Monster Mash

Plots based around the idea that traditional monsters are funny now, not scary, have been done before - most notably in The Halloween that Almost Wasn't. I'm surprised it took so long to pit the classic monsters against the modern, gruesome alien slasher type monsters.

MONSTER MASH, a special that debuted on the WB network in 1999, opens with a skeletal dog telling the backstory: after the classic monsters got famous and started appearing in things like "The Monster Mash" song, they stopped being scary and had to become regular entertainers. Dracula may have been the first president of the Ghoul Guild, but now he's reduced to appearing on "Foolish Monster Tricks" on some sort of Letterman knock off.

Drac, the Wolf Man and Frankenstein's Monster are summoned to appear before a monster court, where the prosecutor (the Grim Reaper) says that they're out of date - the new generation of Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger type monsters are more effective. And, anyway, these guys are old; Dracula has false fangs, the Wolf Man has plenty of bald patches, and Frankenstein's monster has a soft spot for babies. They are given the chance to scare one regular family to prove they've still got it; if they fail, they'll be sentenced to an eternity of appearing at birthday parties, while the slasher flick monsters take over the scare business.

The gruesome slasher monsters today are, as the Wolf Man here describes them, "monsters created by toy companies, rather than arising spontaneously from folklore or mythology, reflecting Jungian archetypes filtered through the collective unconscious." Actually, plenty of the modern monsters probably arise from archetypes filter through the collect unconscious, too, but the point stands - "classic" monsters and "modern" monsters are two different kinds of fun.

The classic monsters are sent to pick on a family of real goobers called The Tinklemeisters. Their son, Spike, is a boy genius who never speaks, but whistles (the song they sing about him reminds me of something from Rocky Horror. In fact, all of the songs sort of have a "Rocky Horror" vibe about them). Unable to scare them by cutting into their reception with their old movies, the monsters kidnap the family and take them back to their castle, where they succeed in scaring everyone except for Spike. The new monsters are brought in to finish the job, leading to a battle royale pitting the classic monsters against the modern ones.

The Tinklemeisters sort of straddle a line between being entertainingly annoying and just so annoying that you wish the chain saw guy would just do his job. The dad is sort of like a fat Rick Moranis, and the Mom reminds me of someone from The B-52s (or the aunt in Bobby's World). They adults are kind of funny in their tackiness. The kids sort of bugged me.

The animation here is above average, and the songs aren't too bad, either. The script moves along at a pleasant enough pace, despite the fact that the pun-filled script probably misses more than it hits - humor-wise, most of it reminds of a run-of-the-mill Saturday morning cartoon from the 90s. There are a couple of good lines - when Dracula tells the Tinklemeisters they're going to a castle in Eastern Europe, Mr. Tinklemeister excitedly says "maybe we'll get to visit one of those towns without any vowels!"

MONSTER MASH is sort of a missed opportunity - kids will probably enjoy it, but watching it as an adult, it seems to me that, even though I really enjoyed it overall, there's something missing. There was clearly a pretty decent budget behind this, and the writers throw out enough good jokes amidst the bad ones that I suspect that there were some producers at DIC keeping them from really going nuts and having fun with this story.

I almost think the animation might be TOO good - a more "distinctive" looking style might have given this the edge it needed to rise above being "just another hour-long cartoon." Watching it, I have to wonder if "Witch's Night Out" would be so revered if it looked more like a normal cartoon. Would "The Halloween That Almost Wasn't" work at all as a cartoon? Maybe this one could have become a real cult hit if it were live action and played up the camp.

However, now that the show is about 10 years old, maybe a whole generation who grew up watching it will remember it as fondly as I remember the shows from the 70s and 80s. Hell, there are plenty of people who remember Halloween with the New Addams Family and Once Upon a Midnight Scary fondly, and this is WAY better than those. Indeed, while I normally don't recommend reading youtube comments, which tend to make me weep for humanity, the comments on the one clip of this currently available are full of people who grew up watching this movie and love it.

Anyway, you can get Monster Mash on the double-sided Monster Fun Pack DVD, along with the terrific "Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet the Wolf Man," the mediocre "Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet Frankenstein," and a handful of Archies episodes. Retailing for less than ten bucks, this is a bargain.

Of particular note - under the credits, there are country, punk, and metal versions of "The Monster Mash," with voice-overs by the producer complaining about them, which is pretty funny.

Here's one of the songs:

1 comment:

C-Man said...

Happy Halloween!!!!


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