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  • Writer's pictureRob Freese

The Importance of the Mad Movie Parody

As we come to films and discover films and grow to love films, many, many influences assist us in our journey. For horror fans my age, it means something to say that you grew up on the "Bob Martin era Fangoria." Other fans know what that means. "I grew up watching movies that Joe Bob Briggs or The Phantom of the Movies reviewed in their column." That means something. "Siskel and Ebert really piss me off- they don't "get" slasher movies." That means something. "I saw the craziest movies on Elvira or Commander U.S.A. when I was a kid." That means something. "I grew up riding my bike to Video-Land and renting horror cassettes every weekend." That means something.

All these influences help inform and open your world to other avenues of cinema. Fangoria was instrumental in introducing the films of H.G. Lewis and Andy Milligan to young Gore-Hounds, just like Famous Monsters of Filmland introduced the Universal Monster movies to the 50's generation of Monster Kids.

Frank Henenlotter has recalled how he memorized the name Jess Franco and sought out his films among the screens of 42nd Street to learn more about the filmmaker. It is no different than discovering a filmmaker from a video you rented and committing their name to memory to seek out more of their flicks.

All of this makes up the fan we ultimately become. I've talked at length, and will continue, about how instrumental movie novelizations were to me as a kid. My parents were not parents who would load us up and take us to an all night Barf-O-Rama Horror Show at the drive-in. I had friends whose parents did that, but not mine.

On the other hand, my parents had no problem with me reading whatever I wanted. I can't go see Halloween because I'm only ten? Okay. Do you care if I read the book? No? Cool!

Please, don't for a minute think my parents didn't care about what I read. In all honesty, I probably didn't make a big deal about what I was reading. They just saw me reading and they didn't hassle me if they even noticed what I was reading. (Hey, I knew they didn't want me seeing the movie. Why push it by asking permission to read the novelization?)

One aspect of our collective cinematic formative years, however, doesn't get enough attention or credit. At least as far as I'm concerned. I'm talking about the Mad Magazine movie parody.

Now, back in the day, I read Mad, Cracked and Crazy, but I'm going to focus on Mad here.

Probably even before I was a "movie fan," I read Mad. Within the pages of Mad were all kinds of wonderful pieces of comedy. (Snappy Comebacks to Stupid Questions was instrumental in my becoming a smartass.) One of the things I always loved was when they adapted the artistic style of, say, Charles Shultz, and did a parody of the Peanuts. I think this is where my love for "Fake Trailers" and "Fake Book Covers" first came into play.

But Mad also had parodies of my favorite TV shows. Then I started reading the movie parodies. The earliest I remember were Jaw'd, Too and The Calamityville Horror. It would be years before I was able to see these films, but when I did, I felt like I already knew them by heart.

The Mad movie parody was an essential part of my journey in becoming the movie fan I am today. No kidding. Think about it. Maybe those parodies influenced you, too.

Those parodies began building a list of titles I had to see, even though I didn't realize it at the time. I was adding to the list with every new parody I read. Once we got our first VCR in 1984, although I was already a dedicated slasher movie maniac, I rented countless movies based solely on the fact that I remembered reading the parody of the movie in Mad and I wanted to finally give them a watch.

The best thing about any Mad movie parody was that splash page that introduced the characters. They all got a dialogue box or two to set up who they are and how they related to the story. It was a brilliant way to introduce the reader to the story. And every splash page had a dozen or so sight gags within the page, some pertaining to the movie, some not.

The parody always followed the movie but not always exactly. One thing that bugged me when I finally saw Alien was why in the Mad parody, Alias, the creature looked nothing like the monster in the movie. (Now I know the studio kept photos of their creature secret. Also, I've read the studios were never as enthusiastic about their films being parodied in the pages of Mad as I was.) In the case of the before mentioned Jaw'd, Too, there is actually a panel that recreates the poster art of the girl skiing and the shark coming out of the water behind her. When that did not actually appear in the film, it was a huge letdown. ("It was in Mad!")

My favorite artist for these parodies, hands down, was the great Mort Drucker. I know very little about the man beyond his work in the magazine. I need to look him up. His work made my younger years way more fun. He may have art hanging in the Louvre, but it is nothing compared to his work on the parodies of Psycho, Too, Death Wishers and Star Bores: The Empire Strikes Out. (The gag of Ham Yoyo with the price tag on his head...classic!)

Other artists whose movie parody work I adore include Angelo Torres (Throw Up The Academy, Outlandish), Jack Davis (Raiders of the Lost Art, Legal Wreckin' Too!) and the mysterious Harry North, Esq. (Star Roars, The Karocky Kid).

It would be remiss of me if I didn't mention the writers who brought these parodies to life in an economy that has to be admired: Stan Hart, Larry Siegel, Dick De Bartolo, Arnie Kogen and Frank Jacobs. These were the masters of the era in which I devoured each new issue of Mad, who were able to take whole movies and break them down to their most important moments for eight pages of sheer delight. I still remember jokes and gags these guys wrote into their parodies. ("Don't Forget Mother's Day! Tom's Cutlery Shop" from the Psycho, Too splash page, and, Lizzie Borden: "Axe Me No Questions" come instantly to mind. These little throwaway gags have nothing to do with the plot of the parody, but they still make me laugh.)

The Mad movie parodies were always on the pulse of mainstream pop culture. They speak of the time in which they are created. This goes a long way in tracking not only film and television, but human existence!

Sometimes it took time for pop culture to catch up with a film, but Mad was there to make good, like they did with their February 2019 parody of Bob Clark's 1983 box office flop A Christmas Story, with A Listless Story. In the case of Clark's film, it found its audience years later on video and then through marathon showings on TBS. Now it is part of the Christmas season. You see as many leg lamps in December as you do nativity scenes and writer Desmond Devlin and artist Tom Richland made it worth the wait.

I find that the Mad movie parody not only helped turn me on to films I might not have watched otherwise, it also help shaped the kind of humor I like. As a writer, I find it hard to resist going for what I call a "Mad Zinger." Sometimes, especially if I am writing something horrific, I will put something bizarre into the scene, imagining it like a gag on a splash page drawn by Drucker. (In 2022 I novelized the 1962 film The Brain That Wouldn't Die, itself almost a Mad movie parody of the old mad scientist movies. Even while writing it, I considered it a Mad parody and whenever I thought I was playing it safe, I'd throw something crazy into the story just for the joy of writing a "Mad Zinger.")

Of the hundreds, if not thousands of media parodies to brighten the pages of Mad over the decades, their very best may have been one of their last. In their October 2019 Special Tarantino Time Warp Issue, there is a movie parody of not Tarantino's then new release Once Upon A Time...In Hollywood, but rather a parody of the TV show Leonardo DiCaprio's character from that movie was famous for, Bounty Law, here called Lousy Law. Presented by writer Andrew Secunda and artist Tom Richmond, it parodies a TV show that never even existed, but plays it for the real deal.

Clever, but here's where it elicited a hoot from old Rob in the theater the evening he and the missus took in Tarantino's film on date night. On DiCaprio's character's wall of framed posters and stills from his career, on display, is the same issue of Mad, only made up to look like a vintage copy of Mad from the 60's.

It's a prop depicting a Mad parody for a character who played a character in a non existent TV show that was later actually parodied in Mad!

Now that is the ultimate Mad movie parody.


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