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Episode Recap: The Son of Ghoul Show “Mr. Wise Guy” (March 6, 1999)

With Son of Ghoul’s big 31st anniversary show this weekend, and indeed, his actual 31st anniversary today right now yo, what say we take a look back at a vintage episode? I always like doing these. (My wi-fi currently hates me and wants me dead, so if I blaze through this, particularly in the second-half, that’s why.)

31 years is unbelievable for any television personality, but especially so when it’s the endangered-species known as “horror host.” Ironically, 31 almost seems a little, I don’t know, anti-climatic, I guess, after the massive hype that surrounded his big 30th last year. I certainly covered it, and was even present when SOG was fittingly honored at Monsterfestmania.

I thought of a couple different topics to post in honor of his 31st continuous year on Northeast Ohio television. I could’ve covered the earliest episode I taped (The Vampire Bat, in 1997), or his 12th anniversary show, or even the episode featuring the first piece of mail I ever sent in to him. I even briefly considered an article detailing a lot of the SOG memorabilia I’ve amassed over the years. I decided against each one of those, however, for a variety of reasons: I’ll save my earliest taped episode for the 20th anniversary of the broadcast this fall, I didn’t feel like covering Frankenstein’s Daughter during his 12th anniversary, and I’m not ready to detail my cringe worthy (yet nostalgic) first letter to him. As for an article focused on SOG memorabilia, I just couldn’t muster up the moxy to drag all that stuff out for a picture-taking session.

Nope, I decided on our subject today for one very simple reason: I just plain like the movie, 1942’s Mr. Wise Guy. Heck, I just plain like the episode in general, and to me that speaks more about my Son of Ghoul fandom than any ‘special’ occurrence I could dig up. After all, this was how the show usually was (is) to me each weekend: A fun, kick-back-and-chill movie showcase.

So, join me now as I detail The Son of Ghoul Show, as aired on WAOH TV-29 in Akron and WAX TV-35 in Cleveland (“The Cat”) and taped by yours truly waaaay back on March 6, 1999…

(Also, I’ve been on a real kick for The Cat lately, even more so than usual. This comes from that late-90s sweet-spot of the channel, so I’m happy with the choice. And, if that kick keeps up, I may dig something else out from the station to cover. You keep pushing me and I just might, pal.)

I vividly recall this being a surprise episode. Y’see, SOG was on twice-a-week at that point: 8-10 PM, Fridays and Saturdays, same episode. This was handy, because you could sample on Friday, and tape-as-needed on Saturday. But, for whatever reason, he was only on Saturday that week, a fact he briefly mentions in his intro (above).

I think (think) he was preempted totally the night before due to some women’s college basketball tournament The Cat was broadcasting/simulcasting/whatevercasting. So because he was only on Saturday that week, I couldn’t risk missing a must-have episode, especially with no knowledge of what the movie would be. Because said basketball tournament was concluding that Saturday, there was no telling when SOG’s show would actually begin; I had to start the VCR recording waaaaay ahead of time, which was why I wound up with like an hour of that stupid basketball game on the tape before the episode started.

This obsessiveness proved fortuitous. That night, we were at my aunt’s house for some party I was quite probably miserable at, and I flipped to The Cat to see what episode I was capturing. When it finally started and Mr. Wise Guy was revealed, I was pleased as punch. SOG had ran this film, I don’t know, a year or so prior, and I had regretted not capturing it then. I actually liked the movie!

And I wasn’t the only one; SOG himself mentions that he likes it as well during his intro. How often did (does) that happen?!

The reason I initially liked this film so much largely had to do with what it represented: A trip back to a more innocent time in cinema. This is pure, early-1940s matinee entertainment. It’s an East Side Kids (you know, the Bowery Boys, except not) film, so there’s some light hooliganism about, but even with that, an escaped convict, a murder, a death-row sentence, and a real-life war going on, it’s all so light and breezy that it never seems too heavy. I’m hesitant to ascribe the term “innocence” to a film that contains all that, but like I said, this is matinee entertainment; it’s not exactly a weighty, socially-conscious drama.

The idea of an East Side Kids film showing up on a horror hosted program may seem odd, but as SOG states during his intro, Ghoulardi himself used to run these (and fittingly, on Saturdays!). If these were good enough for Ghoulardi, they should be good enough for any other host, too. And somehow, to me they seem to ‘fit’ just fine. Maybe that’s because I grew up with SOG showing them occasionally (still does, in fact), but looked at objectively, they still work. It’s not like a b-western, which unless it shared some horror influence or other odd quirk (Terror of Tiny Town, anyone?), just wouldn’t seem to fit. Look, I can’t really adequately explain why it works so well, it just does.

And, in a trend that continues to this day, SOG doesn’t tamper with these kinds of films; no drop-ins, no sound effects. Just the movie straight. Evidently he has some real appreciation for these flicks, and we’re all the better for it. Even when missing those elements so well-known to SOG fans, it flows perfectly.

The title of the film comes from a moniker given to (and approved by) Leo Gorcey’s character “Muggs” McGinnis (first name: Ethelbert), who is deemed so several times throughout the picture.

The simple synopsis of the plot: The East Side Kids are sent to reform school. There’s a bit more to it than that, though. Unjustly accused of stealing a truck (a truck that, unbeknownst to them, houses an escaped convict), they’re sent to a reformatory run by a kind warden, a cruel guard, and a couple of troublesome inmates that are secretly in cahoots with aforementioned cruel guard. Also on the docket: Bill Collins, older brother of cast member Bobby Jordan’s Danny Collins, is accused of murder and sentenced to death row. Eventually these plotlines unbelievably though perhaps predictably, collide. And since this is from 1942, it all ends on a relatively happy note. ‘Cept for the dude who died, anyway.

Needless to say, much of this is played for laughs. Even while incarcerated, Gorcey’s gang never seems too concerned with their situation. Even as Danny frets over his brother’s predicament back in the real world, the other guys just sort of blow it off – which admittedly does play out a little strange. I can’t imagine that being realistic even back in ’42.

Still, as a whole, the movie is entertaining. Indeed, I wasn’t sure if I’d still get a kick out of it when I sat down to convert my VHS to DVD for this review, but it greatly held my attention throughout. I was even genuinely amused by certain moments, which can’t always be said of semi-comedies of this vintage.

Look, the movie is in the public domain, so don’t just take my word for it; check it out for yourself. Since SOG didn’t add any sound effects, you’ll see it (almost) as it aired here!

(Fun Fact: Some years ago at a thrift store, I stumbled upon a 3-VHS boxset of East Side Kids films. Included were both of their Bela Lugosi collaborations, Spooks Run Wild and Ghosts on the Loose, as well as the title that really spurred the eventual purchase: Mr. Wise Guy. I never watched any of them, don’t think I even played any of the tapes, and subsequently the set became buried in my mound of crap videos. It should still be around here, somewhere, which is good, because unknown to me at the time was that the company who put it out, Passport Productions, was spawned from the ashes of Amvest Video, who we’ve seen here before. Cool winnins!)

Unfortunately, the movie isn’t perfect, and it doesn’t have much to do with plot, but rather stereotypes that were prevalent at the time. Ernest Morrison, often known as “Sunshine Sammy,” is the victim of some unfortunate racial jokes, as his character “Scruno” is the outlet for some now-wildly-inappropriate stereotyping. Look, I don’t claim to be a super-PC-advocate, but man, even I was uncomfortable with some of the gags at his expense.

That said, I am an advocate of not editing things of this nature to reflect current social attitudes. Yes, some of the jokes have aged terribly, but they reflect the time in which the film was made; you can’t rewrite history, only learn from it. And besides, the jokes are incredibly dated, but never really mean-spirited, if that counts for anything.

And with all that said, we now come to the rest of the show…

The first skit proper is actually an old bit from the WOAC TV-67 days, and I love it because it perfectly sums up SOG’s sense of humor, which very often syncs up with mine.

In a parody of the whole “carrying the Olympic torch” thing, here SOG dutifully marches with a plunger triumphantly raised, only to enter the studio bathroom and begin plunging! That’s all there is to it, and it’s great!

Truth be told, SOG doesn’t feature heavily heavily into this episode. I mean, he does, he shows up after each commercial-break, but it’s not new bit after new bit after new bit. His hosting duties, while prominent, maybe aren’t quite as prominent as they usually were, and I think that has much to do with this spot right here.

In a segment that takes up a healthy chunk of running time, SOG and guest Carl Thompson speak extensively on the Frightvision convention, coming later that month. Yes, Frightivision, the SOG-hosted horror convention; we’ve talked about it before! Here, SOG and Thompson thoroughly go over the list of guests and events coming to the show, and it goes on for around 8 minutes, which is pretty much a lifetime in horror-show-time.

That’s not a complaint on my part, though; I could not be happier this segment is present! I talked more extensively on the convention in the piece I just linked to (another SOG episode, Plan 9 From Outer Space, which aired later that same month), but Frightvision was a BIG deal. It was also my very first horror convention of any kind. Long story short: I positively loved it. I got to meet Ben “Gill Man” Chapman, Mark “Lost in Space Guy” Goddard, SOG’s own Fidge (who was great), saw Tom Savini (but didn’t meet him until the following year), and came home with some very cool loot (including a vintage SOG TV-67 promo card, which I still have to this day). All of the fanaticism that manifests itself in me for each and every Ghoulardifest began at the very first Frightvision, and for that I hold the fondest of memories.

So yes, seeing the segment that so aptly demonstrates the swirling hype surrounding Frightvision in the weeks leading up to it, that’s the sort of thing that can take me directly back in time. And movie aside, to me this is the defining moment of this particular episode.

An email segment. More (!) information on Frightvision is presented, and a spider glove that apparently belonged to Fidge is shown. Unless y’all want me to go email by email, there’s not much more I can say about it.

I would love to show the old school, wildly obsolete SOG email address, back when having an email address was still semi-innovative, but in the interest of avoiding confusion, I’ll refrain.

In the second mail segment, the reading of letters devolves into a long, drawn out explosion of fake fart noises, which has SOG and his crew dying with laughter. SOG: “Can you tell we’re so easily amused here?” Like the toilet torch earlier in the show, it’s a juvenile, and therefore riotous, moment. This is the stuff that helped cement my sense of humor, gang. You want someone to blame? Blame SOG.

Because my wi-fi is in a seemingly-perpetual state of precariousness, there were two other bits amidst all this insanity that I’m choosing to skip. One, a “Captain Kanga-Ghoul,” and the other, an on-location interview at a liquor store that happened to be one of Frightvision’s sponsors, were fun, sorta-filler bits, but frankly, I don’t have all that much to say about them. Also, I’d like to punch my wi-fi in the face.

Also, here is the point where I’d usually look at interesting (or so I think) commercials that aired during an original broadcast. I’m going to skip that feature this time around. Why? Because basically all of the ones I would have chosen were already covered in that previously-linked Plan 9 From Outer Space SOG episode recap. And the other, a goofy homegrown promo for a showing of Reefer Madness, was briefly looked at in the The Cat article I linked to way at the start of this post. I love it when I do my own work for me!

It all works out though, because I can end this article in accordance with the way this show itself ends: As the outro opens, SOG is seen jokingly patting his phony beard back into place, along with a “We’re not done yet!”

But, it’s what he says right after that that sums up not only the conclusion to this particular episode, but also the continuing 31 year odyssey his show has been on: “They say you’re not done till the show’s over! Or until you’re out of toilet paper; then you’re done!” I think I can speak on the behalf of SOG’s many fans when I say I hope SOG never runs out of toilet paper.

Boy, that sounded so much more philosophical in my head.

Happy 31st anniversary, Son of Ghoul!

(PS – I’d be remiss if I didn’t link to my legendary, groundbreaking, earth-shattering, trendsetting interview with the man himself!)

(PPS – They may not have been able to repeat this year, but man, I still love the Cleveland Cavaliers. I’ll stick with you guys win or lose! Just thought I should mention that somewhere, since the loss is naturally still on the mind of so many Northeast Ohioans right now.)

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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!

Son of Ghoul 30th Anniversary Tribute!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brett:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brett Van Wagner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From my buddy Matt Brassfield over at Rotten Ink:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo courtesy John Walch.

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

Yes he is!

From another Facebook pal, Danny Harasyn:

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

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

From Facebook’s Gary Smith:

Photo courtesy Gary Smith.

Photo courtesy Gary Smith.

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

Thanks Gary!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kinda says it all, doesn’t it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First up, the skits themselves:

Muldoon’s Bar

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

 

The Amazing Stanley

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

 

Rockhead

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

 

Art Modell’s Back!

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

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

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

 

$10 Magic Wands

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

 

Madame Mary

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

 

Ben Crazy

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

 

The Certain Ethnic Artist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Buddy’s Carpet Ad

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

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

 

Regency Windows Ad

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

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


 

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

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

Mystery Science Theater 3000’s Final Sci-Fi Channel Broadcast (January 31, 2004)

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(Caution: this is an article by an MSTie, so beware of some “technical” jargon y’all non-MSTies might not understand.)

Well lookee what your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter dids dones did dugged up! While going through boxes of tapes, I came across the VHS recording I made of Mystery Science Theater 3000‘s final Sci-Fi Channel broadcast, waaaaay back in 2004 (January 31, to be exact). The episode? 912 – The Screaming Skull (with the Gumby short Robot Rumpus). The time? Saturday morning, 9 AM. The feeling? Well, kinda downbeat, honestly. For as good as this episode was/is, it couldn’t quite overcome the feeling that something special was passing by.

By 2004, I had long captured, on good ol’ VHS, all of the remaining episodes that Sci-Fi could legally air (except for a Blood Waters Of Dr. Z re-broadcast – of course the VCR died for that one), which naturally already included episode 912. This, this broadcast, however, it didn’t really matter what the actual episode was; this was all about partaking in the last Mystery Science Theater 3000 on actual television for the foreseeable future. As it turned out, it would be back in about 10 years, but of course no one knew that at the time. There had been so many rights issues with the movies featured on the show over the years that, for all anyone knew, this was it. ‘Course, we still had the official DVD releases, and the tape trading circles, but even to this day there’s just something about actually tuning in to MST3K that feels so right. At least, that’s how I feel about it; your mileage may vary.

I explained this all a bit better in that older post I linked to, but long story short: I began watching the show when it moved to the Sci-Fi Channel 1997, and by the summer, I was a die-hard MSTie, which I obviously remain to this day. At the time, you needed a cable box to access Sci-Fi, and unfortunately, my dad decided he didn’t want to spend the extra bucks for the box anymore. Thus, that began a period of living with what I had already recorded, getting others to record episodes for me, and the official VHS releases that were trickling out.

That is, until early 2002, when I discovered Sci-Fi had been added to the basic cable line-up. Thanks to Satellite News’ helpful schedule archives, I can pinpoint when exactly I was able to finally see the show on real TV again (via a nearby relative’s house, because at that point we didn’t even have basic cable): February 23, 2002, episode 911- Devil Fish. I was elated (though it figures that the episode largely responsible for turning me into an MSTie, 811 – Parts: The Clonus Horror, had what turned out to be its last Sci-Fi airing about a month prior – just missed it!).

It was a ‘reunion’ that lasted nearly 2 years, and it all came to an end with this one last broadcast.

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Honestly, I can’t believe it’s been over 10 years since this aired. 2004 just does not seem that long ago! I was a junior in high school!

It’s important to note that this wasn’t the actual series finale of Mystery Science Theater 3000; that happened back in 1999, with episode 1013 – Diabolik (though thanks to a rights snafu, episode 1003 – Merlin’s Shop Of Mystical Wonders wound up airing first-run about a month after said series finale, giving heartbroken MSTies one last bit of shiny new freshness). Rather, this was the last episode ever broadcast on the Sci-Fi Channel.

Y’see, after the show finished with new episodes in 1999, it went into endless repeats on Sci-Fi, eventually languishing in a Saturday morning time slot where it would remain for the rest of its time on the channel. Advertising had long, long stopped being run for MST3K, so outside of the fan circles, it was just kind of ‘there,’ treated no better than Saturday morning filler. We MSTies knew better, though; unbeknownst to most, this was the way to kick off your Saturday.

So, after two whole cable channels and having run since 1989 (technically, three channels since 1988, for you lucky Minnesotans who got to watch the series start on the local independent station KTMA TV-23), it all came down to this one last broadcast on January 31, 2004. Well, until Retro TV picked the series up 10 years later, anyway.

"Robot Rump?!" - Servo

“Robot Rump?! Oh…” – Servo

Here’s the deal with episodes of this series: they can be very, very subjective. Because opinions on movies and humor can vary so greatly from person to person, there’s always going to be someone who loves a certain episode to death, while someone else will hate it with a passion. From my viewpoint, 912 is a very good episode. Maybe not a start-to-finish smash, but mostly good host segments, fantastic riffing on the short, and a solid take on the movie. There are undoubtedly people out there that will disagree with that assessment, and hey, that’s cool, too.

912 may not be the all-out, blaze-of-glory episode many would have preferred for the final Sci-Fi broadcast, but it is a solid, enjoyable from start-to-finish episode, which seems just as fitting to me. Maybe because it’s so representative of MST3K as it often was: maybe not every riff connected throughout, but the episode was overall consistently funny nevertheless. I wasn’t kidding a bit ago, by 2004 there really was no better way to start your Saturday.

The one aspect of this episode that most fans seem to agree about: the short film preceding the movie is phenomenal. The shorts were a rarity during the Sci-Fi-era, there were only three of ’em total, but man, quality over quantity. Of the three, I easily give the edge to this one, the Gumby epic Robot Rumpus. This might as well have been made for MST3K, because it fits like a glove.

"It's a fair-to-partly cottony day." - Crow

“It’s a fair-to-partly cottony day.” – Crow

Truthfully, there are some shorts in the MST3K canon that no longer have me rolling the way they did the first few times I watched them; Chicken Of Tomorrow (from 702 – The Brute Man) used to be one of my favorites, but after the last few viewings, well, it has left me a bit cold. Robot Rumpus, on the other hand, I’ve seen this one so many times that by this point I’m fairly certain I’m never going to get tired of it. It starts out hilarious and stays right there. By the time a shot of Pokey prompts Mike to quip “Close-ups reveal the weakness of the whole premise,” I was done for. This one seems to get better each time I watch it.

The plot is, well, it’s a clay-animated Gumby short with the title Robot Rumpus, so don’t expect Shakespeare, alright? In this one, Gumby, rather than do his yardwork chores himself, gets a bunch of robots to do them for him. Things start out peacefully enough, but they soon go haywire; gardens are ruined, paint is thrown about, and a house is lifted off its foundation before Gumby’s pop Gumbo shows to help put things back in order. I’m tempted to call this the weirdest thing ever, but kids programming is by nature usually pretty weird, so it would be an entirely redundant statement (plus, I’m watching a show where a guy and his two robots are trapped in space and forced to watch bad movies; I love MST3K, but I’ll never say the premise isn’t a bit out there – that’s one of the reasons it’s so great!).

Also, it’s nice to know that Gumby holds a Class F license.

"Okay, who turned up the heat in the hot tub?!" - Servo

“Okay, who turned up the heat in the hot tub?” – Servo

A common charge against some of the episodes with particularly strong shorts before the main movie is that the feature never sustains the momentum of the short. I wouldn’t say this is true 100% of the time, but there are episodes where the short overshadows the movie somethin’ awful. So what am I even babbling about?

In the case of 912, you’ve got two forces contrasting each other as much as two forces can be, erm…contrasted? What I’m saying is you’ve got a loud, colorful, clay animated short intended for the lil’ baby childrens, and a long, black & white, slow-moving, drab horror movie for the older set (and by “older set” I don’t mean the “adult” set so much as I do “necking teenagers at the drive-in who couldn’t care less about a skull or why it happens to emitting loud decibels” set). The two don’t really pair well together, for obvious reasons.

And yet, together on Mystery Science Theater 3000, somehow it all works. True, the riffing of The Screaming Skull isn’t on the same level as Robot Rumpus, but with such a dramatic shift in tone, I don’t think you could really expect it to be. That said, I really enjoy The Screaming Skull portion of 912. Any movie that starts off with the promise of a free coffin for anyone that dies of fright during it is setting itself up for some quality riffin’, and Mike & The Bots live up to the challenge. I found myself laughing quite a bit throughout the entire feature-portion of the show (some of the riffing on the good Reverend Snow in particular is fantastic; during a conversation in which perpetually-worried-face Jenni unloads her emotional burden to him, Mike’s “You know, the Gospel speaks of losers like you…” and Crow’s semi-cheery “Oh, well it’s hell for you then!” had me roaring).

"Oh, he's playing with his beach skull!" - Mike "Buy beach skull now and receive free beach clavicle!" - Crow

“Oh, he’s playing with his beach skull!” – Mike / “Buy beach skull now and receive free beach clavicle!” – Crow

(Caution: some movie plot spoilers ahead, like anyone really cares.)

The screencap above makes this one seem more action packed than it really is. The fact of the matter is not a whole lot happens (not until the very end, anyway). This is one of those plots you can more or less figure out from the title and first 5-10 minutes of the film or so.

In it, newlyweds Jenni and Eric begin their new life together by moving into the house in which Eric and his first wife Marion lived before her untimely death. Also, she died under somewhat mysterious circumstances. Also, Jenni used to be in a mental institution. Also, Jenni is rich. Where this is all going couldn’t be any more obvious if someone wrote the entire plot out on a brick and threw it at your face. I’m pretty sure children are born with the knowledge of where this is all heading.

So yeah, Eric tries to drive his new wife batty (again) and thus to suicide by convincing her the house is haunted by the ghost of his first wife, her skull in particular, which naturally only Jenni can see.

Except there’s a twist here. For the stunning (?) climax, The real ghost of Marion shows up, announcing her presence first by chasing Jenni around (which kinda irritates me, since Jenni didn’t really do anything to draw the ire of the apparition, except maybe keeping her face in an almost constantly pinched expression), and then straight up killing Eric (that’s what you’re seeing in the screencap above).

If I’m being completely honest, yes, it’s a dull film with loooong sequences of nothing in particular really happening. BUT, it’s not that bad. I mean, yes, it is bad, no question, but it’s basically inoffensive 1950s drive-in fare. There were infinitely more disgusting things ran on Mystery Science Theater 3000. In comparison to, say, The Beast Of Yucca Flats, The Screaming Skull actually looks pretty derned good (then again, what doesn’t?). And, even though it takes forever to get there, some of the climatic scenes are actually pretty effective, provided you can ignore Eric clearly holding a plastic skull to his neck, and the infamous tossing-a-stool-at-the-ghost scene (which became this episode’s stinger). The movie itself almost lends an easygoing vibe to this episode as a whole, which is weird since it concerns a guy trying to kill his wife with a plastic skull.

The proceedings aren’t overly painful, is what I’m trying to explain.

Oh, and there’s a Torgo-esque gardener named Mickey. He provides some unintended levity to the proceedings, though he’s still a distant third behind Torgo and Ortega in the “really, really weird lackey that probably needs a shower” category.

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The host segments for this episode, like I said before, they’re “mostly good.” I wasn’t super impressed with Tom Servo turning into a butterfly or Pearl, Observer & Bobo tricking Mike & The Bots into costumes for no real reason. But on the other hand, Servo attempting to scam a free coffin is good, and Bobo being shrunk via the most non-existent special effect possible at the end is funny.

But, my favorite host segment is seen above: Crow decides to scare Mike by being a “screaming skull.” Unfortunately, his (fairly wimpy) scream causes Mike to flip out and continuously scream in terror as he beats Crow over the head with a variety of objects (the best scene of the segment is Mike carefully deciding on the perfect golf club to hit Crow with, all while still screaming). The host segments of MST3K can often be a mixed bag, and this episode is no exception, but this moment in particular is a bonafide winner.


 

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I said way up above that advertising for MST3K had basically disappeared from the station following the 1999 series finale. If there were any kind of promos for the series in general following that, I’m unaware of them. I’m guessing there may have been one for Merlin’s Shop Of Mystical Wonders, and Satellite News shows a mini-marathon of episodes at the end of 1999, which I cant imagine there not being some kind of advertising for that. But following all that, MST3K finished life on Sci-Fi strictly on Saturday mornings. When I was able to watch the show in “real time” again in 2002, I certainly never saw any advertising. I want to say there was a “coming up next” deal prior to episodes starting, but even if that’s so, that’s more of a courtesy than anything.

Anyway, in regards to this January 31 broadcast, the only thing even in the ballpark of advertising is what you’re seeing above: the little ‘banner’ at the bottom of the screen, reminding you of what you’re watching. Granted, it was common to Sci-Fi programming at the time, and they also take the opportunity to tell you what’s coming up next (in this case, Fright Night 2), but still, it’s nice to see that even in that little itty bitty way, MST3K was still on Sci-Fi’s radar. Kinda.

While on the subject of advertising, thus far this has been more of an episode review. Which is fine, because after years of hoping and praying, it was finally released officially in the Volume XXXI Turkey Day DVD set. I probably wouldn’t put 912 in my top 10 favorite episodes ever list, but I do like it plenty. Top 20, maybe.

However, this article is supposed to be about the larger broadcast picture. Sure, the episode itself is the main point, but what definitively places things in a certain time and place are the commercials. Just like my other ‘broadcast recap’ posts, I like to finish up with a look at those.

The problem here is that, being from 2004, most of the commercials, well, they aren’t that great. 2004 is just too new to be all that interesting. Still, I’d be remiss in whatever it is that can be considered my duties if I didn’t give at least a quick look at them, so here now are some of the better ones (in my opinion, anyway) that were seen during Mystery Science Theater 3000‘s Sci-Fi farewell broadcast on January 31, 2004:

 

Sci-Fi Channel Stargate SG-1 / Code Name: Eternity Promo

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Hey, you all remember Stargate SG-1, don’t you? Sure you do! After all, it was only on for about 47 years. It was about MacGyver and a guy with a Dodge Ram logo on his forehead going through adventures in outer space or something like that.

Easy SG-1 fans, of course I jest. It was actually a pretty good show, at least what I saw of it when it was in syndication (around here it was WJW TV-8 on weekend afternoons, if I recall correctly). This promo, obviously, spotlights the show after new episodes were moved from Showtime to Sci-Fi.

As for Code Name: Eternity, never saw it. Apparently it was a 1999 Canadian series that only ran a season and then showed up on Sci-Fi. Ain’t I helpful?

 

BarNone Auto Loans Ad

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I had almost completely wiped this series of ads from my memory. BarNone Auto Loans are still around, and at the time they had a line of commercials featuring a dog sock puppet (apparently originally a Pets.com mascot, though I really have totally forgotten all about that hoopla) pitching the company. So, yeah.

 

Office Max Highlighters Ad

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This one spotlights (see what I did there HAW HAW HAW) Office Max’s special brand of highlighters, and centers around one employee’s convoluted “too sick to work” scheme, which fails spectacularly. At least I think that’s plot of the commercial, I didn’t bother to save it to the PC and I refuse to go back and check. I’m pretty sure that’s what it’s about.

 

Geico Gecko Ad

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Geez oh man, it can be hard to realize that Geico’s Gecko has been around for basically forever at this point. I also find it troubling that I can tell his accent is slightly different in this ad from what it is nowadays, even though I’m hardly a Geico Gecko expert. In this installment in the long running series, a boy sleeps while his two robot toys prepare to duke it out. That is, until the Gecko steps forward to pontificate about Geico, much to the amazement of said toys.

 

Cabin Fever On DVD & VHS Ad

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Yes, they were still releasing commercial movies on VHS in 2004. That wouldn’t last a whole lot longer. My reasons for including this one have less to do with the movie (I have never seen Cabin Fever nor do I have any interest in seeing Cabin Fever) and the odds were good that I would have ended up skipping this one entirely (a fate that befell a Burger King ad featuring Steve Harvey trying to come up with a combination name for “sandwich” and “salad”), until I realized it starred Shawn from Boy Meets World. Though, that’s really all I have to say about it. So, thank my TGIF nostalgia for this entry, I guess.

 

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles On Nintendo Gamecube Ad

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Hey, a commercial I can almost get excited for! I say “almost” because aside from the very first installment for NES, I have never played a Final Fantasy game. And, since I generally don’t care for most RPGs, I really have no interest in even that one. In other words, I haven’t played Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles and you can’t make me.

HOWEVER, the poor Nintendo Gamecube, while maintaining a cult following, was basically getting clobbered by Sony’s Playstation 2 and Microsoft’s Xbox at the time. Since Final Fantasy is indeed a big name in the game world, it was nice to see it show up on Nintendo’s underrated console; from a sales-standpoint, it needed all the help it could get (that’s not a slam, either; I had a Gamecube, still do somewhere in fact, and it was definitely a lot of fun, but the system really was an object of derision among most of my PS2-owning friends, which I think was representative of teenagers in general).

At any rate, old video game ads are always a nice example of the time in which they were broadcast. So, 2004, Gamecube, there you go.

Next On Sci-Fi Promo

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Found during the final commercial break of the broadcast, this was a short promo for what was coming up next on Sci-Fi. Fright Night II (hey, it was listed as Fright Night 2 before!) and Halloween II & III would take you up through midday that Saturday. While I’ll never claim to have much interest in any of those films, does Sci-Fi even play movies like them anymore? Of course it’s “SyFy” nowadays, but at last check (and it really has been awhile), it was all homemade SyFy exclusives and whatnot. Then again, I don’t watch the station anymore, so what do I know?


And so, Mystery Science Theater 3000 came to an end on the Sci-Fi Channel. Never has a show-ending stinger felt so bittersweet. We had our tapes, we had our DVDs, but what we didn’t have was knowledge of when or if we’d ever see our favorite show being broadcast again.

A lot of the “specialness” of this recording has dissipated over the years, but for once, this is a good thing. We MSTies have been given what could be described as the royal treatment. MST3K has been making a comeback on actual TV, the DVDs are profuse, and most of the people involved with the show are still out there cranking out the comedy in various forms.

Still, it’s a tape that captures that moment in time when a lot (but not all) of that was still up in the air, and for that, I’m glad I still have it.

Plus, you know, it’s a good episode I like to watch every now and then. Kinda easy to forget that when I’m busy pontificating about (real or imagined?) specialness and whatnot.

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Man, that image above still brings a tear to my eye. Figuratively, I mean. After all, it’s just a show, I should just relax and all that jazz.

Ghoulardifest 2014!

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It’s that time of year again! Big Chuck & Lil’ John’s Ghoulardifest! 2014!

I’ve gone to this convention for several years in a row now, and I even wrote extensively about it last year. I always, always have a blast at these shows. Ostensibly, the convention is to celebrate all things Ernie “Ghoulardi” Anderson, and needless to say, you’ll see more Ghoulardi stuff than anything else there. But, it’s also a celebration of Northeast Ohio broadcasting, namely Hoolihan & Big Chuck & Lil’ John, Son of Ghoul, Jungle Bob, and even beyond; this year, Dee Wallace Stone and Arch Hall Jr. were also in attendance. Ghoulardifest isn’t just about Ghoulardi, it’s also about the Ghoulardi ideals, the music and movies and ideas he represented. That is, lotsa horror films, music (you can’t take two steps without running into some Beatles memorabilia – the way it should be), and the like. Trust me, it’s awesome.

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For the second year in a row, the show was held at the LaVilla Banquet Center. I really, really like this place. It’s plush, and big enough to hold a lot of vendors, plus there’s a big ol’ stage for presentations, musical performances, etc. In short, it’s perfect for events like Ghoulardifest. When we (my brother and I) first got there, Frank & Dean were performing, and even though I was currently trying to get my bearings straight and deciding just what to tackle first (there’s a lot to take in!), I could tell they were putting on a heckuva show.

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Every year, the show runs Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and this year those days were October 31 (HALLOWEEN), November 1st, and November 2nd. Also every year, the only feasible day for me to make it up is on Sunday. It’s easiest for me that way, and while I’m always pleased, going there this Sunday did have a few drawbacks: Son of Ghoul played with Arch Hall Jr. and his band on Friday and Saturday only, which I missed out on, as I did meeting Janet Decay, The Daughter Of The Ghoul, who was apparently only there the first two days. Tim Conway was supposed to be there again this year, this time signing autographs on Saturday only, but he had to cancel. Since I wasn’t going to make it up on Saturday anyway, I guess I broke even on that front.

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Still, I was able to knock several items, be they meeting celebrities or items I’ve had a year to mull over purchasing, off my Ghoulardifest bucket list. Here now, are the highlights from said bucket list:

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Hangin’ with my pal Son Of Ghoul! I always make it a point to stop by SOG’s table; a ‘Fest hasn’t gone by that I haven’t bought something (sometimes a lot) from him. Every year, he has these awesome Superhost t-shirts. Last year, I was too late for a large size shirt, and like a dolt I didn’t buy a medium. So, the gameplan was to definitely, absolutely get one this year. Luckily, he had one large size shirt left, which is now mine. I prefer large t-shirts, though mediums work too, and if he hadn’t had a large, that’s what I would have went with; one way or another, I was getting a Supe shirt!

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A dream realized! I babbled last year about how I kept missing out on Bob “Hoolihan” Wells. It kept being either his line was too long or he was doing something on stage. Bottom line was I had never met him…until Ghoulardifest 2014. I had pretty much decided beforehand that this year I was going to meet Hoolihan. And as you can see, I, erm, did. Really cool guy! (Hoolihan, I mean.)

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I met Arch Hall Jr.! I may have missed his band, but no way was I going to miss the man! The star of Eegah!, Wild Guitar and other 1960s flicks, this is a guy I had to meet. And no kidding, he’s just about the nicest guy in the world. Incredibly personable and outgoing, I wish every celebrity out there was like Arch. Just the coolest.

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Chillin’ with Jungle Bob! My buddy! I first met JB waaay back in 2000 (at the long-gone B-Ware Video), and I still have a lot of fun talking with him nowadays. Great guy, and he gets props for always pickin’ up them big damn spiders he has; I couldn’t do it, man.

Jungle Bob’s official website!

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There I am with the cats from The Midnight Movie! The Midnight Movie is a newer discovery of mine. Technically, I’ve known about the show for quite awhile, but I could never find it. Until I did: in Northeast Ohio, if you have Time-Warner Digital Cable, it’s channel 180, Saturdays at midnight. It’s probably been there forever and I’m just a chucklehead. Anyway, I’m really diggin’ the show; they play a lot of movies you don’t see too often on the horror hosting-circuit. Really nice guys, too.

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Finally: the obligatory photo with Big Chuck & Lil’ John. I got one last year, I got one the year before two years before that, and I’ll probably get one next year. Why? Cause it’s Chuck & John, that’s why! Their names are in the title of the whole show! I’ll plaster my walls with photos of me with Big Chuck & Lil’ John if I want to!

That pretty much brought us to the end of the show (just for us, I mean; there were a few hours left). However, there’s one important thing associated with the show that we skipped last year but had to do this year:

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There’s a Big Boy very, very close to the LaVilla, and we almost always make it a point to stop by after leaving the ‘Fest. If I recall correctly, we just ran out of money last year, and since I don’t know of any other locations even remotely close to me, I’ve been jonesin’ for one of their big ol’ burgers, big time.

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That’s a thing of beauty! A big honkin’ “Super Big Boy!” Big Boy after Ghoulardifest just seems so right, and man, their burgers are good.

Real quick: a closer look at my loot. This isn’t quite everything I brought home, but it’s some of the coolest.

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There’s my beloved Superhost shirt. I could put this on with some red shorts and go running around the neighborhood if I so desired. Maybe I’ll just wear it while I read my interview with Supe himself over and over and over.

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My autographed Arch Hall Jr. CD. When I heard he was going to be signing autographs all weekend, I hoped he’d have one of these CDs for purchase by the time I got there, and as luck would have it, this was the last one! Cool winnins! This is packed with Arch’s music; well worth having! It’s now a prized part of my collection.

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Since I finally met Hoolihan, it stands to reason I couldn’t leave without his autograph. I didn’t feel like lugging my American Scary book back to Ghoulardifest for autographs this year, so I instead opted for one of these swanky Hoolihan pictures for autograph purposes.

So, that was Ghoulardifest 2014. My brother and I had a lot fun, as we always do when going to this show. Had a good time, got some cool stuff, and ate a delicious burger. I’d call that a successful trip.

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

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*Standby for shameless gushing.*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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