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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sir Lancelot (1983)
Captain Kidd (1983)
Pancho Villa (1983)
Group shot (1983)
Powco Thriller Graveyard
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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)
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.
Telco Motion-ettes of
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
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.)
Matchbox Freddy Krueger
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.
Copyright 1996 Monster Castle Productions, Inc.
Phantom of the Opera "Overview" image prepared by Kerry Gammill.
Created by Raymond Castile using