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Monsters Lead Interesting Lives!

With the release of this article near Halloween, I thought it would be appropriate to review some 1/6th scale monsters. The classic ones are the Hasbro Universal Monsters set. This is one of the sets designed in Pawtucket by the LC (Letter of Credit) group, which developed all of the special-run figures. Most of the sculpting work happened in China instead of with the in-house Pawtucket or Cincinnati sculpting teams. This can make the figures very hit or miss. Some were poorly done (like Dracula so we will not talk much about him) but others were spot on. The Frankenstein’s Monster was a good figure with one of their better sculpting jobs. The skin tone and texture was dead-on. The soft goods were also simple but well done. He is a worthy figure to grapple with GI Joe or scare your Barbies.

The Mummy had decent sculpting but terrible color match. What often happens with these types of issues is a tight deadline and the designer is forced to accept less than perfect to hit the ship date rather than have it fixed. If the colors had matched, it would have been a much better figure.

A point in case is the 1/6th scale Hasbro Poison Ivy figure from the film “Batman and Robin”. The soft goods are exquisite, but in the process of making the heads, the head did not shrink the normal amount. Typically, a head is sculpted 6-8% larger to account for about 2% shrinkage to make the master roto-cast mold. From that mold, they make dozens of production skins to make molds which shrink it 2% more. Then the final heads that come out of those molds have shrunk about 2% more. Many variables can throw off that procedure including the balance of plasticizer in the liquid PVC that they squirt into the molds before heating and spinning them. If that happen, a roto-cast part can be oversized or undersized. It is a shame every other detail on that figure is great. To hit the ship deadline, they had to release it instead of making one more head mold which can take a week or more. The designer was very disappointed it had to be released with the larger head for the film release date.

In case anyone is wondering, the process to make roto-cast molds is very Frankenstein-ish in its own right. A head is sculpted in wax and has an electrode embedded into it. A thin coating of silver oxide is spayed over the sculpted part to ensure electricity flows through it. The part is attached to a rod, which is motorized to slowly pulse back and forth. That rod sits over a vat of hydrochloric acid. The top of the acid vat is usually covered with ping-pong balls to mitigate any acid splashing. Dissolved in the acid solution is nickel, which free floats in the acid. Once the part is being agitated in the acid/nickel solution, they turn on an electric current screaming through the new Barbie head, which attracts nickel onto the silver nitrate one molecule at a time to give a perfectly smooth surface. After a thickness of about 1/16” has accumulated, the head is removed and sent to another tank. That one has copper free floating. The electrified doll head agitates back and forth until it is about ¼” thick. Then the wax it melted out with a blowtorch from the outside. That mold has a special ring attached to it to hold a plug for the next or hidden on the scalp under the hair. PVC is shot in then it spins in an oven until ready. The final mold looks like the Blob has just attacked. This particular roto-cast mold is from a small Mr. Potato Head figure.

The Wolf Man was the best of the set. It was constructed just like the others with a new molded head, hands, appropriate skin tone and simple soft goods. However, this case, all the little details fell together and it is one of their best.

They later sold a few Universal Monsters in individual sets. Those original figures came in standards window boxes like most 1/6th scale figures. They also expanded with the Phantom of the Opera and the Bride of Frankenstein. Unfortunately, I never picked these up. The Phantom of the Opera was a bit dull which explains why he never made it to my collection.

However, the Bride will appear someday. From the photos, she looks very well designed. As always, I am curious which body they used. It looks to be a nice body created by the same design group used on the first 90’s Star Wars Princess Leia figure. If you never saw that figure undressed and you are into chunky Russian weight lifters, you might like it. It appears that the Brides’ arms are entirely sculpted with probably an internal joint at the elbow. The costume is very simple to match the character in the film.

Later they re-released some of the original characters but added a few new ones including The Creature from the Black Lagoon and the Invisible Man. The packaging was shelf ready with a clear tube for 360 degree viewing of the figure wired to an internal stand. The Invisible Man has more elaborate soft goods, but once again, he had the same hydrocephalic large head issue. The figure was made at the same factory as Ivy. It could also be that the hand wrapped bandages are making it look too large also. I never unwrapped mine before trading it off but if I remember correctly, the head and hands were molded in clear.

Of all of the 1/6th scale Hasbro Universal Monsters; my favorite by far is the Creature from the black Lagoon.

Certainly, I would have enjoyed some additional articulation, but that could be said for just about any 1/6th figure beside Adam and the super articulated GI Joe bodies. It would have been more fun to get him into some very realistic poses but the sculpting and detailing is so well done, it makes up for that. There is a single direction articulation in the arm using the same process with an internal hard joint like the bendable Barbie legs. The Creature’s legs are the same way. They specifically traded off the universal joints for keep the sculpting consistent. That figure has stayed in my over-sized bin of standard pool toys for years (along with the Action Man Ocean Mission submarine, a vintage AM dingy, Big Jim’s Terror Off Tahiti, several non-specific Joes attired in the Hall of Fame Underwater Attack, a twenty inch killer whale and a dozen or so 1/6th aquatic animals).

The Creature even posed for a short photographic story line we shot during a summer Miami Valley GI Joe Collector Club pool party. Those Coast Guard Joes never saw him coming.

While I did not have the opportunity to design many 1/6th monsters, there were a couple. For the Disney Parks figures to accompany Davy Crockett and the Pirates of the Caribbean, there was a Headless Horseman concept model constructed based on the Disney animated short “Sleepy Hollow” that was released on a tape The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.

The figure wore black pants and shirt with high sewn black boots. The cape is appropriately over-sized with a big collar. The horse was a Barbie Dallas that had not been sonic welded together so we were able to root a long black mane and tail for it. There was a very quick plastic sword made for him to brandish and we used an off-the-shelf foam jack-o-lantern to put in his hand. There was not time to find or paint a saddle black for him to sit better and there was none on the horse in the film. Therefore, for the presentation, he had a black rubber band holding his ankles close together under the horse’s girth. Ironically, that model was originally made for an internal Halloween pumpkin-carving contest at Mattel. Instead of a foam pumpkin, he carried a real pumpkin with a tiny detailed face carved into it. Later when we were looking at Disney park concepts, I dug him back out, cleaned off the dried pumpkin from his hand and presented him with the foam pumpkin.

It is always fun to have monsters for our heroes to battle. I hope this article helps you realize that Bugs Bunny was right when he told Gossamer, “I hear monsters lead interesting lives.”

What was your favorite 1/6th monster?

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