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05 December, 2010

Monster Toys and Ghoulish Goodies*

ARTICLE TITLE:          Monster Toys and Ghoulish Goodies*

There are certain things that tend to remain with you from childhood, things that have the power to pull you back through the intervening years… the smell of bacon frying on a chilly Autumn morning that instantly wakes you up; the whistle of the feedback that would come from my dad’s hearing aid when the earpiece wasn’t adjusted just right; the sight of a Christmas tree surrounded by kids, and heaped high with gifts.  These are just some of the touchstones of my childhood, things that remind me of who I am and where I come from.
Other anchors to my past are more idiosyncratic:  rushing home from school to watch Dark Shadows and Star Trek in the afternoon, or fighting to stay up all night, just to see if I could.  My comic books and my monster mags.  My models, and my baseball and football cards.  But few things define a kid as clearly as the toys he plays with, or those he wishes he had; and few memories of childhood are sharper.

My personal taste in toys was similar to my tastes in entertainment.  I had a G.I. Joe of course, the real one, not the 3¼-inch rip-offs of the ‘80s.  He had a fully equipped foot-locker, including an astronaut’s space-suit, a deep-sea diving suit, and various combat fatigues.  He could also boast more firepower than the 2nd Marine Division, with everything from a Colt .45, to a flame-thrower, to an M-16.  He led a veritable regiment of toy soldiers, of every conceivable size, shape, and shade of plastic.

There were dozens of toy airplanes, ranging from tiny little plastic ones intended as party favors, to one massive cast-iron Tonka plane my older sister gave me, that now would be regarded as a lawsuit waiting to happen.  It had folding wings that pinched me constantly, working landing gear that did the same, and weighed at least 2 lbs.  I’m sure that today it would be classified as a deadly weapon in most states.  Nor was the Navy neglected, as one of my favorite toys was a plastic Seaview submarine, from the TV show Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

But in the end, I was a child of the Ackermonster, and the toys that really stood out were the Monster and Sci-Fi toys that I owned.  Star Trek was my first love, and it was well represented in my toybox.  I had all the 8-inch Mego figures, along with the U.S.S. Enterprise Bridge playset… with working transporter, no less!  At one point or another I built every Star Trek kit AMT/Ertl put out… multiples of the U.S.S. Enterprise, as they were thoughtful enough to provide decals for every Constitution-Class starship in the fleet; the 1:1 scale Phaser, Tricorder, and Communicator set; the Klingon and Romulan ships… let’s just say a significant portion of my allowance went to that company.

The monsters certainly weren’t neglected, either.  I had toy Draculas, Frankenstein’s Monsters, Mummies… the entire Universal pantheon was well represented, as was Toho’s stable of Kaijû.  Most of these were, in retrospect, probably cheap, unlicensed knock-off’s… but that mattered not at all to a young MonsterKid who just wanted to play with his beloved monsters.  Fortunately, I was born in a time when such toys cost at most a dollar or two.  The situation isn’t so good for aspiring MonsterKids today.

As dedicated Monster collectors will attest, there is no shortage of Horror collectibles on the market today, and most of them are truly superb in terms of quality and faithfulness to their subject.  Sideshow Toys, the 800-lb. Gorilla of the Horror collectible world, leads the way in this, with dozens of beautifully sculpted figures and busts, capturing virtually all of Universal’s Monster characters, and many more modern horrors as well.  Meca and Hawthorne Village are also producing Horror collectibles; just as attractive, and just as high quality.

The one drawback to all of this?  Price.

The 12-inch Sideshow figure of Lugosi as Dracula, in the box, can cost several hundred dollars, as will the Karloff Monster, or Karloff as Im-Ho-Tep.  The complete Hawthorne Village Universal Horror town collection would represent an investment of more than a thousand dollars.  Prices for these Horror collectibles are steadily climbing, with no sign yet of softness in the market.  Yet for all their beauty and quality, they fail to fufill their prime function as toys… to be played with.

For all the Horror merchandise out there, there’s precious little that you’d let your seven- or eight-year old MonsterKid rip into in a sheer, unadulterated frenzy of childish glee.  Let’s face it, when you pay $300 for a Sideshow figure, you aren’t likely to even take it out of the box, much less hand it off to a sticky-fingered rug-monkey who ten minutes before was burying his little sister’s Malibu Barbie® in mud.  And that’s the real sadness of this.

Unless you are in your ‘80’s, you aren’t likely to have fallen in love with the classic Monsters in a movie theater.  If, like me, you’re a Baby-Boomer, then your first exposure to Karloff as the Monster, or Chaney as the Phantom, was on TV… as some middle-aged guy in monster make-up cracked bad jokes in-between segments of the movies.  Your love was fed and encouraged in the pages of Famous Monsters, and Fantastic Monsters, and Tales from the Crypt.  And it found expression in the models we built, and the 8mm monster-movies we made, and the toys with which we played.

Well, with few exceptions, infomercials have crowded out the time-slots that used to be devoted to the Horror-Hosts.  Famous Monsters is long gone, replaced by a pale, bastardized imitation.  And the models and toys of our youth have been replaced by $150 high-tech resin kits and $500 sculpted busts.
As the horror industry constantly chases their next dollar, skewing the market towards the older collectors, those who can afford to pay a few hundred dollars a pop for a collectible and have no desire to actually touch their acquisitions, perhaps they should be more concerned about where the next generation of fans will come from.

I have three Sideshow figures.  They aren’t in their boxes, and they are routinely handled.  They may not be worth $300… they may not even be worth what I paid for them.  But the joy they’ve given me has nothing to do with dollar signs or condition grades.

It’s a shame our kids can’t know that kind of joy.

*    From an idea suggested by fellow CreatureScape contributor Elizabeth Haney—with thanks, JPS

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