Review > Universal Monsters (Toy Island)

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Some have called them the Marvel Legends of Universal Monsters. Others have called them crappy.

Michael Crawford wrote a comprehensive review of these figures way back in April ’07, and he sure didn’t like them. Here’s his summary of the review:

With poor sculpts and weak paint, it’s not too likely that you’ll be thrilled with any of these in person. The only thing saving them from an even lower score in the overall is the relatively decent articulation and the inclusion of the BAF. […] While some of the photos might not appear too bad, the cheap feel of the plastic ends up hurting these once you get them in hand. I’m disappointed with them, and it’s unlikely that any other than the Creature or the Frank BAF will end up on the display shelf.

Despite what was definitely a negative review–and I usually agree with MC’s opinions–I really, really wanted these.

While MC’s among the best in the business when it comes to action figure reviews, I do think the fact that these didn’t resemble the actors who played them hurt them a lot in his eyes. Now, I consider Michael a friend, and I’m just speculating here, so I invite him to comment and correct me if I’m wrong; but from what I can tell, he’s a huge UM fan and, like many UM fans, to MC the actors are the monsters.

However, I think the look of the Universal Monsters are as iconic on their own as those of the actors’ portrayals, and it doesn’t bother me at all that they don’t really resemble the actors–in fact, to me that’s almost a positive thing, because it makes the figures seem more like a toy of a classic monster than an action figure of a character from a famous movie.

Initially, I wanted only one figure in the line–the Creature from the Black Lagoon. But I really, really wanted him, and finally found him at the store formerly known as the magic Toys ‘R Us (it has sucked as of late, and unless I happen to find the DCUC Lightray/Orion two-pack there, I am revoking its magic status for good).

Why didn’t I go ahead and get the rest of the figures? They were way too expensive. I don’t know if it was because Toy Island is a relatively small company or if the figures were expensive to produce and had a small production run, but these things were $13 each a good year-and-a-half before that became the norm for Marvel Legends or DCUC. If that’s the price you find these figures, they definitely are not worth the money.

However, I lucked out and found the rest of them on clearance sale at KB Toys for $8 each. At that price, I was more than happy with my purchase. So here I offer you this alternate take on the Toy Island Universal Monsters. (Note: because I’m lazy, I’m going to refer to Frankenstein’s Monster as “Frankenstein.” Pillory me as you will.)

The figures were clearly inspired by Marvel Legends, with similar packaging, articulation and the BAF concept. The packaging refers to this as “Series 1,” but I can’t really imagine who could be in a potential second series–the Invisible Man, the Bride of Frankenstein and the Metaluna Mutant? Not exactly heavy hitters, though I’d buy them (at $8 each).

I liked the packaging–it was colorful and interesting, with some great graphics, and the coffin shape is cute. It’s clamshell packaging, so of course I had to bust out the Kitchen Shears of Death to get them open, but if you’re a MOC collector I guess you’d be pleased.

MC was very unhappy with the sculpting, but I’m not. No, they don’t look much like the actors, except maybe the Mummy. MC seems particularly troubled by what he seems to think is a shockingly attractive Frankenstein, which–all respect to Michael–makes me think it might be time for a check-up with the optometrist.

While Drac, Wolfie and Frank are rather plain, the Creature and the Mummy are surprisingly detailed–especially the Creature–and I think the sculpting on the whole line is on nearly par with Marvel Legends.

Now, to be fair, most of the figures are too thin, as MC points out–again, especially the Creature. MC writes, “I’ve met Ben Chapman, and there’s no way Mr. Chapman could have fit into a costume with these weird proportions.  The arms and legs are much too skinny, the torso is much too straight from shoulders to hips, and while there’s some decent detail work on the skin texture and head, he still ends up looking like the original Creature’s sadly undernourished cousin.”

I guess it’s a matter of what you focus on. I was more pleased with the detailed sculpting and paint work on the skin and head than I was bothered by the figure’s thin physique. Again, to me this is a figure of the Creature from the Black Lagoon, not a figure of the Creature as portrayed by Ben Chapman in the original movie (if you want that figure, get the Sideshow Toys 8″ version). It’s like the difference between a Wolverine figure based on the comics and one based on Hugh Jackman. So if he’s a bit skinny, well, who the hell knows what a creature from a black lagoon really looks like?

That’s not to say there aren’t things that bother me about some of the figures. Dracula’s legs are too long and slender, Frankenstein’s legs are just huge, and the ball-jointed hips are obtrusive and ugly on all the figures except the Creature, for some reason. The Wolf Man’s sculpt can best be described as uninspired.

Again, though, I don’t have enough personal investment in these characters to be immensely bothered by it. If I’d gotten a Deathstroke or Nightwing figure with huge legs or a skinny body, I’d be ripshit.

Michael’s review bags on the Mummy for his purplish head and hands, and that’s fair, but I tend to overlook that in favor of the fantastic wash on the bandages. It’s as good as anything you’ll see on a Marvel Legends figure, especially in the Hasbro era. The same goes for the Creature–great wash, great detail work, especially on the head. The rest of the figures are serviceable, but nothing to write home about. (Ugh…a few weeks ago I was toying with the notion of trying to go a month without writing a single cliché. EPIC FAIL, Poe.)

In terms of accessories, I’ll admit it: they suck. I suppose you could call Dracula’s cape an accessory, since it’s removable. But it’s also a solid hunk of PVC and boring, and it limits his movement. This is one of those rare occasions where I would have liked to see a cloth cape (hell, maybe I’ll make one…). Each figure also comes with the world’s lamest base, consisting of a black rectangle with the character’s name and a piece of cardboard with some lame graphics. I threw mine out, but if you really want to see how ugly they are, MC has some photos in his review. (Oddly enough, MC actually liked the display bases…what is this, Bizarro-world?).

Though inspired by Marvel Legends, these figures admittedly don’t have ML-style articulation–or even DCUC style. While they do have ball-jointed shoulders and hips, I would have willingly sacrificed the hips for ball-jointed heads and bicep swivels. Other than the ball joints, there are swivel joints at the neck, waist and wrists and hinge joints at the elbows, knees and ankles. The ball-jointed neck and bicep swivels are desperately needed.

One other problem to point out is the size–they’re larger than a 6″ scale. Why, Toy Island? Why not save a little money and make them in scale with Marvel Legends? I just don’t get it. The Creature and Frankenstein work OK, since they could conceivably be larger than a normal human, but next to your average 6″-scale figure, Dracula, the Mummy and the Wolf Man are disproportionately large. And unfortunately, they’re still too small to look good next to a 7″ or 8″ figure.

Finally, there’s the BAF. It’s…Frankenstein’s monster. Y’know, like the one you already bought in the smaller scale. Frankly (no pun intended), I would rather have paid a few dollars less and not gotten him. And he’s freakin’ enormous. Fourteen inches tall. There must be at least one Universal-owned monster who would make sense at this scale…or heck, ditch the lame display bases and the BAF and give us some sort of build-a-base, like a haunted castle or something.

That said, I kind of like the BAF Frankenstein. He makes for a cool Halloween decoration, and I can see some future Poe Jr. playing with him.

I think MC’s review of these figures was accurate and fair. That said, I freakin’ love these figures. I used to own a bunch of the Sideshow 8″ figures, but these have superseded them for me. No doubt that will seem like blasphemy to some…but the greater articulation, smaller size and general “toy-ness” of Toy Island’s line has endeared them to me.

If you can find these on clearance at KB Toys and don’t mind the lack of actor likenesses, I say pick ’em up.


Poe hits Topless Robot


The Monster Squad


  1. Poe

    Hi Tim,

    Before you buy them on eBay, I recommend checking KB Toys if you have any around you. KB had a pretty significant number of these up to a few months ago. They're not on the website, but they might be in the store.

    $70 isn't too bad a price, considering they were selling for $13 apiece at Toys R' Us (which would total $65 for the five of them).

  2. Tim

    I'm not a toy collector, but my 3 year old son oves monsters and I recently found this group of 5 on ebay for $70. Two questions: Are there any similar monster toy figures I can get him by just going to a store (I haven't seen any at Toys R Us)? Is $70 the best I can do for all 5, is there any stores that still carry these figures? Thanks for any help…

  3. Yea, it seems odd to me that you don't see a requirement that these should look like they did in the movie. I'd understand if this was a generic 'dracula'. There's been plenty. But this is a Universal Monsters Dracula – that's a pretty specific look. Even more so with something like the Creature, where the look was pretty well defined by a single movie. It's not the actors they need to look like – it's the on screen characters they are supposed to look like.

    Let's use the creature as an example, since he's the best of the set. He's skinny – way too skinny. He didn't look malnourished in the movie. You're saying that's okay, but if McFarlane produced an Alien figure that was way off proportion, would that be just as okay?

    And while the 70's Remco figures were cool for the time, I'd have a problem with a company producing figures that looked that way today – kids have gotten a bit more sophisticated in their tastes.

  4. Poe


    Thanks for stopping by!

    You're right about the price issue, though I feel like I addressed that in my review.

    As for the "license" thing, that's where I think we just have a different perspective. To me, "Universal Monsters" means Frankenstein, Dracula, the Gillman, the Mummy, and the Wolf Man (and maybe the Invisible Man), but again, not the actors who played them. The Universal Monsters have been marketed for decades since the death of the actors (and in some cases, other actors played those monsters in Universal films), and more often than not, it was just the most basic aspect of the character's look that was used–probably because the actors' estates have their own licenses.

    Out of curiosity, do you view the old 1970s Remco figures as not really being a "Universal Monsters" toy line because the figures didn't look much like the actors?

    I don't mean this to sound argumentative, I'm just curious what your perspective is. "Universal Monsters" seems to mean two different things to us.

  5. Ah, there's always room for more than one opinion. That's the beauty of reviews.

    Of course, you're throwing out the idea that they are based on a specific license (if they aren't "Universal Monsters", then don't call them that), and you're evaluating them based on a price that's almost half what they were originally.

    But if you're happy with them, that's all that counts. Tastes are always going to be different.

  6. Matthew K

    I have to agree with you, Poe. I picked up Frankenstein's monster for that 8 dollar clearance price. It's a great value at that cost. I think Franky needs a new paint job, but the sculpt and articulation are solid.

  7. Newt

    These figures are great, although I haven't ever seen the Creature so I can't buy him… Actually I did see him once and passed on the $13 price tag and haven't seen him sense. KB usually has the figs, but never him. He's popular!

    Anyway, Michael was off on the review on these. I agree with your review more.

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