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Monster Model Memories

Click Here To See Aurora Model Box Art

At a buck-thirty-five apiece, which is what they cost when I
first bought them, the Aurora monster models were a
steal. Today, if you're lucky enough to have one unassembled
 in its original box, it would command several hundred
dollars, probably more!

    Time: Christmas morning, 1962. Place: my parent's apartment in Saltsburg, PA, a little town about an hour's drive from Pittsburgh. Under the Christmas tree, among all the other things, one present from my aunt Ann stood out: a box with a very distinctive painting of a green-faced Frankenstein Monster. Naturally, I grabbed it first, and took my first step into the world of the Aurora monster models. Over the next several years, the "creation" of these mass produced monster figures became an obsession which I ardently shared with several of my friends.
    The Aurora monsters were delightfully different from the drab model cars, planes and ships that over-populated the shelves of most hobby stores at that time. When they first came out, I was stillhttp://www.angelfire.com/scifi/tower/houseofwax/images1/dracula.jpg (65804 bytes) young enough to be a little scared of monsters, and building the models was a slightly creepy experience at first. As a model was being assembled, it slowly seemed to become more real to me, almost as though building it were a kind of invocation of the monster itself; a summoning of it into my home. But since I was the one putting the model together, I could feel a kind of power over the monster. I started to view myself as its master, and this helped me to come to terms with my fears. The Aurora models actually played a therapeutic role in my development!
    Like most kids, I couldn't wait to see the fully assembled models and always put them together without painting the separate pieces first. This made their eventual painting more difficult. At first I used glossy enamel paint, but soon switched to special  matte-finish "monster paint" that came in miniature cans with morbid names for the different colors like "Tombstone White," "Midnight Black," and "Bloody Red." When painting a monster model, one major http://www.angelfire.com/scifi/tower/houseofwax/images1/wolfman.jpg (76600 bytes) guideline-firmly established by our pre-teen assumptions-- was followed. It can be easily summed up in a single sentence: All monsters must be bloody! Dracula and the Wolf Man had to have trickles of blood dripping from the corners of their mouths. The green-faced Frankenstein monster needed blood red scars and blood on his huge hands.
The Creature's claws were bloody, and so were the cruel whip-welts on the Hunchback. Even the Mummy could be given a bloody discharge from his sealed-over right eye. None of us knew how to make the Phantom of the Opera bloody, but Aurora plastics had wisely included a badly scarred-up prisoner screaming from a barred window on thehttp://www.angelfire.com/scifi/tower/houseofwax/images1/phantom.jpg (40937 bytes) Phantom's stand, and he provided a convenient excuse to indulge in the requisite blood-bath. Some kids literally splattered their monsters with red paint, while others (such as myself) added it more tastefully with a brush. 
    Certain models presented special challenges. Seemingly in a blue funk over the desecration of his tomb, the Mummy gave me the most trouble. His raised left hand kept falling off, and I couldn't get the color of his bandages right. They needed to look moldy, but the shades of gray I tried mixing with my Monster Paints just didn't look good. I finally solved this aesthetic dilemma (at least to my satisfaction) by sticking tiny strips of chewed-up chewing gum on strategically selected parts of his body. My dad told me that this made Kharis look like he'd been standing under a flock of pigeons, but I thought he looked great. However, the gods of ancient Egypt must have taken umbrage at the undignified fashion I had chosen to decorate their bandaged servant, for they sent a plague of insects in the night to attempt removing the offending chewing gum. I awoke the next morning to find http://www.angelfire.com/scifi/tower/houseofwax/images1/mummy.jpg (82420 bytes) a very upset mother and a mummy model swarming with black ants.
    Monster models had to be displayed in a special way. You couldn't just put them on a shelf beside your model cars and rockets. Monsters needed a dark domain of their own, preferably one with special features. Aurora Plastics also catered to this need, and issued two boxed sets of plastic skulls, bones, severed hands, mad dogs, giant lizards, vultures and spiders that could be used to accent their already lurid models. The table in my bedroom where my monsters resided looked like a miniature abattoir , so replete did it become with diminutive skeletal remains and rotting body parts. After forgiving me for the ant invasion, my mother even made a backdrop out of cardboard which  hung on the wall behind the models, silhouetting them against a suitably creepy scene of hand-painted dead trees, toppling tombstones, and moonlit haunted houses. 
    My parents were remarkably indulgent when it came to monster models, magazines, and movies on Chiller Theater.  But I finally crossed the bad-taste line after running home with Madame Tussaud's Guillotine in my eager clutches. This had to be the ultimate in morbid fantasies for twelve year olds. A bound figure lay immobile with terror, his neck entrapped by a wooden yoke, his eyes riveted on the basket waiting to catch his head when the deadly blade finally fell. And--scare bleu!--this ghastly little machine really worked! A string was pulled, the blade flashed down, and the unfortunate victim lost his head. It was truly a sickening reminder of man's ingenuity in creating ways to make his fellow man suffer and die... I loved it. So enamored was I of this demonic device that I set it up for all to see on the living room mantelpiece. But this was a little too much for dad. The parental ax came down on my wonderful guillotine, and he made me hide the thing in my bedroom, along with the other horrors. He carried on as though he'd had an ancestor executed  during the French Revolution, and made me promise never to publicly display the infernal plastic contraption again.
    I eventually out-grew the monster model phase (only to grow back into it at age 40!) and my models got packed away in my closet. But I never forgot them. Some of my friends held informal auto de fays and burnt their figures, or stuffed them with firecrackers and blew them to bits in violent rites of passage into their teen years. But I left my monsters gather dust and wait...wait till the time was right for them to live again. Happily, that day came when my own son grew old enough to become curious about monsters himself. The moon was full and the air was filled with monsters. I brought the models home one day after visiting my mother, and smiled at the delight Max took in examining their crudely painted features. Eventually, I even removed the thick coatings of model paint with nail polish remover, and redid most of them for him with water colors--a laborious job, but http://www.angelfire.com/scifi/tower/houseofwax/images1/frankenstein.jpg (62977 bytes) one which produces pleasing results and provides a middle aged man with a wonderful excuse to spend hours  reliving his childhood with his own son. We repainted Frankenstein's monster first--a meaningful choice since he was the first monster I ever "created." As layer after layer of old paint came off, it seemed as though he was coming alive...alive! When we were finally finished, the flat-headed, hollow-cheeked figure looked just like Boris Karloff and seemed to come striding ponderously right off his stand toward us. We carried our monster upstairs for the night, and as Max crawled into bed I proudly set the figure down on his desk. "Dad, could you keep Frankenstein in your room?" he asked, looking a little sheepish. "I really like him, but...well, he's kinda too creepy!" 
    As I looked around at a room filled with sharp-toothed dinosaur carnivores, spider-faced alien Predators, pop-eyed Ghostbuster chain-rattlers and Goosebumps books, I felt a definite surge of happiness, like a high voltage power arc crossing the electrode gap in a mad scientist's laboratory.
After all those years of dormancy, my old Frankenstein was still the scariest thing in town.   



   
The best site devoted to the Aurora models
can be found at:

The Aurora Monster Kit Site

And to see some of the new monster figures,
be sure to visit:

Sideshow Toys

 

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