Monthly Archives: September 2015

Mill Creek’s 3-Disc The Best of the Worst 12-Movie DVD Set

 

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Look what I got! A 12-movie, 3-disc budget DVD set of what are, ostensibly, the best of the worst movies ever made! Cool winnins! I was stoked to get this! And it was cheap, too! In general, this set tends to run, from what I’ve heard, between $5 to $10, a price that is completely acceptable even for someone that’s as perpetually broke as I am (mine was $5). And if awful, awful movies are what you’re after, the first disc alone warrants that price (we’ll get to all that in a bit).

Even though this came out in 2013, I just found out about it recently. Guess I’ve been off my budget DVD game. It’s put out by Mill Creek, who have, over the last several years, proven themselves to be purveyors of fine, fine DVD releases. I’m not just saying that because I dream of them sending me a bunch of free crap, either; any company that releases the complete series of Hunter is automatically my friend.

The fine folks at Mill Creek are no strangers to releases such as this, either; there are several budget DVD sets of cheapie horror/sci-fi flicks put out by them. They follow a similar format, except this set is the only one to come right out and tell you that the movies contained within are gonna blow. Since the ‘genre’ of bad movies is particularly popular right now, it’s a pretty smart move on Mill Creek’s part. Hey, got me to buy it, and isn’t that the really important factor here?

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(Click on the pic for a, how do you say, super-sized view.)

I can’t help but feel this is a set geared towards fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (which as has been proven time and time again, is exactly what I am). And It’s not only because of the whole “these are bad movies you can laugh at” concept, either; a full half of the selections on here were featured on MST3K. There were a lot of bad movies on the show, yes, but considering one of the films featured here is known solely because of MST3K, well, I don’t think it’s coincidental marketing (or whatever you’d want to call it).

Though as a longtime MSTie, I tend to see allusions to the show where they weren’t intended to be, so take that for what you will.

Like so many budget DVD sets, the titles found here are limited to the realm of the public domain, which I don’t mind a bit. Sure, some of these movies have been making the rounds for decades, going back to the VHS days (I’m looking at you specifically, The Terror), but when they’re put together under the banner of “entertainingly bad films,” it all clicks in a way that they wouldn’t have otherwise. Why pretend these are something they aren’t? It’s a move I absolutely respect, though in all fairness I does loves me a good bad movie (plus that whole MSTie thing); your mileage may vary, however.

However, If I’m being perfectly honest, I don’t really agree that these are all the best of the worst. There’s a few titles that, while undoubtedly ‘bad’ movies, feel more like filler than anything. Like I said before, Mill Creek has put out other similar sets, and it just seems to me that they used up many of their “heavy hitters” already across those. Example: there’s just no reason The Creeping Terror, one of the most infamous bad movies ever, shouldn’t be on here. Keep in mind that Mill Creek did indeed get the rights to release it (contrary to popular belief, it’s not public domain), on their 12 Creature Features set, so the absence of shag carpet monsters and insane narration on The Best of the Worst is a little head scratching. I guess I can see them not wanting to repeat titles across their various sets, which I applaud, but for the films that are here and what this set purports to be overall, it still feels like a particularly glaring omission to me.

Don’t get me wrong though. While I think there could have been just a bit more refinement in the selections, I am overwhelmingly happy with the set. And besides, despite the title, this probably isn’t really intended to be the end-all be-all release of the best bad movies ever. It’s a $5-$10 bargain DVD set, after all; there’s plenty here to justify that small amount, at any rate.

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The set consists of three, single-sided discs with four movies on each one. Since many of these are pretty short, it’s not an unreasonable amount. All three discs fit in a regular-sized DVD case, on one single spindle. That means if you want to watch a disc that isn’t directly on top, you’ll have to physically remove one or two discs first, but it’s a small price to pay for such a fantastic load of crappy, crappy movies.

And with that said, lets take a brief look at the actual contents of the set, because hey, that’s what the people want, right?

(I might as well say right now that some of the movies on this set I’m more familiar with than others. Most of them I’ve seen, but some I saw looong ago; I’m not claiming to have sat down and watched every one of these exhaustively while taking notes for this. I’m just giving the straight dope on the set, you make up your own minds from there, paisanos.)

Disc One

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The menu for each disc is super simple. What you’re seeing above is basically it. The two film reels in the corners continuously spin, but that’s as close as things get to a “wow!” factor. Not that it really matters, because c’mon, when you’re getting this much bang for your buck, there comes a point when demanding even more turns you from wanting the most for your money into a nitpicky whiner. Cut that stuff out, man. (Says the guy who just complained that The Creeping Terror isn’t here.)

In terms of badness, this first disc is absolutely the roughest of the three. For anyone trying to make it through the whole thing in order, the rest will almost (almost) come as a relief after making it through this one. Disc one includes a bad movie, a really bad movie, and two legitimate contenders for worst film ever. In other words, the entire price of the set is justified in the first disc alone.

Also, all four of these movies appeared on Mystery Science Theater 3000, and I’ll say up front that it’s often strange to realize there won’t be any riffs; you’re watching these as-is. The more well-known the respective episode is, the odder it feels, and there are points where you (or at least I) will instinctively think of the appropriate riffs.

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Can you say “starting things off with a bang?” Manos: The Hands Of Fate, a film that would have been completely and utterly forgotten after its disastrous 1966 El Paso premiere had it not been for Mystery Science Theater 3000 resurrecting it and turning it into one of the most loved bad movies ever. Despite being movie one, disc one, this is really the centerpiece of The Best of the Worst, as far as I’m concerned. Mill Creek must have realized that, as the portrait of “The Master” under the credits on the back of the DVD make clear. Forget the other 11 movies on the set, Manos alone is worth the price of admission.

The beauty (ha!) of the film is that it’s just such a mess. The camera used could only film 30+ seconds at a time, making for really weird continuity. Furthermore, it was filmed silent, so all of the voices were dubbed in later (at least they didn’t go the hackneyed narration route). The capper? It was very literally made on a bet by an inexperienced El Paso, Texas fertilizer salesman (director-producer-writer-star Harold P. Warren). The plot is all over the place, and the music ranges from awkward to downright unacceptable. Basically, every aspect of the film that can be wrong, is.

But, except for a really screwed up scene during the conclusion, it’s really not a movie you can full-on hate, because it is just so utterly out there. Manos tells the tale of a family stranded at remote lodge that is in actuality the base of operations for a polygamous cult that worships “manos.” There’s “The Master” (who rarely, if ever, approves), his constantly bickering bevy of wives, a necking couple in a car that serves no purpose, and some cops that are even more useless. But the character most everyone loves is big-knee’d, shuffling, twitchy-faced, jerky-voiced Torgo (That’s him above), the caretaker of the lodge. Torgo gets his own goofy theme music and, despite technically being a bad guy, winds up becoming something of an anti-hero, even after he makes the worst pass at a woman outside of me. I have a hard time believing the movie would be so loved if it weren’t for Torgo.

I won’t even try to explain further the wonderfully bizarre circumstances surrounding this film, so let Wikipedia tell you all about it. If you like bad movies but haven’t seen Manos yet, well, it’s pretty hard to top. Like I said before, worth the price of admission alone.

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Being on a budget DVD set isn’t necessarily an indicator of public domain status, but word on the street is that this film has indeed lapsed. Which is fine by me, because this is one of the bigger surprises (for me, anyway) on the set. It’s also the newest selection on it, if you can consider 1976 “new.” The subject of one of my very favorite MST3K episodes, this is really bad (and thus, really good) 1970s sci-fi, complete with the dreary color scheme that must have colored the entire decade. It’s just ‘horrific’ enough to satisfy the masses, but just goofy enough to keep things from becoming overly depressing. Featured during the final season, it was and is perfect MST3K fodder for the Sci-Fi Channel era of the show.

Did you know that being hit in the head by a piece of meteorite (“Moon rocks? Oh wow!“) can turn you into killer lizard monster that somehow ties into Native American folklore? Well it can, and to a hapless anthropologist, it does. Also included: Johnny Longbow’s killer stew recipe, a shop that sells both coins and guns, and a tent full of old guys. Oh, and a live performance of the smash hit, “California Lady.” Is it wrong that I’m considering making an MP3 of the song for iTunes?

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Now is as good a time as any to mention that the quality of the films on the set vary from feature to feature, but the condition of the prints is overall better that many “cheapie” movie sets out there. Thus far, Track of The Moon Beast looks okay, and Manos is, well, Manos, but the print used for The Beast Of Yucca Flats is absolutely terrific. There are the occasional scratches and dust, but it’s mostly very clean, crisp and clear. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve seen the movie look better.

Which is a hollow victory, because as far as I’m concerned, it’s the worst film in the entire set. The product of Coleman Francis’ fevered mind, and just like everything else Francis set his hand to, it’s a slimy, unpleasant film. Unlike Manos, which is also grimy but also, against all odds, somehow endearing, Beast is just an ugly, ugly movie. Even star Tor Johnson, who I normally find quite entertaining, can’t save it. Say what you want about Ed Wood, Coleman Francis was an infinitely worse filmmaker. I can’t decide if this is better or worse than Francis’ other cinematic abominations, The Skydivers and Red Zone Cuba (both also featured on MST3K), but in the end, if it has Francis’ name on it, there is no genuine “better,” just different levels of “awful.”.

The plot is some tripe about a defecting Soviet scientist (I hope can you buy Tor Johnson as a scientist, because that is exactly what the film posits) that gets caught in a nuclear blast and is turned into a mindless killer. Even the narrator’s deathless non-sequitur of “Flag on the moon; how did it get there?” can’t provide enough comedic momentum to sustain viewers through the 50+ minute (yes, really) running time.

Oh, the narrator? Yeah, this movie has no real dialogue; it’s almost entirely narrated (by Coleman himself), and what in-movie speech there is isn’t actually synchronized with the film; it’s spoken when mouths aren’t clearly visible or even on-screen at all. The Creeping Terror pulled that crap too, but there it wound up funny. Here though, it just makes you resent life and the fact that something like this could not only be made but also released to an unsuspecting public.

I hate this movie and can’t say enough bad things about it, which of course means it’s a perfect addition to the proceedings, simply because of how sickeningly, jaw-droppingly bad it is.
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After the soul-crushing saga that is The Beast Of Yucca Flats, Eegah almost comes as a respite, and rest assured, that’s not a statement I make lightly, because there aren’t many instances where Eegah can ever be seen as a respite.

Long story short: a caveman still exists in a California desert, he develops an attraction to a teenage girl, kidnaps her father, kidnaps her, they both get saved by the girl’s guitar-wielding boyfriend (though he doesn’t save them with the guitar; that would be just too much!), the caveman follows the whole lot to a pool party, and gets shotted dead. The end.

Eegah is frequently listed as one of the worst films of all-time, a rating that I find just a little overrated. Oh, it’s really bad alright, and there’s an icky shaving scene, an even ickier implication that there was some off-screen romancin’ afoot between the teenage girl and the guy who plays her dad, and an even ickier moment when the girl’s dad basically tells her to put up with Eegah’s affections. There’s even some superfluous songs by the boyfriend (played by Arch Hall Jr., who y’all will recall I met; Arch is a very cool guy and a lot of fun to talk to)!

But, even with all that, I never saw Eegah rising to the levels of near-unwatchability such as, well, the previous movie on this set did. For the most part, it’s 1960’s drive-in schlock, and while it’s certainly terrible, it’s not that terrible. I have a hard time hating anything like this from the decade where, at least on the surface, it’s all meant to be relatively innocent. I guess.

Watch out for snakes!

Disc Two

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Disc two is probably the least painful in the set. Only one movie on it (The Atomic Brain) is gut-wrenchingly terrible. Unfortunately, as far as that whole “movies so bad they’re good” vibe goes, it’s also where the set loses some steam, and from here on out, things are a bit hit-or-miss. The fun-factor never goes away completely, but after that powerhouse (ha!) of a first disc, well, it’s a hard act to follow.

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The Ape Man! Starring Bela Lugosi! Bela is always a plus, and it allows Mill Creek to draw on his name on the back cover. I think Scared To Death may have been a better choice as far as “bad-good” goes (and it’s a color movie, to boot), but I was actually kinda pleased to see The Ape Man here. Though in all honesty, I just kinda skimmed this one here and I don’t recall seeing it in the past, so maybe that’s an unfounded viewpoint.

The plot is formula stuff. Lugosi is a mad scientist whose experiments cause him to turn into the titular character. It’s a poverty row Lugosi flick, though I’m the first to admit that I have a soft spot for those.

And really, that points to my main area of interest with this one: after Dracula succeeded in stereotyping him somethin’ fierce, by the 1940s Lugosi was forced to take on mega-cheap horror/sci-fi flicks not unlike this one. It’s a good example of his film work at the time, to see a legitimate movie legend reduced to movies of this caliber. But, it’s usually fun to see him in anything, and even when it’s a by-the-numbers affair like this, his magnetism can drive the film further than a different actor may have. Plus, the low-budget affairs of the 1930s and 1940s, while obviously not comparable to Universal’s output, can often be pretty entertaining time wasters.

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The Amazing Transparent Man, another flick that popped up on MST3K. I first saw it on The Ghoul, waaay back in 1999 or 2000 (I still have my recording of the episode somewhere). Truth be told, it’s another feature that I think really isn’t that bad. I don’t think anyone will claim it to be good, but it’s relatively painless.

The title makes it sound more spectacular than it really is. It’s actually just a low-budget twist on the classic “invisible fella” formula, only this time with a mad scientist trying to create a slew of invisible baddies as part of a world domination scheme. He enlists a criminal to act as a guinea pig and steal the needed ingredients to complete the scheme.

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The last MST’d movie on the set, and whoo-boy is it a baddie. This is the low-point of disc two, and it absolutely deserves a place of honor in this collection.

The Atomic Brain is some hokum about a decrepit old woman that wants to switch brains with a younger dame. Eternal youth or some crap like that. Eventually, someone’s brain ends up in the head of a cat somehow. I don’t know, this one causes my eyes to glaze over pretty bad, even on MST3K.

The real eyebrow raiser here is just how sexist the movie is towards women, especially since it is woman as the catalyst for all of these shenanigans.

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First off, it was a pain trying to find a good ‘action’ screencap for this one; I was never satisfied with the choices, and even now I’m really not all that happy with my pick. It’s an axe crashing through a wall is what is.

The plot is one of those “fake crime turning into a real one” deals, as a woman trying to scheme her way into a family’s will leads to some very real axe murders.

The really interesting thing about Dementia 13 isn’t so much what it is (though it’s a fairly violent movie for the early-1960s) but rather who was behind it: none other than Francis Ford Coppola! You know, The Godfather guy. Mr. Apocalypse Now himself! And believe it or not, this was his very first ‘legit’ movie! I wouldn’t say it gives much indication of the esteem that would later befall Coppola, though it’s really not all that bad, but it’s most definitely cool to see one of his super early efforts.

Disc Three

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Do you mind if I power through this last disc? For as much as I like The Best of the Worst, my enthusiasm for this post is waning fast. Maybe it’s for the best, as in my opinion the last disc is the least interesting of the three. Still, there is entertainment to be had here, though in the interest of full disclosure, I haven’t ever seen the last two movies on this disc in their entirety, because frankly, I just don’t care. Does that cause me to lose my reviewer credentials? I don’t care about that, either.

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I first saw Unknown World on Son of Ghoul, and it’s less of a “really bad” movie and more of a “painfully dull” movie.

Having been made in the 1950s, nuclear war and whatnot was a particularly major concern, and here, some scientists have devised a tunneling device to burrow deep into the earth to escape said calamity, should it occur. They do just that, and then…nothing much happens. Well, things happen, but none of them are all that interesting. I mean, burrowing into the earth should provide just as much fodder as an outer space plot could, and yet, the movie completely misses the mark.

No, I don’t enjoy this one, not one bit.

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The Terror, a movie that I have tried multiple times to like. No kidding, I want to enjoy this one so much, and it just never, never happens. The saturated colors, Gothic scenery, and stars Boris Karloff AND Jack Nicholson (he’s probably pretty proud of this movie) seem like an absolute recipe for a good time, and yet, it just never does it for me. Furthermore, it’s a film I just can’t get away from. I have it so many times over on various budget movie DVDs/tapes/sets, and even recordings on both The Ghoul and Son of Ghoul, and still it only leaves me chilly frosty cold.

Set in the 1800s, Nicholson is a Napoleonic soldier (the role he was born to play!) that winds up at Karloff’s castle and right into a ghostly scenario. Karloff is being haunted by the ghost of a woman he killed, which in turn is under the control of a witch, and then some stuff happens and it ends.

Really, aside from a couple scenes of rotting corpses and a relatively graphic falcon (?) attack, there’s not a whole lot memorable about this one, and truth be told, I have a hard time following the plot. Rumor has it that this was made in only a couple of days, and, well, it shows.

Man I want to like this movie!

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Don’t get too excited, the title seems more lurid than the actual movie, though you’ll be pleased to know it stars Uncle Fester. Some crap about a scientist in Mexico creating animals from humans or humans from animals or I don’t even know. The movie is public domain, I don’t have to worry about providing a satisfactory summary. Here, go to Wikipedia and learn all about it!

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And finally, no bad movie collection would be complete without a contribution from Jerry Warren, and here it is. The quality looks like it comes from a VHS tape and some of the dialogue is unintelligible. It sounds like it’s a suckier version of Unknown World, though I refuse to take a closer look at the actual movie to back those claims up. Here, Wikipedia is yo’ frien’ again.

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I love this set. I really do. The mere sight of it fills me with joy. Yeah, it kinda runs out of steam for me by the end, but the concept alone is just so cool that I don’t really mind. It’s absolutely worth the couple of bucks it fetches wherever you may find it, so yeah, if it crosses your path, I’d say give it a go.

Hey, Mill Creek, how about a Volume 2? You’ve already got a guaranteed sale in me, and isn’t that what it’s really all about?

(Here is Mill Creek’s official website and here is the product page for this set.)

WJW TV-8 – Big Chuck & Lil’ John’s Pregame Show (September 20, 2003)

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Man, I used to tape a lot of stuff, so much so that it’s not uncommon for me to come across something I recorded myself back in the day and yet have NO recollection of ever doing so. (See: this post.) When it came to all of the crap things I taped, I like to think that I have a pretty good memory, but I’ve been genuinely surprised by what I recorded years ago enough times to realize that my mental synapses aren’t always untouchable when it comes to this sort of thing.

While this particular broadcast isn’t one I had completely and totally forgotten about capturing, I only retained the vaguest memories of taping it. For obvious reasons, I’m sure glad I did, though. Behold: from WJW 8, it’s Big Chuck & Lil John’s Saturday afternoon “Pregame Show,” from 2003. Has it really been 12 years since this first aired? I refuse to believe it’s been 12 years. I was 17 years old! A junior in high school!

Truth be told, I’m really not sure what drove me to record this. I was of course a full-fledged Big Chuck & Lil’ John fan by 2003, but, aside from a few scattered instances (such as the one seen in this post), I didn’t really tape their show(s) that often. Thanks to those aforementioned super-vague memories, I seem to recall there being something ostensibly special about this broadcast. Maybe I thought it would be a one-off kinda thing?

No matter, because I taped it, I saved it, and thus, here we are.

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Even though the branding is never used here, make no mistake, this is really an installment of Couch Potato Theater, Big Chuck & Lil’ John’s long-running Saturday afternoon showcase, which was always in addition to their regular late night program (they had moved to Saturday nights after MadTV by this point). The features shown during Couch Potato Theater varied from week-to-week; could be a movie, could be old comedy shorts, could be episodes of The Abbott And Costello Show. Or, as in this case, it could be just be skits.

As implied by the whole “Pregame” thing, this episode preceded baseball on WJW 8 that day (actually, it precedes a local special on football and an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer before the game, a difference of scheduling that is noted during the show). As such, it’s a half-hour show made up entirely of skits.

Actually, one thing I really like about this broadcast is just how much it reminds me of Big Chuck & Lil’ John’s current show: 30 minutes of skits with the occasional host segment. One major difference between now and then, besides the set and live audience of the old days I mean, is how ‘current’ they were back in the day; references and reminders of what was going on around Northeast Ohio, including where they would be appearing in person (indeed, as per an announcement from Chuck, they were appearing somewhere following this very episode), was a constant part of their hosting duties. Not so hard to understand, since they were (I’m guessing) in the studio quite a bit back then. It’s a much simpler affair nowadays, though anything that keeps Big Chuck & Lil’ John on the air is fine by me.

(Speaking of on the air: up until a few months ago, WJW was running Big Chuck & Lil’ John’s new show in a Saturday11:30 AM time slot, which reminded me even more of the old Couch Potato Theater days. They’ve since moved them to 11;30 PM, Sundays. I DVR the show no matter what, so the time change doesn’t impact me all that much, but I preferred Saturday mornings solely due to that nostalgia element it presented. There was just something about kicking off your Saturday with Chuck & John!)

Being only 30 minutes in length (or, if you want to be really anal, about 28 minutes; the next show didn’t start immediately after this one, dig?), I naturally don’t have a whole lot to work with here, even if I do find it incredibly cool and undeniably nostalgic. But, I’ll give it a shot.

First up, the skits themselves:

Muldoon’s Bar

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One of my all-time favorites, though I’m pretty sure it’s just a filmed version of an old joke. “Resident Irishman” Tom Bush plays Paddy, who every week or so enters Muldoon’s Bar for two shots of Irish whiskey: one for him, and one to drink for his brother back in Ireland (“To his health!”). One week, he stops at the bar, but only orders a single shot. The bartender is understandably concerned about Paddy’s brother back in Ireland, but when questioned, Paddy reveals the truth: his brother is fine, and in fact, the one shot he drinks is for him. So why not the second shot? Because Paddy gave up drinking for Lent! I love it!

 

The Amazing Stanley

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You can almost see where this one is going from the start. it’s the classic “sawing a woman in half” magic routine, which “The Amazing Stanley” performs to the satisfaction of the crowd. It’s only backstage that the “magic” of the illusion is seen: it’s been two little people curled up in the individual sections of the box! It’s a trip seeing John in high heels, and as per the host segment following the skit, the woman is played by John’s real-life sister.

 

Rockhead

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The Rockhead skits were never my favorites, though I think there were only a few of them. It’s a parody of Rocky, obviously. In this one, Rockhead is training for his big fight with “Alonzo,” while fake Adrian continuously nags him to give up boxing and instead take a steady job as a delivery boy for Rego’s Supermarket. Rockhead always gives the idea the brush off, until he disturbs Alonzo during his training; Alonzo angrily crashing through the wall is enough for Rockhead to immediately change his plans for the future. Fun fact: Chuck’s Rockhead wears a Ghoul sweatshirt throughout the entire skit!

 

Art Modell’s Back!

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Even though he passed away three years ago, Art Modell still isn’t the most popular guy in Northeast Ohio. But back in 2003, the hate for him was pretty venomous. He took away our Browns, man! This sketch plays into that sentiment. In it, Modell is seen talking on the phone and snickering; turns out Cleveland wants him back! We just couldn’t live without him! The pay-off to the skit is that he is indeed brought back to Cleveland…selling hot dogs! And to further insult him, he’s seen calling after people asking if the men’s toilets are backed up while holding up a plunger!

Obviously, there’s no way the real Art Modell was going to come back to Cleveland just to film a skit ragging on him. Instead, “Art” is either seen from behind or, using the same technology as Clutch Cargo and Conan O’Brien, with a pair of live-action, talking lips superimposed over a still image of his head.

It’s a very, very Cleveland sketch, needless to say.

 

$10 Magic Wands

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A pretty well-known skit. A sidewalk salesman tries to sucker John’s character into buying a magic wand for the low, low price of $10. The prospective customer is apprehensive until he sees the magic wand instantaneously produce a beautiful girl right before his very eyes! He quickly buys a wand, and the salesman sneaks off. The Purchaser’s attempt at using the wand produces a woman alright, albeit one of a rather more robust variety, who then proceeds chase him around as the skit ends.

 

Madame Mary

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Another skit I’m pretty sure is just a filmed version of an old joke. In fact, I know it is; variations of the gag are really pretty common. In this version, an old man goes to visit fortune teller “Madame Mary,” and asks her if there is pro football in Heaven. The good news? Yes, there is indeed pro football in heaven. The bad news? He has box seats for the next game!

 

Ben Crazy

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A classic. The Ben Crazy skits are always welcome, and this is a particularly good entry. The scene opens on a group of doctors drawing lots. One Dr. White wins, much to the chagrin of everyone else. He then enters a hospital room and informs a “Ms. Goodbody” that it’s time for her morning shot. Obviously, this is not a shot in the arm! So that’s why they were drawing lots!

 

The Certain Ethnic Artist

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Another really good one. Chuck’s classic Stash character is the “certain ethnic artist.” He’s seen painting a portrait of John, the results of which, well, you can see above.

Okay, so that does it for the skits themselves, but what about the host segments? I’m so used to Chuck & John only appearing intermittently during the new show that I had forgotten just how many there were back then; they follow every single skit! For the most part, I like the batch of skits seen in this episode, but as far as I’m concerned, the real heart lies in the host segments. Just seeing Chuck & John on that classic set takes me back like you wouldn’t believe.

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Did you notice the pizza box on the table in the host segment screencap way at the start of this post? That was your first clue that quite a bit of the host segments are dedicated to pitching Pizza Pan pizza (alliteration). Pizza Pan was a big sponsor of Big Chuck & Lil’ John at the time. The fellas even did a number of commercials for the company (I’ve got a few). Chuck & John make a point of showing off the pizza box and mentioning the company numerous times during the episode. This is borderline The Pizza Pan Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show!

The gimmick of Pizza Pan was this: order a pizza and have it delivered, you got an extra pizza free. Even better, order a pizza and pick it up yourself, you got two free pizzas! Obviously, a deal like that is going to attract some attention, and for a time, Pizza Pan was pretty ubiquitous in Northeast Ohio. I certainly partook of the ‘Pan more than once. Why? Chuck & John told me to. (Also, free pizza is always nice.)

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At one point during the show, the owner of Pizza Pan himself joins Chuck & John onstage to further promote the company. Not only is a special deal mentioned (free ribs when a pizza is ordered – at the Mentor location only), but also the then-recent expansion of the company to more areas. I wasn’t kidding, there was a time in the early-to-mid-2000s when Pizza Pan was a pretty big local chain.

And then, it just sort of seemed to fade away. I seem to recall, though don’t quote me on this because my memory isn’t that clear on the matter, that after awhile the free pizza deal was done away with. If that is indeed what happened, I guess I can understand it; the whole free pizza thing was what the company built its success on!

There are a few locations still around though. As to whether the free pizza deal was brought back or not, I couldn’t say (the official website seems to only give me the current locations and the ability to order online). Check the official website out to see if there’s one near you.

See, now I’m plugging Pizza Pan! Why? Chuck & John, man, Chuck & John.

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Finally, the pregame show ends with a mention of their feature for their normal, late night program: Rocky II! They both seem quite excited by this, not only because they had run the original Rocky the week before, but also because this is apparently the third good movie they’ve had in a row, though what entailed the third movie in that line-up isn’t stated.

Now is as good a time as any to mention that I love the old movie bumpers Big Chuck & Lil’ John used for their films. The Rocky II one above is a good example. There’s something just so right about them, though my nostalgia obviously plays a part in that feeling.

(By the way: I didn’t notate on the tape when this originally aired, but Bob “Hoolihan” Wells’ 70th birthday is mentioned as coming up on September 27th, and this episode followed my recording of Conan O’Brien’s 10th anniversary show and preceded Saturday Night Live‘s 29th season premiere. Those aired September 14th and October 4th, respectively, and with the help of this calendar, it pretty much has to be September 20, 2003. I can’t see a way that it’s not!)

Anyway, during these broadcast recaps, I usually look at some of the interesting (to me) commercials found during the respective airing. Being only half an hour, again, I’ve only got so much to work with, and frankly, there wasn’t a whole lot that stood out to me. BUT, there were two I couldn’t end the article without taking a quick look at:

 

Buddy’s Carpet Ad

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Buddy’s Carpet! At one time, it was pretty difficult to watch local TV in Northeast Ohio without seeing at least one Buddy’s Carpet ad. Initially, Buddy himself pitched the company in these commercials, though later on a woman (his daughter, I guess?) took over those duties. As evidenced above, this is one of those later commercials. No matter, because it still gives me a far bigger nostalgic charge than any carpet commercial has a right to.

Buddy’s Carpet is still around, though like Pizza Pan, it seems the locations are more limited now. Check them out here.

 

Regency Windows Ad

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I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that up until fairly recently, I didn’t realize I hadn’t seen a Regency Windows ad on TV in a long, long time. Just like Buddy’s Carpet, their commercials were nearly omnipresent on Northeast Ohio TV. Most of them featured owner and spokesman Mikey (that’s him above) screaming “I’m gonna save you a lotttttttta money!” This ad is (probably) one of the few where he doesn’t give his famous line, but he’s still there, and he’s still excitable, so it’s not a total loss.

Turns out Regency Windows closed some years ago, though what remained of the company was purchased by Window Nation. That official website is here.


 

For what is only a 30 minute recording, this one actually packs quite a nostalgic wallop for me. Besides the whole Big Chuck & Lil’ John Saturday afternoon thing (which is more than enough by itself), there’s also Pizza Pan, Buddy’s Carpet, Regency Windows (and more specifically, Regency’s Mikey), and of course, the skits.

Also, It’s amazing to realize that in 2003, in four years Chuck would retire and they’d be off the air entirely, but in less than 10 years, they’d be back hosting a show that is very reminiscent of this (and other, I’m sure) pregame episodes, a show which continues to this day. If there’s one thing I love about Northeast Ohio, it’s that more than once, our movie hosts have not gone quietly into the figurative night. One way or another, they find their way back!

Thriller Video – Elvira Hosts 1957’s The Cyclops (1985)

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I’ve mentioned before just how revelatory eBay was to me in the late-1990s. I first signed up in 1999, and already being a burgeoning video collector, it was positively jaw-dropping to see the multitudes of obscure, out-of-print, sometimes just plain weird tapes for sale that, otherwise, had long, long disappeared from store shelves. The options were virtually limitless, and it was made all the better when the other, non-VHS crap you could buy was taken into consideration. If you had the money (and being around 13/14 years old at the time, I rarely did), things that were absolutely unobtainable prior could now be yours relatively easily. As long as you were willing to pony up the bucks, anyway.

‘Course, the eBay of the past was also a bit of a no man’s land, what with buyers that may or may not actually pay (PayPal wasn’t around yet; snail-mail money orders were the common method of payment), sellers that may or may not send the item, and retaliatory negative feedback that could be thrown around if one party so much as thought the other was scrunching their nose at them. A lot of policies have been implemented since then, and though eBay seems to favor buyers over sellers more often than not, for what it’s worth I think things are better now than they were in the late-1990s. You still hear cases of people getting cheated from time to time, but at least there are more protective measures in place.

Anyway, while those days of constantly searching eBay in hopes of finding collectible VHS tapes are more or less over for me, there are still some videos that give me that old feeling. That thrill of finding something really special, something that I just wasn’t going to come across otherwise (unless I got really lucky at Goodwill, anyway).

And that brings us to today’s post: from looooong gone Thriller Video, it’s Cassandra “Elvira, Mistress Of The Dark” Peterson, hosting the 1957 Bert I. Gordon classic, The Cyclops! Cool winnins!

(Also, hilarious-but-true fun fact: look closely at the header picture above; you can see my Supe’guy shirt reflected on the front of the tape. This is a consequence of the clamshell the VHS now finds itself housed in apparently being the most reflective surface known to man. After several attempts to downplay said reflections during the picture-taking, I finally said “screw it” and let the best result speak for itself.)

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This wasn’t the only movie Elvira hosted for Thriller. Oh no, there was a long line of ’em. Of the series, The Cyclops was the only one that I really, really wanted, though. Don’t get me wrong, if I came across any of the titles at a yard sale, thrift store or what have you, I would gladly snatch them up with a fervor that would almost certainly give onlookers cause for serious concern. But, The Cyclops is the only entry in the series I ever planned on going out of my way for.

Indeed, I kept relatively regular tabs on eBay for a copy that, price-wise, wouldn’t cause me to throw my hands up in utter despair. In good shape, some of these can still go for some decent dough. So, when this particular copy popped up with a buy it now of $14.99 and free shipping, I figured it was finally time to cross the title off my list. I can live with being $15 poorer, but could I live without Elvira babbling about a big giant one-eyed thing? Luckily, I’ll never have to find that out…now.

As you can see, my copy has been cut and placed into a clamshell for rental purposes. Uncut Thriller Video boxes are pretty big beasts, which wasn’t an uncommon route to take for many companies in the earlier days of home video; the more lurid the cover art and the bigger the box, the more eye-catching the release would be on the shelves. Thriller exemplified that ideal quite well. Plus, they had the benefit of Elvira gracing their boxes. (You can see uncut examples of their tapes, including Elvira’s The Cyclops, here.)

The fact this particular copy was cut for a clamshell and subsequently thrown on the shelf of Wonder Book & Video (is this the same company?) for rental purposes, which comes with the prerequisite sunfading to the cover, probably accounts for the low-ish auction price, though I don’t necessarily see any of that as a drawback. It’s not uncommon to find these releases cut for clamshell cases, plus It saves me the hassle of clearing space for a big huge box (yeah, I’ve really got that much stuff), and more importantly, the tape plays into not only my love of horror hosts and the earlier days of home video, but also the rental store boom of the time. That’s totally worth $15 to me. Plus, more material for my silly blog is always nice.

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A few important factors are evidenced on the back of the box: 1) Lon Chaney Jr. is in the movie, which is a sight just as welcome as seeing Boris Karloff or Bela Lugosi listed in the credits of anything. Doesn’t matter how good a movie is or isn’t, a flick with him in it is at least worth a cursory glance. No kidding, it’s always fun seeing Chaney in a movie (and that’s coming from a guy that has not only seen but also owns Al Adamson’s Dracula Vs. Frankenstein!).

2) I wouldn’t be surprised if Cassandra Peterson herself wrote the synopsis, because that, coupled with the required picture of Elvira, gives a pretty good impression of the character’s sense of humor and just what viewers were headed for. Indeed, for anyone unaware of Elvira prior (yeah, all four of them) that were standing around mulling over renting this or The Jewel Of The Nile yet again at the video store, they had to get a reasonably good idea of what they were potentially getting themselves in to.

3) The tape is short. Really short. The Cyclops is only 66 minutes as it is, and adding the FBI warning screen, the company logos, three Elvira segments, three trailers for other Thriller Video releases, and closing credits, the running time still doesn’t top 75 minutes total. It’s a quick one, alright. I’m okay with that.

4) Can you believe there was a time period when a used former-rental could garner $40? Now every time I pick up a tape at Goodwill for a buck, I’m going to feel bad for those that may have shelled out the mighty dollars online for a similar copy, before DVD came along and ruined everything. Aw, no I won’t (though rest assured, I was one of those people, more than once).

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The tape itself. Not a whole lot I can say about it, except I like the red (some would say BLOOD RED, HAW HAW HAW) color scheme of the label, and it has that cute lil’ “Be Kind, Please Rewind” sticker slapped on it.

And again: can you believe someone once paid $40 for this tape used? It’s been awhile since that was acceptable!

Then again, I’m the guy that paid $15 for a movie on a wildly obsolete format, so I don’t have a whole lot of room to talk, either. (Even less so when you consider the sheer amount of money I’ve wasted spent on used blank tapes!)

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I think most everyone knows Elvira, “Mistress Of The Dark.” On a national scale, she is almost certainly the most well-known horror host there is. Indeed, Elvira’s visibility went faaaar beyond the horror movies source, eventually branching out into beer commercials and even her very own movie. By a certain point, it was easy to forget that she actually had her own show and hosted movies, because Elvira was everywhere. People couldn’t get enough of the whole Gothic valley girl shtick. Hey, it was, and is, funny!

Elvira hosted horror & sci-fi movies, via her program Movie Macabre, for a number of years, and such was the popularity of the concept that there were a lot of home video releases with her doing the exact same thing (something that continues to this day with DVD). While Thriller’s series of tapes are far from being the only ones out there, they were the first ones to bring Elvira to home video. That in and of itself makes the Thriller series interesting, and even more so when you consider there were actual licensed movies in the line-up, as opposed to the public domain offerings of so many of the later videos.

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There were a few reasons that I wanted Thriller’s The Cyclops over the other titles in the series. First and foremost, I just really, really like the movie in general, and this is apparently one of the few (only?) legitimate VHS releases, though it is out on DVD now.

Also, the vast majority of the movies featured in the Thriller Elvira series were either in actuality Hammer House Of Horror entries, or made-for-TV flicks (1973’s Dracula starring Jack Palance, for example). There were a few theatrical films presented, but the only one really up my alley (and, I believe, the only one from the 1950s) was, say it with me, The Cyclops. The fact that I’m actually, genuinely fond of the movie just makes it all the better.

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And, it’s a Bert I. Gordon film! Even more up my alley! So much of the mental “giant __________”  image that people picture when thinking of American sci-fi films from the 50s can be traced back to Gordon’s films. His initials are “B.I.G.” and boy do his movies live up to them! Giant bugs, dinosaurs, people, Gordon specialized in ’em all. Sure, the effects were on the, erm, cheap side, but as far as I’m concerned, that only adds to the fun. Want a good 1950s sci-fi movie for your Halloween party this year? Bert isn’t a bad choice.

I’m pretty fond of most of Gordon’s films, but truth be told, The Cyclops just may be my favorite of the bunch (and yes, I felt that way before I owned this tape). You don’t hear about it as often as you do The Amazing Colossal Man, Earth Vs. The Spider or The Magic Sword, but I feel it ranks among his best work.

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Being such a short movie, things naturally move at a pretty decent pace, which is perfectly fine with me. I love 50s sci-fi, but a slow-moving, talky picture can try even my patience.

(Beware: some spoilers ahead!)

In The Cyclops, things kick off with an expedition led by one Susan Winter (played by Gloria Talbott) heading into a Mexican valley, where Winter’s fiance Bruce disappeared in a plane crash three years prior. Susan doesn’t believe he’s dead, and so she, a scientist acquaintance, a pilot, and a habitual complainer miner (played by your hero and mine, Lon Chaney Jr.) all head off in search of Bruce. That’s them up above, if you don’t believe me.

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As with 85% of all movies made in the 1950s (statistic fact, look it up), there’s radiation involved. In this case, once in the valley, Chaney’s character “Marty” quickly discovers the land is saturated with uranium. That’s him doing so above if you don’t believe me. From that point forward, he will not stop whining about getting back to civilization to stake a claim in the land. Look, I’m a Chaney fan, but even I have to admit his character gets real irritating, real fast in this one.

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As with 98% of the 85% of all 1950s movies with radiation involved, said substance has turned regular sized creatures into, as you would say, “big’uns.” A few prior “did I see that?” instances are confirmed when a big ol’ hawk is seen swooping down on a mouse (these are real animals, and it’s a little surprising that they included such an “in yo face” shot of the hawk tearing, literally, into the rodent).

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More big fellas. A giant spider is encountered, and just as quickly forgotten when a supersized lizard makes its way into the picture. And then another lizard shows up, which naturally provides for a wrasslin’ match between the two.

Gordon achieved special effects such as these through the magic of rear-projection. While as still pictures things don’t look so bad, in practice they were, shall we say, often less than convincing. Anyone that has seen the giant grasshoppers in his Beginning Of The End knows how this all plays out.

But, while the effects aren’t exactly critically-acclaimed, they do add a terrific 1950s charm to the proceedings. And besides, I’ll take Bert I. Gordon’s rear-projected creatures over whatever brain dead crap Michael Bay throws at the screen any day.

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Big lizards and whatnot are all fine and dandy, but everyone is here for the big guy himself, and man does he know how to make an entrance! One of the more talked-about moments in The Cyclops comes when the titular character is first introduced on-screen. In the scene, the main characters are in a cave, when something pushes a huge boulder in front of the entrance. Then, without warning, up from behind the rock pops the Cyclops!

It’s a moment that online recollections often describe as pretty shocking back in the day, and while I’m guessing people today are far too jaded to ever actually be scared by it now, as far as I’m concerned it’s still most certainly a surprising and downright cool introduction to the one-eyed menace.

And what a look the Cyclops has! He’s (according to the scientist) about 25 feet tall, with one side of his face deformed, and one eye (DUH!) peaking out of the other. He’s actually reminiscent of the title character in Gordon’s later War Of The Colossal Beast, (or rather, is War Of The Colossal Beast reminiscent of The Cyclops?) which is fitting, since Duncan Parkin played both.

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More low-budget-but-fun special effects: Marty meets his maker via the hand of the Cyclops. ‘Course, since a giant hand is being superimposed over Chaney’s character, there isn’t any realistic contact made between the two; the hand just kind of flutters around while Chaney screams and falls over dead. It doesn’t look at all like he’s being or been squished, but anything that shuts the Marty character up is fine by me. The Cyclops is just a victim of circumstance, but Marty was willfully a jerk. So who’s the real villain here, hmmm?

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Oh this is great. At one point, the Cyclops grabs Susan, and to achieve the impression that she’s being pulled out of the cave, rather than the hand grabbing her and pulling her out (which would’ve been impossible or at least incredibly difficult in this scenario), instead the entire image moves to simulate the giant retrieving her. It doesn’t get much cheaper than that, and thus I love it so very, very much.

Again, Michael Bay can keep his mindless CGI, I have infinitely more respect for a special effect that doesn’t look realistic in the slightest but has some actual heart behind it. You can tell Bert I. Gordon had a genuine love for his work, and that’s of tantamount importance. To me, that overrules how realistic or unrealistic a special effect is.

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Of course the Cyclops has to fight something besides Lon Chaney Jr. at some point in the film, and that promise is fulfilled in a giant boa constrictor. It’s a real snake, so naturally it’s just a regular-sized example of the species (which, granted, is still pretty humongous). Apparently it was a well-trained snake, because while it wraps itself around the giant, it doesn’t appear aggressive in the least. Rather, it looks like the Cyclops is forcibly holding onto the thing while thrashing about (which, of course, is exactly what Parkin was doing; if you’re going to use a real boa to stage a fight, I guess there’s not a whole lot else you could do, not without getting the thing really mad at you, anyway).

By the way, it’s revealed that missing fiance Bruce is actually the Cyclops, having been mutated by the radiation in the three years since crashing. Just thought I should mention that somewhere.

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Perhaps the most well-known moment in The Cyclops comes during the climax: as the creature attacks, a makeshift spear is grabbed, some brush tied around it, lit on fire, and then thrown directly into his eye! Yikes! Okay, sure, we know it’s a fake eye, obviously, and the quick edit between the spear being thrown and actually making contact with the eye is beyond cheesy, but boy, it still manages to look painful, and even a little disturbing. This was an eyebrow-raising moment for me the first time I saw it, and trust me, that’s not a feeling I was expecting to have when I first sat down to watch the movie!

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Even more disturbing is the Cyclops himself pulling the spear out of his eye, and then helplessly crying as blood streaks down his face. It’s to the everlasting credit of Gordon and/or Parkin (and/or Paul Frees, who provided the wordless noises/grunts/etc. the giant constantly makes) that you actually do feel bad for the Cyclops here.

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And so, the remaining three members of the expedition make there way to the plane and take off, leaving the radioactive valley as the Cyclops lies on the ground, blinded and presumably dead.

A happy ending? Well, yes and no. Sure, the heroes (Marty not included) make it out alive, but when you really think about it, The Cyclops wasn’t really evil. Rather, he was just a mostly-mindless, mutated beast, and it was thanks to a factor (the radioactive valley) that was beyond his control. And, he does at points show some ability to vaguely recall Susan and what he was before the radiation did what it did to him. It’s actually kind of a sad outcome for him when you think about it, even if there wasn’t much anyone could do for the former-Bruce by that point.

You know, I’m probably putting too much thought into what was supposed to be a nice, simple 1950s drive-in movie, one probably intended to be little more than background noise to the noisily necking teenagers of the time.

Believe it or not, to me The Cyclops does recall, or at least seem to mimic, the more-famous Universal sci-fi films of the same period. Of course, it’s much lower-budgeted, and quite a bit shorter, but there’s something about the cinematography and plotting and even the music used that brings to mind the Universal films of the time. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me. Either way, it’s a movie I genuinely enjoy. And it’s made all the better when it’s horror hosted.

Speaking of which…

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Having never seen an Elvira Thriller presentation prior, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Was it simply going to be an episode of Movie Macabre thrown on tape, or would it be specifically shot footage? The opening image of the Thriller Video logo as part of the actual set answered that question, as did Elvira herself mentioning this was another Thriller presentation. Elvira stuff exclusive to this line; I dig it!

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Much of Elvira’s act revolved around double-entendres and the like, usually in regards to her, erm, ‘appearance.’ There was an edge to her humor in general though, and the introduction to the movie is ample (doh!) proof of that. Her description of the Cyclops is a riot: “Everything about this dude is giant-sized! He’s got a big head, big arms, big legs, and the biggest…feet I have ever seen!” Funny stuff!

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Again, because I had never seen one of these tapes before, I wasn’t sure if Elvira would just provide simple bookends to the movie, or if an actual episode of the series would be imitated. I was pleasantly surprised to see that while the movie itself is (I guess) uncut, there is a short break at, roughly, the halfway point for Elvira to come back and remind everyone that she’s hosting this movie. In the bit, she has a few toys and is mockingly reenacting the movie before noticing she’s back on the air, nervously remarking “Oh..hi! I was just, um, playing with myself!” while tossing the toys away.

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Her outro declares that while the movie wasn’t the greatest, it was “Sure better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick! Oh, sorry, Bruce…” Ha! She also wonders if Mr. T was the dialogue coach for the Cyclops (he grunts a lot during the movie), and posits that Lon Chaney’s character could provide the basis for a sequel (I sure hope not!).

More interestingly, while I was half-expecting some trailers for other Thriller titles at the end of the movie, as was the M.O. of many video companies at the time, I was surprised to see them actually incorporated into Elvira’s outro segment. Full, ostensibly Thriller-produced trailers for Dracula, The Picture Of Dorian Gray, and Charlie Boy (all three part of Elvira’s series for the label) appear during this closing segment, before Elvira concludes matters with a declaration of “Unpleasantos dreamos!” Get it? Her ending phrase was always “Unpleasant dreams!” and the movie has the Mexican theme, and, and…aw never mind.

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See, 1985. Did you think I was lying? I wasn’t. I love the obviously computer-generated titles of the closing credits; they’re such a fantastic reminder of the medium and the time this was produced in.

As the copyright indicates, Thriller was part of the International Video Entertainment company. There were videos put out simply under the I.V.E. banner, but methinks Elvira works so much better with a label called “Thriller.”

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Elvira still has a home video presence via DVDs, but as far as I know, none of movies found in this Thriller series have been re-released outside of these 1985 tapes. Certainly the Elvira segments themselves haven’t appeared since, having been tailored specifically to Thriller Video (at least they were for The Cyclops).

That being the case, Elvira’s Thriller Video presentation of 1957’s The Cyclops proves why there is still some worth to VHS (and Beta): many movies/shows/etc. on video have since been re-released on DVD (thus naturally killing the value of the older tape releases), BUT there’s still many, many titles that have not been given the digital treatment. And, it’s for the reason that the old video format shouldn’t be totally abandoned in this day and age.

Plus, it doesn’t hurt when a videotape-exclusive title is ridiculously entertaining in every way. Elvira hosting The Cyclops via the long-gone Thriller Video certainly fits that description. I may not add new old pre-recorded VHS tapes to my collection as much as I used to, but when I do, it’s because they’re most definitely cool, and rest assured, this one certainly is just that!

(Happy surprisins: despite being 30 years old and a former-rental tape that was run through who-knows-how-many VCRs over the years, the quality of my copy was still really pretty good. See, these old VHS tapes are more resilient than they’re often given credit for!)

Sony FX-412 Portable TV/Radio/Cassette Player (February 1979)

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Look, y’all know I loves me some portable TVs. I’ve babbled about them before, and I’m about to babble about them yet again. When it comes to old electronics, these specimens are a severe weakness of mine. If I’m at some thrift shop somewhere, and one of these ancient wonders of ostensible convenience happens to be in the vicinity, there’s a better-than-good chance it’s coming home with me (provided it’s priced at somewhere around reasonable, because even I have my limits). I love portable/handheld/whatever TVs.

In this regard, fate has been good to me as of late. Little itty bitty Panasonic Travelvision from 1982? Became mine for $5 at a thrift store. A new-in-the-box Realistic handheld TV from 1989? Also became mine for $5, this time at a yard sale (I was gonna buy it anyway, but I felt especially obligated after using the box to smack away an attacking bumblebee that was intent on killing me for no reason). And just last week, I found an ’89 Sony Mega Watchman for $4, and even with a bit-too-corroded battery compartment, I still couldn’t resist.

But when it comes to sheer coolness, none of those can compare to this beast of a machine: the Sony FX-412! It’s a TV! It’s an AM/FM radio! It’s a cassette player and recorder! And it’s from February 1979! 36 gol derned years old! And how much did it set me back? Three big bucks, that’s how much! Cool winnins!

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The design of the unit is decidedly heavy-duty, and despite the early-1979 date on it (which obviously means it’s 1978 technology, at least), I initially mistook it for something from the 1980s. Given the look and size of the machine, I could easily see it being released as-is in 1983/1984 and not seeming too out of place.

It’s certainly a bulky fella, and it’s made all the more unwieldy with a big carrying-handle that doubles as a stand, but given all that it does, it’s really not too far off, size-wise, from similar units that would be released in the following decade. It’s big, but not unacceptably huge. Perfect for camping, bedroom desks, or a shelf in the garage.

And that silver finish? I don’t care what anyone says, it still looks darn classy!

I have no idea how much the FX-412 cost originally, but given the number of features, portable size, and solid construction, I’m guessing it probably wasn’t cheap.

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On the back: a jack for an external antenna, plus knobs for the vertical hold, brightness, and whatnot. This is all to be expected.  I was hoping for an RF input, so I could hook up my Atari 7800 and play Double Dragon on it, if for no other reason than it would make a sweet post-closing-picture, but no go. There’s probably a way to get it running via the external antenna jack, but I’m not feeling adventurous enough today to even try figuring that out.

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See, manufactured in February 1979. Did you think I was lying? I wasn’t. My pictures may say otherwise, but this is actually a pretty clean unit. The lint is just leftover from what I used to give the FX-412 a quick wipe down. The super high-resolution of my cellphone camera actually makes things look worse than they really are. To the naked eye, this is a nice-lookin’ machine!

Aside from the expected scratches and whatnot that come with age, the FX-412 is really in pretty good condition. The only exceptions? Part of the antenna has been lost to time, and the AFC/LIGHT switch appears to be broken. Not ideal, but I can live with it, especially for only $3.

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On the right side: the TV and radio tuning knobs, which, obviously, do just as you would expect them to. Really, what else can I say about them? They’re how you change the channels, man!

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On the left side: inputs for a remote microphone and DC adapter. Since this isn’t just a cassette player but also a cassette recorder, the option for a mic is basically a prerequisite. As for the DC adapter, this TV didn’t come with one, and while I briefly considered finding a replacement, either here or abroad, the memories of the time I fried an Atari jaguar eventually had me deciding against it.

(That’s not a joke, either; years and years ago, I found an Atari Jaguar for waaaaay cheap at a thrift store, but it didn’t have an adapter with it. Well, I dug through the series of adapters I had lying around at home, and the one that caused a popping sound and smoke to emit from the console let me know that I had chosen unwisely. Needless to say, I wasn’t all that pleased with the results. However, I later found another, connections-complete Jag, also for pretty cheap, and that’s the one in my collection to this day. Say what you want about the rest of the Jag’s library, but man, Wolfenstein 3D is unbelievably good on there.)

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In lieu of tempting fate by plugging in a non-official Sony FX-412 adapter, I opted for the required six big giant D batteries when it came to testing. Pleasant surprise: the battery compartment was very clean, which, when it comes to things like this, isn’t always the case. Indeed, only the gooey, steadily shredding adhesive on the inside of the battery compartment-door marred the otherwise clean appearance of the space. Heck, that ain’t nothin’.

I have no idea what the battery life of the FX-412 is, but prior experience with portable TVs tells me it’s probably a battery-sucker. I’ve related this story before, but years ago, I took my portable Bentley TV with me camping. As I recall, it had brand-new batteries in it, and the only time I really used it was to watch Terminator 2 on Big Chuck & Lil’ John. By the end of the broadcast, the batteries were so drained that sound was non-existent. So, what, three hours of life, maybe?

Granted, that was a cheap Bentley TV that they used to give out free with RVs and such. This TV, however, is a heavy-duty Sony. I really wouldn’t be surprised if it had significantly better battery life. Or not, I don’t know.

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While being in reasonably good shape for something 36 years old, the broken antenna and AFC switch left me just a bit apprehensive. But as it turned out, the TV and radio both work fine. The functionality of the radio is a given, though of course I’m not pulling in any actual channels on the TV portion; since the option for an external antenna is there, and I have indeed seen people (online) get life out of older TVs such as this here in the digital age. I’m not going to go that far, because honestly, it’s not like I’d be using this thing all that often even if everything wasn’t digital nowadays. But it’s sure nice to know that I could.

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Honestly, the only real doubts I had for the unit were as to whether the cassette player would work or not. Of the many, many TVs and radios I’ve garnered over the years, the vast majority have worked just fine. Cassette players though, those can be kinda spotty. Age, moving parts, and audio heads (that may or may not be shot), they don’t always work together harmoniously here in 2015.

So, out came my trusty cassette copy of Bruce Springsteen’s The River, and in it went. Play was pressed, and…

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Believe it or not, the cassette player also works! Once again, Bruce fails to, erm, fail me. It sounds a little (just a little) wobbly, but at 36 years old (and being a portable machine to boot), I didn’t expect hi-fidelity anyway. I could easily listen to the whole album on this thing and be satisfied (and who knows when the cassette player was last actually run; a little playtime may be all it needs to get itself back in shape).

I can’t tell you how much I love the fact the FX-412 actually has an audio meter, and it also still works. I tried to get a picture of the meter in action to demonstrate that the cassette was indeed playing. You shoulda seen the lil’ guy jumpin’ around to “The Ties That Bind,” fella was groovin’!

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Just for fun: here’s the FX-412 next to the 1989 Mega Watchman I mentioned at the start of this post. The Watchman is bulky in its own special way, though it lacks the capability of playing/recording cassettes. Aside from the same manufacturer and same portable-entertainment-center-motif, there’s not a whole lot all that’s comparable between the two. But, it is interesting (to me, at least) to see how far Sony progressed in the 10 years since the FX-412 was released. Granted, this Watchman was just one in a whole line of similar TVs, so what am I even going on about again?

I like portable Sony TVs, is what I’m trying to say.

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This is one of coolest electronics finds I’ve had in quite awhile. Besides being a sucker for portable TVs in general, I have a strong affinity for Sony products. So yeah, this is a winner. There’s a few imperfections, sure, and it’s more of a display piece than anything for me, but for only $3, I’ll happily add it to my collection. The Sony FX-412 is shining example of just why I keep such regular tabs on my local ‘haunts.’ Finds like this don’t come everyday, but when they do, they certainly make the “dry” trips worth the return visits.