Before poop became a commonplace, “funny” theme in today’s toys and games for children, very different sorts of “horror toys” existed back in the ’70s and ’80s; different because they actually came from horror stories and themes! Monsters, creepy puppets, or even the occasional gooey “mad science” kit were popular items.
The four particular examples of horror toys I’m thinking of are scary in a playful sense; most of them not menacing but rather delightful to active imaginations. They evoked a Halloween vibe and I want to talk about them in time for spooky season!
1. Mad Scientist Toys
Oh yes, I’m talkin’ the original, old-school “gross-out” entertainment! I can’t pick just one example from this particular line which had a fantastic assortment of freakishly fun horror toys! Let’s talk about the two best ones: the toys which let you play with ooey-gooey stuff!
- Mad Scientist Dissect-An-Alien — A gross, messy excuse for kids to play a sort of puzzle in piecing an alien lifeform back together. There are organs with strange names: “stumuckus”, “spleenius”, “veinausea”, and at least nine more besides. If you were a fan of any oozes or slime toys, this kit gave the kids of its time plenty to work with. Millionaireplayboy.com gives a delightful account of how this toy kit worked which I highly recommend reading.
- Mad Scientist Monster Lab — Less of a slimy mess and more of a “watch how flesh can dissolve” kind of horror toy! Kids would take one of two monster skeletons, apply “monster flesh” compound to them, and then dunk their monster into a solution which slowly dissolved said grotesque into its original skeletal form. It’s a toy which inspires morbid curiosity in a child, short of teaching them a playful message I’d call: “Slow torture CAN be fun!”
Depending on the source of info (dinosaurdracula.com or flashbak.com), the Mad Scientist toys came out in either 1986 or 1987 under Mattel. Imitators and clones came later in the ’90s: Tyco’s “Doctor Dreadful” and his gross-out (sometimes edible) kits, for example.
2. AHI World Famous Super Monsters
Ahhhh (or should I say “Aaaargh”?), back to the classics! These eight-inch horror toys bore resemblances to the Universal Monsters lineup with such notable characters as Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Mummy, The Wolf Man, and Gil-Man! Originally, Universal and the Mego toy company — the latter known for their own eight-inch toys of superheroes and more — intended to join forces and release a line of these monsters. Universal wanted more money for license use than the toy company could dish out.
Enter the Azrak-Hamway International, Inc (AHI) toy company which produced a favorite among Universal Monster collectors! And I can’t blame fans of this line; though cheap in appearance, they do express “monster” in playful fashion. These toys look like a world of imaginative fun if monsters are your jam!
My favorite of them is Frankenstein’s Monster! That said, let’s get more specific since AHI released a few variations of their monster toys in their mid-to-late 1970s run. Looking at the picture above, there are clear differences; the last on the right being an unlicensed knock-off according to Toy-Ventures Magazine on its Facebook page. The best is the second from the left; the “Flat Palms Frankenstein”. While his hands look like cheap plastic, the rest of the toy is brilliant in its design. The clothes, the sculpt of the head; both look like effort went into them.
3. Stretch Monster
A palate-cleanser for this list. If the plain name didn’t convince you it was a generic product, the stretch-ability factor which we take for granted now wouldn’t either. But Stretch Monster, released by Kenner in 1978, came in after the 1976 advent of Kenner’s own Stretch Armstrong! Because Stretch Armstrong was so popular, Stretch Monster was also a hit among kids. After all, every hero needs a villain to contend with! And Stretch Monster looks like a menace with his sharp teeth, red eyes, and resemblance to the Gil-Man of Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954) fame.
This toy wasn’t the stuff of nightmares or eerie play. It’s basic design is nice; but it looks like such a “safe” sort of horror toy; I said “menace” before, but it could just as easily fit a child’s imagination as a misunderstood monster.
4. Hugo: Man of a Thousand Faces
Saving the best for last! Three words: “creepy nightmare fuel”. This 1975 horror toy — unintended to be one, but just LOOK at it — is the stuff of a horror story where your toy/doll/mannequin comes to life and attacks you, or just sits stoic and still while advising you:
HUGO: “You’re the sane one and everyone else is crazy… Now, who should we have for dinner?”
YOU: “Umm, do you mean ‘invite to dinner’, or-“
HUGO: “I said what I said!!”
It looks like he’s plotting your demise, but Hugo was meant to be a creative sort of toy for kids. His disguises varied: a wig, glasses, scars, and more. If this applied as a horror movie, audiences would burst in peals of laughter! Hugo trying to sound scary to his human owner while talking about wicked plans, but also trying on disguise pieces while looking into a mirror. Or Hugo showing up at crime scenes in “disguise” and his owner saying “Oh, this isn’t Hugo, this is-… Hugh!”
Sources such as Fabtintoys and WorthPoint share that while Kenner produced the toy, Hugo originated from the mind of Alyn Ormsby — an actor/writer/make-up and effects artist/director who, incidentally, starred in a certain horror flick titled Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things (1972). Dead things like Hugo!
“With nothing on it? Seriously creepy.” said Geek News Now Executive Director David Gremillion. “It looks like it is staring into my soul.”
The ’70s and the ’80s produced cool horror toys and I haven’t seen the like in many years. We’re more likely to see novelty shot glasses with classic monsters on them than a tastefully cheap line of toys; more likely to see kids toys/games where fake excrement is the gross factor of play as opposed to a lab kit of green “blood” and guts. I’d love to see a return to the latter horror toys for both kids and adult collectors for nostalgia and not another poop game.
Any memories of these horror toys? Comment below! Check out this Geek News Now article on the top five vampire flicks for Halloween viewing! Also, subscribe to Geek News Now and give its Facebook page a like!