Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Universal Monster Army's RAYMOND CASTILE

Continuing to put the spotlight on some of the notable members of the Universal Monster Army group at Yahoo, I present an interview with Raymond Castile. Raymond is the "second in command" guy at the UMA, and this year he won the classic horror community's Rondo Award as "Monster Kid of the Year" for his spearheading of the Universal Monster Army vintage toy exhibit, which appeared at conventions in 2006 and 2007, and for the amazing story of how he came to be chosen to play the young version of Brazilian horror character "Coffin Joe" in an upcoming movie. (I had a small hand in that series of events, which you can read about here.)

Raymond, a very good friend from my days living in St. Louis, is a journalist and the creator/owner of the website THE GALLERY OF MONSTER TOYS . (See my links section). The site, which has been very popular, showcases vintage monster toys of the 20th century.

Max: What is the first monster toy that you remember seeing?

RC: I have a vivid memory of my first monster toy sighting. It was the Aurora glow-in-the-dark Creature from the Black Lagoon model kit. I saw it on the bottom shelf of a drug store toy aisle. (I think the store was Standard Drug.) I had already been watching Creature Feature every Saturday night on Channel 11 for at least a year. My reading skills were limited, but I recognized the word "creature." I had never heard of the Gillman character or seen the movie, but he vaguely resembled the monster seen in the Creature Feature opening. I ran to my dad and said, "Creature Feature toys! They have Creature Feature toys!" I could not believe my eyes. Monsters still had an air of the forbidden. It blew my mind to think that someone actually made a monster toy and here it was on a store shelf for all to see. Wasn't someone going to get in trouble for this? It would be like walking into a grocery store and finding an endcap of marijuana cigarettes and commercially packaged cocaine. You would wonder if a cop was about to walk up behind you and arrest you just for looking at it. In this day of R-rated, blood-soaked McFarlane torture toys, it is hard to appreciate just how transgressive and dangerous those early monster toys seemed.

Max: What is your favorite Universal monster, and your favorite non-Universal monster? What do you like about them?

RC: For my favorite Uni-monster, it is a tossup between Lon Chaney's Phantom of the Opera and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. I like dark, brooding antiheroes like the Phantom, but I also like nonhuman monsters like the Creature. So many classic monsters are little more than deformed or sinister-looking humans. But the Creature actually looks like a monster. I love the Phantom's complexity, his tortured soul, his elegant villainy. But I also love the Creature's animalistic simplicity. He just is what he is: no back story, no dualism or emotional turmoil. He's just a big, bad monster who lives in murky swamp and he'll get you if you invade his home. So stay out! The only thing Phantom and Creature have in common is their subtle approach to wooing the opposite sex. Pretty much the grab 'em-and-run plan.

I guess my favorite non-Universal monster is Bigfoot. I've been fascinated with Bigfoot since childhood. I've also been scared of Bigfoot since childhood! It is the ultimate primal representation of the Boogey Man. I was always sure Bigfoot was hiding in my closet or lurking just outside my bedroom window. Anytime I heard the floor creak at night, I was sure it was Bigfoot.

Max: And how big are your feet?

RC: Depending on the manufacturer, I range between 7 and 8.5. I usually try on an 8 first and then see if I need to go up or down a size. If I had to buy a shoe without trying it on, I'd pick a size 8.

Max: Where do you rank in Coffin Joe in your monster mania?

RC: Of course, I love Coffin Joe. But I don't really think of him as a "monster." I'm not sure if I really consider horror characters like Norman Bates and Hannibal Lecter to be "monsters." Sometimes I do and sometimes I don't depending on what mood I'm in. Today, I don't consider I don't consider them monsters. Tomorrow, I might change my mind.

Max: Did your love of the subject ever get you into trouble as a kid?

RC: Heck yes. I had teacher-parent conferences to discuss my disturbing fascination with monsters. At the school's behest, my parents sent me to a child psychiatrist to find out what was wrong. My parents threw away all my monster drawings and quarantined my monster toys for about a year. Yes, the fact that I liked monsters (gasp) got me into loads of trouble growing up.

Max: Your 3 or 4 favorite classic monster films and/or favorite horror films are...

RC: I love Coffin Joe films, especially the first two - "At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul" and "This Night I Will Possess Your Corpse." My favorite monster movie is "King Kong." Second favorite is probably "Bride of Frankenstein." I also love "Night of the Living Dead" and a lot of 70s grindhouse and Euro-horror, such as "The Wicker Man," "The Abominable Dr. Phibes," "Horror Express" and "Squirm."

Max: Have you ever dreamed up a scenario where Coffin Joe encounters American monsters? If so, what happened? If not, could it be done creditably?

RC: I would not want to see Coffin Joe ruined by Hollywood. He and his adversaries should remain Brazilian. No, I have not dreamed of him fighting American monsters. But I have imagined him fighting Mexican and Spanish horror characters such as the Crying Woman and the Brainiac. Santo vs. Coffin Joe would be a great drive-in extravaganza. Paul Naschy's wolf man would be a good opponent for Coffin Joe. But Brazilian popular culture is rich enough to provide many opportunities for Coffin Joe to do battle without having to issue any monster passports.

Max: Top 3 or 4 favorite monster toys, and do you have them? How did you acquire them?

RC: My favorite monster toy is the AHI "male" Creature from the Black Lagoon action figure from 1973. I still have my childhood AHI Creature. He's got plenty of battle scars, but he's still alive and swimming. I had plenty of great adventures with my little green buddy. In addition to my loose one from childhood, I also have a carded AHI male Creature. I had to trade a bunch of Megos and kick in some cash to get him in 1993. I call him the "male" Creature because AHI also made a skinny version with a narrow waist and wide hips that collectors refer to as the "female" AHI Creature. [AHI: the initials for toy company Azrak-Hamway, Int.]

I like the Marx battery-operated Yeti from the 1960s. He is adorable. I love the way he walks, raises his arms and shrieks. I especially appreciate the fact that he shrieks instead of roars. It shows that Marx understood the legend of the Yeti. A lesser company would have presented him simply as a white gorilla, growling and beating its chest. But Marx produced a bona fide Yeti toy, probably the coolest toy representation of the Yeti/Bigfoot character ever made. The box artwork is also great, as is usually the case with Marx. I bought my boxed Yeti from a Los Angeles antique store many years ago, circa 1993-95. The box has some damage, but in those pre-eBay days, it was the best example I had seen of that toy. I've seen better ones since then, but they always sell for more than I can afford. So I'll just stick with "my" Yeti, flaws and all.

I also like Marx's battery-operated Whistling Spooky Kooky Tree from the 60s. I first saw this pictured in Brian Moran's 1984 hardcover book "Battery Operated Toys." There were two loose trees (spring and fall versions) on the cover and a boxed one inside. From what I read, these toys sounded incredible. They are huge 17-inch monster trees like the ones in "The Wizard of Oz." The trees scuttle around, waving their arms and rolling their eyes as their mouths open and close, emitting an ear-piercing whistle. And that creepy box art really transported me into a trick-or-treat Neverland. I searched years for a boxed one. Finally, one turned up on ebay. It was one of the first boxed Marx Spooky Trees listed on ebay, if not the first. It failed to meet its reserve, so I took a chance and e-mailed the seller after the auction. He sold it to me off ebay at a fair price. I was happy that it was the darker, scarier "fall" version instead of the more benign-looking "spring" tree. When I received it, something seemed strange. I couldn't put my finger on it. I compared the toy to the one pictured in the Moran book. I realized that it was the very same one used in the book. Every mark of wear on the box matched the one in the photo exactly. It was the same toy I had stared at for so many years.

There is a '60s foam rubber Frankenstein doll that I like very much. They were probably carnival prizes. The doll stands about 14 inches tall and has real hair and clothes. He's cute! Unfortunately, I do not own one. I know two collectors who do, but those dolls are never leaving their collections. If another one ever hits ebay, I'm sure it will sell in the 4-figure price range, which means I won't be buying one.

Generally, I prefer '70s toys over '60s. But when I pick my favorite individual pieces, most of them are from the '60s. I think it's because a lot of '60s monster toys stand alone, while the '70s toys tend to be part of a set. My favorite monster toys of all time are definitely the '70s AHI Super Monsters action figures, bend 'ems, jigglers, windups, squirt guns and flashlights. The AHI stuff just screams "monster" louder than any other toys.

Max: Any non-toy monster items that especially appeal to you? (Books, mags, records, clothing, etc.)

RC: I collect Topstone rubber Halloween masks and Ben Cooper boxed costumes, but I think of those as toys. I collect Gurley Halloween candles, but those seem like toys, too. I dabble in collecting cult movie one-sheets. I have a nice collection of '70s Bigfoot movie one-sheets. I also have several Mexican horror and a couple of Coffin Joe one-sheets. I'd like to get more into movie paper, but the titles I want are so expensive. I've never been into collecting books, magazines or records. I have a Famous Monsters #1, but that is the only significant magazine I own. I do have dozens of LPs, but they were all purchased new during my childhood and teen years. Once CDs came along, I ditched vinyl and never looked back. I have a nice horror/cult film DVD collection, about 550 titles. But I don't really consider that "collecting." I guess it is, but in my mind, collecting = vintage. Purchasing new products that you intend to use is simply being a consumer. Without the antique element, it is hard for me to think of it as collecting.

Max: Ever written your own horror story or script? (If so, please describe it.)

RC: When I was younger, I wrote plenty of short stories and scripts. I can describe them with one word - rubbish! I don't know where they are now and I don't care. But lately I have thought a lot about getting back into writing fiction. I have years of journalism experience that I didn't have back then, not to mention life experience. Perhaps this maturity would result in some viable work.

Max: What hobby after monster toy collecting appeals to you most?

RC: I used to be into making music. I have several synthesizers and an old multi-track recording setup. I've hardly touched it in months, if not years. I think it's because I realized no one was ever going to hear the music I was making. If there's no audience, why bother? I don't want to be a tree falling in an empty forest. If the goal is to express myself, I'm not accomplishing that unless someone actually listens to my performance. No one was listening, no one was ever going to listen, so I just said the heck with it. I'll find more effective ways to express myself.

Max: Why do you believe you were attracted to monsters and the macabre?

RC: They were cool. Any deeper analysis would just be a load of B.S.

Max: I asked the question half-expecting an answer about compensating for feelings of powerlessness and feelings of being an outsider. You surprised me, as you do from time to time! (But I like it!)

RC: I could have given the stock answer about the outsider jazz, but that has become so cliche. I'm sick of hearing it. If someone's fascination with horror began in adulthood (as is the case with some goths), that would make sense. But it is less credible when talking about kids. All kids feel powerless, but they don't all like monsters. The outsider element starts to emerge as they get older, especially in high school. But I was into monsters practically since birth. Trying to remember how I really felt when I was 6 years old and playing with my AHIs, the most honest assessment of my motivations is "monsters are cool."

Max: They certainly are! Thank you for the interview.

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