Sunday, October 31, 2010

Mad Monster Party (1967) review

MAD MONSTER PARTY 1967 (on screen title: MAD MONSTER PARTY?)

Starring: Dr. Frankenstein, Count Dracula, The Mummy, The Wolf Man, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, The Invisible Man, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Frankenstein's Monster, The Monster's Bride and a gaggle of other ghouls

Directed by Jules Bass

The Short Version: Frightfully entertaining animated favorite that's the perfect Halloween capper to a night of spooky ghouls and ghosts. Kids both young and young at heart will likely get the most monstrous mileage out of this kooky and altogether ooky creature collage benefiting from the vocal talents of Hollywood favorites, Boris Karloff and Phyllis Diller.

Baron Frankenstein sends out invitations for a special kooky convention--The Worldwide Organization of Monsters--a ghastly gathering at the Isle of Evil where he will discuss his retirement and name his monstrous successor. When Freaky Frank decides to give his wealth and secrets to his sole living relative, Felix Flankin, the other monsters are in an uproar as all have designs on the diabolical doctor's new secret of total destruction.

From Rankin-Bass, the same creators of the claymation favorite, RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER, comes the ultimate monster mash. Featuring an assortment of pop cultures most famous creatures, this childhood cult movie favorite is a hugely enjoyable, timeless classic for the monster kid in all of us. In 1967 monsters were still quite the rage and the hopes were that such an enterprise as a creature feature utilizing the "Animagic" process of stop motion animation would guarantee a big hit for the producers which included Joseph E. Levine (SOLDIER BLUE, MY NAME IS TRINITY).

Sadly, this was not the case and the film would only later acrue popularity through airings on television (which is where I saw it the first time). Featuring the voices of both Boris Karloff and Phyllis Diller, there's lots to savor here for fans both young and old. Allen Swift did the bulk of the other voices. There's a timeless quality about this movie that will be most appreciated by those who love monster pictures and also those who enjoy animated features. Those with a fondness for the popular RUDOLPH claymation favorite should seek this one out. Fans of Tim Burton will likely enjoy this one as it appears to have been a heavy influence on his NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1993).

There's musical numbers (dig them crazy ghouls, Little Tibia & the Fibulas!), an array of classic monsters and other kooky characters accompanied by every haunted house and horror plot device since Universal first became the premiere company of atmospheric terror films. The character of Yetch is modeled after the great character actor, Peter Lorre, and this undead, lovelorn zombie servant constantly loses his head whether for the sultry Francesca, or some comically macabre pratfall.

Apparently, Rankin-Bass had a long time working relationship with Japanese moviemaking technicians. The animators were Japanese and Rankin-Bass would would work with Toho on KING KONG ESCAPES (1967; based on THE KING KONG SHOW) and later collaborate on three live action monster motion pictures--THE LAST DINOSAUR (1977), THE BERMUDA DEPTHS (1978) and THE IVORY APE (1980).

Maybe a tad bit overlong at 95 minutes, it's a triumph of skill in a lost art and a reminder of a time when making movies was more about the magic involved in creating something with ones hands as opposed today where so much is devised with computers. Seldom has their been a more light-hearted, enduring Halloween spectacular, MAD MONSTER PARTY (1967) is one ghastly good time that you can enjoy with the entire family.

This review is representative of the Anchor Bay DVD

Shaw Brothers Cinema: Halloween Edition! Part 2

This is Part 2 of the Shaw Brothers Halloween edition. There's a handful of HK horror here which were never released to DVD and some that were altered to make an entirely different movie. The horror films from Shaw Brothers in the 1980's were engulfed in sleaze far more than the horror pictures of the prior decade as indicated by some of the entries below. All images come from various issues of Southern Screen magazine in my collection.

These came attached to two of the Shaw posters I have--HEX and PURSUIT OF VENGEANCE


HEX (1980) was ace crime thriller-horror-sleaze director Kuei Chi Hung's Chinese version of DIABOLIQUE (1955) with an ending that recalls the 'Hoichi, the Earless' episode of KWAIDAN (1965) and a helping of exploitation during an exorcism finale giving a fully naked model an excuse to do an erotic dance.

One of Kuei's best horror works, it also contains some undeniably eerie moments and creepy camera work. Some of the best sequences are fully realized by fog enshrouded Shaw studio sets. The lobby set accentuates the sexual elements in the film even containing nude shots among some of the cards.

HAUNTED TALES (1980) is an interesting picture. It began five years earlier under the direction of Chu Yuan under the title HELLISH SOUL. Filming shut down at some point with reshoots being required. With original director, Chu too busy to redo some of the sequences (including a hospital scene), Ho Meng Hua was ordered to partake in the reshoots in late 1978.

Shots from the start of production in 1975

For whatever reason, the movie, now titled THE GHOST, was still problematic and was put on hold yet again. With a number of other Shaw pictures (most notably THE CRIMINALS series) being left unfinished and later turned into anthologies, Chu's ghost picture would share the same fate. See more info (as well as an unfinished Kuei horror comedy called THE SEX WOLF) regarding this troubled film here and here.

Controversial director, Mou Tun Fei (MAN BEHIND THE SUN) had some of his Shaw pictures halted to be turned into shorter features for a multi-part movie, some of which became part of the above mentioned CRIMINALS series. His THE PRIZE WINNER was one of these proposed full length productions that was later cut back as a short feature.

Finally, both THE PRIZE WINNER and THE GHOST were combined to form HAUNTED TALES, 93 minutes of spine-tingling terror about a newlywed couple moving into a haunted house and a greedy lottery winner who comes to a bad end.

Early promo for the film under the less horrific title of THE RETURN OF THE SWORDSMAN

REVENGE OF THE CORPSE (1981) was the first martial arts horror film from Sun Chung. It started out under different titles such as RETURN OF THE SWORDSMAN before settling for the more horror sounding moniker it now sports.

Two page spread of REVENGE OF THE CORPSE (1982)

Earlier in his career, Sun Chung showed a penchant for slight fantasy horror with what became his Shaw Brothers debut, THE DEVIL'S MIRROR (1972), a wild Wuxia/Horror hybrid.

There's a terrible quality bootleg out there of REVENGE OF THE CORPSE, which is a chore to watch from all the jitter. Hopefully, a much better copy will see the light of day at some point.

CORPSE MANIA (1981) was Kuei's Chinese Giallo movie laced with a thick atmosphere and slasher conventions. The title possesses a great number of possibilities for a gala and gory good time, but while it is an unsettlingly gruesome movie, it isn't the putrid potpourri you might expect. Bizarre murders take place in a small town and a formerly institutionalized necrophiliac is the prime suspect. Another twisted and macabre movie from Kuei Chi Hung.

THE BLOODY PARROT (1981) is from Hua Shan, the director of SUPER INFRAMAN (1975) and the grim, downbeat and excessively violent modern crime thriller BROTHERHOOD (1976) among many other credits. This is a Wuxia horror picture that contains a high quotient of exploitation value and little else.

Top right corner: Hua Shan; Bottom left corner: Jenny Liang (middle) prepped for a scene; Bottom right: Hua Shan demonstrates the love scene between Jenny Liang and Pai Piao

This shot of Jenny Liang seen through a lot of mirrors is a full on nude shot in the actual film; see below

This image is also on the lobby set which aggressively sells several nude scenes of actress Jenny Liang

The plot makes little sense and what's there is pretty much thrown out the window after its Scooby Doo ending that betrays the supernatural shenanigans from earlier in the film. Based on Gu Long's original novel, how faithful it is depends on those familiar with the source material. Gorgeous, well endowed starlet, Jenny Liang, ascended the exploitation throne vacated by Chen Ping, only her presence wasn't as strong as Chen who was much more charismatic and capable in action film roles.

Ho Meng Hua had given life to the brand of HK horror built around bizarre occult practices involving black magic spells, curses and maggot ridden corpses. Kuei Chi Hung jumped into the arena with BEWITCHED (1981), a more serious approach to the material.

BEWITCHED under the tentative title of UNDER CURSE

The films poster promises chintzy thrills, but the artwork belies the actual film itself. The storyline itself is an amalgamation of Ho's BLACK MAGIC (1975) and independent features such as WITCHCRAFT OF MIAO PEOPLE (aka PRINCESS & THE TOXICANT; 1977) and THE MAGIC CURSE (1977).

The central plot device is a modern adventurer who uses a woman from an exotic locale professing love for the woman. Unknowingly, said female places a curse on the man so that if he does not return within a certain time frame, or is unfaithful, a terrible fate awaits him.

AVENGERS FROM HELL (1981; pictured above and below) is another of numerous Shaw Brothers movies that failed to get released to DVD during the five year license with IVL had with Celestial Pictures. It's an anthology horror film from newcomer, Li Pei Chuan.

HELL HAS NO BOUNDARY (1982) was a rare find when it hit DVD. Directed by Yang Chuan (SEEDING OF A GHOST), it's much more of a successful horror film in my opinion. It's about a happy couple on a camping trip that turns disastrous when the young woman is possessed by a vengeance seeking spirit. There's black magic, OMEN style death scenes, demonic possession and a brutal flashback showcasing Japanese soldiers doing dirty deeds with dead people.

Sun Chung's HUMAN LANTERNS (1982) is one of the most famous and well known HK horror films and one that fans were most anxious to see in a more complete form after a severely truncated bootleg had been making the rounds for years.

Tanny, Lo Lieh and Liu Yung between takes

Director Sun Chung demonstrates an action shot from HUMAN LANTERNS

Easily one of Lo Lieh's best roles, none of the characters are very likable. Some more tragic than others, virtually none of them are redeemable save for one who mends the err of his ways, but with a terrible price.

Note the shot at bottom in the image above is not in the finished movie

Upon seeing this movie, you'll notice some Bavaesque style sequences. Shaw's utilized this type of colored lighting for years in numerous movies, but some directors put it to better use than others.

Kuei directed a sequel to BEWITCHED that was released in 1983 under the title THE BOXER'S OMEN. This picture was the batshit movie the poster of BEWITCHED promised. Highly recommended, it's simply the most psychedelically insane picture you're ever likely to see.

Above and below: behind the scenes on BOXER'S OMEN (1983)

Spanning several countries, THE BOXER'S OMEN is the directors magnum horror opus melding mind numbingly outlandish special effects and sprawlingly surreal locations with some nauseating, sickening scenes of geekshow gore.

The reliable Hua Shan followed up THE BLOODY PARROT (1981) with a much more entertaining and fantastically bloody exploitation swordplay film with PORTRAIT IN CRYSTAL (1983). The plot is barely there and no more cohesive than his other Wuxia horror outing.

Early promotion for the film listed as CRYSTALMAN

Director Hua Shan (right) going over the script with Kuan Feng (left)

Still, Hua Shan's fast paced Gothic wonder is just under 80 minutes and its flimsy plot never gets in the way of the gore, nasty traps and kooky characters that include a PHANTOM OF THE OPERA type swordsman and a weapon that causes the body to explode in a shower of blood and guts among other things.

SEEDING OF A GHOST (1984) was likely the last Shaw Brothers horror movie of note. It works within the same parameters as Ho Meng Hua and Kuei Chi Hung's black magic movies, but after hearing so much about it, it fell short in my view.

I avoiding seeing the bootleg version of the movie till the restored DVD finally arrived in Hong Kong. All the gore that was touted from those who had seen it prior to that is relegated to the final ten minutes. It's a very sleazy movie, but one that was hyped so much, I couldn't figure what the big deal was. Another viewing should prove beneficial. Well, that's the conclusion of this special horror edition of 'Shaw Brothers Cinema: Behind the Scenes'. I hope you enjoyed it!

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