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There is truly no better time to watch 'Mad Monster Party,' the 'Rudolph' of Halloween
Mad Monster Party?, directed by the recently deceased Jules Bass, is a Halloween classic.
If you’ve celebrated Christmas — or have even a passing awareness of the holiday — you’re probably familiar with Jules Bass’ work. Bass, who died yesterday at the age of 87, was one half of Rankin/Bass Productions alongside Arthur Rankin Jr. Together, the pair produced several Christmas specials throughout the ’60s, some animated and some stop-motion, that became enduring holiday classics, like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Little Drummer Boy, and Frosty the Snowman. That’s hardly all Bass did, though. He directed The Last Unicorn, a couple of Lord of the Rings adaptations, and the Thundercats cartoon in the ‘80s. And, Christmas wasn’t the only holiday he made specials for. Mad Monster Party?, which celebrates its 55th anniversary this year, does for Halloween what Rudolph did for Christmas.
You could make the case that Mad Monster Party? isn’t technically a Halloween movie, as it celebrated its anniversary not in the spooky season but this past March. That’s splitting hairs, though, because it is absolutely a Halloween equivalent to Rankin/Bass’ stop-motion Christmas specials. The animation is distinct and charmingly janky; the humor and vibes are very much of the ‘60s. It’s just that instead of Santa Claus, Mad Monster Party? stars Dr. Frankenstein and other classic horror monsters (though as is often the case, these mad monsters are either public domain creatures or juuuust legally distinct enough from the Universal Classic Monsters).
Boris Karloff — the horror legend who played the mummy and Frankenstein’s Monster in the Universal films of the ‘30s, voices Baron Boris von Frankenstein. The mad scientist has finalized his latest, greatest invention, and he senses it's time to retire. But, who will succeed him as the leader of the Worldwide Organization of Monsters? To announce his successor, Frankenstein sends invites to all the various monsters for the titular Mad Monster Party. The Monster and the Bride are already in the castle on the Isle of Evil, but Count Dracula, the Mummy, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, the Werewolf, the Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, and the Creature (of Black Lagoon fame) all respond to his summons.
One other invite goes out to a seemingly normal, extremely nebbish young man named Felix Flanke, who Frankenstein says is his nephew. The other monsters, not to mention Frankenstein’s bodacious assistant Francesca, are displeased that this non-monstrous rando is in contention to be Frankenstein’s successor, and soon they’re conspiring to eliminate him from the competition.
There are various side plots, including Dracula and Frankenstein's Monster’s temporary alliance, Francesca falling for Felix, and a Peter Lorre-like zombie butler named Yetch, but the 95-minute film is a fairly light and breezy good time, especially for horror fans who like seeing scream icons literally party together. (Mad Monster Party? gets great comedic mileage out of the Invisible Man.) And, unlike Rankin/Bass’ Christmas fare, like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Mad Monster Party? is ultimately dark and cynical, with a wonderfully and surprisingly nihilistic ending.
If the film has a crucial flaw, though, it’s that it feels beholden to this apparently very ‘60s need to be a musical. Some of the songs are great. The titular opening song that plays with the credits as Frankenstein’s invitations reach all the various monsters, is a hoot, as is a dance number about “The Mummy.” Other songs feel shoehorned in there out of necessity, like a tune where the Bride (voiced by Phyllis Diller) sings about how much she loves the Monster because “he’s different.” There’s another song where Frankenstein teaches Felix to be “One Step Ahead.” These two songs, in addition to not being especially pleasant to listen to, feel wholly out of step with the otherwise black-comedy tone of the film.
Luckily, those musical moments don’t take up much of the film, which is a delightful addition to any Halloween viewing canon if it isn’t already in your rotation. "The Monster Mash" is tired. Mad Monster Party? is where it’s at.
Mad Monster Party? is available to stream as VOD.
Looking for more horror scares this Halloween, especially movies with the Universal Classic Monsters? Check out a ton of great films streaming on Peacock.