Thursday, October 8, 2009

31 Days of Halloween: Rankin-Bass Invites You to a Mad Monster Party

This Cafe special was written by Gilby37; the Rankin/Bass images were provided by Rick Goldschmidt.

Every December new generations of fans discover Rankin-Bass classics on TV. ABC Family Channel devotes many hours of programming to their productions. It is easy to find numerous Christmas favorites produced by Rankin-Bass such as: Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer; Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town; The Year Without a Santa Claus; and Frosty the Snowman to name a few. However, I’ve always loved their tribute to the horror genre: Mad Monster Party.

I remember watching this “Animagic” movie every time it aired on TV when I was a kid. Rankin-Bass animated productions often used this stop-motion process where the characters visually seemed doll-like. The life-like aspect of the characters fascinated me. Although I was told I was watching a “cartoon,” the characters were so alive. In my opinion, Mad Monster Party would not have been as delightful had this process not been used. It was filled with some of the most interesting figures of vintage Hollywood horror and used a clever plot device gather these icons.

The Baron von Frankenstein (voiced by Boris Karloff) has decided to retire. He has at long last perfected his secret potion--one that can completely destroy any matter it touches. The Baron realizes he has discovered how to control the two most important forces on the planet: life and death. He decides to share the success of this new potion with all of the other members of the monster community. What’s the best way to do this? The Baron decides to hold a party at the Frankenstein Castle. He will not only tell the others about his discovery, but also his decision to retire as their leader. The Baron also plans to name his nephew Felix Flankin as his successor. Felix is the son of Von Frankenstein’s sister, “the white sheep of the family.”

Who are the members of Von Frankenstein’s Monster Coalition? They are Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Monster’s Mate, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Werewolf, The Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, The Creature (from the Black Lagoon) and It. However, the Baron decides not to invite It because of his behavior last time they gathered. Helping Von Frankenstein to organize this party is the gorgeous Francesca. She is his “assistant,” and according to him, his most beautiful creation. When Francesca finds out the Baron is leaving all of his secrets and power to Felix, she plots to destroy the young man. As the story unfolds, none of the monsters are happy about Von Frankenstein’s decision. Various alliances form to grab the power and get the Baron’s secret potion. They not only want Felix out of the picture, but some monsters see this as a chance to get rid of other monster rivals.

I purchased this film on DVD earlier this year because I loved it so much as a child. I must admit that I was apprehensive. Sometimes, what we loved so much when we were young disappoints us when we watch it as adults. I am happy to say that was not the case with Mad Monster Party. In fact, as an adult and as a classic movie fan, I found more to enjoy.

First, Rankin-Bass productions always use the persona/image of the famous voice actors who star in their films. Remember how the mailman in Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town looked and danced just like Fred Astaire? In the story, Von Frankenstein is easily identifiable as Karloff. The other famous star in this piece was Phyllis Diller as the Monster’s Mate. One look at this character, white unkempt hair and long narrow chin, confirms Diller’s presence. Would Phyllis Diller’s signature laugh have been evident in a regular cartoon? Yes. However, the puppet version of this comedienne was so perfect you’d swear you were watching her at a Dean Martin Roast.

Second, I was awed at how Old Hollywood in general was honored in this movie. Felix was the “boy scout” of the story and his voice sounded like everyone’s favorite good guy, Jimmy Stewart. In fact, when we first meet Felix he is working in a drug store (just like George Bailey). Francesca had that drop dead Gina Lollobrigida figure and sexy look. The Baron’s henchman, Yetch, looked and sounded exactly like Peter Lorre. The Invisible Man was given a fez and seemed a little rotund. No wonder, when he spoke, he sounded just like Sydney Greenstreet of Casablanca fame (and you’ll recall he did wear a fez in that classic). Finally, when It crashes the party he bears a striking resemblance to King Kong. The climax of this film will take you back to the climax of the Fay Wray classic.

I hope this article will encourage every film lover to add Mad Monster Party to his/her list of must-sees during the Halloween season.


  1. Gilby, I’m thrilled you did this delightful post for the Café! MAD MONSTER PARTY is second only to the first RUDOLPH as my favorite Rankin/Bass production (by the way, did you ever see the "Mad TV" spoof with Rudolph as the Godfather in the same style as R/B?). The best parts of MAD MONSTER PARTY are the clever sets, the voices (Boris Karloff is ideal), and the terrific title tune sung by Ethel Ennis (who once toured with Benny Goodman). You did a fine job capturing the joys of childhood (and adult) Halloween favorite.

  2. Welcome Gilby,I have not seen this film. i agree it sounds like a wonderful Boris Karloff. i will look for this DVD to add to my Halloween collection.

  3. Thanks, Rick. I thought this piece was a perfect fit for your 31 days of Halloween theme. Hopefully, I can be a "guest star" again sometime in the future!

  4. Great post, Gilby! My wife and I bought this DVD last year, and we were planning on making it a tradition to watch every Halloween. It's great fun, and anything with Boris Karloff is a treat. Hope to see more posts from you in the future!

  5. I've seen the Rankin Bass Christmas stories, but somehow I never knew about Mad Monster Party. I would love to get my hands on it and watch it for Halloween. Boris Karloff is such a favorite of mine, and it sounds like such fun.

  6. I enjoy Rankin Bass and their Christmas stories, but I have yet to see this Halloween one! :) Thanks!

  7. What an excellent addition to the 31 Days of Halloween! Welcome, Gilby! I only discovered this clever classic as an adult and was instantly smitten. I love the "Mad Mad Mad Monster Party" song that introduces the characters as it ushers in the movie. I became a fan of Rankin-Bass with "Rudolph" and I still enjoy seeing it at Christmas, too.