Little evokes as eye-watering a Proustian rush as images of Waddington’s Horror Top Trumps. Despite my best efforts, I have not been able to ascertain the artist of the two packs of cards released in the 1970s, their felt-tip pen work now sadly attributed to ‘anonymous’. It was a German company, Dubreq, who first devised the idea, presumably as they rolled around in the millions they made from Stylophones around a decade earlier. Once they had struck upon the concept of merging a simple card game with the perennially popular collecting of cigarette or bubblegum cards, the world was their oyster. Simply any subject imaginable was fair game – the early focus was on methods of transport (including ‘Fabulous Buggies’ – only fabulous ones, mind) and the military, ideally both at the same time.
Top Trumps actually derives from a game called Quartets in the 1960s, the same in many regards, apart from the aim of the triumphant player being the one to assemble the most winning groups across the four categories on the cards, as opposed to winning every card by any means. By the time Dubreq had launched their version of Quartets in 1976/77, these rules were clarified and 32 cards were appointed to each pack – the four categories remained in the form of speed of vehicle, engine capacity, weight, indeed anything which one competitor could compare to that of an opponent.
Despite the many variants already available, it seems most enthusiasts, nearly all of them children, played with preferred packs, rather than attempting to assemble an entire phalanx of options. In late 1977/78, Dubreq launched series two of their now insanely popular card game and it is here where not one but two packs of Horror Top Trumps made their appearance. Let’s have a quick look at the rules, as the instruction card lays them out:
“Any number can play. Shuffle and deal equally. Each player holds his cards so that he can see only his top card. The player on the dealer’s left reads out one piece of information such as the Physical Strength or Horror Rating from his top card. The other players read out the same item. The one with the value wins and places all the top cards including his own at the bottom of his hand. It is then his turn to choose an item from his new top card. If 2 or more cards share the top value, all the top cards are placed in the middle and the same player chooses again from his next card. The winner of the trick takes the cards in the middle as well. The winner is the player with all or most of the cards”.
If the subject of horror wasn’t enough to make this the must-have amongst your friends, the design of the cards certainly was. Apart from the aforementioned physical strength and horror rating, the other values on the cards related to fear factor and killing power. It’s reasonable to assume that some of the information of the cars and aircraft were sometimes dubious but here we were firmly in the realms of licking a finger and holding it up to the breeze. There are some particularly bewildering decisions, for example, that you would be marginally more scared of Thor than The Risen Dead (going by their Fear Factor) whilst the Killing Power of a Mad Axeman far outweighs that of an Executioner, regardless of the size of axe pictured, apparently.
With two packs of 32 cards released simultaneously, the choice of characters to feature on the cards is, you would imagine, a gift but it must, in the cold light of day, be accepted that there were struggles – not only with the choices but the execution. It would seem to have been necessary to skirt various copyrights by either changing the name of the original monster or disguising them beneath layers of dubious costumes and questionable felt-tip penmanship.
Whilst some cards were clear on the character upon which they were based, others have prompted decades of head-scratching. Here, we attempt to finally unravel one of popular culture’s greatest mysteries.
Alien Creature – A Morlock from the 1960s film Time Machine
Colossus – Colossus of New York (1958)
Creature From Outer Space – This Island Earth (1955)
Creature From the Black Lagoon – Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
Cyclops – Actually the centaur from Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973)
Death – Cordian Alien Mask by Don Post
The best card in this particular pack, though even juvenile eyebrows were raised at only a perverse 95 score on Killing Power (trapped in a room you were statistically more likely to die at the hands of Thor or King Kong first). The tricky choice of what to represent the visage of Death ended with the odd choice of Cordian Alien, one of Don Post’s best-selling masks
Devil Priest – Possibly from a Frank Frazetta painting
Diablo – At a pinch, this could be adapted from the poster for the 1976 film Demon Lover
Dr. Syn – A first appearance by Fu Manchu from Brides of Fu Manchu
Fire Demon – From The Daemons episode from the Pertwee-era Doctor Who
Frankenstein – No wonder kids never got into the habit of calling him Frankenstein’s Monster. To compound the issue, the image is from The Bride of Frankenstein (1935).
High Priestess of Zoltan -A respectful renaming for Barbara Steele’s character in Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968)
Hunchback of Notre Dame – Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)
Killer Rat – A Killer Rat! Apparently wearing trousers! A fine attempt at a rodent’s head being transposed on Ollie Reed’s Werewolf body from Curse of the Werewolf (1961)
Living Gargoyle – Gigan from Toho’s Godzilla films
Lizard Man – It! The Terror From Beyond Space.
Martian Warrior – Creature of Destruction (1967)
Mistress Vampire – Vampire Lovers
Talon – Night of the Blood Beast (1958)
Terror of The Deep – War Gods of the Deep (1965)
The Beast – Legend of the Werewolf (1975)…or possibly from the Night Gallery episode Pickman’s Model (1971)
The Fiend – Goliath and the Barbarians (1958)
The Jailer – Dwight Frye in Frankenstein (1931)
The Living Skull – Vincent Price in Madhouse (1974)
The Mummy – The Mummy (1959)
The Slime Creature
The Sorcerer – The Betamax cover of In Search of Dracula and the poster for Dracula’s Virgin Lovers (1974)
Thor – from a Frank Frazetta painting
Venusian Death Cell – A round of applause for a terrific name! Actually, a Sea Devil from Doctor Who
Wolfman – Possibly Werewolf of London’s head on an undetermined body
Zetan Priest – What type of self-respecting Demonic Priest would leave the house looking like that? A somewhat flouncy version of The Guardian from the Doctor Who story, ‘Colony in Space’. With thanks to Simon Ballard for the spot
Zoltan – Lady Frankenstein (1971)
Ape Man – Trog (1970)
Cannibal – Phantom Creeps (1939) (with a dash of Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake, 1959)
Circus of Death – Full marks to David Wilson who solved this puzzle.
Dracula – Dracula A.D. 1972
Fu Manchu – Mask of Fu Manchu (1932)
Gargantua – It! Terror From Beyond Space (1958). The second use of the same creature – was the artist really so short of ideas?
Godzilla – Valley of the Gwangi (1969) or possibly another Harryhausen dino star. With a tux and bowtie.
Granite Man – Pharaoh’s Curse (1957)
Headhunter – Thief of Baghdad (1940)
Incredible Melting Man – Incredible Melting Man (1978)
King Kong – Konga (1961)
Lord of Death – Phantom of the Opera (1925)
Madman – Doom Watch (1972)
Maggot – “The Golden Man” episode from Lost in Space (1966)
Man Eating Plant – I Married A Monster From Outer Space (1958)
Phantom of The Opera – The Abominable Dr Phibes (1971)
Prince of Darkness – Onibaba (1964)
Skeleton – From the poster for House on Haunted Hill (1959)
The Executioner – Frank Frazetta painting, as featured in Creepy (1967)
The Freak – The Reptile (1966)
The Ghoul – Monster Maker (1944)
The Hangman – Phantom of the Opera (1925) & Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter (1974)
The Mad Axeman – From the poster for Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror (1971)
The Mad Magician – London After Midnight (1927)
The Risen Dead – Santo in Killers from Other Worlds (1971)
The Sorceress – Devil’s Rain (1975) poster
The Thing – Angry Red Planet (1959)
Two Headed Monster – Thing With Two Heads (1972)
Vampire Bat – The Bat (1959)
Werewolf – I Was A Teenage Werewolf (1957)
Zetan Warlord – The Ogron from Doctor Who (1972)
By 1982, Top Trumps were still big business and the brand was bought by gaming behemoth, Waddingtons. They duly saturated the market with every conceivable subject, from dinosaurs to buses, both their own designs and those existing from Dubreq. None ever captured the joyous nature of the Horror packs, either in scope or design. Naturally, both packs are now highly prized by collectors.