The Mad, Mad, Mad Monsters of Rankin/Bass
Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass had a secret ingredient in their TV specials and films, with the help of their star writer Romeo Muller, which was a monster or villain. This character would usually start out being bad and end up being good, a reformation, which is much more satisfying in a story. This started with the Bumble (aka the Abominable Snow Monster) in Rankin/Bass’ TV hit Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and continued with characters like the Winter Warlock, the Heat Miser, the Snow Miser, Evil Irontail, etc.
Contract signing at the TIME-LIFE Building in New York May, 1965, when one of the three picture deal was known as “Monster Convention” Contract between Joesph E. Levine’s Embassy Pictures and Rankin/Bass Productions/Videocraft International. From Left to right: Embassy associate, Arthur Rankin, Jr., Jules Bass, Joseph E. Levine, Musical composer Maury Laws and Embassy associate.
In 1965, they decided to make a full-feature film, which would include all of the classic movie monsters, originally called Monster Convention, starring Boris Karloff and the ghostess with the mostess, Phyllis Diller. It would eventually be titled Mad Monster Party and see a release to Kiddie Matinees from 1967-69 and has become an absolute cult classic. I wrote an entire book about Rankin/Bass’ Mad Monster Party and over 20 magazine articles to date!
Rankin/Bass’ Mad Monster Party, in my opinion, is Rankin/Bass’ BEST monster work. Designed by my late, great friend Jack Davis, it is a must to watch every Halloween! Many people don’t realize that Rankin/Bass Productions also did some other things that deserve a Halloween viewing as well.
In 1971, Here Comes Peter Cottontail introduced Vincent Price as the Evil Irontail, and Peter Cottontail took a trip to Halloween to meet Esmirelda the Witch! Maury Laws, Rankin/Bass’ musical composer/conductor, reused his “Waltz for a Witch” music, which originally appeared in Mad Monster Party. The Animagic animators also reused the chairs from the party scene in Mad Monster Party in Esmirelda’s place.
In 1972, Rankin/Bass Productions, along with new associate producer Masaki Iizuka, made an hourlong episode of the ABC Saturday superstar movie entitled The Mad, Mad, Mad Monsters. This time it would be cel animated, designed by my late, great pal Paul Coker Jr. and my late friend voice actor Bob McFadden would voice the Baron (who resembles Boris Karloff). Bob was the voice of Frankenberry, Milton the Monster and many other Frankenstein knockoffs over the years, so he could pull it off perfectly.
This special has many similarities to Mad Monster Party, including a bachelor party for the monster with a skeleton band, so as a kid I confused the two plots. Basically, this is a retelling of the Bride of Frankenstein. The bellhop Norman (voiced by my late, great friend Bradley Bolke) is sort of a Jerry Lewis-type character, starstruck by all of the famous movie monsters. The Hotel Transylvania Astoria manager is voiced by my late, great friend Allen Swift, who voiced all of the monsters and Felix Flankin in Mad Monster Party. It is an enjoyable special for the whole family.
There is one other Halloween production I would include, even though Rankin/Bass also did the mini-monsters for their comic strip series in 1987, Jack O’ Lantern from their syndicated series called Festival of Family Classics from 1972-73. This is another festive, cel-animated special that includes traditional ghosts, witches and warlocks. Jack is an Irish leprechaun who embodies a Jack O’ Lantern. When it comes to great animated Halloween fare, I think Rankin/Bass Productions cornered the market.
Recently, Umbrella Entertainment released a spectacular Blu-ray release! The BEST Rankin/Bass Productions Blu-ray to date, with Rankin/Bass’ The Daydreamer, also starring Boris Karloff (Scorpion/Kino Lorber) and The Year Without a Santa Claus (2008 WB edition) running a close second and third. This is what you get on the NEW Mad Monster Party Blu-ray:
NEW! 2023 color-corrected master in correct aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and also alternate full frame 1.33:1
NEW! Audio commentary by Rick Goldschmidt (historian/biographer for Rankin/Bass Studios)
NEW! Introduction by Rick Goldschmidt
NEW! Easter Egg starring IT (King Kong)
NEW! RANKIN/BASS Trailer Collection
Making of a Cult Classic featurette
It’s Sheer Animagic! featurette
Groovy Ghouls! The Music of Mad Monster Party featurette
Unearthing a Classic featurette
Stills and Poster Gallery
Original Theatrical Trailer