Tag Archives: matinee

EPISODE REVIEW: Big Chuck & Lil’ John Present 1915’s A HASH HOUSE FRAUD and THE CHAMPION (January 16, 1999)

Fall is now upon us, and under normal circumstances, that would mean the annual Big Chuck & Lil’ John Ghoulardifest convention (and subsequent Big Boy Restaurant visit). Of course, since 2020 is obviously anything but “normal circumstances,” needless to say, Ghoulardifest ain’t happenin’ this year. (Though, provided their dining room is open, the idea of heading that way just for Big Boy has been bandied about between my brother, my cousin and I; who knows if it’ll actually happen, but man, I’m jonesin’.)

Since we’ve been begrudged the annual tradition by the stupid dumb pandemic, what say we fill the void a bit with an old Big Chuck & Lil’ John episode review today? I haven’t done one of these in awhile, apparently (some) people appreciate them, and besides, I want to get one more Northeast Ohio-centric post up before October, when I have several relatively ‘spooky’ topics tentatively planned to show up throughout the month. (Whether any or all of them actually happen remains to be seen, but my heart’s in the right place.)

Anyway, the show we’ll look at today, I actually talked about it before, in this old post. If you don’t remember it, don’t bother clicking; it sucks. (Hey, it’s been nearly 7 years.) Still, it deserves a fuller, better look; even though this aired in January ’99 and isn’t actually complete (more on all that momentarily), it still seems like a decent fit for a late September entry here. Plus, my dance card is (ostensibly) full for October, so if not now, when? (I guess I could wait till the January anniversary, but I, uh, don’t wanna.)

Big Chuck & Lil’ John, or from left-to-right, Lil’ John & Big Chuck.

First of all: Big Chuck & Lil’ John, aka Chuck Schodowski and John Rinaldi. You know ’em, you love ’em. Unless you’re not from around here, in which case just know that they’re indisputable local television legends. From Cleveland’s channel 8, they hosted movies and performed wacky skits for decades. Technically they were horror hosts until they kinda weren’t but sometimes still were, but it didn’t really matter; any movie went better with Chuck & John. (I know this from personal experience.)

They’re still around, too. Even though their regular ‘movie’ show ended in 2007, they came back as a 30 minute skits-only program in 2011, which is still running to this day. Currently airing at 11:30 PM Sunday nights (though sporting events sometimes push that slot later), it’s a fun way to cap off the weekend.

(Although, quick side note: you probably did have to grow up with these guys to really ‘get’ the humor of the show/skits. Recently my brother tried to introduce his fiancée, she originally hailing from Tiffin, OH, to these guys, and her palpable confusion at the whole thing was…well, actually it was pretty funny, to be honest with you.)

Of course, we’re talking about their old movie-hostin’ days here. The slots/running times/days/etc. varied over the years, but for awhile, they ran for 2 hours 30 minutes (generally; it could be even longer, depending on the movie) starting at 11:30 PM on Friday nights, and then had a 2 hour Saturday afternoon show the next day.

While there was, for the most part, little difference in the look or feel of the Chuck & John host segments and skits and general ‘outside the movie’ stuff between the two, as far as the mid/late-90s and beyond go, the Friday night editions generally featured bigger-budgeted films from a variety of genres. Not always; there were times when they ran one of the horror/sci-fi oldies that were formerly their bread-and-butter. But for the most part, those Friday shows featured a relatively more ‘professional’ grab bag of film fare that wouldn’t have been out of place on other stations all across the country that were running movies on that day, at that time, in that era. Except better here, because Chuck & John.

The nostalgic Couch Potato Theater bumper screen.

The Saturday afternoon show, titled Couch Potato Theater (see: right), could be much more eclectic. Not always; big time Hollywood flicks weren’t strangers to the program, but the cheesier old stuff could also appear with a bit more regularity. (Or so it seemed to me.) And sometimes, there wouldn’t even be a full-fledged movie, but rather Three Stooges shorts, Abbott & Costello episodes, or if sporting events were a factor, maybe even no movie at all.

Here’s the backstory for our subject today: Saturday, January 16, 1999. At the time, I was a serious sucker for classic silent comedy shorts, particularly Charlie Chaplin. Thanks to their even-then public domain status, these would regularly show up as after-movie filler on my beloved WAOH TV-29, and attempting to catch new-to-me entries became something of a hobby, not unlike you and your little Pokeemans cards.

As a regular subscriber to TV Guide back then, I’d absolutely pour over the local listings in those issues looking for neat movies to catch. And yet, somehow I completely missed the notation of short comedies being broadcast on Couch Potato Theater that day, until I discovered the truth – as they were airing! What really hurt was the mention of Chaplin’s The Tramp as being among them. And to further complicate matters, the family was leaving for my younger brother’s volleyball game momentarily (these games were interminable excursions for yours truly, but shhhhh, don’t tell my brother I said that!).

What to do? What could I do? I grabbed a random blank VHS tape, threw it in the VCR, hit record, and we left. I wound up capturing basically the second half of the episode.

But what’d I miss? During my recent lock down dig finds (some of which I detailed here), I uncovered, if not all then at least most, of my old TV Guides. The finer details of that listing, aside from that general memory of The Tramp being mentioned, had long since disappeared. So, specifically for this article, I actually (re)dug the appropriate issue out and (re)discovered the truth: starting at noon on the dot, the listing mentioned, along with The Tramp, a film titled Polly Tix in Washington as being among that day’s features. I’ve seen Polly Tix before; it’s a 1933 Shirley Temple short that’s, honestly, pretty terrible. If that TV Guide listing was accurate, that would have been the only non-silent of the afternoon, and in retrospect, frankly, there was no great loss in missing it. (No joshin’; I kinda detest it.)

Oddly, the other two shorts, the two that are our subject today, weren’t specifically mentioned in that listing at all. Now, there’s always the chance the description wasn’t accurate, but I’ll give the benefit of the doubt and presume Chuck & John did indeed jam those two as-listed short comedies along with the two definitely-aired ones we’re about to look at, as well as all of their stuff and commercials, into a two hour time slot. (Which wasn’t unheard of; They once crammed The Karate Kid, which by itself and unedited runs over two hours, into a two hour Couch Potato Theater installment.)

Alright, all that said, the movies I did get to see…

A Hash House Fraud [Keystone; 1915]

If you go back and read that earlier article spotlighting this broadcast (though I urge that you refrain from doing so), you’d see that I mistakenly believed I had started recording in the middle of whatever short ended up being first in this instance. I WAS DEAD WRONG THERE, SPORTO. In actuality, I got basically the whole thing, but the title screen is such a microsecond flash that it’s very, very easy to miss. Obviously, that’s what happened with yours truly for the longest time.

So anyway, first up here is A Hash House Fraud, a Keystone komedy comedy from 1915. I’m gonna be honest with you; I’m not a mega huge Keystone Films fan. The constant manic slapstickiness of them kinda wears on me after while. A little goes a long way, and a lot, well, you know. I appreciate the ‘earliness’ of them, and I do like Chaplin’s output at the studio, but truth be told, that’s more from a historical standpoint; there’s little doubt that Chaplin’s work from just a few years later, or even just a year later, is superior, and not by just a little; by a lot. (In fact, we’ll be seeing one such example coming up next.)

The Plot: The Busy Bee Restaurant has fallen on hard times. Business is slow and funds are low, and when customers do come in, they never stay long. So, one of the proprietors puts the establishment up for sale (for a whopping $500!), and to pique the interest of prospective buyers, he invites a bunch of folks in to eat free and tells the cashier to simply pretend to collect money. When the swindle – the “hash house fraud” of our title – is discovered, a riot ensues and then the Keystone Kops show up and chase people around.

You know what? I’m just going to say it: this is a stupid movie. I know, I know; you should never, ever go into a Keystone expecting deep comical nuance. Even so, to me it’s just…by the numbers. The Keystone numbers. I kinda got an (inner) chuckle from the “Don’t Flirt With the Cashier” sign in the restaurant, though I’m not sure it was supposed to be funny.

I just know some pretentious film buff with too much time on their hands is gonna chime in now and tell me how wrong I am for missing the deep psychological context and symbolism of the human condition that is both this movie in particular and Keystone films in general. To that hypothetical buff, I say “aw go take a powder.”

Also, this movie just kinda reinforced my stance that the only thing I genuinely like about the Keystone Kops is their Atari 2600 (and later, ColecoVision) game.

The Champion [Essanay; 1915]

Next: I may have missed out on The Tramp, but I did get Essanay’s 1915 opus The Champion, which is even better than a consolation prize since I like The Champion more. Indeed, I’d venture to say it’s the cinematic winner of this entire episode, though that of course may be debatable. Plus, it’s Charlie Chaplin, so it’s automatically one-up on the movie that preceded it during this broadcast.

This is the stuff right here. Made at a time when Chaplin’s movies were starting to get really good, the film may pale when compared to the work he did for Mutual Films after leaving Essanay, but that’s mainly because, man, those Mutual flicks are really, really good.

The Plot: Charlie, as his iconic Tramp character, is in need of some bucks, so he becomes a sparring partner for a renowned boxer. When he sees every previous sparring partner, erm, ending up worse for wear after facing the boxer, he slips a horseshoe into his glove, knocks the guy out, and is then enlisted to fight the champion.

This one is a lot of fun, and Chaplin is utterly brilliant in it. Not that I’m saying anything revolutionary here, but the way he moved, his facial expressions, his timing, just everything about his acting is just so on point, it’s continuously a wonder even today. And what’s even more astounding is that he hadn’t even reached his peak yet! Watching The Champion, I was reminded just what I loved and appreciated about the guy in the first place. (Actually, my appreciation was even higher; you see more clearly when watching with 34 year old eyes than you do 12, after all.)

The climatic bout between Charlie and the champ goes on a tad too long for my tastes, but that’s a very minor complaint; The Champion is terrific.

Also, it’s probably not at all fair to compare the two, but in the context of this broadcast, the difference in quality between this film and A Hash House Fraud preceding it is monumental. Here, the opening scene alone, in which Charlie tries to feed his bulldog a frankfurter, is funnier than the entirety of that other flick.

You know, looking back on it, it’s almost weird that these shorts showed up on TV when they did. Even though it was local television in the late-90s, for a channel as ‘big’ as 8, it’s kind of amazing they got such a relatively-visible afternoon slot. These things showing up on 29 made sense, the movies on that station were almost all oldies anyway, but even in comparison to some of the other oddball things that could appear on Couch Potato Theater, I don’t know, silent comedies just seem way out of place for the time. I guess I was even kinda shocked back then, never expecting such things to air where or when they did. Of course BC & LJ were no strangers to pure comedy classics, their Laurel & Hardy shows of the 1980s were numerous, but still, for 1999…

(And to me, it’s something practically inconceivable nowadays!)

So that takes care of the movies. Now let’s see the rest of the episode; even with only 1 hour to work with here, there’s still a lot of Big Chuck & Lil’ John action packed into the proceedings.

Big Chuck, Lil’ John, Dick Goddard, Tony Rizzo; Cleveland TV legends one and all!

The first (applicable) host segment is just…just fantastic on so many levels. Obviously the hosts themselves, but that set with the Cleveland Browns helmet on the table (more on that later) and the backdrop, just everything about it. (Top screencap here.)

A common element of BC & LJ host segments were trivia segments with the studio audience, always for a prize of some sort. In this instance, said prize was a doozy: the then-new Dick Goddard weather almanac! And even better, Goddard himself sits in with the audience to give the book away! (Middle screencap here.)

Of course, Goddard passed away this past August. To call him a mere weatherman would be a serious disservice; the guy was an absolute institution in Northeast Ohio, and actually holds the world record for longest tenured meteorologist! Around here, he was the weatherman.

Working at the same station, Goddard was certainly no stranger to appearances on BC & LJ, often performing in skits or, as you see here, simply guesting in the studio. He could be really, really funny; when sports anchor Tony Rizzo (he now has his own half-hour show…airing right before the current incarnation of Big Chuck & Lil’ John!) randomly shows up in the studio eating sushi – which he apologizes to animal-advocate Goddard for – Goddard studies the foodstuff and dryly states “with a little medical help, that could be back in the sea.” (Bottom screencap here.)

I met Dick Goddard several times over the years, and he was always extremely friendly and generous with his time. Just a really good guy that was as likable in person as he was on TV. In fact, the last time I met him (Ghoulardifest 2018), I used my bean and brought along my own copy of the very almanac seen in this host segment for him to sign (I also believe I asked him to sign the back of a Ghoulardifest promotional poster), and considering I never had another chance to talk with him, well, wise decision on my part.

So to have him as ‘himself’ in this Big Chuck & Lil’ John segment, and with Tony Rizzo to boot, that’s just fantastic man. (By the way, the trivia question here was what fall festival does Goddard annually host. Of course it’s the Woolly Bear Festival, which a woman sitting behind him easily answers.)

The next host segment features another trivia question bit that, as a whole, isn’t as big a knockout, but is still pretty terrific.

The prize? Frankie Yankovic’s Songs of the Polka King: Volume 2, which as it turned out was his very last album (he had passed away that prior October). Besides the whole polka aspect that was (is?) such a big part of Cleveland culture, there was an added reason this CD was given away as a prize: Chuck and John themselves performed with Yankovic on it! It’s true; the disc contains their rendition of “My Melody of Love” as the fourth track! Neato!

(This CD actually isn’t too hard to find around town here; I’ve come across it multiple times, though oddly enough, Volume 1 has thus far eluded me – though it’s really only a matter of time. Anyway, as far as Volume 2 goes, my first copy I actually bought used online – both because I obviously still needed it for my collection at the time, but also because, while somewhat faint, the cover unmistakably features the signature of Mr. Yankovic himself! Cool winnins!)

The question was: what nationality was Frank Yankovic? “Polish” was guessed, and while the correct answer was actually Slovenian, it’s deemed “close enough” by John.

The Lil’ Flash, along with Chuck. (Chuck playing himself?)

That segment is followed immediately by a longtime favorite skit of mine: The Lil’ Flash. BC & LJ did a lot of a parodies of big time movies and TV shows, sometimes poking fun at Chuck’s Polish heritage or John’s small stature. This was the latter.

I’m assuming this skit first appeared in the early-90’s, when The Flash TV series was running on CBS (which 8 was an affiliate of at the time, though by 1999 it had been Cleveland’s Fox outlet for several years).

It’s a simple premise: the TV-8 payroll, in the form of a suitcase loaded with money, has been stolen (as one of the thieves gleefully exclaims, “probably half of it’s Goddard’s!”), so superhero The Lil’ Flash gives chase. Spoiler: the bad guys get away. Why? The Lil’ Flash’s shoe had a blowout!

(Look, I love Big Chuck & Lil’ John, but no one ever said their skits were intricate pieces of comic writing.)

There were more skits throughout the hour than what I’m showing here; I’m kinda just hitting the highlights, or at least what I consider to be the highlights. I’m trying to get this done and up and with a little spotlight time to itself before my October 1st post, remember. Was I ultimately successful, reader? Time will tell!

Cuyahoga Jones and Shortstuff, considering a $5 airplane ride.

Cuyahoga Jones and the Castle of Doom, another one of those parodies I was just talking about, wasn’t just a singular skit, but rather a serialized, continuing story, complete with cliffhangers. Obviously an Indiana Jones parody, the skits detailed Cuyahoga Jones and his sidekick Shortstuff attempting to steal the fabled “Kapusta Diamond” from the evil Uncle Vic (aka Victor Blecman, a real Cleveland DJ who passed away in 2019).

I’m not sure they ever finished the saga (they play these skits frequently on the current 30 minute show yet I’ve never seen any sort of definitive conclusion), but what they did was a lot of fun. This broadcast here was my first time seeing an entry, and I can’t tell you how clever I found the very name of “Cuyahoga Jones” to be.

In this installment, Cuyahoga and Shortstuff are in need of $20 to buy supplies to break into Vic’s castle, but between them they only have $5. Luckily, they happen upon $5 airplane thrill rides, the reward for not screaming during which just happens to be $20. So, with Cuyahoga in the passenger seat and Shortstuff hanging on top, off they fly in the rickety old plane. The plan is ultimately successful and the $20 is won, but the pilot almost got Cuyahoga to scream, just once: when Shortstuff fell off! (Cut to a dummy freefalling through the air.)

High art it ain’t, but it is funny, and spoiler alert, Shortstuff ended up okay in the next chapter.

Let’s finish this review with something I briefly mentioned during that Dick Goddard segment, and something that, despite originally airing in January, fits perfectly with the time of year we’re currently in: that Cleveland Browns helmet.

At one point, John puts it on and declares “Go Browns!” Not so unusual; these were/are Cleveland personalities, after all. What’s more interesting, to me, anyway, is Chuck’s response to that: “Only 245 days left!”

It’s a small moment, but it points to a definitive time in Northeast Ohio history: this aired when the Browns were still MIA in Cleveland! The time of their return was drawing nearer and nearer however, and as it did so, the anticipation continued to grow. That anticipation was front-and-center here, even with the better part of a year still left to wait.

Anyway, there you have it: a look at Big Chuck & Lil’ John’s Couch Potato Theater presentation of January 16, 1999. Well, about half of it. Despite the incomplete nature of the recording, this broadcast has wound up being one I’m pretty fond of. Not only is there the personal story behind it, but their content is just so strong here, even though it was just par for the course at the time. The host segments and skits are fun, the Dick Goddard appearance great (and now, bittersweet), and the movies, The Champion is legit and, well, even a dumb flick like A Hash House Fraud makes for a nice piece of lazy afternoon programming.

Hopefully this post scratched the itch of locals who, like me, can’t go to Ghoulardifest this year. Or maybe it didn’t; hey, at least I got something else up.

See y’all in October!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First up, some of the skits themselves:

 

Muldoon’s Bar

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

 

The Amazing Stanley

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

 

Rockhead

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

 

Art Modell’s Back!

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

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

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

 

The Certain Ethnic Artist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Buddy’s Carpet Ad

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

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

 

Regency Windows Ad

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

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


 

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

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

TGG Direct’s 3-Disc Gamera DVD Set (Review)

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Remember this picture from the end of this post? Of course you don’t! Well, this is Wal-Mart’s current (well, current when I started writing this post approximately 112 years ago) display in support of the 2014 Godzilla remake. In that previous post, I made a mention of the $5 Gamera set that I bought from said display. Look at the bottom row, near the center – thas da one. As you may very well surmise (because I just told you), this is that very set! What are the odds?! Well, technically, the subject of this post is a second set I bought from the very same display. Why? Because I’m a complete and total weirdo, THAT’S WHY.

Released by TGG Direct (ostensibly in 2013, though the first time I saw it was in the aforementioned Wal-Mart display capitalizing on the 2014 Godzilla), this looks like it could quite conceivably be the end-all be-all budget Gamera set. Officially titled Japanese Monster Movies, that’s erm, exactly what it consists of.

For those lacking in such important knowledge, Gamera was a giant flying, fire breathing turtle, more or less Daiei’s answer to Toho’s Godzilla. I’ll get to this more as I look at the actual contents of the set, but real quick: The first film was released to U.S. theater’s in 1966 as Gammera The Invincible, and several of the sequels went straight to U.S. television via American International Pictures. In the 1980’s, Sandy Frank, purveyor of such imported fare, re-released five of the films in the original series with new titles and dubs to U.S. video and television. Frank’s versions were the ones seen on Mystery Science Theater 3000, and for the most part (Gamera Vs. Monster X being the exception), they were the versions I was most familiar with growing up.

Nowadays though, I prefer the original U.S. theatrical version of the first film and the AIP versions of the sequels. Sure, I know there are super-deluxe versions of the original films now out on BluRay, but my preferred Gamera’s are the old school U.S. versions (as usually seen in these budget releases, because they lapsed into the public domain years ago.) Yes, the picture is often faded/blurry/grainy/scratchy, and yes, there was some editing for television, but I can’t help it, these are the ones I want to watch. I don’t know, I guess I just find them more charming. Mega-fans will want the subtitled uncut Japanese prints, sure, and some may argue that the Sandy Frank dubs of the 1980’s are better just because they aren’t (as?) edited, but as much as I like Gamera, these older U.S. versions are the ones I dig the most.

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Anyway, I grabbed this second set for strict reviewin’ purposes, after which it will be relegated to downstairs TV-viewing status (that is, it’s something that will play in the background while I screw around on my sad little blog.) That way, should some calamity befall it, at least I wouldn’t be messing up my ‘good’ copy. Besides, at $5 a pop, I couldn’t afford not to buy a second copy (whatever that means.) When I went back for this one, it was the very last one in the display. Will they get more in, or did I get the last one ever? I don’t know, but I don’t think I’ll go back to Wal-Mart for awhile, just so I can maintain this almost certainly unwarranted feeling of pointlessly smug superiority.

Besides, look at it up there. Look at it. It’s a slick lookin’ beast. Yeah, it’s definitely a budget release, but I’ve seen waaaay more amateurish looking things in the bargain bins than this. It’s a fairly simple cover, I guess, but *I* certainly find it aesthetically appealing. Relatively so, at least.

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And just look at that movie line-up listed on the back cover! Pretty darn impressive! Now, I don’t want to say that’s every classic-era Gamera flick, because I know the second I do I’ll actually be forgetting one and someone will call me on it. Nevertheless, that’s a lot of Gamera (plus one non-Gamera) for the money.

To be completely honest, I’m a total sucker for cheapo DVD sets like this: $5 for 3-discs of (supposedly) public domain Gamera goodness? I never can resist. Previously, I had stuck with a few other sets for my cheap Gamera fix, but based on the first impressions generated by the cover art of TGG Direct’s product, this could be the “ultimate.”

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I also really, really like the fact that these come in a normal-sized DVD case, as opposed to a double-wide case or something. Just looks nicer and more neat on a shelf to me. There is one caveat to this format, however…

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Rather than use separate spindles, the discs come on one hub, stacked on top of each other. I haven’t any problems (yet,) but it seems like this way to store the discs makes it too easy to inadvertently scratch them. Plus, it’s just more of a pain getting the disc you want out. I know, I know, it’s only $5, why complain.


DISC 1

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The menus are, save for the respective movies, the same on each disc, featuring a variation of that cover art that I’m so, so fond of. The menu screen isn’t exactly flashy, and certainly not interactive, but hey, it don’t take much to keep me happy.

This disc menu also points to something I didn’t bring up when looking at the back cover: these flicks aren’t in chronological order. It’s a mild irritant, sure, but for first-time viewers (and those are the people I’m guessing this set is really aimed at; those that like ‘Zilla and are cravin’ more big giant monster action), the disjointed nature of the film selection may be a bit confusing.

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Case in point: the set kicks off with the second film in the series, which makes references to the first film, which doesn’t come until the second disc. War Of The Monsters, later known as Gamera Vs. Barugon, is the most serious in the series. The thing with the old Gamera flicks is that by and large they’re aimed at kids; that’s to say, most of ’em are pretty juvenile in nature. There was an annoying kid in the first film, but the initial two movies are more serious affairs. The sequel, though, has no annoying children and a relatively dark plot. It’s probably the most “Toho-ish” of the original Gamera series.

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The first time I saw it (under the Sandy Frank Gamera Vs. Barugon title) I wasn’t real big on it, but the more I see it the more I dig it. The particular print used in this DVD is one of the rougher ones. It definitely has that old-school “ran on TV 8000 times back in the day” look to it. I mean, you can see the edge of the film’s frame, for cryin’ out loud! It looks similar to an early-1980’s recorded-off-local-TV Beta copy of the film I have.

But, that old-style look of this and (most of) the other prints used in this set is precisely what I find so endearing about this whole thing. Hardcore fans will of course want pristine prints, and in that case TGG’s product will irritate them mightily. But me? I love the images of Saturday afternoon monster movie matinees that the whole thing evokes.

Lest the uninitiated be confused to the point of a crying jag, that’s Barugon up above.

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Not to be confused with Destroy All Monsters, which is a ‘Zilla romp. Also known as Gamera Vs. Viras, this is Gamera #4, chronologically speaking. I’ve had this one for years on a dollar-DVD, but aside from “playing on the TV in the background” status, I never paid much attention to it. This is one of those juvenile-oriented entries; I mean, there’s a scout troop in this one! Naturally, two of those “precocious” kids figure prominently in the plot. I don’t need mah monster films to be strictly “all bidness,” but overtly childish is something I don’t always find entertaining.

Then again, I like Gamera films, and most of them are childish, and I knew that going in, so I’m probably just full of it. Plus, to be completely honest, not too long ago I watched this film again (or for the very first time, depending on your viewpoint) on Off Beat Cinema, and I really didn’t mind it. Silly, sure, but surprisingly not bad, in my worthless humble opinion.

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Just to spite me, at one point Gams gets stabbed in the gut. What could be more endearing to the lil’ baby childs than that? Of course, Gamera ends up no worse for wear by the end.


DISC 2

Disc two kicks off with the first film in the series, follows up with perhaps the most whacked out film in the series, and ends up with something pretty interesting. Are you thinking they spelled “Gaos” wrong? They got it right on the back cover, after all. I’ll get to that in a bit, homeslice.

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The first Gamera was initially released in the U.S. as Gammera The Invincible in 1966. Sandy Frank’s version from the 1980’s was titled simply Gamera and didn’t have a whole lot changed in it aside from new English dubbing. The original ’66 U.S. version, however, took a route similar to the 1956 U.S. release of the first Godzilla film, by inserting newly shot footage of American actors. Albert Dekker and Brian Donlevy appeared in this new footage, as well as Dick O’Neill, who was in a lot of things but I know him best as the former-shop teacher that yelled at Tim Allen in that one Home Improvement.

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I don’t care how much it was tampered with, I much prefer this original 1966 release to the less-tampered with later-dub. I just find it more entertaining. I even like the stupid double-M thing they did with Gamera’s name, though I’d be hard-pressed to explain why. Uniqueness, I guess? Plus, it has a swingin’ 60’s rock song in which “Gammera” is repeated endlessly. It’s performed several times throughout the film, including a memorable moment where the military tries to get the band playing it to evacuate a soon-to-be-attacked building. The band/crowd refuses, preferring to instead to continue rocking out to Gammera’s unofficial theme song. The consequence of said refusal is seen in the screencap above. Whoops!

I really dig this one, and since it’s public domain, you’ll trip over stray copies while waltzing down the street! Cool winnins!

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Attack Of The Monsters is the original AIP TV version of what was later released as Gamera Vs. Guiron, the fifth film in the series. As previously stated, it’s one of the more whacked out entries in the Gamera series. I’m actually kind of on the fence as to which is the better version, this one or Frank’s dub. Both are nutty, but Frank’s features flat-out awful dubbing, which either adds to the craziness or detracts from the watchability. The decision is up to you.

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Like Destroy All Planets, this one features two ostensibly lovable kids being kidnapped by aliens. The best part is Gamera’s high-wire Olympic act, which is a total “say what?” moment.

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Here’s where things get a bit interesting. In stark contrast to the worn, obviously-television-used prints we’ve seen up to this point, Gamera Vs. Gaes aka Gamera Vs. Gaos aka Gamera Vs. Gyaos aka Return Of The Giant Monsters features a terrific widescreen print. I’m so accustomed to seeing Gamera flicks looking like, well, the way they do in the rest of the films in this set, that it’s easy to forget just how good they can look.

After an intro, the title card seen above pops up. Besides the misspelling of “Gaos” as “Gaes” (well, I guess officially it’s supposed to be “Gyaos,” but nevertheless, I’ve never heard of a “Gaes” variation), the fact that things go full-frame for the title and the fact that the title consists of computer-animated water drips over wood paneling (the hell?) that progressively reveals the title points clearly to the fact that this is a modern innovation. Needless to say, it sticks out like a sore thumb.

For a mere fraction of a second, after the title card ends but before heading back into the movie proper, a part of the original Japanese titles remains:

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No joke, it’s only onscreen for a split-second. It took me several tries to even get this screencap. I’m still kinda surprised I even manged to get it. Could they not have left the new “Gaes” title on-screen for a millisecond longer? is this some bizarre form of subliminal advertising? “Buy more Gamera?”

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Odd title-screen aside, it really is a gorgeous copy of the film. Look at that screencap; it’s a beautiful picture of the Japanese skyline (provided you ignore Gaos in the sky.) This brings up a burning question, however: where did this print come from, and how were they allowed to release it? The films seen in the set up to this point are all long in the public domain, but aside from the AIP U.S. version called Return of The Giant Monsters (which I *assume* is public domain as well), I don’t know of any PD copies of Gaos. That said, there are budget releases of the Sandy Frank dub (no kidding, there’s a $1 DVD featuring that particular version of the film lying on the floor mere feet from me, where I have thus far neglected to pick it up) which I can only assume are less than legit, since as far as I know Frank’s version hasn’t lapsed into the murk that often makes up the public domain library. In fact, when I first came upon this DVD set, seeing the title and how it’s spelled on the back cover, I figured that’s the version that was on here. Obviously, not so. I’m assuming neither AIP’s nor Frank’s dubs were used for it, either. So what would it be? Some kind of international version?

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Gaos/Gyaos/Gaes ends with this strange, Star Wars-inspired scroll. Again: the hell?


DISC 3

Third and final disc. it includes a movie I love, a movie I don’t, a movie that bores me, and some bonus features that define “superflous.”

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Gamera Vs. Monster X (aka Gamera Vs. Jiger) is the barometer by which I measure all Gamera DVD sets. If a set doesn’t have it, it’s “decent” at best, “woefully incomplete” at worst. If it does have it, though? Automatic passing grade, man. I love Gamera Vs. Monster X. It’s probably my favorite of the series. Not because it’s good; oh dear my, no, it’s certainly not. It’s pretty awful, and based solely on fun-factor, there are others probably considered more wacky. I don’t care, I will forever digs it.

Why? Because it was my first Gamera, that’s why. Also, because at one point it was pretty tough to find. Back in the VHS days, the Sandy Frank dubbed Gameras were easily found on tape, but Frank never touched Monster X. I quickly became obsessed with obtaining the movie following a mention of it in The Ghoul’s (S)crapbook, and eventually I had to resort to obtaining a bootlegged version that was (naturally) sourced from an ancient TV broadcast. I think it’s in the public domain, but even if it’s not, I now own approximately 8000 legit copies to make up for it. Perhaps fittingly, the version found on TGG’s set appears to be sourced from a VHS. Go figure.

And tell me that title screen isn’t completely awesome. I think it’s the font used for the “Monster X.” Plus, Gamera Vs. Monster X is just a cool title to me, up there with Godzilla Vs. The Thing as far as “neat soundin’ titles” go (that’s just me though; your mileage may vary.)

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Gams looks dangerously close to my pet turtle in this screencap. My turtle doesn’t have the ability of jet-power or to carry enemies skyward, as Gamera is clearly shown performing above. But my turtle does splash furiously whenever he wants food, and that’s pretty darn special too, isn’t it?

(The preceding paragraph is what we like to call “filler,” because I can’t think of really anything else to say about the screencap. It’s Gamera carrying Jiger, okay?)

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I was on an emotional rollercoaster ride with this one (figuratively speaking.) Prior to playing it, I figured this was the usually-seen Sandy Frank version, since I knew Frank’s dubs could show up on these types of sets. But after seeing Gaos and then reading how Zigra‘s title was listed on the back cover, I figured this would be another widescreen print of perhaps shady origin. But then, it turns out this IS the same Sandy Frank dub that’s been floating around for some three decades now, which was exactly what I was expecting with Gamera Vs. Gaos. Wrap your mind around all that, because I sure can’t.

Released in 1971, Gamera Vs. Zigra was the last Gamera until Gamera: Super Monster in 1980. From how I understand it, Daiei went bankrupt and had to be bought out, hence the nine year absence. Even though that 1980 film is considered the last of the original Gamera series, I’ve really always thought of Zigra as the real last one. Super Monster just seems too different. Most of the Gamera footage is taken straight from the old films, it wasn’t made by the same Daiei that made all the other Gameras, and truth be told, I really, really don’t like the ending. Super Monster just doesn’t feel right to me.

So, yeah, I consider Zigra the last of the original Gamera series, and Super Monster a bizarre offshoot. Maybe that’s not the purists viewpoint (or maybe it is, I don’t know,) but it’s certainly my viewpoint. And as we all know, my viewpoint doesn’t amount to a hill of beans is of tantamount importance.

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That’s not to say that I really like Gamera Vs. Zigra, though. In fact, it’s always been one of my least favorites. I should love it, with the vague ecological theme (kinda sorta shades of Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster!) and overwhelming cheapness (I mean, just look at Zigra up above!) But, for whatever reason, it’s always left me cold. That said, it has been awhile since I’ve seen it, so maybe it’s time to revisit. Something tells me it won’t destroy my unwarranted and incomprehensible love for Gamera Vs. Monster X, though.

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Okay, the name of TGG Direct’s set isn’t “The Gamera Collection” or anything like that. It’s called Japanese Monster Movies. Since it’s a budget set, it stands to reason that it is going to consist mainly of Gamera flicks, as most of those are (supposedly) in the public domain. That is to say, despite whatever knowledge I gathered via cheapo VHS companies whilst growing up, Godzilla Vs. Megalon is NOT public domain. What I’m getting at is that TGG presumably only had so many movies to work with without having to shell out the mighty dollars. Keep in mind, I’m not saying they didn’t license some of the flicks found in this set, but conventional wisdom says that these kind of releases don’t have more money poured into them than necessary.

That said, the overwhelming theme of the set is obviously “Gamera.” Look at the cover, look at the menu screens, look at the selected movies. And if that’s not enough, go back up and read the descriptive blurb on the back cover; there are eight movies in the set, and it clearly says they’re all “Gamera Movies.”

Gappa The Triphibian Monsters is NOT a Gamera flick. I knew that going in; I’ve had a recorded-off-TV copy for years, under the title Monster From A Prehistoric Planet. That’s the public domain version, and it appears that that is the version used here, just with a replaced title and end card. Kinda like Gamera Vs. Gaos, but kinda not. Like that one, the newly-created titles stick out like a sore thumb, Unlike that one, we don’t benefit from a crystal clear widescreen print. It almost makes you wonder why they bothered. Maybe the change was made by whoever TGG got this print from, I don’t know.

At any rate, it’s very obviously not a Gamera film, which makes me wonder if they weren’t paying attention, or just trying to sucker the unsuspecting buyer. Though I suppose they couldn’t really say “Here’s seven Gamera flicks, plus one filler” on the back, either.

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I do not like this movie. I never have. Even back in the day when I first taped it, it left me cold, and at that time, I was all about the big ol’ Japanese monsters. Gappa is sort of like a Japanese Gorgo, which in turn was a British Godzilla. Bottom line: a baby “Gappa” is captured and put on display in Japan, and the parents (one of which is what you is did done seein’ above) are none to pleased, so they come to retrieve said baby Gappa. If nothing else, I like this film more than Gorgo, but then, I’ve never liked Gorgo. And yet, I love Gamera Vs. Monster X. Hey, what can I say, I’m complex.

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Disc 3 and (thus the set) ends with two bonus sections: a gallery of scenes that is little more than screencaps from the movies; candid backstage photos they are not. After that there are Gamera trivia facts, which are less fun factoids and more general statements about the films, capped off with generic Asian-y sounding music. If you had watched all of these films in order as placed in this set, you’d know all of this stuff already, which makes them putting the trivia section at the end of the third disc a bit of a head-scratcher. You’ll never watch any of these bonus features again, but if nothing else, they do add a quirky charm to the whole thing.


 

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And there you have it, TGG Direct’s 3-disc Japanese Monster Movie Collection. It’s a cool little set. No one will ever mistake it for something from The Criterion Collection, and there are restored/cleaned up/etc. BluRay releases out there, but for $5, I’d say this one is worth the purchase. There’s some vintage Saturday Afternoon-worthy fare here, and with the few extra ‘odd’ bits, well, I think that just makes this all the more endearing.

Oddly enough, it doesn’t seem this is available at Amazon.com at the present time. Did it go out of print that quickly? I couldn’t say, but if you come across it, I think it’s worth picking up.

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I’m totally gonna have that “Gammera!” song stuck in my head for awhile now…