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Mad Monster Party

Rankin-Rass/Videocraft/Embassy Pictures (March 8 1967), Anchor Bay Home Entertainment (August 19 2003), single disc, 95 mins, 1.33:1 original full frame ratio, Dolby Digital Mono, Not Rated, Retail: $14.98

Storyboard:

Kicking off with the devastating invention to end all inventions (almost quite literally) the movie sees “uncle” Boris Karloff-voiced Baron Von Frankenstein (he’s given the “Von” here for no apparent reason) inviting his fellow monster friends and partners in crime to his castle lair to reveal his new discovery. Making their way to the castle during the opening credits (with many nice touches) are the likes of Frankenstein’s Monster, The Wolf Man, Dracula, Dr Jekyll (with Mr Hyde of course), The Creature, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (a slight stretch maybe) and the Igor-homage Yetch, plus a few surprises. They all believe that they’re next in line to inherit the castle and its secrets, not realizing that Frankenstein intends to hand the keys only to his nerdy nephew Felix. The movie then follows the attempts by the monsters and their beautiful accomplice Francesca (voiced by the very Kathleen Turner-esque Gale Garnett) to be rid of Felix and take control of the castle and Frankenstein’s new formula for mass destruction! Fortunately for Felix, Francesca sees something in him (a great gag that pays off right at the end of the film) and decides to try and help him and his uncle against the greatest legion of classic movie monsters in history!

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The Sweatbox Review:

Get ready to do the Monster Mash, as the classic spoof is back – and on DVD for the first time. Though it could have been the inspiration for the film, it’s a common mistake that the Monster Mash song is from this movie. The song was actually recorded and released earlier, in 1962, although the Misfits (named after the weird skeletal pop gang in the film) re-recorded it with a promo made up of clips from the film. Now it’s been fully restored and results truly show – the Party has never been this popping!

A childhood favorite, and run, run and re-run on my now tatty VHS, I was pleased that Anchor Bay would be responsible for bringing Mad Monster Party to disc. Their releases can often be seen as the Criterion of cult classics – the movies we really love spruced up, cleaned off and presented with an array of extras. Mad Monster Party is no exception, and although this disc does not include the rumored retrospective interview-style “making of” that we might have been expecting, it does offer some nice additions and some surprises along the way!

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Despite being a very fun outing, it has to be said that the concept and execution of Mad Monster Party is actually much better than the finished film. Not having seen this in a good few years, there were parts of it that seemed to drag – not through the writing, but in the pacing of the animation and direction. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but at over 90 minutes, one might feel that it could have made a tighter 80 or so minute film just by speeding up the shots! The animation, from the Rankin/Bass team, is top-notch for a film created in this way (stop-motion) and at the time, without the aid of CGI-enhanced effects. The Nightmare Before Christmas owes a great dept to this film in more ways than one, and the same devilish sense of fun runs throughout both films.

Arthur Rankin Jr and his partner Jules Bass, at this point, had already produced the perennial TV specials Frosty The Snowman and Rudolf The Red Nosed Reindeer and were one of the major producers of television animation, along with Hanna-Barbera. Their list of credits sounds like a “whos-who” of TV cartooning, and they also pretty much forged ahead over the years with the first made for TV animated movies, including a 2D drawn animation series based on Tolkein’s The Hobbit and The Lord Of the Rings, in the 1970s. They also had success with the quick spin-off shows that were spawned from the biggest selling pop acts of the day: The Jackson Five and The Osmonds, but are probably best known to modern audiences for the immensely popular ThunderCats series which ran through 1985.

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On the big screen, they were, of course, overshadowed by the big Disney releases, but did continue to offer alternative family entertainment with Willie McBean And His Magic Machine (1965), The Wacky World Of Mother Goose (1966) and several others. Their biggest hit in cinemas, and most remembered, is perhaps The Last Unicorn (1982), a lavish version of Peter Beagle’s novel told in full-quality hand-drawn animation, and with detailed special effects. Unfortunately, the film was released during the overabundance of “sword and sorcery” epics that dominated the early 80s (Krull, The Dark Crystal, The Black Cauldron) and like many it was lost in the stampede.

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Mad Monster Party remains the highlight of Rankin/Bass’ stop-motion “AniMagic” years, for which they were best known. It spawned a cartoon series of its own, Mad Mad Monsters, which featured some deliriously deranged writing. The characters are designed in keeping with their already well-known and iconic movie stature, but there is nothing here to really frighten young children (although some adults might have their hearts racing thanks to foxy Francesca, especially in one scene)! Of the voice talent, Karloff brings to it the just-right pathos, Alan Swift does a James Stewart for the Woody Allen-like Felix, and Phyllis Diller as the Monster’s Mate has a killer cackle! Mad Monster Party itself has some outstanding production values, features some great gags and one-liners and a terrific, toe-tapping smattering of songs – you can’t really go wrong with so many great movie monsters in one house!

Is This Thing Loaded?

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The extras kick off right away with the initial main menu! Let the menu run, and you’ll be treated to a full studio-quality recording of the main theme from Mad Monster Party, which spoofs the Shirley Bassey James Bond songs of the 60s. Going to the Extras menu, there’s another full track from Percepto’s recent CD issue of the soundtrack, this time some incidental score!

The original theatrical trailer is presented and also looks as if it has come from a fairly clean print, as it does not have the deteriorated look that many older trailers exhibit. Quite often I’ll go to a trailer only to find that it’s a bad contrast, scratchy and uncared for transfer – not so here, and it’s a fun trailer!

Two sets of still galleries highlight Poster & Stills, and Production Art respectively. Although none of the photos or pictures are actually shown twice, there is a lot of overlap between the sections, and maybe one gallery with all the pictures within in might have been sufficient. However, there are some wonderful images here, both of the characters, early concepts and unused publicity.

Finally, it seems any DVD-Rom features were the only ones not invited to the party – there are none here.

Case Study:

Of special note is the included 26-page, full color, top-quality printed booklet from Rankin/Bass fan-historian Rick Goldschmidt, featuring behind the scenes tales, information on the voice talent, and general overview of the whole Mad Monster Party production. The book feels pretty substantial and takes more than just a little while to get through, and features some great stills, some of which appear on the disc, but it’s nice to see them in print. A truly great addition!

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Ink And Paint:

For many years the only way to see Mad Monster Party was from the 16mm prints that existed. In the late 90s (and apparently under “suspicious” circumstances) Columbia TriStar located a pristine 35mm color print, and it’s from this that the Anchor Bay version has been cleaned up and mastered. You’ve never seen the Party looking this good. Colors are fresh, strong and clean. Presented in its original and correct “open matte” negative aspect ratio of 1.33:1, the depth has been restored to many scenes with careful use of contrasting and if you didn’t know the age of the movie, you’d think it was brand new! Sterling work.

Scratch Tracks:

To go with the crisp and clean picture, the film’s original mono audio mix has been given a boost too! Keeping away from any fake-stereo imaging, the audio track is in very good condition, and sounds very spacious. Although there is no surround information, the sound does seem to spread around, but this is almost certainly a frequency illusion. All in all, the sound is just as good as it needs to be (in fact, it’s better!) and makes the whole experience that much more worthwhile.

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Final Cut:

If you’re a fan or remember this fun movie, you will not be disappointed with this disc and transfer. The restored print, clean audio and small but perfectly formed extra features do justice to a film that is often underrated. The premise of the film may be better than its actual execution and it might drag a little for the adults of today, but kids will adore it, and parents will get some joy out of revisiting it again, or seeing these characters doing their wild “fang” (sorry!) for the first time. Put your best Halloween costume on, grab this disc, and have your own Mad Monster Party!

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?

mmp08.jpg MAIN FEATURE
SUPPLEMENTS
VIDEO IMAGE
SOUND TRACK
OVERALL DVD

 

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