Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Film Review: MAD MONSTER PARTY? (1967, Jules Bass)

Stars: 4.4 of 5.
Running Time: 94 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Boris Karloff, Phyllis Diller, Allen Swift ((THE FAMILY CIRCUS CHRISTMAS, IT'S GREEK TO ME-OW!), Gale Garnett (THE PARK IS MINE, THIRTY TWO SHORT FILMS ABOUT GLENN GOULD). Produced by Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin, Jr. (RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER, THE HOBBIT). Music by Maury Laws (THE HOBBIT, THE YEAR WITHOUT A SANTA CLAUS). Also features the hit song "Do the Mummy" by Little Tibia and the Fibias. Puppet design by Jack Davis (MAD magazine).
Tag-lines: "It's the Silliest Party of the Year... and you're all invited!"
Best one-liner:"Wolfie, you old dog! Ha ha. This convention is going to be a howling success."

MAD MONSTER PARTY? is so goddamned cute that you want to pick it up and hold it and rock it and pinch its little cheeks. This movie had me twittering like a little girl in her petticoats, and I don't use that terminology lightly. The last time I felt this way was when I watched BILL & COO (OUR TOWN with an all-bird cast).

Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin, Jr. (who were already well-known for RUDOLPH) again use the 'Animagic' process to build a world of exquisite detail and absolute preciousness. There's something amazingly stilted and ridiculous about the characters' movements that is completely charming, even beyond traditional stop motion. I don't intend to turn this into an anti-CGI rant, but often, one of the creatures will gesture in a spontaneously awkward manner that is wonky perfection itself. The film becomes a marriage of natural and unnatural: real hands manipulating real objects in an artificial realm where the laws of physics are subject only to dream-logic. In a way, it's a universe made entirely from scratch, from real, cobbled-together materials and assembled frame by frame (without cheapjack shortcuts via computer!)... I say it's worthy of Dr. Frankenstein and his infamous patchwork monster!

Speaking of which, the plot concerns Dr. Frankenstein (basically Boris Karloff as himself) calling together all of his monster friends (Dracula, The Mummy, The Creature, Dr. Jekyll, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Invisible Man, The Werewolf, a Peter Lorre-knockoff, etc.) together to announce his retirement.

Also in the mix is a Jimmy Stewart-parody dweeb who happens to be the Doctor's nephew. Scheming, hilarity, and corny songs ensue. Standouts include the skeleton "Beatles" band who plays "Do the Mummy," the ridiculous Italian-a chef-a who-a talks-a like-a this-a, and insane comedic stylings of Phyllis Diller. As "The Monster's Mate" (what 'the Bride of Frankenstein' is billed as in the 1935 credits), Diller delivers a series of one-liners which are largely unfunny.

She follows up each of the one-liners with an inane guffaw which somehow, after-the-fact, bends the limits of reason and MAKES them funny. Case in point: "Remember what happened the last time you had a roving eye? I kept it in a jar for a week. AHHH-HAW HAW HAW HAW HAWWWWWWWW!" Perfect.

It all leads to the eponymous soiree which is as full of backstabbing, musical performances, power plays, pie fights, and all-around tomfoolery as it should be.

Little Tibia and the Fibias.


The Creature from the Black Lagoon, walloped in the face with a pie.

Note the Mummy's mounting apprehension as a good swig of booze is about to go to waste. Also note Frankenstein's tuxedo in the background.

Drac hits the punch bowl in a riposte to the classic "I never drink... wine."

Four and a half stars. My highest recommendation for the Halloween season.

[It also bears mentioning that THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS- and perhaps even Tim Burton's entire catalogue- would not exist without this film. Though he freely admits the influence, take a look at the little critters in the "Stay One Step Ahead" number, and you'll likely be shocked by the similarity.]

-Sean Gill


Ivan said...

A goofy and wonderful classic!
Personally, I love how Dracula and the Wolfman are such pals in this flick--they're really happy to see each other! And I can't help but image what sort of shenanigans they used to get into.
But you didn't mention Franchesca, the original Joan Holloway!

Sean Gill said...

Definitely agreed on Drac and Wolfy- Rankin and Bass could've done a sweet prequel chronicling their misadventures.

And, ah, yes- Francesca is certainly noteworthy and worth a mention. I probably forgot because I couldn't get a good screencap from the trailer. Her sultry, conniving presence is certainly one of the many joys MAD MONSTER PARTY has to offer.