I was always into spooky things growing up, and looking back it seems like I was born in a pretty good era for Monster Kids: the 1980s/early 90s. Saturday mornings featured cartoons like Beetlejuice and Tales from the Cryptkeeper while bookstores stocked the likes of Goosebumps and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.
Toys ‘R Us, meanwhile, had Monster in My Pocket, which just might be my favorite toy of all time.
Monster in My Pocket was a brilliantly simple concept. The toy line was the brainchild of two former Mattel executives and was manufactured by Matchbox– the same company that made many of the toy cars I had growing up. Anticipating the current “blind box” craze, these figurines (which debuted in 1990) came in random assortments of six, twelve, or (in limited editions) twenty-four, and you never knew what you were going to get. “Collect the Greatest Real Monsters of All Time!” shouted the advertisement.
Each monster was small, plastic, and all one color– light green is the one that sticks out in my mind, since that’s my favorite. The monsters ran the gamut from essentials like Ghost, Vampire, and Werewolf to mythological beasts like the Chimera and Hydra to icons from film and literature like the Invisible Man and the Phantom. Each struck a fearsome pose, and each had a point value– 5 for the more common Monsters and 25 for hard to find ones. There were also– allegedly– Monsters marked with a star entitling you to receive a bag full of Monster in My Pocket toys. Many a child fantasized about uncovering one of these Golden Tickets, but alas, I never did.
Needless to say, these were just what the doctor ordered for a kid obsessed with monsters and Halloween. In fact, I still remember getting one as a happy meal toy with dinner at a Big Boy restaurant one Halloween night; certain figurines like the Siren were available only at participating restaurants. I also had a special “Monster Mountain” display base with little cubbies to display my figurines. It hung on the wall of my family’s cellar for years, long after most of my Monsters were lost and the toy line was defunct; I had a horror and comic book loving dad, so he appreciated them too. I had the board game, in which the Monsters were used as playing pieces and visited such terrifying locations as the Swamp, a Volcano, and New York City (my current home).
There was also a short lived comic book series about literal monsters shrunken down, which essentially fulfilled a child’s fantasy of their toys coming to life. I had a couple issues, along with the painted trading cards. Other merchandise I somehow missed included a Nintendo video game, stickers, and even an animated TV special called The Big Scream. The latter was a pilot for a proposed series that never got off the ground.
The toy line was not without its problems. Although it never generated the controversy of say, the Real Ghostbusters Fearsome Flush Toilet, categorizing Hindu deities like Ganesha and Hanuman as “Monsters” understandably rubbed people of faith the wrong way when those toys were released in the UK.; Monster in My Pocket was actually more popular there and in Europe than in its native US. Future lines focused on safer bets like dinosaurs and mutated insects. Universal Pictures also invoked their copyright to characters like the Phantom of the Opera and Frankenstein’s Monster, despite the toy versions looking nothing like the screen portrayals; the issue was apparently resolved with a credit in the Marvel comic book.
But kids like me had a special place in our heart for these toys. While their popularity eventually waned– I remember thinking that later, multicolored figurines just didn’t feel as authentic– the toy line made a lasting impact on pop culture and fans. The line has its own Wiki [Monster in My Pocket Wiki | Fandom] and likely contributed to the current fad for “blind boxes” of figurines from Universal Monsters and other fandoms among adult collectors– many of whom probably loved Monster in My Pocket as kids.
Monster in My Pocket deserves inclusion alongside R.L. Stine, Are You Afraid of the Dark? and seminal classics in the realm of gateway horror. Where would we be without them?