Tag Archives: late night movie

WJW TV-8’s Late Movie – 1985’s “Rambo: First Blood Part II” (2003)

Time for a sequel post! And not just a post about a sequel, but a post that’s in and of itself a sequel to a previous post. And it’s all the more fitting because the sequel this post is about is the sequel to the prequel that the prequel post was about!

There, wrap your mind around that introduction!

Surely you will recall back in August when I talked about an airing of First Blood as shown by Big Chuck & Lil’ John on May 11, 2001. What? You don’t?! That hurts me deep, but here it is. For a character I had grown up basically knowing of, that was my first time actually watching a Rambo film. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting at first, but before the broadcast ended that Friday night, I had become a fan. The following morning, I was determined to pick up the remastered VHS trilogy set that was then-available.

Unfortunately, for whatever reason (almost certainly due to lack of money on my part – as usual), I didn’t get the set, and thus I didn’t see the sequels as soon as I would have preferred. Add in all the other responsibilities and interests of a teenager, and ultimately, I wouldn’t see First Blood‘s sequel, Rambo: First Blood Part II, until very nearly two years later, when I taped it off WJW TV-8’s late movie showing. I have no concrete date for the broadcast, but it was the spring of 2003 (late April or early May is the closest I can deduce), but naturally it’s that very recording we’re looking at today.

rambo2-1

In the late-1990s and early-2000s, I had made a semi-habit of staying up late on weekend nights and catching a new-to-me movie on some local channel. More often than not, this was an action film, and it was through this method that I was introduced to flicks I almost certainly wouldn’t have been aware of otherwise. Army of One and One Man’s Justice come to mind. (Which is why I was far too excited to find the latter on DVD for cheap at Value City a few years later!) My love of action films, especially 1980s action films, was fostered via these late night airings, and it was through them that I eventually found myself staying up late to watch First Blood, and ultimately, First Blood Part II.

In retrospect, the broadcast we’re looking at today was from the tail-end of not only this habit of mine, but also of even being able to catch movies on local channels late on weekend nights in general. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen anymore, because it does (our WBNX TV-55 regularly runs movies in the late hours of the weekend), but by and large late night television is a wasteland of syndicated programming and infomercials now. And besides, the way we as a television-viewing audience watch movies nowadays has changed so drastically in the 14 years since that, even if I personally don’t go for the streaming thing, the very thought of a late night movie on television just doesn’t hold the same charm of discovery as it once did. This both saddens me and makes me all the fonder for the recordings I had the foresight to make back then.

Truth be told, I can’t recall if I actually stayed up late to watch this broadcast as it taped, or if I merely watched it soon thereafter, but the sentiment is ultimately the same. And boy does this one take me back. Even that bumper up above, complete with the immortal Bill Ward‘s voiceover, is a cause for nostalgia. Now granted, I wouldn’t be surprised if those same background graphics were used for Fox affiliates all across the country, and I don’t know when they were first utilized or when they were dropped, but they were present for at least a few years afterwards (I have a recording of Miracle Mile from 2006 that uses them), but I love ’em. They’re simple, sure; just that bluish color-scheme, spinning film reel, station I.D., and voiceover, but they work. By 2003, I’m not sure you could ask for all that much more, anyway. The same image was used as the intro to this broadcast, as well as for the commercial-break bumpers. Update your diaries accordingly.

(You’ll note that my title notates this as WJW’s “late movie,” but the bumper mentions nothing of the sort. Yes, this was well past the “8 All Night” days and associated pomp and circumstance. This was a late airing, however; I don’t recall an exact time, 1 AM, 2 AM, something like that.)

I know there won’t be as much vested interest in this post as there was in my First Blood article; Big Chuck & Lil’ John naturally attract local readership. Even beyond that, I know some will look at this and probably think “A 2003 airing of Rambo II? Who cares?” The thing to remember there is that this is a personal blog, and what it comes down to is that it’s all about what makes me, well, me. I mean, yes, the ultimate goal here is to educate readers on an obscure late night television broadcast that would almost-certainly be forgotten otherwise, but as always, a subject has to trip my trigger first. So, maybe this will strike a chord with certain readers, and maybe it won’t, but I’d rather share my memories and have this review out there than, uh, not.

Besides, just because Big Chuck & Lil’ John aren’t hosting this, that doesn’t mean they won’t show up in some form during it. What do I mean by that? Read on!

rambo2-2

Actually, had I been paying more attention, there probably was a Chuck & John showing of this film around the same period; as you’d expect, WJW would get these film packages, and show the same movie in different slots over a relatively short period of time. For example, I taped Iron Eagle II off The Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show (a recording I still have!), a Friday night broadcast, and not long after, maybe even that following Sunday, the movie by itself ran again, in an afternoon slot. (I remember holding a yard sale and having it on to show that a TV I was desperately trying to shill did indeed work, which wasn’t all that successful in the bright sun, but whatever.) The aforementioned Miracle Mile was also aired this way, and it was how I first discovered the movie. Unfortunately, I didn’t tape it, and it didn’t run again until ’06, when I did tape it, in a non-Chuck & John showing. Meh, que sera sera and all that.

So anyway, 1985’s Rambo: First Blood Part II. If you go back and read my First Blood post, you’ll note that this sequel is more along the lines of the movie I expected to see the first time around. Indeed, when people picture Rambo and his exploits, the plot of this film is probably what first comes to mind. And why wouldn’t it? The movie was a massive hit, it’s still fantastic, and it’s easily one of the defining action films of the 1980s. I mean, this movie is 1985. This is the film that truly drove the Rambo, one-man-against-an-army image into the public consciousness, as evidenced by the wave of merchandise it spawned (including a fantastic Sega Master System game and an odd, Zelda II-esque Nintendo Entertainment System game).

Of course I loved the film right from the start. If you’d ask me to put together a top 10 list of my favorite action films, First Blood Part II would easily, easily make the cut. But then, so would First Blood and Rambo III, too. (and Schwarzenegger’s Commando, while we’re at it.) Maybe a year or so after I taped this, we finally upgraded to DVD, and near as I can recall, Rambo: First Blood Part II was the first film I bought for myself in the format (unless you count the restored Metropolis, which Kino sent me on DVD despite my ordering it on VHS, which I don’t). For me, that’s pretty telling. I love this movie.

That’s the title screen up above, by the way. When you see a fire-filled “Rambo,” pop on-screen, you know you’re in for a ride. That Fox 8 logo in the bottom right corner totally takes me back, too.

(And yes, there is a Big Chuck & Lil’ John airing of this very movie floating around trade circles, though I don’t concern myself with such 2nd gen or more shenanigans, and thus it is presently barred from me. Meh, que sera sera and all that.)

rambo2-3

Caution! Some spoilers for a nearly-32-year-old movie are ahead! 32 years?! Yep, First Blood Part II was released on May 22, 1985 – pretty darn close to a straight 18 years the night this aired. I find it interesting that the film was less than 20 years old when I first saw it, but is now over 30. I’m not sure why I find that interesting, but I do. I think it has to do with the quick passage of time and me being quite a bit older now. Well, now I’m depressed!

Part II isn’t really a direct sequel, but does pick up in the aftermath of the events that transpired by the end of First Blood. In that one, remember how John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone, of course!) had pretty much destroyed an entire town, totally outwitted the local police force, and whose life was saved only when his former-commanding officer Col. Trautman (Richard Crenna!) told him to cut it out? (I’m trying not to divulge too much of First Blood, for the 2.6 of you that haven’t seen it yet.) Well, Part II picks up some time after all that; Rambo is serving his sentence, performing back-breaking hard labor, when Trautman shows up at the prison with an offer (above): It’s rumored that some POWs are still left in Vietnam, and a special team is being assembled to go in and get them – if they are indeed still there. Rambo is the best candidate, and with the opportunity to get out of a prison for the time being, as well as a full presidential pardon dangled in front of him, not to mention him being a former-POW himself, of course he accepts.

I like this; less than 5 minutes in, the title hasn’t even appeared on-screen yet, and the movie is already off and running. In short order, Rambo finds himself in the presence of one Marshall Murdock (Charles Napier, who fills the roll of you-just-know-he’s-a-jerk-from-the-start that Brian Dennehy so-ably occupied in the previous film). Rambo’s mission? To head back into Vietnam, and take pictures of a Vietcong camp. Seriously, just take pictures? Rambo expresses his concern over this, but he is again ordered to only take pictures – he is not to engage the enemy. If evidence is found of POWs, a full-fledged rescue team will head in and get ’em. Rambo goes along with this.

Welp, Rambo parachutes in, and yes, there are indeed POWs still there. Despite Murdock’s orders, Rambo has to rescue one, and thus, engage the enemy. This causes Murdock to show his true colors when Rambo meets the extraction site. He and the POW are then (re)captured, and must (re)escape the Vietcong, who it turns out are being supplied by the Russian military (1985, the Cold War and all).

“Murdock, I’m coming to get you!” If you’re not fully rooting for the ‘Bo by the time he utters that line, well then I just don’t know.

(Also, now is as good a time as any to point out that, as you may surmise from the diagonal rainbow “stripes” overlayed in my screencaps, we were using an antenna of the rabbit ears variety at the time, with the resulting reception naturally captured on my tape – a malady that was only exacerbated by my choice of an SLP recording speed. This all looks far uglier as still screen captures than it does in motion, but nevertheless, my tape ain’t Criterion quality.)

rambo2-6

Rambo: First Blood Part II is pretty much a non-stop stream of testosterone. Above left: Blowin’ stuff up with ‘splosive arrows. Above right: Shooting anything and everything in sight (and looking uncannily close to that Rambo action figure they released in the 1980s – or vice versa, rather). Audience manipulation? Well of course it is! It’s pretty much impossible to not cheer Rambo on as he dismantles the enemy camp while long-imprisoned POWs celebrate – that may be the very definition of audience manipulation!

But don’t think this is just a mindless celebration of violence, though; many of the same themes present in First Blood are on display here, but almost from an opposite viewpoint and with an added wrinkle of redemption and hope – the undertones aren’t quite as dark and somber as they were in First Blood. Okay, sure, this is all seen through the “popcorn action movie” lens, I know, and that tends to tone the message of the film down considerably. Well, except when the flick is beating you over the head with it, as in Rambo’s final speech – which I love nevertheless.

Maybe that’s why Rambo: First Blood Part II was a huge hit commercially, but the critics didn’t particularly like it. To that, I say “man, forget that noise.” First Blood may have been more successful at presenting the plight of the Vietnam vet while also remaining an engrossing action film, whereas Part II is, for lack of a better description, more of a “straight-ahead” film, but with some “rah rah” overtones. Except, that’s not quite fair to the movie; it’s deceptively smarter than that (sort of like Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.”). Yes, Rambo loves his country and is prepared to die for it, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t criticisms of a confusing war – it’s just that the film pulls them off without throwing the soldiers that fought in it under the bus. There’s courage and heroism on display here, both from Rambo and the rescued POWs. As someone who has the utmost respect for any of our veterans, this all strikes a chord with me.

Or maybe the critics just didn’t like the film based on the usual suspects of plot, writing, whatever. I haven’t really gone and checked any of the old reviews online in-depth, because my opinion of a film is the only one I care about. So for all I know, I may be totally full of it right now.

And on that note (ha!), you know what? To me, this is just such a good, solid action movie. No kidding, right here we basically have the archetype for the one-man-army action film. Yes, Missing in Action did the same basic plot in 1984, but it didn’t do it nearly as well, nor as popularly. For all intents and purposes, this type of action movie, which has come to define a good chunk of 1980s mainstream cinema, begins right here. (Furthermore, while I like Chuck Norris’ James Braddock, Rambo is a far more compelling character; the psychological scars he carries with him truly give an added resonance to the proceedings – even though Braddock was also a former POW. But, I digress.)

So, getting back to this broadcast as a whole, was there anything that, in retrospect, makes this 2003 airing significantly unique? Kinda. There’s the usual suspects of the editing for television (sometimes egregiously so; very obvious fade-outs and fade-ins, for example), and this aired at a time when TV broadcasts, particularly local broadcasts, could still look markedly inferior to official home video releases. Even with my SLP recording speed and rabbit ears making things difficult, this is still clearly an older, un-remastered television print of the film; not really bad, but sorta drab looking, and almost certainly a step below any official VHS edition of the film. Or maybe it was just my reception, I don’t know.

Look, if you haven’t seen this film (yeah, sure, uh huh), just go buy your own copy. If nothing else, it’ll certainly look nicer.

You know, the fact that this is from 2003, and thus still fairly ‘new’ in my eyes (nearly 14 years new, ha!), and not being that unique in terms of film-content, aside from TV-editing, it all had me questioning whether I wanted to get a post out of this. As I said near the start of this piece, there would probably be inherently less interest in this, especially without a unique factor such as Big Chuck & Lil’ John hosting it. But then I remembered this is about my nostalgia; what gets my memories fired up.

And on that front, there are the original commercials. It’s funny, there’s stuff during this broadcast that, for the most part, I probably haven’t thought of since the early-2000s, and yet when they came up on-screen, it was like they just aired yesterday to me. Here now are some of my favorite ads found during this late night broadcast of Rambo: First Blood Part II

Affordable Jewelry Coins & Loans Ad

rambo2-7

This is fantastic. Pawn shop/jewelry/etc. ads were all over this broadcast, as you’d expect of late night TV. This was my favorite of the bunch though, simply because it exemplifies local advertising in the wee hours of the day; you can’t not love it!

Here, a Sinatra-ish lounge singer performs “My Kind of Store” in regards to Affordable, complete with back-up singers, all while the screen flashes over their various wares and a voiceover gives their buy-sell-pawn pitch. The spot finishes with a little kid (in the bottom-left in the right screenshot above) exclaiming “It’s so affordable!” This is the kind of advertising that exemplifies local TV.

Affordable Jewelry Coins & Loans is still in business, too! Looks like the ad did its job!

WJW Dharma & Greg Promo

rambo2-8

Remember Dharma & Greg? I’m not sure any channel plays it anymore, and It was never a show I cared much for, but it was one of the hallmarks of ABC’s late-1990s & early-2000s sitcom powerhouse line-up, a line-up that included Spin City, The Norm Show, and of course The Drew Carey Show. So, even though Dharma & Greg never did a lot for me, it still ranks a bit on the nostalgia meter. The premise of the show was the Dharma was a free-spirit, Greg was uptight, and they both married on their first date. At least, that’s how I recall it. It ran for, I think, a respectable six seasons, so apparently more people cared for it than I did. I could Wikipedia the show, but I refuse.

Anyway, WJW became the repository for local reruns when the series entered syndication, and as you can see above, it garnered the weeknights at 7 PM slot. Bill Ward’s voiceover: “Hot comedy with Dharma & Greg! Weeknights at 7 on Fox 8!” For years, that 7 PM to 8 PM block was a cornucopia of comedy on WJW, naturally spearheaded by The Drew Carey Show, and for a time 3rd Rock From the Sun was also a big part of it. Good memories!

Norton Furniture Ad

rambo2-9

Ah ha! A Norton Furniture ad! Now we’re talkin’ some legit Northeast Ohio advertising! Heck, these commercials even went beyond our area, and into the national spotlight! Read on…

There were others ads for the store, even during this broadcast, but the best known were the ones featuring owner Marc Brown, who you’re seeing above. My favorites were those featuring The Ghoul, for obvious reasons, but there was a long, long line of offbeat, sometimes even surreal, commercials. Marc spoke in a quiet, almost halting manner, proclaiming if you can’t get credit there, you can’t get it anywhere. And then the ads would turn strange. The Ghoul ones, for instance, would have The Ghoul popping up and chasing Marc, trying to cut off his pony tail. In another, Marc would turn to a mannequin and ask it a question, apropos of nothing whatsoever. Look, Norton Furniture actually has a bunch of these up on Youtube, so just go see for yourself.

Anyway, this all attracted the attention of national comics, and eventually these ads were being featured on late night shows as joke fodder. I even seem to recall The Soup (which I avidly watched for a time) taking a crack at it. The Norton Furniture ads became well known enough that Taco Bell used one as a basis for one of their commercials – during the Super Bowl. Wikipedia (yes, there’s a Norton Furniture page) says this was only a regional Super Bowl commercial, but nevertheless, I flipped out when I first saw it!

So, the installment found here, this one is actually one of the milder entries, though still kinda out there in a hazy, late night kinda way. In it, Marc gives a lecture to an unseen group of people about the features and benefits of Norton Furniture. Unfortunately, no surreal occurrence in this one, besides some canned applause by the “audience” at the end. Interestingly, this is a minute-long spot; usually they were the standard 30 seconds.

While not one of the wackier Norton Furniture ads, its presence here is still most definitely welcome. And, Norton Furniture is still around! Check out their website!

TeleMaxx Communications Ad

rambo2-10

I’m including this one mainly because it shows just how wildly the cellphone world has changed in the nearly 14 years since this aired.

TeleMaxx was, as you may surmise, a spot for all your wireless needs. As you can see to the left above, the ad features cutting-edge cellphone technology – of the early-2000s. It’s wild how far these things have come in such a relatively short amount of time. Nowadays, we have phones that’ll make you a sandwich if you ask them nice enough, but the ones seen here? They were somewhat bulky things that did little more than make phone calls (go figure!) and maybe, maybe play rudimentary games of bowling and/or solitaire.

And above, to the right! Pagers! Pagers!! Do they even make pagers anymore? The rise of the cellphone pretty much made them obsolete, which means it’s really a trip back in time seeing them spotlighted in this ad. A steal at only $29!

Unfortunately, it looks like TeleMaxx closed up shop some time ago; such is the price of working with transitory products such as these, I suppose.

Big Chuck & Lil’ John For Pizza Pan Ad

rambo2-11

I saved the best for last, and boy is this one phenomenal! Not only because it’s an ad featuring Big Chuck & Lil’ John as spokesmen, though of course that’s the, as I like to say, “cool winnins factor.” But also because, man, it just takes me right back to 2003.

The gimmick of Pizza Pan was this: Order a pizza and have it delivered, you got another pizza free. Order a pizza and pick it up yourself, you got two extra pizzas free! Obviously deals like that are gonna attract some attention, and in short order, Pizza Pan had made a pretty big local name for itself. It seemed there were locations all over, and we patronized the one near us pretty often, because hey, three pizzas for the price of one! This was all bolstered by some pretty heavy advertising, including Big Chuck & Lil’ John, who pitched the chain for a number of years.

Indeed, we’ve already seen Big Chuck & Lil’ John do their Pizza Pan shtick on a larger scale; remember the Big Chuck & Lil’ John Pre-Game Show post? Check it out, because Pizza Pan was all over that one.

Unfortunately, by the mid-2000s or so, Pizza Pan seemed to just sort of fade away. My memories are vague, but I seem to recall them ending the whole free pizza offer, which of course was what their name was built on. I believe it was later brought back in some form, though it might have only been a single free pizza no matter whether it was delivered or picked up. I can’t say for sure, because by that time, the one near us had closed. Anyone wanna give the details in the comments?

But back in 2003, that was when Pizza Pan was still reigning supreme. (Get it? Supreme? Because it’s pizza! Aw never mind.) Here, this commercial summarizes the whole deal succinctly. In it, Chuck explains to John the buy one pizza, get one or two pizzas free gimmick, before telling the staff to pick up the pace because they’re so busy (which is a cue to comically speed up the video as pizzas being assembled are shown). It’s a simple ad, sure, but it got the point across, it had Chuck & John’s endorsement, and it spotlights one of the most memorable aspects of Northeast Ohio pizza-eatin’ in the early 2000s. AND it has a Bill Ward voiceover at the end!

It seems there are still a few Pizza Pans left; here’s the official website, though no matter what link you click, the only page you get is a list of store locations. (A Cleveland store gets a different, full-fledged website; I’m guessing that’s the original, or at least most popular, location?)


And so, some two years after I became a full-fledged Rambo fan, this recording was how I continued the fandom. A little late on all fronts, I know, but hey, it’s always better late than never!

As I said before, when I finally jumped into DVDs a year or so later, this movie was the first I went out and purchased. Indeed, the other two Rambo entries were also among my first purchases on the format, as well. Obviously, I held (and hold!) the series in a severely high regard.

When it comes to what I taped before all that though, this particular recording actually became a bit lost in the shuffle. My earlier First Blood recording had Big Chuck & Lil’ John hosting it, but this one had no such extras (besides that cool Pizza Pan commercial). As such, I watched it, I loved it, but I never did much with it again. Not until 2011 or so, anyway. That’s when I began really getting into the nostalgia of all the stuff I had taped years prior, even the comparatively newer stuff such as our subject today.

But, I was always glad I taped this, because it’s Rambo, and I loved the film. Even though my official DVD ‘replaced’ my TV recording relatively soon thereafter, I was, and am, still pleased that I kept this recording. This was what introduced me to First Blood Part II, man! And what’s more, it turned out to be a very solid example of Cleveland late nights in the early-2000s, when I loved discovering new-to-me movies. As such, I will happily deem this one a “winner.”

WJW TV-8’s The Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show – “Terror of Mechagodzilla” (December 12, 1997)

terror1

“How’d y’all find somethin’ from just a week later, North Video Guy?”

Remember last Monday, when I spotlighted my own personal recording from December 5, 1997, 19 years to the day? Evidently, your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter was a busy little taper in the waning weeks of 1997, because just a seven days later, I recorded yet another powerhouse of a broadcast – and directly after that Son of Ghoul episode from last week, to boot! By and large, I taped things I was interested in (“gee, no kidding!”), but even so, very rarely did I capture a phenomenal double-header such as this.

From December 12, 1997, 19 years ago today (!), it’s The Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show, and its presentation of Terror of Mechagodzilla. Rest assured, if the post last week got my nostalgia rolling, this one here blasts it sky high.

Coming at a time when my Godzilla fandom was at (or very near) its height, and as part of general Christmas-month festivities, you have no idea what fond memories that bumper above fills me with. Man, I was 11-years-old, Christmas (and Christmas break!) was right around the corner, and I was discovering a new-to-me Godzilla flick; an early Christmas gift if there ever was one! Throw Big Chuck & Lil’ John in that mix, and, well, does it get much better than that? I posit that it does not.

Also, depending on how busy/lazy I get, there may or may not be an actual Christmas post here at the blog. So for the time being, consider this it, okay?

terror2

This broadcast was also a life-preserver of sorts.

In a story I have recounted before, my parents dropped cable near the end of summer ’97. The cable box was too expensive, and having even less money than I do now, I didn’t have much say in the matter. So, for the foreseeable future, basic television channels were going to be it. As a young film-buff, this was not an ideal situation, with the most grievous aspect being that Mystery Science Theater 3000 was now barred from me. I was (and am) a big-time MSTie, so this hurt deep.

Actually, the loss of the Sci-Fi Channel as a whole was a serious blow to yours truly. Their Godzilla marathons were things of beauty, serving to introduce me to many entries I was unaware of prior, especially the 1970s stuff, some of which was out of print or otherwise not readily available on home video in the late-1990s. Coincidentally, one of the last things I taped before we dropped the cable box was Sci-Fi’s airing of Godzilla Vs. The Cosmic Monster, the prequel to the very film we’re looking at now!

There were some positives to being cable-less at the time, however. First and foremost, I now had to pay more attention to the local channels available to me. That’s how I came to be a Son of Ghoul fan. And, looking back, it was in this time period that the seeds of a legit love for Northeast Ohio broadcasting were first planted; that love would blossom in full within the next few years, and continues at full-strength to this very day.

Also, there was another silver lining: In the late-1990s, Godzilla films could still show up on ‘regular’ TV channels. It seems that steadily decreased as the 2000s dawned, and in retrospect I was witnessing the tail-end of it here, but at the time, all I knew was that I had the opportunity to catch a ‘Zilla flick unbeknownst to me prior.

And so here we are, Terror of Mechagodzilla. I needed some fresh ‘Zilla in my life, and this came at just the right time. I can still recall the excitement upon first seeing this listing in TV Guide that week; I’m not sure I was even aware of this film beforehand! That’s the title screen up above, by the way. The Terror of Mecahagodzilla title as seen here always looked newly-generated to me, and thus, I think the print aired by Big Chuck & Lil’ John that night was the same one as released on home video in the late-1980s. This movie went through a number of edits in the US, and frankly, I’m not sure exactly which one I’m looking at here. I guess it’s the chopped up US theatrical edit. This is the one I grew up with, at any rate.

terror3

Made in 1975 (but not released in the US until 1978), Terror of Mechagodzilla is a direct sequel to Godzilla Vs. The Cosmic Monster, aka Godzilla Vs. The Bionic Monster, aka Godzilla Vs. Mechagodzilla. In that one, alien ape guys had created a robotic double of Godzilla, as part of the expected “take over earth” plot. Godzilla (and new buddy King Caesar) naturally intervened. Earth was saved, ‘Zilla’s good name was cleared, and so on and so forth.

Now, in Terror of Mechagodzilla, the aliens are back; not only do they have continued plans to take over the world (of course), but they also want to revive Mechagodzilla. And, with the help of a human scientist that hates all mankind (bet it’s fun looking in the mirror each morning!) and his now-cyborg daughter (she was dead then she wasn’t; thanks aliens!), they summon heretofore-unknown undersea monster Titanosaurus to team up with their Mechagodzilla to help eliminate Godzilla once and for all.

Above: Godzilla suffering a beat down at the hands (claws?) of his robotic clone and Titanosaurus. You can probably guess the eventual outcome, but Terror features (in my opinion) some significantly more exciting monster battles than many (most?) of the immediate (read: 1970s) Godzilla films preceding it. Also, even though he has a bit of human help with Titanosaurus, it’s nice to see Godzilla on his own, not having to team up with another giant monster (or in Jet Jaguar’s case, robot) to get the job done.

Terror of Mechagodzilla is unique in several respects. First off, it’s the last entry in the original “Showa” series (1954-1975, or 1956-1978 if you go by US release dates); Godzilla would take a break until the mid-1980s. That means this is the last of my “preferred” Godzilla flicks – the 1980s on up entries have never done much for me, and trust me, I’ve tried. (Is that anathema to admit? Oh well, it’s the truth.)

Furthermore, I can’t think of a single entry in the original Showa series that’s a direct sequel such as this one (unless I’m just totally blanking on a similar, earlier occurrence; correct me if I’m wrong, big time G-fans). There were prior Godzilla movies that sort of followed along from previous events (for example, Godzilla is buried in ice at the end of Godzilla Raids Again, he breaks out of ice at the start of King Kong Vs. Godzilla), but to actually pick up on the story line from the film right before, same antagonists, back with a revised plan, it’s kinda neat.

It’s also far less silly than most of the other 1970s installments. There’s a very somber, dark feel to the film, not unlike a lot of mid/late-1970s cinema in general, really. It’s kind of jarring to see Godzilla in that light, honestly. Granted, 1971’s Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster was a pretty dark film as well, and even occasionally surreal (Smog Monster is also one of my top personal favorites), but the presence of a “Kenny” (i.e., little kid) dissipated some of that bleakness. Here, with much of the focus on a woman (the cybernetic Katsura), it lends a very different tone to the proceedings.

There’s little doubt that returning-original-director Ishiro Honda had much to do with the radical shift in that tone. There may be giant monsters leveling a city, but the plot is generally pretty serious; in some ways, this feels like an earlier Godzilla film, but with a definitively 1970s-look to it. Truth be told, it’s pretty refreshing when compared to most of the other G films of the decade. Make no mistake, Honda makes a huge difference; just compare any one of his Godzilla films to one that’s, uh, not, and you’ll see.

When I first watched this airing 19 years ago, truthfully, the movie didn’t do much for me. It’s a somewhat slow moving, character-driven piece; Godzilla really isn’t in it all that much, and while I wasn’t an 11-year-old that needed instant gratification in his ‘Zilla movies by any means, the fairly-talky nature of the film coupled with the late hour (11:30 PM start time) and 2 1/2 hour length of this broadcast, it all took a toll on my patience. Quite honestly, I was bored by it – though it was still Godzilla, so there was zero chance of my recording over it later.

But you know what? Upon this latest viewing, I found myself getting into the movie – far more than I expected to. Don’t get me wrong, this still isn’t Godzilla’s finest hour, and how many times could they go back to the “invading aliens” well? I can think of two 1970s entries that don’t use that plot device: Smog Monster and Megalon. (And even then, Hedorah was initially an extraterrestrial organism.) Godzilla clearly needed a break, but even so, the generally serious tone and character-driven story (which I can definitely appreciate now) allowed the original series to end on a higher note than I previously gave it credit for.

Here, buy your own copy and judge for yourself!

(Funny-to-me movie moment: The discovery of Titanosaurus near the beginning of the film has a group of scientists in utter disbelief over the new “dinosaur,” as if that sort of thing should be even remotely surprising after decades of monster attacks and city-levelings. Seriously, by that point, it should rank pretty low on the “disbelief meter.”)

terror4

And that brings us to Big Chuck & Lil’ John – and even better, Big Chuck & Lil’ John during the Christmas season! In 1997, I wasn’t yet the true BC & LJ fan I’d be in just a few years, and so my tuning in to their show was, at the time, based almost entirely on the movie featured. As such, I didn’t spend as many Christmases with them as I now wish I had. Still, being able to relive seeing a new-to-me Godzilla movie for the first time on their show is pretty great all on its own.

19 years ago, I can’t believe it! It was a banner Christmas that year. As I said last post, my brother and I got a Nintendo 64; kids today probably can’t imagine how positively mind blowing Super Mario 64 was back then. To go from 16-bit to that, it was a monumental leap. Also, I’m pretty sure that was the Christmas that brought yours truly a couple new Godzilla VHS’ under the tree. Cool winnins!

Anyway, Chuck and John. This wasn’t exactly Christmas Eve, it was only December 12th, so while there’s a general smattering of holiday cheer throughout the show, it’s not an overtly Christmassy affair. As seen above, there’s the expected wreaths and the Lionel train set on the floor (more on that in a bit), and a couple of fun Christmas skits, but it’s all mixed in with the ‘normal’ Big Chuck & Lil’ John shenanigans you know and love. The result was an exponentially strong show, from both movie and a BC & LJ-material standpoints. No joke, this one is a blast.

[For those just tuning in to this blog, and there are apparently a few of you, Big Chuck & Lil’ John were, respectively, Chuck Shodowski and John Rinaldi, who hosted movies and performed comedic skits on Northeast Ohio’s TV-8 from 1979 to 2007, though the format stretches back to 1966 with Bob “Hoolihan” Wells and The Hoolihan & Big Chuck Show. And even further back to 1963 if you count the Ghoulardi years, which Chuck had a hand in, too. Anyway, the show ended in 2007, but they came back with a 30-minute, skits-only show in 2011, which is still running. Cool winnins!]

terror5

Because it’s a Godzilla movie, the “Cuyahoga Kaiju” club makes up a part of the studio audience – pretty cool! According to Chuck, they even brought the Godzilla-related items sitting on the desk that night! (Yes, I know one of those is a Gamera; we’re all friends here, right?) The Cuyahoga Kaiju are apparently still around – or at least, they have a Facebook group. I joined the FB group, though as previously stated (well, inferred), my knowledge of post-Terror of Mechagodzilla-related Kaiju matters is woefully lacking, plus I ain’t exactly an ever-flowing font of Kaiju knowledge anyway. Thus, any kind of membership on my part is probably best left behind a keyboard, where I can think about what I’m going to say before I make an absolute fool of myself. Granted, that would probably still happen either way, but the severity would be lesser. Maybe.

Wait, where was I going with all this? Oh, the studio audience, right.

At this point, it was time for the first trivia question of the night. As I have recounted before, I almost always knew these, but since I was at home, shouting at the TV screen would yield me no sweet, sweet prizes for giving the correct answer. You had to be in the studio audience for that, man.

The prize for trivia #1 was a gift certificate for the Lakewood YMCA Christmas tree lot, which was pretty handy since it was only December 12th; still plenty of time to get a tree home and set up in the house, had you not done so already. Stop calling me a procrastinator. Anyway, the question was: What were the names of Santa’s eight original reindeer? A lady in the back row (I don’t know if she was part of the Cuyahoga Kaiju or not) gets it. This is an instance where I kinda sorta remember the names of the reindeer, but probably would have screwed up live and in-person nevertheless.

terror7

A very funny Christmas-themed skit follows.

John has brought his wife an early Christmas gift home, and it has to be opened right then. She’s hesitant, and begins guessing what could it be. It’s something she’s always wanted, and no, don’t shake it! When it begins leaking all over her new dress, she’s horrified, and asks if it was perfume. Nope, it’s a…puppy!

terror8

Look, I love Big Chuck & Lil’ John’s skits, but there’s no doubt some of them were built on a pretty thin premise. And speaking of thin…

In this one, three guys in what I can only guess is the washroom of a gym pass by a mirror and take the opportunity to flex their muscles. The third guy is on the skinny side of things, and when he’s not satisfied with the result of his flexing, he artificially builds up his muscle mass – with shaving cream.

And…that’s kinda it.

terror9

Look at this sign of the times!

In what turned out to be his final album (he died in October of ’98), polka king Frankie Yankovic’s then-recent Songs of the Polka King Vol. 2 CD was pitched. Not only does it make a good stocking stuffer, but get this: Chuck & John actually sing on it! No kidding, they’re on Yankovic’s cover of My Melody of Love! (Surely you recall the Bobby Vinton hit version?) Pretty snazzy! This CD is now out of print, but not too hard to come by used.

Fun Fact: Drew Carey and Weird Al Yankovic (no relation to Frank) were on Songs of the Polka King Vol. 1!

terror10

After that reminder, a short video of Chuck & John’s trip to BW-3 the previous Monday for a wing-eating contest and Monday Night Football is shown. There was of course a winner, trivia, and a good time had by all. And according to them, it would all be done again the next Monday.

terror11

Another Christmas skit follows that.

Here, Chuck is working a tree lot, which promises a half-off sale. Suddenly, he gets a call from irate customer John; he didn’t expect the tree to be literally half off!

Didn’t John notice when he was loading the tree up to take home? Or am I just thinking too much about this?

terror12

The next skit isn’t specifically Christmas-themed, but appropriate enough due to the gift-giving nature of the holiday. I like this one a lot.

John is a sidewalk salesman for “lucky charms” (no, not the cereal; actual lucky charms), and when he entices passerby Chuck to purchase one, it’s revealed that it was actually the last in stock. As John prepares to go home to get some more, a safe falls on him!

Get it???

terror13

Perhaps the quintessential, or at least most “quintessentially idealized” (does that make any sense?) Christmas gift is a train set. In this jaded day and age, I’m not sure how popular they actually are, but when you think “Christmas toy,” there’s a good chance you’ll think of one of these.

As such, it makes sense to pitch one on show, and that night, Big Chuck & Lil’ John did just that. They were raffling off a genuine Lionel train set, with a winner to be pulled on their December 26th show.

terror14

Immediately after that announcement came this one: If someone was still in need of a last-minute gift, they could pick up the then-new book Ghoulardi: Inside Cleveland TV’s Wildest Ride, by Tom Feran and R.D. Heldenfels. It’s interesting to look back at a time when this book was still basically “hot off the press.” In short order, it became a certified local institution. When it comes to Cleveland TV history, this is one of the books to have.

I believe I got my own copy the next Christmas, and to this day I love it. Such a fascinating, detailed look at what essentially started (sorry Mad Daddy Pete Myers) the Northeast Ohio horror hosting legacy.

The book has remained in-print since it was published. Get your copy here. If you have an interest in Ghoulardi, TV history, horror hosts, and/or Cleveland, it is a must have! Utterly vital and completely entertaining, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

terror15

A Saturday Night Mysteries installment, a favorite recurring skit of mine.

The gist of these was that a detective (or detectives) were called in to see if someone selling something or otherwise asking for money was on the up-and-up. It would quickly be deduced that he or she was not, and the reason why would be revealed later in the show. The challenge was for the viewer to determine, from the clues given in the first part, how the detective knew it was a fraudulent scheme.

In this one, an English archaeologist claims to have uncovered ancient cave paintings, and wants a wealthy widow to finance an expedition to unearth more artifacts. Detectives Schodowski and Rinaldi (of the “Parma Detective Agency”) are called to determine if the guy is legit. After hearing his story, Detective Rinaldi quickly declares the archaeologist a phony.

How did he know? “The answer? Later in the program!”

terror16

A funny bit in which, despite a prominent “NO HUNTING” sign, Lil’ John happily struts through a park, gun in hand and dead birds (aka, rubber chickens) slung over his shoulder. When he’s stopped by the game warden, he claims he was just out taking target practice. When the warden points out the birds over his shoulder, John freaks out, throwing them to the ground and screaming about how “gross” they are!

terror17

Trivia time again.

For this round, winner got four passes to the then-new An American Werewolf in Paris flick. The question? Besides St. Nick, what is another name for Santa Claus? An answer of “Kris Kringle” gets it. Too easy.

terror18

Because it’s a Japanese movie that night, the next skit is considered particularly fitting. I’m fine with that, because this is one of my top favorites. I had totally forgotten it was included in this episode too, which made its inclusion double-exciting for me.

To start the show (evidently this was an episode intro back whenever it originally aired), Chuck interviews Judo & Karate expert John. Problem is, John is very into it, and constantly goes off on Chuck, pummeling him. When he first comes out and shakes Chuck’s hand, he automatically flips him over his shoulder and then chops and kicks him!

John has written a book, “How To Karot Good,” a title I absolutely love, and attempts to demonstrate techniques from it, which only results in further pain for Chuck. Trying to roundhouse kick some wooden boards? Chuck winds up kicked in his, uh, nether region. (John’s concerned “You alright man?” while Chuck writhes on the ground is a riot.) After that, karate-chopping a wooden board? The rigged board breaks and Chuck winds up getting it in the face!

Yes, it’s a skit that relies heavily on physical humor, but John’s chopping and kicking Chuck while screaming stereotypical karate “sounds” is hilarious. And the final gag, in which John demonstrates how he’d deal with being surrounded by attackers, is terrific: In slow-motion (because it’d be too fast for the cameras otherwise), he mimes running away!

terror19

A goof on the old Ella Fitzgerald Memorex ads, in which both Ella’s actual voice and her voice as recorded on a cassette tape shattered a glass.

Here, opera singer “Ella Carmela” sings for “Rememorex” audio tape. Her voice shatters a glass, and her recorded voice shatters…Chuck!

terror20

The conclusion to Saturday Night Mysteries. How did Detective Rinaldi know it was all a scam? Cavemen and dinosaurs, as one of the cave paintings posited, did not exist at the same time! What did the culprit (the wonderfully named “Benny the Gooch”) use as research? The Raquel Welch movie One Million Years B.C.!

terror21

“Kung Fu-Ski,” a take-off on the old Kung-Fu TV series. I’m not all that familiar with the series, so forgive my not really knowing which characters are being parodied here.

A traveler, played by Chuck and who I guess was supposed to be the main character from the show, travels through the desert, begging for water. He comes upon a stand, which only sells neckties; no water. The traveler continues on, and eventually comes upon a restaurant. When he goes inside and desperately asks for water, he’s turned away…for not wearing a necktie!

terror22

A play on the old “workplace suggestion box” idea.

Here, Chuck sheepishly puts a suggestion in the box, only to have boss John pop out of it after he’s gone, get on the phone, and ask his secretary to remind him to fire that “Schodowski jerk” first thing in the morning!

terror23

A terrific skit; this “Kielbasy Kid” entry is up there with the karate sketch as my favorite of the night. This was also my introduction to the Kielbasy Kid, and thus holds some added nostalgia for me.

Here, the Kid and his Indian sidekick “Kishka” have had their home ransacked by a mysterious thief three times now. So, to combat the robber, they set up a pot of water rigged over one door, and a string of cans attached to the other. Whichever door the thief comes in, they’ll be alerted.

One night, it works; someone has come through the can-rigged door, and the Kid and Kishka tackle him. Turns out…it’s Santa! St. Nick angrily takes the 100 pound sack of kielbasy he brought as a gift and leaves. When the Kid tries to stop him, the pot of water falls on his head, and Kishka loudly cries at the loss of all that kielbasy.

This skit is run frequently enough on Chuck & John’s current 30-minute show, but strangely, there’s a small moment edited out that was intact for this airing: After setting the traps, the Kid and Kishka are going to bed. When the Kid sees Kishka’s stuffed animal laying in it already, he throws it out, saying there isn’t enough room for three in the bed. This causes Kishka to loudly cry. I’m unsure why this short scene is (usually?) cut from current broadcasts; maybe it’s a time-issue? I don’t know, but it’s very, very funny.

terror24

Because I was all about the movie when I recorded this back in December ’97, I didn’t tape the intro or outro to this episode, instead beginning at the very start of the movie, and stopping right after it ended. This is something that causes me to cringe now, both as a completest and as a Big Chuck & Lil’ John fan, but back then, I didn’t know any better. It was all about the ‘Zilla, man!

As such, this was the last skit of the night as far as my tape goes, airing right before the concluding segment of Terror of Mechagodzilla. This is “Fallacy island,” obviously a parody of Fantasy Island. Here, a hapless man who can’t get any attention from women comes to the island, asking to make himself irresistible to them. The result? He’s turned into a puppy!


And that was the show itself, or at least as much as I captured of it. A very strong installment from all standpoints, far more so than I gave it credit for upon my initial viewing 19 years ago today.

The last remaining facet? A few of the more notable commercials to have aired during it. You want Christmas? You’re about to get it! Not a ton though; just a few of my favorites. Honestly, there were some great, nostalgic (for me) ads here, but I’m only gonna spotlight three of them right now. Why’s that? Because these, these signify late night and/or local Christmas advertising in a nutshell.

terror25

Commercial #1: A spot for one of the perennial Christmas gift suggestions, The Clapper. Or rather, the revised “Smart Clapper.” Everyone knows about The Clapper and the gimmick behind it; clap on, clap off, baby! You can turn anything that plugs into an electrical outlet on or off just by clapping! Just plug The Clapper in, then plug your device of choice into The Clapper, and then have at it!

So, what was different about the Smart Clapper? You could plug two devices into it, that’s what! Clap twice for one appliance, clap three times for the other. The commercial makes ample demonstration of this, too. Turn on the lights, turn on the TV, and heck, if someone tries to break in while you’re away, there’s a feature where The Smart Clapper will turn on your lights (if they’re plugged into it, that is) at the slightest sound! Neato!

The Clapper is still sold today, and every year around this time you’ll begin seeing the commercials for them with that oh-so-familiar jingle. And you know what? These things do work, and they’re pretty cool lookin,’ too. Plus, they’re handy, especially if someone has mobility problems or the like.

Bottom line: I have a Clapper. And you should too.

terror26

Commercial #2: A spot for one of the other perennial Christmas gift suggestions, Chia Pets. Everyone knows about Chia Pets; they’re even more ubiquitous than The Clapper. Available year-round but particularly visible during this time of the year, you’d almost have to be trying to not know what a Chia Pet is.

Just in case you don’t though: Chia Pets are pieces of pottery, typically shaped like an animal or human head or what have you, with which you smear the included plant seed concoction all over them. Then, with enough watering and sunlight and whatnot, plants will actually grow on the pottery, giving an animal fur, a head hair, and so on and so forth. You gotta pay some attention to ’em, but these do work and they look pretty neat, too.

For this commercial, the number of different Chia Pets and Chia Heads are spotlighted. The Chia Heads in particular are given prominent screentime, including a Chia Professor and Chia Clown. BUT, what really makes this spot is the brief but very cool set-up: an archaeologist has discovered ancient pottery, that just happens to be Chias, and by the end of the ad, he’s wound up with a treasure chest full of ’em. It’s a surprisingly involved production, with the archaeological scenes interspersed with the ‘normal’ Chia shots. Quite honestly, it’s the coolest Chia Pet commercial I’ve ever seen.

Bottom line: There’s an old Chia Head floating around my basement somewhere, but now I want a new one. And you should too.

terror27

And finally, commercial #3: This one is less of an obvious choice than the previous two, mainly because it’s for Sun Super Savings Centers, a chain of electronics and appliance stores that I’m not sure exist anymore. Nowhere near me, at any rate.

The premise for the ad is simple: Sun has the big time Christmas season savings, especially on a mega-cheap Microwave (above right; $67?! Bargain buck bill!). Included are the perquisite shots of a family opening their gifts around the Christmas tree on, ostensibly all from Sun, and ostensibly all on Christmas morning. It’s a pretty typical Christmas-themed electronic and appliance store ad, really.

So why include it here? Two reasons. 1) Look at the kid on the left above; he’s just opened a Nintendo 64 controller! As I mentioned earlier, my brother and I got our Nintendo 64 that very Christmas of 1997, so that alone is enough to make me spotlight this Sun ad here; a kindred spirit! And 2) I bought my first brand new video game console with my own money from Sun; a Sega Genesis, in the mid-1990s. That alone is enough to make me spotlight this Sun ad here. So, fond memories and all that.

Bottom line: I loved the Nintendo 64 and really loved the Sega Genesis. And you should too.


And with that, our big giant look at Big Chuck & Lil’ John’s presentation of Terror of Mechagodzilla draws to a close.

You know, it wasn’t until I pulled out the tape that held Son of Ghoul’s The Hoodlum for last week’s post that I realized, boy, Big Chuck & Lil’ John hosting Terror of Mechagodzilla during the Christmas season would make a fine, fine follow-up article. Like I said during my intro, these were taped back-to-back, and between the two, I don’t think I could find a better, more powerful trip back to the Christmas season of 1997 in my video collection. Some scattered individual recordings, perhaps, but what we’ve seen over these past two weeks is not only an indelible slice of Northeast Ohio television in the late-1990s, but also a peak at my 11-year-old mindset, which, TV-wise, isn’t all that different from my modern day mindset, truth be told.

For this update as well as the last, I was originally recording because I wanted to capture and relive this weekend entertainment over and over. What I wasn’t aware of then was that I was also capturing a significant part of my life – as reflected by my television viewing habits, anyway. Over the years, as my knowledge of Northeast Ohio television history increased and I became more appreciative of what I grew up watching, it was stuff like this that I became more and more grateful for both taping and keeping. For example, Son of Ghoul last week, that was a winner from the start. But the broadcast we’ve looked at today, as I said earlier, it was initially all about the movie featured. It wasn’t until I really started to “get” Big Chuck & Lil’ John that I realized Man I’m glad I held onto that!” Needless to say, that holds doubly-true today.

terror6

One final note…

I’m a busy cat, and since there’s a good chance this will be my last post of 2016, here’s a Christmas-appropriate image from earlier in the show we just finished looking at. Chuck’s holding a wreath, dig? Christmas. Also, I want that Gamera toy on the table somethin’ hardcore.

Actually, the more I think about it, the more I think I will leave this as my official Christmas post; it’s not like I can really top Christmas-themed Big Chuck & Lil’ John and ‘Zilla, anyway. Who could? So, with that said, I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year. Be safe, be well, and be kind to one another.

See you in 2017!

WBNX TV-55 – The Ghoul’s Presentation of 1940’s “The Devil Bat” (January 28, 2000)

ghoul devil bat 1

A promise fulfilled!

Remember a bit over a month ago, when I babbled about my super cool budget Bela Lugosi DVD collection? You dont?! Well, that hurts me deep. Anyway, in that article, I mentioned my desire to review some locally-hosted Bela Lugosi, my attempt at a post regarding Invisible Ghost on The Ghoul, and my eventual termination of the whole project. I also mentioned my initial choice of Invisible Ghost over The Ghoul’s presentation The Devil Bat, which I soon came to regret. (The Invisible Ghost episode just didn’t give me enough to work with, y’see.)

Well, it’s rectification time! I dug out the VHS recording I made of The Devil Bat via WBNX TV-55’s revived The Ghoul Show way back in January of 2000, and needless to say, that’s our subject for today.

Even better, this is our first real episode of The Ghoul seen here at the blog! Oh sure, we saw 1982’s Poltergeist on the program, but that wasn’t really a Ghoul show, not the way it was meant to be, anyway. And yes, we did take a brief look at his 1998 Santa Claus episode, but that article wasn’t dedicated solely to him. Nope, this is our first real foray into the show that made up many, many of my Friday nights.

And no kidding, as soon as that opening montage above popped up on-screen (“IT’S THE GHOUL SHOWWWOW,” as performed by local band Destination), I was right back to almost-14-year-old me, relaxing on the couch on a Friday night at 11:30 PM. Powerful nostalgia, this one is.

ghoul devil bat 2

Unlike Invisible Ghost, which had a lot of content but not much I could adequately write about, this episode is an example of The Ghoul Show as I prefer to remember it. There’s a few skits, but most of the host segments are just studio-based screwing around, which, in my opinion, was when The Ghoul was at his best. This is laid-back, fun, Friday-night entertainment, courtesy of Ron Sweed’s legendary horror host.

You know what’s funny? I recall watching this episode as it aired (and as this recorded, obviously), but prior to pulling this tape out, I couldn’t remember nearly anything about it. And to be frank, I am 99.999% positive I never watched it again afterwards. This means that when I sat down to finally convert my VHS recording to DVD for posterity (a conversion that came out beautifully, thanks to my cute lil’ 6-head VCR), all of it was essentially new to me. This is about as close to recreating those Friday nights of my teen years as I can manage in this day and age.

I’m serious. That sense of anticipation for the weekly dose of Ghoul Power, it all came flooding back as I watched this, a feeling I wasn’t expecting to be nearly as powerful as it was. Everything just clicked this episode, making it a terrific example of just what I loved so much about those Friday nights over a decade ago. This isn’t high-art, nor was it supposed to be; this was (is) legit kick-off-the-weekend entertainment, Cleveland-style!

One thing I really liked right off the bat: there was a proper introductory host segment. Y’see, for many episodes, there’d be the opening montage, and then typically, a silly skit, apropos of nothing in particular but fun nonetheless. Why are there streamers and confetti all over The Ghoul in the screenshot above? Because it was his birthday weekend! Needless to say, that sets the tone for the rest of the episode. The show was always fun (well, maybe not always, when you take the “Sunday era” into account), but there’s a real “party” mood permeating this one, for obvious reasons.

We’ll get to all of that in due time, but first, the movie…

ghoul devil bat 3

1940’s The Devil Bat, one from Bela Lugosi’s poverty row output, in which he produces giant killer bats to attack his enemies. Less than a decade removed from the release of Dracula, and Bela was (mostly) relegated to doing films like this. On paper, it sounds downright insulting. And yes, it’s the kind of movie that should be so far beneath Bela, the script wouldn’t have been offered to him in the first place. Things didn’t work out that way though; Bela was typecast as Dracula somethin’ awful, and his heavy Hungarian accent didn’t help matters, either. So, as the 1940s dawned, he was increasingly forced to take projects like this one. Befitting a man of his stature? Not really. But, films like this kept his name visible to the public and money in his pockets.

Saying all of that kinda does a disservice to the film and Bela’s acting, however. No, it’s not the most highly-regarded thing he ever put out, but it IS immensely entertaining, and to Bela’s credit, he gave the role his all (he always did, no matter how weak the material). I can’t say this movie wouldn’t have been fun without him, but with him, it is undeniably a blast. But then, anything with Lugosi is worth at least a cursory glance, just because it’s Bela.

This exact broadcast was without a doubt my first time seeing The Devil Bat. The Ghoul had a wide-range of horror and sci-fi films during the “Friday era” of the show. Stuff as old (or older) as this or as recent as the 1990s could and would be shown. Because I was always a “classic movie” buff, flicks like this one were the most up my alley. And yet, as I’ve mentioned a few times on this blog, The Devil Bat didn’t really do it for me then. As a result, it left a sour taste in my mouth that lasted for years; it’s only in more recent times that I’ve fallen in love with it. Maybe it just didn’t hit me in the right mood that night. Or maybe it had to do with a couple factors regarding the version aired during this broadcast, which I’ll explain momentarily. I don’t know, but the fact is I didn’t care much about the film then. Luckily, I do now. Better late than never!

ghoul devil bat 4

Bela plays Dr. Paul Carruthers (given Bela’s accent, he doesn’t seem like much of a “Carruthers,” but whatever), who is not only the town doctor, but also a chemist for the local cosmetics company (“Heath Cosmetics”). Sounds like a plush gig? Not for Carruthers. Turns out the cosmetic company has made a fortune from Carruthers’ products, and Carruthers, uh, hasn’t. Carruthers himself is really to blame for the situation; when the company was first getting started, he asked for money up front for his concoction(s), rather than a buying a share of stock. This, needless to say, turned out to be a huge mistake, and he’s been salty ever since.

(However, while Carruthers is at fault for the initial decision, the company owners, Heath and Morton, tend to needlessly rub it in – even when they give him a $5000 bonus, it’s a pittance compared to what the company is actually earning.)

Just like any rational person with a grievance against their employers would do, Carruthers has decided the best course of action is revenge. Copying machines weren’t around for him to sit his derriere on yet, and he doesn’t seem like the witty-limerick-on-the-bathroom-wall kinda guy, which means that the only logical choice left is to create giant killer bats to carry out his revenge. I mean, duh!

Using electronic impulses or some crap like that, he enlarges one to big honkin’ size, which is in addition to training it to attack upon smelling a certain aftershave lotion, of Carruthers’ own design naturally. A killer bat prepared to tear you up is one thing, but it’s so much worse when it’s the size of a large dog.

ghoul devil bat 5

You see where this is going, don’t you? Carruthers tricks members of the Heath and Morton families into wearing his special aftershave lotion (ostensibly as a test before marketing), and then releases the titular creature from his own personal belfry (every mad scientist should have one), which then exacts Carruthers revenge for him.

Naturally, you can’t have a big giant bat flying around killing people for very long before the press starts nosing around. And sure enough, two big city reporters (one of whom is wonderfully nicknamed “One Shot”) soon waltz in for a scoop, and eventually put a stop to the whole thing. Well, one of them does; the other is basically comic relief (One Shot, of course).

Before the ordeal is over, you’ll be treated to shots of a rubber bat attacking people, a silly fake photo shoot, a couple of prerequisite love interests, a wildly ineffective (but surprisingly friendly towards the press) police chief, a bitchy newspaper editor, and enough outdated 1940s jargon to make you feel better about life. Plus, you know, Bela Lugosi.

With only a bit over an hour in running time, there’s not much time to screw around, and thus, The Devil Bat moves at a pretty brisk pace. It’s fast, it’s fun, it’s charmingly cheap, and it comes highly recommended by your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter. And as we all know, my recommendation is of tantamount importance. Otherwise, I wouldn’t give it!

ghoul devil bat 6

“W-w-what am I lookin’ at?!”

The Ghoul did not have access to the greatest print of The Devil Bat in the world. Not so hard to understand; nowadays we’ve got a couple really fantastic “official” versions on DVD/Blu-ray, but back then, you were limited to whatever had been making the rounds for decades. The Devil Bat is in the public domain, which means I could project it on the side of my garage while figuratively (literally?) thumbing my nose at Hollywood cause there ain’t no copyright on the film no more.

Beyond the expected scratchy, splicey nature of the print, the picture-quality was also pretty fuzzy – it almost looks like it was sourced from VHS. Which, fine, whatever, public domain and all that. More distressingly, however, is the fact that the picture is often incomprehensibly dark. (See: above.) No joke, there are long stretches of the film that, had I not already been familiar with it, would have left me utterly lost upon this latest viewing. Back in January 2000, this was perhaps one of the reasons the film didn’t endear itself to me.

Also, editing. You didn’t really tune into The Ghoul to watch a movie; the movie was just kinda fodder for humorous sound effects and whatnot. The Ghoul would pack so much into his host segments, that the film often felt like an afterthought, and the editing to make it fit into the timeslot sometimes made that abundantly clear. More often than not, a movie would be so chopped up, following it was all but impossible. The longer the movie, the less it would make sense on the show. Mind you, that’s not a complaint either; that was actually part of the fun.

At only about 68 minutes, The Devil Bat should have fit into the 2-hour timeslot allotted to this episode fairly unscathed. As it turned out, it’s easier to follow than a lot of movies shown by The Ghoul, but there are noticeable chunks missing, and some of them are pretty important. That fake photo shoot I mentioned a bit ago? Yeah, that’s not actually present in this broadcast, which thus renders some of the later actions (that are present in this broadcast) as pretty head-scratching to a first-time viewer. This probably didn’t help endear the film to me back then, either. Or maybe I just didn’t like it, I don’t remember.

What I don’t get is why there needed to be any movie-editing at all. Y’see, this episode runs just under 1 hour 50 minutes (not so unusual; The Ghoul always started on time, but when an episode ended wasn’t always set in stone). They couldn’t have filled out that unused 10 minutes with the rest, or at least more, of the movie? I don’t get it.

ghoul devil bat 7

But like I said, when watching The Ghoul, the movie was usually there strictly as fodder. That is, the various video audio drop-ins, the stuff Ghoulardi was doing way back in 1963 basically.

For The Devil Bat, there’s some funny audio bits; the Froggy “hi ya gang! Hi ya hi ya!” used whenever a close-up of a real bat is shown is great, as are the expected burps whenever someone takes a drink, incessant groaning whenever someone is killed, etc. On the video front, during a typical newspaper-headlines montage, clips of Cleveland Browns-related articles are inserted.

My favorite bit of movie-mockery here is something that The Ghoul was fond of using during his WBNX run: the fake-factoid bubbles. Remember Pop-Up Video? It was like that. Two examples of the phenomenon are, needless to say, pictured above. I loved these things back then, and I love them even more now; I had no idea who Dick Feagler was back in 2000, but I sure do now, which of course helps me actually get the gag. These bubbles aren’t as rampant during The Devil Bat as they were in other movies shown on the program, but I did love what was here.

ghoul devil bat 8

So, back to the show as a whole. As previously mentioned, it was The Ghoul’s birthday weekend, and even though it wasn’t stated during the episode itself, Ron “The Ghoul” Sweed was turning 50. The big 5-0! Of course there was celebration afoot!

This was demonstrated at the end of the introductory host segment; the crew threw The Ghoul a surprise birthday party! (Hence, the streamers and whatnot all over him throughout the show.) I have no idea if this was a real surprise party, or just something cooked up for the cameras, and there’s not a whole lot to the bit other general frivolity. But again, it sets the tone for the rest of the episode.

(I want that 60th anniversary King Kong poster in the background above, by the way.)

ghoul devil bat 9

A short, first commercial-break bit in which Froggy is caught looking through the dirty movies at B-Ware Video (he can’t find any with frogs in them), is then grabbed by Sick Eddie (who owned the store), thrown across the room, and then has the door closed on him – and I do mean on him. As Froggy skits go, it wasn’t one of the more elaborate ones, but then, any Froggy destruction is fine by me.

B-Ware Video was in Lakewood, a pretty far drive for me, and thus I only made it there once, for a Ghoul appearance in the Spring of 2000. The place was very impressive though, with a ton of rare, obscure movies for sale or rent – not the stuff you’d find on Best Buy’s shelves. It was fantastic. It was the kind of brick-and-mortar store that the internet, much to my chagrin, made obsolete in the following years (I *believe* B-Ware closed in ’05), but I’m certainly glad to have visited the establishment that one time.

ghoul devil bat 10

A very funny segment in which, as response to a viewer email stating “Big Chuck sucks,” The Ghoul claims he and Big Chuck are tight, and then pays “tribute” by showing the same two pictures of Chuck over and over while “Wind Beneath My Wings” plays and shots of The Ghoul sobbing uncontrollably are inserted between it all. This all goes on for just a bit too long.

On paper, it’s a bit that may confuse first-time or otherwise not-in-the-know viewers, especially if they happened to tune in while it was already in progress. Some may even claim it to be “stupid.” There’s no doubt it’s of only the thinnest premise. So why can’t I stop laughing at it?

(It’s important to note that The Ghoul and The Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show were scheduled against each other at that time. In the hype leading up to his television return in the Summer of 1998, I recall The Ghoul stating he hoped people would use their VCRs to watch both shows.)

ghoul devil bat 11

A “Soul of Ghoul” skit. The premise of these, and there were quite a few of them, was that the Soul of Ghoul, a black guy, was the polar opposite of The Ghoul in every way (“Yo Yo Yo” instead of “Hey Hey Hey,” white beard and mustache, black wig, etc.), and would constantly harass him in a Froggy-like style. In this installment, it’s the classic “shoe polish” trick, in which Soul of Ghoul places the substance on a telephone receiver (remember those?), and gets The Ghoul to answer it, with the expected results.

Somehow, the real meaning behind these skits went RIGHT over my head back then, though I of course get it now: these were a shot at Son of Ghoul. If the initials didn’t make it clear, The Ghoul’s declaration at the start of each sketch of “Now the brothers are rippin’ me off!” makes the message doubly-obvious. (Nowadays, he’d probably have to word that differently, too.)

At the time, I didn’t know about the legal troubles between the two in the years prior. At least, I don’t remember knowing about them then. I’d catch little shots from one against the other on their respective shows, but as I recall it, I never took those as anything more than a friendly rivalry kind of thing. I’d learn the truth later.

My stance on the matter? I grew up as a fan of both hosts, I liked the different comedic styles both brought to the table (which means that, to be honest, I don’t really agree with the actual premise behind the “Soul of Ghoul” bits), and I remain a fan of both today. I wish things had played out differently between them, but that’s all I’m going to (or really, can) say about the situation.

ghoul devil bat 12

Not so much a segment as a returning-from-commercials bumper, but nevertheless, with Groundhog Day right around the corner, this is a very funny, holiday-appropriate goof on Big Chuck & Lil’ John. Hey, let the screenshot above speak for itself…

ghoul devil bat 13

For this host segment, before heading into the real purpose behind it, a quick demonstration of the then-new Ghoul travel mug and Turn Blue Ghoul Brew is given. See, it can hold liquid! (And if it don’t make you burp, “You got a bad one!”)

Up until recently, the travel mug was still available new from The Ghoul’s official website, though a quick perusal of the online store reveals that it’s (apparently) no longer in stock. Turn Blue Ghoul Brew, on the other hand, hasn’t been around since, I guess, the early-2000s? Mid-2000s? I sure miss it though. It was blue root beer that turned your tongue the appropriate color upon imbibing. (There was a green, lemon-lime variant called “Froggy Squeezin’s” as well.)

I only tried the Froggy variety once (the nearby DeVitis Italian Foods carried Ghoul drinks), and it was good, but I loved the Ghoul Brew. Very tasty – and it really turned your tongue blue! I’ve still got an unopened bottle (maybe two) floating around here somewhere.

ghoul devil bat 14

Immediately following that, it’s time for “Frankenstein Online,” later deemed “Frank-On-Line.” I remember the character, but I had totally forgotten about the early iteration of him. Lemme explain…

The gag was that the Frankenstein monster was real, and his body had been located, reanimated, and kept at the “Brownberry Institute” in Maryland. The torso remained there, but the head was on loan to The Ghoul. Contrary to popular opinion, Frank didn’t get a bad brain, he was just “nurtured badly.” (The Ghoul muses that if political correctness had been around back then, it could have been a whole different scenario.) Turns out, Frank’s very intelligent! And to prove that, viewers were invited to email him from the Ghoul’s website and ask for his advice!

The version of the bit I remembered was Sick Eddie, in green face paint, bolts, the whole deal, his head sticking up out of a table, dispensing advice is a mock-Frankenstein voice that to this day I find gaspingly funny. What I had forgotten, however, is that the character started out as a fake plastic head, and The Ghoul ‘voiced’ him off-screen. As The Ghoul’s intro makes clear, this was a very new addition to the show; it’s funny, but I’m glad they fleshed (Get it? FLESHED! HAW HAW H…aw never mind) the concept out a bit more.

For this installment in the soon-to-be long running segment, a viewer asks what he’s gotta do before asking a girl out on a date. Frank’s response? A series of incomprehensible grunts and yells! It’s not a segment that would have worked for very long doing the same thing every time, but here, it’s very funny.

ghoul devil bat 15

There was at least one more of these gag segments (that I can remember), and I think what I like most about them was that they were always played ‘straight,’ as if this were a serious interview.

“Teen Idol” David Crosby (it’s not really him) stops by The Ghoul’s set to catch up on matters. This time around, The Ghoul asks him about his being a, uh, “donor” to Melissa Etheridge. Crosby responds with something along the lines of “Well, I have an album called 4 Way Street, so I decided to go another way!” Ha!

His “kid” is then presented; she looks just like him! In fact, she got everything from him – everything but his liver, that is!

ghoul devil bat 17

The Ghoul had a long-running, good natured “feud” with legendary local anchorwoman Denise Dufala. It was obviously all in jest, but hardly a week went by where a shot (sometimes literally) at her then-recent CD (I’ve got a copy!) wasn’t taken.

This bit was filmed during the holidays (hence the Santa Ghoul sleeves), and repeated endlessly, which was and is fine with me, because I love it. Simply put, The Ghoul was inside the WOIO offices (?), and as a final prank before leaving, he placed his fake beard and mustache on Dufala’s official picture. The screen then froze on the image, while Carl Carlson’s “She’s a Bad Mama Jama” played longer than necessary. Good stuff!

ghoul devil bat 18

A short, random segment (I guess a good many of Ghoul segments could be considered random!) in which Froggy shows up without being implored to “plunk his magic twanger.” This clearly displeases The Ghoul, who then tosses some lady fingers at the amphibian, causing him to be duly carted off by some “paramedics.”

When Froggy explains that it’s been awhile since he’s been by (hence the showing up unprovoked), The Ghoul’s almost nonchalant response of “I don’t care!” cracks me up.

ghoul devil bat 19

For me, one of the biggest highlights in any episode was “The Ghoul’s Vault of Golden Garbage,” in which a vintage Ghoul skit would be presented. The chance to see material from the 1970s or 1980s, waaaaaaay before my time, it was fantastic.

That’s not quite what this installment was, though. It was an older bit presented, but not a vintage one. Rather, it’s a clip from 1999, and was actually the intro to one of my very favorite episodes (Attack of the Mushroom People). It’s definitely fun, and funny, and a good example of those non sequitur, apropos of nothing intros I mentioned earlier, but still, it wasn’t some new-to-me 1970s sketch, and that was (is) a little disappointing.

One of the crew must have found a busted “self-service” greeting card maker on the curb or something, gutted it, and brought it to the studio for a skit. Here, The Ghoul throws his money in the machine (“$3,95?!”), but when he attempts to make his own card, all he gets is a note stating “Wait a Second.” He soon discovers Froggy is in the back of the machine, which then causes Ghoul to rock the machine back and forth, throw it to the ground, and then tie a chain around it and drag it, via truck, around the parking lot until it falls to pieces!

Random? For sure. But, you know, I really do love it. I guess I can overlook it being of a then-recent vintage…

ghoul devil bat 20

Jungle Bob time! JB! My buddy!

Years before he began appearing on The Son of Ghoul Show, this was how I was introduced to Jung, by his appearances on The Ghoul Show.

I learned some great stuff from JB on those shows, including some facts I’ve managed to retain in my memory banks all these years. (At Monsterfestmania, JB confirmed my recollection that if I were to drop a tarantula, it’s abdomen would straight-up ‘splode!)

For his appearance here, JB brought some shrimp (one of which The Ghoul accidentally dropped – it was fine), one of those cool fighting fish PetsMart is always shilling (I taunted one once; it slammed a fist through the glass jar at me*), and some tadpoles, which naturally prompted a return visit by Froggy; The Ghoul proceeded to swing him around, which resulted in his arm accidentally ripping off! (Froggy’s arm I mean, not The Ghoul’s.)

ghoul devil bat 21

And that was pretty much it for the episode. (There was an obligatory model car blown up; I didn’t bother grabbing screenshots of that one. Besides, we all know what the best Ghoul blow-up ever** was!)

Before bouncing on out, The Ghoul presents a gift given to him by the crew: a talking Robbie the Robot doll! And then, after a final mention of it being his big birthday weekend (he won’t be able to make the Saturday WNCX 98.5 FM radio show he co-hosted with Mr. Classic at the time because of it), that was it, the last Ghoul Power for a week. It was always bittersweet seeing him bounce out of the studio at the end of each show, because it was over. Until next week, anyway.

I had a LOT of fun revisiting this episode. As I said before, this was basically all new stuff to me; I hadn’t seen this since it initially aired, so not only was it full of constant surprises, but it was just an all-around funny, entertaining show, to boot. Plus, it definitely gave me much more to work with than Invisible Ghost did.


Commercials! Commercials? Yes, commercials! 2000 is still just a bit too new for there to be a whole lot of vested interest in them for me. I mean, they’re a huge nostalgia boost personally when seeing them in action, but as far as writing about them goes, well, I’m not so sure.

Nevertheless, here’s a few (but just a few) I can kinda sorta babble about…

WBNX TV-55 The Lost World Promo

ghoul devil bat 22

WBNX excelled in hour-long, syndicated shows. It was like a constant stream of lazy Saturday afternoon fare, but almost all the time (‘cept prime time, that is; that was the WB’s turf). The Lost World was one such series, and despite loving the 1925 silent film, I don’t think I ever took more than a cursory glance at the syndicated series. Good? Bad? The hell if I know. I assume it was about people stuck in a dinosaur-inhabited territory. (Gee, what a guess!)

In all seriousness, nowadays, I probably would give this one more of a shot – maybe.

WBNX TV-55 Total Recall 2070 Promo

ghoul devil bat 23

Take everything I said about The Lost World above, ignore the dinosaur reference, and think of Arnold Schwarzenegger but not really. Do that…and you probably still wouldn’t have a clue about Total Recall 2070. I probably watched less of this show than I did The Lost World – and that’s saying something!

You know, I referenced the “Sunday era” of The Ghoul earlier. Some of these shows (Total Recall 2070 and The Lost World) were run after The Ghoul at certain points during that period. In fact, because I let my tapes keep recording loooong after The Ghoul was supposed to be over, I’ve captured examples of both, and probably more. I suppose if I were feeling adventurous enough, I could dig the tapes out and give ’em a try, but, meh.

Ody’s Tailors & Clothiers Ad

ghoul devil bat 24

ODY’S! Now this one, I just love it.

Ody’s Tailors was located very, very close to me at the time. Indeed, it was thanks to his commercials during The Ghoul that when it came time for my 8th grade graduation, I insisted, insisted that I get my suit from Ody. And I did, too.

This ad is ostensibly for Ody’s retirement sale, 25% off everything in the store, etc. But truthfully, these “retirement” ads ran for quite awhile; I’m pretty sure I recently saw one on an old tape of mine from 2002 or 2003. That was actually a good thing, since I didn’t graduate until the Spring of 2001 – I’m glad Ody was still around. He was ridiculously friendly. I’m glad we could throw some bidness his way, even if it was just that one time.

The WB Zoe…Promo

ghoul devil bat 25

I think I can count on one hand the number of WB shows I regularly watched. I’m not sure there were any, to be honest with you. Well, maybe one or two, tops.

And yet, thanks to promos aired during The Ghoul, I can certainly remember a good number of them. Zoe… is a good example of that. This promo is for the second season premiere of what was originally titled Zoe, Duncan, Jack and Jane. Obviously, they shortened the name to, officially, Zoe… (It’s pronounced, literally, Zoe Dot Dot Dot in the promo). I never watched either iteration, though for whatever reason, the original title made the show strike me as a ‘unique’ sitcom.

Lex Luthor from Smallville was in it, as was Selma Blair. That’s her in the left screenshot above, and it’s only now that I truly realize she was cute as a button.

WBNX TV-55 Unhappily Ever After Promo

ghoul devil bat 26

I realize this promo is from after the show ended and was thus in syndicated reruns by that point. Even so, it still counts as a WB series, and one that, even though I didn’t watch it very often, I actually kinda liked whenever I did happen to tune in. I don’t know if it holds up for me; it tends to be compared or related in some way or something to Married…With Children, which I know hasn’t held up for me. Nevertheless, I had more experience with Unhappily than I did poor Zoe… above.

The actual episode this promo is for? Something about each family member having fantasies or living out their dreams or something like that. Look, I’m at over 5000 words for this article now, I’m tired.


 

What a huge, huge shot of nostalgia this recording is! It’s like a nearly-perfect summation of just what I loved staying up late Friday nights to watch The Ghoul. Almost everything about it clicks, from the skits to the movie to even the commercials (yeah, I kinda gave those short-shrift here, I know; they’re fun in action, but there weren’t all that many writable ones – ‘cept Ody, anyway).

The Ghoul wouldn’t remain like this a whole lot longer; that coming fall, he’d be moved to Sunday nights, his movie selections ruined, his skits, host segments and movie drop-ins scaled waaaaay back. The entire show that had been building up since the Summer of 1998 would more or less be totally destroyed in one fell swoop. ‘Course, I didn’t know any of that was ahead. I’d suspect neither The Ghoul nor his crew knew, either.

I can’t really say this Devil Bat episode is my favorite, though I do think I’d put it in my top 10, if I were ever bored enough to make a list such as that (and rest assured, I taped so many Ghoul shows over the years, I could if I wanted). Even though I hadn’t watched it since the initial airing over 16 years ago, boy, I enjoyed nearly every second of it. Consistently entertaining, and a hugely nostalgic presentation; I wish every old recording of mine met those criteria!

 

*Aw, you know it didn’t, I was just kidding, chill out.

**In my humble yet-totally-biased opinion, of course!

Thriller Video – Elvira Hosts 1957’s The Cyclops (1985)

elvira cyclops 1

I’ve mentioned before just how revelatory eBay was to me in the late-1990s. I first signed up in 1999, and already being a burgeoning video collector, it was positively jaw-dropping to see the multitudes of obscure, out-of-print, sometimes just plain weird tapes for sale that, otherwise, had long, long disappeared from store shelves. The options were virtually limitless, and it was made all the better when the other, non-VHS crap you could buy was taken into consideration. If you had the money (and being around 13/14 years old at the time, I rarely did), things that were absolutely unobtainable prior could now be yours relatively easily. As long as you were willing to pony up the bucks, anyway.

‘Course, the eBay of the past was also a bit of a no man’s land, what with buyers that may or may not actually pay (PayPal wasn’t around yet; snail-mail money orders were the common method of payment), sellers that may or may not send the item, and retaliatory negative feedback that could be thrown around if one party so much as thought the other was scrunching their nose at them. A lot of policies have been implemented since then, and though eBay seems to favor buyers over sellers more often than not, for what it’s worth I think things are better now than they were in the late-1990s. You still hear cases of people getting cheated from time to time, but at least there are more protective measures in place.

Anyway, while those days of constantly searching eBay in hopes of finding collectible VHS tapes are more or less over for me, there are still some videos that give me that old feeling. That thrill of finding something really special, something that I just wasn’t going to come across otherwise (unless I got really lucky at Goodwill, anyway).

And that brings us to today’s post: from looooong gone Thriller Video, it’s Cassandra “Elvira, Mistress Of The Dark” Peterson, hosting the 1957 Bert I. Gordon classic, The Cyclops! Cool winnins!

(Also, hilarious-but-true fun fact: look closely at the header picture above; you can see my Supe’guy shirt reflected on the front of the tape. This is a consequence of the clamshell the VHS now finds itself housed in apparently being the most reflective surface known to man. After several attempts to downplay said reflections during the picture-taking, I finally said “screw it” and let the best result speak for itself.)

elvira cyclops 2

This wasn’t the only movie Elvira hosted for Thriller. Oh no, there was a long line of ’em. Of the series, The Cyclops was the only one that I really, really wanted, though. Don’t get me wrong, if I came across any of the titles at a yard sale, thrift store or what have you, I would gladly snatch them up with a fervor that would almost certainly give onlookers cause for serious concern. But, The Cyclops is the only entry in the series I ever planned on going out of my way for.

Indeed, I kept relatively regular tabs on eBay for a copy that, price-wise, wouldn’t cause me to throw my hands up in utter despair. In good shape, some of these can still go for some decent dough. So, when this particular copy popped up with a buy it now of $14.99 and free shipping, I figured it was finally time to cross the title off my list. I can live with being $15 poorer, but could I live without Elvira babbling about a big giant one-eyed thing? Luckily, I’ll never have to find that out…now.

As you can see, my copy has been cut and placed into a clamshell for rental purposes. Uncut Thriller Video boxes are pretty big beasts, which wasn’t an uncommon route to take for many companies in the earlier days of home video; the more lurid the cover art and the bigger the box, the more eye-catching the release would be on the shelves. Thriller exemplified that ideal quite well. Plus, they had the benefit of Elvira gracing their boxes. (You can see uncut examples of their tapes, including Elvira’s The Cyclops, here.)

The fact this particular copy was cut for a clamshell and subsequently thrown on the shelf of Wonder Book & Video (is this the same company?) for rental purposes, which comes with the prerequisite sunfading to the cover, probably accounts for the low-ish auction price, though I don’t necessarily see any of that as a drawback. It’s not uncommon to find these releases cut for clamshell cases, plus It saves me the hassle of clearing space for a big huge box (yeah, I’ve really got that much stuff), and more importantly, the tape plays into not only my love of horror hosts and the earlier days of home video, but also the rental store boom of the time. That’s totally worth $15 to me. Plus, more material for my silly blog is always nice.

elvira cyclops 3

A few important factors are evidenced on the back of the box: 1) Lon Chaney Jr. is in the movie, which is a sight just as welcome as seeing Boris Karloff or Bela Lugosi listed in the credits of anything. Doesn’t matter how good a movie is or isn’t, a flick with him in it is at least worth a cursory glance. No kidding, it’s always fun seeing Chaney in a movie (and that’s coming from a guy that has not only seen but also owns Al Adamson’s Dracula Vs. Frankenstein!).

2) I wouldn’t be surprised if Cassandra Peterson herself wrote the synopsis, because that, coupled with the required picture of Elvira, gives a pretty good impression of the character’s sense of humor and just what viewers were headed for. Indeed, for anyone unaware of Elvira prior (yeah, all four of them) that were standing around mulling over renting this or The Jewel Of The Nile yet again at the video store, they had to get a reasonably good idea of what they were potentially getting themselves in to.

3) The tape is short. Really short. The Cyclops is only 66 minutes as it is, and adding the FBI warning screen, the company logos, three Elvira segments, three trailers for other Thriller Video releases, and closing credits, the running time still doesn’t top 75 minutes total. It’s a quick one, alright. I’m okay with that.

4) Can you believe there was a time period when a used former-rental could garner $40? Now every time I pick up a tape at Goodwill for a buck, I’m going to feel bad for those that may have shelled out the mighty dollars online for a similar copy, before DVD came along and ruined everything. Aw, no I won’t (though rest assured, I was one of those people, more than once).

elvira cyclops 4

The tape itself. Not a whole lot I can say about it, except I like the red (some would say BLOOD RED, HAW HAW HAW) color scheme of the label, and it has that cute lil’ “Be Kind, Please Rewind” sticker slapped on it.

And again: can you believe someone once paid $40 for this tape used? It’s been awhile since that was acceptable!

Then again, I’m the guy that paid $15 for a movie on a wildly obsolete format, so I don’t have a whole lot of room to talk, either. (Even less so when you consider the sheer amount of money I’ve wasted spent on used blank tapes!)

elvira cyclops 7

I think most everyone knows Elvira, “Mistress Of The Dark.” On a national scale, she is almost certainly the most well-known horror host there is. Indeed, Elvira’s visibility went faaaar beyond the horror movies source, eventually branching out into beer commercials and even her very own movie. By a certain point, it was easy to forget that she actually had her own show and hosted movies, because Elvira was everywhere. People couldn’t get enough of the whole Gothic valley girl shtick. Hey, it was, and is, funny!

Elvira hosted horror & sci-fi movies, via her program Movie Macabre, for a number of years, and such was the popularity of the concept that there were a lot of home video releases with her doing the exact same thing (something that continues to this day with DVD). While Thriller’s series of tapes are far from being the only ones out there, they were the first ones to bring Elvira to home video. That in and of itself makes the Thriller series interesting, and even more so when you consider there were actual licensed movies in the line-up, as opposed to the public domain offerings of so many of the later videos.

elvira cyclops 8

There were a few reasons that I wanted Thriller’s The Cyclops over the other titles in the series. First and foremost, I just really, really like the movie in general, and this is apparently one of the few (only?) legitimate VHS releases, though it is out on DVD now.

Also, the vast majority of the movies featured in the Thriller Elvira series were either in actuality Hammer House Of Horror entries, or made-for-TV flicks (1973’s Dracula starring Jack Palance, for example). There were a few theatrical films presented, but the only one really up my alley (and, I believe, the only one from the 1950s) was, say it with me, The Cyclops. The fact that I’m actually, genuinely fond of the movie just makes it all the better.

elvira cyclops 9

And, it’s a Bert I. Gordon film! Even more up my alley! So much of the mental “giant __________”  image that people picture when thinking of American sci-fi films from the 50s can be traced back to Gordon’s films. His initials are “B.I.G.” and boy do his movies live up to them! Giant bugs, dinosaurs, people, Gordon specialized in ’em all. Sure, the effects were on the, erm, cheap side, but as far as I’m concerned, that only adds to the fun. Want a good 1950s sci-fi movie for your Halloween party this year? Bert isn’t a bad choice.

I’m pretty fond of most of Gordon’s films, but truth be told, The Cyclops just may be my favorite of the bunch (and yes, I felt that way before I owned this tape). You don’t hear about it as often as you do The Amazing Colossal Man, Earth Vs. The Spider or The Magic Sword, but I feel it ranks among his best work.

elvira cyclops 10

Being such a short movie, things naturally move at a pretty decent pace, which is perfectly fine with me. I love 50s sci-fi, but a slow-moving, talky picture can try even my patience.

(Beware: some spoilers ahead!)

In The Cyclops, things kick off with an expedition led by one Susan Winter (played by Gloria Talbott) heading into a Mexican valley, where Winter’s fiance Bruce disappeared in a plane crash three years prior. Susan doesn’t believe he’s dead, and so she, a scientist acquaintance, a pilot, and a habitual complainer miner (played by your hero and mine, Lon Chaney Jr.) all head off in search of Bruce. That’s them up above, if you don’t believe me.

elvira cyclops 11

As with 85% of all movies made in the 1950s (statistic fact, look it up), there’s radiation involved. In this case, once in the valley, Chaney’s character “Marty” quickly discovers the land is saturated with uranium. That’s him doing so above if you don’t believe me. From that point forward, he will not stop whining about getting back to civilization to stake a claim in the land. Look, I’m a Chaney fan, but even I have to admit his character gets real irritating, real fast in this one.

elvira cyclops 12

As with 98% of the 85% of all 1950s movies with radiation involved, said substance has turned regular sized creatures into, as you would say, “big’uns.” A few prior “did I see that?” instances are confirmed when a big ol’ hawk is seen swooping down on a mouse (these are real animals, and it’s a little surprising that they included such an “in yo face” shot of the hawk tearing, literally, into the rodent).

elvira cyclops 14

More big fellas. A giant spider is encountered, and just as quickly forgotten when a supersized lizard makes its way into the picture. And then another lizard shows up, which naturally provides for a wrasslin’ match between the two.

Gordon achieved special effects such as these through the magic of rear-projection. While as still pictures things don’t look so bad, in practice they were, shall we say, often less than convincing. Anyone that has seen the giant grasshoppers in his Beginning Of The End knows how this all plays out.

But, while the effects aren’t exactly critically-acclaimed, they do add a terrific 1950s charm to the proceedings. And besides, I’ll take Bert I. Gordon’s rear-projected creatures over whatever brain dead crap Michael Bay throws at the screen any day.

elvira cyclops 16

Big lizards and whatnot are all fine and dandy, but everyone is here for the big guy himself, and man does he know how to make an entrance! One of the more talked-about moments in The Cyclops comes when the titular character is first introduced on-screen. In the scene, the main characters are in a cave, when something pushes a huge boulder in front of the entrance. Then, without warning, up from behind the rock pops the Cyclops!

It’s a moment that online recollections often describe as pretty shocking back in the day, and while I’m guessing people today are far too jaded to ever actually be scared by it now, as far as I’m concerned it’s still most certainly a surprising and downright cool introduction to the one-eyed menace.

And what a look the Cyclops has! He’s (according to the scientist) about 25 feet tall, with one side of his face deformed, and one eye (DUH!) peaking out of the other. He’s actually reminiscent of the title character in Gordon’s later War Of The Colossal Beast, (or rather, is War Of The Colossal Beast reminiscent of The Cyclops?) which is fitting, since Duncan Parkin played both.

elvira cyclops 17

More low-budget-but-fun special effects: Marty meets his maker via the hand of the Cyclops. ‘Course, since a giant hand is being superimposed over Chaney’s character, there isn’t any realistic contact made between the two; the hand just kind of flutters around while Chaney screams and falls over dead. It doesn’t look at all like he’s being or been squished, but anything that shuts the Marty character up is fine by me. The Cyclops is just a victim of circumstance, but Marty was willfully a jerk. So who’s the real villain here, hmmm?

elvira cyclops 18

Oh this is great. At one point, the Cyclops grabs Susan, and to achieve the impression that she’s being pulled out of the cave, rather than the hand grabbing her and pulling her out (which would’ve been impossible or at least incredibly difficult in this scenario), instead the entire image moves to simulate the giant retrieving her. It doesn’t get much cheaper than that, and thus I love it so very, very much.

Again, Michael Bay can keep his mindless CGI, I have infinitely more respect for a special effect that doesn’t look realistic in the slightest but has some actual heart behind it. You can tell Bert I. Gordon had a genuine love for his work, and that’s of tantamount importance. To me, that overrules how realistic or unrealistic a special effect is.

elvira cyclops 20

Of course the Cyclops has to fight something besides Lon Chaney Jr. at some point in the film, and that promise is fulfilled in a giant boa constrictor. It’s a real snake, so naturally it’s just a regular-sized example of the species (which, granted, is still pretty humongous). Apparently it was a well-trained snake, because while it wraps itself around the giant, it doesn’t appear aggressive in the least. Rather, it looks like the Cyclops is forcibly holding onto the thing while thrashing about (which, of course, is exactly what Parkin was doing; if you’re going to use a real boa to stage a fight, I guess there’s not a whole lot else you could do, not without getting the thing really mad at you, anyway).

By the way, it’s revealed that missing fiance Bruce is actually the Cyclops, having been mutated by the radiation in the three years since crashing. Just thought I should mention that somewhere.

elvira cyclops 21

Perhaps the most well-known moment in The Cyclops comes during the climax: as the creature attacks, a makeshift spear is grabbed, some brush tied around it, lit on fire, and then thrown directly into his eye! Yikes! Okay, sure, we know it’s a fake eye, obviously, and the quick edit between the spear being thrown and actually making contact with the eye is beyond cheesy, but boy, it still manages to look painful, and even a little disturbing. This was an eyebrow-raising moment for me the first time I saw it, and trust me, that’s not a feeling I was expecting to have when I first sat down to watch the movie!

elvira cyclops 22

Even more disturbing is the Cyclops himself pulling the spear out of his eye, and then helplessly crying as blood streaks down his face. It’s to the everlasting credit of Gordon and/or Parkin (and/or Paul Frees, who provided the wordless noises/grunts/etc. the giant constantly makes) that you actually do feel bad for the Cyclops here.

elvira cyclops 23

And so, the remaining three members of the expedition make there way to the plane and take off, leaving the radioactive valley as the Cyclops lies on the ground, blinded and presumably dead.

A happy ending? Well, yes and no. Sure, the heroes (Marty not included) make it out alive, but when you really think about it, The Cyclops wasn’t really evil. Rather, he was just a mostly-mindless, mutated beast, and it was thanks to a factor (the radioactive valley) that was beyond his control. And, he does at points show some ability to vaguely recall Susan and what he was before the radiation did what it did to him. It’s actually kind of a sad outcome for him when you think about it, even if there wasn’t much anyone could do for the former-Bruce by that point.

You know, I’m probably putting too much thought into what was supposed to be a nice, simple 1950s drive-in movie, one probably intended to be little more than background noise to the noisily necking teenagers of the time.

Believe it or not, to me The Cyclops does recall, or at least seem to mimic, the more-famous Universal sci-fi films of the same period. Of course, it’s much lower-budgeted, and quite a bit shorter, but there’s something about the cinematography and plotting and even the music used that brings to mind the Universal films of the time. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me. Either way, it’s a movie I genuinely enjoy. And it’s made all the better when it’s horror hosted.

Speaking of which…

elvira cyclops 6

Having never seen an Elvira Thriller presentation prior, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Was it simply going to be an episode of Movie Macabre thrown on tape, or would it be specifically shot footage? The opening image of the Thriller Video logo as part of the actual set answered that question, as did Elvira herself mentioning this was another Thriller presentation. Elvira stuff exclusive to this line; I dig it!

elvira cyclops 26

Much of Elvira’s act revolved around double-entendres and the like, usually in regards to her, erm, ‘appearance.’ There was an edge to her humor in general though, and the introduction to the movie is ample (doh!) proof of that. Her description of the Cyclops is a riot: “Everything about this dude is giant-sized! He’s got a big head, big arms, big legs, and the biggest…feet I have ever seen!” Funny stuff!

elvira cyclops 15

Again, because I had never seen one of these tapes before, I wasn’t sure if Elvira would just provide simple bookends to the movie, or if an actual episode of the series would be imitated. I was pleasantly surprised to see that while the movie itself is (I guess) uncut, there is a short break at, roughly, the halfway point for Elvira to come back and remind everyone that she’s hosting this movie. In the bit, she has a few toys and is mockingly reenacting the movie before noticing she’s back on the air, nervously remarking “Oh..hi! I was just, um, playing with myself!” while tossing the toys away.

elvira cyclops 24

Her outro declares that while the movie wasn’t the greatest, it was “Sure better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick! Oh, sorry, Bruce…” Ha! She also wonders if Mr. T was the dialogue coach for the Cyclops (he grunts a lot during the movie), and posits that Lon Chaney’s character could provide the basis for a sequel (I sure hope not!).

More interestingly, while I was half-expecting some trailers for other Thriller titles at the end of the movie, as was the M.O. of many video companies at the time, I was surprised to see them actually incorporated into Elvira’s outro segment. Full, ostensibly Thriller-produced trailers for Dracula, The Picture Of Dorian Gray, and Charlie Boy (all three part of Elvira’s series for the label) appear during this closing segment, before Elvira concludes matters with a declaration of “Unpleasantos dreamos!” Get it? Her ending phrase was always “Unpleasant dreams!” and the movie has the Mexican theme, and, and…aw never mind.

elvira cyclops 25

See, 1985. Did you think I was lying? I wasn’t. I love the obviously computer-generated titles of the closing credits; they’re such a fantastic reminder of the medium and the time this was produced in.

As the copyright indicates, Thriller was part of the International Video Entertainment company. There were videos put out simply under the I.V.E. banner, but methinks Elvira works so much better with a label called “Thriller.”

elvira cyclops 5

Elvira still has a home video presence via DVDs, but as far as I know, none of movies found in this Thriller series have been re-released outside of these 1985 tapes. Certainly the Elvira segments themselves haven’t appeared since, having been tailored specifically to Thriller Video (at least they were for The Cyclops).

That being the case, Elvira’s Thriller Video presentation of 1957’s The Cyclops proves why there is still some worth to VHS (and Beta): many movies/shows/etc. on video have since been re-released on DVD (thus naturally killing the value of the older tape releases), BUT there’s still many, many titles that have not been given the digital treatment. And, it’s for the reason that the old video format shouldn’t be totally abandoned in this day and age.

Plus, it doesn’t hurt when a videotape-exclusive title is ridiculously entertaining in every way. Elvira hosting The Cyclops via the long-gone Thriller Video certainly fits that description. I may not add new old pre-recorded VHS tapes to my collection as much as I used to, but when I do, it’s because they’re most definitely cool, and rest assured, this one certainly is just that!

(Happy surprisins: despite being 30 years old and a former-rental tape that was run through who-knows-how-many VCRs over the years, the quality of my copy was still really pretty good. See, these old VHS tapes are more resilient than they’re often given credit for!)