Why LEGO Studios – Horror was the perfect subtheme

What is the LEGO Group’s scariest subtheme? Blocks is going back to one of the company’s most haunted lines – LEGO Studios – Horror.

LEGO Studios – Horror; you may be eager to dive into the fright, but first, here’s some background information. LEGO Studios was a licensed theme initially, with the comapny collaborating with Steven Spielberg. Over time, there was a mix of licensed and non-licensed sets that allowed children and adults alike to construct movie sets and use them to create brickfilms.

LEGO Studios ran from 2000 to 2002. In 2000, the core kit, 1349 LEGO and Steven Spielberg Moviemaker Set, provided LEGO fans with a simple USB camera. It could be attached to LEGO bricks, helping it move steadily along a brick-built track. Unlike the Super Mario sets, which require the Mario figure to function, fans could use any camera to film – the software compatible with the included camera was not required to make a good brickfilm.

The theme received add-on sets in 2001, the largest of which contained 233 pieces – an exploding bank. They also put a rotating movie backdrop with a helicopter and a massive dinosaur (T. rex) head made from 94 pieces on shelves. The latter supplemented the T. rex foot found in the moviemaker kit.

In 2002, the spookiest Studios subtheme launched…

The Horror! The Horror!

In the theme’s third and final year, the LEGO Group unleashed terror with their LEGO Studios’ horror line.  A menagerie of classic horror monsters was included in just four sets, from mad scientists to otherworldly pharaohs. Gimmicks included geared functions, a tree with ‘opening eyes’ and skeletons rising from the dead. It’s enough to make a minifigure’s prints crawl.

Similar to Time Cruisers and Time Twisters from the 1990s, LEGO Studios re-used older LEGO elements as props – and their horror subtheme was no different. The largest set in the line, 1382 Scary Laboratory, had a classic minifigure ghost element, as well as a wrought-iron gate as seen in many horror films. The Scary Laboratory set is actually the largest in the line, coming in at 41 more pieces than the flagship moviemaker set.

How could a subtheme with a largest set of just 493 pieces be one of the best lines the LEGO Group has ever created – even above its originating theme? It comes down to more than just a personal love of the macabre and spooky.

Have fun playing with danger

Like a vampire exiting its lair, the play functions and play value of these sets is through the roof. The mainline LEGO Studios sets benefitted greatly from the core kit, while this subtheme is far better and more accessible for play. An exploding bank is cool and all, but it’s a fast play function that results in an unstable building and a short few seconds of play time. You could invent stories with the horror sets that would last hours. You wouldn’t even need to film it, though the Scary Laboratory set did come with a spooky sound effects CD.

The functions still fit the LEGO Studios coda as well, letting you send the angry tree toppling onto the car, lift Frankenstein’s monster towards the life-giving laser, and raise the dead from the pharaoh’s tomb. The theme may have come before 8683 Collectible Minifigures – Series 1 introduced zombies, but for their time, flopping skeletons were more than enough for a child or adult to play with.

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Those old props are gold

That old peasant cap you see on the hunchback in 1381 Vampire’s Crypt was first released in 1984 as a blacksmith’s cowl. Unlike the Vampire minifigure, this blacksmith had his cape on backwards to indicate he was wearing an apron. It hadn’t been seen in five years prior to this set’s release where it appeared on a Wolfpack prisoner in 6087 Witch’s Magic Manor.

The exact ghost element in phosphorescent white first appeared in 1997’s 6496 Whirling Time Warper from Time Twisters, but it would reappear in the LEGO Studios Scary Laboratory. It’s another five-year gap for a rarer piece we could have seen disappear, but that was instead included in the horror theme. These awesome inclusions were much appreciated by LEGO fans.

The new pieces? To die for.

Comparing the LEGO Studios horror sets from 2002 to the previous two years, it’s fantastic to see tons of new molds and ideas being thrown around. Despite the movie maker set coming with numerous new baseplate pieces and a USB camera, the rest of the theme generally used basic parts and construction.

Even the minifigures were basic and plain, only occasionally serving as actors of known LEGO characters (specifically, Johnny Thunder and Pippin Reed from LEGO Adventurers). That clearly isn’t the issue in LEGO Studios’ horror selection. An exclusive Frankenstein’s monster and werewolf headpiece, a new vampiric coffin, and even a new wig that’s only appeared in seven sets are the highlights of the theme. That’s excluding prints, like the printed garlic tile, and the creepy tree’s narrowed, gnarled eyes.

To Be Frankenstein…

The previous LEGO Studios sets were excellent additions to the moviemaker set, though they were somewhat lacking in their own separate identity. It’s a shame the Studios sets were discontinued after three years, but it’s understandable at the same time.

The horror subtheme, on the other hand, had us howling at the moon. Even with only four sets to speak of, the line was exciting, engaging for children and easy to appreciate for adults. Fans of the old Universal Pictures or Hammer Films could easily film in black and white.

They were the perfect spooky subtheme without equal – and they much deserve to be dug up from your parts bins this Halloween. Have at it, Igor.

All image scans courtesy of Brickset.

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