Monsters — we love ’em! Always have, always will. Be they vampires or werewolves, mutants or megasharks, monsters are embraced the world over, despite their destructive behavior and anti-social tendencies. We let them climb our buildings, abduct our girlfriends, and periodically bathe Tokyo in atomic fire, all the while gleefully cheering them on. They are eternal, rising nightly with the opening of a book or at the start of a movie. But there is one monster whose shadow looms larger than all others, one creature who endures despite being destroyed time and time again. And that creature is — Frankenstein!
And don’t give me that crap about Frankenstein being the Doctor’s name. Right or wrong, calling him “the Monster” is lame. It’s too generic, lacking the weird flair and gothic dread that his maker’s name imparts. One might argue that “Frankenstein” is a brand, as opposed to a name, with all of the good doctor’s creations being Frankensteins. But hey, man, why argue when we could be looking at cool toys?
Let’s take the high road and start with Ideal Frankencycle!
The Modern Prometheus meets Easy Rider. Equal parts machine and skeleton, this killer chopper guarantees no angry mobs will be catching up to Frankie any time soon. The bike’s design is fanciful but sharp, striking just the right balance of humor and horror (it features a headstone seat!). Another motorcycling effort from Ideal (the company that brought you Honcho!), it’s a rev-and-go toy, meaning you place the bike on the launch pad (in Franks case, a radical haunted house, not shown), turn the crank, and off he goes, no batteries required! Popping a wheelie or just sittin’ on your shelf, the FRANKENCYCLE is a great little toy — the engine even glows in the dark!
This particular version of Frankenstein appears to have been played by Charles Bronson — now there’s a movie I’d wanna see. Dressed in a leather jacket and blue jeans, he’s driving with his eyes closed, which seems like it might be dangerous – then again, it’s not like he couldn’t be sewn back together after a bad crash. Guess he says “No” to helmet laws…
Next up is this sweet “fine writing pen” – you know, for when your quill is broken. I’m pretty sure Mary Shelley used one of these. Molded in a sickly corpse-green, it has a very “Lurch the Butler” quality to it. As a writing instrument, I’m guessing it wasn’t very good; ballpoint pen technology in the 1980s left a lot to be desired. Still, it’s cool that it existed. Extra points for the box, which is both funky and spooky at the same time – usually only George Clinton can pull that off.
So yeah, the Frankenstein shampoo bottle. What can I say? For good or ill, if you’re any sort of pop-culture icon, you end up in shampoo-bottle form. Most of the time it’s just a bust-style representation, but the company that produced this went all out, not only providing all of Frank (OK, 3/4ths of him), but the operating table he was brought to life on as well. That’s value, folks.
The sculpt is very soft, so soft his thumbs are part of his chest, in fact. His mandatory oversized hands have been captured in mid-grope, jutting out of his undersized suit jacket. Ah, the suit jacket — just what the hell was Dr. F thinking when he dressed his creation? That he wanted him to look like Chevy Chase from Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al” video?
The paint is just slopped on to this guy. It’s so bad it’s almost comical. The red apps on his wrists completely miss the stitching they are meant to highlight, and the paint on his thumbs bleeds all over the jacket. Even his eyes are screwy, floating off in opposite directions — looks like Igor brought back Abby Normal’s brain again. Factor in the big jug ears and sad-clown mouth, and you end up with one goofy-lookin’ monster. He simply lacks the “spark” that makes a memorable Frankenstein. Then again, it is handy to have an unbreakable bottle around. I keep liquor in mine.
Here are a couple of truly unique items: limited edition hand-painted busts featuring two different versions of Frankenstein. These hail from Hammer Films, who, for the first time, gave us a dose of our favorite monster in color (sorry, “colour”).
We’ll start with Hammer’s first Frankenstein, Christopher Lee. Before spreading his wings as Dracula, Mr. Lee played the Monster in 1958’s The Curse of Frankenstein. His imposing height and gaunt physique made the character more closely resemble Shelley’s vision, but Lee’s performance lacked the depth and empathy Karloff had imparted the monster. Universal Films insisted that Hammer not copy artist Jack Pierce’s original designs, so artist Phil Leakey went another in another direction, trading the Pierce flat head and electrodes for a fish-eye and an abundance of scars. It’s an interesting take, but never really took off the way Lee’s later performance as Dracula did. Still, I dig that milky orb and his Beatles fright wig. He might want to choose a different color lipstick, though…
Next up, the late Kiwi Kingston from The Evil of Frankenstein. If you’ve never heard of him, that’s OK — he only had one other role (as The French Girl’s Husband in a little-know film entitled Hysteria.) Now this design looks much more like the Frankenstein we’ve all grown to know and love, and there’s a good reason for that. By 1964, Universal was making more money distributing Hammer films in the United States than from their own domestic product. Subsequently, they were a bit more generous in allowing the British studio to use the classic Pierce design. For good or ill, it was “updated.” While it’s superficially similar, it looses the subtleties of the original. Whereas Karloff’s forehead was merely large and flat, this guy’s is a freakin’ wall. Karloff’s eyes burned with a hellish intensity, this monster is pretty vacant.
Like I said, these are NOT official products, but are instead hand-made creations. I’d love to credit the artist who is responsible for these, but, sadly, the plaque on the back which bore his or her name was removed sometime before the writing of this article. All I know is they were purchased at Eides Comics in Pittsburgh a few years back, so if you’re the artist step forward and claim your prize!*
* Note: There is no prize.
And now, to save you the embarrassment of Google-searching them yourself — ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, feast your eyes on the Monster Balls.
I know, I know, but it was a different time then. You could still get away with this stuff. I love to imagine the toy designer pitching this at a meeting.
“Let me get this straight, Johnson — you wanna sell kids something called Monster Balls?”
“Yes, sir! We’d do Frankenstein balls, Dracula balls… collect ’em all!”
“Well, since we passed on the Rubik’s Cube I guess we don’t have much choice — but we are not selling them in pairs!”
These fine creations are from the good folks at Illco. Hmmm, sounds like something Biggie Smalls might have run. Anywho, they’re obviously just Madball knockoffs, but with the Big four monsters. While getting these guys in this form is novel, it’s obviously the name that really sells ’em. It’s funny and reckless, the sort of bold move small companies would sometimes take to get a piece of the bigger guy’s action. Once a sort of urban legend, these obviously were real and here’s the proof.
Imagine the clueless parents who were freaking out because their kid asked Santa for “Monster Balls” that Christmas?
And that’s just a sampling of the many amazing Frankenstein items out there. Look for my review of the Remco Frankenstein in my upcoming article on the Remco Universal Monsters. Until then, kick back, dim the lights, and invite a monster into your home tonight!
Jason R. Mink is The Man In The Ant Hill! Oct. 17, 2012