The 1980's were a quiet decade for monster toys. The old monster movies were no longer being shown on broadcast television. At the theaters, audiences were lining up to see mad slashers hack apart promiscuous teenagers. The splatter movie had taken over the horror genre. Toy companies were unwilling to risk producing toys of these violent killers. The old monsters had become passe, but the new monsters were too violent and controversial for merchandisers to touch.

But every so often a monster toy would still find its way to the store shelves. The 1980 Remco Universal monsters were really a last echo of the 70's. The crude 1986 Imperial Classic Movie Monsters were the only Universal Monsters action figures available in the mid-80's.

But many toy lines, like the Inhumanoids, truly represented the new wave of monsters. Toys were becoming slicker, and monsters were getting meaner and uglier. Many 80's toys were marketed as being "so ugly they're cute." Gross images were popular, like the Garbage Pail Kids trading cards, and gross toys were three-dimensional extensions of that philosophy. Though kids and marketing experts probably thought they were the first to engage in these peculiar tastes, it was old news to those who had grown up with 60's "Mars Attacks" cards and "Ugly Stickers."

By the end of the 80's, even the mad slashers were starting to seem passe. So toy companies took the first timid steps toward trying to market these violent creatures to children. One of the first attempts was Matchbox's Freddy Krueger dolls, which blew up in Matchbox's face. But the seal had been forever broken, and soon Kenner took the lead in producing action figures based on R-rated characters.

LJN Gremlins 14-inch Stripe (1984)

One of the best monster toys of the 1980s, this large Gremlin was reportedly discontinued after parents complained that it was too scary. Most of the toys from the movie Gremlins focused on the cuddly, furry Gizmo.

Remco 9-inch Universal Monsters:

AHI produced a new line of Universal monster toys in 1980, this time under their subsidiary name, Remco. The new toys were action- oriented, brawny 9-inch figures with glow-in-the-dark heads, and button-activated, crushing "monster grip" arms. An iron-on patch and glow-in-the-dark ring were included in the colorful window boxes. The set included: Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolfman, Mummy, Creature, and Phantom of the Opera. The "Monsterizer" was a lab table for bringing Frankenstein to life. Remco sculpted one of the best Lon Chaney, Jr. likenesses ever for the Wolfman figure. The Phantom boasted an authentic likeness to Lon Chaney, Sr. The Creature posed some design problems for Remco. Instead of creating a special mold for the Creature's body as had been done for the 1973 AHI Creature, Remco produced a cloth, lithographed costume for the new Creature figure to wear. This made the Creature look as though he were wearing pajamas. The Mummy somewhat resembled Boris Karloff, but Frankenstein and Dracula looked generic. Even so, Frankenstein's rugged look and sleepy face give the toy an endearing quality. The 1980 Remco line is, so far, the last great line of classic monster action figures. They mark the end of an era that began in 1973 with the AHI and Mego monster lines.

Remco 9-inch Frankenstein (1980)

Remco 9-inch Dracula (1980)

Remco 9-inch Wolf Man (1980)

Remco 9-inch Mummy (1980)

Remco 9-inch Creature (1980)

Remco 9-inch Phantom (1980)

Remco Monsterizer (1980)

Remco Mini-Monsters:

In conjunction with the 9-inch series, Remco produced a line of 3 3/4-inch Universal monster figures. These were more in keeping with the prevailing style of toys at that time. The small line included the same six characters as in the 9-inch set. Remco first produced them in standard, non-glow versions, then released them in the glow-in-the-dark plastic. This did not affect the general appearance of most of the toys, except in the case of the Creature. The non-glow Creature looks impressive, but the glow Creature is cast in a lime green that detracts from its appearance. The mini Dracula is one of the best Lugosi likenesses ever seen on a mainstream toy. The detail on all of the mini-monsters is impressively authentic. A small monsterizer lab table and a haunted house carrying case were also produced.

Mini-Monster Frankenstein (1980)

Mini-Monster Dracula (1980)

Mini-Monster Wolf Man (1980)

Mini-Monster  Mummy (1980)

Mini-Monster Phantom (1980)

Mini-Monster Creature (glow and non-glow) (1980)

 Mini-Monster Monsterizer (1980)

Remco Monsters At Home:

Remco reused parts from their 9-inch action figure line one year later to produce the Monsters At Home series. These finger puppets were constructed by sewing the plastic glow-in-the-dark monster heads and hands onto a simple cloth body. The puppets could pop out of little plastic boxes resembling the monster's "home." Frankenstein's box looked like a piece of laboratory equipment. Dracula lived in a coffin, the Mummy a sarcophagus and Creature a sunken sea chest.

Remco Monsters At Home Frankenstein (1981)

Remco Monsters At Home Dracula (1981)

Remco Monsters At Home Mummy (1981)

Remco Monsters At Home Creature (1981)

Multi-Toys Corporation Bugmen of Insecta (1983)

MTC produced several lines of cheap action figures during the 1980s. One of the weirdest was the Bugmen of Insecta, humanoid insect warriors with realistic insect pets. The back of the card included a comic strip account of the Bugmen's origin. The front featured lurid artwork reminiscent of 1950s B-movie posters. The series included five Bugmen: Spider, Stag Beetle, Killer Bee, Grasshopper and Tiger Beetle.

MTC Nightmare Warriors:

Another charmingly awful set of monster figures from Multi-Toys Corporation. Released in 1983, these 5 1/2-inch skeleton figures featured glow-in-the-dark bones painted on He-Man-styled bodies. The toys represented the ghosts of historic warriors - Spartacus, Geronimo, Sir Lancelot, Captain Kidd, Pancho Villa and the generic soldier Major Bones. Cheesy but cool.

Spartacus (1983)

Geronimo (1983)

Sir Lancelot (1983)

Captain Kidd (1983)

Pancho Villa (1983)

Group shot (1983)

Powco Thriller Graveyard Gang:

These unlicensed bendies were based on Michael Jackson's Thriller video. Released by Powco in 1984, they were unusually elaborate compared to the typical rubber bendie. They featured rooted hair, jointed necks, cloth costumes, and they glowed in the dark. Each figure was packaged resting in a cardboard coffin within its bubble card. Five zombies and one werewolf were produced: Midnite Mike, Karen Corpse, Freddie Funk, Digger Doug, Cool Ghoul, and Howard the Howling Hound.

Thriller Midnite Mike (1984)

Thriller Howard the Howling Hound (1984)

Thriller Karen Corpse (1984)

Thriller Freddie Funk (1984)

Thriller Digger Doug (1984)

Thriller Cool Ghoul (1984)

Group shot of Thriller Graveyard Gang (1984)

Monster Collector's Dolls:

Several companies produced collector-oriented monster dolls in the 80's. Rene D. Lyon Co., Inc. in San Diego, CA produced a noteworthy line of porcelain Universal Monsters dolls in 1984. These 18-inch dolls had plush bodies and porcelain heads, hands, and feet.  Their beautifully tailored costumes included such details as leather shoe soles, and real pants zippers. The set included Frankenstein, Dracula and (reportedly) the Wolf Man. Dracula bears a reasonable likeness to Bela Lugosi.

In 1985, Traveler Trading produced another collector-oriented Dracula doll. This one was unlicensed, and had vinyl head and hands instead of porcelain. The costume, though more toy-like than the Rene D. Lyon doll, was almost as elaborate (and perhaps more colorful). The doll stood about 20 inches tall.

Andrew Loyd Weber's musical Phantom of the Opera opened in London in 1986. Enesco produced an array of Phantom merchandise, licensed by Weber's Really Useful Group. Among the items produced were two porcelain dolls, both loosely modeled off of the musical's original Phantom, Michael Crawford. The dolls stood about 18 inches tall. They had plush bodies, and a porcelain head and hands. The mask was not removable. The doll was issued in a standard and deluxe version. The standard version was just a normal doll. The deluxe version stood atop a music box that played "Music of the Night." The deluxe doll also mechanically moved its arms and torso to the music. The standard doll was more proportioned than the musical one, which had stubby arms. Both dolls were issued as limited, numbered editions.

For a time, Universal Studios sold a large Frankenstein doll at their theme park. The doll had vinyl head and hands, and fluffy hair. It vaguely resembled the Frankenstein makeup and costume worn by actors in the theme park during the late 1980s.

Rene D. Lyon porcelain Dracula (1984)

Rene D. Lyon porcelain Frankenstein (1984)

Traveler's Dracula (1985)

Enesco Phantom of the Opera (c1988)

Universal Studios Frankenstein doll (1980s)

Hasbro Inhumanoids:

Released in 1986, the Inhumanoids were a race of giant mutants living beneath the surface of the Earth. Hasbro produced three 14-inch monsters: Metlar, Tendril, and D. Compose. These elaborate, striking toys are some of the best action figures of the 1980's. Metlar was a fat devil. Tendril was a plant-like creature that resembled the 1986 version of The Fly. D. Compose was a skeletal monster with a bird-like head. In addition to the big monsters, Hasbro produced several smaller creatures. Redsun, Redlin, and Redwood were living trees. Granite and Granok were creatures of stone. Magnakor had a hardened lava exterior, with a molten lava interior. Four human scientists and two vehicles were also produced. A television cartoon naturally accompanied the release of the toys, which sold poorly and lingered on clearance shelves for years.

Inhumanoids Metlar (1986)

Inhumanoids Tendril (1986)

Inhumanoids D. Compose (1986)

Imperial Universal Monsters:

These 8-inch vinyl figures were released in 1986 by the Imperial Toy Corp., the company that made its name in the 1970's as a major manufacturer of rubber toys. The toys were sold both loose with tags, and on bubble cards. The Mummy was notable because it was apparently based on the monster in Abbott and Costello Meet The Mummy, rather than the earlier Karloff or Chaney, Jr. versions. The Dracula is admired by some for its reasonable likeness of Bela Lugosi. But overall the set was disappointing. Frankenstein was amateurishly sculpted, and the Wolfman looked puzzled and effeminate. The design of all four characters seemed lazy and ersatz, possibly reflecting the public's growing lack of enthusiasm for the classic characters. Imperial also released a vinyl Godzilla, King Kong, and Rodan during the same era. Boxed sets were released containing two Universal monsters and two "giant" monsters.

Imperial Frankenstein (1986)

Imperial Dracula (1986)

Imperial Wolf Man (1986)

Imperial Mummy (1986)

The OH Lantern Family foam pumpkins (1987)

The OH Lantern Family:

For Halloween of 1987 an independent company called Pumpkin Productions, Inc. produced a collection of grotesque jack-o-lanterns called The OH Lantern Family. Made of a foam material similar to NERF products, these large novelty display pieces were sold in Hallmark stores, gift shops and hobby outlets. The eight characters were supposed to be related, with Jack OH Lantern and Jody OH Lantern as the patriarch and matriarch. Each came with a trifold tag that explained the character's history. For instance, Jack was born in 1942 in a North Dakota patch. He made his riches selling bug repellent. Jody sprouted in 1949 and worked as a professional model for a marginal vegetable company. She married Jack in 1960 and the pair settled in Southern California where they grew four healthy pumpkins.

The OH Lantern Family was created by Hollywood makeup artist Todd Masters, whose credits by that point included Predator, Big Trouble In Little China and Poltergeist II. Priced around $30 each, the foam pumpkins sold well enough to come back the following Halloween, this time with an added lineup of "baby" pumpkins.

For such a strange idea, the OH Lantern Family turned out to be surprisingly influential. The next several Halloween seasons saw an explosion of copycat products. Other companies produced foam and ceramic jack-o-lanterns with grimacing human faces, but failed to capture the lurid charm of Masters' original sculptures. Like the Telco Motion-ettes, the OH Lantern Family sparked a unique sub-genre of Halloween novelties.

 Jack OH Lantern (1987)

 Jody OH Lantern (1987)

 Jesse OH Lantern (1987)

 James OH Lantern (1987)

 Jesabell OH Lantern (1987)

 Joey OH Lantern (1987)

 Johnny OH Lantern (1987)

 Jock OH Lantern (1987)

 The OH Lantern Family portrait (1987)

Mattel Boglins:

The Boglins were adorably ugly creatures that lived in a swampy bog. Mattel introduced these unique toys in 1987. The original set included three large, rubber handpuppets: Dwork, Vlobb, and Drool. They featured internal mechanisms that made their eyes and eyelids move. The large Boglins were sold in elaborate boxes that resembled wooden cages. The Vlobb and Drool molds were re-used to create two special Halloween Boglins: Blobkin and Bog-O-Bones. Mattel also released six smaller Boglins: Squidge, Shlump, Shlurp, Sponk, Squawk, and Squeel. The Summer of 1988 saw the release of three "Soggy" Boglins: Slobster, Snish, and Slogg. These aquatic creatures resembled a lobster, fish, and frog, respectively. Mattel planned to release "Bat Boglins" in 1989, but the winged creatures were never released in the United States. Mattel recycled the Boglin handpuppet concept for their Street Sharks series years later, even resurrecting the Slobster character as part of the Street Sharks line. A later series of Goosebumps handpuppets also bore a similarity to the Boglins handpuppet design. Recent years have seen a marked increase in collector interest. Boglins have sold at auction for unexpectedly high prices. Collectors are seeking out rare European and Canadian versions, such as glow-in-the-dark Boglins.

Dwork (1987)

Drool (1987)

Vlobb (1987)

Blobkin (1987)

Slobster (1988)

Telco Motion-ettes of Halloween:

Telco Creations, Inc. was the first company to introduce affordable animatronic display figures to the consumer market. Beginning with Christmas figures of Santa and angels, Telco branched out in 1987 by introducing three Halloween figures: Ghost, Witch, and Scarecrow. These large, mechanical figures, or "Motion-ettes," automatically moved their arms and heads while emitting eerie electronic sounds. Some also featured glowing heads and eyes. Telco released both 24-inch AC-powered figures, and smaller 17-inch battery-powered models. The line expanded over the years to include such characters as Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Phantom of the Opera. In 1993, Telco switched from generic, unlicensed character designs to officially licensed Universal Studios monster characters. (See 1990's Wing) No new characters have been added since 1994. At last report, Telco had no plans to continue the line, citing low vendor orders and protests from religious groups as contributing factors. They have chosen instead to concentrate on their more lucrative catalogue of Christmas Motion-ettes, as well as branching out into Disney characters. Many competitors have copied the Telco style, creating confusion as to exactly which animatronic figures are and are not Telco Motion-ettes. But these copy-cats do not possess the same charm and personality of the original Telco creations. Of the original Telco Halloween line, the rarest is probably the 24-inch Gorilla, which was only available in 1988. (Information gathered from 1993 and 1994 interviews with Telco Executive Vice President Arthur Wachtel, conducted by Raymond Castile for the magazine Action Figure News & Toy Review.)

Original Three: Ghost, Witch, and Scarecrow (1987)

Monster (Frankenstein) and Dracula (1988 - 1992)

Wolf Man, Gorilla, and Devil (1988)

Mr. Bones Skeleton (1989) and Tuxedo Skeleton (1988)

Phantom of the Opera (1989) and Phantom as Red Death (1990)

Vampire Bat (1988)

Matchbox Freddy Krueger Toys:

The presence of a syndicated TV series starring the popular 80's horror movie character Freddy Krueger led several manufacturers to produced various Freddy products in 1989. Most were cheap, innocuous items like plastic Freddy gloves and squirting balls. But Matchbox decided that the R-rated, child-molesting, teenager-slashing, wisecracking villain was the perfect subject for a high-profile line of children's dolls. What parent would not rush to the store to buy his or her child a huggable Freddy pull-string doll? Just the thing to cuddle at night. For those kids who liked to play dress-up, there was Maxx FX, a human action figure that could be disguised to look like Freddy. But for some strange reason, parents across the country protested the lovable dolls, forcing them to be recalled and removed from store shelves. Matchbox's years of experience in the toy automobile market apparently did not prepare them for their foray into the action figure market. Despite the Matchbox Freddy fiasco, Kenner would go on to produce several highly successful toy lines based on R-rated films like Robocop, Terminator 2, and Aliens. Trendmasters had planned to release Species toys in 1997, but put those plans on hold pending the release of a sequel. Toys based on R-rated movies are now commonplace. Perhaps Matchbox was simply a year or two ahead of its time, and ahead of society's acceptance of such dark playthings. McFarlane Toys plans the release of new Freddy Krueger, Jason, and Leatherface action figures in 1998.

Maxx FX Freddy Krueger (1989)

Maxx FX Series One (1989)


60's Wing

70's Wing

90's Wing


Copyright 1996 Monster Castle Productions, Inc.

Phantom of the Opera "Overview" image prepared by Kerry Gammill.

Created by Raymond Castile using GNNpress software.