Friday, 9 October 2015

Universal Studios Monsters - signature Series by Hasbro / Kenner.

I've always been a Horror Film Fan, ever since I can remember. I've always laughed my way through them, the more gory and blood spattered they are the better to this day I like nothing better than a good snuggle under a duvet watching Zombies ripping people apart and exploring their entrails...

When I need a gripping storyline and an atmospheric experience that's both chilling and compelling I like nothing better than to put on a Classic, they offer everything, great story lines, awesome actors, amazing makeup and effects in fact everything you could ever want in a film.

As a small child, I'd laugh my arse off at Romero's Zombies and be scared witless by Silent Films such as The Phantom of The Opera and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, it wasn't that Romero's Zombies were in any way silly, I still love those little critters and his films are often my "go to movies" it's just that before the invention of "Talkies" actors had to be able to convey so much without the ability to express the characters they were portraying verbally.

 I guess it's a form of mime but it is in no way contrite, the ability to make an audience feel The Phantoms fear, pain, outrage and then anger in a few short seconds as his mask is ripped away from him, using only your facial expressions, body movements and eyes is nothing short of miraculous.

The films produced by Universal Studio in the 1920's to 1930's were amazing due in no small part to their employment of Lon Chaney who became known as "The Man with 1000 faces" - there was a guy who really suffered for his art and it is thanks to him that the movie industry was introduced to special effects make up which became a staple and added additional and much needed realism to Movie Monsters and in turn cranked up the horror factor, 

In 1998 Hasbro honoured Universals Classic Horror by releasing 12 inch versions of everybody's favourite monsters with their Signature Series.

The second series of the most famous monsters were sold in cardboard boxes, the back of which has information about the "Monster" and the actor / actress who portrayed him / her.

The side of each box has the Monster's name and below it is written "This exclusive collector's edition of a UNIVERSAL STUDIOS MONSTER features authentic costume, make up and likeness from a classic movie thriller. It'll send shivers up your spine!"

Lon Chaney as The Phantom of the Opera.

"Beneath the crackling floorboards of a Paris opera house lurks Erik, a mad, masked organist, who kidnaps a beautiful young singer and holds her captive in his gruesome chamber beneath the streets. Suspense  and speculation surround his motives as he tutors the soprano through her dressing room walls.

The brilliance of Lon Chaney's makeup artistry and unique pantomime talent make The Phantom of the Opera the most memorable face in horror history. 

The likes of Chaney's bizarre makeup treatment hadn't been seen in Hollywood up until this point, giving the film a sustained and suspicious edge. His face, hidden behind a mask, reveals just enough to suggest that there is something strange and repulsive about his features. 

With heavy makeup restricting his facial movements, Chaney uses`his body gracefully, especially  his hand motions, to portray such a tormented character. Without the luxury of special effects or devices, Chaney created the extraordinary makeup by distending his nostrils with a wire clip, filling out his cheeks with celluloid disks and dilating his eyes with special drops that only a true master of disguise could produce.

But it is the moment of the unmasking, when the singer reveals a living skull beneath the mask, that evokes both fear and sympathy from the audience, in one of the screen's most unforgettable moments of terror. No other type of revelation in a film has ever duplicated the excitement of this one.

The Phantom of the Opera is truly a fine showcase for the illusionary magic of it's star Lon Chaney, and one of the greatest of horror films."

Boris Karloff as Frankenstein's Monster.

"Frankenstein's monster gasped it's first breath in Mary Shelly's 1818 novel, then came alive before everyone's eyes in a 1931 high-voltage film spectacle, which became the most famous horror movie of all time.

A struggling actor named Boris Karloff was given the part of the monster when the film's director spotted him having lunch in the studio commissary and was intrigued by the shape of his head, thinking it had good monster makeup potential. His insight was correct.

The story begins in Dr. Henry Frankenstein's laboratory where he conducts experiments to create artificial life. A gruesome-looking creature is strapped to an operating table, waiting for a charge of electrical energy from a storm to bring it to life. The experiment goes wrong, and the creature is caught in an existence it cannot comprehend.

With its repulsive appearance and brute strength, the Monster terrifies any human it tries to befriend, thus becoming rejected and seeks revenge on humanity.

Karloff''s masterful portrayal of the man-made monster that personifies human evil evokes a sort of compassion that leaves the audience both moved and mortified. 

Wearing a costume that weighed 48 pounds and make-up that took three and a half hours to apply, Karloff exhibits marvellous acts of pantomime despite the restrictions.

From the moment Karloff''s Monster appears on the screen, audiences shrieked ... but could not turn away."

Elsa Lanchester as The Bride of Frankenstein.

"She's no blushing bride and every bridegroom's nightmare - as the horror begins again in this chilling sequel to the original, which many consider to be the best of the Frankenstein films.

With it's constant succession of  shocks, shivers  and sensations, this second adventure  of Dr. Frankenstein and his man-made monster starts with a flashback to the climax of the first film, then brings the  audience back to a plot that almost humanizes the frightful creature. Boris Karloff' repeats his role as the misunderstood monster, who this time, meets a blind hermit, enjoys music and drink, even learns to speak some English, and now longs for a mate.   

Dr. Frankenstein and his insane colleague Dr. Practorius, create a mate that turns out to be another monstrosity, magnificently played by English Actress, Elsa Lanchester. But his bride, presented  in the laboratory to the sounds of  church bells pealing in the background, has the undeniable look of a woman awoken from the dead. Draped in white robes that cover mummy-wrapped arms that rise ever slowly, her startled movements are strained  as if she might faint at any moment. Her head jerking about in strained motions, is crowned  with electrified windswept hair with silver streaks that rip back from her temples.

But it is her face - forever haunting, frozen in a perpetual scream of anguish that captures the instinctual, repulsive response as she hisses and screams at the sight of her betrothed.

From the first intense sight of  The Bride to her questioned reason for existence, it is not surprising that  an ill fate awaits this concocted creature  of confused terror in one of the finest films of the horror genre."

Lon Chaney Jr. as The Wolf Man.

"Heed the gypsy's warning: Even a man who's pure of heart, And says his prayers at night, May become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms, And the autumn moon is bright".

When the full moon rises, young Lawrence Talbot transforms from a friendly, mild-mannered graduate student to as hairy, fanged beast who prowled through the darkness, stalking his victims.

How did this happen to poor Larry? While on a stroll with his friend, Jenny, through the woods at his family's home in Wales, a vicious wolf attacks the woman and Lawrence is bitten while trying to save her. 

After that, he begins to feel strange and have disturbing dreams until he realises that the attacker was not a wolf but a werewolf.

As the most popular monster character of the 1940s, Lon Chaney Jr. rose to stardom playing the horror screen's first innocent victim and monster rolled into one.

The 6' 2", strapping son of a film star, Lon Jr. took on bit parts in movies until he finally found this part that he could really sink his teeth into!

Chaney's lycanthropy was a six hour makeup process that included wearing a wolf-like snout, thick wig, hairy coverings for his hands and feet, and yak hair that was painstakingly applied to his face a few strands at a time. The close-up of the initial transformation took 21 makeup changes and 22 hours to film.

Audiences may be sympathetic to this helpless creature who is not responsible for the mayhem he creates, but he makes people think twice about taking a walk in the woods."

Boris Karloff as The Mummy.

In 1932 Boris Karloff starred as Imhotep, an Ancient Egyptian Priest who had been mummified alive as punishment for attempting to revive his forbidden lover, Princess Ankh-es-en-Amon after she died. 

His background is depicted in a flashback sequence as his the depiction of his mummification . In the present day (1921) a team of Archaeologists uncover his tomb and accidentally resurrect him whilst reading aloud from The Scroll of Thoth which they discover sealed in a secret compartment within the tomb. 

Ten years pass and Imhotep is now masquerading as a modern day Egyptian called Ardath Bey, a man who knows the location of the Princess's tomb and is called upon by the son of one of the original Archaeologists (who is himself mounting an expedition) to locate it for him and his team of Archaeologists. 

During this time he encounters Helen Grovsener, played by Zita Johann, (who also plays Princess Ankh-es-en-Amon), and believing her to be a reincarnation of the Princess, sets about trying to kill her so he can resurrect her in her previous incarnation and make her his bride.

Unfortunately as I bought The Mummy loose, I do not have the box and have no idea what is written on the back of it so am unable to do so here.

Claude Rains as The Invisible Man.

The dolls Hasbro  first released in the Signature Series were not sold in cardboard boxes, instead they came in circular, transparent plastic tubes with a black base onto which the figure is secured. 

The top of the tube once it and the plastic tube are removed can be attached the the base of the tube to make a rotating stand on which to display the figure.

The Invisible Man figure, once the his bandages are removed is totally transparent and yet is moulded in such a way as to retain a very good likeness of Claude Rains...

The doll is displayed against a removable paper background which has various images of Monsters from other Universal Horror films. The other side contains a write up of the character and the actor who portrayed him.

"Adapted from an original story by H.G. Welles, THE INVISIBLE MAN heralds the screen début of the gravel voiced Claude Rains, who lends his voice to a character who is largely a product of special effects.

At a local inn in a small English Village, a mysterious stranger arrives wearing bandages and dark glasses after discovering a serum that makes him invisibly. He attempts to hide this amazing discovery until he can find a way to reverse the process, but the side effects of the transformation drive him to commit bizarre and terrible acts.

The Invisible Man is full of rich supporting performances and the wizardry of trick photography, filling this fascinating film fantasy with shock and fright.

Eerie and scary, The Invisible Man leaves audiences curious about what will happen next, and intrigued by a character seldom seen at all, thanks to a well structured screenplay that does full justice to the original novel.

Some of its special effects techniques are still used by film makers today."

The Creature from The Black Lagoon aka Gill Man

In the 1954 classic, a team of divers on an expedition to find fossils in the Amazon River unwittingly attract the attention of a prehistoric creature who becomes enamoured with a female member of their group, called Kay who is also the fiancée of one of the Scientists.

 The creature or Gill Man as he is also known was actually portrayed by two Stuntmen; Ben Chapman played The Creature on land,and in the underwater sequences he was played by Ricou Browning - neither actor was named in the film's credits.

The storyline is a regular "Beauty & The Beast" plot, but is made much more interesting by the inclusion of a Prehistoric River Creature in place of a run of the mill animal type "Beast". The horror comes through several attempts to kidnap Kay,made by The Creature and  the subsequent attacks on the Scientists when they try to stop him. 

At one point The Creature is himself kidnapped by the Scientists, who plan to take him back to civilisation with them.

The film was originally filmed in 3-D and movie-goers were given anaglyph glasses with which to view the film. 

Millicent Patrick a former Disney Illustrator, designed the creature's iconic look although the Make-up Artist Bud Westmore, would take sole credit for it's design for almost half a Century.

The Gill-Man's suit was made from airtight moulded sponge rubber and cost $15,000. 

There's an interesting interview with Ben Chapman in which he talks about his time working on the film, you can read it here: http:/Interview with The Gill Man/

I've also found a very interesting article about Millicent Patrick, which you can read here: Millicent Patrick./

The Hasbro Signature Series The Creature from The Black Lagoon was sold in plastic tube style packaging, with the rotating feature,at the bottom, like The Invisible Man, Son of Dracula, The Mummy's Tomb and the rest of the first series of Universal Studios Classic Monsters.

Lon Chaney Jr. as the Son of Dracula.

Now I'm just missing two to complete the set... "Son of Dracula" as played by Lon Chaney Jr. in the 1943 horror film - a film which stands out as it was the fist vampire film to show the transformation of human into a bat.

Lon Chaney Jr. plays Hungarian Count Allucard who moves to New Orleans and after receiving an invitation from the Daughter of a wealthy Plantation Owner. After the untimely but apparently natural death of the Plantation Owner his daughter inherits his vast estate and wealth.

The Plantation Owner's daughter, Katherine, is obsessed with all things Occult, and finds the Count's knowledge in this subject fascinating.

When Katherine is occidentally killed, she returns from the grave in the form of a vampire, her betrothed, Frank (the man who accidentally killed her!), who she threw over to marry the Count receives a visit from Katherine in bat form, metamorphosing into a human vampire, she attempts to share her "secret of immortality" with him and also coerce him into killing Allucard.

After killing the Count, it sadly it falls to Frank to also end the "undead" life of his beloved Katherine as well.

Lon Chaney Jr. was renown for his "Creature Make up skills which he inherited from his father Lon Chaney, along with his special effects make up box, and due to his size and body shape he is more fitted to more animalisic creatures, so it's kind of odd to see him in a film in which he relies only on a fake moustache and slicked back hair!

Hopefully I'll be able to get my hands on him soon.

Lon Chaney Jr. in The Mummy's Tomb. (
In 1942, Universal Studios released "The Mummy's Tomb"  starring Lon Chaney Jr. in the title role, to  achieve the look of Kharis (The Mummy), Chaney had to spend 8 hours in makeup being wrapped in bandages and wear a rubber mask for the role,

Hollywood Lore has it that it was a role Lon Chaney Jr. hated, due to the long periods being wrapped in bandages, this I could believe, if it wasn't for the fact that The Mummy's Tomb was actually the first of three films in which Lon Chaney Jr. played the Mummy, Kharis

The truth I suspect lies somewhere in-between.

The Mummy's Tomb was very poorly received upon it's release in 1942, perhaps due to it's status as being a sequel to the 1940 classic "The Mummy's Hand".

 While The Mummy's Tomb follows a similar plot line to it's predecessor - Archaeologists, treasure hunting in Egypt discover a tomb of an ancient Princess and are terrorised by a High Priest and "living" Mummy , who serve as guardians of the tomb.

The events of The Mummy's Tomb take place 30 years after the events of the first film, however, there is no attempt to depict this fact in the décor which sets the story as taking place very much in the 1940s, it also moves the action, threat of violence / death from the same High Priest and living Mummy from Egypt to America with them both seeking vengeance for the desecration of the Princess Ananka's tomb upon the archaeologists from the first film, who are now elderly men.

The Signature Series version of Lon Chaney Jr. in this role, seems to be quite rare, the image I have used to illustrate the doll, I found on It is the only one listed and sadly the plastic tube packaging is missing it's lid. 

As it is located in America it has a high postal cost, which I'm not prepared to pay as I consider the packaging to be damaged... while a missing lid on other tube style display boxes wouldn't be much of an issue, for this series of dolls for me it is.... The tube size is quite large and it wouldn't be easy to find a replacement for it and as it's designed to snap into the base of the tube to make a rotating display stand, it means that that aspect (selling feature) is also made void.

Anyway, if I could find a loose one, I'd be able to put Lon Chaney Kharis next to Boris Karloff  as Imhotep and have a me a Mummy Fight!!

Before I go, I'd love to know why Lon Chaney Jr got three of his roles immortalised in this series, when several other actors depicted have also played a variety of monsters which would also look great in 12 inch versions - I'm not knocking the decision, I love Lon Chaney Jr. and think it's well deserved, I guess I'm just pushing for more "Monster" dolls, there just aren't enough in The World and more specifically, My Collection! 

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