Tag Archives: home video

VHS Review: BATMAN & ROBIN Widescreen Edition (1998; Warner Home Video)

I don’t have a ton to say about this one, because it’s shrinkwrapped and I can’t bring myself to crack the seal. Now granted, it’s not factory shrinkwrapped; judging by the amount of wear on the box itself, this is almost certainly a used copy that was re-shrinkwrapped at some point. A former rental, perhaps? I don’t know, but the fact remains I can’t work up the nerve to rip the plastic off.

And why’s that? Because this is Batman & Robin, that of generally-poorly-regarded late-90’s sensibilities, on VHS. Of course, under normal circumstances this isn’t an even remotely tough movie to find on the format, and indeed, we took a look at a one such example years ago.

Still, why the need to keep this as minty sealed fresh (such as it is) as possible? Take a look at the red banner string across the top edge of this tape, because that’s what makes this one special. It’s the widescreen edition! That’s cool! And evidently fairly rare; I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in person before landing this copy, I’ve seen none for sale on eBay (currently or in the past), and Amazon turned up nothing upon keyword searches.

In fact, it wasn’t until I did a Google image search that I found a single shot of the mythical beast, which linked to this Amazon listing, which oddly enough I couldn’t figure out how to bring up otherwise. Maybe it’s a UPC thing. (Look, I did the legwork for you!). There were exactly two used copies for sale there, I bought the cheaper one, and here we are.

Aside from that banner along the top (and which extends to the sides, FYI), the front cover is identical to the ‘normal’ VHS release; you know, Arnold in his career-defining role as Mr. Freeze, looming above wildly miscast George Clooney as Batdude and Chris O’Donnell as Robin, plus Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy and Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl. Seriously, if you hit up thrift stores as often as I do, you’ve seen this cover approximately six thousand times by this point. Except for, you know, that banner

That Amazon page is really my only resource for this release, and it tells me that it hit shelves on April 14, 1998, several months after the regular edition, which according to Amazon dropped on October 21, 1997. There was no small amount of negative press leveled at the movie, so it’s a little surprising to me that Warner Bros. thought there’d be enough demand to warrant a widescreen edition, especially one so many months later. I’m assuming the print run was pretty low, which would explain why there are quite possibly only two copies in the entire universe. Approximately, I mean.

Actually, for the most part, the print runs of widescreen VHS editions in the 1990s seems to have been lower in general. I pay special attention to these while out and about, and I even keep an eye on online auctions, and they tend to show up much less often than their full screen counterparts. There are exceptions of course, but apparently widescreen VHS editions of movies were a pretty niche category throughout the 1990s and even into the 2000s; maybe widescreen didn’t truly catch on until DVD flourished, I don’t know.

For example, I think I see at least one copy of that double VHS Saving Private Ryan set every time I’m out – the full screen edition, that is. And yet, just a couple of weeks ago, I finally found the seemingly-less-common widescreen one, which naturally became mine. Jurassic Park is another one; I’m not talking about the later THX edition with the shiny cover and all that, but rather an earlier copy that, like Batman & Robin here, looks identical to the full screen edition except for a red banner along the top edge. I stumbled upon that version by happenstance at Goodwill a few months back, and there was no way it wasn’t going home with me.

1989’s Batman and 1992’s Batman Returns also received the widescreen treatment on VHS, and while there’s a bit more evidence supporting them out there, even those don’t show up frequently at all. I’m not sure 1995’s Batman Forever even got a widescreen VHS – though eBay listings say otherwise; I’m guessing they’re auto-listings repeating an error over and over, because every time I tape a closer look, it’s the regular full screen tape.

I just realized not everyone may know what widescreen (or letterbox, as it was/is also called) refers to. Wikipedia explains it better than I ever could, but simply put, it’s the preservation of a film’s original ‘wide’ theatrical aspect ratio on home video, rather than cropping, panning and scanning for a 4:3 screen. Of course, we have big ol’ widescreen TVs and Blu-ray and whatnot now, so it’s not much of a big deal anymore, but back in the standard-definition television days, widescreen was the way to go if you wanted to see the whole movie. Yes, the image was technically smaller, with big black bars along the bottom and top of the screen “sandwiching” the film in the middle, but you got the entire image, and that was the important thing.

Does Batman & Robin benefit from this enhancement? It’d take more than letterbox to save the movie, but then, maybe that’s why I get such a big kick out of this release. “Well, it’s not a very good movie, but at least now we can see all of it…”

Plus, I just like widescreen in general. As such, I try to pick up these versions whenever I can. Or more truthfully, I like to get both pan-and-scan and widescreen copies when possible, not unlike both mono and stereo LPs.

Like the front cover, the back cover for the widescreen edition of Batman & Robin is practically identical to the full screen version you trip over while walking down the street. The only real differences are the additions of a 1998 copyright date added to the fine print and the box at the bottom explaining the widescreen situation (as opposed to the usual “this film has been formatted…” line). Look, Batman & Robin‘s 1:85:1 aspect ratio hath been preserved!

If you go back and read my older article on the full screen edition of the tape (albeit a Blockbuster-branded one, hence the article in the first place), you’ll see I felt the descriptive summary on the back cover was a little “out there.” All these years later, widescreen or not, that feeling remains. In lieu of re-sharing my thoughts in a slightly altered form, I’m just going to copy and paste what I wrote then, because you can’t plagiarize yourself and it’s my blog and I’ll do what I want: “My favorite part is the mention of ‘New very special effects…’, as if these special effects are substantially more special than your usual , run-of-the-mill special effects. I love this tape. Also, ‘From our Batfamily to yours’? That’s adorable Give me a break.”

Batman & Robin is one of those movies I’m inexplicably fond of. Yes, the negative buzz surrounding it is warranted. BUT, it’s such an artifact of late-1990s Hollywood and the period of my life in which it falls, that I just can’t hate it. In fact, I’m going to quote myself again here, because like I said, my blog, my rules: “Despite the fact the movie is one of the worst things ever, I have an inexplicable fondness for the film. Well, not really for the film per se. More for the time period and where it falls in my lifetime. Going further into all that would be a huge digression, so let me stay kinda on track here. Batman & Robin: I remember the release, I remember (and sampled) the Taco Bell tie-in promotion, and I remember the revelation that it apparently made theater-goers cry. I wouldn’t know, though; we tried to go see it, but the only available-to-us showing was sold out, so we settled for, I’m pretty sure, Men In Black.”

Look, this is all my half-hearted way of trying to close this one out. Like I said before, I can only say so much about a sealed tape. And besides, today the prospect of a widescreen version of this movie isn’t so novel anymore; you’ve been able to see it this way since it hit DVD, as far as I know. (Wasn’t it a flipper disc, with full screen on one side, widescreen on the other? I have an old DVD copy boxed away, but I refuse to dig it up for an article approximately four people are going to read.)

Still, a widescreen VHS copy of Batman & Robin, that’s pretty neat. I don’t know how long it was in print or for how long it was sold, but in my experience, it’s not easily found nowadays. Since the regular VHS version had that late-90s home video charm in spades, it stands to reason that the special widescreen edition does as well, though I’ll admit the feeling of ‘exclusivity’ takes away from the mass-market, mainstream appeal of the version you usually come across. Or something like that.

I don’t know where exactly I’m going with this. Look, 1997’s Batman & Robin, they put it out on a widescreen VHS, and you’ve just see the proof. THE END.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RCA DRC6350N 6-Head VHS VCR & DVD Player (March 2006)

After writing about my neato RCA S-VHS VCR the other day, I’m in the mood for some more RCA home video action. This one’s a bit newer than the S-VHS, and while not exactly cutting edge anymore, it still somehow ‘fits’ with the current home theater landscape. Or something like that. You figure it out.

Dig this: from March of 2006, it’s the incredible RCA DRC6350N combo unit, boasting both a DVD player and a VHS VCR…a 6-Head VHS VCR. That’s cool. And as you’d expect, it’s all in Hi-Fi. Cool winnins!

This was a recent thrift find of mine. Well, I found it a few months back, before the new year. It’s not quite as recent a find as the S-VHS, but it hasn’t been so long that the allure has faded from my mind yet, either. Or something like that. You figure it out. At any rate, I really, really like this one. I forget how much it was, five or six bucks, I’m pretty sure. To find a machine of this quality at a thrift shop for that price is an increasingly rare happening nowadays.

I know what y’all is thinking: “Hey North Video Guy, what’s the big deal? Companies made combo decks forever! They’s a dime a dozen!” Well, yeah; by the time VHS breathed its last (*sniff*), basically the only VCRs you could find new for sale were VHS/DVD combos. In the U.S. anyway. Or at least in my part of the U.S. anyway. Or something like that. You figure it out. Point is, for the last ten years or so that the format was on the market, odds were that if you needed a new VCR, you were going to get a DVD player with it whether you wanted one or not.

And here’s the deal with many (but I’m not saying all) of those VHS/DVD combos: by the time the 2010s dawned, many of these units were readily found – some with DVD recording capability and some without – but the one thing they (almost) all had in common was that they were, well, kinda on the cheap side. They made okay beater units, they did their job, but high-end or particularly long-lasting they were not. I know from experience that getting some of your EP or LP tapes to track properly and stably was often an exercise in bitter frustration.

Things weren’t always that way though. I can very literally turn my head to the right at this very moment and gaze longingly at a VHS/DVD recorder I purchased new from Best Buy for around $500 back in 2005. It was top of the line at the time, or at least the most top of the line deck to cross my path of vision. Sleek, classy, relatively powerful and solidly built, just five or six years later it was all but impossible to find a newly-made deck of similar high quality. I don’t use that machine very much anymore, though it mostly still works, and even if it didn’t, I paid $500 for it so not only will it never be thrown out but I’m also probably going to insist on being buried with it.

Anyway, now that I’ve provided some backstory, rest assured this RCA VHS/DVD is one of those good VHS/DVD combos…

It says “Hello” when your turn it on! Wild, man…

Many of the combo decks that started showing up in larger quantities around 2010/2011 were so light you could palm them. No kidding, I can literally turn my head to the northeast and glare at one such example right this very moment. This RCA is not one of those. It’s relatively heavy, with a nice metal casing and cool rounded top edge. It just feels like a well-built machine, and the silver-and-black color scheme is still attractive here and now, 12 years later.

‘Course, you might not be able to realize that quality from my picture here, because my phone just refused to focus up to my satisfaction. Or maybe the pop I drank gave my hands the jitters, I don’t know.

Some videophile is probably going to show up in the comments and tell me why I’m so very utterly wrong, but to me, there are definite benefits to using a 6-Head model, as opposed to the common 4-Head variation. 2-Heads? We don’t talk about 2-Heads.

First off, the VHS portion of this machine works very, very well. For the most part anyway; every once in awhile, after stopping, rewinding, and then hitting play, it was almost like the VCR wouldn’t “pick up” on the tape and I’d be left with a blank screen. I’d have to stop and hit play again to get it to “snap” back in place. But, that can’t be a flaw inherent to this unit; rather, it’s almost certainly a consequence of being 12 years old and used for who-knows-how-much before falling into my hands. In the grand scheme of things that’s nothing, and otherwise, it loaded, played and displayed very well.

So yes, the VHS side does work quite nicely, showing some real quality and reliability – VHS was still current enough at the time to warrant such things, and sadly, said such things would not be evident on the general marketplace a whole lot longer. Plus, it’s a 6-Header! You just didn’t see many of these! The beauty of 6-Heads is that you’ve got excellent tracking, stable picture, extra clarity, and crystal-clear forwarding and rewinding in playback mode. Really, really nice quality on this one.

The DVD side works fine too. Or at least appears to. The drawer was smooth and responsive and it loaded up whatever I threw at it, but It was kind of a toss-up as to whether I could watch something or not. That is, I don’t have the original remote for this machine, and some discs require the usage of an “enter” key to get a title playing proper. The ones that respond to a simple press of the “play” button were fine, but for the ones that didn’t, well, staring at menus endlessly isn’t my idea of entertainment.

What I did get to play, I mean really play, worked fine and displayed well. I mean, it’s a DVD player, what’d you expect? Still, the original remote would be nice here; it’s not a huge deal for me, but if needed, I could always get a universal one.

(Again, none of this is a fault on the player itself; it’s just that after 12 years, remotes get lost, man.)

The left side…

For a nice as this machine is for the time it came out, at the end of the day it’s still from March 2006; unfortunately, the days of loading a VCR up with feature upon feature were looooong gone by then. As such, you only get the bare minimum of controls (though again, I’m operating without a remote, which almost certainly bars me from options such as setting the VCR timer, fiddling around with the clock, and so on and so forth).

…And the right side.

So at your fingertips you’ve got play, stop, eject, open/close, record, pause, rewind, fast forward, channel selection, a VCR/DVD toggle, the prerequisite power button, some additional A/V inputs, and…that’s pretty much it. Granted, you don’t need much else on the front panel, provided you weren’t planning on setting a timer recording. I suppose you couldn’t ask for a whole lot more for the time this was released. Well, you could, but realistically, this was the best you could hope for.

There’s certainly a nice selection of inputs and outputs along the back. Unlike the previously-linked S-VHS, there’s only S-Video output here, but as this was nearly 11 years newer, you’ve got component outputs for the DVD side, which is certainly welcome. Plus, there’s the standard red-white-yellow outputs (and for the VCR, inputs), along with the RF jacks. Also, a coaxial plug, because yeah.

(Like I said last time, to be full proper review, I feel shots of the back of these machines are necessary, but in truth, I never have all that much to say about them. My hope is that my pics will provide specific info for the right person when and if they come looking for it.)

Also, whoever owned this before me took the time to label the antenna in and VCR/DVD out jacks. I probably should have removed those tags, but whatever.


I like this one a lot. I’m apparently not the only one; most of the old reviews on Amazon are glowing.

Nowadays, it’s not too tough to find VCRs at the thrift store(s), though prices naturally vary. The problem is, in my experience a good many of them are of the lower-end variety; I typically don’t come across genuinely solid, well-built decks that often. I mean, yes I do, but it’s not like every single trip, and at this point, there’s got to be something really special about it to get me buy one, besides.

And as for DVD players, meh, dime a dozen.

Make no mistake though, this RCA VHS/DVD combo is special. True, it’s not particularly feature-packed, but the overall quality, from build to function, is just so nice and solid. I like everything about it, but most of all, if I’m being honest, it’s the 6-Heads. They really do make a difference!

RCA Home Theatre S-VHS VCR #VR725HF (July 14, 1995)

Dig this intensely cool piece of 1990s home video technology I picked up! Found recently (at the end of January or start of February) at a somewhat-far-off thrift store, the RCA “Home Theatre” S-VHS VCR (model number VR725HF) came into my life…for only $4. Four bucks?! That’s a great price for a regular VHS VCR, never mind an S-VHS VCR! Needless to say, it became mine.

I was initially a bit apprehensive with this one. It was a little grimy, and while I plugged it in and tested it as best I could while there, it didn’t seem to be working quite correctly at first, though this was naturally all “sight unseen.” (I.e., it wasn’t hooked up to a TV.) Eventually it seemed to be running well-enough for me to take a chance on it, and besides, it’s not like I trip over Super VHS while out and about all the time anyway. And so here we are. The final verdict? Read on!

As you can better see in this closer-up here, not only was this a 4-Head, Hi-Fi model (as you’d probably expect of an S-VHS), but it was also part of RCA’s “Home Theatre” line. Not “Theater,” “Theatre.” Fancy! Around the late-1980s and up through at least the mid-1990s, RCA really pushed this concept, through swanky TVs, audio equipment, and as advertised on the deck here, even their own satellite receivers. Naturally home video was also part of that equation. This was all a relatively big deal in the 90s, as technology was advancing far enough to where the “home movie experience,” or at least something approximating it, was a progressively feasible goal for consumers. Back then, the better, more-advanced equipment you had, the cooler your living room was. Then again, this was almost-certainly true before and after, too; people always want the biggest and best, after all.

This model also has the VCR Plus+ feature. Lotsa VCRs around that time did. What was it? Next to programs listed in TV Guides and whatnot, there was a numerical code. Punch it in on the appropriate VCR menu, and it’d automatically record the show. I never used the feature back then, and I don’t think our VCR at the time even gave it as an option, but it’s a neat concept.

This isn’t the first S-VHS deck we’ve seen here in recent months. Astute readers (all two of you) will recall the incredible “prosumer” Panasonic AG-1970 that I wrote about back in September. That thing is a legit beast, and while no one will claim this RCA to be in the same league (it’s decidedly a “consumer” unit, as opposed to a “prosumer” one), it definitely lives up to the “Home Theatre” branding. If nothing else, it’s nicer than the Memorex S-VHS VCR I wrote about years ago.

I’ve mentioned before my ambivalent feelings regarding electronics, or more specifically VCRs, from the 1990s. In general, they seemed to become cheaper, flimsier, less-feature-packed, less-reliable than decks from the 1980s. That’s a generality of course, and naturally there were exceptions. Some (okay, many) VCRs from that decade fell into the “affordable” arena, often with plastic casing, 2-Heads, no stereo, etc. etc. etc. My old Zenith is a good example. BUT, some rose above whatever trappings the format had fallen into, be it through slightly more features, higher build quality, or just through a slick-casing. My rad ProScan is a great example.

Well, this RCA is undeniably one of those exceptions. You might be tempted to think that all S-VHS VCRs would be exceptions, since they were Super VHS and thus higher-end by definition. That wasn’t necessarily so (I direct you back to the previously-linked Memorex post), but luckily this RCA is one of the good’uns.

Though compared to my last S-VHS adventure, you may not think so at first. It doesn’t have a ton of options built into it. Or at least, none that I can see; the original remote was MIA, and hey, maybe there was more that could be accessed there. As it stands here though, you’ve got only standard play-stop-eject-rewind-forward-record-pause options at your fingertips. I can’t even access the much-ballyhooed VCR Plus+ option. Near as I can tell, anyway.

Luckily, much of what I can do is accessed through a jog shuttle. I do loves me a jog shuttle, even if it’s usually just for aesthetic reasons. Turn the knob for faster rewinding for fast forwarding, stop for still mode, hit play to get back in action, that’s how this RCA goes about things.

Also, there’s, uh, specific buttons for stopping and ejecting, and recording.

Speaking of recording, you didn’t have to record in S-VHS; you could use this as a regular ol’ VHS VCR, if you so desired. This is accessed through the little S-VHS button pictured here. The light sez it’s on. Since S-VHS required specific S-VHS tapes, and since regular VHS tapes were far more common, if you wanted to pick up a cheap blank tape at the grocery store, you’d just push the S-VHS button “off,” and then you were good to go! I don’t know if the recording quality for normal VHS would have been any better than usual, but 4-Head Hi-Fi is always a good thing anyway.

Unlike many mid-1990s VCRs, instead of a cheap plastic casing, the RCA VR725HF is housed in good ol’ metal, and with the black color-scheme, it’s a pretty slick-lookin’ beast. There’s some rounding on the front corners, but it’s mostly slim and boxy, though ridges (?) along the bottom almost give it a foot-stand-like appearance. I don’t know how to describe this, bu I tried to show you in the pic here.

I like the looks of this one. It has a heavy duty appearance and feel, yet a clean, elegant design. It almost (almost) comes off as minimalist, but in a good way. I may not go so far as to say it is minimalist, because it compares well to many of the other VCRs of the period in this regard. No, it doesn’t boast a ton of features, at least not on the unit itself, but what’s here is attractive. True to its name, this had to have look derned classy in the home theaters (theatres) of the mid-1990s.

Here’s the precious, precious back of the VCR shot you’ve all been clamoring for. I feel like I’m required to include these shots for this to be a full, proper review, but in truth, I never have all that much to say about them. It’s the connections area of the unit, okay? Antenna, AV, and S-Video jacks are all found in abundance. I do like that it has S-Video in and out ports.

Also, see, 7-14-1995. Did you think I was lying? I wasn’t.

Even though I picked this machine up over a month ago, it wasn’t until this past Wednesday that I dragged it out, cleaned it up, and started fully testing it. You know why it didn’t seem like it was working correctly when I first did preliminary testing upon discovery? Because upon initial start-up, it brings up an option (via blue screen) to scan for channels. Pressing (most) any button will exit out of that, which is why it did seem to start running well shortly afterwards. Or maybe it just hadn’t been used in years and needed time to warm up, I don’t know. Like I said, it was sight unseen.

(I guess there’s some form of ancient memory inside, because despite unplugging the thing after doing a quick channel-scan, it hasn’t asked me to scan again upon subsequent power-ups; what was scanned has, erm, remained scanned.)

Anyway, I don’t know if it was serviced at some point or just built insanely well, but this VCR works wonderfully. Like I said, it was a little dirty when I grabbed it, and even now you can see some scratches on the front panel in my pictures (I did give the whole thing a good disinfectant wipe rubdown), but despite its former life and July 1995 birthday, it handled just about everything I threw at it like a champ. I tempted fate and kept it going for over four hours Wednesday, ran both a ‘good’ tape and a problematic one in it, and both displayed wonderfully and came through the ordeal unscathed. (This is good, because I’m fond of both tapes, and had one or both been eaten, there’s a good chance you’d have heard me yelling from wherever you are. “What’s that?” “Oh, it’s just North Video Guy screamin’ again.”)

The only issue that came up was that the stereo kept switching to mono with a few things I recorded back in 2012, BUT those were from the same channel, same brand of tape, same program even. It didn’t do that with other recordings from around the same period, so maybe it was a fault on the channel? Or the tape brand I used? I don’t know, but I’m considering this RCA “workin’.”

‘Course, I kinda wanted to see the actual S-VHS stuff in action too, you know? I mean, it handled my old, regular VHS just fine (indeed, phenomenal tracking, picture stabilization and sharpness, even with SLP), but when you’ve got a (relatively) super-charged machine like this, you gotta see it all.

Luckily, I had some S-VHS tapes. They were given to me a few years ago, and despite not having a (working) S-VHS VCR right then, it was really only a matter of time. So, I went digging for them, and came up with the 2003 CBS broadcast of Bruce Springsteen’s Barcelona concert. I’ve owned the entire show on DVD for years, but this was recorded in S-VHS SP, so hey, gotta check it out!

It looks terrific. Okay, sure, at the end of the day it’s still consumer videotape, it’s not as sharp as a DVD or something, BUT the higher-resolution is immediately noticeable. I mean, just look at Bruce here! The quality is, needless to say, superior to even a regular SP-recorded tape.

So, for only $4, I got a real bargain. An RCA S-VHS VCR that appears to work perfectly, and looks cool to boot. I hit up a lot of thrift stores, but things like this just don’t show up everyday, and certainly not at that price. RCA did good work, and that’s evident even now!

Back in the 1990s, for our home entertainment center, we had an RCA 4-Head Hi-Fi deck. Not an S-VHS, mind you, just normal VHS, but for years it served us well. I eventually ran it into the ground (young tape-head and all), but that was hardly a fault on RCA’s part. When it comes to 1990s VCRs, it was probably one of the better ones to be had. Dad was big into the entertainment center thing, so that deck coupled, with surround sound, it was definitely cool to watch (and hear!) big budget Hollywood product on that thing.

This RCA S-VHS VCR reminds me of that childhood deck, which is totally an added bonus here. All in all, another fine addition to my collection!

Amvest Video’s Grampa Presents VHS Series: 1922’s “Nosferatu” (1988)

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You want October-appropriate? You got it!

Why’s that? Because the quest continues! The quest for what, you ask? More Grampa Presents tapes, that’s what! See that image above? That’s the mark of greatness. You can’t deny it, because it is. Blood-drippin’ font, Al Lewis kinda sorta winking at you, greatness.

Actually, the quest for these tapes never stopped. With last year’s big Halloween day post, I first spotlighted the Amvest Video “Grampa Presents” VHS series, in which Al Lewis (who was Grandpa Munster in everything but official name) hosted public domain horror films from a cheap, green-screened set and yelled at an unseen (and unheard) Igor.

Despite that tape having the notable malady of ending before the movie was actually finished, I was entranced, and by January 2016, I had not only added a number of titles in the series to my collection, but also gained quite a bit of knowledge on the company, the series as a whole, etc. This was all presented on the blog via an intensely detailed review of The Corpse Vanishes from the line, a tape that has become one of the favorites of my collection (and that post is one of my favorites on this site, too).

I’d like that Corpse Vanishes post to be the ultimate word on the subject, but that doesn’t mean my purchasing of these tapes or first-hand ‘research’ has stopped since. Oh no, I kept adding to the collection, kept learning about the various quirks of the line. Indeed, as far as pre-recorded VHS releases go, Grampa has become the main area of interest for me.

That said, while I don’t want to reiterate all of the points I made in that last article, I feel I need to give a quick summation of just why I’m so fascinated by this whole thing. In short: the series had limited distribution, and has subsequently become relatively obscure. Despite a list of supposed releases, no one is quite sure just how many tapes actually made it out with Grampa adorning them in some fashion. Add to all that a cheap, budget tape charm and the aspect of horror hosting at the center of it all, and, well, is it any wonder I want as many of these as possible?

And that brings us to this tape. In the realm of budget VHS (and Halloween!), the charmingly cheap vibes emanating forth are nearly overpowering. I mean, you’ve got Al “Grampa” Lewis, presiding over one of the greatest horror films of all-time, the 1922 silent classic Nosferatu! The German expressionist (unauthorized) adaption of Dracula! How cool is that?!

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Now, this tape was not one of the “does it actually exist or not?” entries; its existence has been confirmed for quite some time, with a pic of the box floating around online to match. Still, the very thought of Grampa hosting one of my all-time favorite films, and a bonafide classic to boot, easily made it one of my personal chasers. It took awhile for it to show up online, but eventually it did, and duly became mine. It seems like this Nosferatu is one of the harder entries to come by, but then, even the more “common” titles don’t appear all that often. And, regardless of any perceived rarity on my part, these Grampa tapes seem to run on average $20-$30 no matter what the featured movie is. Sometimes even less.

Look, I love these releases, warts and all, but aside from being compared to other old VHS tapes, they’re not really worth all that much. Is that because the line is so obscure? Because the tapes are so cheap in pretty much every facet? Or is it because I’m the only one that actually cares about all this? I don’t know the answers to these burning questions, but I do know that this Nosferatu VHS is mine and you can’t have it. So there!

You can’t say the cover isn’t eye-catching, though in a good way or a bad way is solely up to the individual gawking at it. The watercolor-ish rendition of one of the most iconic images from the film, complete with mood-setting-yet-totally-superfluous lightning added, is a good example of the art used for many (but not all!) of these tapes. As I’ve said before, they often had a decidedly “homemade” look to them, some ultimately faring better than others. Many will disagree, but I personally feel that the hand drawn covers only add to the charm of the line. It just screams “budget tape,” which, needless to say, is like my own personal Siren. (Minus the resulting sailor death – hopefully.)

But, as I’ve also pointed out before, these covers are absolutely made by the “Grampa Presents” banner along the top. How could a horror fan not want to add that to their collection? They’re always so unabashedly cool, and they totally add a unique aspect to these releases. Why pick up that cheapo copy of Nosferatu when you can have this one with Al Lewis adorning it? It’s a decision that practically makes itself!

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Like the cover art, the synopsis’ found on the backs of these varied from release to release. Nosferatu got one of the more-detailed ones, though it’s kinda odd. Nosferatu was, as previously mentioned, an unauthorized adaption of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. As such, the filmmakers originally changed names and details in hopes of avoiding a lawsuit from Stoker’s estate (a ploy that failed spectacularly; more on that in a bit). Later American prints later changed these aspects back to fit more with the Dracula we know and love. Perhaps surprisingly, the summary on the back cover uses the original naming system in its description (except for “Bremen,” which should be “Wisborg” in this instance), even though the actual print is a later Dracula-ized U.S. version that frequently made (and makes) the public domain rounds. So what point of reference was Amvest actually working from here?

And the synopsis as a whole, it’s strangely ‘paced,’ for lack of a better term. Not only does it completely ignore the Dracula-aspects of the movie, but it also really focuses on only half the story. There’s too much emphasis on Hutter/Harker being stuck in the castle, and not enough on what the movie is really about. That said, even if I hadn’t known better, it still sounds like a pretty good movie. But, the bottom line is, it’s not a very balanced summary.

‘Course, like the banner on the front covers, the saving grace on the back covers was always the “Grampa’s Ratings” feature found at the bottom. They were like Al Lewis’ own stamp of approval, his personal guarantee of a good time. He always gave a short (sometimes very short) endorsement, and the piece de resistance, a star rating system – but composed entirely of bats. That’s fantastic. No joke, through whatever faults these tapes may exhibit, they have charm to spare.

Though, only three bats? C’mon Gramps, if Nosferatu doesn’t deserve a whole four bats (or five, if that’s what his scale went up to), what does? At least he correctly concludes that it’s a “scary silent classic,” which it totally is.

(While I have my doubts that Lewis really wrote these summaries himself, I’m operating under the assumption that he did, if for no other reason than the mental image of Grandpa Munster slaving over his synopsis and score for a budget videotape amuses me.)

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NosTeratu. From the same award-winning quality control that let a tape recorded in the wrong speed make it out the door. And yet, I can’t help but love the extreme budget tape vibes projected forth by said typo. Charm baby, charm.

Amount of tape used to record this entry in the series: approximately a foot. Obviously, this is an EP-recorded tape. (However, even though it’s not an issue this time around, there is an inherent danger in jumping to such a conclusion; allow me to direct you back to my first Grampa tape review.)

Okay, so, we’ve seen the front and back covers, and the tape itself. Now it’s time for the really good stuff: Al “Grampa” Lewis not only hosting a horror movie, but a legitimately great horror movie! Behold…

What? Oh, you’re confused by the fact that you’re not seeing any actual screenshots of Grampa in action? There’s a simple reason for that: Grampa is MIA on this tape.

Yes, despite all the pomp and circumstance found on the front and back of the slipcase, inexplicably, the Grampa host segments are not included on my copy. Looks like Amvest went the Gene Shalit route this time around! (I’m reasonably sure this is the only review of Nosferatu to include a common link between Gene Shalit and Al Lewis, by the way.)

Okay, sure, the host segments for this line of tapes, they were the exact same for each movie; it’s not like I’m missing out on anything actually new to me here. Still, their absence does take away an aspect of this VHS that would have made it stand as really unique when compared to other similar releases of Nosferatu.

During my “journey” collecting as many tapes in this series as I can, I long ago discovered that certain releases, while appropriately displaying Lewis on the cover, do not actually feature him before and/or after the movie. (But on the flip side, a few releases don’t feature him on the cover at all, yet he is there when “Play” is pressed!) So, I knew that him not showing up to legitimately host this film was a distinct possibility. Just because I was forewarned doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt me deep anyway, though.

Seeing how up-and-down a lot of these Amvest releases were/are, I don’t rule out the possibility that the Al Lewis segments DID show up on some copies of Nosferatu. I’m going to guess (and that’s all this is, a guess on my part) that later issues of these tapes neglected to include the Lewis segments. I have three SP-recorded tapes from the line, and none feature him. And, as far as the EP recorded ones go, this isn’t the only one I have that omits him, either. So, it wouldn’t really surprise me if other issues of the same title did have the Grampa bits.

I guess what I’m getting at is that you just never really know until you actually play one of these.

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But, Grampa or no Grampa, Nosteratu Nosferatu is still Nosferatu. I mean, it doesn’t get much more classic than this! Plus, even with the Al Lewis host segments absent, his mere presence on the cover is enough to make Kino green with envy. Oh sure, they can restore and tint and whatever this film as much as they want, the fact remains that none of their various VHS, DVD or Blu-ray releases of Nosferatu have Grampa Munster featured on the artwork, and thus, Amvest wins.

Or do they? This ain’t exactly a Criterion-quality print of the film. Indeed, it’s borderline unwatchable, and that’s coming from a guy that spends a fair amount of time staring at thousand-year-old EP-recorded VHS tapes.

First, the good news: this is basically the version of the film that introduced me to the movie waaay back in 1997. It was Halloween day, and I was in 5th grade. My grade school always did the whole costume thing, and at lunch we were allowed to go home to change. Now, I was already a young tape-head, and I had discovered our WAOH TV-29 and the variety of classic movies they ran that just-past Summer. Oddly enough though, it wasn’t until their late morning broadcast of Nosferatu on that fateful day that I recorded anything off the station. Already a big horror and sci-fi fan, and a sucker for silents too, I was pretty stoked to check out this new-to-me movie.

So, lunchtime rolled around, my brother and I came home to get our costumes, and I had just enough time to see what I captured earlier that very day. Obviously I didn’t have time to watch the whole thing right then, but it took only a few cursory glances to know this was already ‘my’ movie. I was a fan from the start.

It was an old, worn, Americanized print, one that I’d run into time and time again in the years following, but the thing that, unbeknownst to me initially, really set this one apart was a wonderfully spooky score (relatively spooky, anyway). I can’t think of a better way to describe this, but the “woooooo” sound made upon the opening credits starting, it instantly set the tone, and thus that’s just one of the reasons this is the version of the film I’m most nostalgic for.

So, this Amvest release is essentially the same version I first saw that day back in October 1997. Well, except for the Thunderbird Films superimposition on the title screen (above), far worse print quality, and film duplication that’s markedly below what I myself recorded in EP back in ’97. I still find it wildly endearing, but man, my taped-off-TV copy from nearly 20 years ago (I refuse to believe it’s been that long!) is actually superior to this “real” release! Go figure!

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See, Dracula-styled names. Did you think I was lying? I wasn’t. Upon its original release, Nosferatu changed those well-known versions to alternates. Drac became “Count Orlock,” Renfield became “Knock,” Harker became “Hutter,” and so on. Lemme explain a bit…

Nosferatu almost didn’t exist long enough for Grampa to (almost) host it. You know that lawsuit I mentioned earlier, the fear of which being the reason the names were changed in the first place? Yeah, that case was decided in the favor of Stoker’s widow anyway, and she immediately ordered that all prints be destroyed. Yikes! According to legend, she never even watched the film. Luckily, a few copies survived (foreign exports, if I recall correctly), and it’s those sources that gave us the film(s) we have today.

Well, at some point, U.S. prints began removing “Orlock” and so on and instead utilizing the originally-changed names. Nosferatu was obviously already Dracula-ish, but this made it even more Dracula-ish (which makes sense, since it’s, you know, Dracula), and those are the versions most commonly (always?) found making the public domain rounds nowadays.

Are the “re-revised” names found on this release true to the original film? Well, no. Purists will naturally balk at their inclusion here (and at a variety of other aspects, too). Still, because this is how I first saw the movie, I initially had a hard time fully getting into the restored versions that utilized the original ‘fake’ names. Doesn’t bother me now, but I still refer to Max Schreck’s vampire as “Dracula,” not “Orlock,” simply because that’s what it was to me first.

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A face? Nosferatu don’t need no face!

Look, we’re lucky to have any prints of Nosferatu at all, and naturally the ones we did end up with were copied endlessly in the years prior to this video release. Even the various Kino versions, fantastic though they are, aren’t exactly pristine. So, no one should ever think they’re going to get something particularly fantastic-lookin’ from a budget VHS edition. One recorded in EP, at that.

As you can see above, there are shapes and forms on-screen, but actual detail is pretty much loooong gone. Now, most of that is the print itself, but Amvest, for as much as I love ’em, they get some of the blame here, too; their duplication techniques were apparently not the best. I’m not just talking the EP recording speed either, but rather the actual duplication. So many of these tapes look like they were duplicated using the old VCR-to-VCR method; maybe they were, I don’t know. Point is, when you’re using a trashed print of whatever, poor duplication is only going to make the final product look even worse.

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A face? Nosferatu don’t need no face!

The poor condition of this print (and others like it), it’s understandable; I don’t think there was anything even approaching a ‘definitive’ Nosferatu until Kino released their terrific restoration in 1991. And, despite the poor quality here, you do get the gist of things. But man, sharper image quality makes a big difference in a film like this.

On that front, I’ve got to backtrack a bit. I’ve previously stated that with films like this (and the original Night of the Living Dead, while we’re at it), you can clean them up and restore them all you want, the older, worn prints are the ones I find most effective. I don’t mind if a version uses the Dracula names, lacks tinting, is scratchy, whatever – to me, that only enhances the nightmarish quality. It almost feels more otherworldly, like you’re watching something you’re not supposed to. I know I’m in the minority here, and it undoubtedly has to do with how I first saw the movie, but hey, that’s just me.

HOWEVER, I’ve got to rectify that statement somewhat; while I still stand by it, I stand by it only to an extent. This Nosferatu, it just looks bad. It’s blurry, the detail is blasted, and the picture is overly cropped. As such, much of the mood, not only is it NOT enhanced, it’s actually destroyed beyond repair.

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A head? Nosferatu don’t need no head!

There’s that cropping I just mentioned! Nosferatu being cropped isn’t exactly a unique aspect to this release; many versions suffered varying degrees of cropping. Amvest’s Nosferatu though, boy, scenes like the one above (one of my favorites from the film) are not only rendered much less effective, they also look a bit goofy – and Nosferatu is anything but goofy.

Abrupt gear shift; I should probably talk about the actual movie a little, huh? I have a feeling most people stumbling on to my silly little blog have already seen Nosferatu; it’s one of THE top horror films, silent or otherwise. But if, by chance, you haven’t seen Nosferatu, yet are familiar with Dracula (in some form or another), well, you’ll probably already have an idea of how this film plays out. The basics are same: a vampire travels from his faraway castle to civilization, bringing with him a thirst for blood, and thus, death.

There’s some notable differences in Nosferatu, even beyond the aforementioned name changes. The setting is German instead of English, different date, different way of defeating the vampire, etc. The biggest difference, however, is the vampire himself; this ain’t your Lugosi’s Dracula! Instead of the classy Count that Bela portrayed, Max Schreck’s is an ugly, rat-like creature. Tall, gawky, stiff as a board and with claw-like hands, Nosferatu is legitimately terrifying. Unlike Lugosi’s Dracula, Schreck’s looks as evil as he really is! (Too bad the quality of this print is too rough for me to really show you!)

Look, Nosferatu is public domain. There’s no shortage of copies out there. My recommendation: head on over to Amazon and grab Kino’s fantastic restoration. If you haven’t seen the film, you need to see it. It’s a fantastic piece of German expressionism that, frankly, I’m not sure I can do justice to by merely explaining it.

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Look familiar? Why, that’s our cover art in action! You’ll note the absence of lightning. And why exactly is a vampire walking around in daylight? Nosferatu was originally tinted, with appropriate colors for appropriate times/scenes/etc. Restored versions included new, supposedly-accurate tinting, though that is, of course, not the case with the public domain copies such as this one.

It’s a testament to just how well-made this film is that even without the original tinting, and even in a print as poor as this particular one, some of the images still remain effective. Case in point: above, and below…

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Surely you recognize this scene. It’s one of the most iconic images from the film, which is really saying something, considering there’s plenty of iconic images throughout. Even with the shoddy shape this print is in, it’s tough to ruin it, though the VHS refusing to track properly did the best it could. (No kidding; being old budget tapes, these Amvest videos often have tracking problems, but man, this Nosferatu just got crankier and crankier as it played.)


This is a tape where the whole is probably greater than the sum of its parts.

While on one hand you’ve got a legitimately classic horror film as part of a cool series of tapes from the golden age of home video, you’ve also got a terrible print, problematic tracking, and what was supposed to be one of the most unique things about the whole deal, Grampa’s host segments, those aren’t even included.

And yet, somehow, it still works. Don’t get me wrong, this is far, far from a definitive release of Nosferatu, but as an artifact of 1980s home video, it’s pretty darn cool. Maybe it’s because I’m a sucker for classic horror films, especially public domain ones that have found their way to the often-murky world of cheapie videotapes.

Or maybe it’s just that Al Lewis box art. After all, that alone probably puts this one above all the other budget releases of the time. Okay, it’s a host-less version of the movie, and with awful picture-quality to boot. Doesn’t change the fact this makes for one neat, Halloweeny-lookin’ video! On the outside, anyway…

At any rate, I couldn’t be happier to have this as part of my collection. Another Grampa tape down, _____ to go!

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 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 “say what?” 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 stuff 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.

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 whatever. 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 dig 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 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 irk a lot of people 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.

That’s the title screen up above, by the way. You’ll get a better idea of this momentarily, but the superior sharpness of this particular print was evident as soon as those wondrous words that make up the name of this movie popped on-screen.

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You have no idea what a pain 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 goofy 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 in my eyes. Kind of a wash, but whatever.

Actually, for as bad as it is, I’ve seen other movies that may technically be better but 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 silly 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 flick as much as I do.

Just for the fun 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’s really 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. Furthermore, the sharpness of the Beta version is particularly evident here.

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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 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 DVD, or VHS if one was so inclined. But even with Mike & The Bots, the film is pretty out there. ‘Course, if you’re feeling brave, the uncut version is also available on DVD, in a number of various multi-movie compilartions. As far as DVD goes though, your best option really is to hunt down the 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 a 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

GoldStar GHV-8500M Hi-Fi VHS VCR

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I found this absolutely terrific VCR at the State Road Goodwill two days ago. It’s been awhile since I’ve had a really good VCR/electronics find, at least one worth writing about, but boy, I fell in love with this one the instant I laid eyes on it. There was some random guy in the general vicinity of it when I first spotted the beast, and your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter was indeed prepared to do some violent shovin’ if it came to it. It didn’t, though. It never does.

It’s a GoldStar GHV-8500M Hi-Fi VHS VCR, complete with cool flip-front door to protect the precious insides. There doesn’t seem to be a lot about this particular model online. A Northeast Ohio Video Hunter exclusive?! Bonus cool winnins?!?! I’m not pathetic enough to believe THAT, but still, it doesn’t appear that this is an especially well-remembered model.

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The sad fact of the matter is I just don’t have many GoldStar products. As far as VCRs go, most of the GoldStars I come across are newer, cheaper-looking models, and thus are quickly passed up in lieu of other things more befitting my increasingly limited funds. This one though, it just looks classy. I can’t find a date on it anywhere, and online searches turned up only a kinda vague 1990-1991, but the style of it looks early-1990’s to me. I want to guess 1993, because the flip-front door (which is really what attracted this thing to me in the first place) reminds me of the last Betamax ever released in the U.S., the SL-HF2000. Not exact, of course, and nowhere near as cool, but reminiscent nevertheless.

Anyway, my 1993 guesstimate isn’t that far off from 1990-1991. It’s from somewhere around there, at least.

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Boy this thing is slick. It absolutely seems like a higher-end model to me. It’s Hi-Fi, it’s got the cool flippy door, and it’s got extra RCA jacks in the front. SIGNS O’ QUALITY, MAN. The number of options found inside the flip-door isn’t the most extensive ever seen on a VCR, but the few found here is still more than many other units from the same time period (in which you’ll have the standard power-play-rewind-fast forward-pause-eject buttons, the channel select buttons, and not a whole lot else.)

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There’s the back of the unit. More RCA jacks. Helpful power cord. So now you know. See, GHV-8500M. Did you think I was lying? I wasn’t.

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The side of the unit, featuring some slick an’ stylish contours. So now you know. The molding on the side ultimately doesn’t mean anything, of course, but it does give the underlying impression that this model is “somethin’ special,” I s’pose.

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I absolutely love the fact it has a digital read-out of the audio levels. More evidence it may have been a higher-end unit. The cheapo models I’ve come across don’t have anything even close to that sort of thing. Usually, when I come across VCRs with this feature, the audio levels are found in the form of LEDs. I think I prefer them in the classic green and red LED form, but that’s no knock on the digital version found here.

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Luck o’ the Irish, it works! When I tried the unit out in Goodwill, sans any kind of picture obviously, it seemed that it worked fine except that it acted a little wonky when rewinding. At only $5, I gladly took the chance, because as previously stated, I really like this thing. But now that I’ve had the sucker hooked up, I can see that it was just reacting to the old-school memory counter hitting 0000. I really, really don’t like this type of counter; my feelings towards this style falls somewhere between annoyance and outright rage. I didn’t think anyone was even still using that system by the early-90’s, but hey, there it is. It’s probably the only thing about this VCR I don’t like, but since it’s not like I’ll be using this thing 24/7, it’s not too big of a deal.

Speaking of the counter, I can’t get any kind of related-display to show up on the VCR itself. I’m thinking this was a feature only accessed via the original remote. Since the original remote did not come with this unit, it’s a feature seemingly forever barred to me.

One more thing: when you insert a tape, the VCR practically vacuums it in. This isn’t a fault with the unit, it’s clearly how it was designed to handle tapes, and just like the superfluous molding on the side, it makes you feel like you’re going first-class.

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From start to finish, this is a slick unit; it must have displayed terrifically in the home entertainment centers of the early-1990’s. It has just enough late-80’s/early-90’s style to look, erm, stylish, but still fairly simple overall without going the full route to straight-up cheap lookin’ (that is to say, it doesn’t look as low-quality and generally unappealing as many of the VCRs manufactured in the 1990’s tend to, despite the plasticy gray appearance.)

Works good, looks good, this one’s definitely a keeper.