In our family, the Rankin/Bass holiday specials were a big deal. My parents had tapped them onto VHSes for me and my sisters to watch during the holidays. The Easter Bunny is Comin’ to Town, Rudolph, and Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town were the holy trinity, but they were all on at some point.
And boy do their songs get stuck in my head like an endless train of earworms. So when this song was stuck in my head yet again, I decided to take a trip down memory lane. And lo and behold, turns out the old boys did a Halloween movie! It’s certainly darker and more stylish than the traditional holiday TV specials, but this one is pretty worth exploring.
Mad Monster Party? is wacky and nonsensical like many of the Rankin/Bass movies. But where films like Rudolph and The Little Drummer Boy exist to warm the cockles, Mad Monster Party? exists the revel in its kitsch.
Baron Boris von Frankenstein (voiced by Boris Karloff) is a mad scientist living on an island in the Caribbean. His latest discovery is his life’s ambition: the formula to destroy matter. To both gloat and celebrate, Boris invites his gang of monster pals to his island.
His delivery bats reach familiar Universal monsters like the Creature from the Black Lagoon, the werewolf and of course, Dracula. But also invited it the human “pharmacist” Felix Flankin, Boris’s nephew.
Young Felix, who is a dead-ringer for that asshole Brad Majors, is a bit of a dope. He’s clumsy and always about in his bowtie. He also works in a shop with a boss who is more than happy to get rid of him. So an invitation to a resort on a Caribbean island seems too good to be true.
Felix eagerly leaves behind his humdrum life for an adventure elsewhere. He and the other monsters board a ship and begin their journey to Boris’s castle.
Meanwhile, Boris is preparing for his guests’ arrival. Yetch the zombie butler and his gang of zombie henchmen (who fly on old-fashioned Wright brothers-style airplanes) begin their patrol to make sure “It” doesn’t arrive onto the island.
Boris’s assistant, Francesca, tells him that every one has replied, though she admits she’s never heard of Felix. Boris then tells her that he plans on retiring from the monster organization that he leads and that he wants Felix to be his successor. And unsurprisingly, the intelligent assistant is more than a bit miffed at being passed over because of some idiotic nepotism.
On the boat, slapstick-style jokes ensue and Felix continues on his journey blissfully unaware that his ship is full of monsters.
The monsters manage to beat Felix to the island and sit down to dinner with their host, who informs them of both his planned retirement and his discovery. The monsters around the island delight in the news, as they all think they are the successor.
But scheming Francesca (who, is shaped like a cartoon-version of the love child of Jessica Rabbit and Christi
na Hendricks) pulls Dracula aside and informs him that it is Felix who is next in line. The two agree to work together to ensure that no human takes over the World Wide Organization of Monsters.
When Felix does arrive, Francesca and Drac’s are set in motion. Francesca invites the unsuspecting Felix with her on a picnic, but all of her plans go awry. Each time one of the monsters tries to scare him, he simply explains them away.
Back at the castle, Felix and his uncle explore Boris’s lab. Boris then announces to Felix that he plans on making him his successor. He then tells Felix that monsters exist. The boy, obviously overwhelmed, tells his uncle that he needs time to consider before he agrees to become head of the monsters.
And with Felix’s future uncertain, the monsters begin to move in. Francesca realises that Dracula has double-crossed her with the Monster of Frankenstein and his mate. She escapes and decides to send a message-bat out as a means of revenge. She begins to look for the formula for herself, but is caught by the rest of the monsters.
Francesca jumps into the surrounding lagoon to escape and finds Felix alone in a fishing boat. The woman becomes hysterical and begins to kiss Felix. I guess all that mumbling and dropping of the glasses really does it for some ladies.
But their win is short lived, as Francesca tells Felix that they need to escape the island – fast. Out of anger, the foolish woman sent a bat to It, Boris’s nemesis. The couple run into the jungle with the rest of the monsters in hot pursuit.
The couple nearly escape when Francesca is grabbed. Though in perfect timing, It arrives (It being King Kong). The beast begins to destroy the castle, grabs Franny, and the King Kong ending plays out.
Boris attempts to save Francesca, and succeeds, but is caught in the process. The baron then uncorks a vial of his formula and blows himself, It, and all other other monsters up while Felix and Francesca make their escape.
On their boat away from the island, Francesca admits that she was created by Boris. She runs on batteries, cogs and springs – a robot. And Felix takes it pretty well, implying that he too was created by his uncle.
Mad Monster Party? is, admittedly, a bit nutty. But then again, this was the production company that brought you this. It’s really a weird one. I don’t think I can recommend this for children, despite the fact that I think it was made for them. The in-jokes are pretty cute and the music really is good (despite the fact there were a lot of random fucking sons), certainly more enjoyable than the holiday specials. Plus the puppets (figurines, whatever) are just incredible.
But there is just one irritating problem…
I really feel for Francesca. You work hard, do good work and you’re still passed over for the job for some nut that doesn’t know what he’s doing. That appears to be the state of the world, ladies. Whether you be a politician, writer or evil scientist’s apprentice puppet, we’re all fighting an up-hill battle. Though I will take it with a pinch of salt, this was written by Mad Magazine creator Harvey Kurtzman, so I guess the joke’s on me.
That being said, I really do recommend this one if you’re looking for something off-beat and kitsch. You’ll just have to take the cringe-y, dated sexism in stride.