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Son of Ghoul 30th Anniversary Tribute!

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That screenshot above was taken nearly five years ago, during Son of Ghoul’s 25th anniversary special. (Has it really been five years? I refuse to believe five years passed that quickly!) A momentous occasion for sure, and a marvelously entertaining episode to boot. Interviews with past crew members, historic clips and bits, and an honest-to-goodness movie (The Most Dangerous Game), it was a fantastic show that stayed on my DVR for, no joke, around 6 or 7 months. It was like the perfect summation of what made Son of Ghoul, well, Son of Ghoul.

However, something SOG said, not during that episode but during a later show, has stuck in the back of my mind ever since it was uttered: when describing his 20th and 25th anniversaries, he made an off-hand comment about a potential 30th, essentially stating he had no idea if he’d even make it to 30. It was something along the lines of “Can I make it that long?” It was a throwaway line, not even really a joke, but it did bring up an interesting question: in this day and age of waning local television, where horror hosts in particular are an increasingly endangered species, could SOG hold in there for the big 3-0? How long can a good thing last?

I don’t know where today falls in the ultimate larger picture of The Son of Ghoul Show, but I do know that Keven “Son of Ghoul” Scarpino has accomplished the nearly impossible: a horror hosted movie showcase that has continuously run weekly since June 13, 1986 – 30 years ago today!

Make no mistake, this is a monumental achievement. Any television personality doing what they do for an uninterrupted 30 years is something to be celebrated, but a horror host? It’s not unheard of for one to run for a number of years, leave the airwaves (for one reason or another), and then come back some time later. But, to stay on for three decades, simply by doing what they do best? All while facing station changes, shifting television landscapes, and the decline of horror hosts on over-the-air TV stations nationwide? Just how does that happen?!

In fact, he is easily one of the longest continually-running horror hosts in the nation! Indeed, it seems he is THE longest running! That just makes this achievement all the more amazing!

It’s times like this that I count myself especially fortunate to be a Northeast Ohioan, or at least a TV-watchin’ Northeast Ohioan. It seems like if a local television personality has had an impact on us, they never really go away. I mean, Ghoulardi was only on from 1963 to 1966, and yet, Ernie Anderson’s iconic host is still instantly recognizable around here. And Big Chuck & Lil’ John? Even when they ‘retired’ back in 2007, they were still all over the place, and then they came back to TV in 2011. My point is, if you can make it around here, there will always be a place for you, somehow, somewhere.

Throughout all the changes in television in general, never mind locally, over the last 30 years, SOG has been there, doing what he does best: hosting a movie, performing in some skits, interacting with the viewers. It’s perfect “sit back and chill” weekend entertainment, and SOG has it down to a science. I simply can’t imagine a weekend without his show, a fact that made his uncertainty in regards to reaching 30 years a bit unsettling. Northeast Ohioans have long memories, but I suppose nothing and no one is immune to the sands of time.

But for now, SOG is still here, still plugging away, and I couldn’t be happier about it. I go way back with the show. Indeed, quite a few of my weekends have featured The Son of Ghoul Show, starting all the way back to the fall of 1997. In many ways, my love of local broadcasting can be traced back to The Son of Ghoul Show. That’s not a small statement I make, either.

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The man himself, via an exclusive shot taken at his 1997 personal appearance at JC Comics & Cards. Check out the SOG cake to the right!

Anyone taking even a cursory glance at this blog has undoubtedly seen the presence SOG has had; I’m blatantly and unabashedly a longtime fan. We’ve looked at an episode or two, he’s gotten specific shout-outs during all three of my Ghoulardifest write-ups, and heck, I even took the time to post an update when his time slot was shifted back in February 2015. ‘Course, it was the big extensive interview with the man himself nearly two years ago (as of this writing) that was the ultimate example of SOG on this BLOG. (See what I did there?)

So yes, SOG reaching 30 years on the air is a big deal in general, but especially for me. Why? Because I’ve been around for 19 of those 30 years. I had seen Big Chuck & Lil’ John first, and was aware of Superhost in my formative years, but truthfully, it was SOG that introduced me to this whole Northeast Ohio horror host deal. And therein lies some nostalgia…

(I know I’ve related some, or all, of this before, so please, bear with me…)

I first discovered the show in the fall of 1997. At the time, I was looking for a Mystery Science Theater 3000 surrogate. I had become (and remain to this day) a die-hard fan of MST3K, but at the end of summer ’97, it was too expensive to keep the premium cable box needed to access the Sci-Fi Channel, and thus, MST3K (the network later became part of our basic cable package, but that was a few years away). Being only 11 years old, I didn’t have much say in the matter, and so, as summer came to a close, it became increasingly obvious I needed something to satisfy my bad movie-mocking needs.

Also during that same summer, I had become aware of “The Cat,” TV-29 in Akron, TV-35 in Cleveland. While I was primarily a horror and sci-fi fan (albeit a still-burgeoning one), The Cat introduced me to a wider range of older, sometimes wildly obscure, flicks. B-westerns, silents, foreign films and so on, I quickly found a growing interest in all of them.

By the time fall came around, I was jonesing for MST3K, or something similar, and I was jonesing bad. In retrospect, it’s a bit odd that it took me several months to actually discover The Son of Ghoul Show, but the fact is that some idle channel-surfing one Saturday night landed me upon SOG’s annual Halloween show. He was on Friday and Saturday at that point, same episode both nights, so I guess this would have been November 1, 1997 (since an online calendar tells me Friday was October 31st).

The movie was the original Night of the Living Dead, a flick he runs each Halloween. My brother Luke was watching with me, and as I recall it, we turned the channel on just as SOG’s introductory segment was coming to a close. The movie started shortly thereafter, and man, that was all it took. Before long, I was hooked. It took me a minute to realize that SOG was dropping in sound effects and music into the movie, but I loved it. I loved the film too, which was my first time seeing it.

But it was the host segments and skits that really got me. SOG was something entirely new to me. A genuine horror host, a concept I only had a vague notion of prior (I never thought of Chuck & John as horror hosts until later, and besides, it took me a few more years to really appreciate them). He was witty, he was acerbic, he was silly, he read mail. In short, it was everything I had been craving. In that single two-hour block that Saturday night, an entire new world of television, of comedy, was opened to me. Baby, I was done.

And he was ours! This was all local! SOG is the kind of entertainer anyone from anywhere can enjoy, but his program takes on a whole new dimension if you’re from the area. I doubt I was cognizant of all that when I watched for the first time (in fact, I’m sure I wasn’t), but it’s a factor that became increasingly important to me the more I watched and the bigger a fan I became.

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Another exclusive shot taken at JC Comics & Cards. Here SOG autographs a promotional picture, for either my brother or myself. We both still have our signed pictures to this day, either way.

Even though it was only until the following week, it was a long, long wait for the next episode. I was in 5th grade, and while (as I recall it), the other kids were into wrestling and/or MTV and whatnot, I personally could not wait to see more of this new thing I found.

Finally it was there; the movie was The Vampire Bat, and I knew I had made the right decision in jumping on this bandwagon. (I also learned it was the same movie, same episode both Friday and Saturday nights, but this wound up being beyond helpful. If I particularly liked a movie or bit, or one of the letters I later started sending in was on, I could sample Friday night and record Saturday night.)

From there on out, it was a constant sense of discovery. Nearly every single week, I was seeing a movie completely new to me. Okay, sure, they weren’t good movies, but they weren’t supposed to be! I can’t say this is where my love of watching bad movies because they’re so awful began, but the selections SOG ran certainly helped fuel the ongoing desire for a good baddie. The Hoodlum, The Corpse Vanishes, Santa Claus Conquers The Martians, Colossus and the Amazon Queen, all of those (and many more!) were introduced to me via SOG. I can’t say I ‘love’ the films, but they hold a nostalgic place in my heart nevertheless, simply because of how and where they fall in my lifetime.

And it was all so funny! I loved the mail segments, where SOG’s acerbic, sarcastic wit was on full-display. He had no problem goofing on the letter writers, and really, that was part of the fun, even if you were the one who had written in! And the skits! Barfaby, Mr. Banjo, Fatman and Rotten, Zero, Eat At Joe’s, and even the one-offs, so much of it had a hip, edgy, oftentimes “warped” tone that made the whole experience irresistible. I mean, “Genie of the John,” in which SOG played the titular character, one who emerges from a toilet? Stuff like that appealed (and appeals) endlessly to me.

‘Course, when I began watching, I didn’t really know about the first home of the show (Canton’s WOAC TV-67, from 1986 to 1995), and thus what bits were new and what bits old. Nor did I have a full understanding of the Ghoulardi lineage, only a vague knowledge of the tradition. (Ah, the days before the internet presented every last drop of information at the touch of a button!) This was almost all totally new to me, but I loved it.

Within just a few weeks of my becoming an instant mega-fan, SOG announced on the air that he was going to be making a personal appearance at JC Comics & Cards on State Road in Cuyahoga Falls. JCs?! I knew right where that was! It was practically just down the street from me! Dare I go and meet my newfound hero? Of course! (By the way, JC Comics & Cards is still at the same location; you’d be well-advised to stop in and buy some stuff – there’s a lot of great things there!)

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That’s my brother Luke on the left. I’m the one on the right. A rare shot of me not being a total badass? I think I’ve aged for the better.

Looking back, his personal appearance at JC Comics & Cards was probably my first real celebrity meeting. Okay, my school had a Cleveland Indian (don’t remember his name) appear and sign autographs once, and I had gotten baseballs autographed outside of (then) Jacob’s Field before, but as far as being a fan and specifically seeking out a meet-and-greet, SOG was the pretty much the first.

There was only one hindrance: I was a fairly shy 11 year old. It’s something I’ve long since grown out of, and nowadays I have no qualms with walking right up to a celebrity and bugging meeting them. But back then? It was totally uncharted territory for me. I didn’t quite know what to expect.

So, the big day arrived. My brother, mom and I waltzed into JCs, and there he was: Son of Ghoul, in person! I was excited and insanely nervous at the same time. I needn’t have worried though; as has been proven time and time again over the years, SOG is absolutely fantastic with his fans. He was personable, he was funny, he answered all questions posed to him, he took pictures, he signed autographs. Even if I did lock-up once after asking him a question (shy and all, remember), it was a great experience.

In fact, here’s something about the visit that I’ll never forget: after we had met him, got our pictures and so on, I was browsing the comics, and I found that 1988 reprint issue of Action Comics #1, for $3. Without prompting, SOG came up and actually looked at it with me, marveling at the price and the 1938 date in the corner. I thought (and think) that was just the coolest. When a personality goes that extra mile to interact with a fan, it shows how genuine they are. In the years since, talking with SOG or watching him talk with other fans, I know my impression of him back in ’97 at JCs was spot-on.

It really is hard to put in words the influence SOG had on me growing up. His show helped shape how I look at movies, at comedy, at broadcasting, everything. And I’m not the only one; There were other kids my age that were just as enthralled with it as I was.

In fact, this blog has introduced me to one: Brett Van Wagner. He discovered this site due to the SOG content, he messaged me, and we’ve been chatting ever since. Even though he lives out-of-state and we’ve never met in person, I’m proud to call him friend. We’ve even had shockingly similar experiences with The Son of Ghoul Show, and we’ve both been fans for nearly the same amount of time. I’m going to turn things over to him for a moment here; I’ve known for awhile now how important his recollections of “SOG history” are, and when I came up with the idea for this post, he was the first one I asked to contribute. Here he is now in his own words…

Brett:

Where to start? First off, a huge thank you to the Northeast Ohio Video Hunter for letting me be a part of an article about such a historic moment in Northeast Ohio television! Although we have never met, I have enjoyed emailing the author of this blog and sharing memories and stories of Son of Ghoul for probably close to a year now. Our SOG stories are actually quite similar, and it makes me wonder how many other kids our age were watching the show at that time. While I live in Florida now, I make it home to NE Ohio from time to time and perhaps one day we will meet up at a convention or SOG appearance. But, thank you for allowing me to be a part of this!

I was first introduced to the Son of Ghoul Show sometime in 1997. My dad would occasionally have the show on, although it seems like my mom would always make him turn it off. My dad grew up watching both Ghoulardi and The Ghoul, and would talk about watching those shows when he was young. After months of catching a few minutes here or there, I remember the first episode I ever watched from start to finish. It was Friday, August 29, 1997 and it was the first week of 6th grade for me. After a week of realizing that middle school was now my life, I realized I needed something to take the edge off. The movie that night was Godzilla vs. Megalon and I only recently realized it was actually a rerun of the very first show to ever air on the CAT. Going back and watching that episode again, it makes quite a bit of sense, as SOG refers to the fact that we are now seeing him in prime time and actually in Cleveland quite a bit. A great episode to officially start watching. The episode also featured what would quickly become, and still is, my favorite SOG sketch, Mr. Banjo. I’m not quite sure what it was about that green-screened dog, but no matter how many times I hear the opening rifts of that song and hear SOG start to talk in that ridiculous accent, I truly laugh out loud every time.

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This is the Mr. Banjo character Brett is referring to. Coincidentally (as you’re about to read), this is from a promo for The Brain That Wouldn’t Die!

In all of the years, my favorite SOG movie is The Brain That Wouldn’t Die. Fittingly, my very first fan letter was read during a show that featured this movie on October 10, 1997. Honorable mentions for other movies that I have a soft spot for go to favorites such as The Giant Gila Monster, Alice Sweet Alice (the only SOG movie that actually scared me as a kid – love it now though) Phantom from Space, Plan Nine from Outer Space, Killers from Space, (I’m noticing a space theme here) White Zombie, and the lost but still survives on VHS collections somewhere, Lethal Justice.

Despite the dungeon and skulls the faux scary vibe of the show, what I took away from the show more than anything was a love of comedy. From all of the drops in the movies (yeah, I know Bill Cosby has kind of fallen out of grace in society in the last year, and rightfully so.. but those old comedy albums of his are pure gold and the way SOG would incorporate drop pieces from those albums into the movies and show were fantastic) to the incredibly dry and witty sense of humor SOG would posses during mail breaks and show segments, the show for me was comedy first and foremost. SOG never fails to make me laugh with one of his one liners or observations during a skit or mail break. In addition to helping me with my love and appreciation for comedy, SOG always reinforced my love of The Beatles. While most kids grew up listening to their sing-a-long tapes, I remember listening to our old Beatles LP’s as young as 3 or 4, and my love for the band is still just as strong all these years later. Knowing SOG shared that love and appreciation for the band and incorporated them so heavily on his show was the icing on the cake.

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Another exclusive shot of SOG at that fateful JC Comics & Cards appearance!

Just like the Northeast Ohio Video Hunter, the first time I ventured out to meet SOG at a personal appearance was in December 1997 at JC Comics and Cards in Cuyahoga Falls. Heck, maybe I have met him after all. What I do remember is how friendly and kind SOG has always been to his fans. He remembered me from letters I had written, talked to my dad and I, and was just such a nice guy. I would again go to many personal appearances, including the 1999 FrightVision where I would spent lots of time talking to my horror host idol and also had the chance to meet, according to the headshot, the one…the only…Fidge! Fidge was also the nicest guy in the world, and the years he and SOG spent together are the best years of the show for me. The last time I saw SOG (and Fidge) in person was in October 2002 when they had the stage show during Fright Fest at what was then Six Flags Worlds of Adventure amusement park. (Sidenote, I am also a HUGE amusement park and roller coaster buff. Geauga Lake Amusement Park, which was a Northeast Ohio institution that spent a few years as a Six Flags park before becoming Geauga Lake again under the same owners of Cedar Point, Cedar Fair, is a place that I miss more than anything and am super sad about losing) Back on track, even though I haven’t seen SOG in person since 2002, I have stayed in touch with him via e-mail and he is nothing but kind and helpful to his fans. Questions I have had regarding episodes, etc, always are answered and he is just the nicest guy in the world, despite what he may want us to think from his on air persona.

It was so sad to hear of the passing of Fidge, especially because of the circumstances, in 2003, and SOG handled it with such class and respect in the tribute episode. Between that at the recent Colonel Klink tribute episodes, SOG has proven that even in the worst situations, he is the ultimate professional and is able to bring the audience together to celebrate the lives of two great men who were so influential on the show.

As the years went on, I went off to college and then moved to Florida eight years ago. I’ve experienced several jobs, a few serious girlfriends, and the usual ups and downs of life. Still, I always caught SOG any time I was home in Ohio on a Saturday night. In the more recent years, I have purchased over 20 episodes of the show from the SOG website and as time continues to go on, I’m sure I will purchase 20 more. Any time I am feeling a bit homesick, or just at the end of a long week, the excitement and comfort of popping in a Son of Ghoul DVD is just as strong as when I first discovered the show nearly 19 years ago. There have been countless horror hosts that have come and gone, but for one host to be on for 30 consecutive years is truly an amazing feat, especially in today’s constantly changing broadcast world. Hats off to the Son of Ghoul. I can only hope he appreciates not only the accomplishment of 30 years on the air, but how influential he was for kids like me who didn’t really have a place to fit in. Thanks for everything, SOG. Here’s to a happy 30th anniversary, and hope for many, many more.

Brett Van Wagner

It really is wild how close our experiences with the show are. I think we would have become fast friends back in the day, and I’m certainly happy to know him now. His contribution is invaluable to this article and I can’t thank him enough for providing it. You is good people, Brett!

Brett also touched on a great point: it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the show. The fact that it has continued to survive though every seemingly-insurmountable obstacle shows not only how durable the show is, but how good SOG is at what he does.

The Son of Ghoul Show has survived a nasty lawsuit in the late-1980s, time changes, station changes, the switch to digital TV in ’09, the eroding of local TV in general and the presence of horror hosts in particular, even actual deaths…

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The passing of Ron “Fidge” Huffman in 2003 was an absolute shocker. Fidge was SOG’s sidekick, and in the late-90s/early-2000s, he was ever present. He took a lot of abuse on the show, but I think he knew it was all in fun; his presence gave the program something of a “warped” Big Chuck & Lil’ John quality.

I had the fortune to meet Fidge at FrightVision ’99, where that autographed picture above comes from. He couldn’t have been any nicer; it truly seemed like he got a kick out of the whole thing, and it showed when meeting his fans. I’m truly sorry that he passed; I’m glad I got to meet him when I did.

Something else Brett mentioned was the more-recent death of Jim “The Colonel” Klink. Klink went way back with our local horror hosts, sending tons of his artwork to Superhost and later SOG. Not only that, but at least as far as SOG went, he’d send in packages of random items, always decorated with a variety of stickers on the outside (as SOG said once, he couldn’t believe the post office accepted them!). Needless to say, SOG ragged on Klink quite a bit too, but again, it was all in fun.

I never met Klink, though I did see him walking around at Ghoulardifest once or twice. I wish I would have went up and spoken to him now. Still, he did leave this nice comment on my interview with SOG page, and it’s worth sharing here:

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The outpouring of grief online for Klink was quite large, and reading that comment, it’s easy to see why. He was a genuinely nice, enthusiastic fan, as his note above makes abundantly clear.

As Brett mentioned, SOG’s tribute shows to both Fidge and Klink are fantastic. Genuine, honest, funny, they were perfect in honoring both guys.

Their passing was tragic, and the unfortunate fact of the matter is when a show reaches such longevity, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll run into something like that. It comes with the territory of being on for so many years, I suppose.

Indeed, when something like that happens, it only serves to remind you of how far back this all goes, and how quickly it can all go away. By this point, SOG has become a veritable staple of Northeast Ohio television. It’s simply impossible to imagine a time when he’s not on the air in some fashion. But obviously, all good things come to an end, which makes treasuring them while they’re here all the more important. I’ve made that mistake with some other shows, but luckily, I won’t make it here. I’m grateful for each week SOG is on the air.

So, that’s my history with SOG, but it’s not a finished history by any means; it continues to this very day. His current shows, of course I’m there, and just like when I was 11, I still get a sense of anticipation in hearing what movie will be shown on a given night, or seeing if some letter or package I sent in is going to be presented. Stuff like that I don’t think will ever change.


So, my thoughts, and Brett’s up above obviously, on this big 30th anniversary are now known. But, I also reached out online for some other contributions to this big ol’ tribute, to help show what an impact SOG has had on other viewers and collaborators. Some wonderful additions were gathered, which I’d like to share now.

From famous fellow horror host “Wolfman Mac” Kelly (who for years shared Saturday nights with SOG on our local RTV affiliate; SOG 7 PM-9PM, Mac 10 PM-12 AM):

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Son of Ghoul with Wolfman Mac, as they appeared together during an episode of Wolfman Mac’s Chiller Drive-In.

Hey Son Of Ghoul, happy 30th anniversary to you my fellow horror host! You have such an awesome talent and your fans are truly fortunate to have YOU keeping the genre alive. Er…undead…

I had the honor of meeting you a few years ago at Wasteland. You’re not only a great horror host, you’re also a really good guy. All the best to you. Stay Creepy!! – Wolfman Mac

Mac, like SOG, is one of the coolest, nicest guys you could ever hope to talk to, which is not something that can be said for every television personality.

From longtime SOG-friend and genuine good guy Jungle Bob Tuma (check out his official website!) comes this hilarious recollection:

Jungle Bob, longtime buddy of Son of Ghoul and all-around good egg. Photo used with permission.

Jungle Bob, longtime buddy of Son of Ghoul and all-around good egg. Photo used with permission.

I remember the time that the Son of Ghoul & I went out to eat after Cinema Wasteland at an all you can eat Chinese Restaurant (his favorite place to eat). He had been there the week before & ” spoke up” when somebody tried to leave without paying their bill. This made him a hero to the girls who worked there…while we were there, we noticed them smiling, they even brought over a plate of crab legs for him.

He went to go wash his hands & I took my pen & drew a heart & wrote “I love you” on his napkin & when he returned I told him that the Chinese waitress wrote it…I had no idea that SOG would call the waitress over & ask her name & flirt with her…I even tried to stop him but when she came over she let him know that it was not her who wrote that …she also told him that she actually saw me write it while he was away from the table…

He looked at me & said..”OMG Jung, what is wrong with you…I am so embarrassed!” I thought about it & said to myself…”See, we even have fun when we are not on TV…Whether we are on & off the air, Keven (SOG) & I always seem to have a good time & that’s why we have been friends for so long… Happy 30th buddy & looking forward to our next Chinese dinner, LOL.

Anyone that has seen Jung on SOG’s show or watched them interact together in-person knows they have an incredible rapport that is absolutely hilarious, as his story demonstrates!

JB is not only ridiculously friendly, but he knows pretty much everything about every animal ever. You’d be well-advised to book him for any event.

From my buddy Matt Brassfield over at Rotten Ink:

Son of Ghoul with Dayton's Baron Von Porkchop. Photo used with permission.

Son of Ghoul with Dayton’s Baron Von Porkchop. Photo used with permission.

Hometown Horror Hosts mean a lot to viewers, and Cleveland has had their share of iconic hosts from Ghoulardi to Superhost in the golden age of broadcast TV hosting to modern late night ghoulies…but for over 30 years The Son Of Ghoul has entertained viewers with his silly antics and zany sidekicks like the Fidge (R.I.P.) and has truly became a staple for the Cleveland area.

I have had the honor to have met and chatted with Son Of Ghoul many times during his convention appearances and he has always taken the time to shoot the breeze and even was the first to introduce me to footage of Superhost as well as Woodrow The Woodsman! Son Of Ghoul is a Horror Host Hall Of Famer, a Musician, a Comedian and from Rotten Ink as well as from the cast of Baron Von Porkchop’s Terrifying Tales Of The Macabre, we want to wish Son Of Ghoul a Happy 30th Anniversary and wish him many more years of TV goodness.

Matt’s also the producer of Baron Von Porkchop’s Terrifying Tales of the Macabre; check it out!

My Facebook pal John Walch had this photo of SOG with his son Lil’ Kong to share, along with the following comment:

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Photo courtesy John Walch.

The highlight of April’s Cinema Wasteland show was when my son met Kevin. Such a great guy.

Yes he is!

From another Facebook pal, Danny Harasyn:

I live in Lake County and Time Warner won’t give me the station SOG is on …..so I had a friend I worked with who lived in the area Time Warner carried the show record it for me each week…

I know what he means; there was a time in the earlier-2000s in which we were using rabbit ears, and you could NOT pick up SOG’s show to save your life.

From Facebook’s Gary Smith:

Photo courtesy Gary Smith.

Photo courtesy Gary Smith.

Several years ago. it seemed like every week, I would see him at Jamie’s Flea Market in Amherst. On top of that, getting a chance to see and chat with him at Ghoulardifest and Monster Bash conventions the past few years. Looking forward to seeing him again at this year’s fests and congratulations on his 30 year milestone.

Thanks Gary!


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One final personal story before I close this tribute out. This one means as much to me as the nostalgia of discovering and watching SOG back in the late-90s does.

Back in November of 2011, I had a serious hand injury at where I then-worked. This was my first (and thus far only) real injury. Sure, I had sprained my ankle before, pinched a nerve in my neck, relatively little things like that, but this was a biggie. I eventually clocked three separate surgeries, a five-day hospital stay, several weeks of a home IV, and a whole lotta physical therapy. It was a mess.

I was blessed with some legitimately great doctors and nurses that helped me through the ordeal. I am thankful every day for that. Today, while there is some remaining evidence that a severe accident occurred, you probably wouldn’t notice unless I pointed it out to you. It could have been much, much worse, so yes, I’m most definitely grateful to those that made sure it wasn’t.

But anyway, back in December 2011, much of what I eventually had to go through was still ahead of me. All I knew was that I was injured, I was off work until after the new year, and I was severely bummed.

Meanwhile, prior to all that, after being a regular writer-in’r to the show in the late-90s, I had begun sending packages to SOG again in 2010 or so. Shortly before my injury, I had mocked up a SOG-album cover in a parody of Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run cover, titled Born To Be Awesome. (See above.)

So, Saturday, December 24, 2011, it was SOG’s annual Christmas showing, appropriately airing on Christmas Eve. At a time when I was in critical need of a morale boost, SOG presented the album cover on the air. Not only that, but he really seemed to get a kick out of it! And that was in addition to all the older holiday-themed bits and cartoons, which all made for a wonderfully entertaining episode.

Obviously, SOG didn’t know what I had been going through at the time, this was all business-as-usual for him, but this was absolutely the pick-me-up I needed at that moment. I’ll always be grateful for that.

I think that points to an often-unrecognized aspect of not only The Son of Ghoul Show but any program people may turn to during those times when they just need to escape: they become more than just a television series to us, something deeper, though perhaps indefinable. And when they reach a historic milestone, like SOG has today, you feel, in some small way, a part of it, even if it was just by tuning in for so many years. And by now, I think it’s safe to say I’ll hang in there with him till the very end.

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Your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter hangin’ with the man himself! Ghoulardifest 2013.

There’s no better way to finish this article than with some words from the man himself, Keven Scarpino, aka Son of Ghoul. I reached out to him for a closing comment, and in true SOG-fashion, he first gave me Yeah, I would give a comment if I thought anybody actually reads your posts. LOL” Of course he was kidding (?), and immediately followed that up with this statement, directed towards all his fans:

Thanks for hanging with me all these 30 years. The viewers are the reason I’m still here – plus nobody else is willing to work as cheap as I do. Stay Sick! SOG.

Kinda says it all, doesn’t it?

Happy 30th anniversary Son of Ghoul! Here’s to the next 30!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First up, the skits themselves:

Muldoon’s Bar

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

 

The Amazing Stanley

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

 

Rockhead

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

 

Art Modell’s Back!

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

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

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

 

$10 Magic Wands

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

 

Madame Mary

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

 

Ben Crazy

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

 

The Certain Ethnic Artist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Buddy’s Carpet Ad

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

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

 

Regency Windows Ad

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

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


 

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

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

CBS Late Show With David Letterman – Dave Reads MY Letter On The Air! (2002)

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I’m not sure how much you can really see it here on this blog, but David Letterman has been a huge, huge influence on me. From my sense of humor to just how I look at comedy in general, Dave’s contribution to me (that sounds weirder than I meant it to) has been nearly incalculable; only Mystery Science Theater 3000 and the various local horror hosted movie shows from my neck of the woods can claim a larger influence on your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter. I’m a pretty big Letterman fan is what I’m saying.

Which is why today is such a bummer for me. For those that haven’t heard (and really, if this is news you’re just now getting from me, well, there’s a serious disconnect somewhere there), tonight Letterman will air the final episode of his Late Show on CBS. All good things must come to an end and so on, I know. Doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it.

I guess I can understand it, though. The late night TV climate has changed wildly over the last several years, and Dave has increasingly looked like the odd-man-out. Not to mention, and I say this as a longtime fan, he’s more-or-less been on autopilot the last several years. Not that the show has been bad,  it hasn’t, but from my perspective, it (or rather Dave himself), has been operating at a level markedly below previous years.

At any rate, Dave has always been my favorite, always will be my favorite, and thus I’d be remiss if I didn’t do some kind of post in regards to him on my silly blog. That’s just what I’m doing now, with what was (and is) undoubtedly the most exciting moment for me in my time as a Letterman fan.

‘Course, I’m particularly biased towards this particular moment, because this was the man himself, Mr. David Letterman, reading my letter on national television! As you can see above, that’s him, gearing up to read a letter that, to him, was almost certainly just business as usual, but to me is one of my most legendary “achievements” (such as they are).

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The practice became infrequent in later years (eventually they stopped doing it altogether), but at the time, Friday night was the dedicated viewer mail night on the show. Through an online submission page, you could send an email to the show in hopes of future usage during the “CBS Mailbag” portion of the program. Of course, the trick was to send something they could get a bit out of, because this was no serious question-and-answer deal.

I wound up bombarding them with questions. Most of them were, I thought, good fodder for the segment, though a few were, if I recall correctly, of a more “real question” nature (I don’t know what I was thinking). You have to imagine more than a couple people were writing to the show, and undoubtedly some were doing exactly what I did. With only fours letters read per segment, obviously chances of yours making it on the show were fairly slim. BUT, somehow, someway, through brute strength and sheer endurance (aka: got lucky), one of mine made it on the air.

At the time, I was heavily into the TV ratings/renewals/cancellations game; these were stats I followed as closely as some did their favorite sports teams. In more recent years I’ve only really paid attention to my favorite ‘new’ shows (there’s not many) in these regards, but at the time, this was an area of high interest to me. So, it being early in that fall television season, my question naturally was “What show do you think will be cancelled first this TV season?” Maybe not the most probing question ever posed to Dave, but hey, it got my mail on the air, so in yo’ face.

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That’s me! Thanks for zooming in for that close up of my letter, Late Show!

Dave’s reading of this wasn’t a complete surprise, which is a good thing, because otherwise I probably wouldn’t have been taping the show that night. I was able to know about the letter-reading beforehand thanks to the the Late Show‘s online Wahoo Gazette, which is still running (for now, anyway). Every Friday, they posted the mail questions that would be read that night, along with the names of the people that sent them. I can not overstate how much I flipped when I saw that one of my submissions had been selected to be on the show that week. In short order, a new blank VHS was obtained and earmarked for an SP mode recording; this was historic stuff, man! Needless to say, I still have it (duh!).

Also, I know I had at least one print-out of the Wahoo Gazette page featuring the revelation my question would be read on the air that night, but for the life of me I can’t find it. And to make matters worse, for whatever reason I didn’t notate the full date of the broadcast on the label of my VHS recording; this was definitely fall 2002, but I can’t remember the exact date otherwise. The fact that I can’t find my print-out irritates me mightily, but then, I really should have this date burnt into my memory. Still, Dave read my letter, so in yo’ face, I guess.

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Dave’s immediate response? “You’re lookin’ at it, Larry!” That wacky guy! I need to make that line a ringtone of some sort. David Letterman: said my name not once, but twice. This, of course, was cool winnins before the term “cool winnins” had been coined by yours truly. Cool winnins!

Just like most of his answers during the mail segment, Dave pretty much ignored the actual question in favor of setting up the respective gag. In this case, he mentions that everyone is excited about the then-new CSI spin-off CSI: Miami, and CBS has another such spin-off in the works.

Behold:

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60 Minutes: Miami. I love it. As per Dave, whenever there’s a hit show, the network makes another one just like it, but set in a different location, which, well, you can’t argue with him there. I mean, this aired nearly 13 years ago (as of this post) and networks still do this sort of thing, though it doesn’t seem like it’s as ubiquitous as it was back then.

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What could a 60 Minutes: Miami possibly entail? Dave wasn’t lying about the spin-offs being pretty much the same as the original shows. 60 Minutes: Miami is little more than regular 60 Minutes, with all of the same hosts, except they’re wearing swimwear (and ostensibly in Miami).

Obviously, they just superimposed tropical attire over the actual hosts as they give their customary “I’m ______________” diatribe. For such a simple gag, this really is pretty funny, and there is a final pay-off to the bit…

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It’s the final shot of a shirtless Andy Rooney that is the punchline to the whole thing. The audience had been laughing steadily at the whole deal anyway, but the topless Andy Rooney (that sounds weirder than I meant it to) causes them to erupt in surprised laughter.

While I’m not sure this gag really qualifies as the best example, I think what attracts me to Letterman’s humor so much is just how weird it is. Not that Andy Rooney without a shirt isn’t supremely weird enough as it is, but I mean, just look at the whole bit in general: it’s the cast of 60 Minutes in swimwear. That’s pretty much it! Dave always had a real streak of non-sequitur in his humor, and that’s right up my alley. I really do love random bits of humor that leave a viewer confused, and Dave’s show has (well, had) it in spades. Admittedly, it’s not for everyone, but personally, it always struck a chord with me (obviously).

And unless you’re missing the big picture here, let me spell it out: I wrote David Letterman, and it gave the world a mocked-up picture of a shirtless Andy Rooney.

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Dave’s final thoughts on the matter? The combined age of everyone on 60 minutes must be “well over two or three thousand” and Mike Wallace alone is “at least a hundred.” Funny stuff! It may come off a little dark to some people nowadays since both Mike Wallace and Andy Rooney have passed (RIP, fellas), but hey, they were still alive then. Anyone offended by that needs to chill out, man.

And so, that is the saga of my letter being read by David Letterman on national television. HOWEVER…

Now is as good a time as any to mention that in the summer of 2005, I had the good fortune to actually attend a taping of Late Show With David Letterman, with guests Jennifer Connelly and The Eels. It was a terrific show, and Dave really was “on” that night (and no, I’m not just saying that because I was there in person). For a trip that really only had, maybe, three days in advance planning, it went off without a hitch. I got to see Letterman in person, it was a great show, I got to walk around New York City (I’m not normally a sightseer, but NYC is an absolute exception), and to cap it all off, I got to meet two Letterman regulars in person: fan-favorite Rupert Gee of the Hello Deli (right next to the Ed Sullivan Theater) was working that day, and shortly thereafter, I ran into stagehand Pat Farmer taking a break around the side of the building. Both guys were extremely friendly and gracious enough to take pictures with me. I made a concerted effort to find those snapshots amongst the rest of the family photos to post here, but I have no idea where they are. The only thing I got out of the deal was some wasted time and depression from looking at old pictures of myself.

Anyway, those are my memories. It may not be much, but hopefully this is some kind of acceptable tribute to Letterman and what he’s meant to me over the years.

And so, it is with that that I now wait in apprehension for Dave’s swansong tonight. So long Dave, and thanks for all the laughs.

Mystery Science Theater 3000’s Retro TV Debut This Past Weekend (Also: The Musings Of A Lifelong MSTie On His Early Fandom.)

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*Standby for shameless gushing.*

This past weekend, Mystery Science Theater 3000 made its Retro TV debut. I don’t want to say that all is now right with the world, but there’s little doubt that it’s just a little bit better place to live nevertheless.

I talked about this right after the announcement that MST3K reruns would be returning to TV via the Retro TV network, which in Northeast Ohio, is WAOH TV-29 in Akron, WAX TV-35 in Cleveland (the station formerly known as “The Cat.”) I’ve been counting the days (sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively) to July 5, and now that the “big event” (as I have deemed it) has occurred, well, I’m ecstatic. Lemme ‘splain a bit…

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Mystery Science Theater 3000. The show with the robots and the theater seats and the so much ripping on the bad movies. I could go into more specific details, but for the sake of whatever, let’s condense the summation to this: A guy and his two robots are stuck in outer space and forced to watch terrible movies as part of a mind-monitoring experiment, ostensibly in the hopes of ultimately ruling the world with “the worst movie ever made.”  Their only defense? Mocking (or “riffing”) the movies mercilessly.

Of all the shows I love or have loved, of all the shows I am or was an admitted fanatic of, in my own bizarre little world of personal mythologies, MST3K is and always be the “big one.” So much of what makes me, well, me started with MST3K. If I’m being honest with myself, perhaps not so much my initial fascination with movies or my need to continuously collect more of them; that had begun about a year before I discovered MST3K. But, there is little doubt that MST3K launched that fascination into the stratosphere (figuratively speaking, I mean; using the term in a literal sense would probably mean death or at least serious maiming on my part). After MST3K had the hooks in me, I was never the same.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 first started at a local TV station in Minneapolis in 1988, went national in 1989 on what would eventually become Comedy Central, and moved to the Sci-Fi Channel in 1997, which is where I, at 10/11 years old, came in. Since I had a growing interest in old horror and sci-fi films already, it stands to reason that I was far more familiar with the Sci-Fi Channel than I was Comedy Central. When the initial promos proclaiming the series was moving to the channel began airing, I was already tuned into Sci-Fi. Indeed, prior to those advertisements, I was wholly unfamiliar with MST3K. I may have passed it while channel surfing, but that would have been the extent of my familiarity with the show.

An added bonus following my discovery of MST3K was that I began actively searching out the oddball titles, the weird, forgotten flicks, even films that evoked a certain time period I wasn’t around for (I’m looking at you, downbeat 1970’s movies! Relay my well-wishes to Keenan Wynn!) BUT, that was just a side-effect of MST3K fandom. The real benefit of becoming a fan was that it absolutely introduced me to a world of sharper, funnier comedy. It became (and remains) my first, biggest, and longest-lasting TV obsession.

Readers of this sad blog will no doubt have seen my numerous long, blabbering soliloquies of love posts regarding our Northeast Ohio movie hosts: Ghoulardi, Hoolihan & Big Chuck & Lil’ John, The Ghoul, Son Of Ghoul, Superhost, and so on and so on. The fact of the matter is that my love of them initially began with MST3K, which as previously mentioned isn’t even a local product. I remember Superhost from his waning days on WUAB TV-43, I had caught Big Chuck & Lil’ John a few times before & during 1997 (and I certainly knew them as local personalities from all their local endorsements and whatnot) and I was probably vaguely aware of Ghoulardi, But MST3K was really the genesis of my whole movie-hosting fascination (even if I don’t necessarily consider MST3K quite the same thing, though I’d be hard-pressed to explain why exactly I don’t.) After MST3K, there was a new appreciation for this sort of thing, which in turn lead to fandom for, respectively, Son Of Ghoul and The Ghoul, which continues to this day (and at points has reached the same fevered heights.)

Unlike some, I didn’t quite get hooked on MST3K right away; rather, it was kind of slow burn, a gradually building fandom. Initially, I was more interested in the movies, and the running commentary courtesy of the silhouettes at the bottom of the screen was an amusing bonus. But, the more I watched the show, the more I found myself digging it for more than just the featured movie of a given episode, though in all honesty the movie still did, and does, have a lot to do with how a particular episode “strikes” me (again, figuratively speaking. I’d hate to think of an episode physically punching me in the face!) The first half of the initial Sci-Fi season (in actuality the show’s 8th season on national TV, though finer points such as that were unbeknownst to me at the time) featured black & white films from the Universal library. That was the “slow burn” period of my fandom. Some of the movies I liked (The Deadly Mantis), others left me kinda cold (The Undead).

It wasn’t until the spring/summer of 1997 that things hit the fan for me (figuratively I mean, because…aw forget it, I’m tired of that gag.) It began with the May 31st airing of The Giant Spider Invasion, which I tuned into due to my burgeoning but not-quite-solidified fanaticism. After the initial shock of discovering that they were even allowed to run color movies wore off (remember, I was 11 years old, I had no real prior knowledge of the series, and in general never really knew what the hell I was talking about anyway,) things clicked into place, the stars aligned, and I finally, completely “got it.”

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The next week, MST3K was absolutely appointment television for me. The movie was Parts; The Clonus Horror, and the fire from the previous week turned into a full-out inferno. There was no turning back now. I was hooked, absolutely, and I’ve remained hooked ever since. Was it The Giant Spider Invasion episode or the Parts: The Clonus Horror episode that’s really responsible for turning me into a full-blown MSTie? It could go either way, and I tend to go back and forth. Spider was first, but Clonus had the bigger effect and is the episode that I hold more memories for and really feels more like the first. Plus, I think Parts: The Clonus Horror is a genuinely interesting, though not without faults, film. I guess in the end it doesn’t really matter.

All throughout the rest of summer 1997, I watched Mystery Science Theater 3000 every chance I got, but alas, my ability to actually view the show was temporarily halted. At the time, the Sci-Fi Channel was a premium cable channel. I guess “premium” is the right term for it. You needed the cable box to pick the channel up, anyway. At the end of summer ’97, Dad decided he no longer wanted to pay for said cable box, and considering I was only 11 years old, had little say in the matter. So, out went the cable box, and with it, access to my favorite show. I had a few episodes recorded, I was able to get a far-away Aunt with Sci-Fi-access to tape a few more for me, and several episodes had been released on VHS by Rhino by that point, so I wasn’t completely Bot-deprived, but nevertheless, I had no *ordinary* access to my show, and this, needless to say, troubled me greatly.

Over the next several years, more and more episodes were made available on VHS and later DVD, I discovered the numerous tape-trading sites out in internet land, and even Sci-Fi joined the basic cable line-up, which allowed me to walk over to a much-nearer Aunt’s house to record episodes on Saturday mornings, something I took advantage of until January 31st 2004, when the final MST3K (The Screaming Skull) aired on Sci-Fi and thus TV in general…until now.

So, maybe now you’ve got some understanding as to why I treated the show’s Retro TV debut to something akin to the Super Bowl. I’m sure many people, fellow MSTies included, probably saw it as something neat but not necessary. Not me, though. It wasn’t for lack of MST3K, either; I’ve got a lot of episodes, and I think the majority of the series has been officially released on DVD by this point. Unlike 1997 me, I really have no shortage of the show.

No, my excitement stems from the fact that, frankly, I think a show as great as Mystery Science Theater 3000 needs to be on ‘real’ TV. Pristine DVD copies are terrific, of course, but there’s just something about knowing it’s out there, being broadcast over the airwaves. Furthermore, as mentioned waaaay at the top of this post, our Retro TV affiliate is WAOH/WAX. This is the same station that Son Of Ghoul airs on! After my ability to watch MST3K ended with the summer of ’97, I desperately searched for something like it to fill the void, which eventually lead to my discovering Son Of Ghoul. It wasn’t a “well, I guess it’s good enough” replacement either; SOG provided a somewhat different but nevertheless intensely fanatical, erm, fandom in me that continues to this day. Both shows airing on the same station is something I could have only dreamt of so many years ago, and the fact that it is now happening is, I don’t know, poetic justice? That doesn’t apply here at all, does it? It’s fitting to me, is what I’m tryin’ to say.

Plus, I haven’t been able to watch MST3K over the air in “real time” since 1-31-2004, and not in my own home since that summer of 1997. So, that’s nice.

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Following the initial announcement, my fervor was further stoked with a “coming soon” promo on Retro TV, which began airing soon after. It kept me more excited than any 10-second promo that consisted of a more-or-less static image and some sound bytes has a right to. More importantly, the fact it was airing several months in advance showed (to me, at least) that Retro TV was going to go the extra mile for the show. The commercial for Rifftrax’s live Sharknado only bolstered that feeling; if it weren’t for MST3K’s impending Retro TV arrival, I just couldn’t see that promo airing on the station otherwise.

Further proof that Retro TV was going to treat MST3K as something special was the later announcement that it would be airing twice on the weekends: Saturday at 8 PM EST, with an encore on Sundays at 5 PM EST.

This, however, presented a problem for your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter: Son Of Ghoul airs every Saturday from 7 PM to 9 PM. Usually, whatever was on Retro TV at 9 PM wouldn’t be preempted by local programming, so I figured we’d get at the very least one hour of MST3K before Off Beat Cinema at 10 PM. Prior to the 8 PM announcement, I had been presuming that MST3K wouldn’t be replacing the Saturday Off Beat Cinema, which in turn had replaced Wolfman Mac’s Chiller Drive-In (the normal Sunday Off Beat Cinema has continued before and since.)

Oddly enough, for as fanatic as I can be about this sort of thing, if the last hour of MST3K following SOG was all we Northeast Ohioans were going to get, I actually could have lived with that. I wouldn’t have preferred that situation, but some is better than none. And as it turned out, the un-preempted last hour after SOG is exactly what happened. Something about it just seemed so right for me: The show that MST3K lead me to, followed by the show that lead me to it…or something like that. It’s an entertaining three hours, is what I’m getting at.

Luckily, the Sunday 5 PM encore saved things for me, as that aired complete and uninterrupted. I was seriously concerned that infomercials would take MST3K’s place, but come Sunday, all was well.

The fact that MST3K was coming back to TV, even if only through reruns (running the gamut of the entire national run of the series, seasons 1-10,) was such a source of excitement for me that the actual episode that was premiering became sort of an afterthought…

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Retro TV kicked things off with the third episode of the first season, the 1942 PRC cheapie The Mad Monster. It’s a mega-low budget werewolf film, and needless to say, it ain’t very good (a bad movie on this show?! Go figure!) Here’s the deal with the first season: like any good show, there was a period of groove-finding. That is, it’s a hit-or-miss episode at best. I’m not a big fan of the first season anyway; I mean, sure, I generally like it, but after seeing the heights the show reached in the following seasons, it can be tough to go backwards. Add to that an installment of the Radar Men From The Moon serial they covered, which I’ve traditionally been pretty lukewarm at best on, and well, it’s a case where you’ve really got to look at the bigger picture.

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Keep in mind, I’m not looking a gift horse in the mouth; I understand Retro TV logically has to start at the beginning, and it’s probably better to get these weaker episodes out of the way first rather than throwing them in the middle of a run of strong episodes, and rest assured, the vast majority of the Retro TV line-up is downright killer (the list has been modified a bit since the initial announcement. You can read the current retro TV package courtesy of Satellite News here.)

It’s also easy to forget in this day and age of rampant DVD releases and/or otherwise easy access, that for years the season one episodes were scarce. At a certain point, as per request of The Brains (the affectionate MSTie name for the showrunners) the early episodes just weren’t shown on Comedy Central. Eventually some were ran again, but bottom line is that they were greatly downplayed in comparison to episodes from the rest of the series. SO, the fact that some of them (only two at the moment – The Corpse Vanishes is the next episode coming up before they head, briefly, into season two) are running at all, well, they still have that “hey these are kinda rare!” aura, even if they’re really not anymore. I wasn’t even watching the show during the Comedy Central days, and they still sort of feel that way to me.

My main concern here is that someone that has heard of MST3K and may be familiar with the Rifftrax/Cinematic Titanic projects will tune in, not be impressed, and come away thinking the show is wildly overrated. Give it a few weeks guys! Things get good with season two and great with season three on up! Don’t judge until you’ve seen Pod People!

To the episode’s credit, despite my general feelings toward the season (particularly the earlier half of the season,) I did find myself laughing or at least chuckling more than I expected to. I wouldn’t say any part of the episodes amounts to “home run” status, but if nothing else, it’s enjoyable.

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And there are a few nice bits, host segment-wise. The bit where Tom Servo hits on a food processor is particularly memorable, at least as far as the first season is concerned (it’s also a remake of a skit originally done at KTMA.) The show got much better in following seasons, but there are always moments, always the flashes of brilliance, that made MST3K so, erm, brilliant.

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From previous experience, I knew that our feed of Retro TV isn’t always the clearest. Not compared to the local broadcasting that airs on the channel, and certainly not compared to things broadcast on most other stations, and that holds true for MST3K in Northeast Ohio. It’s really my biggest and only actual complaint about being able to watch my favorite show on ‘real’ TV again. Even then, it’s a fairly minor quibble. That said, when I tuned in following SOG on Saturday night, initially I couldn’t tell if they were even playing MST3K. The quality was so dark (which wasn’t helped by the terrible print of the movie in the first place) that I wasn’t sure until I heard the riffs being thrown at the film. When things are light onscreen, it’s not so bad, but for large stretches of the episode, it was difficult, even impossible, to see the theater seats (see above.)

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Those were my observations at least, and mileage may vary in other markets or even elsewhere in Northeast Ohio. But, at the end of the day, none of that really changes the fact that it feels damn good to see images like the one above playing on my TV screen. Mystery Science Theater 3000 is back on the air, where it should be. And for me, I can watch it on the same station as Son Of Ghoul. You have no idea how beyond cool I find that. Most of the episodes being broadcast feature movies in the public domain, so I hold no illusions of some of my all-time favorites such as Agent For H.A.R.M. or the aforementioned Parts: The Clonus Horror eventually showing up.

But that’s okay. I’ll watch this stuff endlessly no matter what they air, because I love the show just that much. I guess when it comes right down to it, I’m not that far removed from my 11 year old self, watching the show all throughout that summer 17 years ago.

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Gee, that was a swell movie!” Wait, wrong show.

Portside Brewery’s Big Chuck Barley Wine Ale!

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“Big Chuck’s getting a beer?! When?! Where?! MUST. HAVE. NOW.

That was more or less my reaction when I first learned a month or so ago that local legend “Big Chuck” Schodowski was getting his own beer. It’s funny how after all these years, the announcement of “somethin’ new” related to one of Northeast Ohio’s movie hosts *still* has the ability to turn me into a total spaz.  It’s one facet of my personality that I’ve come to accept as never changing. And, when it’s something out-of-the-box like a beer (as opposed to your expected t-shirts and whatnot), well, that’s the kind of thing that can turn me straight-up violent with anticipation.

I’m (sorta) kidding of course, but considering that the March announcement of Portside Brewery’s Big Chuck-themed barley wine ale didn’t include a specific release date (I only saw a somewhat-vague “In April” release mentioned) or where I could find it for sale when it was on sale, I was a bit concerned about finding some of my own. Was it going to be available only in Cleveland-area stores, or all of Northeast Ohio? Maybe there was an article somewhere that answered these burning questions, but I sure didn’t see it.

More troubling to me than all that, however, was the specific mention that the release was going to be limited to about 8000 cans. Not 8000 cases, not 8000 4-packs, 8000 cans. That doesn’t seem like very much to me, at all. Especially when you consider all of the Northeast Ohio beer-drinkers that could potentially be interested in this. Now, under most circumstances, I take the statement “limited edition” with a grain of salt; I’ve picked up so many ostensibly ‘collectible’ things over the years with that term plastered all over ’em that it really doesn’t mean anything to me anymore. Anything made to be collected usually isn’t worth much in the long-run. Everyone goes out and buys it (because it’s “limited edition,” you know), which means it’s not scarce, which means…well, you get the picture.

BUT, unless there’s another run, Big Chuck beer really is a limited edition, and considering it’s a disposable product, there are less likely to be unopened cans popping up online in the future. Then again, the sad fact of the matter is that there are people as fanatical about this kind of thing as I am; the more I think about it, the more I can almost guarantee there’s going to be a bunch of folks at the next Ghoulardifest getting Big Chuck to sign can after can for them.

All of this was indeed running through my head to prior to finally finding Big Chuck beer for sale in my neck of the woods. And with the way my mind works, I had basically worked myself into thinking “there’s no way I’m going to be able to find this stuff at one of my stores! It probably sold-out instantly, anyway!” I get the same way with concert tickets, though in that case it’s a bit more understandable. Heaven help anyone that gets in the way of my purchasing Springsteen tickets, by the way.

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Of course, in other, similar instances, I always tend to see the glass half-empty as far as my probable success-rate is concerned. But in reality, I usually do come out of things kinda sorta successful. It’s rarely as bad or rough as I get myself worked up into thinking it is or will be. And such was the case with Big Chuck beer. Prior to the release, a friend of mine said it would in all likelihood be at Acme. Since I had no idea when it was hitting stores (if it was hitting anyplace in my near-vicinity, that is), I just sort of started checking this store or that store when April came around. Three Giant Eagle stores, one independent drive-thru, and the info that Big Chuck beer was indeed at Acme “store #1” later, I finally decided to check the Acme on State Road in Cuyahoga Falls. Since this Acme is nearby and easily visited, it’s a mystery why I didn’t check there sooner, but nevertheless, they had it, and it’s now mine, as the picture above aptly demonstrates. Big Chuck beer, happily traveling in an official Acme-brand shoppin’ cart. Tis beautiful.

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There they are, the fruits of my semi-fervor. Ain’t they cute? The red plastic rings keeping the cans together are a sign of quality, and the well-known Big Chuck caricature on the front of the cans is ample proof that this isn’t just another alcoholic beverage, this is a product. Or, dare I say, an event? And look, the UPC is housed in an Ohio! Even before tasting it, you know this is something special. At $10.99 a pack, they kinda have to be.

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There’s the can, liberated from the necessary plastic rings that keep the four cans together and away from ragamuffins and whatnot.

Big Chuck beer comes only in 4-packs of 12 oz. cans. At $10.99 a pack, it’s most definitely a premium beer. Didn’t stop me from buying 3 packs of it, though (one to drink, sparingly, at home, one to drink, sparingly, with friends, and one to keep minty sealed fresh for the rest of my days). Your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter is many things, but rolling in dough he is not, so I had to make sure the $35 or whatever it totaled out to after taxes was not spent in vain. So, that means you can thank the higher-price for this post.

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For scale comparisons, there’s Big Chuck beer next to a regular ol’ can of Diet Pepsi and an Adam West Batman action figure. It’s the same size and height as the Diet Pepsi, but not as tall as the Batman. This is really a pretty pointless pic, since everyone knows what a 12 oz. can looks like and Batman has nothing to do with anything. I’m not sure why I’m including this at all, but hey, there it is. “Holy superfluous picture, Batman!”

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Geez o yikes – Big Chuck beer ain’t for the wimps! 11.7% alcohol is just under the current 12% Ohio limit. $10.99 for a 4-pack of 12 oz. cans may sound like “a lot for a little” to some, but if you’re just looking for alcoholic content, well, it kinda evens all out in the end (besides, a limited edition beer from a microbrewery almost has to cost more than your average beer, right?)

The high alcohol content presents a small problem for your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter: I am by no means a teetotaler, but the fact is that I’m not much of a drinker, either. The result is that I have an admittedly sad tolerance, which I’m sure is probably letting John Wayne down somewhere, somehow. Prior to picking up this beverage, I think the last alcoholic anything I bought was a pack of that Budweiser Cranbrrrrita stuff right before Christmas, and it sat untouched, except for one (by my Brother), in my fridge for several months afterwards, until I brought them to a friends, where I think I eventually ended up having one, maybe two, tops. I have no problem with alcohol, but I’m the first to admit I’m a lightweight.

So, I can drink Big Chuck’s beer, but I’m gonna have to drink it slo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-w. There’s just no conceivable way I can drink this thing even remotely fast, unless I want to put myself into a drunken coma, which I don’t. This, of course, is not a fault on the part of the beer at all, it’s totally my shortcoming. I yam a weakling, I admits it. As it stands, I’m gonna have to nurse this beverage like a, um, nurse.

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See that mug? Is it not fitting for the occasion? It’s the closest thing I have to a legit Big Chuck mug, at any rate. Never mind that the graphic on it is kinda obscuring a clear view of the Big Chuck beer outside of the aluminum prison it was formerly housed in, it’s still a nice match to me. Especially since when I do drink, this is totally my mug of choice.

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As you can see, it’s a dark beer, and boy, is it powerful! A big beer for Big Chuck! Another downside of not being much of a drinker is that I can’t really describe all of the nuances of the flavor (seriously, I admire the people that can drink wine or something and then list all of the little flavors they pick up, because I’ve just never been able to do that.)

Portside Brewery has done the formerly impossible though, because prior to this, I haven’t been a big fan of dark beers, preferring instead your lighter domestic beers (not only am I a lightweight, but I’m also extremely mainstream). Believe me when I say this is a good beer. I’m not just saying that because my judgement is clouded by fondness for Big Chuck, either. No joke, I really, really like it! It has that kind of bitter-y taste you associate with dark beers (what is that? Malted barley? Hops?), but in a good way; no cringing here. I may be taking it in slowly, but I’m totally enjoying it. This is really good stuff, the perfect drink to sit back and relax with after a hard day of work. Of course, in my case, a hard day depends on how long I decided to sit in front of a VCR going through ancient videotapes, but I’m assuming the sentiment is the same for people that have real jobs.

In the interest of full disclosure, I first tried Big Chuck beer the other day with a buddy, and he was picking out all of the subtle (or maybe not so subtle, I don’t know) flavors. He was impressed, as were two other pals that tried it. Unlike me, these guys know their beer, and Big Chuck totally passed the test with them. It also passed with high marks from my Brother. My word may not always mean much, but theirs certainly do.

So, you’ve got a limited edition beer featuring a local television legend that comes in a swanky can and is tasty to boot. I consider that a successful purchase. I should pick up some more while I’ve still got the chance. Sure, it’ll take me forever to drink all of it, but I’ll enjoy every second. I know full well that things I’m super-anxious to pick up are often hyped (in my mind) to near astronomical proportions, so much so that sometimes it’s impossible for them to live up to such lofty expectations. But, Big Chuck beer was definitely worth the wait and search. I dig it. It’s certainly worthy of the Big Chuck name.

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Awww, now it’s just a 3-pack. Tis a bittersweet sight.

I guess the only question remaining is: when are we going to get a “Lil’ John” Rinaldi beer?

Just for fun:

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(Visit the official Portside Brewery website here, and the official Big Chuck & Lil’ John site here.)

UPDATE: Totally went and got some more, which as it turned out, was the last one on Acme’s shelf (my brother got the penultimate pack.) Will more arrive in the future? Only time will tell, but I’m certainly stocked for awhile!

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Front Row Entertainment’s Fantasy Mission Force VHS (1996)

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Unlikely as it may seem, I was super stoked to find this sealed VHS copy of the Jackie Chan film Fantasy Mission Force at the Midway Plaza Goodwill recently. And not because I’m a Fantasy Mission Force megafan, either; lots of people love it (albeit for all the wrong reasons), but I can’t count myself among them. It’s a whacked-out flick, and I probably should enjoy it for the complete insanity that endears it to so many others, but I just don’t. And you can’t make me.

Nor am I an especially big kung fu movie fan. I like some of the Bruce Lee films, and I have a special affinity for The Dragon Lives Again (a nutbar “Brucesploitation” film where “Bruce Lee” dies, goes to the underworld, teams up with Popeye, and fights Dracula. Yes, really), but if I have any kind of kung fu fandom in me, it is only of the most casual variety.

(Anyone who has seen both is probably now wondering why I like a film as oddball as The Dragon Lives Again but don’t like the-also-super-weird Fantasy Mission Force. Search me. Also, while on the subject of weird kung fu, I so wanted to love Bruce Lee Strikes Back From The Grave, but man, aside from that opening intro, dude, screw that. Awesome theatrical poster, though.)

Fantasy Mission Force ostensibly stars Jackie Chan (his role basically amounts to a bit part), is ostensibly set during World War II (cars from the 1970’s show up, and references to Abraham Lincoln, James Bond and Rocky are made), and is ostensibly…well, I don’t really know where I was going with that kinda-gag. It’s a crazy flick, though. (To be fair, all of the inconsistencies are intentional.) It starts off with a bizarre singing-drinking party, then later there’s a Scottish soldier and his ultra-annoying sidekick, a tribe of Amazons, and a sojourn to a haunted house. It’s one “what the hell?” moment after another, and I’m not exaggerating, that reaction is pretty much nonstop throughout the whole thing. Oh, and to top it all off, there’s an obnoxiously catchy theme song that bores itself into your head for 97 years at a time.

Actually, when I describe the movie like that, Fantasy Mission Force does sound pretty awesome. I take back all the awful things I said about it? Nah.

So, if I don’t really like the movie, why get so jazzed upon finding a sealed copy at Goodwill? It’s not even remotely rare, and if all I wanted was a sealed copy, I’m sure they’re found easily enough online. No, only nostalgia could get my adrenaline pumping in regards to a film like Fantasy Mission Force. Here’s the ultimate proof:

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That $2.99 price tag. I know it by heart. The image is burnt into my memory. This sticker is proof-positive that this tape originally came from Best Buy’s fabled (in my mind) $2.99 VHS section. Not only did I dearly love this section, where films of an otherwise-doubtful sales-potential resided (silent shorts, b-westerns, spaghetti westerns, cheesy horror/sci-fi; a lot of crap not unlike Fantasy Mission Force, basically), but that also means that this copy of Fantasy Mission Force is as identical in every aspect as possible to the one I had in the late-1990’s. Where did my original copy go? All will be revealed in due time (settle down, I’ll get there.)

Also, don’t you just love that picture above? Jackie seems to be glaring at the price with so much resentment. “I’m only worth three bucks?!

For a short time in the late-1990’s, I was on a kung fu kick, so when I saw this tape (and having seen no other Chan flick beforehand) in Best Buy’s $2.99 section, I snapped it up right quick. I was already well-acquainted with the section, so it’s not like I didn’t know what could reside there, but that didn’t stop me from happily carrying it to the checkout counter like I’d just found a pot of friggin’ gold. It must’ve been the summer of 1998, because I’m positive I didn’t have this the summer before, and because the clerk asked if I was getting it for my Dad for father’s day. No, nosy checkout guy, this one is [was] mines. Further evidence it was summer of ’98? I had my copy of the film for about a year before it left me.

Where, how and why it went, you’ll soon know. But first, a closer look at the tape itself.

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Front Row Entertainment was a budget outfit, and make no mistake, their Fantasy Mission Force sure looks like a budget tape. You’d never see a major studio putting out something looking like that above. That said, it IS a bit more competent than a lot of cheapo videos. At least as far as the packaging goes. I mean, look at it. The pinks, blues and whites make it look like something akin to an ice cream cone. Do I dare take a bite out of it? It’s an aesthetically pleasing sleeve, even if it doesn’t scream “hot kung fu action!” and completely belies the actual product, which as previously mentioned, is NOT a thing of beauty.

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The back of the sleeve is plain-Jane, but adequate enough. I mean, the description is perfectly serviceable, though the final sentence is a massive understatement. Maybe it’s impossible to properly explain a film like Fantasy Mission Force in the space of one VHS back-cover.

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See, sealed. Did you think I was lying? I wasn’t. I can get an opened copy anywhere, so I refuse to crack the seal of my assuredly-from-Best Buy-and-just-like-the-one-I-used-to-have version.

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No, I didn’t succumb to temptation (ha!) and open it. As fortune would have it, I received a totally random and completely sleeve-less copy in a recent tape lot. Why was it in there? Was it a premonition? I don’t have the answer to those burning questions, and you’d better believe I wasn’t even remotely as excited as I was when I found the Best Buy-sealed copy (seriously, what are the odds of that in this day and age?), but if nothing else, it allows me to show you, the reader, what the actual tape looks like. Exciting, isn’t it? Amount of tape used: approximately a foot. High quality it was/is not.

Okay, the preliminaries are out of the way. Now, the real reason I was so excited to find this: my original copy is the subject of one of my fondest Northeast Ohio horror movie host memories. Behold!

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That is absolutely my original copy in The Ghoul’s hand, during the summer of 1999. The Ghoul had been on WBNX TV-55 for roughly a year at that point, and that year had seen me become a big fan of his. I had also watched my copy of Fantasy Mission Force twice in that year, and I just couldn’t stomach a third. I mean, no kidding, it sucks pretty bad. So, my VHS became the subject of the first package I ever sent The Ghoul. The package also included a “Parma Yo-Yo” (which The Ghoul seemed to like a lot but never did anything with again) and a big “Ghoul Power!” banner, but the Fantasy Mission Force tape was a grand finale of sorts. Being a young, 13-year old Ghoul fan, of course I asked him to blow the thing up.

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Being a man of the people, The Ghoul kindly obliged my request (“ask and you shall receive in Ghoul Power land!”), and trust me, there is no more fitting fate for Fantasy Mission Force than one of The Ghoul’s boom-booms. I really was jumping up and down during this whole segment, and the final fate of my awful movie was totally the topper. You have no idea how much I just loved all this. And while it doesn’t translate as well into still-pictures, this was a seriously satisfying blow-up.

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Those final two images are the last looks I ever had of my beloved Fantasy Mission Force tape. I don’t know what kind of firecracker he used, but man, that thing obliterated the video, as you can well see. It was, and is, a beautiful thing.

Keep in mind, not once have I regretted sending The Ghoul that tape. Oh, there are plenty of tapes I had, later got rid of, and ended up regretting, but this wasn’t one of them. The whole segment has become legendary to me. Fantasy Mission Force may not be good for much else, but it was certainly good for this.

And now I have a sealed copy, just like the one I sent to The Ghoul 15 years ago! Has it really been that long? Sure doesn’t seem like it. Maybe if The Ghoul ever comes back to local TV, I’ll send him this copy, too…

Nah, the chances of me coming across another sealed copy from the long-gone Best Buy $2.99 section are just too slim. The only question remains: where to put the tape? It’s stupid sealed Fantasy Mission Force, after all. It’s gotta go somewhere of semi-honor, doesn’t it?

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It’s got action like Commando, and it’s got comedy like Dan Aykroyd. A fitting combination? Hmmmm…

Christmas & New Year’s with The Ghoul, Son of Ghoul and Big Chuck & Lil’ John (1998/1999)

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There it is. Not the most-heralded of my many late-90’s/early-2000’s tapes, but certainly one of the more-heralded ones. Please ignore my sloppy, 12-year old handwriting (I’ve kinda sorta improved in that area), and while we’re at it, please ignore The Avenger (a 1961 Steve Reeves film) and the vague “TV Land Programs” descriptive line; those recordings are not conducive to our ultimate goal today (indeed, the TV Land stuff was recorded later, in the summer of ’99). Nope, we’re focusing on the ‘big three’ of Northeast Ohio horror hosts today, all on one powerhouse of a tape, all recorded during or around the holiday season of 1998/99, and all part of some serious nostalgia for me.

1997-1999 was probably the time period most responsible for making me, well, me. Not completely, of course; I continued to refine my goofy self (whatever that means) in the years following, but there’s little doubt that some of the things I’m a still a huge, huge fan of first took hold of me in the era this tape hails from. I had discovered Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Son Of Ghoul in ’97, The Ghoul came back to Cleveland TV in ’98, and despite first watching them in ’96, I really started to appreciate Big Chuck & Lil’ John around ’99. Except for the absence of MST3K and the now-head scratching inclusion of The Avenger, the tape seen above is really a pretty great description of your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter’s interests in the late-90’s. Even the old TV Land programming is a sight-for-sore-eyes.

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The lead-off recording was The Ghoul’s first Christmas special of his WBNX TV-55 run. It’s also one of the earliest episodes I have from those WBNX years. I recorded the first couple episodes (which I still have), and a few select later ones (which I don’t), but as it stands, this is one of the earliest to survive. In lieu of any other opening credits or theme music, the specialized “Ghoul’s Christmas Special” title makes it clear that this is a ‘big deal’ in the Ghoul Power world. Also a big deal: according to a quick internet calendar search, this aired on Christmas ’98, a Friday, which was obviously December 25th (at the very tail-end of the day, 11:30 PM, but hey, it counts).

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The Ghoul loved the Christmas season and would go all out to celebrate it, including the special Christmas-themed border and groups of kids in attendance, as seen above. It’s clear he loved the holiday season, and the next year, he would even have, roughly, a month-long celebration, running the 1935 Scrooge as well as Santa Claus In Mother Goose Land (which was actually The Magic Land Of Mother Goose and was, if I recall correctly, only vaguely Christmassy) in addition to the film that was also shown that first year…

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It’s the 1959 Mexican film Santa Claus. A the time, I was only familiar with this movie via what was printed in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide, and since it wasn’t listed in Leonard Maltin’s guide nor had I discovered IMDb yet, I had no idea what year it was even released in, which is why, if you scroll back up, you’ll see I have only “Mexican” listed in brackets next to the title on the tape sleeve. I wouldn’t have known even that if the opening credits didn’t mention Mexico.

The Ghoul loved running this movie during Christmastime, and I have four separate Christmas airings of it: this first one from 1998, plus 1999, 2000 and 2001. And for all I know, he ran it again and again during the rest of his WBNX run.

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Truth be told though, I’ve never much cared for the movie. If it weren’t for the fact that it was then a (to me) obscure foreign film, and one that had been MST’d at that, I’m not sure it would have survived all these years, let alone the three other airings I have. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I have all of them, the more Ghoul the better, but I’m not as enamored of this flick as others are. In fact, for a movie that’s gained a pretty impressive cult following, I really can’t stand it at all. Oh, I should love it for the incredible weirdness it presents (Santa battling the forces of evil, wind-up mechanical reindeer, Merlin, and a bizarre pair of moving red lips that are the very definition of “terrifying”), but I don’t know, it’s a movie that has always left me cold.

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Not so with the second recording on the tape, which would have aired on Saturday, December 26th. It’s Son of Ghoul’s Christmas special! At the time, SOG was on both Friday and Saturdays, 8-10 PM, so an identical episode would have been aired the day before on Christmas Day as well. It’s interesting that both The Ghoul’s and Son of Ghoul’s shows were/are so different, yet they both really went the extra mile for Christmas.

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Oooh, I’m diggin’ that swanky green border! Unlike usual episodes, SOG read the mail on the main dungeon set, as seen in that left screencap. On the right, the screencap comes from the very close of the show. As you can see, they even had a guy in a reindeer costume, and fake reindeer poop on the floor to go with him/it! Tis the season?

SOG’s annual Christmas show has become one of my favorite ‘extra’ parts of the season. Nowadays he’s only on Saturdays, and every weekend before Christmas, there’s a yearly show dedicated to the holiday. More than once (twice, to be exact, including this year), stuff I’ve sent in has been presented on the Christmas show, and it’s always a nice addition to my holiday season. I was regularly writing SOG by 1998, but nothing of mine was presented during his ’98 special. Considering I never really had anything particularly interesting and/or important to say back then, that was probably for the best.

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It hasn’t been shown for a few years, but Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (see, I told you my UAV tape wasn’t the last you’d see of it this holiday season!) was once a yearly tradition, not unlike SOG’s running of Night Of The Living Dead every Halloween. I like this movie waaaay more than Santa Claus. It’s weird, it’s goofy, it’s idiotic, but all in a good way. Some may argue that the other movie was all of that and more, but the fact remains that Santa Claus Conquers The Martians is my preferred bad movie for the Christmas season. Even the MST3K version was, in my opinion, superior to their take on Santa Claus.

Speaking of the MST3K version, when they riffed the film, their print didn’t include the title card as seen above. Apparently, because of that, many people were unaware that the film circulated/circulates with a title card. which was odd to me, because by the time I saw the MST3K episode, every print of Santa Claus Conquers The Martians I had seen up to that point had a title as you’d expect.

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I first saw this movie when SOG ran it during the Christmas season of 1997, and then right after, I got my copy of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide for Christmas 1997, and learned they did the film, too. It’s a pretty weird movie, clearly aimed at the lil’ baby childrens, in which martians kidnap Santa in order liven the martian children up. It includes Pia Zadora (who, contrary to my UAV tape’s description, is not especially precocious – yes, I’m still irritated by that line), and a guy that looks a lot like Jamie Farr but isn’t Jamie Farr (much to my chagrin).

That left screencap above is either the embodiment of the Christmas season, or a truly nightmarish visage, I can’t decide. Maybe it’s both.

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At one point, SOG superimposed himself into the movie, and tried to light Santa’s pipe. I thought that was pretty funny.

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The last (applicable) recording on the tape is the New Years portion referred to in the title. It didn’t air on New Year’s Eve or Day, nearest I can figure is it was broadcast in the first half of January, but nevertheless, this episode of Big Chuck & Lil’ John’s Couch Potato Theater has some pretty strong memories attached to it (not the least of which is the image above, well familiar to me from so many Saturday afternoons).

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Ah, Big Chuck & Lil’ John on their old King Kong set. It was the same set as their usual Friday night Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show, except Couch Potato Theater was always broadcast Saturday afternoon and was called, you know, Couch Potato Theater. Couch Potato Theater was a bit of a wild-card: sometimes a full-length movie would be shown, other times old Three Stooges shorts or episodes of The Abbott And Costello Show, even skits-only if time was an issue (similar to what the revived Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show is now). In this case, though, old silent short comedies were the day’s subject.

My recording of this almost didn’t happen. At the time, I was a big, big fan of silent comedy films (still am, actually, though not quite as fervent), and trying to catch and tape some of them when they were run as unscheduled-between-programming-filler on WAOH/WAX was a common thing with me. Somehow, though, I missed the TV Guide listing for this episode of Couch Potato Theater, in which several old silent comedies were run over the course of the afternoon. To make matters worse, we had to leave soon because my brother had a basketball game. So, I grabbed the only available tape, cued it up after The Avenger, and hit record. Better than nothing, right?

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I began taping in the middle of some Keystone film, the title of which I no longer remember, but was able to capture the entire last subject of the day: Charlie Chaplin’s The Champion, a 1915 Essanay film, which was from the period when Chaplin’s movies started to get really good. From how I understand it, this particular short has been the subject of much editing and whatnot over the years, but the version Big Chuck & LIl’ John ran was the Blackhawk Films print, apparently one of the better ones. Certainly lengthier, if nothing else.

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The Champion, as the name and screenshots kinda sorta show, detail Chaplin’s Little Tramp character becoming a boxer. The subject of boxing is one I’ve always liked (having grown up on the Rocky movies), and the addition of an English Bulldog is always a plus, so yeah, I like this short. I’m sure I have many of them on cheap, public domain DVDs, but I’m not as familiar with Chaplin’s Essanay films as I am with his Mutual work, which I consider my favorite of his.

At the time, I was just then starting to appreciate Big Chuck & Lil’ John, something that would be more fully-realized when I began watching The Abbott And Costello Show on their Saturday afternoon program. Still, I recall having made a habit of at least checking the listing for their Friday night show, so I’m not sure how I missed the listing for these old silents. I can’t remember if I discovered the broadcast while flipping channels or if I came across it that day in TV Guide, but either way, I came in when most of it was over. It was one of those feelings, unfortunately well-familiar to me as a heavy-taper by then, of “Oh man, I’m missing this!” Of course, the follow-up “Well, at least I got some of it” took a bit of the sting away.

(If you go way back to the top and look at the tape’s label, you’ll see that the listing for this is off to the side and not where it should be, right after The Avenger. That’s because, for years, this broadcast was unlisted on the tape. I don’t know if it was due to the haphazard nature of the recording or what, but for whatever reason, I never labeled it properly. Oh sure, I took the time to label “TV Land Programs” later that summer, but Chuck & John got shorted on that front. It wasn’t until 2011 when I was making a concerted effort to label a lot of my tapes that had suffered in obscurity for years that this was duly notarized. It took a bit of searching, I could only remember it was on a tape with a purple Sony tape, but finally I found it, labeled it, and it is now given the proper respect it so deserves.)

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There’s just under an hour of Chuck & John action on the tape, but even so, several skits were captured. My favorite of them (tied with “The Lil’ Flash,” at least) was Cuyahoga Jones, their Indiana Jones parody. This was the first time I had ever seen one of these skits, which were part of a continuing storyline in which Cuyahoga tries to steal the “Kapusta Diamond.” Big Chuck played Cuyahoga, and Lil’ John played Shortstuff. In this one, they tried to earn $20 in order to buy supplies to help them carry the safe containing the diamond out of the castle. Pretty funny stuff!

Believe it or not, there’s a lot of memories tied into this tape, more than I could ever hope to accurately describe in print. The video itself, yeah, I fondly recall all of this stuff from that winter season, but it also brings to mind that general period in my life. All of the things/shows/etc. I was and am into, sure, but also other memories, like going to the mall with my Mom for Christmas shopping, come to mind when thinking of the era this tape comes from. As much as I love the actual recordings, I think those memories are even more important to me. Maybe I’m doing a sloppy job of getting across what I’m trying to say, but hopefully you know what I’m getting at. I’m sure you can all relate in one way or another.

And so, with that, this Christmas post nears an end. I sincerely hope all of you have a fantastic Christmas and New Years. Thank you to all that have taken the time to read this blog, and in some cases, even pass the link around. Have a wonderful holiday season and be safe in the new year.

Stay tuned, more goofy stuff to come!

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