October 2016 will see the release of the premiere Universal Horror Movie figure in Mezco Toyz’ One:12 Collective product line. It’s only fitting that the first to appear should be the cadaverous creation of Dr. Frankenstein. The 1931 film (Frankenstein) launched the now classic series of monster movies that would grow to include Dracula, The Wolf Man, The Invisible Man, The Mummy and eventually The Creature From The Black Lagoon.
(Editor’s Note: Oowee, got in just under the wire with this one. Thanks to Ruth of Silver Screenings and Kristina of Speakeasy for a neat excuse to write about one of my all-time guiltiest pleasures.)
Oh man, it’s literally the eleventh hour for posting a review Speakeasy/Silver Screenings’ 2015 Beach Party Blogathon, so here goes…
The Ghostess with the Mostest…
Released in April of 1966, on the tail end of American International Pictures’ (AIP) beach party film chronology, The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (GitIB) stands as my favorite in the series.
What makes GitIB so much fun is its kitchen sink nature. It feels like there was a tacit acknowledgement that the “endless summer” of the surfin’ 60’s might actually be waning after all and a pull out all the stops attempt to buoy this baby was required. It shares a “more is better” affinity with the latter Universal Pictures monster rallies of House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula.
Too Much Monkey Business…
Couched in the – even then – hackneyed trappings of the “Old Dark House,” The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini could pass for a live Scooby Doo episode. It also greatly resembles the previous generation’s Kay Kyser vehicle You’ll Find Out, (1940) even sharing Boris Karloff as a cast member. The one twist in the script is that the villains have no idea they are being thwarted by real ghosts. Those ghosts are portrayed by Susan Hart, as Cecily, the titular see-thru character, and Karloff as former carnival owner Hiram Stokely, her surprised to find himself deceased beau.
The rest of the large GitIB cast is run through a series of the oldest story and sight gags in theatrical history. There’s an inheritance at stake, a multitude of revolving walls, secret passages and falling chandeliers, portraits that watch you, an escaped carnival gorilla, damsel in distress on a buzz saw, a grand guignol waxworks, and a string of Mack Sennet style chases. Fans of Roger Corman‘s Edgar Allan Poe films can have a heyday perusing this movie’s mis en scene. To my eye Stokley’s chamber of horrors was also the set of many an AIP EAP romp. Can anyone help out with specifics here?
Original series leads Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello are replaced by another post-Disney kid, Tommy Kirk, and Deborah Walley in the hero and heroine roles. Beach film stalwart Harvey Lembeck, does mega slapstick throughout, returning for his last ride as motorcycle gang leader Eric Von Zipper.
Other cast members are a convergence of old and new Hollywood of the mid-1960’s. It’s an aspect the film shares with the contemporaneous Batman TV series, which premiered on ABC TV a few months earlier. Karloff, Basil Rathbone, Patsy Kelly, Jesse Young, and even Francis X. Bushman appear alongside the bevy of beach kids, with Rat Pack scion Nancy Sinatra and Claudia Martin representing a changing of the guard.
Sinatra offers a catchy pop tune “Geronimo,” backed by The Bobby Fuller Four. Fuller can be seen gyrating wildly through the instrumental “Swing A-Ma Thing” wielding an awesome Vox white teardrop guitar. The group serves as “house band” throughout the film. All songs are credited to series regulars Guy Hemric and Jerry Styner. The Les Baxter soundtrack is augmented by drip-drop reverb laden sound effects.
Historically Ghost in the Invisible Bikini represents a last innocent romp prior to the LSD exploitation and sensationalism of films like Riot On Sunset Strip, Pysch-Out and The Trip. Those films in turn presaged studio system killers like Five Easy Pieces and Easy Rider. Think of the cultural gap between The Monkees’ September 1966 pilot episode and their cinematic swansong Head and you’ll get my point.
I love the film because it incapsulates my late pre-teens with remembrances of the aforementioned Batman and Monkees TV series, The Munsters, Aurora plastic model monster kits, Famous Monsters of Filmland and Monster World magazines, Top 40 from a transistor radio speaker, The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” on the AM airwaves, and begging my pop to take me to see Karloff in AIP’s Lovecraft adaptation Die Monster, Die.
Van the Man…
Diamond Select Toys is taking the opportunity to expand the monster line with a unique design of their own. DST’s Van Helsing, is an armed-to-the-teeth vision of the vampire hunter with a wizened and battle scarred countenance. With his axe, rifle, pistol and bandolero of wooden spikes he’s clearly a determined and formidable foe for the feral creatures of the night.
With many of us still cringing from the loopy Hugh Jackman misstep of 2004 Van Helsing was a risky choice. Fortunately DST presents him as an effective cross between the grandfatherly character portrayed by Edward Van Sloan in 1931 and Anthony Hopkins’ frenzied doctor of Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula (1992.)
The Van Helsing “Select” version is the most ornate of the three new Wave 5 boxed packages. The base provides a cemetery scene with dual tombstones and vicious vampire bride Mina Harker pouching from her grave.
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I’ve been stalking Diamond Select Toy’s fifth wave of Universal Monsters figures since they first appeared as early prototypes in DST’s Toy Fair Booth back in 2013.
These two newest 7 inch scale action figures present Boris Karloff as The Monster from Son of Frankenstein, and a new version of The Creature From the Black Lagoon. The Jean St. Jean sculpts are created with “super articulation,” giving the models many more poseable points of movement than their previous incarnations.
DST has announced these items in blister-carded Toys “R” Us Exclusive configurations (already on the shelves) as well as “Select” boxes, available shortly in comic book shops, or for pre-order. The “Select” versions add extraordinarily detailed bases and props.
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The Monster is portrayed with a slightly more gaunt look than Karloff lensed in the original 1939 film. He is clothed in his signature “Son of” wooly vest, a look that will forever remind me of Sonny Bono’s preferred garb in the 1960’s. In addition to more articulation The Creature update trumps its Wave 1 predecessor with, to my eye, a sculpt more accurate to its film appearance and a glossier aquatic paint finish.
“Armed” and Dangerous…
The “Select” Son of Frankenstein comes with an awesome Kenneth Strickfaden inspired piece of electrical laboratory gear that will remind old school collector’s like myself of the similar rig that was part of Aurora’s classic Bride of Frankenstein tableau. No Son of Frankenstein collectible would be complete without the wooden arm of Lionel Atwill’s Inspector Krogh for the monster to swing around. For me it’s a must have, and I’m glad to report it comes in both packaging configurations, so you won’t be torn (hee, hee.)
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While I’m happy to learn that Diamond Select will continue to offer Universal Monster figures in another wave next year, I also applaud the initiative to bring some of their own creative juice to the monster mix.
The Aurora Plastic Model Company did this quite effectively in late 1960’s. Their Forgotten Prisoner of Castle Mare, The Witch, and The Guillotine models were equally cherished by collectors. In fact they are the only intact original Aurora models I still have. The others succumbed to an ill advised tangle with a barrage of firecrackers one fateful Independence day.
Get Your Motor Running…
The good folks at Mezco Toyz revved up their engines for this month’s American International Toy Fair with a special press peek at their upcoming offerings. The company is not only celebrating the sweet sixteenth birthday of their Living Dead Doll Series but has announced a Sons of Anarchy figure and collectible line for release in summer of 2014. The advance viewing was a perfect opportunity to get some unfettered photos of this newest Mezco merch especially an unexpected Psycho treat.
Norman’s Mom Has Got It Goin’ On…
After focusing on the Sons of Anarchy and Breaking Bad characters, I peered across the room in Mezco’s sanctum sanctorum for an unexpected surprise. Perched on a display shelf, comfy in her rocking chair and shawl, sat Mother, the desiccated grande dame of the Bates family. The wonderfully creepy creation is rendered as a “roto-plush,” with molded cast hands, feet and head and a plush body, like dolls of old. She perfectly compliments the Norman and Victim dolls released last year. She’ll be ready for release this coming summer. Keep your Raggedy Ann away from the shower stall.
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Mommy To Mummy…
Not far from Mother stood her Universal Pictures kin, the equally shriveled Karloffian Mummy. The Mummy is the third in Mezco’s effective angular stylization of the classics. Frankenstein’s Monster and The Creature from the Black Lagoon are currently available with The Mummy slated for June of this year. Still in the works and pending design approval is Mezco’s Creature from the Black Lagoon Living Dead Doll.
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I expect to post a full gallery of images from Mezco’s Toy Fair preview on Thursday, including Living Dead Dolls Series 27 featuring “Myths and Legends from Around the World,” Sons of Anarchy, Breaking Bad, Axe Cop, 1966 Batman villains Mez-itz, and more.
I’ve also been meaning to share some fun “beauty shots” of the all white “test shot” Creature from the Black Lagoon I scored at the Mezco sale last summer.
It was a great treat to visit with the folks at Diamond Select Toys during the 2013 American International Toy Fair. They have an upcoming array of items sure to please collectors of franchises that include Marvel Superheroes, The Walking Dead, Star Wars, and Tomb Raider. Star Trek fans are sure to be pleased with the goodies coming their way from DST. I’ll be posting information and photos on those in the coming weeks but I’m going to begin DST NYTF13 coverage with my favorites, the Universal Monster Series.
Fall 2013 Series 4…
As announced in previous posts Diamond Select will be releasing Wave 4 of the series in fall 2013. That includes Lon Chaney Sr. as Quasimodo, from the silent 1923 classic The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Mr. Hyde as portrayed by Boris Karloff in Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. The Quasimodo specialty (large base) package will pair him with a cathedral gargoyle to perch on and include the “King of Fools” accessories. Mr. Hyde will sport a roof top base and include Dr. Jekyll parts to facilitate his transformation.
The Series 4 Toys “R” Us packages will be blister packed with simple bases. Dr. Jekyl will include an interchangeable Mr. Hyde head. Exclusive to Toys “R” Us will be a Moleperson figure from the The Mole People (1956).
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Series 3 Legacy Box…
The Universal Monster Series 3 figures including This Island Earth’s Metaluna Mutant, Erik The Phantom of the Opera and The Invisible Man) will be boxed together in a special legacy edition.
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New Bust Banks and Retro Cloths…
Also announced for fall, but not on display at the DST booth, are Bust Banks Series 2 depicting the Bride of Frankenstein and the Wolfman. They’ll join their cohorts the Black Lagoon creature and Karloff Frankenstein monster which are currently available in full color and black and white versions. Retro cloth fans will be able to add the Metaluna Mutant and Phantom of the Opera to their collections.
Super-Articulated Series 5 Announced…
Looking ahead to 2014, the Universal Monsters series will expand with “super-articulated” figures. Series 5 will offer The Creature from the Black Lagoon and Karloff’s monster from Son of Frankenstein.
The Series 5 prototypes as pictured are yet to be approved by the licensor and represent the “large base” specialty versions. There’s some really nice Kenneth Strickfaden inspired lab apparatus with SoF. It brings back fond memories of the gear that came with Aurora’s Bride of Frankenstein model kit. I’m hoping that Inspector Krogh’s wooden arm, nestled at the prototype figure’s feet, will be a separate accessory. I can imagine how awesome the highly posable figure would look brandishing the appendage above its head.
An as yet unannounced third figure will be exclusive to Toys “R” Us. Which Universal Mon-Star are you hoping it will be?
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