If Imperial’s “Classic Movie Monsters” seem vaguely familiar… GOOD.
That’s the best way to describe them. “Vaguely familiar.” The small collection of laaaarge Universal Monsters figures arrived in 1986, and in one way or another, I’m convinced that everyone on the planet has owned at least one of them.
It’s partly because of their durability. Their paint may fade, but the figures are as hardy as bricks, and the only way they can be destroyed is if someone deliberately trashes them. This makes them pretty constant finds at yard sales, thrift stores, and Christmas fairs that have that one table of random bullshit hiding in the southwest corner.
But the main reason is that Imperial was one of those companies with tendrils that extended everywhere. You might have found these guys at a legit toy store, but you were just as likely to spot them in a pharmacy or bric-a-brac shop.
Plus, they were sold in so many different ways. The ones you’ll be seeing in this article came carded, but they were also sold “loose,” with nothing but little tags attached. For toys that very few kids actively sought, there were a billion ways to end up with them.
The thing is, their “commonness” only indicates… well, commonness. Imperial’s monster figures were gorgeous even in their crudeness, and to this day, they’re some of my favorite takes on those classic characters. Let’s take a closer look!
Getting these figures packaged can quadruple their price, but one look at that laboratory makes it all worth it. When I get to the other figures, you’ll notice that each of the packages was given a distinct theme. Frank’s card may be my favorite, since it’s the one that looks most like Wildwood’s Castle Dracula. (Rest in peace.)
The figure’s arms are hilariously long. What would normally only seem like a scale-oversight feels pretty damn intentional after you investigate Frankenstein’s suit, which was sculpted to look like it really couldn’t handle arms like his. I’m taking that busted third button as Imperial’s admission that Frank’s arms were a mess.
It’s not just the length, either. Frankenstein’s hands are so big that they actually make his arms seem too short. Each hand is bigger than Frank’s head!
And speaking of Frank’s head, take a look at that expression. This monster is clearly confused by the size of his hands. Confused, and maybe even a bit pained. But then, Frankenstein always was the most sympathetic of the Universal Monsters. If any of these four were going to have hands worth pitying, it had to be him.
#2: The Mummy!
The packaging is an easy A+, and I’d say the same for anything that condenses that much of ancient Egypt into one manageable visual. We even get a hint of treasure on the lower left, not to mention indisputable proof that the Great Sphinx of Giza was, in fact, very male.
And that action figure! It looks less like a real mummy and more like someone you’d joke about looking like a mummy when you’re visiting him after a terrible car accident.
If half of my audience ditched me after the last few paragraphs, I guess I have less to lose with this obscure wrestling reference: This guy reminds me so much of WCW’s ill-fated Yeti.
I can’t back this up with any hard facts, but I think Dracula is the rarest of the quartet. My saying so may stem from a weird compulsion to add an element of exclusivity to anything with a cape. Don’t know why I do that, but I always do.
The packaging, shown above in AFA 100 condition, depicts Dracula’s unkempt lair. The drab colors make it the least attractive of the four cards, but at least you can make a Where’s Waldo game out of finding Drac’s coffin.
Imperial’s attempt to capture Bela Lugosi’s likeness failed, but failed gloriously. We can go back and forth on who Dracula more closely resembles, but I’m leaning toward Dan Lauria. Dan Lauria, if he was part monkey.
Dracula’s irremovable cape is a great touch, but even better are his rings. They certainly don’t look like gothic antiques with mysterious powers. I think Dracula hit up the “WIN EVERY TIME” crane at Doug’s Keansburg Arcade. Drac’s sculpt forces him to act really PROUD of those rings, too. Basically, Dracula has two poses: “Look at my rings,” or “raise the roof.”
I’d ask Drac for his preference, but his lips have apparently been sealed with Gorilla Glue. Which does add a certain credence to the Lauria/monkey thing.
I’ve come around on mummies, but I’m still not entirely sold on wolfmen. For whatever reason, wolfmen just don’t move me.
BUT, this figure is doing all it can to change that. I love everything about it! I love the woodsy motif on the packaging. I love the idea of random tombstones being stationed in the middle of the forest. I love how that supposed wolf howling at the moon is actually a giant black rat. I think that’s the part I love most.
In every way, the figure is the friendliest of the four. Wolfman is skinny, dressed in unthreatening clothes, and his feet are forced into a pose that make him seem… I don’t know, tentative? Like, if we crossed paths in the night, I bet I could stare this guy down. And that’s ME saying it.
Wolfman’s overall pose reminds me of Emil Antonowsky, who you should remember as “the guy in Robocop who got melted by toxic waste.” Seriously, doesn’t Wolfman look like he’s doing an Emil impression? RELP REE.
The problem with articles like this is that there’s just no good way to end them.