Saturday, October 12, 2013

Remco Mini Monster Play Case

Ah, the classic Universal Studios monsters: Dracula, the Mummy, the Wolfman, Frankenstein's Monster, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the Phantom of the Opera. These movie monsters of the 1920s - 1950s saw a resurgence in popularity in the 1960s, when their films became late night television movie fodder, and again in the 1980s when Universal Studios featured them in their theme park merchandising and stepped up their product licensing. 

One of the best toy lines to result from these efforts came from Remco, which released their Mini Monsters in 1981. The 3 3/4 inch figures were the same scale as the era's popular Star Wars characters, making cross-over playtime dreams come true: Princess Leia captured by the Creature from the Black Lagoon! Darth Vader and Dracula in a battle royale: who would win? The Wolfman and Chewbacca becoming best friends. The Phantom playing with the Cantina band on Tatooine. The possibilities were endless. 

To house the figures, Remco created a play case, made of vinyl covered cardboard like so many playsets from this time period. With an interior of vacuum formed, brittle plastic and cardstock paper, it's fragile by today's standards, but nonetheless it's a gorgeously designed toy with tons of imaginative potential. Let's take a tour. 

The case is about 10 inches tall, and comes with a carrying handle. The front has a photo of the interior and describes the play features, while the back is illustrated to look like a haunted house. 

The action features described on the front are all made of heavy cardstock paper, and required some serious assembly work. Check out the instruction page: I don't think I would have the patience to follow this now, let alone when I was 12.

But once assembled, the monster playset was worth the effort. A little cardboard bridge helped monsters cross over a moat with a bottomless pit; a slab for Frankie came complete with rubberbands to hold him in place, and the table could be turned over to make him "disappear;" the mummy case opened; and the Creature from the Black Lagoon could be put into his cage covered holding tank whenever he needed a refreshing dip. 

All three of these items, the Creature tank, mummy case, and slab, had to be punched out, folded, and assembled, as did the bridge over the "bottomless pit," below.

The set featured great illustrations, as in the lab background above. But the much touted glow in the dark features simply consisted of three stickers to place over various items on the playset: the mask on the mummy case, the skull on the lab shelf, and the instrument panel for Frankie's table. 

The monsters themselves are very detailed, especially for such small figures. The Wolfman in particular is well done, capturing Lon Chaney, Jr.'s anxious expression well. 

He'll never be able to break free of those rubberbands, don't worry....

The set required careful closing and storage due to the fragility of the interior, and the detailed instructions included (unintentionally funny) directions on how to pack up the monsters: "Make sure that none of the monsters interfere with the closing of the playcase." Every time I read this, I picture the little monsters shouting, "Nooooo," shaking their tiny fists, and desperately struggling to prevent the case from closing, maybe by sticking an arm or leg in the way. 


  1. That is WAAAAY too cool Tracy! I bet that's fairly valuable these days. I was watching "Toy Hunter" and they talked a lot about the Universal monsters. Great stuff!

    1. Hi there, good to hear from you again! Yes, I was rather shocked when I looked at some recent asking prices for these on eBay. Or should I say...the prices were scary. Heh.
      There was indeed some great monster stuff in that Toy Hunter episode. I had never seen the Frankenstein's Monster target game that was sold to the toy museum owner.

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  3. Had this as a kid; it was frightfully fragile. Every bit of it tore too easily, including Drac's cape. Can't imagine too many of these survived intact, hence the high prices on eBay.

  4. wow, just catching up, this is pretty neat, and I'm not that into monsters. Thanks for the tour of this set.

  5. My brother had this playset and we played and played with it. I still remember the pieces and where they went. Great to see it again