Attack of the Living Dead

Note: A slightly different version of this article was originally published on Biggerboat in October 2006.

A couple years ago, during the huge zombie fad of the mid-’00s, Mezco Toyz produced a short-lived figure line called Attack of the Living Dead. The figures are a combination of today’s advanced action figure design and those old gross-out toys of the 1980s (times ten).

Attack of the Living Dead isn’t based on any particular film, despite the “Living Dead” moniker (a quick check at the U.S. trademark office shows that Mezco was able to trademark the title, so it looks like George Romero and John Russo lose yet again, courtesy of the Walter Reade Organization). The line was originally going to be titled “After Life” (and Mezco had trademarked that as well), but at some point they must have figured out that the “Living Dead” phrase wasn’t trademarked and changed to the new title to capitalize on the name recognition.

That said, these zombies look more Return of the Living Dead than Dawn of the Dead. Romero’s zombies tended to look like pale-skinned humans (though they got a bit gorier in the last two films), whereas the Return of the Living Dead series offered a variety of zombie shapes and sizes.

While the days of long action figure biography text and power ratings seem sadly long gone, Mezco makes a passing effort at providing some context for the line.

The Armageddon Epidemic has spread out of control. The breach of the “After Life” matter has infected the majority of mankind. The attack of the living dead is seemingly unstoppable. All hope is lost for the world we once knew. We can only pray that some of us will survive to carry on.The Attack of The Living Dead™ 7″ action figure assortment is comprised of three test subjects. How long each subject was exposed to the deadly matter determines their color strain and stage of decay.

It’s an adequate set-up, though personally I’d appreciate knowing a little more about this “After Life” matter and the origin of the zombie menace in general. Back in my day, for a toy line like this we’d get three zombies, an evil scientist who created them, and at least one weapon-toting zombie-slayer. Now I don’t even get a bio card. Who were these people before they became zombies? Did they get pulled in by one of those deals where the researchers post a sign around college dorms offering $50 for four hours in a lab? What’s the “After Life” material?

I suppose it doesn’t matter—the entire “After Life” notion is nothing but lip service to figure fans, or maybe just to differentiate the figures from the Dead/Living Dead franchises. Still, as someone who loved those bio cards as a kid, I might have appreciated something more to go on than “Zombies are awesome!”

There are three figures in the line: Jake (see above), Earl (see below), and Hellen [sic]. I picked up the first two, but I have no intention of getting Hellen, for the simple reason that she has pre-posed legs (i.e., her legs are permanently frozen in a squatting position and she can’t be made to stand up). I refuse to encourage the production of pre-posed figures. Jake and Earl, however, are fully articulated.

Earl is the real winner, so let’s start with Jake and get him out of the way. The AOTLD line comes in a bewildering array of variants. At retail alone there are twelve variants: each figure comes in two different colors and each color has two different head variants. The retail colors are pale and green; there will be also be online exclusives in black-and-white and glow-in-the-dark.

As an action figure connoisseur, I chose my variants very carefully. I had to consider both color and head shape. For Jake, I decided on the green color scheme with the fully-fleshed head (the variant head, seen on the packaging, has an exposed skull with maggots crawling out of the eye socket). Why, you ask? I thought Jake looked more interesting in green (the pale form seemed a little too much like a sickly hospital patient—not particularly fearsome), and the fully-fleshed head was both meaner-looking and reminded me of Evil Ed from Evil Dead II. I might have considered the pale version with the Evil Ed head had its eyes not been smeared with blue eyeshadow, making it resemble a slightly more terrifying clown.

In any event, the sculpting and paint applications are top-notch. Jake (and Earl, for that matter) were sculpted by Ralph Cordero, a make-up and special effects artist whose resumé includes The Toxic Avenger and George of the Jungle. Cordero’s design gives the zombies a slightly comic-book style appearance without going too far into the cartoony; these are zombies straight out of the old EC Comics from the fifties and sixties.

I prefer figures that can move to the plastic statues a lot of companies make these days. I like to make displays with my figures, but more importantly, I prefer to feel like the thing is a toy, not a collectible. A collectible is one step away from a knick-knack or a piece of junk; a toy can inspire the imagination. That’s my opinion, anyway.

Jake does well in the articulation department. He has a ball-jointed head and ball shoulders; pin joints at the elbows; and swivel joints at the biceps, waist, thighs, knees, and calves. I’m not sure why Mezco didn’t give Jake the usual ball-jointed hips and pin-jointed knees, though I suspect it had something to do with keeping costs down. It’s also possible that Jake wasn’t designed for those sort of joints, since he looks very similar to the zombie that was included as a pack-in with Mezco’s Goon line.

Jake’s accessories include a dismembered lower torso, a human head, and a brain. Yum.

So that’s Jake. Now let’s meet Earl.

This was the figure that sold me on this line. Either you find it the most horrifying thing you’ve ever seen, or one of the coolest. I accept that dichotomy. Obviously I fall on the “coolest” side.

Earl is definitely the flagship figure of Attack of the Living Dead. For one thing, he’s got the most articulation—ball-joints at the head, shoulders, wrists, chest, hips and ankles, as well as pin joints at the elbows and knees and swivel joints at the biceps, and waist. But wait—there’s one more! Earl’s jaw opens and closes for flesh-eatin’ fun. If you decide to pick yourself up an Earl, watch ot—there’s a variant head that doesn’t have the articulated jaw. Why anyone would want that is beyond me. I mean, if you’re going to buy this thing, you’re going to want to go whole-hog and get the articulated jaw, no?

Again, Cordero’s sculpting is top notch. Originally his concept for Earl was that he was a hospital patient who got loose and made his way to the maternity ward, and thus the toy would have come with a half-eaten—never mind. Even I’ll admit that’s way too far. Thankfully Mezco pulled back on that one.

Earl is a fat bastard, which seems to make him inherently more horrifying. He’s consumed so much flesh his stomach has burst and his intestines are spilling out. Yes, in what may be an action figure first, Earl has removable intestines. They’re rubbery and disgusting in the great tradition of gross toys. You can pile them into his stomach or let it all hang out; it’s even got a little nub on the end so you can hook it around his thumb…I wonder how much longer I’ll be able to buy toys like this without having to sneak into the store with a trenchcoat and buy it behind the counter in a paper bag. Or just order it online. In addition to the intestines, Earl comes with a human heart and a skull with the spine attached (perfect for your Predator or Sub-Zero figures).

I enjoy making displays of horror-themed action figures for Halloween, and Attack of the Living Dead fits right in. I also find something inspiring in Mezco’s chutzpah in releasing such grotesque toys. It’s a shame that Reverend Rose no longer puts out his “Warped Toys” list at Christmas; these “toys” would be a shoo-in.

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