Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Review: Castle Grayskull - Fortress of mystery and power (1982)

I recently repainted and restored my old Castle Grayskull Playset, but today I wanted to review the actual vintage playset...

Castle Grayskull was made as a playset for Mattel's Masters of the Universe toy line. It would become one of the most popular Christmas presents for pre-adolescent boys in the 1980s.

The price point was generally within reach of the parents of a child in the target age range for the toy line. The castle was also user-friendly, possessing many settings and functions suitable for the 5" action figures it was built to complement, as well as being small enough to be put away at the end of a play session.

Castle Grayskull was conceived as the central location for the battle between the forces of good and evil. The original playset was released in 1982, and all other depictions of the castle originate from it.

It is a large hollow green castle, consisting of two halves connected by a hinge. The toy is designed to open for play and close for storage. A carrying handle is molded into the top of the castle. A large skull decorates the front, with a hinged "Jawbridge" allowing access to the interior, through the "mouth" opening. The interior has a throne room, elevator, and a trap door. Multiple accessories are also included - a ladder, removable flag pole, turret cannon, weapons rack with 9 weapons, and a "battle trainer" device.

When the initial Mattel toy line was introduced in 1982, the He-Man and Skeletor figures each came with half of a plastic sword which could be joined into one "complete" sword, corresponding to the storyline in the included mini-comic.

Together, the combined sword was used as a key to open the jawbridge to the Castle Grayskull playset. According to the original storyline, the Sorceress had split the sword into two and scattered the pieces, in order to protect the castle and its source of universal power.

The toy set was the centerpiece of the toy line, and sold more than 3.5 million units.

The castle itself consists of two parts held together by two hinges. This allows the castle to be closed for storage. When closed, it can be carried by means of a built-in carrying handle.

The playset opens to reveal two sides -- the inside and the outside of the castle. The exterior is features a multitude of detail including stones, slates, windows, balcony, and of course the skull facade. The front also features two towers, the taller is the watch tower where the flag may be clipped. The smaller is the defense tower and features a heavy laser cannon which takes up almost the entire platform.

The interior of the castle is divided into four rooms:

The first room is the entrance hall and dungeon. This dungeon is represented by a sticker on the floor. This room also has a combat trainer.

Above the entrance hall is the throne room, the most beautiful room in the castle. There’s a trapdoor in the floor, decorated with a carpet sticker, which can be activated by turning the throne. There is also what could be a suit of armor or perhaps a space suit which is represented by a carboard insert. Behind the thone hangs a banner.

On the other side, the bottom floor is the armory, where the elevator is found. There are two weaons racks that can be placed in the armory. the first is a yellow plastic rack with pegs that can hold 9 light gray weapons -- a mace, a laser rifle, an axe, a sword, a halberd, a spear, a pole axe, a pistol, and a shield. The other rack is represented by a cardboard standee.

The elevator runs over a rail that is fixed to the case and it operated by pulling a string at end which is attached a small gargoyle. All of which leaves very little space free on either of the two floors.

The elevator leads the fourth and final room which is sort of control room. This room features a computer and monitor screen which is actually another cardboard insert.

An early concept sketch by Mark Taylor featured "the Dwell of Souls", an idea that evolved into Castle Grayskull; it featured a skull-shaped entrance. The face and teeth are very similar to the final Castle’s design however, the rest of the details (especially the turrets) are quite different. Interestingly, the skull face is hooded, like Skeletor’s.

The original packaging art by Rudy Obrero shows Skeletor inside the jaw bridge; this was produced before the storyline was developed, when the castle was thought to belong to Skeletor.

The original concept art and prototype show a large swamp surrounding the castle, which was going to be printed on a playmat that would be positioned beneath the playset. This moat playmat was not included with the finished toy, in order to keep costs down.

In the original series of mini-comics Castle Grayskull features prominently. It is described as built by unknown beings before the Great Wars that wiped the old technology of Eternia. Thus, it's one of the last remnants of the powerful ancient Eternians. Skeletor seeks both halves of the Power Sword that is the key to Grayskull and gives the right to be king of the castle, and with its power, of Eternia and the whole universe.

One final thought, I have pretty much come to the conclusion that Castle Grayskull, much like Doctor Who's TARDIS, is dimensionally transendental... Which is just a fancy way of saying that it is bigger on the inside that it is on the outside.

Time to hear from you! Please post any thoughts you have on today's adventure in the comments sections below!

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  1. those early mini-comics and first introduction of the MOTU line back in the '80s was magic!

  2. I always wanted this one, but I did get Snake Mountain, and that's not too shabby.

    1. I never had Snake Mountain... if I were to get one it would probably be a beater vintage version so I could restore and repaint it.


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