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.

11 Responses to “The MAD-ness of “Mad Monster Party””

  1. Peter S. Says:

    MAD…ah, the memories. My self portraits still look like bad Don Martin rip-offs. A neighbor of mine had a stash of MAD going back to the mid 1960s, plus all the old “Classics Illustrated” comics. I’d hunker down in their basement for hours while my friends played outside.

  2. Jani Says:

    I still find Mad funny sometimes. I usually read it while I have to wait for extended periods in library.
    There are lot of very bad jokes per magazine, but also some very good ones.
    I think that maybe overall quality has gone down.

  3. k paul blume Says:

    oh, Mer — once again you guys make me feel my age. I remember squirming and fidgeting my way through this seemingly endless movie in the week of its initial release — stunk then, stinks now. As for MAD, meh…always though ‘Cracked’, its ’70s imitator/rip-off was funnier.
    probably just me.

  4. Tincho Says:

    Thanks to this post, I have just become a fan of the movie, but the eighth part cannot be seen!

  5. Jerem Morrow Says:

    After being reprimanded for watching it solely online, I dug my vhs copy out and the gobs and I gave it a spin.

  6. Nadya Says:

    Hey… I grew up on Mad! I think when I was in my early teens, Mad was already in decline, but one time my parents bought me a ton of scrappy Mad books from the 60s/70s at a yard sale and I remember just gobbling them up. They are on my “What Made Me Weird” list, for sure! I remember that the books I got all seemed like they were written for young men and that some of the humor was perhaps sexist, but for better or worse I absorbed it all.

    The one I really remember was called Mad’s “Cradle to Grave Primer,” which was basically the tale of a born loser from his first breath to the end of his life. It delineated all the phases of a person’s life in chapters (one for childhood, teen age, college life, entry-level workplace, etc…) and really scared and depressed me. My life up until that point exactly matched the main character’s (awkward teen, etc) and I was afraid that it would always match, meaning it would get worse and worse. I think anyone who knows that book will know what I’m talking about.

  7. copyranter Says:

    I was a loyal Mad reader and memorized Mad’s book Snappy Answers To Stupid Questions…which is really kinda what makes a good ad headline, the stupid question being “why should I buy this product?”( there is no real reason)

  8. Shay Says:

    Totally grew up on MAD. A friend of the family got me a subscription for my Bar Mitzvah ^_^ though I’d already had a couple of issues (MAD Sports Super Special I remember fondly!)

    I only canceled it a couple of years ago.. Just wasn’t what it used to be (the color! ahh)
    though I hear MAD is always best when you first started reading it.

  9. Tequila Says:

    MAD was my magazine of choice all through grade school. By High School it was already losing its magic and for a short time if I remember right it went out of print all together. It was way better than Cracked…anyone who read that was made fun of on the playground. I gotta rebuy all the old stuff from the 80’s at least. Use to love those Snappy Combacks To Stupid Questions books and the Spy vs. Spy anthologies.

    Pretty sure I saw the above movie on one of the local channels back in the day. Channel 13 loved to show that kinda stuff and other oddball films. In seeing those clips I’ve a sudden urge to find Groovie Goolies episodes.

    Side NoteP Frazetta was so good at the cartoony stuff and that above image along with the movie posters he did in the era are amazing. Still puts a lot of Disney stuff to shame.

  10. Bookmarks for October 29th through November 4th : jeff juliard Says:

    […] Coilhouse » Blog Archive » The MAD-ness of “Mad Monster Party” – Mad Monster Party. Halloween Rankin/Bass vs. Mad Magazine style […]

  11. David Says:

    There is a great mystery surrounding the artwork posters of Mad Monster Party. Poster art was done by both Jack Davis of MAD magazine and Frank Frazetta. The question is who’s did they use?
    Frazetta and Davis both did similar works and neither signed their work. Rankin /Bass say Jack Davis did all the art work, Frazetta says he did 2 peices of poster art. Look at them all and see if you can solve the mystery.