It started when I purchased a modeling kit of the house once occupied by Norman Bates and his mother. I’d already assembled and meticulously painted kits for the Famous Monsters gallery: Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolfman and the Mummy. This was my second go-round at monster modeling. I’d purchased and assembled them as a child in the 1950s, all of them lost to family moves by 1960.
I found Revell’s Psycho house online. Kit instructions call for painting the pieces before assembly, but as a career painting contractor it worked better for me to build, and then paint. I knew that multiple washes—thinned-down paint—worked better than true colors for the realistic tones of decrepitude and decay. When I finished the Bates mansion—complete with Vera Miles’ character Lila Crane approaching the front door—I showed it to my friend and neighbor Ed, a retired electrical engineer, and that’s when the breakthrough design possibilities came.
“Why don’t you add some lights?” he asked. He was able, by snaking wires, to put a dim interior light up through the fully-assembled model and into Mrs. Bates’ upstairs bedroom. You can see Norman sitting there in his mother’s dress. With Ed’s interest piqued, my horror-house building hobby kicked into high gear. The Moebius Munster House at 1313 Mockingbird Lane was the next challenge. My paint job came out quite similar to Herman and Lily Munster’s TV pad, but the addition of a red-robed female vampire on the front balcony was decidedly uncomedic. Ed added flashing multi-colored lights in the living room—some deranged experiment in progress?
The Addams Family house, created by Polar Lights, was the toughest build. I went all-out on the landscaping, using Oregon tree mold, and adding a spooky swing-set for Wednesday and Pugsley Addams in the backyard. Meanwhile, Ed worked on getting the front door to intermittently fly open and closed. Next came an industrial warehouse from Woodland Scenics, which I made toxic with condemned-looking flourishes and a crazed monk figure. Ed outdid himself on this one, turning the base of the model into a music box which cycles through TV themes from The Munsters, The Addams Family, Boris Karloff’s Thriller, Black Sabbath’s “Black Sabbath,” and the theme from the Don Knotts film The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.
Last was a Walthers boarding house Ho-scale kit, on the exterior of which a mysterious scene plays out. While a policeman knocks on the front door, a woman leaves an upstairs room carrying a suitcase. Suffuse yellow light illuminates the staircase.
Monsters empowered my somewhat alienated suburban childhood. No Aurora kit escaped my notice—they were $9.99 each. I was able in the early-2010s to purchase all of the above structural models for under $40. The Addams Family kit now goes for close to $100 (with original Aurora kits more than a grand), a factory-sealed Munster House is available on E-Bay for $130, and you can grab a Bates Mansion for $80-$140.