Rudy Panucci On Pop Culture

The PopCult Toybox: Cheesy Knockoffs Come Back For More

Img_9564Life is like a box of cheese

It’s been just over a year since I last ventured into the choppy waters of the Cheesy Knockoff Toy Industry, and I have a fresh (mostly) batch of wonderfully cheesy imitations of hit toys, or candy, in one case.

Ghastly Girlfriends and Goth Girls

We started our last look at knockoffs with Midnight Magic, an imitation of Monster High fashion dolls that has actually thrived and expanded to the point where we’ll be covering them in depth in a week or two. Since we wanted something a bit cheesier, we found two new Monster High knockoffs that are not only cheap and cheesy…they’re practically the same doll.

Ghasty Girlfriends and Gothic Girl dolls are both found at Dollar General, both sell for three bucks each and both appear to be repurposed Bratz knockoffs, molded with pale skin. The main difference seems to be the packaging and the fact that the Ghastly Girlfriends seem to have way more hair, as you can see in the photo at the head of this post.

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The Gothic Girl, in a slimmer box with better graphics

The back of the box

The Gothic Girl dolls have nicer graphics on the box, but the edge has to go to Ghastly Girlfriends, for A) Having a funnier name that might see them used as breakup gifts by jerks and B) Having a delightfully idiotic story behind them printed on the back of the box. See for yourself…

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One other lovely little feature of the Ghastly Girlfriends is that one of them appears to be a vampire. There are fangs painted on her lips. Yet, she comes with a mirror. Vampires tend not to use mirrors much because they have no reflection.

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Both Ghastly Girlfriends and Goth Girls come in boxes that bear no manufacturer labels. Both are distributed by Dolgencorp, the distribution arm of Dollar General.

Ultra CORPS Tracker

Img_9553Lanard has been in the business of knocking off GI Joe for years. Their CORPS line has actually been more available to the general public than the GI Joe Real American Hero line for the last several years.

This year, after about four years of inactivity, Lanard has revived their 12 inch Ultra CORPS action figure line. However, they have done so with at least two competing lines at different price points that bear the same unifying brand name, Tracker, but have little else in common.

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The Outbound Ranger line of Tracker is a throwback to the original Lanard Ultra CORPS figures from the late 1990’s. These are twelve inch figures with decent articulation, good head sculpts, cheaply made uniforms and loads of accessories. Of special note is that some of the accessories have exceptionally well done paint weathering.

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There are two figures in this line–Stryker Bowman, who, oddly enough does not wield a bow and Jungle “John” Smith (the quotation marks are theirs. I guess he picked up the nickname “John” because Jungle Smith is so common.) These figures were ten dollars each. I found them at Deals, which is a higher priced version of Dollar Tree and while it’s great to see Lanard back in the twelve inch action figure business, there’s quite a bit of cheesiness on display here.

He stands pretty well, considering that his right foot is held on by the boot.

He stands pretty well, considering that his right foot is held on by the boot.

For one thing, between the two figures you get one complete set of accessories. One figure comes with a belt, the other figure comes with canteens, grenades and pouches to hang on that belt. There’s a couple of really nicely done machine guns and a cool looking, yet non-functional backpack.

The body design looks almost exactly like the original Lanard body, but it bears a 2013 copyright stamp. It may well have been re-tooled, since Lanard abandoned this body design almost ten years ago in favor of figures that have molded on shirts and boots but cloth pants. The head sculpts seem to date back to the original Ultra CORPS era.

While I have referred to these as Ultra CORPS, that name does not appear anywhere on the package. These are billed as Tracker Outbound Ranger, the Ultimate Outdoor Hero. I guess it’s an attempt to veer away from the military settings and into more of an adventure theme, although the desert camo and the 50mm machine gun are not often used when hunting squirrels.

Not a bad headlscultp. Too bad about the foot.

Not a bad headlsculpt. Too bad about the foot.

Adding to the cheesiness, Jungle “John” Smith wears a t-shirt which is pre-ripped. One last cheesy feature on these? When I opened Stryker Bowman to photograph him for this post, I discovered that his right foot had snapped off inside his boot and was in fact only being held on by his boot. Despite that, the figure still stood pretty well.

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Our adventures with Tracker the Outdoor Hero did not end at Deals. A few weeks later, I popped into Fruth Pharmacy and discovered a different twelve inch action figure (later I discovered that they’re closer to ten inches) by Lanard called Tracker, the Ultimate Outdoor Hero, who had very little in common with his more elaborately packaged counterpart. Held to a piece of cardboard with plastic ties, this figure–actually two figures, Capt’n Outback and Sgt. Survival–is what some of us call an inaction figure. He is a statue. There are three points of articulation. Each arm revolves at the shoulder and the head can twist. Other than that, these figures are like big, blown-up Green Army Men, except that they’re hollow. The bodies are identical, but each sports a previously used Lanard head, one of which is known in collector’s circles as “the Ray Liotta head.”

Img_9558The sculpt on the body is really nice, with lots of detail: knives, pouches, pads, a tactical vest, gloves and weathering to make it all look more realistic. At first glance, these figures look pretty cool.

It’s when you look up close and realize that they can’t be posed that the cheese factor comes into play. These figures are sold without any weapons or accessories, yet they have pegs in their hands which are probably necessary in order for them to be able to hold anything.

From head to neck, these guys are made of rigid, hard plastic. Making things even worse, they didn’t even bother to give them bottoms for their feet. They’re just hollow down there.

"Well, Soldier, you certainly don't have flat feet."

“Well, Soldier, you certainly don’t have flat feet.”

Both hands have pegs. It's sort of an anti-stigmata

Both hands have pegs. It’s sort of an anti-stigmata

These sell for seven dollars at Fruth and may turn up at other stores for five bucks. It’s almost like Lanard decided to take a page from Hasbro’s depressing line of barely articulated twelve inch figures and create a statue of their own. To be honest, these figures are sculpted and posed more dynamically than the recent Hasbro twelve inch offerings. But they’re still pretty darned cheesy.

Not A Peep

Up next we have not toys, but candy. Our offering is Marshmallow Treats, which I picked up quite some time ago at Dollar Tree. These are knockoffs of marshmallow Peeps. In this case, they’re little green bunnies and they’re made in China.

Nothing says "Mommy doesn't care" better than imitation Peelps from China!

Nothing says “Mommy doesn’t care” better than imitation Peeps from China!

I’m not eager to try to eat candy made in China at this point, so you will just have to take my word for the fact that this candy looks like it may contain lead paint.

The second bunny from the right looks a little queasy

The second bunny from the right looks a little queasy

In fact, one of the rabbits in the top row looks to be rather nauseated. Some people love Peeps, but I don’t think they love them enough to buy cheesy knockoffs of them made in China. I’ve actually had these in my house for nearly three years and I can now state unequivocally that Marshmallow Treats, once they get past their expiration date, appear to attain a density not unlike kidney stones.

Now with extra kidney-stone chewiness!

Now with extra kidney-stone chewiness!

Those Aren’t Knockoffs, They’re Bootlegs. Just Not Very Good Bootlegs

Before we proceed, let me explain the difference between a knockoff toy and a bootleg toy. A knockoff is a cheap imitation of a successful toy, like the examples we mentioned above. A bootleg is a toy that pretends to be a real, licensed item, but which is unauthorized and usually very badly made.

Sometimes, however, a bootleg is so ineptly done that it transcends mere bootlegggery and attains a brilliant and dazzling level of cheesiness. Let’s look at a couple…

"Howdy! I suck!"

“Howdy! I suck!”

What you see above is a vintage attempted bootleg toy (from the collection of Lee Harrah). It is a crappy copy of a Battlestar Galactica 3 3/4″ figure, made in Mexico, but instead of a robotic Cylon head, it’s just some dude.

It’s a human-Cylon hybrid, years before the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica introduced the concept. The body seems to be a direct swipe from the original BSG Cylon, but the head…I can’t quite place it.

It's not him

It’s not him

Some people suggest that it may be Jon, Ponch’s sidekick from CHiPS. Others say it’s Major Matt Mason. I think it looks a bit like former WWE talent coordinator, John Laurenitis, but to be fair, most unpainted action figure heads look like Laurenitis and he wasn’t famous yet when this figure was made. ¬†Either way, it’s clearly not the intended head for this figure, and that makes it cheesy.

I tried real hard to get a shot of this headsculpt in focus. Then I realized that it seems to have been sculpted out of focus.

I tried real hard to get a shot of this headsculpt in focus. Then I realized that it seems to have been sculpted out of focus.

The fact that the figure can barely stand and is made of cheap, soft plastic helps, too.

"I'm fine as long as I have something to lean on."

“I’m fine as long as I have something to lean on.”

But the cheese factor of the little faux BSG guy is eclpised by our next duo.

These are figures that I found at the late, lamented Silver Dollar store in Barboursville. This place was a haven for cheesy, crappy, hilariously-awful toys. This store was several notches below Dollar Tree in terms of class. Bootleg toys were common. And sometimes, those bootleg toys were so fantasmagorically hideous that, for a purveyour of fine crap like me, they were a route to nirvana.

Packaged in a poly bag with the delightful header “Toys,” these two figures took what appeared to be the mold for an Incredible Hulk action figure, about nine-inches tall, and repurposed it by changing the color and giving him a different head. They are apparently a product of the Made In China Toy Company.

These figures also have a little light bulb in their chest that theoretically lights up when you hit a button on their back. The lights have long since ceased to function.

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First up we have a big, bulky Hulk body, molded in red, sporting the head of Marvel Comics’ Daredevil. This figure probably dates back to the time of the Ben Affleck Daredevil movie, and it’s just goofy looking as hell. It’s a big red Daredevil with blue X Men-like trunks. If you ever wondered what Ben Affleck would look like with a steady diet of steroid cocktails, this might be it.

However, while that figure is cheesy and funny as heck on its own, the companion piece is the real winner. I give you…the Incredible Zorro!

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Yes, that is a Zorro head slapped on a Hulk body, molded in black (with blue trunks). This is the kind of toy that makes me feel like the Leonard Pinth Carnell of action figures. It’s is so gloriously, remarkably bad that I had to buy it on the spot.

It's almost like a menacing Blues Brother

It’s almost like a menacing Blues Brother

Note that the paint job on ZorroHulk is particularly sloppy. The head is molded in two three pieces that don’t fit together well. The hat falls off, revealing a blocky peg structure.

Giving new meaning to the term, "blockhead"

Giving new meaning to the term, “blockhead”

This…this is what makes the cheesy toy hunt worth it. Our hat goes off to ZorroHulk…as does his.

1 Comment

  1. J. Steven York

    Those Peeps knock-offs may not be good for eating, but they should be fine for the best use of Peeps, which is putting them in the microwave and watching them mutate.

    RE: The knock off toys, the head on that knock off Cylon looks like Matt Mason’s pal, Sgt. Storm, to me.

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