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Mad About The Ghoul: Rankin/Bass Monster Rally Redux

Diamond Select Toys depicts "Mad Monster Party's" Count

Mad Monster Party…
This year the season of shadows is being ushered in with a large dose of kid friendly “scares.” The likes of Hotel Transylvania, ParaNorman, and Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie, instantly reminded me of a favorite film of similar demeanor, 1967’s Mad Monster Party. Created by Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass, whose most famous productions like Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer have become Christmas season perennials, Mad Monster Party was a stop motion animation monster rally of epic proportions.

The film features character design by the legendary Jack Davis, the voices of Boris Karloff and Phyllis Diller, and its plot-line, co-authored by Mad Magazine’s Harvey Kurtzman, plays like a mash-up of Universal’s Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and AIP’s The Ghost In The Invisible Bikini. Its original poster art was rendered by none other than Frank Frazetta in the multi-character chase motif similar to his Night They Raided Minsky’s, Fearless Vampire Killers and After The Fox advertisements. Though the featured tunes don’t reach the classic repeatable nature of Rankin/Bass Christmas songs, Maury Laws score captures some late 60’s swinging Pink Panther-esque moments.

For Your Video Shelf…
Mad Monster Party is a very fun guilty pleasure that should be nestled in your pile of seasonal viewing musts. It is unquestionably the great grandaddy of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. The Blu-Ray edition was just released at the beginning of last month with plenty of extras.

For Your Collectibles Shelf…
Diamond Select Toys will release their first wave of 7 inch character figures just in time for Halloween. Diamond promises additional characters down the line. Hopefully the wiry Gillman is on the short list. Of course anyone who played in a group called The Skeleton Crew (that would be me) is chomping at the bit to get a guitar wielding skeleton band member.

For Your Book Shelf…
The final word on all things Mad Monster Party can be read in Rankin/Bass aficionado Rick Goldschmidt’s book. It has just gone into its second printing and you can order directly from Rick’s Rankin and Bass website. He will even specially inscribe it if you like.

Universally Hammered: Monsters Abound @ Toy Fair 2012

Mezco's Creepy Lagoon Creature


Monsters of all kinds were certainly in the mix at The Toy Association’s 109th Industry Conference, simply known as Toy Fair. Always of particular interest to collectors are upcoming licensed figures of their favorite horror characters like the Universal Monsters series from Diamond Select I reported on earlier.

This year toy manufacturer Mezco, who are well known for their “Living Dead Dolls”, are adding classic Universal Films Monsters to their line. As one would expect the company will offer the countenances of The Frankenstein Monster and Count Dracula, rendered in the dead dolls cherubic style. Those are slated for September 2013.

In addition Mezco has shown prototypes for a quirky, set of figures sculpted in an expressionist or Caligari-esque mode that we haven’t seen before. Frankenstein, The Mummy and The Creature From The Black Lagoon are presented in skewed proportions that bring out a menace previously unseen in action figures. I really like this concept and particularly love the gangly look of The Creature; think I might have to own this one even with the limited display space I have. Mezco also has a “Big Frankie” style monster, they’re calling the Mega Deluxe Frankenstein, set for November 2012. This 2 foot bruiser has a dead pan demeanor I really like. “Black and White” variants were on display for all the figures.

Click Any Image to Launch Mezco Gallery


Titan Merchandise Adds Hammer Icons to the Collection


Also at Toy Fair 2012 were Titan Merchandise’s newest 3/4 busts, of Hammer horror films characters. Represented are Christopher Lee in his most famous role as Count Dracula, Ingrid Pitt as the sanguinely rejuvenated Elizabeth Bathory (Countess Dracula, 1971) and Peter Cushing as the intrepid Dr. Abraham Van Helsing (Dracula / aka Horror of Dracula, 1958.) These missed their originally listed Fall 2011 release dates, and are now scheduled to hit the shelves in mid April 2012, right around even scarier Income Tax time. They are limited to editions of 1000.

Click Any Image to Launch Titan Merchandise Gallery

Vlad, Not Vlad: Will the Real Dracula Please Stand Up

“Dracula, The Vampire and the Voivode”
Documentary DVD, Region 0, 84 minutes
Release Date: October 4, 2011

At this moment in time, over one hundred years after its first publication, “Dracula” is so ingrained in the cultural conscious that it seems hard to imagine a time when the tale of the blood quaffing Count did not exist. In its seven year gestation the story began life as a stage play with the choice role intended for the actor Henry Irving whom author Abraham (Bram) Stoker revered and managed. Bram was crestfallen when Irving passed on mounting the play but completed his vision as a novel which has never been out of print since. The eventual adaption of the book via stage and film versions has since made Count Dracula a familiar character to nearly everyone on the planet.

Totally Stoked
“Dracula, The Vampire and the Voivode”, a documentary DVD from Virgil Films and Walking Shadows, is an enjoyable look at both the mythological entity of Stoker’s imagination and the actual historical figure, Vlad Tepes, who has become intwined with it. Part biography and part travelogue it serves as an excellent visual companion to Dracula overviews like David J Skal’s “Hollywood Gothic” and Florescu & McNally’s “In Search of Dracula”, though it stands to refute some of the assumptions of the latter. The film was written and directed by Michael Bayley Hughes.

Viewers are taken on a scenic jaunt through the areas of the world intrinsically tied to the lives of author Stoker and Voivode (Prince) Vlad, as well as key sights described in the book including the 199 church steps in Whitby, England and the town of Bistrita where Jonathan Harker spends the night before his trip to Castle Dracula. We also see The Stoker’s residence at 27 Cheyne Walk in London’s Chelsea section (neighborhood of contemporary author Oscar Wilde and one hundred years later Rolling Stone Keith Richards), and Bram’s family home in Dublin Ireland where he spent a sickly childhood.

Throughout the film members of worldwide Stoker and Dracula societies lend their scholarship and insights to the settings. I was fascinated to hear commentator Tina Rath suggest that Pre-Raphaelite Artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s scandalous exhumation of his wife Lizzie (nee Siddal), in order to retrieve a book of poems he buried with her, likely became tied to Lucy Westenra’s exhumation/staking, as well as a plot point in another of Stoker’s stories, “The Secret of the Growing Gold”. Transylvanian Society of Dracula President Nicolae Paduraru describes the finer points of the folkloric stregoi, a ghostly “negative emanation from the grave”, versus the physical figure of the vampire and their cultural lines of demarcation.

From the Land Beyond, Beyond…
The film also candidly deals with the dichotomy of historical veracity versus bottom line tourism necessitated in post communist Transylvania, the “land beyond the forest”. In actuality, Stoker never visited that part of the world but instead relied heavily on travel tomes by authors like Emily Gerard, the wife of a Romanian army officer who spent two years there, for his information. Combining a freewheeling imagination with his civil service skills for cataloging and description, Stoker’s interpolation of folklore, sense of place, and creative license has led to many fact versus fiction conundrums, which the documentary attempts to untangle. As we see commerce often trumps accuracy. The building of a tourist placebo, the Stoker inspired Castle Dracula hotel, at the Borgo Pass in Romania is just one example of the life imitating art circumstances that have followed in the story’s path.

What’s Missing…
On the down side, the DVD is without marked scene selections, so navigating for specific repeat play is daunting and it seems a shame its vistas are presented in 4:3 aspect ratio rather than widescreen. The “bonus slide show” is superfluous at best, giving an unfortunate “sell-through” feel to what is otherwise an excellent product.

SkeletonPete Says…
Ah, Fall has arrived and it was fun to get the witching season off to such a great start. Minus the few missteps mentioned above, I wholeheartedly enjoyed this dual biography, especially the description of Stoker’s writing process and the “where ideas came from” points of view. In fact it led me to purchase a copy of “Bram Stoker’s Notes for Dracula” as transcribed and annotated by Robert Eighteen-Bisang & Elizabeth Miller. I can recommend the film for both its historical depth and entertainment value as an addition to the video libraries of vampire aficionados and novices alike.

Happy Birthday Dracula

In was on this day in 1897 that Bram Stoker’s tale “The UnDead”, retitled “Dracula” by publishers Archibald Constable and Co, found it’s way into the hands and minds of the general public for the first time.

Those interested in the vampire king’s convoluted history should seek out a copy of David J. Skal’s “Hollywood Gothic, The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Stage to Screen“. Originally published in 1990 the book still offers the definitive account of Stoker and his creation, its precursors, stage presentations and film adaptations.