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Face of the Screaming Werewolf

by yo go re

And now for something completely different.

In 2018, Target announced they'd be the exclusive home for the return of Mego figures. Originally begun in the mid-50s as a company that made no-name garbage toys for department stores, Mego (which is pronounced "me-go," not "meg-o" like any sane person would say it) didn't hit the big time until founder D. David Abrams' son Marty graduated business school and was named president of the company. It was Marty's idea to license popular characters and celebrities and turn them into toys. The company was huge through the '70s, but when they decided to decline an offer they received to make toys of some new flash-in-the-pan sci-fi film called "The Star Wars," Kenner swept in and stole their thunder. By 1983, Mego was bankrupt and gone, living on only in the memory of Generation X. There were many knockoffs over the years, but the official things are back.

Rather than being sold in any kind of themed sets, each wave of figures was a hodge-podge of characters. For example, the first series was an eclectic mix of properties from Charlie's Angels to Charmed, with decades of familiar television in between. Series 3 included a figure based on Face of the Screaming Werewolf, and it was re-released with different colored clothing in Series 5.

Face of the Screaming Werewolf is... weird. Director Jerry Warren got his hands on two Mexican films - 1957's The Aztec Mummy, a horror film (that would eventually see one of its sequels get the MST3K treatment), and 1959's The House of Terror, a comedy set in a wax museum - and cut them together Robotech-style with new footage he shot himself. The story involved a scientist experimenting with hypnotic past-life regression, who was led to a lost Aztec pyramid by one of his subjects; inside, he finds two mummies; a different scientist steals and manages to revive one of the mummies, who turns out to be a werewolf. Yeah, it's a total mess. But the werewolf was played by Lon Chaney himself, and Mego has contracted with Chaney's estate for the official likeness rights (not that there's much of a likeness beneath that all that fur).

The Mego style is to make plain bodies and then dress them in real clothes, because apparently sewing 10,000 tiny pairs of pants is more economically feasible than sculpting and molding the same. The first Screaming Werewolf figure was wearing a red flannel shirt and brown pants, but this one has a blue shirt and pants that tinged more toward green. Since the movie was in black and white, it's hard to gage what color he should be, but this combo matches the colors seen on the La Casa del Terror poster, so that seems like a pretty good source. The clothes have a few rips in them, to make the Werewolf look more wild, and large buttons are sewn on to look like they're holding the shirt closed (in truth, it's velcro).

Mego didn't just have a single body type back in the day, they had a whole variety, allowing them to make characters as physically diverse as the Penguin and the Hulk. So far these rebirth figures have been pretty plain, but that's good enough for our Werewolf. He has 14 points of articulation: head, shoulders, elbows, wrists, waist, hips, knees, and ankles. Obviously it's a little limited, both by the style of the construction and the fact that it has to deal with softgoods covering it, but it's not terrible. Do be careful with the waist, though: like GI Joe generation 1, it's held together with a big rubber band. And though the Werewolf doesn't come with any accessories, he does get new feet, that are more like paws.

The first Mego dolls were sold in rectangular carboard boxes with art of the character on the front, but since kids weren't able to see the actual toy, they kept opening the boxes in the store; to stop that, Mego added a clear window on the front. Then the SS Kresge Company (which would later be renamed Kmart) requested packaging that could be hung on a peg instead of sitting on a shelf or in a display rack; in response, Mego created an entirely new method of selling its figures, putting them inside a plastic bubble that was glued to a sheet of cardboard behind them. That's right, Mego invented the blister card for action figures, the style of packaging that's still being used today. Fitting that this figure is carded that way, then! The art on the card comes from the Casa del Terror movie poster, and shows the Werewolf carrying the unconscious body of a random woman he kidnaps near the end of this movie (in the original, she was named Paquita and the hero was her boyfriend).

Face of the Screaming Werewolf is not a movie that was designed to be seen, it's a movie that was designed to be shown: just something to provide an excuse to sit close in the dark and put your hand inside somebody's clothes. It's an utter orphanage collapse of a film, redeemed solely by virtue of the fact that it's got Lon Chaney Jr. playing another wolf man. The odds that it would even be remembered 55 years later, let alone receive an officially licensed toy, are astronomically slim. And yet, here we are. If not for Jerry Warren being a total hack, I wouldn't have my first-ever experience with a Mego.

-- 10/23/19

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