The Monkees in Monstrous Peril #2: "The Monstrous Monkee Mash" (1968)

The Monkees "The Monstrous Monkee Mash" (January 22, 1968)
Dir.: James Frawley

Mike: "I gotta hand you one thing, Pete."
Peter: "What's that?"
Mike: "You've got a great respect for fear."
Peter: "You're right. It scares me to death."
Mike: "What?"
Peter: "Fear does."
Mike: [turns and sighs deeply]

The Monkees faced off against monsters a few times during their two-season run on the air, but never so many different creatures at one time than in The Monstrous Monkee Mash, the 50th episode of the series. I suppose you could say this was their version of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein, with a plot involving a Dracula-type of vampire not only trying to turn brainless Peter into the new Frankenstein's Monster (much like Lou's lack of wits made him a perfect candidate for Bela Lugosi and Lenore Aubert's evil machinations in the older film), but also Davy into a new Dracula and Mickey into a Wolf Man. But will Mike (the smart one) settle for just being a smelly mummy?

The Monstrous Monkee Mash was directed by TV veteran James Frawley, who not only helmed 32 of the 58 episodes of The Monkees series overall, but also won a Primetime Emmy for directing the very first episode of the show (Royal Flush). Coming so late in the series run, the episode seems less concerned with selling the Monkees' music (there is only one song featured in the usual music video breaks), which in this case is just fine as it allows for more extremely ridiculous hijinks involving the quartet of monsters driving our heroes crazy.

Like many Monkees stories, The Monstrous Monkee Mash wastes no time in diving right into the action. We see an exterior shot of a castle on a cliff overlooking a stormy sea at night, and then inside we meet a very flustered Davy Jones, who has gotten more out of his date that evening than even he expected. He walks into the room alongside a voluptuous, black-clad woman named Lorelei (Arlene Martel, who played Spock's would-be bride T'Pring in Amok Time), and Davy says, "Gee, Lorelei, when you said you lived by the water, I didn't think you meant a swamp!" He laughs nervously, and when he tries to hang his umbrella on a suit of armor nearby and it takes a swing at him with an axe, he gets even more nervous. Next to the armor is what looks like a painting, but is quite clearly just an open frame hanging in mid-air, and standing inside it of it is a man with a bluish face wearing a Count Dracula-style cape (Ron Masak). When Davy asks about the painting, Lorelei tells him it is her uncle, and he asks, "Oh, really? How long was he dead when he posed for that painting." The man in the painting turns to Davy and gives him a raspberry salute with his tongue.

He clicks a switch on a novelty lamp that has a bat sitting on its top, and we hear the bat say, "I vant to drink your blood!" Lorelei wants to give Davy a present, but he is reluctant. She throws her arms around his neck and puts a necklace over his head and then kisses him. Hypnotized, he can only remark "What a kiss! I've never felt this way before!" She replies haughtily, "You fool! It was not my kiss! It was the magic necklace!" The figure from the painting steps forward, looks their prize over, and says that even though Davy is a little short (they always have to get the short jokes in on Davy, but, yeah, he was pretty small at 5'3"), he will make the perfect specimen to become... DRACULA REBORN! He laughs wickedly as the opening music sequence with the familiar Monkees theme and video style hijinks plays.

At the Monkees' pad (i.e., apartment or home, for you youngsters), Mickey awakens with a start as a figure seems to be creeping through the darkness. It is only Peter, and Mickey begs him not to scare him like that. Mike wanders in angrily and tells them to quit scaring each other and to turn on the light. Of course, when he does, all three of them scare each other. They start to worry that Davy hasn't come home from his date yet, but Mike says that Davy gave him a telephone number they can call. (The non-committal way that Mike dials the phone is hilarious.) The voice on the other end of the phone is Count Batula (Masak) laughing maniacally and nothing more. Without hesitation, Mike says, "I think Davy's in trouble. We'd better go help him." The other two agree and then go hide their heads under blankets. Mike turns to the camera and says, "And once again, courageous American youth leaps into the fore... or five."

Back at the castle, Batula puts Davy through vampire training, making him drink tomato juice first to get used to the color, and giving him a special cape so he can fly (he crashes into a nearby wall). The Monkees arrive and are not happy in the least about being invited into the spooky castle. Davy has been chained in the dungeon where he finds he is roommates with a Wolf Man. They bond quickly. The Monkees are shown reacting in wild ways to all of the scary stuff in the living room (the suit of armor, the bat lamp), and there is a really neat insert where Mickey is asked to do another take on his scream from an offscreen voice which is most likely Frawley the director. This is the sort of thing, alongside the rapid-fire cutting, that kept this series, as silly as it seems in retrospect, extremely refreshing and far removed from the stale confines of much TV of its era.

As I alluded to earlier, Batula soon figures out that Peter does have a brain in his head and will therefore be ideal to serve as his new Frankenstein Monster. When the lamp does its "I vant to drink your blood" line, Peter tells it "That's not a nice thing to say," so the lamp says "I vant to sip your blood" instead, and Peter replies, "Much better." When the boys, as a group, finally figure out that they are at the mercy of vampires, Peter says, "What a time to be caught without a turtleneck."

Davy convinces the Wolf Man he is getting a rotten deal from his hosts, and acts as his agent to get the Wolf Man a "better percentage of the profits, cookouts on the weekends, and... he wants to play his own music." (Surely inside references on a couple of those items.) Lorelei confronts Peter all alone, and he tries to leave. When she asks why, he says, "It's just that I finished reading all these books." "My goodness," she replies with mock surprise, "All 600 wall-yumes?" Lorelei pulls the same kissing/necklace stunt on Peter (with basically the same lines) as she did on Davy, making him her slave. The Wolf Man tries to carry Peter off for his own, but Batula uses his magical power on the Wolf Man: a string of Frankfurters.




Mike and Mickey explore the castle and run into a mummy, whom they chide for being smelly and filthy, making the monster stomp off in shame. They realize Peter is gone by stating, "He's gone!" which is a standard catchphrase used in a great many Monkee episodes. They find a secret door and Mike disappears, and Mickey finds himself face to face with the Wolf Man. "You'd oughta get a haircut," Mickey tells him, "or they won't let you in Disneyland!" Mickey runs from the werewolf but is found by Lorelei. For the third time, we get the kissing/necklace bit, and when Mickey replies with the same response, Lorelei tells him to shut up in disgust. Mike finds himself on his own and opens a sarcophagus, revealing the mummy once more. He runs away and happens upon Batula and Lorelei making their plans. Mike tries to make notes, but Batula gets confused, so Mike has to ask him for an eraser. Batula gives him one, but they don't even notice him.

In the dungeon, Davy and Mickey are chained to the wall, and they both decide to have one of their fantasy sequences to find out what it might be like to be an actual monster. The two of them suddenly show up as Dracula and the Wolf Man. Then Batula steps in and they order him out of their fantasy sequence, but Batula tells them to try to take off their monster makeup. It won't come off, and we see the camera and director's chair as they tell the crew to cut the fantasy. But Batula tells them it is no fantasy but reality, and they are under his power. My favorite line of the episode happens as Batula and his fiends push Peter and the monster into the moratorium to perform the operation. With great joy (and speed of tongue), Batula announces, "Hurry! Here we are in my beautiful moratorium in my beautiful castle in the dungeon with a beautiful fake backdrop... ready to start!" (I love how this episode keeps breaking the fourth wall over and over again. It is something the Monkees did in most episodes to a degree, but this one has some really great turns at it.)

Mike has been hiding in the sarcophagus with the mummy, and has convinced the creature to hand over its wrapping so that Mike can disguise himself. When he comes out of the sarcophagus, we see the mummy inside wearing long red underwear. Batula is ready to start the operation, but he mistakes a bone chisel for a scalpel. When he asks what a bone chisel is used for, Mike says, "It's used to split!" and then he takes off with whom he believes to be Peter on the gurney. Mike frees Davy and Mickey, still in their monster makeup, from the dungeon, but Batula uses his mind control to have them attack Mike. Mike tries to wake up Peter on the gurney, but it turns out to be the actual Frankenstein Monster, and Peter turns out to be back with Batula, who turns on the energizer switch to activate the monster.




With just a couple of minutes left in the episode, we finally get a musical sequence, built around the song Goin' Down. The fast-paced tune, punctuated with horns and featuring scat-style singing from Mickey, accompanies a series of gags involving the two wolfmen competing over a fire hydrant, Mike giving Batula an exploding cigar, Davy's height (or lack of it) coming in handy when being attacked by a taller, stiff-armed Frankenstein Monster, Mike messing around with the monster's electrodes, Batula and Davy doing a riff on the vaudeville mirror routine (directly referencing the Groucho version from Duck Soup), and a dance-off between Lorelei, the suit of armor, and the Frankenstein Monster.

The Monkees, of course, escape during all of this madness. At the end, they are seen standing in the living room of the castle, and to show once more the connection of this episode to Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein, there is a closing confrontation with the Invisible Man as there is in the film. Or is there? A book floats in midair in front of them, but Mike pulls out a pair of scissors and cuts a wire to show that it is nothing more than special effects. "Tinsel and fabric!" says Mickey in a mock W.C. Fields voice and we get the closing credits with the Monkees theme again.

It's as giddy a frolic as the first episode in the series, and you get the idea these guys could have continued on for more seasons if the whole Monkees franchise wasn't coming apart at the seams behind the curtain. The boys were already fighting for more control of their image and music, and the series would not go past the second season. Later in the year, a surreal (in the truest sense of the word) feature film called Head would be released, directed by show creator Bob Rafelson and co-written by Jack Nicholson (!) in which the Monkees would distort and mock their squeaky clean TV personas. The film would be a flop at the box office (but naturally became a cult classic) and their heyday at the top of the music charts was all but over. Peter would leave the group by the time their seventh album, Instant Replay, was released early in 1969, and two albums later, their ninth album, Changes, only featured Davy and Mickey, with Mike Nesmith moving on to a successful solo career.

I am a huge fan of the Monkees music, but because of my early exposure to the TV series, I think of them equally as a comedy team as I do as a musical group. Their wacky skits and antics were entirely formative to my way of seeing the world, and perhaps, in a detrimental fashion, affected how I dealt with the "normals" I have encountered throughout my life. I have never been able to take even the most gut-wrenching situation entirely seriously, and as much as I like to point to the Marx Brothers as the progenitors of this attitude in my being, I have to give equal credit – as others in my life would be sure to render equal blame – to the "don't give two shits" positioning of the Monkees on their TV show.

Of course, we are now in 2016, with a new Monkees album, Good Times! (featuring all three living members), has made it to the Top 20 on the Billboard album chart (Rolling Stone even gave it 3½ stars). They are also on tour, though Nesmith only makes sporadic appearances (as he has for years). But the Monkees, far beyond what anyone thought they would, are still with us. The show is still in syndication here and there, especially with the big revival in cable channels that specialize in "rerun" television. They are even still on DVD and available online. But while they got big boosts from series revivals on MTV in the '80s and '90s, I think The Monkees TV series has somewhat fallen between the cracks since then. And to really proclaim love for the Monkees, you have to love The Monkees TV series. It's part of the whole package. Check it out if you have never seen it. It's a delight.

RTJ


*****

And in case you haven't seen it...

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