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Dracula. Frankenstein. The Wolf Man. The Mummy. It always comes back to the classics…

Returning from their tombs to haunt us anew, these creatures endure no matter how many times they are staked, burned, or shot with silver bullets. Monster toys are like that, too. No matter who the new face of horror is, the originals rise again and again in plastic form, totems to a legacy of terror we cannot seem to escape.

For decades the Universal Monsters defined fear. Starting with 1931’s FRANKENSTEIN and ending with 1955’s CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, Universal dominated the horror film genre. Their representation of monsters from literature and myth made an indelible mark on 20th century culture, setting a tone that films still emulate today. These characters were offered in plastic a few times before the dawn of the action figure, the most notable example being the Aurora model kits of the 1960s. These were the 3-D representation of Dracula and co. for an entire generation of kids. The great sculpts, character-specific diorama bases, and absolutely KILLER box art made them essential purchases for the ardent monster fan. Released in multiple versions, the kits are still in production today, a remarkable testament to their cultural staying power.

Mego was the first to take a crack at the Universal Monsters in action figure form, unleashing their Mad Monsters in 1974. The series featured the “Big Four” in the same scale as the company’s incredibly-successful World’s Greatest Superheroes line. Lemmie tell ya, as a kid I was freakin’ ecstatic to have a Frankenstein and Dracula to fight my Spidey and Captain Marvel figures. Mego’s use of a single basic male body for lines ranging from Super-Knights to The Waltons gave a uniformity to the company’s toys that allowed for an overlapping play pattern that bolstered all of their 8″ products. If you missed buying The Astronaut from Planet of the Apes, then a Star Trek Captain Kirk might prove an acceptable stand-in. If Grandma couldn’t find that Green Arrow toy you were begging for, then a figure from the Robin Hood line might end up in your Christmas stocking instead. Mego had a winning formula and milked it for all it was worth.

Flash-forward to 1980. Mego is floundering after a series of bad decisions — they haven’t made a “classic” monster toy in years. Enter Remco, a company previously known for producing the 1966 Pussy Meow Doll.

Taking a page from Mego’s book, Remco produces a series of 8″ Monsters styled after the Universal characters. Their toys featured the same cloth costumes and glowing hands the Mad Monsters sported, as well as an exciting “action feature” — more on that later. They filled a void that monster fans had felt for years, but just how do they stack up today?

Dracula looks more like George Hamilton from Love at First Bite than Bela Lugosi. With his disco-era hairdo and heavy mascara, he’s about as far from classic Drac as you can get. The barred fangs are a nice touch, for sure, but the head sculpt just isn’t there. His outfit, while accurate to the 1931 Tod Browning film, looks like a kid’s Halloween costume thanks to the printed-on details like the tie and medallion. The separate jacket and plastic shoes redeem the King of the Vampires a bit, but he still comes off as corny rather than classic.

Frankenstein’s Monster does a little better. He’s sporting a stylish turtleneck, along with a nice suit jacket, black trousers, and big clunky plastic boots to complete the ensemble. It looks good and appropriately Frankenstein-y, with enough room in the jacket to suggest more body-mass than the other figures in the line (like their Mego forerunners, the Remco Monsters all share the same body, alas). His slitted eyes are puzzling and always kind of bummed me out — they lack the presence that a Modern Prometheus should have, ya dig? He’s old-school Universal with the flat-top and metal brackets, and even sort of looks like Karloff if you squint.

The Mummy comes across as just ho-hum to me. The one-piece printed bodysuit is a bit of a gyp. Once again, it looks like something a seven-year-old would wear (under a winter coat, no less! Mom, what the Hell?). Casting his noggin in its primary color doesn’t do the head sculpt any favors, either. Yeah, it’s wrinkly and stuff, but he looks more like your great-uncle Smokey than any sort of monster. Once again, his eyes are closed, which in this case does make sense. It’s not an exciting action figure. The lamest of the bunch.

The Wolf Man gets a decent representation. The brown pants and jacket tied at the waist, while not movie-accurate, gives him a primitive, savage quality that adds to the figure’s appeal. Sadly, the outfit is brown — since Wolfie himself is brown, I can’t help but feel another color might have added a bit to his appearance. The head-sculpt is generic werewolf but it works. His wicked underbite contributes to his feral nature, as do the wild eyes and arched brow. Extra points for the sculpted feet — the fur and long claws cap the whole thing off nicely.

The Phantom buys his suits the same place Dracula shops, apparently. The printed details are different, but not different enough to keep him from looking like a knockoff. Heck, his cape even has a red lining – makes me wish Remco had been a little more creative with his design. The head-sculpt is pretty great, though — it’s the closest of the bunch to its source material, having a very Lon Chaney Sr. feel. The wide eyes, sunken cheeks and barred teeth all convey the sense of doomed menace the character is best known for. In spite of coming off like a Dracula clone, he’s still a decent figure.

The sixth figure in the line is the Creature of the Black Lagoon — sort of.

Sporting the same base body as the other five figures, his fabric suit has to do all of the heavy lifting, detail-wise. Sadly, printed gills and scales don’t look so great, and, as a result, he comes off more like a cosplayer than the Gill-Man. The head-sculpt is nice, if a bit on the fat side. I guess he put on a little weight by the ’80s. Made in much smaller numbers than the “Big Four,” he and the Phantom were the hard ones to find. See, kids, even in 1980 you had to hunt all over Hell and Creation to complete a set of action figures!

All in all, these guys are a nice group to have on the shelf — if you can keep ’em standing. Ya see, the Remco monsters all came with a “grabbing action,” that is to say, you’d squeeze the Mummy’s legs and his arms would swing shut thanks to an elastic band strung through his chest cavity. Sadly, with time and overuse, the band wears out, causing the figure to get all loosey-gooesy and unable to stand on its own. These toys fell over constantly during this shoot, a nerve-wracking experience on a number of levels. Happily, no monsters were harmed during the making of this article.

So there you have it — the Remco Monsters in all their glory. If you like these toys and want to add them to your collection, be prepared to lay out a few bucks. Both the Creature and the Phantom exist in much lower numbers than the other four and rarely show up for sale. While figure like Frankenstein and the Mummy were once fairly common, even these have dried up in recent years. Finding them may be a challenge, but not finding them? Now that’s a scary thought!

Jason R Mink is The Man In The Ant Hill! Nov. 2012

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