Doctor Dreadful food-making toys

My friend Bob Knetgzer is an amazingly talented toy designer. (He writes the Toy Inventor's Notebook column in every issue of MAKE, too!)

He says:

I run into a lot of 20-somethings that fondly remember the TYCO Doctor Dreadful toy line from when it was first out in 1995-97 when they were little. I have a big file of really cute and funny letters that kids sent in to Doctor Dreadful back then with their own gross food recipes. They are just hilarious to read! It would be cool to reconnect with those 1st generation fans today!

The DrD character in the original ads was wonderfully played by John Kassir, who was also the TV version of the Cryptkeeper . The first ads won a bunch of advertising industry awards:

It sold over $100MM worldwide and kicked off a trend of "gross food" and candy.

That was then -- this is now:

For this re-launch we worked with the designers at Spinmaster of Canada (the makers of those cool miniature RC helicopters and of Zoobles, those mini balls that pop open to transform into oddly cute animals).

Given today's kid's exposure to Twilight, zombies, and all the amped-up monstery elements of current pop culture, we tried to make Doctor Dreadful even edgier than before. There's a wide assortment of different "looks gross--tastes great!" candy-making toys.

What better item to put in your holiday shopping cart than a "looks gross --tastes great!" Doctor Dreadful food-making toy!


  1. i remember getting this, i didnt really care about the “gross” part, I would have been just as happy with an easy bake oven (i just wanted to make candy!), what i remember the most about it is how awful it tasted. really really bad, chunky gelatine like substance with no flavour. i was so disappointed! its all about the marketing i guess, it doesnt have to taste good as long as they buy it!

  2. My sister had one of the original sets, and while we shared an easy bake oven the Dr. Dreadful sets were way more fun and we totally enjoyed grossing each other out. While remembered fondly, I’m hoping that the creations taste much better this time around.

  3. Yeah my brother had the original set. The things I remember most were how terrible everything tasted and how poorly they worked. We had like a 90% failure rate with that thing, and we were following the direction to the letter. These sort of candy making kits have be way more successful at creating something edible as of late though so I’m hopeful. 

  4. I wrote a few posts about the Dr. Dreadful toys in my blog:

  5. i was childhood friends with Bob Knetzgers son, and everyday after school we’d come home to a Doctor Dreadful taste test.  nothing better than opening the door only to be greeted with “rotten candy” and “monster skin”.  Bob is a brilliant inventor, model maker, musician, and father. it always makes me happy to see his hard work brightening kids lives 20 some years later. 

  6. I saw this at Target recently right next to their giant aisle marker sign reading “Boys Activity Toys.”  Sigh.  Can’t help but notice that then, as now, the Science Ain’t for Girls attitude seems to continue in the marketing for stuff like this.  It makes me really bummed out. :(

    1. I too recently saw this at Target, and was happy to see it even though I didn’t have one as a kid (though I was the prime target age at the time that commercial came out, which I remember quite well).

      Frankly it never appealed to me as something I’d actually want to play with, but as a boy interested in gross things (as boys are) I could appreciate it anyway.

      I think the original branding (package design, and the design of the stuff itself, etc.) was a lot better, though it may just be nostalgia. I really like, though, that this one says at the bottom “Net Wt 1 Snot Mix 1.06oz (30g)”

  7. And I should clarify, the thing itself is awesome.  It’s just upsetting that as a culture we often STILL think of these things as boy-toys.  Gosh, I wonder why still struggle for equality in many of the sciences?

  8. Doctor Dreadful and Creepy Crawlers, that other make-gross-things kit (but non-edible in the case of Creepy Crawlers), were definitely two of the coolest toys of my youth. Who cares if it tasted good? Most of it was just sugar and fruit flavoring, which isn’t so bad when you’re eight years old. And you get to make stuff!

    Also, @Jess Liotta, I agree, but the “toys for boys” factor has as much or more to do with the grossness as with the science part. I think young boys are objectively grosser than young girls, on average. Is that an unfair assessment?

    1. “I think young boys are objectively grosser than young girls, on average. Is that an unfair assessment”

      Actually it kinda is, yeah.
      Mattel is currently setting an example with their “Monster High” fashion dolls – essentially Barbieesque dress up dolls with a Hammer Horror twist. The girlies all seem to like it.

      My guess about the marketing part of Doctor Dreadful is that everyone is trying hard to shield the kiddies from the fact that it’s actually an educational toy disguised as a action figure playset. Cooking toys are still  seen as girly toys by many  people, wich is actually kinda strange considering that most of the chefs on tv are dudes.
      Hmmm – I wonder if there’d be a market for a Gordon Ramsey playset?

      1. “Cooking toys are still  seen as girly toys by many  people”

        Yep, and association with female-ness is bad so we have to distance kids from it so they understand “girls are worse than boys” and “boys should keep girls from doing things so those things won’t start to suck” as early as possible. 

        I love the smell of misogyny in early childhood! 

  9. Despite boy-centered marketing and packaging, my 6yo daughter immediately put this and the Bug Maker toys at the top of her Christmas list when she saw it at the toy store.

  10. After playing with a kit at a friend’s house, my brother and I wanted Dr. Dreadful so bad but our parents wouldn’t let us get it. We decided to make our own concoction with berries, grass, a dried up toad, etc. No one ate it.

  11. Great to see the comments on this, I’ll add mine.

    I can tell you that girls have been a BIG part of the audience for Doctor Dreadful toys for the same reason that boys enjoy it: it’s fun!  Toy marketers do have an agenda: it’s simply to sell the most toys.  Sometimes that means putting it in a pink box, sometime snot (sic). Then they put them on the shelf grouped where they are easiest to find.  Like most mass-market anything, it’s exaggerated for clarity. Moms and dads are smart and know what is best for their own kids and they alone ultimately get to decide with their dollars.

    Regarding taste, there’s a reason why this kind of novelty food is the way it is.  It’s carefully made to provide a fun experience for kids. The foods you create with Doctor Dreadful bubble, sizzle, foam up, jell or congeal—it’s that unexpected reaction and “food in motion” dynamic that looks like fun on TV, comes alive in your mouth, and that makes kids go “wow!”  Pop Rocks, Fizzies, and Super Sour candies don’t taste so great to many adults (or to each and every kid)—but these kinds of special candies provide a fun experience for millions of kids. Same with Doctor Dreadful products. I hope the “I-dare-ya” crazy flavors are part of the fun.

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