(This article was originally published on Ginger Nuts of Horror in March 2022)
It’s the year 1988. Elias Thorne, scientist, is carrying out an epochal experiment from the Prometheus Space Station – his “Time Scanner” can replay moments from the past, and the boffin plans to learn once and for all what killed the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago. However, something goes horribly wrong – and the Time Scanner ends up pulling dinosaurs through to the modern day, to wreak bloody gruesome havoc.
Sounds like the average plot of your common-or-garden Asylum movie, but this is in fact the storyline for the Dinosaur Attacks Topps trading cards – an attempt to cash in on the success of the similarly gruesome Mars Attacks trading cards from nearly a quarter of a century before.
I suppose it was always inevitable that I’d end up in horror somehow, being attracted to the science fiction and horror section of nearby Bell Green Library – particularly drawn to the Pan collections of short horror tales (good old Herbert Von Thal). The covers are just as evocative and powerful as they were then; often simple manipulated photographs showing a twisted dull or a severed head, staring pale faces or the repeating motif of skulls with something insectoid or reptilian crawling merrily through an empty eye socket.
The Garbage Pail Kids cards (also from the Topps company) from the mid-eighties also appealed; clearly a piss-take of the popular Cabbage Patch dolls, they felt subversive – something your parents would not be pleased you were looking at, yet alone collecting and swapping.
(Incidentally, my parents were perfectly happy with my love of horror books when I was growing up, just happy I was a voracious reader. That was until I borrowed “Slugs” by Shaun Hutson and, not recognising a word, acted my mum what it meant. The word was “Vagina,” and I was henceforth banned from choosing my own books from Bell Green Library for a short while).
A friend of mine owned a copy of the Dinosaur Attacks cards in the late eighties, and – thinking back on it – I’m not sure how, as I don’t know if they were ever released in the UK. This was back from the days when trading card packets still came with gum, and every card had the strong mingled scent of cardboard and sugar, a heady neuron-fastening combination that can send me hurtling back to the eighties.
They were like the holy grail; grisly, depicting a level of gore you just didn’t get from Panini football stickers (unless you defaced them yourself with a red pen – sorry, Kenny Dalglish). And, up until a few weeks ago, I’d forgotten all about them – until a mistyped eBay search revealed them to me again.
For a full set, they weren’t expensive. They were – madly - never hugely successful. To many of you, this reminiscence will mean nothing – to others, they’ll transport you squarely back to those days of pastel-coloured sweatshirts and Nik Kershaw. Still, as a horror fan, you’ll no doubt appreciate the gore.
Setting the stall from the outset, a peckish oversized Tyrannosaurus Rex takes a chunk out of a bleeding Planet Earth. And this is just the cover.
You’re not even safe from herbivores. Here we see a member of the Stegosauria family running amok in a police station, gouging out a copper’s eye with his thagomizer. Oh, and foregoing his standard diet of moss and ferns in favour of a meaty police officer.
Dogs famously didn’t fare well in Mars Attacks either (Card 36: “Destroying a Dog”). Here, Fido meets an equally cruel fate.
Ouch. That’s gotta hurt.
And the dinosaur shenanigans aren’t confined to just America either. There’s at least one of the bright blue blighters in blighty, clawing out for a cloth-capped cockney.
This was for kids.
They could be educational, mind. This card clearly demonstrates the benefits of sharing.
This image has occasionally haunted my dreams for thirty-odd years. You’re welcome. Even the arthropods are at it.
You’ll be relieved to know that – spoiler alert – humankind triumphs in the end. And it’s pretty messy.
And, brilliantly for trading cards, the back is almost as good as the front. Telling the story through newspaper headlines or something related to the image on the front, it’s a wonderfully succinct and effective bit of storytelling.
So, there you go. Topps Dinosaur Attacks – a wonderful eighties slice of kid-inappropriate ultra-violence and gore. Well worth looking out for a set on popular auction sites, and infinitely more rewarding than a rewatch of “Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus.” Don’t have nightmares.