VHS Review: DICK TRACY VS. CUEBALL (1946; Silver Screen Video, 19??)

Wanna know the honest truth? I’ve been wanting to write about at least one of the 1940s b-movie flicks centered on comic strip hero Dick Tracy for awhile now. The obvious chaser has been Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome because, hey, Boris Karloff. Nevertheless, when this here copy of Dick Tracy vs. Cueball presented itself at a thrift recently (or actually not so recently; it was months and months ago), I jumped at the opportunity to finally check this one off the arbitrary bucket list.

‘Course, it still took awhile to, uh, happen. I started with a little preliminary work sometime back but then just scrapped the whole idea, only to revive it just earlier today. What can I say, I’m an enigma.

I know for a fact I’ve got other various copies of 40s Tracy movies on VHS boxed/buried away (Gruesome included), maybe/quite possibly even a copy identical to this one. But wanna know another honest truth? At a certain point, it just becomes easier for me to pick up a new old copy of whatever rather than go digging for something I ultimately may or may not even wind up posting about. What can I say, I’m an enigma. (And I’ve got too much stuff.)

Put out by Silver Screen Video in, erm, I don’t actually know when (as you may have surmised by the title of this article; there’s no copyright date anywhere on the tape, man!), this is, simply put, public domain movie/budget video tape goodness in a nutshell. As you can see, the original poster art used for the front cover here is terrific, and if you yearn for the days when VHS tapes recorded in EP/SLP often featured a request to adjust the tracking if/when necessary on the tape label, well, you’re covered here.

Silver Screen Video released the four entries of the 1940s RKO Dick Tracy series (all of which had become delightfully public domain by then) on VHS, and none are particularly rare where used tapes are concerned – no Junior Dick Tracy sleuthin’ required to hunt these babies down! Indeed, I wasn’t even all that surprised when I found this one – I *was* happy though. It saved me potential back-breakin’ manual labor, after all! While, as previously stated, Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome was more of a chaser for me (it’s actually sorta weird it didn’t turn up after my deciding I could get a post out of it; these tapes really are pretty common, even in this day and age), there wound up being something about Cueball that actually fired my interest up even more: it was once considered one of the worst movies ever made.

No, seriously; it was included in the 1978 book The Fifty Worst Films of All Time! Now that’s something I sure didn’t expect to hear! The RKO Dick Tracy films of the 1940s, obviously they’re not considered high art, but I was unaware of any of them actually being considered outright bad. And certainly not bad enough to merit any “worst movie of all time” nominations! I haven’t read that book, I assume they explain their reasoning behind the inclusion, but yeah, this was definitely unexpected to me. So naturally my curiosity was piqued; could there be some truth to that declaration? (Wacky Fact: while I almost certainly owned it already, I know I had never actually *watched* Dick Tracy vs. Cueball beforehand.)

Before we get to the actual movie stuff, here’s the back cover. The synopsis is brief, but fine. I’d have worded it a bit differently – it’s a little inaccurate even at only a single sentence long, but you get the gist of the picture. So mission accomplished anyway or something like that.

I get a kick out of the disclaimer underneath the synopsis, that little reminder that, hey, the flick is public domain so you can just go put a muzzle on them attorneys, ace. You saw those reminders pretty frequently on cheapie cartoon compilations from that era, but needless to say, it wasn’t limited to only ancient animation anthologies. [Alliteration]

By the way, that picture used on the back is not from this movie. And while we’re at it, y’all can just ignore that 62 minute runtime notation, too; the actual film is about 10 minutes shorter. An old print prepared for TV, or edited for other reasons? I guess a scene of Tracy in an airplane could have been in those excised 10 minutes, but given how the movie plays out, that seems highly, highly unlikely. Since the movie is public domain, I suppose I could go find it somewhere online to check without having to worry about thugs coming to pummel me (not over this anyway), but that seems like an awful lot of work for an article only 12 people will ever actually read.

As you can see, and as I have already stated, there’s no copyright date listed anywhere on the tape or sleeve. Using my powers of useless knowledge however, I can guesstimate that this hails from the late-80s, or perhaps more likely, the early-90s. Why do the early-90s seem more likely? Because 1990 was the year of the big budget Warren Beatty Dick Tracy movie, that’s why! It might be a little hard to understand now, but believe me, the hype for that movie was through the (figurative HAW HAW HAW) roof; beforehand, Dick Tracy wasn’t exactly the beacon of cool-to-kids that Batman or them karate Turtles were in that era, but thanks to the hype machine, for a relatively brief time, it was all about that comic strip crime fighter. I know, because as I mentioned in this post, I got bit by the bug big time. To this day, for me the sight of that Dick Tracy movie logo evokes an image/feeling of 1990 that few other things can.

Anyway, as with any big time Hollywood blockbuster, hey, others want to capitalize on the hype too. And since the RKO Dick Tracy films were quite public domain by then, well, it only makes sense that manufacturers would take advantage of that lucky (for them) break. ‘Course, I don’t know that’s what happened in this case, but it’s a good hypothesis. And even if Silver Screen technically released these tapes before ’90, it’s a safe guess they saw a new surge of sales when Dick Tracy mania swept the nation.

Or maybe I’m wrong on all counts, whatever.

So anyway, 1946’s Dick Tracy vs. Cueball. This was the second of four films based on the Chester Gould character that RKO released in the mid/late-40s. There had been a number of serials prior (the first of which is also quite common in the public domain arena), but I find these 1940s RKO features more appealing personally. Probably because, barring a few exceptions, I’m awfully wishy-washy on serials; while I like the vintage cinematic era they evoke, I don’t typically like watching them. Go figure! But, I digress.

As you can see in my adorable little screen caps here, Cueball isn’t just in the title, he even gets a special introductory card (that segues into his live action counterpart appropriately – swanky!). Does that mean Cueball wasn’t a Chester Gould creation, but rather a villain cooked up by RKO? Truthfully, I have little experience with the original Tracy comic strips; I mean, I’ve got a rudimentary knowledge (boy, those space age installments sure sound goofy), but that’s about it.

Our plot: Cueball (can you guess why that’s his nickname?) is in league with some other nefarious types to steal some ‘spensive diamonds. (Is there any other kind?) Unfortunately, he’s forced to kill the dude he’s stealing them from, so pretty much right off the bat things are getting dicey. (Dicier?)

The murder is what sets Dick Tracy on the trail. But not only that, it also causes some apprehension on the part of the guy Cueball was supposed to sell the diamonds to. He’s a crook with apparent scruples, because he balks at murder being attached to his ill-gotten gems. So anyway, Cueball has to find someone to buy his diamonds, keep others from stealing them from him, all while going around strangling people with a leather hat band. (He’s not a very nice guy.) Of course, Dick Tracy is getting progressively closer during all of this.

Speaking of Tracy…

“Hey that’s not Warren Beatty!” Now, you know full well that’s Morgan Conway in the role of our hero. And if you didn’t, you could’ve just scrolled back up and looked at the front cover again. So is there a reason you’re giving me grief?

Like I said, I’m not terribly familiar with the original comic strips, but Conway seems to do fine here. He’s easygoing yet tough, smart and tenacious, all at the expense of constantly neglecting his girlfriend Tess Trueheart. He doesn’t use that wristwatch walkie talkie thing, which had apparently been introduced in the strips earlier in ’46 and thus its absence vaguely hurts me deep, but otherwise, yeah, I like Conway just fine in the role. I wonder if there’s ever been a fistfight between people arguing over who was the better Dick Tracy: Morgan Conway or Ralph Byrd? Dick Tracy wouldn’t approve of that.

“So do you think that ‘You’re So Vain’ song is really about Milton Armitage?” Knock it off.

The plot, it’s fine, it doesn’t do anything too trendsetting, but then, it (probably) wasn’t meant to. At only 62 52 minutes, it obviously moves briskly. I like Conway’s Tracy, Cueball is appropriately sinister, there’s some comic relief from Tracy’s goofy partner that doesn’t impact the movie negatively. There’s more comic relief from Vitamin Flintheart (you gotta love these character names) that’s a bit more annoying, but nevertheless, I liked most of this well enough.

What struck me more than the plot or the characters, however, is just how this movie looks; this is very much a film noir by way of comic-based b-movie, and that’s most definitely a good thing. The usage of shadows and lighting and evocative camera angles, along with that budget movie sheen, it’s all irresistible in a post-war matinee sorta way. I love it! So much of this flick is bathed in shadows, its noir-ish good looks really sorta disguise those comic strip roots. I could see someone with an unnatural hatred of all things Dick Tracy still being able to appreciate this one, based solely on the aesthetic qualities it exhibits. Despite some moments of levity, the world of Dick Tracy vs. Cueball is a dark, shadowy, sinister one. I mean, there’s even a bar, complete with matching neon sign, called “The Dripping Dagger.” (It probably wouldn’t have been considered a family restaurant.)

Things that could cause some consternation in this day and age: at one point, Cueball strangles the woman that tried to steal his diamonds with his trademark hat band…but not before smacking her in the head with it a couple times. It’s not particularly graphic, but still unsettling for obvious reasons. Also, a little kid playing cowboy uses some language that would be considered derogatory towards Native Americans nowadays. So, as with any movie from decades past, if you watch, watch while remembering it was a different time, a different era in which it was made.

As for the film print Silver Screen Video utilized, it’s…mostly alright. It’s always kinda dirty/dusty/scratchy, but mostly it leans towards the “watchable-but-mediocre” end of the spectrum, with occasional moments of heavy wear and tear. BUT BUT BUT, hear me out: none of that actually hurts the ultimate presentation! Lemme explain: the accumulated wear of this Dick Tracy vs. Cueball evokes countless trips through the projector, of Saturday matinees, of late night television broadcasts on local stations, and as such, there’s just a certain ‘feeling’ about all this that still manages to work in spite of itself. Besides, it’s a budget video release – do you really go into one of those expecting pristine film prints? Lower your standards, champ.

SO, all that said, should Dick Tracy vs. Cueball be making any all time worst movie lists? In my opinion, no. Not at all. In fact, without having read that book or the explanation behind the inclusion of the film, yeah, I just don’t get that choice. Okay, sure, technically it’s not a great film, most people aren’t going to mistake it for an a-movie, there’s some dialog that’s a little silly, etc. etc. etc. But, I didn’t really notice anything about it that would be considered more offensively bad than countless other offerings from the era. Am I missing something here? Was there something in those apparently-excised 10 minutes that could so drastically lower the stature of the film? I can at least understand some choices in that book, even if I don’t agree with them. (I totally love Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster and happily consider it the best ‘Zilla of the 1970s, but I can see why some would hate it, because the movie is just totally whacked out, man.) But even in that pre-internet, comparatively less-accessible (movie-wise) era, saying Dick Tracy vs. Cueball wasn’t just bad, but actually one of the worst films ever made, it just seems like such a random inclusion to me. Your mileage may vary, of course.

So yes, ultimately I liked this one plenty. It’s fast and noir-ish and such a fun example of a post-war programmer, as well as a fun example of budget VHS from the late-80s/early-90s. Maybe it played into the hype surrounding Beatty’s Dick Tracy, or maybe it was just easy product for Silver Screen Video to get out there regardless of what else was happening. At any rate, this totally seems like the kind of a tape I would have found for mega cheap at D&K in the late-90s, and THAT, my friends, is a nice feeling to have. (Even if it never actually happened. Not to my recollection, anyway; I do remember seeing some cheapo cartoon tapes there in the summer of 1997, so, yeah.)

NES Review: TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY (LJN; 1992)

It occurred to me late last week that, man, it’s now been 30 years since James Cameron’s action sci-fi epic Terminator 2: Judgment Day hit theaters and took pop culture by storm. 30 years! That’s hard to believe, or rather, tough to take; I don’t like realizing that 30 years have elapsed since T2 obsessed little 5-year-old me.

Back in those halcyon days of the early-90s, each summer there’d be one or two movies that would just absolutely rule my world, such was their promotional blitz. To me, the summer of 1990 belonged to Dick Tracy, and 1992 had Batman Returns, but in-between was 1991, and the summer of ’91 was all about two very different Hollywood blockbusters for me.

(By the way, I would have just mentioned 1990’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and 1991’s Teenage Mutant Ninja II: The Secret of the Ooze, but I looked them up and they both actually released in March – and besides, the Turtles were pretty much year-round obsessions for yours truly anyway.)

1991 brought forth two major motion pictures that I jumped head-first into: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was one (dad took me to see it in the theater, and while I haven’t seen it since then, in retrospect it was probably a little too dark for a 5-year-old), and while I was definitely into the Hood (Robin, not Boyz n the, I mean), near as I can recall, it still couldn’t compare to the fervor that Terminator 2 elicited on my part that same summer and beyond.

Unlike Robin Hood, I didn’t see T2 in the theater; an R-Rated, presumably-mega-violent action flick wasn’t something that would fly with mom where a 5-year-old was concerned, but man oh man did I make up for it. I fell into the hype machine’s trap something fierce, at levels previously (and subsequently) reserved for Batman and his big budget Batflicks. Everything was T2 with me; if something had that logo and/or Arnold Schwarzenegger’s mug plastered on it, my interest level didn’t just peak; it shot through the roof. And sometimes it didn’t even need that; cut-rate Super Soaker knock-off? Y’all best believe that suddenly became a T2 gun (in my mind, at least). And no foolin’, I think I literally had every toy released in the accompanying action figure line.

With all that I’ve just said, you might assume that T2, as a movie by itself, is one that eventually became very familiar to me over the succeeding the years. But you know, not really. I did see it when it first hit home video (I guess a VHS playing on a comparatively tiny TV screen was easier for mom to monitor than a giant theater screen, and I vaguely recall my parents seeing the movie in theaters, which if so, they would have known what my eyes could expect beforehand.)  But really, my most memorable experience seeing the movie came years later, during a late night broadcast of it on The Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show, watched on a portable TV during a camping trip.

I was older then, and thus able to ‘get’ it better, but the fact remains that while there is intense nostalgia on my part regarding T2, not much of it has to do with the actual movie itself, but rather the hype and promotional push that surrounded it and the way it all hit me at full force. It’s not that I have any problem with the movie (I’m waaaay overdue for a revisit, obviously), but, I don’t know, in my later years it’s just not something that has crossed my path as often as you might expect.

And that brings us to our subject today….

I really don’t know how widespread they are now, but back then, movie-based video games weren’t just expected, they were practically required. If you were a flick that was a hit (or at least had aspirations of a hit; see: Hudson Hawk), there was a better than good chance video game adaptations were going to eventually drop.

Where T2 was concerned, dad bought the PC game. It was…well, looking back, it wasn’t very good. That was (is?) another thing about movie-based games: they were cash-ins on a hot (or presumably hot; see: Hudson Hawk) property, but as a rule, they didn’t tend to be great as games themselves (see: Hudson Hawk), nor were they generally expected to be. Unless you were a kid who just wanted to really take part in their current favorite film; then, it didn’t matter how good or bad the game technically was, because now you were part of the action too, and that’s what was important here.

Such was the case with T2 PC for me. I never beat it, but oh did I play it.

‘Course, if you had had the foresight to read the title of this post and/or look at the picture above, you’d already know we’re talking about the Nintendo Entertainment System adaptation of Terminator 2 today, not the PC one. Released at a time when the 16-bit era had already well arrived, and as such when the venerable 8-bit machine was in its twilight years, an NES game based on the movie was still a no-brainer. Needless to say, that all is what you’re looking at above.

A couple things here: Despite the summer ’91 blockbuster-ness of the movie, the game, according to what I’m seeing on the web, didn’t drop until February 1992, and as such is still only 29 years as of this writing, Meh, it still ties into the overwhelming hype surrounding T2 30 years ago nevertheless.

Also, and this would probably be considered a more pressing issue, is who put the game out: the infamous LJN. My understanding is that they didn’t actually make games, merely published them, but the fact remains that there’s a good number of mediocre or outright BAD licensed titles released by them residing within the NES library.

They didn’t bat .000 though; in my opinion, their A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Karate Kid games are decent, I’d even go as far as to say good. Certainly there’s a lot of underwhelming stuff in there of course, though sometimes I think their offerings get ragged on more than they actually deserve (Back to the Future tends to be noted as “1 OF THA WERST EVRRRR BRO,” and while it’s certainly not a great game, I’d argue its more mediocre than outright terrible, its main issue being the plot is only tangentially related to the movie it’s based on – and I’m not someone who goes into a movie-based game from that era thinking it’s going to be a 1:1 recreation of the film, either.)

Before starting this article, I did my due diligence and checked out some other opinions online. While some couldn’t seem to get beyond the first two levels of the game (which we’ll look at shortly)  and/or the LJN thing, I was pleasantly surprised to see some positive thoughts regarding the game floating around out there, too. I’m going to have to join the latter group and agree: LJN’s Terminator 2 isn’t just not bad, but actually good! Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t great, this isn’t Super Mario Bros. 3 with Arnold’s visage plastered on top of it, but it’s competent, and it’s fun, and that puts it waaaay up on a lot of movie-based titles. Indeed, I’d put this in the upper echelon of LJN’s NES offerings.

Our title screen, displaying some nice digitized graphics. 

I guess my first exposure to this NES adaptation was via the ever present comic book ads back in the day, Of course it depends on the era you grew up in and what age you were, but generally speaking, at that impressionable age this stuff could feel special and ‘big’ thanks to them, and really just an indelible part of the whole comic book experience. Truth be told, in many (but not all) cases, I’m actually more nostalgic for some of those ads than I am the issues they came from.

A more immediate exposure however was when my next door neighbor got a copy. (Before or after I was suffering working through the PC version, I do not recall.) I still remember him dropping the box out of his window to me; he said I could have it (which I still do). Oddly, I don’t recall ever playing the game over there, though it’s a safe guess we did at some point.

The gameplay of Terminator 2 is primarily a platformer, with some beat-’em-up and run-and-gun elements thrown in. Plus, a motorcycle level for a change of pace. The controls are exceedingly simple: one button jumps, the other punches/shoots, you can pause the game if necessary, nothing unexpected and it all works as it should.

Unlike a good many movie-based games, the proceedings follow the plot of the film fairly well. The story? C’mon, you probably know this. Wikipedia has the rundown (and it probably helps if you’re familiar with the original movie as well), but here’s the gist: you’re an android, the T-800, sent from the future to stop the T-1000, a liquid metal baddie (also from the future) who is attempting to terminate (GET IT? HAW HAW HAW) John Connor, the future leader of a resistance against the robotic forces who have just messed things all up.

Look, I really don’t feel like typing out a full synopsis. If you’re interested in the game, you’re probably already familiar with the movie anyway.

T2 isn’t a particularly long game. There are only five stages and once you know what to do it’s probably only around 30 minutes in length. Not so unusual for that era, and like I said, the game adheres to the movie fairly well with what’s here.

Oncoming bikers in the opening stage.

Stage 1: The T-800 (that’s Arnold) arrives in the past and starts his mission by opening a righteous can on some bikers.

It seems a lot of gamers are put off by this stage, and that’s kinda understandable. It’s pretty button mashy as you pummel away at a healthy number of bikers, and while one at a time is easy enough (just hammer away at the punch button), when they gang up on you there’s a lot of punch-and-run going on. I’d say it’s more fun than it isn’t, and ultimately fairly easy, but yeah, I can see why some might be turned off by this. Though, not a bad way to introduce the player to the basic mechanics of the rest of the game (mostly).

Chased by a semi in the second stage.

Stage 2: It seems that a lot of people who make it through the first stage give up during this one. And yeah, it is blisteringly hard…at first. Once you know what to do though, it’s actually pretty easy.

In the only stage to break away from the platformer set-up of the rest of the game, you’re on your motorcycle, dodging obstacles like wrecked cars and exploding crates, occasionally having to shoot gates open in order to progress and eventually, hopefully, rendezvous with John Connor. And oh yeah, T-1000 is chasing you in a semi.

You can’t speed up, so when I kept getting crushed by the semi, I just didn’t know what I was doing wrong. A helpful reading of the instructions had the answer (go figure!): you can shoot behind you, so when the semi shows up, fire away while concentrating on avoiding the obstacles in front of you. When you come upon a gate, fire more than once (lest it not open fully and thus cost you some life whilst going through), but otherwise, dodge and weave and fire behind you. That’s it!

Once you get the hang of it, it’s really not a very hard stage at all, and not a particularly lengthy one either – which is good, cause die once and you gotta start back at the beginning of the level.

(Wacky Fact: the 1993 Sega Master System port of this game, never released in the U.S. cause the console was long dead here by then, omitted this stage entirely.)

Rescuing Sarah Connor in the third stage.

Stage 3: Once you’ve gotten John Connor to safety, it’s time to rescue his mother Sarah, who is currently locked in a mental hospital.

You get a gun in this stage, but careful, ammo is finite! Lotsa refills (and even an extra life) are found throughout, though things are complicated by security guards, orderlies and T-1000 himself. (Itself?)

The idea is to search each floor of the hospital and locate the elevator keycard that will allow you to move up to the next. It’s not a very hard stage, and the enemies are fairly easy to avoid (if you shoot ’em though, it’s gotta be in the leg; T-800 ain’t allowed to kill, yo). Even T-1000 is easily dodged, at least until the final floor where he gets more spastic with the shooting. Even then though, he’s not that big of a pain.

Droppin’ some ‘splosives in the fourth stage.

Stage 4: This one is somewhat similar to the preceding level. Here you’ve infiltrated “Cyberdyne Systems,” the corporation ultimately responsible for fouling things up in the future. Like the previous round, you’ve got to search each floor, this time for explosive charges which then must be deposited on the uppermost floor. There are ten of ’em, and you can only carry three at a time, so some back-and-forth is required.

Once you’ve got the entire allotment, you then must set them, two at a time (what happened to your ability to carry three, Arnold???) and escape before the place done blows up. As you may guess, this portion of the stage is timed, though you’ve got a little sensor arrow directing you where to go, so it’s not particularly tough – though you do get a nice sense of urgency as the clock reaches its final seconds.

Pumpin’ some hot lead into T-1000’s busta self.

Stage 5: The last level; it’s time to defeat John Doggett T-1000 once and for all!

This is the most overtly ‘platformy’ stage of the game, with swinging cranes to hop on and lava pits to avoid, Not that it’s Battletoads tough, but I’d say this is the most difficult portion of the game. Some of the jumps (including some blind leaps of faith) are awfully tricky, and it’s not always easy to tell where you can or can’t (or should or shouldn’t) go. Plus T-1000 himself shows up twice before the ultimate showdown at the end. It’s certainly not an insurmountable stage at any point, however.

If you’ve seen the movie, you know how T-1000 is ultimately defeated, and Arnold’s T-800’s subsequent fate. These elements were decently translated to video game form here, and it’s all helped by cutscenes to advance the story.

In fact, that leads us to the graphics. While some of the enemies and cutscenes suffer from “computer paint program” syndrome (a simplistic look that afflicted a good number of 3rd party games in the waning years of the NES), for the most part T2 is pretty solid graphically. The sprites are tiny and the color scheme often pretty dark, but there’s a good amount of detail wrung out of these 8-bit graphics, and the animation is for the most part terrific. Furthermore, there are some really nice digitized graphics (check out that title screen shot wayyy up above, for example). For a movie-based game from the latter years of the NES, one put out by an infamous company to boot, T2 does not ultimately suffer in the graphical department.

Sound-wise things are solid as well. Indeed, I was pleasantly surprised to see a number of positive comments online regarding this aspect. The music is pretty good! It’s not super catchy earwormy stuff, but they are evocative of the theme of the game, with techno-ish looping tracks that really set the mood. (The sound effects are serviceable, but pretty standard NES fare.)

So when all is said and done, no, I didn’t find Terminator 2: Judgment Day for the Nintendo Entertainment System to be a great game, but I certainly found it to be a good one. I played through the entire thing on an actual NES, and consistently enjoyed it. It plays smoothly, looks and sounds nice, and despite what some reviews out there say, challenging but not overtly hard. For a movie-based game, it’s tough to ask for more.

Well, you could; T2 doesn’t reach the heights of, say, the fantastic Batman NES game, but it’s definitely solid in its own right. In fact, I’d place it in the same arena as other licensed titles that can be underrated but really aren’t so bad once you get used to their play schemes and quirks. (Dick Tracy and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves are good examples, and you know, once you get beyond the sometimes-confusing screen layouts and occasionally goofy enemies, I think the often-maligned Rambo is better than it tends to get credit for, too.)

T2 is also very possibly the best game associated with Arnold on the NES. Predator may be debatable, but T2 is leagues better than the junk that was Total Recall and the borderline-broken Last Action Hero. Oh, and there was a game based on the first Terminator too, and just like the movies, the sequel is better than the prequel, though in the case of the NES, the prequel is actually the sequel to the sequel (as in based on the first, released after the second). Maybe that’s not quite a fair comparison though, cause The Terminator on the NES is, well, it’s pretty bad. (‘Course, as kids back then, we didn’t always know some of these were ‘bad’. I can’t speak for everyone naturally, but in general, hey, our parents bought or rented these games, we worked on them, and that was that. I think the ultra-negative reception a lot of this stuff gets nowadays is mainly in hindsight, whatever gaming mags of the era were saying back then notwithstanding.)

More than all of that though is just what a symbol of the era this game is. It comes from a time when the NES, while on the downward slide, was still pretty visible on the scene. A time when movie-based games like this were practically prerequisites, and were duly advertised to kids as such. A time when, for a period, the property that was Terminator 2; Judgment Day seemingly ruled the pop culture world.

Some Presumably-1970s Springy Hoppy Figure Toys (Seriously, What ARE These Things?!) UPDATE: MYSTERY SOLVED!

UPDATE: The mystery has been solved! Reader Mads hit the comments with the answer – these guys are called “Hoptimists,” and they’re a product of Denmark. According to the official website, they were first produced in 1968. I guess they were imported for a time to the U.S. back in the day? At any rate, huge thanks to Mads for providing the info!

You know, of all the posts I’ve written for this blog, I dare say amongst my favorites is the one detailing a relatively-unknown budget Kung Fu action figure. I think the combination of some memories, some humor, some research (which is actually still kinda ongoing), and frankly, a subject I just plain like, that’s what all does it for me. I tend to read it, think to myself “boy I had the juice when I wrote this,” and then I’m an unbearably smug monster to anyone in my immediate vicinity for the rest of the day.

So what say we head back to that wheelhouse now? Not because I’m so much trying to recapture some arbitrary sense of glory (though, while I joked a bit above, I really am continuously pleased with how that one turned out), but rather because, man, I’m at a loss. I’ve searched online, I’ve asked in groups dedicated to this sort of thing, and while I’ve gotten a few answers, ultimately, yeah, I’m still at a loss.

Here’s what your pal me is talking about:

Awwww, isn’t they cute? It’d sure be nice to know WHAT THEY ARE, MAN.

Standing about roughly half the height of a standard 3 3/4″ action figure, but a heckuva a lot thicker/lumpier, are these little fellers, There’s no date or manufacturer I.D. anywhere on them, at least not that I can see, though given the metal spring that comprises their midsection, they naturally recall a Slinky. Or more specifically, a Slinky Dog, for you overly-technical types. I don’t think they’re an official Slinky product, because again, no I.D. on ’em. Given the color scheme and big round noggins, they come off positively Pac-Man-ish, though I doubt there’s any actual relation between the two properties. (If there is, kindly disregard that last remark THANKS.)

I’m figuring they were some kid-friendly line of alien toys, given the antenna on the one on the right. I like the bit of personality these things demonstrate, given the relatively-few details between the two. Okay, the antenna on the one, sure, but I’m talking more about the painted eyes. The one on the right appears to be in a permanent wink, and also demonstrates what I presume to be eyelashes, which I’m thinking makes that one female. Given the lack of any such extras on the one on the left, beyond two simple eyes I mean, makes me think that one’s male.

Besides the springy torsos and round heads, bulbous noses and flat sturdy feet round out the package – I was pleased to see how easily these things stand under their own power, without continuous falling or apparent shifting.

The lack of a manufacturer identification makes things tough, but still, you’d think there’s enough external details here to help a constantly-narrowed internet search eventually provide the pertinent info. NOPE. I’ve looked and looked and looked, with any number of word combinations, and yeah, nuthin’. Everything from vintage Slinky figures (again, I don’t think they’re technically Slinky products, but you’d have to figure that, like the Frisbee/flying disc conundrum, they’d generically be thought of as such) to even hypothesizin’ that that antenna was part of some ring toss game was tried, and all yielded zilch. This was no quick, token online search, I really did look.

I even asked in a group dedicated to vintage toys, and while I got a few responses – some remembered them, that’s where the rough date of “1970s” comes from, one response even recalled they came in different colors, and one person even had one – there was little solid info provided otherwise. That’s no knock on these folks; if anyone would know, they would. I’ve seen far more obscure (or so I thought!) things identified by them, so yeah, my curiosity is only heightened by the whole thing. I mean, if they don’t know, then…?

(One guy provided a new-ish video by some manufacturer that makes springy toys such as these for car dashboards. While the video spotlighted specimens that were frighteningly similar, those ones all had modern emoji-based faces, they lacked the noses or general “oldness” of these here, and besides, those new ones had little sticky feet, lest they slide off the dashboard of your chosen motorized vehicle. Mine, on the other hand, have felt pads on their feet – though of course that aspect could have been added by the original owner later, and could probably be removed now, though I’m not gonna attempt that. Anyway, while I certainly appreciated the sharing of that video, and I don’t preclude the possibility these were originally intended to reside on the dash of some boat-sized gas hog, I don’t think there’s any real relation between the two. Still, boy did those emoji things look awfully similar…)

So where did these lil’ buddies come from? Without going into too much painstaking detail, a local thrift store had a bunch of toys in a couple of apparently-widely-ignored bins on the floor, and while said bins had some newer stuff I couldn’t have cared less about, there was a lot of stuff that spanned from the late-60s up through the 1980s, and that I do care about. I’m thinking the majority of the contents of those bins came from the same person/multi-generation family originally, maybe a grandparent that now had no use for said toys, for, uh, whatever reason. Indeed, between her kids and the subsequent plethora of grandchildren, the toy selection of these bins recalled the grouping of kids stuff that could eventually be found at the house of my own now-dearly-departed-grandmother.

Or maybe the thrift store just married a whole bunch of toys together, I dunno. There were a number of items that I definitely think came from the same source originally though, and that includes these springy hoppy alien things.

I don’t know what these dudes are or who made them or when they’re from, but I gotta say, the moment I dug the baggie containing them out of the bin, I recognized them as cool and knew they were coming home with me. From their looks to their spring-loaded gimmick, I was enamored at first sight.

None of which changes the fact that I have no idea what they actually are. So, I’m going to do the best that I can with the tags for this post, and hope the comments section eventually yields the desired info. Hopefully someone out there knows; I refuse to believe these things are that rare and/or unknown. Maybe it’s just a case of the right words not being used during searches. But at any rate, even if I never find out, at least they’ve gotten a little spotlight time here on the blog, dubious honor that may be.

And hey, if someone else out there in internet land finds themselves in the same boat as I now currently reside, hey, I share your frustration and feel your pain. Consider the comments section of this post a support group? Sure, I don’t care.

Vintage WUAB-43 KidsLand Club Membership Card (Circa-1989)

Perhaps my earliest memories go back to when I was three years old. I can still specifically recall watching Halloween specials with my dad in that year of 1989, for example. Less specific, but rather more general, are the memories of watching cartoons on WUAB-43‘s KidsLand line-up during those formative years. Actually, right now I’m not quite sure if all those memories are completely of my watching ‘live’ or of later watching the VHS recordings my mom made for me. Maybe a bit of both. Either way, I was there, and as such, WUAB’s KidsLand is positively burnt into my memory.

Which is why this find from just yesterday was such a huge deal personally. Whoda thunk that a small piece of paper, roughly (but I don’t think exactly) the size of any ‘regular’ trading card, would have been such a monumental acquisition for me? Actually, I would have thunk it beforehand, had it crossed my mind. I don’t think it ever did, but needless to say, it was.

Dig this:

Good golly, when I came across this, it was one of those lightning bolt “oooh!” reactions (does anyone else get those, or is it just me being weird?), accompanied by a rapid snatching of the object that would have made Bruce Lee proud (maybe). The moment my eyes fell upon that logo, the registration with my brain was instantaneous, and thus there was absolutely no doubt whatsoever that it was coming home with me. I’m not a man moved to violence, but had competition been afoot, well, I could very possibly be incarcerated right now. (Okay, things probably wouldn’t have gone that far… but hopefully I’ll never be put in a position to where I’ll have to find out.)

We’ll look at the back of the card momentarily, but for now I’ll just say there’s no date anywhere on this thing, which is why you got a “Circa-1989” in the post title above. Why go with ’89? Because I can say with total confidence that that’s when this logo was in usage – because I was there, man! KidsLand was pushed extensively at that time, and that was the logo they used. It’s engraved on my psyche or something like that. I don’t know how long it was used for, though; I want to say it was around at least as early as 1988, but that’s a statement I can’t make with certainty. At any rate, it had changed by some point in 1990 to a more updated, 90s-appropriate look. Same name, same club, different logo. Savvy?

So what was WUAB’s KidsLand Club? KidsLand was the branding for 43’s morning/afternoon kid shows – you know, a KidsLand. Hosted by “Liz,” in-studio or on-location host segments, contests and the like could appear during the commercial breaks, which, while maybe not too atypical of local children’s programming blocks found across the U.S., certainly added a nice local flavor to both the hot syndicated programming of the time (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Real Ghostbusters, G.I. Joe) as well as some of the old favorites (Tom & Jerry, etc.) running on the station.

Liz was cool, like a big sister that didn’t torture you (a statement I make despite never having had a big sister, or sister of any kind for that matter.)

As for the specific KidsLand Club though? Sad to say, I was never actually a member, so first-hand accounts of the benefits of joining are not something I can give. I’m guessing it was free to become a member, but maybe parents had to shell out a few bucks, I dunno. Besides the card, maybe kids periodically received updates or activities or whatnot in the mail? Perhaps they could be invited to special KidsLand events held about town? Or maybe it was all honorary, just something for kids to hang their figurative hats on, so to speak?

It kinda stands to reason that there’d be ‘more’ to joining than just owning an admittedly-spiffy membership card, but look, while I absolutely remember the graphics and branding and programming of KidsLand, I’m not claiming to be any sort of authority on the subject. Which of course doesn’t change the fact that I’m certainly nostalgic for my time with it and, needless to say, paraphernalia pertaining to it.

Some kid’s name is still written on the back of the card; evidently he didn’t feel the need to hold on to it some 30+ years later, so to a thrift store it went – his trash was my treasure! Obviously I’m not going to flash his name or (just to be on the safe side) membership card number across the web for all to see. Hence the big black bars you’re seeing above, provided by my advanced usage of technology. (AKA my computer’s paint program.)

Actually, the kid wrote his name in pencil; I suppose I could erase it and put my own moniker there, should I be interested in being a disingenuous piece of human garbage. As previously stated, I was never actually a member of the club, and therefore writing my name here would be hurtful and fraudulent. And superfluous; this is a terrific piece of local television memorabilia as well as a link to undeniable childhood memories on my part, but where practicality is concerned, there’s not much I can really do with it. I mean, the KidsLand Club hasn’t existed in decades; I’m just speculatin’ here, but I imagine it was bye-bye by the mid-90s. Maybe, at least, when 43 affiliated with UPN and started running their cartoons? I don’t know.

‘Course, should I scrawl my name on the back here (and, fun fact, my penmanship is generally sloppy enough to be mistaken for a kid’s handwriting), I then might be tempted to keep the card in my wallet as if it were a valid form of state I.D. I mean, it should be, but it isn’t. (Is it?) The main problem there is that I’d be threatening extra wear on the card, which could not only hurt whatever collectability this thing may have, but also prove problematic if/when I hand the card to the tattoo artist and ask them to put that logo on my face.

ANYWAY, taking a closer look at the back of the card here, you’ll notice that a member was entitled to club privileges. What were they? Like I said a bit ago, I couldn’t say. Coulda just been bragging rights, for all I know. Also evident: a KidsLand secret code key, though again, I have no idea what it pertains to. Both things definitely point towards there being more than a kid just being a “mere member” of the club, if that makes any sense.

I admit, I figured out what my first name would translate to in secret KidsLand code. You never know when information like this will come in handy, he said as if he hadn’t already forgotten the series of numbers.

You know what’s additionally cool about this card to me? The time period in kid’s TV it signifies. Remember, I was there, and in my eyes, it really was a murderers’ row of cartoons: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, C.O.P.S., The Real Ghostbusters, The Super Mario Bros. Super Show, G.I. Joe, probably more I’m forgetting. And that’s not even counting standbys like Scooby-Doo, Tom & Jerry, Popeye and the like; stuff that, you know, never goes out of style. Or at least shouldn’t ever go out of style. And don’t forget the local programming like Barnaby or, even though I don’t think he was officially part of KidsLand beyond being advertised during it, Superhost.

Add a healthy dose of fantastic late-80s/early-90s advertising and of course those KidsLand host segments with Liz, and it should be no wonder why I’m so nostalgic for the time period. Certainly I’m biased, but as far as I’m concerned, it was a wonderful time to be alive. The late-80s and early/mid-90s, before the internet took over everything everywhere, it was a great time to be a kid.

Oh, and the icing on the cake here? WUAB is one of the top local stations I always, ALWAYS love collecting memorabilia from. No joshin’, it’s one of my personal “big four” stations. So the fact that there’s a nostalgic connection for yours truly here only adds to the enamor.

So there you have it: an old school WUAB-43 KidsLand Club membership card. Maybe some former (?) members can chime in with their experiences being part of it. But whether they do or don’t, it’s still a fantastic representative of a bygone era in local television, and THAT, my friends, makes it invaluable.

Vintage WMCC-TV 23 / Marsh Supermarkets Humphrey Flyer (Circa-1987)

Boy, my thrift stores haven’t been very good lately. I mean, they’ve been okay, I almost always find SOMETHING I don’t need to bring home. But by and large, they’ve been underwhelming. On the surface that may not seem too unusual; you’re (probably) not gonna have mega winner mega winner mega winner finds 100% of the time. But, I’ve got a good number of usual haunts, and for really the last two months or so, there’s been precious few “oh man!” scores on my part. I don’t really think it’s an issue of other people getting to the “good stuff” before me, either; I generally keep a sneaky eye out, just to see if I missed a good’un that now regrettably resides in someone else’s cart, but nope, nothing like that. Not that I’ve seen. I just don’t think there’s much “good stuff” currently rolling in around here in general.

Of course, what I consider to be “good stuff” often differs considerably from what others might care about, which works out for me on a number of levels. Oh, and while on the subject, few things instantly irritate me more than a stranger coming up to me at one of these places while I’m browsing music and asking me “find anything good?” or some variation of that. Listen you busta, there’s no consensus as to what constitutes ‘good’ music (or movies, or television, or any other form of art) because it’s all entirely subjective, and as such my tastes may well vary from yours. Thus, it’s pointless to ask such a question, because I can’t give you a definitive answer one way or the other. Plus, I don’t know you and we’re not going to be friends, so you can just go take a powder until I’m done here.

ANYWAY, I don’t mean to give the impression I haven’t had any genuinely good finds in recent months, because I have. I’ve added plenty of things to my various collections (wow, that sounds weirder than I mean it to), and what may have lacked in “YES!” qualities (though there certainly HAS been a couple of those) has more than been made up for in overall quantity. Of course, this hasn’t really paid off where you’re concerned, dear reader, because you haven’t gotten any blog updates out of it. It’s true; some of what I’ve found isn’t well suited to posts here, and what technically is well suited to an update, I just haven’t felt like writing about, either because the subject matter doesn’t get me sufficiently amped up enough or because I don’t feel like dealing with the inevitable “can I has dis” questions a post would be sure to elicit.

All that said, while it’s too early to say whether the (relative) thriftin’ drought has ended or not, the fact remains that I did get a legitimate respite yesterday, which means you get a legitimate update today. Yep, a neat piece of vintage broadcasting-related material randomly crossed my path, and it was one of those things that I knew immediately was coming home with me. Indeed, I dare say this has the “YES!” qualities I so desire, though others may not get the hype. (Which goes back to what I said a bit ago:  what I consider to be “good stuff,” someone else’s eyes may glaze over at.)

Dig this: It’s an old Humphrey Flyer, that’s to say flying disc (NOT a Frisbee; those are from Wham-O), emblazoned with not only the logo of the now-gone Marsh Supermarket chain, but also, and this is what put things over the top for me, the then-independent WMCC-TV 23. I haven’t gotten to say this in awhile: cool winnins!

Humphrey made a ton of promotional flying discs like this – and they might still, for all I know. (How do I know this is a Humphrey Flyer? because it, uh, says “Humphrey Flyer” on the underside, around the edge, in molded plastic. No, I’m not taking a separate picture of it, you’re just gonna have to trust me here.)

All two of my astute readers (are you one of ’em?) may note that the title of this blog is the *NORTHEAST OHIO* Video Hunter, and as such may exhibit some confusion over both the Marsh Supermarket chain name as well as a television station with the call sign of WMCC. That’s okay though, because before yesterday, I was in the exact same boat.

That’s because neither of those things hail from Northeast Ohio. In fact, this flyin’ disc pretty definitively comes from Indianapolis, Indiana or somewhere relatively close by. Marsh Supermarkets (which gave up the ghost in 2017) were headquartered there and had locations not only in that state, but also in Western Ohio – which ain’t never been mah stompin’ grounds. “So how do YOU know this didn’t come from Western Ohio,” I can just see being smugly sent to my pending comments folder now. Hey, the more innocuous of a statement I make, the more snotty of a reply I receive, or so Facebook has taught me. (I thought my merely hoping the Frasier reboot would somehow air on network TV wouldn’t raise anyone’s dander; I was wrong.)

I know, or at least can confidently conclude, that this thing comes from in or around Indy because, well, that’s where WMCC was based. And while I’d never say some locations in Ohio couldn’t pick the station up, either through overlap, cable coverage or just big ol’ antennas, I’d still find it hard to believe that an indubitably independent Indianapolis, Indiana (alliteration) television station would be pitched outside of its specific market in such a manner. That’s the basis for my deductive reasoning, imaginary smarty pants. (Disregard the preceding sentence if I turn out to be wrong though THANKS.)

WMCC is now WNDY-TV, the MyNetworkTV outlet for the area, but starting in the 1980s and up until 1995, it was the independent WMCC-TV 23. (’95 saw both the change to the call sign and the switch to a WB affiliate; look at that Wiki link if you don’t believe me.) So from what year(s) does this flying disc hail? Obviously it’s from 1995 or before, but there’s some question on my part as to how early it can go. Wikipedia says WMCC was founded in 1984 but didn’t go on the air until 1987, whereas this page at Logopedia shows a logo similar to the one seen on this disc here and gives it the timeline of 1984-1988. Someone’s playing mind games with me, and I don’t know who it is. At any rate, I feel little need to modify the “Circa-1987” of the header above. That’s about as safe as I can play it here.

I imagine this was originally given away at Marsh Supermarkets (“gee, what a guess!”), but as to whether it was a freebie because WMCC had just gone on the air, the Marsh location was a new one, or some other factor, I couldn’t say.

Another, far less pressing, question: how did this flying disc ultimately end up in my neck of the woods here in Northeast Ohio? Hey, people move, people go on vacation, people send gifts. Plus, Indianapolis isn’t that far away from here. I’ve been there and back all in the space of several hours, with plenty of time to chill afterwards upon returning home. Out-of-state stuff shows up with some frequency, and while I generally prefer things that were/are local to me, I won’t ever turn down a piece of local television memorabilia like this, no matter where it’s from. Besides, even if it isn’t from Northeast Ohio, I tend to have a particular affinity for the Midwest as a whole.

And really, from Indiana or Ohio or elsewhere, this is the kind of thing I love to add to my collection. That red-on-white color scheme, those logos and fonts, they just totally recall a bygone era in TV and promo memorabilia and what have you. The fact Marsh Supermarkets are no longer around and WMCC is, uh, no longer WMCC only fuels that feeling. This thing is just plain cool to look at. As per the disc face, Marsh’s slogan back then was “We Value You.” Well old WMCC/Marsh/Humphrey Flyer thing, I value YOU. So much so that that the idea of going outside and throwing this disc around as originally intended is pretty much unthinkable. This ain’t no plaything, not anymore; this is a treasured keepsake, man!

(Coming to that conclusion, is that a good enough way to end this update? Here, take a FINI for good measure.)

Portable Sony Trinitron KV-8AD10 TV (October 1990)

When it comes to collecting old CRT TVs, there’s one very important rule of thumb that I follow: you can never have too many Sony Trinitrons. That doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll buy each and every one that crosses my path, but as long as the price is reasonable (and given the current public perception of CRT TVs, it generally is), it’s likely entering my collection.

Why’s that? Simply put, because the picture quality of these was so utterly fantastic. Trinitron sets were known to be some of the best televisions out there, and while they cost more because of it, you genuinely got your money’s worth. Even today, Trinitrons are popular on the used market, particularly among retro gamers. Since classic consoles, in my opinion, should only be played on a CRT TV (as they were, you know, intended to be), why not get the best picture possible? There’s a very real and noticeable difference between vintage games displayed on a Trinitron and other, ‘regular’ CRT TVs.

That of course isn’t to say that all non-Trinitrons were junk; they weren’t. But as a general rule…

Indeed, nowadays I’ll only run classic consoles on these sets. This is a preference, but not a strict “ONLY SONY TRINITRONS SHALL BE USED IN THIS HOUSE” edict. (Though the thought of a plaque stating such and hanging above my front door does amuse me.) It’s just that, hey, I’ve had enough Trinitron scores in recent times to make this ideal a reality.

Which brings us to our subject today. Meet this acquisition in my world of Sony Trinitron…

It’s the portable KV-8AD10, manufactured in October of 1990, and boy is it neato. It’s just a lil’ baby! With a screen size of only 8 inches and an overall build not unlike other portable TVs of the time, it was most definitely a television for people on the go or with otherwise limited space.

This of course isn’t the first time we’ve seen a portable Sony television here on the blog. There was this terrible old post, and this somewhat newer, relatively better post. But then, since our subject today is a Trinitron, it automatically becomes the best portable TV I own. Not necessarily my favorite, though it IS up there, but technically the best.

To the best of my recollection, this is my newest Trinitron acquisition. Don’t quote me on that though; there was another I picked up in the same general time frame. Both were several months back, and it’s not like I catalogue the dates and times of all this stuff. I’m pretty sure this was the latest, but it’s not like anybody cares either way, so what am I even blathering about here?

Actually, this was a case where the price wasn’t quite right for me, and so this set continued to sit at the thrift store that offered it. There it was, every time I waltzed in, staring back at me. I don’t even think it was that much; $25, if I recall correctly. Not a terrible price, especially for a Trinitron, but when you don’t technically need it and funds are short, well, hard sacrifices must occasionally be made. Anyway, eventually a coupon for this store was acquired, and there may have been an additional discount on top of that too, I don’t really remember, but needless to say, it ultimately became mine.

(The store this was at gets some heavy traffic, so I’m heartened to think that everyone else just passed it by, uninterested in a CRT portable they saw as overpriced and with seemingly no practical use in this day and age. Or maybe they were just being cheap like me. Either way, I WON.)

Here’s the back of the thing. Up at the very top of the pic, you can see the adorable little handle built in to the plastic casing, just to really drive home the fact this was a portable and not merely just an itty bitty TV.

See? October of 1990. Did you think I was lying? I wasn’t.

Also, down at the bottom, there’s the prerequisite input for an external antenna along with a jack for a DC adapter, which I guess is helpful despite there already being a power cord present (detachable, but thankfully included here). But what really made my eyes figuratively (as opposed to literally HAW HAW HAW) pop out of my head was the inclusion of A/V input jacks. Man, you have no idea how many portable TVs don’t feature these, or even just a regular RF input, so I was certainly pleased with this revelation. You know what this means, don’t you? I can hook up retro game consoles or even VCR/DVD players to this thing, if so inclined. (And a little further in this article, you’ll see that I was.)

The only real bummer for me here is that this Trinitron doesn’t accept batteries, and as such, its portability is limited somewhat. Oh sure, take it wherever, but y’all gonna need a power source of some sort if you wanna do more than just sit there and glare at its Sony-ness.

But then, how many batteries would it have taken to power this thing? I remember taking my old Bentley black & white portable on camping trips; that thing used a whopping nine size D batteries, and even then, after only a few hours of continuous watching, the volume got so low it was pretty much nonexistent. (No joshin’; I watched Terminator 2 on Big Chuck & Lil’ John that way once, and towards the end of the broadcast, it was essentially a silent movie.) Whether a battery-powered color Trinitron portable would have been different in that regard or not, I couldn’t say.

A top-down view of the set. It’s longer than it is wide, though I always mentally picture it lengthier than it actually is. Dunno why. Certainly there’s more bulk to it than many other portables from the time period, but not enough to be a deal breaker, and besides, it’s a Trinitron.

The length is actually not unlike the aforementioned Bentley, though I’m not going to drag that one back out to compare and contrast. (I say back out because I seriously grabbed the spare set I have here to refresh myself on the number and size of batteries it took, a subject I illuminated you on only moments ago. Of course, as I did so, the thing slipped out of my hands and naturally fell upon the Trinitron we’re talking about right this very instant. Aside from a very tiny, very superfluous scratch that may or may not have already been there, the Sony was unscathed and still works like a champ. It takes a lot to hurt these things! And as for the Bentley, well, I didn’t hear anything rattling around in there, but I neither have the will nor the nine gigantic batteries required to power it to find out for sure.)

Also, note the extendable antenna that was helpfully, and naturally, provided. I don’t even need to extend it to know it ain’t gonna pick up any channels. (But eventually tried anyway.)

Pretty basic set-up along the front. You’ve got your buttons for power, channels, volume, TV/video select (cause of them A/Vs, man!) and a receiver for your highfalutin infrared remote control device. I got lucky with the power cord being included here, but there was no such luck with the remote. Unless that was only available separately, in which case I’m still ahead in the game or something like that.

There are more options along the side, though I nearly missed them during my picture taking session earlier. Knobs for adjusting the picture quality. Brightness, color, hue and picture are all adjustable. What wasn’t apparently adjustable? My ability to take a decent pic of these. This was as good as it got, gang.

Oh, and a jack for headphones, that’s here too. Because hey, portable.

Time to power the thing up. And again, there was just no way I could get a decent picture of this, and I sure tried. This was the best of the bunch.

The channels are actually listed in groupings, 2-4, 9-13, and so on and so forth. Upon pressing the channel up or down buttons, the TV continuously cycles through them in whichever direction you had pressed. I’m assuming this is some sort of channel scan and would stop when something was tuned in. Of course, in this case, it doesn’t stop, because there’s nothing to tune in; everything’s digital nowadays.

That being the case, there was only one (easy) way to ascertain the picture quality of this set – even though it was almost-certainly going to be good anyway. That was, I had to make use of those A/V inputs….

You know, maybe choosing something I taped a thousand years ago wasn’t the best way to demonstrate the picture quality of the Trinitron, but I’m running on only like four hours sleep right now and I’m not going back for more pics.

Anyway, remember when we looked at Son of Ghoul’s hosting of The Hoodlum? Well here it is again, playing on the Trinitron! My picture here doesn’t do the thing justice; like any other set in the line, the picture quality is excellent. I wasn’t joking earlier; when it comes to CRT TVs, if you’re serious about whatever looking as good as possible, invest in a Trinitron.

Plus, doesn’t SOG just look swanky playing on that portable screen? Memories of my checking in on his show whilst camping with that Bentley so many years ago are coming to mind… (I do believe the movie was 1944’s The Monster Maker that evening.)

One final pic of SOG on the Trinitron, this time after I had been fiddling with the picture adjustment knobs on the side of the TV. They work as expected, and in this case, really bring out that luxurious SLP VHS grain you all love so. Look at SOG pointing at you there; he’s like the Uncle Sam of horror hosts or something along those lines. I’m really, really tired right now.

No kidding though, really nice, rich colors on this set; I can only imagine how great a current program would look whilst playing on it. I’m almost tempted to figure out the necessary steps needed to get a digital converter box plugged into this thing. Almost, but not quite.

And so, that’s the Sony Trinitron KV-8AD10 portable television, from October of 1990. Such a cool little TV that, even in this age of HD, still manages to look really, really nice picture-wise. Since I have three other Trinitrons, all with unique consoles currently dedicated to them, the possibility of this one also finding semi-regular for me use as a gaming TV is very real. Maybe if I have a little space to fill somewhere in my increasingly cluttered abode…

Aw what the heck, just for fun:

Here’s the other Sony Trinitron I picked up roughly around the same time as this portable. It’s newer, one of those flat screen (but certainly not thin overall) CRT TVs from the latter part of Trinitron’s run. How much did this one set me back? A whopping $6 at Goodwill. Cool winnins! Obviously they just wanted to move a presumably-outdated CRT TV quickly and cheaply, and I was happy to oblige. Seen in the pic here is the Atari 2600 rendition of Ms. Pac-Man, which is not only a timeless classic port (seriously, I’ve been madly addicted to it lately), but also looks utterly sharp and phenomenal when displayed on this set. I’ll reiterate one more time: if you really wanna retro game, get a Trinitron ASAP.

(Oh, hey, look close; nestled next to it is the 1975 RCA portable TV I talked about here, and they’re both sitting on top of, and quite possibly ruining the finish on, the 1985 Magnavox TV I talked about here. I have deemed this structure as a whole “TV mountain,” though it’s really more of a haphazardly-stacked wall. Whatever.)

Vintage CBS/FOX Video HOW I GOT INTO COLLEGE Promotional Piggy Bank (1989)

Found earlier tonight, only mere hours ago as of this writing, is something so undeniably cool, so definitively hailing from the golden age of VHS (and by extension, the golden age of video rental stores), that I just couldn’t wait to get a post out of it. Also, I haven’t updated since Halloween; something needs to go up just to let y’all know I’m still here.

Dig this: from 1989, it’s a plastic promotional piggy [alliteration] bank commemorating the movie How I Got Into College, particularly (presumably) its initial release on home video. Neato! Found in a $4 bag of (mostly) animal toys, as soon as I spotted this piece residing in its depths, there was no way it wasn’t coming home with me. I wouldn’t have minded had they been asking $4 for this alone, though considering (almost) everything else in the bag was what I considered to be junk, it kinda worked out the same for me anyway.

It’s not a particularly big bank, though I’m not going to go back upstairs just to measure it. Provided you’re an adult, I’d say it’s “handheld.” You can fit several bucks worth of quarters in it easily.

Obviously, the main area of interest in the picture here is the How I Got Into College logo emblazoned on the side of the swine. That, coupled with the Twentieth Century Fox date & copyright notation underneath, says beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is in relation to the 1989 romantic comedy that, apparently, wasn’t much of a box office success. (Or so says that Wikipedia link above.) How did it do on home video? I, uh, have no idea. Certainly there were movies that did poorly in theaters but found popularity on video, but as to whether How I Got Into College was one of those or not, I couldn’t say.

Why a piggy bank? Because you gotta save your money for college HAW HAW HAW! Well, unless there’s a specific tie-in to the film here; I haven’t actually seen it. I’m using deductive reasoning or an educated guess or something like that.

Like any self-respecting piggy bank, there’s a slot along the top to deposit your various coinage. However, the fact that there’s nowhere to easily extricate said coinage (short of smashing it to little itty bitty piggy bits, anyway) points to this being more of a promotional novelty than something someone would seriously use to beat the big city banks at their own game. I like the little hat the pig is wearing.

“Now just a minute, blogger video person; how do ya know it’s for the home video release of the movie? Maybe it’s for the theatrical release!”

This is how:

Emblazoned on the other side of our hapless hog is the old CBS/FOX Video logo. Since CBS/FOX distributed the initial home video release of the movie, I’m just going to go ahead and use that patented deductive reasoning/educated guessing/whatevering again and figure this was put out in conjunction with said home video release. Putting clues like these together is just another reason why I like to fancy myself “Mista Archaeological Man.”

I’m not sure it’ll mean anything to someone who didn’t grow up constantly seeing it, but MAN, that CBS/FOX logo, I always have and always will love it. It’s just such a source of nostalgia and that era in home video. Found on numerous, now-old tapes, both big time titles or otherwise, CBS/FOX releases were truly ubiquitous throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s. They put out so many movies, I’d think a store selling or renting videos back then would have had to been trying to not have at least several CBS/FOX offerings on their shelves.

To this day, when I spot an old VHS put out by them at a thrift store, I’ll take at least a cursory glance; even if I don’t buy it, I will at least momentarily appreciate the CBS/FOXiness of the tape. And, I’ll go to my grave insisting that the definitive home video releases of Star Wars/The Empire Strikes Back/Return of the Jedi are the VHS’ put out by them, using the poster art for the front covers. You can keep your THXs and your DVDs and your modern enhancements (where applicable); Luke Skywalker raising his lightsaber triumphantly while the visage of Darth Vader looms ominously in the background is where it’s at.

So yes, I do indeed like seeing that logo on the other side of the piggy bank here. (I wonder if these piggy banks were sold as blanks/generics to places for promotional purposes? As in, the same pig design can be found with or without advertising for various releases or establishments? It seems like a natural promo item for banks to hand out. But, that’s just me hypothesizin’ up in here.)

As of this writing, I can’t find any other images of this specific bank online, through auctions or otherwise. As such, I doubt this was something every customer got when they picked up their fresh new VHS copy of How I Got Into College from their preferred video retail establishment upon release. Otherwise, I’d probably be seeing something on it out there, right? Perhaps it was simply to entice retailers to order copies of How I Got Into College for the store, or maybe to act as a temporary tip jar on the counter as patrons (hopefully) purchased a copy of How I Got Into College to call their own? Could this be considered the piggy bank equivalent of one of those screener tapes?

This is all strictly guesswork on my part; I really have no idea. If anyone knows for sure, hey, I have a comment section for a reason.

Like I said before, I haven’t seen How I Got Into College. I guess I had at least heard of it before, but that was pretty much it. Looking online, it has a good cast and is supposedly pretty light. Apparently it isn’t raunchy, which is good, since I’m not a fan of the raunchiness. I guess I’ll keep an eye out for it during my travels – you can be sure that a CBS/FOX copy of the movie that crosses my path will in all likelihood be entering my collection soon after. A candidate for a possible future old VHS review? Could be!

Hey, look at that; some 31 years after it came on the scene, this promotional piggy bank is still doing its job!

Episode Review: Son of Ghoul Presents THE VAMPIRE BAT (November 7, 1997)

Happy Halloween!

Ah yes, the big day is here once again. From decorations and television programming dedicated to the holiday proper, to the simple look and feel of ‘real life’ outside, I love the ambiance of this day and October in general – and that’s something even stupid dumb COVID-19 can’t ruin. Not totally, anyway.

I know, I know; I didn’t post as much as I had initially hoped to this month. Hey, I did say it’d be iffy! Nevertheless, methinks this Halloween post today will make up for whatever shortcomings I may have, uh, come up short with. Or not; whatever.

As you may have gleamed from that helpful post title, we’re taking another venture into the world of Northeast Ohio television, and horror host, icon Son of Ghoul, played by Keven Scarpino. This isn’t the first time we’ve taken a look at a vintage SOG broadcast, there’s also been this and before that this. But, it is the, erm, latest. As of this posting, anyway.

It’s also almost as far back as I can *personally* go with this subject. Why’s that? Because this was the very first episode of The Son of Ghoul Show I ever taped, that’s why! That’s also why what we’re looking at today hails from November, rather than the more-expected month of October. Although in regards to that aspect, I’d say that aside from specifically Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year/Easter themed episodes, almost any horror host installment works for a Halloween update. Or not; whatever.

And, this does still tie into Halloween, and even the upcoming holiday season, all of which we’re pretty much at right now. As of this posting, anyway.

(Also, hopefully I won’t use that paragraph-ending-repetition-for-ostensible-comic-effect bit too many more times in this article.)

Airing on November 7, 1997, on my much-loved WAOH TV-29/WAX TV-25, this is very nearly my SOG fandom at its very earliest – basically at the start of a journey that continues on to this day in 2020; just about 23 years later! Read on, I’ll explain all of this in more detail momentarily.

SOG starting the show.

First off, SOG’s intro places us squarely in early November, with his announcement of “we have survived Halloween” near the top of it. This was a nice bit of continuity with the previous week’s show, which of course was the big Halloween episode. I know this because, well, that’s where I as a SOG fan entered the picture.

I know I’ve recounted this before so I’m just going to give the shortened account this time around, but that Halloween episode was where I was first actually introduced to SOG. Oh I had seen bits and pieces beforehand, but it was whilst flipping around the TV on November 1, 1997 (back then, SOG ran on both Friday & Saturday nights, same time, same episode. Halloween ’97 fell on a Friday, I stumbled in on Saturday) that I first really watched SOG.

I was hooked immediately. From the skits to the sound effects to the movie (Night of the Living Dead, another first for me that night) to, obviously, SOG himself, at 11 years old I became an instant fan. And, while I didn’t realize it at the time, looking back, this was where my love and fascination with local broadcasting first truly took seed. You wanna know the honest truth? Without SOG, there’s a real possibility you’re not reading this blog right now. Not just because I’m talking about SOG at the moment, but rather because I just don’t know if my interests and hobbies and whatnot would have played out the same without him. It’s entirely possible that they wouldn’t have.

Simply put, that November 1, 1997 Son of Ghoul broadcast of Night of the Living Dead was perhaps the single most transformative television broadcast of my life.

So, less than a week later, I was in front of the TV with the VCR at the ready. I was, as you would say, “chomping at the bit” to further dive into this new thing I had discovered, the results of which you’re reading about this very moment. (By the way, I learned the hard way that both the Friday & Saturday shows for a given week were identical, though this made it handy for recording when one of my eventual letters was read on the air, or if I just particularly liked the movie/episode.)

Anyway, back to SOG’s intro. Along with just some general fooling around (and man, just seeing him on that old set and goofing off, what a trip!), he states that the movie that night “aw man, this is a first run on this show – I hope it’s the last!” Of course that wound up being wildly untrue; most of these movies have been seen repeatedly on the program over the years, though there’s something undoubtedly neat about capturing one of these standbys in its Son of Ghoul debut.

The Vampire Bat’s cute lil’ title screen.

The movie was The Vampire Bat, from 1933. At the time, this was an entirely new flick to me! I was, and am, I serious sucker for these old cheapies, and as a King Kong fan even back then, the mention that Fay Wray was in it only added to the interest.

So yeah, The Vampire Bat. You wanna know the honest truth? I’ve wound up sort of ambivalent towards the movie. I love it for it’s public domain ever-presence and quasi-Universal vibes (it used some of the same actors and sets), and the whole look and feel and the history surrounding it. But as a movie movie itself? Well, I think it’s just okay. Certainly not bad, and I get seriously excited over various cleaner/completer available prints, or even just new-to-me budget home video releases from years past. But yes, the flick itself is just alright in my eyes. Heck, I couldn’t even muster up the enthusiasm to actually re-watch it for this review. (Although I probably shoulda, considering whatever credentials I imagine myself to have.) I’m the same way with another early-30s horror film: White Zombie. I like it fine, it’s not bad, I take a real interest in it, but perhaps conversely, I don’t tend to feel like watching it very often at all.

Of course, The Vampire Bat was a bigger deal to me back in 1997 when SOG was winging it at my face. Like I said, this was new territory. That’s why we’re here now, after all. It was only as the years progressed that I relatively cooled on it.

If nothing else, The Vampire Bat features a cool lab.

The plot? Even if you haven’t seen this, you’ve probably seen something like it; it’s an early 1930s horror movie with vampires as the subject, so you can probably guess the gist of it before ever pressing “play.”

The short synopsis: a rash of blood loss has hit a village, so naturally vampires are suspected. Particular suspicion falls on one “Herman Glieb,” because he likes bats. (Glieb is played by Dwight Frye, so you’ve probably got a good idea of his performance before ever pressing “play”.) However, it’s actually a mad doctor played by Lionel Atwill, who’s draining villagers of their blood for some sort of organism he’s created. Also, Fay Wray is our heroine.

Yeah, I don’t have much more to say about this one. Look, it’s wildly public domain, so if you haven’t seen it, it’s not like it’s hard to do so. Some of the imagery in it, such as Atwill’s cool laboratory set (that’s it above), sticks with me more than anything. As such, it makes for a cool horror host feature and/or something fun to have lazily playing in the background around Halloween, and indeed, it does look appropriately “Halloweeny.” It may not knock me out, but it certainly does its part adequately enough.

Obviously, since this is an episode review, I’m sorta obligated to cover the movie in some fashion. A necessary aspect of this post? Uh, yeah. But if I’m being honest with you (and I am), it’s all about the Son of Ghoul here. And luckily, because I dictate how this article transpires, we’re at that point right now!

I’m not gonna hit each and every last segment aired, just the highlights as I see ’em, but rest assured, this was a pretty good episode of The Son of Ghoul Show. There was plenty of then-new stuff and a couple fun throwbacks, and while someone who didn’t grow up with all this may be a bit mystified by the enamor I’m exhibiting, trust me, as a whole this was (is) some solid SOG.

While I certainly love de facto skits, my favorite part of pretty much any horror host show is the simple host segment; the respective host, sitting on the set, reading viewer mail or just goofing off. Or more often than not, doing both. Such was the case right here, with this fairly lengthy (about 15 minutes total) mail bit.

In it, SOG shows off the poster and promotes a movie he has a small part in: the then-upcoming Little Miss Magic. Also, that past Halloween night, SOG appeared at a party at the Sheraton Suite, along with Big Chuck & Lil’ John. Such things are pretty par for the course nowadays, but back then it was a rarer occurrence. According to SOG, “We had a dynamite time! I mean, the three of us got along just like peas in a pod! Or a pod that took a pee, one of the two; I can’t figure it out.”

Reading Brett’s letter.

But the area of most interest in this segment? My good friend Brett Van Wagner, who has contributed to this site before (including the SOG 30th anniversary tribute; have it again) had one of his early letters to the show read on-air here! Although Brett and I were born like two days apart and grew up loving a lot of the same things (obviously!), he discovered SOG a few months before I did, so he was already in the game by this point. He and I share a common trait where we kinda cringe at some of our early, pre-teen letters to SOG (my first would be in January), although I think that’s probably a personal viewpoint; this stuff isn’t as embarrassing to somebody else watching.

Indeed, I thought Brett’s letter here was pretty funny. He asks for an autographed picture of SOG, but not mailed; he wants it dropped off personally at his house. (SOG just gives a smirk to the camera and moves on.) And when he asks to lend him money for a SOG t-shirt and an extra $50? “Start holding your breath right now.” Good stuff, Brett!

Scarey Tales.

An installment of “Scarey [sic] Tales.” This is an old TV-67 bit; there were more of these older things ran back then than I caught on to at the time, but they still worked, and in retrospect I’m glad they were run. A little Son of Ghoul history for the newbies!

These skits basically amounted to SOG recounting an ostensibly-spooky story with some kind of comic conclusion. In this one, he tells us the tale of Little Miss Muppet; the story unfolds the same as the version we all grew up with, until the end, when Little Miss Muppet decides to eat the spider that sat down beside her, too.

You know, Big Chuck & Lil’ John once did a skit with the exact same outcome. Which came first? Was this an instance of mere coincidence? Does it really matter?

SOG & Fidge: together again.

As implied by Brett’s letter, official Son of Ghoul t-shirts were the hot new item of the day, a point driven home directly by this next segment. Here, SOG gives us all of the details on how to order them. For $16.75 ($13 + $3 s/h + 75¢ Ohio sales tax), you had your choice of adult-sized large of extra large. There was still time to order and get them before Christmas, but you had to hurry!

The best way to demonstrate their “wearability,” you ask? Have the late, great Ron “Fidge” Huffman come out and model one! It’s always nice to see Fidge during these old shows. I met him once; very friendly guy.

I myself never got one of these exact shirts; in retrospect, this was a mistake. But then, I wasn’t into that sort of memorabilia back then. I’ve since made up for that over the years, but I can tell you now: if I ever come across one of these vintage versions (or better yet, an old 67-era shirt) somewhere, you just might hear me flipping out from wherever you happen to be.

Festive SOG?

Another mail segment!

In this one, someone sent SOG a sombrero, which he happily wears for the rest of the bit.

Also, to further illustrate the point that Halloween was just freshly past, a piece of mail is shown wherein someone carved a SOG jack-o-lantern! It actually looks pretty cool, and SOG got some comedy out of it, too. “A nice fat face, just like me…how dare you embarrass me like that in front of family and friends?! Who do you think you are, guy?!” Of course SOG’s just kidding. (I hope!)

Shortly thereafter, there’s another piece of mail that’s legitimate hate mail. Apparently someone was not too enamored by SOG, because he sent a homemade button that had little pictures symbolizing a rather, erm, crude expression relating to SOG. SOG: “I have to tell you, that really hurts my feelings,” after which he proudly pins it to his chest.

Finishing up the show for the night.

Following an after-movie cartoon (a short WWII-era Bug Bunny pitch for war bonds), the show was all over. During SOG’s outro, he mentions that the movie next week would be The Corpse Vanishes.

Now, I actually did tape that one as well. Like The Vampire Bat, The Corpse Vanishes was a new-to-me horror cheapie. I’m so used to so much of this stuff in this day and age that it’s amazing to think there was a time when I wasn’t familiar with a lot of it!

Unlike The Vampire Bat however, I later taped over The Corpse Vanishes. I no longer remember with what, but it (probably) doesn’t matter; this action was eventually revealed to be a big huge mistake, based almost entirely on that flick and it’s extreme poverty row Lugosi-ness. I’m serious; it actually took me years to truly warm up to it, but nowadays I absolutely love The Corpse Vanishes. And, well, you’ve seen how ambivalent I am regarding The Vampire Bat. Not that I’d trade this ep for that ep, there’s still that personal history with SOG to be accounted for. But nevertheless, file this one under the follies of youth or some other stupidly wistful saying like that.

(The above ain’t no joke; I’ll reiterate to fill space. It did take years to realize, but this is one record-over I seriously regret nowadays. A great cheap movie, airing during the early weeks of my SOG fandom, one that I had and then let go, as it were? Regret. Of course, at 11 years old and with even less money than I have now – which is really saying something – I had to be extra choosy with VHS tape space. Does that make me feel any better? Not really. Do I take solace in the fact that whether I kept this Corpse Vanishes episode or not, my life wouldn’t be appreciably different today? Not really.)

So anyway, there you have it; a quick rundown of The Son of Ghoul Show from November 7, 1997, a week after Halloween for this Halloween.

BUT WAIT! We’re not quite done just yet!

What’s left, you ask? How about a few old commercials! Nothing quite takes you, or at least me, back in time quite like an old commercial. There were several good’uns seen during this broadcast, so real quick now, here are my three favorites:

The Cafe in Stow’s cool 29/35 ad!

The Cafe in Stow! As I mentioned in my post on the first of this month (here, have it again), I absolutely love local restaurant memorabilia and the like. Of course that extends to old commercials, which means that I was quite pleased to see this ad for The Cafe in Stow, long a local institution, turn up during the episode.

The commercial itself is simple but effective: a jaunty “Let’s Eat” jingle plays over footage of patrons, erm, eating while a voiceover extols the virtues of The Cafe in Stow. Like I said, simple but effective.

But what makes this really cool is just how local it feels. That was one thing you could absolutely count on from 29/35: a serious sense of local pride. In a lot of the actual programming, sure, but also in the advertising. There were ads for places that you could (probably) only see on 29/35, which only added to the good vibes of the station.

The Cafe in Stow is still open to this day, and while I’ve never been there, it is now absolutely on my “gonna try” list. Why? 20+ year old commercials, that’s why! (Plus, I just like patronizing local establishments like this.)

Columbia House’s cool M*A*S*H VHS tapes!

M*A*S*H on Columbia House VHS! Advertising on 29/35 wasn’t just local; there could also be national-type stuff (sort of like what we saw here). Take this spot, for example. This is just fantastic; a minute-long commercial for Columbia House’s VHS releases of M*A*S*H! As a long, long time M*A*S*H fanatic, you better believe something like this airing during The Son of Ghoul Show is pure icing.

This series of tapes first showed up in the early-90s, but 1997 was the 25th anniversary of the show (can you believe we’re now closer to the 50th anniversary than we aren’t?), so not only were they being pushed once again, but you also got a swanky M*A*S*H 25th Anniversary t-shirt when you ordered! I really like this screencap here; they went all out and included a martini, stethoscope, even some golf balls! That’s dedication! (The $4.95 + s/h seen here was an introductory price; subsequent editions cost $19.95 + s/h, though that was still a small price to pay for some quality M*A*S*H. Plus, you got that shirt.)

In the years before the official DVD sets (and actually, VHS sets too – for the first five seasons, anyway), these Columbia House tapes were the only way to get much of the TV series as official releases. Oh sure, the big huge series finale “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” got a standalone release not long after airing, and of course the 1970 feature film was out there multiple times over, but there was a lot of good stuff in-between all that which could now be owned and watched whenever y’all pleased! Except for the super-long finale, which was naturally also included in this collection, there were several ‘themed’ episodes per tape. No, these weren’t in order from start to finish, and the whole series wasn’t represented either (though there were, I believe, over 50 volumes in this collection released, so you eventually got a good chunk of the show’s run), but does any of that really matter? It was M*A*S*H, a show I’d argue is in the top ten greatest U.S. TV series of all time, officially released on good ol’ VHS!

JC Comics & Cards, just being cool in general!

JC Comics & Cards! Ah, *my* comic place! I was already well familiar with JC’s before discovering SOG; as a young Star Wars nut (a fandom that eventually subsided considerably, though I still like it plenty), JC’s box of $3, loose old school SW figures was a thing of beauty.

Fortuitously, JC was also a sponsor of SOG. Why fortuitously? Because as I’ve recounted before, JC’s was where I first *met* SOG in person! Yep, SOG made a personal appearance at JC’s that coming December, and I was there; it was really the first time I ever felt the need to meet a celebrity, which shows you just what a big deal SOG was to me.

So, obviously JC ads were often seen during the show back then, and something still just feels ‘right’ about it when revisiting these old episodes. This particular spot is a herky-jerky (as in video effect) romp around the store whilst showing off its wares. At one point, a big inflatable Spiderman is seen, which I recall hanging in JC’s front window for years.

JC’s is still there in the same location, and while I’m no longer the Star Wars or comic book guy I once was, I do pop in occasionally, usually to check out the cool vintage toys in stock or to raid the 25¢ comic bins for neat old print advertisements (I’m a sucker for old video game ads, and I generally don’t feel too bad about extricating them from cheap old issues). JC’s is awesome.

And so with that, our big Halloween update comes to a close. Needless to say, I’m still a huge Son of Ghoul fan to this very day, so it’s a trip to go back to when that fandom was in the earliest of stages. I mean, I had just been introduced to the show less than a week prior! It’s amazing to look back and realize all that was ahead of me, some of it good, some of it bad, all of it still TBD at the time. And yet, one constant has been The Son of Ghoul Show; it’s still on the air! And, he had been on the air for 11 years before I even came into the picture! Talk about a local institution! I know nothing is forever, but I’m sure grateful for the time we’ve had, and will continue to have for the foreseeable future.

Have a Happy Halloween, everybody!

Intellivision Review: DRACULA (Imagic; 1983)

Halloween month 2020 here at the blog rolls on, and boy do we have something October-appropriate today.

Nowadays, if someone wants to play a horror-based video game, it’s not even remotely hard to do. I mean, just looking at the Resident Evil series alone, there’s been a seemingly-endless number of entries released over the years. But you know, back in the earlier years of gaming, the options were a little more limited.

Disregarding games with vaguely-horrific undertones (the impending arrival of the presumably-murderous extraterrestrial intruders in Space Invaders, for example), it took a bit for full-fledged horror-themed titles to begin appearing. Maybe it was because the systems – and the people programming for them – had to advance enough in order to make something plausibly ‘horrific’ (intellectually, if not realistically), or maybe (probably) it was because the kids all this stuff was aimed at liked horror movies, the home video revolution was bolstering that, and video games were trending something huge at the time. Yeah, it’s probably more the latter than the former.

Even so, there still weren’t a ton of horror-based games on home consoles, not quite yet. Certainly their numbers would increase as the years progressed (Castlevania, anyone?), but in the early-80s, like I said, the options were a little more limited.

As far as home consoles (as opposed to home computers) went, the Atari 2600 was far and away the most popular of the era, and as such, you saw more scary (“scary”) titles there than anywhere else. Atari themselves got the ball rolling with 1981’s Haunted House, and the next few years saw Xonox’s Ghost Manor, 20th Century Fox’s Alien (technically based on the movie, but really just a Pac-Man clone), Data Age’s Frankenstein’s Monster, the double-whammy of Halloween and Texas Chainsaw Massacre from Wizard Video, and, I guess this counts, Ghostbusters from Activision.

BUT, we’re actually talking about the 2600’s main competitor, the Intellivision, today. Despite being considerably more powerful than the 2600, the Intellivision was also less popular, and as such, the horrific pickings were quite a bit slimmer for those faithful to it.

Still, there was at least one full-fledged, absolutely, positively horror-based game for the system, and MAN, did it deliver…

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Dracula, released by Imagic exclusively for the Intellivison in 1983.

Imagic was one of the better 3rd party companies of the early-80s, and while they never quite eclipsed, say, Activision in popularity, they frequently put out a high quality product. From gameplay to graphics, they typically hit it out of the park more often than they didn’t. Barring a few relative duds, their offerings for the 2600 were almost all good’uns. Some were ported over, and appropriately enhanced, for the Intellivision (Atlantis, Demon Attack, Dragonfire), while others remained solely the domain of Atari’s console.

It worked the other way around too, though; the 2600 could have never hoped to push something as graphically-intensive as Microsurgeon, Beauty and the Beast was a Donkey Kong knock-off that put to shame DK on both the 2600 and Intellivision, and then there was Dracula.

Based on Bram Stoker’s famous vampire (duh!), you could only get Dracula on the Intellivision. The 2600 probably could have handled a port, albeit a fairly scaled-down one, but for as much as I would have loved to have seen this one appear there, there’s something to be said for having such a neat, Halloweeny game only in one place. It’s not hard to imagine this one making Atari loyalists a little green with envy back in the day, and not only because of the then-impressive graphics; it isn’t perfect, but there’s no doubt this game is just plain cool.

That’s the original cartridge above obviously, resting upon my beloved INTV System III (which we last saw when I talked about that one Magnavox TV). Don’t let the guy in what appears to be cheap Halloween makeup in the artwork fool you; this ain’t no silly goose outing!

Mainly because you play AS Dracula in this game. That’s right, instead of the probably-

Dracula chasing a villager – a villager in jaunty red long johns, no less!

more-expected plot of attempting to defeat Drac, (Castlevania, anyone?) you instead ARE Drac, who of course has the goal of putting the bite on as many villagers per night as possible. Naturally there’s a bit more to it than that, but the ultimate goal in Dracula is to bite a set number of people per night before the sun comes up – which as we all know is something Drac ain’t terribly fond of. (I.e., sunlight kills ‘im dead.)

Depending on your chosen difficulty setting, you’ll have a certain number of people to bite per night, which of course increases with each successive round, as you would expect.

Each round (night) begins with Drac rising from his grave in the nearby cemetery (you’d think the village would do something about that; it’s probably bad for tourism) and stalking the streets of the town in search of victims. Some you’ll find wandering the streets (don’t you people ever go to bed?!), while others you’ll actually have to scare out of their houses. How do you do that? Just, uh, walk up to the door and Drac will automatically knock politely. If someone’s home, they’ll stupidly rush outside you to chase. Yep, just like in the horror movies, people do inexplicably dumb things!

What with you rowdy kids and your Grand Theft Autos nowadays, the idea of playing as a bad guy isn’t going to raise many eyebrows anymore, but back in 1983, this was still a pretty novel concept. The same approach was employed in the aforementioned Texas Chainsaw Massacre on the 2600, though things are quite a bit less icky here on the Intellivision.

Of course, since you are indeed the antagonist here, naturally there has to be some protagonists, too. Or in this scenario, would Drac be considered the protagonist and the others antagonists? Or is everybody an antagonist? A protagonist? I’m probably thinking too much about this.

As you may expect, pretty much everybody and everything is an adversary to Dracula in this game. You have the ability to turn into a bat at will, which allows you to speed through the town a whole lot faster. BUT, changing to that form leaves you vulnerable to a purple vulture. Should said purple vulture carry you off screen, guess what sport? Y’all dead. Well, undead dead, I guess. Something like that.

Whenever you reach your quota of bitten necks for the night, a white wolf will appear and chase you around. That’s your cue to beat a hasty retreat back to your coffin. The wolf won’t kill you, but should you get a bite from him, you’re going to move noticeably slower, and when you’re racing the clock to get back before sunrise, that’s, erm, not a good thing.

Dracula, one his zombified victims, and the constable.

The only human character to fight back against Dracula’s shenanigans is a roaming constable. Dude tosses wooden stakes at you! If you get hit by one, you don’t die but are frozen for a few seconds. (I guess none are direct hits to the heart? Is Drac momentarily irritated by this action, hence the temporary hesitation? I’m probably thinking too much about this.)

Should you land a bite on the constable, he instead will be frozen for a few moments, but the only real way to turn the tables on him is to create a zombie, and this is one of the more novel aspects of Dracula‘s gameplay.

Y’see, you have two bites you can employ on villagers. Hitting the lower left fire button on your handy Intellivision control pad and successfully copping a chomp will simply cause your victim to disappear and your score to rise. But, when a constable is on the scene, you can also hit the lower right fire button, a successful bite from which will instead turn your victim into a zombie. By manning the second controller, you can then control the zombie and attempt to ram into the constable for eradication and, uh, more points.

The zombie is your only real ally in the game, and while hastily grabbing the second controller to man him yourself is a bit of a hassle, if you’ve got a buddy sitting nearby, this makes for an added bit of two player action beyond the actual two player action I’ll talk about a little later.

It may sound like there’s a lot to do in Dracula, but if the game has an Achilles heel, it’s this: it doesn’t take very long to get repetitive. Messing with the difficulty options will change things up a little, but the bottom line is it’s still a lot of doing the same things over and over. The gameplay sorta levels off after awhile; dodge a constable, bite a victim, rinse and repeat until the wolf shows up, and then get back to your coffin right quick. Certainly there’s some added emergency if the sky is starting to brighten and you’re movin’ slow thanks to a wolf bite, but the sad fact is Dracula never really changes things up when it needs to. Once you’ve seen all you can, that’s just sorta…it.

Though to be honest, your biggest adversary isn’t the time limit or vulture or cop, but rather something that isn’t actually a fault on the game itself: the Intellivision controller. If you’re unfamiliar with it, just scroll way back up to my helpful picture and take a look. The mushy fire buttons on the sides, coupled with the also-mushy numeric keypad, and the ill-advised directional disc, not to mention the uncomfortable overall design of the thing itself, rarely did any of that do games any favors, and Dracula is no exception. The Intellivision had a habit of running slower, clunkier games in comparison to the 2600, but Dracula frequently feels even slower and clunkier than it really should, and it’s because of that controller. It’s not much fun to be harassed by the constable while Drac is hung up on absolutely nothing because the directional disc isn’t responding correctly to my frustrated presses on it.

“Why ain’t yoy just use a better 3rd party controller bro HAW HAW HAW” I can hear someone exclaiming in undeserved realization now. The answer to that is simple: the Intellivision, and the third (merely cosmetic) variation INTV System III I actually used for this review, had hardwired controllers. That’s to say, they’re built in, and unless you wanna play MacGyver and open the console up, they’re not removable. Now, the Intellivision II did have detachable controllers, but using that second (also merely cosmetic) variation opens up other issues, not the least of which being I don’t actually have one. And besides, I don’t think there were any 3rd party controllers made for the system, anyway.

(While on the subject, the Sears Super Video Arcade variant apparently features detachable controllers as well, and while I don’t have one of those either, I certainly want one; that thing looked, looks, ridiculously cool, and that’s coming from someone who generally tends to shy away from rebadged units such as that. Do I dare say it was the best looking Intellivision of them all? I do!)

Still, if there’s one thing that can’t be debated, it’s that for its time, Dracula was a fantastic looking (and sounding) game. Okay, sure, compared to the more powerful ColecoVision and Atari 5200 that were on the scene at the time (not to mention the home computers, which don’t count cause, man, they ain’t consoles), the game might have been less impressive. But, when compared to the offerings of the Intellivision’s main competitor, the Atari 2600, Dracula looks and sounds absolutely phenomenal. It’s still an impressive piece of programming today, provided it’s viewed with an eye towards video game history anyway.

Dracula, a graveyard, and a flash of lightning; it’s like your Intellivision is just SCREAMING “Happy Halloween” at you! Graphically, this game is outstanding!

Whatever faults the gameplay itself might ultimately exhibit, Dracula is certainly a polished piece of programming otherwise. The graphics are simply terrific! Drac actually rises from his grave at the start of each round, and climbs back into it at the end of each successful completion. The cemetery is filled with Crosses and tombstones, lightning occasionally cracks the sky, and even the sky itself darkens and brightens appropriately. You even see the rising/setting sun/moon! (I could have done without the little smiley faces Imagic put on them, but that’s a mild complaint.)

The village you traverse scrolls smoothly and is fairly lengthy (it wraps around on itself, so you only ever need to head in one direction, if you so desire), and it’s littered with extra touches such as puddles, streetlights, and relatively-detailed houses. Eyes even peek out of the windows of some of ’em! (Those let you know someone is home and can be scared out. But beware – if they’ve seen you bite someone, they won’t answer your knocks; nice touch! Guess the villagers aren’t completely dumb after all!)

The characters sprites are nicely animated and multi-colored, as well. Drac slinks around menacingly when in human form and opens his mouth when going in for a bite, villagers run frantically when being chased, and the constable actually swings his nightstick as he walks along!

This all may look a little blocky, this IS a game from 1983 after all, but the level of detail and actual ‘spooky’ vibes the game exhibits is genuinely impressive, even now. Imagic was known for really pushing a console graphically, and Dracula absolutely doesn’t disappoint in that regard.

(By the way, the screenshots in this article, like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Double Dragon before it, they were all taken by me via an actual console and cartridge and CRT TV. As such, while I know they lack a little sharpness and exhibit some mild ghosting, they also, to me, feel much more authentic. I consider emulation to be jive; to get the full effect, you gotta play this stuff the way it was meant to be played!)

Sound-wise, the impressiveness continues. Thunder claps are heard, a little jingle plays when the constable is present during a round, the wolf barks, even some (relatively) realistic knocking is heard when Drac pounds on someone’s door. And to top it all off, a decent, harmonized snippet of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor appropriately plays at the beginning and end of each round! Imagic really went all out from a presentation standpoint with this one!

Personally, Dracula seems like it’s best left as a single-player experience, with the exception of a friend taking control of the occasional zombie. There are, however, two legitimate two-player options for those so inclined: an alternating mode where the second player takes control of Drac once the first player has finished the round, and a mode in which one player controls Drac and the other controls a potential victim, with the roles reversing upon the completion of the round. I’m not sure these two-player options were totally necessary, but it’s not like they hurt the game; they’re nice additions I guess, even if I can’t think of anyone who would really want to play this game with me.

(You can also adjust the difficulty, easy/medium/hard, which of course changes the number of victims, when the constable shows up, etc. etc. etc.)


So when it comes right down to it, I see Dracula as one of the standouts on the Intellivision.  Okay, sure, maybe back in the day the polished presentation of the whole thing was enough to make gamers ignore the eventually-repetitive nature of the gameplay, and that’s a mindset that modern day players may not share. But you know what? I still think the game is impressive. It’s certainly fun, at least in shorter bursts and controller issues notwithstanding, but what really knocks my figurative socks off is just how horrifically evocative it manages to be. This is just such a Halloween title! As far as home consoles go, I’m not sure I can think of a more Halloween-appropriate game in the pre-crash era!

Just to reiterate what I said earlier, maybe the 2600 could have handled a port of the game, provided the graphics and sound were obviously scaled back and the controls modified accordingly. But again, while it certainly would have been cool to see Dracula appear on that console, there’s something to be said for it remaining an Intellivision exclusive. Somehow, it just feels so right, even now. It’s a cool, spooky game that can only be had here, and while I may not go so far as to call it a killer app for retro gamers in this day and age, well, I guess that sorta depends on your love of the classic movie monsters, doesn’t it?

Actually, forget that; I am going to say it’s a killer app where retro gaming is concerned. Dracula is just too cool and impressive to say otherwise. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t immediately on my personal “want list” when I was gifted the INTV System III several years ago (which immediately became my ‘playing’ Intellivision, since my original variation was, and still is, stored away). As I recall it, I snagged a copy online pretty much instantly upon acquisition, and it has remained nestled with the System III ever since.

Imagic ultimately didn’t survive the 1983 video game crash, but for the few years they were alive, boy did they release some impressive games. And perhaps there’s no better example of that than Dracula. Want some spookiness by way of retro gaming? Grab an Intellivision and give it a go!

Art’s Frank-N-Stein Pizza & Subs in Lewisburg, PA – Vintage Wooden Nickel

Welcome to October 2020!

At the moment, I plan on having several posts throughout the month that will be fitting for the Halloween season. Some knickknacks, some movies, maybe (maybe) even an appropriate video game – provided there’s one I feel like playing and getting fired up enough to exhaustively write about.

Of course, those are my plans now. Naturally I don’t know if real life is going to intervene and heartlessly bellow at me “y’all ain’t postin’ on no stupid blog today!” But for the time being, my *intentions* are good…

Anyway, let’s kick things off with a cool little promotional item I picked up on eBay recently. It’s not from a location local to me, but as a collector of restaurant/food memorabilia, as well as someone who is pretty much always a sucker for old “monster-related stuff,” it’s directly up my alley. Especially since it combines those two elements, which is something capable of turning me into a veritable babbling maniac. (I’ll try not to be here. Not too much, at least.)

Dig this: from Lewisburg, PA, it’s an old promotional wooden nickel for an establishment named Art’s Frank-N-Stein Pizza & Subs. I officially deem it “neato.”

I don’t know how long they were around or from what year(s) this nickel hails, and I haven’t really found much corroborating evidence via online searches (more on all that in a bit), but I’m reasonably confident in stating “it old.”

Well, there’s no area code in the phone number or web address printed here, so at least there’s that. And while there’s no caricature of the Frankenstein monster anywhere on this nickel either, it’s reasonable to assume they had one of some sort in their advertising. I mean, how could they not have?

The idea of using the “Frank-N-Stein” name for restaurants, advertising, beer glasses, etc. is actually a pretty common one. As far as restaurants go, I’m unclear if “Frank-N-Stein” was every actually a chain or just a popular naming convention, but either way, there have been multiple Frank-N-Steins in multiple places over the years. Obviously, it’s a moniker that lends itself particularly well to establishments that specialize in hot dogs (frank) and (n) beer (stein). GET IT???

The omission of that particular aspect from this particular nickel is, believe it or not, something that added, erm, additional endearment to me when I stumbled upon it on eBay. Like I said, I collect old restaurant stuff in general, but I have a particular affinity for pizza places (and burgers/drive-ins and steakhouses, while we’re at it). I focus mostly on local-to-me memorabilia, but joints from all over are fair game, provided they sufficiently pique my interest- which is obviously the case here.

In short, I really like the fact that this wooden nickel specifically advertises pizza, as opposed to hot dogs.

Though, with that name, it’s probably a safe guess that they sold hot dogs and beer at Art’s Frank-N-Stein, too. But then again, maybe not; it’s not like I have any real idea here. At any rate, there’s no doubt it’s a cool name nevertheless.

Wooden nickels weren’t always just promotional pieces; some had a coupon-like aspect that, ostensibly, kept the customer coming back for more. Judging from the back of the coin we’re looking at today, this Art’s piece was one such example.

As you can see, this nickel advertises the offer of collecting 15 total to net yourself a free pizza. Of course, the combined profits from the orders that would get you those 15 wooden nickels in the first place probably more than made up for the eventual free pizza, as you would expect, but it’s a nice gimmick, and hey, if you were gonna eat there anyway…

So how much did this old promo piece set me back?

For something I was immediately enamored by at first sight, I actually didn’t buy it right away. The seller had it listed at $29.99 with free shipping, and while it may very well be worth that, that was a bit more than I was willing to pay. So, I sat on it, though truth be told, I did seriously consider taking advantage of the “make an offer” option and trying for $20.

However, for once my procrastination paid off; unbeknownst to me beforehand, eBay was honoring their long, long time members (of which I’m one) for their 25th anniversary with $25 coupons. You had to buy something for at least $25.01 to take advantage, and while I don’t know how many they wound up sending out or to who, I imagine they could afford it. (My guess? You probably had to have been fairly active over that period of time, which I have been, to warrant such a generous gift. Or maybe not; what do I know?)

Needless to say, upon arrival, that $25 coupon was not long for the world.

After taxes, my total cost for the Art’s Frank-N-Stein wooden nickel? $7.01. That’s certainly a lot better than $30, or even $20. Plus, I would assume eBay reimbursed sellers any differences when buyers used these coupons, and if that was the case, then everyone came out a winner here.

This nickel is a welcome addition to my collection, but I’d still like to know more about the actual Art’s Frank-N-Stein location. When did they start? How long were they around? Was it part of a chain or a standalone? Did they use some kind of Frankenstein caricature in their advertising? Is there info online somewhere that I just didn’t see? Hey, any Lewisburg, PA residents (or former residents), chime in! Please?

While digging around online, I came across this Pennsylvania location with a similar name that closed just last year, but I don’t think there was any relation between the two. Or was there?

The most helpful bit of info I found was this fantastic Universal Monster Army forum thread that not only features a pic of another one of these specific wooden nickels, but also pics of memorabilia from other Frank-N-Stein-named places. A plethora of it, in fact; there are some things seen there that, should I come across them during my travels, why, you just may hear me flipping out from wherever you happen to be.

And with that, the Halloween season has officially begun here at the blog! Stay tuned, there’s more to come! (Well, I hope there’s more to come; just stayed tuned anyway, okay?)