Monthly Archives: July 2019

VHS Review: THE BLUES BROTHERS (1980 MCA Videocassette Inc. ‘Two Part’ Version)

Hey, do you like The Blues Brothers? Sure you do! I mean, who doesn’t? Movie’s a legit classic, yo. I certainly love the film; a random weekend broadcast years and years ago introduced me proper to it, and I’ve been a fan ever since. To me, it’s the gold standard of SNL-based movies, and – unless you’re counting something like Ghostbusters which featured more than one SNL alumni but wasn’t based on an actual SNL skit – man, it’s not even close.

Which makes this random find from last week so mind blowing to yours truly. While looking over rows of used VHS at a thrift store, my eyes feel upon, say it with me, The Blues Brothers. Upon first glance it appeared to be just another relatively-early copy of the film; I may love the movie, but earlier pressings are practically a dime-a-dozen.

That is, until I noticed the copyright of 1980 at the top of the sleeve spine (reason enough alone to snap it up; earlier copies may be common, but not necessarily the earliest) and, perhaps more interestingly, the notation of “Part II.”

The historical aspects of this find were immediately evident: this was almost-certainly the very first home video issue of the film (it’s from 1980; it can’t go any earlier than that, cause that’s the same year the movie came out, man!), and as such, because it was a fairly lengthy film (2 hours 13 minutes), it had to be split over two VHS tapes.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must specify that I only have Part II here. I certainly looked at the thrift, but Part I was MIA. Either someone didn’t realize what was up and bought tape #1 before I got there, or (what seems more likely) Part I was loooong gone before Part II ever set foot in the store. Either way this was mildly irritating for yours truly, but I can’t complain too much; I had zero idea that The Blues Brothers was split over two tapes for its initial video release, or truthfully, that the movie even had a video release the same year it hit theaters.

It makes sense that they’d have to split the movie into two parts that early on though; that sort of thing was not uncommon in the early years of VHS for longer flicks such as this. The first video release of the 1976 King Kong remake went the same route, for example. Just a few years later, companies figured out how to get the entire film all in one package. Indeed, by 1983 The Blue Brothers was seemingly all on one tape, but apparently the technology wasn’t there yet in 1980.

From initial appearances, the front cover here doesn’t look too different from the common VHS releases of the films seen throughout the rest of the 1980s and probably into the 1990s. Visit that just-linked page and you’ll see that the 1983 edition looks pretty close front-cover-wise to this one – except that for this initial issue they colored Jake & Elwood’s sunglasses green. I don’t know why they colored the sunglasses green, but it seems to be unique to this first release.

Other than that though, the cover looks extremely similar to that 1983 edition, and barring just a few further changes, even the 1985 release looks pretty much the same. It’s all about those green glasses and, you know, two-part thing here. (Also, I just noticed John Candy didn’t get a credit at the very top; say what?!)

If you go back up and check out that link to the 1983 edition of this film, you’ll see that by and large it looks very, very similar as far as the back cover goes, too. In fact, except for that whole “Part II” notation here and the missing credits and “Dolby” info seen in ’83, it looks pretty identical. Even the synopsis is the same.

The summary on the back is fine, and it’s not like there’s room for a novel back there, but even so, some pertinent info was left out. Namely, that Jake & Elwood are in a race against time to raise some (honest) money in order to save their childhood orphanage. Remember, they’re “on a mission from God.”

To do this, they have to get their old band back together, do some playin’ and make some money fast – all while causing a lot of destruction and creating a buncha enemies.

It’s a very, very funny movie, endlessly quotable (“I hate Illinois nazis”) and featuring some terrific musical numbers. Despite being rated R (which, oddly enough, I don’t see mentioned anywhere on this release), it’s not a particularly objectionable movie. Some salty language and a few other things that warrant the rating, but the main plot is overwhelmingly positive in nature.

A weird aside: I always kinda get a kick out of the old school “MCA Videocassette Inc.” logo. It’s ‘early home video’ in the best way, and a sure sign of interest whenever I’m out spending more money than I should at thrift stores and the like.

(The back of the sleeve is much brighter than my picture here shows – I took the shot in a darker spot than I did the others in this post. Also, the ancient tape residue in evidence points to Part I originally being fixed to this here Part II – so where’d it go???)

The tape itself. Obviously it was a former rental, from some place called Video Ventures. I have no idea what paths this tape took to find itself in mah grubby mitts here in Northeast Ohio, but according to that sticker, it evidently spent some time in Bremerton, Washington!

I’m not sure how well my pic shows it, but the sad fact of the matter is this tape has gotten a little moldy in the nearly 40 years since release. I noticed this upon finding the thing, and generally such maladies are enough to make me avoid a buy, but in this case this tape was coming home with me regardless.

I know not who scratched out the running time and wrote “7 min” above it or why, I’m guessing the video store, but the actual running time is more like 28 minutes; seems like a pretty uneven split between two tapes to me. Maybe there’s more and the mold is just keeping the hardened tape from rewinding further – it’s tough to tell because that sticker is in the way, but removing it is not an option.

No, no in-movie screencaps to round out this review; I had to clean my VCR heads after running this one as it is. I doubt there’s anything here unique to this release in comparison to slightly later issues anyway. Except for, you know, that whole “split in two parts” thing.

I can find virtually no references to this particular VHS of The Blues Brothers out there in internet land, except for this Amazon page, in which a used copy (copies?) is presented sans sleeves. Like I said before, this was a release I was completely unaware of beforehand. Given the super early release date, I’m guessing it definitely falls on the rarer side of things.

For a Blues Brothers fan such as myself, it’s an incredibly cool discovery. I hold no illusions of stumbling upon Part I, though you never know. I imagine I’ll come across that 1983 edition at some point though, and that’d make for a nice consolation prize.

I still can’t figure out why they made their sunglasses green on the front cover of this one, though.

Memorex Video Information System (1992)

When I woke up today, I had no idea what a Memorex Video Information System was or that such a device ever existed. Had you shown up at my house to inform me of such a product, I’d have reacted with utter confusion and then told you to get out of my messy abode. Seriously, what were you thinking?

But oh how quickly things can change! Just a few hours after waking up (I won’t tell you when I woke up, but it was probably unacceptably late), I found myself at Goodwill, as I so often do. I waltzed out with an old piece of local glassware (does anyone remember Welch’s Saloon of Akron?) and a two-VHS Godzilla set I didn’t really need but actually kinda did.

Found during the same visit was what appeared to be an old CD player, shoved on their electronics shelf and with a big $4 price scrawled on it in annoyingly-thick grease marker. An introductory glance revealed that this was indeed a CD-based contraption, but something¬† called a “VIS.” Clearly a closer inspection and look-up on my phone was warranted and granted. Turns out this was something called the “Memorex Video Information System.”

It was neat, it was interesting, and yet, I didn’t buy it!

Nope, I actually checked out with my treasures and went home sans VIS. I only had a few bucks on me anyway. I’d gotten the VIS bug though, and as soon as I got home, I did a bit more research, realized I had passed on a pretty rare item, grabbed some more money, and made a really hasty retreat back to Goodwill. There the VIS still sat, seemingly untouched by anyone since I had been bothering it probably less than an hour before. And so, here we are.

It looks like a cross between a VCR and a garden-variety CD player of the period, dunnit?

The Memorex Video Information System was actually a Tandy/Radio Shack innovation, originally releasing in 1992 and operating in the same “interactive multimedia” wheelhouse as the CD-i but evidently flopping far worse than that thing ever did (which is really saying something). It probably wasn’t really a video game system – I’m not sure any legitimate video games were even made for this – but it did originally come with video game-like wireless controllers (I looked, and they were nowhere to be found; I imagine they were loooong gone before this showed up at Goodwill).

It seems that the majority of software releases focused more on “edutainment” titles (*shudder*), but still, I find the CD-i (and Commodore CDTV) comparisons intriguing. I collect obscure gaming and gaming-related things like this, and when it comes to the early-1990s, the VIS is an obscurity of the highest order. Like I said, I had no inkling of such a thing existing beforehand.

Wikipedia has an informative entry on it, and according to them it retailed for a whopping $699 (!!), sold only 11,000 units (!!!), and ran on a modified version of Windows 3.1. There were actual VIS discs created for this thing; I’m not sure if it will run any regular PC games of the era or not, but I’m guessing that it won’t.

Look, it’s basically a circa-1992 computer in a console-ish shell and with its own brand of discs to run, not unlike the original Xbox except nobody owned the VIS (relatively speaking, I mean).

As you can see above, the front of the unit is pretty minimalist; only power and disc drawer open/close buttons are immediately evident.

But look here: a little slidey panel on the bottom-right reveals a few more options. Here’s where the cartridge input is located, though to what extent software was found in cartridge form for the VIS, I cannot say. Also, microphone and headphone inputs and a volume control, because hey, it was 1992. The headphone jack and volume knob are self-explanatory, but I can’t fathom what a microphone would be needed for here. Did this thing do some kind of recording? Or did something on the VIS beat Hey You, Pikachu! to the punch by several years?

The only other aspect of the front that ‘does’ anything is, needless to say, the CD drawer. It, uh, opens and closes. Unlike my roughly-10-years-old Blu-ray player, the drawer of the pushing-30-years-old Video Information System opens and closes pretty fast and smoothly. Hey, for 700 bucks, you’d sure hope some lastin’ quality would be built-in!

(I’m not sure how well my pictures show it, but this particular VIS unit was in exceptionally good shape. Of course I have no way of knowing how much use it did or didn’t get back in the day, but it appears to have been well-maintained.)

Since I have neither software nor controllers for the VIS, what I can and can’t do with it is pretty limited. (Go figure!) Still, being a CD-based electronic, there are ways of testing it beyond merely plugging it in and seeing if the power light comes on.

Well, that’s a good sign! At least I get a start-up screen upon pressing power! I wish I could insert a disc or cartridge, VIS. One made specifically for you, I mean.

Now, I’ve got a ton of old PC games in my collection, but only so many within the immediate vicinity. As such, the copy of Mad Dog McCree I picked up fairly recently and thus was still in said immediate vicinity became my test subject. I questioned whether the VIS would run it or not, though even if it did, I had no way of actually playing it.

It was a moot point however, since the game wouldn’t run. I guess I didn’t seriously expect it to, but there was a small hope nevertheless.

I could have called it quits right there and been satisfied; it’s not like I’d be throwing such a rare item out even if it was entirely nonfunctional anyway, but the fact that it powered up and gave me a starting screen was enough for me to label this find a full-fledged cool winnin.

Still, I wouldn’t be an efficient time waster if I didn’t research just a bit further, so like I did with the Kodak Photo CD thing I babbled about a million years ago, I grabbed an audio CD I had lying about and loaded it up.

Not only did I get a specific “CD player” screen, but the VIS automatically started the disc playing! Obviously I had no way of skipping tracks or pausing or what have you, but for the brief time I had music going, it sounded really nice, and without any skipping/distorting. Pretty cool for something some 27-years-old! That’s not to say the entire disc would have played flawlessly; who knows how the VIS would have operated once really heating up or something, but in this day and age, is it even important? Maybe if I could play games (“games”) it would be, but as it stands, I’m labeling this all “good enough.”

So in summation, a trip (well, two trips) to Goodwill netted me a pretty cool piece of early-90s tech. The Memorex Video Information System was quite a failure for Radio Shack, though in just the brief time I’ve had it, I’ve read several different viewpoints on just how long it was on shelves. I suppose it doesn’t really matter; if the 11,000 units figure is correct, man, that’s like nothin’. (For the record: there’s no actual date on mine, so I’m going with a generic “1992” notation here, as seen in the title of this post.)

I wish I could give a better demonstration of VIS’ abilities. I can’t, but luckily, Gamester81 has an excellent video review of it that gives you a far better idea of how this thing operated.

I have no illusions of ever coming across controllers and/or software for the VIS, but hey, you never know what you’ll come across later in the day when you first wake up!

Still, for now I’ve got the system, and that’s enough. It kinda has to be, you know?

(And before anyone asks, no this is not for sale!)