I was a monster kid dating back to my earliest memories. I loved the Universal Monsters from pretty much first sight. By the first grade, my friends had already introduced me to the new wave of horror icons, guys like Freddy, Jason and Chucky. Later on, I’d learn about Leatherface and Michael Myers. I became fascinated by virtually every horror icon that I even so much as heard about. I was also a serious toy kid. I loved my Spider-Man, X-Men, etc. figures and from the time I was very young I couldn’t stop thinking about why I couldn’t get toys based on the monsters I loved so much.
Through most of the ‘90s, the closest I got were a line of Burger King Happy Meal Toys based on the Universal Monsters. I remember cutting out a paper hockey mask and taping it to a toy’s face just so I could have a Jason figure. I never actually thought that I’d ever get to see collectables based on these icons. I never even imagined anything like the horror collectable climate we’ve been living in for the last few years.
I could not begin to express my excitement when I picked up an issue of Spawn and saw an ad for a Freddy Krueger action figure. I didn’t know what it meant, I didn’t know anything about it. I just saw a teaser for the toy itself and a date of winter 1998. I needed to know more about it. I needed to know what this was. Eventually, I started seeing more ads and finally saw the name of the promised toy line: Movie Maniacs.
It’s so hard to express what it was like to finally see toys based on these characters for the first time. The first line of Movie Maniacs gave us toys based on three of horror’s biggest heavy hitters—Jason, Freddy and Leatherface—as well as two figures based on Species II to tie into the release of that film.
Freddy was pretty much Freddy as we knew and loved him. Jason was a reinterpretation, the figure claimed to be based on Jason Goes to Hell, but the design also incorporated elements of Part VII and VIII as well. Both came with a wealth of accessories. Jason had a variety of weapons and Freddy had the little puppet Freddy from Dream Warriors. Jason’s mask was even removable, which was exciting as we never got to see Jason’s face in Jason Goes to Hell.
As a bonus, that first wave of toys served as my introduction to Leatherface. I had heard of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre but knew almost nothing about it until I got my first good look at Leatherface via the action figure.
The second wave of toys was literally perfect. Pound-for-pound I think series 2 might be the very best of what Movie Maniacs had to offer as a toy line. With the horror icons we were treated to in the first series, everything in the second series felt like a natural progression. It was a perfect balance of the most obvious icons as well as some unexpected ones.
In that second series, we saw figures based on Michael Myers, Norman Bates, Ghostface, and not one but two versions of Chucky in the form of an individual figure based on Child’s Play 2 as well as a Bride of Chucky box set featuring Chucky’s scarred appearance based on that film as well as his bride, Tiffany. The series also featured a bit of a horror antihero in the form of The Crow, and best of all, Pumpkinhead.
Pumpkinhead was such a surprise. It was mostly a forgotten monster movie by that point, and an action figure was the best way to showcase that creature’s amazing design. It definitely sparked my interest in seeking out that movie, which might not have happened had it not been for the toy series just putting the monster out in the open like that.
By that time, the Movie Maniacs line had already earned a strong reputation. The third series, given that, was a bit of a surprise. It took a different approach and sort of stepped away from horror. I remember not being a fan of that as a kid, but I think it was a cool idea in retrospect. The horror icons in series three were based on sci-fi/horrors like The Fly and The Thing. Both of which were great creature designs that absolutely warranted action figures.
The only real horror icon in the lineup for series three was Ash of the Evil Dead films, here based on his appearance in Army of Darkness. And then there were the really unexpected figures like Edward Scissorhands, Shaft and Snake Plissken from Escape from New York. Wrapping up series three was a huge, impressive box set based on King Kong.
The fourth series balanced out the horror with the new action direction a little bit. We got figures based on Terminator 2, but then also got a new version of Freddy and another horror icon with Candyman. It also offered an Evil Ash to pit against the Ash of the previous series. Most interestingly, and perhaps controversially, this series included two figures based on Movie Maniacs creator Todd McFarlane’s concepts for what the Blair Witch might look like. And it was also topped off with a large box set, this time based on Jaws.
Series five continued this trend of combining horror characters with Terminator figures. It saw toys based on Wishmaster, Jason X, the Lord of Darkness from Legend, plus the Tooth Fairy from Darkness Falls, which had not even been released at the time. And then it also featured Sarah Connor and the T-800 Endoskeleton from T2.
The sixth series was entirely based on the Alien and Predator franchises, somewhat tying into the crossover film’s release that year. And then the seventh and final series was entirely based on the 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, save for two unrelated figures in Hicks from Aliens and Robocop.
Even though I was no longer collecting figures by the time the series ended, I was bummed to see it go. At the time, I couldn’t figure out why it went away. Now, though, it seems obvious. By the time Movie Maniacs ended, the market was oversaturated with everything that that series had inspired.
By the time Movie Maniacs came to its close, NECA had already created new figures based on Freddy vs. Jason, it had launched an entire Hellraiser action figure series, whereas McFarlane toys had never even been able to license that property for Movie Maniacs. People had seen what Movie Maniacs had done. They saw how successful it could be and all of these other, smaller toy companies sought out those same licenses.
Movie Maniacs might not have lasted, but it has a legacy that you can see everywhere. It’s all over the place. We’re still seeing the impact of it, not just at every convention, but every FYE.
I can’t help but think about the kid I once was who was so desperate to see toys based on Freddy and Jason. And now we’ve seen figures based on every incarnation of those characters from every single film in their respective franchises. It’s amazing. These figures have inspired so, so much and it’s still so incredible to see. Every time I see a great new figure announcement, be it Roy from Friday the 13th Part V or Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, I think about Movie Maniacs. When replica Freddy gloves based on Dream Warriors, I think about Movie Maniacs. The toys might not have been great to play with—mine broke a lot—but they were revolutionary nonetheless.
Movie Maniacs changed the toy industry. And I think every horror-obsessed collector would tell you that it changed it for the better.