Book Review: Rankin/Bass' Mad Monster Party
There are publicity photos of Boris Karloff, Phyllis Diller, voice actor Allen Swift who performed all of the male voices besides Karloff’s, voice actress Gale Zoë Garnett who was the sultry femme fatale Francesca, and title-song vocalist Ethel Ennis. There are what must be every movie poster that was ever made for the film (including art by Frank Frazetta), all the lobby cards, publicity stills and ad slicks, and the video and DVD release covers, sharply reproduced in black-&-white or in full color as appropriate. There is the recorded-for-LP but unreleased-until-1998 sound track recording of the film score. There are all of the movie’s toys, Halloween costumes, and other merchandising items plus the advertisements for them. There is other material including the complete lyrics and music to the songs in the movie (pages 64 to 81), the complete shooting script (pages 89 to 181), and the complete authorized comic book adaptation (pages 220 to 253). There is a brief mention of the 1973 cel animation Halloween TV special “somewhat a sequel” Mad Mad Mad Monsters. There is a chapter of fan art of the monsters, drawn just for this book by movie/TV cartoonists such as some of the Warner Bros. TV animation staff (which is all very pretty but is painfully obvious padding for the book).
What is not included are a lot of the details that would make the book so much more valuable to the movie’s fans and to animation scholars! When in 1967 was Mad Monster Party released? (IMDb says March 8, 1967 in New York City; theater not specified – although since IMDb falsely insists that Forrest J Ackerman was one of the film’s writers, maybe we shouldn’t trust that.) How much did the movie gross? Reading between the lines, the Avco Embassy release was not a financial success; but did it only make a modest profit or did it lose money? Why does Mad Monster Party sometimes have a ? added to the title? The reproductions make it clear that this discrepancy goes back to 1967, but the unexplained flip-flop back and forth between Mad Monster Party and Mad Monster Party? grows cryptically exasperating. Since 32 pages are devoted to reprinting the comic book, who drew it? Inquiring minds want to know, but the information is not here – and what there is is hard to find, since there is no index. For example, the running time (93 minutes) in small type at the bottom of page 88 is easily overlooked.
Probably unavoidably after 45 years, the book’s attractive cover -- a montage of frame grabs from the Eastman Color movie -- and all the interior color photographs from the movie have unfortunately become very reddish. (The frame grabs on page 183 stand out because they are in excellent full color; were they made from a color film print when it was still new and unfaded?) What should have been avoidable is the author’s or publisher’s apparent belief that “its” always has an apostrophe in it.
These are annoying flaws in what is clearly a labor-of-love book about an unusual animated feature that has often been overlooked when the cel animated features of Disney, the Fleischers, Warner Bros., and others (including Rankin/Bass’ own 1982 The Last Unicorn) are discussed. For all that is included, Rankin/Bass’ Mad Monster Party is enthusiastically recommended.