IT WAS 50 YEARS AGO this month that producers Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass—better known as Rankin/Bass—threw the wildest party ever conceived and invited “monster kids” everywhere to join-in on the fun.
Mad Monster Party remains the most offbeat thing ever created by Rankin/Bass, a production company whose name has become synonymous with perennial holiday specials like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, and The Year Without a Santa Claus. It rarely airs on television. In fact, it wasn’t even successful at the box office in 1967. But ask anybody who did manage to see it as a kid, at the height of the monster craze of the 1960s and ’70s, and they’ll talk about it like it’s a classic.
Because it is.
Mad Monster Party represents the work of some incredibly talented people, and, oddly enough, it stands the test of time because it’s a film that is stuck in time—a time capsule that transports us back to an era when classic monsters ruled, and Boris Karloff was universally cool.
Mr. Karloff is the star of this stop-motion show, playing a mad scientist named Baron Boris von Frankenstein, who’s gathered the world’s greatest monsters to his island castle in order to make a big announcement. There’s a big party, of course, but where things go from there I’ll let you discover for yourself.
And with that, here are our 6 Funtastic Facts About Mad Monster Party.
After the screenplay for Mad Monster Party was written by Len Korobkin, Mad magazine editor and co-founder Harvey Kurtzman was brought in to make revisions. As far as I can tell from researching this, Kurtzman’s contributions to the script were largely of the humorous variety. No surprise there.
And it was the legendary Jack Davis who designed the look of the monsters and other characters. His signature style is all over the film, especially in the exaggerated anatomies of the monsters.
During the era of Mad Monster Party‘s release, Kurtzman and Davis were pop-culture heavyweights, and their contributions went a long way toward making Mad Monster Party the time capsule it is.
The great Frank Frazetta was enlisted to create visual montages for Mad Monster Party‘s theatrical posters. He’d done similar treatments for films like What’s New Pussycat? (1965), The Secret of My Success (1965), and After the Fox (1966).
Presumably working from Jack Davis’s character designs, Frazetta knocked it out of the park, perfectly capturing the mood and mayhem of the film. The posters represent what was then a popular style of film advertisement. Frazetta and Jack Davis excelled at it. But as the story goes, Frazetta didn’t even know whether or not his work had been accepted until he saw the finished posters on display and got paid.
It was Boris Karloff who gave voice to Mad Monster Party‘s mad doctor, Baron Boris von Frankenstein. But apart from that character, if it spoke, gurgled, growled or howled—and it was male—it was voiced by Allen Swift.
The actor enjoyed a long career onscreen, but it was in voiceover work where he really made his mark. And he had a knack for weird characters. In addition to Mad Monster Party‘s menagerie, Swift gave voice to Diver Dan‘s scaly nemesis, Baron Barracuda, and Underdog‘s Simon Bar-Sinister.
I grew-up loving Mad Monster Party. I also grew-up loving a smash hit song called “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine.” But it wasn’t until recently that I realized the woman singing Sunshine, Gale Garnett, was also the voice of Mad Monster Party‘s Francesca (the redhead at the top, being wooed by Dracula). Garnett also contributed two songs to the film: “Our Time to Shine,” and the beautiful “Never Was a Love Like Mine.”
And it was jazz great Ethel Ennis who contributed the film’s outstanding title song, a brassy homage to James Bond themes with a decidedly horror edge. I’ve embedded it here for your listening pleasure.
Five years after the release of Mad Monster Party, in 1972, Rankin/Bass revisited the material with a short TV movie entitled Mad Mad Mad Monsters. It ran a little over an hour and was featured as part of The ABC Saturday Superstar Movie.
A prequel of sorts, the plot involves a wedding between Baron von Frankenstein’s Monster and a newly-created “Bride.” And no stop-motion this time, just traditional animation.
You won’t hear Boris Karloff’s voice in this one, but rather an actor doing an impression. However Allen Swift is on hand, once again dutifully vocalizing all of the monsters.
What would a legendary party be without a live band? Or, in this case, a dead band? Little Tibia and the Fibias (below) rocked the house with their soulful, organ-infused dance track “Do the Mummy,” but to this day no one seems to know for sure who actually provided the music for this scene. Someone close to the production once said that he thought it my may have been the funk band Dyke & the Blazers, but others dispute that.
So, until I hear otherwise, I’m going to go ahead and assume that Little Tibia and the Fibias were a real group.