Author Archives: neovideohunter

Panasonic Omnivision Hi-Fi VHS VCR PV-1730 (February 26, 1985)

See, I didn’t take April off. Just most of it.

I’ve been a busy Video Hunter this past month, and the sad fact of the matter is I’ve had neither the time nor, to be quite honest, the inclination to put together a ‘big’ article. The reasons for this are several, though I won’t bother to go in to them. Still, I wanted to get something up before April ended, lest y’all think I abandoned the site and, by extension, you. Never let it be said that I don’t care, because I do, I do care!

Anyway, this isn’t going to be a long post, and truth be told, you can consider it more of a stop-gap entry than anything. BUT, that doesn’t mean I don’t like the subject, because I most certainly do. Dig this: From early 1985 (February 26, as per the back), it’s one of Panasonic’s famous Omnivision VHS VCRs, and boy, is this one technologically advanced – well, it was 32 years ago, anyway. Behold the PV-1730! A slick, feature-packed Hi-Fi stereo deck that had the capability to blow your face off – well, it did 32 years ago, anyway.

The best way I can describe this VCR is “heavy duty.” It just feels like a real product, a high-tech, ostensibly end-all be-all addition to the home entertainment center. And that silver casing that flies in the face of the predominantly-black styles of so, so many other VCRs? Looks sharp, man. Is it wrong that I can see this machine being used as decoration in some episode of Miami Vice? Maybe it was.

However, this deck doesn’t quite work correctly, though it mostly does; it powers up, it registers whatever button I slam my paws against, it fast-forwards, it rewinds. The only problem is it doesn’t like to play. Not consistently, anyway. Sometimes I can get it to go and it will run for a period before stopping, but other times it will play for only a moment or two before it takes a powder. I have several ideas as to what the problem is, but it’s not like this is going to be my daily driver; honestly, I picked this machine up simply because of the supreme mid-1980s-ness it exudes. I didn’t even bother taking a screencaps of something playing on it, because it just doesn’t matter.

(So why even bring it home? I love the the era of electronics it so deftly defines, and besides, even if it doesn’t work 100% right now, I always grab these with an eye towards getting them repaired at some unknown point in the future. But really, it all comes to down to the looks and features – even if none of them really mean anything in this day and age. It’s this same mentality that got me my swanky Sylvania VCR.)

Luckily, I got the thing to play for most of my picture-taking session. The display is pretty nice and bright, and while I hate the old school “counter” system, this machine rectifies that with giving the exact minutes and seconds too, which makes it my friend.

You can barely see it, but there’s a sticker stating this was one of Panasonic’s “Tech 4” models, always a welcome sight to yours truly. Indeed, one of the best VCRs I ever found was a 1986 Omnivision “Tech 4” that works flawlessly and may have even more features than this deck. I keep that one on a figurative pedestal because I’m weird.

See that panel at the bottom? It opens up, and oh what it harbors just beneath the hood…

BOOM.

Here’s your station for “One-Touch Recording,” along with the ability to set the OTR timer, as you’d expect. Also, not one but two tracking-control knobs, nifty left and right audio controls, a switch for recording in all three speeds, and Dolby noise reduction.

Now see, I didn’t grow up with, or at least didn’t grow up using, VCRs with such a now-convoluted recording scheme; I came around, thankfully, when that set-up had been reduced to on-screen displays and programmed with the remote. As such, the thought of setting a timer with this system kinda makes my head swim. I could have mastered it, I could still master it, but luckily, I’ll never have to!

Hold on, there’s more to it!

On top of the unit there’s a flip-up panel with controls for picture sharpness, regular TV or cable TV, display options, and so on. Sorry this pic is alternately too bright and too dark; this was about as satisfactory a picture as I was going to get.

Also, V-Lock for SP and SLP? That’s a new one on me. They’re probably found on some of my other VCRs, but if so, I never paid much attention – what exactly is that? “Vertical Lock?” Is that like the “Vertical Hold” on old TVs?

You know what attracted me most to this unit when I first came across it? That “Hi-Fi Audio HD” declaration above. It may not mean anything anymore, but man does that just sound completely top-of-the-line for the time. For the time? Heck, to me that still sounds cool!

Besides the ‘normal’ controls for playing and recording, you’ve also got plenty of audio features, including audio dub, and needless to say, the audio levels meter I always love seeing on these old models.

Along the back are the expected microphone inputs and whatnot and the television hook-ups, but what I really get a kick out of is the “Pay TV” knob; I’m not even sure what it does, but it almost doesn’t matter, because it’s such a neat mid-1980s throwback. I said the same thing about the previously-linked Sylvania VCR, so anyone with the appropriate knowledge wanna fill me in? Hit the comments section!

More inputs/outputs, including handy ports for a camera. The “Editing” plug has me curious, though the declaration of “See Manual” feels like a diss; I don’t have the manual, VCR! Thrift store finds rarely include them, and as such I’m performing a lot of guesswork (such as it is) with some of these features. There’s probably a PDF of the manual online somewhere, but frankly, searching it out is too much work for a stop-gap post that approximately three people are going to read anyway.

So, just where did I get this beast? I honestly couldn’t remember until I dug the machine out and noticed the “$8.00 Y” price written in marker. “Y” stood for “Yellow,” which means I got this from some Village Thrift somewhere. Evidently I never did much with this machine upon getting it home, since I hadn’t even bothered to clean that off! Nope, it had just been sitting in my stack of VCRs, staring at me, day in, day out, wondering why I shun it so. Until today anyway, when I decided I should probably write a token post for April 2017.

So there it is, a Panasonic VHS VCR, loaded with options and still looking darn cool to boot. This was one of those finds I buy based solely on looks, features and “aura.” I grab things like this all the time, and even though I usually never do all that much with them, I love having them, simply because of the era in electronics that they represent.

There. Gap = Stopped!

WJW TV-8’s The Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show – “The War of the Gargantuas” (March 29, 1997)

March 29, 1997. 20 years ago this very day. Let me set the scene: I was not yet even 11-years-old, Easter was the very next day, and as such an Easter Egg-hunt at a nearby park occupied a portion of the afternoon. It was overcast as I recall it, but not rainy. As a young Star Wars nut, I was reveling in the burgeoning new action figure line (at the tail-end of what is probably socially acceptable, age-wise, to still play with toys) and the special edition re-releases of the trilogy, though I only saw the first film in the theater. A trip to the grocery store with my mom and brother following the egg hunt yielded me a Star Wars-themed issue of Cracked, though the whole situation had a damper put on it by a tabloid that promised late-1990s end-of-the-world predictions by Gandhi, which freaked out stupid naive 10-year-old me. Kinda funny that I can look back in nostalgia at something that caused me so much consternation 20 years ago, probably because I’ve got real problems to worry about now.

Anyway, it was against this backdrop that I myself recorded Big Chuck & Lil’ John’s Couch Potato Theater, their Saturday afternoon installment of their popular WJW TV-8 program. This wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment taping; I wasn’t doing that so much yet. Rather, as a growing fan of giant monster movies, the revelation of The War of the Gargantuas listed in TV Guide that week made this can’t-miss-television for yours truly. I had never heard of the film, but as per the synopsis in TV Guide, it was big ol’ monsters, and it was Japanese, so naturally it was right up my alley. Needless to say, I had to tape it, which also needless to say, is why we’re here now.

Couch Potato Theater wasn’t all that different from Chuck & John’s normative (by their mid/late-1990s standards) Friday night show, except it was generally shorter (typically a strict two hour time slot, as compared to the two and a half, or more, hours of the Friday installment), and with a more eclectic range of features presented. Don’t get me wrong, just like their normal show, the movies shown on Couch Potato Theater ran the gamut of all genres; I mean, the first Big Chuck & Lil’ John I ever taped was a Couch Potato Theater presentation of The Karate Kid, and that was in 1996. But, Couch Potato Theater could also delve into more “traditional Saturday afternoon” fare; Superhost type stuff. That is, vintage short comedies and, of course, old school sci-fi and horror. I certainly didn’t realize it at the time, but this was at the very end of the era when you could catch flicks like this on Saturday afternoons with any kind of regularity (and I’m stretching the term “regularity” here; I direct you back to the aforementioned Karate Kid).

We’ve seen a lot of Big Chuck & Lil’ John on this blog, most recently via a broadcast of Terror of Mechagodzilla that I taped later in 1997. But, except for a brief excursion in this old article and a possible exception with this “Pregame Show” post, Couch Potato Theater has sadly been neglected here, which is a shame, because it was more responsible than anything for making me a BC & LJ fan. (More so a few years after this broadcast, when I began watching old Abbott & Costello episodes on the program and consequently really ‘getting’ Chuck & John; when I taped this, it was pretty much all about the movie.) Seriously, you have no idea how nostalgic that bumper above makes me; it perfectly encapsulates the “lazy Saturday noon movie” vibes of local television at that time.

We’ll get to the Big Chuck & Lil’ John stuff in a moment. But first, the movie.

I was all prepared to say this flick hadn’t yet had an official video release when this aired back in ’97, but I was failing to recall the 1992 Paramount VHS (which, in my defense, I was not aware of until years later). Of course there’s been some official DVD releases in more recent times, but the fact remains that Gargantuas was not all that easily found by the late-1990s. Heck, it doesn’t look like it’s all that easily found now; unless you wanna stream it via Amazon, it’s apparently out-of-print on DVD.

Released in Japan in 1966 (don’t let the copyright date in the screencap above fool you; 1970 was the year of the American theatrical release), The War of the Gargantuas is a Toho kaiju (aka, big huge monster) film, in the vein of Godzilla and the like. That is, lotsa city-crushin’ and whatnot, though this time with American actor Russ Tamblyn starring (and really starring; this wasn’t a cut-and-paste job like Raymond Burr in Godzilla, King of the Monsters). It’s not a particularly well-regarded entry in the genre. Not critically, anyway; Leonard Maltin gave it a BOMB rating, I seem to recall TV Guide only allowing it one star out of a possible four, and even Lil’ John, at one point late in this broadcast, diplomatically states “Not the best movie we’ve ever had on…”

I can’t agree with any of that; I have always loved this movie. I loved it upon first viewing, and I’ve loved it in the years since. In fact, and I know this is anathema to admit, I love it more than the far more highly-regarded Rodan and Mothra. Indeed, I’ve traditionally had a hard time getting into Toho’s non-‘Zilla kaijus, and that isn’t a retroactive repositioning of my stance, either; this goes back to when I was seeing all this stuff for the first time, and thus, an easy audience. (Mothra in particular has just never done anything for me, and the theatrical Rifftrax Live presentation of it some months back did little to change my mind – though Mike, Bill & Kevin were terrific, as usual.)

But The War of the Gargantuas? Something about it has always clicked for me. No, it’s not high art, and even I won’t argue that it’s Toho’s finest hour, but still, it just works. I’m not even sure if I can accurately state why it works for me, it just does. It’s silly, sure, but in a good way; it’s entertaining, and it’s fun. In other words, perfect Saturday afternoon fare, even if magazines were claiming Gandhi said I was a goner at the same time. It’s impossible for me to separate it from my personal memories now, but even years ago, when those would have been less of a nostalgic factor, Gargantuas did (does) everything right in my eyes.

It’s also a sequel of sorts to 1965’s Frankenstein Conquers the World (released in the US in ’66). Much to my regret, I still haven’t seen that movie, but this hasn’t hurt my enjoyment of Gargantuas any, and it shouldn’t yours, either. There’s apparently a vague reference to the first film, but the US version omits any direct references – from how I understand it. Point is, don’t hold off on seeing Gargantuas if you haven’t seen Conquers.

Spawned from the skin cells of the Frankenstein monster in Conquers, Gargantuas (as you may surmise from the title, and if not, at least the screenshot above) details two “humanoid creatures,” the appropriately deemed “Gargantuas.” One, a “Green Gargantua,” is a disagreeable sort; he smashes up boats and causes havoc in general. You know, as you would expect in a movie such as this. This creature comes from the sea, and has an appropriate, seaweed-like appearance. (That’s him to the right above.)

At the same time, there’s also a “Brown Gargantua,” who is much more amiable. This one lives in the mountains, and was actually in the possession of Dr. Paul Stewart (Tamblyn!) and his assistant years ago, before he escaped. (The creature I mean, not Tamblyn.) Because of his upbringing with humans, Brown Gargantua is much more gentle, and provides the heroic role of the movie. (That’s him with his back to you on the left above; aren’t I helpful?)

Eventually the two creatures meet up, and while there is initially a kind of brotherly connection between them, Brown Gargantua soon sees what a complete cad Green Gargantua is, and that’s where our title begins to make sense. With Green Gargantua trying to destroy mankind, and Brown Gargantua trying to protect it, the stage is set for some city-smashin’, and that’s exactly what the film provides. Also, some cool laser effects and an underwater volcano that (SPOILER!!) ends the film on an ambiguous note.

Fans of monster-induced destruction will dig all this. It moves at a decent pace, there’s plenty of action, even a few pathos, and personally, I like that there are no alien-based threats to be found, something that would soon become increasingly commonplace in Toho kaijus. (Though ironically, when Gargantuas was first released in the US in 1970, it was on a double-bill with Godzilla vs. Monster Zero, then called just Monster Zero, which happens to be one of my favorite “bad ol’ aliens” Japanese giant monster flicks. Go figure!)

One final comment on the movie before we get to the Big Chuck & Lil’ John segments: “The Words Get Stuck In My Throat.”

No, that’s not me being cute (and pretty nonsensical, if you think about it) about writer’s block. Rather, it’s the subject of one of the most memorable scenes in the film. In it, Kipp Hamilton (who somehow gets “Special Guest Star” billing in the opening credits) sings a song by that title. I hate to say this, especially since Mrs. Hamilton passed away in 1981, but it’s a pretty terrible song. Nevertheless, she gets to perform it at a nightclub, and upon her finishing, Green Gargantua sneaks up behind her, snatches her up, and then drops her! Guess he didn’t like the song! (Unless it’s in the uncut version, whether Kipp dies from the fall or not is never revealed.)

This scene is often brought up when the subject of The War of the Gargantuas comes about, and it’s solely due to how bad the song is. There’s no arguing that, but you know, there’s something about it that has rung a bell for me ever since I first saw/heard it. Some vague, dusty recollection in the back of my mind that was triggered upon initially hearing it. I hadn’t seen Gargantuas prior, and I highly, highly doubt it stuck in my mind due to some random channel-flippin’ at some unknown point in the past. Nevertheless, something about Kipp’s voice and the lyrics sounds familiar. I can’t explain it, and I sure can’t place it, not then or now. My conclusion is the same today as it was back in 1997: I probably heard a song on Sesame Street or some such program in my early, formative years (which I really wasn’t that far removed from at the time) that subsequently reminded me of it. That’s the best explanation I can come up with, anyway.

And that brings us to the rest of the show.

With only two hours allotted and the need for commercials, never mind the movie, the Big Chuck & Lil’ John segments are somewhat limited here; I’ve been so used to watching old episodes of their Friday night show that I totally forgot how (relatively) scaled back Couch Potato Theater could be. Oh, don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t exactly Sunday-era Ghoul, the guys are still all over this broadcast, there could be no mistaking what you were watching, it’s just that it all moves faster than their ‘regular’ program. Again, perfect for a Saturday afternoon.

Anyway, the first host segment proper included an announcement that I could not be happier to have saved to tape, even though it took me years to realize it: Ghoulardifest! Yep, the very first Ghoulardifest is announced as a “go,” with several guests (including The Ghoul!) already booked. That inaugural Ghoulardifest, as of this broadcast, was going to be one day, August 16, at a Holiday Inn in Independence, OH, though I wasn’t there, so that may have changed/expanded closer to showtime. Nevertheless, it’s wild to look back on the opening salvo of what has become a three-day, annual extravaganza. I, of course, have written about Ghoulardifest some 70,000 (approximate estimate) times by this point; here’s just one of them. (It’s also weird to realize that Ernie “Ghoulardi” Anderson had only passed away the month before when this aired.)

Also, Chuck mispronounces “Gargantuas” as “Gargantuons” and gets bopped in the head by John with a styrofoam hammer.

The skit immediately following that segment feels like something I’ve written about before. Maybe I have, maybe I haven’t; I did only the briefest of searches before deciding it doesn’t really matter. It’s the “Certain Ethnic Alarm Clock,” in which a wife’s clock goes off at 7 AM, giving the expected digital readout. The husband’s (Chuck’s “Stash” character) goes off soon after, and gives a literal digital reading of a ‘normal’ clock. A simple premise, but I’ve always really liked this one.

Another simple one, and very brief, too. A man (John) absorbed in reading his paper as he enters the “Parma Skydiving School” gets a rude surprise – too late! Let the pictures do the talking above. Gotta love aerial footage and green screens!

Trivia time. I’ve mentioned my semi-frustration with these audience trivia-quizzes before, because more often than not I knew the answer, yet was never there in-person to collect the sweet, sweet rewards. This may be the most egregious of that lot: winner had to guess the name of the movie poster presented. It’s The Amazing Colossal Man. Of course it’s The Amazing Colossal Man. What’d they win? A coupon for a free 12-pack of any Pepsi product. That’d be like a day’s supply for me! (Now, not back then.)

(A “Bus Driver” skit, in which Chuck asks passengers to move to the back of a public bus and floors it when they don’t, followed this trivia segment. In a misguided effort to speed things along here, I didn’t take any appropriate screencaps.)

It really feels like I’ve written about this one before, though I like it enough to give a brief go again (plus, I don’t feel like digging through old articles for something that, again, doesn’t matter).

Here, John is a “Lucky Charms” salesman (as in little trinkets, not the cereal), who convinces Chuck to buy one of his products. As it turns out, it was the last in stock, and just as John is packing up to go home and get some more, a safe falls on him!

More trivia. Winner this time got a $20 comic shop gift certificate. The poster art is of course Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. Too easy! Not fair!!

A genuine classic skit, and one of my favorites. If *I* were in charge of a top-however many skits compilation, I’m pretty sure this would make the final cut.

John plays the much-verbally-abused husband of Carmella (I can’t remember her last name), working six and a half days a week, tired, and just wanting to take a load-off after a long day by watching some TV. I think we can all relate. This, of course, is not good enough for the wife, who endlessly berates him over the length of time it’s been since they’ve been out to eat, gone dancing, and had her hair done. She even throws in a variation on the old “mother warned me about you” line.

The tide of nagging is momentarily stemmed when John announces they’re playing “their song” on TV – only to then turn up the volume and reveal that’s it the old “Hefty Hefty Hefty – Wimpy, Wimpy Wimpy” commercial jingle! This, naturally, results in him being chased around the kitchen by his now really mad wife!

I sometimes wonder what theoretically happened after these skits faded out. Did they make up? Was John able to calm her? Or was the homicide squad eventually called in? I’m probably thinking too much about this.

You can’t say Chuck & John weren’t masters of the green screen.

Here, Chuck’s Stash character is a balloon salesman, and John plays a little kid (he usually did), who eagerly wants one specific balloon. He eventually gets it, only to reveal that it’s a string attached Stash’s head, which floats away with John as he leaves. Stash seems apprehensive with the situation.

Did this effectively end Stash’s life? Was his head eventually returned to his body? Or did both entities continue, somehow, living independent of each other? I’m probably thinking too much about this.

Some brief announcements before heading into another skit. That next Saturday night, Chuck & John would be appearing at a local sports bar, and the next Sunday afternoon they’d be at a Parma Heights library benefit. BC & LJ did (do) so many of these types of appearances, they almost have to all blend together for them by now, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun seeing the various places they’d be back in the day.

The kind of topical (though it was almost certainly several years old by then anyway) skit that still holds up.

John and another “gringo” find themselves on the execution line of a Hispanic country of some sort, and are given a last request. The unnamed “gringo” (who is given a good ol’ boy appearance) just wants to hear his favorite song one last time. What is it? “Achy Breaky Heart.”

John’s last request? They shoot him first! It’s a funny moment, made all the better by the knowing nod of the dictator (?) in charge of the execution.

A brief skit that’s actually more clever than I initially gave it credit for.

Chuck is a pharmacist who finds himself being held up by an obviously old woman with a bag over her head (Mary Allen, who was great in everything). She doesn’t want money; she wants Retin-A! Retin-A is a skin-revitalizing treatment, which makes the whole bag-on-head thing not only a disguise, but a commentary on aging. Funny!

Annnnd, that finished the show up. Next week on Couch Potato Theater? Eddie & The Cruisers! Had I been the age I am now back then, I’d have definitely taped that one, too. (Plus, sensationalist tabloids in the check-out line at the grocery store wouldn’t have been cause for concern, because my brain eventually formed enough to realize they’re fake). The show next Friday night was Lord of the Flies, which really isn’t my cup of tea (enjoyed the book, though). John’s loud and enthusiastic “BYEE!” he always used and a shot of the Boy Scout attendance-heavy audience closes the episode out.

(Oddly enough, I didn’t catch any references to Easter being the next day, and there sure weren’t any especially-Easter-ish skits, but I looked it up, it’s true.)

You know, after my latest revisit of this recording, it’s amazing how much of it is ingrained in my memory. Okay, yeah, not a big surprise considering I grew up with this tape, but there really are several moments burnt into my consciousness that I, quite honestly, didn’t expect. I mean, sure, “The Words Get Stuck In My Throat” and other parts of the movie itself, definitely, but also quite a bit of the show as a whole; skits, bits of dialog, the trivia, stuff like that.

Usually at this point, I would look at interesting commercials that aired during this broadcast. I’m going to skip that portion this time around; there weren’t really any particularly notable ones (unless you consider a promo for The Gladys Knight Show and an ad for Handi-Snacks notable, and I don’t). But they really aren’t important here. Nope, this subject is one that’s heavily, heavily tied to my personal memories; as such, it may be hard for some readers to ‘get it,’ but I trust everyone can relate in some way to what I mean. In that regard, there was the program itself; my first exposure to what has become a personal favorite Toho movie of mine, and of course there’s the Big Chuck & Lil’ John material, which I only came to appreciate more and more as time went by.

But beyond all that, it’s where this falls in my lifetime. There’s an “aura” about this recording that will (probably) be all but impossible for someone else to accurately understand, but is something that I can never extricate from the proceedings. The events of that day, my age, my interests, all things I look back on now with a wistful fondness. I think it goes back to that weird tabloid scare I’ve referenced several times; a silly fear now, of course, but it points to an innocent naivete that was, quite frankly, probably preferable to the worldly cynicism I often exhibit nowadays.

And that, my friends, is the magic of videotape technology in a nutshell right there. Not just the capturing of a program to view again and again in the future, but also the capturing of a specific time and place, which can also be relived once more. Your childhood can come back alive, if even for only 2 hours.

Alpha Video’s Sons of Kong DVD Set (2005) Review

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Look, y’all know I loves me some King Kong, and with a brand new Kong epic hitting US theaters today (Kong: Skull Island, for the three of you that have apparently been holed-up in that sad, makeshift tree fort in your backyard for who-knows-how-long), what say we take a look at an artifact from the last time a brand new Kong epic hit US theaters? That was Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake, for the six of you whose accumulative memory has failed the past 12 years.

I saw the 2005 remake in theaters, and I liked it quite a bit. Super long, yes, but it was a film that, I feel, did justice to the 1933 original in a way that the 1976 remake did not. (The jury is still out on 1998’s animated The Mighty Kong, mainly because I haven’t seen it.) It wasn’t better than the ’33 original, but then, few movies are. Still, as far as remakes go, 2005’s King Kong was a winner, in my opinion.

And beyond the film itself, there was the merchandising. It wasn’t a little either; it was a lot. Sure, there was the officially-sanctioned stuff, but like any good blockbuster, companies the world over came out to get in on the action. It happened with 1998’s Godzilla remake (we got a lot of cool ‘stuff’ from that flick, including plenty of fresh new video releases of old Godzilla outings), and needless to say, it happened with Kong ’05, too. I haven’t been paying much attention, but I imagine it has happened, or will happen, with Kong ’17, as well.

Longtime readers will know that some of my favorite DVDs aren’t the high-end ones accompanied by a monster-sized (see what I did there???) promotional-blitz, but rather, the budget issues. That is, the single-disc or compilation sets that find a life in bargain bins for $1, $5, $10, whatever, and happily stay there for the duration. Typically consisting solely of public domain fare, these DVDs may not have the panache of major label issues, but where charm is concerned, baby, it’s off the charts. Well, sometimes, anyway.

Back in 2014, we looked at a budget Gamera DVD set that found a shelflife-spotlight during all the hoopla that was the ’14 adaptation of Godzilla, and this past July, I babbled incessantly about my love of Pop Flix’s 8-movie Bela Lugosi set. And now, I’ve got another DVD collection that reaches the upper-echelon of my personal “budget favorites,” and boy is it a doozy: Alpha Video’s 2005 release of Sons of Kong, a 10-movie collection that does proper service to the big legendary ape, despite not actually featuring the big legendary ape. Rest assured, if you were to capitalize on Peter Jackson’s King Kong via old, ape-themed movies, this is the way to do it.

That’s it above, before I wrestled it from its shrinkwrap prison. It’s a double-wide DVD case, housed in cardboard slipcase, featuring some impressively cool, lightning-tinged artwork and a 3-D gimmick so awesome that it automatically ranks this set above 99.9% other budget compilations. (Heck, it automatically ranks it above most “big time” DVDs, too.) Frankly, I can’t believe it took me the better part of 12 years to pick this up, because based on looks alone, this is quite obviously a must-have. Hey, better late than never, and trust me, you’ll need this in your life too, if you haven’t done so already. Read on!

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Alpha Video put out some neat stuff in the VHS years, but man, they’ve been positively amazing in the DVD era. As I described in a review this past September, they’ve been responsible for issuing to the general public (on legit factory-pressed silver discs, no less!) a ton of movies that in previous years were pretty much the sole domain of specialty video dealers – if they were available at all. I am constantly amazed to discover what they’ve put out on DVD, and at terrific prices to boot!

In this particular set, there are 10 ape-related films, and while half of them are veritable staples of the public domain, the other half are not as commonly found. They’re all welcome though, and to have them in one concise, Kong-themed package, that’s just awesome. Take a look at that line-up above, though we will go disc-by-disc in just a bit. Put on the brakes amigo, we’ll get there.

On a semi-related note, Alpha gets my everlasting thanks for not including King of Kong Island. I hate that movie; it’s not fun-bad, it’s just bad, and since it’s public domain, it’s pretty much everywhere. I initially thought it was a lock for a set like this, though much to my delight, it was excluded. Instead, the featured films span from the 1930s to the 1950s, some horror-themed, some jungle-themed, some both. Bela Lugosi shows up in three of them, Boris Karloff in one, Dixie from Emergency! is here, Buster Crabbe makes an appearance, and Lon Chaney Jr. and Ironside are also in attendance. When it comes to star-power, Alpha nailed this one.

“Hey, where’s King Kong, man?”

King Kong is not a public domain film, and thus the chances of it showing up on a set like this are effectively less than nil. The title of the set links it to Kong, or at least the idea of Kong, but it doesn’t state Kong himself will be there. Dig?

“So no Son of Kong either, then?”

No, that’s also not public domain. I can see some confusion there, as King Kong‘s sequel was, you know, titled Son of Kong, but this is the Sons of Kong, with the “sons” obviously being in a figurative sense.

I only mention all this because there’s usually that one person that asks “where’s so and so?” with sets like these; not everyone gets the budget, public domain thing, I know. At any rate, Alpha did a great job of definitively playing into the hype of Kong ’05 without making false promises. As a tie-in, you couldn’t ask for a cooler piece! And speaking of cool…

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LOOK AT THAT!

The cardboard slipcase and the DVD case itself share the same artwork, but the slipcase features one of, maybe even the, coolest gimmicks I’ve ever seen in a DVD set of this nature: the cover opens up to reveal a 3-D pop-up image of the artwork! That’s awesome. You just don’t see companies go that extra-mile with compilation sets like this very often; it really does give the whole package a mighty, Kong-ish vibe! Sure, there was that sticker on the shrinkwrap (scroll back up and see!) that promised this feature, but I had no idea how neat it would be until I saw it for myself!

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The DVD case itself is a sturdy, double-wide deal, with disc one housed on the left, and discs two and three overlapping each other on the right. Also included is a warranty card of some sort and a big thick catalog of other appropriate Alpha Video titles that seriously gave me flashbacks of the old Sinister Cinema catalogs I used to thumb through endlessly.

I really like that Alpha went with single-sided DVDs; with movies like these, the dreaded double-siders are often the case. Even though two of the discs feature three per, and one has four, and thus some compression is probably a danger, I still prefer this method to double-sided discs. I hate double-sided discs. Though not as much as King of Kong Island.

Also, the disc fronts are eye-catching, with nice colorful artwork. They look good!

Each disc kicks off with a cool menu featuring the ape artwork from the cover, tabs for the movies themselves, and a tab for Alpha’s movie catalog. It’s a simple, but attractive, menu.

As you’d expect of a set like this, the sound and picture quality varies from film to film, but all are watchable, and some are surprisingly sharp. Alpha does have their I.D. ‘bug’ somewhere on-screen for the start of each feature, but that’s not a big deal; when you’re dealing with public domain movies, you don’t need some clown copyin’ your material scot free and all willy nilly, after all.

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See, Mantan Moreland. Did you think I was lying? I wasn’t.

DISC ONE: Unfortunately, this is the disc I’m least familiar with, and I haven’t had time to fully digest it as of yet. It’s apparently the most “jungle-y” of the set, however, with White Pongo, The Savage Girl, and Law of the Jungle being the three features. White Pongo, as you may surmise, is about a mythical “white gorilla” (not the last time that idea will be found in the collection), The Savage Girl is basically “female Tarzan,” and Law of the Jungle is a wartime comedy featuring Mantan Moreland (look to the right if you don’t believe me), so you just know it’s full of wildly outdated humor.

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Nabonga = Gorilla. Update your diaries accordingly.

DISC TWO: Nabonga, The White Gorilla, The Gorilla, and Bride of the Gorilla are the four features of the second disc. I’d call it the most “gorilla-y” of the set, but that’s only because I just had to type the word “gorilla” 9000 times while listing the contents; I don’t think it’s really any more gorilla-y than the rest of the collection. Nabonga, a word which evidently translates to “gorilla” (as per the title screen; left), features Buster Crabbe, Ray “Crash” Corrigan, and, would you believe it, singer and Emergency! star Julie London! Cool winnins! As for The White Gorilla, somewhere in the back of my cluttered mind I recall it being an infamously bad movie, and thus one that I need to spend some actual time with here. The Gorilla is a Ritz Brothers comedy featuring Bela Lugosi that, frankly, I’ve just never been that fond of. But Bride of the Gorilla (with Lon Chaney Jr. and Raymond Burr), I go way back with that one; that was the movie shown when The Ghoul blew up my Fantasy Mission Force tape! It’s sort of a play on the werewolf theme, but, you know, with an ape. And Perry Mason.

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Not exactly Bela’s most esteemed work, but it IS fun…

DISC THREE: The third and final disc is my favorite; there’s only three movies on it, but it’s a powerhouse three. Relatively speaking, anyway. It kicks off with the poverty row Boris Karloff opus The Ape, a movie I also go way back with. I taped it off AMC (back when AMC showed these kinds of movies!) many, many years ago. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting (I think I was hoping for more of a King Kong knock-off, instead of the killer-ape-who-Karloff-makes-a-suit-out-of horror film), and thus I didn’t really dig it, though it has grown on me over the years, largely due to Karloff. After that, there’s Lugosi’s The Ape Man (right), which you know is a flick I love, as per my previously-linked Lugosi DVD set review. And to finish the collection off, Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, also one I looked at in that previous review. It’s a painfully-stupid-but-entertaining-nevertheless horror/comedy featuring a fake Martin & Lewis team, with an ending so dumb you’ll be tempted to sit right down and sob.


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There it be, Alpha Video’s Sons of Kong DVD collection: 3-D slipcase, stylin’ double-wide DVD case, and painfully cool artwork. A proud new addition to my collection! What a neat set! Simply put, you just don’t see budget collections of public domain material presented as regally as this one; Alpha totally went above and beyond, and they absolutely knocked it out of the park. Even if the movies themselves are only sporadically “Kong-like,” the treatment given to them here feels appropriately larger-than-life. There were a lot of tie-ins to the 2005 remake of King Kong, but as far as I’m concerned, Alpha was one of the closest in doing justice to the Kong mythos with this collection – and the real Kong doesn’t even show up on it! That Alpha could pull this off is something to be celebrated. Now, nearly 12 years after it was first released and with a new Kong movie now upon us, it still feels special, and somehow, despite the material presented, fresh.

I heartily recommend Alpha Video’s Sons of Kong, and should you want your own copy (and you really should), they can still be had brand new (and currently very, very cheap) on Amazon. Get yours here and now!

Beefin’ Up My Sega Genesis!

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“WELCOME TO THE NEXT LEVEL.”

So said the ads of the 1990s, and here, now, some 22 years or so after I should have gotten all that I could out of the system, I feel I have finally, finally reached that mythical “next level.” Bear with me for the duration of this post gang, because I’m about to incoherently babble about the quest and ultimate fulfillment of getting all that I possibly could out of my trusty Sega.

Now, you have no idea how much I love the Sega Genesis (known as the Sega Megadrive everywhere but in the US; it’ll always be a Genesis to me, deal with it bucky). Indeed, in the realm of my personal favorite video game consoles, the Genny is second only to the Nintendo Entertainment System; no two other systems hold quite such an esteemed place in this heart of mine, dubious honor that may be. In fact, the Genesis has the distinction of being the first console I ever purchased new with my own money, at the long-gone and much-missed Sun Electronics store that once resided a short distance from me. Ah, the 1990s!

Even though the Genesis alone is more than enough to rank among my top favorite systems, the fact that it can be expanded, and expanded mightily, only adds to the personal appeal. So then, just how do you go about beefin’ the console to maximum capacity? What more could possibly be added to what is generally considered one of the greatest video game systems of all-time? Well, by doing what so many gamers back in the 1990s did (or so Sega hoped), and what so many gamers continue to do (or so I hope): I’ve attached the Sega CD and Sega 32x add-ons to my console, that’s what I did! Look up above if you don’t believe me!

“y u doin this bro?”

It’s a question classic gamers probably wouldn’t ask, even though the CD and 32x add-ons, or more specifically their libraries, are often considered, well, kinda negligible. The gaming world at large, I’m not sure they’d get it, but since I give 0 about the current generation of consoles, and never stopped loving the systems I grew up with besides, this just feels right. Plus, this fits in to the current wave of 1990s nostalgia I’ve been riding as of late; even though I didn’t own these add-ons new back in the day, I still fully expect to continuously check my watch to make sure Boy Meets World hasn’t started yet whilst playing this big hulking mound of plastic.

“Wuts a cd 32x bro?”

As you may surmise, the Sega CD was an attachment that allowed for bigger, more powerful games and CD-quality soundtracks via, say it with me, compact discs. The 32x was a cartridge-based attachment that, as you also may surmise, gave the Genesis 32-bit capabilities and thus even bigger, more powerful games. Theoretically, anyway; general consensus is that neither attachment lived up to their potential on a regular basis, and I’m not sure I’d have been happy with them had I paid full price back in the day. Now though? There’s enough good stuff to make me feel I got my money’s worth – especially since I got ’em on the cheap years ago.

I had only limited experience with the add-ons prior; my cousin had both, and I recall once playing Sewer Shark on the CD and Star Wars Arcade on the 32x at his house, way back in 1995 or so. For all intents and purposes however, getting these attached to my Genesis was my first real experience with them, and therein lies my tale. So read on! (And please ignore some of the dust I neglected to clean before snapping photos; frankly, you’re lucky I even gave a cursory soft-cloth wipe-down before taking pictures.)

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Anyone reading almost undoubtedly has to know what a Sega Genesis looks like. For the .01% of you that don’t, up above is a model 1 Sega Genesis – bare, naked, unbeefed. This isn’t the Sega that I regularly use, and thus isn’t quite the subject of this post. Rather, this is just a spare I’ve wound up with. What, you thought I was gonna unplug all of the attachments just to get a photo of my “playing” Sega without the, as you would say, accoutrements? Think again, chief.

Actually, the system above was the console that the CD and 32x attachments originally came with. I picked the whole set up cheap at a thrift store in late-2010 – and then proceeded to do nothing with any of it. Despite the included mess of cords, I still didn’t think I had all of the necessary attachments, and it promptly became part of the messy mosaic of boxes that made (make) up my increasingly cluttered basement. I never regretted the purchase, because hey, most of the stuff was there, and the price was definitely right (especially compared to the climbing 16-bit prices nowadays), but it wasn’t until recent months that I decided to do something with the lot.

Y’see, the Genesis that I normally use, another model 1 which I picked up years ago at a rummage sale (to the best of my recollection), I’ve kept hooked up as my “playing” unit for quite some time. The room where I have it includes a big, beautiful, vintage Sony Trinitron CRT TV, with built-in speakers on its sides and a stand that also serves as another speaker. It’s my “go-to” classic gaming TV, and for awhile, I had a myriad of consoles daisy chained to it. Eventually I decided to declutter, and instituted a personal “only one system at a time!” rule for the TV, with the beater Genesis getting the nod. That’s the place it has held ever since, and luckily, my pretentious little rule doesn’t preclude add-ons, since it’s still technically only one console. This is important stuff, so pay attention.

I went with the Genesis as my console of normative choice simply because I have stacks and stacks of games (a library that includes more than a few all-time favorites), I’ve got plenty of spare consoles should this one die (yeah, like these things won’t outlive us), and there’s a lot of bases covered by it; legit 16-bit gaming, of course, but also 8-bit via the Sega Master System converter (the SMS is a system I absolutely adore and thus this aspect was a huge factor in my decision), plus, needless to say, now CD and 32x games are in the mix, too. Sega was the king of add-ons in the 1990s, and while that ultimately had a large part in crippling their future (more on that momentarily), for me right now, I love the options at my disposal.

So, as I steadily decided to expand my “playing” Genesis, I simply removed from that thrift store buy what I wanted to use on my ‘good’ console. I initially didn’t intend on using all of it, which I’ll explain in a bit.

When I bought my first Genesis new way back when, it was a model 2; a smaller, sleeker, more streamlined beast. I loved it, and still have it of course, but even then I liked the look of the first model more. There are certain positives and negatives regarding both variations, though the model 1 is easily my preferred choice – especially since the the SMS converter won’t fit on a model 2!

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Though not really the subject of this post, I mentioned that whole model 1/model 2 thing just now because the Master System adapter, the Power Base Converter, really did play a part when I was thinkin’ ’bout beefin.’

Via this converter, my SMS library has probably gotten just as much playtime as my Genesis games have. Now, I have an actual SMS, but again, that would require two consoles being out, which would start me on the slippery slope towards cluttering up mah space again. The Power Base Converter does pretty much everything a ‘real’ SMS can do (no built-in game, though), and aside from a few (but just a few) games not liking a Genesis controller (gotta use a legit SMS pad for Bomber Raid, dawg), I have no issues with it. Indeed, I love the lil’ feller, and it fills me with a burning rage that it kinda flies under the radar when the subject of Genesis add-ons are brought up at sophisticated dinner parties and whatnot.

So what was my concern regarding the converter? From how I understand it, the adapter basically acts as a pass-through, and all of the stuff to make an SMS game ‘go’ is already in the Genesis. However, when you attach a 32x, which allows you to play regular Genesis games through it (lest you have to un-hook & re-hook the thing every time the 16-bit fancy strikes you), I guess it somehow disables the whatever that allows the Power Base Converter to function. This hurts me deep, even if plugging the converter into the 32x would make the set-up the ugliest monstrosity in console history. The Genny ain’t exactly winning any awards in that area when all beefed up like this, anyway.

Simply put, taking the Power Base Converter out of the equation was not an option. This was non-negotiable. Luckily, I worked out a solution that, while still requiring some unplugging and whatnot, at least keeps my SMS-capabilities on the table; I will not bar myself from readily-accessible Rambo: First Blood Part II! (The SMS game I mean, not the movie – though I won’t bar myself from the flick, either.)

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What got this whole “Ah wanna upgrade mah Sega” thing started was actually the CD. Not Sega’s CD attachment, mind you, but rather the Turbografx-16’s. Or rather, the later TurboDuo combo console. I had been reflecting on my good fortune in obtaining the Duo several years back (it was still pretty expensive, but not “hold your head in your hands and weep bitterly” expensive like it is now), when I realized, hey, I play my Genesis much more than anything right now, so why not take the Sega CD plunge and expand a bit?

My first thought was to pick up a model 1 Sega CD, which was a big hulking unit with a motorized disc tray, and which sat directly beneath the Genesis. I had a chance to pick one of those up (with yet another Genesis) several years back too, at a decent-compared-to-now price, but unlike my TurboDuo, I failed to use my bean and decided against it. Mistake.

In all honestly, at first I didn’t even think of using the model 2 Sega CD that I already had and was currently languishing somewhere in my basement. Eventually, the gears started turning in my noodle, I dug the thing out, and I went to figure out how I could make it “go.” Initially, I only intended it as a placeholder until I could find a halfway-reasonable model 1 CD, and while I won’t say that option is completely off the table, I’d have to come across an original unit in-person and for a great price to make me drop some of my increasingly limited dough on it.

The model 1 Sega CD was first released in the US in 1992, and a year or so later, the redesigned model 2 CD came. Primarily intended for use with the Genesis model 2, the second iteration of the Sega CD used a pop-up disc tray lid and sat next to the Genesis. Luckily for me, this revised Sega CD works just fine with the model 1 Genesis. (Which makes sense, since it came with one when I first brought it home!)

As I said before, when I originally bought my Genesis/CD/32x set-up from the thrift store, I didn’t think I had all the right cables and whatnot. Just looking at the back of this Sega CD, the numerous ports had me confused. Sure, the power supply is self-explanatory (and luckily mine came with one; same as a model 1 Genesis power supply), but the rest? Separate AV jacks? “Mixing?” What have I gotten into?! No wonder I threw all this stuff in a box and let it sit for almost 7 years!

Fortunately, a quick look online revealed that I did indeed have the bare minimum to get this thing running. All I had to do? Connect it to the Genesis’ expansion port, plug the power supply in, and bingo! The Genesis handled the rest! Cool winnins! (There are some metal RF shielding plates that came with the CD, which you screw in the bottom of the Genesis to both better prevent RF interference and to attach it more securely to the CD. I had these and did indeed attach them, but they’re not absolutely necessary.)

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The Sega CD had garnered a decently-sized library before being discontinued in 1996, though oddly enough, as soon as I got mine hooked up, I was sort of at a loss as to what I was really going to go after (barring one exception). The fact my player had been sitting around my basement for nearly 7 years had me wondering if the thing even still worked. A quick trip to a nearby thrift shop yielded me a cheap copy of Bill Walsh College Football, purchased solely for testing purposes (I’m not a college football fan, and frankly, I’m not huge on 16-bit football games in general). Maybe not the best demonstration of the CD’s power, but it told me that my Sega CD was indeed operational.

My first real Sega CD game, as far as one I wanted goes, was Sol-Feace, a terrific horizontal shooter that was actually a pack-in with the original release of the Sega CD. While maybe not a stellar showcase of the CD’s abilities (except for the soundtrack, which I dig), it’s still a blast, and saves me the trouble of tracking down the Genesis cartridge port (titled Sol-Deace; Phil Moore always had fun saying that title on Nick Arcade).

After that was the CD port of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Unlike many Sega CD games, which were just enhanced versions of Genesis games, Dracula is actually a totally different game from the ‘regular’ edition. Featuring actual clips from the movie, digitized characters, and backgrounds that rotate as you pass through them (think Fleischer Popeye), it’s an impressive title for 1993, and unlike the last two games, a real showcase of what the Sega CD can do. Okay, technically it’s a mediocre, single-plane Beat-‘Em-Up, but it looks so neat that I wound up being fond of it nevertheless.

But actually, it was Final Fight CD, which you’re looking at live and in action above (in a shot crummily taken of it playing on my TV because I don’t emulate; it looks better in real life, trust me!), that was the main driving force behind getting me to hook up the CD. Y’see, I’m a Beat’ Em Up junkie; it’s quite possibly my favorite genre of video games. Heck, I pretty much bought the TurboDuo just so I could play the Japan-exclusive port of Double Dragon II. So yeah, Final Fight CD might as well be considered my personal “killer app” here. My conclusion? It’s a very good port, infinitely superior to the SNES version, and with a great, kickin’ soundtrack. My only real issue with the game is the same issue I take with all Beat-‘Em-Ups of its ilk: It tends to be cheap. The difficulty doesn’t so much ramp as it sucker punches you. I’m always up for a challenge, but I find that aspect of the game severely irritating. As far as the Genesis goes, I find both Streets of Rage and Streets of Rage 2 to be superior fighters.

Still, despite some warts, Final Fight CD is my favorite title thus far on the Sega CD. Yes, it was worth hooking the add-on up for!

Currently on the want list: Even though I’ve never been huge on the normal Genesis edition (I’m firmly in the Super Nintendo camp when it comes to games based on the movie), I do intend on picking up the expanded version of Batman Returns. Also in the same vein, and because I’m, as previously stated, a Beat ‘Em Up junkie, the expanded Sega CD port of Cliffhanger is one I’d like to add to the library. Star Wars: Rebel Assault, the PC version of which I grew up with, is a title I’d really like to get, even though intellectually I know it was never a very good game, even back then. Also, Afterburner III, because I do loves me some Afterburner. The Sega CD library is littered with full-motion video titles (a real relic of the ’90s!), and while the thought of most of them make my eyes glaze over, obtaining one or both Mad Dog McCree titles is appealing, simply because, like Rebel Assault, I grew up with with Mad Dog II on the PC. (Unlike Rebel Assault though, I always found Mad Dog II pretty fun.) And of course, I needs me some Sonic CD, too!

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Finally, and for purely cosmetic reasons, I bought the extender piece that attaches to the far-left bottom of the Genesis and slides into the CD base. It doesn’t do anything but make the whole set-up look better; otherwise, the edge of the model 1 Genesis hangs off the side of the model 2 CD. Still plays fine, but looks ugly. Hence, extender piece. I wugs u extendo peece.

The more I think about it, the more I think that a particularly appealing thing about the Sega CD is that it’s such an early-1990s throwback, and not just in release date, either. Back then, CD was this new, wondrous format; just hearing “CD-ROM” today reminds me of getting the latest Sierra adventure games for the PC on CD – 3.5 floppies seemed so outdated after that! To get that same experience on a console, it had to be pretty cool for cutting-edge gamers of the time, and it’s still fun to revel in now, even if the revolutionary aspects have, of course, dimmed in the years since.

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Ah, and that brings us to the the Sega 32x. The infamous Sega 32x. An attachment conceived to give the Genesis 32-bit capabilities, extend the life of the console, and bridge the gap between the Genesis and looming Sega Saturn, the 32x could very well be (and has been) considered the opening salvo in Sega’s demise as a console-maker. The add-on was a notorious flop, with only about 40 games released for it, and it was only on the market for 2 years or so. Even worse, it destroyed much confidence in Sega as a company, and coupled with some unwise decisions and relative commercial failure of the Sega Saturn (commercial failure, mind you, because it certainly has a huge cult following), Sega could never quite get back on track, even when they should have with the terrific Sega Dreamcast.

‘Course, in my case, I got the 32x so many years after all that, that there were only two real factors in deciding whether I should extricate it from its resting place and hook it up to my ‘real’ Genesis: 1) Were there enough games to even make it worth the effort? And, 2) what about my Power Case Converter? As I said before, that thing apparently won’t run whilst plugged in to the 32x (however, and also as I said before, you can run regular Genesis cartridges through it no problem, except for Virtua Racing, which the 32x has its own port of anyway). Like I mentioned earlier, rendering the Power Base Converter useless was non-negotiable in my eyes. I eventually found a not-perfect-but-livable solution, which I’ll explain in a bit.

(Like the Sega CD, the 32x has metal plates you’re supposed to install inside the Genesis cartridge slot, and while I have them, you don’t absolutely need them – also just like the Sega CD. This is a good thing, because they would hamper my just-mentioned SMS-solution, and besides, I don’t know where I put the things anyway.)

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You know, even though there are far fewer games in the 32x library than there is the CD, there were a handful titles that I wanted to play more than any other, save Final Fight CD. Namely, Star Wars Arcade, Doom, and Virtua Fighter.

Star Wars Arcade was a launch title for the 32x in 1994. Based on the 1993 arcade game (as opposed to the 1983 vector Atari arcade game), it’s a very good space-shooter, and an excellent demonstration of the 32x’s polygon abilities. Plus, it was the one 32x game I played back in the day. Still, I haven’t spent a ton of time with this one yet.

Doom, on the other hand, has gotten far more playtime than I expected. I heard conflicting stories about this port, from it being good to it being, uh, not. And you know, even though the music is weak, the framerate sometimes stutters, there are levels missing, and some save states are desperately needed, for a time I could not get enough of this game! *I* think it’s a good port, even if, technically it’s not a great one. Plus, while it may be anathema to admit this, I’ve always preferred Wolfenstein 3D to Doom; since there was no port of the former on the 32x, the latter wins by default.

But as far as 32x favorites go, I think I have to give the edge to Virtua Fighter (above, again in a sad, off-the-TV shot), a terrific port of the revolutionary 1993 arcade game. Using polygonal models, it may not look like much now, but it’s a fantastic demonstration of just what the 32x could do when harnessed properly. It even compares quite well to the later Sega Saturn port! There was a time when I was big into the 3D one-on-one fighters, so this version of Virtua Fighter really does take me right back. Plus, I always wished that Sega had made a big beefed up Genesis port using the same technology they did for Virtua Racing; it never happened (though an okay, albeit 2D, port of Virtua Fighter 2 did show up late in the Genesis lifecycle), so this cart satisfies that ‘hunger’ somewhat.

Currently on the want list: Mortal Kombat II received a 32x port that’s seemingly pretty good, which is fortunate, since I love the regular Genesis version. Furthermore, there are well-regarded ports of Afterburner and Space Harrier that I definitely want. Knuckles Chaotix seems like an interesting Sonic spin-off, and the masochist in me wants to try Motocross Championship, even though it’s supposedly one of the worst things ever – and Youtube vids seem to bear that out. Also, I wouldn’t say no to Spider-Man: Web of Fire, should I find it cheap at a yard sale (yeah, right). Yes, there are fewer personal “wanted” games for the 32x than there are for the CD, but truth be told, the ones I want for the 32x I want more. Go figure!

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As you may well imagine, running all of this results in a real mess of wires, not to mention three separate power adapters. Look up above if y’all don’t believe me! And, the 32x was a real pain to get hooked up satisfactorily. You can’t just “plug it in” like the Sega CD. I didn’t think I had all the necessary cables here either, though it turns out I was only missing one – the most important one (figures). Online searches on what exactly I needed wound up making my head swim, especially when they got into what was needed to get true stereo sound out of a 32x plugged into a model 1 Genesis (which only outputs mono sound). I’m usually pretty good at figuring these things out myself, but here, after numerous tries, I kept finding myself hopelessly confused.

So, here’s what you need for the 32x:

1 – A power adapter, of course. The 32x uses the same style as the Genesis model 2. Mine came with one, and even if it hadn’t, they’re easily found.

2 – Genesis 2-style AV or RF cables. Mine came with an RF box, which was fine with me until I realized I was gonna need AVs not only for better picture (remember, I wasn’t using the shielding plates, which did result in some irritating static), but also for a very specific reason I’m coming to. A quick trip to eBay yielded me some (cheap) AVs, though I soon learned the hard way that normal Genesis 2 stereo AV cables don’t work; you get picture but no sound with them plugged into the TVs AV ports. Nope, here you gotta have mono Genesis 2 AVs in this situation. Evidently they came with the 32x originally. So there went a bit more money for the cause, but they worked. Of course, you’ll only get mono sound in this scenario, but stereo isn’t that important to me here, and besides, figuring that aspect out takes me back to head-swimmin’ territory. Enough of that noise.

3 – Here’s what I didn’t originally have, and also what resulted in the most confusion on my part: The 32x AV mix cable. You see, you have to route from the Genesis AV port to the 32x with this cable in order to see everything correctly, via the “AV out” port on the Genesis and the “AV in” port on the 32x. Not so hard to understand, except the Genesis 1 and the Genesis 2 use different AV ports, and the model 2 port is the same one as found on the 32x. So, the 32x originally came with an adapter that fit the cable into the Genesis 1. It sounds so simple now, but figuring out what people were talking about, again, had my head swimming. I actually had to go to a video game forum and ask where I was at with what I had. Since the original adapters for this cable are pricey nowadays, I opted for a third party cable that’s specifically built to connect the Genesis 1 to the 32x, and I’ve had no complaints.

So, what about my beloved Power Base Converter? Just how was I gonna play SMS games without doing some serious un-hooking? Well, it’s not an ideal situation, but since I now have AV cables for the 32x, and thus normally run all of my Genesis-needs through those, I simply plugged and left my model 1 RF switchbox into the TV, and whenever I feel the need for some SMS, I’ll take out the 32x, unhook the AV cables from the Genesis, plug the RF cable back in, and have at it. No, it’s not as quick and easy as I’d like, but the effort is fairly minimal, and besides, I can still keep all of my stuff in one location, on top of my big honkin’ TV.

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And so, there it be: A model 1 Sega Genesis, loaded, cocked and ready to rock, with a Sega CD and Sega 32x attached, and though not pictured, a Power Base Converter at the ready. Yes, it looks like a big plastic lump sitting on top of my TV. No, I don’t care; in one sitting I can play Rambo III, Virtua Fighter, Final Fight CD and Vigilante if I want, and that’s a thing of beauty.

You know, I was there for the tail-end of the 8-bit era, but basically grew up during the 16-bit generation, not to mention the 32/64-bit years. After that, my interests progressively waned generation-by-generation. But 8-bit and 16-bit, that’s where my gaming heart always truly stayed; I upgraded over the years, sure, but I never stopped loving the consoles and/or eras I grew up with. Since most of those formative-gaming-years took place in the 1990s, man, this beefy monstrosity of a console really does take me back, even if I didn’t actually own most of it when it was new.

And on the subject of the 1990s, I’ve come to consider the Sega Genesis the definitive 1990s console. Let me explain: I’m not necessarily saying it’s the best console of the 1990s; that’s of course subjective, and I absolutely adore the Super Nintendo, which was my first system ever (Christmas of 1992, baby!). Plus, the 1990s also held the 32/64-bitters, and it’s safe to say the Sony Playstation dominated the second-half of the decade handily. (Though for sheer late-1990s-ness, the Nintendo 64 seems to fit to me, too.)

But when I think 1990s gaming, the Genesis defines so much of what comes to mind. Here’s a system that hit the US in 1989, and stuck around until 1998 or so. (Wikipedia says 1999!) The sleek, black console itself, sure, it looks like a product of the decade (even if it technically wasn’t when regarding my preferred model 1), but also the many different trends and styles of gaming it demonstrated. From the 8-bit sensibilities (with 16-bit graphics) of the early titles, to Sonic, to the innovative, technically-impressive stuff being produced in the later years.

And beyond the games themselves, there was the ‘aura’ of the console; the loud, in-your-face marketing (“Blast Processing,” “SEGA!”) and general aimed-at-adults attitude. It all seems so overtly 1990s now. And of course, it’s also the additional features (some might say gimmicks) such as the Sega Channel, and, naturally, Sega CD and 32x add-ons, that all make up the “1990s-ness” of the Genesis. Sega ultimately wound up shooting themselves in the foot by doing “too much” with the system, but as an artifact of the mid-1990s, man, this beefed-up console just screams “1995!!” to me. I love it!

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Looking for a succinct picture to sum up my super-charged Sega Genesis? This one right here seems to fit the bill. The classic 16-bit Sega Genesis, being upgraded to the aforementioned “NEXT LEVEL.” In one system I can take part in genuine 16-bit greatness, venture into the then-fairly-new world of CD-ROM, take a peak into the future with 32-bit gaming, or take a look back at the past with 8-bit gaming; how cool is that?! Do I need any more reasons to keep all this on top of my Trinitron for the foreseeable future? I posit that I do not.

SEGA = BEEFED, and I couldn’t be happier with the results!

WJW TV-8’s Late Movie – 1985’s “Rambo: First Blood Part II” (2003)

Time for a sequel post! And not just a post about a sequel, but a post that’s in and of itself a sequel to a previous post. And it’s all the more fitting because the sequel this post is about is the sequel to the prequel that the prequel post was about!

There, wrap your mind around that introduction!

Surely you will recall back in August when I talked about an airing of First Blood as shown by Big Chuck & Lil’ John on May 11, 2001. What? You don’t?! That hurts me deep, but here it is. For a character I had grown up basically knowing of, that was my first time actually watching a Rambo film. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting at first, but before the broadcast ended that Friday night, I had become a fan. The following morning, I was determined to pick up the remastered VHS trilogy set that was then-available.

Unfortunately, for whatever reason (almost certainly due to lack of money on my part – as usual), I didn’t get the set, and thus I didn’t see the sequels as soon as I would have preferred. Add in all the other responsibilities and interests of a teenager, and ultimately, I wouldn’t see First Blood‘s sequel, Rambo: First Blood Part II, until very nearly two years later, when I taped it off WJW TV-8’s late movie showing. I have no concrete date for the broadcast, but it was the spring of 2003 (late April or early May is the closest I can deduce), but naturally it’s that very recording we’re looking at today.

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In the late-1990s and early-2000s, I had made a semi-habit of staying up late on weekend nights and catching a new-to-me movie on some local channel. More often than not, this was an action film, and it was through this method that I was introduced to flicks I almost certainly wouldn’t have been aware of otherwise. Army of One and One Man’s Justice come to mind. (Which is why I was far too excited to find the latter on DVD for cheap at Value City a few years later!) My love of action films, especially 1980s action films, was fostered via these late night airings, and it was through them that I eventually found myself staying up late to watch First Blood, and ultimately, First Blood Part II.

In retrospect, the broadcast we’re looking at today was from the tail-end of not only this habit of mine, but also of even being able to catch movies on local channels late on weekend nights in general. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen anymore, because it does (our WBNX TV-55 regularly runs movies in the late hours of the weekend), but by and large late night television is a wasteland of syndicated programming and infomercials now. And besides, the way we as a television-viewing audience watch movies nowadays has changed so drastically in the 14 years since that, even if I personally don’t go for the streaming thing, the very thought of a late night movie on television just doesn’t hold the same charm of discovery as it once did. This both saddens me and makes me all the fonder for the recordings I had the foresight to make back then.

Truth be told, I can’t recall if I actually stayed up late to watch this broadcast as it taped, or if I merely watched it soon thereafter, but the sentiment is ultimately the same. And boy does this one take me back. Even that bumper up above, complete with the immortal Bill Ward‘s voiceover, is a cause for nostalgia. Now granted, I wouldn’t be surprised if those same background graphics were used for Fox affiliates all across the country, and I don’t know when they were first utilized or when they were dropped, but they were present for at least a few years afterwards (I have a recording of Miracle Mile from 2006 that uses them), but I love ’em. They’re simple, sure; just that bluish color-scheme, spinning film reel, station I.D., and voiceover, but they work. By 2003, I’m not sure you could ask for all that much more, anyway. The same image was used as the intro to this broadcast, as well as for the commercial-break bumpers. Update your diaries accordingly.

(You’ll note that my title notates this as WJW’s “late movie,” but the bumper mentions nothing of the sort. Yes, this was well past the “8 All Night” days and associated pomp and circumstance. This was a late airing, however; I don’t recall an exact time, 1 AM, 2 AM, something like that.)

I know there won’t be as much vested interest in this post as there was in my First Blood article; Big Chuck & Lil’ John naturally attract local readership. Even beyond that, I know some will look at this and probably think “A 2003 airing of Rambo II? Who cares?” The thing to remember there is that this is a personal blog, and what it comes down to is that it’s all about what makes me, well, me. I mean, yes, the ultimate goal here is to educate readers on an obscure late night television broadcast that would almost-certainly be forgotten otherwise, but as always, a subject has to trip my trigger first. So, maybe this will strike a chord with certain readers, and maybe it won’t, but I’d rather share my memories and have this review out there than, uh, not.

Besides, just because Big Chuck & Lil’ John aren’t hosting this, that doesn’t mean they won’t show up in some form during it. What do I mean by that? Read on!

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Actually, had I been paying more attention, there probably was a Chuck & John showing of this film around the same period; as you’d expect, WJW would get these film packages, and show the same movie in different slots over a relatively short period of time. For example, I taped Iron Eagle II off The Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show (a recording I still have!), a Friday night broadcast, and not long after, maybe even that following Sunday, the movie by itself ran again, in an afternoon slot. (I remember holding a yard sale and having it on to show that a TV I was desperately trying to shill did indeed work, which wasn’t all that successful in the bright sun, but whatever.) The aforementioned Miracle Mile was also aired this way, and it was how I first discovered the movie. Unfortunately, I didn’t tape it, and it didn’t run again until ’06, when I did tape it, in a non-Chuck & John showing. Meh, que sera sera and all that.

So anyway, 1985’s Rambo: First Blood Part II. If you go back and read my First Blood post, you’ll note that this sequel is more along the lines of the movie I expected to see the first time around. Indeed, when people picture Rambo and his exploits, the plot of this film is probably what first comes to mind. And why wouldn’t it? The movie was a massive hit, it’s still fantastic, and it’s easily one of the defining action films of the 1980s. I mean, this movie is 1985. This is the film that truly drove the Rambo, one-man-against-an-army image into the public consciousness, as evidenced by the wave of merchandise it spawned (including a fantastic Sega Master System game and an odd, Zelda II-esque Nintendo Entertainment System game).

Of course I loved the film right from the start. If you’d ask me to put together a top 10 list of my favorite action films, First Blood Part II would easily, easily make the cut. But then, so would First Blood and Rambo III, too. (and Schwarzenegger’s Commando, while we’re at it.) Maybe a year or so after I taped this, we finally upgraded to DVD, and near as I can recall, Rambo: First Blood Part II was the first film I bought for myself in the format (unless you count the restored Metropolis, which Kino sent me on DVD despite my ordering it on VHS, which I don’t). For me, that’s pretty telling. I love this movie.

That’s the title screen up above, by the way. When you see a fire-filled “Rambo,” pop on-screen, you know you’re in for a ride. That Fox 8 logo in the bottom right corner totally takes me back, too.

(And yes, there is a Big Chuck & Lil’ John airing of this very movie floating around trade circles, though I don’t concern myself with such 2nd gen or more shenanigans, and thus it is presently barred from me. Meh, que sera sera and all that.)

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Caution! Some spoilers for a nearly-32-year-old movie are ahead! 32 years?! Yep, First Blood Part II was released on May 22, 1985 – pretty darn close to a straight 18 years the night this aired. I find it interesting that the film was less than 20 years old when I first saw it, but is now over 30. I’m not sure why I find that interesting, but I do. I think it has to do with the quick passage of time and me being quite a bit older now. Well, now I’m depressed!

Part II isn’t really a direct sequel, but does pick up in the aftermath of the events that transpired by the end of First Blood. In that one, remember how John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone, of course!) had pretty much destroyed an entire town, totally outwitted the local police force, and whose life was saved only when his former-commanding officer Col. Trautman (Richard Crenna!) told him to cut it out? (I’m trying not to divulge too much of First Blood, for the 2.6 of you that haven’t seen it yet.) Well, Part II picks up some time after all that; Rambo is serving his sentence, performing back-breaking hard labor, when Trautman shows up at the prison with an offer (above): It’s rumored that some POWs are still left in Vietnam, and a special team is being assembled to go in and get them – if they are indeed still there. Rambo is the best candidate, and with the opportunity to get out of a prison for the time being, as well as a full presidential pardon dangled in front of him, not to mention him being a former-POW himself, of course he accepts.

I like this; less than 5 minutes in, the title hasn’t even appeared on-screen yet, and the movie is already off and running. In short order, Rambo finds himself in the presence of one Marshall Murdock (Charles Napier, who fills the roll of you-just-know-he’s-a-jerk-from-the-start that Brian Dennehy so-ably occupied in the previous film). Rambo’s mission? To head back into Vietnam, and take pictures of a Vietcong camp. Seriously, just take pictures? Rambo expresses his concern over this, but he is again ordered to only take pictures – he is not to engage the enemy. If evidence is found of POWs, a full-fledged rescue team will head in and get ’em. Rambo goes along with this.

Welp, Rambo parachutes in, and yes, there are indeed POWs still there. Despite Murdock’s orders, Rambo has to rescue one, and thus, engage the enemy. This causes Murdock to show his true colors when Rambo meets the extraction site. He and the POW are then (re)captured, and must (re)escape the Vietcong, who it turns out are being supplied by the Russian military (1985, the Cold War and all).

“Murdock, I’m coming to get you!” If you’re not fully rooting for the ‘Bo by the time he utters that line, well then I just don’t know.

(Also, now is as good a time as any to point out that, as you may surmise from the diagonal rainbow “stripes” overlayed in my screencaps, we were using an antenna of the rabbit ears variety at the time, with the resulting reception naturally captured on my tape – a malady that was only exacerbated by my choice of an SLP recording speed. This all looks far uglier as still screen captures than it does in motion, but nevertheless, my tape ain’t Criterion quality.)

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Rambo: First Blood Part II is pretty much a non-stop stream of testosterone. Above left: Blowin’ stuff up with ‘splosive arrows. Above right: Shooting anything and everything in sight (and looking uncannily close to that Rambo action figure they released in the 1980s – or vice versa, rather). Audience manipulation? Well of course it is! It’s pretty much impossible to not cheer Rambo on as he dismantles the enemy camp while long-imprisoned POWs celebrate – that may be the very definition of audience manipulation!

But don’t think this is just a mindless celebration of violence, though; many of the same themes present in First Blood are on display here, but almost from an opposite viewpoint and with an added wrinkle of redemption and hope – the undertones aren’t quite as dark and somber as they were in First Blood. Okay, sure, this is all seen through the “popcorn action movie” lens, I know, and that tends to tone the message of the film down considerably. Well, except when the flick is beating you over the head with it, as in Rambo’s final speech – which I love nevertheless.

Maybe that’s why Rambo: First Blood Part II was a huge hit commercially, but the critics didn’t particularly like it. To that, I say “man, forget that noise.” First Blood may have been more successful at presenting the plight of the Vietnam vet while also remaining an engrossing action film, whereas Part II is, for lack of a better description, more of a “straight-ahead” film, but with some “rah rah” overtones. Except, that’s not quite fair to the movie; it’s deceptively smarter than that (sort of like Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.”). Yes, Rambo loves his country and is prepared to die for it, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t criticisms of a confusing war – it’s just that the film pulls them off without throwing the soldiers that fought in it under the bus. There’s courage and heroism on display here, both from Rambo and the rescued POWs. As someone who has the utmost respect for any of our veterans, this all strikes a chord with me.

Or maybe the critics just didn’t like the film based on the usual suspects of plot, writing, whatever. I haven’t really gone and checked any of the old reviews online in-depth, because my opinion of a film is the only one I care about. So for all I know, I may be totally full of it right now.

And on that note (ha!), you know what? To me, this is just such a good, solid action movie. No kidding, right here we basically have the archetype for the one-man-army action film. Yes, Missing in Action did the same basic plot in 1984, but it didn’t do it nearly as well, nor as popularly. For all intents and purposes, this type of action movie, which has come to define a good chunk of 1980s mainstream cinema, begins right here. (Furthermore, while I like Chuck Norris’ James Braddock, Rambo is a far more compelling character; the psychological scars he carries with him truly give an added resonance to the proceedings – even though Braddock was also a former POW. But, I digress.)

So, getting back to this broadcast as a whole, was there anything that, in retrospect, makes this 2003 airing significantly unique? Kinda. There’s the usual suspects of the editing for television (sometimes egregiously so; very obvious fade-outs and fade-ins, for example), and this aired at a time when TV broadcasts, particularly local broadcasts, could still look markedly inferior to official home video releases. Even with my SLP recording speed and rabbit ears making things difficult, this is still clearly an older, un-remastered television print of the film; not really bad, but sorta drab looking, and almost certainly a step below any official VHS edition of the film. Or maybe it was just my reception, I don’t know.

Look, if you haven’t seen this film (yeah, sure, uh huh), just go buy your own copy. If nothing else, it’ll certainly look nicer.

You know, the fact that this is from 2003, and thus still fairly ‘new’ in my eyes (nearly 14 years new, ha!), and not being that unique in terms of film-content, aside from TV-editing, it all had me questioning whether I wanted to get a post out of this. As I said near the start of this piece, there would probably be inherently less interest in this, especially without a unique factor such as Big Chuck & Lil’ John hosting it. But then I remembered this is about my nostalgia; what gets my memories fired up.

And on that front, there are the original commercials. It’s funny, there’s stuff during this broadcast that, for the most part, I probably haven’t thought of since the early-2000s, and yet when they came up on-screen, it was like they just aired yesterday to me. Here now are some of my favorite ads found during this late night broadcast of Rambo: First Blood Part II

Affordable Jewelry Coins & Loans Ad

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This is fantastic. Pawn shop/jewelry/etc. ads were all over this broadcast, as you’d expect of late night TV. This was my favorite of the bunch though, simply because it exemplifies local advertising in the wee hours of the day; you can’t not love it!

Here, a Sinatra-ish lounge singer performs “My Kind of Store” in regards to Affordable, complete with back-up singers, all while the screen flashes over their various wares and a voiceover gives their buy-sell-pawn pitch. The spot finishes with a little kid (in the bottom-left in the right screenshot above) exclaiming “It’s so affordable!” This is the kind of advertising that exemplifies local TV.

Affordable Jewelry Coins & Loans is still in business, too! Looks like the ad did its job!

WJW Dharma & Greg Promo

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Remember Dharma & Greg? I’m not sure any channel plays it anymore, and It was never a show I cared much for, but it was one of the hallmarks of ABC’s late-1990s & early-2000s sitcom powerhouse line-up, a line-up that included Spin City, The Norm Show, and of course The Drew Carey Show. So, even though Dharma & Greg never did a lot for me, it still ranks a bit on the nostalgia meter. The premise of the show was the Dharma was a free-spirit, Greg was uptight, and they both married on their first date. At least, that’s how I recall it. It ran for, I think, a respectable six seasons, so apparently more people cared for it than I did. I could Wikipedia the show, but I refuse.

Anyway, WJW became the repository for local reruns when the series entered syndication, and as you can see above, it garnered the weeknights at 7 PM slot. Bill Ward’s voiceover: “Hot comedy with Dharma & Greg! Weeknights at 7 on Fox 8!” For years, that 7 PM to 8 PM block was a cornucopia of comedy on WJW, naturally spearheaded by The Drew Carey Show, and for a time 3rd Rock From the Sun was also a big part of it. Good memories!

Norton Furniture Ad

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Ah ha! A Norton Furniture ad! Now we’re talkin’ some legit Northeast Ohio advertising! Heck, these commercials even went beyond our area, and into the national spotlight! Read on…

There were others ads for the store, even during this broadcast, but the best known were the ones featuring owner Marc Brown, who you’re seeing above. My favorites were those featuring The Ghoul, for obvious reasons, but there was a long, long line of offbeat, sometimes even surreal, commercials. Marc spoke in a quiet, almost halting manner, proclaiming if you can’t get credit there, you can’t get it anywhere. And then the ads would turn strange. The Ghoul ones, for instance, would have The Ghoul popping up and chasing Marc, trying to cut off his pony tail. In another, Marc would turn to a mannequin and ask it a question, apropos of nothing whatsoever. Look, Norton Furniture actually has a bunch of these up on Youtube, so just go see for yourself.

Anyway, this all attracted the attention of national comics, and eventually these ads were being featured on late night shows as joke fodder. I even seem to recall The Soup (which I avidly watched for a time) taking a crack at it. The Norton Furniture ads became well known enough that Taco Bell used one as a basis for one of their commercials – during the Super Bowl. Wikipedia (yes, there’s a Norton Furniture page) says this was only a regional Super Bowl commercial, but nevertheless, I flipped out when I first saw it!

So, the installment found here, this one is actually one of the milder entries, though still kinda out there in a hazy, late night kinda way. In it, Marc gives a lecture to an unseen group of people about the features and benefits of Norton Furniture. Unfortunately, no surreal occurrence in this one, besides some canned applause by the “audience” at the end. Interestingly, this is a minute-long spot; usually they were the standard 30 seconds.

While not one of the wackier Norton Furniture ads, its presence here is still most definitely welcome. And, Norton Furniture is still around! Check out their website!

TeleMaxx Communications Ad

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I’m including this one mainly because it shows just how wildly the cellphone world has changed in the nearly 14 years since this aired.

TeleMaxx was, as you may surmise, a spot for all your wireless needs. As you can see to the left above, the ad features cutting-edge cellphone technology – of the early-2000s. It’s wild how far these things have come in such a relatively short amount of time. Nowadays, we have phones that’ll make you a sandwich if you ask them nice enough, but the ones seen here? They were somewhat bulky things that did little more than make phone calls (go figure!) and maybe, maybe play rudimentary games of bowling and/or solitaire.

And above, to the right! Pagers! Pagers!! Do they even make pagers anymore? The rise of the cellphone pretty much made them obsolete, which means it’s really a trip back in time seeing them spotlighted in this ad. A steal at only $29!

Unfortunately, it looks like TeleMaxx closed up shop some time ago; such is the price of working with transitory products such as these, I suppose.

Big Chuck & Lil’ John For Pizza Pan Ad

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I saved the best for last, and boy is this one phenomenal! Not only because it’s an ad featuring Big Chuck & Lil’ John as spokesmen, though of course that’s the, as I like to say, “cool winnins factor.” But also because, man, it just takes me right back to 2003.

The gimmick of Pizza Pan was this: Order a pizza and have it delivered, you got another pizza free. Order a pizza and pick it up yourself, you got two extra pizzas free! Obviously deals like that are gonna attract some attention, and in short order, Pizza Pan had made a pretty big local name for itself. It seemed there were locations all over, and we patronized the one near us pretty often, because hey, three pizzas for the price of one! This was all bolstered by some pretty heavy advertising, including Big Chuck & Lil’ John, who pitched the chain for a number of years.

Indeed, we’ve already seen Big Chuck & Lil’ John do their Pizza Pan shtick on a larger scale; remember the Big Chuck & Lil’ John Pre-Game Show post? Check it out, because Pizza Pan was all over that one.

Unfortunately, by the mid-2000s or so, Pizza Pan seemed to just sort of fade away. My memories are vague, but I seem to recall them ending the whole free pizza offer, which of course was what their name was built on. I believe it was later brought back in some form, though it might have only been a single free pizza no matter whether it was delivered or picked up. I can’t say for sure, because by that time, the one near us had closed. Anyone wanna give the details in the comments?

But back in 2003, that was when Pizza Pan was still reigning supreme. (Get it? Supreme? Because it’s pizza! Aw never mind.) Here, this commercial summarizes the whole deal succinctly. In it, Chuck explains to John the buy one pizza, get one or two pizzas free gimmick, before telling the staff to pick up the pace because they’re so busy (which is a cue to comically speed up the video as pizzas being assembled are shown). It’s a simple ad, sure, but it got the point across, it had Chuck & John’s endorsement, and it spotlights one of the most memorable aspects of Northeast Ohio pizza-eatin’ in the early 2000s. AND it has a Bill Ward voiceover at the end!

It seems there are still a few Pizza Pans left; here’s the official website, though no matter what link you click, the only page you get is a list of store locations. (A Cleveland store gets a different, full-fledged website; I’m guessing that’s the original, or at least most popular, location?)


And so, some two years after I became a full-fledged Rambo fan, this recording was how I continued the fandom. A little late on all fronts, I know, but hey, it’s always better late than never!

As I said before, when I finally jumped into DVDs a year or so later, this movie was the first I went out and purchased. Indeed, the other two Rambo entries were also among my first purchases on the format, as well. Obviously, I held (and hold!) the series in a severely high regard.

When it comes to what I taped before all that though, this particular recording actually became a bit lost in the shuffle. My earlier First Blood recording had Big Chuck & Lil’ John hosting it, but this one had no such extras (besides that cool Pizza Pan commercial). As such, I watched it, I loved it, but I never did much with it again. Not until 2011 or so, anyway. That’s when I began really getting into the nostalgia of all the stuff I had taped years prior, even the comparatively newer stuff such as our subject today.

But, I was always glad I taped this, because it’s Rambo, and I loved the film. Even though my official DVD ‘replaced’ my TV recording relatively soon thereafter, I was, and am, still pleased that I kept this recording. This was what introduced me to First Blood Part II, man! And what’s more, it turned out to be a very solid example of Cleveland late nights in the early-2000s, when I loved discovering new-to-me movies. As such, I will happily deem this one a “winner.”

Kid Pics – The Amazing Adventures of Alice in Wonderland VHS (1987)

Welcome to 2017! 2017? Yes, 2017! The four-year anniversary of this stupid blog is right around the corner! Four years! I can’t believe it!

What say we start 2017 off with something, well, something a little out there, eh? Found just a week or two before Christmas, today’s subject cost a whopping 60 cents at a thrift shop, and for sheer “say what?” value, it was worth every penny.

Behold! The Amazing Adventures of Alice in Wonderland, on VHS! (It’s below and to your right, obviously; eagle eyes will notice I’m experimenting a bit, but just a bit, with formats this time around. This is a little out-of-the-norm for this blog, and while I can’t promise it’ll continue in the future, right now I feel like a big-time legit newspaper guy or something.)

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When I sauntered into this particular thrift shop, it quickly became evident that someone had dropped off their entire inventory of budget cartoon tapes. Now, I’ve got quite a few of these in my collection already, though I’m by no means on a regular hunt for more specimens. I’m interested in releases of the Fleischer Superman cartoons, and Popeye, but beyond those two, I come across cheapo cartoon releases far, far too often to go all nanners over ’em every single time. Thus, most of the tapes out for sale that night were passed over by yours truly.

And, Alice in Wonderland is even less likely to trip my trigger, because, uh, it’s Alice in Wonderland. We never owned a copy, but growing up I was vaguely familiar with the Disney film, and I of course know the basics of the famous Lewis Carroll story. But I mean, this sort of thing just isn’t really my scene, man.

And in the case of this particular VHS, even the cover art is too competent to raise my eyebrows. Lemme explain: part of the fun with cheap cartoon videos from the 1980s is the oftentimes wildly-amateurish cover art. There are quite a few renditions of Popeye and Superman out there that are too pitiful to not love. Heck, overtly terrible artwork can and sometimes is reason enough for me to drop some coin. But here, the artwork is entirely serviceable. Just look at it up there! It’s competently drawn and colored, and it projects a nice, Easter-ish vibe. No one will ever mistake it for a release of Disney’s version of the story, but for what it is, the artist did a good job.

So, just why did this tape end up coming home with me that fateful night? The answer is found on the back cover…

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No, it wasn’t the featured line-up listing. Sure, you’ve got the “marquee” feature, along with what (I guess) I initially presumed was just another old, subsequently-public-domain-lapsed iteration of Carroll’s heroine, plus a couple of other seemingly-appropriate “wonder-ish” cartoons. It all “fits,” but none of those were why I grabbed this VHS, either.

Nope, the real reason I avidly purchased this tape has to do with the logo you’re seeing to the left: it was a Kid Pics release! What makes Kid Pics so special, you ask? Why, Kid Pics was part of the Amvest Video empire, that’s what! Though the back cover makes no mention of it, Kid Pics was indeed a division or subsidiary or connected-in-some-way-somehow to Amvest, and that’s what made this a must-buy for me. You don’t (or at least I don’t) come across these things in-person very often, and at only 60 cents, hey, I pretty much had to have at it!

Amvest has had no small presence on this blog, especially in regards to this their Al Lewis-hosted Grampa Present video series, which culminated in the ultimate recap this past Halloween. Indeed, I’ve become more and more enamored with the company, to the point where anything I come across by them whilst out and about is more than likely entering my collection. While still decidedly a budget outfit, many of their tapes had a quirky charm to them, and there are more than a few interesting stories regarding the company out there in internet-land, for those inclined to look. While I don’t go after every single Amvest release with the same fervor that I do their Grampa series, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t give the nod to Amvest whenever possible.

So anyway, there I was, an ostensibly-adult, 30-year-old male, carrying a cheap Alice in Wonderland VHS tape around a thrift store, and far more excited about it than any ostensibly-adult, 30-year-old male should have been. Was I a cause for concern to fellow patrons of the establishment? Maybe, maybe not. If I was though, what they didn’t realize was that I had found a rare, or at least wildly-obscure item, and more-importantly, fodder for my silly blog. Though truth be told, it wasn’t until after I checked out the tape and ruminated on it for a bit that I myself realized I could get a post out of this, either.

(Found at the same time as this was a Kid Pics tape featuring public domain Looney Tunes shorts, and months ago I had picked a Superman cartoon comp by them as well. For all I know, I unknowingly have more releases buried in my collection. Any any rate, my big hope with these three tapes was that The Happy Hamster, a bizarre host for some, but not all, Kids Pics releases would show up. Alas, it was not to be. Perhaps it was for the best though, since the sensory overload of The Happy Hamster hosting this tape would have, in all likelihood, caused my face to explode.)

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And that brings us to Alice in Wonderland proper.

Before I actually played the thing, I figured this was just another release of an old cartoon that had been floating around the public domain for centuries decades, an Ub Iwerks or something. That’s not what I got, though. Nope, what I found instead, while not really “disturbing,” was still more than a bit odd, and just a little trippy: a 9-minute, black & white short that combined live-action and stop-motion animation to form a fast, condensed version of the famous story.

Upon my initial perusal, I pretty much just zipped through the tape to see what exactly I had. After discovering that this Alice in Wonderland was what it was, I went looking for it online; I wanted to see what year it was released, who was in it, and so on and so forth. My first thought was that it was an early television production, and when my Google searches and whatnot didn’t turn up the answers I was looking for, I quickly found my interest in the whole matter deepening ever more so, as it is wont to do.

Had I been paying closer attention the first time around, I’d have found my answer easily enough: The title-card’s mention of “Lou Bunin” tells all. Turns out, this is an extremely edited version of the 1949 French film of the same name! The original is 80+ minutes long, and in color, so given the nature of the print found on this tape, not to mention the Castle Films cards that were also included at the open and closing of the feature, it seems to me that this was a VHS re-release of something that was produced for the home market in the decades prior; originally a Sound Super 8 reel or something like that. I’ll go ahead and assume this condensed version has lapsed into the public domain in the US, though apparently the 1949 original has not. Either way, interesting stuff!

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At only about 9 minutes, needless to say there wasn’t much time for exposition. So here, things kind of just “happen.” Now granted, Alice in Wonderland didn’t exactly feature the most lucid story in the first place; that was sort of the point of the whole thing, right? But even so, the quick cuts and fairly choppy nature of the proceedings here, it’s a pretty disconcerting. That may sound fitting for an adaption of Alice in Wonderland, but this turned out to be more of an honest-to-goodness sensory assault than it had any right to be.

The plot, such as it is, starts out with Alice following the famous White Rabbit to Wonderland; that’s seriously how this edit of the film starts. No questioning as to why a rabbit is wearing a coat and walking upright – “Seems legit,” as the hip kids say. Following the rabbit to his lair and drinking a potion to make herself small enough to follow him through the tiny entrance to Wonderland? Sure, why not! Alice in Wonderland was kind of an acid trip of a tale in the first place, and as for the 1949 adaption, since I haven’t seen the full version, I don’t know if there was any initial reluctance on Alice’s part or not, but she seems to go with the flow without hesitation here. Anthropomorphic rabbits? Drinking random potions that have appeared out of nowhere? None of that is cause for concern to Alice, I guess!

What follows is Alice being accused to stealing the Queen’s tarts, and being put on trial. The possibility of having her head chopped off, as the Queen readily insists time and time again? Alice seems only mildly apprehensive of the wacky-jack situation and possibly bad resolution – maybe she’s cognizant of the fact she’s trippin’ perhaps? This is weird stuff, and like I said, things just sort of randomly happen; I’d imagine that kids would have needed some prior knowledge of the story to make any sense (relatively speaking) of this particular iteration. And just like it began, it sort of just concludes; just as the trial is about to rule against her keeping her noggin, Alice suddenly finds herself safely back in “real time,” unsure if it was all a dream but with a, as the narrator states, “wonderful story to tell” nevertheless. I’d hardly say nearly being decapitated over tarts is a “wonderful story,” but I suppose it’s pointless to question any of this.

The special effects and stop-motion are technically pretty impressive for the time; they’re well-done and accurately present the dreamlike world of Wonderland. The scene of Alice shrinking near the start is pretty neat for 1949, and the animation of the Wonderland inhabits is acceptable, though the jerky nature of them, coupled with the black & white picture and already-weird nature of the source material, plus the chopped up quality of this print, it all ends up being a little creepy, honestly.

Look, I find this short impossible to satisfactorily describe. The Internet Archive has a copy (though interestingly, it lacks the title card and first several seconds that are present on this tape), and it’s notated as public domain, so here you go.

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When I first found this tape and gave the contents listed on the back a fleeting-at-best glance, I saw what was on it, but I didn’t really comprehend what the included cartoons were, if that makes any sense. Not beyond the cover art at least, I mean. Look, this was a Kids Pics release; it was coming home with me no matter what. I guess what I’m saying is I didn’t pay all that much attention to the tape I was far too excited to find. If that sounds like an oxymoron of sorts, rest assured it happens a bit more often than I’d care to admit. Buy first, think later!

(In all seriousness, whenever I’m out thrifting, I generally do pay some attention to whatever I’ll be bringing up to the sales counter. Be it an electronic, tape, or what have you, I like to have as few negative surprises as possible when I get home. But in this case, and in instances like it, the content of the tape is basically secondary to the rarity of it. Is the tape moldy? Does it look like it will play? That’s all I really needed to know before the purchase. And in the end, it was only 60 cents.)

Anyway, when the sale was done and I got home with my loot, it wasn’t until I actually saw it that I realized there was a thematic-element going on here. This wasn’t just a short, budget-priced collection of public domain cartoons; Amvest/Kids Pics/whoever put together four shorts that kinda sorta go together (for the most part; read on, you’ll see), despite not being related in any real capacity.

So, Alice’s Tin Pony. On the surface, it sounds like another vintage trip to Wonderland, not unlike how there were multiple theatrical shorts detailing the land of Oz back in the day. One would and could be forgiven for making that Wonderland connection upon first glance, given the title (especially if they weren’t familiar with the various renditions of Alice in Wonderland, as I was/am). Maybe that’s the main reason it was included in the first place, I don’t know.

But, that’s not what this is. Rather, it’s a part of an old, old series of silent Disney shorts from the 1920s that have all lapsed into the public domain. Look up above if you don’t believe me. Alice, Disney. See?!

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Besides the whole “her name is Alice too!” thing, this cartoon makes a fitting pairing with the bizarre Alice in Wonderland edit that precedes it for one very good reason: it’s a combination of live and action and animation.

The gimmick for these “Alice Comedies” was that the titular character was a real human kid, superimposed (?) over the cartoon world in which she lives and takes part in. Truth be told, it’s an effect that works far better than I ever would have expected it to prior. This short is from 1925, and while this isn’t news that will surprise anyone familiar with the series, I found it technologically impressive.

Alice’s partner in these shorts was an animated cat named Julius. There they are up above, and if you think Julius bears more than a passing resemblance to Felix the Cat, that’s because he, uh, doesbig time. Not only does Julius appear to be a dead-ringer for Felix, but he acts pretty much the same, too. Dude can even detach his tail and do things with it. In fact, this short is pretty surreal overall, not unlike a typical Felix the Cat cartoon – which of course makes it an even better pairing with Alice in Wonderland.

In this Alice installment, she and Julius run a railroad line, and that day, it’s carrying a payroll shipment of some sort. Felix’s Julius’ surrealistic powers and a sentient train help stop a bandit and his gang from stealing said payroll.

Listen, this thing is impossibly weird, it’s public domain, and it’s only a bit over seven minutes long, so just watch it for yourself here.

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Now is as good a time as any to mention that this tape would not stay tracked. My screenshots don’t look so bad, but man, while in action I had to keep screwing around with the tracking controls. By the end, even the patience of your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter was being tried, and believe me, I’m no stranger to wonky trackin.’ This was a pretty cheap tape, recorded in EP, and that coupled with one of my lower-end VCRs, well, the results are never gonna be Criterion-quality when I go that route.

The second-half of the tape opens with this, 1936’s Somewhere in Dreamland. Wonderland, Dreamland, the (loose) theme continues! According to Wikipedia, the first few minutes of this cartoon are sometimes cut, though the complete (?) version is found here. Note the black bar obscuring the original copyright info above; was that even necessary? Near as I can tell, this one has been in the public domain for decades. Then again, the bar doesn’t appear then-recently implemented, and there’s a NTA title for the ending card, so maybe it was first used when this one hit television? That’s my best guess, anyway.

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Somewhere in Dreamland is very much a depression-era cartoon. In it, two poor kids haul a wagon around collecting firewood for their home. They can’t afford sweets or any of the other things kids ostensibly desire. A sad moment early on has their mother feeding them stale bread, and crying when one of them says they’re still hungry. Given the then-current situation in pre-WWII US, it’s pretty powerful imagery, especially for a kids cartoon. One can’t help but feel that the early scenes of the short really hit home for more than a few viewers at the time.

No, chief, none of that’s the Dreamland of the title; it’s not an ironically-named cartoon! Rather, Dreamland is where the two kids visit when they go to sleep that night. (I guess they dream in tandem?) Dreamland is filled with all the things they don’t have access to in real life: Nice clothes, sweets, toys, general pleasantness. And it’s all accompanied by a dreamy (“you don’t say?!”) song playing throughout, which is probably exactly how you’re envisioning it to be, if you have any familiarity with cartoons from this era.

There’s a suitably happy resolution to the cartoon that, despite being obligatory, I can’t help but feel was a little disheartening to the real children of the depression that were originally watching this. But then, I’m probably reading too much into this.

Being a Max Fleischer work, there’s also some incredible 3D-rotating backgrounds on display, too. Being a Popeye veteran, I’m well-accustomed to these, but nevertheless, I’m always wowed by them. Go ahead and watch this cartoon for yourself here.

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The tape finishes with Toonerville Picnic, the only cartoon that doesn’t really fit in with the loose dreamy, surrealistic theme of the tape. I mean, there’s wacky, unrealistic situations here, but really no more so than any other cartoon of the time – or now, for that matter. Indeed, Brentwood Video (who had some kind of partnership with Amvest, late in the life of the latter) released a VHS in the 1990s that was pretty much the exact thing content-wise as what we’re looking at today – except Toonerville Picnic, which was dropped from the line-up. At least that’s how I understand it, not personally owning that Brentwood release myself.

From 1936 and based on a long-running comic strip, this was one of Van Beuren Studios’ all-color Rainbow Parade series entries. Actually, it was not only the final Rainbow Parade entry, but from how I understand it, also the final cartoon Van Beuren put out, period. Maybe their final thing ever, for all I know.

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This is my least-favorite short of the tape. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not really ga ga over any of these, but as I said, I like the weird, out-there vibes coming from the cassette. Toonerville Picnic kinda stops all that dead. What, Amvest/Kids Pics couldn’t find one more trippy public domain cartoon to finish off their blockbuster VHS release? Bah! Maybe I’d like it more if I had some actual experience with the comic strip it’s based on, but I don’t so I don’t.

Not that it’s really a bad cartoon, mind you. Just not my favorite. In it, Mr. Bang, who has a temper to match his last name (i.e., he’s in a constant bad mood) is ordered to get some rest, so he heads to the beach. What he gets is an annoying dog, an uncooperative chair, and a homicidal octopus. You’ll have that, after all.

Look, I’m tired of talking about this tape. Just watch this one for yourself here. (Link has a different opening card from what my copy features, but whatever.)


My conclusions?

This is a neat tape. It’s a little out there, but it’s neat. On the surface, it looks like just another run-of-the-mill budget cartoon tape. Playing it though, that’s where things get interesting. Instead of being yet another presentation of the “usual suspects” of PD animation, this is instead an interesting collection, featuring four fairly obscure shorts. In fact, all four were new to me.

‘Course, Alice in Wonderland is the centerpiece, and boy, is it a trip. The extreme editing it suffered gives the short a real, I don’t know, stream-of-consciousness feeling, I guess you could say. Whether the complete 1949 original is like that, I do not know. But as to what’s seen here, it’s truly a wild, wacky trip back to budget VHS past, and it totally sets the tone for the rest of the video. Sure, the shorts get progressively less strange as they go along, but all in all, this isn’t a bad 30 minutes or so for lovers of “huh?!” cinema. I didn’t realize how fortuitous the tape would be when I discovered it at that thrift store several weeks back, but boy, good find.

And it was only 60 cents!

WJW TV-8’s The Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show – “Terror of Mechagodzilla” (December 12, 1997)

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“How’d y’all find somethin’ from just a week later, North Video Guy?”

Remember last Monday, when I spotlighted my own personal recording from December 5, 1997, 19 years to the day? Evidently, your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter was a busy little taper in the waning weeks of 1997, because just a seven days later, I recorded yet another powerhouse of a broadcast – and directly after that Son of Ghoul episode from last week, to boot! By and large, I taped things I was interested in (“gee, no kidding!”), but even so, very rarely did I capture a phenomenal double-header such as this.

From December 12, 1997, 19 years ago today (!), it’s The Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show, and its presentation of Terror of Mechagodzilla. Rest assured, if the post last week got my nostalgia rolling, this one here blasts it sky high.

Coming at a time when my Godzilla fandom was at (or very near) its height, and as part of general Christmas-month festivities, you have no idea what fond memories that bumper above fills me with. Man, I was 11-years-old, Christmas (and Christmas break!) was right around the corner, and I was discovering a new-to-me Godzilla flick; an early Christmas gift if there ever was one! Throw Big Chuck & Lil’ John in that mix, and, well, does it get much better than that? I posit that it does not.

Also, depending on how busy/lazy I get, there may or may not be an actual Christmas post here at the blog. So for the time being, consider this it, okay?

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This broadcast was also a life-preserver of sorts.

In a story I have recounted before, my parents dropped cable near the end of summer ’97. The cable box was too expensive, and having even less money than I do now, I didn’t have much say in the matter. So, for the foreseeable future, basic television channels were going to be it. As a young film-buff, this was not an ideal situation, with the most grievous aspect being that Mystery Science Theater 3000 was now barred from me. I was (and am) a big-time MSTie, so this hurt deep.

Actually, the loss of the Sci-Fi Channel as a whole was a serious blow to yours truly. Their Godzilla marathons were things of beauty, serving to introduce me to many entries I was unaware of prior, especially the 1970s stuff, some of which was out of print or otherwise not readily available on home video in the late-1990s. Coincidentally, one of the last things I taped before we dropped the cable box was Sci-Fi’s airing of Godzilla Vs. The Cosmic Monster, the prequel to the very film we’re looking at now!

There were some positives to being cable-less at the time, however. First and foremost, I now had to pay more attention to the local channels available to me. That’s how I came to be a Son of Ghoul fan. And, looking back, it was in this time period that the seeds of a legit love for Northeast Ohio broadcasting were first planted; that love would blossom in full within the next few years, and continues at full-strength to this very day.

Also, there was another silver lining: In the late-1990s, Godzilla films could still show up on ‘regular’ TV channels. It seems that steadily decreased as the 2000s dawned, and in retrospect I was witnessing the tail-end of it here, but at the time, all I knew was that I had the opportunity to catch a ‘Zilla flick unbeknownst to me prior.

And so here we are, Terror of Mechagodzilla. I needed some fresh ‘Zilla in my life, and this came at just the right time. I can still recall the excitement upon first seeing this listing in TV Guide that week; I’m not sure I was even aware of this film beforehand! That’s the title screen up above, by the way. The Terror of Mecahagodzilla title as seen here always looked newly-generated to me, and thus, I think the print aired by Big Chuck & Lil’ John that night was the same one as released on home video in the late-1980s. This movie went through a number of edits in the US, and frankly, I’m not sure exactly which one I’m looking at here. I guess it’s the chopped up US theatrical edit. This is the one I grew up with, at any rate.

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Made in 1975 (but not released in the US until 1978), Terror of Mechagodzilla is a direct sequel to Godzilla Vs. The Cosmic Monster, aka Godzilla Vs. The Bionic Monster, aka Godzilla Vs. Mechagodzilla. In that one, alien ape guys had created a robotic double of Godzilla, as part of the expected “take over earth” plot. Godzilla (and new buddy King Caesar) naturally intervened. Earth was saved, ‘Zilla’s good name was cleared, and so on and so forth.

Now, in Terror of Mechagodzilla, the aliens are back; not only do they have continued plans to take over the world (of course), but they also want to revive Mechagodzilla. And, with the help of a human scientist that hates all mankind (bet it’s fun looking in the mirror each morning!) and his now-cyborg daughter (she was dead then she wasn’t; thanks aliens!), they summon heretofore-unknown undersea monster Titanosaurus to team up with their Mechagodzilla to help eliminate Godzilla once and for all.

Above: Godzilla suffering a beat down at the hands (claws?) of his robotic clone and Titanosaurus. You can probably guess the eventual outcome, but Terror features (in my opinion) some significantly more exciting monster battles than many (most?) of the immediate (read: 1970s) Godzilla films preceding it. Also, even though he has a bit of human help with Titanosaurus, it’s nice to see Godzilla on his own, not having to team up with another giant monster (or in Jet Jaguar’s case, robot) to get the job done.

Terror of Mechagodzilla is unique in several respects. First off, it’s the last entry in the original “Showa” series (1954-1975, or 1956-1978 if you go by US release dates); Godzilla would take a break until the mid-1980s. That means this is the last of my “preferred” Godzilla flicks – the 1980s on up entries have never done much for me, and trust me, I’ve tried. (Is that anathema to admit? Oh well, it’s the truth.)

Furthermore, I can’t think of a single entry in the original Showa series that’s a direct sequel such as this one (unless I’m just totally blanking on a similar, earlier occurrence; correct me if I’m wrong, big time G-fans). There were prior Godzilla movies that sort of followed along from previous events (for example, Godzilla is buried in ice at the end of Godzilla Raids Again, he breaks out of ice at the start of King Kong Vs. Godzilla), but to actually pick up on the story line from the film right before, same antagonists, back with a revised plan, it’s kinda neat.

It’s also far less silly than most of the other 1970s installments. There’s a very somber, dark feel to the film, not unlike a lot of mid/late-1970s cinema in general, really. It’s kind of jarring to see Godzilla in that light, honestly. Granted, 1971’s Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster was a pretty dark film as well, and even occasionally surreal (Smog Monster is also one of my top personal favorites), but the presence of a “Kenny” (i.e., little kid) dissipated some of that bleakness. Here, with much of the focus on a woman (the cybernetic Katsura), it lends a very different tone to the proceedings.

There’s little doubt that returning-original-director Ishiro Honda had much to do with the radical shift in that tone. There may be giant monsters leveling a city, but the plot is generally pretty serious; in some ways, this feels like an earlier Godzilla film, but with a definitively 1970s-look to it. Truth be told, it’s pretty refreshing when compared to most of the other G films of the decade. Make no mistake, Honda makes a huge difference; just compare any one of his Godzilla films to one that’s, uh, not, and you’ll see.

When I first watched this airing 19 years ago, truthfully, the movie didn’t do much for me. It’s a somewhat slow moving, character-driven piece; Godzilla really isn’t in it all that much, and while I wasn’t an 11-year-old that needed instant gratification in his ‘Zilla movies by any means, the fairly-talky nature of the film coupled with the late hour (11:30 PM start time) and 2 1/2 hour length of this broadcast, it all took a toll on my patience. Quite honestly, I was bored by it – though it was still Godzilla, so there was zero chance of my recording over it later.

But you know what? Upon this latest viewing, I found myself getting into the movie – far more than I expected to. Don’t get me wrong, this still isn’t Godzilla’s finest hour, and how many times could they go back to the “invading aliens” well? I can think of two 1970s entries that don’t use that plot device: Smog Monster and Megalon. (And even then, Hedorah was initially an extraterrestrial organism.) Godzilla clearly needed a break, but even so, the generally serious tone and character-driven story (which I can definitely appreciate now) allowed the original series to end on a higher note than I previously gave it credit for.

Here, buy your own copy and judge for yourself!

(Funny-to-me movie moment: The discovery of Titanosaurus near the beginning of the film has a group of scientists in utter disbelief over the new “dinosaur,” as if that sort of thing should be even remotely surprising after decades of monster attacks and city-levelings. Seriously, by that point, it should rank pretty low on the “disbelief meter.”)

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And that brings us to Big Chuck & Lil’ John – and even better, Big Chuck & Lil’ John during the Christmas season! In 1997, I wasn’t yet the true BC & LJ fan I’d be in just a few years, and so my tuning in to their show was, at the time, based almost entirely on the movie featured. As such, I didn’t spend as many Christmases with them as I now wish I had. Still, being able to relive seeing a new-to-me Godzilla movie for the first time on their show is pretty great all on its own.

19 years ago, I can’t believe it! It was a banner Christmas that year. As I said last post, my brother and I got a Nintendo 64; kids today probably can’t imagine how positively mind blowing Super Mario 64 was back then. To go from 16-bit to that, it was a monumental leap. Also, I’m pretty sure that was the Christmas that brought yours truly a couple new Godzilla VHS’ under the tree. Cool winnins!

Anyway, Chuck and John. This wasn’t exactly Christmas Eve, it was only December 12th, so while there’s a general smattering of holiday cheer throughout the show, it’s not an overtly Christmassy affair. As seen above, there’s the expected wreaths and the Lionel train set on the floor (more on that in a bit), and a couple of fun Christmas skits, but it’s all mixed in with the ‘normal’ Big Chuck & Lil’ John shenanigans you know and love. The result was an exponentially strong show, from both movie and a BC & LJ-material standpoints. No joke, this one is a blast.

[For those just tuning in to this blog, and there are apparently a few of you, Big Chuck & Lil’ John were, respectively, Chuck Shodowski and John Rinaldi, who hosted movies and performed comedic skits on Northeast Ohio’s TV-8 from 1979 to 2007, though the format stretches back to 1966 with Bob “Hoolihan” Wells and The Hoolihan & Big Chuck Show. And even further back to 1963 if you count the Ghoulardi years, which Chuck had a hand in, too. Anyway, the show ended in 2007, but they came back with a 30-minute, skits-only show in 2011, which is still running. Cool winnins!]

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Because it’s a Godzilla movie, the “Cuyahoga Kaiju” club makes up a part of the studio audience – pretty cool! According to Chuck, they even brought the Godzilla-related items sitting on the desk that night! (Yes, I know one of those is a Gamera; we’re all friends here, right?) The Cuyahoga Kaiju are apparently still around – or at least, they have a Facebook group. I joined the FB group, though as previously stated (well, inferred), my knowledge of post-Terror of Mechagodzilla-related Kaiju matters is woefully lacking, plus I ain’t exactly an ever-flowing font of Kaiju knowledge anyway. Thus, any kind of membership on my part is probably best left behind a keyboard, where I can think about what I’m going to say before I make an absolute fool of myself. Granted, that would probably still happen either way, but the severity would be lesser. Maybe.

Wait, where was I going with all this? Oh, the studio audience, right.

At this point, it was time for the first trivia question of the night. As I have recounted before, I almost always knew these, but since I was at home, shouting at the TV screen would yield me no sweet, sweet prizes for giving the correct answer. You had to be in the studio audience for that, man.

The prize for trivia #1 was a gift certificate for the Lakewood YMCA Christmas tree lot, which was pretty handy since it was only December 12th; still plenty of time to get a tree home and set up in the house, had you not done so already. Stop calling me a procrastinator. Anyway, the question was: What were the names of Santa’s eight original reindeer? A lady in the back row (I don’t know if she was part of the Cuyahoga Kaiju or not) gets it. This is an instance where I kinda sorta remember the names of the reindeer, but probably would have screwed up live and in-person nevertheless.

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A very funny Christmas-themed skit follows.

John has brought his wife an early Christmas gift home, and it has to be opened right then. She’s hesitant, and begins guessing what could it be. It’s something she’s always wanted, and no, don’t shake it! When it begins leaking all over her new dress, she’s horrified, and asks if it was perfume. Nope, it’s a…puppy!

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Look, I love Big Chuck & Lil’ John’s skits, but there’s no doubt some of them were built on a pretty thin premise. And speaking of thin…

In this one, three guys in what I can only guess is the washroom of a gym pass by a mirror and take the opportunity to flex their muscles. The third guy is on the skinny side of things, and when he’s not satisfied with the result of his flexing, he artificially builds up his muscle mass – with shaving cream.

And…that’s kinda it.

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Look at this sign of the times!

In what turned out to be his final album (he died in October of ’98), polka king Frankie Yankovic’s then-recent Songs of the Polka King Vol. 2 CD was pitched. Not only does it make a good stocking stuffer, but get this: Chuck & John actually sing on it! No kidding, they’re on Yankovic’s cover of My Melody of Love! (Surely you recall the Bobby Vinton hit version?) Pretty snazzy! This CD is now out of print, but not too hard to come by used.

Fun Fact: Drew Carey and Weird Al Yankovic (no relation to Frank) were on Songs of the Polka King Vol. 1!

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After that reminder, a short video of Chuck & John’s trip to BW-3 the previous Monday for a wing-eating contest and Monday Night Football is shown. There was of course a winner, trivia, and a good time had by all. And according to them, it would all be done again the next Monday.

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Another Christmas skit follows that.

Here, Chuck is working a tree lot, which promises a half-off sale. Suddenly, he gets a call from irate customer John; he didn’t expect the tree to be literally half off!

Didn’t John notice when he was loading the tree up to take home? Or am I just thinking too much about this?

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The next skit isn’t specifically Christmas-themed, but appropriate enough due to the gift-giving nature of the holiday. I like this one a lot.

John is a sidewalk salesman for “lucky charms” (no, not the cereal; actual lucky charms), and when he entices passerby Chuck to purchase one, it’s revealed that it was actually the last in stock. As John prepares to go home to get some more, a safe falls on him!

Get it???

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Perhaps the quintessential, or at least most “quintessentially idealized” (does that make any sense?) Christmas gift is a train set. In this jaded day and age, I’m not sure how popular they actually are, but when you think “Christmas toy,” there’s a good chance you’ll think of one of these.

As such, it makes sense to pitch one on show, and that night, Big Chuck & Lil’ John did just that. They were raffling off a genuine Lionel train set, with a winner to be pulled on their December 26th show.

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Immediately after that announcement came this one: If someone was still in need of a last-minute gift, they could pick up the then-new book Ghoulardi: Inside Cleveland TV’s Wildest Ride, by Tom Feran and R.D. Heldenfels. It’s interesting to look back at a time when this book was still basically “hot off the press.” In short order, it became a certified local institution. When it comes to Cleveland TV history, this is one of the books to have.

I believe I got my own copy the next Christmas, and to this day I love it. Such a fascinating, detailed look at what essentially started (sorry Mad Daddy Pete Myers) the Northeast Ohio horror hosting legacy.

The book has remained in-print since it was published. Get your copy here. If you have an interest in Ghoulardi, TV history, horror hosts, and/or Cleveland, it is a must have! Utterly vital and completely entertaining, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

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A Saturday Night Mysteries installment, a favorite recurring skit of mine.

The gist of these was that a detective (or detectives) were called in to see if someone selling something or otherwise asking for money was on the up-and-up. It would quickly be deduced that he or she was not, and the reason why would be revealed later in the show. The challenge was for the viewer to determine, from the clues given in the first part, how the detective knew it was a fraudulent scheme.

In this one, an English archaeologist claims to have uncovered ancient cave paintings, and wants a wealthy widow to finance an expedition to unearth more artifacts. Detectives Schodowski and Rinaldi (of the “Parma Detective Agency”) are called to determine if the guy is legit. After hearing his story, Detective Rinaldi quickly declares the archaeologist a phony.

How did he know? “The answer? Later in the program!”

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A funny bit in which, despite a prominent “NO HUNTING” sign, Lil’ John happily struts through a park, gun in hand and dead birds (aka, rubber chickens) slung over his shoulder. When he’s stopped by the game warden, he claims he was just out taking target practice. When the warden points out the birds over his shoulder, John freaks out, throwing them to the ground and screaming about how “gross” they are!

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Trivia time again.

For this round, winner got four passes to the then-new An American Werewolf in Paris flick. The question? Besides St. Nick, what is another name for Santa Claus? An answer of “Kris Kringle” gets it. Too easy.

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Because it’s a Japanese movie that night, the next skit is considered particularly fitting. I’m fine with that, because this is one of my top favorites. I had totally forgotten it was included in this episode too, which made its inclusion double-exciting for me.

To start the show (evidently this was an episode intro back whenever it originally aired), Chuck interviews Judo & Karate expert John. Problem is, John is very into it, and constantly goes off on Chuck, pummeling him. When he first comes out and shakes Chuck’s hand, he automatically flips him over his shoulder and then chops and kicks him!

John has written a book, “How To Karot Good,” a title I absolutely love, and attempts to demonstrate techniques from it, which only results in further pain for Chuck. Trying to roundhouse kick some wooden boards? Chuck winds up kicked in his, uh, nether region. (John’s concerned “You alright man?” while Chuck writhes on the ground is a riot.) After that, karate-chopping a wooden board? The rigged board breaks and Chuck winds up getting it in the face!

Yes, it’s a skit that relies heavily on physical humor, but John’s chopping and kicking Chuck while screaming stereotypical karate “sounds” is hilarious. And the final gag, in which John demonstrates how he’d deal with being surrounded by attackers, is terrific: In slow-motion (because it’d be too fast for the cameras otherwise), he mimes running away!

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A goof on the old Ella Fitzgerald Memorex ads, in which both Ella’s actual voice and her voice as recorded on a cassette tape shattered a glass.

Here, opera singer “Ella Carmela” sings for “Rememorex” audio tape. Her voice shatters a glass, and her recorded voice shatters…Chuck!

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The conclusion to Saturday Night Mysteries. How did Detective Rinaldi know it was all a scam? Cavemen and dinosaurs, as one of the cave paintings posited, did not exist at the same time! What did the culprit (the wonderfully named “Benny the Gooch”) use as research? The Raquel Welch movie One Million Years B.C.!

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“Kung Fu-Ski,” a take-off on the old Kung-Fu TV series. I’m not all that familiar with the series, so forgive my not really knowing which characters are being parodied here.

A traveler, played by Chuck and who I guess was supposed to be the main character from the show, travels through the desert, begging for water. He comes upon a stand, which only sells neckties; no water. The traveler continues on, and eventually comes upon a restaurant. When he goes inside and desperately asks for water, he’s turned away…for not wearing a necktie!

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A play on the old “workplace suggestion box” idea.

Here, Chuck sheepishly puts a suggestion in the box, only to have boss John pop out of it after he’s gone, get on the phone, and ask his secretary to remind him to fire that “Schodowski jerk” first thing in the morning!

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A terrific skit; this “Kielbasy Kid” entry is up there with the karate sketch as my favorite of the night. This was also my introduction to the Kielbasy Kid, and thus holds some added nostalgia for me.

Here, the Kid and his Indian sidekick “Kishka” have had their home ransacked by a mysterious thief three times now. So, to combat the robber, they set up a pot of water rigged over one door, and a string of cans attached to the other. Whichever door the thief comes in, they’ll be alerted.

One night, it works; someone has come through the can-rigged door, and the Kid and Kishka tackle him. Turns out…it’s Santa! St. Nick angrily takes the 100 pound sack of kielbasy he brought as a gift and leaves. When the Kid tries to stop him, the pot of water falls on his head, and Kishka loudly cries at the loss of all that kielbasy.

This skit is run frequently enough on Chuck & John’s current 30-minute show, but strangely, there’s a small moment edited out that was intact for this airing: After setting the traps, the Kid and Kishka are going to bed. When the Kid sees Kishka’s stuffed animal laying in it already, he throws it out, saying there isn’t enough room for three in the bed. This causes Kishka to loudly cry. I’m unsure why this short scene is (usually?) cut from current broadcasts; maybe it’s a time-issue? I don’t know, but it’s very, very funny.

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Because I was all about the movie when I recorded this back in December ’97, I didn’t tape the intro or outro to this episode, instead beginning at the very start of the movie, and stopping right after it ended. This is something that causes me to cringe now, both as a completest and as a Big Chuck & Lil’ John fan, but back then, I didn’t know any better. It was all about the ‘Zilla, man!

As such, this was the last skit of the night as far as my tape goes, airing right before the concluding segment of Terror of Mechagodzilla. This is “Fallacy island,” obviously a parody of Fantasy Island. Here, a hapless man who can’t get any attention from women comes to the island, asking to make himself irresistible to them. The result? He’s turned into a puppy!


And that was the show itself, or at least as much as I captured of it. A very strong installment from all standpoints, far more so than I gave it credit for upon my initial viewing 19 years ago today.

The last remaining facet? A few of the more notable commercials to have aired during it. You want Christmas? You’re about to get it! Not a ton though; just a few of my favorites. Honestly, there were some great, nostalgic (for me) ads here, but I’m only gonna spotlight three of them right now. Why’s that? Because these, these signify late night and/or local Christmas advertising in a nutshell.

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Commercial #1: A spot for one of the perennial Christmas gift suggestions, The Clapper. Or rather, the revised “Smart Clapper.” Everyone knows about The Clapper and the gimmick behind it; clap on, clap off, baby! You can turn anything that plugs into an electrical outlet on or off just by clapping! Just plug The Clapper in, then plug your device of choice into The Clapper, and then have at it!

So, what was different about the Smart Clapper? You could plug two devices into it, that’s what! Clap twice for one appliance, clap three times for the other. The commercial makes ample demonstration of this, too. Turn on the lights, turn on the TV, and heck, if someone tries to break in while you’re away, there’s a feature where The Smart Clapper will turn on your lights (if they’re plugged into it, that is) at the slightest sound! Neato!

The Clapper is still sold today, and every year around this time you’ll begin seeing the commercials for them with that oh-so-familiar jingle. And you know what? These things do work, and they’re pretty cool lookin,’ too. Plus, they’re handy, especially if someone has mobility problems or the like.

Bottom line: I have a Clapper. And you should too.

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Commercial #2: A spot for one of the other perennial Christmas gift suggestions, Chia Pets. Everyone knows about Chia Pets; they’re even more ubiquitous than The Clapper. Available year-round but particularly visible during this time of the year, you’d almost have to be trying to not know what a Chia Pet is.

Just in case you don’t though: Chia Pets are pieces of pottery, typically shaped like an animal or human head or what have you, with which you smear the included plant seed concoction all over them. Then, with enough watering and sunlight and whatnot, plants will actually grow on the pottery, giving an animal fur, a head hair, and so on and so forth. You gotta pay some attention to ’em, but these do work and they look pretty neat, too.

For this commercial, the number of different Chia Pets and Chia Heads are spotlighted. The Chia Heads in particular are given prominent screentime, including a Chia Professor and Chia Clown. BUT, what really makes this spot is the brief but very cool set-up: an archaeologist has discovered ancient pottery, that just happens to be Chias, and by the end of the ad, he’s wound up with a treasure chest full of ’em. It’s a surprisingly involved production, with the archaeological scenes interspersed with the ‘normal’ Chia shots. Quite honestly, it’s the coolest Chia Pet commercial I’ve ever seen.

Bottom line: There’s an old Chia Head floating around my basement somewhere, but now I want a new one. And you should too.

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And finally, commercial #3: This one is less of an obvious choice than the previous two, mainly because it’s for Sun Super Savings Centers, a chain of electronics and appliance stores that I’m not sure exist anymore. Nowhere near me, at any rate.

The premise for the ad is simple: Sun has the big time Christmas season savings, especially on a mega-cheap Microwave (above right; $67?! Bargain buck bill!). Included are the perquisite shots of a family opening their gifts around the Christmas tree on, ostensibly all from Sun, and ostensibly all on Christmas morning. It’s a pretty typical Christmas-themed electronic and appliance store ad, really.

So why include it here? Two reasons. 1) Look at the kid on the left above; he’s just opened a Nintendo 64 controller! As I mentioned earlier, my brother and I got our Nintendo 64 that very Christmas of 1997, so that alone is enough to make me spotlight this Sun ad here; a kindred spirit! And 2) I bought my first brand new video game console with my own money from Sun; a Sega Genesis, in the mid-1990s. That alone is enough to make me spotlight this Sun ad here. So, fond memories and all that.

Bottom line: I loved the Nintendo 64 and really loved the Sega Genesis. And you should too.


And with that, our big giant look at Big Chuck & Lil’ John’s presentation of Terror of Mechagodzilla draws to a close.

You know, it wasn’t until I pulled out the tape that held Son of Ghoul’s The Hoodlum for last week’s post that I realized, boy, Big Chuck & Lil’ John hosting Terror of Mechagodzilla during the Christmas season would make a fine, fine follow-up article. Like I said during my intro, these were taped back-to-back, and between the two, I don’t think I could find a better, more powerful trip back to the Christmas season of 1997 in my video collection. Some scattered individual recordings, perhaps, but what we’ve seen over these past two weeks is not only an indelible slice of Northeast Ohio television in the late-1990s, but also a peak at my 11-year-old mindset, which, TV-wise, isn’t all that different from my modern day mindset, truth be told.

For this update as well as the last, I was originally recording because I wanted to capture and relive this weekend entertainment over and over. What I wasn’t aware of then was that I was also capturing a significant part of my life – as reflected by my television viewing habits, anyway. Over the years, as my knowledge of Northeast Ohio television history increased and I became more appreciative of what I grew up watching, it was stuff like this that I became more and more grateful for both taping and keeping. For example, Son of Ghoul last week, that was a winner from the start. But the broadcast we’ve looked at today, as I said earlier, it was initially all about the movie featured. It wasn’t until I really started to “get” Big Chuck & Lil’ John that I realized Man I’m glad I held onto that!” Needless to say, that holds doubly-true today.

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One final note…

I’m a busy cat, and since there’s a good chance this will be my last post of 2016, here’s a Christmas-appropriate image from earlier in the show we just finished looking at. Chuck’s holding a wreath, dig? Christmas. Also, I want that Gamera toy on the table somethin’ hardcore.

Actually, the more I think about it, the more I think I will leave this as my official Christmas post; it’s not like I can really top Christmas-themed Big Chuck & Lil’ John and ‘Zilla, anyway. Who could? So, with that said, I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year. Be safe, be well, and be kind to one another.

See you in 2017!