Universal Studios


Glow in the Dark Universal Movie Monsters
Wolfman, Mummy, Frankenstein, Gillman
5 Inch Scale
By Uncle Milton
Approximately $10

Have you ever been to a toy show? Or maybe a flea market, where some guy invariably has a bin full of beat up vintage toys? If you have, chances are that you have seen these Universal Monsters figures. Like giant versions of green army men, these figures are solid plastic pieces capturing the classic Universal Monsters characters. Originally created by Louis Marx and Company in the late 1960s, they have been reissued in a variety of colors. Most recently, the figures were cast in glow in the dark plastic in 1990, by Uncle Milton.

These versions are probably the most common nowadays, and can be picked up loose or on a shelf-worn cardback fairly cheaply. Today I am going to be looking at four figures, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Wolf Man, the Mummy, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. There are also figures available of the Phantom of the Opera and the Hunchback of Notre Dame, but I have limited myself to my four favorites. Continue reading

House of the Wolf Man
Directed by Eben McGarr
Starring Ron Chaney
Available on DVD
The 31 Days of Halloween wraps up today with not one, not two, but three different reviews. We start with a modern “vintage” film, in the 2009 direct-to-DVD film, House of the Wolf Man. The concept is simple, take the old Universal Studios Monsters, make a new movie with them (or as close as you can legally get without paying for the rights) in classic style of black and white, mix in one Chaney family relative and instant success?

Oh if only that worked out. Normally I try not to do spoilers in reviews, but this movie isn’t good and if you’re interested in seeing it, the review will only help to guide you to the film (and possibly lower your expectations to a realistic level) and if you’re not going to see it, what do you care if I spoil it?

The plot is simple enough and the concept is actually novel, fill in the gap of the “House of” series from Universal. You see, once Universal realized they had a money making franchise on their hands with the monsters, they started putting them together to do battle. First in Wolf Man meets Frankenstein and then a series of films with “House Of” in the title. The Wolf Man never got a House film, until now.

We start out with two kids arriving at a spooky old castle. The kids are Reed and Mary Chapel, brother and sister. Reed is dressed like a 50’s high school football player and could have been an extra on Dobie Gillis. Mary has really weird and unnatural shaped hair. They’ve been summoned to the house because they might be heir to it. Once inside they meet a creepy butler and the owner, mad scientist Bela Reinhardt. We know he’s mad, because he has the outfit. Also his face never changes expression. Then again, maybe that’s just Ron Chaney’s bad acting.
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Sideshow Universal Monsters
12 Inch Scale
By: Sideshow Toys
$20 (originally) $40-$90 (secondary market)

It’s hard to believe that Universal’s depiction of Frankenstein (or more specifically the monster) was created in 1931 and yet 80 years later, is instantly recognizable to everyone. It’s so recognizable that when you see him you say Frankenstein, even though he’s not actually named that. I have to imagine that it would be interesting to hop into a time machine and see what people thought of as Frankenstein prior to the James Whale feature film. Anyone who draws Frankenstein today either takes inspiration from this character or is instantly compared to it.

Thankfully, it’s a truly unique character creation, with menacing neck bolts, ghastly green skin and of course a flat head. Jack Pierce really hit a homerun with his creature makeup. Originally the design of the monster was said to be much different when the film had a different star and director attached. It’s been recreated time and time again in various forms, but perhaps the best action figures come in the form of Sideshow’s Frankenstein. It was a big hit for Sideshow, who cranked out a version for every major Universal Frankenstein film and actor. This figure was their first Frankenstein and also their first foray into this type of figure.

The most famous actor to portray Frank’s infamous monster and easily his most iconic role, is that of Boris Karloff. Supposedly Bela Lugosi was actually offered the role first, but turned it down because he didn’t feel there was enough depth and romance in the character. Having just re-watched the film Ed Wood this week, I can’t help but wonder how things might have turned out different for everyone had he taken the part. Karloff’s first make-up tests had a much different look for the monster with horn like protrusions on his scalp.

Interestingly, Bela did eventually give in and take the role in the much later Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man film. At first Lon Chaney Jr. was going to do both roles, as the Wolf Man and as Frankenstein, but that proved to be a bad idea considering Chaney would also have to play Larry Talbot. Bela stepped in and it’s actually Lugosi’s performance that is most often what people think of when they think of Frankenstein. Bela’s Frank was blind and due to his thick accent, forced to only grumble. Hence the Frankenstein walk and noises that most associate with the monster.

I could go on for days with the fascinating details of the Universal Monsters, particularly the stars behind the green visage of Frankenstein, but let’s take a look at this 12 inch plastic incarnation instead!
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Universal Monsters
The Mummy – Imhotep
12 Inch Scale
By: Kenner/Hasbro
$20 (price varies)

Boris Karloff is very famous for his role in the 1932 horror film, The Mummy. Most people actually associate the character of the Mummy with Karloff, although he only played the role once. In the film, his Mummy, Imhotep, appears only briefly in the iconic bandages outfit. Instead Imhotep ditches his wrappings and has a rather ghastly face and typical Egyptian garb for the rest of the film.

In 1997 Kenner began producing Universal Monster figures in a 12 inch format. By this point, Hasbro had already bought out Kenner and while these were originally produced under the Kenner name, they’re clearly Hasbro figures (they use GI Joe molds). Originally only three figures were released as a set, this figure of the Mummy, a Frankenstein and a Wolf man. What made these figures particularly special was the fact that for the first time ever, they were licensed by Lon Chaney Jr. and Boris Karloff.

In 1998 the figures were re-released, this time in single boxes. More figures were added to the lineup and in 1999, even more characters were released, before the license ended. A Bela Lugosi Dracula figure was not made, because Bela’s estate and Universal weren’t getting along at the time, presumably. Lugosi’s always had issues with Universal and Dracula. However, this figure is the first official Karloff Mummy figure in decades.
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Mad Monsters
Blue Hair Monster Frankenstein
8 Inch Scale
By: Classic TV Toys

Can you believe we’re already on day 7 of the 31 Days of Halloween? I promise it’s only going to get better from here with a ton of classic monster toy reviews coming up over the next three weeks. Today we’re adding a bookend to a review from last year with Classic TV Toys repro Mego style blue haired Frankenstein.

Mego’s Mad Monsters were an unlicensed series of classic monster figures, such as Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy and the Wolfman. At some point, for reasons unknown, Dracula received a makeover with red hair while Frankenstein got himself a coat of blue. Speculation is that Universal accused Mego of replicating their Frankenstein without paying for a license and the blue hair was supposed to differentiate it.

The original blue haired Mego Frankenstein is very rare. When Classic TV Toys started making their Reproduction Mad Monsters, they made a smaller run of Blue Haired Frankensteins to commemorate the infamous Mego incident. These guys are still available on the CTVT website, but are starting to run out. They have been available since 2005, though.
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