Hey, Hey, We’re the Monsters: The Monstrous Monkee Mash

September 21, 2015 — I used to work at a video store. It was during that awkward, but exciting phase when VHS was still being made, but both new and old movies were coming out every week on DVD. Basically, it was a time of explaining the benefits of letterbox 20 times a day. I had this regular customer, a child-like woman who would come in and buy every episode of The Monkees in VHS that we had on the shelves, and then the two of us would pore over the tiny print of the preorder titles in the binder behind the counter and she’d reserve more episodes. I think about her sometimes, and man, I think she had it right.

The Monkees was a 1960s sitcom about a four-man pop band— Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, Peter Tork, and Davy Jones—that would end up evolving into a real-life, legitimate pop band, one that outlived the show’s 58 episodes with songs like Last Train to Clarksville and I’m a Believer. The story of the show was that the band just wanted to play music, but would constantly find itself in the middle of slapsticky situations—spy rings, hillbilly feuds, criminal capers…and monster mashes.

They didn’t have Halloween episodes, per se, but they had their share of spook-flavored shows. Like the time they spent the night in a creepy mansion full of wackiness. Or when they beat back an alien invasion with wackiness. Or when a monkey’s paw they find unleashes wackiness. Or when one of them inadvertently sells his soul to the devil for wackiness. Then there was the episode where a mad scientist kidnaps the band, not to steal their brains for his monster, but to steal their musical talent for it. This ends up in an amazing scene in which a monster played by Richard Kiel, dressed in 60s hippy chic, lip-and-guitar syncs a Monkees tune. The moment makes the ep. Possibly the era.

But of all the Halloween-ish episodes, the one you should watch this season is The Monstrous Monkee Mash.

It’s one of the later episodes and is typical of the show in many ways. See, every Monkees episode seemed like a rehearsal for a real episode that was never filmed: lines were delivered casually, first takes and non-takes seemed to be used with glee, and everybody acted like they had somewhere important to get to fast after the scene wrapped. They even eventually ditched the laugh track while still keeping the tempo of a laugh-tracked show. Even better, the shows featured lots of fourth-wall-breaking, meta-joking, classic set ups and punchlines, and so many running gags it was like their writers were being chased by an angry mob.

So this episode is that, plus monsters. It was directed by James Frawley, the man who directed The Muppet Movie, and it guest-starred Ron Masaks and Arlene Martel (aka, Spock's bride) as vampires.

The story begins with a spooky oceancliff castle, a lightning strike, and some theremin. Davy Jones, the only British member of the band, has been on the prowl and “Your place or mine,” ended him up here with a vamp named Lorelei, whom he would soon learn is actually a vampire. His bandmates come to the rescue, only to find a castle full of monsters. We’re talking vampire, mummy, Frankenstein’s monster, and a werewolf. Four monsters, four band members. That’s the exact equation Einstein worked out for Halloween comedy.

I’d summarize the story further, but it’s a Monkees episode. Instead of plot, they just kind of swing from joke to joke until it all crescendos in a music video that gets them to the end credits even if they have to insert previously filmed footage in which their outfits don't match continuity to do so. Here are some of the highlights:

1) Micky Dolenz redoing a scream take after talking with somebody off camera. The editor who decided to keep it in deserves an Emmy and a sandwich named after him.

2) The running gag about warning the wolfman to cut its hair else it won’t be let into Disneyland, which turned me onto this delightful little bit of Disney trivia.

3) Finally remarking on an obviously fake backdrop after establishing it for the scene.

4) The phrase, “Better composition.”

5) Spoofing the ending of Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

It ain’t a perfect episode, but if it was, it wouldn’t be The Monkees. It’s on YouTube, as are most of the show’s episodes. I’ve embedded it below, so grab yourself a hard cider and some candy corn and stay as long as you’d like.

I never want to write the word episode ever again.