Written by Jonathan Wojcik

The Halloweenest Toy Series Ever Made

Watch this video and tell me you aren't in love with this thing. Operated from below by a magnet, this little gizmo "brings to life" the included skeleton for hours or at least very outstanding minutes of entertainment, and I'm sure at least some of you are asking "but where can I buy one of these wonderful toys?"

Simple: either transport yourself back to 1994 and hit up a few British toy stores or hope that someone's selling some vintage Pocket Shockers on ebay, where I snatched up my own "Cage of Rage" playset and tore it from its rare, valuable packaging just for my amusement.

I've known about this toy series since the early 2000's, when an internet friend of mine showed me a few scans, and I've looked up and down for more information on them ever since. They seemed so obscure, I was certain the real thing would cost an arm and a leg that I just don't have to spare anymore, but it turns out they don't really go for all that much when they do crop up.

It's also interesting that I finally get to review these things now, because as it turns out, they're made by Vivid toys, the same exact company that just came out with Fungus Amungus. More than twenty years have passed, and Vivid is still cranking out plastic creepy-crawlies. They should be proud.

My specific "cage of rage" is known as Graveyard Ghouls, and as you've seen, it includes BOTH a skeleton in a coffin and a carnivorous plant, the real star attraction. Like every major toy line of the 90's, they even include "bio cards" informing us of their unique stats:

Who knows what you're supposed to do with this information, but our reanimated skeleton has a lot of "shock" and "skill" with very little "danger." I guess Dancin' Dead is really just here for the dancin', and it's pretty good at it to a highly surprising degree, but it really isn't as interested in hurting people as some of the other shockers.

Venus, on the other hand, has a very low shock factor and higher danger rating, and I'm not sure I completely agree with this. The danger, I can understand, since this is a giant plant that presumably eats people, but I think that's also at least as shocking as a dancing skeleton. In total, the peaceful skeleton has 24 overall stat points and the massive, fanged plant has only 21. The only thing less reasonable than that is how many words I've typed about it. I am so distraught. I need to move on.

Taken out of the cage, Venus is a great little toy. The hinges are a bit of an eyesore, but I love the gradient from bright green to a dull mauve and all those veiny details. Plus, it is a plastic Venus fly trap. Do you know how much I'd have KILLED for this as a child? Toys of carnivorous plants were something I wanted so badly as a kid that I'd make my own out of modeling clay. All I ever had was some sort of knockoff plastic Audrey II that I unfortunately lost at some point, and a couple of accessory pieces to Swamp Thing action figures. Vicious Venus was more along the lines of what I really wanted, just a reasonably accurate, stand-alone plastic fly-trap.

Placed in the "graveyard" cage, Venus hurls herself around and snaps her jaws, revealing the tiny, yellow, rubber fly attached to her "tongue." I appreciate that they attached it to the upper jaw, unlike the prototype, so it kind of looks like it's hovering inside her mouth or leaping to get out, and the bright color makes it a lot easier to make out. It's too bad none of the Shockers are bigger fly monsters, but I'll take all the flies I can get.

So, on to Dancin' Dead, who makes more immediate sense to come with a "graveyard" themed pack. Dead's sculpt is also adorable. That wonky little skull looks so innocently happy, even if Dead also seems to be covering itself up in embarrassment.

As cool as it is to rise Double D from the coffin, the little ghoul is even more fun all on its own, and judging from images, they're also the smallest and lightest figure in the line, so it seems unlikely you can get any of the other Shockers to bust a move this freely.

...But who ARE the other shockers?

There are actually six different "cage of rage" sets, courtesy the back of that packaging I so ruthlessly tore asunder, and while I think I landed one of the best in terms of monster selection, the others get quite a bit more imaginative and cool than the "graveyard," which admittedly is just a fence with some vines on it.

"Bone Shaker" is a decaying rib cage complete with a vulture, but also includes a snake in a basket for whatever reason. "Hothouse of Horrors" is made up of plumbing and includes a lovely toad, but it also includes a dog, which doesn't make a lot of sense. Why wasn't Vicious Venus part of the hothouse? Weird! "Tentacle Terrors" is the most thematically solid of the bunch, formed out of cephalopod appendages with a hermit crab monster and a creepy treasure chest ghoul. "Gothic Ghosts" is for some reason just a cage with an insect (it's supposed to be a flea) and a crated-up yeti, while "Tarantula's Revenge" might be my favorite as a complete concept, resembling a webby old attic or crawlspace with an included spider and a human skull, presumably the spider's prey!

It's so hard to pick which set of these is the best, and too easy to just want them all, perhaps because some of them are so mixed up. The kind of person (me) who wants both a plant monster and a toad monster is forced to buy two different sets no matter how much more sense they would make together. Sneaky.

The cages aren't all, of course; there were also the less expensive "fear zones," with just a single shocker each. You had a torture rack with a scorpion, a bed of hot coals with a severed zombie foot, a laboratory table with a monster's head and a demon summoning circle, with demon. Now I know EXACTLY why this series didn't come to America. Even in 1994, children's entertainment was at the mercy of religious fundamentalists who flew into a panic if anything even vaguely resembled the "occult."

We're still not done with the playsets, though, because there were two larger, more expensive "arenas" where your regular-size shockers could go up against a much larger cobra-coral-rattle-hybrid snake or fire-breathing dragon. Interesting, though not really designed for two shockers to really touch each other.

Finally, kids who cared enough about collecting Pocket Shockers could have put the Manic Mansion on their birthday list, a carrying case with all the basic trappings of a haunted house and presumably a whole lot of hidden magnets to bring its residents to life. Though it boasts "scary sound effects" and more, I think the best feature is CLEARLY the cauldron of slime, or, uh, "Acto Gunge" I guess. Gunge is another of those beautifully ugly U.K. words that we don't have here in America, along with Grot. Nobody knows how to come up with disgusting-sounding words than you brits, I swear. Only the people who came up with "gunge" and "grot" would call cats "moggies." I'm still trying to figure that one out.


We're far from done with all this, of course, because there are 22 individual Pocket Shockers and my Cage of Rage came with a little collector's booklet of every single one. You can check them all out along with outdated mail-in offers here, but I'm sure you know I can't end this until I've reviewed the damn things individually, beginning with....

So, I feel like "Brain Bash" is one of the most striking Shockers, a whole undead cranium - at least from the jaw up - who scoots around repeatedly flashing its brain at us. Awesome, though they really missed an opportunity by not putting spooky eyeballs on the brain itself.
Poor "Sting Thing" though. Like so many other fictional scorpions, it only has six legs instead of the correct eight, and its pincers aren't even attached to the sides of its mouth where they belong. I guess this isn't really a scorpion at all, per se, but whatever a "Sting Thing" is. I think that's the way to go, really. Whenever an animal looks totally wrong, let's just assume it's a monster of some sort anyway.
This one is JUST a foot that stomps around, no facial features, nothing to really "characterize" it beyond a foot, but that's okay. I feel like this would be the least interesting Shocker to most kids when they've got bugs and reptiles and skulls to choose from, but that just has me appreciating it even more.
Here's a close-up of the pitchfork-wielding hellspawn, who isn't all that interesting on their own, but together with the little pentagram playset, you've got one uniquely dark children's toy. The size of Devil Rebel relative to the book and black cat in "Devil's Trap" implies we're looking at a tiny little imp, presumably summoned as some sorcerer's familiar.
I love that this line of ghouls and demons included something as harmless as a hermit crab. There's an animal you really don't see often enough in a "creepy" context, and Claw's got such a nice design, too; I really like the wrinkly details of its exoskeleton around those beady eyes.
Included with the hermit crab is what's apparently the ghost or zombie of a long-drowned seaman, haunting the interior of his own treasure chest. This has to be one of the cooler looking Shockers to actually play with, and there even seems to be a "strap" it struggles against, a really neat detail that wasn't at all necessary but adds so much. That is, of course, assuming the final product even looks like this.
I actually could have gotten the "Gothic Ghosts" set instead of the "Graveyard Ghouls" set, and I would have gotten "Flea Bite" with it. You should know how much I love Siphonaptera, but as cute as this little bloodsucker may be, it doesn't really look enough like a flea for anyone to guess that's what they're looking at without being told, and I can't be spending money willy-nilly on the mere idea that something is a flea. That would just be silly.
"Yeti Handshake" is packaged with Flea Bite, and that makes perfect sense, but neither make sense to be part of the "Gothic Ghosts" pack. Are they sure they didn't mean for that to be some sort of evil circus set? It's got a flea, it's got an exotic beast, and it's got a cage.

A yeti bursting out of a wooden crate is an obvious reference to 1982's Creepshow, specifically "The Crate," which had what remains the scariest yeti I've ever seen.
While a squat, grouchy bulldog is always an excellent choice for a dog, I feel like Foamin' Fido is the least monstrous and least interesting of the line, even aside from its inexplicable inclusion in the "hothouse." Does anybody keep dogs in hothouses? Why would they do that? Fido really could have stood to be a skeleton dog, or maybe a multi-headed dog. Still, it looks pretty articulated and probably moves around pretty nicely.
"Frog Feast" is an odd name for a frog itself to have. The frog is not the thing being feasted upon here. I definitely love this menacing amphibian though, looking kinda like a giant pac-man toad. I guess they thought it would be too redundant if the same set featured two things that were eating flies, but I still feel like the plant creature was the bare minimum for inclusion in the "Hothouse" set. I will NOT back down from this, do your worst.
The spider victim, "crazy bones," is just a skull that I guess chatters its jaw, but it looks like its eyeballs are a separate piece that might not move with its head, which is pretty neat if that's the case.
A spider was a necessity for a spooky line, and they couldn't have given Wicked Webber a cuter design; I love those four googly eyes so much. How interesting Webber looks when animated depends on just how soft and wiggly those legs are, and it's probably not much, but it's the thought that counts.
At first, I was going to complain that Vic the Vulture has a fully feathered head, but then I noticed its giant, bulging eyeballs and found appreciation for this scurvy bird. I also just remembered that in some countries, "vulture" refers to a more eagle-like bird of prey and not a bald carrion eater, though Vic doesn't really look anything like either animal. Vic is just an all-purpose, horrible, filthy bug-eyed bird, which when you get right down to it is pretty much all birds.
Counterpart to Vic, the Venomous Viper I guess pops in and out of its basket when you wiggle it around. Does it come completely out, like Dancin' Dead? It doesn't look like there's really room in there for much more snake. It's also not usually vipers anyone keeps in baskets, but cobras. Those are the only snakes you can really do a "snake charming" routine with.
There doesn't seem to be a whole lot going on here, but we did establish that the smaller, simpler figures are more active and fun than the ones with "action features," and as much as I respect the cuteness of real rats and agree that their reputation is completely unfair, I'm still a sucker for the filthy, nasty fictionalized rats of Halloween. It's like if, for no apparent reason, our whole culture was under the impression that kittens or puppies were terrifying, disease-spreading monsters. The funniest part is, they are a lot closer to that than rats ever were.
Haha, like "night clubber" only this is "Knight Clubber!" They've got Clubber fighting a dragon, so the joke seems to be that this is a knight with a club, but I think it's more obviously some sort of orc or goblin who clubs knights, and just happened to get tangled up with a dragon this time.
Head Honcho is one of the more elaborate Shocker sculpts, and kinda looks like he might also be one of the knights clubbed to death by that goblin, who added insult to injury by stealing his helmet. I can't tell what Honcho does when activated, I'm guessing maybe the head wiggles around?
Last but not least, we have "Doc Shock," who was available exclusively with the Manic Mansion playset and described as its "crazy, eccentric resident." So this old man just hangs out with a bunch of spiders, skeletons and giant frogs in a decrepit house without any pants on?

It's like seeing into my own future.


And there you go, your complete and thorough look into Pocket Shockers, one of the spookiest toy series ever conceived by a company still at it here in 2016. I'd have gone bananas for these things if they'd come stateside at the right time, which is unfortunately true of innumerable British toys and cartoon series. They basically went through a whole renaissance of horror-themed children's entertainment from the late 80's to the mid-90's with properties like Monster in my Pocket, Count Duckula, The Trap Door, T.H.I.N.G.Z. and countless others, only a small portion of which ever crossed the pond...and even fewer ever seemed to really take off and thrive.