Horror movies of the ‘80s had a style, but they also had a spirit.
Speaking of horror: That opening line. Pretend it was something clever.
Beyond the blood and guts, there was such an undeniable element of campy fun to those films. They could be serious, but they didn’t seem cynical. There were exceptions, but while the best of that decade’s gorefests took it far, they didn’t take it so far that they lost all sense of joy.
By today’s standards, films like Dream Warriors and the original Fright Night seem almost innocent. Mean but not mean-spirited. Other paradoxes, too. I’ll think of them later.
The best way to comprehend that spirit? Spend a stormy night with nothing but Coke, Combos and a stack of Freddy Krueger DVDs to get you through. (Regular cracker shell Combos, mind you. The pretzel versions are stupid and always have been.)
But, say you don’t have the right movies, or the right Combos. Or, say you want to capture that spirit and actually physically hold it in your hands. In that case, dig up some Fright Flicks cards instead. It’s quieter, but it gives you shit to scrapbook with.
Made by Topps in 1988, the short-lived set didn’t just capitalize, it commemorated. And not in that Franklin Mint “hey here’s a coin based on tragedy” way, either.
The cards perfectly capture why we hold those dumb movies so dear. They scared us and they grossed us out, but in their own weird ways, they were practically cartoons. Depraved, yet comfortable.
Also: I don’t think it’s a stretch to call those the coolest pack wrappers ever. And this explains why Predator looks like he’s on the stage at some grand event, feigning shock at his award win.
Go on, look at him. Imagine a lectern in place of the “Fright Flicks” logo.
A bunch of great movies are represented in the set, from Aliens to The Fly to Day of the Dead. (And every Elm Street movie up until that point. There’s a disproportionate amount of Freddy Krueger cards in here, but that’s okay. We <3 Freddy.)
Using still frames from the films along with promotional shots, the cards’ creepy imagery is somewhat offset by the nonsensical captions. These captions are hideous in a way I can get behind. The best example is from card #21, depicting a vampire from Fright Night being warded off by a wooden cross. The caption? “NOW DON’T GET CROSS!”
Somehow, that doesn’t seem as ironically hilarious when I write it. You’ll have to trust me.
…but you have to admit, the captions do go a long way in making the gore seem friendlier. It’s hard to be spooked by lines like “I SAID I’D GIVE BLOOD BUT THIS IS RIDICULOUS!,” but that is, all the same, a card depicting someone being dragged by their own meaty tendons.
For kiddy cards sold next to Trident and Rolos, that’s pretty out there. Almost as bad as the Garbage Pail Kid who made stew out of her own vomit.
The backs of the cards include “Did It Ever Happen?” blurbs, which are summarized horror stories presented as actual facts. I’m not sure if they were completely made up or at least based on something someone alleged, but it doesn’t really matter. They’re creepy, and they read like legit stories.
If I was still ten-years-old and had a bunch of Fright Flicks cards, those stories would’ve freaked me out for sure. Especially because there would be no Internet to disprove them. It’s not like I could’ve called one of my uncles and asked, “Hey, did a giant moth really run for mayor in 1937?”
Well, I suppose I could’ve.
Every pack came with a sticker. Those were the real stars. You might’ve gotten in trouble if you showed up to school with a pile of gory trading cards held together by a rubber band, but the rules about notebook decor were a bit more liberated.
Consider that. You could stare at Pumpinhead’s pork flesh all day long. Fractions and antonyms be damned. Memorizing Pumpikinhead’s bumps is so much more useful than times tables. I can see the eventual resume now.
– Pumpkinhead flesh knowledge.
– Nothing else at all.
Adhering to that era’s rules and regulations, the backs of the sticker cards doubled as puzzle pieces. Get ‘em all, and you’ve got the world’s greatest mini-poster.
I’m not sure what the entire mini-poster looks like, but clearly, it is the world’s greatest. The upper left shows Predator and Slimer, chilling like old buddies. Thick as thieves. World’s greatest mini-poster, no matter what the rest was.
In a final push to become awesome in every direction, each pack came with a stick of gum, too. You know the kind. Thin, rectangular, pink. Hard, unforgiving, and somehow still worth chewing. Chalky.
Interested in Fright Flicks? You can’t have mine, but you can find them pretty cheaply on eBay. Topps never made less than 500 million of anything, so it’s not like they’re in short supply.
Oh, and if you get the card with the Grey Lady from Ghostbusters, I’ll trade you for it. I think I have doubles of the Zombie-Eating-A-Heart Guy from Day of the Dead. I hear it’s rare!