While Rankin-Bass is most famous for their bazillion or so Christmas specials, they also did stop-motion animated features for Easter, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, New Year’s, and pretty much every other holiday short of Talk Like a Pirate Day, most of which were actually filmed in Japan (cue debates over whether Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer is anime!) under the supervision of stop-motion maestro Tadahito Mochinaga. Mad Monster Party is one of their Halloween specials.
In the movie, Baron Frankenstein (played by none other than Boris Karloff!) has decided to retire, and invites his friends to his castle to name a successor. His friends are made up of the pantheon of classic Universal Studios monsters: Dracula, the Wolf Man (called “werewolf” for copyright reasons), the Mummy, the Invisible Man, the Hunchback, the Creature (no mention of a black lagoon), and Dr. Jekyll/ Mr. Hyde, as well as a Peter Lorre expy. Frankenstein shocks the crowd by naming his nephew, a klutzy everyman named Felix, as heir to his position, making Felix a target for every monster on the island. Hijinks ensue.
Like the other Rankin-Bass holiday specials, there’s some charm, cuteness, cringe-worthy puns, and musical numbers. What makes it qualify for today’s post, however, is the climatic inclusion of a giant gorilla simply called “It”. This movie was made in 1967, the same year as King Kong Escapes, right in the middle of the run of The King Kong Show, so the company should have had the rights to use the actual Kong here, so why the de-branding? Perhaps they wanted to distance this woman-snatching, plane-fighting, tragically dying, stop-motion animated (i.e. faithful to the original) gorilla from much more cuddly version on their cartoon? Anyway, It has a showdown with the rest of the cast, and all of the monsters die, a strange choice for a children’s program.
There was also a traditionally-animated prequel to Mad Monster Party, titled Mad Mad Mad Monsters, that hit TV in 1972. It’s got another ape antagonist, this time named Modzoola, but overall isn’t anywhere near as good a picture. Both are available on DVD.