RE-REVIEWING THE TRANSPARENT MINI-GHOSTS!
Today I review something that I've actually reviewed once before, but with only brief elaboration and relatively terrible photographs. I've long owed it to these little plastic lumps to give them a fresher look, because there was a time these little plastic lumps were my favorite possessions in the world - much, much more than the Real Ghostbusters action figures and vehicles they were packaged with as mere "accessories."
And it all starts with a dental appointment that wasn't even my own.
I have an uncle who's actually only a couple of years older than me, so he was one of the "big kids" I knew when I was tiny enough that a couple years difference made somebody a "big kid." Armed with what I now know to be raging Attention Deficit Disorder, I annoyed the hell out of all "big kids" with my incessant questions and bizarre behavior even by the standards of a four year old child, and having all the self awareness of, well, a four year old child, I pretty much just thought they were Big Meanies to me for no reason.
But one day, however annoying I may have been, this big kid gave me a life-changing present. Obviously it's because it just wasn't something he wanted, but it was a BIG deal to me to get a toy monster I'd never seen before, and he'd actually been given this guy as a prize from the dentist, who had told him that this creature was actually "Tooth Decay."
I had no reason to doubt the supreme word of a medical professional I'd never met, so I wholly accepted that this plastic figure was supposed to represent a cavity, and it works, right? It's even making a face like it's got a toothache! To this day, I still look at this little guy and think "TOOTH DECAY," but he was actually the Gulper Ghost, packaged with the first-ever 1987 action figure of Egon Spengler!
Photo by Action Figure Barbeque!
Gulper was sculpted so he could fit over a standard ghostbuster's head, the idea likely being that Gulper has attempted to ingest someone, but being both smaller than a person and only semicorporeal, I feel like Gulper could have planned that out a little better. This photo by the way is from a review of a 2020 reissuing, another reason I'm doing these reviews, and boy was it surreal for me to run into these toys again at a Wal-Mart only months ago.
Gulper is a great design, too. It looks more like our typical image of a "ghost" than perhaps almost anything else in the whole line, but with that classic gooey Ghostbusters weirdness to it and a face that has always made me think of a deep sea fish. As either an ectoplasmic glutton or the enamel-rotting germ demon I thought he was, Gulper remains a pretty special critter to me.
Dang, this description is almost longer than the entire original Mini Ghosts review, and we've got a bunch more left!
Gulper was the first minighost I ever owned, but Scream Roller was the first ever actually purchased for me with the prior knowledge that it was a Ghostbusters toy. And lucky you, this one also has an entire story to go with it!
I was still four, maybe five years old when my mother took me to Kiddie City, a store we used to have instead of "Toys R' Us," which was a store we used to have instead of Amazon.com, and the first thing I saw was a huge display of "life-size" plush Slimers. I'd never even seen Ghostbusters yet, but I immediately fell in love with this horrendous green blob, and unfortunately, he was too expensive.
So, my mom took me over to the smaller, more affordable Ghostbusters toys, with the intention of finding me some smaller, more affordable Slimer, and there wasn't one, so she picked up a Winston Zeddmore with Scream Roller Ghost and told me that Scream Roller was just Slimer.
I knew this wasn't true because Slimer isn't orange and he doesn't have ears, but I remember going along with it anyway, and really liked this silly little orange ball who went right along with my Tooth Decay monster. Over the years, Scream Roller has unfortunately dropped to my "least favorite" of the Mini Ghost designs, but I obviously still have sentimental nostalgia for it. She tried!
I must note, however, that I badly, BADLY wanted there to be an actual Slimer mini-ghost, and despite his massive popularity, there never, ever was until the Extreme Ghostbusters reboot in the 90's, long after it mattered to me at the time. The Real Ghostbusters toy line would produce more than one Slimer, but for some reason they were always larger than the Ghostbusters themselves, and I never encountered the weird, PVC Ghostbusters figures seen here:
These non-poseable Ghostbusters were the same height as the action figures, so these adorable, cartoony rubber Slimers would have been precisely the right scale. Are you KIDDING me?! Where the hell were these things sold!? The moon!?!
I also can't at all trace the origins of this beautiful, translucent rubber slimer I've found only in a stock photo:
No, I don't have a story this long for every single one of these. In fact, the rest are going to be pretty brief. I've covered the two that really "meant something" to me as a kid, but the rest, we'll be doing in their release order:
Gulper came with Egon Spengler, and Wrapper came with Ray Stanz. An interesting little design, resembling a fairly nondescript Ghostbusters-style ghoulie except for that long, curly tail, like the tail of a chameleon! The package advised you to hook Wrapper's tail onto character's arms, necks or weapons, so as also implied by the name, Wrapper just liked to use its tail to cause assorted mischief and/or lethal asphyxiation.
Winston's ghost in this first wave was the Chomper, and it was the weirdest of the four; not even remotely humanlike or "ghost-like," but a sort of tubby platypus monster with horse teeth in its bill. I LOVE that! I'm not as big on how the figure's feet stick straight out the sides for some reason, I guess my brain wants them to follow the protruding bill more, but it's a necessary artifact of how the figure was formed in a two-part mold; if the feet were aimed forward, the mold wouldn't have been able to get inside the mouth for all those lovely details!
The fact that "ghosts" in the Ghostbusters world can look like any imaginable creature is my single favorite thing about the Franchise, as I have talked about so much, people already got sick of it and stopped reading my old reviews of the animated ghosts less than half-way through them.
Peter Venkman came with the most "normal" looking ghost of the four, literally just a little blue goblin, but its name is "Grabber," because...it has arms? They're not particularly unusual arms. They're the longest arms of the four, sure, but proportionately not remarkable for the scale of this entity. You call something a "grabber ghost" and I picture relatively long limbs, huge hands, or maybe more than a human number of appendages. For that matter, "grabbing" is kind of already covered by the wrapper ghost, isn't it?
Perhaps this ghost isn't named for the overall effectiveness of its grabbing ability, but the quantity? Maybe it's a ghost that just does an alarming amount of grabbing? Maybe what it grabs is noteworthy in some fashion? Or maybe it simply has a skill a static figurine can't capture, like its arms can stretch to absurd lengths or move with lightning speed. I guess I should apologize to Grabber for the momentary lapse in my own imagination back there. My bad!
This will be the only ghost we review here that didn't come with an action figure, because it actually came with the Ecto-01! I really loved it, too, even though I didn't especially care about toy vehicles. My parents knew it was the ghost I was after, and they actually kept offering to take the car back to the store but keep the ghost, because they didn't have all that much money but they still wanted me to be happy. Instead, I insisted I would play with the car too, and I did, but mostly because I just didn't want them to commit illegal fraud and go to jail for stealing Howler Ghost for me. It terrified me enough that they would open up "blind boxed" toys right in the store aisle to make sure they were buying the thing I actually wanted.
Howler ghost is still delightful, though. It has such a pleasantly chunky, compact shape, an amphibian-like quality to the fleshy ridge down its back, and a truly ghastly looking face that brings to mind the style of a church gargoyle. I love the idea that this little orange blob-demon just squats down somewhere and starts wailing like a banshee.
One thing I like about the first five minis, even if it rubs salt in a wound I already discussed, is how much they feel like Slimer's extended family. They have a similar naming convention and they're even color-coded! Slimer, Gulper, Wrapper, Chomper, Grabber and Howler!
The second wave of figures or "Fright Features" Ghostbusters were the ones that included "Scream Roller" with Winston, but my favorite of this wave was another Egon ghost. You can see they dropped the Slimer-like pattern pretty quickly, but that's fine, because they just get increasingly weird and creative from there. Just look at this thing! Like a naked chicken with a bug-eyed alien head on a weird, segmented neck. I love how Soar Throat's face is just a set of fleshless jaws with a couple of eyeballs on top.
I feel like out of all the minighosts, this is actually the line's most "iconic." They must have thought so too, because it was recast as a glow-in-the-dark figure with none other than the official life-sized Ghost Trap! Years later, another glow version - with painted eyes! - would be part of the "Ecto Glow" line, a final wave of repaint figures that was kind of the line's last little hurrah.
Jail Jaw is also such a catchy, fun name, reflecting such a unique and novel design! Just a horned, reddish imp consisting mostly of a toothless, slimy mouth with ropes of ectoplasm stretched across it. Such a cute little fella!
"Fright Features" Peter Venkman came with this one, and it's one of the oddest in the whole line. Two extremely small, blue cyclops demons tied together by their long tails. Their half lidded eyes, huge smiles and crouching poses are a lot of fun, but personally I always thought their joined tails were too long, distracting too much from the rest of the design. I'd have liked them more if their bodies were a lot larger and they were closer together!
I thought so even as a child, too, because I remember making my parents cut their tails off entirely so I could play with them separately, unfortunately losing one of them somewhere in no time. They ARE pretty tiny.
Look at those fine details, though. The "twosome" demons have such tiny little warts and scales and spinal ridges, they almost look out of place among the ghosts with larger, yet plainer sculpts.
I want to like this ghost more than I do, and I like the novelty of it having rooted hair, but Tickler is, unfortunately, my least favorite through no fault of its own. It's just that this one came with the very first action figure of Janine, and I thought Janine was REALLY COOL even then, but, well:
Yeah, for real, instead of capturing Tickler Ghost, Kenner decided Janine should comb the ghost's hair. The dreaded "Market research" apparently concluded that only little girls would want a Janine action figure, and that this was the kind of thing little girls like to play with, which feels like they didn't bother asking any little girls who already liked Ghostbusters.
The third and final wave of properly transparent minighosts were those of the "Super Fright Features" line, one of which I unfortunately still don't own, but how great is it that one of these ghosts is just a hot dog with feet and a screaming face on it? I'd like to think "Meanie Weenie" is the vengeful spirit of everything that actually went into a hot dog, so kind of a spirit-legion formed by a cow, a pig, a chicken, a bunch of squirrels and a thumb.
This is another of my favorites. It's also one of the "simplest" of all minighosts, consisting of literally just a mouth. Well, I guess not literally, since the mouth also has eyes and a nose, but the whole thing is basically just a hoop-like set of disembodied jaws, like the way people might display a set of shark jaws. What an ominous concept for a ghost! It's such a maniacal looking beast, too, like a big bone-crunching ogre!
The rest of the "Super Fright Features" ghosts are interestingly all animal themed, which definitely felt like sorely missing territory up to this point. Snake Head ghost has a fairly short little body for a snake-based monster, but with two sets of batlike wings and a realistic, scaly snake head at each end of its body! I always noticed that one has rounded pupils, while the other has slitted pupils. There's an old myth that slitted pupils always indicate a venomous snake, and I wonder if that's what the sculptor was thinking at the time?
The only explicitly aquatic ghost in the toy line, Boo Fish is just a really grouchy looking, scaly orange fish with a fairly large head and gaping mouth full of nasty looking teeth. Nothing too remarkable, other than the fact that it is a floating, phantasmal fish.
What's more interesting is that Boo Fish came with another figure of Janine, and it almost feels like overcompensation for the hairbrushing thing, because this Janine wears a futuristic diving suit and wields a fishing pole. I would love to find out why, exactly, the Ghostbusters' secretary was sent on some kind of solo deep-ocean mission. Why would they even need to bust a ghost at the bottom of the sea? Is Boo Fish interfering with a shipwreck salvaging operation? Is it ruining all the footage for the next "Blue Planet?"
I know I didn't talk much about the human figures and it wound up being Janine both times, but this figure also kind of, sort of incorporated more ghosts into it, because it had this remarkably clever gimmick involving this clear, plastic collar that could slide up around her face with a variety of colorful, ghoulish sea creatures printed on it - TINY little images! Look at that resolution!! - so it looked as if her helmet was actually filling up with water. Haunted water!!! The worst water of them all!!!
This leaves us only one last ghost, but of course it's my favorite, and it's even another that came with Egon! Slimy Spider is the only "bug"-themed minighost and the only transparent minighost cast in green! I love how it's specifically a "slimy" spider ghost, too, and actually looks like it would be, since it has pleasingly fat, segmented, worm-like tentacles instead of any jointed, exoskeletal legs! You can't tell in my photos, but there are also brain-like wrinkles on the body, and then we have those MASSIVE eyes that give it a "bug-eyed space monster" sort of vibe. What really throws me, however, is that I've owned this thing since childhood, and it wasn't until this review that I noticed it has a human-like "upper lip" above its teeth. I don't know how that eluded me for so long, and as a kid, I would have disliked the dash of human anatomy on an otherwise invertebrate-like creature, but now it only makes me love this weirdo so much more. Now it feels more like it would talk in a Peter Lorre voice.
This is also the only other time a ghost is part of the human figure itself, too; notice that the package describes "snakes," however, what actually pops into his helmet are tentacles identical to those of Slimy Spider! They're just smaller! Did somebody fill somebody's spacesuit with babies??
There's just one final thing about this ghost that I think is really, really awesome. Check this out:
It's not a 1:1 likeness, but the similarities are just uncanny enough that I'm positive the Slimy Spider ghost is based on what's known as the Bill Tracy Spider, a uniquely fanciful arachnid prop that appeared in multiple carnival haunted houses and horror rides throughout the 60's, all designed by the same artist. Few attractions still exist today with Tracy's spider, but some were still operating at least into the late 90's. Did it just stealthily dig itself into the imagination of whoever sculpted Slimy Spider, or was it a conscious and loving homage? Whatever the case, Slimy Spider feels to me like the absolute Apex of Real Ghostbusters Mini Ghost design. It's a shame that it was among the last, because it really felt to me like they were reaching a great stride here!
Maybe some day, I'll go back and review all the remaining, non-transparent mini ghosts, but before we go, I'd like to praise one final aspect of these figures:
There are many monochromatic minifigures I never got as enthused for, and I still say a part of that is because ghosts actually make sense in unpainted, translucent plastic, but another advantage they have over some of their imitators is just how well their designs read at a distance. Even clear across a room, you can tell what kind of funny little critters you're looking at, and as a "character designer" I'm especially impressed by the strategic use of empty space towards this effect. Look at how well Gulper's mouth is defined, just by being a hole cut into a hollow object, to say nothing of the ghosts whose mouths go completely through their bodies. The mini ghosts are legitimately top quality character art, demonstrating the important of silhouette in making a design stand out!
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