Back in the 1960's the animation studio of Rankin/Bass came out with a number of holiday-themed TV shows, many of which have become classics--who could forget Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Comin' To Town, Frosty The Snowman...
One movie that didn't seem to make it into pop culture, however, was Mad Monster Party. And there are a lot of reasons for that.
For one thing, it was a theatrical release, and wasn't made to coincide with Halloween (which is why I watched it this evening, and why this review is a day late.) The "Mad" part refers to a collaboration with Mad Magazine writer Harvey Kurtzman and artist Jack Davis. The characters are parodies (in Mad Magazine style) not only of Famous Monsters of Filmdom, but of Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Jimmy Stewart, Peter Lorre, Phyllis Diller, and I'm assuming Ann-Margaret as the sultry Francesca.
The songs go on a bit too long, some of the gags are more ghastly than funny (but then, this IS a "horror" movie), and there are sequences which seem awfully risque for a film intended for children--for instance, Francesca and Mrs. Monster (Diller) get into a cat fight and rip each other's clothes off down to the underwear; the repulsive little zombie Yetch (Lorre) lusts after Francesca in a way that should get him put in jail as a stalker; and Francesca plays the femme fatale to the hilt with her enormous bustline, pouty lips, and miniskirt.
On the other hand, if you can get past the many weirdnesses of this film, it's actually a pretty good stop-motion cartoon. The pacing can be exhaustingly slow at times--and then you find out that they ADDED a few scenes to further extend the running time.
Voice actor Allen Swift provided most of the characters, but Boris Karloff and Phillis Diller did their own "parodies." Gale Garnett, who won a Grammy in 1965 for "We'll Sing in the Sunshine," played the voice of Francesca.
The plot is pretty simple: Baron Frankenstein is the leader of all the monsters, and lives in a turreted castle on a tropical island with his sexy assistant, Francesca. After he discovers a liquid that can "destroy matter," he decides it's time to retire, and so calls a convention od all the monsters so he can hand the family business over to his nerdy and very human nephew Felix Flankin, the son of Frankenstein's youngest sister (who turned out to be the white sheep of the family.) Flankin, a pharmacist with enough allergies to keep himself in business for years, is entirely ignorant of his famous connections, and thinks he's being invited to a resort.
When Francesca learns that the avuncular Baron is going to turn everything over to Felix, she plots to enlist Dracula to help her get rid of the usurper. But Dracula is not only clumsy and incompetent, he is also double-crossing her (no pun intended) with the Monster and its mate to get Francesca out of the way. Everybody wants the Baron's position because of the power he weilds.
Felix, once he arrives, seems strangely oblivious to the weirdness of the other guests, playing fetch with the Wolfman and helping the Mummy to refasten his bandages. Francesca invites him on a picnic in the jungle to give Dracula a chance to kill him, but Felix's good-natured ignorance foils their schemes.
Back at the castle, the Baron tells Felix his plans, and Felix tells him he doesn't want to be CEO of Monsters, Incorporated. He goes fishing in the moat in order to sort things out, and nearly gets grabbed by the Creature From The Black Lagoon--but doesn't realize it, as one of the fish he lands falls in the Creature's mouth and it subsides into the moat.
Meanwhile, Francesca is being threatened by Dracula and Mr. and Mrs. Monster, and jumps out a window into the moat, where she is rescued by Felix just before the crocodiles get her. She tearfully tells him that his arrival on the island has ruined everything, and Felix, believing her to be hysterical, slaps her. Suddenly Francesca stops hating him and falls madly in love with him (which is probably the most bizarre part of a bizarre film.)
She tells him they have to escape from the island because the other monsters will try to kill them. As they flee, they are very nearly captured, but then "It," a King-Kong knockoff giant ape, arrives late to the party (It wasn't invited because the Baron doesn't care for It, but Francesca sent It an invitation in revenge for being slighted over the inheritance, which shebelieved should be hers.) The monsters flee in terror from It, and Felix, standing with his back to the sea, believes they're afraid of him--until he happens to look up and notice the giant ape.
The ape grabs Francesca and carries her to the top of a dormant volcano, along with a fistful of the other main characters. Felix despairs of saving her until the Baron arrives with his Matter Destroying Liquid and a squadron of zombies in ultralights. The Baron tells Felix to get into the boat and put out to sea while he goes to rescue Francesca.
The Baron convinces the big ape to release Francesca, and when the ape grabs for him, he throws down the vial of Matter Destroyer and the whole island explodes in a giant fireball.
Felix is heartbroken until Francesca comes swimming up to the boat. He tells her that they're going to be so happy together once they're married...and Francesca, weeping, tells him she can't marry him because she's not a human at all, she's a very sophisticated robot, the Baron's greatest creation, made after the Monster and his mate.
Felix shrugs affably and tells her, "Nobody's perfect *click* perfect *click* perfect *click* perfect...."
This movie tries very hard to be clever and witty, as befits something from Mad Magazine, but it ultimately falls between the cracks of "kiddie movie" and "grown-up amusement." It's a bit too sophisticated to really appeal to children, yet not sophisticated enough to entertain adults. You feel silly watching it, and the laboriously slow dialog (so they could match the lips to the words) starts to get kinda suffocating.
However, the movie has enjoyed a cult status, inspiring such film-makers as Tim Burton. There are a lot of interesting effects shots, so if you're into old-fashioned stop motion animation, this is a film for you. Computers barely existed when this came out in 1967, and they certainly weren't being used in animation, Every frame of this film was created by hand, one painstaking shot at a time.
If you like animation, or monster movies, or have an hour to kill, you might want to try Mad Monster Party. It's as harmless as a vampire with dentures.