As a kid my big thing was…
As a kid my big thing was horror. I drew horror comics, hung horror posters in my room, and collected an impressive assortment of horror related toys. I made my own super-8 movies about axe murderers, the dead coming back to life and aliens in miniature spaceships who could render you horribly deformed with a blast of their ray guns. My notebooks were filled with drawings of freaks, multi-limbed oddities and all sorts of straight-jacketed loonies. I wasn’t just a ghoulish kid, mind you – as this was juxtoposed against my other interests of a more joyful nature such as The Beatles, The Marx Bros, super heros and the like. But if I spotted anything creepy or strange in my neighborhood candy and magazine store, my eyes would instantly light up and I would start digging in my pockets to see if I could afford it.
An old after school haunt of mine was a small candy shop in Queens Village known only as “Helen’s”. I used to go there to get my “Wacky Packages” bubble gum cards. It was run by a cantankerous old woman who was suspicious of just about any kid she didn’t know who would wander in for an egg cream or a comic book. Even though I had been there hundreds of times I was usually rushed to make my purchase and get out, along with the rest of them – but she always had these dusty old model kits in the back of her store which I’d always gravitate to.
The old Universal Monsters of yesteryear were Gods in my eyes… and I eagerly assembled and painted my horror model kits with the care and detail of a fine surgeon. I had ’em all… Frankenstein, The Werewolf, The Phantom of the Opera, Dracula, Godzilla and King Kong. These kits came with alternate glow in the dark heads and hands… which I always thought was pretty damn cool. I also collected the lesser known, but even more intriguing Aurora Monster Scenes kits which included Doctor Deadly, The Hanging Cage, The Pendulum and the beautiful Vampirella, also with interchangable arms and legs. Also available was “the victim”, a plastic model kit of a scantly clad woman in hot pants and a torn blouse, that I’d assumed, was intended for the hanging cage. Today, of course, in our politically correct environment – you’d NEVER see toys like this again!
One of Queens Village’s best kept secrets was the basement of Stevens department store on Hillside Avenue (now long gone) where, similiar to Helen’s, also seemed to have it’s share of creepy, long forgotten toys. Sort of the land of Misfit toys, I’d say! It was there my older brother bought me one of the creepiest toys I still own today – a ventriloquist doll made by the old Juro company, famous for it’s Jerry Mahoney knock-offs. With his unblinking stare and wearing his dapper little red suit – he was the sort of toy you couldn’t tear your eyes from – yet he was petrifying. It was the same sort of ventriloquist dummy you’d see coming to life in those old, black n’ white Twilight Zone episodes. He must’ve felt right at home sitting up there on my shelf, alongside my other toys of horror.
Alas, the great monsters of yesterday have all but dissappeared. Even a trip to Universal Studios last summer left me gravely dissapointed (excuse the pun!) as the store where I had previously bought my wolfman head drinking cup, my animated battery-operated Frankenstein and my Dracula doll – was sadly monster deprived. The nearest thing to a ghoul were their plush mummy figures from the recent Brendan Fraser movies – almost as cute and cuddly as their Shrek dolls. Not the same thing, I’m afraid.
Today, these horror model kits sell for big bucks on eBay, and those old ventriloquist dummies can fetch anything up to $300-500 bucks a piece. During my earliest introduction to the internet auction scene I ended up being reunited with many of my childhood “friends” once again – and more recently I was thrilled to meet and talk to some other ghoulish icons from my past at the Big Apple Comic Con this April, the alluring Elvira – Mistress of the Dark, and George Romero, the legendary director of “Night Of The Living Dead”. I was in monster heaven.
Once a ghoul enthusiast, always a ghoul enthusiast.