Almost anyone who was a child in the 1960’s and 70’s in the US would have at one time owned an Aurora brand model kit. It was a special time in history. Universal Pictures had just licensed their most famous films for Television broadcast. Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine was bringing the excitement of these films into the hearts of boys not so interested in sports and waning on the ideas of the war hero. And 1960 saw a small plastics company secure a deal with Universal to manufacture monster model figure kits.
After some moderate success in the early 1950s with WW II Aircraft models, Aurora Plastics Company began looking beyond competing with manufacturers Revell and Monogram. They had success with a Knights of Armor series and the Guys and Gals of Nations series in that decade, establishing a market for figure kits, but it was the tie-in with Hollywood film and TV shows that put Aurora on the model kit maker map. Shortly after the deal with Universal, they released their first ‘tie-in’ kit on the market. They introduced Frankenstein in 1961 and it was a huge success. They followed up in 1962 with Dracula and The Wolfman. Monster mania was hitting big and kids wanted to own a piece of monster history for themselves. Imagine being a young kid and having the monster likeness of Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr. and Bela Lugosi in your own possession.
Adding to the excitement, Aurora had commissioned a young talented artist by the name of James Bama to paint box covers for their kits. He brought the b&w film monsters into stunning vivid colors for the first time. James Bama would go on to be regarded as a fine artist in western subject matter. But his early art lived on in the hearts of monster fans for many years. Even to this day his original Universal Monster Kits box art paintings are sold at high prices at auctions.
Following the original kit releases, Aurora continued with; The Creature From the Black Lagoon, The Mummy, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Dr. Jekyll as Mr. Hyde, The Phantom of the Opera, and King Kong and Godzilla in 1964. By that year they had sold over 7 million kits to monster hungry fans. They introduced The Witch in 1965 which was the first kit not associated with a film and in 1966, they released The Forgotten Prisoner in conjunction with Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine.
In 1970, they re-released the kits with glow in the dark parts, usually hands, heads and accessories. Marketed as ‘Frightening Lightning’ kits, the modifications ignited a new wave of sales for the aging kits. This was when I first discovered model building and the exciting Aurora Monster Kits. I will admit that my mom had to cover my models with a small sheet at night, or I’d awaken, frightened to seeing a half dozen glowing, floating heads on the opposite side of my room.
In subsequent years, Aurora would produce additional series, Monster Scenes, and Monsters of the Movies. They had released successful lines of superhero kits, Superman, Batman, Spider-man, Wonder Woman, The Hulk, The Lone Ranger and more, representing both DC and Marvel worlds. Through the 1960s, they had sci-fi TV Show kits for Lost in Space, Land of the Giants, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and more. They had monster/vehicle crossover kits, pirates, secret agents, and Presidents. In the 1970s they introduced the Prehistoric Scenes Kits, depicting Dinosaurs, Cavemen, and early mammals. Aurora was purchased in the early 1970s by Nabisco, but by the late 70s the scene had slowed and Nabisco broke up the company in 1977.
When I was a kid, my bedroom resembled a miniature horror museum. Getting these kits was like owning a piece of the Horror films I loved so much. Building and painting the kits to match the boxes and film made me a monster creator myself, much like Dr. Frankenstein. I had won awards for a model building contest at a local neighborhood hobby store. These kits became a huge part of my life.
As I grew older, it was sad to see those kits disappear from the store shelves. However, all was not lost. Nabisco had sold the original monster kit molds to rivals, Revell and Monogram, who re-released the famous kits at various intervals throughout the years. Smaller companies like Polar Lights and Moebius would later produce some of the kits and keep monster kit making alive for the older fans that grew up in that special time in history.
Original Aurora Monster kits with the name and date stamp in the bottom can sell for over $200 on eBay, depending upon the model. If you are in it just for nostalgia or new to kit building, you can get most of the reissues for fair market prices, from $25 to $50. There are also a whole slew of new kits with even more detail, often made from Resin or Vinyl for the more discerning kit builder. Today, if you can name a horror movie, some small company has probably built a kit for it. It is a great way to relax; it’s a fun pastime, and a way to own your own monster.
Here’s some links to help discover some of the old kits, new kits, add-on accessories and customizing parts for the horror/sci-fi model kit market. A world that started with a company called Aurora and their original Monster figure Kits. You can also check out the video, Aurora Monsters, The Model Craze the Gripped the World, on dvd with your ghoulish host, Zacherley
Check out this neat trailer for an Aurora Monster Kit documentary: