Written by Jonathan Wojcik

Monster High: Secret Creepers!

   I spoke briefly but passionately of Monster High last year, and if you need a short summary, it makes me pretty happy that a bunch of zombies, gorgons and even basically a Dullahan are being marketed to the same crowd as Barbie and My Little Pony. It's still disappointing and arbitrary that children's toys are so starkly divided by gender at all, and it's too bad the body types of fashion dolls are never as varied as the actual children buying them, but when I was a kid? Nobody would have tried to sell a werewolf or skeleton doll to "female" children. Barbie in a witch hat was as dark as fashion dolls ever dared to go, and even that was controversial back then, accused of indoctrinating children into "the occult." Ugh.

  It really means a lot that some of the "pink aisle" toys have gotten so hardcore, and over the past year, the line has further expanded from dress-up dolls and playsets to even more unexpected gems...the Secret Creepers!

   This spin-off toy line showcases the various pets of the Monster High characters, and something about "Sir Hoots-a-lot" immediately drove me to own him. I love the weird appearance of owls enough from afar, but when they're given an extra-weird monster twist, I need them in my life, and if you don't know anything about these toys, I bet you can't even guess what's so special about this little freakazoid without scrolling down first.

  The gimmick of Secret Creepers is that they present various ways to keep secrets. Their packaging even specifies that "ghouls" impart their little familiars with their "darkest" secrets, and I'd imagine the reanimated corpse of a teenager has some pretty damn dark secrets. In Sir Hoots-a-lot's case, your dark secrets can be recorded and played back. How, you ask? This is how:

   That's right. You can open the head of this cute little blue owl and expose his brain. Press and hold it while you whisper foul truths into its unprotected grey matter, close it back up again, and he'll repeat your grim machinations the next time you breach his cranium.

   Other electronic Secret Creepers include Watzit, a Frankensteinian dog, and Shiver, a woolly mammoth with a frozen brain. Those of you born in the late 90's to early 2000's probably don't see what's such a big deal here, but to a cambrian invertebrate like myself, it's simply unprecedented that "girly" toys let you break into their skulls and lollygag at their guts. Hell, there were parents who complained when a "boy's" toy line featured exposable brains in the late 70's.

   The fun doesn't end there, either, as the smaller, non-electronic creepers or "critters" even feature a cobra and a scarab beetle, Hissette and Azura! Are they serious? A venomous snake in the girly toys? And an insect that isn't either a butterfly or a ladybug?! Azura has an actual, accurate insect body plan, complete with sharp little mandibles. Even Pixar studios thought kids would only like "A Bug's Life" if the ants had lips and teeth like doughy muppet people. Azura's only non-insectoid features are her eyes, done up in a thematically appropriate art style that only makes her look spookier.

   This line isn't even done with the head trauma, either; they whipped out the brain gimmick again for the adorable pink piranha Neptuna. As you may know, the piranha is the go-to "pet fish for monsters," obligatory in any cartoon haunted house. I'm pretty sure even the Addams Family alluded to keeping piranhas once, didn't they? And yes, in Neptuna's case, you actually just write down your secret and cram that into her brain. If not for all this body horror, it never would have even occurred to me that some of these pets were among the ranks of the living dead.

   These toys came out almost a year ago, just slightly too late to feature in my 2013 Halloween blitz, but I'm pleased to find they've been successful enough to be spawning a second wave, and while these two aren't exactly "spooky" animals, that kind of only makes it all the funnier that you can rip their scalps off. Without the context of Monster High, would you ever have expected this action feature from a pink, feminine hedgehog?

   Wave two also features the sincerely creepiest thing to come out of Monster High, Dustin the Dust Bunny. This thing is eerie as hell. That face with the missing button eye and wailing mouth is downright haunting, like something that scuttles around behind your furniture and emits soft little sighs as it licks up your shed skin cells. Apparently you pull his entire head half off to hide your secrets in his esophagus. Incredible.

   What I'm really excited for, though, is Monster High's first stand-alone Chewlian, the carnivorous plant with a leafy mohawk previously seen as a small accessory to the plant girl. Dang does it cheese me that this is coming out in 2014 when I'm a grown-ass adult, because I desperately desperately wanted a carnivorous plant toy when I was a wee kid and virtually none were available at the time.

  Chewlian here doesn't even have any of the features that doddering old corporate executives like to insist are necessary for "the girl's market." He's not pink or purple, he doesn't have eyelashes, he doesn't have brushable hair, he's just a fanged plant monster, like you would see in an adaptation of Little Shop of Horrors or the jungle stage of any console platformer. Those teeth are damn near terrifying. Chewlian could gnaw the faces off more than half the characters over in the "action figure" section.

   We have a long way to go before the arbitrary "masculine" and "feminine" divide is abolished from consumer culture, and in some ways, this shit is getting worse than ever - I'm pretty sure I've started seeing gendered candy bars and yogurt cups floating around. Monster High, however, has been boldly shilling ghouls, specters, lycanthropes, mad scientists, bugs, snakes and bats under an ostensibly "female oriented" brand for the first time that I'm aware of in...ever. This has never happened. The closest we've come to something like this are the spiders available in Littlest Pet Shop, and they look more like pink puppies than they do arachnids. Support these. Buy them for your girls, buy them for your boys. Teach the toy industry that everyone loves crawling animals and animate carcasses....because it's true. It's always been true.

This is in the music rotation at "Spirit" Halloween stores this year. Congratulations, girl toys, you're horror playlist worthy.

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