Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Violent movies, kid-friendly merchandise

As a change of pace, this week's entry I'm going to be looking at the hilarious world of movie merchandise. Nowadays there's a lot of companies like McFarlane Toys who specialise in making highly detailed replica models of famous movie characters like Pinhead or Ash from Army of Darkness. And these are clearly designed for adult collectors with the figures are usually sold on the top shelves in comic book shops. But back in the 80s and early 90s these companies didn't exist. Instead you had children's toy companies like Kenner buying the merchandising rights to make action figures of some of the most violent 18-rated movies.

I remember seeing these types of figures in toy stores as a kid and being really confused. Why were they trying to sell toys related to movies that I wouldn't legally be able to watch until I was 18? I guess part of it comes from the fact that the ratings system is different in America and should a parent wish to they can take their 8 year old to see the latest Hostel film. Even so I can't help but find it highly amusing how quickly and shameless these figures were produced and what lengths they went to make them child friendly.


I've got to say, bar watching Romero's Day of the Dead, as a kid no other film has shocked me by it's violence than Paul Verhoeven's original Robocop. The part where Alex Murphy is repeatedly shot by the main criminals and somehow still survives long enough not only for Clarence Boddicker to fire a bullet point blank into his head but also to remain conscious while the doctors try to restart his heart was a true eye opener. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. The film is filled with equally graphic pieces; the young executive getting blasted by ED-209, Emil being doused in toxic waste and getting liquidised when he's run over, Boddicker getting spiked in the neck. The list is endless.

Of course, Robocop was clearly too iconic a figure not to turn into a toy. I mean just look costume design, hell even the concept of a robot cop sounds like it should be cartoon rather than a film. On the DVD commentary Verhoeven even says something to that effect when describing how he reacted on first reading the title of the script. He threw it in the bin before he turned to page 1. It was only when his wife picked it out and started reading it that she discovered it was anything but kid friendly and in fact would make a perfect fit with his back catalogue.

Famously Robocop has been dumbed down several times. Firstly, with Fred Dekker's Robocop 3 and then with the subsequent non-violent TV series and animated series. I wonder if they'll still make toys for the upcoming remake? Hell, they're probably already making the molds.



Again, like Robocop, the brand recognition was clearly too great for the producers of the Highlander series not to license their property to not only a children's TV series but also some accompanying toys. The series was quite a weird entity. It was produced by Gaumont, a French company who also partially financed the live-action series with Adrian Paul. No one loves the Highlander films than the French – I guess it's got something to do with the fact that Christopher Lambert, a Frenchman, was the original MacLeod.

Anyway, the animated show was set in a post-apocalyptic future and ignores the chronology of the films (but hey, what Highlander spin-off doesn't). Basically all the remaining immortals, including Connor Macleod, come together and agree to stop fighting each other and throw away their swords. Except one immortal, the evil Kortan, decides not to play ball and becomes ruler of the world. Sometime later a teenager called Quentin Macleod gets shot by one of Kortan's soldiers and is turned into an immortal. He's taught the ways of the being an immortal by Ramirez (seemingly not the same character that Sean Connery played in the films) and starts taking down Kortan's rule over the world. People do actually get decapitated in the show but it's always shown in shadow or done off screen. And the series also includes the new kid-friendly way of gaining someone's Quickening, they can just give it to you without having to kill them.

They made a series of toys to accompany the series as well as a game for the Atari Jaguar (what a console). Considering all the other abuses of the Highlander franchise I guess the animated series wasn't too bad. At least a lot of thought was put into the design and quirky side-characters.


Again, like Robocop the increasingly cartoonish nature of the film's sequels justified the evolution of Rambo's character to become a literal cartoon. Rambo and Forces of Freedom ran for 65 episodes during 1986 and it was clearly meant to emulate the popular GI Joe series that also ran at the same time.

The series saw Rambo and his team take on globe trotting missions handed to them by Colonel Trautman. Of course, these missions had a lot of explosions and gunfire but seemingly no one ever got shot or hurt. The villains were a nondescript paramilitary terrorist organisation called S.A.V.A.G.E (Specialist-Administrators of Vengeance, Anarchy and Global Extortion) and all the members of Rambo's team had cheesy nicknames like Touchdown (a former American Football player if you hadn't guessed). Hell, they even nicked the whole Snakes Eyes/Storm Shadow rivalry by having two ninjas - White Shadow and Black Shadow - who were brothers but worked for opposing sides. Someone should have filed a law suit!

The series was produced just after the first sequel, Rambo: First Blood Part II. You could never imagine them making one just after the original film. I mean Rambo's near unintelligible speech at the end of First Blood about his dead friends is genuinely heart-felt. Whereas the bit in Part II where the beautiful Vietnamese woman asked Rambo “You take me America?” only to get shot literally 30 seconds later does feel very reminiscent of a cartoon.



Now this one didn't get an accompanying cartoon but I can't help but feel that they probably planned to make one. They released a toy for John Matrix and also several other characters who were clearly meant to be part of his special-ops team. Again, these characters had cheesy nicknames like Spex, Blaster, and Chopper. And yet again, they fought an evil organisation called F.E.A.R. lead by the evil Psycho (possibly modeled on the Bennett character from the film).

Commando was a pretty brutal film, maybe not as much as Robocop, but still had a good deal of violence. I managed to get the uncut version on DVD a while back which was a little tricky but totally worth the effort. Most versions completely remove the scene where he hides in the garden shed and then uses a bunch of tools to defeat a group of bad guys. A man gets decapitated by a circular saw bit, another gets a fork throw the chest and the last one gets his arm sliced clean off. Worst of all has to be the guy who gets an axe to the balls. I can't believe this bit got cut, Commando is already a hugely silly and enjoyable movie. It's like taking the cherry off the top of an ice cream sundae.

Anyway, I'm rambling. Mostly because I don't any more info. They made this toy. They stuck the title Commando and Schwarzenegger’s name on the front. What else is there to say.

Chuck Norris

Okay, okay. I'm slightly cheating here. Chuck Norris isn't a movie, he's just an actor. But he was an actor known for being in pretty violent movies and let's face it, he basically played the same character in all his films. Clearly, like Rambo and the Forces of Freedom, Chuck Norris also wanted a bit of that lucrative GI Joe cash so he created Chuck Norris and the Karate Kommandos (gotta love that forced alliteration).

The cartoon saw Chuck and his Kommandos go up against the evil VULTURE organisation (sorry, not sure what the acronym stood for) led by The Claw and Super Ninja. Similar to the Mr T cartoon, Norris himself would appear in live-action bookends in which he'd impart the moral lesson of the show for kids that were too thick to understand on their own. I've got to give it to Norris, the bravado of making a fictionalised version of himself as the lead character for a cartoon is very bold. He didn't want to settle for a Lone Wolf McQuade cartoon or Delta Force show. I can't help but feel that this hubris in some way laid the foundation for the popular “Chuck Norris Facts”.

Sadly, Chuck Norris and the Karate Kommandos only lasted 5 episodes but a quick search on youtube will probably lead you to some clips. Still they made toys of all the main characters and they even did a comic book drawn by Steve Ditko (who designed a lot of classic Marvel characters like Spider-man).


I saved this one until last because in my eyes it's the most baffling of all. I can just about see the thought process in turning all the above movies into cartoons. Strip out the violence and they're no different from GI Joe or Transformers. But Aliens? Really? Sure when you boil it down to it's essence it's about futuristic soldiers fighting aliens but it's also super-gory and psychologically disturbing!

Regardless, they did make a toy line in 1992 just before Alien 3 was released. Additionally they also planned a cartoon series that was going to be titled Operations: Aliens. They produced a pilot episode but so far only these stills have made it on to the internet.

The series was going to loosely adapt the 1986 Cameron movie with character like Apone, Hicks and Bishop inexplicably returning alongside Ripley. And in order to make a load of toys there were going to have lots of Aliens variations based on animals, such as Gorilla Alien or Snake Alien. Presumably no one would get killed but I guess since the xenomorphs are just monsters a lot of them would probably get blasted into oblivion.

Now anyone who's glimpsed some of HR Giger's artwork, of which the titular Alien is no doubt an absolute living embodiment, can attest to how disturbing them are. Grotesque monsters than on close inspection are nothing more than deformed male and female anatomy! Coupled with the fact that the original Alien has a lot of disturbing scenes that suggest the fear of rape by both genders. Kane is essentially violent impregnated with the alien and Ash attempts to choke Ripley with a rolled up porn magazine. And THEY WERE GOING TO MAKE A KIDS CARTOON OF THIS!?!?!?!?!? I don't think the internet has enough space for all the exclamation and question marks needed.

Anyway, the cartoon didn't come to pass but they shipped out the toys (just without the Operation: Aliens banner). The cartoon was probably shot down by how morbid and critically despised Fincher's threequel was (for the record I thought it was almost great but highy flawed). That and the fact that Ripley's character had been killed off.


So that's it for this epic entry. Any other violent movies you wished existed as cartoons or toys? Lethal Weapon? Die Hard? Re-Animator? Personally, I'd love to see a Steven Seagal cartoon and action figure. Under Siege would be the obviously chose but I'd prefer Hard to Kill. Mason Storm just sounds like it should be a cartoon character's name already.


  1. What an excellent article. I had the Rambo and Robocop action figures and me and my brother split the Aliens toys. The Alien toys all had animal properties, which I guess was going to be incorporated into the cartoon series. There was a Bull Alien (with horns), a Gorilla Alien, and a Scorpion Alien. Strangely enough, they didn't have the Dog Alien from Part 3.

  2. Yeah, I can only think if they made a dog alien they would have made it look too much like a dog which would have been too disturbing for kids.

    Of all of these, I think I only had a Battle Damage Robocop (from the TV show) and a Ripley figure from Aliens with a mini flame thrower. I was more into Batman figures.

  3. Great post! Besides the toys I also always found it strange that back in the 80s these R-rated movies got animated shows intended for kids. That would never happen nowadays!
    Chuck Norris and the Karate Kommandos is an unintentionally hilarious show. I remember when they aired it on Adult Swim for an April's Fools Day prank a few years ago along with Mr. T's Mysteries.
    I never even heard there was a planned Aliens animated series. I would love to see that pilot episode for the hell of it!
    Another one I never understood was the Tales from the Crypt animated series. I guess it would make sense if they just wanted to make a scary children's show and use the name but that show ain't for kids!

  4. Totally forgot about the Tales from the Crypt animated series - good call. I think I caught a few of them as a kid.

    Another one I've just remembered that I could have covered was Conan the Adventurer - which borrowed a little from the John Milius movie. In it Conan fought a cult of shapeshifter snake people who had turned his family to stone. And rather than killing them he had a magic sword that just teleported them back to their own dimension when it touched them!

    Shame no one's found a copy of the Aliens cartoon pilot but I'm sure it will turn up one day. I'm intrigued to see it in action. Another franchise that they considered turning into a cartoon was Terminator but it never got past the planning stages.

  5. Cool post, I never did understand how they made a cartoon out of Rambo, a series of films that's extremely violent, but I guess it was like G.I. Joe, a cartoon series that could be used as a way to sell kids a bit of patriotism. I remember that cartoon series and the toys being pretty popular amongst kids. I was one of them!

    And Highlader...a series of films where you actually have to decapitate your enemy to win! Baffling in deed!

  6. Yeah, it's weird that they thought Rambo and Highlander would make good cartoons while completely ignoring far more appropriate childrens films like The Goonies or Short Circuit!

  7. I think Goonies was a film that producers and toy makers and everything makers have failed to capitalize on, they dont seem to understand how much love is out there for that film! I think they only made one crappy video game and I remember being so dissapointed by it, I mean if I had the Goonies, I'd be selling the shit out of it!

  8. Totally, you could make toy versions of Data's high-tech belt for instance. The Goonies should have had a kick-ass trilogy along the lines of Indiana Jones, where one installment was really dark.

    I still wish the actors would drop everything and just do a reunion already but I guess they've all got other "better" projects to spend their time on.

  9. Excellent write-up! Would love to find the Commando toy!

  10. Oh man! I felt like I was 12 again reading this article. Really, really great article! I had most of these myself, but not the Commando one. But I would have if I had ever seen it! I do remember buying a Commando costume at my local toy store when the film came out, which was just the vest with a knife, compass and grenades attached to it. I wish I still had that.

  11. Glad you enjoyed the article. The Commando costume sounds amazing - I'd have loved to have that.

  12. What a great post! Total blast from the past. I remember watching the Rambo cartoon as a kid.

  13. Thanks Matt. Yeah, I think this might be my most popular post ever. The 80s were a pretty awesome time to grow up.

  14. I adored the Aliens toys as a kid. They were my absolute favorite. I was just discussing with a friend of mine that we both seem to remember watching the Aliens cartoon as a kid. To discover that one was actually planned, and a pilot produced, just makes me happy somehow. There's no way we knew about this. I think we just assumed, since the toys were so cool and popular, that a cartoon had to happen eventually. Though we both agreed a cartoon about rape demons from outer space was probably pretty inappropriate for kids.

    They also made toys/a cartoon for Toxic Avenger and toys/short-lived cartoon for Swamp Thing. Starship Troopers got a cartoon, though it was fairly mature and well-written. (And still shown in before school AM time slots.) I honestly kind of miss the R-rated movie/kids cartoon trend. I'm also fairly certain a Terminator cartoon was in development at some time. I would have loved that too as a youngster.

  15. Yeah I heard rumours about a Terminator cartoon too. I'd have loved to have seen how they would have done that in a non-lethal manner.

    Really hoping the footage from the Alien cartoon gets released one day. I loved those late 80s cartoons like Real Ghostbusters and TMNT.