Dinosaur Dracula!

Gremlins Collectible Figures!

You know those little plastic “tables” that protect pizza cheese from cardboard boxes? They were invented in 1985.

And just as Carmela Vitale was securing the patent, I was in Atlantic City, watching Maw and Paw torch my future.

I often joke about how I grew up on the thinly-carpeted floors of Atlantic City casinos. In truth, my parents didn’t gamble that much – it’s just that the trips were so memorable for me.

The better ones would come later, when I was finally old enough to roam around unsupervised. But this was 1985. I was tiny, trusting and not to be left alone. In a rare switch from the norm, my father walked me around the boardwalk while my mother went for the jackpot.

We ended up at the boardwalk’s shopping mall, which was built to look like a huge cruise ship. Though that mall still stands, it’s since been remodeled and filled with “high class” stores. But back then? Forget it. It was a kid’s paradise. Giant arcade, food court full of everything, and of course, Kay-Bee Toys.

This was not a normal Kay-Bee. I mean, maybe it was in 1985, but by the ‘90s, holy shit. Those of you who remember Kay-Bee know that it wasn’t very good about getting “old stock” off of the racks. The toys may have been ten years old, but they’d still try to sell them, with drastic clearance prices hastily scribbled in red ink. This Kay-Bee was like that, but TO THE EXTREME. It was like an antique shop without the antique shop prices.

But that’s another story. If it was that way back in ’85, I didn’t notice.

What I did notice, was this. And since those Atlantic City trips made it so easy to bribe my parents, I got it. A few bucks for some Gremlins figures was certainly a fair trade for a kid who’d remain calm and patient in Atlantic City.

The Gremlins Collectible Figures set may have been the first “Gremlins thing” I ever owned. I still remember baking under the flashing lights of Caesar’s, totally oblivious to everything else as I fiddled with my little Mogwais.

I’ve put off this review for more than a year, believing that there wouldn’t be much to it beyond a couple of toy photos. Yesterday, I came across the set again, and started thinking about what each figure really meant to me. Turns out, they meant plenty. So let’s roll. Read More…

Book Reports.

Below are five book reports. Well, sort of.

They’re books I care about, or at least books with personal stories attached to them. If you were expecting me to write serious critiques, I should remind you that I’m poorly educated and pretty lazy.

Dracula, by Bram Stoker (1897)

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (the film, I mean) came out in November of ’92, signaling an interest boost in All Things Dracula. I was in the eighth grade at the time, and I picked this baby up from my junior high’s book fair.

I was going through my “depression phase,” phoning it in with all-black outfits and a bad haircut. It had as much to do with fashion as feelings, but it’s also true that I felt like a goofy nobody. Going “mock goth” at least made it seem intentional.

I didn’t buy this book to read it. I bought it as an accessory. Something to casually leave on my desk during class. Hey, only the deepest kid in school would carry around a Dracula book! Yes, I imagined my fellow students viewing me with great intrigue! Dracula cost $4.50 at that book fair, and it seemed like a small price to pay to be fucking interesting for once.

I can laugh about this now, because even if I never outgrew misfitdom, it’s not like I really wish I had. At the same time, those memories mean that I’ll never stop having empathy for dorks. I believe we can find the best opportunities to build ourselves when we’re at our most hopeless, but you can only appreciate that kind of silver lining in retrospect.

So, if Dino Drac has any especially young readers on the fringe: You’re reading a guy who once believed he’d become popular by pretending to read Dracula. In the end, you’ll be fine.

You’ll be almost fine. Read More…

Spooky Saturday Survey.

There’s a new feature up, covering four random Pokemon foodstuffs from thirteen years ago. I admit that I’m not the Pokefan I once was, and that it’s become something I admire more from afar. Still, the featured snacks come from a time when I was all about Pokemon, and if you were into the franchise at that time, the sight of these gloriously tacky Pop-Tarts and Eggo waffles should thrill and excite you.

My pal Judson sent me a care package of assorted trading cards, and I nearly died when I saw this one. It’s from Topps’ 1988 Dinosaurs Attack series, where each card presented a new vision of gory torment, with violent dinosaurs warping to present day to tear us to shreds.

The cards held nothing back, and they were damn creative in their brutality. Aside from the expected visuals of dinosaurs eating people, you had stuff like prehistoric bugs devouring our scalps, and even a card where a dinosaur blipped into present day directly over a human being, with merging fleshes and all. Jesus!

But this is the card that really affected me. Good old #52. “The Ultimate Sacrifice.”

To save civilization, some guy sacrifices himself to the “Supreme Evil” – essentially an enormous MUTANT LEADER DINOSAUR, which was Topps’ way of bringing Satan into the mix without actually saying it. Adding the sick story to the fact that they used a photo of a real guy on the back of the card, #52 haunted me for years.

I collected the cards when they were still new, which, by my math, made me much too young for something this twisted. It wasn’t as if I expected a multi-eyed mutant dinosaur to zap into existence and eat me, but between the hellish themes and the melting skin, #52 opened my mind to all sorts of previously inconceivable horrors. When it was dark and quiet enough, bad thoughts took over.

And it’s those memories that inspired tonight’s survey:

What are some of the weirdly creepy things that gave you pause? I’m not simply talking about moments in horror movies that scared you only in that instant. I mean, things that affected you and stuck with you. Things that got in your head, stayed there, and directed brain traffic for far longer than they had any right to. Maybe it was a movie moment. Maybe it was a scene from a video game. Maybe it was the “Tallman’s Ghost” episode of Unsolved Mysteries.

It’s time to confess. Perhaps you’ll exorcise a few demons. Go!

Topps Bubble Gum Juice Cartons!

Oh yes. These things. Staples of my childhood diet! No kid could resist bubble gum rocks that poured from tiny juice cartons! Made by Topps in the early ‘80s, “juice gum” survived until long after I’d stopped paying attention. For all I know, they’re still out there somewhere. Let us pray. Read More…

What’s the weirdest thing in your wallet?

I’ll never turn down the chance to go through someone’s wallet. It doesn’t matter if I like the person, hate the person or even really know the person. I just want to see what’s in there, and make a totally unfair analysis of the wallet’s owner based on its contents.

I don’t think this is exclusive to me. We’re all voyeurs.

A few nights ago on Dino Drac’s Facebook page, I asked everyone to describe the weirdest things in their wallets. Satisfied with the answers but really wanting to see the goods, I then made a formal request for photos and explanations.

Twenty-two of you complied, with a barrage of oddities ranging from flattened souvenir pennies to what looks like drugs but are actually beans. Below are the results. (I won’t be participating, as I’ve already described my wallet contents in this post.)

Just a note: I blocked out some names/photos even if I wasn’t directed to, imagining that there may come a time when someone might not wish to be immortalized so publicly. If you see a big red rectangle on your photo, I only did it out of love.

A big thanks to our 22 guinea pigs! Let’s see what makes them tick… Read More…

Boys’ Life Magazine Ads.

Boys’ Life is the official magazine of the Boy Scouts of America. It ruled my childhood.

I was in the Scouts, but that had nothing to do with it. All of my grade school buddies were in the Scouts. It was just kind of a given that we would be.

For us, it was essentially an afterschool “latchkey” program, held at a nearby church, with a few of our mothers rotating in and out of “den leader” roles. We wore the uniforms and we had the books, but it was more or less just playtime. Actual scout-like activities were few and far between. I didn’t mind going and neither did my friends, but we’d have just as soon stayed home.

Only one of my friends stayed in for the long haul. He seemed embarrassed whenever we brought it up, but his bedroom was full of Boy Scout things, including the fabled Webelos uniform that none of the rest of us achieved.

He’s the one who introduced me to Boys’ Life Magazine. In his room was a pile of them, nearly half as tall as I was. I don’t know what compelled me to begin thumbing through them, but once I did, something magical happened.

The articles in each issue were what you’d expect. Sugary stories about being a better person, or about making things out of egg cartons, or maybe about the logistics of rain.

I wasn’t enthralled until I got to the last few pages. The “GIFTS & GIMMICKS” section. At that moment, something clicked, and nothing would ever be the same. Read More…