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Video Rental Artifact: ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES (1991; 1992 Blockbuster-Branded VHS)

Sometimes when I’m out hunting for this or that and I find a VHS tape that strikes my stupid dumb fancy, it’s not always just about the tape itself. I mean, yeah, it helps when I have at least some vested interest in the release proper, but oftentimes there are ‘supplemental’ features that will take a a tape from “well, alright, I guess” to “must must must buy and you can’t stop me and if you try I’ll throw down legit.” Today’s subject is a definite example of the latter.

(HINT: I’ve been down this route before.)

Before we get to that, let me provide a little backstory first: It’s 1991, I’m five, and the big budget Kevin Costner film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is seemingly aimed directly at me and my kind. Kenner put out a neato toy line that, unbeknownst to me then, was chock full of re-purposed molds. (Y’all get genuine props for reusing the Ewok village as Robin’s forest fortress, Kenner!) There was even a Nintendo game that, I discovered years later, was actually pretty good (a rarity in the world of NES movie-based carts).

The marketing worked, and just like a year earlier when I jumped on the Dick Tracy bandwagon hardcore (or at least as hardcore as is possible for a four-year old), little me was all about the Hood. Erm, Robin Hood, I mean. Dad took me to see the film in theaters, and frankly, I don’t remember much about it, but it was probably a bit too dark for a five-year old.

Nevertheless, there’s some definite nostalgia on my part now when I look back at Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. It’s not a film I’ve revisited in the 27 years that have elapsed, but yeah, nostalgia. Plus, it’s a film I can conceivably see myself revisiting nowadays, which is no small feather in its cap, or arrow, or [insert further Robin Hood-themed pun here].

The VHS release of this movie is not even remotely hard to find. Lately, I’ve noticed that a lot of movies from that era, which for the longest time were seemingly ever-present used, are not as commonly found nowadays. I’m not saying they’re rare, not at all, but unless it’s ’89 Batman, Jurassic Park or (looking ahead a bit) Titanic, you’re not always guaranteed a quick find while out hitting up the thrift stores and whatnot for VHS. (It’s not a dead format thing – yet – either, because I still come across a lot of VHS during my travels.)

No kidding, it took far longer than I care to admit to stumble across Cop and a Half, another one I saw in the theater back in the day, until I finally, finally did, several weeks back. It was a moment of triumph, flourish, and bravado that, quite frankly, I probably shouldn’t be so ready to admit. Of course, once I finally found that copy, some two weeks later I came across another one; I picked that one up too, on principle alone.

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is, in my mostly-useless experience, not one such release. Hardly a thrift run goes by that I don’t come across one or more copies of the flick on VHS. As such, nostalgia notwithstanding, I’ve never felt much need to throw one in the cart when I’m out and about and picking up too much crap I don’t really need, because it’s pretty much always available.

But then, this copy came into my life, and that all changed.

Several weeks back, during a fairly impromptu thrift trip, the location of choice had somewhat refreshed their home video shelves, which meant there was a decent selection of obsolete media for yours truly to gawk at. I didn’t see much worth buying at first glance, but then I happened to take a closer look at the copy of Robin Hood that was laying there, of which I had previously paid little attention. This was fortuitous because, man, I had inadvertently stumbled upon not only something that tied into my formative years, but was also a legitimate artifact of the video rental-era – an era that was also a part of my formative years!

Behold! It’s a vintage Blockbuster Video-branded copy of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves! Cool winnins!

I’m always on the lookout for tapes like this, and while Blockbuster-emblazoned stuff isn’t very hard to find, in my (again, mostly-useless) experience, tapes prior to 1995 or so show up much less frequently. (This is from 1992; hold your water, you’ll see proof in a moment.)

Of course, as far as the sleeve goes, this branding extends only to the shrinkwrap; the jacket itself is your common, garden-variety Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves VHS sleeve, what with the title and Kevin Costner with his flamin’ arrow and whatnot. If I were to be foolish enough to remove said shrinkwrap, outside appearances would belie the real history of the tape.

And that history, the very fact this is such a relic of the video rental-era (at or very near its height, no less), when Blockbuster was veritable king of the VHS world, that alone makes this tape worth the 60 cents the thrift store was asking for it. You could claim that I’m flippin’ my beans over that swanky old school “previously viewed” sticker, and I am weird enough to buy a tape just for something like that, but it’s really the whole package with this one. Like I said, this is a legitimate artifact of early-1990s home video! The fact I have real history with the movie just makes it all the better; I wouldn’t be as happy if this were a copy of Curly Sue, for example. (Sorry, Jim Belushi.)

That particular “special price sticker” on the front isn’t something I come across often at all when it comes to used VHS buying; usually, it’s those square yellow stickers from the mid-90s or circular red ones of later years that I find affixed to my obsolete video formats.

But it’s the sticker on the back of the sleeve (well, shrinkwrap) that puts this one over the top, though. Dig this: this copy of the movie was placed out for sale on February 9, 1992! And look, it was only $9.95! This was a time when you could get away with charging that much for a used VHS tape! (Though, granted, wasn’t $9.95 like $600 in 1992 dollars?)

In a nice turn of events, there was no description on the back of the sleeve for the sticker to obscure, though the fine technical print wasn’t so fortunate. Still, you get the typical ballyhoo of quotes and taglines and whatnot. And look, recorded on BASF tape!

I’m not sure when Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves debuted on home video. In the U.S., it hit theaters on June 14, 1991, and while home video releases didn’t move as quickly then as they do now (or so it seems to me), I would assume it was out in time for the Christmas season. At any rate, by early ’92, this particular Blockbuster location had a used copy out for sale. I’m going to guess that this was a holdover from an initial “rental push,” after it first debuted on VHS. That’s my theory, anyway; early-92 seems pretty close to when this would have initially hit rental shelves. Or not; what do I know?

As I said, remove the shrinkwrap (not that I ever will), and that video rental lineage mostly goes away, but slide the tape out of the sleeve, and there’s a piece of evidence a bit more solid…

Ah, the famous “y’all betta rewind” reminder! As per the norm, slapped right over the left window of the tape! Thas adorable. And look, the previous owner did NOT rewind all the way to the start! Despite that being the benefit of owning a tape yourself, I still demand restitution. But from whom?!

I’m not sure why the title “label” on the tape, which is actually just printed right on the casing itself, is upside down though. Was this normal, or a mistake? I come across plenty of Robin Hood tapes, so I really should know this, but I, uh, don’t.

Actually, during a thrift trip just two nights ago, one store had not one but two copies of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves on VHS for sale. Well, technically, one plus a sleeve; the first copy was legit, but the other one had what appeared to be a blank tape mistakenly (?) housed in the sleeve, and severely molded to boot. The ‘real’ one, however, I checked, and it had an actual label on the tape, placed right side up. Maybe a later pressing? I don’t know, but my attempts at sleep later were relatively tortured, and there’s the slight possibility that it was a subconscious reaction to this Robin Hood conundrum.

None of this really matters and I’m clearly just babbling now.

(EDIT: The label as seen here is normal; I’ve since verified it with yet another stumbled-across copy while out thrifting. I didn’t buy it, but maybe I should have…)

Anyway, I’m not going to play this; what would the point be? I can get a “watching copy” at essentially any time I please; heck, I had yet another chance just the other evening! And probably another one later today! And besides, for the purpose of this article, what could I really say? “It’s Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood, on, uh, VHS…” The quality will be fine, SP, not up to the standards of DVD, but then, would you expect it to be?

No no, this particular copy hath been deemed my “collector’s copy,” and as such deserves a place of honor. Like a shiny display case or something, maybe with a rotating stand. You know, like how they show off rotisserie chickens at the grocery store. No, wait, that might end badly…

Really, I get a big kick out of this find. As mentioned, I have childhood memories of not only the movie Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, but also the associated merchandising hype that went along with it. Add to that definitive evidence of Blockbuster Video’s heyday, which lends an even more decidedly early-90s ambiance to the proceedings, and you’ve got something that could really be considered special. If you’re into old home video, anyway.

On a final, related note: you can almost be guaranteed that if I ever come across a copy of 1989’s Batman, or even 1992’s Batman Returns, with similar Blockbuster-branding all over it, there’s a good possibility you’ll hear my giddy exclamations from wherever you may currently be situated.

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VHS Review: TEXAS TERROR (1935; 1985 Vintage Video Release)

“Say, that cover looks kinda sorta familiar!”

If you’re saying a variation of that phrase to yourself right now, it means you’ve read this article. And if that’s the case, it also means you’ve probably got too much time on your hands. That’s okay though; so do I.

Yes, Vintage Video makes a return to my stupid dumb blog, and while the subject this time around is admittedly less eye-popping than Al “Grampa” Lewis hosting Night of the Living Dead, it’s no less rare; old school Goodtimes/Congress/UAV/ etc. budget VHS releases of certain titles are (relatively speaking) a dime-a-dozen, but Vintage Video? These tapes show up far less often, though there doesn’t seem to be a huge difference in value –  it takes someone with the same arbitrary whims as I to go after them, and fortunately for me, I appear to stand alone on that front. (I.e., no one else seems to care as much as I do.)

No joke, more than once I’ve gone out of my way to pick these videos up, regardless of title. I’m not sure if the company was always a subsidiary of Amvest Video, or merely became one later, but either way, I’ve become incredibly fond of their releases. Sure, most (all?) of them were just the public domain staples that nearly every company took a shot at releasing, but there’s a quirky aura about these Vintage Video tapes that I can’t resist. Or maybe it’s just that whole eventual Grampa thing, I don’t know. (If none of this is making sense to you, and there’s a good chance that it isn’t, go read the some 900,000 words I wrote about the subject in the article linked above.)

Anyway, I’m excited for today’s subject for three specific reasons: 1) It’s a pre-fame John Wayne B-Western, his 1935 Lone Star (aka Monogram) entry, Texas Terror, as you can plainly see above. Let it be clearly stated: I love these Lone Stars. You ask me to put together a list of my favorite Wayne flicks, guess what? Blue Steel is going right up there with Stagecoach – a statement I make without hesitation despite the probable destruction of my street cred. I’m a B-Western junkie, and a Wayne fan, so these Lone Stars are directly up my alley.

2) I grew up watching B-Westerns. I talked about this recently; in the late-1990s, our local independent station WAOH TV-29/WAX TV-35 regularly ran syndicated content from the America One Network, and each weekday (and often on weekends, too) they’d play an afternoon “Western Theater.” You wouldn’t be seeing things like The Searchers on the program; oh no, it was the B-Westerns of the 1930s and 1940s that they presented, and at 11/12-years old, I quickly grew to love them – a love I carry with me to this day. America One often seemed to have unique prints of their films, too; not necessarily wildly different prints as far as the actual content of the movie went, but the picture and sound quality of their features could vary quite a bit from more ‘common’ versions found on other networks and/or home video. Coincidentally, and fittingly, the same often goes with these Vintage Video/Amvest releases!

3) I didn’t know this company (these companies?) ever even released any westerns. I mean, it was a safe guess that they did, but listen, I’ve spent far too much time researching these titles, and in the course of that research I’ve seen comedies (Movie Struck), dramas (The Blue Angel), silents (The Gold Rush), mysteries (The Woman in Green), sports biopics (The Joe Louis Story), even action (Fists of Fury), and of course the sci-fi and horror of the Grampa series. But until Texas Terror, never a western. I mean, I assume they put out The Outlaw and/or Angel and the Badman, because nearly every budget VHS manufacturer did, but if so, *I’ve* never seen them. So, when I discovered they not only released a western, but a B-Western, and that B-Western was a John Wayne Lone Star, I got far more excited than an ostensibly-reasonable adult should have. I mean, we’re talking unacceptably giddy here. Needless to say, it had to become mine, and as you may have surmised by now, it did.

In relation to the other Vintage Video titles, this one is a little unique: usually (but not always) for their covers, they’d go with the original poster art, merely flanked with the “Vintage Video” border you’re seeing above (they eventually dropped the border). But here, it’s an original composition; a stock (I guess) shot of Wayne, made to look appropriately old-timey. I dig the ‘western’ font of the front cover cast-credits, though I feel the graphic used for the actual film title is wildly inappropriate; to me, that’s more befitting an 80s horror movie or something. Totally belies the comparatively-quaint creaker (alliteration?) contained within the video, man. But then, that’s that quirky aura I was talking about earlier!

As for the back cover, it follows the general layout of the other Vintage Video products of the period. Sometimes, some of the pertinent information demonstrated the era from which it came; that is, hey, the internet wasn’t around yet! Texas Terror was not made in 1940; it’s absolutely from 1935. Doesn’t sound like that big a deal, I know, but there’s a world of difference between the John Wayne of 1935 and the John Wayne of 1940. (In the same vein, my VV copy of Black Dragons lists the release date as 1949, when in actuality it’s definitively a poverty row product of 1942.)

Also, some of their descriptions could be a little…off. Not bad, just…off. I made the same point in that Night of the Living Dead post. Here, there’s a mention of Wayne’s “great style,” but what exactly that style is is never specified, so it just comes off random. The synopsis would have flowed better had they dropped that part entirely. The “of course” near the end kinda stops the rest of the summary dead, too; the whole thing would run smoother had those two instances been cut. Still, they got the point across, so mission accomplished anyway I guess.

Also, I just realized that the entire description is only two sentences long.

Also also, they spelled “thieves” incorrectly.

Bear in mind, I’m not intending to come off negative here; this tape, and others in the same line, positively exude a budget label charm. Indeed, as the video industry progressed from the 1980s to the 1990s, you saw the major studios evolve, but the budget labels? That quirky charm never really left, and to an extent it continues today with cheapo DVDs, though to me those feel inherently less special; pressing a disc just ain’t the same, bro.

I guess what I’m getting at is collecting these public domain titles on old school budget video labels is endlessly fun. You get a peak at that early (or at least earlier) era of home video, and you often get fairly unique sleeve art, front and back, which is the case here.

(Also, if I ever find out Vintage Video/Amvest/whoever released a version of Blue Steel, I will legit flip my beans.)

So, on to the movie itself…

Lone Star Productions was, from how I understand it, a division of Monogram Pictures. Or was it merely Monogram under a secret name, not unlike Konami with their Ultra Games label? (I’m reasonably sure I’m the only person on the internet to make that reference in regards to a Monogram/Lone Star movie, and if you don’t get it, that’s because there’s not much of a comparison between the two entities at all.) Monogram was, for those not in “the know,” a poverty row purveyor of cheap theatrical entertainment, in pretty much any genre you could think of. Westerns were big business at the time, so needless to say, their output in that field was not inconsiderable.

From my first glimpse of Blue Steel so, so long ago, the thing I found immediately striking about these Lone Star pictures was their introductory sequence; a gigantic sheriff’s star, stampeding towards the viewer, the company’s name boldly emblazoned in the center of it. All of sudden, the thing stops, then transitions to the respective title and credits of the feature, all still contained within the star. And of course, this was always accompanied by a heroic, appropriately-western score.

If you’re wondering just why I find/found these intros so fascinating, it’s because, quite frankly, you didn’t always get such hype at the start of these poverty row westerns. For films that were, more often than not, pretty chintzy (in a good way), the opening fanfare exhibited by the Lone Stars was really pretty unique in the field.

While on the subject, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a non-John Wayne Lone Star western. Maybe that’s because these are so widely available today due to the star power involved. At any rate, did Monogram give Lone Star flicks to other actors? Yes? No? I dunno.

Actually, it’s the John Wayne factor that makes these Lone Stars so (relatively) well-known nowadays. Just like our tape today, budget releases on VHS were myriad, and that continues with DVD releases from every manufacturer under the western skies. (See what I did there?) I mean, when you’ve got American film icon John Wayne in a bunch of public domain movies, that’s the sort of thing a company looking to get cheap-but-eye-catching product on store shelves has to take advantage of.

Indeed, some of my favorite budget movie releases, on both VHS and DVD, are those of these John Wayne B-Westerns; not necessarily all of them, but rather the ones that use later-era shots of Wayne and/or appropriately ‘epic’ or ‘majestic’ backdrops for their cover art. The intent with these is clear: to make the unsuspecting consumer think these are “real” Wayne movies, and not the creakers they actually are. Oh don’t get me wrong, I love these Lone Stars, and I’m such a B-Western junkie that truth be told I’d head for them over some of Wayne’s later, big time stuff. Still, aside from the fact they feature the same star and are technically moving pictures, there’s just no real comparison between the two. Therefore, the more misleading the cover art for a release of one of these cheapies is (or was), the more appealing it is to yours truly. Go figure!

So anyway, Texas Terror. Through various compilations, I undoubtedly own it approximately 97,000 times over – give or take a couple thousand. Still, until I picked up this neato Vintage Video release, I wasn’t all that familiar with the movie. Blue Steel I know backwards and forwards, and I’ve at least seen a chunk of the others, but Texas Terror? For all intents and purposes, this was a new one on me.

Going in, don’t expect an early prototype of Stagecoach, okay? This is John Wayne, but also sort of, uh, isn’t. Frankly, it’s kinda fun seeing him outside of Hollywood and, I don’t know, ‘raw’ I guess would be the best term for it. The actor is the same, but the acting isn’t. Does that make any sense?

Soooo, all that said, ignoring the young John Wayne factor, and my love of B-Westerns and Lone Stars in general, I gotta admit, after watching it, Texas Terror really isn’t all that good of a movie. I mean, as a B-Western, I guess it’s alright, but as far as these Lone Stars go, there were much, much better flicks. If you’re looking at B-Westerns in general, Texas Terror ranks somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. “Mediocre” seems to sum it up pretty succinctly.

The plot centers around John Higgins (Wayne), the local sheriff, who mistakenly believes he’s killed his best friend Dan Matthews. During a shootout between Higgins and some robbers, Dan is killed by one of the hoodlums; upon discovery, Higgins thinks he plugged him (right screenshot), and subsequently resigns as sheriff and goes to live in the wilderness.

A year later, Dan’s daughter is heading into town to take over her late father’s ranch, when she is, naturally, beset by outlaws (it must run in the family). Higgins, now quite a bit scragglier, rescues her. Despite his heroism, she thinks he was one of the outlaws. Eventually, Higgins cleans himself up and comes back to town, his goal being to take down the gang once and for all. In the course of doing so, there’s a blossoming romance, a huge misunderstanding, and perhaps improbably, a square dance that devolves into a cow-milking-contest.

Oh, and George Hayes is also in this, minus the whole “Gabby” persona. Can’t forget to mention that!

Texas Terror, as previously stated, it isn’t all that good, but there are some interesting aspects to it that help set it apart. First of all, Wayne’s Higgins (I can’t type that without thinking of Magnum, P.I.) grows a beard during his exile period, and this is the only film I can think of where Wayne’s character features full facial fiber (alliteration). Sure, he had a mustache (and quasi-soul patch) in The Shootist, but this is the only instance I can think of where he had a legit beard. (I’m not saying it is the only instance, I don’t claim to have seen every single John Wayne movie ever, but this is certainly the only instance that comes to mind).

Random Thought: is it just me, or does Wayne kinda look like Kevin Love in this screencap?

Also, I appreciate the usage of Native Americans as heroic characters. Here, they’re friends with Higgins, and come to his aid in grand fashion during the film’s climax. Sure, their ‘accents’ may not be politically correct now, but Texas Terror bucks the frequent western trend of treating Native Americans as antagonists. I like that.

These Lone Star westerns often featured cool, though slightly generic, titles, and Texas Terror is no exception. Is the title an indication of Wayne’s character, the outlaws, or the plot in general? Blue Steel was the same way; no in-film reference ever related to the title, but it sure sounded neat.

As for the print and tape quality of Vintage Video’s presentation, this copy is in SP, which is always welcome, though it’s kind of a wash since the source material is so battered. I’m not saying this is the worst Texas Terror has ever looked, but this particular print certainly saw better days prior to VHS release. Besides the not-inconsiderable amount of dust, dirt and scratches, accumulated via untold trips through the projector and who knows how many generations removed, the bigger issue is that this version is pretty blasted. No joke, some of the images are far, far too bright. Look at the screenshots to the right here; the upper-image features a positively ghostly John Wayne, whose face seems to be a part of the wall behind him. And the lower-image? You’d be forgiven for not immediately realizing our heroine is even in the scene!

Still, like the sleeves these sorts of tapes were housed in, seeing the varying picture quality of these budget releases was/is part of the fun with collecting them. No, a major studio probably wouldn’t have put a print in this condition out (unless, say, there was only one known extant copy existing; definitely not the case with Texas Terror), but that’s why there were budget VHS tapes back then. The old adage of “you get what you pay for” could and often did come into play here, but I prefer to think of it more like, hey, the company got their hands on the only print they could, so let the chips fall where they may. Or something like that. Look, it was a different time in home video, and better sources might not have been available, or at least easily accessible. Especially if the manufacturer was a relatively minor player in the game.

So, there you have it: Texas Terror, as presented by Vintage Video, the (eventual?) alter-ego of Amvest Video, from 1985. I still haven’t seen another western put out by either company, and while I can’t really recommend the movie for B-Western and/or John Wayne fans (seriously, Blue Steel is pretty good; go with that one instead), it’s certainly an interesting, and for now, unique, addition to my collection. I’ve got more than a few cheapo John Wayne tapes littering my “archives” (ha!), but this one has automatically become one of the more-notable entries. I don’t say that lightly, either.

Atari 7800 Review: DOUBLE DRAGON (Activision, 1989)

Double Dragon on the Atari 7800? Time to rock!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Return of the 1975 RCA AU-097Y Portable TV! (Plus a Look at XENOPHOBE for the Atari 2600!)

Sometimes I have a problem where I’ve got more than enough stuff that I could write about, but, frankly, can’t really decide on any one subject. Such was my problem recently, as I looked at the boxes of VHS tapes, stacks of DVDs and mounds of old electronics around me, yet continued to be at a loss. I couldn’t get fired up over anything. Then, my eyes fell upon my beloved RCA AU-097Y portable TV from 1975, which I wrote about waaaay back in 2013 – in the early months of this very site! I have always loved the extreme 1970s-ness of this TV, but even so, that alone wasn’t enough to bring it back for a return-appearance on my stupid dumb blog. So what warranted a quick picture-taking session?

The latter years of the Atari 2600, that’s what! (This post is more for fun than anything. Plus, I haven’t written anything for November yet and constantly fear that y’all will abandon me.)

Now, I can play Atari 2600 (or if you want to get technical, Atari 7800) pretty much any time I please. I have one constantly at the ready in my “office” (ha!), and while I don’t play video games a whole lot, I do occasionally need to, as the ads used to say, reach reach reach for Atari. This doesn’t normally require usage of a 42 (!) year old TV, however. So, why did it now? Xenophobe, that’s why!

The picture to the right says it all: Midway’s 1987 split-screen arcade game was given the 2600 treatment, the title-screen of which you’re seeing right here. Xenophobe has long been one of my favorites on the console, which is funny, since I’m not big on the arcade version or most of the higher-end ports (the Lynx adaption wasn’t bad). I guess in the 2600’s case, “less is more,” though. While the more advanced versions retained much of the comical, cartoon-like atmosphere of the coin-op, the 2600’s weaker graphic and sonic capabilities meant only the ‘meat’ of Xenophobe was retained. It comes off quieter, more desolate, which for a game originally inspired by the Alien films, I think serves the 2600 port well. Plus, the fact a game this advanced even made it to the 2600 at all, in an extremely playable form no less, is purty derned impressive.

Here’s the deal: This 2600 port was indeed released in the U.S., at the insanely late date of 1990 (actually, this AtariAge thread says it didn’t ship until Spring 1991!!), which means there were/are NTSC copies out there, but for the longest time, they were pretty rare. I mean, by 1990/1991, the 16-bit era of video games had dawned; who would have thought they’d still be releasing games for a console introduced in 1977 in an age where the Sega Genesis had been unleashed?! It’s true – the Atari 2600 wasn’t officially discontinued until January 1, 1992. This wasn’t a one-off release, either; there were a slew of new 2600 games released in the wake of the infamous 1983 video game crash, after Nintendo totally revived the industry. Many of these newer 2600 titles were, and are, super-impressive, featuring NES-like formats and gameplay and graphics that many just wouldn’t think possible on the 2600.

Xenophobe is one such game, but by the time it saw release in the U.S., the market for the 2600 was all but dead. Overseas though, there was still some life left in the beast, the result being that you could find PAL copies of many of these hard-to-find US titles for a fraction of the cost. And that’s where my RCA TV comes in.

As you may imagine, games in the PAL format from that era aren’t generally known to run correctly in the U.S. Colors will be off, and more drastically, the screen can roll, rendering the game unplayable. However, by using an old school CRT TV with the capability to adjust the vertical hold, you can stabilize the screen to normal, and if you’re using a black & white set, as I did here, why, the mismatched colors don’t even matter! Cool winnins!

I own a (as I was assured by the seller) sealed NTSC copy of Xenophobe, which I had to pay real money for back in 2001 or 2002, but my loose copy is PAL. I’ve had a hankerin’ for some 2600 Xenophobe lately, so, well, you can deduce how we got where we are right now.

(By the way, the prices for NTSC Xenophobe, as well as other late-era releases, have fallen drastically in the years since I nabbed my sealed one; a ton of new old stock U.S. copies were uncovered in Venezuela some years back and made available to the masses, which means that what once were mega-rare titles are now surprisingly common, and affordable, via online sales. I’ve got several of these, another Xenophobe included, winging their way towards me as we speak.)

To make Atari happen on the RCA, I had to kick things way old school. Yep, via screws and an ancient RF switchbox – the kind you had to slide a switch to TV or game when you wanted to enjoy either. That’s what you’re seeing to your left here. Nothing unusual about it; this is how video game consoles were hooked up back in the day! On the RCA, there’s no other way.

Actually, it’s kind of a kick to hook a system up to a TV this way. You know, I grew up plugging things into the RF port, or via AVs, so it’s sorta neat to attach a console in such a wildly obsolete fashion. It feels very late-1970s/early-1980s appropriate, even if the Atari 7800 (which also plays 2600 games is thus my normative choice of Atari console) didn’t come out (nationally) until 1986, when this method had almost-certainly been widely-superseded by the RF/AV thing I just mentioned.

There are a bunch of contrasting eras at play here. You’ve got a black & white TV from 1975, displaying a game copyrighted 1990 and apparently released in 1991 and made for a console introduced in 1977, which in turn was being played on a console released in 1986 but included native backward-compatibility with that console introduced in 1977. Why, it’s enough to make your head swim!

So, back to Xenophobe. If for some reason you thought I had some kind of authority in the world of Atari (Hint: I don’t) and asked me to name my top 20 games for the 2600, Xenophobe would absolutely be on that list. Actually, it’d make my top 10. I love the game!

To your right is the opening scene of game play (I’d venture to guess that this is the only pic of the game being played on a black & white TV from 1975 on the internet – for the time being). Now, most people probably think of 2600 games as simple affairs, but Xenophobe is actually pretty expansive, comparable to many then-modern games. There are eight stations to visit throughout the game (though there’s no ending; it loops after the eighth), and stations that include different rooms, with some having multiple levels accessed via elevator. And as we saw above, it even features a legit title screen!

Graphically, the game really wows. Like any console, the longer it’s around, the more the programmers can get out of it.  Okay, sure, compared to the NES or 7800 (both of which had ports of Xenophobe), never mind the Sega Genesis (which didn’t), the graphics are extremely blocky, and gamers nowadays would probably laugh so hard at them that they’d spill whatever hyper-powered soft drink they had chosen for their all-night online gaming session. But given the system it’s on, Xenophobe is definitely impressive. Your character is rendered in multiple colors, the animation is (mostly) smooth, there are a variety of aliens to combat, and from outside appearances at least, the space stations are varied; I really liked all the gadgets and junk that adorned the walls of the areas you traversed, too. There’s even separate cut-scenes featuring your mother ship coming upon an infested station! Neato!

Musically, there’s some bits adapted from the arcade that don’t sound bad at all, and the sound effects are serviceable; there were certainly far worse to be found on the 2600.

The plot of the game involves several space stations that have been infested by alien beings (“Xenophobes,” as per the manual), and it’s up to you to clean ’em out! Yep, you beam on board each station, alone, and must systematically clear out a required number of aliens before you can be beamed back to your mother ship. (If you take too long, you’re beamed back aboard while the infested station self-destructs.) The aliens range from pods to tentacles to gigantic, dangerous beasts, and you’ve got several weapon choices scattered throughout the ships to help exterminate them.

Xenophobe‘s gimmick in the arcades was that the screen was split into three sections, allowing for three players going at the game simultaneously. For obvious reasons, the home editions generally cut that down to two, and as you can see, the 2600 followed suit; that bottom half is reserved for the second player – but not simultaneously! Yep, despite the split-screen, players must take turns, even though it’s still player one on the top, player two on the bottom. I get that having simultaneous game play like that might be too much for the ol’ 2600 to handle, but then why have the split-screen at all?

That bit of irritation aside, Xenophobe is pretty solid. The difficulty may be a little uneven; get the powerful “Poofer Gun” and you can basically cruise through what would otherwise be some pretty tough stages, stages that are a little insurmountable without it or a plentiful supply of grenades. Still, the mark of any good game is how often you (or at least I) keep coming back to it. Despite having not played the game in years, I indeed kept coming back for another round.

(By the way, it’s worth noting that the 2600 wasn’t the only “early” video game console to last as long as it did; the Intellivision, initially the 2600’s main rival, also enjoyed a revival and ultimate lifespan stretching into the late-1980s/early-1990s. However, the Inty never got Xenophobe, and thus Atari won yet again.)

So, aside from using an ancient CRT TV to get around the rolling screen issues, what did I learn playing Xenophobe this way? 1) I don’t mind playing in black & white. 2) There’s an odd sense of “coolness” playing the 2600/7800 in this fashion. It just looks neat. I hesitate to use the word “authenticity,” but there’s probably some of that in there, too. 3) TVs this old emit a smell that’s not particularly pleasant. I looked the phenomenon up, and while I forget the technical term now, it’s apparently normal. Doesn’t change the fact that I have a hypersensitive nose and that first night of play gave me, no joke, an ill-feeling. Subsequent plays were better; maybe the smell dissipated? Or maybe my nose just got used to it? I dunno.

Because this is just sort of a fun, dash-off post, I’m not sure how to end it. I played the Atari 2600 port of Xenophobe on an RCA TV from 1975, okay?

Actually, I do know how to end this post; I didn’t spend a long time playing it, because honestly I just wanted the picture seen here, but I did fire up another 2600 favorite, and this one was more period-appropriate: 1978’s Basketball!

When it comes to sports games, I’m not sure it gets more primitive than Basketball (that it’s right here, duh!), but man is it fun. It’s a one-on-one game, and you can play either the computer or another person. I didn’t this time around, but the two-player mode is where it’s at. Competitive in all the best ways. The graphics and sound are probably more in line with what people think when it comes to Atari, but the play is what counts, and Basketball has it to spare! Get it? “Spare!” Cause it’s…oh wait, I’m thinking of Bowling. That’s a favorite too, though.

So there you have it. I busted out the beloved 1975 RCA AU-097Y portable TV for a picture-taking session, and more importantly, several Xenophobe sessions. Nowadays, people like to mod their 2600’s for AV, HDMI, and so on and so forth. Play ’em on flatscreens and whatnot. Hey, nothing wrong with that. If I had the skills and the spare consoles, I’d take that plunge too. (Actually, I do have the spare consoles…but not the skills.) Still, sometimes you gotta kick it really old school, and I feel I have accomplished that arbitrary task exceedingly well.

Also, playing Xenophobe without the screen rolling like a madman is nice.

VHS Review: Scared to Death (1947; Goldstar Video Corporation’s “Tales of Horror” Series, 1992)

Meet my newest video obsession: Goldstar Video Corporation’s Tales of Horror budget VHS series. It may not be my biggest video obsession (that title still belongs to Amvest Video’s Grampa Presents tapes), but it’s definitely my most recent. And truth be told, it is in a safe 2nd place…for now, anyway.

You know, these tapes had been nagging at me for awhile, and upon first glance, y’all may be wondering why. After all, the movies featured were the same public domain staples that had (have) been making the home video rounds for decades. And, unlike the Grampa Presents series, there was no made-for-video horror hosting amongst the proceedings. Add to that a graphical layout that’s practically the budget VHS “tradition” in a nutshell and, well, there’s a reason people aren’t bidding these up to $100+ on eBay, okay?

And yet, I was continuously enamored by the series. Made up of at least 24 volumes (cause that’s what this one is), and all featuring the same graphical layout that, while clearly in the aforementioned budget tradition, also aptly recalls Halloween. Seriously, the blood-drippin’ “Horror” of the title, along with the stark white background? Thems like bloody bones or somethin’, man. (In other words, a perfect cheap Halloween video pick-up, circa 1992 of course.)

And don’t downplay the whole ‘volumized’ aspect of these, either. These aren’t just cheesy old movies thrown out there for the penny-pinchin’ consumers to devour; this is, or was, a legit collection. Think of these as the horror movie, home media version of baseball cards; you gotta go after ’em all! What’s that, you’ll trade me your Honus Wagner card for a Tales of Horror? Forget that noise, yo. (Also, that devour pun just now would have made much more sense had this been their release of Night of the Living Dead.)

Plus, I’m just sucker for budget VHS horror and sci-fi in general. There was really no way I couldn’t end up loving this series, truth be told.

So anyway, my tape. That’s it above. As my inaugural entry into this series, I chose 1947’s Scared to Death, starring Bela Lugosi. Bela has gotten more than a little spotlight time on this blog, but Scared to Death, despite my waxing fondness for it, has not. It’s maybe not the coolest release of the film in the budget VHS realm – that would undoubtedly be the Grampa Presents version of it, which I own but haven’t written about (you can only go to that well so often, dig?) – but as a maiden voyage into Goldstar’s series, I was pleased with the decision. I’m a Bela fan, and I (inexplicably?) like the movie, so hey, why not?

As I said, these tapes all feature the same general layout. That is, the bloody Tales of Horror banner across the top, the volume number in the bottom-right corner (fittingly placed in a pool of blood), and in the middle of the cover a diagonal film strip featuring a somewhat- pixelated image from the movie along with the title above it and a starring (or in Dementia 13‘s case, directing) credit within. It’s not exactly something CBS/FOX would have put out back then, but it nevertheless gets the point across. I like it!

One may be tempted to be irked by the fact that a large plot-point is given away on the front cover here, but then, an even larger plot-point is given away by the very title of the movie. Oh, did I just spoil a 70-year-old movie for you? My bad, dawg.

Aside from the extreme early-1990s-ness of this tape’s presentation, I’m fond of it for another reason: It reminds me of my grandmother. No, she never had any of these tapes at her house, but she had budget videos like them. I assume she got them all from Avon. There were a bunch of them though, and from the sparse cover art to the (relatively) obscure manufacturers, as a young tape-head I got a big kick out of them. One time, she even gave me the copy of 1935’s Scrooge that had been sitting in her VHS cabinet for years; I forget who made it, but when I took it home, it promptly got stuck in our VCR. Look, you got a budget VHS tape, you took your chances. That’s how it went.

So no, Grandma never had this at her house, but had her collection featured more horror and sci-fi, I could certainly see it being there. Is it weird that that thought takes me back, even if there’s nothing actually to take me back to? (Fun Fact: This paragraph and the one preceding it were plucked from an unpublished article on a budget Bela 4-VHS-pack that I nixed in favor of this post. Never let it be said I don’t recycle!)

Here’s our back cover. Gotta love the additional blood drips along the top!

I have to say, this tape features a pretty decent synopsis of the movie, waaaay better than I would have ever anticipated beforehand. That’s not a shot at Goldstar or anything, it’s just that with budget tapes, the descriptions on the back could range from good, to mediocre, to downright amateurish. I posit this one falls more towards the “good” side of that scale.

I might have re-worded the second sentence a bit, but that’s the only real issue I have with the description. Also, huge, HUGE props for not saying saying this is Bela’s only color film (more on that in a bit).

Also, I have a feeling that last sentence was intended to be tongue-in-cheek.

There were apparently more than a few companies using the name “Goldstar” back in the day. The one I’m familiar with was the electronics manufacturer (example). So is that the same company that put these tapes out? I’m guessing it’s not; GoldStar of electronics fame capitalized the “S” in “Star.” A look at the copyright info at the bottom of this back cover says that this Goldstar did not. I keep this investigative work up and I’ll have to apply for a private investigator license.

Fun Fact: Freehold, New Jersey was the childhood home of Bruce Springsteen. Also, the Grampa tapes were manufactured in Rahway, NJ. So, was Jersey like the unofficial capital of low-cost VHS or something?

Speaking of which, as was common with budget videotapes such as this, the movie is recorded in EP, though the cover makes no such mention of the fact. I wouldn’t have a problem with that, except man did I have a hard time getting this one to track. Granted, I was using a beater VCR, but even so, this was a little rough, trackin’-wise. Goldstar actually managed to get a fairly decent print of Scared to Death, I just wish the picture wasn’t so shaky…

1947’s Scared to Death is a movie I like, despite the fact that, well, it’s really not very good. Like so much of Bela Lugosi’s 1940s poverty row output, the film has lapsed into the public domain and therefore had more than a few releases on VHS and, now, DVD. That said, it doesn’t hold up as well as The Corpse Vanishes or Bowery at Midnight; the plot is disjointed, Bela doesn’t do a whole lot in it, and none of the characters are all that likable. George Zucco co-stars, which is cool, and the movie as a whole manages to be a fun slice of late-1940s matinee. Still, it’s kinda bad. A good bad, but bad nonetheless; lovers of this stuff will dig it, but others? Well…

Scared to Death does feature a couple of interesting gimmicks. First off, it’s Bela’s only starring color film. The myth that it’s his only color film period has floated around forever, and while that might make a good selling point on the back of some cheapo video release somewhere, it’s not technically true. I mean, for all intents and purposes it’s true, but technically, it’s not. (He was in at least one color film as a bit player, and apparently there’s one or two other instances of color Lugosi, too).

Also, the film is notable for being told from the point-of-view of a dead woman. As in, it’s narrated by a corpse. Since it’s told in flashback, yeah, the title totally spoils the whole thing before it ever has a chance to build any momentum whatsoever. While an interesting idea, especially for a poverty row production, the whole idea doesn’t really play that well; every time the story gets moving, the film will jarringly break to the same shot of the dead woman on a morgue slab, she’ll say a line or two (usually just a brief statement, which is almost comical), and then it’s back to the movie proper. Like I said, it was an interesting idea, and it ‘makes’ the movie, but in truth, it doesn’t work.

Scared to Death‘s plot involves one Laura Van Ee, our body-on-the-slab who, prior to that, is unhappily married to one Ward Van Ee (yes, that’s really his last name), the son of Dr. Joseph Van Ee (Zucco). Dr. Van Ee runs a practice, and is keeping Laura there against her will. Apparently she’s stressed out or something along those lines; she vehemently denies that she needs medical care, and since it’s established early on that her marriage to Ward is in a shambles, and we know right from the start that she winds up dead, it can automatically be assumed Ward and his father are behind the whole thing.

Soon after, Dr. Van Ee’s cousin Professor Leonide (Lugosi) shows up at the facility. It’s eventually established he was once a patient there, and was able to create a number of secret passageways and whatnot during his stay. (Seriously? How would he actually manage that?)

Soon after, disturbances involving Laura increase. A dummy head made to look like her arrives in the mail, and green masks are seen floating about outside the windows. Clearly someone, or something, is trying to drive Laura batty! The fact Laura has a severe aversion to blindfolds, and thus is presumably hiding something, only adds to the drama. (Also, I’m not sure how we’re supposed to feel sympathy for our ostensible heroine when she claims she’s “alone and friendless,” but is nasty to pretty much everyone.) At one point, Zucco gets conked on the head, and Bela and/or his diminutive assistant pop in and out of secret doorways, so yeah, there’s definitely something afoot at the facility.

Also on the premises are an idiotic private detective, a smartypants maid the detective is in love with, and eventually, a pushy reporter and his annoying girlfriend.

There really aren’t any likable characters in the movie. Dr. Van Ee and his son, despite first impressions, are probably the best of the bunch, though that’s not saying much. The private detective is there for comic relief, but quickly makes you want to shatter your TV in a fit of fruitless rage. The reporter is, well, he’s a typical movie reporter, though he’s also the closest thing to a hero in this movie, which is a wash since he’s also pretty nasty to everyone in his vicinity, not the least of which is his girlfriend.

Eventually it comes to light that Laura, years prior, had given her first husband up to the Nazis (!), and though believed dead, it turns out he became the assistant to Leonide, who was a magician. And then Laura dies. Like I said, the plot is kinda all over the place, though at only a bit over and hour, it isn’t all over the place for very long.

I probably shouldn’t like this movie as much as I do. Bela isn’t in it a whole lot (come to think of it, neither is Laura; the reporter and detective get much of the running time here), the plot is disjointed and silly, and the comic relief totally falls flat time and time again. And yet, I do like the movie; it’s such a sincere bit of post-war, matinee goofiness, that I can’t find myself hating it. It’s a movie that couldn’t have really come from any other time but the late-1940s, and the color-aspect of it really does stand out from the rest of Lugosi’s poverty row oeuvre. It’s stupidly entertaining, if nothing else, anyway.


I think, like the Grampa Presents tapes, one of the most interesting things about this Tales of Horror series is how movies that weren’t going to to scare anyone in the least were dressed up to appear absolutely terrifying. Oh sure, Night of the Living Dead is an exception, but by and large, stuff like Scared to Death wasn’t even remotely frightening. Maybe to very small children, but to an adult? I seriously, seriously doubt it.

That’s not a bad thing though. I always get a kick out of how these cornball old horror and sci-fi movies were dressed up and made to look like legitimately scary features. It’s the same ideal that amuses me about budget video releases of b-westerns starring John Wayne, made to look as if they’re “real” Wayne features and not something that had been floating around the public domain for eons.

In summation, Goldstar did a fine job with what they had; they made their series of videos look visually appealing, but without being prohibitively expensive. The whole Halloween-ish aura that surrounds them is still cool to this day, and if you’re into budget VHS like me, that counts for a whole lot.

The Tales of Horror series ran the gamut of cheesy old horror movies like this one, to 1950s sci-fi (Indestructible Man, Monster From Green Hell), to even some late-1960s stuff (the previously-mentioned Night of the Living Dead). There was even more Goldstar could have put out, and I presume they would have had this series run longer. But, the series as released still holds plenty of interesting, albeit mostly expected, stuff; it’s a pretty solid line-up of vintage horror, if nothing else.

Online searches turn up more than a few of these tapes for sale; while they’re not as common as, say, a UAV or Goodtimes version of a given movie, they *do* pop up frequently enough, and usually on the cheap side. Seems Goldstar was able to get fairly decent distribution for the line, but subsequent interest nowadays is, except for me, a bit low. Still, this is all certainly a nice change of pace from my spending too much money I don’t really have on Grampa tapes.

I hate to say it, but I sense my fascination with these tapes is only going to grow. I can’t just have one volume! And you know, I’m perfectly okay with that!

Beefin’ Up My Sega Genesis!

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“WELCOME TO THE NEXT LEVEL.”

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

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

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

“y u doin this bro?”

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

“Wuts a cd 32x bro?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, here’s what you need for the 32x:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WAOH TV-29 & WAX TV-35 – The Son Of Ghoul Show: 1951’s “The Hoodlum” (December 5, 1997)

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I cannot believe this aired 19 years ago today. I refuse to believe this aired 19 years ago today! Where has the time gone?! (I discovered this information kinda late, which will account for the relative breeziness of this article.)

Recorded by yours truly in the early weeks of his Son of Ghoul fandom, this particular episode has become a personal favorite of mine. Maybe not so much because of anything it does itself (though it’s certainly a fun outing), but more because of where it all falls in my life, when the weekend promised a constant sense of discovery. I mean, not only did I get to indulge in this show that I had only discovered a bit over a month prior, but I also got to see totally new-to-me movies such as this, which, as a young film buff, was just like candy. Add in the Christmas season and the general mood of the time in which it aired, and it’s not too hard to realize I’ve got mad nostalgia for this one. (Further fueled by the fact that my brother and I got a Nintendo 64 for Christmas that year – cool winnins!)

From December 5, 1997, off of WAOH TV-29 / WAX TV-35, here is the low-budget 1951 film noir opus, The Hoodlum, as presented on The Son of Ghoul Show. (This also would have aired December 6, as the same episode ran on both Friday and Saturday evenings at that point, though I’m reasonably sure what I recorded here was the Friday airing.)

Now, there actually is a more-personal slant to this episode, one that ties in with something I brought up in my big huge 30th anniversary tribute article this past summer. We’ll get to that in due time, however.

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I’ve been a Son of Ghoul fan since November 1, 1997, and yet, in all that time, the introductory segment for this episode may be my all-time favorite; it’s just so perfect.

Apparently they had run The Hoodlum before, and subsequently gotten complaints that their projector wasn’t centered correctly. Not so; the film was just severely cropped. To that end, during the introduction SOG drags out a piece of cardboard and draws a diagram to explain what the deal is.

According to him, the movie was originally 35mm, and much of the picture was cropped when 16mm television prints were made, which was what they had for the show. To demonstrate the differences between the two, he draws a drive-in movie (a poorly-attended one; “There’s one car there!”), gives a rough approximation of what’s now missing in the picture (the film doesn’t pan-and-scan; what’s in the center is it), and then proclaims the movie “The Oodlub,” which is pretty much the on-screen title here. He then finishes with a declaration of not caring whether viewers understand what he’s talking about or not, because he doesn’t really have to watch the movie. “They pay me to be here; what’s your excuse?”

It’s such a fitting intro, very funny but also kinda informative. To my 11-year-old self watching this back in ’97, I got a kick out of it. Still do, obviously.

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He sure wasn’t kidding, either!

“A film noir on Son of Ghoul? Say what?”

Yep! While most of the offerings on The Son of Ghoul Show are in the expected horror and science fiction genres, he does occasionally branch out. Sometimes the show will feature comedies, mysteries, or, as in this case, crime thrillers. The Hoodlum was really my first glance at his stepping outside of the usual fare. Honestly, it wasn’t quite my cup of tea back then (though, needless to say, I was still smart enough to keep this recording), though in the years since, I’ve grown to really love film noir. Nowadays, this is right up my alley!

“The Oooodlubb—“

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Elaine’s Dad Lawrence Tierney plays Vincent Lubeck, a convict and legit “bad egg.” Despite apprehensions on the part of the prison staff, an impassioned plea by Lubeck’s mother gets him paroled – and he almost immediately starts back up with the shady business.

Lubeck is an all-around scumbag; he causes his brother’s girlfriend to kill herself (after his brother has given him a job at his own gas station, mind you), but the main plot-point of the film is an armored car hold-up and Lubeck’s gathering of a crew for said hold-up. It doesn’t quite go down peacefully. Like I said, dude’s a bad egg.

Despite the extreme cropping, wasted print quality, and Son of Ghoul’s multiple declarations that the film is “trash,” I actually kinda liked it upon this latest viewing. It’s short and pretty cheap, but Tierney is terrific and the plot held my attention fairly well. The Hoodlum ain’t exactly the de facto film noir, but if you’re a fan of the genre, it’s not all that bad.

I could go on, but look, the movie is in the public domain and only like an hour, so just go watch it for yourself, okay? And, you’ll note the Internet Archive features a print with readable opening credits! Go figure!

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Funny Son of Ghoul drop-in: Near the beginning, as Lubeck is being the warned the dangers of not staying on the straight-and narrow, a quick shot of ol’ sparky had SOG superimposed sitting in it, laughing like a mad man and actually plugging it in! Notice the door that was inadvertently (?) superimposed to the far-right of the screen; gotta love local TV!

That’s enough about The Hoodlum. I just don’t have all that much to say about it, and besides, it’s time for the important stuff…

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The first skit of the night was an installment of Burn-Out The Dinosaur. For anyone questioning SOG’s sense of humor, these skits left little room for doubt: WARPED.

That’s exactly what these were, warped takes on Barney the Dinosaur, the big purple 1990s phenom that was second only to Urkel in inexplicable popularity. The premise of the skits was simple; generally, Burn-Out would manically laugh and abuse his co-host Brett. Brett filled the loving, caring, teaching role – one that wouldn’t have been out of place hanging with the actual Barney. Burn-Out was the insane half, and he came complete with a parody of Barney’s theme song, in which it’s proclaimed his mom is a streetwalker, his dad is in a bar, and Burn-Out himself makes a living by, what else, stealing cars.

In this installment, both Burn-Out and Brett are hungry for a late night snack, which leads Burn-Out to ask Brett if he knows what his favorite sandwich is. Why, it’s a knuckle sandwich, of course! The entire skit is basically an excuse for this little dinosaur puppet to pummel a grown man, even after Brett forgives him (because “forgiveness is an important part of life”). High art it ain’t, but then, it wasn’t supposed to be. Silly, funny stuff!

(Full disclosure: I still kinda like Urkel.)

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Mail time!

When I started writing to SOG (I believe my first letter was read on-air shortly into the new year), these were the segments I anticipated most, for obvious reasons. The man himself, reading correspondence from me, on the air?! What could be better?

I had no such correspondence in the mail for this episode, but that doesn’t mean segment isn’t fun. Among the entries read on-air, SOG got a package from The Beatnik Termites band, and a letter from someone in Florida that was somehow seeing the show, a comment which lead to the first of several jabs at the station’s power signal – apparently it was coming in pretty weak in some areas of Northeast Ohio.

BUT, it’s the third letter read that I find the most interest in. It’s basically a fan letter, telling SOG how much they love watching him, but the question of how they can find out where SOG is appearing in-person (answer: “WATCH THE SHOW!!!!”) leads to the announcement of his double-feature matinee at the Highland Theatre (more on that in a bit), as well as…

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The personal slant I mentioned earlier!

Yep, a week from that Sunday, SOG himself was there in-person at JC Comics & Cards! I was there! It was my first time meeting him! I. WAS. THERE. MAN.

JC was a big sponsor of The Son of Ghoul Show at the time, and his commercials were often seen during breaks (we’ll see one in just a bit here, actually). I was well familiar with the establishment already; it was nearby, I loved it, so yeah, I pretty much had to be there on December 14th!

Look, I went into further detail about this visit during the previously-linked 30th anniversary article, and I don’t really want to rehash it all over. Just go to the 30th anniversary post. I even have some photos from the event there! SOG was just the greatest at JCs, and indeed, I even talked about this personal appearance in the first letter I sent to him! See, this all connects, somehow!

(JC Comics & Cards is still at that exact spot; you should go there, because the place is awesome.)

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Mr. Banjo was up next. Another long-running skit, the premise was supposed to be the titular character (a hillbilly stereotype, basically) presenting old novelty clips. Technically, he did just that. But, what these bits always ended up as was Mr. Banjo constantly yelling (and often threatening) his green-screened dog “Boner,” who would bark incessantly. Trust me, it was hilarious, and even today when SOG runs one of these oldies, they’re crowd pleasers.

This installment doesn’t stray too far from the norm, though a clip of dogs running on spinning wheels provides yet another shot at the station’s power signal (that’s how it’s powered, y’see).

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Son of Ghoul-Zilla, a claymation bit in which a gigantic SOG rises from the sea and wrecks a city. Obviously a take on Japanese giant monster movies, with the cheesy special effects to match. This has been a popular short over the years; it gets regular airtime even nowadays.

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An event that was being pitched all night. That coming Sunday, December 7, SOG was appearing at the Highland Theatre for a double-feature matinee. For only $3, you got to see two full-length feature films, though they weren’t exactly Spielberg: 1996’s Dead of Night and 1997’s A Woman Scorned 2 were the features that weekend. As SOG claims later in the show, they’re hard-R flicks, which explains the whole under-18-you-need-a-parent disclaimer spouted several times throughout the broadcast.

I’m pretty sure I saw Space Jam at the Highland, though I don’t think I’ve been back since.

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With Christmas right around the corner, SOG was of course pitching his official t-shirt; at the time of airing, if you wanted one (or more) to get there in time for the big day, you had two weeks left. Afterwards, they were “discontinuing them,” at least for the time being. SOG has an especially-winning line here about getting them for “your offspring, or your fat hubby. Who could resist one of these after a pitch like that?!

It makes sense to promote these during the holidays, but what I find particularly interesting is the apparently limited nature of them at the time. T-shirts are big business for SOG nowadays, but back then, you had to act fast. According to the segment, they were only available in the large and extra large sizes, and again, they were touted as being discontinued for a time after the two weeks were up. Near as I can remember, that never quite came to pass, not for a lengthy period at least, but it’s interesting to look back on.

And no, that info in the screencap above isn’t still valid.

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The show finishes with the reiterating of the upcoming personal appearances, and then SOG busts wild moves as the end credits roll, which is really pretty awesome.

Ignoring that whole personal slant thing, it may be hard for some readers to understand why I’m so fond of this episode. After all, it’s solid, but more or less just a regular entry. And, the movie featured won’t raise many eyebrows. But, I think because it’s such a good, solid episode is the reason I’ve grown so fond of it. It’s a great example of how The Son of Ghoul Show was formatted at the time, and for me, so early on in my fandom, when I couldn’t wait to discover more of this stuff each weekend, this recording takes me right back. It’s December 1997, I’m 11-years-old, sitting on the couch, watching Son of Ghoul and anticipating Christmas all over again. A powerful blast of nostalgia this one is, for sure.

Plus, the movie wasn’t too bad, either.


And that brings us to the customary commercials section of the post. As usual, I like to recap some of the more interesting ads that aired during a respective broadcast. In this case, there’s a lot here that further fuels the whole nostalgia trip I’m currently on. Considering SOG is commercial-free nowadays, it’s a bit surprising to look back at a time when his show was pretty jam-packed with advertising.

Anyway, I’m not going to look at a ton of the ads from this broadcast, but I do have a few…

Quaker Square Christmas Village Ad

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Saaay, wasn’t I just at Quaker Square? I sure was!

Quaker Square Christmas ads were all over this airing. Mostly, their animatronic Christmas village was spotlighted, though time was also given to showcase the Square as the ideal holiday destination station, with places to shop, eat, etc. So, yeah.

I want to say I visited the Christmas showcase around that time. I was somewhere with animated mannequins (or whatever), though I can no longer recall if it was Quaker Square or not. Still, the local Akron Christmassy-ness of this ad hits home for me, so even if I wasn’t there exactly, it still rates pretty high on the nostalgia meter.

Princess Diana Commemorative Stamps Ad

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With Princess Diana’s death only a few months before, people were obviously still reeling. To that end, what better gift to celebrate her life than a commemorative stamp set and medallion for only $20? Because that’s exactly what this ad was for. Not exactly a solid fit for Son of Ghoul’s comedy, but hey, a sponsor is a sponsor.

This is the kind of collectible that was made to be collectible, and thus it’s probably worth like negative 32 cents nowadays. Or not, I don’t know. I certainly remember the (understandable) media frenzy surrounding her death, and while I don’t know this for sure, I’d imagine there were probably much less classy attempts to commemorate her than this. So, if you had a Diana fan on your Christmas list, I guess this wouldn’t have been a bad choice.

WAOH TV-29 / WAX TV-35 Happy Holidays Bumper

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One thing I always liked about WAOH / WAX (“The Cat”) was that the station had a strong local flavor. Obviously that was to be expected with them being a local independent station, after all. But, watching The Cat, it just felt like Akron; there weren’t many (any?) other stations at the time, or now, that I can say that about. It’s a thought that makes me miss the late-1990s and early-2000s Cat all the more.

In that local vein was this quick, simple “Happy Holidays” bumper, in which a voiceover wishes the viewer just that, while a stereotypical Christmas scene of Santa in a train resides in the background. I don’t know what it is about this exactly, but it just seems so right, so Christmas 1997 in Northeast Ohio.

WAOH TV-29 / WAX TV-35 WWF Shotgun Promo

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Professional wrestling was big, big business in the late-1990s, and while I can’t claim to have ever really been on that train (though I liked Hulk Hogan when I was younger – but then, who didn’t?), I certainly remember the massive hype surrounding all things wrestling at the time. Heck, for quite awhile, ECW actually followed Son of Ghoul on, I think, Saturday nights.

So anyway, The Cat managed to get the syndicated WWF Shotgun program on their roster, airing twice a week in an “okay” Tuesday night time slot, and a “screw that” Saturday afternoon time slot. Aside from Shotgun being ostensibly edgier than ‘normal’ WWF, I can’t say a whole lot about it, since, you know, I never watched wrestling. Nevertheless, this edginess is demonstrated via a promo featuring a lot of herky-jerky scenes and punctuated with effects not unlike those of a VCR fast-forwarding. Edgy.

So, The Cat had some WWF (back when it was the WWF) in 1997, and that’s something to be celebrated, right?

JC Comics & Cards Christmas Ad

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See, told ya we’d see JC Comics & Cards again!

There were several JC ads seen on The Cat, and SOG specifically, over the years. Near as I can tell, this one is the earliest, or at least the earliest I captured. In it, set to the tune of squirrels singing something Christmas-related, a Santa runs around the store, playing with toys, picking out shirts, and other “this is where Santa goes for his gifts” imagery.

Above left: Santa plays with a Millennium Falcon toy, which is fitting, because JCs was the place to go for Star Wars toys in the late-1990s, especially the vintage ones. To an 11-year-old, it was mind-blowing seeing that amount of old, rare Star Wars stuff all in one place. And his box of $3 loose vintage SW figures? I was all over that whenever I went in.

He still has tons of great rare comics, imports, collectibles, and so on. I wasn’t kidding earlier; if you’re anywhere nearby, you owe it to yourself to check JCs out.


Alright, enough.

As I mentioned during my intro to this post, this article is breezier than usual. I had been mulling over a post on this broadcast for awhile anyway, and when I deduced the original air date and realized the 19th anniversary was right around the corner, I just didn’t have a ton of free time to put it together. So, I apologize if this feels like a dash-off. It certainly wasn’t intended to be. It was either that or wait until the 20th anniversary. ‘Course, I didn’t have to post on the actual anniversary date, but that’s something I like to do whenever possible.

Still, I think you can get a pretty good taste of what made up my Friday (and Saturday!) nights at the time. Even though I taped countless episodes (which I still have), and even though Son of Ghoul is still on-the-air, I don’t know, there’s just something about going back in time and reliving when I was first being introduced to all of this. And when it comes to momentarily regaining that feeling, this episode is one of my favorites. For yours truly, it hits all the right bases; boy am I glad I had the foresight to record all this stuff back in the day!