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Points of Articulation

Get Your "Eek!" On

What is horror? For some people, it's the Friday the 13th movies. For others, it's being stuck in a house alone at night with the power out and a strange rapping sound on the window. For others, it's Oprah Winfrey. Yes, my lame joke doesn't answer the question, but that's not what this column is all about. It's about horror toys. But what is a horror toy? Is it a slasher, a demon, or a victim, or something completely different? Something that resembles our innermost fears, or something that we think is cool? Who really cares? The most important thing is that companies make us horror toys, and we are happy.

Or is it something a little deeper than that? Looking at the toy aisle in stores, we can see that horror comprises a big percentage of toys available today. Why is this? Let's analyze and look at some of the most recent, most popular horror lines. Over the past decade, we've seen an increase in the quality of our action figures, and that renaissance includes horror figures. McFarlane Toys played a big part in redesigning action figures as we know them, and the popular Movie Maniacs series had its own role in the horror boom.

Yes, the first series of Movie Maniacs was seemingly what made toy-collecting mainstream; no longer just a dorky hobby for geeks, McFarlane had presented the public with a series of horrible serial killers, disgusting toys with bloodied weapons and even body parts. That might even be sold to children! These things were cool. Though the first series featured mostly horror icons (and two duds from Species 2), the line soon grew to encompass more than just the limited field of scary movies, bringing a wider variety of cinematic toys to our shelves, though it never forgot its bloody roots.

What are the Movie Maniacs, really? For the most, they're the horror icons we've known and feared, made into plastic collectibles. Where's the appeal? Is it just in owning mere merchandise from a film? What else is there? We watch horror movies because they are a way to experience the catharsis of fear in a safe environment, but toys don't do the same - what works on film does not work on plastic, and what works in plastic doesn't work on film - just ask Darkness Falls' Toothfairy.

But the reason we like the Maniacs has to go beyond simple merchandising, doesn't it? Me, I like having all of them in one universe, in my own collection. They can fight and kill and maim as I please. There's a sense of power in owning the unstoppable monsters, in having them all in the same place where we can do with them as we please. We want a focus for our dreams of Leatherface vs. Ghostface vs. Pinhead vs. Pumpkinhead. We want Ash to kill Gremlins, Michael Myers to stalk through the Bates Motel.

Recent Horror Toys
1992 Kenner: Aliens/Predator
1993 Nightmare Before Christmas
1994 Skeleton Warriors
1997 McFarlane's Monster Playsets
1998 Movie Maniacs
1999 Sideshow: Universal Monsters
1999 Buffy the Vampire Slayer
2000 Silent Screamers
2000 Rocky Horror Picture Show
2001 Living Dead Dolls
2001 Scary Tales
2001 Tortured Souls
2002 McFarlane's Monsters
2003 Hellraiser
2003 Gremlins
2005 Cult Classics
2005 Now Playing
2005 Teddy Scares
But the Movie Maniacs aren't the only hot-selling horror line. Another one of the best lines are the Living Dead Dolls, Mezco's sick and twisted non-action figure series featuring completely FUBARed dollies, just like the ones your sister played with and you secretly liked but would never admit. Just like them except, of course, for the fact that they've all been murdered and bloodied and maimed. Each one of these grotesque toys comes in a coffin and features a death certificate, making them the ideal horror gift for someone warped.

The appeal in this is obvious - like McFarlane's Twisted Land of Oz, which features, most notably, Dorothy as a barely legal teenage girl in bondage gear, the Living Dead Dolls horrifically twist childhood ideas, making them adult, referencing the scary transition into adulthood. Innocent Dorothy is taken by the munchkins in a scary Land of Oz, and there's a sexual thrill in playing a part in that. This is shown in other popular horror lines like American McGee's Alice, and the not-so-well-received Mezco Scary Tales. We take pleasure in owning something so twisted, a perversion of a childhood item so depraved that is has its own sense of beauty. Much horror is like this; the Tortured Souls are very similar and quite artistic.

The infamous Tortured Souls are some of the most demented toys ever made. There was no way this line wasn't going to be a hit - the McFarlane/Barker collaboration took the disgusting to a whole new level creating action figures of flesh, blood, leather, hooks and chains. The "For Ages 17+ Only" figures featured sexually disfigured flesh, bonded metal and religious overtones, as well as a series of novellas to tell the stories of the Souls. The second series did not sell as well as the first, possibly because of the lack of novellas - there wasn't the "must buy" vibe running through the line as before.

The Tortured Souls bear a close resemblance to Barker's other popular work, Hellraiser, which NECA has just licensed for the first time. The awesome Hellraiser line seemingly betters McToys' Movie Maniacs and has proven itself accepted with a total sell-out of the first series. The awesome cenobites with their creepy disfiguredness are beautiful, while NECA's other horror line - the heinous Gremlins - just seem much cuter (if over-sized) in comparison.

Though McToys has had a hand in horror for a long time, they really got started in 1997 with the mighty fun and original Monsters Playsets. Those were great toys, each with a version of a famous horror monster, plus a playset with play-actions and an extra figure, not to mention accessories! That line only lasted two series, but is still fondly remembered today, five years later.

There are other companies following McToys' lead in experimenting with horror. I already mentioned the Living Dead Dolls, but Mezco's been responsible for other horrific lines over the past few years as well, including the impressive yet short-lived Silent Screamers. A line of figures including silent film monsters like Nosferatu and Dr. Caligari, the line featured impressive articulation, accessories, awesome bases and an unusual and effective paint job: two versions of each figure were developed for the first series; a black and white version (that was actually sepia-toned) and a color version that stuck mainly to blacks, whites and greys. Cut down by the disappointing second series, the Silent Screamers were an unusual horror line that tried something different and (briefly) succeeded, unlike the recent terrible Cryptozoology, which could have been cool, until lack of retailer support forced a drop from 8" to four.

There have been numerous other lines related to horror, too many to cover in this short column. Although only a small genre in a world of collecting, horror toys are a popular diversity, and a thirst for collectors everywhere, for whatever reasons we have. Thanks to the dedication of Todd McFarlane, Mez, Randy Falk and countless others, you no longer have to wait until Halloween to get your horror fix.

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