Universal Monsters: A Retrospective in Toys

Like most toy collectors, I have a few collections within my overall toy collection. One of those collections is monster toys. Though technically Halloween season is their time to shine, I love seeing monsters on my toy shelves year-round. Some, like my Freddy Krueger collection, focus on one character. Others focus more on the type of toy, like a certain scale or brand.

Some licenses, like Universal Monsters, get passed around to different brands. Over the years, characters like Wolfman, Dracula, and Frankenstein (Frankenstein’s monster, if you want to be formal about it), have appeared in different forms, from gumball machine toys to rubber jigglers, to highly-detailed premium toys. Let’s take a look at a few different versions of these classic characters.

Mego Mad Monsters

In the early 1970s, people had a renewed interest in the Universal Monsters films of the 1930s. This had toy companies scrambling to nab the license. Mego, looking to find its next success after the launch of its World’s Greatest Superheroes line, had its eye on the Universal Monsters license. However, the license cost more than they wanted to pay. Another company, Azrak-Hamway International, or AHI, picked up the license, and made movie-accurate toys for its Super Monsters line. Mego, determined to capitalize on the monster craze, created the Mad Monsters. The sculpts were not based on the movies at all, and they featured glow-in-the dark eyes and hands. They’re fun versions of our favorite monsters, even if they aren’t quite as we remember them from the films.

Remco Mini Monsters

In the early 1980s, Remco released the Mini Monsters. Using the same scale as Kenner’s wildly successful Star Wars line, the mini monsters were one of at least three scales Remco created for their Universal Monsters license. One scale was slightly larger than Mego’s 8″ scale, and one, the Monsters at Home line, were finger puppet sized versions of the monsters that came with tiny plastic dwellings. The Mini Monsters included Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolfman, The Phantom of the Opera, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the Mummy. Their likenesses were intended to mirror their movie counterparts, and in most cases, hit the mark. Dracula and the Phantom of the Opera came with vinyl capes reminiscent of the capes Kenner made for Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi. The level of detail for toys from the early ’80s is surprisingly good.

Imperial Universal Monsters

If you were a kid in the ’80s, chances are you had at least one Imperial toy in your toy box. Imperial was one of those companies that often made toys that were compatible with major brands. One example is a series of beasts that were compatible with Mattel’s Masters of the Universe line. Sometimes, though, Imperial would create officially-licensed toys. Probably the most well-known would be the Godzilla figures, one 6″ tall and one 12″ tall. But in 1986 they released this fearsome foursome of Universal Monsters. They’re not quite what you’d call movie accurate. Movie adjacent, perhaps, but just the same, they’re charming. Check out the giant hands on these guys. Dracula looks like he’s ready to play piano, Wolfman is ready to throw up some jazz hands, Frankenstein looks ready to shovel a lot of dirt with those giant mitts, and the guy in a full body cast that’s supposed to be the Mummy is waving to his friends. Sporting three points of articulation (head and arms), these guys are solid.

Funko/Super7 ReAction Figures

A few years ago, designer toy company Super7 launched the ReAction line of 3.75″ figures by creating figures originally sculpted by Kenner for Alien in 1979. That started a line of figures that capitalized on the nostalgia of 3.75″ figures with 5 points of articulation (head, arms, and legs) and soft sculpts reminiscent of Kenner’s original Star Wars figures. Funko would take over the ReAction line for a while, but eventually Super7 would take the brand back after Funko decided to focus more on their more successful Pop! line of toys. Funko created many licensed figures from films, including a Universal Monsters line. The Frankenstein and Wolfman pictured were part of that initial Universal Monsters line. The brightly-colored Mummy was part of a San Diego Comic-Con exclusive wave of Super7’s relaunch of the Universal Monsters license.

Mego Revival

Though the Mego style of clothed 8″ action figures hasn’t really disappeared, thanks to companies like EMCE Toys and Figures Toys Company, Mego wasn’t officially making toys again until 2018. Mego launched their revival toys at Target in late 2018, showcasing classic TV shows like Happy Days, Cheers, Charlie’s Angels, Bewitched, and The Facts of Life, and movies like The Wizard of Oz. They also launched with a few familiar monster faces after finally officially licensing Universal Monsters. They’ve made a couple of variations to the monsters, including a glow-in-the-dark Frankenstein and a flocked Wolfman in a blue shirt. Mego continues to branch out with their monster licenses. Most recently they released a wave exclusive to midwestern store Meijer that included Regan from The Exorcist, Freddy Krueger, and Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs. Mego has also relaunched their superhero line, including releasing a Mego version of Stan Lee.

Comparisons

Just for fun, here’s each character in all of the different versions showcased here. It’s neat to see how different each interpretation of the same character is.

The fun part of toy collecting is that you can always discover a version of your favorite monster that you didn’t know existed. What is your favorite monster toy? Did you have any of these toys as a kid? Do you have any of them in your collection now? Sound off in the comments!

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