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Bruce Markusen Revisits 7 of the Most Wacky and Wild Ads Inside the Pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland



Bruce Markusen Revisits 7 of the Most Wacky and Wild Ads Inside the Pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland

In October of 2019, one of the most treasured aspects of being a fan of horror came to an end. That’s when the final issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland was published, ending a long run that had started in 1958 and had, despite several stops and starts, persisted for parts of six decades.

The magazine became known for its wonderful black-and-white movie images, the witticism of its editor, Forrest J Ackerman, and for its general celebration of the genre of horror. But for many fans, including this one, it was also home to an array of advertisements, hawking strange and macabre products that only a horror fan could love.

Young fans wanting to purchase an item were instructed to send cash, check, or a money order money to a place called the “Captain Company,” which was affiliated with the magazine and was located at a mysterious PO Box in Philadelphia. And then usually six to eight weeks later, the product would finally arrive at the house or apartment of the anxious fan.

Some of the products being sold were quite appealing and striking, but many others were odd, to say the least, made even more bizarre by the wording and the images within the ads. There were Venus fly traps, sea monkeys, giant pink hands, and other artifacts that defy description or explanation.

In more recent years, the Captain Company developed an online store, but sadly that went out of business soon after Famous Monsters of Filmland folded up. Many of the products are no longer manufactured, but remain popular as collector’s items, often at substantial prices.

Here is a collection of seven of my favorite advertisements from the pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland, including the good, the weird, and the ugly.

7. Don Post’s Masks:

Famous Monsters Ad Don Post Masks

This advertisement, likely from the late 1960s, showcases some of the wonderful work of master mask maker Don Post. Prior to his death in 1979, Post established a reputation as the king of high-quality latex masks.

Of the six masks shown at the top of the ad, my two favorites are the Frankenstein mask and The Mummy mask. Hey, I’d be proud to wear either one. Each of the advertised masks cost $8.95, plus postage and handling. In today’s market, they’d likely come close to $200.

I also love the masks at the bottom of the ad – the “super and deluxe creepy and eerie” masks. Not only are they creepy and eerie, but they’re also somewhat funny, particularly the two “eerie” masks with the two lone teeth showing in the front.

While a number of the products advertised in the pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland were cheap and tended to break down quickly, the masks of Don Post represented one of the exceptions. These were high-quality masks that held their shape and covered the whole head, not just the front. They were all designed by Post, who began his creations in the late 1930s. In some cases, Post made masks for the makeup departments of film studios. He then developed a strong following through Famous Monsters.

Although Post died over 40 years ago, his company continued to produce masks until 2012, when the business finally closed its doors. If you’re looking for a current company that makes high quality masks, one option is “Trick or Treat Studios,” which features Don Post’s son as part of its design team.

6. The Frankenstein Mad Mask:

Ad Frankenstein Mad Mask

While I have at least vague memories of most of the vintage ads that appeared in Famous Monsters of Filmland, this is one that I do not recollect at all. Still, it’s an absolute gem. It’s the “Frankenstein Mad Mask,” which actually dripped blood (well, not real blood, but some kind of a red substitute).

According to the ad, a simple move of the head would result in “huge blood drops” that seemingly poured out of the eye holes and the creases in the forehead. It all sounded quite ghastly.

And yet, the ad claimed that it’s all “a trick,” and promised purchasers that they would remain “perfectly clean and dry.” I’m not sure how the manufacturer accomplished this illusion, but I suppose it beats blood (or a fake liquid) actually pouring onto your mask and making a huge mess of the product.

I wonder if the Frankenstein Mad Mask really worked the way they said it did. It sounds almost too good, or gory, to be true. Either way, it was another product of the vivid imagination of the 1960s toymakers affiliated with Famous Monsters.

5. Horror House:

Famous Monsters Ad Horror House

Published in 1963, this is an absolutely priceless ad from “Horror House,” a company that specialized in inexpensive trinkets guaranteed to entertain the youngsters who bought them—while creeping out their parents and squeamish siblings.

Of all the artifacts shown here, several stand out. First, there’s a pair of “horrible hands,” guaranteed to make your mother wonder what you took to cause such a deformity. Then there’s a rat in the box (which sounds especially lovely). And then there’s everyone’s favorite: a shrunken head, one with especially long hair. The ad also contained a variety of rubber masks, including ones for Frankenstein, a werewolf, a zombie, and a witch.

If you wanted to buy everything pictured in this ad back in 1963, you’d only have to shell out $13, plus a small fee for shipping and handling.

You can’t beat that kind of deal, even in 1963.

4. Shrunken Heads:

Ad Shrunken Heads

Speaking of shrunken heads, they were often showcased in their own advertisements. Two years ago at Monster Bash, historian and writer Frank Dello Stritto gave out some shrunken heads to a few kids who attended his talk about the Creature From The Black Lagoon.

One of the recipients was my daughter, Madeline, who was called to the stage and handed a shrunken beauty, much to her shock and surprise. (She quickly handed it off to me, but started to warm up to the idea and asked to have it back later.)

Frank’s giveaway reminded me of this advertisement from Famous Monsters. In this one, the head cost all of $1.98. On paper, the shrunken heads always looked frightening, and the advertising push tried to make it seem like the heads were authentic, but they couldn’t have been, could they? I mean, that would have broken several laws.

I never ordered one of the heads. If I had, my mother would have flipped.

But it would have been fun to bring one of those to school with me for show-and-tell purposes.

Well, at least I have one now, even if it’s only made of black rubber.

3. The Spooky Bank:

Ad Greedy Fingers Bank

Here is another fun artifact, one from late 1960s vintage. It was often called the “Spooky Bank,” but it had a much more creative name: the “Greedy Fingers Bank.”

The advertisement pictured here makes this miniature bank look very cheap, but it was actually made of tin and was quite sturdy. At a price of $1.95, it was an excellent deal for anyone who made the investment. These banks are very hard to find these days, but are still hotly desired—and can fetch over $100 on the open market.

Here’s how the bank works. You place the coin in the slot, prompting the skeletal hand, also known as the “Automatic Mechanical Pickpocket,” to snatch the coin and deposit it inside of the bank.

This is toy imagination at its creative best.

2. Wiggly, Ugly, and Jiggly:

Ad Wiggly, Jiggly, Ugly

This advertisement is particularly odd, with its headlining words of “wiggly, ugly, and jiggly.” But it epitomizes the wackiness of the Famous Monsters ads.

The pliable figures shown here stood seven and a half inches tall and bounced around as if they were made of gelatin.

Some of the figures had strange names, like “Vampo” and “Wolfo,” while others just looked weird, especially the one called the “Mighty Monster.” That figure is supposed to be Frankenstein, but it’s strange that he’s in such a weird pose, lying down and flat on his stomach. Is Frankenstein crawling, or maybe swimming? Either way, it’s very strange because I don’t remember Frankenstein being particularly adept at either of those activities.

Each one of these rubbery figures cost a dollar, meaning you could have purchased the whole lot for $12 bucks, plus shipping and handling.

As if the ad isn’t bizarre enough, it has a great tag line at the bottom. “They’re the worst of the best.” That they are, friends. That they are.

1. The Guillotine:

Famous Monsters Ad Guillotine

This just might be my favorite advertisement to ever appear in the pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland. Lo and behold, a real, working guillotine, straight from Madame Tussaud’s Chamber of Horrors. As the ad proclaimed, “Victim will lose his head. It really works!”

When I first saw the ad, I thought it said that the guillotine was 10 feet high, despite costing under a dollar. Given the cheap price, I thought that it must have been made of paper. And then I realized the guillotine was only 10 inches in height. That made a lot more sense—and seemed a lot less dangerous, too.

Still, how you can you beat getting a working guillotine for 98 cents, plus 25 cents for postage and handling? The simple answer is, you can’t. Just don’t put your finger – or any other important body part – under the blade.

In picking these seven advertisements, I’ve merely scratched the surface of the products offered in Famous Monsters of Filmland. There are literally dozens of others that I could have shown, including an array of plastic models, posters, amulets, buttons, film reels, dirt from Dracula’s Castle, and even hypodermic needles. (And I’m not kidding on that last one).

If any of these artifacts had the remotest chance of appealing to kids, no matter how weird or tasteless, the Captain Company would do their best to sell them. And I loved each and every one of them.

Consider picking up Bruce’s new book Hosted Horror on Television, which is currently available through the McfarlandBooks website.