Halloween Countdown ’08: The Beetlejuice Gross-Out Meter!

In 1990, Kenner and Satan teamed up to bring us a fairly enormous Beetlejuice toy collection, with figures, playsets and costume kits based not on the cartoon show, but the actual movie.

The line always struck me as a little odd. While I’d openly credit Beetlejuice for breaking Zagnut bars out of a centuries-long popularity rut, I don’t necessarily believe that children had enough of a passion for the titular character to buy a bunch of action figures based on his movie. I mean, Kenner went so far as to create Adam Maitland and Otho figures. Otho! There was an ironic appeal in an Otho action figure, sure, but it’s not like anyone noticed it until it was fifteen years too late.

For a brief time, my town was blessed with a Lionel Kiddie City. These toy stores were the stuff of legend for many, but we only had ours for two years, tops. The main merits of Kiddie City stores were their fabled clearance aisles, where toys that hadn’t been produced for up to fifteen years still found themselves marked and pegged, adorned with gigantic, package-ruining, luggage tag-themed red clearance stickers. It’s why so many still-carded vintage action figures are sold with big, gaping tears on the front all over eBay. Even more than a decade later, sellers still don’t want you to know that Tasha Yar’s TNG figure cost them seventy-eight cents a pop.

In the Beetlejuice toyline’s prime, I wasn’t interested. Marked down 75% at Kiddie City, I was all over it. From the figures to the weird motorcycles and convertibles that the figures rode on or in, I’ve seen virtually everything in the collection. Even stupid stuff, like the thing pictured in the 6.25″ photos above and below.

The Beetlejuice “Gross-Out Meter” was the pinnacle of the line’s ridiculousness, and for a collection that included everything from coffin-themed playsets to 18″ belching Beetlejuice dolls, that’s saying something. This was a high-concept toy, if we can assume that “high-concept” is defined as “something that takes more than 500 words to describe.” Let’s see if I can do it in 400.

The “Gross-Out Meter” provides you with the means to find out just how disgusting your friends really are. A spinning meter offers random readings like, “REALLY GROSS” or “TOTALLY FOUL.” To help sell these readings as truly personalized, the meter can be affixed to the wrist of your client, who at that point will have no solid rebuttal to being christened as totally foul.

And if that isn’t enough for you, a lever underneath the toy signals a plastic bug to jump several feet in the air from a bone-themed cage on the side of the meter. This doesn’t really connect with the spinning meter readings in any natural way, but hey, flying toy bugs.

If nothing else, you could at least say that the “Gross-Out Meter” wasn’t fashioned from the dusty mold of some preexisting, long forgotten Kenner toy. Truly, this was the first and last time we saw anything of the sort. I’d almost say it’s more of a work of art than a toy, for one easily finds themselves bored with the spinning level readings and flying bugs, opting to simply stand and admire the fact that a large toy company mass-produced skeleton hand-themed meters that told kids how gross they were. If you were in the mood to interpret or deconstruct, the “Gross-Out Meter” was the best thing in Aisle 7.

On the other hand, all of Kenner’s Beetlejuice toys broke the mold in some way. Most of the action figures (which seemed par for the course at first glance) had pop-off rubber heads which revealed tiny-sized plastic heads underneath, in tribute to the voodoo head-shrinking scene from the film’s climax. Other figures went down more traditional routes, i.e., a punky street thug who could be folded down into the shape of a giant rat.

Oh, and there was a Beetlejuice mask infested with three multicolored hair snakes that popped upwards under the power of a hidden hand-pump. For the kid who had everything.

The best part about buying a “Gross-Out Meter” was the included Kenner Action Toy Guide, with pages and pages of well-set color photos of all the boy-targeted playthings they had on the market in 1990. Every major toy company stuck booklets like this into the boxes of their larger offerings, and they kinda served as off-season Sears Wishbooks. They weren’t catalogs in the traditional sense — you couldn’t place orders from them — but the books still let us map out which plastic artifacts we were going to beg for next.

Moreover, these little catalogs were how non-readers like me got that same level of smug “AH AH I read a book” satisfaction other kids spent 150 pages of their life to achieve.

Beetlejuice: Thank you for being Halloweeny. You are… *checks* …totally offensive.

PS: I know you’re wondering what that flying toy bug looks like. Here. It looks like that. A small part of me believes that I got the same bug figure out of a can of Ecto-Plazm, but maybe I’m just kicking Kenner when they’re down. I only bitch about people who are dead and companies that are out of business. This keeps me safe.

91 thoughts on “Halloween Countdown ’08: The Beetlejuice Gross-Out Meter!

  1. JLAJRC

    Just got done watching Halloween 2 on HBO Zone. While it’s far from suspenseful like the first one, it is still very good. I recommend it.

  2. drew do

    I just downloaded the newest version of Flash player and now the juke won’t work, has anyone else had this problem?

  3. Baker

    I feel like it was probably supposed to be a meter to determine just how “grossed out” a person was upon being subjected to something…probably not determine how gross the user was his/herself…that’s probably where the flying bug comes into play. The user springs the bug and then uses the meter to determine how much it affected the client…right?

  4. Ryan W. Mead

    Apparently, there was a promo for the Great Pumpkin this year where Charlie Brown calls Linus a “diva.” I don’t know if that’s worse that Charlie Brown approving this message or not.

    Speaking of elections, to promote both voting in the 2008 election and Warner Home Video’s new rereleases of various Peanuts specials on DVD, Rock the Vote is sponsoring a vote for favorite Peanuts character: http://www.peanutsrocksthevote.com/

    Sadly, Bill Melendez, the voice of Snoopy and the dominating force behind all the Peanuts specials as director and co-producer, passed away on September 2 of this year. Although no one can top the great Sparky Schulz in terms of creativity and innovation (and for good reason), it is Mr. Melendez, along with Mr. Schulz, who must be honored for bringing Snoopy and his friends to life on our screens every year.

    On a semi-related note, “The Simpsons” will be parodying the immortal Great Pumpkin special on their Halloween show this Sunday. I’m actually surprised it took them 20 years to do it. (They even cleared the real Guaraldi music!)

  5. Alyssa

    I loved those Beetlejuice figures. My cousin had one and I can remember playing with the Juice and making his head fly off during a battle with the GI Joes or the Ghost Busters. Is it wrong that now that I saw great pumpkin last night I’m ready for christmas. In my memory (which may or may not be correct) I remember that the great pumpkin aired (back in the 80′s) on halloween night early in the evening, like 6pm or later like at 8 or 9. So once I saw it, I would go trick or treating, come home have some candy and go to bed or I would go get candy, come home, watch the special and go to bed. So now in my mind once I have seen the special, halloween is over with and it’s time for christmas. I even was tempted to put on christmas music this morning in the car. Poor Halloween. I’m trying to not pass you over for turkey and stuffing and Bing Crosby singing white christmas.

  6. Jay Firestorm

    ‘Beetlejuice’ movie-related toys do seem a bit strange aimed at young kids, as from what I remember*, it wasn’t all that young-kid-friendly. At least not until the ‘TV version’ was shown on… TV (well obviously!).

    Likewise, around the time of release of ‘Terminator 2′ , there was a release of T2 toys (admittedly some pretty cool). Unlike the many figures geared towards more mature collectors today, these were again aimed at young kids. Weird considering they weren’t even old enough to SEE the movie (and there wasn’t even a cartoon version for this one).
    Id’ve thought T2 was a far too violent franchise to adapt to a kid-luring toyline. (Heck, the urban legend even goes that ‘Conan’ was considered too unsuitable in content to adapt to a toyline, and instead was adapted into the (classic) He-Man and the Masters of the Universe instead.

    * – From what I can remember. ‘Beetlejuice’ is strangely a movie that I know I LIKE, but haven’t seen for many years. Hopefully by now it’ll be on a bargain price DVD.

  7. dedalusdedalus

    wow, this takes me back.  i remember seeing beetlejuice toys as a kid and not wanting to buy them because they were scary.  such the wuss was i.

  8. Sharkagator

    DiveChaz- Yep, like Kid Nicky said, same game, different name, throwing EVERYTHING in that game made it…the game itself would have been pretty good, but being able to pick up and throw everything elevated it to greatness in our book!!  We still play it every once in blue moon.

  9. Teddy Ray

    I remember seeing Lionel commercials when I was a kid, but it was Lionel Playworld in Georgia. 


    slick316, I’ve been watching the Spaceballs cartoon.  It’s…not that great.  So I don’t know why I still tivo it, but I do.
     
    Rev., I don’t think Copycat is scary, but Harry Connick, Jr. IS pretty creepy in that movie.

  10. snotty

    i got the Gross-out Meter, along with a bunch of Beetlejuice action figures from some discount store after the animated series dies out, but i had so much fun with them.
    this one figure of the Ghost with the Most had a bunch of skewers you could stick through his torso, and oh! the bothering of my little sister with the Gross-out Meter!

  11. Mick

    We need a scan of the Kenner toy guide, I remember getting one with the ’89-ish Dark Knight Batman toy series (which consisted of about 10 variants of Batman figures with different accessories and outlandish color schemes).

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