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!

Sponsored Post Learn from the experts: Create a successful blog with our brand new courseThe Blog is excited to announce our newest offering: a course just for beginning bloggers where you’ll learn everything you need to know about blogging from the most trusted experts in the industry. We have helped millions of blogs get up and running, we know what works, and we want you to to know everything we know. This course provides all the fundamental skills and inspiration you need to get your blog started, an interactive community forum, and content updated annually.

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?)

EPISODE REVIEW: Big Chuck & Lil’ John Present 1915’s A HASH HOUSE FRAUD and THE CHAMPION (January 16, 1999)

Fall is now upon us, and under normal circumstances, that would mean the annual Big Chuck & Lil’ John Ghoulardifest convention (and subsequent Big Boy Restaurant visit). Of course, since 2020 is obviously anything but “normal circumstances,” needless to say, Ghoulardifest ain’t happenin’ this year. (Though, provided their dining room is open, the idea of heading that way just for Big Boy has been bandied about between my brother, my cousin and I; who knows if it’ll actually happen, but man, I’m jonesin’.)

Since we’ve been begrudged the annual tradition by the stupid dumb pandemic, what say we fill the void a bit with an old Big Chuck & Lil’ John episode review today? I haven’t done one of these in awhile, apparently (some) people appreciate them, and besides, I want to get one more Northeast Ohio-centric post up before October, when I have several relatively ‘spooky’ topics tentatively planned to show up throughout the month. (Whether any or all of them actually happen remains to be seen, but my heart’s in the right place.)

Anyway, the show we’ll look at today, I actually talked about it before, in this old post. If you don’t remember it, don’t bother clicking; it sucks. (Hey, it’s been nearly 7 years.) Still, it deserves a fuller, better look; even though this aired in January ’99 and isn’t actually complete (more on all that momentarily), it still seems like a decent fit for a late September entry here. Plus, my dance card is (ostensibly) full for October, so if not now, when? (I guess I could wait till the January anniversary, but I, uh, don’t wanna.)

Big Chuck & Lil’ John, or from left-to-right, Lil’ John & Big Chuck.

First of all: Big Chuck & Lil’ John, aka Chuck Schodowski and John Rinaldi. You know ’em, you love ’em. Unless you’re not from around here, in which case just know that they’re indisputable local television legends. From Cleveland’s channel 8, they hosted movies and performed wacky skits for decades. Technically they were horror hosts until they kinda weren’t but sometimes still were, but it didn’t really matter; any movie went better with Chuck & John. (I know this from personal experience.)

They’re still around, too. Even though their regular ‘movie’ show ended in 2007, they came back as a 30 minute skits-only program in 2011, which is still running to this day. Currently airing at 11:30 PM Sunday nights (though sporting events sometimes push that slot later), it’s a fun way to cap off the weekend.

(Although, quick side note: you probably did have to grow up with these guys to really ‘get’ the humor of the show/skits. Recently my brother tried to introduce his fiancée, she originally hailing from Tiffin, OH, to these guys, and her palpable confusion at the whole thing was…well, actually it was pretty funny, to be honest with you.)

Of course, we’re talking about their old movie-hostin’ days here. The slots/running times/days/etc. varied over the years, but for awhile, they ran for 2 hours 30 minutes (generally; it could be even longer, depending on the movie) starting at 11:30 PM on Friday nights, and then had a 2 hour Saturday afternoon show the next day.

While there was, for the most part, little difference in the look or feel of the Chuck & John host segments and skits and general ‘outside the movie’ stuff between the two, as far as the mid/late-90s and beyond go, the Friday night editions generally featured bigger-budgeted films from a variety of genres. Not always; there were times when they ran one of the horror/sci-fi oldies that were formerly their bread-and-butter. But for the most part, those Friday shows featured a relatively more ‘professional’ grab bag of film fare that wouldn’t have been out of place on other stations all across the country that were running movies on that day, at that time, in that era. Except better here, because Chuck & John.

The nostalgic Couch Potato Theater bumper screen.

The Saturday afternoon show, titled Couch Potato Theater (see: right), could be much more eclectic. Not always; big time Hollywood flicks weren’t strangers to the program, but the cheesier old stuff could also appear with a bit more regularity. (Or so it seemed to me.) And sometimes, there wouldn’t even be a full-fledged movie, but rather Three Stooges shorts, Abbott & Costello episodes, or if sporting events were a factor, maybe even no movie at all.

Here’s the backstory for our subject today: Saturday, January 16, 1999. At the time, I was a serious sucker for classic silent comedy shorts, particularly Charlie Chaplin. Thanks to their even-then public domain status, these would regularly show up as after-movie filler on my beloved WAOH TV-29, and attempting to catch new-to-me entries became something of a hobby, not unlike you and your little Pokeemans cards.

As a regular subscriber to TV Guide back then, I’d absolutely pour over the local listings in those issues looking for neat movies to catch. And yet, somehow I completely missed the notation of short comedies being broadcast on Couch Potato Theater that day, until I discovered the truth – as they were airing! What really hurt was the mention of Chaplin’s The Tramp as being among them. And to further complicate matters, the family was leaving for my younger brother’s volleyball game momentarily (these games were interminable excursions for yours truly, but shhhhh, don’t tell my brother I said that!).

What to do? What could I do? I grabbed a random blank VHS tape, threw it in the VCR, hit record, and we left. I wound up capturing basically the second half of the episode.

But what’d I miss? During my recent lock down dig finds (some of which I detailed here), I uncovered, if not all then at least most, of my old TV Guides. The finer details of that listing, aside from that general memory of The Tramp being mentioned, had long since disappeared. So, specifically for this article, I actually (re)dug the appropriate issue out and (re)discovered the truth: starting at noon on the dot, the listing mentioned, along with The Tramp, a film titled Polly Tix in Washington as being among that day’s features. I’ve seen Polly Tix before; it’s a 1933 Shirley Temple short that’s, honestly, pretty terrible. If that TV Guide listing was accurate, that would have been the only non-silent of the afternoon, and in retrospect, frankly, there was no great loss in missing it. (No joshin’; I kinda detest it.)

Oddly, the other two shorts, the two that are our subject today, weren’t specifically mentioned in that listing at all. Now, there’s always the chance the description wasn’t accurate, but I’ll give the benefit of the doubt and presume Chuck & John did indeed jam those two as-listed short comedies along with the two definitely-aired ones we’re about to look at, as well as all of their stuff and commercials, into a two hour time slot. (Which wasn’t unheard of; They once crammed The Karate Kid, which by itself and unedited runs over two hours, into a two hour Couch Potato Theater installment.)

Alright, all that said, the movies I did get to see…

A Hash House Fraud [Keystone; 1915]

If you go back and read that earlier article spotlighting this broadcast (though I urge that you refrain from doing so), you’d see that I mistakenly believed I had started recording in the middle of whatever short ended up being first in this instance. I WAS DEAD WRONG THERE, SPORTO. In actuality, I got basically the whole thing, but the title screen is such a microsecond flash that it’s very, very easy to miss. Obviously, that’s what happened with yours truly for the longest time.

So anyway, first up here is A Hash House Fraud, a Keystone komedy comedy from 1915. I’m gonna be honest with you; I’m not a mega huge Keystone Films fan. The constant manic slapstickiness of them kinda wears on me after while. A little goes a long way, and a lot, well, you know. I appreciate the ‘earliness’ of them, and I do like Chaplin’s output at the studio, but truth be told, that’s more from a historical standpoint; there’s little doubt that Chaplin’s work from just a few years later, or even just a year later, is superior, and not by just a little; by a lot. (In fact, we’ll be seeing one such example coming up next.)

The Plot: The Busy Bee Restaurant has fallen on hard times. Business is slow and funds are low, and when customers do come in, they never stay long. So, one of the proprietors puts the establishment up for sale (for a whopping $500!), and to pique the interest of prospective buyers, he invites a bunch of folks in to eat free and tells the cashier to simply pretend to collect money. When the swindle – the “hash house fraud” of our title – is discovered, a riot ensues and then the Keystone Kops show up and chase people around.

You know what? I’m just going to say it: this is a stupid movie. I know, I know; you should never, ever go into a Keystone expecting deep comical nuance. Even so, to me it’s just…by the numbers. The Keystone numbers. I kinda got an (inner) chuckle from the “Don’t Flirt With the Cashier” sign in the restaurant, though I’m not sure it was supposed to be funny.

I just know some pretentious film buff with too much time on their hands is gonna chime in now and tell me how wrong I am for missing the deep psychological context and symbolism of the human condition that is both this movie in particular and Keystone films in general. To that hypothetical buff, I say “aw go take a powder.”

Also, this movie just kinda reinforced my stance that the only thing I genuinely like about the Keystone Kops is their Atari 2600 (and later, ColecoVision) game.

The Champion [Essanay; 1915]

Next: I may have missed out on The Tramp, but I did get Essanay’s 1915 opus The Champion, which is even better than a consolation prize since I like The Champion more. Indeed, I’d venture to say it’s the cinematic winner of this entire episode, though that of course may be debatable. Plus, it’s Charlie Chaplin, so it’s automatically one-up on the movie that preceded it during this broadcast.

This is the stuff right here. Made at a time when Chaplin’s movies were starting to get really good, the film may pale when compared to the work he did for Mutual Films after leaving Essanay, but that’s mainly because, man, those Mutual flicks are really, really good.

The Plot: Charlie, as his iconic Tramp character, is in need of some bucks, so he becomes a sparring partner for a renowned boxer. When he sees every previous sparring partner, erm, ending up worse for wear after facing the boxer, he slips a horseshoe into his glove, knocks the guy out, and is then enlisted to fight the champion.

This one is a lot of fun, and Chaplin is utterly brilliant in it. Not that I’m saying anything revolutionary here, but the way he moved, his facial expressions, his timing, just everything about his acting is just so on point, it’s continuously a wonder even today. And what’s even more astounding is that he hadn’t even reached his peak yet! Watching The Champion, I was reminded just what I loved and appreciated about the guy in the first place. (Actually, my appreciation was even higher; you see more clearly when watching with 34 year old eyes than you do 12, after all.)

The climatic bout between Charlie and the champ goes on a tad too long for my tastes, but that’s a very minor complaint; The Champion is terrific.

Also, it’s probably not at all fair to compare the two, but in the context of this broadcast, the difference in quality between this film and A Hash House Fraud preceding it is monumental. Here, the opening scene alone, in which Charlie tries to feed his bulldog a frankfurter, is funnier than the entirety of that other flick.

You know, looking back on it, it’s almost weird that these shorts showed up on TV when they did. Even though it was local television in the late-90s, for a channel as ‘big’ as 8, it’s kind of amazing they got such a relatively-visible afternoon slot. These things showing up on 29 made sense, the movies on that station were almost all oldies anyway, but even in comparison to some of the other oddball things that could appear on Couch Potato Theater, I don’t know, silent comedies just seem way out of place for the time. I guess I was even kinda shocked back then, never expecting such things to air where or when they did. Of course BC & LJ were no strangers to pure comedy classics, their Laurel & Hardy shows of the 1980s were numerous, but still, for 1999…

(And to me, it’s something practically inconceivable nowadays!)

So that takes care of the movies. Now let’s see the rest of the episode; even with only 1 hour to work with here, there’s still a lot of Big Chuck & Lil’ John action packed into the proceedings.

Big Chuck, Lil’ John, Dick Goddard, Tony Rizzo; Cleveland TV legends one and all!

The first (applicable) host segment is just…just fantastic on so many levels. Obviously the hosts themselves, but that set with the Cleveland Browns helmet on the table (more on that later) and the backdrop, just everything about it. (Top screencap here.)

A common element of BC & LJ host segments were trivia segments with the studio audience, always for a prize of some sort. In this instance, said prize was a doozy: the then-new Dick Goddard weather almanac! And even better, Goddard himself sits in with the audience to give the book away! (Middle screencap here.)

Of course, Goddard passed away this past August. To call him a mere weatherman would be a serious disservice; the guy was an absolute institution in Northeast Ohio, and actually holds the world record for longest tenured meteorologist! Around here, he was the weatherman.

Working at the same station, Goddard was certainly no stranger to appearances on BC & LJ, often performing in skits or, as you see here, simply guesting in the studio. He could be really, really funny; when sports anchor Tony Rizzo (he now has his own half-hour show…airing right before the current incarnation of Big Chuck & Lil’ John!) randomly shows up in the studio eating sushi – which he apologizes to animal-advocate Goddard for – Goddard studies the foodstuff and dryly states “with a little medical help, that could be back in the sea.” (Bottom screencap here.)

I met Dick Goddard several times over the years, and he was always extremely friendly and generous with his time. Just a really good guy that was as likable in person as he was on TV. In fact, the last time I met him (Ghoulardifest 2018), I used my bean and brought along my own copy of the very almanac seen in this host segment for him to sign (I also believe I asked him to sign the back of a Ghoulardifest promotional poster), and considering I never had another chance to talk with him, well, wise decision on my part.

So to have him as ‘himself’ in this Big Chuck & Lil’ John segment, and with Tony Rizzo to boot, that’s just fantastic man. (By the way, the trivia question here was what fall festival does Goddard annually host. Of course it’s the Woolly Bear Festival, which a woman sitting behind him easily answers.)

The next host segment features another trivia question bit that, as a whole, isn’t as big a knockout, but is still pretty terrific.

The prize? Frankie Yankovic’s Songs of the Polka King: Volume 2, which as it turned out was his very last album (he had passed away that prior October). Besides the whole polka aspect that was (is?) such a big part of Cleveland culture, there was an added reason this CD was given away as a prize: Chuck and John themselves performed with Yankovic on it! It’s true; the disc contains their rendition of “My Melody of Love” as the fourth track! Neato!

(This CD actually isn’t too hard to find around town here; I’ve come across it multiple times, though oddly enough, Volume 1 has thus far eluded me – though it’s really only a matter of time. Anyway, as far as Volume 2 goes, my first copy I actually bought used online – both because I obviously still needed it for my collection at the time, but also because, while somewhat faint, the cover unmistakably features the signature of Mr. Yankovic himself! Cool winnins!)

The question was: what nationality was Frank Yankovic? “Polish” was guessed, and while the correct answer was actually Slovenian, it’s deemed “close enough” by John.

The Lil’ Flash, along with Chuck. (Chuck playing himself?)

That segment is followed immediately by a longtime favorite skit of mine: The Lil’ Flash. BC & LJ did a lot of a parodies of big time movies and TV shows, sometimes poking fun at Chuck’s Polish heritage or John’s small stature. This was the latter.

I’m assuming this skit first appeared in the early-90’s, when The Flash TV series was running on CBS (which 8 was an affiliate of at the time, though by 1999 it had been Cleveland’s Fox outlet for several years).

It’s a simple premise: the TV-8 payroll, in the form of a suitcase loaded with money, has been stolen (as one of the thieves gleefully exclaims, “probably half of it’s Goddard’s!”), so superhero The Lil’ Flash gives chase. Spoiler: the bad guys get away. Why? The Lil’ Flash’s shoe had a blowout!

(Look, I love Big Chuck & Lil’ John, but no one ever said their skits were intricate pieces of comic writing.)

There were more skits throughout the hour than what I’m showing here; I’m kinda just hitting the highlights, or at least what I consider to be the highlights. I’m trying to get this done and up and with a little spotlight time to itself before my October 1st post, remember. Was I ultimately successful, reader? Time will tell!

Cuyahoga Jones and Shortstuff, considering a $5 airplane ride.

Cuyahoga Jones and the Castle of Doom, another one of those parodies I was just talking about, wasn’t just a singular skit, but rather a serialized, continuing story, complete with cliffhangers. Obviously an Indiana Jones parody, the skits detailed Cuyahoga Jones and his sidekick Shortstuff attempting to steal the fabled “Kapusta Diamond” from the evil Uncle Vic (aka Victor Blecman, a real Cleveland DJ who passed away in 2019).

I’m not sure they ever finished the saga (they play these skits frequently on the current 30 minute show yet I’ve never seen any sort of definitive conclusion), but what they did was a lot of fun. This broadcast here was my first time seeing an entry, and I can’t tell you how clever I found the very name of “Cuyahoga Jones” to be.

In this installment, Cuyahoga and Shortstuff are in need of $20 to buy supplies to break into Vic’s castle, but between them they only have $5. Luckily, they happen upon $5 airplane thrill rides, the reward for not screaming during which just happens to be $20. So, with Cuyahoga in the passenger seat and Shortstuff hanging on top, off they fly in the rickety old plane. The plan is ultimately successful and the $20 is won, but the pilot almost got Cuyahoga to scream, just once: when Shortstuff fell off! (Cut to a dummy freefalling through the air.)

High art it ain’t, but it is funny, and spoiler alert, Shortstuff ended up okay in the next chapter.

Let’s finish this review with something I briefly mentioned during that Dick Goddard segment, and something that, despite originally airing in January, fits perfectly with the time of year we’re currently in: that Cleveland Browns helmet.

At one point, John puts it on and declares “Go Browns!” Not so unusual; these were/are Cleveland personalities, after all. What’s more interesting, to me, anyway, is Chuck’s response to that: “Only 245 days left!”

It’s a small moment, but it points to a definitive time in Northeast Ohio history: this aired when the Browns were still MIA in Cleveland! The time of their return was drawing nearer and nearer however, and as it did so, the anticipation continued to grow. That anticipation was front-and-center here, even with the better part of a year still left to wait.

Anyway, there you have it: a look at Big Chuck & Lil’ John’s Couch Potato Theater presentation of January 16, 1999. Well, about half of it. Despite the incomplete nature of the recording, this broadcast has wound up being one I’m pretty fond of. Not only is there the personal story behind it, but their content is just so strong here, even though it was just par for the course at the time. The host segments and skits are fun, the Dick Goddard appearance great (and now, bittersweet), and the movies, The Champion is legit and, well, even a dumb flick like A Hash House Fraud makes for a nice piece of lazy afternoon programming.

Hopefully this post scratched the itch of locals who, like me, can’t go to Ghoulardifest this year. Or maybe it didn’t; hey, at least I got something else up.

See y’all in October!


It’s been awhile since we’ve had an old video game review, so what say we talk some turtles today, eh?

If you came up to me right now and asked for a list of my favorite video games, not per console but of all time, I’d first reply with a concerned “w-why are you in my house?” But then, ever the crowd pleaser, I’d probably attempt a top 10 or top 20 list that, if nothing else, I’d be happy with for the time being. Still don’t like you being in my house, though.

Anyway, there are three games that would not only be on that list, but have actually been locks for the majority of my life. All three appeared on the Nintendo Entertainment System, all three created a video game fervor on my part back in the day that was fairly unprecedented, and all three I’m still crazy about.

Those three games are: 1) the original Super Mario Bros., which is timeless to me in a way that the sequels aren’t – despite technically being inferior to said sequels in pretty much every way. 2) Batman: The Video Game, which not only fit perfectly into the Batmania I and countless other kids fell into in that 1989-1992 time period but was also that rare movie-based game that looked, sounded and, most importantly, played utterly fantastic.

And the third game? Had you been paying attention to the title or introductory sentence of this post (you know, I put those there for a reason, Ace), you’d probably have some inkling. Oh alright, here, take a look…

Nostalgia, thy name is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Released by Ultra Games (which was really just Konami) in 1989, this game – and that console in general – were huge hallmarks of my childhood.

No kidding, everything about that picture there takes me back like you won’t believe. The classic toaster NES, of course that’s just timeless in general, but that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartridge itself, man! Just the mere look of it, from outside appearances alone I mean, frankly, I think it’s a legitimate objet d’art. From that everlastingly cool label artwork (yes, I know it was taken from one of the original comic books) to even just the standard cart shell that (almost) every NES game had anyway; to me it all coalesces into a single entity of pure late-80s/early-90s-ness that, I admit, I’m finding hard to adequately explain. Maybe it won’t mean as much to someone who wasn’t there for it back then, but as a full-fledged TMNT kid entranced by the notion of actually playing as the heroes in a half shell, the very image of the cart just by itself is something powerful to me indeed.

The Ninja Turtles, the property as a whole, really was a force to be reckoned with at the time. If you were a kid, anyway. The cartoon, the movie, the comics, the toys, that inexplicable concert tour, the other endless amounts of merchandising; TMNT was just everywhere. So, for them to appear on the NES, which had also largely taken over the children of North America, well, that was both an obvious and necessary inclusion to the growing 8-bit Nintendo library, wouldn’t you say?

Heck, it was actually the first NES game I ever owned…and I didn’t even have an NES yet!

At first, the console was a phenomenon known to me via my neighbor, my cousins, and one of my friends at school. But before I got one for myself, and unlike Super Mario Bros. and Batman, which were, barring some scattered exceptions (like that Vs. Super Mario Bros. arcade), exclusives to the NES, I could play TMNT. Or rather, the sad MS-DOS adaptation of it. Even back then, I was cognizant of the fact it wasn’t very good. It didn’t play nearly as nicely as the NES version, it sure didn’t sound as nice, and while better graphically from a technical standpoint, it lacked the total dudes-with-attitude vibe the Nintendo version managed to pull off. Oh, and not that I ever even came remotely close to getting that far in it, but apparently it’s impossible to complete without cheating, too. Figures. (This game actually appeared on a number of home computers of the day, none of them seeming like they were very good; your mileage may vary.)

So, just how did I manage to finagle a copy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the NES before, erm, actually owning an NES? At one point, a trip to Sears, initially for a as-promised-by-mom copy of the TMNT Fall of the Foot Clan Game Boy game, instead yielded a selection of on-sale NES games. One of said cheap games was, say it with me, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Evidently the pleading on my part – not to mention the fact it was cheaper than what we went there for – was enough to convince mom, because I went home with the game I had long been obsessed with that day. (Besides, it’s not like I couldn’t ever play it; I recall taking it with me to my cousins to play on their NES. Plus, it was only a matter of time before I got my own, and when, eventually, the neighbor down the street was selling his off cheap, man, I was ready to rock.)

Because of the popularity of the franchise and the NES, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was one those games that, for a time, everyone seemed to have. And yet, today, it doesn’t seem to receive the widespread praise that other TMNT games from the same general era enjoy. The following, beat-’em-up-oriented games in the franchise, at least the ones prior to the 2000s TMNT reboot entries (and maybe even those now too, I dunno) are generally looked back on with copious amounts of gushing nostalgia. Don’t get me wrong, I’m in that pre-reboot-gushin’ camp too, but I never didn’t have a healthy appreciation for the one that started it all. In contrast to the later TMNT games, this first one here was one of the few that really tried to do something different, both in how it played and in how the story unfolded as you played. Was it ultimately successful? I think so. But, lots of people out there apparently don’t.

I have some bias towards it, I admit. BUT BUT BUT, that doesn’t mean I can’t look at it objectively nowadays, either. Or at least try to. Is it a perfect game? Well, no; it definitely has some faults, some trappings of the 8-bit era in general as well as some programming quirks that are occasionally infuriating. Still, nostalgia aside, I really do think it does more right than wrong.

(By the way, this review assumes you’re already somewhat familiar with the franchise as a whole, or at least the franchise as it appeared in the mainstream in the late-80s and early-90s. If you don’t though, I don’t know, go read every last word about it on Wikipedia or something.)

An early boss battle, featuring antagonists Bebop and Rocksteady and captured ally April O’Neil – as well as a good look at the platforming set-up typical of the game.

Unlike later TMNT games that were in the beat-’em-up vein, this inaugural NES edition is in the platform game genre; jump on platforms, hack away at enemies, traverse stages, face the occasional boss, proceed until you finally defeat the game. You know, a platformer. And a pretty difficult one, at that; many 8-bit titles in this genre were known for their hair-pullin’, controller-throwin’, cardiac-event-inducin’ gameplay, and, uh, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is certainly one of them.

The game moves fast, has tight controls, and doesn’t start out too difficult, but ultimately maybe doesn’t have the pick-up-and-play quality inherent to subsequent entries.

Part of that is due to the incessant, often respawning, enemies; they aren’t too big of a deal in the early going, but as the game progresses – and it doesn’t take too long to reach this point – taking cheap hits becomes a mandatory way of life. This becomes a particular issue later, when you’re required to make a lot of tricky jumps; one knock, and you’re likely falling into rushing sewer water or off a building. And late in the game, when you enter the de facto enemy fortress Technodrome and the enemy lasers really start flying, well, no one would blame you for rage-quitting. (Stick with it though, and the sense of accomplishment is palpable; I know this from experience.)

Doesn’t help that when a lot of enemies get on the screen the game slows to a crawl and the graphics exhibit a ton of break-up, either. You’ll take a lot of unavoidable hits thanks to this too, but ultimately it doesn’t break the game.

Your pause slash status slash character select screen.

Since the dawn of time, nearly every TMNT game has allowed you to select your preferred turtle to take into battle at the start; it’s probably considered a crime against humanity to not allow the option. (So where does that leave Radical Rescue?)

NES Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles takes that ideal to the extreme: from the onset, you can not only pick your turtle, but can also switch to any one at any point. Yep, hitting the ‘start’ button brings up your status screen, which not only provides a respite from the action, but also a map and vital information from allies Splinter or April, as well as your selectable turtles. Not only can you monitor their health and special weapons allotment, but can also choose the one that’s best suited to a particular situation. Unlike many (most?) other TMNT games, where the choice of a turtle is typically based mostly on personal preference, here they each have unique attributes, and choosing the right one at the right time adds a legitimate dose of strategy to the game.

Leonardo is the most well-rounded of the four, with moderate strength and decent weapon range and speed via his katana blades. Michelangelo is comparable strength-wise (maybe a bit weaker), but his attacks via nunchakus are faster, though with comparably limited range. Donatello is the strongest of the four, with his bo having by far the best strength and range of all four turtles, but he’s also the slowest, attack-wise. And Raphael, he’s second-strongest, but is otherwise, to be blunt, borderline worthless. As a lifelong champion of Raph, this hurts me deep to admit; his sai (sais?) are powerful enough, but their range is pathetic.

Each turtle acts as a life, and should one be captured during the proceedings, you have opportunities later in the game to rescue them; neato! You also get three continues should you get a game over, but using one (obviously) takes away your special weapons, and late in the game, that’s pretty much another death blow all over again.

Speaking of the special weapons, you get several to help you on your quest: a ninja star, triple ninja stars, boomerangs, and the devastatingly-helpful scrolls, which are like energy wipes or something (the manual deems them “kiai”) . Except for the scrolls, which are always found in assigned locations, these weapons appear in the wake of defeated enemies, and they come in allotments of 20. You’ll want to save the powerful scrolls for the bosses and crazy tough later stages, but the other special weapons definitely come in handy throughout, especially the boomerangs, which are endlessly reusable, provided you don’t fail to catch one on its return or throw one off-screen.

There are missiles you can equip your Party Wagon with to blow up barriers, and ropes for traversing rooftops, but those are only present in one part of the game, albeit a fairly large one.

(You’ll also pick up “Mr. Invincibility” icons, which give you temporary spinning invulnerability. These are pretty scarce.) 

Health is, of course, replenished via pizza icons. I think a TMNT game neglecting something that obvious would also be considered a crime against humanity, too. A single slice restores two health units, half a pizza restores four, and a whole pizza, uh, restores it all. (I point this out because you’ll take a lot of hits throughout the game, and doling the right pizza increment out to the most deserving turtle at the right time is vital to progressing. Luckily, pizza icons tend to be relatively plentiful.)

One final comment on the health system: in an apparent attempt by the programmers to apologize for the extreme difficulty of the game, when a turtle reaches half his respective life bar, he inexplicably becomes stronger. Enemies that would normally require two hits to defeat will go down with one, and so on and so forth. It doesn’t make much sense, but it does help matters, as well as provide an added strategic element: do you risk clearing out a stage with a dangerously-damaged turtle, or do you switch to one with more health until you can find some pizza? It’s like Sophie’s Choice or sumthin’, man!

(By the way, as you peruse this review, you just may ask, “hey, northern video person, where’d y’all get all these swell screenshots?” The answer to that is: I took them myself, via my own NES console and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartridge and video capture card. I consider emulation to be jive and I wasn’t about to rip someone else’s pictures, so yes, these were all taken by yours truly from my actual gameplay footage; a single, uninterrupted, cheat-less playthrough, in fact!)

An overhead map, typical of the game.

While the gameplay is primarily platforming-based, it isn’t just level/end boss/level/rinse & repeat. Nope, the world of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is actually more expansive than you first may expect.

As you can see here, there’s an overworld map throughout. Via that, you can enter manholes or buildings of your choice, sometimes even bypassing entire parts of the game. It’s just like Mario but with mutated talkin’ turtles, man!

In each new area, there’s a ‘main’ path to take that’ll get you to the next section fastest, but like a Sonic title, there’s also lotsa places to explore, even though they won’t necessarily progress you in the grand scheme of the game, aside from maybe netting you some more items (or further trying your patience). There’s so much of this game that’s burnt into my memory, to the point that I don’t even think of going beyond where I know I need to, that some areas are essentially new to me. Despite loving this game for the vast majority of my life, I think there are areas in this game I’ve still never even seen!

Unfortunately, for as good as they are at presenting a virtual ‘world’ here, the overhead maps also prove to be a little too large and, frankly, daunting. The first one is simple enough, but later stages can be somewhat disorienting, given their size and sheer number of places to go. Indeed, the first post-dam (more on that stage in a bit) world was where I tended to get hung up for years, not so much because I couldn’t complete it, but rather because I wound up wandering around and around and around, just trying to find the right place to go. I know the right direction now, but back then? Most of my playing time was spent there!

In short, it can all become a little overwhelming – especially near the end where the correct doorway/path to the Technodrome becomes randomized. *shudder* (Actually, I do believe it’s always only one of two locations, as far as I saw anyway, but don’t quote me on that.)

Wandering foot soldiers and, more distressingly, steamrollers roam these overhead maps, and later, bomb-droppin’ planes and searchlight-sportin’ choppers make appearances, so always tread carefully! At one point you get to cruise around in the Party Wagon, which is fun (plus it’s much faster and a whole lot safer than walking around on foot).

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a real, as I like to call it, “sit back and work on it game.” You know, where you set aside a chunk of time and build up the nerve to really work on a game. It’s definitely a change of pace from the usual straightforward beat-’em-up style of other entries in the series, and while I’m okay with it, I can absolutely see somebody else hating it.

Besides large areas to traverse and lots to see and do, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles also has something resembling a plot line. I mean, you don’t get an uber-detailed, line-by-line breakdown throughout, but there’s a real sense of progression running through the game.

A cutscene that helps advance the plot (and showcases Shredder’s apparently 3-D hand; I can’t have been the only kid who noticed that).

At one point, there’s a cutscene in which, after foiling a nefarious Foot Clan plot, the turtles return home only to discover their mutated rat/sensei/father figure Splinter has been kidnapped. It’s a neat sequence with some terrific graphics, but it’s a bit of an anomaly; a good deal of the plot advancement throughout is actually seen “in-game.” Which, by 8-bit platformer standards, is also kind of an anomaly.

For example, if you scroll waaaaay back up to that very first game screenshot in this article, you’ll see the very first boss battle, in which you face henchman Bebop while fellow bad guy Rocksteady holds reporter/turtle ally April O’Neil hostage at gunpoint. The kidnapping of April, a common TMNT video game trait, is ostensibly the main focal point at the onset. Well, defeat Bebop, and Rocksteady will grab April and escape. You then have to make your way to the end of the area and face Rocksteady in order to save her, after which she replaces Splinter as advice maven on your status screen.

One of the in-game moments that helps advance the storyline, as the Foot Clan escapes via helicopter. Side note: I dig the kickin’ NYC skyline in the background.

Then, as you’ve seen, Splinter is shown to have been kidnapped, which becomes the new objective. Once you rescue him, a short animation of the baddies escaping via chopper (Splinter’s exclamation of “OH!” implies this is an undesirable occurrence) provides the next plot point you must follow: making your way through an airport to get to the Turtle Blimp in order to give chase. (Yes, there’s a cutscene of the turtles entering the blimp and taking off. And in another nice touch, the sun is shown setting as the blimp flies away. In the sequence that follows, it’s then dead of night.)

Oh, by the way, while I’m hesitant to spoil it, there is indeed an ending and pay off to everything you go through in this game. Don’t expect fireworks with an 8-bit title of course, but it IS satisfactory, as far as I’m concerned.

Tecmo’s NES port of Ninja Gaiden (though it’s so wildly different from the coin-op that it’s only a “port” in the absolute loosest sense of the term) tends to get credit for popularizing the whole cutscene/plot/cinematic flair thing in 8-bit titles – and rightfully so. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles certainly didn’t invent the idea, but still, I don’t think it ever gets much credit for the sense of progression it manages to present. There’s a real idea of a larger world and battle at play here, which is pretty impressive when you think about it.

Unfortunately, to see most of that, you have to pass a certain part of the game…

The scene of many gamer nightmares? Undoubtedly!

Pictured here is the “dam sequence” of the game, and simply put, it’s one of the most notorious aspects of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the NES. While not the most difficult portion of the game, it certainly represents the high difficulty the game is known for aptly all by itself. It’s not hard to imagine that countless kids gave up on the quest at this point right here.

The setting: the Foot Clan has planted bombs in the dam (the instruction manual specifically points this out as the Hudson River, and swimming through the Hudson River back then, well, the turtles would have been going through things a whole lot worse than mutagen ooze…). Needless to say, this is unacceptable, and thus these bombs must be disarmed. Sounds simple enough, until you realize the bombs are laid out haphazardly around the dam, there are both electrified force fields and electrified seaweed to avoid, as well as underwater currents to fight through. Also, you only have a little over two minutes to do all that.

You know, I’ve played through this dam so many times over the years that I’ve got it pretty much down to a science. Even as a kid I could beat it (once you know where to go and don’t try to speed run through, it really isn’t that hard). Today, the locations of the bombs are imprinted on my brain, traversing the dam as a whole is basically automatic response on my part. Really, the only thing that’s left to chance nowadays is how safely I can or can’t make it through the electrified seaweed maze. I pretty much never die during the level, but sometimes it takes two turtles to make that happen.

The really amazing thing about the dam is that it’s actually not the toughest section in the entire game; that honor belongs to the inside of the Technodrome and specifically a gauntlet of laser-wieldin’ flyin’ soldiers that you have to run near the end to make it to Shredder. For the inexperienced though, or those just utterly stuck in the water, that’s, uh, not much consolation.

But hey, if nothing else, it’s definitely a different gameplay element to add to the mix that is NES Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The game may be maddening from time to time, but it’s certainly never boring!

Look, I may love it, but there’s no question that certain parts of this game that are decidedly “not righteous, dude!” (That’s turtle-esque speak for what the layman would term “whack.”)

A big honkin’ Mouser! A good example of just how graphically-impressive this game is when it wants to be.

Graphically, I think the game is mostly good. Your turtle sprites aren’t particularly huge, but they’re well-detailed and walk around with some serious ‘tude; they just look tough. I still think they look genuinely cool, but back in the day? Man, you have no idea how obsessed I was with them. I used to draw pictures of these specific turtles! No foolin’!

Other characters familiar to fans are recognizable too. I’ve shown you Bebop and Rocksteady as well as April and Splinter, already. Of course there are the expected foot soldiers and mousers (aka common grunts), Mechaturtle, and, needless to say, Shredder at the end of it all. (Strangely, Krang doesn’t make any appearances – an oddity among vintage TMNT games.)

There’s also enemies of a more anonymous and/or generic nature. Robotic flies, dudes with chainsaws, fire-breathing guys who, when defeated, have heads that detach and fly around the screen, Foot Clan-emblazoned weather balloons that drop bombs, some kind of weird flying pairs of legs, ED-209 rip-offs, dudes running around on fire, annoying guys who ‘fall asleep’ until your back is turned and then they attack, a big mean frog (he looks a little like Napoleon Bonafrog, but wasn’t he always one of the good guys?), robotic kangaroos, deadly porcupines, deadly armadillos (?), deadly laser-wielding flying soldiers, deadly…well look, just about everything’s deadly, okay? (And, be careful; they tend to respawn!)

I don’t recall if everybody/everything here had a corresponding cartoon or comic book counterpart, but you gotta admit, there’s certainly a variety!

That variety comes with a caveat however, and that’s the flicker/graphical breakup/slowdown I mentioned 9000 years ago in this article. The flicker and breakup isn’t that big of a deal, but the slowdown kind of is. You can take even more unwanted hits than usual when it occurs, though luckily, it doesn’t occur too often.

Generally, for an 8-bit game, there’s a decent amount of detail in the levels, backgrounds, characters, etc. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is for the most part a solid looking, typical late-80s/early-90s NES title; it looks fairly nice, not as plain as early games on the console nor as “Microsoft Paint-y” as late releases. But, it’s not known (or doesn’t seem to be known) as a particularly impressive title graphically…

Before you fight *in* the Technodrome, you fight *the* Technodrome. Unique? Why sure it is!

…HOWEVER, there are points where it really does flex some graphical muscle. Maybe not to the level of, say, Batman, which came out in the same era but looked so good that it often bordered on being 16-bit in quality. (No joshin’!) But, when Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles decides to “go big,” it goes from looking to good to looking really good.

For example, scroll waaaay back up and you’ll see Shredder in that cutscene screencap; dude looks just like he did in the cartoon. (Alas, no corresponding voice of the much-missed James Avery, though.) Also, as I showed you just a bit ago, there’s no mistaking that cool giant Mouser for a, uh, cool giant Mouser. (Wait, was that ever in the cartoon?) And as you can see right here and now, you’ve got the Technodrome, de facto enemy fortress and something you invade in most classic-era TMNT games, looking just as it should.

Speaking of the Technodrome, in a unique, and honestly sorta weird, twist, you actually fight it, as an actual entity, before going inside for the final sequences of the game. Since the Technodrome was supposed to be a humongous fortress, this doesn’t make much sense, but it’s yet another aspect that sets this game apart from later entries. I’m assuming there’s a tunnel or something inside that leads straight down to Shredder’s spacious lair, because unless it’s like a TARDIS or something in there, it’s kind of head-scratcher. (And stark realism is something I’m always looking for in a game starring four pizza-eating anthropomorphic turtles adept in the martial arts.)

Still, oddity or not, it sure looks neat.

Sound-wise, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is pure, unadulterated NES. In turtle-speak, it sounds “totally radical, dude.” No kidding, the soundtrack is great. The NES was capable or putting out some really terrific harmonized music. No, it didn’t sound like a full orchestra was emanating from out of the ol’ toaster or anything, and asking it do voice synthesis was usually unwise (hence, no likelihood of James Avery *sniff*), but when it comes to immensely catchy, downright cool musical scores, the NES is second to none. Super Mario Bros., Castlevania, Double Dragon, Contra, The Legend of Zelda, even less-obvious stuff like Rambo (the music might be the only thing some people consider good about that one), Jackal, Mission: Impossible or, once again, Batman, they all have music that just doesn’t get old (figuratively, I mean). It’s actually sort of hard for me to explain, honestly; something about the NES’ unique form of outputting music, the drum beats, the whole package, it just still SOUNDS. SO. GOOD.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is absolutely among the ranks of “classic” on the console, as far as I’m concerned. Okay, yeah, it falls in among the less-obvious choices when it comes to this subject, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t sound terrific; it does. Maybe some of that is nostalgia on my part – there’s so much of this soundtrack that’s veritably burnt into my memory that it’s actually some of the first music I think of when I think of the Ninja Turtles franchise in general. Yes, maybe even before their famous cartoon theme song (which, except for the “heroes in a half shell” beat at the end of a tune that plays whenever you complete a particularly major section, is otherwise totally absent from the game soundtrack here). But even looked at objectively, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the NES just sounds really, really good.

There’s a catchy marching beat (first heard when the title screen appears and prevalent throughout afterwards), a unique main Turtles theme, jaunty overworld tunes early on and evocative ones later, music that’s just completely appropriate to whatever situation you happen to be in. (Yes, even in the dam.) And when the sub-boss tune pops up during an otherwise ‘normal’ stage, as soon as it starts you just know somethin’ ’bout to go down.

The sound effects are also pure NES; not technically realistic for the most part, but they get the job done. The alarm that sounds off when one of your turtles gets dangerously low on health is the very definition of, erm, alarming. (Go figure!)

Okay, so the game looks good, sounds good, has a lot to see and do, but is relentlessly tough. Now let’s talk a little strategy.

Like I said before, all of the screenshots in this review were taken by me on an actual console, during a single uninterrupted playthrough. No cheating, either. Hey, the Game Genie was fun and neat and everything, but using one to complete a game would be a victory I consider to be dirty pool, or at least decidedly hollow. (And honestly, I’m a little iffy on the subject of using controllers with turbo, slow motion, etc. options, too. I didn’t use any of those, either. It’s one thing if said features were present and advertised via first party from the start, i.e. the Turbografx-16, but otherwise, the area starts to get a little grey to me. Your mileage may vary, of course.)

I do, however, consider whatever is programmed in the final, finished product to be, for the most part, fair game. Obviously a game-breaking bug is one thing, but otherwise, I tend to  work under the assumption that the game is operating the way the programmer(s) intended. If they’re gonna allow me to take repeated advantage of health and special weapon icons, especially in a title known for its difficulty, well, I’m just gonna have to be okay with that.

This section right here is your key to [easier] victory!

Lemme explain: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles allows you to re-enter areas you’ve already been through. When you do so, obviously enemies respawn, but so do items. It’s a good way to replenish your whole squad when a pizza icon is handy, and I imagine I wasn’t the only one who took advantage of it both back in the day as well as nowadays.

An even more vital spot is in, as deemed by your status screen, “Area 3.” In it, there are two buildings, connected by a sewer running between them. There’s a full pizza icon down there, which is obviously helpful, but more importantly is what’s found in the right building: a scroll icon! Since it doesn’t take particularly long to get to and the sewers are located two screens beneath it, you can go in, grab some scrolls, head down and get the pizza if needed, or simply jump in the sewer water – which harmlessly brings you back to the overworld right outside the buildings. Rinse and repeat as much as needed and/or desired! (You can also grab a 3-pack of ropes in that sewer, and since I always habitually grab them on the way down, I wind up with far, far more than I ever would or could use. See that Raph/Splinter “OH!” screenshot earlier if you don’t believe me!)

Here’s my preferred method: I always load both Leo and and Don up to the full allotment of 99 scrolls, and usually Raph as well (but if not 99, then at least plenty for him). I won’t, however, give Mike any. Why’s that? Mike is the “daily driver.” Y’see, I tend to save Leo and Don for only when they’re needed (Leo generally sees almost no play time), and Raph for a boss battle or when I need him to take the brunt of damage instead of a better turtle. Mike though, I use him for the majority of the game.

So why not give him some scrolls too? Because it can be awfully easy to lose them. Ninja star or boomerang item icons pop up after an enemy is defeated, and in the heat battle or when you’re rushing through a stage, it’s VERY easy to accidentally grab one. Not a big deal if it’s the same special weapon as what you already have; then you just get more of it. But, since the scrolls never, ever appear after defeating an enemy, well, it would be serious heartbreak to accidentally replace 99 of them with 20 single ninja stars.

Using a scroll-less Mike for the majority of the game though, then it’s not an issue. I prefer to keep Mike loaded with the reusable boomerangs, but if I mistakenly replace them with something else, well, that’s a far less egregious offense. (I know this from experience!)

The final battle with Shredder. As you can see here, I had exactly one unit of health left going in, yet he basically went down without a fight! Why? The scrolls, man, the scrolls!

Since scrolls only come in allotments of 20, can repeating this practice over and over become monotonous? Well, yeah, a little bit. But, the scrolls make boss battles so, so much more manageable, and are practically a necessity inside the Technodrome, so it’s not like it’s wasted time.

The battle with Mechaturtle (in two separate forms!), the giant Mouser, the outside of the Technodrome (which has several weapons that need to be disabled), the various enemies inside the Technodrome, not to mention Shredder himself at the end of it all, scrolls may not technically be a requirement for any of it, but like I said, they sure life here a whole lot more manageable. (And in Shredder’s case, he’s actually really, really easy to defeat with them, despite the fact he has a weapon that can kill you with one shot! Just fire away at him as quick as you can; that’s it!)

Now, I’m not trying to make it sound like nabbing a buncha scrolls will let you cruise through the rest of the game unhindered; they’re certainly helpful, and will keep your blood pressure low(er), BUT, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is just plain challenging regardless. Sometimes, you just have to be cautious, strategic, and patient.

Using the right turtle at the right moment isn’t technically mandatory, but you’re probably gonna lose a lot of health unnecessarily if you don’t. And, you don’t always need to rush your way through; there’s no time limit in the game (except for the dam, duh!), so proceeding cautiously usually pays off – especially since you’re almost certainly going to take some cheap hits no matter what you do. It’s just a question of how many!

And, sometimes you just have to apply the 8-bit ideal of learning the moves and patterns of an enemy. Punch-Out!! this is not, but jumping over and/or walking under baddies as they attack can make a huge difference. Use your bean and you may not even have to do that much at all. The giant Mouser, for instance; it likes to shoot lasers out of its eyes at you. So simply stand directly underneath it, the lasers will pass harmlessly along both sides of you, and then when its mouth opens, jump up and fire away at its weak point. The thing looks far more fearsome than it actually is!

Basically, my strategy boils down to this: use Mike for the main gameplay, bring Raph out for boss battles or to keep Mike healthy, use Don for his strength and reach when necessary, and save Leo for last, whenever that may be. Take advantage of easy pizza respawns/refills when needed, keep lotsa scrolls on hand, and generally proceed with caution.

Do all that, and it’s still a hard game, but certainly not unbeatable.

1989’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was the first of four TMNT games to appear on the Nintendo Entertainment System:

Despite the fact the 1989 coin-op was the only TMNT game of my earliest years to rival the first NES game in me-obsessiveness (no joke, the machine was seemingly everywhere; I can still recall it’s side art and glowing marquee beckoning me in the movie theater lobby), and thus a title I’m happy to see present on the NES, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II on the console doesn’t play as well as you or I would prefer to remember. The fighting system is a little wonky and involves a lot of hit-walk away-hit…unless you just feel like rushing in and taking a lot of cheap shots from the Foot Clan.

Tournament Fighters also appeared on the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis, each with its own unique aspects to set it apart from the others. The NES version was a very late release on the console, one that probably shouldn’t have happened but is kinda neat that it did. While used copies have been pricey for some time, it’s particularly expensive to acquire a copy nowadays. (I’ve played it before, but this is the only NES TMNT game I don’t currently have. One-on-one fighters were never the specialty of the system, and I’m not big on them either, so I want this cart more for collectability and fandom sake than anything.)

And as for The Manhattan Project, well, it’s not only the best TMNT game on the console, but also one of the best beat-’em-ups in general on the console. It looks and sounds terrific, and plays wonderfully. It may not have the recognition or coin-op clout of II, but when it comes to 8-bit TMNT beat-’em-ups, it’s a superior game in every facet.

But, needless to say, I still come back to that first NES Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Everything about it, from the look to the sound to the, yes, even that extreme difficulty, it’s just so ingrained as a part of me. The era it hails from, the TMNT mania that was so prevalent among kids, even something as simple the comic book advertisement for the game, it all fills me with such a strong sense of nostalgia for the game, the console, and that time in my life. (Speaking of that print ad, I found a spare copy in a 25¢ comic once; that ad now proudly hangs on a wall in my house. No, that’s not a joke.)

Is all of that enough to consider Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles a GREAT game nowadays though? While subjectively I obviously think so, looked at from an objective standpoint, I’m just not sure. It’s difficult and flickery and occasionally overwhelming. Maybe a tolerance for 8-bit platformers is essential. Or maybe, and I dread saying this because it’s a phrase I genuinely despise, it’s something you had to grow up with to fully appreciate. If something is truly great, shouldn’t it be timeless regardless of when it’s played/seen/heard/etc. or by whom?

Of course, my pontificating here is pointless; like music, movies, television, art, and yes, video games, it’s all subjective. You can look at all of the facts surrounding a property, have a perfect understanding of the era whatever it is hails from, but that still doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll like it. In the end, it simply comes down to individual taste.

As I said way at the start, lotsa people sure don’t like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the NES. I can’t totally separate my memories from it, but taken on its own, I still think it’s a genuinely good game. Once, again, it’s not perfect, but it really tried to do something different, and personally, I think it was more successful than it wasn’t. At the end of the day, I find the game just plain fun, and I suppose that’s the most important thing here, isn’t it?

So before ending this review, here’s what I want: you know those cheap new retro all-in-one handhelds that have been popping up, the ones that collect a number of old console and/or arcade titles? I want Konami to give us one of those, dedicated solely to classic TMNT games. You hearin’ me, Konami?! The original NES trilogy, and maybe Turtles in Time from the Super Nintendo, please? That would be SUCH a no-brainer purchase – as long as this first NES game was included, of course. That’s the prerequisite man. I gotta have that one.

(Or they could release a handheld with nothing but the 1989 arcade. I could live with that, too.)

AMF Paragon Nite Owl TV Timer (Model # TVT-00)

Dig this neat little vintage piece of electronic gadgetry I found just yesterday: it’s the AMF Paragon Nite Owl TV Timer, hailing from, near as I can tell, somewhere in the 1970s. I know not the exact year or years this was manufactured, but it certainly looks like a definitive product of the 70s. Maybe I should I wear my leisure suit whilst handling it? (Seriously, I have one; I could do it if I were so inclined. Which I’m not – that thing’s itchy.)

Now at first glance, this may not look like a terribly ‘big’ find; I mean, it’s a woodgrain-and-plastic box, with a knob on the front. If I had a hard time drumming up interest in my Wonder Wizard and Magnavox ’85 TV posts (and I did; I really thought people would care more), I don’t expect this article to instantly have numbers that bump the figurative ceiling.

But then, just like I figured when I wrote about that Spartus talkin’ clock, this will be there when/if the right person comes along looking for it. And if, also like the Spartus, it eventually attains a level of viewership high enough to put a pointless smile on mah face somewhere down the road, well, more’s the better.

No kidding, I love old TV-related gadgets and gizmos like this, and I’d like to think that some of my readers do, too. Sure, they may not have much practical use nowadays, but as artifacts of a bygone era in television and electronics manufacturing, I think they’re still indispensable, even it’s if only for what they represent. The shape, the design, the intended function, it all points so clearly to a specific era. I love stuff like this.

If I’m being totally honest with you though, it really all comes down to that name for me: “Nite Owl TV Timer.” Man is that cool! Indeed, that’s what caught my eye at the thrift store yesterday, and precisely why I pretty much had to come home with the thing. (By the way, handling this, two mugs, several CDs and a vinyl record is unwieldy to say the least. Luckily I had someone with me to help shoulder the load, because this particular store doesn’t have carts, and there’s not really enough room to safely maneuver around in even if they did. But, I digress.)

That name alone evokes an era of late night television broadcasting that I find irresistible. The late late movie and/or local horror movie host programs – which obviously brings to mind legendary Columbus TV icon Fritz the Nite Owl (remember that time I met him?) – the room preferably illuminated only by the glow of the cathode ray tubes bringing it all to you. And, I like to imagine, viewed while sitting on a really ugly plaid chair or couch of some sort. Oh, am I putting too much thought into all this? Look, I like the name a whole lot, okay? (Hey, I am, and have been for many years, quite the “nite owl” myself!)

So anyway, what exactly does the Nite Owl do, you ask? Obviously it’s some sort of a timer intended for use with television sets; hasn’t that already been made abundantly clear by now? Pay attention, sporto! Oh alright, let the back of the unit explain things in more detail…

I went searching for instructions online, full-fledged paper manual-type instructions I mean, but the only hit I came up with wanted me to register in order to view it. Man, don’t hand me that jive! So the (nicely detailed) description on the back of the unit here is going to have to do.

Basically, the thing would automatically turn your TV off for you. Whether to regulate your television-viewing habits, help save on the electricity bill should you fall asleep during whatever crummy old movies the local channel foisted upon you regularly, or even to help with those who may have mobility issues (I’m assuming this was released before remote controls were quite as commonplace as they’d become), the bottom line is that with the Nite Owl TV Timer in place, the only heavy lifting you had to do was with your eyelids HAW HAW HAW!

That knob on the front, as per the instructions on the back of the timer, it worked in hour-long increments, up to six of ’em for those of you who like to watch up through the wee wee hours of the morning. (Hey, I can and do relate!) At the end of the allotted time, the timer would then turn your TV off for you, lest you awake in your ugly easy chair to the abrasive sights and sounds of snowy, off-air static. (Stations used to regularly sign-off, after all!)

(I’m going to guess that the timer was exact enough so that placing the knob in between, say, the 5 and the 6 would give you five hours and thirty minutes of safe TV-watchin’, but I really have no idea – maybe an actual instruction manual detailed further? I assume that you could also increase or decrease the time during viewing as well, should you plan to go to sleep later or earlier than initially anticipated, but that’s also strictly guesswork on my part. Anyone know for sure?)

“Hey, does the name mean you could only use it at night? HAW HAW HAW!” Drop the silly goose routine, jack.

I tend to think of ‘extra’ electronic components from that era to be relatively complicated installation/operating processes, at least when viewed from a modern standpoint. Inputs and outputs and wires and RFs and screws and buttons and knobs and so on and so forth. I mean, you ever see an early generation VCR? Why, just looking at the process involved with setting the recording timer is enough to make ya head swim!

Of course I’m (mostly) just joshin’ you here. Obviously things became progressively more simplified as technology advanced, and there’s generally a learning curve with any new piece of equipment you bring into your home.

So what am I even blathering about? Meh, that’s just my long-winded way of saying the Nite Owl was really, really easy to use. All you did was plug your TV into the, as per the Nite Owl itself, “piggyback plug” here (is that an official name for these?), then plug that into an outlet, and then you were pretty much good to go. Set the knob, and prepare for a night of mind-at-ease late Bela Lugosi movie-viewing. It’s so easy, a corndog could do it!

During my online research of the Nite Owl, it quickly became apparent that AMF Paragon was a big manufacturer of timers in general. I *think* they still make timers nowadays, but nevertheless, it doesn’t take much searching to see all the different varieties they released back then. So now I’m wondering: obviously this Nite Owl was made for television use, but would plugging any electric appliance into it produce the same timed result, or is there circuitry inside specifically and exclusively designed for use with TVs?

That’s what I’m wondering, but what you may be wondering is why I’ve posited all these questions throughout the article that could easily be answered by merely plugging the thing in and taking it for a spin. The answer to that is this: it’s really more of a display piece to me. Oh sure, I could fire it up, but aside from a few words one way or the other on my part, I can’t really take any pictures of the thing operating that would be helpful. So what’s the point? It’s not like I’m selling it. It was obviously sturdily constructed, so despite some expected wear from presumable years of usage, I imagine the thing still works.

But whether it does or doesn’t is sorta immaterial to yours truly; it’s all about the feelings of a bygone era this thing evokes. A time of woodgrain and shag carpets and big lapels, a time of knob-based TVs, before VCRs were widely available to the consumer (if they were even available at all), when staying up late to catch a movie on TV really meant something.

And even if it doesn’t hail from that era exactly, it still looks like it does.

Plus, that name, that name! If I ever have the opportunity to meet Fritz the Nite Owl again, I’m considering asking him to autograph it despite the tenuous connection between the two entities. That’s not a joke, either; I can think of no higher honor to bestow on the Nite Owl. (The timer, I mean.) It would sure make me feel like the proverbial big man on campus, at any rate.

Movie (& Old Television Broadcast!) Review: THE WAY OF THE WEST (1934 / Summer ’99)

Certainly longtime readers (of which I have at least a few) will recall my affinity for the “B-Western.” That is, the poverty row or otherwise lower budgeted films of the western genre from the 1930s and 1940s. These cheapies weren’t limited to the 1930s and 1940s, but those two decades are certainly where the majority of my favorites hail from. I grew up on a steady diet of these offerings, via my much-loved and much-missed WAOH TV-29 (which I extensively detailed here), and it’s a fandom that continues to this very day. Of course, we’ve seen posts on the subject here on the blog prior (proof #1, #2 and #3).

Well, recently I was poking around (an utterly indispensable site with a veritable wealth of information on the subject) when I decided to click on the vaaaaaaguely-familiar name of Wally Wales. It was while perusing their biography on him that my eyes fell upon a mention of one of the studios he worked for: Superior Talking Pictures. This perked my figurative ears right up, because Superior Talking Pictures, man, you wanna talk cheap, they were C-H-E-A-P. Monogram offerings were practically Spielbergian productions in comparison to Superior! They were terrible in the best way; because of this, I’ve held a serious interest in their offerings for years.

So anyway, I looked at Wally Wales’ filmography, and stumbled upon the title of The Way of the West, from 1934. The synapses in my brain began firing, and I progressively dredged up the memory: I taped that one back in the day! A thankfully-quick dig through my VHS boxes (helped by the recollection of the tape brand I had it on) unearthed the object of my desire, and so here we are.

Excepting specialty video dealers, the only normative way for most folks to catch & keep many of these B-Westerns back then was through the magic of VCR, provided you had a regular television outlet for these films – which I did. That has since changed exponentially; the public domain status of many (most?) of these flicks has meant a variety of DVD releases, never mind the legal online options. The Way of the West seems to fall under both categories – there were/are DVD editions out there, and even the Internet Archive has it for free viewin’ and/or downloadin’.

I’d certainly be interested in acquiring a shiny, factory-pressed DVD edition of the feature, but there’s something to be said for taking a trip back in time via a VHS recording. I have no exact date, but it’s from the summer of 1999 – a whopping 21 years ago! My recording is old enough to drink HAW HAW HAW! The sobering realization that 20+ years have elapsed since I taped this notwithstanding (talk about time shifting!), it’s fun to revisit a specific time and place in my personal history – especially since I have zero recollection of ever actually watching this recording! And even better: it’s from TV-29 (via America One Television’s syndication), so there’s some fun extras present, too!

We’ll take a look at those accoutrements momentarily, but for now, let us dive into the cinematic marvel that is Superior Talking Pictures’ The Way of the West

Our title screen (duh!)

I could be awfully choosy about what I did and didn’t keep where VHS recording was concerned back then, and truth be told, I’m really not sure why I decided to keep The Way of the West. I don’t know if I even realized this was a Superior Talking Picture back then (the pertinent info isn’t front-and-center on the opening screen seen here; it’s buried at the bottom of the following screen). Maybe it had to do with the mystery surrounding the leading man of the movie, as recounted by America One movie host Alan Stone before the picture? (Stone’s intro is one of the accoutrements we’ll look at after the movie, by the way.) Or maybe it was the involvement of, as you can see here, Art Mix, who I was familiar with back then. Or maybe I just liked the title and obscure creakiness of the whole thing, I dunno. Not that I’m complaining, of course.

Looking at the screen capture here, you’ll notice right above the title the specific notation of “The American Rough Riders.” Now, there was indeed a Rough Riders series of westerns, but they came later and were a product of Monogram. So, I’m not quite sure what the header alludes to here. Wally Wales is more or less a solo hero in this one, so was this an already-known group of silver screen names that Superior was capitalizing on, something Superior was trying to gather attention with, or…? At any rate, the more well-known Rough Riders had nothing to do with these Rough Riders. Maybe that’s why I kept the recording? I would have at least known of the later Rough Riders at that time, so maybe this struck me as weirdly funny?

The plot? (Some spoilers ahead, like anybody cares.) Hey, did you know that cattlemen and sheep herders were (are?) mortal enemies? I sure didn’t, but that’s exactly what this movie posits; that those in charge of cattle hate those in charge of sheep with a deadly, all-consuming passion.

That’s what drives the plot here: the government gives out land for grazin’ and whatnot, with no regard for whether the animals doing said grazing are big smelly milk machines or cotton covered creatures. Well, Dad Parker and his two children, ‘Fiery’ Parker and her younger brother Bobby, have some of this gub’mint granted land and a huge herd of sheep – and that draws the ire of one Cash Horton and his cohorts (one of which is the aforementioned Art Mix, who had a storied western career; like I said, I knew of him even back then). These nefarious chumps have been enlisted to drive Parker off, and this, needless to say, provides the impetus for our story here.

Wally telling Cash to get lost (or something along those lines)

Standing in defense of the Parker family and solidly on the side of good is Wally Gordon (Wales). Wally comes to the aid of Fiery early in the picture, rescues Bobby from some bullying via Cash’s crew, and is just an all-around good egg. To further demonstrate the burning rage that apparently exists between cattlemen and sheep herders, when queried on the subject of whether he’s a cattle man or a sheep man early in the film, Wally responds: “Well, I try to be just plain human being; sheep or cows, we have to live and let live, you know?” The fact he even needed to elaborate on this points to a rift that, again, I had no idea was a thing. Maybe it was only an issue in the world of the movie?

Wales isn’t a bad leading man, though a tad generic in the role. He certainly fares better than he could have, considering the material he was saddled (HAW HAW HAW) with. You don’t expect much from a B-Western, particularly one that isn’t from one of the big ‘B’ studios (Monogram, Republic, heck, even PRC). Even so, Way is pretty creaky, and more importantly, dumb. Hey, it wouldn’t be a Superior if it wasn’t!

Amongst the inanity (and this is just a sampling):

Awkward camerawork (particularly later in the film) that ostensibly progresses the plot (sheep being herded etc.) but really kind of juts around haphazardly and with obstacles in the landscape (read: trees) partially obscuring the shot. Good enough, I guess!

Also, a few instances in which the dialogue seemingly starts late during a new shot or is awkwardly paused/broken. Forgotten lines, miscues, or poor editing? I don’t know, but it’s pretty funny when it happens!

Regarding the script, it’s often eye-rollingly stupid. Shortly after Dad Parker specifically introduces his foreman (Wally!) to Cash, Cash asks who he is, to which it is then re-explained to him! There’s more than one dumb instance between Wally and Cash, too; the final exchange between them, a callback to a conversation from earlier in the film, is so awkwardly delivered that it’s practically jaw dropping – especially when Cash concludes by having a hearty laugh over it! (Despite his being in custody and about to be put in the slammer…though, oddly enough, without being restrained in any way. I guess this hardened criminal was on the honor system?)

You want amateurish action? The Way of the West has you covered! The fights in this one are bad even by cheapie old western standards. Dig this: early in the picture, Wally knocks a baddie out by raising his arm towards him, and then there’s a quick cut to his fist pushing the bad guy’s face, and then a cut to the guy hitting the ground – unconscious. It’s amazing. Apparently folks in the world of the movie are made of paper; the slightest shoves are capable of knocking people to the ground. And accusing Cash of killing in cold blood, even though mere accusations are all that can be thrown at him at that point? Why, that’s the cue for a huge, yet highly pathetic, bar brawl to take place!

Near the end of the film, Superior realized that speeding the film up (as in, running it at a faster FPS rate) during fight scenes helps, which it does indeed do; too bad that relatively-clever decision actually makes the stuff that came before look even worse in comparison. Prior to that decision, there’s a long drawn out bit where Wally and Cash wrestle on the ground, and instead of the daring fight it’s supposed to be, it just comes off awkward and sad – especially since there’s no music on the soundtrack to enhance the action. (The lack of soundtrack, aside from the open and close of the film, was par for the course for cheapo westerns at that time).

And then there’s the just plain puzzling moments in general. At one point, Wally is pinned down by Cash’s gunfire, so he takes his hat off and uses some nearby sticks to set it up as a decoy so he can make a retreat. Not a bad idea…except that he sets up the hat so low to the ground that Cash couldn’t possibly see it. And if he could, then he could also certainly see Wally exiting.

Among the most “say what?” moments of the movie: at one point, some unconscious bad guys are “humorously” dumped in a watering trough. (The actors tend to flinch when they first hit the water, but don’t let that destroy the illusion, okay?) Sound lighthearted enough? Well, considering one of them is dropped in face down while ostensibly unconscious…

And if all that wasn’t enough, there’s heroic-yet-comedic relief provided by young brother Bobby Parker. I have yet to see a B-Western where a kid in such a role doesn’t annoy me to some degree. His accidentally almost shooting an unsuspecting guy in the head is actually treated with frivolity! Later, he’s enlisted to go undercover to find proof that Wally didn’t kill a guy in cold blood – as if a little kid skulking about wouldn’t be suspicious. (Of course he overhears a conversation that needlessly explains the frame-up in detail.)

Oh, and by the way, Wally is secretly a government agent sent to investigate the cow/sheep war, but this point has no real bearing on the story and thus never really goes anywhere; it’s just kinda ‘there’ by the end of the picture. So why even include it in the first place?

But you know what the ironic thing about all this is? For a Superior Talking Picture, this really isn’t that bad. Is it cheap and creaky and occasionally amateurish, even outright stupid? Oh, without a doubt. And yet, considering how bad these Superiors could be, The Way of the West actually kinda succeeds in comparison. It’s hardly a beacon of B-Western movie making, and you don’t go into these things expecting a highfalutin experience anyway, but it still fares considerably better than, say, Range Riders, which could probably be considered the high (low?) water mark of Superior Talking Picture ridiculousness-in-every-facet. (Indeed, I once had an extensive DVD review of the film up here at the blog, though it’s currently reverted to draft-form for revisions; maybe I’ll get around to re-posting it at some point, provided I feel industrious enough.)

So yes, The Way of the West, it’s technically terrible, but a lot of fun to watch in a “bad movie night” sorta way. Its flaws are myriad, but except for that whole “potentially drowning a guy” thing, I guess it doesn’t do anything too offensive…

Oh…oh wow…


Is, is t-that a freakin’ swastika on Cash Horton’s back?! It sure is! Boy, the dude’s an even bigger bad guy than he first appeared to be! I guess there’s no better way to say “HEY THIS IS THE VILLAIN OF THE PICTURE” though, is there?

ACTUALLY, before it became known as the symbol of, erm, you know, the swastika had a number of different iterations and meanings. Indeed, this isn’t even the first time I’ve seen it in a B-Western. Here, let Wikipedia tell you more.

The trivia section of Way‘s IMDb page says it was meant as a Native American good luck sign. I believe it; besides the fact the ‘bad’ version of the symbol is slightly different anyway, we’re talking pre-WWII film making here; it wouldn’t make much sense to put the Nazi symbol in a movie of this nature anyway. As we’ve seen, Superior could do some dumb stuff in their movies, but that would be particularly head-scratching.

Nevertheless, none of that changes the fact that the image does provide an initial “HUH?!”

(By the way, this is the scene where Horton shoots Dad Parker in cold blood. Dad winds up dying from his injuries, so just ignore the fact that it seriously looks like Horton shoots him in the posterior, okay?)

So, that’s The Way of the West. Okay, sure, from a technical standpoint it’s a terrible movie. Or at least, not a very good one. But you know what? I had a lot of fun watching. It held my attention, and while it’s not the chief offender in Superior’s oeuvre, there’s enough eyebrow-raising moments to be found to make it worth your while. Boy am I glad I taped it forever ago!

The discovery of new old stuff like this is just what made young me so addicted to TV-29 and America One’s syndicated offerings that 29 presented on a daily basis. Indeed, considering I (to the best of my recollection) never actually watched the recording, I guess this is as close as I can get to recreating those days of my youth.

HEY, WAIT! We’re not done just yet! Remember, I promised to showcase some accoutrements that were part of this broadcast! There were four moments outside of the movie that struck my interest. Three of them were commercials, but the fourth was this:

Alan Stone! Stone was the host of America One’s movies at the time. If you scroll waaaaay back up to the start of this article and read my TV-29 retrospective link (here, just have it again), you’d see how much I liked this guy. In fact, after that article, I did an online search for him, hopefully to find where he wound up after his A1 duties were finished. Maybe I could get a hold of him for an interview – or at least an autograph. Sadly, I didn’t turn up anything helpful.

Stone appeared before and after movies on a daily (nearly daily?) basis at the time. Unfortunately, his outro was cut off by me (mistake!) on this recording, but I kept the intro. Stone mainly talked about the many names Wally Wales was known by throughout his career (seriously, look it up!), and as he often did, displayed some of his dry humor with a “so you figure it out” after naming several of Wales’ monikers off.

For this broadcast, obviously this was part of America One’s “Western Theater” showcase, which specialized in movies just, like, well, just like this one. (Aw okay, they usually weren’t this chintzy!) It’s strictly thanks to Western Theater that I’m the B-Western fan that I am today!

Instrumental Legends Compilation Ad! Okay, so when it came to broadcasts on TV-29, there would typically be two ways the commercial breaks during a respective broadcast could go: ones that split time with ‘national’ ads and locally-produced spots, as you would tend to expect of an independent station. But then, there were other broadcasts where it was strictly ‘national’ ads; ITT Tech, mail order music and videos, things like that. It’s the latter category that this broadcast we’re looking at now falls in. I’m okay with that though, because the music compilation commercials present, the ads are practically burnt into my mind, so often were they run back in the day.

Many of these commercials were for Cornerstone Promotions comps, and that’s the case with what you’re seeing now: Instrumental Legends, a two disc (or cassette) set comprised entirely of instrumental oldies. I actually own this one (collecting these Cornerstone CDs has become a hobby of mine, thanks mainly to these commercials I saw endlessly back in the day), and there’s a lot of good stuff on it – provided you like instrumentals, of course. (Check out that Discogs link and judge for yourself!) And look at that screencap; it may be hard for some to remember a time when two CDs could run nearly $30, and two cassettes were nearly $20!

Malt Shop Memories Compilation Ad! Of all of the Cornerstone Promotions commercials I saw back then, there was perhaps none more played, or memorized by yours truly, than this one: Malt Shop Memories, another two disc/tape set, this one focusing on 1950s jukebox-worthy tracks; stuff you’d supposedly hear in a – say it with me – malt shop. Go figure! (Be forewarned: there’s more than one compilation that goes by the title Malt Shop Memories, but this is the one burnt into my brain.)

Since I’m very much a 1950s &1960s rock guy (in all the various forms the vague term of “rock” entails when applied to those two decades), this set is very much right up my alley. Looking at that Discogs link, you’ll see that the set leans towards slower, Doo Wop tracks, though I’m just fine with that.

Unlike the preceding Instrumental Legends commercial, which mainly featured happy couples and ‘relaxing’ images (flowing streams and whatnot), this Malt Shop Memories commercial went all out in recreating the stereotypical 1950s malt shop, complete with teens in period-appropriate clothing, dancing, and just enough lip-syncing to make me feel embarrassed for the actor. Oh how I love this commercial; it just may be my favorite music compilation spot of all-time!

Pinkard & Bowden: Gettin’ Stupid Ad! Another one I practically know by heart, though despite the (seeming) ubiquity of the commercial at the time, in comparison to the preceding two collections Gettin’ Stupid is actually kinda tough to find, or at least sells for a bit more.

Pinkard & Bowden were a comedy country music duo, specializing in parodies of popular songs and humorous originals. Think of a countrified Weird Al Yankovic x 2 or something like that. The ad plays up the comedic aspects of the duo by having them lip sync and act out in costume some of the songs found on this collection.

This commercial, obviously it was still running by 1999, but apparently the compilation first released in 1993. One of the things I find my most interesting about it now is seen in the screencap here: the option to purchase it on vinyl. I consider, roughly, 1990-2005 to be the ‘lost years’ of vinyl, and releases within those years, after the format lost mainstream popularity and before it made a welcome comeback, to be of extreme interest. If the CD version of this comp is tough to find, I can only guess how obscure the vinyl is!

(The option to buy on the seemingly-dead vinyl format was often seen on these mail order advertisements throughout the 1990s, and as someone who scours a lot of vinyl at thrift shops and whatnot, I can tell you used copies of these don’t turn up nearly as often as I’d like. A 1991 Bobby Vinton comp was and is cool, but the big find in this category for me over the last few years? Andy Griffith’s 1995 Gospel music collection. I remember the commercials for that one, too; I do believe they were still airing well after ’95.)

There you have it: a movie review, an old television broadcast review, and a look back at what comprised my cinematic interests 21 years ago. (Hey, some things never change!) Stuff like this provided the foundation for not only my ongoing love of the B-Western genre, but also local programming (even though, technically, nothing here was really locally produced).

This was a fun article to write, and definitely a fun broadcast to revisit, or visit, depending on how you look at it. Maybe some of the content here will be hard for people to understand just why I’m so enamored by it, but if nothing else, maybe I’ve introduced another good bad movie for y’all to throw into the queue. That’s something to be proud of, I think? Whatever.

Wonder Wizard Television Sports Games Console (1976)

Like everyone else, we’re still under pandemic alert here, but the majority of places have reopened, and that means thrift stores. Oh I’ve been making up for lost time with a vengeance alright – albeit with a face mask on and an antisocial social distancing attitude at the ready. (It’d be nice to think that everybody realizes we’re all in this together, but considering I’ve encountered more than one person who just doesn’t seem to “get” it, well, it kinda astounds me. I mean, is it really that important to you to stand only a foot away and incessantly babble about inconsequential nonsense to a perfect stranger? We’re not friends, I don’t know you, lea’ me alone. Though truthfully, I’d feel the same way even if there wasn’t a rampant virus afoot. Oh, do I sound cranky? GOOD.)

Anyway, I’ve brought home a buncha good stuff since being back in action; lotsa new additions to my music library, some great old mugs/glassware for that particular collection, a multitude of miscellaneous items that pique my interest; plenty o’ stuff I’m happy with. BUT, as far as things that I can really get fired up enough to write about here, frankly, not as much as I’d like. Seriously; I came close with a big ol’ bag of early-to-mid-80s erasers that held several cool objet d’art within, but after some preliminary writing, I decided there probably still wasn’t enough to hold the attention of all four of my regular readers. (Though, fun fact, most of that introductory paragraph was ripped from that otherwise-cancelled article.)

I don’t know if the drought has passed, but if nothing else, I was recently given a brief respite as far as blog-worthy material goes, and it’s our subject today. (“Gee, no kidding!”)

Behold! It’s the incredible Wonder Wizard “Television Sports Games” console, released by General Home Products in (according to this site) June of 1976 – a whopping 44 years ago this month! What constitutes “Television Sports Games,” you ask? It’s, uh, Pong. Or rather, “tennis” because non-name brands. But really, it’s Pong. Well, that and some other games that go by the names of other sports but are really just slightly-modified Pongs.

Yup, this Wonder Wizard (model number 7702) is one of many, many “Pong clones” that made up the first generation of home video games. No joke; there were a ton of these that eventually saturated the market before developers figured out swappable game cartridges just might lead to a longer lifespan of console sales. (“Yeah, sure, uh huh!”)

(Because I know someone will jump all over me if I don’t specifically point this out, the well-known famous Pong wasn’t really the first Pong, either; there was a ping pong game for the first-ever-console, the Magnavox Odyssey, that Pong was “inspired” by. Nevertheless, it was Pong that really gave a jump start to the video game industry. Also, I’ve now grown tired of typing the word “Pong.”)

I hope you’ll agree that the 1970s aesthetics of the Wonder Wizard are just fantastic. As you can see, woodgrain was the order of the day, and as such, the console evokes its era in a way that practically reaches out and paints a leisure suit on you.

Hopefully this side-view pic above gives you an idea of general size of the system. Unlike many of these clones that could be on the small/cheap/etc. side, there’s some real bulk to the Wonder Wizard. Not that it’s heavy; it’s not. But size-wise, it’s decent. Hey, more real estate, more woodgrain! And like said woodgrain, the general design of the shell is very 1970s, and thus very cool. It’s hard to imagine this coming from any other decade!

So, just where did I find the wonderful Wonder Wizard 7702, you ask? Frankly, I’m hesitant to give up the location because the last thing I need is more competition, but rest assured, it was a thrift store I hit up frequently. And trust me, the Wonder Wizard really pushed the limits of the term “thrift.” That word implies something budget-conscious, and while Wonder Wizard wasn’t (alliteration) prohibitively expensive, it came a little too close for my comfort. I mean, it wasn’t like it was the equivalent of a PS4, and indeed, it cost less than the average brand new PS4 game. Still, for someone who balks at dropping more than $10 per thrift visit, the price tag wasn’t ideal, especially since I had no sure way of knowing if it worked. (More on that issue in a bit.)

As I approached the electronics section in which Wonder Wizard was residing and it became increasingly obvious that whatever I was looking at was an uber-old console, my first thoughts were of the aforementioned Magnavox Odyssey. Had I been thinking clearly I’d have recalled that the original Odyssey featured wired controllers, but obviously all questions were dispelled once I actually picked the thing up and saw the name.

Though, while I didn’t know it at the time, I actually was in the Odyssey wheelhouse. See if you can follow this, because it can be a little confusing: the original Magnavox Odyssey came out in 1972 and used “game cards” to access different types of games (these weren’t ROM cartridges though; scroll back up to that Wikipedia link for a better description), and that system gave way to a line of dedicated Odyssey consoles in 1975 and which continued for a few years until the Magnavox Odyssey 2 superseded the whole lot of them. As far as the line of dedicated consoles goes though, this Wonder Wizard is internally a Magnavox Odyssey 300, and externally a modified shell of the original Magnavox Odyssey. Well, at least the base is identical; here, let this site tell you more about it.

Put simply, the Wonder Wizard is a re-badged Magnavox Odyssey 300 console. Though truth be told, I think the Wonder Wizard looks much cooler. Check out the Wiki link and compare for yourself! (Also, reading that page on the dedicated console series, MAN did they have a lot of superfluous entries in the line. Minute-at-best modifications would apparently warrant a whole new console release!)

The Wonder Wizard wasn’t the most feature-heavy Pong clone ever released; there’s really not a whole lot of options at your disposal here. We’ll take a closer look at the games themselves momentarily, but for now, here’s what you get: hand ball, which is tennis played against a solid wall. Tennis, which is just Pong but not really but actually is. And hockey, which is tennis with more paddles and smaller “goalie” areas. (It’s only the sport of hockey in the most rudimentary sense.)

Curious about the difficulty options seen on the right side of the panel here? Why? They’re kinda self-explanatory, aren’t they? Oh alright, I’ll explain: “beginner” is supposedly the easiest setting, with larger paddles and a somewhat slower ball – it plays pretty much how (I guess) people would expect a Pong-type game to play. “Intermediate” shortens the paddles, and “pro” puts the paddles back to their original length but speeds the ball up considerably.

I probably would have changed the labeling of the difficulty settings somewhat, or at least renamed “beginner” to “normal” or something.

The underside of the Wonder Wizard is pretty barren, with only two things worth noting as far as I’m concerned. (In other words, y’all don’t need a pic of the whole bottom of the console.)

First, there’s this label, amazingly still affixed to the beast despite the 40+ years that have elapsed since the original, uh, affixation. See, 7702. Did you think I was lying? I wasn’t. And look; FCC approved!

I don’t really have much more to say about the label (what more can I say?), so I suppose now is as good a time as any to mention that this particular Wonder Wizard wasn’t the only one released by General Home Products. Nope, according to this site, there were several other machines under that name. From the little bit of research I’ve done since acquiring this machine two days ago, it seems like the 7702 gets the most “press” online due to the Magnavox connections – and I assume because it strongly looks like it should be played by someone with oversized lapels – but I’d still say it falls more on the obscure side of the Pong clone spectrum overall. (Though truth be told, beyond Atari and their Sears Telegames rebrands, the Magnavox Odyssey and the Coleco Telstar lines, the vast majority of these Pong systems seem, to me, to fall on the obscure side.)

Here’s the other thing of note on the underside of the console: the battery compartment. Now, the Wonder Wizard 7702 does accept a power adapter, but such things were not included with mine. That’s okay, I’m used to it, and besides, as was common with these Pong clones, the option to use batteries was often (always?) included as an alternative. This was beneficial, because while I could have dug up or otherwise found a replacement adapter, I’m generally leery of such things, having once fried an Atari Jaguar many years back. (The subsequent ‘pop’ and wisp of smoke that arose from the Jag told me I probably did somethin’ bad to it. It was obviously my fault for not being more careful looking at the specs of the machine and the adapter, but hey, live and learn. I wound up getting a ‘good’ Jaguar later down the road anyway.)

So yes, if I was going to play this thing, it was going to be via six big ol’ size “C” batteries. Unfortunately, the sole issue regarding the condition of the Wonder Wizard – and I was cognizant of this while still at the thrift store – is in regards to that battery compartment. The problem? Look at the top right of this picture, and you’ll see that the plastic around the battery connector (is that what it’s called?) has broken. The connector itself isn’t broken, just the plastic (hey, it is over 40 years old), and as such, I knew there was a strong possibility that I’d have to play Bob Vila and do a little repair work when I got home. Fiddling with some new batteries and the connector later that first night, I did get the unmistakable beeps and boops of Pong to emanate from the system, so I had a good idea that the system worked in some fashion. So the next day (yesterday to you), I opened the whole thing up, used a roll of adhesive (that’s tape to you), and began the process of sturdily taping the connector back in place just enough to make adequate contact with the batteries.

I discovered while having the Wonder Wizard opened that except for the battery compartment, the thing was in exceedingly decent, clean shape. (Same goes for the outside of the unit; it sure appears to have been well taken care of!) Due to the wiring inside, it was tougher to get a decent view and/or my big meaty paws in there than I expected, but eventually I prevailed to the point of “good enough.” Remember, this wasn’t a big time restoration job; the batteries just had to make decent contact.

We’ll get to the fruits of my labor momentarily, but long story short: I was successful. It was an achievement worthy of me stomping around the neighborhood and hollering “I is MacGyver!” over and over. I didn’t, because that would have drawn the consternation of my neighbors and I generally try to avoid them. But I could have.

(This battery compartment picture was actually taken after all was said and done, and as such you can see some of my expert professional tape job in it. I had it taped into place better than it appears here; I accidentally pushed the thing back out when removing the batteries. “These pics aren’t in sequential order in regards to the story at hand?! Say it ain’t so!” That black tape to the left was there when I got the thing, and I just noticed the relatively minor cracking in the bottom left corner a moment ago. If I ever do much work with this thing again, it’ll be via an actual power adapter, lest I make things worse than they already are.)

There was one other issue regarding the hooking up of the Wonder Wizard to a TV, and though I didn’t fully quite recognize it as such at first, it was actually a far more pressing issue than the battery compartment. If I didn’t get that thing going, I’d just find an adapter. But if this other issue didn’t work out in my favor, I was in some actual trouble.

The Wonder Wizard has the RF cable hardwired right into the console, which is all fine and dandy. But, because this was actually made by Magnavox, the Wonder Wizard is subject to the same trappings as the Odysseys, and that could cause issues nowadays.

How so? Look at this RF plug here; doesn’t look like your usual RF plug, do it? Magnavox used what was, I believe (correct me if I’m wrong), a proprietary format for their Odysseys. That’s to say, unique. In other words, you need the appropriate switch box that matches with this plug before you can connect the thing to your TV. I consider this to be decidedly “whack.”

(Could someone do some splicing/soldering/etc. and make this relatively more compatible, i.e. with a more common set-up? Probably, but I have no such skills, and besides, I’d be worried about messing up my one and only example of the console.)

Fortunately, I had just such a switch box, from a Magnavox Odyssey 2000 I got at a different thrift store many many years ago. That 2000 is in somewhat iffy condition so I never even attempted to use it, though coincidentally, that Wiki link says it’s basically an updated Odyssey 300. I just can’t get away from that thing!

The 2000 has just been floating around my basement since acquiring it, so it’s nice to see that it’s finally earning its keep by providing the original Magnavox switch box for me to use here. And in a pleasant change of pace, I didn’t have to go through a laborious search to unearth it! It was grimy enough to make me wonder if it even still functioned however, providing me with yet another “I ain’t know” in regards to whether I’d ever get the Wonder Wizard displaying on a real TV or not. But, at least I wasn’t completely out of luck. Yet?

So, everything’s hooked up, and while there was some trial and error and aforementioned battery compartment-fixin’, the results eventually yielded were…

…An earthshaking success! I am the man! I. AM. THE. MAN. Time for a bizarre touchdown dance? Maybe!

Remember my cool 1975 RCA portable TV seen both here and then here? It was the only relatively-accessible TV with the old school screwy RF antenna jack things in my immediate vicinity, so as you can see, out it came. Plus, playing a Pong clone on that TV feels right; the Wonder Wizard displaying on that uber-retro television set, I mean, it just looks cool. The woodgrain of the console, contrasting with the sleek, smooth 1970s-ness of the TV –  the old school gaming vibes are strong with this one! Though, I did have to remove the protective face cover on the TV before taking pictures, since it was apparently made of the most reflective substance in the universe and I didn’t need y’all inadvertently seeing the look of utter awe and/or joy on mah face.

Like I said earlier, when messing around with the batteries, I did get sound to emanate from the machine (this is one of those old school consoles in which all sound effects come straight out of the system and not the TV as you’d expect), so something somewhere somehow worked. Nevertheless, it was a moment of sheer exhilaration (or at least relief) to see that the money wasn’t wasted to bring the Wonder Wizard home.

(I would have liked to get some actual screenshots of this console in action for this article, as opposed to mere pictures of it playing on a TV. Now that I think of it, I guess I could have screwed this unique switch box into a common, generic switch box, and then screwed that into the back of a VCR, and then plugged that into the VCR I have connected to my PC. But boy, that sure sounds like an awful lot of work for an article only three people will look at and only half will actually read.)

What you’re seeing displayed above is tennis aka Pong aka ping pong aka still tennis. It, uh, acts exactly as you’d expect it to. It’s Pong, what more can I say? I did discover that the paddles are pretty jittery on the Wonder Wizard, so actually playing the thing isn’t really feasible. I fully expected this, such things are very common with these dedicated consoles; cleaning the knobs would solve the issue, should I so desire.

This here is hockey, or rather what is purported to be hockey. I mean, technically I guess it is. You’ve got your goalies, and, uh, other guys. I have no idea why the right side features three players while the left side only has two; maybe the right side had a power play?

No matter, cause guess what, CPU? My superior 2020 intellect and advanced game playin’ skillz are about to take you down! Let’s rumble!!!

…Oh wait, the Wonder Wizard is two players only. Yep, in an annoyingly endearing trait of early video games, the option to play by your lonesome is, erm, not an option at all. Don’t have anybody to play with? Guess you’re playing you, then! First one to 15 is the victor! Hey look, I won!

And here’s the hand ball variation. Tennis/Pong and hockey may hold more gravitas in comparison, but had the paddles not been so jittery and I felt like browbeating someone into playing with me, I could see this one being potentially pretty fun.

As it stands though, it’s, uh, hand ball. You slam a ball against the wall and, I guess, hope the other person misses it? Are those the rules? Hey look, I won again! 15 to 1!

This raises the question though: was there ever a legit Pong variant of Jai Alai? Or, dare I dream it, Bocce Ball? (Those two sports don’t really have anything to do with each other and I’m not very familiar with either one; I’m just writing filler here.)

While taking pictures for this article, I thought turning the light off might improve the quality of the shots my phone was taking of the television screen. The difference was negligible, but I did get this really cool pic of the Wonder Wizard illuminated by the light of said screen. it evokes, I don’t know, bell-bottomed kids staying up late into the night playing this wonder of technology or something. “It’s far out, man!” Wait, were people still saying “far out” in our Bicentennial year of ’76?

So there you have it, the Wonder Wizard Television Sports Games (aka Magnavox Odyssey 300) console. Is it antiquated in both looks and gameplay? Well, yeah, I guess. But you know, I absolutely love the overt 1970s look of the console. And the gameplay? I hate the thinking that just because a game is old or graphically challenged (or another apparently popular one: pre-NES), it can’t possibly be any good. Yes, the game variants here are all primitive to the max, but I can absolutely still see some potential head-to-head fun being had here.

And really, this is pure gaming history. Okay, sure, in comparison to other Pong systems it’s probably a relatively minor piece, but nevertheless, the Wonder Wizard is still a part of that de facto first generation of home video games. (You thought the Atari 2600 was first gen? Sorry ace; that and consoles like it are actually second gen.)

Is the Wonder Wizard my new favorite Pong clone console? Well, I’m definitely fond of it (for what it cost, I better be!), and I do indeed collect these consoles in general, but it still doesn’t top my two favorite dedicated consoles from the era: the Coleco Telstar Arcade, which is so (relatively) advanced that calling it a mere “Pong clone” seems like a serious understatement, and Atari’s Video Pinball console, which isn’t even really a Pong system at all.

Still, the Wonder Wizard is neato, man. You know what it sorta recalls to me? Lemme see if I can explain this: due to the look of it, it just seems like something that was bought and played, and then just sorta became ‘part of the scenery.’ Not relegated to the basement or attic exactly, but just sort of there, kind of more like a piece of furniture than something anyone ever really thought of playing by a certain point – especially once more advanced consoles started coming out. Maybe it was dusted and kept clean fairly clean (this example is still in very nice shape), but was paid little attention to otherwise.

Does that make any sense at all?

I don’t know, maybe I’m putting too much thought into this. Anyway, the Wonder Wizard 7702: it looks neat and cool and strictly of its time, it plays fine (well, except for the jittery paddles), and it’s now part of my collection. What more could a vintage gaming system ask for?

Magnavox 19C503 TV (April 1985)

During my recent cleaning/organizing/searching/digging jaunts, some rewards of which were detailed in my last post, I also gained the opportunity to liberate some of the electronics I’ve had stacked, buried, etc., as well. Oh I knew well enough where and what they were beforehand; it’s just that they were buried under enough random crap that mustering up the energy to dig ’em out from whatever I had piled on top of ’em wasn’t going to happen on the spur of the moment. (In other words, I couldn’t work up enough enthusiasm.)

Still, since I wound up moving, shifting and/or replacing the precarious mounds of stuff that had accumulated over the years, there was no time like the present to unearth some of these specimens. And so, now I present to you a vintage TV so cool, I honestly should have written about it sooner. (Hindsight and all that jazz.)

Get a load of this:

It’s the Magnavox 19C503 color TV, manufactured in April of 1985, and just as it assuredly was 35 (!) years ago, it continues to be “hip,” “radical,” “boss,” “with it,” “the living end,” and any other number of trendy and up-to-date positive adjectives you can think to throw at it.

Where did I get this dandy example of 1980s electronic craft? A few years ago, Goodwill had a whole bunch of CRT (that’s “Cathode Ray Tube” to you, pal) TVs laid out for cheap buck bills. We’re talking literally $1-$3 apiece here. Whether it was one massive donation, a serious backlog of stock or what, I do not know, but it was obvious that they had a lot of old television sets and they wanted ’em gone right quick. This was well, well after the switch to digital, and TVs like these weren’t really showing up with any sort of frequency anymore anyway (I’m not sure they even accept CRT TVs as donations nowadays – at least not in my parts), so in retrospect this ended being a last hurrah of sorts.

I’ll never forget that while I was there perusing all this (and I do believe I already had this 19C503 loaded up in my cart), there was some dude there borderline flipping out over these bargains, as was made clear by his excited cellphone conversation. He even turned to me, mentioned the prices and uttered “you just can’t beat it” like we were sharing a moment or something.

ANYWAY, the 19C503: at first glance it doesn’t look too far off from any number of other TVs from around that period. Faux woodgrain sides, digital buttons, a screen size that measures about 18 or 19 inches diagonally; it’s not super heavy, but bulky enough that moving it around is hassle. It’s not a low-end television, and certainly not a portable, but also probably not what would have been considered a top-tier model, either.

Oh, and also, I can’t find much of anything about it online, either. Searches bring up service manual listings, but no real descriptive info, and certainly no pictures. Not that I saw anyway, and I sure looked. I’m not naive enough to believe I’ve got a super rare item or internet exclusive here, but, well…?

You know what attracted me first and foremost to this TV? Those cool diagonal power & channel buttons, that’s what! They just look neat, and even if it’s merely a cosmetic touch, the design absolutely screams “1980s!” to me. It’s not a big enough deal to make me drop $50 (or $20, or maybe even $10) on it, but $1, $2 or $3 (I honestly can’t remember exactly)? Oh there’s no way it wasn’t going home with me at that price. Aesthetically pleasing and a cool example of vintage electronics, that’s about all it takes!

(The slidey volume control is nice too, I just don’t have much to say about it.)

Of course, does the bulk and fairly big footprint it makes justify that price? The answer resides with the individual, but hey, I can live with it. I am living with it.

The flash on my camera makes it hard to see, but the moniker “DIGITAL CONTROL SYSTEM” is stamped on the door of the picture adjustment compartment. Highfalutin! That makes it sound like it should reside on the Enterprise or something. I like to imagine Picard watching Jeopardy! on this TV.


Of course the DIGITAL CONTROL SYSTEM door drops down to provide more options to enhance your television viewing experience. Not a ton of options, mind you; just the expected sharpness/brightness/picture/tint/color knobs you’re looking at here. While I wish there was more to make me feel like I was really controlling a battle station, I guess technically you don’t need much else.

Also, as per the sticker seen inside the door, automatic fine tuning is enabled when you turn the channel and then turn it right back. Handy!

Obviously it’s kind of a spartan set-up where options are concerned, and that continues on to the back of the TV…

No, I’m not taking a picture of the whole back, just the “essentials.” That’s not good enough for you? Nothing I ever do is right.

There’s not a whole lot here. Besides the model and serial number stickers, there’s the option to give this TV stereo capability, provided you, uh, had a stereo to hook it up to. Also, an RF jack, but except for the red audio jack for the stereo, no AVs to speak of, which further leads me to believe this was more of a “middle tier” television.

Oh, and a power cord; it’s got one of those, too. That’s how you give it juice to turn on, man!

(I clearly don’t have a whole lot else I can say here.)

See, manufactured April 1985. Did you think I was lying? I wasn’t. And as you can see, it’s a fine American product, assembled in Greeneville, TN, US of A; apparently they had (have?) a plant there.

(I clearly don’t have a whole lot else I can say here.)

We’ll get to the functionality of this TV momentarily, but let me just jump ahead here and say that I like it, a lot. I liked it in the first place obviously, but now I’m wanting to make it a “gaming TV.” Not that I don’t have those already, but this one, I’d like to just tuck it away with one old school console always hooked up to it, at the ready for whenever a particular whim of vintage video gaming strikes me.

Only problem there was that after a bit of usage, the “old TV smell” this thing began to emit started to get to me. It’s a common phenomenon, I briefly talked about it before (in this old post), and *I* attribute it to the decades of dust, dirt and I-don’t-want-to-know-what-else that has accumulated within it being ‘activated’ once the set really starts to warm up. An expert will probably come along and tell me I’m wrong – in which case, what’s the solution? (To the TV smell, not me being wrong, I mean.)

Since I don’t want this thing stinking up the room I tentatively plan to house it in, I decided to go the extra mile and clean the insides of this baby out.

Now, I admit, this is something I should be doing with most or even all of the old electronics I bring home. Besides just being good care for the unit itself, it would also eliminate the possibility of insidious bugs inadvertently being brought into my home. I’ve thus far been lucky on that front (to the best of my knowledge anyway), and while the period where this thing would’ve been housing something particularly nefarious has probably long passed, I still wanted to attempt to eliminate the possible cause of that smell as best I could.

A trip outside with some compressed air revealed that it actually wasn’t too bad inside, though there was certainly enough dust and whatnot to warrant the effort. And, since I can’t find any pictures of the outside of this TV online, and since I had the back off anyway, what say we take a quick look at the inner workings of this beast while we’re here. It’ll be fun?

(DISCLAIMER: I don’t know much about the inner workings of CRT TVs, but I *do* know enough to know that tubes can hold a charge for looong after the TV is last plugged in/powered up, and that’s in addition to whatever other dangers may be present. In other words, please do NOT go messing around with the mechanics of old televisions – or any vintage electronics for that matter- if you don’t absolutely and positively know what you’re doing. Stay safe and leave it to the professionals! In my case here, I wasn’t exactly goofing around in there anyway, but even so, I was very cautious to not mess with any of the ‘important’ stuff.)

Plastered in the very back of the, uh, back was this handy diagram detailing…well, I really have no idea what it’s detailing, but it’s safe bet that it’s pertinent info for those with actual knowledge of the subject. (Quite a leap in my guesswork, huh?)

See that C 3-8-5 scrawled on the side there? What’s it mean? March 8, 1985? Or something else?

Rest assured, that grime you’re seeing on the bottom vent there was duly cleaned off with turpentine.

There are the main guts. There’s the speaker to the left, and the screen, and…and…and I really have no idea what I’m looking at otherwise, okay? The diagram probably pertains to all of this, but as previously mentioned, I don’t know what I’m looking at there, either. I know enough to know I shouldn’t go poking around in any of it though. Deciding this would be the ideal location to play tiddlywinks wouldn’t end well for me.

I was initially a little concerned that blowing compressed air directly at any of this would cause something to break/falter/etc., but it actually all looked pretty solid. I was able to get as much dust out as I could, and even a piece of styrofoam that probably shouldn’t have been in there was removed.

(Hopefully someone will chime in and let me know if something looks like it’s gone bad and will cause permanent damage to whatever.)

One more ‘guts’ shot, though this is really just some of the stickers on the inside, erm, side. I hope I didn’t void the warranty by opening this! I imagine the warning sticker lets me know, in strict legalese, that I shouldn’t go licking any of the electronics. That wouldn’t end well for me, either.

(DISCLAIMER AGAIN: Seriously folks, do NOT mess around with the mechanics of old televisions – or any vintage electronics for that matter- if you don’t fully know what you’re doing. PLEASE stay safe and leave it to the professionals!)

Okay, so even before I decided to clean out the inside of the TV, I knew I had to test this as best as I could. Hooking up a VCR would be more of a hassle than I was willing to tolerate, and I don’t have a digital converter box so real TV viewing was out. Naturally that left me with only the option to retro game, which should come as no surprise, since I already told you my intentions for this TV. Why aren’t you paying attention to my words?!

When I first got it, I’m not sure I realized the TV was from 1985. Maybe I didn’t pay enough attention and just missed the sticker on the back, or maybe I had just forgotten in the few years since I picked the 19C503 up. Either way, I had a vague “early 1980s” definition floating around my head. As such, in regards to what I wanted to keep hooked up to it on a consistent basis, I was thinking along the lines of something hailing from around 1982/1983. Not necessarily something introduced in those years, just a console that was big enough to have a decent library by then.

Of course, now that I know the TV is from ’85, the easy answer is to hook a Nintendo Entertainment System up to it and let it ride. But, I don’t know, the woodgrain sides and general look of the unit still screams “early 80s American console” rather than “mid-80s” to me. Luckily, I have a console that fits both criteria…

Yes, it’s the INTV System III! And if it just looks like an Intellivision to you, that’s because that’s exactly what it is.

Y’see, thanks to the 1980s video game crash, Mattel wound up dropping the Intellivision line, but the rights were then purchased by a group eventually deeming itself INTV, and with that continued support came new games in production, and therefore new consoles were also needed. Thus the INTV System III was bornin 1985!

Really, it’s just a normal Intellivision, except with a new nameplate and the gold & fake woodgrain color scheme changed to silver & black. Otherwise, same design, same games, and same uncomfortable controllers that hailed from 1979 (or 1980 nationwide, as per Wikipedia).

This was given to me as a birthday gift a few years ago (pre or post 19C503? I ain’t remember!). I already had an original Intellivision, but it was stored away, and I had been wanting a good ‘playing’ console anyway, so that’s what the INTV System III became. Being able to get so reacquainted with it, it eventually shot up to be included in my personal top 10 favorite systems. It doesn’t make top 5, but top 10, definitely.

It was my initial intention to pair the INTV System III up with the 19C503 anyway, so what better way to, you know, test out the TV first?

Does it work? Why sure it does! The picture above sez so! And yes, the display on this TV is still very, very nice. I mean, the picture is really good! And the sound? Nice and clear and loud. Also, dig the inviting bright red channel number the TV displays – why, that’s also worthy of the Enterprise!

What you’re seeing played is the Intellivison staple Star Strike, a game that attempted to emulate the final Death Star battle in Star Wars at home. (Hey, who didn’t want to pilot an X-Wing and blow that thing up?) The idea is to bomb several ports in a scaling, Death Star-esque trench while avoiding/destroying enemy ships; hit all the ports and y’all win. Get killed before doing so or not hitting all the ports before the timer reaches zero, and the earth gets blowed up.

For a 1982 game, the graphics are undoubtedly impressive; Star Strike looks terrific, plain and simple. However, I’ve never been a big fan of the gameplay itself; not that it’s bad, but there’s just never been enough to it for me. Still, it sure looks great!

Anyway, things look and sound quite fine on the 19C503 – but it didn’t exactly start out that way. The TV powered right up, but it took a moment for sound to kick in, even though the only thing being displayed was static. And when I hooked the INTV up, at first all I got was a black & white picture – something worthy of dismayed mental “OH NO!”

I undoubtedly tested the TV at the Goodwill, but of course it probably hadn’t been used, really used, regularly in years. After it warmed up a little, the sound kicked in, and after a game was started, it only took minute or so for the color to pop right back. I guess it just took a bit for the TV’s synapses to fire back up!

(Though after all that, the sound of static, when turning the channels, at first it’ll be low before quickly going to full volume, and it happens every time. I actually don’t think it’s a fault on the TV; because it’s so consistent and because there haven’t been any other audio problems, I think it’s acting normally. Maybe it’s that automatic fine tuning, even though there’s nothing to actually tune in?)

After it got going, the only real fault on the TV’s part was the aforementioned smell,and after the cleaning, I’m still getting a little of it, but it’s much better. Maybe more usage is all it needs?

Indeed, after everything got up and running, my only real disappointment had nothing to do with the TV, but rather, the INTV. I was getting some noticeable video interference whenever certain sound effects played, but it turns out that’s normal. It’s a little annoying, but doesn’t render anything unplayable. My only worry there is that during all this last night, the interference got even more noticeable than it was earlier in the evening, and that definitely concerns me. Is my INTV System III on its way out? I hope not, but it’s not like I’ll be pitching it if it does; it’s too neato!

Plus, it’s not like it has to stay hooked to the 19C503; I’d like to keep it there, sure, but should it go kaput, I could always replace it, or find a 4-switch woodgrain Atari 2600 somewhere (the one that seems most fitting to this TV to me, for some reason).

But for now, the TV seems to be fine; it looks good, it sounds good, it’s got a terrific mid-80s aesthetic to its design, and once the old TV smell (hopefully) works its way out, it’ll be ready to be put in a place of honor. Not bad for only a few bucks at Goodwill!