I love monster movies. I have as long as I can remember. While most kindergarteners were busy drawing pictures of their house with a rainbow above it or Mommy and Daddy with a heart around them, I was hard at work on my best Crayola renderings of Frankenstein, Rodan, and the “Devil Bat From Venus” (I think I must have seen It Conquered The World on TV by this point already). Come Saturday morning, when all the other kids would leap up after the highly anticipated block of cartoons had ended to go outside and play touch football or ride their bikes, I stayed glued to the TV (much to the dismay of my mother), eagerly awaiting what I considered to be the best part of the week, catching Creature Double Feature or Commander USA’s Groovie Movies or perhaps some random Godzilla movie on Channel 11.
Once I got a little older and home video had secured a firm grasp on our culture as an affordable way to own your very own movies, I saved every cent of my allowance or what little money I made from my after school paper route to go down to the local K-Mart or Jamesway or (insert other now-defunct discount chain store name here) and dig through the VHS bargain bin for cheap copies of Earth vs. the Spider or War of the Gargantuas that I would watch countless times regardless of the poor quality.
And then there was Halloween. A whole month devoted to the celebration of my favorite past time. Holiday-themed TV specials featuring your favorite cartoon characters and more monster movies on television than you could possibly watch. And that most glorious thing of all, an entire aisle at the five and dime filled with actual, tangible manifestations of all the things that those boyhood dreams were made of – greasepaint and rubber bats and fake blood and spider webs made out of stretchy cotton and rack after rack of the most ghoulish monster masks you could ever imagine. It was like a dream come true! But alas, November was inevitably right around the corner, and I would be forced to wait another whole year until the time when my love for all things monster could flourish again.
But what if there was a way to make it Halloween all year long? By the time I was in my mid to late teenage years, I found myself working at any number of what seemed like an endless string of menial part time jobs, as most people that age do, which left me with some degree of disposable income. It dawned on me that this would allow me to start to purchase bits and pieces of monster memorabilia of my own, and create a little place where it could feel like those October days I longed for year round. And that’s how, slowly but surely, my monster collecting began.
Flash forward a decade or so and that little place has become at least one dedicated room in my house, with things spilling over into other areas as needed. These days I guess I consider myself what is affectionately known as a “Monster Kid” – someone who fondly remembers the days of reading monster magazines and watching your local horror host on TV and surrounds himself with heaps and mounds of monster-related stuff accordingly.
So naturally, when Cinedelphia approached me to write a top ten list of my favorite monster movie toys, I couldn’t refuse. And without any further ado…
10. So what do you get the monster toy collector who already has everything? The fine folks at Amok Time (www.amoktime.com) have the answer. If you’re already up to your ears with all the Frankensteins, Creatures, and Wolfmen that you can afford, why not diversify your collection with some of these great 12” figures of some of the lesser celebrated, but equally awesome, monsters from black & white 50’s cheapos. Got more Mummies than you know what to do with? Get yourself a Hideous Sun Demon! Have every realistic likeness of Bela Lugsoi ever produced? Then how about some Saucer Men?! Or the creature from The Horror of Party Beach? Or how about a set of my personal favorites, Teenage Frankenstein and the Teenage Werewolf?!
This line of super detailed, fully articulated & poseable, full color, 1/6 scale figures of all your favorite drive-in classics is just so cool because…well, because who ever thought there would be toys of these monsters?! Who in their right mind would produce such a thing. Well, Amok Time, that’s who. Most are limited to 500 pieces, so get ’em while the gettin’s good!
9. And while we’re on the subject of toys of monsters that no one ever thought would be produced, let’s look at the Famous Monsters Of Legend line by Tomland Toys. Released in the late 70’s to cash in on the success of Mego’s incredibly successful Mad Monsters figures, the Famous Monsters of Legend series collects four of the most seemingly random and totally obscure choices of creatures to create toys of – The Abominable Snowman, The Cyclops, a Morlock (from H.G. Well’s The Time Machine), and the coolest of the bunch in my opinion, The Fly!
It turns out that Tomland, as with most other companies that produced dime store quality toys at the time, wanted to get more bang for their buck, and also released these same four sculpts as part of their Star Raiders series, their attempt to capitalize on the Star Wars craze by creating a line of unlicensed lookalike figures. Despite that fact, what really makes the Famous Monsters of Legend stand out is their gorgeous header card artwork, complete with a shameless Famous Monsters of Filmland rip off font.
As of late it’s been discovered that several more traditional monster sculpts apparently existed in the line, with photos of a Frankenstein, Wolfman, and even a carded Mummy surfacing. It’s also been rumored their may have been a Sasquatch figure in the line as well, apparently just the “Chewbacca” knock off from the Star Raiders line once again repackaged on a Famous Monsters of Legend card.
8. While most monster toy collectors undoubtedly focus primarily on the more detailed, fully articulated 8 – 12” figures as the backbone of their collection, any true monster toy enthusiast will tell you that a good collector never underestimates the value of molded plastic.
That’s where the Palmer Plastics monster figures come in. Produced in 1964, the series featured eight different 3-inch injection molded figurines in a variety of different colors. Available both individually and as a set, this line once again featured some rather interesting choices mixed in with your standard monster fare – Dracula, the Creature, and the ever-present Frankenstein are there of course, but right next to Gorgo, It! The Terror from Beyond Space, and Harryhausen’s Cyclops from The 7th Voyage of Sinbad!
Sure, they may be cheap, small, and crudely crafted (there is often extra plastic ridges from the edge of the mold still attached), but they are loved by monster toy collectors for their simplicity, surprising level of detail, and overall gumball machine charm appeal. Plus, they look great when you put a ton of them on a shelf together.
7. In the year 2000, the Japanese toy company Medicom created a line of LEGO-esque block type mini figures called Kubricks (as an homage to director Stanley Kubrick, who the founder of Medicom is a huge fan of). Initially consisting of several sets based on anime series like Neon Genesis Evangelion and Mazinger-Z, the Kubrick line rapidly expanded as Medicom began acquiring licenses to other popular franchises left and right, including everything from Planet Of The Apes, Disney, Star Wars, Marvel Comics, and everything in between. The series is still going strong in 2011, with the total number of different Kubrick figures reaching into the hundreds.
So it was really only a matter of time before Medicom got around to releasing a Kubrick series of Universal Monsters. In fact, they ended up doing two! While the first set contains most of the classic crop of well known monsters that come to mind when you think of Universal, like Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolf Man, and The Mummy, series 2 interestingly features some lesser recognized characters such as the The Phantom Of The Opera, The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, the Metaluna Mutant from This Island Earth, and even one of The Mole People.
As with most monster toy lines, the Creature is the standout piece here (although that Metaluna Mutant comes in a close second!). Where several of the other characters share uniform block figure type heads and hands, the Creature is custom sculpted in all his gill-covered glory. The face is dead on, but tiny. You can put him in your pocket and take him everywhere you go!
6. Coming in at number six we have a toy line that I have many, many fond memories of playing with. Mostly because it may be the only one on the list that either didn’t come way before my time, thus not allowing me to get my grubby little hands on it, or was released well into my adulthood, where it promptly found a home in a display case. No, I was the perfect age to play with the Remco Mini-Monsters, and play with them I did.
Released in 1980 to coincide with their line of larger, 9-inch officially licensed Universal Monsters figures, the Mini-Monsters came in the familiar 3 ¾ inch size which had pretty much been made the industry standard by the popularity of Kenner’s Star Wars line several years earlier. In fact, if it wasn’t for the fact that they belonged lurking in dark, musty castles or black lagoons instead of the Death Star, these figures could have fit right in with their outer space counterparts, sporting similar rigid, non-bending appendages and vinyl capes.
Each of the six characters was available with either a standard paint scheme or in a super cool glow-in-the-dark version (who doesn’t like a toy that glows?!). Their size made them great for some monster play on the go, and perfect for losing in couch cushions, burying in your muddy backyard, or leaving on your windowsill for the inevitable sun-bleaching (poor Drac!). Also awesome was the Monsterizer, a small plastic version of your own mad scientist’s lab for you to bring your monsters to life with; the only toy line accessory that looks ripped right out of a Hammer film.
5. I had a tough call to make for this number five spot. I knew that I wanted to show some love to the other side of the globe and include some vinyl figures of my favorite Japanese giants on the list. After all, they’re monsters too, and I’ve been as equally obsessed with them as I have with their more traditional Hollywood counterparts for just as long. But how to choose?! With so many awesome sculpts from so many great small, independent, fan-run toy manufacturers how could I ever pick just one?
Well, it’s my list, and it might seem like cheating, but I decided that I didn’t have to. So the number five coolest monster toy is Godzilla toys – all of them. Between the vintage pieces made by companies like Bullmark, Popy, and Marusan to the more modern offerings by Marmit, M-1, Toygraph, Charactics, etc., you could go a whole lifetime hoarding only kaiju figures and never have them all. And many collectors do just that.
All of our beloved Tokyo-stomping favorites have been represented – Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah, Gamera, etc. – in a seemingly countless number of vibrant color variations, spanning a wider array of shades than you knew existed. Try as you might, I think you’ll be hard pressed to find a creature that hasn’t been immortalized in plastic.
Creating these toys is truly a labor of love for most of these small companies, as each limited edition piece is often hand painted by one member of the staff and sold directly to collectors at toy conventions by the others. And while they still might not be as easy to come by here in the US as walking into your local Toys R Us, they are probably more accessible now than they have ever been, thanks to the various internet sellers and online auction sites. So go clear off some shelf space and get to work!
4. You know what place I’ve always found lacking enough monster toys? The tub. Who wants to take a bath anyway if it means that you have to put away all your Draculas and Wolfmen (what about the Creature? That’s appropriate, right?)? Well, fret no more my grimy ghouls; just get yourself a set of these Monster Soakies and you’ll be having yourself some squeaky clean monster fun in no time!
Manufactured by the Colgate Palmolive company in the early 1960’s as part of their Soaky line of plastic bubble bath containers shaped like popular characters, this set of four officially licensed Universal Monster bottles is an awesome addition to any vintage toy collection. The sculpts are fantastic, with that fun and timeless retro comic book appeal that allows them to fit in perfectly right next to your other toys, whether new or old.
They’re fairly sought after these days by collectors, but are usually missing the soap, tag, small box that wrapped around the base, and often a good amount of their paint, so if you can find one in good condition I recommend not actually bathing with it, but rather enjoy it from afar.
3. Okay, so you might be asking yourself, “Of all of the awesome monster toys out there, how did this one make it so high on the list?” Well, I have to admit, I’m probably a little biased here, as The Abominable Dr. Phibes is without a doubt one of my all time favorite movies. So imagine how quickly and easily my mind was blown when I saw that Majestic Studios (the same folks who have also released the incredible figure of the Zuni Fetish Doll from Trilogy Of Terror) had created a version of the cinematic madman that I could call my very own?
As if they didn’t score enough points with me just for taking the time to honor such a fantastic film with its very own toy, something that was obviously long overdue, they also took the time and made sure they did it right. They really went all out with this thing. It comes with 2 full real cloth outfits (down to the socks!), his black on-the-prowl costume as well as his dressier all white ensemble, 2 sets of hands to match the outfits, and even 2 small ropes that attach to his neck, which he uses to speak through in the movie. But easily the coolest thing about the figure is that it comes with 2 different head sculpts, a Vincent Price likeness and a disfigured Phibes face!
2. The toy I’ve decided to place in the number two spot is actually my favorite of the whole bunch – the AJ Renzi Monster Mobile. While initially it may not be a lot to look at (I know some of you are thinking “That piece of crap is number two?! [pun intended]), it may be, in my opinion anyway, the greatest monster toy ever created. I mean, look at it. It’s just downright cool. It’s four plastic monsters. And they’re hanging out. In a hot rod. It really doesn’t get much more awesome than that.
Sure, it’s basic. It’s just a big piece of plastic. Only four colors. No accessories. But somehow in its simplicity it manages to capture the youthful spirit of an entire generation of American culture, just by being what it is. Looking at it, I see more than just a cheap piece of junk that my dad might have played with when he was a kid. I see a time capsule. A history lesson. A reminder of a bygone era when times (and toys) were simpler. An iconic image for those that may have lived through it to cherish and those that may have come after to sentimentally long for. A real piece of Americana, in the truest sense of the word.
I certainly must not be the only one who feels this way either. The last time I saw one of these sell on Ebay, it went for well over $1000, and they don’t come around too often. It’s definitely my “holy grail” and something I’m constantly hunting for. So, if you happen to be cleaning out the attic at your grandparents’ house and come across one, drop me a line, okay?
1. Okay, here it is. We’ve reached the moment you’ve all been waiting for. Time to crown the undisputed heavyweight champion of the toy world. I know you’re all perched on the edge of your seats, so I won’t hesitate any longer. And the winner is…
THE AHI WORLD FAMOUS SUPER MONSTERS!!!
I think if you asked any diehard collector what the all-time greatest of all the monster toys was, is, and most likely forever shall be, their answer would be the World Famous Super Monsters. While some may try to argue that Mego’s Mad Monsters series came first, was more popular, and was therefore much more influential, I think most true fans will tell you that the AHI figures are the cream of the crop.
Released in 1973 by New York based novelty toy company Azrak-Hamway International, the series featured five different monsters – Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolf Man, The Mummy, and The Creature – all of which were officially licensed by Universal with the exception of Drac. As was the norm at the time, these figure came packaged on brightly colored blister cards and were available primarily at discount-type stores.
Of the five sculpts in the series, the Creature is without a doubt the king of them all. He’s the one that you, and every other dedicated monster collector in the world for that matter, are looking for. Available in both a larger “wide-waist” version and a more slender “female” sculpt (AHI updated the molds for the series various times over the years, creating several different variants for each figure), Creech will cost you a pretty penny regardless of which type you’re after.
“So what’s so great about them?” you ask. What is it that makes the collectors go nuts? I think it’s that unadulterated “low brow” vibe that they exude. They somehow succeed in perfectly bridging the gap between beautifully crafted toys and dime store junk. There is definitely an air of artistry about them, but they still manage to be toys at the same time; it’s their incredible attention to detail and simultaneous lack thereof (oddly enough, AHI would eventually acquire Remco, who went on to release their line of slightly higher detailed Universal Monsters figures in the 80s).
Oh, and if you can still find one sealed, the totally awesome artwork on those bright pink blister cards doesn’t hurt either!
So there you have it – my top ten coolest monster toys. Please direct all your angry comments about how I’m crazy because I didn’t include the original Aurora monster models or the Kenner 18-inch Alien figure to email@example.com.
I also wanted to give a special thanks to Ray Castile and his wonderful site The Gallery of Monster Toys as well as Bobby “Toy Ranch” Beeman for sharing his myriads of monster toy knowledge through both his Flickr photos (look it up if you want to see a disgustingly incredible toy collection and have your mind blown!) and on the Universal Monster Army message boards. Without their extensive research, seemingly limitless expertise on the subject, willingness to share said information, and friendly, approachable demeanor, my monster collection, as well as those of countless others, would not be half of what it is today. Thanks guys!