Back in the late Fifties and early Sixties local television stations began to supplement their programming with broadcasts of the classic monster movies of the Thirties and Forties: Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolf-Man, The Phantom of the Opera, the Creature from the Black Lagoon and the Mummy. This, in turn, sparked off a monster fad among kids. As I recall, it peaked in about 1964.
The Aurora modeling company sought to cash in on this fad by releasing plastic models of these monsters. Among my peers at the time these models were ubiquitous. I recall a third-grade hobby show and tell assignment that led to nearly all of the boys in class bringing in Aurora monster models. These were all lined up in a row along the windows, and all of them had generous splashes of red enamel for blood.
I loved building these models, and had nearly all of them.
You can easily do an Internet search for "Aurora monster models" and pull up all sorts of web pages, not to mention finding actual models from the Sixties for sale on e-Bay. The images I have linked to were taken from various sites on the Internet (as you can tell by looking at them). All of them were assembled in a more careful and artistic manner than we kids normally did in 1964.
My text below isn't a description of the when and why of these models, but my observations concerning building them. I had nearly all of them.
The monster model craze lasted until about 1966; my mother even got into the act, assembling the plastic "Torture Chamber." It was a little disconcerting seeing Mom gluing together tiny racks and thumbscrews (not to mention painting blood all over everything). Eventually, however, alarmed parents and the dying out of the craze led to fewer and fewer kids buying these models. During the Seventies somebody hit upon the idea of molding them in glow-in-the-dark plastic, which I suppose revived sales, but as far as I was concerned they became passe.
Frankenstein - Properly called "Frankenstein's Monster," but I had no need of such accuracy in nomenclature and, like all the other kids, simply called it "Frankenstein." This was my personal favorite monster. The ground on these models were invariably painted with Testors green gloss enamel - which made for some unrealistic-looking grass. (Certainly the grass on the front lawn of the Clark house was never this green - it was too much work.) My other memory of this particular model was how fiendishly difficult it was to paint in the inscription on the tombstone. Also, those two little footstones were kind of annoying to me. I glued them on as the instructions dictated, but I wasn't aware of exactly what they were for until I became an adult. As I recall, every Frankenstein from my youth had a green face with a lurid red scar.
Dracula - As I recall, about half of the assembled models I saw had hanging bats and half had the bats glued so that they were upright. (This could be attributed to the fact that the instructions seem to suggest it's up to the builder.) Mine were right-side up, nature be damned. They just didn't look right hanging there to me. I really, really hated that stupid medallion, which was next to impossible for me to paint without getting yellow paint on the white shirt. I think nearly everyone painted blood issuing forth from Dracula's mouth, which, in this case, made sense seeing as how he was a vampire.
The Wolf-Man - I really liked that little skull. Some kids, in addition to adding red enamel to the wolf-man's mouth, had it on the skull as well. It just looked cool, that's all. Everybody used lots of Testors brown enamel on this one.
The Mummy - This was the model that really highlighted the fact that most of us boys couldn't paint fine lines well. The inscriptions on the stones were invariably thick and blurry. I suppose that with some patience and experimentation I could have developed a process that would enable me to highlight the inscriptions without making an utter mess of things, but it seemed that the primary fun of assembling models was gluing them together in one session (perhaps while watching the Saturday afternoon horror film on TV), painting them quickly and moving on to the next one. Being an essentially tidy kid, it bothered me that bits of wrapping were supposed to be glued to the body, as if he were in danger of unwrapping. So I didn't glue them on.
That serpent was invariably green. I recall one kid painted the eyes red on his model, which I thought was an imaginative touch.
The Phantom of the Opera - Now we're talking! This was my favorite model to build. Why? Because of that very cool little jail cell at the Phantom's feet, with the (invariably bloody) prisoner looking out there from. Without exception, every kid painted that poor little guy so that it looked like he had emerged from a meat-grinder. (Note that the instructions altrustically call for flesh-colored paint.) Did it matter to us that the literary Erik the Opera Ghost was a sympathetic character? Not at all. As far as we were concerned he was a disfigured, blood-crazed Spanish Inquisitor. When I was twelve I found a World War II vintage paperback of Gaston Leroux's source book and read for myself just how mistaken I was - but that was years after having given up my addiction to Testors red enamel. I liked the Phantom's evening wear better than Dracula's: that necktie was far easier to paint than the medallion was. I recall one kid glued the mask to the face, which I thought was original but entirely missed the point.
The Bride of Frankenstein - One of my last monster models, as I recall. After this one I would move on to superheroes and World War II planes. I really liked the electrical equipment in this one, and was a little reluctant to glue the little lightning bolts to the model. It was kind of fun having them loose. I think by the time this one came out the model makers had realized that we kids looked forward to splashing heavy coats of red enamel on things - and therefore provided a human heart sitting in a dish. For some reason I don't remember the human arms and hands strewn about on the floor on my model, nor do I recall painting that skunky hairstyle. I probably figured, "This is for girls."
The Hunchback of Notre Dame - This one makes me recall just how emotionally vulnerable I was as a kid. I gleefully assembled this model, wishing, as I recall, that the turntable could rotate. I painted the chest hair and hair on the hands - "Yeccch," I recall. And the scars on the back were daubed in the usual heaping amounts of Testors red enamel.
Then I saw the 1956 Anthony Quinn version of the movie... What really got to me was the end, where the hunchback found Esmarelda's body in the catacombs and simply lay down to die beside her. "Is that possible?" I wondered. "Can a man be so loyal and miserable that it's possible for him to simply will himself dead?" Heart-broken, I removed the little plastic ropes binding the Hunchback to the turntable and eventually, feeling unaccountably guilty every time I looked upon the thing, broke up the model and threw it out.
The Creature from the Black Lagoon - I didn't have this model but my friend Jimmy did. The Creature was Jimmy's favorite monster. I mention it here because it seemed to me that this model simply demanded to be painted in a light, wet-looking metallic green. For some reason, every kid painted the Creature's lips in red enamel, which caused him to look like a really ugly drag queen instead of the Gill-Man. Naturally enough, all of those pointy claw nails were also bedecked in red. (Note the image at right; it is a professionally-painted Aurora build-up given to retailers who sold a lot of models. They encouraged this nonsense!) What's with the huge Gila monster-looking thing on the ground? It wasn't in the film. Neither were the red lips, for that matter. Probably the model makers giving kids something fun to paint.