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Thursday, 14 October 2010

Vault of Evil Comic

I came across this on eBay recently. The cover picture refers to a story called 'Midnight in Haunted Manor' and shows a skeletal witch on a broomstick, so you get 2 of the Spooks in one ('Widney' perhaps, or maybe 'Sinnie'). "No cross-bones", you say? Well, she seems pretty angry to me. There's even a curved staircase. As I've 'borrowed' the picture, I'd better give the seller a plug: it's 'sacredorigincomix', based in the US.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Exin Castillos

Exin was a Spanish company that produced, among other things, this very good castle-themed construction toy. In concept, it was similar to Lego, but actually far more impressive to look at, in my opinion (at least for making castles!). It seems to have been very popular and rightly so. This video (actually a series of stills) shows the toy well, so long as you turn the sound off and try to ignore the irritating titles!

As to why I'm mentioning Exin here: they also made a series of small figures to go with their Castillos range, including two 'Alf'-type ghosts and a witch on a broomstick. Although no longer in production officially, the figures do seem to be available from Mexico in plain unpainted plastic as shown below:

The ghosts and witch figures would be perfect for a 3D version of the Spooks and could easily be coated with luminous paint. The knight figure on the right would make an acceptable 'Algernon' and there is also a medieval princess figure (not shown), more 'Polly Plantaganet' than 'Tilly Tudor'.

The video below shows a castle with ghost figure. Note the 'burning' torches on the walls - very atmospheric.
Thanks to Kim for bringing Exin Castillos to my attention.

The Restless Ghost

With Christmas practically here, now is a good time to mention the humble ghost story, given its associations with this time of year. Think of Dickens: A Christmas Carol, certainly, but also the less well known The Goblins and the Gravedigger from The Pickwick Papers (thanks Stewart for reminding me about that one). Think also of the tradition of Christmas BBC productions including M.R. James stories (all typically unsettling, my favourite being Whistle And I'll Come To You) and Nigel Kneale's eerie The Stone Tape. Clearly, Spooks aren't just for Halloween!

This brings me to my next find, or in this case 'rediscovery'. The Restless Ghost is an anthology of ghost stories, produced in 1970. Although the collection is aimed at older children, it's perfectly readable by adults and indeed, I'm sure that some of the stories were not intended for children at all. The short story from which the collection takes its name was written by Leon Garfield and is a wonderfully atmospheric tale that I first came across when it was included as a two-parter, with Puffin Post, the quarterly magazine of the Puffin Club, in 1967 and 1968. It's set, I imagine, in the 18th, possibly early 19th, century and concerns two boys who devise a plan to scare a curmudgeonly sexton, by dressing one of themselves as a ghostly drummer boy, who is rumoured to haunt the churchyard. Phosphorescent paint is used for a convincing effect and the pretend ghost starts wandering through the mists, among the dilapidated graves, only to then encounter the real thing. It's probably been the best part of 40 years since I last read the story, but I remember much of it and can even quote some of the text.

Although I have access to the Puffin Post magazines, I couldn't find the story. After some digging around on the web, I discovered the title of the story and on closer inspection of the magazines, found out that it had been produced in two supplements, which have been lost at some point. However, armed with the title, I was able to track down the anthology containing it and am pleased to say, that on re-reading it, it still has to be one of the very best ghost stories I have ever read. The plot is excellent and the story-telling is superb. There are two illustrations for this story, including the one shown, by artist Anthony Maitland and they complement the story perfectly. Incidentally, the two boys - Bostock and Harris - also appear elsewhere in Garfield's works. I've also discovered that the story was produced for television in the early 1980s, with Wilfred Brambell as the sexton. If anyone knows where I can get a copy of this production, please let me know!

With the other stories by authors such as Nigel Kneale, R.L. Stevenson, H.P. Lovecraft, J.S. LeFanu and M.R. James, I'm looking forward to reading this collection to my daughters this Christmas.

Marx Universal Monsters Figures

A few years ago, I was looking for Auora monster kits when I came across these solid plastic glow-in-the-dark figures on eBay at a fraction of the price. The largest is about 6" tall and the poses are similar to the Aurora ones. There is no maker's mark underneath, but I understand they are re-issues of figures first made by Marx in the 1960s, possibly made by Uncle Milton Industries in the USA in the 90s. In the picture, they are shown glowing nicely under a UV light, although the originals were made of plain coloured plastic. The figures are: The Creature, Frankenstein's Monster, The Hunchback, The Mummy, The Phantom and The Wolfman. Oddly, no Dracula figure was made. Poor Quasimodo didn't really deserve to be classed as a monster. Also, I note that on the Polar Lights reproduction of the Aurora kit, he's referred to more kindly as 'The Bellringer'.

Here's a piece of trivia: The Quaker Oats Company, makers of Sugar Puffs until recently, bought the Marx toys company in 1972.

Aurora Kits

I first came across Aurora 'monster' kits around 1970, a little while after the demise of my beloved 'Fantastic' (later 'Fantastic & Terrific') comic. I discovered the American Marvel comics with my favourite superheroes in colour (although I found the artwork less impressive than in black and white) and with amazing ads: machines that would print money, X-ray glasses, all sorts of novelties and those kits. I bought a couple of the Universal Monster series: the Mummy & Dracula figures, but found the kits less impressive than the incredible artwork on the boxes. The kit which appealed to me the most was the 'Forgotten Prisoner' which I thought wonderfully gruesome. I added it mentally to my 'wish-list' and finally acquired a reproduction, made by 'Polar Lights' (get it?) a few decades later! Although Aurora has long since gone, (now followed by Polar Lights), it's good to see two other companies carrying on the tradition. First, Monarch has made a Nosferatu figure, in a classic Aurora style long box, with great artwork.

A 'frightening lightning' (i.e. luminous!) version is planned and a Ghost of the Forgotten Prisoner is also in the pipe-line. Moebius Models have already produced a reproduction of Aurora's 'Dr. Jekyll as Mr. Hyde' kit, including a glow-in-the-dark version in an Aurora-style square box, and they have some other interesting kits coming soon, too.

Finally, wouldn't the Luminous Spooks make an ideal subject for an Aurora style kit! I can almost see the artwork depicting the Haunted Manor, which leads me to this site which has some great-looking artwork for kits that Aurora never made!

Ghostly Chessmen

Steve has kindly sent in more pictures of the chess pieces he made. They are truly excellent - the Spooks were never this scary! He says:

Perhaps you can feel the influence of the luminous spooks at the back of my mind when I made them.
By rights it should have been Algernon Suit of Armour as the Knight, but I picked Winnie, astride her trusty broomstick. As you know Alf inspired the apparition who takes the role of Rook. Sidney Skull and Crossbones was behind the pawns, and the Queen is loosely modelled on Tilly, although in this manifestation, she takes the form of a vampire complete with flowing dress, fangs and candlestick.
For the King I decided on a headless Tudor fellow, standing in front of a tombstone. Finally, in the role of Bishop is a monk, invisible other than for the habit he wears.
When I retrieved the figures they had a layer of dust which I thought added a twist of atmosphere, so I didn't polish them up before taking the photos. As far as I know the concept of a set of chess spooks is unique. I hope you find the pictures of interest.


'C.D.' tells me

There's a free glow-in-the-dark Frankenslime (tiny plastic figure) in this week's DANDY. No similarity to the spooks, I'm afraid, but it's kind of a spook, and it glows.

I asked for a picture and received the following rather disturbing, scanned image:

This is the stuff of nightmares and a big 'improvement' I think on the original item:

More Luminous Halloween Shapes

These shapes, bought recently from Asda, are in the style of pictures from a comic, with the emphasis on fun, rather than spookiness. The apparition figure's not bad, though.

Glow Globs and Glo-Juice

'Glow Globs' was the name given to a glow-in-the-dark 'play putty' type of toy that came with spooky moulds, including ones for a skeleton and a bat. Kim has brought this to my attention, having had the product in the early 1970s. A little digging around revealed that Glow Globs first came along around 1968, not so long after the Spooks. I'd never seen anything that could glow in the dark that wasn't green until recently, so was surprised to find out that even though it was produced 40 years ago, it came in different colours.

I'd never come across the toy before, but in looking up some information, came across something else made by the same company (Kenner's) at around the same time. This does look familiar to me: 'Glo-Juice'. I seem to remember having a bottle of the stuff and in spite of the name, it was a type of paint. I can't recall what I did with it, but am fairly certain I didn't try to drink it!

Scared Spook

Here's a picture of a rather worried-looking ghost figure, from Steve, who says it's a cute little luminous apparition who stands about 75mm high. I don't know who made him, but I guess he dates from about 1970. Knowing I liked ghosts, my mother bought him for me. A hollow figure; he originally contained lip balm (soon discarded because it was the ghost I wanted!) He's been lurking in the attic since then and I thought he should put in an appearance now.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Ghostly Chessman

Steve Moore writes: The spooks inspired me a few years ago to build a chess set with ghost chess men. The chess men don't follow the spooks exactly, but, for example, the rook (an apparition with chains) was inspired by Alf, and Winnie on her Broomstick was the knight. I made the figures from air hardening clay and used latex moulds around them to cast all 32 pieces from stonecast powder.

Here is the apparition figure that Steve re-discovered in his loft. Although it was based on Alf, he adds: you can see from the photos he's much less of a friendly character. Note also the chains.

It is a superb piece of work and would look fantastic in a haunted house scene. I really hope we can see the other pieces in due course!

Spooky Pirates

These spooky glowing pirate shapes look great fun & could have made an excellent cereal promotion in their own right. I saw this set for sale on a U.S. site, but as shipping over here was prohibitively expensive, I didn't buy one. I can make out a ship, a treasure chest and a skull and crossbones, so there's a link with the Spooks. I always wondered why Sidney was in a picture frame when he should have been on a mast!

And on the same theme, here's a terrific set of glowing skeleton pirates. Again, I've only seen these for sale in the U.S. and have been put off buying a set by the high cost of shipping. Non-luminous painted versions are readily available over here on eBay, though.

Kim's been following a similar interest and has painted a pirate figure using luminous paint, as shown below, first in the light and then glowing eerily in the dark.

Marx Hootin Hollow Haunted House

This is a battery-operated tin-plate toy from the 1950s or 60s, with spooky actions and sound effects - rather collectable and correspondingly expensive too. Here's a TV commercial from the time - great fun, but the sound isn't quite in synch! Curious name for a place that appears to be on a hill-top!

(video no longer available on you-tube!)

Way-to-Glow Shapes

I found these on eBay. The packaging was for luminous stars, marked 'Way-to-Glow'. Perhaps these are the same brand. Among other shapes are a witch on a broomstick, a bat and an apparition. They are luminous and nicely spooky, so merit being included here. Unfortunately, they are too large to substitute for the corresponding Luminous Spooks.

Wilco Halloween Shapes - 4 Substitute Spooks!

When I first saw these, I assumed they were quite old - a low price (69p) printed on the card and no web address on the back. However, the telephone number is current, so it's likely these are a very recent bargain. The witch on a broomstick, 'spooked' cat, apparitions and bats are just slightly larger than the corresponding LS and as they have loops, would make excellent substitutes for them. Now, if only the front-facing skull were smaller, we'd have a 'Sidney' (minus cross-bones) too. Note the sad apparition shape - other than a loop on the top, this is exactly the same as one of the 'Glowing Imaginations' shapes shown earlier.

The artwork on the packaging is rather good, so I thought I'd include it here. Notice how some of the objects aren't reflected in the water. Spooky!

Haunted House Mystery Bank

Thanks to Kim for this one. The toy dates from the 1960s & according to a comic ad of the time:

1. Put a coin on the doorstep. Gears begin to whirr - light above door flashes.
2. Slowly the door swings open. A ghostly figure steals out - and covers the coin.
3. Suddenly the ghost spirits away the coin - and fades back into the house.

Having watched the video, I have to dispute the use of the word 'fades', but I must admit, it's still pretty good!

Halloween Charms

This US site has some great traditional Halloween-themed 'charms':

Note the plastic ones halfway down the page. These are of a similar size to the Spooks and like those are detailed flat figures.

Luminous Halloween Items from 2007

This skeleton below, from Tesco, measures about 6 inches in height. It doesn't glow for very long, but I think it looks quite sinister.

Tesco also did a much larger skeleton, around 12 inches high and an apparition type spook around 6 inches high. Both glow well, but are rather bland.

Beano Skeleton

Thanks to C.D. for sending me this scan of a luminous free gift that came with the Halloween edition of the Beano comic. It glows very well in the dark I'm told and I bet it can be made to do some great spooky dances. Terrific red eyes, too. I'll be adding some more Halloween luminous items soon.

Cat, Bat, Skull and Witch

This site has some interesting items:

Look at their 'glow decor' for large and small skull and crossbones. Also, at their 'scary decor' for witch, cat and bat. They are very similar in style to the Spooks, although larger and not luminous.

Luminous Apparition figure!

How about this figure for Alf? It's made by a company called Papo.

Glowing Tudor lady ghost figure!

I've been thinking about building up a collection of 3D figures based on the Spooks and here's the first. Perhaps this "Ann Boelyn" (sic) ghost figure would do for Tilly. Her head's in the wrong place, though!

Waddingtons/Letraset Haunted House

I remember rub-down action transfers, but not this particular set:

It looks great fun. The site also has pictures of many other books and dioramas from the 1960s, some of which I do remember.

Scooby-Doo Spooky Castle

This is one of a series given away in Sugar Puffs a few years' ago to promote the Scooby-Doo film. It's spooky, it glows in the dark (perhaps surprisingly, given its colour) and it's from Sugar Puffs, so that more than qualifies it for inclusion here! In addition, there is an amazing effect when it is held up to the light: a rough 3D picture of the characters is transformed into a photograph. The best way I could reproduce this effect was to create a negative of it, in black and white, shown below. I think this is an example of something called a 'lithopane', traditionally made using ceramics. Thanks to Stewart for this spooky item.

Old Time Horror Radio. Ghosts, Monsters, Mad Scientists and More!

This is a treasure trove of old spooky radio shows. Visit it now!

Kinder Egg Toy Spooks

Here's a spooky picture I received from C.D., who says:

I was playing on the computer, trying to scan my daughter's Kinder Egg luminous spooks, and the result was so ghostly that I had to send it to you. I haven't messed with the image - that's just as it scanned. The 'blurring' is obviously due to the fact the ghosts were out of focus due to not being completely flat on the glass. Anyway, since they fit the bill as luminous spooks, I thought you may be interested.

Many thanks C.D. - they fit the bill very well!.

Glow-in-the-dark Ghosts

These are made by 4M/Glowing Imaginations. They glow a nice green colour, just as I remember the Luminous Spooks doing. They are pretty good in their own right, although perhaps less sinister-looking than the Spooks. I think I'd have been happy with these back in 1965. The witch flying across the moon is particularly good. The set seems to have been discontinued, by the way.

Now to find a luminous skeleton to make a skull-and-crossbones...

Herma Stickers

Well, we were missing a cat sticker, but this one in here is just the right type (back arched and hissing by the look of it). And there are some bats and owls. I think an owl would have made an excellent 9th Luminous Spook. No space? Stick George downstairs and put an extra window in the space left! Many thanks to Stewart Reid for these.

Dorling Kindersley Haunted House Sticker Book

You could use this as the basis for a Luminous Spooks mark 2 set. Good stickers: bat, suit of armour, Tudor lady. There is a skull in a frame or mirror as well. It could possibly be turned into a skull-and-crossbones by using some bones cut from the skeleton sticker provided. The clock sticker is not as shown on the front: different clock, with a Tarantula crawling up the case (not a common sight in British manor houses!). It would do, however. (In fact, the suit of armour is shown with a weapon on the front of the book, but it doesn't have one inside. The contents and cover seem to have been produced separately).

There are some small Caspar-type apparitions, but none big enough for our purpose. There is a figure in a white sheet, which could be used instead. DK also do a Ghosts sticker book, which may provide a more suitable sticker.

There is no witch or cat (apart from a cat's head!). I had hoped the DK luminous 'Witches and Wizards' book would be useful here, but was surprised and disappointed to see it has no suitable witch or cat pictures there either.

The diorama is very uninspired. A missed opportunity by DK, in my opinion.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Luminous Spooks

Do you remember the Luminous Spooks, a set of ‘glow-in-the-dark’ ghostly figures given away with Quaker Sugar Puffs breakfast cereal in the UK in 1965?

There were eight of them to collect and they could be mounted in a ‘Super 3-D Haunted Manor’ (as a comic advert put it) constructed from the cereal packet.

The Luminous Spooks were special to me, not only because they were the first glowing items I’d ever seen, but also because of the ghostly theme, reinforced by the spooky artwork on the cereal box and by an atmospheric TV advertisement.

The thrill of seeing them glow in the dark is one of the enduring memories of my childhood. Just occasionally I’ll get a fleeting memory of exactly how it felt at the time. Pure magic!

There was a writing competition organized by the local library, or a bookshop perhaps. My entry was entitled ‘The Most Luminous Spooks Ever’. It appeared in a printed booklet along with the other entries and I had a copy of that.

At some point, I imagine the Manor become just a tatty box and so was binned. The Spooks were probably consigned to a drawer for a few years and thrown out when they just became bits of plastic to my eyes. What a mistake!

They made a HUGE impression on me at the time, so much so that I have created a website dedicated to them ( If you can add to the information there or just have memories to share, I’d love to hear from you.