They had me at Aurora. Nothing so perfectly captures the secret origin of my imagination than the Aurora line of snap-tite models from the 1970s, especially the Prehistoric Scenes and monster models, with optional glow in dark parts. It was the lurid Monster Scene sets, however, that pried open my weird third eye (along with Creature Double Feature on my local UHF station and Famous Monsters of Filmland). These delightfully ghastly models included: Dr. Deadly, the igor-esque mad scientist; The Victim, a busty young woman whose only purpose is to be abducted and experimented on; Frankenstein, the misnamed monster to do Dr. Deadly's bidding; Vampirella, the might-as-well-be-naked vampire whose role in all this is ambiguous; Gruesome Goodies, a laboratory of Tesla-like machinery, workbench, lab equipment and the requisite skull; The Pain Parlor, which includes an operating table, a skeleton, and inscrutable "pain" machine; The Pendulum, for slicing the Victim in half; and The Hanging Cage, a room of torture that even has hot coals and a tiny pincer. Later sets would include Dracula and Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.
I was too young to recognize anything here that might have been exploitive or inappropriate for a kid's model set. Looking back, it's hard to believe they were ever allowed on the shelves of a toy store. It's no surprise then that the development of the toys was one part "Let's do the craziest things we can think of…" and one part "but let's not get parents upset." To this end, Aurora worked out a smart business arrangement with James Warren of Warren Publishing who was an expert on how to market monsters to young people while staying away from controversy. Nevertheless, negative press, parent groups, and an unhappy parent company (Nabisco) led the quick shuttering of the line.
The book Aurora Monster Scenes is a loving and candid history of Aurora, the impetus and creative burst that went into designing these models, and the sad controversy that ensued. The book is lavishly illustrated with a remarkable collection of original design sketches, advertisements, photographs, and of course, images of the models themselves. The creatives at Aurora had nothing but the spirit of fun and a wink-and-nod to the burgeoning monster-craze that surrounded them at the time, but try as they might, there was very little they could do that would assuage parents' fears of their kids putting the helpless female victim in the hanging cage and pretending to burn her with hot coals in preparation for the dissection in the Pain Parlor. But boy oh boy, did I love those tiny plastic test tubes.
Aurora Monster Scenes: The Most Controversial Toys of a Generation
by Dennis L. Prince and Andrew P. Yanchus
2014, 256 pages, 8.4 x 10.9 x 0.5 inches (paperback)
$29 Buy a copy on Amazon