“Get a reading on those gross people in your neighborhood…”
The fictional character of Beetlejuice was first conjured into popular culture in Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice film in 1988. The comedy-horror was a hit with audiences thanks in part to the colourful antics of the eponymous character, a havoc-wreaking spirit with a fondness for the grotesque and a penchant for unsavoury deeds. The movie’s success spawned an animated series (1989-1991) and officially licensed toys such as the collection produced by Kenner, a division of Tonka at the time.
Kenner produced figures, toys, and playsets that evoked the unique stylings of the Beetlejuice character — his unkempt chartreuse-coloured hair, ashen skin, sunken eyes, and haphazard attire. Kenner’s Beetlejuice Gross Out Meter playset is a great example of the company’s dedication to the character’s likeness.
The plastic playset came ready to play straight out of the box. The toy was moulded to include an image of Beetlejuice at the top left with two dials encased in a plastic housing below. The right side of the toy was molded to look like a skeletal hand.
The first dial was illustrated with adverbs such as unbelievably, totally, really, and mildly. The lower dial included adjectives like rude, gross, offensive, vile, disgusting, and foul. Kids pulled a trigger that moved the thumb of the skeleton hand, thereby opening the grip, and placed a cohort’s wrist within its grasp. Pulling the trigger also prompted the two dials to start spinning. When the trigger was released, the two dials stopped spinning, and the cohort’s gross-out rating would be revealed. Results could include “Really Rude”, “Mildly Disgusting”, “Unbelievably Foul”, etc.
The enthusiasm for Beetlejuice eventually faded and the toys fell out of favour with all but the most enthusiastic fans. However, the final chapter of Beetlejuice’s story is still to be written. Beetlejuice 2 is in development with Tim Burton once again at the helm. The film is slated to be released in September 2024.
Now is a good time to look for Beetlejuice collectables at reasonable prices. Once a property starts to gain attention again, prices of associated toys and games usually escalate. Look for toys that were kept away from the light, which could fade the paint and degrade the plastic.