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Friday, November 16, 2012

Mad Monster Party Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson

What better way to get in the Halloween spirit than by celebrating with a monster party?  Lionsgate Home Entertainment makes Mad Monster Party available for the first time in High Definition with the release of the Blu-ray Combo Pack (Blu-ray + DVD) as well as HD Digital Download and On Demand arriving just in time for the spookiest holiday of the year from the team who created the stop-motion and animated holiday classics “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman”.  Mad Monster Party stars the voice talents of Boris Karloff (Frankenstein) and Phyllis Diller (Eight on the Lam).  Baron Von Frankenstein (voice of Boris Karloff) has decided to retire as the head of the Worldwide Organization of Monsters.  But first, he must inform the other monsters about his plans.  How to deliver the news?  How else – through a Mad Monster Party!  Von Frankenstein’s guests include a who’s who of Halloween favorites, including the Werewolf, Dracula, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the Mummy, the Invisible Man and more. But who among them is fit to be the new head of the monsters?

Film (2 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

After the success of their earlier specials like “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, Rankin and Bass decided to create a new holiday special  using their “Animagic” stop motion animation process.  Since the classic horror movies were popular than ever and even the genre was being embraced on television, it seemed like the time was ripe for a Halloween installment.  Not content to limit themselves to just one monster, Rankin and Bass managed to include Dr. Frankenstein, his monster, and his monster’s wife, as well as Count Dracula, the Werewolf, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Invisible Man, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde, the Mummy, and finally a stand-in for King Kong known as “It” since they couldn’t get the rights to the original character.  This was to be a darker but still campy movie for kids and Mad Magazine creator Harvey Kurtzman was hired to write the script.  Another Mad Magazine veteran known as Jack Davis was also hired to design the characters using his trademark humor to bring them to life.
The starts with Baron von Frankenstein (Boris Karloff) creating a new weapon of mass destruction that can be devastating with just one drop of his concoction.  With this career capping experiment, Frankenstein decides to finally retire as the head of the Worldwide Organization of Monsters.  To make it official, he sends out invitations to all of the various monsters of the organization, inviting them all to join him for a monster convention at his castle where he plans to announce his retirement and his hand-picked successor.  Frankenstein’s immediate staff including his monster, and his monster’s mate (Phyllis Diller) along with the lab assistant Francesca (Gale Garnett) are all convinced that he will pick one of them to take over.  What they don’t realize is that Frankenstein wants his last remaining relative, his nephew Felix Flankin (Allen Swift) to take his place.  Unfortunately, his nephew is extremely clumsy and completely unsuited for the job.
When the monsters arrive, they are told of Frankenstein’s plans by the monster’s mate and they aren’t too happy about it either since each of them believes they should be the one in charge.  Dracula in particular is unhappy and he teams up with Francesca to take over.  Their plans are overheard by the monster’s mate before she is caught eavesdropping, which begins a lot of double-crossing between the monsters as they vie for control.  When Felix arrives at the castle, Francesca is strangely drawn to him and her attraction is only increased when Felix saves her life. To retaliate for how she was treated, Francesca sends an invitation to “It” who had been purposely not invited because of his destructive ways.  When “It” does show up, he does start wreaking havoc and the only person that can stop him and save Felix and Francesca is Dr. Frankenstein himself.
Mad Monster Party wasn’t the kind of film that I thought it would be since I thought it would be similar to the earlier Rankin/Bass productions like “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and this was a lot darker than I expected.  In fact the ending was kind of a shock as it actually has a death toll.  It’s kind of a weird combination with the rest of the silly aspects of the film and it never really finds a good balance.  While Boris Karloff is great playing Frankenstein once again (and for the last time), I couldn’t stand Phyllis Diller in this movie.  During every single line she thought she had to do her fake loud and obnoxious laugh which was annoying beyond belief.  I sincerely believe that her line deliveries could be used as an aid for interrogations since it will make people talk just to escape hearing that laugh over and over.
This isn’t a terrible movie but it isn’t a great one either, but it did have some parts that made me laugh.  My four year old son liked the movie and the songs a lot more than I did.   The stop motion animation is pretty good and the great title song sounds like it’s from one of the Bond films from the sixties.  Personally, if they had cut thirty minutes of dead plot (which we learn in the extras that Rankin/Bass was forced by the network to include to make it longer), as well as Diller, and most of the songs, I would have liked this a lot more.

Video  

This 1080p (1.33:1) transfer looks pretty good considering its age and lack of good source elements.  Because of the lack of good source elements, this transfer arrives with scratches and other print damage.  Detail is pretty good and you can see the puppets’ clothing and accessories in fine detail. I especially like Dracula’s skull necklace (which you can see above).  Colors are fairly drab in this movie, partly because of the source material and partly because of the palette designed for the film.  Black levels are decent but not as dark and solid as I would have liked.  For it’s age and thanks to the limited options available to create a transfer from, this film looks pretty good and probably as good as it’s every going to look.

Audio (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

Mad Monster Party’s original mono soundtrack has been upgraded to a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.o soundtrack to mixed results.  The film’s dynamic range is very limited with some parts of the film sounding distorted and muffled. The dialogue however is very clear as are the songs and sound effects.  Much like the video quality, this mix could have been better but I think this is as good as it’s going to get.

Extras (2 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

While I always want extras, I really wasn’t expecting any on a release like this so I was surprised to find out that there was some and they’re some good info too despite being very short.
  • Mad Monster Party – The Making of a Cult Classic – A fifteen minute look at how the film came about and how it was made.  This is a nice look into Rankin/Bass for those interested.
  • It’s Sheer Animagic! Secrets of Stop-Motion Animation - A short look at how stop motion animation is done by two guys who do it for a living.
  • Groovy Ghouls! The Music of Mad Monster Party - A very short talk with the film’s composer Maury Laws who talks about trying to capture the feeling of a Bond song like “Goldfinger” for his title track.
  • Sing-A-Longs - If you liked the songs enough to sing along with them, then this is the extra for you.  The lyrics come complete with a bouncing skull to help you follow along.
  • Trailer

Summary (3 out of 5 stars) 

I have mixed feelings on the movie since I liked some of it and hated other parts of it.  I love the concept of making a stop motion movie with all of the classic monsters for kids to watch, but the execution of it here could have been better.  Part of that is due to Phyllis Diller overpowering the movie with her personality and partly because of the over-long script that needed trimming and the songs.  This Blu-ray doesn’t offer the best video and audio quality, but it’s probably the best quality this movie is ever going to get.
Order your copy today!

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