Tag Archives: DVD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey, where’s King Kong, man?”

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

“So no Son of Kong either, then?”

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

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

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LOOK AT THAT!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nabonga = Gorilla. Update your diaries accordingly.

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

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

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


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

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

Alpha Video – Range Riders (1934) DVD Review

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Look, I loves me some westerns. I really do. Okay, yeah, you tend to see more horror and sci-fi-related things here at the blog; what can I say, those are my favorite film genres. But, I really am a western fan, too. And of course, it’s not like we’ve never seen anything from that genre here in the past. Just not as much as I’d maybe prefer.

Actually, to be honest, when it comes to westerns, my heart really lies with the cheapie entries. That is, B-Westerns. You know, the hour-long (if that) quickies practically produced for pennies, particularly in the 1930s and 1940s. (Are you jealous of my alliteration skills yet?) Sure, they were intended as strict matinee fare, they weren’t exactly technical marvels of movie making magic (alliteration again), and they undoubtedly weren’t a realistic example of life in the old west, either. Doesn’t matter to me, though. They’re simply fun entertainment, and a supreme example of a bygone cinematic era. To watch one of these is to be instantly transported back in time, even if the film itself is hardly a masterpiece. Doesn’t hurt that I grew up watching them on WAOH TV-29, either.

You know, I think the only time we’ve seen a legit B-Western here was when I looked at an old television broadcast of John Wayne’s Blue Steel, though going waaaaay back, the fascination was hinted at here and here, too. I’m going to rectify this omission today, because man, the DVD that recently came into my possession, it’s just jaw-dropping. And not in a good way. (But definitely in an entertaining way.)

Y’see, another movie-based interest of mine is a fondness for the, uh, weaker specimens. In other words, I love watching a good bad movie. And boy, in the realm of B-Westerns, I’m not sure it gets worse than this. Unbeknownst to you prior, that header pic up above wasn’t just an aesthetic choice on my part; in actuality, it was a harbinger of your destiny. Why? Because today’s subject can and must become a part of your life. Ladies and gentlemen, I now present to you the 1934 Buddy Roosevelt anti-masterpiece, Range Riders

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I didn’t pick this DVD up by chance. Oh no, my knowledge of this film actually goes back to around 1999 or so. At the time, I was receiving Sinister Cinema’s big giant catalogs in the mail. In the years before practically anything and everything had been re-released on DVD, Sinister Cinema was the place to go for obscure films. (The company is still fantastic, too; you’d be well-advised to check out their website.) I’d spend the longest time pouring over those catalogs, figuratively drooling over all the interesting, new-to-me flicks they promised.

Almost every genre you could think of was (is) healthily represented by SC, and needless to say, that also included (includes) B-Westerns. Now, I had made a habit out of recording B-Westerns off of TV-29, so I was no stranger to these almost-forgotten artifacts of another cinematic day and age. But, the stuff SC had, man, a good deal of it was uber-rare. The included synopsis for each entry (and SC wasn’t shy about letting you know which flicks were good and which ones weren’t) only served to further whet my appetite.

Unfortunately, SC had a habit of phasing out older titles (presumably ones that weren’t selling in respectable numbers any longer). Keep in mind that I was only 13 or 14 years old at the time, and thus had even less money than I do now (which is really saying something). Therefore, a good many of the titles I wanted to order, I just never had the chance. And that’s where Range Riders enters the picture.

I wanted a lot of movies from SC, but as far as B-Westerns went, Range Riders was one of the biggies. Not because it was touted as being good, but rather because it was touted as being so BAD. Like I said, SC wasn’t shy about saying a film was terrible, and of all their B-Westerns, Range Riders got perhaps the most abuse of any entry in that section (though a few others were comparable). Naturally, I had to see it. Of course, my nigh-perpetually-empty pockets kept me from doing so, and eventually the title was removed from sale. This hurt me deep.

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Needless to say, there was an eventual happy outcome to that ‘ordeal’ (ha!). Here and now, some 17 years later, only mere weeks ago, I discovered that many, many of the westerns I wanted back then have since been put out on DVD by Alpha Video. I had been picking up some single-disc Bela Lugosi releases online, and on a whim decided to see what was available Ken Maynard-wise (one of my favorite B-Western stars). And lo and behold, turns out Alpha hasn’t just put out some B-Westerns, they’ve put out tons of them! And not just the usual John Wayne and Roy Rogers fare, either, but also really oddball, obscure titles. Stuff that, quite frankly, I’m surprised they’d even bother releasing. Indeed, there’s so many titles that were once sold by Sinister Cinema, I’m guessing a common source is shared between the two companies. Or not, I don’t know.

So anyway, over the last several weeks, I’ve steadily added to my movie collection many of the titles I wanted to order from SC so many years ago but missed out on. I was totally like a kid flipping through those catalogs again. And, it seemed that each time I figured “no way they’ve put this one out on DVD,” a quick search proved me wrong. Naturally, the movie would then duly became mine. Some silent Ken Maynard western entries? Mine.Also, Ken Maynard’s final starring vehicle, 1944’s Harmony Trail? Mine. Lightning Bill (aka Lighting Bill, and one that SC also raked over the coals in their synopsis)? I couldn’t believe it, but that too became mine.

You see where I’m going with this, don’t you? Range Riders = MINE. A dream realized, finally! And at a low, low price that even *I* can afford! Alpha Video, you are now my friend and I officially forgive you for tricking me into buying Fury of the Wolf Man on VHS so many years ago. (And by “trick” I mean “not tell me upfront that the film was essentially unwatchable, such was its badness.”)

So, the DVD, I’ve got it, it’s mine. Observation: one thing I really like about Alpha’s single-disc reissues of whatever is that they often (but not always) use original poster art for the front covers. In my opinion, it’s a simple and easy, yet undeniably attractive, design decision. Now, I’m not sure if the artwork for Range Riders is from the original poster or not, and a Google search isn’t telling me what I need to know. Could be the original poster, or a licensed-but-unrelated painting, or even something Alpha themselves commissioned for this DVD release. I have a hard time believing Alpha had someone take the time to draw up a cover for a movie only 8 people would be interested in owning, especially since they’ve mocked up perfectly serviceable covers for their Maynard releases using stock photos and whatnot (I guess; here’s an example).

But on the other hand, if this is something hailing from Range Riders’ original release, the art doesn’t really accurately reflect Roosevelt’s character or the action in this movie, though that wouldn’t be so out-of-the-ordinary (and would be least of the problems with this film, honestly).

Look, no matter what, the cover is colorful and attractive, okay? It belies the actual product, but that’s not so out-of-the-ordinary, either. Sell it however you can, Alpha!

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The synopsis on the back cover is about as helpful as it can be. No kidding, this movie is a mess on every front, and frankly, the most you’re going to gather from the plot is what the bare summary on the back describes. It’s less of a coherent movie and more like a bunch of vaguely-related scenes stitched together with some alarmingly stupid dialogue and horrible camera work. The fact Alpha felt the need to pad the description on the back with a mini-biography of star Buddy Roosevelt (an actor approximately 11 people know or care about nowadays) speaks volumes. Also, “Modestly budgeted” is an extremely polite way of saying “these things were cheaper than dirt.” And don’t let the color screenshots fool you, either; this is a black & white oater.

Also: Copyright 2010?! Yep, this has been out for awhile. Many (most?) of these Alpha B-Westerns have been out for years, actually. I believe my copy of Harmony Trail was copyrighted 2005. Obviously, I haven’t been paying enough attention! Otherwise, these would have all been mine long ago. To be fair, I’d never have thought the vast majority of these films would ever be sold by a real, on-store-shelves company; flicks like this, they just seemed like the sole territory of online specialty dealers. Not unlike Sinister Cinema, basically.

Even though these have been out for quite awhile now, I fear they won’t be in-print forever. These are just such niche western entries. I really wouldn’t be surprised if many of these were technically out of print now, and sellers are just still moving the stock they already have. (I have zero proof of that, mind you; I’m just saying that it wouldn’t shock me if it were true.) So, if you have any interest in films of this nature at all, I’d say ere on the side of caution and pick up a copy while you can – it’s not like these are all that pricey. Even though Range Riders is, without a doubt, an awful film, it’s wonderfully entertaining nevertheless. Think Plan 9 From Outer Space if you must; that kind of entertaining. If that kind of movie is up your alley, head on over to Amazon for a copy of Range Riders now! Please don’t let any of my criticism deter you from getting a copy. I don’t mean to steer anyone away from this one; on the contrary, Range Riders gets a HUGE recommendation from your truly!

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Now, B-Westerns aren’t high art. They weren’t intended to be. These were depression and/or wartime cheapies, serving mostly as matinee fare and aimed squarely at the kids. So, judging one of John Wayne’s early, poverty row features against, say, Stagecoach or Red River, it just wouldn’t be right. B-Westerns have their own set of standards, standards that exist solely within this sub-genre of the, uh, genre. I’m not the first to point this out, of course, but it’s an ideal that’s worth repeating, and certainly something to keep in mind while watching a B-Western.

But, even with the slack that must, by nature, be given to these films, Range Riders comes up short. Woefully short. I mean, this movie is B-A-D. This is quite frankly the worst B-Western I’ve ever seen in my nearly 20 years of watching them. I’ve never seen any quite like it, and thus, I couldn’t stop watching in slack-jawed wonder the thundering stupidity that raged across my TV screen. This movie is great in all the worst ways.

Apparently, the B-Western often considered the worst in the genre is The Border Menace (coincidentally also released by Alpha – need), but the Plan 9 From Outer Space comparison to Range Riders (helpful user reviewer BrianV over at IMDb nails this) is apt. Sure, there may technically be some that are worse, but Range Riders is so inept in every way possible, so obliteratingly dumb, and yet so wildly entertaining, that it really does recall Plan 9. A western by nature won’t have the obvious special effect deficiencies that a Wood film did/does; it’s not like they have cowboys riding paper mache horses. But horrendous dialogue and inept plotting? Range Riders has those to spare! (Not to mention terrible acting, awful editing, wildly inconsistent audio, and camera work that leaves much to be desired…)

When I threw this DVD in the player, my excitement to finally be seeing this flick was dampened only slightly by the Alpha Video bug in the top-right corner of the screen. I understand their reasoning, but I’m not a big fan of video companies doing that. Luckily, it only popped up during the opening credits and the ending card. It took me nearly 20 years to finally obtain this movie, so I can easily live with a little logo in the corner for a minute or two.

Also, “Superior Talking Pictures.” You know a movie is older than dirt when the company behind it touted their ability to include speech! If I recall correctly, Sinister Cinema stated in their catalog synopsis that Superior Talking Pictures were anything but, which is wildly spot-on. Oh, it talks, and it does indeed count as a picture, but superior? Well…

(This isn’t the only Superior film I’ve seen, but it IS the worst – though I haven’t cracked into Lightning Bill yet, so the jury is still out on this subject that probably only I care about.)

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So anyway, Range Riders. It concerns the “Bull Crawford Gang,” causing havoc in a Texas town. In fact, the first thing seen is them riding into a property auction and scaring off prospective bidders. Why? So they can get the land for cheap? Nope, they just want to eat! Seriously, that’s their reason for busting up the crowd; so they can have the free eats to themselves.

Up above, the gang is seen hassling “Pedro,” one of the protagonists and our comic relief for the duration. Pedro is clearly not Mexican, Pedro does not speak with a believable Spanish accent, and Pedro is so incredibly idiotic that merely calling him an “offensive stereotype” doesn’t quite seem like enough. He’s constantly doing so many stupid pratfalls and whatnot that just having him around seems like a liability. Some might even refer to the character as “mentally challenged,” and they’d have a real argument. I hate Pedro. (Or, as every character pronounces his name, “Pea-Dro.”)

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Further evidence the gang doesn’t so much terrorize the townsfolk as they simply annoy them a whole lot: when the owner (“Waldon”) whose land the gang has just trespassed upon begins shooting at them, Bull himself sneaks around the side of the house, and rather than simply plugging Waldon right then and there like any self-respecting gangster would, instead reaches his hands through the window and bonks Waldon and his card-partner Sutton’s heads together. It’s a moment straight out of The Three Stooges, and wow is it strange. Nothing says “big bad bullying gang” like some lighthearted head-bonking!

And then, just to make sure the viewer knows this film isn’t even going to try to be realistic in any sense, Bull steps back from the window, aims, and blasts a bottle of ketchup sitting on a shelf inside. The merits of this action are dubious at best, and Bull’s position and angle outside make it highly unlikely that he could have even hit the bottle, but it does provide another moment of “hilarious” comic relief in which Waldon believes he’s been shot (ketchup all over him, y’see) but then cracks up when the the real substance is revealed.”Oh, this criminal could have easily blown my head off but didn’t? Hilarious!”

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Okay, the film quality of Range Riders, obviously it’s not the best. It’s dusty and scratchy and so on, and I’m not convinced the print here wasn’t sourced from VHS originally (as Alpha’s Harmony Trail certainly appeared to be). Still, considering how cheaply it was made and subsequently how obscure it has become, I’m just glad it survives at all to this day. Films of a far bigger stature have become lost to time, after all.

That said, that screenshot above, don’t think that that picture accurately reflects the condition of the surviving print or Alpha’s transfer (or my screen-capping abilities, for that matter). Oh no, that’s the movie itself; astoundingly, it’s out of focus! Quite a few scenes in Range Riders are. In fact, that was one of the things Sinister Cinema harped on most in their catalog entry. At the time, I simply couldn’t fathom how a B-Western, as cheap as they usually were, could be that poorly produced. I kinda still can’t. Don’t get me wrong; I think it’s fantastic, though again, for all the wrong reasons.

I get it, I get it. It was the depression, and it was a poverty row film. Get it made fast and cheap, and get it out there. I understand how this could have been released in this state, but that still doesn’t lessen my astonishment at it.

(You want more astonishment? According to IMDb, and I admit I missed this the first time around, Range Riders has multiple actors in a single role, and multiple roles for single actors. Over the course of a 45 minute film! That’s a cheap movie! Read IMDb’s trivia section and see for yourself!)

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Following that mildly irritating bit of carnage, Sutton bets Waldon that his son Dick (who is away at “Agricultural College”) could take out this gang single handed. When Waldon expresses his doubts, Sutton decides to write him (with a letter that begins “My dear Dick,” which, you know, that’s something that would probably be worded somewhat differently in a movie nowadays).

Cut to “Agricultural College,” where Dick and a couple of friends peruse the letter. That’s our hero, star Buddy Roosevelt as Dick Sutton, above. The wispy little mustache doesn’t inspire much confidence in him, but whatever. Dick seems vaguely apprehensive about going back, until his friends mention that the gang will probably be waiting for him at the train station and he should wear a disguise. From some reason, that’s what convinces Dick to go home. No kidding, he gets a wondrous look in his eye and announces “That’s it, I’ll do it!” Evidently Dick is swayed by only the smallest details, and not the fact his father and/or his hometown are (ostensibly) in imminent danger.

From there on out, our story is fully in motion. It’s up to Dick to put an end to the Crawford gang’s reign of terror (such as it is). What follows is mostly a jumbled mess of half-realized plotlines, strung together with some atrocious editing and truly face-palm-inducing dialogue.

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This is our female protagonist, Elsie Waldon, as played by Barbara Starr. Starr wasn’t much of an actress, I’m sorry to say, and according to IMDb, she didn’t have very many films to her credit, of which Range Riders was the last. (What a way to go out!) Starr’s Elsie gets credit for (occasionally) being fairly gutsy, but she’s saddled with some truly moronic lines, which of course doesn’t do her character any favors.

Poor Barbara Starr. Her most notable achievements were marrying Harold Lloyd’s brother, starring in Range Riders, and now being immortalized on my stupid dumb blog. Just doesn’t seem right, man.

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Want some examples of Elsie’s incredibly dumb dialogue? Okay, take for example this scene:

Crawford’s gang does indeed show up at the train station to “greet” Dick. It’s mentioned that Dick’s father has been bragging his son was coming in that day – way to keep that element of surprise by doing the dumbest thing you possibly could, buddy! Elsie overhears the gang’s plans, and wants to alert the sheriff. When the local grocer (I guess) informs her that the sheriff won’t do anything because he needs the gang’s votes, she heads off to the train station b yherself, though what she could possibly do there is never explained. (And how many people live in this town anyway? 9? 10? Wouldn’t rounding up the gang that’s supposedly terrorizing everyone earn the sheriff enough votes to make up for the loss of Crawford’s bunch?)

Meanwhile, Dick has taken the advice of his friends and arrived in disguise, which is that of a froo-froo college boy. Geeky bow tie, beret, the whole shtick. (To Range Riders’ credit, this is genuinely funny, if that’s what they were going for). It works too, because the gang pays him no mind. He runs into Elsie, and she quickly realizes it’s him, however. The dialogue that follows is painfully stupid:

Elsie: “Why Dick Sutton, what are you doing in this clothes? Have you gone crazy?!”

What do you mean what is he doing in those clothes? Obviously he eluded the gang, didn’t he?! Deductive reasoning can work wonders, Elsie.

But wait, it gets better after he quickly explains his disguise to her: “Well, why don’t you go off to the ranch first and see your dad, and find out what it’s all about?”

Find out about what? You saw his dad write the letter, Dick knows why he’s there! That’s why he’s back in town in the first place! Dick himself says as much, when he says, with a twisted little grin, “I’d like to have some fun with that gang!” Elsie’s beauty of a response: “Aw c’mon, don’t start any trouble!” Don’t start any trouble?! You’ve already GOT trouble! They’re troublemakers! THAT’S WHY DICK IS BACK IN TOWN! I like how she shifts from being prepared to alert the sheriff and then going to the train station herself, to basically telling Dick to stay out of it. Make up your mind, lady!

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Dick’s idea of having “fun” with the gang is to rope five of them together, tie the line to a wagon, and then ride off. They almost instantly get out of the lasso, and since their horses are right there at the station, they’re able to give chase pretty much immediately. Boy, that sure was fun, Dick. There’s no way that’s not going to irk them mightily! Was that Dick’s main plan? Come back home and really, really annoy a gang?

An interminable chase scene follows. Out of nowhere, Pedro is there too, and of course he falls off the back of the wagon during it, which means Dick and Elsie have to circle around to get him. Man, is Pedro indispensable or what; why bother getting Dick back home when you’ve already got the incomparable Pedro on the premises?

At several points during the chase, there’s a close-up shot of Dick and Elsie in the wagon, going through the motions of riding; holding the reigns and the crop, bouncing up and down, etc. You know what would have been an even more convincing illusion of movement though? If they filmed this in front of a sky that didn’t feature a stationary cloud!

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Dick’s next course of action is to borrow some clothes from Pedro and masquerade as a Mexican bandit or something. The merits of this endeavor are, like so much else in this film, dubious. I mean, why? What benefit is there to the bad guys thinking he’s Mexican, or them knowing he’s Dick Sutton? It just seems like a superfluous gesture, is all I’m saying.

And really, all he did was change his clothes. Okay, he uses a Spanish accent too, but it’s not exactly realistic or convincing. Otherwise, his appearance remains the same as “normal” Dick Sutton. So again, what’s the point?

But then, the world of Range Riders is a world where characters like Pedro are considered useful. That is, the normal rules don’t apply here.

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At one point, to demonstrate their terrorizing of the populace, the gang takes a guy’s hat. Oh I get it, it shows their bullying in even the smallest matters or something like that. Nevertheless, Bull’s winking “Now you boys heard him give me that hat, didn’tcha?” after grabbing it comes off less like a rough and tumble gang leader and more like a cranky high school punk, but whatever.

This takes place outside of the local saloon, and while the newly-hatless man goes off to tattle, Bull and his gang head inside, where all he does is yammer about his “new” hat over and over. Seriously, he won’t shut up about it.

I love how hatless guy runs to the sheriff and gives him this line: “That man Bull Crawford is pickin’ on me sheriff! I want you to get my hat!” They actually gave those lines to a grown man! What, was the dialogue written by a kindergartner? “Oooh, big mean man pickin’ on me!”

Since it has already been established that the sheriff is a puss that won’t do anything about anything (“Aww, there’s no use causin’ trouble over a hat!”), it’s up to Dick and Pedro to head to the bar and retrieve the stolen item. They do so, and Dick then proceeds to make Bull eat a bar of soap; apparently Bull talks some smack about Waldon at this moment, but a convenient splice in the film renders the line MIA. No, really, Dick makes Bull wash his mouth out right in front of his gang. Again, Dick isn’t so much clearing the gang out of town as he is just messing with them. Still, it’s a scene that’s actually pretty funny…

…until Pedro trips and causes the distraction needed for the gang to start busting things up. Thanks for all your help, Pedro. Pedro’s failing in life is par for the course by this point in the film, so it’s no great surprise, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be filled with rage over it, either.

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Range Riders features some fight scenes that are so widely amateurish, they wouldn’t fool a blind turtle. Now, B-Western fights weren’t always operatic achievements, but man, they’re taken to new levels of downright silliness here. A scene where Dick swings around by a rope in the bar is just so unbelievably ridiculous; the idea is that he’s swinging around and kicking the bad guys in mid-air, but he never actually gains any momentum to do this. Rather, he just kind of bumps into them whilst hanging from the rope, which of course causes them to scatter as if they’ve just been hit by a wrecking ball or something. Did Superior think anyone would buy this? Even the kids had to have seen right through it!

And the fistfights! There’s some fistfightin’ alright, but they’re less drag-down, knock-out brawls and more like a bunch of guys just flailing their arms about all willy nilly. Buddy Roosevelt in particular, man, any hopes of him being a matinee hero had to have been shattered when audiences saw him winging his arms about wildly, without any discernible sense of genuine fighting ability. And since there’s no sound effects to accentuate any of the punches, the brawls all come off more like pillow-less pillow fights instead of the dramatic battles they were intended to portray.

The fighting action is lame, and Dick can’t decide whether he can hold his own or not. At one point, he’s seen taking on the whole gang at once and coming out victorious. But then later, he pretty much has his derriere handed to him, not that it matters, since the gang then rides off, leaving his unconscious body on the ground. Of course, they later pontificate on what they’d do to him if they had the chance! Does it get any more pointlessly incompetent than that?!

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There’s some nonsense about a map to a goldmine (owned by the wonderfully-named “Hardpan”) that takes up the focus of the last several minutes of the film, but it really just makes for more of the same action we’ve already seen. I do love how our protagonists are surprised, yet only mildly annoyed, each time the gang shows up; they’ll drive them off, figure they’re safe from then for awhile, only to be irritated when that “measly” crew comes back in short order! What, you haven’t figured out the M.O. of these guys by now? Did you just get Dick back in town on a hunch?

(And to prove she lacks the power of accumulative memory, Elsie again suggests they go get the sheriff.)

This is a B-Western, so of course there’s a happy ending. The Crawford gang is eventually defeated, rounded up, and brought to the sheriff, who I guess can’t ignore them any longer. In a shudderingly stupid moment, the sheriff drags them out of the car they’re contained in, and lets them walk into his office – unassisted and under their own power! Yeah, that’s believable!

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In a romance that wasn’t even hinted at prior, the hero gets the girl, but not before we hear this immortal bit of closing dialogue:

Elsie: “Now that you’ve saved Hardpan’s mine, you have got to stop being a bad Spanish boy!”

Dick: “Well then, I’ll be a gay caballero!”

You can file that under “movie lines that would have a totally different meaning nowadays.”

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Ah, another budget DVD for the pile (no, M*A*S*H season six isn’t actually a budget set, but I’m not taking another, rectified closing pic). And boy, was this one a doozy! After roughly 17 years of build-up, Range Riders did not disappoint. It’s everything Sinister Cinema said it would be – and more. It’s incomprehensibly inept in every facet, but don’t take that to mean you should avoid it. Oh no, it’s pretty fantastic. Like I said before, it’s wonderfully entertaining in spite of itself. You can’t help but stare at it in slack-jawed wonder. 1934 was a simpler time, for sure, but even so, this is exponentially amateurish. I wonder if Superior realized that, or if they even cared? Rumor has it this was filmed in only two days and on a budget of $2500, so I guess they’d take whatever they got. (And, as bad as it is, it’s not like I could do any better in that amount of time or with that budget.)

I know I’m six years late to the party, but even so, I’ve got to commend Alpha Video for finally making this and other mega-obscure B-Westerns widely available. I never thought it would happen, but it has, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

When people talk of good bad movies, you’ll probably never hear Range Riders mentioned. Which is a shame, because it’s a great bad movie. If I have anything to say about it, that will soon change, since this article will undoubtedly go viral several seconds after being posted. (Yeah. Sure. Uh huh.)

The bottom line is: the world must know about Range Riders and I will not rest until it does! Pick yourself up a copy and experience the magic for yourself!

Gene Shalit’s Critic’s Choice VHS Series: 1941’s The Wolf Man (1987)

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You know, I had an entirely different, non-seasonally-themed post in mind for this week, until I realized that next week is Halloween. Next week! October is flying by, a realization that is bittersweet for me; I love this month and this time of year, and I hate to see it all zoom by so quickly. But on the other hand, the big day is at the very end of it all, and at least in my situation, you gotta make it through most of October to get to Ghoulardifest. And then there’s Thanksgiving, and then Christmas, and on and on it all goes. I love this time of year!

Anyway, with the season being in the full swing of things, I figured I may as well stick with a horror theme until the end of month (not so hard to do; barring the Tarzan post and Big Chuck & Lil’ John pre-game one, all of my recent posts are more or less seasonally-appropriate. I didn’t plan things that way, it’s just how it all worked out).

On that front, nothing screams “spirit o’ da season!” quite like Gene Shalit’s mustachioed visage plastered all over a VHS release of The Wolf Man. Behold: from 1987, it’s MCA Home Video’s release of 1941’s The Wolf Man, as part of their Gene Shalit’s Critic’s Choice series! It’s not a particularly rare video, it can be had on eBay for a few mere dollars, but any time Gene Shalit himself shows up out of nowhere to tell me to watch a movie, well, that’s worthy of a post. Plus, The Wolf Man, Halloween, it just fits.

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The movie is a classic for sure, but for this particular post, it’s really all about the cover art this time around. Yeah, we’ll take a brief look at the film itself, but seriously, the cover art makes this one.

First off, you’ve got that great image regarding the movie itself: Lon Chaney Jr. as the titular character, gripping Evelyn Ankers, surrounded by fog, foreboding trees, it’s all just great. Really, you don’t need much more to sell The Wolf Man in my opinion. Later VHS releases, including one that’s an illustrated close-up of Wolfie’s face and one that used the original gol’derned poster art as a template, failed to improve upon the spooky vibes emanating from the cover art of this 1987 release.

Annnnnd then, in waltzes Gene Shalit. And make no mistake, it’s all about the Shalit here. Now granted, there was a whole line of these Critic’s Choice tapes for MCA featuring him, some more befitting his image than others, but in the case of this particular entry, it’s just such an odd combination. You’ve got Gene Shalit, longtime Today Show movie critic, with his big giant mustache and even bigger bow tie, busy mugging for the camera while Lon Chaney Jr. is busy committing wolficide mere inches away. You can almost hear him making a pun. “Now that’s what I call a hairy situation!” That’s the kind of pun he used to make, right?

And I love the film strip at the bottom of the cover, showing what I like to call “The Four Stages Of Gene.” From left to right, you’ve got apprehensive Gene, jokey Gene, spooked Gene, and knowledgeable Gene. It’s any kind of Gene for any kind of movie!

Keep in mind, I’m not criticizing any of this, either. I’ve got nothing but respect for Gene Shalit, I think he’s a cool guy, and he was (and is) such a well-known personality that it makes perfect sense to have him pitch what are, ostensibly, his top-home video picks. But like I said before, when it comes to this particular movie, it’s just such a jarring combination. Heck, when I first stumbled upon this video, that’s precisely what attracted me to it. It’s the kind of tape that really could have only come out in the 1980s, and again, that’s not a criticism.

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I give ’em props for Shalit-izing the back cover, too; supposedly he himself write the synopsis, and even if he didn’t, it gives a pretty good idea of his style. Go ahead and click on the picture for a supersized version. Read that description and then tell me it’s not the greatest synopsis The Wolf Man has ever had or will have.

First off: puns! Gene Shalit loved him some puns, and he gets off some good ones here. He totally makes a “hairy” gag (having only glanced at the description beforehand, I promise you my joke earlier was entirely coincidental or subconscious or some crap like that). And “…all howl breaks loose” alone is almost certainly the greatest thing ever written on the back of a Wolf Man release. This is a statement I comfortably make, despite having not read the descriptive synopsis on the back of each and every one of them.

Beyond the patented Shalit style, however, is the fact that it’s just a really great description: there’s enough humor to keep it from being dry, and just enough information to make it sound interesting without giving too much away. Remember, this tape came out when rental stores were the places to go for movies; while it’s hard to imagine anyone not having some idea of what The Wolf Man was about, the truth is that the description on the back of a box could and often did make the difference between what wound up being a weekend rental and what continued to languish on the shelf. The cover art (which, as I said, this release also has nailed) got the people to pick the tape up, but the description could be the swaying factor in a real, honest-to-goodness rental.

Or maybe I’m just totally full of it, who knows.

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Why’d you write your name all over my collectible VHS tape, Lisa M.?!

The absence of Gene Shalit’s name anywhere on the tape itself leads me to believe there was a ‘regular’ VHS release of this movie, and the same tapes were used both for that and this Gene Shalit-branded-sleeve version. (Come to think of it, I wonder if there’s a ranch anywhere that brands their cattle with Gene Shalit’s face. If there’s not, there should be.) But then, looking at online auctions, most of the ‘early’ releases tend to be this exact one; I’m not seeing any non-Shalit version from the time period. Maybe more people bought this one for the exact same reasons that I’m so enamored with it. Or maybe I’m just totally full of it, who knows.

By the way, do you like the way I snapped the picture with Shalit overlooking the proceedings? Totally intentional, yo. I like to imagine those are the stages of his reaction to Lisa M. writing her name on the label. He starts off irritated and then learns to live with it. Seems plausible.

(If you’re reading this Lisa M., I’m just kidding.)

Okay, Gene Shalit may not be on the tape itself, but he is all over the sleeve; dare I dream that he hosts the actual movie as well? Oh I dare. Hey, if Elvira can host movies for home video, why not Gene Shalit too? (He asked as if there’s any real comparison between Elvira, Mistress Of The Dark and Gene freakin’ Shalit.)

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Aw shucks. Bitter sadness: Gene Shalit appears on the VHS sleeve only. Apparently he said all he had to say about the movie on the back cover.

Of course I kid. I didn’t really expect Gene Shalit to pop up on-screen and intro the movie, although the idea of his providing running commentary not unlike Mystery Science Theater 3000 just popped into my head and bizarrely amuses me.

But then, The Wolf Man is a movie that doesn’t need anything extra. This is a genuine Universal horror classic! It’s a terrific, engrossing film, and coming from me, that’s a telling statement.

Why’s that? Well, It may be anathema to admit this, but I’m going to come right out and say it: I’m not a big werewolf guy. Werewolf movies in general I’ve never much cared for (you probably won’t see Gene Shalit lending his mug to Fury Of The Wolfman anytime soon!), and as far as the Universal classics go, for me personally The Wolf Man generally finds a lukewarm place somewhere in the middle. While I always liked The Wolf Man more than The Mummy, The Invisible Man and The Phantom, he’s still markedly below my favorites of Frankenstein, The Gill Man, and Dracula (in that order). Luckily, many of those other monsters that I am more fond of appeared in the sequels to this movie.

That’s the title screen up above, by the way.

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This original 1941 The Wolf Man is really the exception to all that, though. While I’m not as enamored with the character as others are, this movie is fantastic. Unlike the sequels, in which Universal apparently felt Wolfie couldn’t stand on his own, it all works wonderfully here. It’s not a movie I watch terribly often, but when I do, I enjoy it.

The plot as it is may not sound too revolutionary; this sort of thing has been done over and over so many times throughout the years that some of the bite (see, I can pun too HAW HAW HAW) has been taken out of this original film, but if you can overlook that and just watch this one on its own, it’s great.

Lon Chaney Jr. plays Larry Talbot, who is returning to his family home in Wales. His brother has died and he wants to make amends with his father (Claude “I is the invisible mang” Rains). One night he tangles with a wolf, which turns out to be Bela Lugosi (who somehow I totally forgot was in this movie) in the form of a wolf. Talbot is bitten, and, well, you can see where this is going. Larry is now unwittingly a werewolf (whom you can see above in the handy screencap).

Look, if you haven’t seen it, just go watch it, okay? It’s a great flick.

You know, I spend so much time looking at home recorded tapes or ancient budget videos that I forget how clean some movies can look on VHS, and The Wolf Man is one of them. Sure, it’s an old videotape, it’s a little grainy, but it’s an officially licensed MCA/Universal tape. That is, it’s a clean, nice looking print of the movie, recorded in SP mode. It’s not a remastered DVD, I know, but compared to most of the crap I look at, it might as well be. Plus, you know, Gene Shalit on the cover and everything.

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I was actually pretty happy to add this one to my collection. Sure, I usually prefer my Universal monsters horror hosted (see: here and here), but there’s something to be said for (relatively) quirky older releases such as this. By 1987, home video, VHS in particular, was pretty well entrenched in the public consciousness, and tapes like this were what the people wanted; clean, uncut, commercial-free classic movies they could watch any time they darn well pleased. Nowadays we have the film on DVD and Blu-ray, but for a cool late-1980s/early-1990s throwback, it may not be a bad idea to bust out the ol’ VCR and fire this (or any horror flick of your choice really) up this Halloween. Something about it just seems so right. To me, anyway.

Plus, Gene Shalit. I strongly feel Gene Shalit plastered all over movie covers should totally be an ongoing thing. Heck, why’d they stop at VHS? DVD, Blu-ray, digital downloads (somehow), there’s no format not worthy of the Shalit bow tie guarantee of greatness!

Mill Creek’s 3-Disc The Best of the Worst 12-Movie DVD Set

 

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Look what I got! A 12-movie, 3-disc budget DVD set of what are, ostensibly, the best of the worst movies ever made! Cool winnins! I was stoked to get this! And it was cheap, too! In general, this set tends to run, from what I’ve heard, between $5 to $10, a price that is completely acceptable even for someone that’s as perpetually broke as I am (mine was $5). And if awful, awful movies are what you’re after, the first disc alone warrants that price (we’ll get to all that in a bit).

Even though this came out in 2013, I just found out about it recently. Guess I’ve been off my budget DVD game. It’s put out by Mill Creek, who have, over the last several years, proven themselves to be purveyors of fine, fine DVD releases. I’m not just saying that because I dream of them sending me a bunch of free crap, either; any company that releases the complete series of Hunter is automatically my friend.

The fine folks at Mill Creek are no strangers to releases such as this, either; there are several budget DVD sets of cheapie horror/sci-fi flicks put out by them. They follow a similar format, except this set is the only one to come right out and tell you that the movies contained within are gonna blow. Since the ‘genre’ of bad movies is particularly popular right now, it’s a pretty smart move on Mill Creek’s part. Hey, got me to buy it, and isn’t that the really important factor here?

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(Click on the pic for a, how do you say, super-sized view.)

I can’t help but feel this is a set geared towards fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (which as has been proven time and time again, is exactly what I am). And It’s not only because of the whole “these are bad movies you can laugh at” concept, either; a full half of the selections on here were featured on MST3K. There were a lot of bad movies on the show, yes, but considering one of the films featured here is known solely because of MST3K, well, I don’t think it’s coincidental marketing (or whatever you’d want to call it).

Though as a longtime MSTie, I tend to see allusions to the show where they weren’t intended to be, so take that for what you will.

Like so many budget DVD sets, the titles found here are limited to the realm of the public domain, which I don’t mind a bit. Sure, some of these movies have been making the rounds for decades, going back to the VHS days (I’m looking at you specifically, The Terror), but when they’re put together under the banner of “entertainingly bad films,” it all clicks in a way that they wouldn’t have otherwise. Why pretend these are something they aren’t? It’s a move I absolutely respect, though in all fairness I does loves me a good bad movie (plus that whole MSTie thing); your mileage may vary, however.

However, If I’m being perfectly honest, I don’t really agree that these are all the best of the worst. There’s a few titles that, while undoubtedly ‘bad’ movies, feel more like filler than anything. Like I said before, Mill Creek has put out other similar sets, and it just seems to me that they used up many of their “heavy hitters” already across those. Example: there’s just no reason The Creeping Terror, one of the most infamous bad movies ever, shouldn’t be on here. Keep in mind that Mill Creek did indeed get the rights to release it (contrary to popular belief, it’s not public domain), on their 12 Creature Features set, so the absence of shag carpet monsters and insane narration on The Best of the Worst is a little head scratching. I guess I can see them not wanting to repeat titles across their various sets, which I applaud, but for the films that are here and what this set purports to be overall, it still feels like a particularly glaring omission to me.

Don’t get me wrong though. While I think there could have been just a bit more refinement in the selections, I am overwhelmingly happy with the set. And besides, despite the title, this probably isn’t really intended to be the end-all be-all release of the best bad movies ever. It’s a $5-$10 bargain DVD set, after all; there’s plenty here to justify that small amount, at any rate.

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The set consists of three, single-sided discs with four movies on each one. Since many of these are pretty short, it’s not an unreasonable amount. All three discs fit in a regular-sized DVD case, on one single spindle. That means if you want to watch a disc that isn’t directly on top, you’ll have to physically remove one or two discs first, but it’s a small price to pay for such a fantastic load of crappy, crappy movies.

And with that said, lets take a brief look at the actual contents of the set, because hey, that’s what the people want, right?

(I might as well say right now that some of the movies on this set I’m more familiar with than others. Most of them I’ve seen, but some I saw looong ago; I’m not claiming to have sat down and watched every one of these exhaustively while taking notes for this. I’m just giving the straight dope on the set, you make up your own minds from there, paisanos.)

Disc One

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The menu for each disc is super simple. What you’re seeing above is basically it. The two film reels in the corners continuously spin, but that’s as close as things get to a “wow!” factor. Not that it really matters, because c’mon, when you’re getting this much bang for your buck, there comes a point when demanding even more turns you from wanting the most for your money into a nitpicky whiner. Cut that stuff out, man. (Says the guy who just complained that The Creeping Terror isn’t here.)

In terms of badness, this first disc is absolutely the roughest of the three. For anyone trying to make it through the whole thing in order, the rest will almost (almost) come as a relief after making it through this one. Disc one includes a bad movie, a really bad movie, and two legitimate contenders for worst film ever. In other words, the entire price of the set is justified in the first disc alone.

Also, all four of these movies appeared on Mystery Science Theater 3000, and I’ll say up front that it’s often strange to realize there won’t be any riffs; you’re watching these as-is. The more well-known the respective episode is, the odder it feels, and there are points where you (or at least I) will instinctively think of the appropriate riffs.

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Can you say “starting things off with a bang?” Manos: The Hands Of Fate, a film that would have been completely and utterly forgotten after its disastrous 1966 El Paso premiere had it not been for Mystery Science Theater 3000 resurrecting it and turning it into one of the most loved bad movies ever. Despite being movie one, disc one, this is really the centerpiece of The Best of the Worst, as far as I’m concerned. Mill Creek must have realized that, as the portrait of “The Master” under the credits on the back of the DVD make clear. Forget the other 11 movies on the set, Manos alone is worth the price of admission.

The beauty (ha!) of the film is that it’s just such a mess. The camera used could only film 30+ seconds at a time, making for really weird continuity. Furthermore, it was filmed silent, so all of the voices were dubbed in later (at least they didn’t go the hackneyed narration route). The capper? It was very literally made on a bet by an inexperienced El Paso, Texas fertilizer salesman (director-producer-writer-star Harold P. Warren). The plot is all over the place, and the music ranges from awkward to downright unacceptable. Basically, every aspect of the film that can be wrong, is.

But, except for a really screwed up scene during the conclusion, it’s really not a movie you can full-on hate, because it is just so utterly out there. Manos tells the tale of a family stranded at remote lodge that is in actuality the base of operations for a polygamous cult that worships “manos.” There’s “The Master” (who rarely, if ever, approves), his constantly bickering bevy of wives, a necking couple in a car that serves no purpose, and some cops that are even more useless. But the character most everyone loves is big-knee’d, shuffling, twitchy-faced, jerky-voiced Torgo (That’s him above), the caretaker of the lodge. Torgo gets his own goofy theme music and, despite technically being a bad guy, winds up becoming something of an anti-hero, even after he makes the worst pass at a woman outside of me. I have a hard time believing the movie would be so loved if it weren’t for Torgo.

I won’t even try to explain further the wonderfully bizarre circumstances surrounding this film, so let Wikipedia tell you all about it. If you like bad movies but haven’t seen Manos yet, well, it’s pretty hard to top. Like I said before, worth the price of admission alone.

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Being on a budget DVD set isn’t necessarily an indicator of public domain status, but word on the street is that this film has indeed lapsed. Which is fine by me, because this is one of the bigger surprises (for me, anyway) on the set. It’s also the newest selection on it, if you can consider 1976 “new.” The subject of one of my very favorite MST3K episodes, this is really bad (and thus, really good) 1970s sci-fi, complete with the dreary color scheme that must have colored the entire decade. It’s just ‘horrific’ enough to satisfy the masses, but just goofy enough to keep things from becoming overly depressing. Featured during the final season, it was and is perfect MST3K fodder for the Sci-Fi Channel era of the show.

Did you know that being hit in the head by a piece of meteorite (“Moon rocks? Oh wow!“) can turn you into killer lizard monster that somehow ties into Native American folklore? Well it can, and to a hapless anthropologist, it does. Also included: Johnny Longbow’s killer stew recipe, a shop that sells both coins and guns, and a tent full of old guys. Oh, and a live performance of the smash hit, “California Lady.” Is it wrong that I’m considering making an MP3 of the song for iTunes?

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Now is as good a time as any to mention that the quality of the films on the set vary from feature to feature, but the condition of the prints is overall better that many “cheapie” movie sets out there. Thus far, Track of The Moon Beast looks okay, and Manos is, well, Manos, but the print used for The Beast Of Yucca Flats is absolutely terrific. There are the occasional scratches and dust, but it’s mostly very clean, crisp and clear. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve seen the movie look better.

Which is a hollow victory, because as far as I’m concerned, it’s the worst film in the entire set. The product of Coleman Francis’ fevered mind, and just like everything else Francis set his hand to, it’s a slimy, unpleasant film. Unlike Manos, which is also grimy but also, against all odds, somehow endearing, Beast is just an ugly, ugly movie. Even star Tor Johnson, who I normally find quite entertaining, can’t save it. Say what you want about Ed Wood, Coleman Francis was an infinitely worse filmmaker. I can’t decide if this is better or worse than Francis’ other cinematic abominations, The Skydivers and Red Zone Cuba (both also featured on MST3K), but in the end, if it has Francis’ name on it, there is no genuine “better,” just different levels of “awful.”.

The plot is some tripe about a defecting Soviet scientist (I hope can you buy Tor Johnson as a scientist, because that is exactly what the film posits) that gets caught in a nuclear blast and is turned into a mindless killer. Even the narrator’s deathless non-sequitur of “Flag on the moon; how did it get there?” can’t provide enough comedic momentum to sustain viewers through the 50+ minute (yes, really) running time.

Oh, the narrator? Yeah, this movie has no real dialogue; it’s almost entirely narrated (by Coleman himself), and what in-movie speech there is isn’t actually synchronized with the film; it’s spoken when mouths aren’t clearly visible or even on-screen at all. The Creeping Terror pulled that crap too, but there it wound up funny. Here though, it just makes you resent life and the fact that something like this could not only be made but also released to an unsuspecting public.

I hate this movie and can’t say enough bad things about it, which of course means it’s a perfect addition to the proceedings, simply because of how sickeningly, jaw-droppingly bad it is.
best worst 9

After the soul-crushing saga that is The Beast Of Yucca Flats, Eegah almost comes as a respite, and rest assured, that’s not a statement I make lightly, because there aren’t many instances where Eegah can ever be seen as a respite.

Long story short: a caveman still exists in a California desert, he develops an attraction to a teenage girl, kidnaps her father, kidnaps her, they both get saved by the girl’s guitar-wielding boyfriend (though he doesn’t save them with the guitar; that would be just too much!), the caveman follows the whole lot to a pool party, and gets shotted dead. The end.

Eegah is frequently listed as one of the worst films of all-time, a rating that I find just a little overrated. Oh, it’s really bad alright, and there’s an icky shaving scene, an even ickier implication that there was some off-screen romancin’ afoot between the teenage girl and the guy who plays her dad, and an even ickier moment when the girl’s dad basically tells her to put up with Eegah’s affections. There’s even some superfluous songs by the boyfriend (played by Arch Hall Jr., who y’all will recall I met; Arch is a very cool guy and a lot of fun to talk to)!

But, even with all that, I never saw Eegah rising to the levels of near-unwatchability such as, well, the previous movie on this set did. For the most part, it’s 1960’s drive-in schlock, and while it’s certainly terrible, it’s not that terrible. I have a hard time hating anything like this from the decade where, at least on the surface, it’s all meant to be relatively innocent. I guess.

Watch out for snakes!

Disc Two

best worst 10

Disc two is probably the least painful in the set. Only one movie on it (The Atomic Brain) is gut-wrenchingly terrible. Unfortunately, as far as that whole “movies so bad they’re good” vibe goes, it’s also where the set loses some steam, and from here on out, things are a bit hit-or-miss. The fun-factor never goes away completely, but after that powerhouse (ha!) of a first disc, well, it’s a hard act to follow.

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The Ape Man! Starring Bela Lugosi! Bela is always a plus, and it allows Mill Creek to draw on his name on the back cover. I think Scared To Death may have been a better choice as far as “bad-good” goes (and it’s a color movie, to boot), but I was actually kinda pleased to see The Ape Man here. Though in all honesty, I just kinda skimmed this one here and I don’t recall seeing it in the past, so maybe that’s an unfounded viewpoint.

The plot is formula stuff. Lugosi is a mad scientist whose experiments cause him to turn into the titular character. It’s a poverty row Lugosi flick, though I’m the first to admit that I have a soft spot for those.

And really, that points to my main area of interest with this one: after Dracula succeeded in stereotyping him somethin’ fierce, by the 1940s Lugosi was forced to take on mega-cheap horror/sci-fi flicks not unlike this one. It’s a good example of his film work at the time, to see a legitimate movie legend reduced to movies of this caliber. But, it’s usually fun to see him in anything, and even when it’s a by-the-numbers affair like this, his magnetism can drive the film further than a different actor may have. Plus, the low-budget affairs of the 1930s and 1940s, while obviously not comparable to Universal’s output, can often be pretty entertaining time wasters.

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The Amazing Transparent Man, another flick that popped up on MST3K. I first saw it on The Ghoul, waaay back in 1999 or 2000 (I still have my recording of the episode somewhere). Truth be told, it’s another feature that I think really isn’t that bad. I don’t think anyone will claim it to be good, but it’s relatively painless.

The title makes it sound more spectacular than it really is. It’s actually just a low-budget twist on the classic “invisible fella” formula, only this time with a mad scientist trying to create a slew of invisible baddies as part of a world domination scheme. He enlists a criminal to act as a guinea pig and steal the needed ingredients to complete the scheme.

best worst 13

The last MST’d movie on the set, and whoo-boy is it a baddie. This is the low-point of disc two, and it absolutely deserves a place of honor in this collection.

The Atomic Brain is some hokum about a decrepit old woman that wants to switch brains with a younger dame. Eternal youth or some crap like that. Eventually, someone’s brain ends up in the head of a cat somehow. I don’t know, this one causes my eyes to glaze over pretty bad, even on MST3K.

The real eyebrow raiser here is just how sexist the movie is towards women, especially since it is woman as the catalyst for all of these shenanigans.

best worst 14

First off, it was a pain trying to find a good ‘action’ screencap for this one; I was never satisfied with the choices, and even now I’m really not all that happy with my pick. It’s an axe crashing through a wall is what is.

The plot is one of those “fake crime turning into a real one” deals, as a woman trying to scheme her way into a family’s will leads to some very real axe murders.

The really interesting thing about Dementia 13 isn’t so much what it is (though it’s a fairly violent movie for the early-1960s) but rather who was behind it: none other than Francis Ford Coppola! You know, The Godfather guy. Mr. Apocalypse Now himself! And believe it or not, this was his very first ‘legit’ movie! I wouldn’t say it gives much indication of the esteem that would later befall Coppola, though it’s really not all that bad, but it’s most definitely cool to see one of his super early efforts.

Disc Three

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Do you mind if I power through this last disc? For as much as I like The Best of the Worst, my enthusiasm for this post is waning fast. Maybe it’s for the best, as in my opinion the last disc is the least interesting of the three. Still, there is entertainment to be had here, though in the interest of full disclosure, I haven’t ever seen the last two movies on this disc in their entirety, because frankly, I just don’t care. Does that cause me to lose my reviewer credentials? I don’t care about that, either.

best worst 16

I first saw Unknown World on Son of Ghoul, and it’s less of a “really bad” movie and more of a “painfully dull” movie.

Having been made in the 1950s, nuclear war and whatnot was a particularly major concern, and here, some scientists have devised a tunneling device to burrow deep into the earth to escape said calamity, should it occur. They do just that, and then…nothing much happens. Well, things happen, but none of them are all that interesting. I mean, burrowing into the earth should provide just as much fodder as an outer space plot could, and yet, the movie completely misses the mark.

No, I don’t enjoy this one, not one bit.

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The Terror, a movie that I have tried multiple times to like. No kidding, I want to enjoy this one so much, and it just never, never happens. The saturated colors, Gothic scenery, and stars Boris Karloff AND Jack Nicholson (he’s probably pretty proud of this movie) seem like an absolute recipe for a good time, and yet, it just never does it for me. Furthermore, it’s a film I just can’t get away from. I have it so many times over on various budget movie DVDs/tapes/sets, and even recordings on both The Ghoul and Son of Ghoul, and still it only leaves me chilly frosty cold.

Set in the 1800s, Nicholson is a Napoleonic soldier (the role he was born to play!) that winds up at Karloff’s castle and right into a ghostly scenario. Karloff is being haunted by the ghost of a woman he killed, which in turn is under the control of a witch, and then some stuff happens and it ends.

Really, aside from a couple scenes of rotting corpses and a relatively graphic falcon (?) attack, there’s not a whole lot memorable about this one, and truth be told, I have a hard time following the plot. Rumor has it that this was made in only a couple of days, and, well, it shows.

Man I want to like this movie!

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Don’t get too excited, the title seems more lurid than the actual movie, though you’ll be pleased to know it stars Uncle Fester. Some crap about a scientist in Mexico creating animals from humans or humans from animals or I don’t even know. The movie is public domain, I don’t have to worry about providing a satisfactory summary. Here, go to Wikipedia and learn all about it!

best worst 19

And finally, no bad movie collection would be complete without a contribution from Jerry Warren, and here it is. The quality looks like it comes from a VHS tape and some of the dialogue is unintelligible. It sounds like it’s a suckier version of Unknown World, though I refuse to take a closer look at the actual movie to back those claims up. Here, Wikipedia is yo’ frien’ again.

best worst 4

I love this set. I really do. The mere sight of it fills me with joy. Yeah, it kinda runs out of steam for me by the end, but the concept alone is just so cool that I don’t really mind. It’s absolutely worth the couple of bucks it fetches wherever you may find it, so yeah, if it crosses your path, I’d say give it a go.

Hey, Mill Creek, how about a Volume 2? You’ve already got a guaranteed sale in me, and isn’t that what it’s really all about?

(Here is Mill Creek’s official website and here is the product page for this set.)

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

mst3k final ep 1

(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.

mst3k final ep 2

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.

mst3k final ep 8

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.


 

mst3k final ep 13

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

mst3k final ep 14

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

mst3k final ep 15

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

mst3k final ep 16

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

mst3k final ep 17

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

mst3k final ep 18

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

mst3k final ep 20

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

mst3k final ep 21

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.

Time Traveler Records Closing At The End Of The Month.

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Sad news to report: my beloved Time Traveler Records in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio has lost its lease and, after some 24 years in the same location, will be closing at the end of this month, which, needless to say, is also the end of the year. Time Traveler has long been my favorite store, and I have been fortunate enough to become good friends with the proprietor, Scott Shepard, music encyclopedia and all-around good egg. Simply put, I wouldn’t have the music collection, the music knowledge, or even be the music fan I am today if it wasn’t for Time Traveler and Scott. So naturally, the news of the closing hit me like a ton of bricks when I heard earlier this week.

Time Traveler has of course been immortalized on this blog before, dubious honor that may be. I once did a whole big post on the store, and later a write-up on the great Johnny Winter’s appearance at the store.

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Now, I know that a good deal of my posts are found “after the fact,” which is to say, through internet searches and whatnot sometime after I initially post them. That’s okay, I want the right person to find the right post at the right time. But obviously there’s kind of a time limit on this one, with only some 2 1/2 weeks left in the year. But, I’d be remiss in whatever it is I do if I didn’t give some kind of notice here. After all, both previous Time Traveler articles have been very popular on this blog, and much more importantly, Scott’s done a lot for me over the years; I have to say something, though it’s only with a heavy heart.

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So, here’s the deal: everything is not all doom and gloom. Nothing is set in stone yet, but a new location is actively being sought out. I firmly believe Time Traveler will live on, survive, and thrive in a new spot. But, to do that, there’s a lot of inventory that needs to be sold in order to help fund such an undertaking. So, for the final weeks of Time Traveler at the Cuyahoga Falls location, a 40% off sale is currently going on. This applies to almost everything in the store, with the specific exceptions of new 2014 releases and special orders.

Make no mistake, that’s a phenomenal deal on a lot of great, great music!

So, stop in and pick up some vinyl LPs, CDs, DVDs, Laserdiscs, and more for yourself or to put a dent in your Christmas shopping, or just to say goodbye (temporarily) to local landmark.

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(And hey, if you wanted to mention you read about this here, well, I’ll probably be around to hear it. It won’t get you more than 40% off, but it’ll blow my mind nevertheless.)

VCI Home Video – The Creeping Terror (On Betamax, No Less)

 

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I love this one. Love love love it. No matter how many times I type “love,” I doubt you’re going to understand just how happy I am to have this awful, awful movie on a format that’s only slightly more obsolete than VHS. I’m jazzed, man.

Why? Because I’m a complete and total sucker for The Creeping Terror. I love this stupid terrible movie beyond what is probably considered acceptable limits of, erm, acceptability…? That kind of fell apart, but suffice it to say, I’m quite fond of the flick. It’s one of the worst movies ever made, and it’s gloriously entertaining because of that.

The Creeping Terror has it all: shoddy black & white footage, limited dialogue but plenty of awkward narration, a star that you won’t buy for a minute as a legitimate star and who doesn’t really do enough to warrant being called a star anyway (but being the director/producer/guy who made this movie happen, naturally he had first dibs on leading man-status), a scientist played by the original Marlboro Man (yes, really), a random rectal thermometer for a baby, an even more random lecture on bachelor-hood and married life, a very slow-moving monster that looks to be made of shag carpet, victims that not only lack the ability to run or even walk away from said monster but who also crawl into the damn thing, a rather rotund man and his grandson Bobby (“Bobbbby!“), and the most awkward, goes-on-for-far-too-long dance party that you’ve ever seen.

It’s one “the hell?” moment after another, and thus it’s clearly one of the worst (greatest) things ever committed to film. Fittingly, it was given the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment, but the movie is so, so out there that it’s a trip by itself.

I first saw (and taped!) the film in 1998 on WAOH TV-29, years before I saw the MST3K version, and it was the recording of that broadcast that I was most familiar with for years (rarity of rarities: unlike most of the crap I taped, I actually wound up watching it!). My reasons for taping it were two-fold: 1) at that time, any old horror/sci-fi flicks were fair-game for my vicious recordin’ tactics (that is, I’d tape anything and everything possible that fit my preferred criteria), and more importantly, 2) thanks to my beloved Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide, I knew the movie had been featured on the show, and even though it would be a few years before I became familiar with the actual episode, the mere fact that the movie was on the show was enough to make me want it.

That said, despite the extreme oddness of the film, it didn’t really do much for me then. Sure, it was an uber-amateurish, grade-z sci-fi flick, but I had plenty of those in my collection already (albeit few, if any, as inept). And while the MST3K treatment has since become one of my favorites, my first viewing of that episode several years after first seeing The Creeping Terror left me a little cold as well (just a little, though).

It wasn’t until almost 2 years ago, when I came across this thread at the Classic Horror Film Board, that my interest in the film rose to peaks I never thought it would. The thread started way back in 2006, and it’s still going! There’s so much interesting backstory regarding The Creeping Terror that the movie itself is almost (but not quite) overshadowed by it all. And since I stumbled across the thread after it was already well, well underway, it was simply amazing to watch as more and more info about the film was progressively revealed. The contributors to that thread are some of the most knowledgeable and downright cool people I’ve come across online, and the sheer amount of information I’ve learned from not only that thread but from that forum in general is something I’m certainly grateful for. If you don’t know how The Creeping Terror came to be (and I sure didn’t), you owe it to yourself to check the thread out. It’s an absolutely fascinating read.

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Indeed, that thread is how I learned of the VCI home video release in the first place. Prior to that, The Creeping Terror is a film I had figured as incredibly public domain. That is, there was endless VHS/DVD releases of it out there, be it standalone or in compilation sets, not unlike The Brain That Wouldn’t Die. I’m not sure how I got that idea in my head, because while there were a few VHS releases, as well as a few DVD compilations nowadays, it turns out The Creeping Terror is not only not in the public domain, it also never had much of a life in the home video market, either. There was apparently a Rhino VHS release in the late-1980s/early-1990s, and of course the MST3K version on both VHS and DVD, but as far as I can ascertain, the VCI release under their “Le Bad Cinema” banner from the early-to-mid-1980s (there’s no video release date anywhere on my copy) was the first. Maybe it wasn’t, but as far as I can tell it was. Either way, in short order the VCI release became one of my “most wanted” videos.

I tend to operate under a “sooner or later I’ll come across it” optimism. Not just with videos, but also with old broadcasts/commercials/etc., electronics, and so on. And time and time again, that optimism and patience has paid off. But, it’s not fool-proof. For example, even though I’ve had a copy for years (two copies, actually), I still haven’t come across the Vestron release of Giorgio Moroder’s Metropolis in person; I had to resort to Ebay back in the day (luckily, it’s out on DVD now). Considering VCI’s The Creeping Terror is far, far more rare than that video ever was (Moroder’s Metropolis used to go for big bucks on Ebay because it was, at the time, the best restoration of the film, but there were always multiple copies for sale; even though it was out of print, it was really more popular than outright rare), I knew my chances of finding a copy “in the wild” were slim, though certainly not impossible.

Still, when the opportunity to pick up the Beta version of the VCI release presented itself (and I had no idea there was a Beta release beforehand, though given the rough timeframe of release, it makes sense), I jumped at it. I paid more than I really would have liked; the final total was akin to what rarer tapes were going for back in the good ol’ days (ha!) of late-1990s Ebay. I’ve spent less on (some) used blank Beta tape lots, but I had the money, so what the hell. Needless to say, I was successful, as the picture above can attest.

I love the cover art. I mean, just look at it up there! It’s 1980s in all the best ways. I love the hand drawn artwork of the era, and the cover of this particular video fits in perfectly: it’s simple, but perfect for this type of film. Though I’ll admit the absence of “The” in the title irritates me. It’s The Creeping Terror, not Creeping Terror! I got the same way with Goodtimes’ 35th anniversary release of The Blob back in the day; the cover listed it simply as Blob, which is even more awkward than Creeping Terror.

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It appears my copy has some staining to the box, mostly visible on the back. I pray it was only someones drink and not something more sinister. It doesn’t smell like anything troubling, or anything at all really, which is always a good sign. Yeah, I smelled the damn thing. Could I be any weirder?

The description on the back is adequate enough, but not exactly spot-on. None of the film takes place in the Rocky Mountains; it’s set in “Angel County,” California. And while it’s true that a ’57 Ford (I guess it’s a ’57 Ford, anyway) does indeed kill one of the monsters (there are two of ’em), they are certainly not immune to grenades; immediately before the Ford takes the one monster out, the other one is killed by a hand grenade thrown by the illustrious “Colonel Caldwell.”

Still, you can’t fault them for a few mistakes. This is the kind of film where, without intense concentration, it would be easy to let your mind wander and your eyes glaze over. Besides, who would really want or need a deeper-than-necessary knowledge of the film (besides me, I mean)?

Also, the copyright date for the film is almost always listed as 1964, as demonstrated on the back of this box. It was made around that time, but another interesting thing I learned from that aforementioned thread is that it’s almost positive that this film was never actually released theatrically! It seems the public never saw the film until it was licensed for TV showings sometime in the 1970s! And that’s really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the wonderfully bizarre backstory of the film.

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There were a number of movies in VCI’s “Le Bad Cinema” line. It was probably a smart move to tag them as such, because at least as far as The Creeping Terror goes, you’re almost certainly gonna piss a lot of people off if you advertise it as a ‘straight’ sci-fi/horror movie. No one is going to buy this as a ‘real’ film, and if by some chance they did, those hopes and dreams would be crushed as soon as the alien craft landing on Earth is shown as (and I’m not kidding here) blurred car headlights and stock footage of a rocket blasting off ran in reverse. Rather than pretend this is something “legit,” it was a wise choice to play up the real strengths of the flick (such as they are).

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There’s the tape itself, with a fairly cheap identification label affixed to it. So now you know. Really, what more can I say about it?

Since I have several Betamax VCRs, there’s never an issue of playing Beta tapes (duh!), but I generally prefer VHS (due to convenience plus it being the format I grew up with and still predominantly use for this sorta thing). As fond as I am of the format, given the choice I probably would have went with a VHS copy over Beta. There is a major benefit to having this on Beta, however: higher quality video (yes, people still argue about this, but Betamax does look superior to my eyes). Granted, there’s only so much that can be done with The Creeping Terror; even a pristine 1st generation film print is probably going to look shoddy to an extent, because it’s just a shoddy film in general (that’s why people love it!).

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Even with the limited number of releases out there, there are worse looking versions. In fact, VCI’s version looks pretty darn good, all things considered. Sure, there’s plenty of film scratches and dust, some scenes are too dark, and some are too light, but the image itself is relatively sharp. I mean, I can actually read the copyright notice in the opening credits; a minor miracle? I really was able to pick out little details in this version that I couldn’t in others, small victory that may be.

From my very first viewing, I remember being mildly surprised that they used what appears to be the design from the opening credits of The Blob for the credits of this movie. Or maybe they technically didn’t and it just looks insanely close.

(In the interest of full-disclosure, the screenshots I’m using are from the DVD conversion I made of the original Beta tape, lest I be playing with figurative fire; i.e., I don’t want to mess around with thousand-year-old videotape more than absolutely necessary, especially since there remains the possibility it was a former rental. To my eyes, the actual Beta looks a tad sharper than the conversion, though I just may be playing mind games with myself. You’ll get the gist of things, and besides, my DVD conversion still looks pretty nice. As nice as The Creeping Terror can look, anyway.)

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You have no idea what a bitch it was trying to get a decent screenshot of the titular character, and I still don’t think I was all that successful. I wanted an all-encompassing shot that would give those unfamiliar with the film an idea of just how crappy the monster is, but the thing is always moving around whilst surrounded by trees and shrubbery and whatnot. Plus, the screen often being on the dark side only made things more difficult for your Northeast Ohio Video Idiot Hunter. Even the back of the video box had trouble with this (scroll back up and see if y’all don’t believe me). Rest assured, it’s a giant shaggy-carpet monster with hoses of some sort protruding from its head. It looks really bad (which of course means it’s awesome). The mostly-obscured illustration on the front cover looks better than the actual in-movie monster (dull surprise, I know).

Much has been made of the “worst movie ever,” and from the screencaps of the monster alone it’s easy to see why The Creeping Terror frequently makes those lists, which I don’t disagree with. It is without a doubt one of the most inept movies ever made; I mean, even Manos: the Hands Of Fate was in color and had real continuous dialogue (even if it was dubbed in later, not unlike the small bits of actual speech found in this film), and as silly as Torgo was/is, he’s infinitely more believable than the slow-moving title character of The Creeping Terror. And, hollow victory, The Creeping Terror is better than the similarly-narrated and similarly-hated The Beast Of Yucca Flats. The Creeping Terror may be awful, but at least it doesn’t have a thick layer of ickiness covering it like Manos or Yucca. Just silliness.

As bad as it is, I’ve seen other movies that may technically be better but that I’ve enjoyed far, far less. I’ve seen early-1970s European horror films that have actually left me depressed. The Creeping Terror, though? It’s too goofy to take even remotely seriously.

Though even I’ll admit that the goofiness can’t carry the entire movie. Despite what VCI says on the box, this movie only runs some 76 minutes, and there are long stretches where the monster eats person after person and/or stretches where there is no speech or narration, only goofy music, which for all intents and purposes turns this into a silent movie. What I’m saying is the wackiness only goes so far before things become a little tiresome. Still, there’s obviously enough “huh?!” moments to save the whole thing (from a pure entertainment standpoint, at least). Otherwise, I wouldn’t love the thing as much as I do.

Just for the hell of it, here’s some comparison screenshots between my Betamax copy and the version I recorded off of WAOH TV-29 way back in 1998. Of course, since my Betamax copy is a commercially-released version recorded in the high-quality BII mode and the one I taped back in ’98 was recorded some 16 years ago in low-quality SLP off an over-the-air broadcast on a low-power independent station and on a good-but-not-great blank tape, there really is no direct comparison between the two versions, but hey, let me do this. It brings me joy, and don’t I deserve some of that in my life?

(For all of these, Beta’s on the left, ’98 recording’s on the right. Got it? Good.)

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Remember that time I provided a screencap of the title screen? Here it is again, only twice-over. As the comparison demonstrates, the WAOH broadcast is always much grayer than the Beta.

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This is our “hero,” the “star” Vic Savage, aka A.J. Nelson, who is responsible for the film. Vic Savage is a pseudonym, y’see? Does our leading man inspire confidence in his Creeping Terror-stopping abilities? I’ll let you be the judge.

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This is from the infamous “Bobby!” scene, in which the large grandfather you’re seeing above goes searching for his grandson by stumbling about and constantly shouting “Bobby!” in the most annoying manner possible. Spoiler alert: they both get eated.

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I’m not sure which is more infamous, the aforementioned “Bobby!” or this “Community Dance Hall” scene, in which we’re shown several minutes worth of repetitive shots of people (badly) dancing while the same tune plays over and over and over. Spoiler alert: they all get eated.

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Man, The Creeping Terror on Betamax. I can’t quite place my finger on why, but it just seems so right. I’ll venture a guess that this was the only release of the movie on the format. Quite a leap, huh?

In lieu of the film as-is, less adventurous souls may opt to hunt down the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment on either VHS or DVD instead (they’re both out of print but fairly easily obtainable used online, though the DVD boxset containing the episode can be pricey). Even with Mike & The Bots, the film is pretty out there. ‘Course, if you’re feeling brave, the uncut version is available on DVD, in this set here (I have this one, and there’s enough goofy crap besides The Creeping Terror to make it worthwhile). There’s a few other DVD sets featuring the movie, easily found on Amazon, but that one is my favorite of the bunch. As far as DVD goes, though, your best option really is to hunt down the out of print MST3K version, which, despite featuring the ever-annoying double-sided disc, has both their episode and the uncut movie.

As for me, I’ve got the MST3K version (on VHS and DVD), I’ve got the uncut version in that 12-movie DVD set, I’ve got my old WAOH recording, and now I’ve got this swanky VCI Betamax copy, which has immediately become a treasured part of my collection.

That’s a lotta The Creeping Terror, far more than should be allowed.

Cool recommended readins:

The Classic Horror Film Board Thread

Jabootu’s Bad Movie Dimension Review

The IMDb Page

Satellite News’ Mystery Science Theater 3000 Episode Guide Page