Friday, September 4, 2015

Are these the worst DARK SHADOWS toys ever?

Back in 1989, Toy Biz secured the license to produce toys for the hottest film of the year: BATMAN. While the company produced a ton of merchandise for the film (the Batmobile, the Batcave, something called the "Joker Cycle") they decided to produce only three action figures for the line.

It was a bizarre decision, even then. Kenner had raised the stakes many years earlier with its line of STAR WARS toys, leaving hardly any characters on the shelf. Even virtual props like IG-88 (a "bounty hunter" droid with all the charisma of a hat rack) got his own action figure ... something that Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Jack Palance and Billy Dee Williams couldn't manage for BATMAN. Even Michael Keaton kinda got left out of the loop, with no "Bruce Wayne" figure produced for the line.

Produced for the BATMAN line that year were Batman, the Joker ... and Bob the Goon. Bob was played in the film by character actor extraordinaire Tracey Walter, and had maybe two more lines of dialogue than IG-88 in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. Even the geniuses at Toy Biz realized that kids would get bored watching Batman and the Joker punch each other repeatedly, so they added Bob to the line as an afterthought.

Toy Biz: Makers of the Saddest Toys on Earth. (tm)
Needless to say, Bob the Goon was not a popular toy. It collected dust on the shelves before hitting the remainder bins later that year. But a funny thing happened: Bob the Goon's stock value shot up when collectors decided to complete their sets. Today, Bob is worth several times more to collectors than either the Batman or Joker toys produced that year. (Which isn't saying much, all things considered.)

This is what I call The Goon Factor: The value of a shitty toy can sometimes be inversely proportionate to its scarcity. Which is how things like "Blue Snaggletooth" skyrocket in value.

I was listening to the excellent Plaid Stallions podcast recently, specifically an episode devoted to "Disappointing Merchandise." DARK SHADOWS fans have grown accustomed to disappointing merchandise, in no small part because the show's producer — Dan Curtis — was a trailblazer in the field. Pretty much everything George Lucas is credited with perfecting had already been done by Curtis, who made everything from trading cards, comics, board games, puzzles ... if you could slap the DARK SHADOWS logo on it, Curtis was happy to put in on the market.

Since they couldn't all be gems, some of this merch was crap. And the crappiest of them all was arguably the line of "Horror Heads" produced in 1969. You can watch a commercial for the toys below.

Baffled yet? These were essentially just pillows with the characters' faces on them (even though I dare to you tell me which character is "The Witch.") The Horror Heads were the definition of disposable merchandise and have left behind a fairly shallow footprint. Much like Bob the Goon, their inherent shittiness made the Horror Heads some of the scarcest DARK SHADOWS products created during the run of the original show. And also like Bob the Goon, they are also some of the most valuable ... though their desirability remains in question. The "Barnabas" pillow hit Ebay earlier this year with the warning that "there is some dirt on the face." It sold for $250.

These toys (is that even the right word for something that will mostly be used by sleeping cats?) were made by Centsable Toys, who'd make headlines in 1976 after marketing a line of blow-guns to children called "Wham-Wads."

Photo courtesy of the SHADOWS OF THE NIGHT blog.

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