I once owned a video store called "Videodrome" with Jacob Von Klingele. Besides the making no money part, it was awesome. We have spent many days on different substances watching horror films and talking shit. He made me an "Exterminator II figure for Xmas, that is one of my prized possessions.
When Tromeric asked me to write something for his kids horror month I had a hard time deciding what to write about. Should I discuss something current, maybe about my own kids, or do I go with something from my childhood that helped make me the horror nerd I am today. After talking with my brother I decided to go with the latter and talk about me.
One of my first, and biggest, influences in the world of all things spooky and gross was toys. Growing up, my parents were pretty strict about what my brother and I could watch, which meant my exposure to adult horror was pretty limited. Even a lot of the movies aimed at a younger audience didn't make the cut, so I grew up watching the basics of eighties kids horror. One thing they couldn't stop was my twisted young mind and nothing fueled that more than all of the wonderful toys of my youth.
The eighties was a glorious time for kids horror toys. One of the greatest things about toys, in general, from the eighties and early nineties was the amount of original properties that popped up. Today every toy in the aisle is based on some movie, TV show, comic book, or anime. Now, obviously this isn't a new trend and it's one that really came into its own in the eighties, but there was room for these new original ideas to sit on the shelf next to Optimus Prime and Duke. Back then everyone was looking for the next Transformers or He-Man (which had some great horror themes in the villains) so new ideas were constantly being thrown at the wall to see what would stick. The result was a lot of creative, original ideas that you just don't get anymore. I've seen a few great modern ideas pop up and quickly fail because they couldn't put a lightsaber on the package or tie it in with Michael Bay's new orgy of explosions and tits. Sorry, I'll stop bitching about the glory days and get on with it.
I was going to do a top ten list of the best horror toys for kids, because top ten lists give me a very confusing boner, but I decided to just break down some of the best the eighties had to offer and give a look at some of the recent comeback of kids terror in the toy aisle. There are a few things I left out that may seem like no brainers for this list, but I wanted to stay away from toys based on movies or other established horror franchises. That's why you won't find any Freddy or Alien toys on here. They were awesome, but I wanted to give some of the original, maybe lesser known lines, a little love.
I'm going to kick things off with one of my favorite things ever, Boglins. As anyone who spends enough time with me knows, puppets and I have a special connection. And no, I'm not talking about sexing up puppets...mostly. When I was a kid slip a puppet on my hand and I became a different person, usually an asshole. I could say and do things I wouldn't normally, again usually just me being an obnoxious asshole, and I loved it.
Boglins were these great rubbery monster puppet things, and they were right up my alley. Some kids had best friends in their pet dog, I had my Boglin. They came out in the late eighties and looked to cash in on the Gremlins and Critters style of mischievous little monsters. They had a ton of variety, but always with great detailed sculpts with all the warts and boils you could ask for. There were several different "tribes" of Boglins which built a fun mythology around the toys, but let's be honest mostly they were used to try and gross out and scare anybody close enough to be a target. One last thing and I'll move on before this whole article turns into a detailed history of Boglins. The packaging for the Boglins is some of the coolest I have ever seen. Them came in these cardboard cages with plastic gates on the front, so you could lock them up when you weren't playing with them. It was a really cool way to make the box fun too.
Madballs are the perfect example of the "gross out" mentality of a lot of 80's boy's toys. Small rubber and foam balls with monster faces on them. I loved these, the designs were over the top and awesome. I've never been big into sports, but if anything was going to get me to play with balls, this was it. With great characters like Slobulus, Skull Face, and Bash Brain, what's not to love? They even ended up giving these guys there own short lived cartoon and comic series. All in all Madballs weren't around for very long, but they inspired a rash of imitators and a big enough fan base to get the line a modern re-launch a few years back. This line is a great example of taking an original idea and really doing it justice.
My Pet Monster was a stuffed toy of a monster, that may or may not have been a pet also. Honestly, this guy was great. Released in the late eighties he was a huge hit, even spawning his own cartoon and direct to video movie. I can totally see why he'd be so popular, who doesn't want their own monster to carry around with them. Plus he made stuffed animals cool for boys, and don't act like you weren't stoked about that. Popples were the shit and I don't care what you say. He came with a cool set of breakaway hand cuffs so he could break the chain, regardless of what Fleetwood Mac thought of it. He's a definite stand out of 80's monster toy action.
Let's finish up the 80's on a high note. These may not be toys in the same sense as the other things on this list, but 8 year old me didn't care. Garbage Pail Kids are the kings of 80's gross out horror for kids. If you need me to explain why they rule I'm not sure how you ended up on this blog reading this article, but I'll indulge you. They were a series of trading cards spoofing Cabbage Patch Kids with various characters featuring pun heavy names based on different grotesque deformities or grisly deaths. These cards were the perfect storm of amazing artwork, beautiful gore, puns, and most important of all, adults hated them. Some schools banned the cards, parent's groups cried out to “think of the children”, and the kids ate it up. The GBK spawned plenty of spin off merchandise and even an amazing movie, but lost steam by the end of the decade. Luckily they wouldn't stay gone, with several modern day relaunches bringing them back for new generations.
In the early 90's we got Monsters in My Pocket. These were small, collectible, unarticulated figures of monsters based on various different myths and legends. Similar to the M.U.S.C.L.E. figures released earlier and really upping the "collect them all" mentality. The figures had pretty decent sculpts, but no paint. The real draw of this line was the sheer volume of different monsters. Over all of the lines there were over 200 monsters available, with a bunch of variant colors and glow in the dark figures. The figures were incredibly popular, spawning a video game, comic book, TV show, trading cards, and a bunch of other merchandise. They ran for a few years and even had a recent re-release in the UK. These were a great way to get a little something without blowing your whole allowance while still getting a decent little figure.
This is a spin off of the Polly Pocket line. Don't leave, I promise the toys are really cool. They took the premise of tiny figures with modular playsets, but replaced the sunshine and rainbows with monsters and danger. Max is a kid with a hat that transports him to the horror zone, where he has to fight monsters and put together clues to finds his way home. The toys were really great. The playsets came in the form of grisly monster heads that folded open to reveal the monsters lair. They came with miniature figures of Max and the various monsters and packed in a lot of cool play features. This is a line I didn't actually have a lot of. My younger brother had more as I was starting to get too cool for toys. Obviously that really stuck. I do remember sneaking a few of them to play with, and I recently found a bunch at Value Village and I can say they're pretty rad. They got pretty big for a while spawning a couple video games and a cartoon.
As with most things in the 90's creepy crawly toys for kids mostly sucked. On the up side, the later part of the decade gave us the beginnings of the collector focused horror and cult action figures. Just in time for me to grow up and stop playing with toys, since they are obviously adult collectibles and I never make them fight, or have Freddy and Jason make out. That would be immature. Luckily, there has been a new rise in horror themed goodness for kids out there. Lego has these amazing Monster Hunter sets that may just be the best thing ever, with Dracula's hot rod hearse, Frankenstein's lab, and a god damn zombie cemetery. Damn wiener kids have it so good these days. There's also a line of collectible unarticulated figures in the M.U.S.C.L.E. and Monster in My Pocket vein with a variety of bad ass zombies. It's called S.L.U.G. Zombies and it's a really cool series with a bunch of zombies loosely based on various pop culture icons (zombie Indiana Jones anyone?), as well as zombie hunters to take 'em down. Between these new toys and movies like Paranorman and Frankenweenie out there, it looks like the future of kids horror toys is going strong.
It just goes to show that monsters never go out of style, they just lay low for awhile, no matter how hard people try to ruin them by making them sparkle. Kids love slimy, gross, scary things just as much as adults do, and they always will. For me, these toys were my first window into a larger world and created a real love for all things dark and spooky, and I just hope that the same thing can be said for my kids 20 years down the road. Granted, the first movie my daughter saw in the theater was American Psycho, so she may be a little ahead of the curve there.
Well, I'll wrap this up. Thanks to Tromeric and the Grog for letting me ramble, for much longer than I planned, and reminisce about the good ol' days. You know, before these kids today came along and ruined everything with their tweets and their Dub Step. On that note I think I'm going to go play with my toys.
- Jacob VonKlingele
Jacob lives in Washington State with his wife Alisha VonKlingele, and their two two demon spawn(the good kind of demon). He plays with their toys more than they do. Sometimes contributor to the grog as well as building fucktons of custom action figures. You can check out some of his work over at VonKlingele Kustoms.