Gross-Out Toys of the 1980s

Gross-Out Toys: A Guide to the Monsters & Slime of the 1980s

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In the 1980s, gross-out toys were all the rage. From slimy goo to repulsive creatures, these toys offered a world of grotesque delights that children couldn’t get enough of. While these toys may seem revolting to some, they hold a special place in the hearts of those who grew up in this era. Put on your mad scientist goggles and your rubber gloves and prepare to dive headfirst into the gooey, disgusting world of 80s toys.

A Brief History of Gross-Out Toys

Gross out toys, also known as gag toys, have a long history dating back to ancient times, where crude items were used to shock and disgust people for entertainment. However, the modern history of gross out toys can be traced back to the 1930s, when novelty companies began producing items like fake vomit, rubber dog doo, and other similarly disgusting items.

The 1980s marked a peak in the popularity of gross out toys, with a variety of toys like Garbage Pail Kids, Madballs, and other gag toys becoming household names. These toys often featured grotesque designs, with characters like decaying zombies, mutated monsters, and slimy creatures.

While the popularity of gross out toys declined in the 1990s and early 2000s, recent years have seen a resurgence in the trend, with both new and retro toys being produced and collected by enthusiasts around the world. Today, gross out toys remain a beloved and nostalgic part of pop culture, showcasing the fascination with the weird, bizarre, and disgusting that has always been a part of human nature.

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What the hell happened in the 80s?

The 1980s was a decade of significant cultural change, marked by a growing fascination with the bizarre, grotesque, and taboo. This cultural shift was driven by a number of factors, including the rise of punk rock and heavy metal music, the popularity of horror movies and graphic novels, and the increasing availability of cable television and home video.

In this environment, the idea of a toy that was deliberately designed to be gross, disgusting, or unsettling became increasingly appealing to both children and adults. Toy manufacturers responded to this trend by creating a wide range of gross-out toys, from rubber balls like Madballs to My Pet Monster and Boglins.

Pop culture references were often incorporated into the designs of these toys, with characters and themes inspired by horror movies, sci-fi and fantasy, heavy metal music, and underground comics.

But really, it may be all Nickelodeon’s fault.

Nickelodeon and the Rise of Slime

Kids get drenched in green slime on the Nickelodeon show You Can't Do That on Television

Kids get slimed on the Nickelodeon show You Can’t Do That on Television

Nickelodeon played a significant role in popularizing slime as a cultural phenomenon in the 1980s. The network’s signature green slime became a symbol of Nickelodeon’s irreverent and playful brand, appearing in numerous game shows and other programs.

One of the earliest examples of slime on Nickelodeon was on the show You Can’t Do That on Television, which premiered in 1979. The show featured a recurring sketch in which cast members would be drenched in buckets of green slime whenever they said the phrase “I don’t know.” This became one of the show’s most popular segments and helped establish slime as a signature element of Nickelodeon’s brand.

In the 1980s, Nickelodeon introduced a number of game shows that incorporated slime into their gameplay, including Double Dare (who didn’t want to pick that giant nose?), Finders Keepers, and What Would You Do? These shows often featured contestants getting covered in slime as part of their challenges or punishments, further cementing the association between Nickelodeon and slime.

Marc Summers and the giant Pick It nose on Nickelodeon's Double Dare

Double Dare host Marc Summers tells a contestant how to pick the giant nose

The popularity of Nickelodeon’s slime spilled over into the toy industry, with companies like Mattel and Kenner producing slime-themed toys such as the Slime Pit for He-Man action figures and the Slimer character from the Ghostbusters movie.

The Weird, The Wacky, and the Gross

Now that we’ve established why the 1980s were gross, let’s dive into it and take a look at the iconic gross-out toys and action figures that made the decade disgusting!

Wacky Packages

Wacky Packages are a trading card and sticker series that was first created in the 1960s and re-released in the 1980s. The cards and stickers feature parodies of popular consumer products, with humorous and often gross-out puns and illustrations. Each card or sticker features an illustration of a product, but with a twisted and often disgusting twist. The Wacky Packages series became extremely popular during the 1970s and 80s, and was known for its irreverent humor and appeal to kids and young adults alike. Although the original series was discontinued in the 1990s, it has since been revived several times and remains a beloved part of pop culture.

Creepy Crawlers

Creepy Crawlers was originally produced Mattel in the 1960s. Known as the Thingmaker, it was among the most popular horror toys for decades. It was reintroduced in the 1980s as Creepy Crawlers to a new generation of kids who loved gross things. The toy involved pouring a special liquid called “Goop” into metal molds of various shapes and sizes. Once the liquid was heated and set, it produced a rubbery, insect-like creature that could be used for play or display. In addition to the classic insect molds, Mattel also produced molds featuring popular characters from movies and television shows, such as Batman, Ninja Turtles, and Ghostbusters.

Garbage Pail Kids

Garbage Pail Kids is a trading card series created by Topps in 1985. The cards feature parodies of the Cabbage Patch Kids dolls, with grotesque and often humorous illustrations of fictional characters. The initial release of the cards caused controversy due to their graphic content, with some schools banning them and parents calling for their removal from stores. Despite this backlash, the cards were extremely popular and led to a series of spin-off products, including stickers, books, and even a feature film. The Garbage Pail Kids continued to be popular throughout the 1980s and into the early 1990s, but declined in popularity as the decade wore on. However, the franchise has since been revived multiple times and remains a cult favorite.

Madballs

Madballs gross-out toys from the 1980s

Madballs is a toy line created by AmToy, a division of American Greetings, in 1986. The toys are rubber balls with gruesome and often humorous designs featuring characters like Slobulus, Horn Head, and Dust Brain. The popularity of Madballs declined in the early 1990s, but the franchise has since been revived several times, including a new toy line in 2007 and a cartoon series in 2017. Today, Madballs remain a popular part of pop culture and are beloved by fans of gross-out humor and retro toys.

My Pet Monster

My Pet Monster is a plush toy created by American Greetings in 1986. It was a furry blue monster about 20 inches tall, with large horns, a toothy grin, and a pair of orange shackles around its wrists that could break apart. For kids who were into sports, there was My Pet Football Monster in helmet and jersey.

Boglins

Boglins is a toy line created by Tim Clarke (a Jim Henson puppet builder who designed and built the Mystics from The Dark Crystal and Uncle Travelling Matt from Fraggle Rock) and Maureen Trotto. Boglins were first unleashed upon the world by Mattel in 1987. The toys were hand-puppets with grotesque designs, featuring bulging eyes, wrinkled skin, and other monster-like features. The Boglins were an instant hit with kids, who loved the tactile playability of the hand-puppets and their grotesque designs. The popularity of Boglins declined in the early 1990s, and the franchise was discontinued by Mattel. Since then, Boglins have become highly sought-after collectibles, with original toys and playsets selling for high prices on the secondary market. In 2020, the Boglins were revived with a new toy line, which has been well-received by both collectors and new fans alike.

Food Fighters

Food Fighters is a toy line created by Mattel in 1988. The toys were designed to resemble various types of food, including hamburgers, hot dogs, and pizza, with arms, legs, and faces added to create a humanoid appearance. The Food Fighters toy line was marketed as a battle game, where the different food characters would fight each other in various settings, including the kitchen and the dining table. The toys were an instant hit with kids, who were drawn to their unique and humorous designs. The toy line expanded rapidly, with the addition of new characters, vehicles, and playsets. However, the popularity of Food Fighters declined in the early 1990s, and the franchise was eventually discontinued by Mattel. In recent years, there has been renewed interest in Food Fighters, with original toys and merchandise selling for high prices on the secondary market. Some fans have even created their own custom Food Fighters toys, demonstrating the enduring appeal of this unusual and entertaining toy line.

Mad Scientist

Mad Scientist is a toy line created by Mattel in 1987. The toys were designed to allow kids to play the role of a mad scientist, performing experiments and creating their own bizarre and disgusting creatures. The toy line consisted of a laboratory playset, various scientific tools and equipment, and a range of creature-making kits. The creature kits included molds for creating monsters, body parts, and other creepy creations using a special material that hardened and retained the shape of the mold. The Mad Scientist toy line was an instant hit with kids, who were drawn to the gross and scary designs of the creatures they could create.

M.U.S.C.L.E.

M.U.S.C.L.E. (Millions of Unusual Small Creatures Lurking Everywhere) is a toy line that was originally produced in Japan by Bandai in 1983. The toys consisted of small, rubber figurines that were sold in sets of two, three, or six. Each figure was roughly 1 inch tall and featured a distinctive, muscular design. The M.U.S.C.L.E. toy line was marketed as a collectible, with kids encouraged to try and collect all 236 unique figures.

In 1985, M.U.S.C.L.E. was brought to North America by Mattel, who rebranded the toys as “M.U.S.C.L.E. Men”. The toys were an instant hit, with kids drawn to their unique designs and the challenge of collecting them all. Mattel produced a range of merchandise to support the toy line, including a video game, trading cards, and comic books.

The popularity of M.U.S.C.L.E. began to decline in the late 1980s, and the franchise was eventually discontinued. However, the enduring appeal of these small, strange, and unique toys has led to their continued popularity among collectors. In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in M.U.S.C.L.E. toys, with original figures selling for high prices on the secondary market, and new M.U.S.C.L.E.-inspired toys being produced by independent toy makers.

Monster in my Pocket

Monster in My Pocket is a toy line that was created by Morrison Entertainment Group in the early 1990s. The toys consisted of small, soft plastic figurines that were roughly 1 inch tall and featured various monsters and mythical creatures from different cultures and folklore. Each figure was designed with a high level of detail and painted in vibrant colors.

The Monster in My Pocket toy line was marketed as a collectible, with kids encouraged to try and collect all 200 unique figures. The toys were sold in blind bags, meaning that the contents of the bag were unknown until it was opened, adding an element of surprise and excitement for collectors.

The Monster in My Pocket franchise was also supported by a range of merchandise, including a comic book series and a video game on NES. The toys were an instant hit with kids, who were drawn to their unique designs and the challenge of collecting them all.

More 80s Toy Monstrosities

The appeal of gross monster toys spread into every aspect of kid’s entertainment In the 1980s, spawning a number of action figure lines. These toy lines featured highly-detailed and grotesque creatures, often with an emphasis on violence and gore.

One of the most popular of these action figure lines was Masters of the Universe, produced by Mattel. The line featured a range of muscular and barbaric characters, including the iconic He-Man, as well as a variety of monster figures such as Skeletor and Beast Man.

Another popular action figure line was the Kenner Aliens line, based on the popular sci-fi horror film franchise. The line featured a range of grotesque and terrifying creatures, including the infamous Xenomorphs and their various incarnations.

The Real Ghostbusters line by Kenner was another popular choice for fans of monsters and gross-out toys. The line featured a variety of figures based on the popular cartoon series, including the various ghosts and ghouls that the Ghostbusters encountered in their adventures.

Kenner’s Beetlejuice line included bugs, monsters, and a Gross Out Meter that let’s you “get a reading on the gross people in your neighborhood” and “zap ’em with the flying bug.”

Other notable action figure lines in this genre include the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles line by Playmates, which featured a range of mutated and monstrous villains, and the Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light line by Hasbro, which featured a range of fantastical creatures and magical beings. Sectaurs was produced by Coleco in 1984 and consisted of a series of action figures and vehicles based on a fictional world where humans coexisted with insect-like hybrid creatures.

Too Gross

Toys of the 1980s were a reflection of the pop culture of the time and sparked a revolution in the toy industry. From the iconic Garbage Pail Kids to the slime-filled Mad Scientist, these playthings captured the imaginations of children and adults alike. Despite facing controversy and criticism, they left an indelible mark on pop culture and continue to inspire new generations. Whether it’s nostalgia or a fascination with the strange and unusual, the appeal of these toys endures to this day. In more recent years, toys such as the Queasy Bake oven, Grossery Gang, Flush Force, Doctor Dreadful’s Zombie Lab, The Uglys Pet Shop, The Track Pack, Fungus Among Us, Million Warriors, Funko’s Twisted Treats, Treasure X, and the Pimple Pete game are all reminiscent of 80s gross-out toys and stand as a testament to our undying love of all that is disgusting.