Horror dolls threaten Barbie
Jacqui Goddard in Miami
BARBIE and Ken will
have to watch their backs as a new generation of ghoulish and
violent "urban toys" challenge their cosy pink suburban world.
American toy manufacturers are turning to ghetto
culture, urban style, rap music and horror to create toys for
America’s new street-smart children.
For the Eminem
generation, the toy industry staples of Winnie the Pooh,
Barbie or Action Man don’t cut it any more. To fill the gap,
independent toy companies are creating dolls that can
breakdance, bendy dolls in urban clothes, toy cars with
ultra-wide wheels and over-the-top accessories.
are also indulging teenagers’ obsession with the macabre. One
company, Mezco Toyz, has invented the Living Dead Doll, a
creation straight from a horror movie. The gruesome ten-inch
dolls, with devil-red eyes and blood pouring from their
mouths, come in their own coffins, along with a death
The characters include Sybill, who is
strapped in a straitjacket with a collar and chain, and
Inferno, who has auburn hair, fiery eyes and bat-like wings.
"If the toy market has changed, it’s a reflection of a
changing world," said Mezco’s vice-president, Susan Sisco.
The company also produces toys based on the rappers
Run DMC and characters from Quentin Tarantino’s cult film
The new toys are finding a niche in
America’s £19 billion toy industry.
"The toy industry
represents society in miniature," said Colleen McMillan of the
Toy Industry Association. "Whatever - or whoever - is
fashionable in the real world is likely to be picked up and
mirrored by the manufacturers."
Scott Harris, product
manager for New York-based toy firm Fun-4-All, knows that
real-life trends can strongly influence the success or
otherwise of his products. The company launched Posers,
bendable figures with urban clothes such as grossly baggy
trousers and accessories such as wallet-chains just before
urban toys became popular. "At that point, people didn’t
really know what to do with them. Now we are thinking of
relaunching, because the demand is out there," he said.
However, the company scrapped proposals for Tagg Team,
character dolls that would have come complete with their own
spray can and a plastic train on which to scrawl graffiti.
"Nobody could really get past the graffiti aspect," Mr
A proportion of urban toys are
targeted at late teenagers and upwards, many of them seen as
adult entertainment or collectors’ items, and it is the same
for the novelty market.
Fun-4-All’s Ozzy Osbourne
Talking Picture Frame, for example, contains a light sensor
that brings the singer’s family portrait to life, with Ozzy
uttering an assortment of bleeped-out profanities and choice
The Rev Christopher Rose, of Grace Episcopal
Church in Hartford, Connecticut, is a leading critic of the
dark side of the toy industry. He singles out products such as
the Mutant Power Bashers dolls which children must punch in
order to hear them moan, "Uuugh, my stomach" and the
Back-Talkin’ Crushers, which respond to having their necks and
Dolls with exploding heads, dolls that
carry knives, dolls that carry buckets full of body parts have
all been targeted by the campaigning cleric.
had a rating system as we do with movies, these toys wouldn’t
be in toy stores," he said.
In Greece, ministers took
action when Living Dead Dolls started appearing in the
country. Only a handful of the gruesome dolls were actually
imported, and those that were, were only on sale for a few
days before being withdrawn.
Few violent toys have
gained the notoriety achieved by McFarlane Toys’ most famous
product , Death Row Marv, which at the flick of a switch,
children could make convulse in a mock electric chair.
"He was real popular," said the company’s public
relations director, Ken Reinstein. "It wasn’t sick. It was one
of those conversation-starters."