The artwork for this set comes from Axel Giménez, StarCrusader and my own photos and scans.
There are, unfortunately several subpar images in this set, including Roboto, Thunder Punch He-Man, Land Shark, and especially Night Stalker. If anyone out there has a Laser Bolt box, it should have Thunder Punch He-Man on the back. If you happen to have a scan or a high resolution picture of it in a nice natural lighting that you’d like to share, that would be appreciated.
The cross sell artwork for Land Shark appears on the back of the Jitsu/Night Stalker gift set. Land Shark cross sell art also appears on the back of the heroic warriors gift set (the one that included Buzz-Off, Moss Man and Mekaneck figures). If anyone happens to have nicer image of the cross sell art for Land Shark that they could share, I’d be really grateful.
Night Stalker is trickier. I have been unable to locate any cross
sell art for Night Stalker, other than the red line art on the back of
the Fright Zone box. If anyone knows of a full-color version that exists
somewhere out there, I’d appreciate that information!
Update: somehow I overlooked Spydor. Spydor doesn’t seem to have had cross sell art per se, but the explanatory illustration on the back of his packaging is probably the closest analog, as far as I know. The same is true for toys like Battle Bones and Blasterhawk. Thanks to Matthew M. for letting me know!
I only saw the Fright Zone once as a kid, in the late 80’s. I was immediately filled with regret for never having owned such a creepy-looking playset, a situation that was not rectified until a quarter of a century later.
Of the three major playsets depicted in the Filmation He-Man and She-Ra cartoons, the Fright Zone toy was the least like its animated counterpart. What I believe happened is that Filmation came up with its design on its own (an HR Giger-esque monstrosity), and then Mattel decided to use an older concept to represent the hideout of the Evil Horde in toy form. The animated Fright Zone would have been immense and complicated to produce, to say the least, although I suppose they could have replicated a portion of it.
The playset version of the Fright Zone begins with a December 5, 1983 piece of concept art called “Masters Villain Playset.” The concept, illustrated by Ed Watts, was no doubt intended for the Evil Warriors. It has the tree (this version has hands) down next to the jail cell, and it has some kind of man-eating plant on the right side, but otherwise it’s very close to the look of the final toy.
It’s not clear if the rock monster trap was included in this early concept, but there was a somewhat similar concept floating around Mattel:
A couple of separate patents were filed connected with the development of the Fright Zone playset. One (filed October 4, 1985) is connected with the tree and rock monster traps, and the other (filed April 5, 1985) is connected with the mold process for the rubber dragon puppet. Mattel applied for a trademark claim on the Fright Zone on January 27, 1984.
The playset has four main play features. There is the rubber dragon puppet that can be manipulated through the hole to its den on the right side of the playset. There is the haunted tree that can be made to grab hold of figures. There is the prison, which can be unlached with the flick of a switch, and there is the rock monster trap near the entrance to the dragon’s den, that can grab on to a figure’s foot:
The packaging artwork was painted by William George. In the fearsome Fright Zone, Battle Armor He-Man fights the dreadful dragon, while Hordak snares Battle Armor Skeletor with his tree trap. Buzz-Off is held captive in Hordak’s prison. Dead trees and craggy mountains surround the lair of the Evil Horde, and twin moons hang in the sky.
The Fright Zone also appears on the box art for Hordak/Grizzlor:
The 1987 Style Guide (illustrated by Errol McCarthy) described the Fright Zone this way:
Power: Ability to capture and consume enemies of The Horde.
Character profile: Located in Etheria, the Fright Zone is the dreaded domain of The Evil Horde. Exploreres are loath to enter the region, for few who travel into the Fright Zone ever return – and those who do are haunted forever after. It is the Fright Zone through which Hordak and his horde pass to enter the realm of Eternia.
As you might expect, the Fright Zone appears most frequently in the minicomics in 1985, the year it was released. It’s showcased most effectively in The Power of the Evil Horde, illustrated by Bruce Timm:
A Filmation version of the Fright Zone appeared in issue four of the US Masters of the Universe Magazine:
However, the same issue has this activity page depicting a playset-influenced version of Hordak‘s lair:
This version of the Fright Zone, in poster form appears in the same issue. It’s a much more realistic depiction, but still based on the playset:
Several other posters featured the Fright Zone as a backdrop. It was rendered at times just like the toy, and sometimes like the Filmation She-Ra cartoon version:
In the Masters Mail for the UK Masters of the Universe Magazine, issue 13, we get some clarification on why the different looks for the Filmation and toy/comic Fright Zones (you can read a bit more about this at James Eatock’s He-Man and She-Ra Blog). As retcons go, it’s pretty elegant and it works well enough for me:
Apart from miniature playsets like the Slime Pit and Point Dread, the Fright Zone was by far the smallest, but it was also the creepiest, and in my opinion, one of the most fun to actually play with.
For some unfathomable reason, Hordak was the only member of the original 1985 Evil Horde that we didn’t have in the house growing up. My brother had Grizzlor, and I had Leech, Mantenna and Modulok. But what’s a faction without its leader?
Design & Development
Hordak is the leader of the Evil Horde, which debuted in 1985. According to Roger Sweet, the Hordak character name and the concept of the Evil Horde were created by Dave Capper, Director of Marketing for Boy’s Toys at Mattel. Mattel and Filmation apparently worked in tandem to develop Hordak, going through many iterations of the character before arriving at two final designs. One design would be appear on toy shelves and the other in the She-Ra cartoon (source: The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog).
Dušan M. put together a nice graphic showing the sequential evolution of Hordak’s design. You can check it out at the Ancient Library of Grayskull Facebook group. I’ll go through each design, following Dušan’s ordering. The Filmation images come from Dark Horse’s Art of He-Man, Dark Horse’s He-Man and She-Ra, Dušan M., and eBay.
In this early concept (below), Hordak, while menacing, has the look of a post-apocalyptic thug, like a He-Man character crossed with something from Mad Max.
In the concept drawing below (by Gerald Forton and Herb Hazelton), Hordak looks much less human, and more menacing, in an alien punk-rocker kind of way. The overlapping plates on his armor give him a bit of an H. R. Giger quality. An early Shadow Weaver concept is included.
This concept below looks quite close to the first one, although it lacks the Horde emblem on the chest.
In this concept image shared by Dušan, Hordak’s costume is starting to come together, although his face still looks relatively human.
The concept below is closer still to the final Hordak design, although he still sports a punk rock row of spikes on his head.
From here we get a couple of divergent looks for Hordak, one from Filmation and one from Mattel. Both of them dropped the one-armed look (although in the Filmation cartoon Hordak could transform his arm into a cannon, and Mattel eventually came out with a Hordak variant with arm attachments).
Both of them had a similar looking, mask-like face, with a bone cowl around the back of his head. Filmation’s Hordak had a blue body suit and symmetrical arm bands. The animated Hordak has a somewhat sharp, mechanical-looking head:
Meanwhile, at Mattel, Ted Mayer took an early Filmation model sheet and tweaked it slightly, adding a red cape (thanks to Dušan M for this information). Ted can’t recall much about Hordak, but he remembered that unlike the other Horde characters, he wasn’t Hordak’s creator, but something Marketing asked him to execute. Hordak was colored gray, black and red – good vampire colors. He was given a bat-shaped shield and a strange organic-looking weapon. He has Horde bat insignias all over his costume, including on the armband on his left arm (the Filmation version had two armbands with no insignia). His head has warty-looking bumps on it and looks organic rather than mechanical.
The Evil Horde insignia is actually Hordak’s face, with batwings on either side:
According to Roger Sweet, Hordak’s face was based on a witch doctor’s mask. The “Tiki mask influence” is possible, but given the evolving design with Hordak; it is not the main one. Interestingly, Ted Mayer did another concept that’s even closer to that idea, although this one is unlikely to have anything to do with Hordak:
The toy was based on Ted Mayer’s final design for the character, although the strange weapon was changed out for a crossbow:
An early version of the figure feature red “ribs” on the sides of the armor, and a painted red bat on the back, underneath the cape. The extra paint applications are omitted from subsequent releases, however.
In the illustration on the back of the packaging, Hordak and his minions make ready to storm Castle Grayskull. Interestingly, Hordak holds Skeletor‘s staff here:
Errol McCarthy also depicted the character in a number of different contexts (images below are from He-Man.org), including the 1987 Style Guide, which described him this way:
Hordak acquired his power while passing through the plane from Etheria to Eternia. He as since discovered how to retain and refine it.
Hordak was sold in a number of gift sets, including a couple of different sets with Grizzlor, and a Canadian set with Roboto and Sy-Klone. Hordak was also sold in 1986 together with Mantisaur, his insectoid steed.
As a toy, Hordak was marketed under the Masters of the Universe brand, despite being the primary villain in Filmation’s She-Ra series. Although Hordak was a constant presence is the She-Ra cartoon, Mattel treated him very differently in their own stories. He only shows up in She-Ra’s first minicomic (The Story of She-Ra). In the Princess of Power minicomic canon, Catra is actually She-Ra’s primary nemesis.
Hordak, meanwhile, is a frequently-appearing villain in He-Man’s minicomics starting in 1985, appearing in the following comics:
Grizzlor – The Legend Comes Alive
Leech – The Master of Power Suction
Mantenna and the Menace of the Evil Horde
Hordak – The Ruthless Leader’s Revenge
The Treachery of Modulok
The Power of the Evil Horde
Escape From the Slime Pit
The Menace of Multi-Bot
The Warrior Machine
The Hordes of Hordak
Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Enter… Buzz-Saw Hordak
In Leech’s surreal comic, Hordak and Leech both had the power to grow and shrink at will – which doesn’t seem to follow in any other stories.
In the minicomics cannon, Hordak is generally less well-equipped on Eternia than he is on Etheria, the setting for the She-Ra cartoon series. In Etheria, Hordak’s Fright Zone is a massive industrial nightmare structure, and he has access to legions of troops and vehicles:
In the He-Man cartoon series, the heroes are in power, and the villains are constantly trying to take it from them. The She-Ra cartoon series has it flipped – the Horde has already defeated Etheria, and She-Ra and her allies strive to overthrow Hordak (voiced by George Dicenzo). The Horde is something like the Empire in the Star Wars series.
When Hordak was introduced, he was written in as the former master of Skeletor; Skeletor is said to have betrayed Hordak and set up shop on Eternia. Hordak has the ability not only to transform his arm into a canon, but his entire body into various mechanical devices. He reports to his mysterious brother Horde Prime, who is the supreme commander of the Horde Empire across all its worlds.
Box Art & Poster Appearances
Hordak makes appearances in the following box art:
The Fright Zone
Hordak and Mantisaur
Beam-Blaster & Artilleray
Hordak also appears in several posters by William George, Earl Norem, Esteban Maroto and others. He is variously portrayed in both his Filmation and toy looks:
Hordak of course appears in a wide variety of published media. Because he’s a primary villain, it’s not practical to try to track his every appearance, but I’ll cover some representative samples here:
Golden, 1985: The Horde
“Day of the Comet” newspaper story
UK MOTU Magazine, Issue 71
As a villain, Hordak is certainly creepy enough, although he doesn’t have the archetypal quality of Skeletor. Skeletor is a symbol for death, and you instantly recognize what he’s about at first sight. Hordak has more of a horror movie creature quality. To me, Hordak is outshone by his even more freakish henchmen, while Skeletor is the most interesting villain in his faction. Still, I would have loved to have had this figure as a kid to lead my shambling band of bizarro Hordesmen.
Hordak in Action
Øyvind Meisfjord has kindly shared the following image as well as a short video of Hordak in action:
Masters of the Universe, for all its diversity and creativity, was quite an economical toyline, creatively (and sometimes uncreatively) using and reusing the same molds over and over again throughout its run. Sometimes this was done fairly invisibly, and other times it was as plain as the nose on Faker’s face.
In this series I’ll be cataloging the reuse of existing molds, in context of what is known and what is likely about which figures were created in what order. For example, He-Man’s prototype was almost certainly finished before Man-At-Arms, so Man-At-Arms reused He-Man’s legs, rather than vice versa. I’ll also include parts that were reused from other toylines.
Sometimes existing parts were modified for use in new toys. For example, Beast Man’s chest seems to have been based on He-Man’s chest sculpt, albeit with a great deal of hair added to it. This didn’t save money on tooling, but it did save some time and effort for the sculptor. I’ll point this out whenever I see it. Whenever a modified part is used again, however, I’ll refer to it as belonging to the toy that used it first (for example, Stratos and Zodac reuse Beast Man’s chest).
I won’t comment on “invisible” parts, such as neck pegs or waist springs that are normally not seen.
First, the toys from 1985 that had (at the time) all new parts. For fun, I’m including one unproduced toy that made it into a 1985 catalog:
Evil Robot (unproduced)
These toys from 1985 reused some existing parts:
Thunder Punch He-Man
Dragon Blaster Skeletor
A few additional notes:
All of the Horde crossbow share some sculpted areas in common – basically everything except the head and the butt of the weapons. I don’t know which of them was done first – I’m defaulting to Hordak’s weapon as the basis for the others, in the absence of other information.
The modified Thunder Punch He-Man legs (with their enlarged feet for greater stability) were used in some versions of the following figures: Faker II, Spikor, Man-At-Arms, He-Man, Fisto, Tri-Klops, Battle Armor He-Man, and Jitsu, especially in the French “rubber boot” variants.
The modified Dragon Blaster Skeletor legs (with their enlarged feet for greater stability) were used in some versions of the following figures: Skeletor (Hong Kong), Ninjor, and Scare Glow (more on the last two figures in the feature on parts reuse in 1987).
The information about the reuse of these legs was provided to me by Mantisaur82, who is extremely knowledgeable about production variants.
Update: Thanks to Emmanuel V. for reminding me about the made-in-France version of Stinkor, with its blue He-Man shield.