The controversial model kit that pushed the boundaries of good tastes for the classic horror collection.
Aurora probably remains best known for the popular series of Monster model kits from the 1960s, featuring the Universal monsters like Dracula and the Frankenstein Monster, plus Godzilla and King Kong, alongside a few more generic characters. Available in iconic glow-in-the-dark versions as well regular editions, these were must-haves for any horror-loving kid well into the second half of the 1970s, when their popularity was overtaken by science fiction spaceships and model-kit making began to fall out of favour.
But in 1971, Aurora launched a new horror collection, the Monster Scenes series. Unlike the earlier kits, these were snap-together models, dispensing with the need for messy and sniff-worthy glue. And while the earlier models were stand-alone figures, these were designed as a collection, with torture dungeon accessories available so that you could create your own mad scientist’s lair.
Two of the characters – Frankenstein’s Monster (inevitably just referred to as ‘Frankenstein’ here) and the hunchbacked Dr Deadly were standard horror fare. More unexpected was comic book character Vampirella – here oddly reduced to being Dr Deadly’s assistant, even though she wasn’t really a villainous character in her comic strip. Parents might have raised eyebrows at her skimpy costume, and I can imagine many a small boy’s hands shaking as he painted her. Questions were also asked about the suitability of the ‘pain parlor’ (complete with skeleton) and hanging cage accessories. But it was the fourth character that caused the most outrage and was the final nail in the coffin of the collection.
The Victim – who briefly started life as ‘Dr Deadly’s Daughter’ before being stripped of even that level of name – was a young woman in a skimpy top and hot pants whose main selling points, according to the early ads, were ‘two sets of arms, two sets of legs, one frightened expression”. The extra arms and legs were to help change her position, depending on whether she was being carried away by the monster or being tortured by Dr Deadly. And that’s not hyperbole – she really was designed simply to be the victim of the mad doctor’s experiments and to be locked in his torture dungeon, as the press ads and the free comic book given away with each Monster Scenes kit made clear. Oddly though, the comic book makes her seem a lot more feisty than either the packaging or the advertising.
Almost as soon as the Monster Scenes kits were launched, the protests started. The kits were accused of pandering to sadistic urges and corrupting children, while some also thought that the fact that The Victim didn’t even qualify for a name was somewhat dehumanising. It probably didn’t help that the kits were promoted as being “rated X for excitement”. Nabisco, who had just bought out Aurora, were aghast. Production was halted almost immediately, in May 1971, but many kits stayed on the shelves, and led to protests by the National Organisation for Women, leading to an eventual recall of the kits in November, preventing innocent kids from Christmas Day corruption no doubt.
But you can’t keep a good toy down. As original kits sold for huge amounts online, Moebius Models reissued the collection in 2008, alongside a new creature, the Giant Insect. These too are now long out of production and rather expensive to buy.
There’s a book about the whole controversy, published in 2014, for those keen to know more.
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