RANKIN-BASS MAD MONSTER PARTY WITH PAUL CASTIGLIA
Paul Castiglia is an editor and writer of Archie, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures, Sonic the Hedgehog, and co-writer of all 34 issues of Archie’s Weird Mysteries. I know Paul from comic book shows and East Side Mags. He is organizing a special show that I want to tell you about.
On March 6, 2016 at 2pm at the Essex Green AMC Theater in West Orange, NJ, Paul will be introducing and doing Q&A for the classic Rankin/Bass movie Mad Monster Party. Rankin/Bass made Rudolf, Santa Claus is Coming to Town and other Christmas TV specials. Mad Monster Party is a comedy from 1967 about Frankenstein’s Monster, the Invisible Man, Count Dracula, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, the Werewolf, the Mummy and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. No matter which monster is your favorite, you’ll find them at the show!
You can buy tickets on Fandango.com. You need to reserve seats when you buy your ticket, so you should get your tickets now!
[Dad’s Note: Fandango says this is an 18 an over show – that is only because kids must be accompanied by an adult. It’s misleading because this is really for kids of all ages.]
I asked Paul a few questions about this event and what he likes about old movies. This is what he had to say:
Carl: When did you first start showing movies like this?
Paul: I actually started showing movies when I was a kid! When I was a child back in the 1970s and ’80s, it was the days before home video, but that didn’t mean you couldn’t watch some of your favorite cartoons or clips from movies. There was a whole market for 8mm and Super 8 movies. These were movies you could show at home through a projector. You could buy films from both local merchants as well as mail-order companies, and you could also borrow films from your local library. My library had many such films! There was nothing like setting up the movie screen, popping some popcorn and threading the projector to watch the likes of Laurel & Hardy, Abbott & Costello, The Three Stooges, Woody Woodpecker, Mighty Mouse, classic movie monsters and more in your own living room. Often times the films were abridgments – shortened versions with just the highlights for 10 to 20 minutes – but many times, such as the case with classic theatrical cartoons and live-action comedy shorts, you got to see the full film. There were even 8 and 20 minute highlight reels for the original Star Wars! I took it all a step further by running screenings in my basement for the neighborhood kids. In later years, I curated movie screenings at my office, introducing my co-workers to the classic comedy, horror and cartoon stars of yesteryear.
As far as showing movies as a guest-speaker, I have been doing so for the past five years. I’ve spoken at a couple of double-feature movie screenings at the Bijou Theatre in Connecticut, as well as at the West Orange Classic Film Festival. This year marks my third year in a row at the West Orange Classic Film Festival, where I previously screened Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, and a recreation of a classic movie matinee which included a Popeye cartoon, a Flash Gordon movie serial short, and a Laurel & Hardy feature. Additionally, I’ve spoken a few times at the famed Orange Squirrel restaurant for their annual Vincent Price cookbook Halloween dinners.
Carl: I’m interested in knowing why you do these shows. Can you tell me why?
Paul: I love classic movies, pure and simple. Especially comedy films. I believe the films are timeless and there’s no greater joy for me than watching these films with an audience, especially if some members of the audience have never seen the film before, and hearing them laugh, gasp and clap at all they see. I am most thrilled when children are in the audience and enjoy the films. When I ran Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein at a previous West Orange Classic Film Festival screening, a child in the audience asked me if they (Abbott & Costello) would be making sequels. He enjoyed the film so much he wanted to see more! I had to explain that Abbott & Costello were long gone, but that they had, in fact made several more films where they got mixed up in spooky situations that were, in effect, sequels to Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein. It is my hope that that boy then sought out the other films in the Abbott & Costello series. That is why I do the screenings – to share my love for these films with others, to have others be entertained by the films and hopefully edified about them in the process, too.
Carl: I saw you may be running a Three Stooges or Little Rascals short with the movie. I’m not the familiar with the Little Rascals. Who are they? Are they funny?
Paul: At the March 6th screening, the “short” before the feature will be a classic Little Rascals short, Our Gang Follies of 1938. The Little Rascals were originally known as “Our Gang” when they were a series of theatrical short subjects shown before feature films. The bulk of the series was produced by Hal Roach, producer of the classic Laurel & Hardy comedy shorts. These films were made in the days before television. Shorts typically ran between 10 and 20 minutes, sometimes 30 and in a way they were the precursors to television sitcoms, although they tended to rely more on visual gags and humor and less on verbal comedy. The main rule in the Our Gang shorts was a simple one: “kids being kids.” As the series was produced between the years 1922 and 1944, they had rotating casts of child actors, as actors would literally “outgrow” their parts as they became adults. The series got started during the silent movie days and proved so popular it easily transitioned into the “talkie” era. Ultimately Hal Roach stopped producing the shorts and sold the rights to produce new entries to MGM. When television arrived, Roach sold the Our Gang shorts he’d previously produced into syndication, where they had to be re-titled “The Little Rascals” due to MGM acquiring the name, “Our Gang.” The talkie era shorts played in heavy rotation on TV and generations grew up loving characters such as Spanky, Alfalfa, Darla, Buckwheat, Stymie, Butch and Porky as a result. These and others developed personalities that provided rich material for comedy when played off against each other. The added treat in Our Gang Follies of 1938 is the inclusion of Henry Brandon in the cast, re-creating his famed Silas Barnaby character who had bedeviled Laurel & Hardy in their classic, March of the Wooden Soldiers four years previously.
Carl: Do you have a favorite Stooge?
Paul: It’s hard to pick a favorite Stooge – I think all six actors in the series had something unique and fun and special to offer. While I love Curly and those shorts as a whole are easily the best, my favorite is probably Shemp. Like many, I didn’t like Shemp as much when I was a child but as an adult I realize just how amazingly funny he was. He was just naturally, effortlessly funny and had so many subtle nuances to his performances, both verbal and visual touches, that you can’t take your eyes off of him. He also had a great career outside of the Stooges appearing in supporting parts alongside such other classic comedians as W.C. Fields and Abbott & Costello.
Carl: I’m really looking forward to your show. Thanks for telling me about it.
Paul: Thank you for asking, and I am looking forward to seeing you there! Please be sure to tell all your friends they’re in for a special treat, as Mad Monster Party is one of the greatest feature-length horror-comedy films of all time. It is produced by Rankin-Bass, the creators of the beloved Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer Christmas special and features the same great stop-motion animation. It also features the involvement of two legendary creators from Mad Magazine – Harvey Kurtzman, who helped write the script; and Jack Davis, who designed the looks of the characters! It is a love letter to the classic horror movie characters, particularly the Universal monsters. It also features tributes to other classic movies (including several character voices based on vintage Hollywood stars), gives a nod to the “3 B’s of the ’60s” – Batman, the Beatles and Bond – and renowned horror movie (and Grinch special) star Boris Karloff provides one of the main voices, along with pioneering comedienne Phyllis Diller. The film was a huge influence on the work and career of animator and movie director Tim Burton, particularly inspiring his own classic, The Nightmare Before Christmas. The influence of Mad Monster Party can still be seen today in CGI-animated feature films like Monsters vs. Aliens, Frankenweenie and Hotel Transylvania. The laughter, thrills, fun and chills unspool on Sunday, March 6th at 2PM at the Essex Green AMC theater.
Thanks for your answers, Paul and we will see you at the show!