When Takara created the concept boards for the 1987 Transformers that would eventually become Headmasters and Targetmasters, two of the Decepticons proposed under the “New Direction” of the brand were called simply “Triplechangers”. One was to be a US Air Force F-16 and gorilla, while the other was shown as an SR71 Blackbird and dinosaur. These two Triplechanger figures eventually became what we now know and love as the 1987 Decepticon Headmaster Horrorcons Apeface and Snapdragon, respectively. At the time of those concept boards, the Headmaster gimmick was not in evidence, so these special toys not only incorporate the celebrated Transformers triplechanging feature, but also the Headmaster pilot gimmick that pretty much defines 1987’s “New Direction”.
We can see that Apeface changed a great deal from what was originally billed as a USAF F-16 to a more futuristic and fictional aircraft, where Snapdragon has maintained virtually all of the SR71 Blackbird’s styling. The packaging for the Headmaster Horrorcons features a digital starburst on a purple Decepticon background and a peep window for the Headmaster Nebulan partner, or in the case of these two, “Pilot”. Apeface is binary-bonded with “Spasma” and Snapdragon with “Krunk”. I remember my first trip to a toy store in 1987 when the ‘Masters were in full swing, once I had my Targetmaster Scourge, absolutely nothing else got a look in because of these stunning Horrorcons and their breathtaking presentation in package. I never managed to complete my beloved Decepticon jets, so the new jets were immediately on my radar. Both Autobot and Decepticon Headmasters and Targetmasters had pretty deep boxes, but Apeface and Snapdragon have very shallow (and wide) packaging not completely unlike the series 1 and 2 Decepticon jet boxes.
The Headmaster Horrorcons feature beautiful and signature Decepticon colours with the prominent purple immediately announcing these two as evildoers. The blocky and futuristic post-movie aesthetic is in full force here, but what really sets these two apart from the rest of the Decepticon and Autobot ‘Masters of the year is just how co-ordinated they are in terms of modes and presentation, very clearly intended as a sub-category within the Headmasters group. The fact that they are Triplechangers, have their own dimensions for the packaging and appeared together in the few snippets they had in season 4 cartoon/finale Rebirth supports this fact. They even have one particular sticker (Apeface lower beast arm, Snapdragon forearm/elbow) that is pretty much identical across both stickersheets.
Even the Nebulan partners for these two Horrorcons are Triplechangers! Spasma and Krunk have to pull off a reasonably convincing beast head, robot head and a robot mode, which I believe they do so admirably. Krunk has dinosaur teeth lining his arms and legs and Apeface’s face is made up of Spasma’s calves. The Horrorcons, just like the other Headmasters, feature the in-built tech-spec meter activated by plugging in the Headmaster Nebulan partner into the spot intended for robot mode attachment. I’ve been specific there because Apeface and Snapdragon, being Triplechangers, require the heads to be plugged into a different location for beast mode where no spec meter exists. Once plugged in, the tumblers for strength, speed and intelligence paint an interesting picture. Snapdragon is clearly the brains of the operation, although his brief depiction in Rebirth didn’t support that too strongly.
To Apeface, the triplechanging jet gorilla! I will never forget the feeling of freeing this toy from its packaging in 1987, that dreamy translucent green canopy all fresh and alluring. The reason I can’t forget it is because the Apeface above was unused, I purchased it last week and applied the decades old stickersheet in order to spruce it up, so those memories immediately came flooding back. A perennial problem with Apeface, even this unused specimen, is a floppy backpack. Thankfully there is a known fix, and after carrying that out by tightening an inner screw, it’s as good as intended. The jet mode is a little odd, but I really love that removable pink wing/shield and the backward-facing wings. There is tremendous bulk to Apeface in jet mode that translates fully to the beefy ape mode. Without a doubt, the robot fists being visible in all modes can be jarring, but I am still quite impressed with how distinct his three modes are.
Maybe the addition of the Headmaster gimmick actually saved the designers some hassle in hiding/incorporating a beast and robot mode head. Spasma can ride in the cockpit and is attached in both other modes too. Colours are nicely matched to the main Apeface figure. Apeface has a few common wear spots, most infamous being the loose backpack mentioned above, but also all the stickers seem to have been allocated to spots which are key for gripping during transformation, meaning virtually every Apeface I have seen with stickers applied has got issues, and it can negatively affect it visually. Discolouration is also common both on the purple and the light grey parts.
In robot mode, Apeface is extremely back heavy due to the kibbly rucksack, so you have to lean him forwards on his knees to balance him out. Those knee screws will inevitably need tightening to keep him upright long term. The shield can be held or worn on his shoulder. The fact that he comes with just one gun seems so incorrect, that after years of owning him when I dug my childhood specimen out I was sure he was incomplete until I checked and saw he never had a second. Mis-transformation seems common with this toy too, since the instructions advise the owner to fold the beast legs over his shoulders in robot mode, creating friction with the backpack and holding it up. I had always left those legs down to fill out the super-slim torso. Gorilla mode, even on a mint specimen, needs some balancing too, but you can stand him on the ape feet or get him to walk on his knuckles – with his head forever facing the floor, hanging it in shame of this bizarre mode. To be honest, though, I have huge affection for this figure and in top condition with fresh vintage stickers, he positively glows. I quite like the arm articulation in gorilla mode, too. There just isn’t enough love for Apeface, I’m sure the silly name doesn’t help.
From a silly name to an incredible name. Snapdragon! The day I bought Apeface as a child I knew I’d be back before long for Snapdragon. Like Apeface, his packaging is tremendous and the multi-mode box artwork is every bit as attractive. It’s really no surprise there are so many of these on the second hand market, it’s hard to believe anyone would have been able to walk past it as a child without being called to. He suffers far less wear overall, maintaining more tightness and functionality over the years than Apeface. Packed with two guns and those unforgettable removable teal coloured tailfins, Snapdragon pulls off three very distinct and convincing modes. The Blackbird jet is awesome, you might notice I have angled the tailfins inwards as per the real life SR71 Blackbird, unlike what the stock photography of the toy recommends. Both guns and the Headmaster “Krunk” can interact with the figure in all three modes (unlike Apeface who has no space for gun and shield in gorilla mode), and all of these factors do give Snapdragon a much more rounded feel, making it understandable why most collectors favour him over Apeface.
Another nice touch with Snapdragon is that the robot mouthplate can be lifted up in beast mode, giving the dinosaur head a small spike/horn on the top of his head. In fact, Krunk as a Nebulan sculpt is by far one of the most memorable with those sinister gold dinosaur eyes, the squinting evil robot eyes and the paneling detail on the robot forehead. We already mentioned the teeth on his Nebulan limbs, of course. While the tiny feet on Snapdragon look a little strange, overall his robot mode proportions are easier on the eye than his fellow Horrorcon, and he manages to maintain the same general colour palette with the added teal. Snapdragon’s stickers also seem to hold up better than Apeface’s. Discolouration of the grey plastic is not uncommon with Snapdragon, but he makes up for it with excellent stability in all three modes.
There’s noticeably less colour co-ordination between Krunk and Snapdragon than between Spasma and Apeface, but like the latter, his successful integration into all modes is impressive. In fact, Snapdragon has an entire fold-out neck section to make the beast mode work when Krunk is plugged in. The canopy on Snapdragon is a drab smokey grey, but there was no way this Nebulan was going to fit in the tiny (and accurate) gold canopy at the nose of the Blackbird, so that ends up being a paint detail only. Snapdragon is covered in nice details to appreciate, from the jet nosecone as a dinosaur tail to the signature Blackbird parts visible in robot mode as the shoulders. If one really wanted to, they could make the robot mode even more ornate by keeping the wings folded out and attaching the teal tailfins near the ankles. The opening jaw on Snapdragon in beast mode is the cherry on top, what a toy.
Maybe it is because they received so little mainstream Transformers media spotlight that unlike the 1987 Autobots, Apeface and Snapdragon feel a little removed and standalone compared to much of the Transformers series 4 releases to me, despite a shared gimmick. There is so much playability locked up in these fantastic Transformers toys, and it seems completely inconceivable to own one without the other. The colour match, the corresponding modes, the similar proportions and gimmicks…if Skullcruncher can be a stand-up comedian, Chromedome, Hardhead, Brainstorm and Scorponok can have starring roles in various TF comics, why is it that my abiding memory of these potential-packed bots is limited to an issue where they were shot out of the sky in a couple of panels or some mindless aggression in Rebirth?
I rate Apeface and Snapdragon above all of the regular Decepticon Headmasters, not just because of the existence of an extra mode, but because of the extended and effective play pattern that extra mode affords the figures. They can kneel, that’s great articulation for G1! Their colours are closely matched giving a lovely team vibe, and they are just so deliciously Decepticon that I’d go so far as to call them the embodiment of what makes post-movie Transformers so memorable and standout. I imagine Hasbro and Takara abandoned the idea of the F-16 jet for Apeface pretty sharpish once the mechanics of their design became clear, but I love the futuristic look. In 1987, Hasbro and Takara took their conviction in assigning beast modes to frontline Decepticons and then with these Horrorcons they created a solid link to Transformers ancestry and roots through the inclusion of jet modes – a real life SR71 no less in the case of Snapdragon. As fans and collectors, we have been allowed to have our cake and eat it.
All the best