Tag Archives: adaption

Atari 7800 Review: DOUBLE DRAGON (Activision, 1989)

Double Dragon on the Atari 7800? Time to rock!

Look, we need to get one thing straight right up front: I’m a Double Dragon fanatic. If there’s a console with an installment of the series found on it, I want it. I don’t claim to own every release for every system and/or handheld, but Double Dragon and its sequels do take up a relatively significant amount of space in my not-inconsiderable video game collection.

The series should be immediately familiar to anyone that was into video games in the late-1980s and early-1990s; the original 1987 arcade game basically launched the beat-’em-up genre. You know, side-scrolling fighting games in which you fought numerous enemies, typically but not always on a 3-D plane (that is, a foreground and background you can walk between). It was a smash, and naturally sequels followed. The original entries were eventually ported to the Nintendo Entertainment System, though they were only ports in a technical sense; they used the same street fighting motif and general plotlines, but basically did their own thing. Nevertheless, Double Dragon and its sequels, particularly those NES conversions, were seemingly ever-present on the video game scene of the early-1990s, which was when *I* was coming into my own as a young gamer.

Despite popularizing the beat-’em-up genre (though it wasn’t the first such game), looking back, it’s a little surprising how quickly Double Dragon‘s style of walking around and beating up bad guys was superseded by following games in the genre, and not just graphically, either. Only four levels (called “Missions”) and a relatively low number of enemies quickly appeared quaint when compared to longer, all-out fighting extravaganzas like Capcom’s Final Fight some two years later – a template beat-’em-ups largely followed in the early-1990s before the whole idea of a “fightin’ game” was steadily replaced by Street Fighter II and the like.

Actually, despite being wildly unfaithful to the arcade source material, the NES Double Dragon games probably hold up better than other versions nowadays simply because they lengthened and/or added original elements to the ports – additions that help them stand up against the subsequent, more-advanced games in the same genre.

The original Double Dragon arcade machine from 1987. The face that launched a thousand beat-’em-ups!

Still, taken on its own, the original Double Dragon (and at least the first sequel, Double Dragon II: The Revenge) remains a lot of fun today. Aside from some ugly slowdown when too many sprites are onscreen, it’s a fantastic beat-’em-up, though those accustomed to Streets of Rage and such may have a tough time getting into it. Nevertheless, for its time Double Dragon was quite the trendsetter. I mean, simultaneous two-player street fighting action, all in an effort to rescue a kidnapped girlfriend? A bevy of combat moves you could pull off? Colorful, detailed stages to traverse? A variety of enemies to pummel? Of course people would continuously throw quarters at it!

(Even if the period of revolutionary success was relatively short-lived, Double Dragon continued to be a name draw well into the 1990s, eventually spawning, besides the sequels proper, a Battletoads spin-off, a couple one-on-one fighters, an inexplicable board game, those ever-present Tiger handhelds, an animated TV series, and a terrible live-action movie that I, thankfully, only have limited experience with. The brand’s “oomph” sort of tapered off as the second half of the 1990s dawned, but there’s no denying how recognizable the franchise was in the years immediately preceding. A good deal of this popularity can probably be attributed to the series as it appeared on the NES, such was the visibility of both them and it at the time.)

It was also in this late-1980s setting that the 8-bit console wars came about. Perhaps calling it a “war” is a bit of a misnomer since, in the U.S. anyway, it was all about the NES. Seemingly every kid had Nintendo, and growing up, I initially wasn’t aware there even were other 8-bit consoles beyond it. I mean, sure, there were the home computers, but to me, it was basically those and the NES. In actuality, there were three viable 8-bit consoles at the time: besides the NES, there was the Sega Master System, and then there was the Atari 7800. Neither did much comparatively in the States, though the SMS was a force to be reckoned with in much of the rest of the world. (No kidding, the European and Brazilian SMS scene was, and is, fascinating!)

The 7800 was an interesting case; initially intended to right the wrongs that the Atari 5200 had ostensibly committed, the 7800 was meant to come out in 1984, restore Atari’s good name and blow the competition (namely the ColecoVision) out of the water. It was a pretty powerful system for the time, with terrific graphics, a sleek design, and the ability to play Atari 2600 games right out of the box and without an adapter.

It didn’t quite work out as planned though. There was a brief test market in ’84, but the combined effects of the infamous early-1980s video game crash and the sale of Atari Inc. from Time Warner to Jack Tramiel put a halt on an immediate wide release. In the aftermath, Atari Inc. became Atari Corp., and the 7800 was placed on the back burner until 1986. The 7800 was still a capable console with an enormous amount of potential, but with a library of older titles and a somewhat-damaged reputation to the name “Atari,” not to mention constant cost-cutting measures regarding new titles and peripherals, well, it was an uphill battle against the Super Mario juggernaut that the NES became as the 1980s wore on. The added competition of the Sega Master System didn’t help matters, either.

Even though the NES, SMS and 7800 were all originally developed around the same 1983/1984 time frame, and all eventually wide released in the U.S. in 1986, due to the specific circumstances surrounding the 7800’s debut and subsequent library, it feels like a console caught between two eras of gaming. To me, it’s like a system from both the early/mid-80s and late-80s, if that makes any sense. ‘Course, that’s one of the reasons I love it so much; no joke, the Atari 7800 is absolutely in my personal top five favorite consoles.

Anyway, fast forward to 1989. Gaming consoles are again big business, revolutionary titles are coming out left and right, and Double Dragon has already swept not only the arcades but also the NES and SMS. It was in this climate that the Atari 7800 port of Double Dragon, released by Activision, arrived.

The fantastic but ill-fated Atari 7800, complete with Double Dragon loaded!

This was amazing for a few reasons. 1) Nintendo’s licensing agreements with software developers meant that it was hard, often impossible, for the same games to come out on more than just the NES. Thanks to legal loopholes however, there were exceptions, and several titles well-known as members of the NES stable also appeared on competing consoles. 2) The 7800 was great at playing classic arcade ports such Asteroids, Centipede, Joust and Ms. Pac-Man, and had it been released in 1984 as intended, the matter would have been less egregious. But by the late-1980s, new names were needed, and the 7800 was woefully lacking in that area. Rampage, Ikari Warriors, Commando and Xenophobe were welcome exceptions, but that’s just what they were, exceptions.

(The issue of original games was another sticking point with the 7800, something Atari only seemed to truly realize within the last few years of the console’s life. By then it was far too late to save it, but we did get the Super Mario Bros.-ish platformer Scrapyard Dog, the intensely-quirky Ninja Golf, and what just may be the best game on the entire system, The Legend of Zelda-esque Midnight Mutants, starring Al “Grampa Munster” Lewis himself!)

The current homebrew scene has expanded the 7800’s library considerably, but where the original run is concerned, there were only some 60+ titles released, and while many of them were/are pretty good, there were few that would have truly raised eyebrows in that late-80s/early-90s video gaming climate.

Enter 1989’s Double Dragon. Simply put, this was the exact type of game the 7800 needed. A modern arcade port, and a hot one at that. The 1988 home version on the NES was a massive hit, and 1989 was also the year a (very loose) port of the sequel arrived for the ol’ toaster. Furthermore, the SMS version of Double Dragon was also an extremely popular title, one which some would say was even better than the NES’.

So yes, in a library that initially only consisted of 60+ games, Double Dragon stood (stands) out big time. They came close, but Commando, Rampage, Ikari Warriors and Xenophobe, while more current than most of the 7800’s offerings, and with some late-80s coin-op clout to boot, just didn’t share quite the same name recognition that Double Dragon had. Could any of them touch Double Dragon as far as popularity went? Thanks mainly to the wildly successful NES port, I’d say “no.” Indeed, this release marked the only time that 7800 owners could truly partake in the same then-modern gaming experience as NES owners could. Some of the same games showed up on both systems, but Double Dragon was one of the gaming properties of the late-1980s, in both the arcades and at home. For once, 7800 owners could bask in the same glow as NES (and SMS) owners!

(A cool example of this “phenomenon”: I have a comic book buried in my collection from either 1989 or 1990, I can’t remember which for sure, and when it comes to the advertisements found throughout the issue, not only is this 7800 game pitched, but so is the NES original and sequel! I’m going to guess that didn’t happen very often!)

A cart with perhaps more fisticuffs than any other 7800 game!

Double Dragon was a Technos Japan innovation, with the NES port released by Tradewest (in the U.S.) and the SMS’ by Sega themselves. Activision, they of River Raid and Pitfall! fame, were still riding the Atari bandwagon in the late-1980s, one of the few third parties to continue do so, and it was they that put out our game on both the Atari 7800 and still-breathing 2600. That’s right, there’s an Atari 2600 port of Double Dragon, too! Given the mega-primitive hardware and one-button limitation of the joystick, it’s actually a pretty impressive piece of programming, featuring some terrific graphics and sound given the console it’s on. It’s not the most playable version of Double Dragon ever released, the difficulty is too high and there are too many moves mapped to the single fire button, but it is recognizable as Double Dragon, and that in and of itself is amazing.

The cart you’re seeing here is, obviously, the 7800 version. The 2600 version looks very similar, with the same plain layout except the colors are reversed (white-on-black instead of black-on-white), and naturally with “for the…” altered accordingly. Considering the 7800 library is littered with dull, black & white cartridge artwork, it’s too bad a more-striking label didn’t show up, but beggars can’t be choosers – I mean, at least the 7800 got Double Dragon!

(Remember, this is an article from a North American perspective; label art and the like varied in other countries.)

The iconic Double Dragon title screen, reproduced on the 7800!

Upon powering up the cartridge, you’re presented with the pleasant surprise that the 7800 received the most arcade-faithful port of all three 8-bit consoles. Indeed, at points it almost looks like someone took the arcade game and “7800-ized” it.

Something is evident on the title screen that’s very, very important. Look down at the bottom of the screen and see what it says: 1 or 2 players.

“Yeah, okay, so what North Video guy? Everyone knows Double Dragon is a two-player game!”

Well sure it is…in the arcade and on most of the home editions. There was one home edition, however, that inexplicably made it two-players alternating. Which one was that? The NES! Yes, in what was perhaps the most visible version of the game out there, the biggest feature of the original coin-op, the meaning of the very title itself, was stripped out! The NES port, for all the tampering with the levels and moves it featured (more on both of those in a bit), was magnificently playable. But, there’s no doubt that removing the ability to simultaneously beat down thugs with a buddy absolutely destroyed some of the magic that made the game so popular in the first place.

Well, that simultaneous two-player action is indeed present here on the Atari 7800!

Mission One’s “city slum.” That’s a whip in Billy’s hand, and a bat on the ground. Dig the “Scoop Moto” billboard – just like the arcade!

The arcade-accuracy continues into the game proper. Even the (in)famous intro, in which your girlfriend is slugged in the stomach and carried away is here – a shocking and wildly uncomfortable bit of violence that I can’t believe flew even back then.

That short sequence upon the start of a new game is about all the exposition you’re going to get, because there’s really no in-game plot to speak of. Not that you necessarily need one; saving a damsel-in-distress wasn’t exactly a new innovation in video game plots by the late-1980s, but it provides sufficient motivation for fisticuffs, methinks.

The plot was expanded upon in supplementary materials, sometimes exponentially so; Japanese releases place the setting at some point in the then-near future, after a nuclear war has devastated the population and caused gang warfare to rise. I don’t like this explanation at all; it adds an added layer of science fiction to the proceedings that, in my opinion, the game just doesn’t need. U.S. story lines were more straightforward in their telling, with a much simpler tale of a rampant street gang, the two brothers that oppose them, and the kidnapping of a girlfriend by said street gang. That’s all you need; background is nice, but it’s not something generally required in a game of this nature.

The gist of the plot, in both Japan and the U.S., is this: The Black Warriors (the bad guys) have taken over the city, and are opposed by relatively few, save for the twin brothers of Billy Lee and Jimmy Lee (the good guys), who are quite proficient in the martial arts. In order to lure them on to their turf and take them out once and for all, The Black Warriors kidnap Billy Lee’s girlfriend Marian. This is unacceptable, and so Billy (and his brother Jimmy as the second-player) set out to beat down some thugs and rescue her.

To get to Marian, the titular characters must traverse four environments: the city slum, the industrial area, the woods, and finally, the enemy base.

These level layouts in 7800 Double Dragon are far closer to the arcade than either the SMS or especially the NES. The SMS mostly followed the stages found in the coin-op (and included simultaneous two-player action as well), though it diverged in a few spots. The NES port was all over the place, with levels that typically started out somewhat faithful to the coin-op and then just went nuts. Platform elements, a trip up a construction site, into some caves, and so on and so forth. It was fun, and it actually did work, but it wasn’t exactly arcade-accurate. Though as I said earlier, the additions served to lengthen the game and make it more suitable for an at-home experience, which means it has held up better in the long run (the same thing applies to the versions of Double Dragon II and Double Dragon III on the console, as well).

In the 7800’s case however, what you saw in the arcade was ported directly over to the Atari, and there’s something to be said for faithfulness to the source material. Unfortunately, Double Dragon wasn’t an especially long game as a coin-op, and that carried over here, too.

Mission Two’s “industrial area.” You certainly CAN climb up that fence!

By the way, if you’re totally bored, you may be asking yourself “hey, where’d y’all get these swell in-game screenshots, North Video Guy?” The answer to that is: I took them myself, with an actual 7800 console, cart and CRT TV. Y’see, I don’t emulate, so if these screenshots lack somewhat in the sharpness department, and I know that they do, that’s thanks to the good ol’ RF signal; no, the 7800 I used hasn’t been modded for AV output. Honestly, I actually think this gives a more accurate picture of how the game is meant to be displayed, closer to how kids playing it upon release first saw it. The harsh sharpness of emulation actually makes the game look uglier than it really is.

And while on that subject, let’s talk about the graphics proper. 7800 Double Dragon isn’t a bad looking game as a whole, but it is a mixed bag.

The arcade-faithful backgrounds generally look pretty nice. The first two stages have sort of a drab color-scheme, but the detail is excellent and the layout is just like the coin-op. The third and fourth levels are terrific, with a richly-detailed forest in the third and foreboding enemy fortress (complete with deadly spike pit) in the fourth.  Modern day homebrew games aside, the graphical-detail in the latter stages of Double Dragon are some of the best graphics seen on the 7800.

As for the sprites in the game, well, they’re another story. Simply put, for the most part they look like something the Atari 5200, a full console generation before, could have pulled off. They’re awfully blocky, and with a minimal amount of detail. Except for Abobo (the big, hulking enemy that has become one of the most popular faces of Double Dragon), the characters don’t really look very good. It’s quite a contrast with the backgrounds!

They may not all look great, but did everyone from the arcade original at least make it over to the 7800? Yes and no. Billy and Jimmy are here, using the same, palette-swapped sprite. The same goes for common thugs Williams and Roper, and 2nd level boss Jeff; they all use the same sprite as Billy and Jimmy, just with different colors. Female thug Linda is here too, but shares the same image as the kidnapped Marian. Head bad guy Big Boss Willy obviously gets his own design, as naturally does Abobo. (Technically, there was Abobo and Bolo in the arcade, both nearly identical save for a few differences, but c’mon, it’s always just been Abobo to the layman).

So yeah, everyone’s here technically, but not without some caveats.

As mentioned, the NES version is one-player only, and can display two enemies at a time, albeit with some graphical break-up. The SMS has two-players simultaneously and up to three enemies, but there’s a lot of flicker throughout. With the 7800 however, one of the strengths built into the system from the get-go was the ability to move a lot of sprites at the same time, without flicker or slowdown.

The richly-detailed forest of Mission Three. Note the number of sprites onscreen, without flicker or graphical break-up! Neato!

This ability is readily apparent in Double Dragon. The game can have up to four bad guys onscreen, plus your one or two players. No graphical break-up, no flicker, and no slowdown either, except for some choppy scrolling when moving to a new screen. This version plays a bit more sluggish as a whole, but it’s not a deal breaker, and the relatively slower, more-deliberate pace of the game actually serves it well.

While on the subject of sprites, one thing about the original coin-op that wore real thin, real fast was its tendency to slow down when the screen became crowded. Yep, the more sprites there were at a given moment, the more the action crawled. Honestly, if you’re able to get beyond the relatively-archaic nature of the game (early beat-’em-up and all), that’s really the only downside to what is otherwise still a terrific game.

The slowdown in the original coin-op often made the use of weapons more of a chore than a pleasure, which is a shame, because the ability to grab a new beat-down implement was another one of the revolutionary aspects of the game. You never saw Thomas appropriate one of those knives from a mindless grunt in Kung-Fu Master, after all!

The arcade featured bats, whips, knives, boulders, barrels, boxes and dynamite, all of which your character could pick up and use in his quest for kidnapped-girlfriend-vengeance. (And of course, they could always be taken from you, as well!) Only the bats, whips and knives made it to the 7800 port. In contrast to the later Streets of Rage, in which a knife could be used repeatedly or thrown at once, in Double Dragon it was always a one-throw deal. The bat and whips can be used repeatedly, though unlike the arcade, they eventually disappear when moving from one section of a level to another (common for home console conversions of the period).

Ah, but it was the attacks, the various combos you could pull off, that really sets Double Dragon apart from other side-scrolling fighters. Not set, sets. Later beat-’em-ups simplified the amount of attacks, sometimes with only a jump and punch button, maybe a special move. Double Dragon was considerably more involved, with a style of game play that more-closely resembled actual martial arts street fighting (I assume; so rarely do I get out to street fight). From the three buttons and joystick, you could pull off punches, kicks, jump kicks, reverse jump kicks, headbutts, elbow smashes, over-the-shoulder throws, the ability to repeatedly knee an enemy in the face, and with a buddy, one player could even grapple a baddie while the other slugged him (which worked the other way around, too). Amazingly, with all of these options at your disposal and relatively few buttons, it worked really, really well.

With only two attack buttons generally available, obviously all these moves didn’t always make it to the home versions intact. The NES port fared better than most; even though you had to continuously “level-up” to earn more of them, in some odd form of RPG-ness, you could amass an impressive range of attacks, including the ability to sit on an enemy and punch them relentlessly in the face. This wasn’t found in the coin-op, but rather in Technos’ prior beat-’em-up Renegade, which was Double Dragon‘s spiritual predecessor in more ways than one.

The SMS version retained a good number of the attacks, though for me, only the punches, kicks, jump kicks and headbutts were consistently easy to pull off. (You can elbow smash and knee-in-the-face, but I could only ever trigger those attacks by mistake!)

Mission Three is lengthy and culminates in a mountainside fight at the entrance of the enemy base…against not one but TWO green Abobos!

The 7800 actually fared pretty well in the translation. The knee-in-the-face and over-the-shoulder-throw options were, disappointingly, excised. (So is the grapple technique, though no home version got that, as far as I know.) But, along with the obvious abilities to punch, kick and jump kick, the reverse jump kick, headbutt, and elbow smash all made it in. Some of the button combos to make these moves happen are a little strange (down + punch to headbutt? What was wrong with double-tapping left or right like the arcade, NES and SMS?), but mostly this all works okay.

However, we now come to the biggest problem with the Atari 7800 version of Double Dragon, and it’s something that’s not the game’s fault: the painful stock U.S. 7800 controller. Here in the States, we got the “ProLine Joystick,” and from start to finish, it was pretty much a holdover from the early-1980s era of controller-design. Basically an elongated grip with a joystick at the top and a fire button on each side (think ColecoVision or Atari 5200), it was a controller not suited to long sessions of any game, never mind one that requires constant movement and button-pressing like Double Dragon.

Overseas, Europeans got the “ProLine Joypad,” and it’s a far, far superior controller. Basically Atari’s answer to the NES control pad, it’s a continual mystery why it never replaced the joystick here in the U.S. It’s not perfect, but considering the alternative, it’s definitely preferable, and it makes all the difference in the world when it comes to Double Dragon.

Y’see, this game has gotten a reputation for being overly difficult, and in many eyes, not very good. Hey, I’ve been on that side of the fence a time or two in the past, too. When I first got the 7800 port many years ago, I was by no means a novice at Double Dragon. And yet, I could barely make any headway before exhausting all my lives (you get three to start, an extra at 50,000 points, and no continues). I was probably convinced it was either the hardest or most poorly-programmed port 8-bit console port there was.

Fast forward several years, when I decided to get myself some of the European Joypads. After all, I loved the 7800, so why not, you know, fully enjoy it? 2600, or even Sega Genesis, controllers were fine for single-button games, but some of the best 7800 titles, like Commando or our subject today, require two. And what a revelation! A whole new appreciation for the 7800 port of Double Dragon was gained, all because I could finally properly play it! Go figure!

I think 7800 Double Dragon gets a bad rap as far as difficulty is concerned. Don’t get me wrong, it’s on the challenging side; the enemies can hound you and get some cheap shots in. But, it’s really not any more difficult than any other 8-bit conversion, and in fact is probably easier as a whole than the NES port, where you can save all of your lives only to blaze through them in a hurry on the last level.

The controller, I think, is one of the issues with that difficulty perception. Seriously, get the European Joypads. Do what you gotta do to play Double Dragon comfortably, because it ain’t gonna happen using the regular ProLine Joystick. I can beat the game using it, but it’s not exactly an ergonomic experience.

The controller used isn’t the game’s fault, but another key to enjoying the beat-down frenzy is: the punch. There’s a very simple method to avoiding frustration with this game, and it’s this: just don’t punch. I know that sounds weird, but hear me out. When animating the attacks, the punch is given a “wind up.” It isn’t instant contact. As such, there’s a moment of hesitation, and this leaves you open to hits. In other words, you end up taking taking cheap shots and trading blows back and forth.

Some players like to spam the elbow smash (just like the arcade!) and jump kicks here, but in my experience, you don’t necessarily need to do that. When using a normal, ground-based attack, just stick with regular kicking. There’s no animation between the button press and the result, so it’s ‘instant,’ and as such, you can hammer away at baddies without taking too many unnecessary hits back.

Mission Four, with some of the best graphics in the entire game!

On top of that, the enemy A.I. is painfully stupid. Yes, they can be tough, but once you learn their patterns, you can counter them without too much trouble. Same goes for most beat-’em-ups, I know, but especially here. Much like the NES version, if you get in ‘close’ to an enemy, especially when coming in from underneath, you should be able to knock them down and eventually out while saving most of your life bar. As such, even the Abobos and Big Boss Willy, traditionally the toughest enemies, can be defeated without too much trouble.

So no, 7800 Double Dragon isn’t too hard. If anything, it might be a little too easy. You just gotta learn the tricks!

Lastly, we come to the music of 7800 Double Dragon. One of the most celebrated aspects of the game, in both its original incarnation and in most of the ports, was the soundtrack. Double Dragon featured an absolute classic score, one that not only fit the scenes you were traversing but also absolutely got you in the mood to beat down some street punks. On the 7800, we got…some of that.

Y’see, the system was originally intended to include a POKEY sound chip, which would have given it the sound quality of the Atari 8-bit computers and 5200, which was pretty good. When it was eventually released however, the POKEY was omitted as a cost-saving measure. The chip could be added to individual carts, though sadly, this was only utilized twice, for Commando and Ballblazer. Both have terrific music, but aside from those exceptions, the 7800 generally features sound identical to what the 2600 could pull off.

Now, it’s beyond old news to rag on the 7800’s sound quality. Compared to the NES and SMS, it sounds particularly bad, we know. It is what it is. It’s funny, I don’t even mind the sound of the 2600, but when it’s paired with the superior visuals of the 7800, well, it just kinda throws you for a loop.

That said, Double Dragon really should have utilized a POKEY sound chip. The soundtrack was so phenomenal that it absolutely, without a doubt deserved the honor. But, it didn’t. As such, we’re left with an incomplete, slightly-shrill score. Two of the mission tunes were omitted completely, meaning there’s some repetition involved. What is included is the famous title-screen track, Mission One’s theme, Mission Three’s theme (in the arcade, anyway), and the boss encounter music, plus the level-ending jingle. You’ll hear the first and third level themes repeated throughout, and not always where they should be.

Incomplete though it may be, at the very least, the music is recognizably Double Dragon.


Does this image practically scream “late-1980s” to you, or is it just me?

So when it comes right down to it, how does the Atari 7800 port of Double Dragon hold up? Better than it doesn’t. The music is a disappointment, and if you’re in the U.S., odds are you’ll have to contend with finding a better controller. Get over those obstacles however, and you’re treated with what I feel is one of the best games in the 7800’s library.

True, it lacks the length and extra features of the famous Nintendo Entertainment Version, but it makes up for that with the arcade-accuracy and simultaneous two-player action. And, while the graphics and sound are markedly inferior, I actually prefer this port over that of the Sega Master System, based solely on the gameplay. The SMS version, don’t get me wrong, I like it, but the control has always seemed too loose for my tastes; you’re basically out there swinging fists wildly – there’s no finesse, in my opinion. The 7800 version runs a bit slower, but you can really get into a groove while playing thanks to that.

Perhaps more importantly than how it stacks up against the rival 8-bit ports is what this Double Dragon represents. Think of it; you’re a kid in the late-1980s, you have an Atari 7800, while most everyone else has an NES. Maybe a few of your friends even have an SMS. Now sure, there’s plenty of great classic arcade ports at your disposal, and the 2600 library, but that stuff isn’t what’s burning up the video game world at the moment. Games have evolved, become more complex, bigger worlds, better graphics.

All of sudden, here comes Double Dragon, the arcade smash, the game that’s tearing up both the NES and SMS. And now it’s available for the 7800! The series would continue to expand via sequels, spin-offs, and so on and so forth, but for this one occasion, 7800 owners could boast the same game as NES and SMS owners could. Not that Double Dragon was the only shared title across the three; Rampage hit all of them as well. But, Double Dragon was a trendsetting name brand that, as I’ve said, was incredibly recognizable in the late-1980s and early-1990s. It showing up on the 7800 seems special to me in a way that, frankly, Rampage doesn’t. That’s just my perception, though.

Furthermore, the beat-’em-up was a genre sorely lacking on the 7800. Kung-Fu Master was fun, but simplistic and old hat by the time it came out on the system in ’89. Ninja Golf and Basketbrawl were quirky Atari originals that combined sports with fighting. And Karateka? We don’t talk about Karateka. None of them could attain quite the same level that Double Dragon achieved – and achieves.

Double Dragon was something special in the Atari 7800 library, and even if it wasn’t a perfect game, that’s still to be celebrated. Even today!

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WAOH TV-29/WAX TV-35′s Annual Christmas Eve Broadcasts of Scrooge & Beyond Tomorrow (1999)

Remember my article detailing WAOH/WAX‘s annual Halloween broadcast of the original Night Of The Living Dead? Well, “The Cat” didn’t just go the extra mile for Halloween. Nope, they loved them some Christmas, too. Relatively speaking, they went all out. For years, every Christmas Eve they would play the 1935 version of Scrooge and 1940’s Beyond Tomorrow. And to make it all feel that much more special, both movies were commercial-free. Considering The Cat just loved to play cheapo mail-order CD ads over and over throughout the day, them running not one but TWO movies commercial-free was a pretty big deal.

Much to my chagrin, I don’t have an actual promo for this Christmas Eve event; if I did, that’s what you’d be reading about right now. I’m pretty sure they ran them, though, and truth be told, I have so many recordings from The Cat that I may actually have one somewhere after all, but for the time being, no promos. I do, however, have the intros to Scrooge and Beyond Tomorrow. I recorded Scrooge in it’s entirety, but only the start of Beyond Tomorrow is on my tape. That being as it is, this post will be pretty Scrooge-centric. I sincerely hope that’s the only time I ever have to write something that stupid again.

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As the screencap above attests, the entire commercial-free evening was sponsored by Whole Shop Inc., who are still around, and I’ve even been to their place of business before. Indeed, most of the intro is taken up by a pitch for Whole Shop, but since they were gracious enough to sponsor the whole thing, you could and should be courteous enough to listen up. Well, in this case, visit their website.

Scrooge and Beyond Tomorrow are both incredibly, unbelievably, undoubtedly public domain, and thus probably quite easy for The Cat to obtain (this event was done by the station itself, rather than being syndicated content from America One, which The Cat relied on much of the time otherwise). Indeed, their PD-status has allowed them to be released over and over and over again on any number of budget VHS or DVD releases. I could go out and buy a ‘legit’ copy of either righnah aswespeak if I so desired, but I’m more than satisfied with my Cat broadcast of Scrooge, and nothing you say can change that.

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Following the Whole Shop Inc. pitch is the most hype we’re gonna get for Scrooge during this intro: “Now, gather up your family and enjoy our special, commercial-free presentation of Scrooge! Here on The Cat, channels 35 and 29!” Somehow, I have a hard time seeing anyone gathering up the kids and sitting down together on the couch to watch a scratchy, black & white British creaker from 1935 on a low-power independent station that probably isn’t even picked up in large parts of the area, but hey, it’s a nice sentiment.

In all fairness though, I do have fond memories tied to this/these Christmas Eve broadcasts. Scrooge itself, sure, but more because of the atmosphere it was part of rather than the actual movie. Back then, Mom would turn off all the lamps, and the living room would be illuminated only by the lights on the Christmas tree, and Scrooge played hazily in the background while any final preparations for the following big day were made. I was long past the “Santa is COMING I’llneverfallasleep!” age, but there was of course still anticipation for Christmas, while conversely the atmosphere was also relaxed. I don’t know, maybe it’s impossible to put into words my feelings of nostalgia for the time period, but nevertheless it’s a time period I do indeed hold fond memories for. And Seymour Hicks was a part of it all.

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It’s quite possibly the most trashed print of Scrooge ever! The whole film doesn’t look at bad as the opening moments do, but no one would have ever mistook this for archival quality material.

This recording was of the “third time’s the charm variety” for me. I first saw this Christmas Eve broadcast during the 1997 season; I wasn’t taping it that particular time, and in the days before DVRs, if you weren’t taping then and there, baby, you was outta luck. The next year, I did record it, or at least tried to. We were using a remote that handled both the TV and VCR, and I think my Dad hit something while trying to turn the channel, because the recording cut-out-and-then-back-in shortly after starting. I wasn’t real pleased about that. Luckily, 1999 went off without a hitch, and this whole stupid post is brought to you courtesy of that recording (fittingly, the tape this is on also features The Ghoul’s 1999 broadcast of, say it with me, Scrooge! The very same 1935 version, albeit a print in slightly better shape).

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This version of Scrooge is also host to the world’s biggest lint-in-the-projector moment. Lookit that fella makin’ his way up the right side of the frame like a champ! I really have no idea why I’m wasting space on this insignificant aspect of the broadcast. I think this is what they in the industry call “filler.”

Beyond Tomorrow immediately followed the conclusion of Scrooge:

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The intro was almost identical to Scrooge‘s, albeit with the obvious footage difference. “Now, gather up your family and enjoy our special, commercial-free presentation of Beyond Tomorrow! Here on The Cat, channels 35 and 29!” I have a feeling even more people ignored the family invitation for Beyond Tomorrow than they did Scrooge. I mean, I guess in theory I could see parents wanting their kids to see an old classic version of A Christmas Carol, but I’m guessing a significantly fewer number would have cared about Beyond Tomorrow. I mean, people know of it, but it’s not exactly up there with It’s A Wonderful life in popularity.

As for me, I’m casually familiar with the film, but I’ve just never had much interest in watching it. Maybe that’s unfair to the movie, I know, but I’m not going to lie to you; I just don’t really care about Beyond Tomorrow, which is why I never bothered to record the whole thing like I did Scrooge (also, I think I have at least the opening credits still on tape, but that would require back-breakin’ tape-diggin’ in order to unearth, and considering only three people are going to care about this post anyway, I’m going to risk the ire of those three and skip the Beyond Tomorrow screencaps. I know, I know, bah humbug).

WAOH/WAX ran these Christmas Eve broadcasts for years, though I don’t know when then began or ended. Maybe they ended with the affiliate-switch to RTV in 2009. Nevertheless, in their own small way, these airings became a kind of part of my yearly Christmas holiday. Not that I ever sat there hardly daring to blink in anticipation for them, but they were indeed a comforting little something ‘extra’ each holiday season. Maybe that’s all they were intended to be, and if they weren’t, maybe that was enough anyway.

Have a great Christmas Eve and a wonderful tomorrow (I’ve got a Christmas Day surprise lined up for y’all, as well.)

UAV’s Santa Claus Conquers The Martians 1987 VHS Release

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Tis the season? For one of the worst movies ever made it certainly is. If I’m gonna get a post out of this one, baby, the time is now. It’s 1964’s Santa Claus Conquers The Martians, a movie that not only lives up to the promise of awfulness delivered in the title, but actually surpasses it. It’s widely considered one of the worst movies ever made, and make no mistake, that ranking is justified. It’s not so much an ‘offensive’ bad though; don’t get me wrong, it’s probably capable of killing a few brain cells, but you probably won’t feel like taking a shower afterwards, like you would if this were Manos: The Hands Of Fate or something.

Back in the good old days of late-1990’s Ebay, before films like this were reissued on DVD, I remember this (and other) copies of the movie going for some good dollars. Maybe not mighty dollars, but definitely mightier dollars. It was the same deal with any number of old then-long-out-of-print videos, such as Giorgio Moroder’s Metropolis, and the VHS release of the M*A*S*H series finale (and Heaven help you if you wanted a Laserdisc copy of any of those, because then you would need to spend the mighty dollars). Nowadays, you’d be lucky to get even a few bucks for VHS copies of those, but back then, you’d have to pry open the wallet a bit. I know I certainly did, particularly in the case of Moroder’s Metropolis.

When I found this particular copy at Goodwill for the low, low bargain price of $1, those days were long gone, but I still received a residual thrill when I came across it. And what makes it even better is that this copy is sealed, all new and minty fresh-like. This post won’t be the last time you see me talk about Santa Claus Conquers The Martians this holiday season (and I know just saying that now obligates me to a future post that at this point is still only a half-formed idea, but sometimes I need that extra incentive), so I don’t really want to open & play it to take screencaps; how many new sealed copies can still be out there nowadays? Plus, it’s out on DVD (I have a budget copy with the title Santa Claus Defeats The Aliens), and it’s public domain, so you can even download it without fear of the authorities kicking down your door and beating the hell out of you, which is always preferable. My point is, the actual movie is readily available if you want to see it, so lets just look at the finer points of this stupid tape.

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Ignoring the gaudy cover photo, which, if the title somehow didn’t tip you off, points definitively to the fact that this is an awful, awful movie, my favorite part of the cover is actually the Christmas banner at the top. As if this is a heartwarming tape you’d want to bust out every Christmas Eve and watch with the kids or something. Theoretically meant to be a treasured part of your Christmas library, suitable for placement next to Rudolph and Chuck Brown, if you will. There’s also the declaration of “Christmas Videos,” which is just awkward as all hell; is that the best they could come up with? I get it was probably a budget line of seasonal tapes or something, but geez, say “Treasury Of Christmas Classics,” or “Holiday Film Favorites,” or even a quirky “Santa’s Top Flix Pix” (I should be getting a million dollars a week for these ideas). As it stands, the horribly generic “Christmas Videos” works more as a lame descriptive device than it does as a vehicle to get you to add this tape to yer videa library (didn’t stop me from buying it, obviously).

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Of course, ragging on the front cover is really just me being a nitpicky bastard. The back of the box, though, they make it too easy. The description reeks of half-assery. “A bunch of aliens,” huh? That’s the best they could kick things off with? My high school English teacher would have punched me in the face if I turned in a paper that included a line like that. I guess you shouldn’t expect much out of a description that is five sentences long and wastes one of them on Pia Zadora. I get that her name is almost always a big selling-point for releases of this film, and it’s not so much the inclusion of it that bothers me. Rather, it’s the whole “precocious” remark that I find particularly irritating. Never mind that her character isn’t really any more precocious than any of the other kids in the movie (maybe even less so, when compared to the Earth kids), it’s just an odd comment in general. “Oh, Pia Zadora is precocious in this? Well, I had my doubts, but now I’ve gotta buy it!” Seriously, why even bother including that? On the plus side, the first part of the description sums up the film aptly, which is good, because it saves me time trying to explain this crap.

But, maybe I’m being a little harsh on a thousand year old budget tape. It was meant for the lil’ baby childrens, after all. And when you’ve got a movie titled Santa Claus Conquers The Martians, you have to do what you can to make the sale. Maybe it was easier back then, before the innernets, when all you had was Leonard Maltin and his cronies to tell you about ancient movies such as this. Something tells me most parents weren’t consulting Mr. Maltin’s annual movie guide prior to heading to K-Mart where tapes such as this were inevitably found.

“A must for your Christmas video library.” Ha! Told you that’s what they were going for! The best thing about that whole “Christmas Library” ideal actually isn’t even part of this particular video. Rather, there were other VHS releases of Santa Claus Kicks Martian Ass Conquers The Martians that really took the theme to new heights. I don’t have ’em, and thus can’t post photos (I refuse to nab another person’s pics), but some of them went all-out. Ribbons & bows, Santa on his sleigh, and so on. I feel a little cheated on that front, but screw it, mine’s sealed.

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I did done told you it was sealed! Would I lie to you? Never! The fear remains that this could have been opened and re-shrinkwrapped at some point in the past, a revelation that would cause me to lose sleep for several weeks days. But, I doubt it. The box is in too nice of shape.

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That be it, Santa Claus Conquers The Martians, via UAV’s 1987 VHS release. For all of my joking, the film has become a perennial holiday favorite. Not for the reasons the producers probably would have intended, mind you. This isn’t It’s A Wonderful Life Part II. Rather, it has instead become the choice of bad movie lovers the world over, having gained a cult following that’s really quite impressive, especially for a film that isn’t the original Night Of The Living Dead. Mystery Science Theater 3000 once tackled it, and for years it was the movie featured in Son of Ghoul’s annual Christmas show. Only the 1959 Mexican Santa Claus holds a similar dubious honor, conversely The Ghoul’s annual Christmas movie choice (and MST3K riffed that one, too). Of the two, I prefer …Martians, if for no other reason than I find it less freakish, but suitably oddball nevertheless. Plus, the persistent rumor that Jamie Farr is in it makes the film all the more endearing to me (no, Klinger’s not really in Santa Claus Conquers The Martians, but I sure wish he was; such is my love of M*A*S*H).

Ghoulardifest 2013!

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There are plenty of reasons to love this time of year, but one of the big ones, for me, is the annual Big Chuck & Lil’ John Ghoulardifest convention. Ghoulardifest, for those “not in the know,” is the yearly convention celebrating all things Ghoulardi, the legendary Cleveland horror movie host. This year held special meaning, as it commemorated the 50th anniversary of Ernie Anderson’s debut as Ghoulardi, on WJW TV-8 waaaaay back in 1963. Due to a shortage of money (and I tend to spend a lot at these things), initially I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to make it this year. But, there’s only one 50th anniversary! I had to go! Luckily, my brother came through with the needed dinero, and so, earlier today, Sunday, November 3rd, we made our yearly trip to Ghoulardifest.

(A huge, huge thanks to my good friend Scott “Scottsbury” Shepard, proprietor of Time Traveler Records, which I talked about here: https://neovideohunter.wordpress.com/2013/08/05/a-trip-to-time-traveler-records/ . Scott scored us a pair of complimentary tickets to the ‘Fest from fellow local legend Jim Chenot, which definitely helped make our limited funds go further. It’s for reasons like this that Scott and Jim are, as we in the hepcat profession say, “the dude.” Well, “the dudes,” in this case.)

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For the past several years, the convention has been held at the UAW Local 1005 Hall, a venue and transit I had become accustomed to. So, when it was announced earlier this year that the convention was moving to the La Villa Conference & Banquet Center, I was a bit concerned. Was this going to be farther away? Would the trip become longer and more difficult?! I’m not always adverse to change, but when it comes to the important things (like Ghoulardifest), I can become a bit apprehensive. In this case, however, whatever concerns I may have had were unfounded; since my Brother always does the driving to these sorts of things, I didn’t realize that the trip was nearly the same. La Villa is right by the UAW. Even the Big Boy Restaurant that we usually visit after leaving Ghoulardifest was close-by (we didn’t stop there this year, however; mah Bro was tired, we had eaten beforehand, and besides, we spent quite a bit of money at the ‘Fest. Sorry Big Boy, not this year).

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The La Villa was/is beautiful. Definitely plush, and it’s design actually reminded me of a Frightvision I went to years ago (early-2000’s). That’s my Brother in the pic above, walking ahead of me, as he tends to do. You could be forgiven for perhaps mistaking him for a young Bruce Springsteen upon first glance (it’s the hair, y’see).

One thing I’ll admit I regret missing out on was held yesterday (November 2nd, for those keeping score at home): Tim Conway, Ernie Anderson’s comedy partner and longtime supporter of all this, made an appearance. I would have liked to have met him, or at least seen him, but it having been a Saturday and Tim Conway only appearing that one time only, you have to figure the place was jammed. Now, I am not a fan of big crowds, and that coupled with the fact that there was a family engagement that left my Brother unable to attend yesterday meant that it was just going to be easier all-around to go today. So, sorry Mr. Conway, but it couldn’t have been helped. (Sunday is when we usually go anyway, and despite my uncomfortable-ness around/in crowds, it’s still always pretty busy that day, and this year was no exception.)

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As you may imagine, meeting the local celebrities is one of the big draws of the ‘Fest. So, it stands to reason that Big Chuck & Lil’ John were out in full force, layin’ down the law and takin’ names. Right before (or right after, I can’t remember) this super-exclusive candid photo was taken, Lil’ John was staring at me while I, like a dope, stood there with my big ol’ camera out. I became nervous at the fact that I may have been irritating one of my heroes, so in this moment of potential crisis, what did I do? Point at him and do an Arsenio-style “roo roo” gesture. Yes, really. If I had been irritating him, this was certainly not going to help matters, but luckily, nothing more came of it, besides me making a clown of myself in public (something I admittedly can be exceptionally good at). Lil’ John, if I bothered you, I’m sorry man! Please don’t hate me! Also, we *may* have accidentally cut in line when meeting Chuck & John (oops!), but there was a lull at their table, no one seemed to be making any immediate headway towards them, so what were we supposed to do? At any rate, they were kind enough to sign my American Scary book and take a picture with me (both of which I’ll spotlight in a little bit), so, all is well; I won’t suffer a sleepless night tonight (not due to this, at least).

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I really wanted to meet Bob “Hoolihan” Wells, maybe get his autograph and/or a picture taken with him. But, for a record third year in a row, I missed out! When these super-exclusive candid photos were taken, he was on his way up to the stage for a presentation (as were the rest of the celebrities in attendance). For the record, in the right shot, he was leaning down to take a bite of food before heading to the stage. Your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter captures all of life’s special little moments, doesn’t he?

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While the celebrities and special presentations are a big part of Ghoulardifest, of course there are always a ton of vendors selling cool stuff, and this year didn’t disappoint in that regard. Man, I could, can, and often do drop some serious dough at these things, but I had to temper the urge to buy everything even remotely interesting in sight a bit this year. I still walked out with a bagful of really cool stuff, but man, I had to pass up some pretty amazing things. Nothing I’ll lose sleep over tonight, but trust me, if you’ve never been to a Ghoulardifest, you’re missing out on a lot of neat items.

Notice in the right pic above Son of Ghoul selling some of his fine wares. SOG always has a lot of awesome stuff, and I bought a ridiculously cool Superhost DVD from him. He even had a vintage Frankenstein Laserdisc for sale, something that made my heart swell with joy.

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The place really was (and always is) a feast for the eyes. Often, at least for us, it takes several walk-throughs to fully appreciate everything being sold. No joke, even after going around the room a few times, we were still finding neat things to buy. Near the end of our visit, my Brother got a very cool print of a vintage Beatles photo (from the original photographer) in which they’re in the back of a car, Paul is waving, and Ringo has what definitely appears to be a joint.

With his back to the camera, that’s Jungle Bob, busy being awesome, in the left pic above.

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A few more vendor photos. In the right pic is a shot of our newest horror host’s table. Well, hostess’ table: The Daughter Of Ghoul! I wasn’t able to meet her, but I can’t tell you how awesome it is to know that we’ve got another person out there keeping the tradition alive! Unfortunately, I don’t think I get any of the channels that carry her show at the moment, but hopefully I will at some point in the future.

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Someone was even selling the new action figures based on the 1966-1968 Batman series! I’m not that big of a toy collector, but this line is one that has definitely had me excited. Seriously, these things should be put on the list of mankind’s greatest achievements. I already have the Batman & Robin two-pack (the only way to get Robin at this time; exclusivity, yo!), and no joke, it’s a work of art on par with Michelangelo’s David, the Mona Lisa, or that portrait of dogs playing strip poker. While I didn’t buy any of these figs at Ghoulardifest, just seeing the Surf’s Up Batman figure in person was enough to cause me to fall to my knees and weep pure, unadulterated tears of joy, which resulted in the curious stares of passerby, not unlike Lil’ John earlier.

(Did I really fall to my knees and weep at the sight of the figure? Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t. You’ll just never know for sure, will you?)

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Here’s two shots of that stage presentation that kept me from meeting Hoolihan I was talking about. This was at the very tail-end of our visit, and I’m not quite clear on what the purpose of everyone going up on stage was for, but it made for a few very cool pictures.

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There’s a shot of everyone on stage for the presentation that I should’ve stayed to watch but didn’t.

The more I think about it, the more I think I should have bought that Surf’s Up Batman figure. Missed opportunities, people, missed opportunities.

What’s that? Pics with celebrities? Oh, your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter has pics with celebrities!

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There I am with Jim Syzmanski. I know I may end up being redundant saying this, but all of our local guys are always so nice when you talk to them, and Jim was no exception. Years ago, when I first started watching Big Chuck & Lil’ John, I always liked Jim in their skits, and I talked to him a bit last year, but I’m very glad to have gotten a photo with him this year.

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Me with Big Chuck & Lil’ John! I’ve had photos taken with them before, but you have no idea how much I love this shot with their classic King Kong backdrop. Always two of the nicest guys you could hope to meet. I’m dangerously close to making this picture the background on my cellphone.

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Hangin’ with my hero, Son Of Ghoul! SOG is always great to talk to, and after our trend-setting, groundbreaking interview ( https://neovideohunter.wordpress.com/2013/08/12/an-interview-with-son-of-ghoul/ ), as well as all the crap I’ve sent him over the years, he kinda knows me now! Even if the rest of the day was a bust, this moment alone would have made it all worthwhile. SOG’s just about the coolest guy ever, and you’d be well-advised to give him due props. Don’t make me throw down over this.

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Jungle Bob! I’ve been a Jungle Bob fan for years, and it’s always great talking with him. I first met him waaay back in 2000, and he’s always been just great with his fans. He even had a lizard of some sort with him today!

(Jungle Bob’s official site: http://www.junglebob.tv/ )

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Bill Ward, the former voice of WJW TV-8! If you’ve lived in Northeast Ohio for any decent period of time, in all likelihood you’ve heard Bill Ward’s voice. Not only that, but he’s also done a ton of great skits with Big Chuck & Lil’ John. Mr. Ward was mindblowingly friendly. Seriously, he couldn’t have been a nicer guy. And, he even took an interest in this blog! That’s right, your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter talked to Bill Ward about, erm, The Northeast Ohio Video Hunter! Even gave him the address! The very idea of Bill Ward reading my silly little blog is just amazing to me!

But, that’s not all! As previously mentioned, I came home with some cool items! So, what was my booty, my loot, my acquisitions, you ask? I won’t go over everything I picked up, but here’s some of it:

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A beer-scented candle in an official Ghoulardi mug! This thing smells very accurately and very strongly of beer. I’m concerned that passerby may walk past my house, smell the candle from the sidewalk, and assume I’m a microbrewer or something. I really wanted this more as a display piece (I’m not really a candle-lightin’ kinda guy), but I’m serious, the scent is really strong. I’m probably going to have to wrap this in a bag and put it somewhere away from things I don’t want to smell like brew, lest someone presume I partake in large amounts of alcoholic alcohol throughout the day (aside from one or two beers now and then, I don’t drink much at all, really).

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Legendary Northeast Ohio weatherman Dick Goddard was there, and he signed this old promotional picture I bought about 2 years ago. I’m confident this will one day be worth the mighty dollars, but I ain’t ever sellin’ it, no way!

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The official comic book adaption of Batman Forever, a movie only slightly less terrible than Batman & Robin! It doesn’t really take the sting out of passing up Surf’s Up Batman, but I’m a Batfan and the comic was only $1 so screw it.

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Told ya I got my American Scary book signed! Uber-collectors of autographs may balk at the fact these signatures are personalized to me, but baby, this book is mines, and I want to let the world know it! I got Big Chuck & Lil’ John’s, Son Of Ghoul’s, and Jungle Bob’s signatures (Jungle Bob isn’t a horror host, but he does appear in the book, so it counts). I would have liked to add Hoolihan to it, but maybe next year. I actually almost brought this book last year to have signed, but I didn’t feel like lugging it around. While I’m glad I brought it today, I’ll admit it was a pain finagling between the book, my camera, and the increasingly full bags of purchased items. By the end, I have a feeling my Brother was pretty tired of hearing “hey, hold the book for a sec” from me.

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I also got an official Big Chuck & Lil’ John hand stamp! Proof that I had a ticket and wasn’t trying to pull no funny business! Please ignore my somewhat chapped hand. I love this stamp, but it’s a bittersweet love, because I know that in the very near future, it will soon disappear. There are two possible solutions to this, however: 1) I can have it tattooed on, thus ensuring that my lil’ baby grandchilds will know I was once at a Ghoulardifest, or 2) I can just not wash this hand anymore, which may be a more sensible, or at least cheaper, option (he said having already washed his hands several times since coming home from Ghoulardifest earlier today). Well, nothing is forever, and I guess that includes my hand stamp. *sigh*

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I also have my complimentary Ghoulardifest 50th anniversary ticket stub, a memento not only of today’s events, but also of the extreme kindness of Scott Shepard and Jim Chenot. I really appreciate it, compadres!

And so, that’s it for another year of Ghoulardifest. Despite my having left only a few hours ago, I already can’t wait for next year. I always have a blast, and it’s great to be around people that generally like the same stuff as I do. You don’t always get that from your common everyday person on the street, but at Ghoulardifest, I could shout “I loves ya, ‘lardi!” at the top of my lungs and few, if any, would bat an eye. Probably.

If you haven’t been to a Ghoulardifest convention, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Even if you just go in to see the sights and sounds, I tink you’ll be satisfied. Of course, if you’re an out-of-towner, making the trek may prove a bit more difficult, but don’t fret! There’s an official website, where you can get much of the goodstuff sold at the convention! Check that out here: http://theghoulardifest.com/ . But, I’m confident in stating that there’s enough to see and do each year that, if at all possible, it would be worth taking the trip and seeing it all in person.

Until next year…

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(That pic was actually taken as we were first arriving at the convention, but the sentiment it conveys is the same. Right? RIGHT?!)

I think I should have bought that Surf’s Up Batman figure.

Batclips DVD Review

The $1 DVDs you sometimes find in the checkout aisle of grocery stores or in forlorn sections of major retail joints are often hit-and-miss. After all, there’s only so many public domain movies, TV shows and cartoons that can be released over and over again. Often, the companies presenting the umpteenth release of a given film to the public have to rely on creative cover art to trick unsuspecting passerby into thinking a particular DVD they’ve got collecting dust on the shelf is in actuality the feel-good, must-have hit of the holiday season. My favorite examples? Releases of John Wayne’s public domain 1930’s B-movies that feature cover art made to look like it’s for ‘real’ John Wayne movies. Why, certain people could very well be tricked into thinking Randy Rides Alone is of the same cinematic quality as The Searchers!

That’s not to say I don’t love the $1 DVD section at stores, though. In all honesty, I will happily rummage through the budget titles before I even think about glancing towards the ‘real’ big-time DVD releases. I know what I’ll find there, but the $1 section can be like a neverending grab-bag of surprises. You can find some truly awesome titles if you’re willing to dig past a lot of junk discs. An example of budget DVD greatness? Batclips.

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This one seemingly came out of nowhere when it showed up in $1 racks a few years ago, but don’t let the cheap price fool you. This is an awesome DVD and absolutely worth the dollar (it’s hard to beat a buck anyway, but given some of the material presented, I can easily see them charging a bit more and not being called out on it). The cartoonish artwork and rather odd tagline on the front cover may lead some to think this is a cut-rate documentary on the origins of the Batman character, but it’s actually about 30 minutes worth of material pertaining to the 1966-1968 Batman TV series starring Adam West (as well as the 1966 film based on said series and starring said badass). Let me clarify that this is often listed as Bat Clips, with a space between the two words, but the spine and description on my copy both call it Batclips, no space, so that’s what I’m calling it, too (I only mention this because while doing my research on this DVD, the spacing issue did indeed mess with my search results).

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Due to legal problems, the actual 1966-1968 TV series has, thus far, not been officially released in any format (though the 1966 movie has). But believe it or not, for those craving some 60’s Batman, this DVD actually holds some genuinely interesting tidbits. According to the back of the packaging, this was put out by Treasure Box Collection, which is one of those companies that has released a ton of movies, TV shows, etc. out as dollar DVDs. Or were they one of those companies? I heard they went out of business, and the single website link I found was dead, so…? Come to think of it, I haven’t seen any DVDs put out by them lately. Is it just my area, or have they closed up shop?

Either way, their products usually (always?) featured the “Platinum Collection” band across the top of the artwork, ostensibly meant to give the package a more “collectible” aura. And I’ll tell you right now that unless “Digitally Remastered” is just a fancy term for “transferred to a digital format,” well, lets just say this isn’t exactly Criterion Collection quality here. In fact, it appears the entire contents of the disc come transferred straight from a VHS source, complete with the video imperfections that are inherent to the format. That said, everything here is entirely watchable, and “Digitally Remastered” is a term thrown around so often regarding budget DVDs that it really doesn’t mean anything anymore. Just don’t go in thinking this to be comparable to something Kino had a hand in, okay? As you’ll see in a bit, the picture could be sharper, sure, but why nitpick the picture quality of a $1 DVD? There’s some really terrific, really unexpected stuff here, and damn dude, it was a dollar.

Also, my copy is in a regular plastic snap DVD keep case, but apparently Batclips was later reissued in a thin cardboard sleeve, albeit with the same artwork (that version apparently has a running time of “Approximately 60 Minutes” listed, though no mention of a running time is anywhere on my copy, and besides, the DVD is only about half that length). I haven’t seen that “edition” in person, however, and indeed, I haven’t seen Batclips available locally since, well, since around the time this copy was in stores. Does that mean the sealed Batclips I have stored away will one day be worth $1000?! Or MORE?!?!

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“An inside look at a superhero phenomenon?” is, to me, a bit of an odd tagline. At first, I thought the question mark at the end was a typo (typos being fairly common with $1 DVDs), but considering it’s found on the front and back of the case and on the disc face itself, it seems they were trying to give the impression this DVD would dig down and deep into what makes Batguy tick. Alternately, it also makes it sound like the DVD is going to be some kind of dirty laundry tell-all documentary, though of course it’s not.

The description on the back cover actually isn’t too far off. Aside from the mention of “posters” (which I don’t understand since there’s no picture gallery or anything on the disc, unless they’re talking about the covert art, which is found on the case, disc, and menu screen) and the phrase “…more Batmania than has ever been assembled in on [sic] DVD before” which I’m guessing is a bit of an exaggeration (unless we’re talking budget DVDs only, in which case they’re probably right), the description is really pretty accurate. Honestly, I was expecting much of it to be BS, but the DVD does indeed live up to the promises made on the back, more or less.

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There’s the front and back of the DVD itself. Thankfully, it’s a factory pressed silver disc, as opposed to a DVD-R or something, thus ensuring years of Batclips lovin’.

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The real jewel of Batclips is found right at the beginning of the DVD: the 7 minute, unaired Batgirl promo used to sell ABC on a third season of Batman. Not only is this completely unexpected, but it’s also a step closer to the actual episodes of the series that have so far been barred from official release. The pilot is set up like a mini-episode of the series, complete with narration and “Pow!” exclamations during fight scenes. The story goes that the ratings for Batman had fallen so much during the second season that ABC was questioning whether they wanted to bring it back for a third. So, the producers made this short pilot introducing Yvonne Craig as Batgirl. ABC was impressed enough with the pilot to give season three a go, and Batgirl became a regular castmember and fellow crimefighter to Batman and Robin.

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For a seven minute “episode” that was never intended to be seen outside of wherever this was shown to ABC execs in 1967, it’s pretty entertaining. Then again, 60’s Batman can do little wrong in my eyes. The gist of the pilot is that bad guy The Killer Moth and his henchmen are hanging out at the library, where Commissioner Gordon’s daughter Barbara (BATGIRL) works. Batman and Robin show up to kick some Moth ass, and quickly wind up in a predicament. Batgirl lends a hand. One funny scene, during a brawl with The Killer Moth’s henchmen, has Batman chatting with Batgirl, occasionally turning to punch out a bad guy, and then casually turning back to the conversation.

This pilot is the sort of thing you wouldn’t be surprised finding at a fan convention or something, but it showing up on a commercial DVD is definitely eyebrow raising. Where did it come from? How did Treasure Box Collection get it? How were they allowed to release it? Has Batgirl lapsed into the public domain, or is it a grey area legally? Batclips wasn’t exactly sold under the counter, and while it’s not really seen on shelves nowadays (not around here, at least), it was pretty widely available at the time (dollar DVDs tend to get around, y’know?). The only copyright found on the package is one credited to “Dan Dalton Productions.” So, I take it Mr. Dalton is one of the chosen few in the position to release this stuff? I mean, God bless him for making this DVD happen either way, but I’d hate for anyone to get into any trouble. Maybe that’s why Batclips is seemingly so scarce on DVD nowadays, or worse yet, why Treasure Box Collection appears to be incommunicado? Did Warner Bros. or DC Comics or whoever the hell owns all this stuff put their foot down?!?! Tune in next week, same Bat time, same…oh, never mind.

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From there the DVD swings into a 1972 public service announcement by the U.S. Department Of Labor Wage & Hour Division. The subject? Batgirl hasn’t been getting equal pay because she’s a girl, and thus isn’t sure if she wants to save Batman and Robin from being all blowed up. The PSA features Batman series stars Burt Ward as Robin and Yvonne Craig as Batgirl, as well as NOT Adam West as Batman (Bats is instead portrayed by Dick Gautier, though he adequately looks and sounds enough like West to keep the mega-fans at bay). Batgirl claims she’s been working for Batman “a long time,” but is paid less than Robin for the same job. I never really thought Batgirl worked for Batman, but was rather a separate but kindred crimefighter, right? Then again, they needed something to set the PSA in motion, in which case I’m all for some inaccuracies if it means getting Bats into it. Batman’s response when Batgirl states men and women are to be paid equally for the same job by the same employer? “No time for jokes, Batgirl!” Damn!

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Next, we’re presented with not one but several trailers for the 1966 Batman feature film. One of them is even partially in Spanish. They vary in length, and while they’re certainly neat to see, the “samey” nature of them quickly wears a bit thin. Featuring Adam West and Burt Ward in their respective characters announcing the upcoming film and the benefits to humanity it features, the stable of villains in it, as well as the required action shots, it’s all very cool, but some would say a little would have went a long way here. I guess Treasure Box Collection or whoever initially put this thing together was determined to use everything they had?

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There had been some movie serials in the 1940’s, but 1966’s Batman was the first full-length, color Batman film. It retained a lot of the campy fun of the series, albeit with a higher budget, allowing for some additonal Batgadgets and whatnot (which were then used in the series). An all-star assembly of villains (The Joker, Catwoman, The Penguin and The Riddler) also made this, in theory, the Batman movie to end all Batman movies. Frankly, I love it, but as previously stated, 60’s Batman, in TV or movie form, can do little wrong in my eyes. Obviously, this film is a quantum leap away from the 1989 Tim Burton film and it’s 1992 sequel, not to mention the Christopher Nolan films of recent years. If you’re not a fan of the 1966-1968 Adam West series, the feature film version probably isn’t going to do much to change your mind.

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After finishing up with the movie trailers, a 30-second promo for the series is seen. There’s no station I.D., date, timeslot or voiceover, so I can’t tell if this was meant for the original airings of the TV series or for later syndicated broadcasts. It features Commissioner Gordon calling Bruce Wayne on the Bat Phone, and then Batman and Robin swinging into action. There’s plenty of room for a local voiceover, station I.D. or timeslot to be inserted, so, I don’t know. I’m guessing this was for local airings after the series ended, but I could very well be wrong. I do know that in the early/mid-2000’s, before your NEO Video Hunter had wholly begun to collect his own material (something I now do absolutely exclusively), this promo was making the rounds on the internet, and if I recall correctly, it was listed as a 60’s spot. Which brings up an interesting point: I have a feeling that all or at least most of the material on Batclips was probably circulating (perhaps together, perhaps individually) in one form or another before Batclips collected it all into one convenient package. Maybe it was all the turf of fan-made comps available exclusively at conventions and the like, or maybe there was an official (or semi-official) VHS release at some point in the past. I don’t know, I have no proof, I’m only speculating.

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And that brings us to the most oddball section of Batclips: the personal appearances portion. First up: Adam West, in character as Batman, making a personal appearance at what seems to be a car show or the like somewhere. From the looks of the fashions seen in the crowd, this was maybe the late-80’s or early-90’s, and there seems to be a date on the banner hanging behind West that might say 1992, but the video quality is so soft that it’s really hard to tell. This was very clearly filmed with a home camcorder, a fact made all the more obvious by the picture and sound quality.

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It would be easy to make jokes about this, but the fact of the matter is that Adam West, Burt Ward and Yvonne Craig were all severely typecast by their roles in Batman, and whenever film or TV work was scarce, making personal appearances at conventions, car shows, store openings, etc. was a good way to pay the bills. Furthermore, West is never anything less than completely engaging and personable. He stays in character as Batman, makes jokes, speaks freely with audience members, and perhaps what impresses me most, clearly states that he’s not going to leave until every member of the audience that wants an autograph gets one. See that book he’s holding above? He tries to get the lady who brought it to read a scene with him, which she declines. I actually own a copy of that same book (a collection of older comic stories put together in the 1960’s to capitalize on the then-hot TV series), and I think if I’m ever fortunate enough to meet Adam West in person, I’d like to bring my copy to be autographed. Or, I could always bring, you know, Batclips.

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Next up, more camcorder action from the sidelines of some talk show that was apparently hosting a Batman cast reunion, complete with a recreation of the set. As evidenced by the crewmembers often obstructing the view, this was probably not an official outtake of whatever show this was.

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This part of Batclips works as a curiosity piece, but unlike the Adam West appearance prior, much of the sound is unintelligible, the camera is often moving, crewmembers are sometimes in the way, and there’s just no real rhyme or reason to any of it. I can safely say this is the least watchable part of the entire DVD. Don’t get me wrong, it’s interesting to have, if for no other reason than to have the cast all together on one stage, but it’s not something most people will want to watch over and over.

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The DVD ends with a 17-second kinda-animated sequence intended for…well, I don’t know what the hell this was intended for,

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The sequence starts off with the stick of dynamite (or is it just a firecracker?) blowing up, and then several Batman-esque action cards being shown before cutting to that probably-not-professional-drawing of Batman, who for whatever reason is thinking of his own logo (or possibly just a regular ol’ bat). it’s a real non-sequiter of a sequence, and I have no idea what it was meant to be a part of. The clip has some age to it, that’s for sure, so maybe it was meant for the movie theater and/or drive-in circuit, perhaps from some point in the 1970’s? I have absolutely no basis for that guess, just a gut-feeling, and just like that promo I was talking about earlier, I could very well be wrong.

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So there you have it, Treasure Box Collection’s DVD release of Batclips. It may look like an unassuming budget DVD, but man, it’s waaay cooler than you’d expect it to be, especially for only a buck. When this was purchased, multiple copies of Batclips were easily found at the same grocery store this copy came from, but since then, the DVD has apparently become scarce. At the time of the writing, there are only three used copies on Ebay, and one used copy on Amazon, and, get this, they’re all priced around $30! Granted, sellers can ask any price they want, but the point is that if this were still in some kind of wide-release (relatively speaking, I mean), both sites would in all likelihood be littered with both new and used copies at a much wider-range of prices. So, I wonder if legal actions were quietly taken when word of this release reached the respective copyright owners? Or, maybe because the film elements aren’t as widely available as other public domain movies on dollar DVDs, when Treasure Box Collection went under (*if* they went under), releasing a similar collection just isn’t as easy for other companies, especially since Dan Dalton Productions is supposedly in charge of the content. Of course, I have zero evidence that any of this is true, once again I’m just speculating, but it’s sure interesting to think about.

No matter, because I can say that as someone with some experience in budget DVDs (dubious honor that may be), I’ve never seen anything like Batclips, before or since. You can find some neat releases in the $1 DVD section, but from my viewpoint, Batclips is honestly the best disc I’ve ever found at that area. It just goes to show you, don’t pass up those cheap DVDs, because you never know what you’ll find!