State Of The Art Toys, better known to legions of collectors as SOTA Toys, was a leading action figure and collectibles company founded in 2000. While arguably best known for their extensive Street Fighter figure series, it was their Now Playing sci-fi/horror movie line that drew my interest. A direct competitor at the time to McFarlane’s Movie Maniacs, SOTA’s incredibly sculpted Now Playing figures appealed to collectors for their more obscure cult-classic character licenses.
One of those licenses was 2002’s Dog Soldiers. The directorial debut of Neil Marshall, the modest horror movie quickly found an audience thanks to its unique military vs. lycanthrope approach to the werewolf genre. Despite its small budget, Dog Soldiers managed to create quite a suspenseful movie starring some of the coolest-looking practical werewolf designs put on film. The success of Dog Soldiers would lead to Neil Marshall directing many fan-favorite films over the years, including the tense cave-crawler The Descent (2005), apocalyptic sci-fi Doomsday (2008), Roman Empire movie Centurion (2010), and even 2019’s reboot of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy (hey, I liked it).
Jerry Macaluso hanging out with his Street Fighter friend, Sagat
For the Figure Flashback series, I tend to write about my personal thoughts on older toys. With regards to SOTA Toys’ Now Playing Dog Soldiers, I came up with the idea of bringing in another opinion – in this case, the man responsible for creating the incredible Dog Soldiers werewolf action figure – the legendary Jerry Macaluso himself! What follows is a friendly chat with the ex-SOTA Toys owner. Read on!
What initially attracted you to the Dog Soldiers license? Were you approached to produce figures from the movie, or were you like me and simply loved the killer werewolf designs and took it upon yourself to have them made?
JERRY MACALUSO: At the time I was trying to “corner the market” on horror figures as Todd (McFarlane) had started slowing down on Movie Maniacs. So I was going after everything I could. Dog Soldiers, however, was interesting because I’m friends with the producer, David Allen. I was involved as a producer for the sequel that he was developing. So I simply went to David and asked if I could make a (werewolf) figure and he was thrilled. Sadly, the sequel didn’t happen, but at least this figure did!
While strong word of mouth has made Dog Soldiers the cult classic it is today, back in 2002 it was a relatively obscure Sci Fi Channel movie. What was behind your decision to add Dog Soldiers to the Now Playing line in 2007 as opposed to a more established werewolf movie, such as The Howling or An American Werewolf in London? Don’t get me wrong, I am SO glad you did, I’m just curious to your thought process at the time – it strikes me as a risky move.
JERRY: At the time I did have the rights to An American Werewolf in London and we were developing an action figure of the Kessler Wolf. However, as I had just released the “Nazi Demons” from AAWIL, I thought we’d take a break and do a different werewolf first. Plus, I was having a hard time trying to figure out how to give the Kessler Wolf that fluffy look while still adding articulation. I’m a huge fan of The Howling, but back then I didn’t know how to get the rights (I did later do a very cool 1:4 scale statue of the Howling Wolf in 2017). In addition, I really loved the designs of the Dog Solders werewolf, and as mentioned, I was friends with the producer of the film.
You went all out with different versions of the Dog Soldiers werewolf figure, including brown and grey, along with bloody variants of both. What’s the story behind all these versions and which is your favorite?
JERRY: I was pretty certain no one was going to do another figure after I did, so I wanted to make sure we got as much use out of the werewolf molds as possible. I’m a fan of the bloody version myself. That’s the one I have in my display case.
What impressed me the most about SOTA Toys, aside from your awesome toy licenses, was the fact that you not only ran the company, but you also personally sculpted some of the figures. What are you most proud of with your work on the Dog Soldiers werewolf?
JERRY: I had a lot of super talented artists working for me at that time, but I still did a lot of the hands on blocking in of the sculptures – mostly to make sure everything had the same feel. I didn’t like when a line of figures came out and you could tell different sculptors worked on it. So I tended to rough most figures out at SOTA. And I really, REALLY enjoyed sculpting more than running the company. That was never any fun.
The Dog Soldiers werewolf action figure holds up amazingly well all these years later (13 years!). In fact, in many ways it’s superior to modern figure releases with it’s large size, deluxe display base and multiple head sculpts. Even the articulation on this figure, while not extreme by today’s standards, still blows me away with all the expressive poses you can achieve without breaking the sculpt. I personally wouldn’t change a thing. However, if you had YOUR way, is there anything you would update on the figure?
JERRY: Back then we were all riding a bit on the coattails of McFarlane’s Movie Maniacs and my belief was the collectors wanted all their horror figures to have a similar vibe. So in a way, McFarlane dictated the type of articulation on my Now Playing line. Now, I’d add a lot more articulation if I did it over. I know so much more about how to do it and I’d love to do a fully articulated werewolf.
After running – and selling – two successful companies (SOTA and Pop Culture Shock Collectibles), you’ve kept a pretty low profile on the toy scene. What would it take to bring Jerry Macaluso back to making cool collectibles, especially awesome action figures? Dog Soldiers 2?
JERRY: As a fan, I’d love to see a sequel to Dog Soldiers, even if I didn’t do the figures. But I’d sure love to do the figures.
The growth of the internet has made it a lot more challenging to run a successful collectibles company because there are now so many collectibles for collectors to choose from. The sales aren’t near what they were 15 years ago. Back then we knew we could sell 10k pieces of almost anything IF it was done well. But now I see really beautiful figures not selling at all because collectors seem to want yet another Michael Myers or Batman. So everyone makes the same thing. I don’t have it in me to make figures just for money. I have to love what I’m doing and right now I’m not sure collectors want to buy what I’d love to make.
Having said all that, I am developing some personal stuff. But who knows if and when it’ll see the light of day.
Thanks for your time!
JERRY: One fun closing note. Out of ALL the figures I made for Now Playing, the only one I still have the prototype for is… Dog Soldiers! It’s in a box and I need to paint it someday and display it.
Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to relive this wonderful time in my life!