Every October I eat at least three family-size boxes of Count Chocula, Franken Berry, and Boo Berry. More in those odd years when they re-release the less popular but still tasty Frute Brute and Yummy Mummy. I’m making up for a childhood when I couldn’t have sugary cereals but I did stay up and watch midnight movies on the UHF station, making the Monster cereals the most tantalizing forbidden fruit in the cereal aisle.
This year is an exception, though. I could only score boxes of Boo Berry and the often overlooked Frute Brute which has a distinctive cherry flavor that I can only describe by saying it’s like someone turned Twizzlers into a cereal. But I also got the Count Chocula and Franken Berry ready-to-bake cookies–a hopefully short-lived experiment that seems as ill-conceived as Franken Berry and Boo Berry fruit roll-ups.
The Monster Cereals occupy a unique space in sugary cereal marketing. Some cereals take an existing property—SpongeBob, Baby Yoda, Mr. T—and slap it on a box, maybe with some marshmallows or a distinctive shape that ties back to the source somehow. Then there are the ones that started with a cereal, who’ve even become icons but remain bound to breakfast: Tony The Tiger, Cap’n Crunch, Lucky The Leprechaun.
The Monster cereals reimagined their source material, becoming a blend the way cereal adds flavor to milk. Released in 1971, forty years after the Universal Studios double-feature of Dracula and Frankenstein, although the timing was purely coincidental, Count Chocula sounded like Bela Lugosi, but had a lean, toothy look that harkened back to Nosferatu. Franken Berry was rounder than the cinematic monster and pink, with a bulbous cranium that a friend said made him “the original butt-head”, and a Boris Karloff voice. Boo Berry followed in 1973 with a heavy-lidded visage and raspy voice like Peter Lorre, because how many cinematic ghosts can you think of? Frute Brute followed in 1974 with lime marshmallows and striped overalls. Some think that doomed him from the start, but it’s more likely the market was just over-saturated. In 1987 Count Chocula and Franken Berry “discovered” Yummy Mummy in a jungle pyramid that, for some reason, was more Aztec than Egyptian. His purple, orange, and yellow bandages, gravely voice, and catchy theme briefly eclipsed Boo Berry before he faded away too. The original three Monster cereals went the same way in 2010, becoming seasonal, a special fall treat. In their heyday they’d had disco albums, toys, and even prompted a health scare as documented in Toy Galaxy’s excellent franchise history.
All that makes the Count Chocula and Franken Berry cookies a giant disappointment. Only featuring the original duo smacks of phoning it in, and they’ve even ruined the pleasure of eating raw cookie dough. Out of the package the cookies have a weird kerosene aftertaste. Baked they’re better but they’re still just sugar cookies with only very mild flavor. The Count Chocula cookies have a taste I can only describe as the whisper of a Tootsie Roll and the Franken Berry cookies have a slight sweetness that’s reminiscent of strawberry Kool-Aid. The Count Chocula designs come out looking like a brown blob with eyes and the Franken Berry cookies look more like magenta Shreks. Even the box is a disappointment. On the back there’s a “game”, counting a pile of cookies between Count Chocula and Franken Berry, because if there’s one thing kids love with their snacks it’s math.
The concept came from such a long and distinctive canon and had so much potential—cookies with marshmallows, crunchy monster pieces, gooey centers even—but ended up being something that just sucks.