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HALLOWEEN SPECIAL

Monster Collectibles Are Still a
Graveyard Smash

by Bob Brooke

 


I was working in the lab, late one night
When my eyes beheld an eerie sight
For my monster from his slab, began to rise
And suddenly to my surprise
He did the mash, he did the monster mash
The monster mash, it was a graveyard smash
He did the mash, it caught on in a flash
He did the mash, he did the monster mash.

                      Lyrics from “Monster Mash” from Pickwick International, 1974

Along with the usual array of ghosts and witches parading the streets on Halloween, look closely and you're bound to see versions of monsters from yesteryear—Frankenstein, The Wolfman, and Dracula. All are as much a part of Halloween as pumpkins glowing on front porches. Even though these films date from decades ago, the classic Universal Studios monsters are still among the most recognized images to come from the silver screen. While Universal designed those early film monsters to simply scare moviegoers, the creatures moved into the toy and collectibles world during the 1960s. Today, the demand for classic monster collectibles has generated a thriving market with prices that might frighten some beginning collectors as much as the monsters would have scared their grandparents.

The History of Movie Monsters
The history of monster movies goes way back to the beginning of commercial filmmaking. Thomas Edison produced the first film adaptation of Mary Shelly's Frankenstein in 1910. The film featured a man-made monster who terrorized a local village. Filmed At his Black Maria studio, Film historians consider Edison's kinetoscope release of "Frankenstein” to be the first American horror film. Soon, filmmakers worldwide were adding their own contributions to the genre.

Some of the best came from Germany. Similar to the story of Frankenstein were three silent films produced by German film maker Paul Wegner in 1914, 1917, and 1920 based on the Jewish legend of The Golem, a clay figure brought to life by a magical incantation, who would later turn on his master. Another German, F.W. Murnau, directed an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker's vampire novel Dracula. The film, entitled "Nosferatu: Symphony of Horrors," featured Max Shreck as the haunting vampire, Graf. Florence Stoker, Bram Stoker's widow sued and successfully won a copyright infringement lawsuit against the makers of the film. The court ordered all copies of "Nosferatu" destroyed. But like the Count himself; the film proved difficult to get rid of. Copies of it escaped the celluloid holocaust and began resurfacing years later.

Universal Studios produced some of the best of the genre in the 1920s, including The Phantom of the Opera” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” both starring Lon Chaney Sr.

But it was in 1931 when all horror hell broke loose for Universal. One historic release was James Whale's frightening screen version of "Frankenstein," portrayed by the then struggling actor Boris Karloff, the haunting, supernatural appearance of the Monster terrified unsuspecting audiences. Sewn together from the bodies of harvested corpses with electrodes protruding from his neck, the Monster looked like a hideous creation reanimated from the dead. Released in the same year was Todd Browning's chilling adaptation of Brain Stoker's Dracula. Originally intended for Lon Chaney Sr., the role eventually went to Hungarian-born actor Bela Lugosi after Chaney's death in 1930. A stage version of Dracula with Lugosi as the Count had preceded the film. Unlike Frankenstein's Monster whose appearance could be changed for horrific effect, the bloodthirsty Count had to appear human, but scary. Lugosi's mysterious, sinister semblance combined with his haunting European accent perfectly provided the Count with the eeriness the role required.

Frankenstein was such a screen success that it spawned a long line of wonderfully frightening sequels, featuring some of his relatives, starting with The Bride of Frankenstein. Others that followed in the 1930s and 1940s included Son of Frankenstein, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, and House of Frankenstein.

In 1957, the British film studio Hammer released its own version of Frankenstein called "Curse of Frankenstein," starring Christopher Lee as the Monster and legendary British actor Peter Cushing as Doctor Frankenstein. Though the film was vastly different from Universal's version, it proved to be successful in its own right. Hammer followed the success of Frankenstein with the 1958 release of an original adaptation of Dracula, entitled "Horror of Dracula," for American release. With these new, skillfully crafted offerings tantalizing audiences, the Universal icons began to lose appeal.

“The Creature from the Black Lagoon," Unversal’s last monster, came along in 1959. Among collectors, he’s the most popular. But as the 1950s waned, so did interest in the monsters. With increased competition from home and abroad, Universal just couldn’t keep up.

The Birth of Monster Merchandise
The Aurora Plastic Corp. was one of the first companies to produce a line of classic monster merchandise—a model kit of Frankenstein. The model was so successful that Aurora released 12 more monster kits in the 1960s including all of the Universal mainstays. After Aurora's efforts proved successful, numerous other companies climbed aboard the Monster Express with their own offerings.

Among the most impressive and collectible are their battery-ops. Specifically, the battery-operated Frankenstein, which if in excellent condition, is one of the most sought out of all monster collectibles:

To meet the demand for monster inspired merchandise, a multitude of companies began to produce a variety of products.

Though interest in monster collectibles continued its downward spiral during the 1970s and 1980s, monster collectible sales continued to be brisk. The 1970s gave way to the action figure, which dominated the toy scene and monsters became a big part of that sensation.

Among the most collectible monster figures from that time are the 8-inch AHI figures produced from 1973-1976. Of particular note are those monsters that sport actual cloth clothing: Mego also introduced its own line, Mego Mad Monsters, comprised of 8-inch figures available in individual boxes as well as on cards. In 1974 and 1975, Lincoln International created a line of 8-inch articulated figures, particularly noteworthy for their cartoonish look. In the 1980s Remco manufactured a set of 9-inch figures that have proven very desirable among collectors. Also popular was their release of 3 3/4-inch Mini Monsters on cards that featured pictures of the monster as he appeared in the original film. Remco also offered a Mini Monster carrying case with this line. In 1986 Imperial added its own 7½-inch rubber figures packaged in bubble packs.

The latter part of the 1990s witnessed the release of a hord of monster action figures. In 1993 Telco released a set of Universal Monster motionettes that included The Wolf Man, Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein and The Mummy. The Mummy from this set is very collectible . and will most often sell for more than $100 There was somewhat of a lull in new classic monster merchandise until 1997. In that year, the U. S. Post Office released a set of monster stamps as portrayed by the original Universal actors.

Also in that same year, Hasbro manufactured a set of impressive 12-inch figures in individual boxes. The firm based the bodies on earlier G.I. Joe figures. However, it gave more attention to the details with these figures and the faces bore a greater resemblance to the film monster than had been seen in some time. To add to the resurgence in monster popularity was a set of plastic 4-inch toys figures sold only as a promotional item at Burger King. Once again, toy departments displayed monster toys.

Of all the action figures produced, the ones released by Sideshow Toys in the late 1990s were the most realistic. Licensed by Universal and in agreement with the estates of Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney Jr., the 8-inch figures in the first series consisted of Frankenstein; The Mummy, and the Wolf Man. The success of the first series and the demand generated by collectors has spawned new Sideshow offerings. Series 4 figures include Son of Frankenstein The Mole Man and The Werewolf of London. The only figure missing was of Dracula, which Sideshow was finally able to produce after reaching an agreement with the estate of Bela Lugosi.

Not surprisingly an early 1960s survey of young people by the Aurora Plastics Company showed the interest in monster mania generated by old films, which had begun to be shown on TV. Aurora took a big chance in releasing its monster models. It began by only releasing its Frankenstein kit to test the public’s acceptance.

By late 1961 Aurora's boxed Frankenstein assembly kits were in stores and instantly sold out. A second mold was quickly made to keep up with the demand, according to Breugman, and soon the plant was in production 24 hours a day.

World famous toy maker Marx noticed the excitement and added their own Frankenstein toys in 1963, including a plastic monster figure. Another Marx offering was a large remote control model of the monster, and still another was a wind-up Mechanical Frankstein with plastic head and metal legs.

Other related toys from that era included the Frankenstein wind-up with a plastic monster figure in a four-and-a-half-inch-tall antique car, and a boxed battery operated litho tin Frankenstein Monster. Both came from Japan.

During the 1970s, Aurora continued their early kit success by including Frankenstein in their Monsters of the Movies series. However, there was more interest in already constructed five to eight inch plastic monster figures, and soon other makers flooded the market. Mego sold a Mad Monster series starting in 1974 which included Dreadful Dracula, Human Wolfman, Horrible Mummy, the Mad Monster Castle, and Monster Frankenstein. Others with similar figures on the market included Ace Novelty, Lincoln International, Kenner, Remco Industries and eventually Imperial.

One of the last of the battery-operated Frankenstein figures came in the 1970s from Poynter Products. The 12-inch monster was almost entirely made of plastic.

The World of Resin
While toy companies continue to make monster collectibles, a new generation of artists has begun creating monsters of their own—but this time in resin. All the major monsters have begun appearing out of the sticky ooze.

Four of these artists have taken monster collectibles to new heights. Daniel Madden of Maddens Monsters sculpts and paints figures creatively exaggerated to make them even scarier. He also sells the blanks so people can paint their own. He’s particularly fond of creatively interpreting Dracula, complete with mini-coffin. He offers a Creeper series featuring all the classic monsters, including Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolfman, the Mummy, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon, all of which sell for $45 to $48 each.

Scott Wilkowski sculpts his monsters out of resin but gives them an inside-out transparent look. While Madden plays around with the classics, Wilkowski follows his own path with his “Infected Dunnies,” what look to be X-ray rabbits. These little darlings can be pricey, selling for $175 each.

Chad Scheres, another monster sculptor and painter, specializes in ghoulish zombies that often appear as if melting away. A master resin sculptor, Scheres thinks outside the box for his creations. A custom zombie, handmade monster mask featuring a full head of ghoulishness, sells for $75 in Scheres’ eBay store.

To read more of my articles, please visit my Web site.


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