I’m not much of a one for Halloween. I don’t remember when it stopped being the night a few kids begged sweets off the neighbours and turned into the unavoidable, fortnight-long sea of green-coloured Yank0-influenced bollocks it seems to have become. If there’s a Halloween equivalent of Scrooge, it’s me.
This Halloween, however, I had a ball. A conversation sparked up on Twitter about the 70’s ‘Horror’ Top Trumps deck and it awakened in me all kinds of enjoyably disturbing feelings. Twitter chums (must think of a less twee name for them than that) started posting the cards and debating the comparative killing power of ‘The Mad Axeman’ versus ‘Circus of Death’. I owned this deck and was instantly transported back to the late 70’s where I found my 10-year old self being vaguely and inexplicably scared of ‘Headhunter’ – God know why, his Fear Factor was only 78.
Further investigation, however, raised my hackles. It became apparent that the ‘Horror’ deck was one of the shoddiest pieces of ill-conceived tat ever foisted upon the desperate-for-entertainment, pre-Nintendo (pre-VHS for that matter) children of the 1970’s. The whole thing smacks of last-thing-on-a-Friday-need-to-hit-the-printers panic thinking and the designers of Waddington (originators of the game) must look back and shudder, more out of shame than fear.
Firstly there are the drawings. Most are clearly thieved from old Hammer or RKO publicity stills, mainly Lon Chaney Jr films. ‘The Hangman’ is Lon Chaney in Phantom of the Opera, ‘The Mad Magician’ is Lon Chaney in London after Midnight and ‘Werewolf’ is Lon Chaney in The Wolf Man (though with an inexplicably apologetic look in his eyes – ‘I am so sorry everyone, I really should have shaved before coming out’).
Aside from the blatant thievery there is also the quality of the drawings. Were they pissed? All they did was trace some pictures and colour them in badly. I know that they were working in pre-Photoshop and Illustrator days but, even so, couldn’t they at least have hired actual artists? ‘The Thing’ looks like it was scribbled by a 4-year old, ‘Alien Creature’ (and what a lazily vague name that is) seems to by a self-portrait by a blindfolded Ann Widdecombe and I can only think that ‘Zetan Priest’ is the result of drawings of a cauliflower and a rainbow being accidentally glued together.
It became apparent that the ‘Horror’ deck was one of the shoddiest pieces of ill-conceived tat ever foisted upon the desperate-for-entertainment, pre-Nintendo (pre-VHS for that matter) children of the 1970’s.
The characters themselves are just bizarre. Some, like ‘King Kong’ and ‘Godzilla’, are well enough known, but many are not only made up but made up by people with either no imagination or from descriptions found in taped interviews with a tripping Charles Manson. I mean, if you’re going to rip off The Triffids put more thought into it than calling them ‘Man Eating Plant’ (also, it might save confusion if you hyphenate the name, otherwise it could just be a bloke scoffing chrysanths) and don’t just draw a big brown shape and name it ‘Maggot’. That’s cak. At the other end of the scale are the just plain bat shit-crazy characters. ‘High Priestess of Zoltan’, ‘Zetan Warlord’ and, best of all ‘Venusian Death Cell’ are all (as far as I can tell) not based on any existing folklore and were conceived by a lunatic immediately after snorting a full packet of Space Dust.
Venusian Death Cell’, incidentally, probably illustrates better than any other card how mental the whole thing is. Here’s a creature ripped off the Sea Monsters in Doctor Who that beheads people with a scythe in a prison on a planet incapable of supporting life. Admittedly, the little ring of keys on his belt makes it all slightly more convincing, but not much.
Finally, there is the scoring, which makes no sense whatsoever. ‘Man Eating Plant’ looks about 8 foot tall yet has Physical Strength of 96, only 2 less than the bigger-than-a-skyscraper ‘Godzilla’ (who, for undisclosed reasons, is pictured wearing a bow tie). ‘Dracula’ (a genuinely shit-yer-knickers scary dude) has a Fear Factor of 81, a point less than ‘Granite Man’, who presumably is a bloke made of stone and therefore technically a fossil and not frightening in the slightest. Most perplexing of all is ‘Death’, who not only looks nothing like he does in my worst nightmares but also has a Killing Power of 95! How is it possible that 5% of the human population cannot be killed by ‘Death’? As with the other elements of the game, the scoring has been hurriedly slapped together and is clearly not based on any genuine scientific investigation.
Judging by the number of people that joined our Twitter debate about this deck the other night there are a lot of (mainly) men in their middle age who owned ‘Horror’ as a kid and remember it with a fondness that far exceeds its actual artistic merit. It may not seem that important to anyone raised with access to video games and M-Cat but in the late 70’s this was all we had, this was our Xbox 360, our Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, our fucking Xmas present. We had this lazy toss foisted upon us because there was nothing else out there but Big Trak (which only the rich parents could afford). It matters! We were sold shit! I wish I had a Killing Power of 100; I’d sharpen my Venusian jailer’s scythe, find those bastards from 70’s Waddington and tutor them in the ways of true horror.
Thanks to @KeithWildman @Olivercocker @thewrongwriter @deadbloke and @Harry_Flowers for awakening the memories and letting me nick their lines.
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