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Movie Maniacs
by yo go re

Innovation breeds imitation. There's no doubt about that. One person has a great idea, or a new way of doing things, and soon enough everyone is copying them: just ask Todd McFarlane. It's not enough that people had to try to copy his art style; no, they copy his toys, too.

In our Spider-Man retrospective, we took a look at the way the toy industry changed after Todd's large, detailed figures were released. But that was just the beginning. In 1998, McToys released a special series based entirely on random horror movie characters (rather than one specific license), and by 2000, other companies were following suit. These days you can barely turn around in a Hot Topic or Spencers' without knocking over a figure from some random movie line, all riding on the coattails of Movie Maniacs.

Unfortunately, competition meant that every year there were less licenses available for Todd to pursue. MM6 was built entirely on two properties - Alien and Predator - and MM7 might as well have been based on one, limping across the finish line with 2/3 of its lineup handed over to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake. When 2005 passed without any Movie Maniacs, it seemed like the end of an era. But now we've finally got a new MM offering, and it's one fans have wanted for years - Bram Stoker's Dracula.

Or maybe that should be Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula. "Dracula," as an unaccompanied title, is trademarked, so Coppola added the original author's name as part of the official title. It's fitting, then, that his movie is the closest adaptation of the book yet.

Now, when people were asking for Dracula figures, they were usually thinking of Gary Oldman in his poofy red dress, or maybe in his modern (i.e., Victorian) suit. That, however, is not what this box set provides. While it is a two-figure set, Todd probably realized that at this late stage in the game, it was monsters or nothing, so the set represents two of Dracula's alternate forms: the bat and the wolf.

The bat is taken from the confrontation at Seward's asylum, after Dracula has seduced Mina Harker. Van Helsing is attempting to perform an exorcism, but Drac, in one of the film's iconic scenes, turns toward the doctor's cross and causes it to burst into flames. In a film known for its stunning make-up and stylistic spectacle, this one moment brings it all home.

The Bat-Drac figure looks excellent. The sculpt is insanely detailed, with all the cracks on his leathery skin lovingly applied. The creature's musculature shows through, though he seems a bit hairier here than he did in the film - but that could simply be a case of the figure being available for close inspection while the version in the movie spent most of his time skulking in the dark.

The face is definitely chiropteran, but it's not quite what we saw (well, glimpsed) in the film. More of an idealized version of what they would have wanted, if not restricted by the physical limits of make-up. Compared to Gary Oldman's make-up, the figure's head is a bit too round and his ears are pressed a little too much against his head. Still, those are minor complaints, and when you look at this, you recognize it easily.

The paint isn't bad, but they're certainly not at the level you'd hope for on a figure like this. Rather than the complex apps fans have come to love over the years, the Bat is mainly a solid coat of beige with brown fur and a rather heavy wash over the whole thing. His eyes and the inside of his mouth are red, but overall it seems that, like Attila the Hun, the paint apps were the first to go when it came time to cut corners.

The second half of this set is more obscure, because Dracula took the form of the wolf when he ravished Mina's friend Lucy Westenra in the garden - a bit too indecent for mass marketing, no? But just because he's not the star of the show, it doesn't mean the wolf gets short shrift. He's covered in thick, coarse hair, from the long hair on his shoulders and down his back to the shorter coat on his arms and legs. The feet and hands are relatively bald, and his nails look brutal.

This beast is wolf in name only - his face looks more like a cross between an ape and a lion. It's definitely a new look for a werewolf. Most either have a full lupine head on a mostly human body, or some kind of pseudo-snout on a man's face. Looking at this, the placing and proportions make it hard to believe there's even a human in there, which is pretty cool.

The wolf's paint is better than the bat's, but still not up to Todd's usual levels. Admittedly, this figure is pretty much one color, but the different tones give him depth. The exposed skin is a grayish tan, while he short fur is a dark brown and the longest tufts of hair are nearly black. The paint on his nails is glossy, but the rest is a nice matte. A bright red tongue rests behind the white fangs, and there's a subtle smattering of pink around his mouth. A lot of the paint problems come directly from the film's designs, but things could still be better.

The articulation is, sadly, exactly what you'd expect: the bat moves at the neck, elbows, waist and thighs; the wolf moves at the shoulders, biceps, wrists, waist and right thigh. Most of that is just to make sure everything gets lined up right, but at least with the wolf you can squeeze a bit of action out of those arm joints, if you try hard enough. This is another area in which this set just seems outdated.

Both of the figures get a display base to keep them standing, because McFarlane still has trouble grasping the concept of "center of gravity." Actually, both bases are quite nice, and would make good extras for any number of figures. For the bat, we get a 3" crate, one of many in which Drac transported his goods to England - and by "goods," we mean "dirt." He transported his dirt. Freak. I make my own. The uneven planks have a nice wood grain, and some weird tarp things are stretched over the corners.

The wolf gets an irregular clump of garden. It seems to a bit of concrete with a few bits of foliage growing about. There's an urn with some sort of fern growing from it, and a raised corner of some large planter. There's a foot peg in the bushes at the back, and indentations for Drac's fingers on the shrubbery in the front. The paint on both these bases is really nice, much nicer than it has any right to be, judging by the figures themselves.

There are a few factors working against these figures, keeping them from being the hits they should have been. First of all, the fact that they're the monsterous forms, rather than the more human Dracula. It's possible that by choosing to portray these beasties, Todd only had to pay licensing fees to the movie company and not worry about securing rights from Gary Oldman, since we only see the make-up, not his face - you know, just like the MM4 Terminator or MM7 Robocop. Still, that could easily have been overcome. It's not a crippling problem. That's not what made this set McToys' own little red-headed stepchild.

The creatures were originally announced as part of MM8, but there never was an MM8, so they got repacked as this two-fer. Now, the box is nice and all (it's designed to mimic the movie's poster) but where was the promotion? Where was the love? This set was dropped on the market without so much as a word; even worse, it was done out of season. A horror movie toy, and it's released at the tail end of spring? The hell? It couldn't have waited a month or two and come out when people are actually beginning to think about Halloween?

Also, this thing received zero retailer support. Now, that might be due to the terrible performance of MM7 as a whole, and McToys' unwillingness to admit defeat and put these figures on clearance - remember, when you buy a figure on clearance, it's because the manufacturer gave the store some of their money back. It's not Target that eats the cost when they put those bright orange stickers on the toys, it's the company that made them.

So the last series of MM figures collected dust on the pegs for months. Robocop sold out fast, followed by Hicks and then Leatherface, but R. Lee Ermey, Wheelchair Grandpa and Hortence the Mule-Faced Doll just ate up shelf space for months on end. Knowing that, why would TRU or KB want to order the next set? Anyway, this set was supposedly "released" in April, but it promptly failed to show up anywhere. At all. A few online stores eventually listed it, but come on, Movie Maniacs deserve better than that. This isn't the way they should go out.

This set is, most likely, the end of Movie Maniacs. Signs seem to be pointing toward the line being re-invented, ending its life as pseudo-action figures. The next time you see a Movie Maniacs line on the shelves, it may be as those 3D posters Todd's started doing recently. Kind of an ignominious end for the line that started it all, huh? This is a good box set, and if nothing else, it will drop a new vampire and a new werewolf into your collection, and provide you with two neat accessories. But good luck finding it.


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