Mad Monster Party? (1967)

Mad Monster Party? first published by Little White Lies

Having just crowned ‘a lifetime of experimentation’ with a new invention that can destroy all matter, Baron Boris von Frankenstein decides to throw a party in which he will announce his retirement as head of the ‘Worldwide Organization of Monsters’, and hand over the reins of power to his long lost nephew Felix Flanken, a myopic, asthmatic nerd who just happens to be Frankenstein’s only living relative. The problem is that some of the other partygoers – including Frankenstein’s monster and his mate (voiced by Phyllis Diller), Dracula, the Mummy, the Creature (from the Black Lagoon), Werewolf, the Invisible Man, Dr Jeckyll/Mr Hyde, and Frankenstein’s sultry young secretary Francesca (voiced by Gale Garnett) – will not countenance a mere human inheriting Frankenstein’s secrets in their place. Even worse, an uninvited guest is about to arrive and go ape through the mad scientist’s island home.

Coming in the wake, and very much in the spirit, of TV’s The Munsters and The Addams Family (both 1964-6), Jules Bass’ Mad Monster Party? (1967) is a feature-length marvel of macabre stop-motion ‘Animagic’, in which an ultra-dysfunctional family of old-school monsters – mostly from the 1930s heyday of RKO and Universal Pictures – reluctantly hands on its legacy to the younger generation that must face the new horrors of the nuclear age. Allen Swift channels the distinctive accents and timbres of Bela Lugosi, Peter Lorre, Jimmy Stewart and others to flesh out the male puppets with their own nostalgic identities, while Boris Karloff himself returns, as if from the dead, to voice Frankenstein.

Indeed, nostalgia is key in this loving pastiche of bygone horror. The outmodedness of the villains, even the corniness of the gags, only adds to the film’s irresistible charms. It is a fitting swansong to the era of ‘castle horror’, made one year before George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) would send new shockwaves through the whole genre. With its imaginatively ghoulish animation, its endless jokes and parodies, and its cheery song-and-dance numbers, Mad Monster Party? is fun for all the family – or to quote the tuxedoed guest with the head wound from The Shining (1980), “Great party, isn’t it?”.

© Anton Bitel