Written by Jonathan Wojcik
Now, you're more than likely familiar with a little something marketed under the name "Creepy Crawlers," or if you're a decade or so older than me, you would have remembered it as simply "The Thing Maker." Still a toy store staple, the dangerous electrical device has delighted children since the 60's with its ability to cook plastic slime into custom rubber bugs and worms. To seven year old me, it was simply one of the most magical, phenomenal, astounding marvels of technology the world had ever achieved, and over twenty years later, I've yet to feel completely proven wrong.
As famous as the Thing Maker oven may be, however, very few remember - or ever noticed to begin with - a short lived, unsuccessful attempt to expand the "Creepy Crawlers" brand into entirely different genres of children's entertainment, including, for some reason, a cartoon show and action figure line. The premise being that the Thing Maker oven is capable of creating real, living giant insect monsters, some malevolent, some heroic.
On paper, it's a great sounding concept, especially if you happened to be a kid who loved both monsters and bugs and very little else that the world had to offer, but in execution? Well, watch the video.
Yes, these protagonists are ostensibly "giant bugs," though we only know this because that is what we are told they are, and because sometimes minor characters would take one look at them and scream "GIANT BUGS!" just like real people do when they see large, strangely colored, shirtless men. I can't help but think that the character designs may have been finalized independently of the episode scripts, presumably by blind people who were told at some point that "bugs" are alive things with more than two legs, sometimes.
That blue guy with the buzz cut? That's even supposed to be a giant anthropomorphic tick, and he has little crab-louse looking friends who live under his shoulder pads, and somehow, some way, they managed to discover exactly the design strategy to make that all as unappealing as they possibly could. If you told me a cartoon had a giant tick with smaller tick sidekicks that live on his body and that I wouldn't find it even remotely cool, I would never have even believed you. Shockingly, these giant, sapient ticks are actually weird and horrifying instead of immediately lovable and fun.
Even the series villains or "Crime Grimes" were only marginally more interesting than the heroes, and most of the monsters we see in the intro sequence don't even get to appear in the show at all, like this lovely skeleton with the weird face-nozzles. Others included a piddly handful of giant bugs who actually did kind of look like arthropods, though they still tended towards people faces and they kept getting recycled from episode to episode.
Thank goodness the dark cloud that was the "Creepy Crawlers" cartoon had such a silver and green lining to make up for it. I think I've given you enough context to finally appreciate the outstanding splendor that is Spooky Goopy, courtesy his beautiful action figure package art that I painstakingly freed from its background, just for you:
Yes, in a franchise where buff surfer dudes passed for "tick monsters," we were still at least treated to an outlandish cross between a green insect, a skeleton, and a pile of bondage gear. With a giant padlock for a torso, a visible spinal column, handcuffs for claws, entire skulls for kneecaps, a missing eye and chitinous mandibles protruding from his rotten visage, Spooky Goopy was a magnificent, shining beam of heavenly glory in this otherwise miserably joyless endeavor. He had every last thing you could ask for in a ghoulish minion, and honestly deserved to be running the show over his forgettable, human magician boss. By far the single best thing about Spoo-goo (can I call you that, Spooky?) though, was how he was actually two characters.
I'm sure one of the very first things you noticed after the bright green, mutant handcuff skeleton was the top hat with teeth in it, and you better believe that hat talks. In fact, it talks even more than Spooky Goopy, cracking terrible puns and all kinds of sass in a grating, high pitched voice you would never want a fanged hat to not speak in. As for when Goopy himself talks, are you even surprised that it's in a Peter Lorre voice? Of course it's a Peter Lorre voice. A green skeleton sidekick has no business sounding like anybody other than either Peter Lorre or Danny Elfman.
Were Goopy and his hat two completely distinct entities, or just aspects of one mind? It was kind of a grey area, since the hat often seemed to be expressing Goopy's feelings for him, but they also had some minor spats from time to time. In the end, though, you know they cared about each other. You knew it was love. Spooky just wasn't Spooky without his hat, and his hat couldn't possibly imagine letting anyone else's skull up his hat-hole.
So why am I reviewing Spooky Goopy now, in 2014? If I loved him so much, all this time, why was he such a no-show on Bogleech.com? Well, with the cartoon basically giving children Imagination Cancer and the toys practically leaping straight from the factory into discount bins, I barely even had the opportunity to pick up a Goopy when they were still being made, and for whatever reason - maybe because they were sometimes up to $40 - I put off ever hunting one down on Ebay, until one finally cropped up for less than half that. In fact, it seems like Spooky Goopies have generally dropped down to the $20 range or less, if you want one yourself, and why shouldn't you?
....Well, I guess the answer to that could be that these toys just weren't very well made. While Spooky's hat can open and close, its upper jaw very easily comes off. He has the bare minimum head, shoulder and hip articulation, he doesn't stand up on his own without added support, and maybe it's just from sitting unopened for two decades, but the legs on mine feel very much as if they're going to break off were I to actually try and position them.
On the other hand, his handcuff arms produce realistic, satisfying little clicks as you open and close them, and regardless of actual product quality, he persistently continues to be a handcuff keyhole insect skeleton with a "mouth hat." There is little doubt that my life was a little less complete before I finally brought his - their - plastic visage into my life, and if I only knew where I put my Creepy Crawlers oven, I could even make Spooky Goopy's accessories.
That's right; in case you missed it, every Creepy Crawlers action figure came with an actual Creepy Crawlers mold you could use to actually create their weapons and other doo-dads yourself, a genuinely cool, clever way to tie the figures in with their inspiration. Goopy's mold includes the chain that goes between his handcuff arms, a shovel for burying dumber looking characters (such as all of them), and a giant key that probably fits in his chest, though I'm not sure what exactly that unlocks. I'd say it's the key to his heart, but the only one who really has that is already on his head.
The most interesting of Goopy's customizable possessions, however, is what's seemingly meant to represent a tombstone with the "Creepy Crawlers" logo on it, but it has a little handle on the top for him to carry it around, and that really doesn't look like anything other than a handbag. Even the example on the back of the box makes it look more like a fashionable purse. Goopy so carries a big colorful purse around, presumably for his giant keys, and had it custom made to also kind of look like the hypothetical gravestone of his sworn enemies, which I'm surprised isn't already its own dedicated service somewhere on the internet.
"Creepy Crawlers" was a cartoon show with a truly incredible sounding premise. A nothing-can-go-wrong sounding premise about giant, magical bug people battling a wizard with a monocle, but somehow, it managed to be a complete and utter waste of time outside one character. A character fortunately wonderful enough that he could justify the existence of damn near anything. Even if James Cameron had come up with Spooky Goopy, I could concede that it was necessary for him to be born and that he did one good thing in his entire career ever. Fortunately, James Cameron did not come up with Spooky Goopy so I never actually have to sink that low, but I so would.
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