Chilling Winter Card Sets

by Kurt Kuersteiner (©1999 Monsterwax Monster Trading Cards) for The Wrapper Magazine

As the cold Northern winds howl through the barren woods, the chill of Winter surrounds us. But there is more to shiver about than the cold weather. A recent trip to the movie theater (and card shop) can also provide a shutter or two. Or three! So wrap yourself warm and draw closer to the fire. We're going to sneak a peek at four recent releases that all have one thing in common: They gave viewers the Willie's!

First on the list is The Blair Witch Project by Topps. Even those who didn't see the movie probably know what it was about. Three students go into the woods to film a documentary about an ancient witch and never return. A year later their footage is found... According to Hollywood advertisements, the documentary is true. But to quote another famous fibber, it depends on what your definition of "is" is. Either way, movie goers seemed thrilled with the premise and watched the film in droves. It was a runaway hit that grossed millions, yet it cost a measly $30,000 to produce. (That's another one of the many supposed "facts" used to successfully hype the film.)

After seeing its success, Topps rushed out a card set soon after the movie left the theaters. Like the film, the set is composed of grainy video grabs and a few clear stills. The 72 card set does an excellent job of telling the story presented in the movie. (Topps writer Gary Gerani was Editor-in-Chief of the set.) The graphics on the back are nicely laid out too. Also of interest is the absence of too many chase cards. Only five foil cards were produced for the series, four of which (witch?) were found per box.

This set has no monsters, major stars, special effects or anything very exciting to look at. But if you get caught up in reading the story on the reverse, you'll probably experience a good case of the creeps.

Next on the slab is the atmospheric film Sleepy Hollow. It was directed by Tim Burton, who also directed Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Batman, Pee-Wee's Big Adventure and Nightmare Before Christmas. Sleepy Hollow was released during Thanksgiving, but was more about Holloween. It's based on Washington Irving's 1820 horror story, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

Naturally, great liberties were taken in producing the film. Irving's gawky school teacher (Ichabod Crane) is replaced with a handsome constable (actor Johnny Depp). A subplot sympathetic to Witchcraft and hostile to the Church is also added. (I overheard one member in the audience say, "If Irving were alive to see this, he'd be spinning in his grave!")

Purist objections aside, what was most unusual about the movie was Burton's efforts to place a logical detective in the middle of a fantasy film. Constable Crane kept trying to apply empirical methods to solve a supernatural mystery. The two genres contradict one another. It was like watching Sherlock Holmes say "Aha! Using my superior methods of logic and science, I've deduced the identity of the witch responsible for the evil spells on our fair city!" Whatever...

But despite these flaws, the film was still fun to watch. And these cards are still enjoyable to collect. They contain the same dark atmosphere that made the film so eerie. The pictures are clear and the write ups on the reverse tell the story well.

There are three levels of chase cards. Nine different foil etched Character Cards are packed 1 per 11 packs. They feature photos and write ups of several stars and director Tim Burton. Six different Mini-Lobby Cards are 1 per 17 packs. These cards look like miniature lobby cards with a reflective finish and include information on the back about the film. A Parchment Tabloid Card packed 1 per 108 packs. This is an embossed card made to look old and wrinkled with tattered edges. It spoofs what 200 year old newspapers would have looked like if they reported the Headless Horseman story in modern tabloid style.

There are also autograph redemption cards. If sent in by a certain date, Inkworks will return a special celebrity autograph card. (The redemption card has one of six names already checked off.) The six names are Jeffrey Jones, Casper Van Dien, Lisa Marie, Johnny Depp, Tim Burton, and music composer Danny Elfman. A binder is also available from Inkworks for $18.

Unfortunately, there is also a controversial aspect of this product that needs to be mentioned, since ignoring it would be less than impartial. Several Sleepy Hollow dealers have complained that Inkworks advertised an autograph card in every other box, but once the product arrived, it had only one per three boxes. Inkworks didn't alert these customers that a down grade was made. Customers were left to discover the change for themselves. Once the boxes were opened, returning the product was not very feasible. According to Inkworks, some of the talent didn't sign as many autographs as they promised, throwing off the advertised autograph ratio. Inkworks points out that the autograph ratio for "James Bond, the World is NOT Enough" series was one per every other box, which was previously unadvertised and better than most people expected.

Also new is the Twilight Zone series from Rittenhouse Archives. This series profiles twelve episodes from the 1960s TV show. Any child of the 60s remembers Twilight Zone for its clever plots and twist endings. Not all the episodes were good, but most were and some rank among the best TV shows ever. Host Rod Serling scripted many of the tales, but it was writer Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont who created the strongest stories. Many of Hollywood's best actors got their start starring on the show as well. The series lasted an amazing six seasons.

The set is black and white with a little "TV blue" splashed on the backs and borders. It profiles twelve of the more popular episodes with six card subsets, totaling 72 cards in the set. Featured episodes include Time Enough At Last, It's A Good Life, and Nightmare At 20,000 Feet.

A nine card subset of Twilight Stars profile the more recognizable actors (1 per 6 packs). There is also ten different Autograph Challenge Game Cards (1 per pack). Find all the letters in "Twilight Zone" and win a full set of autographs. Rod Serling and producer Buck Houghton are also featured on two different Commemorative Cards (1 per 36 packs). The checklist is unnumbered and limited to 1 per 18 packs. Especially noteworthy is the presence of two autograph cards per box (18 different available). Actors who signed were William Shatner, Richard Kiel, Donna Douglas, Lloyd Bochner, Ann Blyth, Kevin McCarthy, Martin Milner, Vera Miles, Rod Taylor, William Windom, Antoinette Bower, Fritz Weaver, Earl Holliman, Anne Francis, Elizabeth Allen, Robert Sorrells, Cloris Leachman and Bill Mumy.

It's an engaging car set devoid of grainy images so common to episodic sets. Rittenhouse Archives intends to produce more of this series. How many more is uncertain. Twilight Zone ran 151 episodes. That would be enough to complete a dozen more card series using the same format of 12 episodes a set! But many of the stars are no longer with us, and some of the episodes don't really deserve being profiled. Time alone will tell how far this franchise will go. (Events are often unpredictable in The Twilight Zone.)

Completists will also be interested in knowing about an extra autograph card and promo which are only available with the purchase of a binder. The autograph is Ruta Lee (A19) and the promo is of William Shatner. The price is a whopping $40!

And finally, a set that came out earlier in the Fall: The 40th Anniversary Hammer Horror series from Creative Marketing Associates of England. There are nine foil stamped cards in the set, three of which are full color. The backs chronicle the most infamous Hammer horror movie titles. There may also be another set in the pipeline called the Entombed Collection. More on that later when and if it materializes.

That's it for this chilling Winter season. We'll see you again in the year 2,000. And for those of you who worry that the world ends with the dawn of the new millennium, take cheer: The new millennium doesn't really start until 2,001. (Which means we still have one more year to live and collect cards.) Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


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