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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey, where’s King Kong, man?”

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

“So no Son of Kong either, then?”

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

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

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LOOK AT THAT!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nabonga = Gorilla. Update your diaries accordingly.

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

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

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


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

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

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.

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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!

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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.)

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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.)

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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)

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“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?

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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.

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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.”)

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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!]

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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?

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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???

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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.

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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.

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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!”

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.!

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“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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Amvest Video’s Grampa Presents VHS Series: 1968’s “Night of the Living Dead” (1988)

Happy Halloween!

It’s here! The big day! Halloween! It comes but once a year!

Now, some of you are out trick-or-treating, some of you are out partyin’, and some of you are watching the appropriately “spooky” movies. Heck, you adventurous-types will quite conceivably get around to all three before the day is out.

But it’s those of you in the 3rd camp that I identify with most. I haven’t trick-or-treated in years, and even when I did, I could never find a costume I really liked and/or a mask that I could stand wearing for longer than 3.7 seconds. And parties? People generally annoy me too much to make me want to go to one of those. (Plus, I don’t know anyone having one.)

But movies? And while we’re at it, Halloween-themed TV in general? That gets your pal me in the holiday spirit! And man, I have found a tape that exudes that Halloween spirit so overpoweringly, they may as well have created the holiday just so it could exist. And the thing is, it’s not even specifically tailored to Halloween. No, this one just hits all of the horrific hallmarks, and it hits them perfectly.

I now present quite possibly the be-all, end-all release of the perennial Halloween movie, 1968’s Night of the Living Dead. Yes, the film has been released on home video countless times since pretty much the dawn of, well, home video. But this, this version, this is the zenith, the peak, the ultimate. Put out by Amvest Video in 1988, it took 10 years of video releases to do the movie right, and despite all the restorations and remasterin’ and whatnot the film has endured since, I dare say they’ve all fallen short of attaining the sheer magnificence that Amvest managed. This was lightning in a bottle, baby. Or something like that.

Behold!

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*Cricket Chirps*

“…So what, North Video Guy? It’s just another old VHS release of Night of the Living Dead!”

NO IT’S NOT AND HOW DARE YOU SUGGEST OTHERWISE. Okay, fine, sure, it looks fairly ordinary – on the surface. Upon first glance, you may very well be tempted to immediately write this one off as just another cheapie video release of the immortal fright flick. Heck, had I not known better, I may very well have done the same thing. You don’t get the whole picture from the cover art alone, is what I’m saying.

Not that I’m not saying the cover art is bad, mind you; indeed, you can’t go wrong using the fantastic original poster for your VHS sleeve. Granted, Amvest wasn’t the first nor last video company to use this original artwork, or at least a portion of it, but considering the sheer number of other, amateurish lookin’ releases out around the same time, this one does look decidedly more competent than many.

The original poster art was black & white, so Amvest (or someone) added some color to make things pop. Remember, video rentals were a big business at the time, and if you were going to put something on those shelves, you had to make it really jump out towards the prospective renters as much as possible. Plus, when you’ve got like 9000 VHS versions of the same movie competing against each other out there (we looked at one of ’em before!), well, details such as that could very well make the difference between a rent/sale, or continued shelf-languishing.

Look, all I’m trying to get at is that the cover art looks good. And, if nothing else, it doesn’t totally give away the ending like one VHS release from around the same time did. (That still astounds me; you’ve got 90 minutes of film to choose a screenshot from, and you go with the ONE scene that ruins the whole thing. But, I digress.)

Okay, so upon first glance, it seems this is a competent but rather unremarkable VHS release of Night of the Living Dead from the 1980s. Not a bad way to spend an old-school Halloween night, granted, but where does the magic come in? Why all that hype during my intro? Well, I presume you read the title of this post, didn’t you?

Yes, this tape was part of the Amvest “Grampa Presents” VHS series, and thus features Al “Grampa” Lewis hosting what is quite possibly the greatest horror film of all-time. Cool winnins! If this don’t don’t get yo’ Halloween spirits fired right up, well then I just don’t know.

“W-w-well where’s Grampa then, North Video Guy?!”

For those of you paying attention (all two of you), this series of tapes is one of my favorite subjects on this blog. Indeed, this will be the fourth (and, I hope, ultimate) article detailing them. As we saw a few weeks ago, these Grampa Presents tapes usually had Lewis’ visage and other appropriate hoopla plastered on them, but that didn’t necessarily mean he’d be on the tape. Well, as we’re about to see, it works the other way too, bucko.

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This post today is the ultimate culmination (blog-wise) of what began last Halloween. As you’ll recall (maybe), last October 31st is when I first looked at one of these tapes. I had long been intrigued by them, and I made a concerted effort to not only finally add one to my collection, but also to review it for that Halloween day. As I’ve semi-jokingly grumbled about time and time again, these Grampa Presents videos were strictly budget affairs (VHS releases that, back then, you’d typically find for around $10 – or less), and that first tape, a copy of 1939’s The Human Monster, demonstrated this aptly; it was duplicated in the LP recording speed, but on a tape with only enough to fit something in the EP speed. In other words, the tape ended before the movie did.

After that wacky little mishap, rather than turn me off the whole thing, I was only further intrigued by the series. Not only because I was begrudged a whole movie/show/whatever the first time around, but also because no one was/is quite sure just how many installments were actually released. I’m going to explain further in a bit, but rest assured, until I got this tape, Night of the Living Dead was one of the ones I wasn’t convinced existed. At least not with Grampa on the premises.

So anyway, that Halloween post last year gave way to my New Years post this year. There, with a (complete!) copy of Grampa’s The Corpse Vanishes added to my collection, I posted what I wanted to write the first time around; an insanely in-depth review of not only the tape itself, but also a look at this Grampa Presents series as a whole. While I wanted all that to be the final word on the subject, I’ve learned more since then, and frankly, Grampa hosting Night of the Living Dead is so unabashedly awesome, methinks I’m allowed to tread over some of the same ground again. And even if I’m not, I’m gonna; it’s my blog and I’ll do what I want.

(I have a feeling this review is going to get around more than my earlier posts on the series, so I really will be treading some familiar ground here; this is aimed at those new to the subject, so you longtime readers, please bear with me! For many, this will quite possibly be their first look at this obscure video series.)

If you read any of my three previous Grampa Presents posts, you’ll notice that the sleeves feature, you know, Grampa. This series started in 1988, and his caricature and quirky lil’ rating system were supposed to adorn each of the respective tapes, though they were inexplicably left off some. But, that’s not when Amvest/Vintage Video/VideoFidelity/whoever (there’s a lineage of divisions/names, but for the sake of ease, it’s all Amvest to me, okay?) first started releasing movies on VHS; that goes back to *at least* 1985, as you can see in the copyright info above. Their output featured a wide range of genres, and when the Grampa series started in ’88, they just took the appropriate horror/sci-fi titles already released, kept the same catalog numbers, and later ostensibly re-released them as part of the Grampa line.

I say “ostensibly” because prior to finding this tape, I was dubious that any of those earlier titles had actually been later “Grampa-ized” in any way, and I had obtained several ‘plain’ titles that bore that out. I’ll explain further later.

For now, this tape, it has the appearance of one of those ‘plain’ 1985 Amvest tapes. Unlike the decidedly budget-looking qualities of the ’88 releases, these ’85 tapes were, outwardly at least, similar to the Goodtimes and Congress Video products of the era. Even the font and general layout is similar.

Though, I find the summary on the back…kinda strange. That “Look out earthlings!” opening line misleadingly makes this seem like it’s going to be an alien invasion saga. And that whole radiation explanation? That was a theory presented in the film, but the actual cause was basically left unanswered. I object to the “sci-fi thriller” genre labeling (it’s a horror movie!!), and the statement about taking “the horror movie cult by storm” is oddly worded at best. Also, it’s “flick.”

(Also sorely, sorely missed? The “Grampa’s Ratings” feature from the sleeves that were specifically tailored to Grampa Presents entries. How many bats would this film have gotten? Hopefully, all of them.)

Aw, does any of this really matter? Budget Night of the Living Dead releases were no strangers to oftentimes ill-fitting summaries on the sleeves, and besides, we’re about to see what makes this a candidate for greatest home video release of anything ever…

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GRAMPA!

When I purchased this tape, I naturally had my hopes, but from all outside appearances, I figured this was going to be a ‘regular’ Amvest release. Which, hey, if my previously-held theory that this was one of the titles that never had Grampa grafted on held true, this was at least as close as I could get. The catalog number was matched if nothing else, and besides, none of these Amvest tapes, Grampa or otherwise, are easily found. This particular release of Night of the Living Dead proved to be exceedingly rare; indeed, the first copy I saw for sale is the very one we’re looking at this Halloween day!

So, I get the tape, I have to rewind it, I start it at the beginning, and duly proceed to flip my beans. The second the familiar (to me) Grampa intro appeared, I was pretty much already proclaiming this to be the all-time crowning achievement of home entertainment. Look, y’all can watch your mega-deluxe remastered Blu-ray copies of Night of the Living Dead all you want, the fact remains that they (probably) don’t open with a bat being “zapped” by lightning and transforming into Al Lewis, who then continues to flap his arms around appropriately, and all in front of a green-screen (blue-screen?) with generically spooky music in the background. Therefore, this release is clearly the superior choice…if you can find it, that is.

Al Lewis’ famous Grandpa Munster character was going through a resurgence of sorts in the late-1980s and early-1990s. ‘Course, he didn’t go by that moniker, it being copyrighted and all. Thus, the “Grandpa Munster” name gave way to a simple “Grampa,” which was how he was often billed in his post-Munsters endeavors. Everyone knew who he was supposed to be, anyway.

Among his many ventures during the time-period: Starring in a (thematically) similar horror host-showcase for TBS, 1987-1989’s Super Scary Saturday. Also, having his own Atari 7800 game, 1990’s Midnight Mutants; even when ignoring my fondness for Lewis, it’s my pick for best game on the system (and along with Double Dragon, easily my favorite).

Heck, dude even had his own NYC restaurant for a few years. Fun fact: I’ve got a matchbook and a take-out menu from said restaurant in my collection. They make me feel like a big man.

So, these Amvest tapes were just another part of that career resurgence. Even though they seem to have gotten a promotional push by Amvest at some point (well, promotional buttons were made up, anyway; I’ve seen one, they exist), the overall distribution was so limited that they’ve wound up fairly unknown in this day and age. As I’ve stated in my other articles on the subject, these videos range from “highly obscure” to “impossibly rare” (and I’d say this entry definitely falls towards the rarer side of that scale), though truth be told, regardless of rarity they all seem to average around $20 to $30 used. Sometimes even less. Look, these Grampa Presents tapes are worth more than, say, that old VHS copy of Jurassic Park floating around your basement, but in the grand scheme of things, they’re not that valuable.

They are undoubtedly cool, however…

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These weren’t the first tapes to introduce direct-to-video horror hosting; Elvira’s Thriller series was (near as I can tell) the one to kick it all off, back in 1985. (Remember when we looked at Elvira’s VHS hosting of The Cyclops?) Those Thriller tapes were pretty major releases; big, eye-catching boxes, high quality SP recordings, and Elvira at (or very near) the peak of her popularity. In some ways, this Amvest series feels like the budget answer to those Thriller videos, though they probably weren’t intended to be. Or maybe they were, I don’t know.

There were (supposedly) a whopping 59 individual Grampa titles in this series; I’ll give you the whole list in a bit. For those that may want to check out some of these but aren’t weird enough to go after ’em all (like I am), I’ll tell you right now: Grampa’s intros and outros (there are no during-the-movie segments) for each title are exactly the same. What, you thought Lewis was gonna film 59 unique intros and outros? Nope! So, if you’re going for one, you can make your choice based solely on what movie you’re fondest of. ‘Course, that depends on if it was a title actually released with the Grampa segments, and whether it’s even remotely possible to find, and so on and so forth.

The only thing different from tape-to-tape was a moment where Lewis asks the off-screen Igor to tell viewers the name of “this monsta flick!” There’s a silence where a respective voiceover would be added, giving the title and stars, while Lewis looks on expectantly. It’s not a bad idea really, except most of the time Amvest didn’t even bother including the voiceover, which means that Lewis excitedly proclaims “THAT’S THE ONE!!” to absolutely nothing – which is actually really, really funny. My brother, who had never seen one of these prior, joined me for this viewing and got a laugh out of the moment, along with sharing a well-stated “Awkward!”

Lewis’ Super Scary Saturday on TBS is probably the first thing that comes to mind for those that haven’t seen one of these tapes but are imagining a horror hosted showcase starring Grampa. If you pick up one of these Amvest tapes, don’t go in expecting anything close to that show; Amvest was strictly a budget outfit, and boy, it shows. Forget the relatively big-budget, expansive set of the TBS show; Lewis does his entire shtick in front of a green (I guess) screen, with images of a castle (from White Zombie, I believe) and a lab (complete with squiggly neon accents; hey, it was the 1980s) flashed behind him at appropriate moments.

Lewis had his Grampa shtick down to a science by that point, which was fortunate, because he was basically on his own here. Not only does he have to introduce the proceedings and explain this Amvest video series, but he also has to be entertaining. To that end, he cracks jokes about people confusing him with Paul Newman, states this is all taking place in “Downtown Transylvania,” and posits that he’s 316 years old.

And that’s all in addition to yelling at the aforementioned, off-screen Igor. Igor is also unheard, though the voiceover that was supposed to be added (but usually wasn’t) was intended to be him.

These intros and outros add up to under 8 minutes total, but they absolutely give the tape(s) genuine personality. And, Grampa’s promise of “we’re gonna watch it together!” in regards to the movie, obviously it’s just meaningless hype, but it does do a lot for the atmosphere. There’s almost a personal connection here, which was (is?) in the best tradition of television horror hosts. It’s one thing to dryly introduce a film, but it’s another thing to establish a rapport with the audience. Lewis easily manages that. And not just because he was currently hosting movies on TBS when this was made, but also because he was just that good at what he did in general.

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Movie time!

Night of the Living Dead is an intense film, a great film, a genuinely scary film. It’s not exactly a fun film, though. Not in a comical sense, I mean. So, the jokey Grampa segments that bookend it may sound like they’re at odds with the rest of the tape. But, those contrasting styles are part of what makes this so appropriate for today. Halloween is about the scares and whatnot, sure, but it’s also about havin’ some fun.

And, those differing styles are another throwback to honest-to-goodness television horror hosting. The host was there to provide a little levity along with the horrific proceedings. So here, it all just clicks. In a cheap, old, budget VHS sort of way, naturally, but obviously that’s right up my alley. Your mileage may vary, of course.

As evidenced by the screenshots, Amvest did not have access to the highest quality print of Night of the Living Dead in existence. Nope, this is a rough one. It’s pretty blasted, scratchy, dirty, what have you. You can even see the edge of the frame (?) at the top of the screen throughout, as evidenced above. Lotsa crackles on the soundtrack as well. Obviously, this copy of the film made countless trips through the projector before it wound up in Amvest’s hands.

But you know what? None of that really bothers me. I mentioned this in the previous Nosferatu post, but films of this nature, they can sometimes benefit from grainy, worn print quality. Only to a point, granted, but sometimes accumulated wear to a print can enhance the feel of a movie.

“What the H, North Video Guy? You don’t want these movies lookin’ good, G?”

I didn’t say that, you incredible tool. Obviously it’s preferable that a film look as pristine as possible, especially when it’s a movie as important as Night of the Living Dead. THAT SAID, the unflinching storyline, the grainy film stock, the claustrophobic atmosphere, the immersive camera-angles, the gradually-ramping intensity, it’s all somehow made even more otherworldly, even dreamlike, by the quality of the print on this tape. It almost feels more nightmarish, like you’re peaking in on something better left unseen.

So, the condition of this print of Night of the Living Dead, plus some less-than-stellar duplication and the EP recording speed, by all means none of it should work in the favor of this viewing experience. And yet, somehow, it does. Criterion won’t come a-callin’ for a copy of this version anytime soon, but for our purposes here today, it’s perfect.

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A zombie shuffling through a graveyard, in black & white, via a cool tilty camera-angle? Looks Halloween appropriate to me!

I have strong Halloween-connections to Night of the Living Dead. Yeah yeah, real unique, I know. Like so many others I’m sure, that’s when I first discovered the film. Well, technically it was November 1, 1997. I’ve talked about this before, but it was through The Son of Ghoul Show that I first saw the movie. At the time, Son of Ghoul was running on both Fridays and Saturdays, same episode both nights, from 8 to 10 PM. That weekend, October 31st fell on a Friday, but it was some channel surfing on the following night that introduced me to both The Son of Ghoul Show and Night of the Living Dead. I became a fan of both immediately.

Night of the Living Dead gripped me in a way no other film did, at least not up to that point. Even with the customary humorous sound effects Son of Ghoul added to it (this being my first episode, it took me a moment to realize what he was doing, but I loved that aspect, too), I was completely and utterly riveted. I just had never seen anything like it.

Since Halloween fell on a Friday that year, Son of Ghoul naturally had things covered. But obviously, it didn’t always work out that way. Luckily, when it didn’t, that same station (WAOH TV-29/WAX TV-35) customarily ran the film itself (as opposed to syndicating America One Network content, as they usually did) on October 31st. This was an entirely different print from what Son of Ghoul had, and truth be told, it exhibited a lot of the scratchy, worn aspects that I feel can and do add an extra nightmarish element to the film. In fact, it’s from those annual airings that I first realized this! For the sake of comparison, I once wrote about one of those broadcasts here.

I consider Night of the Living Dead the capper to my generally-preferred era of classic horror & sci-fi films. Actually, it comes a bit later, to be honest. I usually go for the Universal classics of the 1930s and 1940s, the poverty row films from the same period, and the cornball stuff from the 1950s and early-1960s. After that, my interests wane considerably. I wasn’t always quite so narrow-minded; I wound up like this through years of watching, re-watching, taste refinement, what have you. Hey, I gotta be me.

Night of the Living Dead, however, transcends my admittedly self-imposed limitations. Besides my nostalgic history with the film, I just find it an absolute masterpiece from start to finish. Everything about it works, and works perfectly. The acting, the plot, the claustrophobic intensity, the subtle (or maybe not so subtle) social commentary, the camera-angles, it’s all simply fantastic. The low budget that would have hampered almost any other film instead gives this one a gritty realism. There’s a real substance behind Night of the Living Dead; it’s not just a bunch of zombies eating people in order to give the audience a gory body count and little else. I detest that kind of film making, which is why I respect director George A. Romero so much; there was always more to his work, and this movie is a prime example of that.

Do I really even need to explain the plot of Night of the Living Dead? Just about everyone has seen it; with the public domain status, there were (are) numerous home video releases, television airings, even free and legal online downloads. You almost have to be trying to not see this movie!

Still, I suppose a brief summary is in order: For reasons never satisfactorily explained, the recently dead are returning to life as mindless zombies (or as the film deems them, “ghouls”), who then proceed to murder and eat the flesh of the living. Through various circumstances, on the night this situation first breaks, seven people of differing backgrounds and personalities find themselves in an isolated Pennsylvania farmhouse – a farmhouse that is surrounded by the creatures, whose numbers are progressively growing. The idea is for those trapped inside to work together, to either fortify the house until morning when a rescue party will (hopefully) be by, or safely escape to a rescue shelter in the city. Human nature being what it is, especially in a crisis, well, it doesn’t go quite as planned…

Look, I have a hard time believing anyone stumbling upon this article hasn’t seen the original Night of the Living Dead, but if by some strange occurrence you haven’t, you can watch it here, or at least read more about it here.

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Like I said a bit ago, Night of the Living Dead isn’t just a “zombies eatin’ guys, yo” movie. There’s more to it than that, including some pretty terrific social commentary lurking beneath the surface. Much of the film being an allegory for the Vietnam War. I’m far, far from the first to point out there are moments where Night of the Living Dead resembles gritty newsreel footage, and while the connection may be easy for some modern viewers to overlook, at the time of release it had to be hard for viewers of a certain age to miss.

But probably the most visible influential element, beyond the plot and what it did for the horror genre, is the star: Duane Jones. Jones plays Ben, the hero of the film. Of all the characters, Ben is the most level-headed, resourceful, and calm (to a point). Ben also happens to be black. To have an African-American in the lead role of a horror film, as the sanest voice of reason, in 1968, that was a huge deal. It was a monumental leap from Mantan Moreland in King of the Zombies, that’s for sure! And what’s more, while there appears to be some underlying racial tension, his color is never referenced in the movie; he’s simply another person trying to survive the onslaught of the undead. I like that.

Ben gets a legitimately awesome first appearance, literally jumping into the frame after his truck pulls up to the farmhouse. (In other words, you know immediately he’s cool.) Ben is also the subject for one of the most shocking conclusions in film history. I know practically everybody and their mother has seen Night of the Living Dead, but I’m still hesitant to spoil it. If you’ve seen it, you know. If you haven’t, go see it. I’ll never forget how absolutely floored by it I was upon that first viewing nearly 20 years ago. (Almost 20 years? I refuse to believe it’s been that long!)

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There were technically zombie films before Night of the Living Dead, (the aforementioned King of the Zombies comes to mind, as does 1932’s White Zombie), but the zombie genre as we know it today basically begins here. Earlier films regarding the subject were more along the lines of people in a trance, products of voodoo, those kind of zombies. The idea of the shambling, mindless, flesh-eating zombie – an idea that found life in a thousand Italian rip-offs (which I hate), the Resident Evil video game series (which I mostly love), today’s The Walking Dead, and of course the sequels to this Night of the Living Dead – it all started here. There’s been some differences over the years: the zombies in Night are scared of fire, whereas those in The Walking Dead are drawn to (or so I’m told; I’m not a Walking Dead fan), but the basic concept has remained the same. You still gotta kill the brain, man!

Part of what makes the film so effective is that we don’t know why the dead are rising and going after our flesh. As I mentioned before, there’s a radiation explanation, in which a satellite returning from Venus was detonated in our atmosphere, but it’s more of a theory than a definitive conclusion.

Or rather, that was a theory presented in the film, but not this particular version of it; that explanatory scene has been edited out of this print! Well, most of it; there’s a short, short piece left in. (There’s also another fairly-obvious bit of editing later, and that one looks then-recently implemented; to make more room for the Grampa segments, perhaps?)

I’m actually okay with the exploding satellite theory being excised from this version, which I’m a little surprised to hear myself say; under normal circumstances, the idea of needlessly chopping up a film, especially a masterpiece like this one, that’s the sort of thing that can cause me to fold my arms and pout for hours on end. But here, it’s so much scarier not knowing why this is all happening. The satellite theory was never conclusive evidence anyway, and all it did was subsequently muck up the reasoning for the outbreak. (Case in point: the back cover for this VHS release!)

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Above: Johnny’s coming to get you, Barbra!

Upon this latest viewing, I was struck yet again by just how perfectly-paced this film is. The ramping intensity is something to behold. It starts out foreboding but calm enough, and then grows increasingly nerve-wracking, until the natural boiling point is hit and it all goes careening out of control. You can almost feel this living dead situation grow from something relatively small and not very well understood into a legitimate, widespread crisis. That the movie is so convincingly able to put this forth when, for the most part, it’s only seen from the viewpoint of those trapped in the farmhouse, it’s a testament to just how well-made it is.

And furthermore, because there’s such a wide-range of dispositions on display via the different people inside, it’s almost like a gauge of how the world at large is dealing with the onslaught. From the relatively calm and resourceful to the angry knee-jerk to the indecisive, and even to the victims of the plague, a large slice of human nature is on display – and over the course of the film, some of those lines are occasionally blurred. It speaks to the different personalities of not only the main characters, or even the fictional world beyond the farmhouse, but to us, the very real individuals watching the film! I’d guess most of us would like to identify with Ben, but in a situation like this, who knows who we would actually resemble?

And, in a broader study of life, guess what? It doesn’t matter who or what they (or we) are or what happens; different roads are taken, but it all has the same eventual outcome. Man this movie is brilliant.

Night of the Living Dead is the first in Romero’s Dead film series. While the social commentary, and number of zombies, increased in following entries, this original film is the only one I concern myself with nowadays. I didn’t like the way things were heading in 1985’s Day of the Dead, and after reading accounts of the following entries, well, I really had no desire to see any of them.

Even 1978’s Dawn of the Dead, the first sequel to Night, while there was a point when I considered it my favorite of the series, as I grew older I gravitated back to this original. I know that’s probably anathema to admit, and yes, Dawn is technically a better film, with stronger social commentary, a higher budget, etc. BUT, Night, I just find it so much more effective. I like the comparatively subtle social commentary, but more importantly, the claustrophobic black & white nature of the film, it still grips me in a way no other horror movie can.

And as far as the Dead series as a whole goes, Night seems the purest; no trained, and from how I understand it, eventually intelligent, zombies – a germ of an idea that really turned me off Day upon my first viewing so many years ago. Nope, the creatures in Night are just relentlessly after your flesh; that’s it! Do you really need more of a driving factor than the prospect of your skin bein’ munched on?!

And what’s more, the tone of the following Dead films, I don’t like the increasingly bleak direction they took. Again, probably anathema to admit, I know. But, the idea of the entire world being overrun, a zombie apocalypse, I don’t know, it just doesn’t do it for me. Oddly enough, despite the shocking downer conclusion of Night, there’s still a small glimmer of hope on display: Maybe things can still be contained, maybe this really was just a night of the living dead? I find the uncertain prospects at the end of the film far more appealing than knowing that “y’all is doomed.”

I guess what I’m getting at is that I prefer to view Night of the Living Dead as a standalone film and not as part of a wider series. I know many will disagree with me, and that’s fine; it’s strictly a personal choice on my part, and I’m well aware that I’m probably in the minority.

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One more thing about Night

Chilly Billy! Yep, there’s an added element of horror hosting history on display in Night of the Living Dead: Bill Cardille, popularly known as “Chilly Billy,” hosted Chiller Theatre in Pittsburgh (where this film was, uh, filmed) for years. Here, he plays a news reporter, keeping viewers abreast of the crisis in the world at large.

Cardille passed away in July, and while I myself never had much experience with him beyond this movie, it’s clear that he meant a lot to his local viewers. So, here’s my small, belated tribute to one of the icons of horror hosting. R.I.P., Chilly Billy. If there’s one way to live on, being in Night of the Living Dead, of all films, is it!

(Fun Fact: Cardille’s daughter Lori was the star of the second sequel to this movie, 1985’s Day of the Dead!)

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And that brings us back to Grampa, the element that takes this VHS tape of Night of the Living Dead from “great movie, interesting release” to “I love this I love this I love this so so so muchhhhh.” The movie is pretty untouchable no matter how you see it, but when it has horror hosted bookends, it’s all just so much more fun. Especially when they’re courtesy of Al Lewis.

Because the segments for this series were all the same, with only the voiceover in the intro supposed to have been changing, much of what Grampa says isn’t tied to any particular film (for obvious reasons), and what is movie-related is just generic oohing and ahhing.

For example, the first thing he says upon returning from the movie is “That was so scary, it scared the blood right back into my veins! What a feeling!” Not an unusual thing to say given the circumstances, and in the case of Night of the Living Dead, it works. Thing is, a good deal of the (prospective) movies in this series, they were more silly or cheesy than they were scary, which makes the line either pretty appropriate or wildly ironic, depending on the film.

I’m not really going anywhere with this line of thought, I just wanted a kinda sorta decent transition to this next part…

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No one is quite sure how many titles were actually released as part of this Grampa Presents line. We have a list of titles that were supposedly available, via a scrolling list in the outro segment (above), but only a portion of those have been confirmed to actually exist. It doesn’t help that ones known to exist with the Grampa-branded cover don’t necessarily have Grampa on the tape, and ones that have ‘normal’ covers can sometimes have the surprise host segments. And, as we’ve seen today, there were re-releases of older, 1985 Amvest tapes that left the covers the same, but updated the tape itself to fit the series. And they ALL share the same catalog numbers, which just makes things more confusing. It’s an interesting, though often maddening, mish-mash of releases, and every time I think I’ve got a handle on things, something comes along that makes me question everything all over again.

Before I got this tape, I had basically come to the conclusion that the older ’85 titles were added to pad out the number of supposed Grampa Presents entries during the outro scroll, but I held doubts that they were ever updated to correspond to the 1988 series beyond that. I had obtained enough of the ’85 titles to where I thought I was safe in making that educated (ha!) guess. Needless to say, my finding of this Night of the Living Dead shatters that theory and leaves things pretty much wide open now.

So, my new rule of thumb is “If it’s on this list, and it’s available, give it a shot, because you never know until you play it.” That’s the best and only conclusion I can come to. I strongly suspect Amvest released all of these movies on VHS at some point, and for all I know, there’s corresponding Grampa versions for each and every one.

Here now is that complete list of potentially available titles as given during the outro segment…

(* = Indicates that I personally own a copy of that title, and thus I know for sure it was released by Amvest in some form at some point. [Confirmed] = Indicates this title was indeed released as part of the Grampa Presents series, either with him on the tape itself, on the packaging, or both. If Al Lewis is present in or on the tape in any way, I’m considering it officially released as part of the series. My confirmation is based on what I personally own, what I myself have seen sold online, these two pages over at The VCR From Heck, this page over at VHSCollector, and the Mike’s VHS Collection page over at Cinemassacre. Reputable sources all! And yes, I will continuously update this list as I progressively confirm and/or acquire more titles.)

1. VV-430 – Night Of The Living Dead [Confirmed]*
2. VV-432 – The Little Shop Of Horrors*
3. VV-439 – The Terror [Confirmed]*
4. VV-442 – The Devil Bat [Confirmed]*
5. VV-443 – Horror Hotel [Confirmed]
6. VV-446 – The Ape Man*
7. VV-458 – Frankenstein’s Daughter*
8. VV-471 – Godzilla Vs. Megalon*
9. VV-476 – White Zombie*
10. VV-501 – Ghosts On The Loose [Confirmed]
11. VV-515 – The House Of Exorcism [Confirmed]
12. VV-516 – The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant [Confirmed]*
13. VV-517 – Spider Baby [Confirmed]
14. VV-518 – Spooks Run Wild [Confirmed]*
15. VV-519 – The Indestructible Man
16. VV-520 – The Corpse Vanishes [Confirmed]*
17. VV-521 – Phantom From Space [Confirmed]*
18. VV-522 – Who Killed Doc Robin?
19. VV-523 – Killers From Space [Confirmed]*
20. VV-524 – The Human Monster [Confirmed]*
21. VV-525 – Scared To Death [Confirmed]*
22. VV-526 – The Vampire Bat
23. VV-527 – Death Race 2000*
24. VV-528 – The Phantom Of The Opera (1925)
25. VV-529 – Invisible Ghost [Confirmed]
26. VV-530 – Bride Of The Gorilla [Confirmed]
27. VV-531 – Carnival Of Souls [Confirmed]*
28. VV-532 – Witch’s Curse [Confirmed]*
29. VV-533 – Snow Creature [Confirmed]
30. VV-534 – Battle Of The Worlds*
31. VV-535 – Dementia 13 [Confirmed]*
32. VV-536 – Alice, Sweet Alice [Confirmed]
33. VV-537 – Vampyr
34. VV-538 – Radar Men From The Moon (Part 1)
35. VV-539 – Radar Men From The Moon (Part 2)
36. VV-540 – The Death Kiss [Confirmed]*
37. VV-541 – Nosferatu [Confirmed]*
38. VV-542 – Yog, Monster From Space [Confirmed]
39. VV-543 – First Spaceship On Venus [Confirmed]*
40. VV-544 – The Crawling Eye [Confirmed]*
41. VV-545 – Giant From The Unknown [Confirmed]*
42. VV-546 – Immediate Disaster
43. VV-547 – The Last Woman On Earth [Confirmed]*
44. VV-548 – The Living Head [Confirmed]*
45. VV-549 – Mesa Of Lost Women [Confirmed]
46. VV-550 – Missile To The Moon [Confirmed]*
47. VV-551 – Monster From Green Hell [Confirmed]*
48. VV-552 – Nightmare Castle
49. VV-553 – The Robot Vs. The Aztec Mummy
50. VV-554 – Mars Attacks The World*
51. VV-555 – Satan’s Satellites
52. VV-556 – The Island Monster
53. VV-557 – Wild Women Of Wongo
54. VV-558 – Wrestling Women Vs. The Aztec Mummy
55. VV-559 – Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (Michael Rennie) [Confirmed]
56. VV-560 – She Demons [Confirmed]*
57. VV-561 – Creature From The Haunted Sea [Confirmed]
58. VV-562 – The Ape [Confirmed]*
59. VV-563 – The Phantom Creeps [Confirmed]

In addition to those 59 titles, there were also four special compilations hosted by Grampa: Two movie trailer collections, and two horror-themed cartoon collections. These four listings were not included in the scroll at the end of these Grampa Presents tapes, and technically probably aren’t officially considered part of the series. Still, they’re Amvest, and they’re Grampa, so for the sake of completion, I’m including them here. It should be noted that the two movie trailer tapes are probably the easiest Amvest Grampa tapes to find. It seems used copies are almost always readily available on eBay and Amazon, especially the Grampa’s Monster Movies compilation.

60. VS-005 – Grampa’s Silly Scaries – Vintage Horror-Themed Cartoons [Confirmed]
61. VS-006 – Grampa’s Monster Movies – Vintage Horror Movie Trailers [Confirmed]*
62. VS-009 – Grampa’s Sci-Fi Hits – Vintage Science Fiction Movie Trailers [Confirmed]
63. VS-010 – More Silly Scaries – Vintage Horror-Themed Cartoons [Confirmed]

It’s important to note that in 2004, Passport Video (who somehow share a connection to the Amvest of old) released DVDs of the horror trailers and cartoon sets. I don’t own either (yet), but from how I understand it, they were straight conversions of the old Amvest tapes, barring maybe one or two alterations. The VCR From Heck has more info on these DVDs.

It’s wild to think that Lewis was still alive when those DVDs were released; hopefully he got a few extra bucks thanks to them.

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It’s a trip listening to Lewis as the list scrolls. Mostly, he makes generic comments such as “I remember that one!” until he decides it’s time to yell at Igor some more for his apparently bad eating habits. It’s doesn’t make much sense, but it’s better than a dry, silent scroll if nothing else.

The end of the scroll promises “more to come.” This list of 59 titles is the only real resource we have of the Grampa Presents releases, and as previously stated, whether all of those were even put out with Lewis-involvement of some sort is in question.

Still, that statement of “more to come” is thought-provoking. Is it possible that Amvest later released some additional titles with Lewis’ host segments grafted on? As we’ve seen, they wouldn’t have even necessarily included the appropriate hoopla on the VHS sleeve; you never know for sure until the tape is played.

Of course, I have no knowledge whatsoever of further “surprise” titles in the series; everything I have or have seen has corresponded exactly with this list. Frankly, I suspect the promise of later releases to have been little more than hype, hype that eventually went unfulfilled. Still, one has to wonder…

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After the scroll, information is given to order direct from Amvest if a desired title couldn’t be found in stores. And, my guess is, a good many couldn’t.

$12.95 total may sound like a lot for a VHS tape now, but back in 1988, that was most definitely a budget price. Remember, official, big-time movie releases on the format then were over $20 (sometimes way over). But $13? That’s totally doable. And, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that actual in-store copies were even cheaper, especially when establishments were trying to clear out the old stock to make room for the new. Honestly, I can see these running $5-$10 easily in those instances. Now granted, the quality of the tapes often left a lot to be desired, but hey, that’s where the old adage “you get what you pay for” came in.

Anyway, on the off chance you did come across these tapes at a brick-and-mortar video store, you were supposed to look for the “Casket of Horrors” display, which housed all of them in once concise section for your perusal. I have no idea how many of, or even if, these displays were produced; the tapes themselves seemed to have barely gotten around, after all. But, there’s no doubt that the display is painfully, ridiculously, undeniably cool. Do you have any idea how badly I’d flip if I could get one of these stand-ups for my collection? Pretty badly! We’re talking an “only technically an adult” level of excitement here.

I’m trying to decipher what tapes are on display in this scene. Given the less-than-pristine quality of this tape, it’s not an easy task. Third from the left I’m almost positive is a copy of this Night of the Living Dead, and second from the right I’m pretty sure is Godzilla Vs. Megalon. The rest, I have no idea. Despite Grampa’s assurances each tape would feature his face on the cover, these all appear to be 1985 releases, and who knows if they were all actually altered to feature Grampa on the actual video; Night obviously did (at some point), but my Amvest Megalon? Despite showing some signs of potentially being an ’88 reissue, it was not Grampa-ized (much to my understandable chagrin). So again, there’s just no way to tell without having a tape in-hand and playing it.

If one did decide to order direct from Amvest, Grampa gives the standard address, New Jersey residents (where Amvest was based) had to add 6% sales tax, and so on and so on. But, he also states that when ordering, please allow 4 to 6 weeks for delivery “because in your neighborhood, the bats don’t fly that fast!” Yes, Grampa suggests your tape would be delivered by a bat. How can you not love the guy when he does things like that?

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Grampa’s final pitch before the sensory assault that was (is) this tape finishes? “So listen to Grampa and don’t dig your own grave! Go out and buy Amvest Video!” That’s pretty fantastic. And what if you don’t buy Amvest? Grampa proceeds to vaguely threaten what will happen if you don’t: “One night, it’s dark. You’re alone? You won’t be; I’ll be there visiting!” This statement is then followed by the classic, loud Grampa laugh that continues as the screen fades out.

Again, how can you not love the guy when he does things like that?

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One last touch: the Amvest copyright card punctuates the video, complete with an evocative score (plus some continuing Grampa laughter!) and computerized blood dripping down the screen. If somehow someone hadn’t realized they were watching something sufficiently “spooky” prior (yeah, sure, uh huh), this last image leaves no further room for doubt.


Whew! Done!

This, this tape, I just don’t think I can accurately describe how cool it is. Some may see it as a cheap, wildly obsolete relic from a bygone era in home video. Not me. I see it as an incredibly entertaining product from the earlier years of video. Yes, the quality isn’t the greatest; it’s a budget release after all. But the Al Lewis segments are fun, especially to a fan such as myself. And the movie? You just can’t touch the original Night of the Living Dead. Even when it wasn’t an ‘authoritative’ presentation, it works, because the film is just THAT good. And, despite the somewhat lacking print quality here, like I said before, it adds an extra layer of nightmarish, grindhouse feeling to the proceedings.

Back when I reviewed The Corpse Vanishes as presented via this series, I held doubts that I’d ever do such an in-depth study of one of these titles again. Obviously I didn’t hold true to that. But, I think I was justified in revisiting. You just can’t top this one. My hunt for more of these titles will continue, I’ve gone too far to stop now, but in the way of sheer Halloween coolness, this Night of the Living Dead entry won’t be topped. The game is over, and I have won.

Previously, Grampa Presents The Corpse Vanishes was my de facto favorite entry in this series. But now, I’ve got to amend that standpoint a bit: It’s now safely tied with this one. The Corpse Vanishes is still my favorite “traditional” release; cheaper packaging, the Grampa advertising all over it, etc. Nevertheless, this Night instantly shot right up there next to it. (EDIT: Now it’s a three-way tie; I’ve since discovered Grampa’s version of The Devil Bat, too!) No, Al Lewis isn’t on the sleeve, but he’s present where it really counts, and that’s more than enough to rank this tape up there not only with my favorites in the line, but also up there with the favorites of my not-inconsiderable VHS collection as a whole. That’s a big statement coming from me, but I have zero problem making it.

And with that, our big Halloween post comes to a close. I can’t think of a better choice for the blog today. Sure, in the realm of these Grampa tapes, there are other appropriate choices, too; Carnival of Souls would have sufficed nicely, had I decided to give it the spotlight. But, given my fondness for this series, my history with Night of the Living Dead, and the fact this particular release is painfully rare, this was the logical, and to me, only, topic I could see myself going with. It’s just so Halloween appropriate! I simply couldn’t have asked for better material to cover on the blog than this.

Have a great Halloween everybody!

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

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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.

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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…

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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!

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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.

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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!

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“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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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…

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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.)

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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!

Amvest Video’s Grampa Presents VHS Series: 1942’s The Corpse Vanishes (1988)

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Last year, I started the new year off right with Superhost hosting Bela Lugosi in 1931’s Dracula. Now, I’m starting this year off right, with Al “Grampa” Lewis hosting Bela Lugosi in one of the films he was relegated to doing after Dracula, uh, typecast him somethin’ fierce. Do I know how to live or what!

Hopefully you’ll recall my last Halloween post, in which I looked at Amvest Video’s release of 1939’s The Human Monster as part of their “Grampa Presents” video series of 1988. There was a long line of these tapes, but none of them are all that easily found nowadays, which meant that I really wanted one, any one. I mean, Al “Grandpa Munster in all but official name” Lewis hosting a bunch of cheap, primarily public domain movies? I need that in my life as much as possible.

Fortunately for my video collection (though unfortunately for my wallet), the acquisition of that first tape touched off a severe wave of, well, I don’t want to say obsession, but somewhere around that description. I thought I’d be happy with one or two, but in the months since that initial article, my Grampa Presents collection has grown to include a nice chunk of titles from the series (plus one of the horror movie trailer compilations Lewis hosted for Amvest, which is obviously related but not quite part of the line). Not too shabby considering I only got my first tape in early October, I’d say!

(And truth be told, even ‘regular,’ non-Grampa-branded Amvest releases of these movies have proven to be an area of high interest to me. I’ve managed to gather up several of those, too.)

Much of this had to do with the fascinating backstory, or lack thereof, regarding the line: basically, no one is quite sure how many of these Grampa Presents tapes were actually released. There is a long list of titles attributed to it (which we’ll get to in a bit), but only a portion of those have been confirmed to, you know, exist. Some of them pop up from time-to-time online, but then there’s others that have been confirmed but almost never show up. Even though I’ve managed to acquire a bunch of these tapes since that first one in October, I still stand by my statement in the earlier post that they range from “highly obscure” to “impossibly rare.” And those are just the ones I/we know about!

Anyway, needless to say, the saga continues now, with one of the titles in the series that’s on the easier end of the spectrum to find (relatively speaking), but was nevertheless one of my personal chasers…

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Bela Lugosi’s 1942 poverty row opus, The Corpse Vanishes. Cool winnins!

If you’ve read that Halloween post, you’ll know there were some problems with that first tape: namely, it was recorded in the wrong speed. Thus, the tape ran out out before the movie was over! This hurt me deep, but not as much as it would have had it been a movie I cared more for. I’ve never been big on The Human Monster (aka Dark Eyes of London), but The Corpse Vanishes is a different story; I’ve been fond of the film ever since first seeing it on Son of Ghoul waaay back in 1997 (one of my very first episodes – I had only begun watching Son of Ghoul a few weeks prior).

Because I actually like the movie, your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter was going to be exponentially more irked if there was something wrong with this tape. I’ll say upfront that all is well as far as that is concerned. It played from start to finish without incident, and given the EP recording speed, the picture quality wasn’t exceptional but certainly passable. Considering these videos were strictly budget affairs the whole way around, I was pleasantly surprised.

(Over the course of amassing these titles, and even the non-Grampa-hosted Amvest releases, I’ve learned a lot about the ups-and-downs of them. Indeed, thanks to how much more I know about all of this now, this is probably going to end up being the article I wanted to write last time. I know I’ll end up repeating a few things I said the first time around, so please bear with me.)

The cover art, though simplistic, is appealing. If you go and search out other images of the Grampa Presents line, you’ll see that the artwork can vary wildly from release to release. Some tapes use the original movie posters as a template, some (such as this one) use a real photograph, and others use hand drawn original artwork that can range from okay to, well, lets just say the hand drawn stuff sometimes isn’t the best. Make no mistake though, even the goofier-looking ones I love; these things have charm to spare!

As for this The Corpse Vanishes, like I said, it’s simplistic, but overall still very cool. The Bela image is appropriate, and the red and gray color scheme is attractive…

…Aw, who am I kidding? It’s all about the Grampa banner at the top. It totally takes the cover from “competent” to “I should probably have a poster of it made for my bedroom wall.” I’m seriously considering printing out copies of that “Grampa Presents” header and fixing them to some of my favorite tapes just to make them look better. “Grampa Presents: The Giant Spider Invasion.” “Grampa Presents: The Creeping Terror.” “Grampa Presents: M*A*S*H – Goodbye, Farewell and Amen.The possibilities are endless!

I should be getting a million dollars a week for these brilliant ideas.

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For as good as the front covers (can) look, the back covers are always pretty plain. Indeed, before you actually put the tape in the VCR, that’s where the budget roots of the video are first evident (unless you got one of those particularly cheesy-covered ones, in which case, that’s where the budget roots are first evident). Not that that bothers me in the slightest; budget tape charm and all that.

As far as the movie synopsis goes, it’s not exactly comprehensive or anything, but the one used here for The Corpse Vanishes isn’t quite as perfunctory as the descriptions on these tapes can be. Okay, it’s a straight two paragraphs without any frills, but hey, I’ve seen worse.

‘Course, it’s totally the “Grampa’s Ratings” feature that makes the back cover: three bats and the declaration of “GHOULISH GREAT!” AND it’s topped off with (ostensibly) Al Lewis’ personal signature to let you, the video consumer, know that this has his personal guarantee of quality. That’s awesome.

No kidding, for old public domain flicks like this, there were (and are!) untold multitudes of releases. So, something, anything that could make one particular version stand out from the rest could make the difference between an eventual purchase or continued shelf languishing. And you know, I think that’s another one of the things that I find so appealing about these releases; sure, there are countless ‘normal’ copies out there, but when you’ve got the option to watch the movie with Al Lewis bookends, well, why not take it? Sure, you may have to contend with some tracking issues, and no, the print used for the film won’t be Criterion Collection quality, but the ‘spooky horror hosted’ vibes of the tape easily makes up for all of that.

Also, I totally just thought of “Grampa Presents: Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster.Man that would that be awesome. I should be getting two million dollars a week for these brilliant ideas.

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There’s the cute lil’ tape itself. If you go back to my first Grampa Presents post, you’ll see the difference in the tape casing and reels. The Human Monster was in a more standard case but with thick, white, mega-cheap wheels. This one however uses more standard reels and a casing akin to the kind Memorex used for their late-1980s/early-1990s blank VHS tapes. (Not so unusual there; I’ve seen copies of Batman ’89 with the same casing.) Unlike The Human Monster‘s LP recording, The Corpse Vanishes is, as I said, in EP/SLP.

That anal-retentive description above isn’t just me being particularly pretentious; I do actually have a point to make. And that is: I’ve come to learn that there just isn’t any rhyme or reason to any of this. I’ve got a nice cache of individual Grampa titles, as well as several ‘plain’ Amvest titles, but there’s almost no standard formula to any them. Casings and reels vary between them, and more importantly, so do recording speeds. The majority were recorded in EP or LP, though there are some SP tapes out there, Grampa Presents included (of which I have three). As far as the Grampa versions go, the SP tapes seem to usually have a sticker of some sort on the back stating the fact (like this one), but EP and LP tapes have no such distinction. If you want to know before actually playing the tape, you generally have to look at the reels themselves (and with tapes that have larger wheels inside, that can sometimes be difficult), or gauging the weight of the tape itself (general rule of thumb: the heavier, the better).

Something else you need to be on the lookout for: Grampa’s host segments aren’t necessarily on each and every one. Yep, despite the appropriate “dis got Grampa” packaging, some tapes only feature him on the sleeve; the movie itself doesn’t feature the Al Lewis bookends. Four of my tapes demonstrate all the pomp and circumstance of Grampa, but he’s nowhere to be found on the actual recording (and three of those four are the aforementioned SP-recorded ones, so maybe those were later issues of some sort?).

Since both Grampa and non-Grampa releases of the same movie share identical catalog numbers, and because there’s nothing that singles out one version or the other on the actual label affixed to the tape itself, it’s certainly possible that opposing editions could accidentally be thrown into the opposite box, or maybe even as a substitute when they ran out of the ‘appropriate’ version? I’m just spit-balling here.

Or maybe, and this is just another hypothesis on my part, they didn’t want to pay licensing fees for Grampa’s filmed segments anymore (provided there were licensing fees; I don’t pretend to know how this all initially went down), and began intentionally leaving the host segments off of later tape runs, but kept paying to use his image on the cover for the “name” factor? Remember, the sleeve promises us Grampa’s guarantee, but it never actually says he’s going to be hosting the movie. Maybe Amvest eventually decided to go the Gene Shalit route?

BUT WAIT! Conversely, my Amvest copies of First Spaceship On Venus and Missile To The Moon are plain, no Grampa on the artwork, and yet, his host segments are included on the actual tapes! Surprise cool winnins! So theoretically, any Amvest, supposedly-non-Grampa release from 1988 under their “Vintage Video” subsidiary (which goes back to at least 1985, but those are more reminiscent of the Goodtimes tapes in cover-style from the period, and pre-date the Grampa Presents series by three years anyway) could conceivably be unmarked Grampa titles!

Like I said, there’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Just when I think I’ve got a handle on matters, something comes along that makes me rethink everything I thought I knew beforehand. I’ve had my preconceived notions, and time and again they were dashed.

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Lucky for me, The Corpse Vanishes does indeed include the Al Lewis intro and outro. This is a good thing, because I can easily see this movie as-is any number of ways, and if watching it via a cheapie VHS from the 1980s is the way I wanna go, there are plenty of options available there, too. All it takes is a quick run through eBay and a couple of bucks in my pocket. (Though after getting all these Grampa videos, the latter is decidedly tougher than the former!)

But by now, it’s pretty obvious to anyone taking even a cursory glance at this blog that I prefer my horror movies, uh, horror hosted. Oh sure, I love ’em straight too, but having grown up with all of the Northeast Ohio movie hosts (as well as the enduring fondness for the local hosts before my time, i.e. Ghoulardi), I have a strong affinity for anyone dressing up in cheesy/spooky garb and throwing out hackneyed puns. These movies are just so much more fun that way, at least to me. Plus, it’s an aspect of television broadcasting that has largely (but not completely) fallen by the wayside, making it all doubly-interesting to me.

Needless to say, horror hosting had its roots in television, but by the late-1980s, when home video had not only become entrenched as a de facto part of any well-rounded entertainment center but had also progressed to the point where it was actually feasible to have budget tapes such as this, the genre also found a place on home video. I.V.E.’s Thriller Video spearheaded the concept three years prior with their Elvira-hosted tape series (which we’ve seen here before), and in some ways (I also said this in that Halloween post), Amvest’s Grampa series feels like a more cut-rate version of those Elvira tapes.

Al Lewis’ Grampa was a natural fit for hosting horror and science fiction films, and a year before he started this Amvest series, he began hosting movies for TBS’ Super Scary Saturday, which we’ve seen here before, too. The Amvest Grampa Presents series was quite a bit lower-budget than the TBS show; these segments were shot in front of a green screen, with Grampa superimposed over still-images.

The very beginning of this intro, I hope you’ll recall, I didn’t get to see last time; the start of that tape was basically “in progress,” and by the time the tracking and whatnot had settled to a watchable state, Grampa was already into his pitch. Luckily, it’s all complete on The Corpse Vanishes, though the program starts playing early enough that tracking is still a bit of an issue.

So what did I miss the first time around? Not that much; shots from, I’m pretty sure, White Zombie open the whole thing. Then a two-framed, single-colored bat flies on-screen, neon lightning bolts hit it (to signify transformation, though it doesn’t make much sense when you think about it), and then, there’s Grampa! That’s right, the tape posits that Al Lewis has the power to transform into a cartoon bat at will. That…is pretty fantastic.

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For the Amvest tapes that actually include the Grampa footage on them, these host segments are the same for each and every one. What, you thought Lewis was gonna film a unique intro and outro for each and every title? Nope!

So, after that whole bat-transformation thing (and a few token movie clips, ostensibly from other films in the series), the scene then shifts to a Dr, Frankenstein-like lab. This is where the tape we looked at last time essentially began. It’s basically Al Lewis being Al Lewis; he had his shtick down to a science by that point. So, when he’s forced to banter with an off-screen “Igor” or explain to the audience that he’s not Paul Newman (apparently, people get them confused!), it actually does come off pretty funny. It would have been easy for this all to come off flat, awkward, forced, or what have you, but Lewis is so sincere and energetic that you can’t help but get a kick out of the whole thing.

I love the backdrop for this part of the intro: like I said, it looks like Frankenstein’s lab, albeit a still of said lab, and it’s accented by random neon-squigglies, which, you know, 1988 and all that.

There is one thing different for the respective intro of each tape: at one point during the opening segment, there’s a space where a voiceover (“Igor”) announces the title of the movie and who stars in it, all while Lewis looks on expectantly. ‘Course, sometimes (many times!) they forgot to add the voiceover, which means Lewis exclaims “that’s the one!” to absolutely nothing, which is actually pretty funny, albeit unintentionally (I said the same thing when I reviewed the Human Monster tape, and the trend continues not only on this one, but on several other Grampa tapes I have).

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And that brings us to the movie itself: 1942’s The Corpse Vanishes. I really, really like this movie. Like I said earlier, this tape was one of my personal chasers in the series, and it was basically because of how fond I am of The Corpse Vanishes.

This is one of the poverty row, cheapie horror films that Bela Lugosi was increasingly relegated to doing as the 1930s wound down and the 1940s began. Sure, he still had ‘big’ pictures now and then (1939’s Son of Frankenstein, 1941’s The Wolf Man, etc.), but his output was becoming increasingly less glitzy. I mean, by the last decade of his life, he was starring in Ed Wood movies, which were the very antithesis of glitzy!

It was all a double-edged sword; sure, films like this kept Bela working and in the public eye, but for a performer that started out as a star of big-time, A-list films, it had to sting.

That said, regardless of the source material, Bela was still magnetic. You can’t help but be entertained by the guy. It’s no exaggeration to say that he saved even the least of these films all by himself; a star of lesser magnitude probably wouldn’t have been able to pull it off. It’s the same deal with Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney Jr.; if their names are on something, it’s worth at least a quick look, because they were that good.

Furthermore, many of these low-rent Bela flicks have lapsed into the public domain. The Corpse Vanishes, obviously, but also others (like The Devil Bat and The Ape Man). The good news there is that, back in the day and today as well, there’s always something with Lugosi’s name on it out there on store shelves. Make no mistake, Bela is still a name draw. Sure, these public domain films (with the possible exception of White Zombie) aren’t really the definitive way to introduce someone (or yourself!) to Lugosi’s work, but they’re cheap and readily available, and if nothing else, like I said before, the guy had a magnetism about him that carried even the weakest films in his canon.

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As for The Corpse Vanishes itself, no one will ever claim it to be among Bela’s finest work, but taken for what it is (a wartime, poverty row horror film), it’s definitely an entertaining watch. It’s so simple, quaint, and despite the plot of a mad botanist killing virginal brides, somehow innocent. It almost seems like the kind of movie that could have only come out in the 1940s, with all of the ‘big’ Universal horror flicks of the previous decade to take inspiration from, and all of the sci-fi stuff of the 1950s yet to come. Sure, it’s something that probably could have been made in the 1930s, but it just feels so 1942.

The plot, yeah, it’ll sound like fairly formula stuff. And you know, it is. I’d never argue otherwise. But again, taken for what it is, it’s still fun. Lugosi plays a mad scientist (gee, you don’t say!), one Dr. Lorenz, who has a shrewish, aging wife. Wifey wants to stay young and beautiful forever, so Lorenz concocts a plan wherein he’ll poison the orchids sent to brides on their wedding day. When they collapse from said poison (and appear dead, though they’re really not), he kidnaps the body and takes it back to his lab (hence, “The Corpse Vanishes”). Once back at the lab, he extracts vital fluids from the bride and then injects them into his wife, which temporarily renews her youth.

It’s a scheme that has any number of holes in it (and it doesn’t take much for the viewer to realize that, either), but Lorenz goes ahead with the plan anyway. Eventually, this all attracts the attention of journalist Patricia Hunter, who is eager to get a story out of the deal, and sets off to get to the bottom of things…

Look, you don’t have to rely solely on my word for any of this; this film has been in the public domain for years, so check it out for yourself here. It’s only a little over an hour long, so have at it next time your favorite prime time drama is in reruns!

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Despite the inherent cheapness of the film, it still manages to pull off some pretty cool scenes. I mean, geez, Bela and his wife sleep in coffins! With movies like this, where the budget is obviously on the really cheap side, the idea of the baddies nappin’ in coffins is a good, simple way to get the creep factor going, even though it’s become a pretty common trope. Heck, it was probably a common trope back then.

But, in that small way, the movie even more recalls 1931’s Dracula, and that can never be a bad thing when Lugosi is in the vicinity (even if it does plays into that typecasting that hurt his career so much).

They sleep in coffins, man!

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Another cool aspect: Bela’s basement laboratory.

I really like Bela’s mad scientist lab. It’s not especially expansive, and it’s clearly limited by Monogram’s $5 budget, but at the same time, it’s so sincere. The very presence of a cut-rate lab just adds volumes to the film, though I’d be hard pressed to really explain why. Just seems more ‘complete’ that way, I guess?

Bela’s got a cool lab, man!

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Oddly enough, the ending card is rendered as a still-frame, complete with the dust and whatnot frozen in it, all while the music continues to play. I’m not sure if Amvest themselves did that, or if that’s how it came to them. The who and why of this I couldn’t say, but it’s a little strange.

In addition to countless budget videotape releases such as this one, The Corpse Vanishes was also the subject of an early episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, which is probably how many people recognize the film nowadays. Being one of the first episodes of the national iteration of the series, it’s not one of their stronger efforts, though things always go better with MST3K.

‘Course, things always go better with Al “Grampa” Lewis, too…

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Which brings us to the part I was totally begrudged the first time around: Grampa’s outro segment. Like his intro, these were always the same for each tape.

Playing off his whole “comical undead vampire” act, the first thing he says once returning from the movie is “Oooh, that was so scary, it scared the blood right back into my veins!The Corpse Vanishes is many things, but by 1988, I really can’t see too many people finding it genuinely frightening. Was it even that scary back in ’42? Anyway, Grampa then follows that statement up with “Blood and gore, that’s my meat and potatoes!” That applies even less to The Corpse Vanishes, but the dialog absolutely adds to the atmosphere and general theme of the tapes nevertheless.

Plus, the outro segment was the same for every movie presented in the line, so what can you really expect in the way of accuracy?

That said, given the jokey Grampa open and close to the tapes, and most of the titles in the series, much of it is (well, was) pretty safe for the kids to watch. I made this comment last time, but it seems like these tapes would make good TV viewing for those that were too young for trick-or-treating but still wanted a Halloween experience.

Well, most of the movies fit that bill, anyway…

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This is the part I was pretty bummed about not having on my first Grampa Presents tape: after coming back from the movie and goofing around for a bit, Lewis then presents a “complete” list of titles in the Grampa Presents line!

This is important, because this is the only solid listing we have (that I know of anyway) for the Grampa Presents titles. Now, it’s highly doubtful that all of these were released with the Grampa branding; some of these were released by Amvest back in 1985, though with the same catalog numbers as given here. My guess is that all of these movies were, at some point, released by Amvest, but not all of them featured Grampa.

I make that distinction because Lewis himself says that each and every one will be presented by him, which, I’ve got four releases (Monster From Green Hell, Giant From The Unknown, The Living Head, and The Last Woman On Earth) that have him on the cover but not actually hosting. But then, I also have two that don’t mention him on the cover but he does host (the aforementioned First Spaceship On Venus and Missile To The Moon). I said it before, I’ll say it again: there’s just no rhyme or reason to any of this.

Throughout the scroll, Lewis speaks via voiceover, making generic comments such as “Ooh, I remember that one!” When he’s not being generally excited over the offerings, he’s yelling at the unseen (and unheard) Igor about his eating habits; apparently, Igor refuses to learn how to use a knife, fork and spoon.

I said before that this shtick was funny rather than awkward. Mostly, it is. However, for this spot, it’s clearly just filling time. I mean, it makes sense; it was either have Lewis babble in the background or have dead silence as the titles scroll, I get it, but yeah, his dialog here is amusing but pretty much just filler.

The list of titles consists mostly of standard public domain stuff: The Little Shop Of Horrors, The Terror, and so on. But, there are some really surprising offerings, too. Alice, Sweet Alice and The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant are there, and those are both confirmed to have actually been released. (They’re also definitely NOT for kids!) And, there’s a few that haven’t been confirmed to have been released as part of the Grampa Presents series (that I know of) but MAN I hope they were; namely, Night Of The Living Dead, Godzilla Vs. Megalon and Vampyr. You have no idea how badly I’d flip if I stumbled across any one of those three at a thrift store.

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After the scroll finishes, Lewis then goes into where you can actually buy these tapes. You need to look for the tapes with his face, which as we’ve seen, wasn’t quite true, though I doubt Lewis knew that while filming. (In an argument with the still unseen and unheard Igor: “Forget Tom Selleck with the mustache and everything! MY face and the official ratings are on the box!” That’s right, Al “Grampa” Lewis just referenced Magnum while pitching horror movies – now THAT is awesome!)

What’s more, there was a specific Amvest “Casket of Horrors” display for video stores; how cool is that! Given the rarity of most Amvest tapes nowadays (both with and without Grampa on ’em), distribution was almost certainly very limited. I’d like to say for every 20 online listings for a similar title from Goodtimes, there’s only 1 for an Amvest, but even that wouldn’t be true; Amvest tapes are generally few and far between.

Therefore, I can’t imagine too many of these “Casket of Horrors” displays making it out there, and even less surviving to this day. Who knows if any were even produced beyond the one seen in this outro. Nevertheless, it goes without saying that I. NOW. NEED. ONE. Coolest Halloween party decoration ever!

As far as I’m concerned, it just doesn’t get much cooler than the image above. That screencap succinctly sums (allitration) up everything that is right with these tapes and the whole horror movie ideal that they present so vividly. Would it be wrong for me to create posters of that image above and hang them all around my house? Because I’m coming dangerously close to doing just that.

Well, maybe just one to hang up somewhere…

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AND, if you couldn’t find one or any of these tapes in an actual brick-and-mortar store (and odds are most people couldn’t), Grampa gives you the details on how to order direct from Amvest! And even with ordering direct from the company, these were budget affairs; $13 was a pretty cheap price for a VHS tape in ’88. Granted, you wouldn’t be getting something on par with a, say, CBS/FOX release, but still…

Rahway is pronounced “Raw Way,” to which Grampa takes particular delight. “These are our people! That’s the way we like it – raw!” I’ll let you make up your own mind regarding that bit of dialog.

I wonder what happened if/when someone ordered a tape that didn’t actually exist as a Grampa version? Refund? Replacement? Given that this info is shown right after the list of videos supposedly available, while I don’t think each and every title had a respective Grampa Presents version, my guess would be that, at the very least, the person ordering would get a non-Grampa edition. Like I said before, I suspect there were Amvest releases for all or most of these, but which ones were released with some form of Al Lewis involvement is the big question here. I don’t know, and it seems nobody else really does, either.

Anyway, keeping up the act to the very end, Grampa admits that the 4 to 6 weeks delivery time is due to the bats in your neighborhood not flying that fast. Yeah, Al Lewis posits that your tape would be delivered by a bat. How can you not like the guy when he says things like that?

Grampa’s final pitch? Go out and buy Amvest videos, because if you don’t, one night when it’s dark and you think you’re alone, you won’t be – he’ll be there. He then bursts into that famous Grampa laugh as the screen fades out and then into the final image of the tape:

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As a final touch, the copyright info contains computer-generated blood steadily dripping down the screen! And to make things complete, ‘spooky’ music plays in the background! Very, very cool!

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The Corpse Vanishes is public domain, and thus, there is no shortage of varying releases. Mystery Science Theater 3000, Son of Ghoul, any number of other horror hosts out there, any number of cheapo DVDs out there, free and clear online downloads, there are countless options available to you. It’s not even remotely hard to find a copy of this movie.

But, if you want to watch the film in a way that only the late-1980s video era could present, Amvest’s release of the movie via the “Grampa Presents” line of tapes is the best way to go. It’s not perfect, it’s not a restored print of the film or anything like that, but as far as sheer coolness goes, it’s hard to beat. This is a perfect slice of late-1980s budget VHS memorabilia, one that I am absolutely thrilled to have in my collection.

Will I ever do another post on one of these tapes? Well, probably not. Maybe if/when I get the ever-elusive Grampa Presents version of 1922’s Nosferatu, or a previously ‘unknown’ release, but otherwise, I’d just be saying the same things about the Al Lewis segments over and over, with only the movie review portion changing. I mean, you never know, but as of right now, I’m pretty happy with this one as my final word on matters.

I’ve actually wound up gaining a real respect for Amvest. They had a real quirky sensibility, and as these Grampa tapes prove, they occasionally went out of the usual budget video “domain” and did their own thing. When I started collecting these (only a few months ago), I never thought I’d feel that way.

Furthermore, in whatever small way I may have helped unravel some of the questions regarding these Grampa Presents tapes, even through the confusion and disappointments, I enjoyed progressively learning more and more about them. There just aren’t many companies and their associated video releases that I can say that about.

And needless to say, I still want more of these! The search will continue! I won’t rest until I can fill an entire shelf with Al Lewis-hosted cinema!


Hey, wait, hold up! We’re not quite done yet!

I’d be remiss if I didn’t include the entire list of Grampa Presents titles as given during the end segment of this tape! Besides numbering them and correcting a few grammatical errors, I have also gone ahead and listed the titles that are actually confirmed as being released as part of the Grampa Presents series. Besides what I personally own, I am citing The VCR from Heck (these two pages specifically), VHSCollector.com (this page in particular), the Mike’s VHS Collection page over at Cinemasscre, as well as various online sales I have personally seen. Also, here’s a specific thread on the subject over at the Our Favorite Horror Hosts forum. (And yes, I plan to share what I’ve learned there as soon as this page goes up!) Please check out those sites once you’re done here; there’s a wealth of information not only on these Grampa Presents tapes, but on so many other subjects, as well.

Keep in mind that while this is the complete list of titles as given on this tape, the ones marked as “confirmed” are by no means the final say on the matter. These are just the ones that *I* am aware of. If you know of or even own one that hasn’t been confirmed as existing, hey, speak up in the comments! (Pictures would be helpful, too!)

And of course, the possibility exists that this actually isn’t the complete list of titles; there may well have been further videos released that included the host segments or appropriate packaging. I have no evidence of anything like that ever happening, every title I’ve found or seen has corresponded appropriately to this list, but hey, you never know!

(* = Indicates that I personally own a copy of that title, and thus I know for sure it was released by Amvest in some form at some point. [Confirmed] = Indicates this title was indeed released as part of the Grampa Presents series, either with him on the tape itself, on the packaging, or both. If Al Lewis is present in or on the tape in any way, I’m considering it officially released as part of the series.)

1. VV-430 – Night Of The Living Dead [Confirmed]*
2. VV-432 – The Little Shop Of Horrors*
3. VV-439 – The Terror [Confirmed]*
4. VV-442 – The Devil Bat [Confirmed]*
5. VV-443 – Horror Hotel [Confirmed]
6. VV-446 – The Ape Man*
7. VV-458 – Frankenstein’s Daughter*
8. VV-471 – Godzilla Vs. Megalon*
9. VV-476 – White Zombie*
10. VV-501 – Ghosts On The Loose [Confirmed]
11. VV-515 – The House Of Exorcism [Confirmed]
12. VV-516 – The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant [Confirmed]*
13. VV-517 – Spider Baby [Confirmed]
14. VV-518 – Spooks Run Wild [Confirmed]*
15. VV-519 – The Indestructible Man
16. VV-520 – The Corpse Vanishes [Confirmed]*
17. VV-521 – Phantom From Space [Confirmed]*
18. VV-522 – Who Killed Doc Robin?
19. VV-523 – Killers From Space [Confirmed]*
20. VV-524 – The Human Monster [Confirmed]*
21. VV-525 – Scared To Death [Confirmed]*
22. VV-526 – The Vampire Bat
23. VV-527 – Death Race 2000*
24. VV-528 – The Phantom Of The Opera (1925)
25. VV-529 – Invisible Ghost [Confirmed]
26. VV-530 – Bride Of The Gorilla [Confirmed]
27. VV-531 – Carnival Of Souls [Confirmed]*
28. VV-532 – Witch’s Curse [Confirmed]*
29. VV-533 – Snow Creature [Confirmed]
30. VV-534 – Battle Of The Worlds*
31. VV-535 – Dementia 13 [Confirmed]*
32. VV-536 – Alice, Sweet Alice [Confirmed]
33. VV-537 – Vampyr
34. VV-538 – Radar Men From The Moon (Part 1)
35. VV-539 – Radar Men From The Moon (Part 2)
36. VV-540 – The Death Kiss [Confirmed]*
37. VV-541 – Nosferatu [Confirmed]*
38. VV-542 – Yog, Monster From Space [Confirmed]
39. VV-543 – First Spaceship On Venus [Confirmed]*
40. VV-544 – The Crawling Eye [Confirmed]*
41. VV-545 – Giant From The Unknown [Confirmed]*
42. VV-546 – Immediate Disaster
43. VV-547 – The Last Woman On Earth [Confirmed]*
44. VV-548 – The Living Head [Confirmed]*
45. VV-549 – Mesa Of Lost Women [Confirmed]
46. VV-550 – Missile To The Moon [Confirmed]*
47. VV-551 – Monster From Green Hell [Confirmed]*
48. VV-552 – Nightmare Castle
49. VV-553 – The Robot Vs. The Aztec Mummy
50. VV-554 – Mars Attacks The World*
51. VV-555 – Satan’s Satellites
52. VV-556 – The Island Monster
53. VV-557 – Wild Women Of Wongo
54. VV-558 – Wrestling Women Vs. The Aztec Mummy
55. VV-559 – Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (Michael Rennie) [Confirmed]
56. VV-560 – She Demons [Confirmed]*
57. VV-561 – Creature From The Haunted Sea [Confirmed]
58. VV-562 – The Ape [Confirmed]*
59. VV-563 – The Phantom Creeps [Confirmed]

———————
Special Compilations:

60. VS-005 – Grampa’s Silly Scaries – Vintage Horror-Themed Cartoons [Confirmed]
61. VS-006 – Grampa’s Monster Movies – Vintage Horror Movie Trailers [Confirmed]*
62. VS-009 – Grampa’s Sci-Fi Hits – Vintage Science Fiction Movie Trailers [Confirmed]
63. VS-010 – More Silly Scaries – Vintage Horror-Themed Cartoons [Confirmed]

Knock-Off Darth Vader Action Figures!

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See, now that the Christmas shopping season is upon us, people are out trying to grab the best gifts at the lowest prices, often in as violent a way as possible. ‘Tis the season for bloody carnage? But, while everyone was out participating in that annual bit of madness on Black Friday, little did they realize that I and I alone held the secret to seasonal success. All it took was a trip to Marc’s for me to discover that the must-have, feel-good hit of the holiday season was hiding in plain sight, and at the low, low price of $1.99 to boot.

So, looking for a Christmas gift? Got someone on your shopping list that’s rabidly anticipating the new Star Wars movie? Well, while y’all was out stomping on faces just to get the official tie-in toys that are beginning to litter the shelves, I knew, knew, where the real cool winnins were to be found. Ja-Ru, maker of novelty toys far and wide, have released the best Star Wars toy out there, and it’s not even officially Star Wars! Behold: it’s the incredible “Space Robot,” who really, really wants to be Darth Vader, but just isn’t.

Yeah, yeah, I know, action figures really don’t fit with the usual theme of this blog. That is, I don’t usually look at toys here. And truth be told, I’m really not that big of a toy guy; sure, I flipped over the Adam West Batman action figure line, and if I come across a cool old toy cheap at a thrift store or something, I’ll pick it up, but those are exceptions to the rule.

All that said, with the Christmas shopping season now in full-swing and excitement for the new Star Wars movie reaching a veritable fever pitch, when I happened upon these figures, a post just seemed so…right. I may not be a full-fledged, genuine toy guy, but I’m also the first to admit that I’m a total sucker for cheapo knock-off toys, bootleg toys, and things of that nature. No kidding, my eyes practically glaze over at the sight of the new, official Star Wars figures and whatnot, and yet, I couldn’t resist this incredible Space Robot in all his almost-but-not-quite Darth Vader glory.

To put it succinctly, I just found the thing really, really cool. Why? Knock-off.

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To be clear, this isn’t a pirate figure (“we know it’s not a pirate, it says ‘robot’ right on it HAW HAW HAW!”), and though a case could be made, I wouldn’t say it’s quite a bootleg figure, either; to me, it resides safely in the knock-off family. That is, it’s clearly aping a real, popular character/property/whatever, but it’s just ‘off’ enough to avoid lawsuits whilst maintaining an open presence on store shelves, albeit the cheapie toy sections. Though, I guess that description kinda applies to some full-fledged bootlegs too, huh? Still, this ain’t exactly Robert Cop, which I why I’m sticking with “knock-off.”

Things like this pop up every time a super big time movie not unlike Star Wars is coming down the pipeline. Everybody, everybody tries to get in on the gravy train, and when it comes to space, robots and the like, that stuff never really goes out of vogue. I have little doubt the recent appearance of these figures is completely because of the imminent Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll immediately disappear once the fervor cools down, either.

Still, you’d be well-advised to go and pick yourself up one of these right quick.

To be fair, Ja-Ru isn’t the first company to release these figures; they’ve been floating around the budget toy-circuit for some time now, having been (as near as I can tell) released by a variety of companies under a variety of names. Ja-Ru’s offering is merely the latest (?) in that proud (??) tradition. Where and when this thing first appeared in the world I couldn’t say, but this is certainly the first in-person, local sighting I’ve come across, so hey, they’re new to me.

And look at that package! Even if this wasn’t fake Darth Vader, that’s an eye-catching card. I’m not sure I’d plunk down $2 for it if it wasn’t Darth Vader’s illegitimate brother, but I’d certainly consider it. For a few seconds, anyway.

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Mild surprise: there’s actually graphics on the back of the card. Plain backs are a common thing with budget toys such as this, so yeah, mild surprise.

If somehow someone didn’t notice this figure was supposed to be Darth Vader, the back of the card will solve that. The image of fake Darth Vader holding a fake lightsaber totally drives the point home.

The directions are both helpful and insulting. Pull the tab on the back? Helpful. Pay attention to the sights and sounds the thing makes? Insulting. Wait a minute, you mean I’m not supposed to push the button on his chest and then run and hide so I neither see nor hear what the thing is doing? Why, I’ve been doing this wrong the whole time!

The tiny disclaimer under the directions is absolutely needed though, if only as a legal precaution: the lights, specifically the light that emits from the lightsaber sword slot is really bright!

Space Robot Darth Vader guy comes in both black and white iterations. The black one is obviously the chaser since it’s just that much closer to the real Darth, but I couldn’t resist getting both varieties. At only $2 a pop, I just may buy enough to re-upholster my bathroom!

Wait, re-upholster my bathroom? Hey buddy, that make no sense!

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There’s the fella himself. No doubt about it, Darth Vader was the template. Okay, the body, it’s only vaguely Darth Vader-ish; sure there’s an electronic panel of some sort on his chest, though it doesn’t really resemble the real Darth Vader’s all that closely. Without the fake lightsaber in hand and looking only at his body, you’d be forgiven for thinking this is indeed a common, garden-variety Space Robot as promised on the package before going on your merry way.

It’s all about his head, man. Whoever originally manufactured this took the time to model Darth’s helmet and mouthpiece (???) on the figure, albeit loose approximations of such; knock-off and all. Space Robot’s head leaves little doubt as to who this is really supposed to be, and when the fake lightsaber is factored in (you’ll see that in action in just a bit), the connection just becomes all the stronger.

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Made in China? Gee, you don’t say!

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The build of these guys is, well, you get what you pay for, okay? I’d like to say the joints are loose after only a little bit of demonstration, but even that wouldn’t be true; these things are, literally, loose right out of the package. Not all of the joints, mostly just the legs, but the result is that black Darth Vader Space Robot can barely stand under his own weight no matter how much re-positioning and/or pouting you perform.

Plus, they’re made of hollow plastic that feels fairly brittle. I’m relatively certain these things will last approximately 37 seconds in the hands of a destructive child. At only $1.99 a pop, you can’t really expect the most durable figures in existence, but even so, these feel exponentially fragile.

Make no mistake, that’s actually all part of the charm with these figures though; you’d never see a real Star Wars toy this cheaply made. Call it morbid fascination or something, if you will.

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They is brudders.

Side by side, there is obviously no different between the two figs, besides the color variation. Like I said before, because he’s even more Darth Vader-ish, the black version is the one to go after. The white one, I don’t know, he’s got that whole good, “white knight” vibe about him, but in the end he just doesn’t seem as cool. Variety is the spice of life and all that jazz, but methinks if they were going to go beyond the black version, they should have a wider range of colors to choose from. A red Space Darth Robot Vader figure sounds pretty cool, maybe even a pastel blue one, too.

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Ah, but you can’t forget about the action features! If by this point you still aren’t convinced these are some mysterious manufacturer’s take on Darth Vader, once you press the chest button (after removing the tab on the back; thanks, directions!), you’re exposed to a veritable cacophony of sights and sounds.

In addition to flashing eyes and light up swords, you’re treated to a feast of ostensibly space-y sounds: vaguely robot-like noises, gunfire, laser-fire, missiles, basically everything you’ve heard from every battery-powered dollar store toy ever is played, and it’s played as close to all at once as is possible. And did I mention it’s all really LOUD? It’s all really loud.

And what’s more, the lights and eyes flash in accordance with the sounds. That is, when the sounds slow down (relatively speaking), the blinking lights do as well. When the sounds speed up, so do the lights. What technical wizardry is this?!

The removable swords don’t light up by themselves, of course. They’re made of see-through plastic, and the light instead comes from inside the figures’ hands. When the sword is placed in the appropriate slot, it illuminates accordingly. However, should you leave the sword out of the hand when pushing the action button, you’re treated to a beam that would put most flashlights to shame. It is BRIGHT. No wonder the card had to add that disclaimer! Should Space Robot ever give up his preoccupation with kinda sorta being Darth Vader, he’d make a good Rockford-esque private eye (cause it’s a flashlight, y’see).

Also, if the white Space Robot has one distinct advantage over his black counterpart, it’s that his entire head illuminates instead of only his eyes when the chest button is pressed. The benefits of this feature in a battle are negligible, but it sure looks neat.

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For scale-purposes, the figures are comparable to an old-school He-Man figure, though a little taller, and a lot more streamlined. They’re also taller than a Last Action Hero Arnold figure that has been inexplicably shaved bald. So now you know.

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If you want to really keep the whole “Star Wars but not really” thing going, Space Robot is great for fighting whatever random old monster/alien toys you still have floating around your basement. In the above scene, white Darth bot fights my childhood Dissect-An-Alien, from the old Mad Scientist toy line (remember that?). Check it out: the light is so bright, it not only illuminates the Space Robot’s hand and the sword itself, but it also partially illuminates the insides of the Dissect-An-Alien. I dig it!

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No kidding, I like these things a lot. They’re just Star Wars-y enough to satisfy the megafans, but not Star Wars-y enough to give George Lucas or Disney or whoever now technically owns all this grounds for a legal battle. Had I come across a figure like this in my younger years (especially when Star Wars toys were scarce in the early-1990s), I’d have flipped over ’em. The cheap , knock-off quality of the figures, coupled with an intense nostalgia for the toys of my youth (particularly the occasionally-cool toys that could be found at dollar stores) has me way more stoked for these Space Robots than I normally would be. $3.98 (plus tax) well spent!

You know, while I’m on the subject of new Star Wars capitalizin’:

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I’m really fighting the urge to go back to Dollar General and get this Space Battle Cosmic Knight playset I spotted the other night. Hey, it’s not Star Wars, it’s Space Battle, and they’re not Jedi Knights, they’re “Cosmic Knights.” I’m not sure I want to plunk ten bucks down on a cut-rate lightsaber and a mask that appears to be mimicking one of those Tie Fighter guys, but it’s sure tempting.

Maybe, should I muster the courage to go see Star Wars: The Force Awakens in the theater, I could wear the mask while holding the lightsaber in one hand and a Space Robot in the other?