Monthly Archives: March 2014

Mystery Science Theater 3000 Returning To TV?!

(UPDATE: It happened! Read about it here!)

It looks like it’s true!

Looks like I’m a day late on this one; I was so wrapped up in my WFLD Batman post yesterday after work that this totally slipped past me. You have no idea how much I’m flipping out right now. Okay, so I’m not literally slam-dancing or anything like that, but on the inside, I’m totally going nuts. I’ve been waiting years for this to happen, along with no doubt countless other MSTies. July 5th can’t come fast enough for me!

(Don’t know what Mystery Science Theater 3000 is? Read the link! Real quick: it was a show where a guy and his two robots heckle a bad movie.)

The link doesn’t mention which/how many episodes will air on Retro TV; the mention of 11 seasons and both Joel and Mike makes it vaguely (to me) give the impression that it will be all of them, but I somehow doubt that; there are just too many rights issues involved with so many of the movies featured on the show. Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t be any more thrilled no matter what episodes they’ve acquired rights to, and you’d better believe I’m taping all of them, though I probably already own most of them. I’m going to take a wild guess and suppose that only the shows featuring public domain movies will be ran. And I’d be totally fine with that. That’s still plenty of good MST3K for me.

(EDIT: Satellite News has the info: 26 episodes, many but not all of the movies are in the public domain.)

Oh, I have the episodes I originally recorded myself, as well as episodes I bought/traded for, and of course I have many (but not quite all) of the DVD sets, but there’s just something about the fact that MST3K will be back on ‘real’ TV that makes the world a little bit better place. It’s been over 10 years since the series has been on broadcast television; The Sci-Fi Channel (no, it wasn’t “SyFy” yet) ran one last episode on January 31st, 2004 (experiment 912 – The Screaming Skull) before dropping it.

So, yeah, I’m stoked. Mystery Science Theater 3000 is coming back to TV, and that, my friends, is awesome.

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Zenith VRL2110 VHS VCR.

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In the past, I’ve mentioned by general dislike for ‘newer’ VCRs; that is, anything mid-1990’s on-up. Of late, however, I’ve had a softening of heart regarding these obsolete beasts. True, I still prefer decks from the mid-to-late-1980’s, but I guess I can live with the newer, cheaper models. That said, I haven’t had a good, ‘old’ VCR find in the wild for some time now, so maybe my resolve is just weak. I’m an enigma that way.

…Wait, did I seriously just say that my resolve is weak in regards to VCRs, and that somehow makes me an enigma? That’s dangerously close to the stupidest thing I’ve ever written on this blog, and that’s really saying something!

I found this sucker at Goodwill last night for the low, low price of $6, which truthfully was a dollar more than I would have preferred paying, but it really has been quite awhile since I’ve bought a VCR, any VCR, from the joint, so screw it. The deck is, as the title so aptly states, a Zenith VRL2110 VHS VCR. I have no idea what year it’s from; there’s no date to be found anywhere on it. I’m gonna say “circa-1995.” Could be from a few years earlier, could be from a few years later, or I could be dead wrong from the get-go. There’s just no way to be sure.

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What I am sure of is that, regardless of when it came out, this certainly isn’t even close to a high-end VCR. If anything, this model sort of exemplifies everything that makes up my (usual) reluctance to purchase decks from this era of VCR: cheap plastic casing, no special features whatsoever, and the sixth-sense-like feeling that just looking at this thing cross-eyed during playback will cause it to eat my tape with so much reckless abandon. Also, the facts it’s clearly marked as having only 2-heads and it is not a stereo VCR are also red flags. they didn’t stop me from buying it though, so what am I even complaining about? Plus, it’s not like there weren’t cheaper VCRs in 1980’s.

‘Course, it’s a Zenith, a brand I’ve had good luck with in the past in regards to vintage electronics, so that’s a good thing. A low-end Zenith VCR is still a Zenith VCR, after all. I can live with 2-heads, but I do really wish it was Hi-Fi.

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It may be made of plastic, but it does have a cool rounded look to the front of the unit that I find appealing. Also, I’m mildly surprised it records in all three modes: SP, LP and EP. For a deck clearly intended for the decidedly more frugal purchaser, I would have expected only SP and EP. The front brags about on-screen programming, but since no remote was included, those features are evidently forever barred from my usage. Oh the pain…oh the torture…

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See, Zenith, VRL2110. Did you think I was lying? I wasn’t. If you didn’t believe me, you could have looked at the front of the unit, but I guess that would have been too easy. Nothing I do is ever good enough, is it? I thought I had a picture of the A/V jacks on the back, but apparently I don’t, and I refuse to drag the VCR out for another picture taking session. Simply put, it only uses the yellow and white jacks, no reds. Trust me on this.

I can whine about how cheap the thing looks all night and/or day, but that would be ignoring the figurative elephant in the figurative room: does the sucker work? I have no shortage of tapes to use as test subjects, but a title I purchased along with this VCR last night will serve that purpose nicely…

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An ancient, 1984 copy of It’s A Wonderful life, from back when that title was public domain (it’s not anymore, is it?) There’s something about Video Film Classics and their big giant clamshell boxes that always make me snap them up with lightnin’ quick speed, despite their artwork being of only the most generic quality. Plus, I really, really like It’s A Wonderful Life, and the sheer number of old budget copies I have of it is, quite honestly, semi-embarassing. I mean, it’s not like I have a hundred or anything, but there’s probably enough to last me a lifetime.

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The moment of truth. Will I soon be delighted with classic Christmas images and the everlasting adorableness of Donna Reed, or will I be crushed beyond belief when the damn VCR chews the tape beyond the point of no return (he asked as if he didn’t already know the answer prior to this post)? Also, isn’t the lil’ red light on the power button cute?

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It lives, it lives! And aside from fast-forwarding and rewinding, which, thanks to there only being 2-heads, is pretty tough viewin’, it works pretty good. It’s a nice surprise, considering it really can be difficult to find VCRs of this particular vintage in working condition. ‘Course, as previously stated, it ain’t exactly a high-end model; this is not a machine you’d use to make the best possible DVD conversions of VHS tapes, but it’ll do in a pinch.

As for It’s A Wonderful Life, there are worse prints out there, or at least were out there. I wasn’t expecting much from it, but it looks nicer than I’d have guessed it would. Maybe it looks even better when played on a higher-end VCR. Or maybe the screencap above is an accurate representation of the tape’s quality. I now see the folly in my choice of testing (i.e., I should have used a flick that’s a bit newer and high-res.)

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There it be, my Zenith VCR from 19–. Is it the best VCR in my collection? Hardly. Is it the most notable VCR in my collection? Not even close. Will I ever use it again? Who knows. And yet, for some odd reason, I really don’t mind plunking a cool $6 for it. It means no harm, it’s just out there doin’ it’s thing, despite the numerous odds stacked against it. Maybe there’s a life lesson for all of us, buried deep in there somewhere.

Or maybe I just had no idea how to end this post.

Star Classics Night Of The Living Dead VHS (1985)

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This one comes courtesy of my good friend C, who was thinking of your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter while out hitting up far-away Goodwill Stores (hey, who doesn’t think of me while thrifting?) and kindly brought me back this tape. Thanks C! C’s the coolest.

If y’all will recall this post, you’ll note the mention of my love for old budget tapes of public domain Superman cartoons. Well, unmentioned in that post and unbeknownst to C when he came across this tape, I also get a big kick out of budget copies of the 1968 Night Of The Living Dead, a film that falls into the same murky PD-release arena. There are no shortage of Night Of The Living Dead tapes and DVDs out there, and some of the cheaper ones can be pretty interesting, even amusing. I may not get as jazzed to find a Livin’ Dead tape as I do Supes, but they are indeed something I keep an eye out for, and this particular release is one I would have snapped up myself had I come across it in the flesh (see what I did there?! Flesh! Because the movie is….awww never mind.)

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The side of the box, obviously. Ain’t it cute?

Star Classics put out a lot of stuff on VHS in the earlier years of the format. They were, to the best of my knowledge, strictly a budget label, dealing mainly in public domain flicks. To the best of my recollection, I’ve got this tape, Tulsa, and Godzilla Vs. Megalon (which isn’t public domain now but was, or at least believed to be, at one point) on the label, and they all share a similar, fairly plain, art style. That is, the Star Classics banner across the top, the title and cast above a shot from the film that’s surrounded by lights, while onlookers gawk at all of it.

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Star released a lot of old time classic Hollywood films, and regarding those, the front artwork makes sense. I mean, you’ve got the onlookers, dressed old-school, looking up at a lighted sign that could hold anything from Casablanca to Gone With The Wind to Citizen Kane (not that Star had a prayer of ever releasing any of those those movies). It projects a nice “Golden Age of Hollywood” vibe, is what I’m saying.

Except that it just doesn’t quite work in this case. Night Of The Living Dead, yeah it’s a classic, but it doesn’t really project the same spirit as the movies intended for this kind of art. It’s not the fact that it’s a horror movie, either. Frankenstein? That’d be fitting. Dracula? That would work, too. But Night Of The Living Dead? Ehhhh, not really. There’s some kind of disconnect here, and frankly, it’s that exact disconnect that appeals to my weird sense of humor.

And just so we’re clear, no, Frankenstein and Dracula were never released on the Star Classics label. Not the famous Universal versions I’m referring to, at least.

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It took me far too long to figure out that the logo is a cat with a bow tie and bag full of, I guess, Star’s magic. Besides the fact that Night Of The Living Dead isn’t exactly a ‘magical’ film on par with, say, The Wizard Of Oz, I find it off-putting that my VHS box is subjecting me to a Rorschach test. Don’t judge my precarious mental state, box!

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They eventually moved to regular slipcovers (and a more conventional artwork style), but older Star Classics releases were usually (always?) in larger-than-normal jackets/boxes. As the photos above attest, there’s more air in there than need be. My Tulsa is the exact same way, and my Godzilla Vs. Megalon is in a box just as big, but is actually a flip-lid, rather than a slide-out. This is all important stuff, so pay attention.

Making big ol’ boxes wasn’t unique to Star, though. Lots of companies did the exact same thing. In the days before the innernets and whatnot, many people made their rental selections based on how eye-catching the cover art of a given movie was while walking down the aisles of the video store. The old adage “bigger is better” often applied here, and Star Classics certainly had the “bigger” part down. “Better,” though? The boxes are big, but to be completely honest, they’re also pretty boring. These were budget releases, and they look it. About all they have going for them, besides artwork that’s head-scratching to probably only me, is size.

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The back of the box, featuring the same onlookers marveling at the copyright info. 1985 was a long time ago. Cue some prick telling me it wasn’t long ago at all when this was printed…now.

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WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT?!?! WILL SOMEONE PLEASE TELL ME?!?! Did they really need to include that little banner? People can figure out that the description on the back pertains to the film within without that extra little fanfare. I’m clearly just being snarky for the sake of being snarky now, because there’s not much I can make fun of regarding the description. The whole “returning satellite” thing in the film was more of a theory than conclusive evidence of why the living dead are, erm, living, but aside from that, it’s a serviceable summary.

High quality VHS? Higher quality, I guess. It was recorded in LP, as opposed to EP, so that’s a good thing.

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With these budget releases of the film, part of the ‘fun’ is to see just how trashed the print is. Public domain and all, yo. You shouldn’t ever go into one of these expecting pristine film quality, and Star Classics release is no exception. It’s certainly not the worst print I’ve come across, but this is a long, long way from Criterion quality.

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Whoa! Did someone drop their cigarette on the film? Most everyone smoked back then, after all (wasn’t it good for you back in the day, too?)

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The print is a bit too bright and contrasty. You could be forgiven for not being drawn to the “Night” in the title and completely missing the car on the road in this screencap.

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Poor Johnny! He’s white as a ghost! Kinda fitting in a horror movie, even if there are no ghosts to be found. His face actually blends in with the car! In fact, it may even be a bit brighter! And the sad thing is, this is all par for the course with these cheapo releases. Don’t get me wrong, I love ’em, but it’s for all the wrong reasons.

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Spot the zombie in this pic and get 100 bonus points. High def this thing most certainly isn’t. Not that anyone should really expect it to be, so where am I even going with this line of reasoning? The print’s not all that great, is what I’m sayin’.

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It may not be the most prestigious of releases when it comes to Night Of The Living Dead, but it is a neat little throwback. Nowadays we have budget DVDs carrying the torch, but the old cheapo VHS’ just seem so much more, I don’t know, innocent? Is that a term that can be applied to a film like Night Of The Living Dead? Anyway, I had some fun with this particular release in this post, but the truth is that I love tapes like this. The old school videos, both big budget or otherwise, of the 1980’s and into the early 1990’s, man, they warms me heart like you wouldn’t believe.

Big thanks again to my pal C for providing me with fodder for my silly little blog this tape!