budget Help!, from 1960 to 1965, a humor magazine which featured work by Terry Gilliam, and featured some of the earliest work of underground cartoonists like Robert Crumb.

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Over the years, there has been some confusion that perhaps Forrest Ackerman had also been involved (he’s also listed as “uncredited” in the IMDB entry), but Rankin/Bass historian Rick Goldschmidt, in liner notes accompanying the Anchor Bay DVD release in 2006 denied Ackerman was ever involved.

Goldschmidt also mentions this in a Rankin/Bass blog he maintains, based on his interviews with Len Korobkin, who claimed to have written the original screenplay which then was revised by Kurtzman.

We don’t seem to see Mad Monster Party nearly as much on TV these days, but you can always purchase the DVD and throw your own “Silliest Party Of The Year” and make it a much-loved yearly Halloween tradition in your own household.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.