By 1989, the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise was up to its fifth installment, and Freddy Krueger was one of the most popular movie characters in the world. Capitalizing on the success of the series, toy company Matchbox acquired the Elm Street license and released a Mego-style action figure that allowed kids to dress up a standard doll as the horror icon, and the name MAXx FX appeared on the packaging.
At the time, nobody had any idea what the hell MAXx FX was, nor did they have any inkling that the poorly-made Freddy Krueger doll was merely a shadow of what the line was originally intended to be. The figure disappeared off shelves as quickly as it arrived, and that peculiar MAXx FX logo never appeared in toy stores again. A damn shame, considering how awesome the original concept was.
The story of the failed MAXx FX line begins in 1988, when toy designer Mel Birnkrant had the genius idea of capitalizing on the monster movie boom taking place at the time. Thanks to franchises like Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street, as well as Fangoria Magazine, makeup effects were more popular than ever before in the late ’80s, and Birnkrant’s idea was to bring those effects to the toy shelf.
In his shop, the toymaker designed an 11 1/2″ action figure that he named Max Miracle, and the basic concept behind the character is that he was a Hollywood superhero who could assume the identities and powers of various different movie monsters. The fun of the line, for kids, is that special appliance packs would allow them to literally transform the human doll into their favorite big screen monsters.
The original Max Miracle line included seven different appliance packs, allowing for Max to become The Wolf Man, The Mummy, a swamp creature, a robot henchman, and a beastly caveman, as well as present day horror icons Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees. Birnkrant even whipped up a prototype for a makeup FX van that would house the various accessories and serve as a fun mobile movie studio.
There’s no doubt that the line was a brilliant one, as well as perfectly suited for monster-loving kids at the time, and Birnkrant thought he had a hit on his hands when Matchbox bought the concept in 1988. But as he describes in detail over on his website, things quickly took a turn for the worse. For starters, the company reduced the size of the dolls to 8″, and significantly scaled back the level of quality.
In addition, the out-of-touch executives saw no interest in having Freddy or Jason in the line, opting instead to scoop up licenses for the classic, outdated Universal monsters. And so they sent Birnkrant back to the drawing board, having him whip up new toys inspired by Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. They also commissioned a figure based on Alien’s titular monster.
With the new prototypes completed and tailored to their desires, Matchbox unveiled the newly named MAXx FX line at the 1989 Toy Fair, and by that time they had added Freddy and Jason back into the line – according to Birnkrant, they were brought back because several key buyers questioned why they weren’t part of the line. The response, by all accounts, was good, and the line was set to hit stores.
But some things just aren’t meant to be.
The death of MAXx FX came shortly after Matchbox released the aforementioned Freddy Krueger doll, which was a cheap, low-budget imitation of Birnkrant’s original concept. Around the same time, they also put out an 18″ pull-string Freddy doll that spouted off lines from the movies, and parents were none too happy about it. After all, Freddy was a serial killer and the star of an R-rated horror franchise.
Amidst the outcry, the talking Freddy doll was pulled from shelves, and Matchbox altogether got cold feet about bringing any other potentially controversial dolls to toy shelves. As a result, the MAXx FX line was abruptly cancelled, never to be seen or heard from again. Three other figures were depicted on the back of the Freddy figure’s packaging, including the Xenomorph, but they were never actually produced.
A tragic and depressing tale, that’s for damn sure.