Baron Boris Von Frankenstein (Boris Karloff) has reached the summit of his life's work: he has become master of destruction with his new potion. Now he feels it is time to step down as head of all that is wicked and pass the responsibility onto someone else, so he assembles all the main monsters and villains at his castle on the Isle of Evil to announce his successor: his mild-mannered nephew, Felix.
This was one of the Rankin Bass partnership's "Animagic" films which used puppets and stop-motion animation, and was written by Harvey Kurtzman, Len Korobkin and Forrest J. Ackerman. It's one of those children's films that probably appeals more to the nostalgic adults who saw it as children themselves, and it is itself nostalgic for the classic monster movies of the thirties, forties and fifties.
All the old favourites are there. Count Dracula appears in the Bela Lugosi style, complete with cape and bat-transformation abilities. Frankenstein's monster is a big, inarticulate lump who is married to his bride, voiced by a cackling Phyllis Diller (who even calls him "Fang"!). The Wolfman is dressed in gypsy garb, and acts more like a pet dog than a ravening beast. The Invisible Man wears nothing but a smoking jacket, dark glasses and a fez (but no trousers!); I think he's supposed to sound like Claude Rains, but he actually sounds like Sydney Greenstreet. Felix himself sounds like James Stewart, for some reason.
There are more - this film is packed with monsters! The Mummy gets his own dance routine, the Creature (from the Black Lagoon, presumably) eats fish, the Hunchback of Notre Dame is immensely strong, Dr Jekyll transforms into Mr Hyde, and there's even a little Peter Lorre henchman. Then there's the mysterious "It" who turns up at the end to bring the house down. Why all these heavies should bow down to Baron Boris isn't clear, but he has invented an atomic bomb solution: Dracula calls humans the worst kind of monsters in an aside.
If you're the type of person who feels strangely attracted to female cartoon characters, then Francesca, the Baron's buxom assistant, should appeal to you. The jokes, however, sound more like something from the pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland than anything laugh-out-loud funny. When the party turns into a brawl, Dracula ends up in the punchbowl: "Punch, anyone?" he asks, only to be walloped by the Frankenstein Monster - that's about the level of wit.
Having said that, there is one good joke ("I didn't want you to think I was an easy pickup!") and the puppets and design are wonderful, intricate and full of personality. See the cuckoo clock that uses a screaming shrunken head to chime the hour, or the skeleton band who wear Beatle Wigs and perform at the party. For animation fans this is a treat, so never mind the flimsy story and concentrate on the affectionate creations. Music by Maury Laws.