Tiger’s LCD Handheld DOUBLE DRAGON Game (1988)

Friends, if you think back to nearly three years ago (as of this writing), hopefully you’ll recall my big ol’ pandemic time passin’ post. You know, we’re actually in the tenth anniversary (!) month of this blog, and in all that time, that pandemic post has proven to be one of my personal favorites here. Sure, it was highly personal and more for fun than anything (plus it killed time while we were in lockdown), but the diggin’ and searchin’ and eventual writin’ wound up being sincerely enjoyable for yours truly.

It also provided the catalyst for today’s topic. In that old article, at one point I waxed nostalgic for the long, long line of licensed handheld LCD video games put out by Tiger Electronics in the late-80s and up throughout the 1990s. You may have had to grow up with them to truly appreciate them nowadays (more on that in a bit), but for those of us a certain age, these things were beyond ubiquitous – which was good, because if you were a popular arcade game, console game, movie, TV show, cartoon, or pop culture figure that would appeal to kids, there was a very, very good chance you’d see a Tiger adaptation at some point.

I’ve been wanting to give one of these a specific spotlight for a while now, and when I recently picked up a cheap Tiger Heavy Barrel handheld, I first figured that was going to finally be it. But, for as neat as Heavy Barrel is, when I really thought about it, I decided if I was going to go through the process of writing a whole article on one of these, I might as well do it right. And if you remember this oldie, you’d know there was only one proper choice, one logical choice.

Behold!

Yes indeed, legendary arcade (and console) beat-’em-up Double Dragon saw a Tiger iteration! I mean, Heavy Barrel was a popular game, but it never had the clout the Double Dragon series had in the late-80’s and early-90s. So if Heavy Barrel got the LCD treatment back in the day, you best believe Double Dragon would as well!

The original Double Dragon trilogy plus Super Double Dragon all saw Tiger ports, but from a sheer status-standpoint, the first is, in my opinion, the chaser. Plus, it’s the easiest to obtain. Well, the first three are actually all pretty easy to obtain, though Super seems to be notably tougher to be had. But for pure late-80s fightin’ action (not to mention that iconic artwork), I still say you go for the original.

It’s also the most emblematic of what I’m talking about with these Tigers: an uber-popular, big name game in both arcade and console circles. Not that the company didn’t put out ‘regular’ kinda games (think generic baseball, pinball, etc.), they did, and they had games based on licensed properties prior, but when I (and I’d guess most people) talk about these Tiger handhelds, generally that’s referring to the ones I mentioned in my intro. No joshin’, it seemed pretty much every hot, remotely-kid-friendly property of the late-80s to late-90s got transformed into a Tiger. Not every one did, of course, but many, many were. A good portion of these are still easily acquired nowadays (though not always as cheaply as you might think/hope), though others are surprisingly rare; not that I’m constantly on the lookout for it, but I’ve only seen the game based on the first Wayne’s World movie for sale once, for example. And the asking price wasn’t low.

(My guess is that, in some cases, the game only had enough units made to last the duration of a property’s peak popularity. When the promotional hype for whatever died down, the title would be phased out. That’s merely and completely guesswork on my part, but it makes sense, doesn’t it? That would account for the relative rarity of some of these, anyway. Sorta like licensed cereals; they’d be around for a bit, but who’s gonna keep buying Batman Returns for breakfast when Batman Forever is in theaters?)

It still works! There it is, all turned on. We’ll take closer looks at the actual gameplay momentarily.

Double Dragon, like pretty much all of these Tigers, is a simple LCD game, limited in graphics, animation and sound, only loosely resembling the real property it’s mimicking. When it came to the ports anyway, the old commercials promised something akin to the original arcade (or console) game in your pocket; I still fondly recall the ad in which kids went to great lengths, including hauling a full size coin-op down the hall, to play their favorite games at school, until Tiger simplified the issue for them with these handhelds.

Of course, in reality these things were approximations at best. Considering real consoles and computers often had a hard time bringing the latest arcade games home, there was just no way a cheap LCD handheld was going to be an accurate representation of whatever. In the handheld realm, even a real Game Boy couldn’t do that. Didn’t stop us from daydreaming about the possibilities, though; I grew up with these, and to this day I recall imagining all the fun I’d have once I had Tiger’s Batman wristwatch on my, uh, wrist. I eventually got that watch, and while I’m guessing the real product deflated some of those fantasies once I started playing it, I was also young enough to not really care. (I still have that watch, and actually just dug it out the other day. ‘Course, since I can’t recall ever changing the battery in it, the possibility of it still functioning correctly is quite low, methinks)

Simple as they may have been, if you were a certain age, these Tigers still managed to feel special though. Maybe it was that whole single-game-in-your-pocket, complete with marquee (thus recalling actual arcade machines) thing that did it. Or maybe it was just because they were cheap and everywhere. At any rate, and despite natively being a Nintendo kid, in the days before I had a Sega Genesis to call my own, I was as excited for Tiger’s Sonic 2 as I would have been for any ‘real’ video game. (I played that thing like crazy, too.)

But then, this all might be hard for newer gamers to appreciate; in this day and age, we have portables with real licensed arcade/console titles. For someone who didn’t grow up with them, looking at these Tiger games with their monochrome graphics, limited animation, simple gameplay and beeps and boops constituting music, that might all elicit a severe “so what?” at best, “this is garbage!” at worst. But frankly, those might be the reactions from some people who did grow up with these, too; nostalgia’s a powerful thing, but when a revival of these popped up a few years back, it was both exciting and confusing. It was cool they were back, but would modern gamers care? Would the people who had them back in the day still care? Had the time of these handhelds passed beyond any revival? That’s all up to your personal viewpoints on these, I s’pose.

In my pandemic post, I said something along the lines of these Tigers really not being very good. In some cases that was true, but in hindsight, that wasn’t a totally fair assessment. Granted, generally these lack the simple-yet-addictive twitch gameplay of Nintendo’s best Game & Watch offerings, but I’ve picked up a few old Tigers recently, and I’ve actually been a bit impressed with how they attempted to cram the ‘genuine’ experience into them. I’ve had more fun playing these than I haven’t. (Hey, no jive, while writing this article, Tiger’s Star Trek: The Next Generation handheld arrived in the mail, providing me with a little game break before getting back to writing about, erm, game breaks.)

Getting back to this Double Dragon, you may be wondering just how a full-size, big time beat-’em-up translates into LCD form. Believe it or not, a decent facsimile of a beat-’em-up was possible on an LCD handheld; Konami’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3 was terrific. (Or at least I remember it being terrific.) I’m not sure Double Dragon reaches those lofty heights, but it fares better than it doesn’t.

Double Dragon in the arcades was a side-scrolling brawler in which one Billy Lee (and his brother Jimmy Lee in two player mode) traverse diverse areas and fight an assortment of enemies in a quest to rescue Billy’s kidnapped girlfriend Marian and wipe out city-terrorizin’ gang The Black Warriors. With a bunch of moves and weapons, simultaneous two player action and a truly awesome soundtrack, it was a smash hit; console and computer ports followed, with varying degrees of success.

For this Tiger, while it takes some cues from the coin-op source material, it seems to take as much inspiration from the mega-popular Nintendo Entertainment System port as anything; new moves are gained as you progress, and since it’s single player only, instead of a fighting partner, Jimmy Lee is instead the final boss here (as per the original ad for the game and just like the NES version). The basics of walking the street and pummelin’ baddies remains, however.

In this case, the number of enemies (as in, variety) has been shortened dramatically; there’s a dynamite thrower who appears at the top of the screen occasionally, but for the most part your main adversary is some generic thug. (That’s who you’re seeing above; sorry about that yellow scratch on the screen, by the way – I didn’t feel confident in attempting to clean it off.) Whether the original instructions gave him an official name, I do not know, but he looks more like a biker or something than anyone seen in the arcade original or NES port. I guess he’s kinda Abobo-esque, though I’m not sure if that’s who he’s supposed to officially be.

Don’t go in expecting a myriad of moves at your disposal; you’ll gain the ability to jump and then later jump kick as you go on, but for the most part you’re limited to rapidly punching and kicking your opponent. This is actually more fun than you might expect it to be, especially when you’re dodging the dynamite thrower and it’s getting near the end of the stage and your health is running low. The kick looks incredibly goofy, though I appreciate that Tiger replicated the left punch/right punch animation of the arcade/NES.

Later on, you start using weapons, though I wasn’t sure at first if the game was just giving them to me or if I was accidentally picking them up and not realizing it; I think it’s an automatic thing on the game’s part. I’m not sure there’s an appreciable difference in the number of hits it takes to dispatch a thug, but it’s a nice touch nevertheless.

Originally, Double Dragon was three-dimensional-esque in that you could move between the foreground and background of a stage, as in most beat-’em-ups. On an LCD handheld with severely limited frames of animation, this wasn’t exactly feasible, though they did approximate it. What you’re seeing above is Billy Lee “moving backward,” kind of into the background. You do this as a dodging maneuver, particularly when a dynamite thrower shows up. (That’s what you’re seeing above, as well.) I say this is better than keeping the game strictly single-plane the whole way through.

In most of these Tiger handhelds, there’d be a pre-printed background in which the LCD sprites would be laid overtop throughout. Double Dragon foregoes this somewhat; there’s a plane in the background and there’s some light coloring, as you can see, but there’s no real permanent background graphic like usual. Instead, there are actual specific sprites used per stage to mimic the locations of the source material. I like this a whole bunch. It feels so much cooler, and truer to the game it’s trying to be. In the first stage, you’ve got a loose city skyline in the background, for example. Above is the third stage’s forest, and stage four is a cave, complete with falling stalactites – something unmistakably taken from the NES version. (There’s actually little to see in the second stage, I think some groundwork kinda sorta representing the industrial area it’s supposed to be, but visually it’s the least impressive level in the game.)

There’s not much sound-wise, mainly a series of beeps; this was par for the course with these Tigers though. Don’t go in expecting anything even remotely resembling the classic original soundtrack, okay?

You know, when all is said and done, I really like Tiger’s LCD adaptation of Double Dragon. Is it the greatest, most addictive LCD handheld ever? Well, no. BUT, it kept me occupied, and it looked about as much like Double Dragon as you could reasonably expect from a late-80s product. While I didn’t play it for hours on end, I did like seeing how far I could make it, and it was reasonably fun throwing down against gang members. I’m not sure you can ask for a whole lot more than that. At a time when the Double Dragon series was at its height of popularity and was burning up the arcade, console and computer fronts, Tiger gave kids a credible handheld to take to school, on car trips, etc. It did the job it was intended to do, it’s fairly fun, and as a late-80s gaming artifact, as far as I’m concerned, it’s irresistible.

All that said, it’s now over 30 (!!) years old, and while this example works fine, I still oughta keep it nice an’ collectible. But what if I still wanna get my cheesy LCD fightin’ fix, something just to goof around with when I’m bored? I used my bean there, too…

Yep, I picked up the sequel as well! Honestly, it’s not terribly different from the first installment, though they did include the back kick. Dig the pre-printed background; a scrolling ground gives the impression of progression. Unlike the first game, it’s pretty much single-plane and straightforward, though there’s a platform-y broken bridge you have to jump over gaps in late in the game. I prefer the first game, though from a gameplay-standpoint it’s pretty much a draw. More importantly, this is my ‘playing’ one, the one I’ll take with me when I’m trying to look hip in public. Complete with jean jacket and sunglasses, I’ll be totally rad to the max! (Just ignore the fact it’s no longer 1990 and I’ll be 37 years old in less than a month as of this writing.)

Vintage WUAB-43 Brass Belt Buckle

Friends, hear me now: under normal circumstances, I do not collect belt buckles. That’s not to say I don’t have any, but as a general rule, belt buckles are something I don’t usually go out of my way for. Actually, I rarely even think about belt buckles. But lest you think I’m dissing on belt buckles right now, rest assured, I’m actually more admitting a fault on my part; old school belt buckles can not only be an artform unto themselves, but cool examples of retro U.S. pop culture as well. And, while you may not initially think of them this way (I sure didn’t/don’t), they also have the potential to be terrific sources of advertising, and that ideal makes my ears figuratively perk up.

Case in point: this vintage WUAB-43 brass belt buckle. When the online sale for it entered my line of vision, it was pretty much a no brainer. It wasn’t particularly cheap, but also not prohibitively expensive. Not that it really mattered, because I couldn’t really recall seeing one before; as such, there was pretty much no hesitation between my discovery of the sale and my slamming on the “buy dis” button. Dig this, mama:

Manufactured by Koleaco of Dallas (I didn’t take a picture of the back; you’ll just have to take my word for it), this is, as you may surmise, a heavy brass belt buckle. And when I say “heavy” I don’t just mean in weight; no no, this thing is also extremely heavy in pure, undiluted coolness. A cursory online search provides a cavalcade of buckles put out by Koleaco back in the day; their output was not inconsiderable. And yet, this is the only one I know of that has a definitive connection to Superhost, and therefore it wins.

WUAB is of course no stranger to this blog. The formerly-independent, Cleveland television station is one of my very favorites, and memorabilia pertaining to it, especially if it’s vintage memorabilia, man, I always want stuff like that in my collection. Hence my lack of hesitation in purchasing when I first saw this; I mean, when will I ever see another? Will I even see another?

I don’t know exactly when this belt buckle hails from. The “Plays Favorites” slogan is no help, because WUAB used that line for years. As it so often does, Logopedia helped me narrow the dates down. According to them, the style of logo seen on the buckle was in usage from 1977 to 1980. So unless Koleaco just kept using an older logo into the 1980s, I think we can safely guesstimate that this hails from the late-1970s. Or 1980, at the latest. Given those rough dates, if this thing was actually used, there’s a real possibility that big lapels were in the vicinity at the same time, and that thought pleases me.

The real question is: how would someone go about obtaining this back in the day? I have a hard time seeing these being passed out at staff personal appearances or what have you like keychains or whatever might be. I mean, maybe they were, I really don’t know, but the buckle seems a bit too, uh, substantial (read: heavy and thus probably comparatively expensive) for that. My guess is these buckles were in-house gifts for staffers and/or other people in the broadcasting business. That’s merely a hypothesis on my part though; if you know/remember, I’ve got a handy comments section right down below, chief!

I have little else to say about this. In summation: it’s neat, it’s vintage, it’s WUAB, and if I belt buckles were something I wore on a regular basis, I wouldn’t mind sporting it in public. I won’t go quite that far yet, but maybe, if I came across another…

Tomy Pocket TOUCHDOWN Handheld Game (1985)

If you’re reading this post upon its premiere, you’re probably aware it’s Super Bowl Sunday today – an annual event that has basically become a national holiday in the U.S. (And beyond?) And if that’s the case, you are, or soon will be, also undoubtedly impressed with my nearly superhero-like ability to play into the vibes of the day with my choice of topic. I was usin’ mah bean, man!

Of course, if you’ve stumbled upon this post after the fact (a distinct, and more likely, possibility), everything I just said is completely and totally moot. Though you should still be impressed by my superhero-like abilities. Not necessarily related to this post specifically (though my choice to debut it today was an undeniable stroke of genius), but really just in general.

ANYWAY, remember last July when I talked about the super cool (and still fun) Tomy handheld baseball game? Well, it’s time to take another trip into the world of Tomy’s handheld pocket games of yesteryear. No, not baseball again, you silly goose; it’s football time! Because Super Bowl Sunday – GET IT????

Unlike the baseball handheld, I didn’t stumble upon this at a garage sale, baller as that would have been. No no, I had to specifically go online for this one. It wasn’t particularly expensive, but more than I (probably) would have dropped at a hypothetical yard/garage sale. (I can’t think about that aspect too much or I’ll upset myself.) I couldn’t bank on the hope of stumbling upon this one in person though, because a Super Bowl post starring it has been the intention from pretty much the start, and as such I was working on a time limit, albeit a fairly generous one. (I bought this back on January 1st.)

Dig this: from 1985, it’s the Tomy Pocket Game Touchdown – neato!

Like the baseball we saw before (and really, a good many – or maybe even all – of these Tomy pocket handhelds), Touchdown is purely mechanical; no batteries required! Not that the requirement of batteries would be a deal breaker, but the fact these pocket games are pretty much ready to go right from the start really enhances the whole pick-up-and-play aspect of them. Or something like that.

As you can see, the game is a simplified version of football – American football, that is. And when I say simplified, I mean really simplified; this is football in pretty much its most basic form. Run the ball into the endzone for a touchdown, avoid being stopped whilst doing so. That’s, uh, pretty much it.

BUT, just because it’s simple in concept, that doesn’t mean there isn’t some fun to be had, even in this jaded, far more technologically advanced day and age.

Before we look at the gameplay details though, now is as good a time as any to mention that there’s no date on this game anywhere, but I was able to determine its initial release thanks to this absolutely terrific site dedicated to these Tomy pocket games. No joshin’, it’s a wealth of information, and really hammers home the point that more often than not, these Tomy games may look small and simple, but they were actually more complex, both in design and gameplay, than they may first appear. Generally, these were far more than simple dollar store pinball type games.

(Now is also a good time to point out that this Touchdown was re-released in slightly modified form in 1987; an actual copyright date was noted on the back, and text on the front was removed, though near as I can tell the actual game remained the same.)

Here’s the instructions on the back, to give you a better idea of how this works.

Like I said before, this game is purely mechanical, working on a basis not too different (I assume) from your common wind-up toy.

Here’s what you do: there’s a little stop/start switch on the front (as you can see), make sure that’s on stop, then pull the runner bar (via a lever on the side) all the way down. Shake the little football circle icon thing to the bottom, and then hit start; the runner bar will automatically start, uh, running. As it progresses towards the endzone, you must use your incredible powers of dexterity (that is, shifting the game accordingly) to both keep the ball on the runner bar (failure to do so results in a fumble, as per the instructions) as well as avoiding the pits that automatically cause the runner bar to stop. Land in one of those, and whatever point value assigned to it is your score for the drive or quarter or however you want to think about all this. Make it all the way to the endzone, and, you know, you score a touchdown. Obviously, no field goals, extra point attempts or two point conversions are in the conversation here. And don’t you even dare think about safeties. Ain’t gonna happen, bucko.

There’s not a lot of room in between the pits, so maneuvering around those is your main obstacle, though the rule of keeping the ball on the runner bar is a nice added touch. I guess you could always just claim “aw it wuz a fumble recovery!” should things go awry there.

Unlike Tomy baseball, which was/is like a combination of a handheld pinball/old school dexterity game, Touchdown is pure dexterity, though games/rounds/whatevers are potentially a lot shorter because, comparatively, there’s not as much to it. Land in a pit? Start over. Fumble the ball? Start over. Score a touchdown? START OVER. This probably works better when played with a friend while keeping score, though I suppose it’s still fine as a single-player experience.

Admittedly, my perception of the gameplay is a little skewed, because with this unit here, the runner bar slows somewhat as it progresses towards the top. Dude shoulda known when to retire! He ain’t got the legs no more! I’m guessing this wasn’t by design, but rather an age-related factor; as of this writing, this is closer to 40 (!) years old than not, after all. At any rate, because it slows as it progresses, scoring touchdowns is far easier than it probably should be, and while the potential to fool myself into thinking I’m a big time mista football man is nice, it would still kind of be a hollow victory. Then again, I’d last about 12 seconds tops in anything approaching a real football game, so this might be the best I can hope for. Plus, the likelihood of me getting a concussion is significantly lower here. I mean, I guess I could, but I’d have to really be trying.

Still, this is a cool example of how advanced (relatively speaking) these Tomy pocket games could be. The inner workings and rules are beyond what you may expect of a similar handheld budget game. They put out a whole buncha neat ones, too! There was even a mega-neat licensed Pac-Man one!

As far as this Touchdown goes, I still prefer Tomy’s baseball, but that’s no knock on their take on football; this is a cool little device. And while it’s too late for you to get one of your own to play along with the big game now (unless y’all already have one; it’s not like I really know you), hey, there’s always next year…

Vintage BATMAN Television Slide Promo (WEWS-TV 5, Cleveland)

Listen, you love Adam West Batman, I love Adam West Batman, everybody loves Adam West Batman. Well, unless, they don’t; the campiness may not be suited to everyone’s liking, particularly those raised on newer, darker iterations of the character. Now, you could point out that the character/stories were darker in tone from the onset, but I ask that you don’t. You could also point out that we all have different tastes and just because someone doesn’t enjoy the 1960s television (and movie) incarnation of Bats, hey, that doesn’t necessarily make them a bad or untrustworthy person, but I won’t believe you.

Of course I’m joshin’ (yes I am), but nevertheless, even I must admit that the allure of the campy, goofy 1966-1968 Batman television series starring Adam West (as well as its 1966 big screen adaptation) may well be lost on younger viewers and/or comic book purists. Honestly, I get it; the idea of Batman squaring off against The Riddler in a boxing match or inexplicably facing The Joker in a surfing contest, that kinda stuff may not sit well with everyone, regardless of how delightful the results ultimately were.

For the record, I was introduced to 60s Batman in the wake of Tim Burton’s much, much different take on the character (that is,1989’s big screen Batman), and while even at that young age I was fully cognizant of the monumental differences between the two Batguys, I also didn’t care. I grew up with a healthy fandom for both iterations, something that continues to this very day.

So it stands to reason that I tend to go batty (see what I did there??? HAW HAW HAW!!!) when faced with particularly cool and/or unique pieces of memorabilia pertaining to either version of the superhero. As you may well have surmised by now, our subject today relates to Adam West’s Batman, and boy is it neato. Dig this…

Cool? Unique? Check and check!

What you’re looking at is a vintage television slide promo for an airing of Batman on Cleveland’s WEWS-TV 5. Man that’s not just cool, that’s painfully cool. Also, please enjoy the special guest cameo by my thumb.

What’s a television slide, you ask? Literally, it was a slide that would be shown on TV during a broadcast, obviously as a still, and usually with an accompanying voiceover. You could see these stills as bumpers, tacked on to the end of a ‘real’ commercial, or – as was almost certainly the case here – used specifically as a promo for an upcoming broadcast of whatever. (There were probably exceptions, but when used as a promo, they tended to be shorter spots, 5 or 10 or 15 seconds total.) In my experience, the usage of slides, both nationally and locally, was largely (but not entirely) over by the early 1990s, but in the years prior, they were very, very common on TV, particularly during local broadcasts.

So when exactly does this particular slide hail from? I have no exact date, but probably somewhere in the 1970s. The art style used for Bats here (which, it must be noted, I really, really love) fits with my general understanding of WEWS slides from (at least part of) the decade. I could certainly be wrong though. Finding an old local TV listing for a Sunday 6pm showing of Batman on WEWS would be mighty helpful, but I have neither the time nor the inclination to scour the many, many TV Guides at the downtown library to find out. Besides, where would I start?!

An old TV listing would also settle the question of whether this was a promo for an airing of the TV series or of the movie that came out between the first and second seasons of said series. My initial thought upon picking this up months and months ago was that it was for the show, though that left me a bit puzzled; WEWS was and is Cleveland’s ABC affiliate, ABC being the channel Batman originally aired on first run, but this appears to be for a strictly local airing, and my understanding was that reruns of the show in these parts ran solely on WUAB-43 for quite awhile. Of course, then I remembered the related movie, which then became the more likely candidate to me. (Unless there was a period in which rights to reruns went from WUAB to WEWS before going back to WUAB?)

Though I guess it doesn’t really matter; Adam West Batman is Adam West Batman, i.e. awesome. I will admit I never found the concept to work quite as well on the big screen as it did on the small screen, but as far as this promo slide goes, who really cares? It’s Adam West Batman, man!

I had to buy this online, and while it wasn’t particularly cheap, it also wasn’t terribly unreasonable – especially when you consider this may very well be one of a kind. I mean, how many of these could the station have had? (That’s an actual question: was there generally a set number of identical slides for a given program, or…?) And furthermore, how many could have survived over the years?

Regardless of how many were produced or potentially still out there, I’ve never regretted dropping the coin on this one. It’s a piece of local broadcasting memorabilia, it’s related to Adam West Batman, it’s old, and it’s cool lookin’. Really, how many bullet points does something need to check off in my brain before I slam on the “buy dis” button? Truthfully, probably not even that many, but the fact this one did, that just made ordering not just a necessity, but also a pleasure.

(Shout out to my buddy Jacob, for no other reason than that he’s a mega Batman Batfan. Dude even has a legit Batshelf at his place.)

Signed Santa Ghoul Artwork (Christmas 2001)

I told you, I done told you, I was gonna attempt to get one more post up related to Santa Ghoul aka The Ghoul before Christmas 2022 was in the books, and here it is. It’s a Christmas miracle!

Like I mentioned last update, the vintage Santa Ghoul button was and is amazingly cool; that’ll always hold true, of course. BUT, where Santa Ghoul is concerned, perhaps amazingly, it’s not even the coolest. So what is the coolest? What we’re going to look at today, that’s what!

Some backstory: I’ve talked about local horror host legend The Ghoul (played by Ron Sweed) and his late-90s/early-2000s run on WBNX TV-55 before. I won’t go into another mega-detailed account now, so the short of it is this: for the first 2 years (plus a couple months) of that final regular TV run of his, The Ghoul was a Friday night 11:30 PM staple, generally playing the terrible horror & sci-fi movies with goofy sound effects that fans craved. But in late September 2000, the station moved him from that ideal time slot to Sunday night (technically Monday mornings) at 12 AM. This situation was not preferable for obvious reasons. To add further insult to injury, the movie choices were fiddled with; maybe 75% of the time, the film featured was whatever was picked up in a package and on the schedule, regardless of genre and without the sound effects/drops-ins. There were exceptions, but that’s exactly what they were: exceptions. The old way was no longer the order of the day. Needless to say, I was gutted.

Well, just slightly over a year after that, the show was pushed back an hour further, to 1 AM. This didn’t exactly remedy the situation, though the circumstances of who could or couldn’t regularly tune in probably didn’t change much for 99% of the viewing audience. (Rough guesstimate.)

The 1 AM thing did lead to an interesting aspect of that WBNX run though: The Breakfast Club. The movie situation changed little, but by filming on a different set and taking the form of “Cleveland’s earliest morning show” (or something along those lines), The Ghoul would often be joined by crew members during the host segments (you know, a club) at and around a breakfast table, and with parodic looks at traffic, breakfast, etc. It was meant to be like an actual morning chat-type show… but the Ghoul Power way. The experiment sort of faded away and things went back to normal (such as they were) after about 6 months, but like I said, it was an interesting aspect of that WBNX run. And that’s where our subject today originally found itself.

December 3, 2001: despite the changes to our Ghoul Power, The Ghoul still did the Santa Ghoul thing and went all out for the season as best he could. The movie that night? 1986’s The Nutcracker: The Motion Picture, a filmed version of the ballet hosted by Felix Unger Tony Randall. Not exactly prime Ghoul Power fodder, and certainly not my cup of tea, but if nothing else, it was seasonally appropriate. And, the episode gave viewers this moment here…

The Ghoul, sans Santa Ghoul get-up, holding up official, show-sanctioned artwork of him in said Santa Ghoul get-up!

By that point in the show’s run, the computer-generated cards/bumpers of the past had given way to hand drawn artwork by a different artist. I absolutely love hand drawn things like that. These cards, most or maybe even always used on the show once and once only, exemplify that mindset. From a local standpoint, if you’ve been in a Marc’s and seen the humorous hanging artwork (wait, do they still do those?), or perhaps more appropriately here, remember the hand drawn “tonight’s movie…” artwork Big Chuck & Lil’ John used to use back in the 90s, these Ghoul cards are very much in the same wheelhouse. That’s most definitely a good thing.

But, this post isn’t so much about that era of Ghoul Power or that artwork used in general, but rather, that Santa Ghoul card you’re seeing above specifically. What happened to it? Where’d it go?

Into my collection, that’s where! But not before being signed by all (most?) of the crew, which takes something already awesome and sends it right into the stratosphere, not unlike the results of one of The Ghoul’s boom booms.

(Sorry about the highly professional and totally not done with my cellphone NEOVH watermark at the top, by the way; without going into detail, circumstances have forced it.)

You know, obviously The Ghoul was the, uh, main focus of the show, BUT, the crew behind it all were big, big parts of the proceedings, too. To the point that you sorta knew them more as cast members or something than just crew members. Does that make sense? These weren’t just names in the credits; if you watched the show regularly, you really got to know all these people. I mean, as far as tuning into the show went, that is. And really, that just makes things cooler here.

And even more of a snapshot of the time than it already it is: as of this writing, three of those people are no longer with us: The Ghoul of course, but also Sick Eddie of B-Ware Video fame (I met him there once) and Ed Cole (who I can’t recall ever meeting). Those signatures add a nice, though slightly bittersweet vibe, to what was – I’m guessing – something that hailed from a staff Christmas party.

So where’d I get this dandy item? Simple: I know the original artist, Joe C., who was a cast/crew member on the show. Joe is a phenomenally nice, not to mention incredibly talented, dude, and when he contacted me a few years back asking if I wanted to purchase some original show artwork, the answer was highly in the affirmative.

Indeed, from a realistic and technical standpoint, this is undoubtedly the coolest piece I got from him. BUT, truth be told, I got one other that’s actually my favorite of the two. (I’m gonna keep that one in my back pocket for now, should the need for a post regarding it ever arise.)

That doesn’t change the fact that this is a unique, one of a kind piece of Ghoul memorabilia, one of the very best things in my Ghoul collection, and I couldn’t be prouder of it. Thanks Joe, and thanks for thinking of me!

And so with that, our Christmas post comes to a close. I hope you all have a wonderful holiday – see you in 2023! (2023? Why, I do believe the year will boast the big 10th anniversary of this blog! Will I do anything to commemorate it? Time will tell. For now though, Merry Christmas!)

Vintage WXON TV-20 / The Ghoul Show “Santa Ghoul” Pin

I’ve had this one in my figurative back pocket for awhile, and hey, tis the season, so what say we bust it out now. I probably should get something up for December, anyway.

I’ve mentioned before how Cleveland/Detroit horror host legend The Ghoul (played by the late, great Ron Sweed) would go all out for the Christmas season during his late-90s/early-00s WBNX run, but that was by no means a then-new Ghoul Power phenomenon; it went back to his earlier (earliest?) years in the public eye (as The Ghoul proper, anyway).

Of course, that wasn’t exactly something unusual; even today the Christmas spirit is evident on TV. (Duh!) But you know, back in the day, when local television was still well and truly a thing, you just really ‘felt’ the holiday season in every facet. Maybe you still do, or maybe it’s just me. Personally, the look and feel and vibes and whatnot just don’t seem as all-encompassing to me anymore, regardless of holiday honestly, but my perception may very well be skewed and/or jaded.

At any rate, The Ghoul exemplified the spirit during the Christmas season, and here now is just one example of that. Dig this: it’s a vintage pinback button promoting a kids toy drive The Ghoul (as “Santa Ghoul”) and TV-20 held back in…well, I don’t really know when it was held. TV-20 was WXON TV-20 (now WMYD), an independent television station in Detroit that The Ghoul landed at after his original Kaiser Broadcasting (WKBF in Cleveland, WKBD in Detroit) run ended in 1975. The Ghoul had two runs on WXON, first in the mid/late-70s and then again in the early/mid-80s. (By the way, the info pertaining to his runs on the station in that WMYD link, I don’t believe it’s quite correct where the 70s are concerned, but hard facts for this sort of thing are often hard to pin down nowadays, so I’ll just leave it at that.)

I believe this pin comes from his 1980s run on TV-20, but that’s based on absolutely nothing other than it looks more 1980s than 1970s to me. It’s definitely old though, and obviously 100% Ghoul Power, and the cause was certainly admirable, so yeah, this one’s a winner. The cool Santa Ghoul caricature is just the icing on the cake.

Where’d I get this dandy item? Via an online auction, not long after Sweed passed away. Oddly, despite interest (and thus prices) being high – and they actually haven’t tapered off much in the years since, to be frank – it went for surprisingly cheap. Not that it mattered much, because I was going to win it, but the final price was pretty much chump change. (As of this writing, I’ve only ever seen two of these come up for sale; this one here obviously, and then another several months, or maybe even a year, back. I watched that second one out of curiosity, and it wound up selling for what I thought this first one here would go for.)

Look, I’ve got a lot of Ghoul stuff; I mean, I’ve been collecting it for years. Anything pertaining to him is something that perks my ears up – and yet, when I first saw this, it really, REALLY perked my ears up. It just hit, and hits, so many checkpoints for the kind of thing I look for. Perhaps amazingly, where Santa Ghoul is concerned, it’s not even my coolest piece of memorabilia; maybe I’ll dig that other piece out and get a post up before December 25th hits. But whether that happens or not, hey, methinks this neato button ably represents on its own!

Signed WAKR 1590 AM “Adam and Bob in the Morning” Coffee Mug (October 28, 1982)

I originally had not one but TWO kinda sorta ‘spooky’ movie-themed posts to finish up October/take us to Halloween, but things didn’t quite work out as planned. I simply didn’t have time to sit back and watch them and review ’em proper. Between work and clearing other things off the DVR, well, it is what it is. One of those subjects I’ll probably just put on the backburner and maybe, MAYBE get to it somewhere down the road, while the other I’ll hopefully get up in November.

Truthfully, I probably could have swung one of them, but then, earlier this week, our subject today fell into my grubby hands, and since the timing was fortuitous and I’m only going to get one 40th anniversary to celebrate it, hey, that’s what I’m going with.

Longtime readers may remember the super neato McDonald’s slash WAKR 1590 “Adam and Bob” plastic coffee mug I detailed back in November 2018 – nearly four (!) years ago as of this writing. As someone who’s always, always after local broadcasting memorabilia, not to mention old restaurant/fast food memorabilia, it was an indelible addition to my collection. The fact I’m a sucker for those old promotional plastic coffee cups/mugs (typically – but not always – made by Whirley) was just the icing on the cake.

So, we’re going back to that well today, because I got another, and it’s even cooler.

This is it, obviously. If you go back to that old post, you’ll see that it’s identical to what I’m showing now. There’s a typical McDonald’s logo on the other side, which I’m neglecting to photograph this time around because I don’t have much to say about it. (Click on the link if you really wanna see it, cause it’s the exact same deal.)

Rather, this image here is, to me, the “meat” of the mug. The Adam and Bob caricatures, the 1590 logo, all immortalized in McDonald’s-appropriate colors and decades-old Whirley plastic – it’s all awesome. Simply put, you just can’t have too many of these. Well, you can’t if you’re me.

Copy ‘n paste from last time, uh, time. Here’s what I done said: “Adam and Bob were Adam Jones and Bob Allen. Sadly, Bob Allen passed away in April, 2017. They had a long running show on the station, starting in 1978 and running until either 1991 or 1995. (I’m seeing both years listed online; can anyone confirm which is correct?)” Honestly, I had forgotten much of what I’d written in that original post, but the illuminating comment from Bob Allen’s daughter was more informative than anything I said anyway.

So, this is all well and good, but why exactly are we taking a trip to Adam and Bob mug-land again? Well, had you fired up them astute lil’ eagle eyes you’re always bragging about (or just bothered to read the post title), you’d already know: this mug is signed by Adam Jones and Bob Allen! Cool winnins!

Oh alright, you have a point; the signatures on the mug are obscured in the photograph above. Fine, here’s a close-up. Happy? Well sure you are!

Seriously gang, this is mega sweet. The mug itself was already a neat throwback to a bygone era in local broadcasting, but when it’s signed by the two stars of the subject, that’s not just cool; that’s immensely cool. (I am of course operating under the presumption that the autographs are legit; forgeries, uh, seem kinda unlikely.)

And what’s even more interesting is that the mug is dated: 10-28-82. Since it’s in a different ink from the signatures, I’ll surmise it was put there by the original owner to, obviously, commemorate the event. If that notation is to be trusted, then this occurred a whopping 40 years agotoday!

Unlike that other Adam and Bob mug, this one has the removable holder on the bottom still in place, though it lacks the little instruction paper inside. I guess I could take the one from the other mug and put it in this one, but that seems awfully superfluous, even for me.

So where’d I get this fine item? My friend Matt was out thrifting and, knowing I collect things just like this, kindly picked it up for me. Actually, when he found it, he said he looked it up online, and what was the first thing that popped up? You guessed it: Frank Stallone my original post on the subject! I’m such a big shot! This was all occurring without the knowledge of yours truly, so when he randomly gave me with the thing, he intro’d it by saying I already had one, but not like this.

Of course, he – like you – only knows what I choose to reveal, but in this case, he was right; I definitely did not have a signed Adam/Bob/WAKR/McDonald’s mug, but I sure do now! It’s the local piece of memorabilia I didn’t realize I needed! And luckily, just in time for it’s 40th anniversary!

So thanks again, Matt! You ain’t no jive turkey! (For now.)

VHS Review: Al “Grampa” Lewis Hosts INVISIBLE GHOST (1941; Amvest Video, 1988)

It’s time for a little rectifyin’. Longtime readers may recall my 2016 review of Pop Flix’s 2-disc, 8-movie Bela Lugosi DVD set. To this day, it’s still my favorite budget DVD release of Lugosi’s poverty row (and subsequently public domain) movies. Have there been more comprehensive collections released? Well, yeah. And yet, the concise all-killer, no-filler line-up of films and clean, attractive presentation of them in Pop Flix’s offering continues to overwhelmingly appeal to yours truly, over 6 years later. I even gifted a copy to my cousin last Christmas, such was and is my continuing fondness for the set.

While my love of the collection hasn’t changed, my list of personal favorites contained within it has – somewhat. The Devil Bat and The Corpse Vanishes continue to reside in the upper echelon of Lugosi flicks in my mind, whereas The Ape Man, which I raved about back in ’16, has fallen in stature precipitously. And Bowery at Midnight, which was the big surprise of the set for me, frankly, that has grown to become what just may be my all-time favorite Bela movie, poverty row or otherwise.

If you go back and read that article, you’ll note that I was somewhat lukewarm on 1941’s Invisible Ghost. In fact, my conclusion back then was: “…this, for me, is one of the weaker entries, though that’s really only relatively speaking; this is still a good one, but it’s a bit overshadowed by some of the other flicks here, in my eyes.

Yeah, that opinion has changed quite a bit in the intervening years as well. I didn’t intentionally set out to change my earlier viewpoint, but regular watches in the time since has resulted in Invisible Ghost steadily growing to ultimately become what is very likely a top 3’er in my Bela favorites (The Devil Bat and Bowery at Midnight being the other two).

As such, rather than going back and modifying the original review, which is something I really, really didn’t feel like, a full-fledged update seemed to be in order. But by what vehicle? Should I bust out the Pop Flix DVD and (re-)review just that movie? Nah, too easy. Or maybe the movie as presented by The Ghoul back in 2000? (I briefly mentioned that episode and the thought of reviewing it in that 2016 article, after all.) Nah, too much work. Do I try to snag a cheap copy of the appropriate entry in GoldStar Video’s Tales of Horror VHS series, which I like to babble about? Actually, I tried, but there were 0 copies available online that I could see.

So you know what that means? Yes indeed, it’s Grampa Al Lewis time once again!

Hey, it’s October, Halloween month, and as I write this, it’s cold and overcast and rainy out, so the setting is right. Plus, I’m pretty sure these Amvest/Grampa VHS articles get more continuing views than anything else I write about, so might as well!

It’s true: Invisible Ghost was released as part of Amvest Video’s 1988 “Grampa Presents” VHS series. I’ve written about these plenty (here’s the latest – from last October); they are, bar none, my favorite budget video releases, of yesterday or today. So if I’m going to revisit Invisible Ghost and give it its proper props, this is the correct way to go about it. I mean, maybe not from a non-obsolete technology or picture quality standpoint, but…

Get them synapses fired up and you’ll realize this is the respective VHS cover right here. The artist’s rendition of one of the more-famous images from the film is perfectly respectable, and while I’m not a big fan of how the movie title itself was rendered (it looks hairy, like it would be better suited for a werewolf movie or sumpin’), the artwork is nice and colorful and it’s overseen by the “Grampa Presents” banner at the very top, which puts it above many, many other budget tapes from the era. Heck, it puts it above other tapes in the very same series!

Oddly, not every Grampa tape used the motif, but these tapes were supposed to have that banner, along with a “Grampa’s Ratings” feature on the back. I don’t really have anything much to say about the reverse of the sleeve, but Grampa did rank this one two bats and remarked “a deadly obsession” there, which doesn’t really tell anyone anything, but at least it’s present. (I have my doubts Al Lewis himself actually sat down to rate and write these – but I sure like to imagine he did.)

I’ve written about these Grampa tapes so many times by now that there’s little I can say about them that wouldn’t be massively repeating myself. Follow the link I gave you before and go from there if you want to know more. Or hit the search button; that works too, I guess.

Put shortly, movies in this series were hosted by Al Lewis, doing his Grandpa Munster shtick without being called Munster; here he’s simply “Grampa.” Accompanied by a green (blue?) screen, old horror movie clips, computer-animated special effects, neon squiggles, and an off-screen Igor that you may or may not hear, Lewis does his tried-and-true “I’m an old vampire” routine.

The intros and outros for these tapes were always the same, and despite the late-80s budget video trappings, they’re a lot of fun. The intro was more for setting up the premise and announcing the movie (which was supposed to be announced by the unseen Igor, though a good part of the time they didn’t even bother including it; such was the case here) while the outro focused mainly on the titles available in the series and how you could go about getting them. Same every time or not, these host segments add so much to these tapes; not only are they a unique touch in the world of budget home video from that time, but they recall the television horror hosts that were an endangered species even then. If you’re gonna watch a cheap VHS release of a public domain movie, there were (are) far, FAR worse ways to go about it.

So that’s the background to the main reason for this article: giving Invisible Ghost its deserved due. Things go better with Grampa, but our real focus today is the movie, so let’s get to that now.

Invisible Ghost was released in 1941, the first of ultimately 9 movies Bela Lugosi did for poverty row outfit Monogram Pictures. From my understanding, it’s often considered the best of the bunch, and while I’m not sure I completely agree with that, it’s definitely a good’un. As The Ghoul used to occasionally say, “it’s a dandy!”

Our plot: Lugosi plays one Charles Kessler, a man of considerable wealth and power (though unless I’ve just totally missed them over and over, specifics as to how/why are never given; dude’s mad rich, okay?). Some years prior to the start of the film, Kessler’s wife cheated on him with his best friend, they reconciled, but then apparently ran off with said friend anyway, something that left Kessler devastated. As the movie begins, Kessler is seen having dinner and talking with “his wife,” who of course isn’t actually there. Evidently this is something he does each year on their wedding anniversary, though he’s (seemingly) normal otherwise. In fact, he’s overwhelmingly caring and kind.

Unbeknownst to Kessler though, his wife is still around. The night she ran off, there was a car wreck, and while the best friend died, she survived, and she’s been squirreled away nearby by Kessler’s gardener. Wifey is in a perpetually dazed, amnesic state, so she’s being kept hidden until she’s “better.”

She gets out sometimes though, and when Kessler spots her standing outside of his window, he’s goes into a homicidal trance, in which he simply has to strangle someone with his robe. That’s right, prior to the start of the film, there’s been multiple unsolved murders amongst the staff of the Kessler home (an exact number is never given, but it’s noted as “a lot”). No one knows it’s Kessler – not even Kessler himself!

This may all sound farfetched, but suspension of belief is often required with these 1930s/1940s horror cheapies, so nothing too out of the ordinary there. But what drives Invisible Ghost and makes it so much fun is just how nutty it is. No one in this movie ever behaves in a logical manner, it never plays out how you think it should, even by wartime poverty row standards. And because of that, it’s an absolute blast to watch. Some of the notable aspects that’ll have you simultaneously scratching your head and getting a total kick out of the proceedings (CAUTION: some spoilers are coming!):

  • Okay, so multiple people have been murdered in the Kessler home over an unspecified number of years, most or all of them apparently being servile employees. And yet, suspicion never falls on Kessler or his daughter or, really, anyone else in the house that hasn’t been offed yet? Did the cops think some rando is just occasionally stopping by and doing this, and leaving it at that?
  • Kessler is rich and powerful, so it’s no stretch to imagine these murders are newsworthy; we’re talking front page kinda stuff here. In fact, late in the film it’s implied they have made the papers. So how exactly are they still finding employees? A high probability of being murdered isn’t exactly a perk, no matter how tough the job market in the area may or may not be. (Speaking of that late film moment, it’s during a conversation with the new cook, who mentions she doesn’t read the papers. So how’d she find out about the job? Does Kessler put up a “help wanted” sign in his window? And if it was by word of mouth, newspapers or no, wouldn’t the reputation of the house precede it?)
  • Why not move out of the house? This is explained away as “sentimental reasons,” cause, wife. Okay, fine, I’ll buy that, but why keep hiring staff if there’s the strong possibility they’ll be killed? Kessler (when he’s not in nutso mode) is seen to be kind and compassionate, so wouldn’t he, you know, want to keep people as safe as possible until the murderer is apprehended? Can’t he make his own dinner for awhile?
  • Are we really supposed to believe the gardener has hidden Kessler’s wife away for several years? And while I can kinda sorta understand his rationale for keeping her hidden (it’d crush Kessler), she’s obviously damaged mentally – is hiding her away until she “gets better” really the best course of medical action? And after a number of years without getting “better,” shouldn’t he try to find a doctor, at least on the sly? I mean, the gardener is clearly no Einstein, but this is still incredibly stupid. And by the way, he doesn’t want to bring Kessler’s wife to him cause it’d hurt Kessler? Dude, the guy is having a yearly dinner conversation with an empty chair!
  • Kessler has a daughter, Virginia, who has a quasi-fiancée, Ralph. Ralph evidently had some sort of relationship with Kessler’s new maid, Cecile. Cecile still carries a torch for Ralph, even though Ralph says it’s over. Ralph is overheard telling her she’s not going to stand in the way of his happiness, so when Cecile is murdered by Kessler, Ralph is convicted on that slimmest of circumstantial evidence – and executed!
  • In the very next scene, Ralph’s identical twin brother Paul shows up at the house! Say what?! He couldn’t get there in time for the trial/execution, but he wants to help solve the murders, so he’s quickly given a room! Paul never really does that much, making you wonder why they’d even bother with the whole twins thing in the first place. And speaking of, Paul never seems too upset his brother was executed for a murder he presumably didn’t commit. In fact, except for a moment when Kessler is afraid the new cook has been murdered, none of the main characters ever seem too concerned/upset when a new murder has been committed. Even the cop in charge of the investigation seems more annoyed with it than anything.
  • At one point the idiot gardener gets offed by Kessler – except that he doesn’t, except that he does. Y’see, Kessler strangles him during one of his trances, the body is found, and eventually taken to the coroner. When the gardener’s wife shows up to see the body (she seems upset, even though she’s not really a main character), she discovers that he’s still alive! He dies for good soon thereafter, but it’s such an odd, odd moment. First off, the wife screams in terror rather than being overjoyed he’s alive. But also, I mean, the guy’s heart was still beating, yet missed by the cops, coroner et al., for seemingly hours (Jack Klugman would have never stood for that – and as the story goes, he didn’t). And not just that, but is this really a believable outcome of strangulation? The guy was hurt bad enough to be unconscious for a relatively lengthy period of time, only to randomly regain consciousness momentarily before completely dying? I can see something like that happening as the result of a head injury or whatever, but having the air choked out of you?
  • Late in the film, when it’s suspected the butler is the culprit, Paul insists he be tested to see if he’s insane before being arrested. Ignoring that the test is hilariously simple, it’s a nice thought, especially since the evidence, while still circumstantial, is much stronger than what got Ralph executed.
  • Not really a strange moment, but Bela’s declaration of “apple pie? My, that will be a treat” at one point is pretty hilarious.
  • Kessler’s wife seems to have a strange psychic connection with Kessler. He seems to magically know whenever she’s standing outside the window, and at the climax when he’s in mid-strangle (this time with observers), she suddenly drops dead, which then immediately releases her mental hold on Kessler. This ‘connection’ is never explained. So we have to surmise that his love for her was so strong that he just ‘knew’, I guess?

If it seems like I’m picking the film apart just for the sake of being snarky, trust me, I’m not. Invisible Ghost is so much fun simply because it’s so loopy. Forget suspension of belief, just throw your ideas of logic right out the window from the start. No one behaves logically in this film, so just sit back, accept that from the word go, and hold on for the ride!

Some positive positives: they’re somewhat obscured in the dupey, worn print Amvest utilized, but the usage of shadows and evocative camera angles in Invisible Ghost is truly impressive. It’s all relative, but this movie is more atmospheric and artistic than it really has any right to be. (Kino’s terrific 2017 Blu-ray release shows all this much better, though it seems to be out of print now, which is a shame, because it’s amazing to realize the film could look as terrific as it does there.)

Also, the butler Evans is played by African-American Charles Muse, and far from a jokey Mantan Moreland-like character, Muse plays the role with dignity and intelligence. Considering the time period this was released, this is both amazing and refreshing. Muse is excellent.

(Speaking of acting, as always, Lugosi is terrific.)

I can’t recommend Invisible Ghost highly enough. At only a little over an hour, it naturally moves fast, and its complete lack of predictable behavior is an asset, not a detriment. It’s breezy, cheap, wartime poverty row horror, and it’s irresistible.

Of course, in this case, things finish up with Grampa, which is just the icing on the cake. Again, like a television horror host, it’s an appropriate (and fun!) way to wind up the presentation.

Like the intro, I can only say so much about the outro that I haven’t said before. A list of available titles are given, a way to order them is shown, Lewis makes corny jokes, the end.

Although, despite having seen this stuff so many times prior, something humorous that struck me this time around (and which I can’t really recall taking stock of before) is Lewis’ reactions to the appearance of the “Casket of Horrors” (supposedly a display found in video stores, it was meant to house this Amvest video series, though how many, IF any, made it out there is up for question). His reactions go from shocked and confused to accepting of the sudden appearance of the display, which I found kinda funny.

By the way, the blank space between the end of the movie and the start of the outro is considerable – so much so that I initially thought Amvest accidentally left the outro off entirely at first. Which isn’t unprecedented; one of my tapes from this series totally left it off, which in retrospect made Lewis’ hype for it in the intro unintentionally funny. But it leads to this question: were they putting these intros/outros on manually each time? The jump in video quality from the host segments (which weren’t exactly HD anyway) to that of the movie (which often looks like a copy of a copy) is usually pretty noticeable. And if you’ll recall my last Amvest post here, where the opening credits of the movie were cut off somewhat, it makes me echo a question I asked last time: how does this even happen?

No matter, cause the package was ultimately complete here, and all the better for it. But don’t let Al Lewis be the deciding factor; Invisible Ghost can and does stand on its own as a fun, often ridiculous piece of entertainment. As an entry in Bela’s poverty row output, it may not be high art, but it’s irresistible all the same. You can’t not love it! Give it a shot, and if you can do that with Al “Grampa” Lewis in the vicinity, all the better!

VHS Review: SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE SECRET WEAPON (1942; Vintage Video, 1985)

Over the last two or three years, I’ve found myself really getting into the classic mystery (read: whodunit) films. Not that I had never watched them before or didn’t have any in my collection; I had and I did. But as you may or may not have surmised while looking at my dumb blog, my tastes have traditionally (but not exclusively) leaned towards classic horror & sci-fi. (Well, and b-westerns, too.) The sad fact of the matter is whodunit flicks had been woefully neglected for much of my movie-watchin’ life.

While I still love the stuff that has mostly been my bread & butter, as I’ve grown older I’ve also progressively grown to appreciate an absorbing mys’try flick. Charlie Chan, Mr. Wong, Bulldog Drummond, lay ’em on me mama. (Nearly a year ago, we took a look at an old Dick Tracy film, but I tend to think of those movies more as crime thrillers than full-fledged whodunits – though ultimately in the same wheelhouse.)

Anyway, Sherlock Holmes. The name is practically synonymous with “whodunit.” I haven’t read any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories, but I’ve certainly gotten into films based on the character. Well, classic films. Well, the Basil Rathbone series, at least. I have no idea which cinematic version of the character purists consider definitive, but I think it’s safe to say that in the general public consciousness, Rathbone’s rendition is the one that immediately comes to mind. We’re talkin’ iconic here.

And that brings us to or subject today.

Four of the films in the Rathbone series have long been delightfully public domain, and while my current probable-favorite in the series (The House of Fear) isn’t one of them, there’s still good stuff to be had. And even more fun is the smorgasbord of budget releases these now-PD entries have enjoyed over the years. And that brings us to our subject today. (Wait, I already said that.)

1942’s Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon is the earliest of the series to go public domain, though luckily in regards to this review, it’s one I hadn’t seen prior.

Wacky Fact: I picked up a terrific two-disc DVD set at the dollar store some months back that included all four PD Rathbone flicks, other vintage, presumably-PD Holmes movies, and a load of episodes from the 1950s TV series. I had the ‘movies’ disc loaded up for quite awhile, but as is my wont, aside from a quick looksee, I never got around to actually watching any of it before it got swapped out for something else. Not that I can’t load it back up again when the mood strikes me, of course, and if nothing else, the four Rathbone flicks were more than worth the price of admission alone.

Who dun-it this time? Why, Vintage Video, of course!

My unintended hesitation turned out to be fortuitous though, because when this particular home video release turned up for sale online and I duly slammed my meaty paws on the “BUY DIS” button, I got to go into it fresh. Once the tape arrived and I found the time/drive to sit down and watch it, I mean.

As you can see, we are once again taking a trip into the world of Vintage Video/Amvest VHS. A cursory glance through the contents of this site will quickly show how fond I am of this label. Certainly we’ve looked at their Grampa Al Lewis series multiple times, but our subject today is more in line with one of their ‘regular’ releases, which we’ve also seen before. (In other words, no, Al Lewis doesn’t host Holmes here, though that would have been pretty baller.)

I’m a real sucker for tapes from this manufacturer, even though they (mostly) dealt with the same public domain movies multiple budget outfits during the home video boom of the 1980s dealt with. Certainly this all stems from the aforementioned Grampa series, but there’s also the sometimes-unique cover art, sometimes-interesting prints used, and frankly, the relative-obscurity the releases as a whole share. (They tend to be scarce – maybe one or two copies for every, I don’t know, twenty comparable releases from Goodtimes – though they’re not particularly valuable. This copy here, the first I’d ever seen, was mega cheap – and still sealed, to boot.)

‘Course, you kinda need an affinity for VHS and budget home video and whatnot to appreciate all this (growing up with it all probably helps, too), because technically, this is pretty superfluous to have in the day and age. We’ve got DVD and Blu-ray and innernet streamin’ and all that, and when the movie in question has long been in the public domain, from a practicality standpoint, there’s really no reason to get so stoked over something like this.

Except that with the right mindset, there is: forget picture quality and bulkiness and ease of use – it’s all about taking a trip back in time here. Are there better ways to watch this movie? Well, yeah. But this here, it’s like holding a piece of a bygone era in home video in your hands – which of course is exactly what is indeed happening. Necessary? Naw. A trip back in time? Well, yeh. (Or so says I, and as we all know, my word is of tantamount importance.)

I like the cover art here; certainly it’s in the 1980s budget video release tradition, but that’s perfect for our purposes today. A good many of these VV/Amvest tapes, at least earlier ones (1985, as opposed to 1988 and beyond) simply used original poster art, usually (but not always) bordered with the VV banner you’re seeing here. There could be some modifications to the original artwork, but for the most part, it was still ultimately, you know, the original poster art. However, the tapes I find especially interesting in this particular arena are the ones that used original, or at least more original, motifs. Such is our case here: sure, they just used stock photos of Rathbone’s Holmes (along with Nigel Bruce’s Dr. Watson), but the watercolor (?) filtering (?) of them coupled with the unique title font (and slightly silly “Who dun-it this time?” tagline) intrigues your pal me. Also, dig the credits at the bottom of the cover, you can’t really read ’em here but they seem to be mimicking those of a ‘big time’ video release, which is something I can’t really recall one of these VV tapes identically doing. Was there some then-recent Sherlock Holmes movie this was piggybacking on?

(Speaking of dates, the one found on the back of the box here was indeed 1985, but in the interest of full disclosure, the label on the tape itself was a newer one akin to what Amvest was using around 1988 or so. Thus, this was undoubtedly a later re-release, but since I don’t have an exact date otherwise, I’m sticking with ’85 here, as you can see in the article title above. Aw, it’s not like it really matters anyway…)

I don’t have much interesting to say about the back of the box, so what say we look at the movie proper now…

The opening image, such as it is.

Upon firing the tape up, I was treated to this: the credits already in progress, right from the very start. No title card, credits already rolling. Thaaaaaanks. Ah, budget tape tradition! I’m not going to go out of my way to track down another copy to see if they’re all like this (‘course, if I come across another one in-person during my travels…), but this begs the question: how does this even happen? Was it the way their “master tape” (whatever that constituted) was, or were they making copies tape-by-tape and this was a goof they didn’t notice or just didn’t feel like correcting? It’s kinda funny, but also kinda irritating. Then again, this sort of thing wasn’t totally uncommon with budget video releases, and it’s not even the first time I’ve run into the opening/closing parts of whatever being MIA with VV/Amvest. It is what it is.

Our plot: Holmes has been enlisted to protect one Dr. Tobel, who has created a new fancy schmancy bombsight to fight them Nazis with. As a precaution, he separates the bombsight into four pieces and entrusts them to four different scientists. For good measure, he notates who has what, but as a coded message involving “dancing men.” (Said code being the only part of this movie that was based upon an original Doyle story, apparently.)

Of course, rather than following Holmes’ simple directions and staying put, Tobel just has to slip out of protective custody to visit his fiancée (wimmins, amiright?), which promptly and naturally gets him abducted by baddies. The specific baddies in question? Holmes’ arch-nemesis Professor Moriarty and his cohorts, that’s who! Turns out Moriarty is in league with the Nazis; selling them the bombsight would be very lucrative, as you may well imagine. This is undesirable to say the least, so now Holmes must rescue Tobel, recover the four pieces of the bombsight, and thwart Moriarty (and by extension, the Nazis), for the time being at least.

Holmes facing off against Moriarty (or rather, from left to right, Moriarty facing off against Holmes).

Wait, Nazis? Say what?! It’s true; this is a WWII-era Sherlock Holmes adventure! Y’see, 20th Century Fox produced the first two entries in the Rathbone Holmes series, and they were in the natural Victorian setting. But afterwards, Universal picked up the series, turned them into b-movies, and placed them in a then-modern wartime setting. (Supposedly with an explanatory “Sherlock Holmes is timeless” or something along those lines; I haven’t seen that first Universal effort. Secret Weapon here was the second.) It’s pretty unexpected, and really, to be frank, pretty awesome. I mean, it’s Sherlock Holmes, fightin’ Nazis! Unless you’re a purist’s purist, you can’t not love that! I haven’t seen every entry in the Rathbone Holmes series, but I sure hope there’s a scene where he decks Hitler at some point, not unlike that crowd pleasing moment in Zone Troopers. “Did I just engage Adolph in fisticuffs?” “You sure did, my good chap!”

Not gonna lie: this is some good stuff right here. You’ve got Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes, which automatically makes things worthwhile, but then you add a WWII setting and a breezy, b-movie sheen over top of all of it, no jivin’, it’s just irresistible. The movie is more spy-ish than I was first anticipating, with Holmes’ disguising himself and going undercover more than once. And while I’m not sure I’d consider it a full-fledged whodunit (probably the only real sleuthing sleuthing is deciphering the code), it’s got some noirish elements, terrific acting (Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes and Lionel Atwill as Moriarty? Plus Nigel Bruce’s ever-reliable Watson? Yes, please!), and even some gruesome elements (besides the obvious implications of the Nazis gaining the bombsight, at one point Moriarty attempts to slowly kill Holmes by draining his blood, drop by drop). I ain’t joshin’ you, this is a lot of fun. If you’re a sucker for wartime b-movie action like I am, Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon is a must.

So, what kind of print did Vintage Video/Amvest/whoever utilize for this release? Their tapes could feature prints ranging from “okay” to “dragged around the parking lot multiple times.” Secret Weapon falls more towards the latter end of that spectrum. While the duplication itself was decent enough I guess, the print they got was, well, it was pretty wasted. It’s probably darker than it was intended to be, and there are a lot of film scratches, dust, dirt, debris, splices, what have you. There are some moments of really heavy wear, and while things seem to calm down somewhat as the film progresses, this probably isn’t the, uh, best the movie has ever looked.

Furthermore, the run time: the back of the box sez 70 minutes, the official run time I’m seeing online is supposedly 68 minutes, but the actual running time here is really about 56 minutes. So unless the missing part of those opening credits ran 11+ minutes (something tells me they didn’t/don’t), it’s a safe assumption this is an edited print. Cut for TV at some point? Really egregious splices? Something else? No idea.

But you know, none of that really bothers me. Okay, sure, if I’m paying for a big deluxe Blu-ray or something, I’d want the movie to look like Rathbone et al. are performing live right in front of me, inexplicably in grayscale, at that very moment. But this tape as it is, it presents the movie in a way that recalls countless trips through the projector, multiple runs on late night television over the decades, an old timey cinematic feeling, something along those lines. It’s part of the fun (at least in retrospect; it probably wasn’t a blast back then) of collecting these old school budget tapes: you never quite know what you’re going to get. Unlike today, where it seems like the same prints just keep getting shared over and over, copies could really vary from manufacturer to manufacturer back then.

Still, the complete opening credits would have been nice. And speaking of the credits, the final cast credits card is there, but cuts off really quickly, as if whoever couldn’t wait to be done with the whole thing. Of course the meat of the movie (i.e., the important stuff) is all there – such as it is I mean – but yeah, this really exemplifies the mid/late-1980s budget home video release ideal. (Ideal?)

So there you have it: Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon, as presented by Vintage Video slash Amvest back in the 1980s. If you just want to see the movie (and seriously, it has my recommendation), that’s something that can be easily accomplished. Home video releases are numerous, but since it’s public domain, you can watch it free an’ legal online right now if you so desired! Would that be as much fun as taking an unnecessary trip back to the 1980s as I’ve done here? I’ll let you decide that aspect for yourself.

By the way, this wasn’t the only Rathbone Holmes VV put out: The Woman in Green and Terror by Night also saw releases on the label. (I couldn’t find Dressed to Kill, the last PD Rathbone Holmes as well as the last Rathbone Holmes period, via VV, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was one of those out there, too.)

Oh hey, fun facts up in here: this post was first intended to be just as you’ve seen it now, but then I thought about three separate reviews over three days for the three VV releases, and then I thought about a single post spotlighting the triple bill, and then I considered four reviews over four consecutive days with Congress Video’s 1985 VHS release of Dressed to Kill filling out the fourth, and then as late as yesterday I considered a single post, double bill looking at just Secret Weapon and The Woman in Green, before simply going back to the original plan and giving Secret Weapon the sole spotlight. I enjoyed it so much, it deserves the space to itself.

Did I ultimately make the right decision? Well, we’re just going to have to live with the results, anyway.

1970s WISN-TV 12 DIALING FOR DOLLARS Mug

You know, I’m pretty pleased with how many views my old posts pertaining to the Dialing For Dollars franchise get. Now, the height of Dialing For Dollars‘ popularity was, roughly, from somewhere in the 1960s up through the 1970s, and a good deal of the US boasted their own local versions of the format. Particulars could vary from region to region, but the bottom line was that it was a TV program that called random viewers, in real time, at home, offering them the chance to win big big bucks from the comfort of their (presumably ugly) living rooms.

‘Course, since a good deal of all this aired before the widespread advent of consumer-grade home video (and obviously live, to boot), broadcasted evidence can be scarce, which leaves the, as I and maybe I alone have deemed, “supplementals.” That’s to say, the little promotional trinkets released to help promote the program(s). On that front, we’ve seen this keychain hailing from Duluth/Superior, Minnesota’s version, and this token from the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. The views for both of these posts have been acceptable to yours truly, and that makes me feel like a big man. (Or at least that I’m doing something right.)

So, it’s time to make it a trilogy; coming from outside Minnesota, but not the midwest, I picked up this cool little supplemental recently. It’s old (which I like), it’s mug/glassware (which I like), and it was cheap (which I really like). Dig this: from Milwaukee’s WISN-TV 12, it’s this vintage coffee mug for their particular brand of Dialing For Dollars. Cool winnins!

There’s no date on this, but Logopedia sez that particular version of WISN’s logo was used from 1970 to 1976, so, yeah.

Besides that and the required, you know, name of the show, we’ve got pictures of our two happy hosts, and while they’re not named on the mug itself, luckily there’s plenty of info out there in internet-land to aid me on my quest for whatever it is I do. The hosts were husband and wife team Howard and Rosemary Gernette, and while IMDb sez the show ran from 1967-1980, this article spotlighting Rosemary (who passed away in 2016) mentions she joined her hubby in 1968 after the original co-host split. Evidently this was popular with viewers, given the subsequent long run the program enjoyed. I mean, you gotta figure the hosts shared some on-screen chemistry, considering they were married.

The versions of Dialing For Dollars that I take the greatest interest in are the ones that were daily movie showcases; you know, a film would be presented, with the money stuff taking place during the breaks. They weren’t all like that though; some versions were almost all about the dollas, with the host(s) doing their thing the entire time, maybe with some other variety aspects to fill the time out. Chatting and special guests and whatnot. Apparently the latter format is where our subject today fell.

While it’s not my preferred format for Dialing, it’s not like it ultimately matters all that much to me. This is still an indelible piece of memorabilia from a bygone era in television broadcasting – one that, for fairly obvious reasons, couldn’t be easily (or at the very, very least, regularly) repeated in this day and age. Plus, I didn’t grow up with this show, I’m not from Milwaukee, I’ve never been to Milwaukee, so really, I’m just peeking into another world, so to speak, here.

(And frankly, my favorite version of Dialing For Dollars isn’t even actually Dialing for Dollars; local station WUAB-43 ran Prize Movie from the 1970s all the way to 1994, and while it was certainly in the same wheelhouse as Dialing, it was really its own distinct thing.)

With nothing on the back of the mug, there’s not a whole lot else for me to say here. So there you have it, a brief look at WISN-12’s version of Dialing For Dollars, hosted by Howard and Rosemary Gernette and represented here by a neato old coffee mug. I love collecting stuff like this; now all I have to do is find an appropriate spot in my cluttered house to store it, lest it accidentally get broken somehow. That’d be even worse than not getting a call offering me a chance to win the mighty dollars on live TV.