In the late 60s and eary 70s, the Rankin/Bass production company made a slew of endearingly hokey holiday-themed “Animagic” flicks that I’m just barely old enough to remember watching in early reruns. I couldn’t have been older than seven or eight when the popularity of such saccharine-injected TV specials as Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and The Year Without A Santa Claus had begun to wane. While I’m too sentimental to harsh on any of that star-studded, sticky-sweet fare, only one of their films has really stuck with me all these years later. Tellingly, that movie is Rankin/Bass’s Halloween special, Mad Monster Party, and it’s all MAD Magazine‘s fault.
Classic Mad Monster Party illustration by Frank Frazetta.
Let’s talk for one sec about MAD. Who here read it growing up? Who still does? If you did/do, I bet it’s high on the What Made You Weird list. Founded in 1952 by editor Harvey Kurtzman and publisher William Gaines, this last gasp of the EC Comics line remained one of the most consistently clever, intelligent, and merciless satirical publications in print until at least the late 90s.* Nothing was sacred and no one was safe. Founded at a time when aggressive censorship and Cold War paranoia muted the voices of activists and humorists alike, the broadly grinning face of MAD’s mascot, Alfred E. Neuman, was a cheerfully innocuous “fuck you” to authority, and has remained so for generations. Honestly, I could rant and rave about the importance of MAD for hours, but it’s Halloweenie time, so I’ll shaddup for now, at least.
So! Mad Monster Party. Kurtzman and longtime MAD cartoonist Jack Davis were very hands on in writing and conceptualizing this island of classic horror movie monsters, and it shows. Appropriately, Boris Karloff loaned his voice to the character Baron Frankenstein (his final role). Phyllis Diller basically plays herself in it, which is even creepier than it sounds. One guy I know has claimed that the redheaded, husky-voiced fembot lab assistant, Francesca, gave him his first boner. Obviously, MMP influenced the hell out of Tim Burton. Studded with Forrest J. Ackerman-worthy puns and ridiculous musical numbers –including the song “Do the Mummy” performed by a skeletal Beatlesesque quartet called Little Tibia and the Fibias– MMP is campy, witty, and surprisingly risque for children’s fare… I’m pretty sure this is the only kiddie film that’s ever ended with a mushroom cloud!
Whether you’re revisiting it for the umpteenth time or watching it for the first, I hope you’ll enjoy Mad Monster Party with me on this most darque and spookylicious eve of Goth Christmas.
*I haven’t read the magazine since the late 90s, so I couldn’t honestly say if the rag’s still in top form. A lot of folks have said Mad’s gone downhill since becoming dependent on ad-revenue in 2001. The publication had been ad-free for decades until that time (beginning with issue #33 in April of 1957). It was, by a long shot, the most successful American magazine that ever published ad-free, and of course, by staying independent of ad revenue, Mad was free to tear American culture’s less savory, more materialistic aspects endless new arseholes without ever having to answer to financiers.