"The Hunchback of Notre Dame"
was my very first adventure with Aurora models. I got this one in the Fall of 1964. I remember that it cost ninety-eight cents and the wonderfully stated box art stared back at me from the shelves of the local Pay N' Save. To me, even the name "Hunchback of Notre Dame" seemed scary. "Hunchback" and "Notre Dame" were two scary sounding monikers.
Even stranger than this mysterious figure, were the circumstances surrounding him. My mother was separated from my dad at the time, and she was seeing a guy named Al Christmas. I secretly prayed that they'd never divorce, and that she would not marry this guy. A, I didn't like him, and B, I sure as hell didn't want to be named "Jeff Christmas". He bought this kit for me in a vain attempt to gain favor with my mom. Even as an 8-year old, I picked up on that. It's funny just how smart we really were as kids.
Building the Hunchback was a bit of a trial. This was a difficult kit for me to put together. I had no real experience building models before with the exception "Daddy Wierdo" when I was in second grade. The pillory was altogether difficult to make fit on its pillar, plus the wrist chains didn't want to fit into the eyelets of the pillory. But I do remember having hours of endless fun with this model, building, painting, and living in a world of wonder, for hadn't yet seen any of these monsters on the television screen.
I spent hours combing through my Famous Monsters of Filmland issue that featured the Hunchback. I remember reading about Anthony Quinn's Hunchback, and how interesting the character of Quasimodo was as a whole. Interestingly, I always thought (and still do), that the sculpted face of the Aurora Hunchback resembled Charles Bronson's demented deaf-mute in "House of Wax."
His hypnotic stare drew me toward that upper shelf in the toy section where the models were displayed. Dracula was easy enough to build. The only hard part was making the front pieces of his cape stay on. I always thought that the base was a bit strange too, with so many clumps of grass that seemed rather tedious to glue on. The tree, however, made up for it. It was nice and gnarled, very creepy and had bats resting on it.
The front cape pieces were difficult to glue on because they were so heavy. I had to use paint bottles to prop underneath them to keep them positioned until the glue dried. All I have to do is look at the box cover, and I am immediately transported back to the winter of 1963.
Perhaps the single most tragic model of the Aurora line, this kit was a major disappointment for me. There was absolutely no challenge to this model, and its nearly "snap-together" type pieces made it far too easy to build. It was basically suck-it-up time on this kit, build it, and move on to the next one. There weren't even any additional creatures to spice it up, no rats, spiders, bats, etc. To me, the only saving grace of this kit was the handsomely sculpted face that truly resembled Boris Karloff's Frankenstein.
In short, I have to stick with the old adage: if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all. Still, I can't help but feel that the Aurora sculptors had gotten a bit lazy on this one. Surely they could have a stone stairway base, or maybe a laboratory door, or at the very least, some rocks and maybe a bush. The flat perfectly manicured turf and a clean headstone were as boring as it got.
"The Phantom of the Opera"
One of Aurora's finest and proudest moments. The box alone terrified me. The Phantom had probably the best base of all time. I always considered this one to be two kits in one. First, you had the Phantom; then you had the mutilated prisoner below on the base. This kit took a long time to build. Also, the box cover rendition of the Phantom bears an incredible resemblance to James Cagney's portrayal of Lon Chaney's Phantom in "Man with a Thousand Faces."
I think that this kit could easily be the number one favorite of most Aurora fans out there. When I was a kid, my vocabulary was limited. So, learning many new words from these model boxes-and the accompanying instruction sheets, was a new experience. I had no idea what an "opera" was. Again, the word sounded scary to me. It brought to mind gothic images of dark brooding hallways and dank dungeons. I also had no idea what a "phantom" was either. So, putting these two words together gave me more fright terminology for my monstacabulary!
The fact that the Phantom was all scarred up was also a plus. The ripped up flesh of the prisoner below was even more fun than the Phantom himself. I think that the most of us afficianados will agree that the base was more fun than the kit.
Again, not having seen any "Phantom" movies, I was at the mercy of my own expectations and imagination. However, after having seen the 1942 Claude Rains version, I was sadly disappointed. The Hammer version was much more entertaining for me, but still, it was long on singing, short on monster.
Again, lured by the dynamic box art, The Mummy could have easily been one of my favorite Aurora kits. I loved the creepy pink and purple background on the box. It's very shroud-like, hinting at horror, yet revealing nothing. The Mummy also had one of the best bases of all time too. I loved the pillars, ancient Egyptian tablets, and the crusty old steps. Oh yeah, let's not forget the snake. This was truly a magnificent sculpting effort, and the face bore a perfect Karloff resemblance. I think that half the fun of the Mummy was painting it. The base of course was especially fun, but for my fourth grade modeling skills, it was rather difficult.
The Mummy seemed to be a serious monster. The stories I had heard about the movie, and the whole Mummy storyline terrified me. The idea of being wrapped up in gauze still alive and sealed in a casket was too much. Sure, it provided me with quippy jokes I'd made up in class like "he's all wrapped up in his work" or "he gives me good gauze to worry." Years later I saw the movie, and I'm happy to say that it was not a disappointment.
One of the unique attributes to the Mummy model was also the allure of Egypt and the mysteries of the pyramids. The tombs and crypts were his hometown, and in the land of ancient mystery, the Mummy walked tall. He moved slow, dragging one foot with one arm in a sling and the other outstretched. One eye was sealed shut and no matter how fast, or how hard you ran, the Mummy always caught up to you.
This one was an interesting kit. Once again, the box art grabbed me. I remember this one sitting on my dresser. I loved the house in the background. It reminded me of some of the houses we'd trick-or-treat at on Halloween. In our neighborhoods, houses like that one, with a field of tall grass were usual, and could be found within walking distance.
As a matter of fact, there were many fields that we used to play in as kids. They provided shortcuts to and from friends' houses. During the darker days when the sun started to set around four o'clock, I used the think about the Wolfman popping up from behind a tree, or hiding in the tall weeds. I'd scare myself into running so fast that I could almost feel his hairy claws on my back! A run through the field never seemed so long.
The Wolfman was a guy you didn't mess with. He had full moon fever, was indescriminate about his victims, and he had a generally rotten disposition to boot. He ran fast, and was scary. I remember that the movie "The Wolf Man" with Lon Chaney Jr., was one of the most terrifying movies I'd ever seen.
I liked this model, but it never really left an impression on me, and I don't know why. It felt like the beginning of an end. I can only speculate because I got this kit in 1965. The Beatles had just released their album and movie "Help!", The Beach Boys had "California Girls" dominating local record players, and girls were looking just a bit better-in-the-sweater. By this time, monster models were slowly taking a back seat to Secret Sam Spy Cases, G.I. Joe, and the girl next door.
Still, monster models and movies never lost their allure, and I had fun building this one. I think I enjoyed painting it more than anything. I'd gotten ahold of a metallic emerald green paint that my brother used on a model car. It gave the appearance of wet, green skin. I wasn't trying for that effect, but the outcome was wonderful. I fnally got to see this movie on TV shortly after building the kit and loved it. The Creature of the Black Lagoon became a new hero for me.
And again, new words came to festoon my vocabulary. "Lagoon" was a scary sounding word to me. It reminded me of quicksand, an element of peril often present in Tarzan and most outdoor adventure movies. "Black Lagoon" made it even worse. "Black" was always associated the the netherworld, the supernatural, all things evil, and of course, death.
This model brings back great memories. It serves as a placeholder for a certain time and flavor of my growing up. Unlike the usual Aurora repertoire, this kit was non-character specific; just some poor soul locked away and forgotten in a castle dungeon somewhere. I either bought this model at the local Fred Meyer store on 82nd and Foster, or at the hobby shop on Woodstock. The name escapes me right now, but hobby shops were just about the best thing on the planet. They're far and few between nowadays, but back in the 60's and 70's there were several.
One of my greater memories of this model was the painting of it. I used a white enamel to paint the skeleton which was a lousy choice because it made the bones shiny. Plus it seemed like it took forever to dry. This was also a tougher kit to build due to gravity. It was like the prisoner was just too flimsy to stand well enough to keep adding pieces. So, I had to lay it down in order to progress. I also recall watching "Mr. Sardonicus" on the Saturday night horror movie. That movie chilled me to the bone-pun intended!
This is what monster modeling was all about! This model made me want to put the Aurora designers on my Christmas card list and send them generous bonuses year after year.
Their genius never ceased to amaze me. This kit was also a monumental challenge. You could actually lop off the head of the ex-patriot as the heavy blade slid down the posts. Pop! The head fell into the basket (or sometimes across the room), and could be re-attached for yet another chopping. Now, I ask you, where can you buy fun like that anymore? The poster for this model quoted "harmless fun". So, how come I ended up in the Principal's office when I took it to school?
I truly admired the realism of this model, the way the wood, the posts, the pillars, and sliding platform all fit together so well. Though it was difficult for me to assemble, I re-bought it (and the others) so many times that practice made perfect. More experienced builders gave me great tips like putting two pennies or fishing sinkers into the blade casing to weight it down, causing it to slide faster and harder. They also recommended sanding the inside of the posts, and oiling them after painting to ensure even more dynamic blade movement.
One of my strongest memories of building this model was putting it together on our newspaper covered coffee table in the living room while watching "Bedlam" with Boris Karloff.