The MAD-ness of “Mad Monster Party”

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 Magazines 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.

Weekly Ad Uncoiling: Kiwi Kleen toilet cleaner

I’m, yes, a bit obsessed with bowel-related advertising. I blame three things for this: the scary, sailor-suited Lilliputian Ty-D-Bol man of my youth; the fact that I grew up occasionally having to crap in outhouses (I’m the son of Appalachian Trail hillbillies); and IBS. Now that your mind’s in the shitter, let’s focus our attention on one of the most feared places in all the world: the toilet seat. Because that’s the focus of these extremely strange ads by Grey Hong Kong for Kiwi Kleen (a Sara Lee product!) toilet cleaner. The tagline is “because you never know who else has been sitting there.” That’s true if you carry a bottle KK with you to bars and such. But you almost certainly would know who’s been shitting there in your own home. Like say, above, if a Mexican wrestler stopped by to use the facilities? I know I’d make a mental note of it.

Frankly, I was unable to pull an explanation out of my ass for the second ad in the campaign. It appears to present a man in a bunny outfit eating a large carrot, while the nightmarish, through-the-looking-glass scenario is another man in a pig outfit eating a large rat. Go ahead, smarty-farty Coilhouse readers, give me a read on this. And then, jump for the third execution which  makes the most sense of the three. It features the above/below combo of a dapper man and an unshaven, nose-picking woman. (images via Coloribus)

Wade Through Mermaid Tears With Wode

Wode, the revolutionary art fragrance from Boudicca explores further the myth around Queen Boudicca [or Boadicea]. Legend has it she and her tribe wore a cobalt blue paint on their skin that gave them a ferocious and mythical look when advancing into battle. When finally defeated by the Romans Queen Boadicea killed herself by swallowing hemlock, an extract of which is included in Wode. When Wode is sprayed a vibrant cobalt mist appears and settles on the skin and clothing. Whether touched or not the ‘Wode Paint’ begins to fade and disappears completely leaving the scent behind.

That’s the official story. However, after watching the painfully seductive concept video below, my imagination went entirely elsewhere.

Perhaps half-dreaming before my daily dose of caffeine, I was whisked away to another time, where countless mermaids were enslaved and sacrificed for a wicked queen. Something of a Countess Bathory, she soaked in their cobalt tears to gain a mystical quality that made her irresistible in every way. With each bath, her skin would glow an opalescent blue, her voice would hypnotize and her eyes would leave you breathless. Alas, the magical effects of the tear potion were short lived and the slaughtering of mermaids went on until none remained on Earth.

There was another, Hentai-friendly scenario, best left to your own imaginations. Now I will have my coffee and try to make peace with spending $200 on this beguiling squid spray.

If you’re in the UK, Wode can be acquired here, otherwise consult the stocklist for a purveyor near you.

The Color of Ghosts: Laurie Lipton Haunts the Web

Laurie Lipton’s work reminds me distinctly of two artists who terrified me as a child. There was my parents’ Brueghel book, in which Triumph of Death broke my brain at age 5, and my 3rd-grade discovery of Stephen Gammell’s ink drawings in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. (Gammell also illustrated a children’s book about the Holocaust called Terrible Things, which I’ve never read, but the very idea of Gammell illustrating such a thing frightens me already.) Lipton’s hyper-detailed images of lace-wrapped ghost brides, gloating war profiteers and haunted dollhouses are mixed in with images of “ordinary” scenes such as this old man (or woman?) dining alone. In context of the other works (or perhaps, even by themselves), these images hold just as much mystery.

As if Lipton’s work isn’t scary enough, selecting images of hers for this post from her MySpace page led to the most uncanny ad moment of my distinguished internet-surfing career. Even without the corresponding image, the rectangle ad below looks more like an anorexia PSA or a Caryn Drexl photo, but finding it next to Lipton’s depressing Mirror, Mirror drawing takes it to a whole new level of creepy. Click here for the larger version. After seeing it on that one page, I never saw that ad again. Can internet ads become “possessed” by the content that surrounds them? Someone in Japan, make that movie, please.

[Thanks, Xenia!]

Normal Bob Smith Knows What He Knows

The greatest challenge in life is to be realistic.” – Sigmund Freud

A recent survey by The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found 71% of the 36,000 Americans interviewed are “absolutely certain” that there is a God.  Before you say that Nietzsche’s parable that “God is dead” is as exaggerated as the once premature rumors of Mark Twain’s death, please recall that for Friedrich the issue was not outward belief but whether God is the definitive ground of personal, social, and political life. Here you may rebut there are some who wish to turn our polity, founded by Deistic Freemasons, into a theocracy. This is true, but the “Moral Majority” never lived up to either half of its name. By and large, Americans relegate Godly concerns to the privacy of personal choice.

It should come as little surprise that so many of us may rely on the received wisdom of our forebears – as part of our identity – to mendaciously shelve the ultimate chicken and egg paradox by calling ourselves believers while this belief has little actual bearing on how we live. After all, more than having to give up weekends for socialism, religions would really cramp the lifestyle of those who lived them. How can we understand something so elemental and simultaneously perplexing as existence itself? Why is there something, anything, everything – rather than nothing? Why is there even an “I” who is now asking a question? Martin Heidegger, the infamous Nazi philosopher, had one thing right: the question of Being is tough and there is much reason to elide it. Is it even a proper question at all?

Thomas Henry Huxley, the father of Aldous and Julian, coined the term “agnostic” in contradistinction to those of us who believe that we can know God directly. By agnostic, Huxley meant that he believed that the question of God could not be answered. What, then, are we, the reflective-minded, to do? What happens to our moral vocabulary? Once Humpty Dumpty, the big egg from which our universe was hatched, our fons et origo, is no longer on the wall and has no longer fallen and can’t be found in our cupboards or skillets, how do we get through breakfast? Why bother? Why bother doing or caring about anything since everyone you’ve ever met and all that they have done will be forgotten and has no bearing on the cold, empty, eternal vastness that engulfs us? What does it mean to be alive, in this reality, this universe, in the situations we find ourselves in day after day until we pass away?

A short time ago I reached out to God. As a participant in ancient practices, I did not eat or drink or wash for 26 hours. I spent 11 of those hours in a prayer hall tucked away in an old tenement apartmentf, meditating, reciting, singing, and contemplating my life and what I know of the cosmos. There seemed to be an intimacy in the air itself. Some of that air had been in the family for generations. Once outside, I saw the trees sway. The temperate fall night caressed me. The streetlights shimmered. My experience wasn’t metaphysical in that I was flying or saw an angel. It was just a sense that life itself, and existence in general, contains a kind of tender magic, a subtle oneness. The profound and the obvious held hands. If this crazy world is possible, I thought, anything is.

Upon reflection, the pleasures of my mystical interlude seemed solipsistic, so I thought I’d assuage my nagging existentialist impulses by seeking answers in other ways. Some folks visit svengalis for answers, some search books and remote locations, and others simply believe what they’ve been taught. I thought I would visit someone who claims to have leaped across the chasm between doubt and knowledge.  I visited Normal Bob Smith.

If you are now asking “Who is Normal Bob Smith?” then I thank you for raising question I can answer. He’s an illustrator and creator of atheistic home furnishings, like “Jesus Dress Up” refrigerator magnets, and he runs a wild, wild website. He also prints anti-religious pamphlets and takes them to the people of New York dressed like an archetypical medieval archangel dressed for the prom. Did I mention that he’s 6’3” of skinny badass? Bob went to the opening of The Passion of the Christ as the Devil carrying a family-sized jar of Vaseline. Last, Normal Bob Smith is one of seven Bob Smiths profiled in an amusing and affecting film entitled Bob Smith U.S.A. Here’s an excerpt.

COILHOUSE: What about you is “normal”?
NBS: I still think that I’m really fucking normal. If not, I think that people should be more like me to be normal, from examining themselves inward, to examining society at large. I think that I live a normal, boring life in a lot of ways, like not doing drugs, not drinking too often, getting to bed at a reasonable hour, having a girlfriend, doing my art. Sometimes my life seems abnormally normal. Maybe what I do – my site, dressing up as Satan, handing our “God is Fake” fliers – is to crush what is normal in myself. I grew up in Colorado in a suburban home by Christian parents.

BTC: Ray Harryhausen’s Monster Menagerie

Hooray, Halloween is almost heeeere. What better way to greet the final stretch than to wake and stretch with this bonafide monster mash, courtesy of the great master of make believe, stop-motion model animator, Ray Harryhausen? (Added bonus: Tito Puente!)

More rousting clips of Harryhausen’s creations under the cut.

Jeff Mangum Resurfaces

I haven’t been so overjoyed by a piece of music news in a very long time:

Jeff Mangum, the fragile, brilliant musician who created In the Aeroplane Over the Sea and On Avery Island, has not performed the material publicly since 2001… until now. The notoriously reclusive Mangum finally broke several years of radio silence this month to revisit some Neutral Milk Hotel songs with his old friends from the Elephant 6 crew on several stops of their Holiday Surprise Tour.

Wince/Drool: Tim Curry in “The Worst Witch”

Ariana Osborne just broke my brain with this clip from The Worst Witch, a 1986 made-for-TV movie starring baby Fairuza Balk as a witch-in-training and our preternatural beauty A-lister Tim Curry as a tambourine-wagging warlock in a bat bow tie. Abracadabra:

See, now, this is one of those times where I honestly don’t know whether I’m really turned on, or embarrassed to the pit of my soul. Maybe a bit of both? (You know what I mean, yes? So bad, it’s good? So wrongyet so right? )

If you’d care to watch the entire movie, well… we won’t hold it against you. It’s under the cut.

Fred Einaudi’s Postcards From The Apocalypse

San Francisco-based artist Fred Einaudi has the sort of work that makes you do a double take. You’ll find yourself wondering what it is you’re actually seeing and whether you should laugh or cry.

The subject of death is most prevalent in Einaudi’s paintings. Though gas masks, skulls and children are commonly used symbols, seeing them depicted realistically and not in the exaggerated low brow style we’re used to, lends for a provocative experience. While I wouldn’t call this work “subtle”, it is difficult to gauge just how much humor Fred tries to inject into his paintings. Whether we see a young boy poking a woman’s floating corpse with a stick, Leda getting it from her swan, or a mechanical girl hungry for canary flesh, the intent, the artist’s voice, is subdued. Fred Einaudi’s realistic, dry execution reminds me of public service announcements from a post-nuclear word.

More images after the jump for you!

Mask Magic Fun Time

Superhero movies are all the rage these days – masked villains and vixens saturate screens across the globe. And with Halloween just a week away, masks are especially popular. If you still haven’t figured out your costume and long for a truly outstanding disguise, allow YouTube user Zjcfhgf show you a new option. With a few ideas of her own on the subject of mask-making, she demonstrates a sophisticated technique using a basic clear mask, fake nails and lots of acrylic paint. Observe below.

Wow! Wasn’t that inspiring? Now that you have the expertise necessary to transform you into the beaming lady of your dreams, just think of the possibilities! For instance, you could be a blushing bride:

Click below for a few more enticing options!