SEPTEMBER 20, 2013 -- I spent four Halloweens in Florida. They were relatively uneventful ones, as I'd yet to come into my Halloween own and was in somewhat constrained circumstances at the time. Mostly, the extent of my Halloween back then was going to Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights every year.
But there was that one I-guess-Florida-still-calls-it-Fall where I bought a lot of Kids Meals from Burger King.
When it comes to fast food Halloween premiums, McDonald's McBoo Pails from the 1980s are probably the most memorable. For Burger King, they didn't really hit on anything they could mark out territory with until this millennium and their regular installments of Simpsons Treehouse of Horror toys which it looks like they're doing again this year.
But in October of 1997, they had classic Universal Studios monster toys. That's right, the Santa-and-reindeers of Halloween. Which is really interesting. I mean, think about it. Burger King thought it enough of an enticement for children to give up on old Ronald and his McDonaldland Gang and chase after toys of characters created more than half a century before in black and white movies.
And these weren't modernized, kiddiefied versions of the monsters, either. Dracula wasn't rollerblading and the Wolf Man wasn't wearing Hammer pants. They were just what they were. Awesome.
I do know that just a month previous, the U.S. Post Office released their Universal Monsters collectible stamps, so maybe there's a connection, although nothing that came with the toys mention the stamps. Also, the characters chosen for the stamps and for Burger King didn't match up. The stamps had a wider variety of characters (Phantom and the Mummy), but no Creature from the Black Lagoon, which was included in the Burger King premium.
Burger King released four monsters: Dracula, the Wolf Man, Gill-Man, and Frankenstein's monster. Each 3.5-inch figure was pretty well detailed for a Kids Meal premium, even at today's standards, and each had its own action feature that somehow wasn't at all contrived. They also came with glow-in-the-dark stickers, which after a bit of rummaging, I managed to find in a box in my basement. If I was a rock star, these stickers would adorn my favorite guitar.
They released one figure per week, and every week I'd show up and get mine. Sadly, somehow I missed the Frankenstein week, so I had to pick him up years later off eBay to complete my set which taints this whole memory a little bit, but nevertheless, three of these guys can attest that I was there in person for the colossal, world-changing event that was the Burger King/Universal Monsters crossover.
And, 15 years later, all four are still sitting on a shelf not five feet away from me. Now it's time to dust them off (because I never clean my study) and bring them over to my desk.
They nailed Mary Shelley's monster. Or at least what Mary Shelley's monster has become today. From the silver bolts on the side of his neck to the way he keeps one button on his jacket fashionably clasped.
His head and hands are translucent green, and for a reason. Well, the head is, anyway. He came with a gray laboratory table. The idea was to lay him down on it, push the lever by his head, and scream, "It's alive!...Now I know what it feels like to be God!", and a small yellowish light in the table illuminates his head and makes what-seems-pretty-close-to-Boris' features really clear. The glowing head is a metaphor for the soul, I think. They don't make toys like they used to.
Oh, and 15 years old and the light still works. Most of me was broken by the time I hit 15.
Count Dracula doesn't bear Bela Lugosi's likeness, but you put anybody in that cap and medallion and it doesn't matter. At least in toy form. Drac comes in a coffin with a removable lid and a bat-shaped peep hole. You stick his feet in poles in the bottom, turn a lever, and he rises stiffly out of it like Leslie Nielsen in Dracula: Dead and Loving It. Minus .
The action feature for the Wolf-Man is the same as Drac's a rare corner cut in this set, but they gave it its own spin. Instead of a coffin, Wolfie comes out of a set of cellar doors, while simultaneously, a small panel pops out with a moon sticker on it. Because without that, you're just playing with a figure of melancholy old Larry Talbot.
THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON
Gill-Man, the Creature, Mr. Black Lagoon, whatever you want to call it, the scaly green Amazonian has always been my favorite Universal monster. His story isn't as interesting as the others, and his cinematography isn't as atmospheric, but the creature design is fan-fan-fan-tastic.
In this set, he's the tops, and the toy makers obviously knew it. His entire body is translucent, minus his yellow painted eyes, and ever centimeter of him is textured with scales and fins. They didn't bother to crutch him with any accessory.
Instead, for his act, you just have to submerge him in water for a bit (as you'll inevitably do with any cheap Gill-Man toy), and then press his chest plate. He shoots water from a tiny hole in his mouth for a good three to four feet. I am not ashamed of my love for this toy.
Looking at these figures after years of not doing so, I'm astounded by the detail work. From the restraining belts and dials on Frankenstein's table to the back fins of the Gill-Man, they were obviously aiming at a more refined collector who collects fast food premiums. I don't get how target marketing works.
I do know that these guys need to get promoted to permanent desk decoration.
And to think, they all came with cheeseburgers and onion rings.