Pointless Nostalgia: Horror Bags

The children of my generation were the luckiest ones when it came to crisps in the U.K.  We were the guinea pigs for experimental manufacturers’ imaginations, those palate manipulators who wanted to test the very limits of our tastebuds’ endurance, from sweet to sour, mild to spicy, subtle to spanking.  The biggest innovations came when these gastronomic boffins discovered they could use maize as an alternative to the humble potato; soon, all manner of shapes, sizes and designs were being flung at us as fast as our grateful little chops could contain them.  Ringos, Outer Spacers, Rock’n’Rollers, Farmer Browns and, the most enduring of them all, Monster Munch, came like rapid fire throughout the 1970s and ’80s.  It was salty, saucy, spicy, pickled, barbecued, tomato, vinegar and onion heaven for the wee yins of the era.

And yet, there was a dark side to the whole industry too – and it came in the shape(s) of Horror Bags.  Crazy name, crazy crisps, manufactured by Smith’s and, according to the original advert, “the most frightening snacks in the world”.  They came in several varieties, the rather self-explanatory Fangs (cheese & onion), Bones (salt & vinegar), Bats (“batburger”), Ribs (vampire vinegar), Claws (salt ‘n’ fingernail grit*) and Skulls (Pedigree Chum and chive**)  The original TV ad was set in a typical horror castle’s dungeon and presented by a comedy vampire  – and a right Count he was too.  The later advert (below) for Bats (starring the great Frank Thornton*** as the vampire) was just as camp, if a lot less fun, but you get the general idea.

However, the best things about this brand were the offers printed on the packet. There were masks and holdalls to collect, but I actually had the most bizarre one of all in the early days of the product.  I ordered it (well, badgered my mum into buying a postal order and stamps, at least) on the strength of the packet’s enthusiastic and spookily vivid description.  When it arrived, it turned out to be a 10-inch piece of thick card with a glow-in-the-dark image of the packet’s un-terrifying cartoon vampire on one side, while on the other, there was a tiny flexi-disk, complete with “stylus” (more like a blunt drawing pin), above which was a holder into which you inserted your index finger.  Upon spinning the needle around said disc, it made a rather upsetting scratching noise which, the package alleged, represented the sound of bats.  It was appalling.  My dad suggested I keep it hidden and then use it to frighten my gran in the night whenever she came to stay.  However, no one, not even pensioners with the dickiest tickers known to medical misdiagnosis, could have been remotely perturbed by this piece of childish tat.  Still, in our modern days of instant dispatch and UPS deliveries, it’s hard to get across how tantalising and exciting it was to “allow 28 days for delivery”, only to experience the sheer anticlimax of the eventual revelation.  A bit like watching Midsomer Murders, really.

* not entirely certain about this flavour

** nor this one, actually

*** edited from “the late, great” on 1st July 2010, when it was pointed out to me by a reader that Frank Thornton isn’t dead.  Oops.

14 thoughts on “Pointless Nostalgia: Horror Bags

  1. I remember Farmer Brown’s, but nobody else I ever mention them to does. And remember when Banshee Bones had the scary little story on the back of the packet?

  2. Lauren – I remember Farmer Browns because we bought a packet during the ’80s which had about 3 crisps in it. We sent it back to the manufacturer hoping we’d get a box of them by way of apology but all they sent us was a voucher for one packet and a stamp. Almost as stingy as real farmers, really.

  3. Paul – Thanks for visiting, I’m a big fan of your blog which I discovered while getting all (pointlessly) nostalgic for Horror Bags. I was actually looking for any sign of that particular piece of HB memorabilia on the ‘net but I’ve never heard of anyone else who had one. Sadly, like most of my childhood toys, it’s long gone. I would cheerfully send it to you gratis if I still had it, though. Do call again!

  4. Hi Johnnie

    Thank you also for visiting The Cobwebbed Room and being a big fan. I came across your blog while looking for something on horror bags too, its a nice little piece that you wrote about horror bags and especially the information regarding the flexi-disc card thingy, I presume that you saw the picture of this item on my blog? I got the scans off a person who still as it.
    I am really enjoying your interesting blog and I’ll continue to take a look.

  5. One of my vaguest earliy memories is the Horror Bags record player. I was quite glad to find this page so as to confirm it wasn’t a strange dream.

  6. Brilliant crisps!!!!!

    Just a point though…..the late,great Frank Thornton isn’t,as I saw him going to watch the same play as me about a month ago !!!

    (that is,of course,assuming that he really isn’t a vampire..mwah-ha-ha-ha-ha…..)

  7. Good God, Darksyde, you’re right – Frank Thornton not dead shocker! A sure sign of my growing insanity, I was convinced I’d heard he’d actually died. Thanks for clearing that one up… Post is now edited, thanks to Frank’s astonishing resurrection.

    1. To be honest,Johnnie,I was as surprised as you.I only know it was him because my brother was getting all ‘animated’ cos he’d seen Captain Peacock ! And before you ask,no he doesn’t get out much (not Frank,my brother)……

  8. Sends me back and yes i loved to send away for stuff and eagerly await its arrival! Horror theme stuff always appealed to me so i loved these. Football All Stars were another from that era. I use to go to the off license with my dad to buy them and soft drink and then watch Starsky and Hutch around 9-10pm. Shame they don’t resurrect them like monster munch and the breakfast cereal Golden Nuggets. They taste totally different and look different now so not the same product at all but i loved them originally. Some laws now stop certain ingredients being put into them which gave them that great texture and taste.

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