March 29, 1997. 20 years ago this very day. Let me set the scene: I was not yet even 11-years-old, Easter was the very next day, and as such an Easter Egg-hunt at a nearby park occupied a portion of the afternoon. It was overcast as I recall it, but not rainy. As a young Star Wars nut, I was reveling in the burgeoning new action figure line (at the tail-end of what is probably socially acceptable, age-wise, to still play with toys) and the special edition re-releases of the trilogy, though I only saw the first film in the theater. A trip to the grocery store with my mom and brother following the egg hunt yielded me a Star Wars-themed issue of Cracked, though the whole situation had a damper put on it by a tabloid that promised late-1990s end-of-the-world predictions by Gandhi, which freaked out stupid naive 10-year-old me. Kinda funny that I can look back in nostalgia at something that caused me so much consternation 20 years ago, probably because I’ve got real problems to worry about now.
Anyway, it was against this backdrop that I myself recorded Big Chuck & Lil’ John’s Couch Potato Theater, their Saturday afternoon installment of their popular WJW TV-8 program. This wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment taping; I wasn’t doing that so much yet. Rather, as a growing fan of giant monster movies, the revelation of The War of the Gargantuas listed in TV Guide that week made this can’t-miss-television for yours truly. I had never heard of the film, but as per the synopsis in TV Guide, it was big ol’ monsters, and it was Japanese, so naturally it was right up my alley. Needless to say, I had to tape it, which also needless to say, is why we’re here now.
Couch Potato Theater wasn’t all that different from Chuck & John’s normative (by their mid/late-1990s standards) Friday night show, except it was generally shorter (typically a strict two hour time slot, as compared to the two and a half, or more, hours of the Friday installment), and with a more eclectic range of features presented. Don’t get me wrong, just like their normal show, the movies shown on Couch Potato Theater ran the gamut of all genres; I mean, the first Big Chuck & Lil’ John I ever taped was a Couch Potato Theater presentation of The Karate Kid, and that was in 1996. But, Couch Potato Theater could also delve into more “traditional Saturday afternoon” fare; Superhost type stuff. That is, vintage short comedies and, of course, old school sci-fi and horror. I certainly didn’t realize it at the time, but this was at the very end of the era when you could catch flicks like this on Saturday afternoons with any kind of regularity (and I’m stretching the term “regularity” here; I direct you back to the aforementioned Karate Kid).
We’ve seen a lot of Big Chuck & Lil’ John on this blog, most recently via a broadcast of Terror of Mechagodzilla that I taped later in 1997. But, except for a brief excursion in this old article and a possible exception with this “Pregame Show” post, Couch Potato Theater has sadly been neglected here, which is a shame, because it was more responsible than anything for making me a BC & LJ fan. (More so a few years after this broadcast, when I began watching old Abbott & Costello episodes on the program and consequently really ‘getting’ Chuck & John; when I taped this, it was pretty much all about the movie.) Seriously, you have no idea how nostalgic that bumper above makes me; it perfectly encapsulates the “lazy Saturday noon movie” vibes of local television at that time.
We’ll get to the Big Chuck & Lil’ John stuff in a moment. But first, the movie.
I was all prepared to say this flick hadn’t yet had an official video release when this aired back in ’97, but I was failing to recall the 1992 Paramount VHS (which, in my defense, I was not aware of until years later). Of course there’s been some official DVD releases in more recent times, but the fact remains that Gargantuas was not all that easily found by the late-1990s. Heck, it doesn’t look like it’s all that easily found now; unless you wanna stream it via Amazon, it’s apparently out-of-print on DVD.
Released in Japan in 1966 (don’t let the copyright date in the screencap above fool you; 1970 was the year of the American theatrical release), The War of the Gargantuas is a Toho kaiju (aka, big huge monster) film, in the vein of Godzilla and the like. That is, lotsa city-crushin’ and whatnot, though this time with American actor Russ Tamblyn starring (and really starring; this wasn’t a cut-and-paste job like Raymond Burr in Godzilla, King of the Monsters). It’s not a particularly well-regarded entry in the genre. Not critically, anyway; Leonard Maltin gave it a BOMB rating, I seem to recall TV Guide only allowing it one star out of a possible four, and even Lil’ John, at one point late in this broadcast, diplomatically states “Not the best movie we’ve ever had on…”
I can’t agree with any of that; I have always loved this movie. I loved it upon first viewing, and I’ve loved it in the years since. In fact, and I know this is anathema to admit, I love it more than the far more highly-regarded Rodan and Mothra. Indeed, I’ve traditionally had a hard time getting into Toho’s non-‘Zilla kaijus, and that isn’t a retroactive repositioning of my stance, either; this goes back to when I was seeing all this stuff for the first time, and thus, an easy audience. (Mothra in particular has just never done anything for me, and the theatrical Rifftrax Live presentation of it some months back did little to change my mind – though Mike, Bill & Kevin were terrific, as usual.)
But The War of the Gargantuas? Something about it has always clicked for me. No, it’s not high art, and even I won’t argue that it’s Toho’s finest hour, but still, it just works. I’m not even sure if I can accurately state why it works for me, it just does. It’s silly, sure, but in a good way; it’s entertaining, and it’s fun. In other words, perfect Saturday afternoon fare, even if magazines were claiming Gandhi said I was a goner at the same time. It’s impossible for me to separate it from my personal memories now, but even years ago, when those would have been less of a nostalgic factor, Gargantuas did (does) everything right in my eyes.
It’s also a sequel of sorts to 1965’s Frankenstein Conquers the World (released in the US in ’66). Much to my regret, I still haven’t seen that movie, but this hasn’t hurt my enjoyment of Gargantuas any, and it shouldn’t yours, either. There’s apparently a vague reference to the first film, but the US version omits any direct references – from how I understand it. Point is, don’t hold off on seeing Gargantuas if you haven’t seen Conquers.
Spawned from the skin cells of the Frankenstein monster in Conquers, Gargantuas (as you may surmise from the title, and if not, at least the screenshot above) details two “humanoid creatures,” the appropriately deemed “Gargantuas.” One, a “Green Gargantua,” is a disagreeable sort; he smashes up boats and causes havoc in general. You know, as you would expect in a movie such as this. This creature comes from the sea, and has an appropriate, seaweed-like appearance. (That’s him to the right above.)
At the same time, there’s also a “Brown Gargantua,” who is much more amiable. This one lives in the mountains, and was actually in the possession of Dr. Paul Stewart (Tamblyn!) and his assistant years ago, before he escaped. (The creature I mean, not Tamblyn.) Because of his upbringing with humans, Brown Gargantua is much more gentle, and provides the heroic role of the movie. (That’s him with his back to you on the left above; aren’t I helpful?)
Eventually the two creatures meet up, and while there is initially a kind of brotherly connection between them, Brown Gargantua soon sees what a complete cad Green Gargantua is, and that’s where our title begins to make sense. With Green Gargantua trying to destroy mankind, and Brown Gargantua trying to protect it, the stage is set for some city-smashin’, and that’s exactly what the film provides. Also, some cool laser effects and an underwater volcano that (SPOILER!!) ends the film on an ambiguous note.
Fans of monster-induced destruction will dig all this. It moves at a decent pace, there’s plenty of action, even a few pathos, and personally, I like that there are no alien-based threats to be found, something that would soon become increasingly commonplace in Toho kaijus. (Though ironically, when Gargantuas was first released in the US in 1970, it was on a double-bill with Godzilla vs. Monster Zero, then called just Monster Zero, which happens to be one of my favorite “bad ol’ aliens” Japanese giant monster flicks. Go figure!)
One final comment on the movie before we get to the Big Chuck & Lil’ John segments: “The Words Get Stuck In My Throat.”
No, that’s not me being cute (and pretty nonsensical, if you think about it) about writer’s block. Rather, it’s the subject of one of the most memorable scenes in the film. In it, Kipp Hamilton (who somehow gets “Special Guest Star” billing in the opening credits) sings a song by that title. I hate to say this, especially since Mrs. Hamilton passed away in 1981, but it’s a pretty terrible song. Nevertheless, she gets to perform it at a nightclub, and upon her finishing, Green Gargantua sneaks up behind her, snatches her up, and then drops her! Guess he didn’t like the song! (Unless it’s in the uncut version, whether Kipp dies from the fall or not is never revealed.)
This scene is often brought up when the subject of The War of the Gargantuas comes about, and it’s solely due to how bad the song is. There’s no arguing that, but you know, there’s something about it that has rung a bell for me ever since I first saw/heard it. Some vague, dusty recollection in the back of my mind that was triggered upon initially hearing it. I hadn’t seen Gargantuas prior, and I highly, highly doubt it stuck in my mind due to some random channel-flippin’ at some unknown point in the past. Nevertheless, something about Kipp’s voice and the lyrics sounds familiar. I can’t explain it, and I sure can’t place it, not then or now. My conclusion is the same today as it was back in 1997: I probably heard a song on Sesame Street or some such program in my early, formative years (which I really wasn’t that far removed from at the time) that subsequently reminded me of it. That’s the best explanation I can come up with, anyway.
And that brings us to the rest of the show.
With only two hours allotted and the need for commercials, never mind the movie, the Big Chuck & Lil’ John segments are somewhat limited here; I’ve been so used to watching old episodes of their Friday night show that I totally forgot how (relatively) scaled back Couch Potato Theater could be. Oh, don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t exactly Sunday-era Ghoul, the guys are still all over this broadcast, there could be no mistaking what you were watching, it’s just that it all moves faster than their ‘regular’ program. Again, perfect for a Saturday afternoon.
Anyway, the first host segment proper included an announcement that I could not be happier to have saved to tape, even though it took me years to realize it: Ghoulardifest! Yep, the very first Ghoulardifest is announced as a “go,” with several guests (including The Ghoul!) already booked. That inaugural Ghoulardifest, as of this broadcast, was going to be one day, August 16, at a Holiday Inn in Independence, OH, though I wasn’t there, so that may have changed/expanded closer to showtime. Nevertheless, it’s wild to look back on the opening salvo of what has become a three-day, annual extravaganza. I, of course, have written about Ghoulardifest some 70,000 (approximate estimate) times by this point; here’s just one of them. (It’s also weird to realize that Ernie “Ghoulardi” Anderson had only passed away the month before when this aired.)
Also, Chuck mispronounces “Gargantuas” as “Gargantuons” and gets bopped in the head by John with a styrofoam hammer.
The skit immediately following that segment feels like something I’ve written about before. Maybe I have, maybe I haven’t; I did only the briefest of searches before deciding it doesn’t really matter. It’s the “Certain Ethnic Alarm Clock,” in which a wife’s clock goes off at 7 AM, giving the expected digital readout. The husband’s (Chuck’s “Stash” character) goes off soon after, and gives a literal digital reading of a ‘normal’ clock. A simple premise, but I’ve always really liked this one.
Another simple one, and very brief, too. A man (John) absorbed in reading his paper as he enters the “Parma Skydiving School” gets a rude surprise – too late! Let the pictures do the talking above. Gotta love aerial footage and green screens!
Trivia time. I’ve mentioned my semi-frustration with these audience trivia-quizzes before, because more often than not I knew the answer, yet was never there in-person to collect the sweet, sweet rewards. This may be the most egregious of that lot: winner had to guess the name of the movie poster presented. It’s The Amazing Colossal Man. Of course it’s The Amazing Colossal Man. What’d they win? A coupon for a free 12-pack of any Pepsi product. That’d be like a day’s supply for me! (Now, not back then.)
(A “Bus Driver” skit, in which Chuck asks passengers to move to the back of a public bus and floors it when they don’t, followed this trivia segment. In a misguided effort to speed things along here, I didn’t take any appropriate screencaps.)
It really feels like I’ve written about this one before, though I like it enough to give a brief go again (plus, I don’t feel like digging through old articles for something that, again, doesn’t matter).
Here, John is a “Lucky Charms” salesman (as in little trinkets, not the cereal), who convinces Chuck to buy one of his products. As it turns out, it was the last in stock, and just as John is packing up to go home and get some more, a safe falls on him!
More trivia. Winner this time got a $20 comic shop gift certificate. The poster art is of course Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. Too easy! Not fair!!
A genuine classic skit, and one of my favorites. If *I* were in charge of a top-however many skits compilation, I’m pretty sure this would make the final cut.
John plays the much-verbally-abused husband of Carmella (I can’t remember her last name), working six and a half days a week, tired, and just wanting to take a load-off after a long day by watching some TV. I think we can all relate. This, of course, is not good enough for the wife, who endlessly berates him over the length of time it’s been since they’ve been out to eat, gone dancing, and had her hair done. She even throws in a variation on the old “mother warned me about you” line.
The tide of nagging is momentarily stemmed when John announces they’re playing “their song” on TV – only to then turn up the volume and reveal that’s it the old “Hefty Hefty Hefty – Wimpy, Wimpy Wimpy” commercial jingle! This, naturally, results in him being chased around the kitchen by his now really mad wife!
I sometimes wonder what theoretically happened after these skits faded out. Did they make up? Was John able to calm her? Or was the homicide squad eventually called in? I’m probably thinking too much about this.
You can’t say Chuck & John weren’t masters of the green screen.
Here, Chuck’s Stash character is a balloon salesman, and John plays a little kid (he usually did), who eagerly wants one specific balloon. He eventually gets it, only to reveal that it’s a string attached Stash’s head, which floats away with John as he leaves. Stash seems apprehensive with the situation.
Did this effectively end Stash’s life? Was his head eventually returned to his body? Or did both entities continue, somehow, living independent of each other? I’m probably thinking too much about this.
Some brief announcements before heading into another skit. That next Saturday night, Chuck & John would be appearing at a local sports bar, and the next Sunday afternoon they’d be at a Parma Heights library benefit. BC & LJ did (do) so many of these types of appearances, they almost have to all blend together for them by now, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun seeing the various places they’d be back in the day.
The kind of topical (though it was almost certainly several years old by then anyway) skit that still holds up.
John and another “gringo” find themselves on the execution line of a Hispanic country of some sort, and are given a last request. The unnamed “gringo” (who is given a good ol’ boy appearance) just wants to hear his favorite song one last time. What is it? “Achy Breaky Heart.”
John’s last request? They shoot him first! It’s a funny moment, made all the better by the knowing nod of the dictator (?) in charge of the execution.
A brief skit that’s actually more clever than I initially gave it credit for.
Chuck is a pharmacist who finds himself being held up by an obviously old woman with a bag over her head (Mary Allen, who was great in everything). She doesn’t want money; she wants Retin-A! Retin-A is a skin-revitalizing treatment, which makes the whole bag-on-head thing not only a disguise, but a commentary on aging. Funny!
Annnnd, that finished the show up. Next week on Couch Potato Theater? Eddie & The Cruisers! Had I been the age I am now back then, I’d have definitely taped that one, too. (Plus, sensationalist tabloids in the check-out line at the grocery store wouldn’t have been cause for concern, because my brain eventually formed enough to realize they’re fake). The show next Friday night was Lord of the Flies, which really isn’t my cup of tea (enjoyed the book, though). John’s loud and enthusiastic “BYEE!” he always used and a shot of the Boy Scout attendance-heavy audience closes the episode out.
(Oddly enough, I didn’t catch any references to Easter being the next day, and there sure weren’t any especially-Easter-ish skits, but I looked it up, it’s true.)
You know, after my latest revisit of this recording, it’s amazing how much of it is ingrained in my memory. Okay, yeah, not a big surprise considering I grew up with this tape, but there really are several moments burnt into my consciousness that I, quite honestly, didn’t expect. I mean, sure, “The Words Get Stuck In My Throat” and other parts of the movie itself, definitely, but also quite a bit of the show as a whole; skits, bits of dialog, the trivia, stuff like that.
Usually at this point, I would look at interesting commercials that aired during this broadcast. I’m going to skip that portion this time around; there weren’t really any particularly notable ones (unless you consider a promo for The Gladys Knight Show and an ad for Handi-Snacks notable, and I don’t). But they really aren’t important here. Nope, this subject is one that’s heavily, heavily tied to my personal memories; as such, it may be hard for some readers to ‘get it,’ but I trust everyone can relate in some way to what I mean. In that regard, there was the program itself; my first exposure to what has become a personal favorite Toho movie of mine, and of course there’s the Big Chuck & Lil’ John material, which I only came to appreciate more and more as time went by.
But beyond all that, it’s where this falls in my lifetime. There’s an “aura” about this recording that will (probably) be all but impossible for someone else to accurately understand, but is something that I can never extricate from the proceedings. The events of that day, my age, my interests, all things I look back on now with a wistful fondness. I think it goes back to that weird tabloid scare I’ve referenced several times; a silly fear now, of course, but it points to an innocent naivete that was, quite frankly, probably preferable to the worldly cynicism I often exhibit nowadays.
And that, my friends, is the magic of videotape technology in a nutshell right there. Not just the capturing of a program to view again and again in the future, but also the capturing of a specific time and place, which can also be relived once more. Your childhood can come back alive, if even for only 2 hours.