The Realistic '80s Water Guns That Became A Real World Problem
In the '80s and early-'90s, kids' toys were absolutely wild. Forget walking down the aisle (or, let's be real, just running for an Amazon search for: "I don't know, just show me Hulk hands or some Paw Patrol shit" when you forgot it was your nephew's birthday) today and seeing anything but focus-group approved hunks of plastic featuring the latest kid-friendly property. Back in the kids' aisle of the '80s, you'd have lifelike figures from Aliens to your right and actual live grenades that had been spray-painted neon green (because they're kids' toys) to your left.
Perhaps no company better embodied the blurring of the toy lines quite like Entertech, most famous as a line of absurdly realistic-looking water guns for a stretch in the '80s. So let's take a look at the company that once sat around a boardroom, looked to one another before someone said, "You know what kids aren't doing enough of these days? Running around the neighborhood with an arsenal of Uzis that make them look like extras in a Lethal Weapon movie."
Pop In The Clip
LJN rolled out their Entertech line of realistic water guns in 1985. Someone had clearly grown bored of the stale water gun world. Those clear, bland, pathetic little guns just weren't realistic enough, and the Entertech idea was born. Essentially, the pitch was pretty clear. Let's take the idea of shooting water out of a gun; that's good. That's fun. But then, let's replicate pistols, assault rifles, shotguns, etc., like, down to prop-house quality, paint them matte black, have them reloadable by magazines (like a real gun, DUH), give them an electric firing mechanism, and get them into the hands of every goddamn kid in town. If you're reading that and you think something's not quite right, congratulations, you're not trying to make your own force of suburbanite child soldiers.
Either way, the design was approved, and production rolled out. It's one of those classic instances of these kinds of decisions having to go through so many fewer checkpoints than they would today. You a higher-up at a toy company and have been up all night doing cocaine to find the next big thing? Great! Just send a memo over to production and ten thousand Kidz Swordz: They're Like Real Swords, But For Kids, They've Got Blue Handles … But EVERYTHING Else About Them Is Like a Real Sword … These Bastards Are Sharp as Shit will be on shelves in a week.
Backed by their own insane slogan, Entertech hit the market touting: "The look! The feel! The sound! So real! Entertech!" You just have to love this absolutely insane bullshit. Maybe the most illustrative thing about this marketing approach is what it says about the disconnected '80s parent. They're quite literally being told that this toy makes it look like their kid is going to be roaming the streets looking like goddamn John Matrix, and dad can't even be bothered to look up from the paper at the breakfast table to see their little soldier strapping up for war.
They Really Did Look Real
To fully understand how insane Entertech water guns are, you really need to look at their line of products. For their first-generation releases, Entertech went with some classics, including the Side Kick Pistol (modeled after a Colt M1911), M-16, Uzi, and a goddamn RPG. I mean, Christ, just look at this shit:
These are water guns. I feel like that needs repeating. Just look at those pistols. Not one thing about that screams "toy," and if I saw that kid at the bottom pop out of a bush with his toy RPG when I was driving home after a long day at work, I'd have a heart attack and die at the wheel. Every single Entertech water gun was like this. They all looked incredible. And if you were a kid, of course, you'd need one of these things. You don't want to be the asshole running around with the crappy transparent, non-electric water gun in the neighborhood.
If you had the RPG and the pistol sidearm, you were the kid with the Nintendo and the parents who bought everyone McDonald's for the sleepover. If you had the shitty water gun and some water balloons, you were the kid who just drew flipbooks of Mario and whose parents gave out pennies on Halloween. It's your choice. As Entertech blew up in popularity, they were really going to need to up the ante with their second-generation line.
There was nothing more '80s than adult movies having a line of kids toys, and perhaps nothing took it further than damn Rambo M-60 rifles for kids. Headband included! Among the absurd line of second-wave Entertech guns were a bunch of shotguns, grenades, and this beauty that dropped alongside Rambo: First Blood Part II. I would love to see this make a return today. If I could walk into a store and buy my nephews little John Wick suits and pistols, I'd sprint to the damn non-existent toy store right now. I mean, what's the worst that can happen if we get a bunch of kids running around the neighborhood looking like Nic Cage in Mandy? Wait? What? Really bad things can happen if you do that? Really bad things did happen when we did that before? Shit.
Out Of Ammo
Unsurprisingly, putting hyper-realistic water guns into the hands of kids and releasing them into the general public ended up backfiring. The kind of thing that probably should have come into the mind of the creators before they were ever made. One of those situations where you can probably see the negative headlines from the earliest conception and decide to put a pin in it. It's probably what held back the designer of Children Chainsaws. Sure, he had a great idea, but he couldn't shake the thought that maybe somewhere, somehow, they would eventually lead to something tragic, and the whole operation would be ruined. But, that never happened for Entertech, and after a surge in popularity and these things finding their way into more and more homes, incidents began happening. A wave of shootings occurred: Cops mistakenly took the water guns for the real thing and were shooting and killing kids.
On top of that, the guns also became a popular choice for bank robbers. I mean, who needs the ol' finger in the jacket pocket trick when you could just walk to Toys "R" Us and walk out in extreme slow-mo with a plastic arsenal around your hip. You have to wonder how many times those guys blew their cover by accidentally pulling the trigger during the heist. A robber could potentially get no more impotent than at the exact moment their "gun" dribbles out a sad little drip of tap water. But with so much negative press surrounding them, Entertech, as we knew it (which was as an incredibly misguided line of hell toys), would never be the same again.
Taking Out The Clip
Before they gave up completely, Entertech tried to make amends by affixing their line of guns with little orange caps at the end of the barrel. A goddamn hilarious move. A truly impenetrable safety feature. Surely there's no way anybody could cover up that tiny orange spot, and everyone would now be able to look at that kid with the gun, see the little orange piece, and know that he's just Joshin'.
When that failed to move the needle, Entertech shifted into the traditional water gun space of blazing neon colors and outrageous design, but it was too late. The damage was done, and Entertech folded. But it wasn't just Entertech that was forever changed, but kids' toys on the whole. With such a public display of the dangers of putting realistic-looking guns into the hands of kids, toy companies shifted away from that and towards outlandish designs like Super Soakers or Nerf because it's a whole lot safer for kids to not have to worry about being shot by the police when they're on the prowl looking for dads to shoot in the nuts.
Top Image: LJN