Tag Archives: Movies

REVIEW: Mill Creek’s 16-Movie John Wayne “The Duke” DVD Set (2010)

Hey, know what it’s time for again? If, without glancing at the title of this post, you guessed another budget DVD compilation of public domain movies, you’re, uh, right. I love collecting these DVD sets, but there’s only certain instances where they enamor me enough to, you know, give them a review. Needless to say, this is one of the good’uns.

This is the cover of the set, if you couldn’t figure that out. Keep your eyes peeled for it, pardner!

Dig this: it’s a John Wayne comp featuring a load of his pre-stardom poverty row westerns. On the surface that may not seem so unusual; there are countless releases like this out there, after all. The difference here is that the line-up of movies included in this one is, well, pretty stellar. (For those of you with long memories, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen a budget western DVD set here on the blog.)

No joke, I don’t think I’ve come across one of these sets with such an “all killer, no filler” movie selection. Put out in 2010 by Mill Creek (a company I love, and this isn’t the first time we’ve seen them hit it out of the park), this particular release, while still focusing on works that have loooong been in the public domain, forgoes the inclusion of later, sticks-out-like-a-sore-thumb flicks or earlier, non-western features and/or serials (or, as some sets include, documentaries on The Duke).

Nope, instead this collection focuses solely on Wayne’s poverty row oaters of the 1930s. Again, that may not sound so unusual on the surface, but in this case, at a whopping 16 movies spread over two DVDs, Mill Creek has included nearly all of Wayne’s output for Lone Star Productions (which was really just Monogram), and while they didn’t include every one of them, instead filling out the line-up with a couple of his other B-Western efforts from the 1930s, they got most of them here.

Garnering nearly all of Wayne’s Lone Star flicks in one fell swoop and without having to sift through a bunch of stuff I quite honestly have no interest in is, for me, what puts this one over the top. I’m considering this one comprehensive-yet-concise, if that makes any sense. I’m no stranger to public domain movie compilations of John Wayne, but given the solid, ‘unbroken’ line-up here, I dare say this is the best I’ve come across.

I explained my fascination with the Lone Star series in my article covering an old VHS release of Texas Terror, a movie we’ll see again in this set. Check the link out for a more-detailed explanation if you’re so inclined, but real quick: these Wayne Lone Stars are less “John Wayne movies” and more “poverty row westerns that happen to star John Wayne.” He’s not really The Duke as we’ve come to know him, but rather more of a generic B-Western star – and that’s what’s so fascinating with these. A raw, unformed, but undeniably captivating John Wayne, post-The Big Trail and pre-Stagecoach (which is to say, pre-stardom).

Don’t get me wrong; the reason these films have so endlessly been released over the decades is obviously due to the namesake of their star. In action they’re really not so different from a thousand other cheapie westerns of the period – but if you love the budget oaters like I do, that’s just part of the fun!

(Also, the Lone Stars have terrific opening fanfare for their flicks, complete with a charging-towards-the-screen sheriff’s star, exciting music, and neato titles. Indeed, it was this opening that first captivated me when I came upon a television airing of Blue Steel some 20 years ago.)

I first stumbled upon this DVD set about two years ago. I was out Christmas shopping with my mom, she looking for a good gift for my presumably movie-lovin’ uncle. When she showed me this, I used my powers of useless knowledge to inform her that the movies included made for a pretty strong line-up. (Though I imagine I wasn’t as verbose about it in reality.) Well, there was only one copy left, and I technically didn’t need any of these films again, so on my recommendation she bought it for him. I wound up wanting such a decent all-in-one collection for myself however, and eventually, as you may deduce, said collection became mine. And so here we are.

The famous Lone Star opening fanfare.

There are 16 Lone Star features in Wayne’s oeuvre. As previously stated, there are 16 movies present on this set, and two of them ain’t Lone Stars. West of the Divide and Randy Rides Alone (both 1934) were omitted in favor of Winds of the Wasteland (Republic, 1936) and Hell Town (Paramount, 1937). I’m not quite sure what I want here; on one hand, a complete collection of the Lone Stars would be pretty baller (and neither of the missing films are even remotely hard to find – they’re even on other Mill Creek DVD sets). But on the other hand, the two non-Lone Stars are flicks I’m always happy to see included in collections like this and do provide nice, albeit brief, changes of pace here. Maybe we could have had an 18 movie set instead? Though that may have bumped this to a three disc collection instead of two, though in that case Frontier Horizon (released in 1939 – after Wayne hit it big with Stagecoach) could have then been included, along with perhaps one other public domain western of his from the same rough time period to make it an even 20 movies. Yeah, I don’t know what I want here.

Like most DVD collections of this nature, the sound and picture quality varies from feature to feature, but they’re all watchable. I’ll point out aspects of the prints used that I feel need, uh, pointed out, but unless otherwise noted, consider these to mostly look like your common, garden variety old public domain movies. That is, there will be scratches, splices, dust, dirt, too bright, too dark, etc. etc. etc. Typical, but like I said, they’re all watchable.

(You may wonder if I, your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter, have stumbled across consistently good prints of these films. I’d say that disregarding later colorized efforts and/or releases that added newly-implemented scores to the soundtrack – so they could be more easily copyrighted I’d imagine – the best ‘traditional’ versions of these movies I ever saw were the copies AMC would occasionally run in the morning back in the late-90s/early-00s. They weren’t pristine, but they were very, very good. I wonder what happened to those prints? Were they ever officially released?)

Also, being B-Westerns, none of these were intended as high art; these are breezy (typically less than an hour) poverty row matinee outings. Don’t go in expecting Red River, okay? Taken for what they are though, these are still fun, entertaining films! Some Lone Stars are better than others, I have my own personal “Lone Star spectrum” that I’ll occasionally make reference to, but really, even the weaker ones are worth watching. They’re all so charmingly cheap, sometimes so scatterbrained, and despite featuring plenty of shootin’ and whatnot, somehow so innocent, that they’re all worth your time here. Once again, Mill Creek has knocked it out of the park, I say!

So, what say we now go through the set, movie-by-movie? As in, I’m going to watch each and every one here and provide my stupid thoughts on ’em. Hunker down gang, this is gonna be a long, loooong read. I want this to be the budget John Wayne DVD set review to end all budget John Wayne DVD set reviews!

(Oh, by the way, there’s going to be a few spoilers present. I’ll give a warning here and there, but hey, you’ve had 80+ years to watch these movies, so I darn well better be in the safety zone by now!)


DISC ONE

(There are no special features on either disc in this set; a scene selection is your only option. Besides the movies proper, I mean.)

Blue Steel (1934) – I’m going to say right up front that, for as much as I love these Lone Star outings, I hadn’t seen every film in this set beforehand, and even with some of the ones I have, well, it’s been awhile. That’s not the case with Blue Steel, however; this was the flick that introduced me to this series long, long ago, and I’ve watched it numerous times over the years. Y’all need to recognize that I know my Blue Steel; no joke, I practically know it backwards and forwards. Even though from an objective standpoint it would probably be generally considered only “pretty good,” I don’t care; it’s far and away my favorite film in this set, and my favorite Wayne B-Western period. And you can’t change that.

Wayne, Gabby, and some pretty decent print-quality.

Wayne plays Cahill John Carruthers, U.S. Marshal, who finds himself teamed up with Sheriff Jake Withers (George “Gabby” Hayes, minus the whole “Gabby” persona – that came later). Together they must save a small town that is being intentionally kept short of supplies by a nefarious would-be landowner. He wants to buy up all the property to get to the sweet, sweet gold found just below the surface (unbeknownst to the actual landowners, as you may well imagine). Also, thanks to a case of wacky mistaken identity, Withers spends the majority of the film thinking Carruthers is “The Polka Dot Bandit,” a subplot that converges with the main plot in a manner worthy of Seinfeld.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that Mill Creek got one of the better prints of Blue Steel I’ve seen. Don’t get me wrong, it ain’t pristine; I doubt Criterion winged this copy over Mill Creek’s way. Sure there’s some dust and scratches and such, BUT the picture is *relatively* clean, and with fairly good balance and depth. It’s not exactly HD, but I could actually make out some fine details that I wouldn’t have expected to. You can actually see Carruthers and the heroine riding off into the sunset (because of course) at the end.

The fairly nice picture quality comes with a caveat, however: splices. Not that there’s a ton of them, or at least not really any more than you’d typically expect for a picture of this age and nature, but they do rear their head. Indeed, Blue Steel should run around 52-54 minutes, but the print here only runs about 50. There’s one pretty big splice early in the film that cuts out Withers’ entrance into Carruther’s abode and sharing some beans with him. They just automatically appear ‘teamed up’ to take on some bandits that enter the picture (literally and figuratively) at about the same time. To a first time viewer, this would naturally be a “wait, say what?” moment.

That aside, I was pleasantly surprised by the print quality otherwise. As far as budget releases of Blue Steel go, Mill Creek has released one of the better ones I’ve come across.

The Dawn Rider (1935) – These films weren’t placed in chronological order across the two discs, and therefore what is the second feature in the set was in actuality the penultimate John Wayne Lone Star western. Not that it really matters, I guess; it’s not like there’s an ongoing arc to these films. They ain’t the Hill Street Blues of the western set. Anyway, this is one I’m almost positive I’ve never seen before.

First things first: it doesn’t hold the same “hey, that’s pretty good!” picture quality standard as the preceding film. Indeed, The Dawn Rider looks more like you’d expect a public domain movie on a budget DVD set to look: either too dark or too bright, and quite a bit blurrier than Blue Steel. There’s also some frequent jittery video artifacting throughout that, I guess, is a fault of the master tape, I guess? I don’t know, but it’s kinda distracting.

Getting held-up, early in the film.

Wayne plays John Mason, who has just come into town to visit his father (appropriately deemed “Dad Mason” throughout; was that his birth name?), who is some big muckity-muck in the freight industry. And wouldn’t you know it, Mason walks in on pops being robbed. His father is shot and killed, and Mason injured in the ensuing chase. Obviously, there’s gonna be some vengeance at play once he recovers.

Further complicating matters is a love triangle that develops between Mason, leading lady Alice and Ben, Ben being the guy to get into a drag down brawl with Mason at the start of the film, which (inexplicably?) leads to a friendship. Oh, and Alice’s brother is the guy who killed Dad Mason, so yeah, it ends up being kind of a mess. There’s a happy ending for Mason and Alice (because of course), but honestly, getting to it is a bit of a guessing game, with how much of the film plays out. That’s to the film’s credit.

This really isn’t a bad movie, but in my eyes it’s a little uneven. The revenge plot and love triangle held my attention, but it’s – ironically – an action sequence in roughly the middle of the flick that kinda stops things dead. It picks back up afterwards, and there’s what looks like it’s going to be a very cool climatic shootout in town that doesn’t end up as satisfying as it could have been, but it all still manages to work more than it doesn’t.

Some humorous bits are found in The Dawn Rider as well. The local undertaker is the comic relief, and his dismay at the start of the film (apparently the town is “too healthy” for his liking) and obvious interest when it looks like someone is about to die (never mind when someone does die) is darkly funny. And at the end, there’s a too-long laugh shared between the undertaker and local doctor that, in conjunction with the undertaker’s stilted way of laughing, is pretty funny. Seriously, it goes on just long enough that I’m not convinced it wasn’t made to be intentionally awkward – in which case The Dawn Rider could be argued as the precursor to all of the ‘awkward humor’ single-camera comedies of today. If, you know, you wanted to perform enough mental gymnastics to make it fit, that is.

Oh, and apparently this film was remade in 2012, which honestly kinda blows my mind.

The Desert Trail (1935) – Obviously I’m not watching all of these films all in one single sitting; there are exceptions now and then, but generally speaking I can’t “binge watch” any show – or in this case, movie series – for hours on end. One or two of whatever a night is usually my limit.

You know, after The Dawn Rider, I found myself genuinely looking forward to some more new-to-me cheapie oater action the next night, which needless to say was The Desert Trail. Unfortunately, I chose to watch when I wound up having very little sleep the night before. I wasn’t exactly dozing off during the movie, but my general level of exhaustion kept me from getting as much from the flick as I could, and that was something I recognized as I was watching it.

Under normal circumstances, I *hate* re-watching a movie soon after, erm, watching it. Doesn’t matter if I loved the flick or not, I don’t like to ‘repeat’ a film in short order. Some people can do that, but I can’t. (While on the subject of my movie-watching habits, I firmly believe films should be watched at night; there have been exceptions, but generally, the idea of an afternoon movie viewing just does not sound right to me, which is ironic since the subjects of this DVD set were probably seen mainly as matinee offerings.)

So, I watched The Desert Trail again a few nights later. I probably didn’t need to, I got the gist of it the first time around, and while I liked it well enough then, I came away appreciating it a bit more after watch #2.

Scott and Kansas Charlie, typically competing for the affections of a lady.

This one is a bit unique as far as these John Wayne Lone Stars go. Instead of the usual law enforcement agent/vengeful loner/ etc. etc. etc. that Wayne usually played in these, here he’s John Scott, a rodeo rider. (Wait, a rodeo rider? Is that what they’re called? Look, he’s a rodeo guy, okay? Buckin’ broncos and all that.) He and his partner “Kansas Charlie” (who’s a gambler, not a rodeo rider/guy/dude) are falsely accused of murder in one town, which is trouble that follows them to another. They also get blamed for robbing a stagecoach, and are after the man who robbed them, as well.

Plot-wise this all may not sound too out of the ordinary (though perhaps a bit convoluted), but what sets The Desert Trail apart is just how comical it is. It’s not technically a comedy, but large portions of it are played for laughs. Scott and Charlie, while buddies, are also constantly at odds, fighting with each other, competing over women, insults, that sort of thing. And it’s to the film’s credit that some of it I did find pretty funny. Early in the film, after Charlie has sworn off going after women (he proclaims himself “deaf and dumb” to them), Scott takes the opportunity to rag on him in the presence of one they both find attractive, until Charlie can’t take anymore and blows up. Funny stuff!

One other difference: Wayne, well, he kinda plays a jerk here. Oh, he’s the protagonist alright, but his jousting with Charlie does occasionally approach being mean spirited. And heck, he basically robs a guy (who, granted, was trying to rip him off), and later, actually fires at a sheriff and his posse! They don’t know any better, but they’re still, you know, the good guys! Yikes! Naturally he still gets the girl in the end, because of course.

By the way, the titles of these Lone Stars often don’t make a lot of sense. I mean, we can assume there’s some steel that is blue in, uh, Blue Steel, and I guess John Mason could be referred to as “The Dawn Rider” for some reason. Point is, though they sound cool, there’s often little in the movies to directly connect them to what they’re titled. The Desert Trail is unique in another way there; the titular desert trail is actually referenced in the movie, albeit only once and briefly at that. Still, it’s there, and that’s…something.

The Lawless Frontier (1934) – In stark contrast to the jokey Desert Trail, The Lawless Frontier is a much more serious movie, with some seriously dark undertones – and overtones.

The villainous Pandro Zanti (a half-white/half-Apache who poses as Mexican, so you decide which group the character is most insulting towards) and his gang are terrorizing the land. One of the first things we see is Zanti busting out a window and shooting a pair of homeowners in cold blood so his gang can steal their cattle. We don’t see the homeowners shot, only their cries; the scene takes places with the camera focused solely on Zanti breaking the window and firing his gun. It’s an unsettling start to the picture.

As it turns out, Zanti has killed the parents of John Tobin, naturally played by Wayne. Yep, he’s back to playing the vengeful loaner. His distraught discovery of his parents is effectively filmed; like how we saw Zanti kill them, the camera is focused entirely on Wayne and his reaction upon discovering their bodies.

(Also, notice how he’s played a character with the first name “John” in each film so far? Such things were common with B-Westerns, Ken Maynard tended to play a “Ken” after all, but it’s something that would have made including Randy Rides Alone in this set a small-but-nice change of pace.)

Tobin’s pursuit of Zanti crosses paths with Dusty (Gabby’s back!) and his daughter Ruby, who are being pursued by Zanti. Zanti wants to kill Dusty for his cattle or land or something like that, but for a film of this nature, the more shocking aspect is that he wants to kidnap Ruby to be his new “romance.” It doesn’t take too many mental jumps to figure out what that means, and wow is that dark for a B-Western.

Tobin doggedly pursuing Zanti across the desert terrain.

This is a very good movie. Some of the usual Lone Star elements are here, such as Wayne’s character being mistaken for one of the baddies (by the town’s incompetent sheriff, who takes unearned credit for the capture of Zanti and then all but lets him go), but the overwhelmingly serious nature of the film really makes it stand out. Zanti is a vicious, brutal outlaw in a way that most bad guys in these cheapie oaters aren’t. He’s an unlikable dude, that’s for sure. You always want the good guys to win in these flicks, but here, you’re also really, really wanting to see Zanti get his comeuppance.

(Here comes a big spoiler where Zanti’s comeuppance is concerned: he doesn’t go down in a hail of bullets or John Wayne opening up a righteous can on him, but rather by accidentally drinking poisoned water! It’s…unexpected, that’s for sure. The scene leading up to his demise is a very cool panning long shot of Tobin doggedly pursuing the dazed Zanti across the desert. Along with the aforementioned scenes of Zanti killing Tobin’s parents and Tobin’s discovery of such, this is probably about as artsy as these Lone Stars get. Also, the film concludes with a rather abrupt ending: it’s revealed that John has married the heroine, because of course, and is now the new sheriff – thankfully. The old one was a dunce.)

Watch for the scene where Dusty gets a knife in the back, appears totally dead, and then shows up later claiming it was only a scratch! Ah, poverty row logic!

The Lucky Texan (1934) – Here’s my personal story regarding The Lucky Texan: waaaay back in the day, 1998 or so, after I had first discovered and become enamored of these Lone Stars via Blue Steel on WAOH TV-29, Best Buy’s $2.99 VHS section was also a big part of my movie-goin’ life. As luck would have it, they had a copy of Blue Steel, and it became mine. Oh how happy I was to have it for my very own! During that same trip, as we traipsed through Target next door, I looked at the newer, big budget ‘real’ John Wayne movies on their VHS shelf, thinking to myself “why have that when you could have Blue Steel?” Hey, I was like 12. I was one proud papa!

So I get home, immediately and happily watch Blue Steel, and then suffered extreme  heartbreak – the tape wouldn’t eject! This wasn’t a fault of the VCR – I hadn’t run that into the ground just yet – there was something wrong with the tape itself. Eventually it was removed without harm to the deck, but needless to say the tape had to be returned as defective to the store. It’s not like I could, or would, watch it again! Too much risk, man!

Anyway, I can’t remember if it’s what I got in return in that instance or if I found it there later, but eventually The Lucky Texan, via that same $2.99 VHS section, was my Lone Star consolation prize. This one played and ejected just fine, but still, it wasn’t Blue Steel. Either that tape was sold long ago or it’s seriously buried somewhere in my parent’s basement, but either way, I’ll always remember the movie for being Blue Steel‘s also-ran. In my eyes back then, I mean; this viewing here was my first since back in about 1998. (Some 21 years ago as of this writing!)

I spoke too soon about that Randy Rides Alone thing last entry; here Wayne plays Jerry Mason (any relation to The Dawn Rider‘s John Mason???) who along with old family friend Jake Benson (Gabby!) finds a rich vein of gold in a riverbed. Their frequent big money hauls attract the greed of the local (and quite shady) assayers, who trick Jake into signing over the deed to his ranch and set out to find this gold deposit to net the big big profits for themselves.

Skiing (?) down an aqueduct (?)

I remembered very, very little of this film beforehand, though certain scenes did reemerge in my memory as I watched. Jake’s big ol’ mustache, Jerry digging grime out of a horse’s shoe (this leads to the discovery of gold), Jerry skiing down an aqueduct (I guess that’s what it is) and Jake masquerading in drag to fool the assayers during Jerry’s wrongfully-accused-of-murder trial, all jogged my faded memories.

There’s a sequence in the body of the film in which Jake is accused of killing the local banker (who turns out to be alive) and Jerry apprehending the real culprit, who turns out to be the sheriff’s loser son. It feels like filler, and really, the film would have flowed just fine (albeit shorter) without it. Its main purpose seems to be adding some suspense for Jerry to get Jake out of prison without Jake’s just-arrived-in-town granddaughter finding out.

That bit aside, it’s a decently-paced flick. It held my attention, it wasn’t bad, but it probably falls more in the middle of the Lone Star spectrum, though that’s not to say it isn’t entertaining; it is. It’s nice seeing Wayne play a slightly different character from what we’ve been seeing – excepting The Desert Trail. He still gets the girl in the end though, because of course. (Thus far we haven’t seen a flick here in which Wayne’s character isn’t at least engaged to the leading lady by the film’s conclusion, and I’m going to keep making that “because of course” quasi-gag until we do. There’s a strong possibility I’ll be saying it for each and every entry.)

While watching, I did remember something that didn’t sit well with me then, and actually still doesn’t sit well with me today: the appearance of power lines and and an actual automobile near the end points to this being a more ‘modern day’ western, if not set in 1934 then at least somewhere in the earlier years of the 1900s. I always preferred my westerns to be in the old west, somewhere in the 1800s. Just feels more authentic and westerny to me, and that feeling goes back to when I was around 12 years old and discovering all this stuff for the first time. Arbitrary? Well sure it is!

By the way, the title implies this is set in Texas, but boy, there’s an announcement during a courtroom scene that sure sounded to me like “Omaha County.” Maybe I heard wrong (entirely possible), or maybe the title was added later without regard to the movie proper. It’s not like B-Westerns weren’t thrown out to the public quickly.

Anyway, The Lucky Texan is certainly no Blue Steel, but methinks I just didn’t appreciate it enough on its own merits back in the late-90s. A solid, watchable Lone Star outing. (Strangely, the opening “Lone Star” card is omitted here, instead starting directly with the title.)

The Man From Utah (1934) – Okay, the first thing you’ll notice with this one is that the title credits music has been very obviously replaced with something of a more-recent vintage. A ‘bigger’, more-dramatic theme that clearly wouldn’t fit with a movie this old. Say what?! A background score has also clearly been added throughout as well. The later colorized versions of these movies from the 1990s (more info on those in the next entry) replaced the credits music and added a score (these movies don’t normally feature any kind of music beyond the opening and closing titles, as was typical of B-Westerns in the early/mid-1930s), so was this the colorized version reverted back to black & white? And if so, WHY? It’s not even remotely hard to locate the original cuts of these movies, so yeah, I’m puzzled with the alterations here, especially since none of the other movies in the set feature these additions.

Wayne with a guitar that he really shouldn’t have.

The surprises don’t end once the movie starts proper, either. As soon as the story starts, we’re treated to John Wayne riding along – and singing! That’s right, he plays a singin’ cowboy in this one! Okay, so it’s just one song at the beginning, and his voice is very obviously dubbed by someone else, but nevertheless, putting John Wayne in the same arena as Gene Autry or Roy Rogers is highly eyebrow-raising.

Here, Wayne plays John Weston (I like to imagine him as the great-great-grandfather of Dr. Harry Weston), who rides into town, is almost immediately deputized, and is put in charge of figuring out if a big-time rodeo is being fixed by the people running it. To do this, he goes undercover by entering said rodeo, besting every event, and naturally running afoul of the gang behind the whole thing. (Apparently the bad guys have injured or killed outsiders who’ve done too well in the past.)

The added background music really takes me out of things with this flick; not that it’s bad, it’s not, but it just doesn’t fit. It sounds too new, and lays ‘on top’ of the film rather than being part of it. (The composer does get a credit at the very end though, which is nice.) Besides that, while I found the rodeo scenes fairly interminable (they were probably fine for the kiddies back in 1934, but for me they just drag things to a halt), the rest of the movie isn’t bad. I found the plot fairly engaging, though like the last movie, it’s probably more of a middle-of-the-road Lone Star entry than a top-tier feature.

Something I found odd: at the very end, right before it’s revealed they’ve become engaged (because of course), the leading lady forgives Weston for going off with another woman, who unbeknownst to her was part of the gang Weston was investigating (which was also unbeknownst to her). Didn’t they put the cart before the horse a bit there? I mean, wouldn’t they have solved this issue before pledging to spend their lives together? From what I know of women (which admittedly isn’t much, given my constant inability to relate to them), spending time with another girl would probably be an obstacle needing cleared before getting engaged. But hey, I’m no expert in these matters, so what do I know?

Unlike most of our other movies seen so far, there are several references to Weston as “the man from Utah,” so that was a factor of the film deemed important enough to be shared with the title of the movie. (Or maybe vice-versa.)

The Man From Utah got a pretty clean print. There’s expected dust and scratches present, but by and large it’s a fairly clear picture, albeit one that’s not as sharp as you’d hope. Also, some odd video ‘interference’ is seen throughout, though not enough to be distracting, and certainly not to the extent of The Dawn Rider‘s picture issues. Overall it looks pretty nice. I just wish I didn’t find that newly-implemented musical score so distracting.

(By the way, the copy of this DVD set I’m reviewing was still sealed new when I got it, but I found it at a thrift store, and judging by the amount of dirt/dust on the shrinkwrap, I’m guessing someone got it closer to 2010 than not, and obviously just never did anything with it. As such, I’m not ruling out the possibility that some of the video issues seen in this movie or The Dawn Rider weren’t fixed in subsequent pressings of the set. But, I can only review what’s in front me.)

The Star Packer (1934) – This is one I had the colorized VHS edition of looong ago. Still have it actually, though I haven’t watched it, or this movie in any form, in probably 20 years. The Star Packer was my second colorized Wayne Lone Star; the first was The Trail Beyond (which we’ll be seeing next, as the last movie on disc one), and naturally both came from Best Buy’s $2.99 VHS section.

The colorized VHS editions of these movies (not to be confused with the new colorized DVD editions) were neat, but even back then kinda head-scratching. I mean, did these movies really warrant the expense of colorization? Not to mention the newly-added musical scores? From how I understand it, these full movie releases were taken from a syndicated TV series that used edited versions of them to make up the installments, but don’t quote me on that. Anyway, VidAmerica first released these on VHS in the early-90s, and UAV re-released them in the late-90s. For me, The Star Packer was the former while The Trail Beyond was the latter, not that it really matters, since I *believe* the content was the same regardless.

That was pretty much my only personal recollections of The Star Packer; I couldn’t remember anything specific about the movie itself, so I essentially went into this one ‘fresh’. Though like The Lucky Texan, certain scenes jogged my memory when I saw them.

Wayne plays Cahill John Travers, U.S. Marshal, who is after the murderin’ scoundrels responsible for, uh, thievery and the like (you know how it is). He becomes the sheriff of a town where this gang of hoodlums happens to be headquartered. They’re led by a mysterious head honcho known only as “The Shadow,” who speaks through a fake wall safe.

Getting instructions from “The Shadow.”

I’m going to be honest with you; I don’t have a whole lot to say about this one. The movie tries to add a novel twist by adding mystery elements regarding the identity of The Shadow, but it’s so painfully obvious who it is early on that it doesn’t really count. He turns out to be – (spoiler!) – local rancher Matt Matlock (besides his slightly redundant name, I like to imagine him as the great-great-grandfather of…oh you know who I mean). Well, someone who has assumed his identity, anyway.

The usage of the name “Matlock” is delightful, and it along with Travers’ faithful Indian companion Yak (played by stuntman extraordinaire Yakima Canutt, who we’ve been seeing all throughout these Lone Stars), who is fairly insensitively portrayed but at least he’s a good guy, well, there’s not a whole lot else that really stands out about this one. The whole “Shadow” aspect is a real missed opportunity for a stronger mystery element to the movie, or possibly even a (light) horror element.

Not really a bad movie, but fairly run-of-the-mill as far as the Lone Stars go; a real programmer, even for a series that was, by definition, made up entirely of programmers. Though, Gabby Hayes playing a villain and the conclusion featuring Travers married to the leading lady (because of course) but several years after the events of the movie proper (by then they’ve got a kid that’s old enough to walk and talk), that’s all kinda unique…I guess.

The Trail Beyond (1934) – Like I said last entry, this was my introduction to the world of the colorized Lone Stars. I still remember the night I found it: it was the summer of ’99, and the next day my brother and I were off with my dad and his friend to the Brickyard 400 in Indy. The race was on Saturday, August 7, and we got there the day before, so the night The Trail Beyond in blazing color came into my life had to be Thursday, August 5, 1999. It was a banner night at Best Buy’s $2.99 VHS racks, netting me not only this but the restored-to-original-color Zorro opus The Bold Caballero, and not one but two (single episode each) VHS releases of the black & white Dragnet. Having only heard of the 1950s iteration beforehand but being a rabid fan of the 1960s revival that was then-running on TV Land, the Dragnet tapes were the big finds of the night, but it was pretty cool winnins all-around.

Like The Star Packer and The Lucky Texan, I remembered little of this flick beforehand, though a bit more than the those. Probably because the novelty of having a colorized Lone Star was so great at the time, more of it stuck with me.

In what seems like the first time in ages on this “Lone Star Journey” (as dictated by the line-up of this DVD set, I mean), George “Gabby” Hayes is not in this one…but two Noah Beerys are! That’s right, Noah Beery Sr. and Jr. are both in this one! Neato!

The surprises don’t end there, either. While the plot isn’t too out of the ordinary, the setting certainly is; The Trail Beyond primarily takes place in Northwestern Canada! Oh sure, there’s plenty of gunfightin’ and horses and such, but just the presence of a different backdrop alone really helps set this one apart.

Wayne and Beery Jr., extricating a map from a skeleton’s hand (!)

Wayne plays John Rod Drew, who is enlisted by an old family friend to find out what happened to his estranged brother and never-met niece. (The friend’s brother and niece, I mean.) So, off to Canada Ron goes! Along the way, he runs into old college chum Wabi (Beery Jr., and yes, that’s really the name of his character), who is almost instantly blamed for a murder. Rod helps him escape, though luckily they’re in the general vicinity of where Rod needs to be anyway. Thanks to poverty row logic, almost as quickly as Wabi was blamed for murder, they discover what happened to the brother (and his mining partner): their bone-dry skeletons are found in a cabin, along with a map to a gold mine. That part of his mission near-instantaneously complete, it’s off to find the niece.

As you may well imagine, the revelation of the mine map draws the attention of the local hoodlums (one of whom is Lone Star regular Earl Dwire, though he adopts an exaggerated French-Canadian accent for this role), and don’t forget, that murder rap is still hanging over Wabi’s head.

Even without the scenic locales it’s a pretty captivating plot, as far as these B-Westerns go. I really liked this one, far more than I did back in the day. Some of the dialogue is pretty eye-rolling; the family friend positing that it’s likely his niece is named Marie since that was her mother’s name is a real “huh?” statement, though it provides for a red-herring moment later that, truth be told, doesn’t really go anywhere.

Just one of the scenic backdrops in this movie.

Of course, the pine trees, cabins and rivers (and Mounties; this movie’s got Mounties!) of what was supposed to be Canada are what help things stand out even more. The scenery is beautiful! Indeed, while the print here isn’t bad, mostly good-not-great, this is a movie that would really benefit from a crystal clear transfer. As I recall it, my old colorized version featured a pretty nice base print…

And that brings us to the end of disc one. By and large, it’s a fun line-up. I’d say the first half is stronger than the second, which dips a bit before finishing strong with the excellent Trail Beyond, but there’s no true dud movie in the bunch. Considering this is a budget DVD set and thus probably not commanding much dough wherever you may find it, disc one is worth the price of admission alone, but disc two is certainly no afterthought; there’s more neat stuff just ahead!


DISC TWO

Hell Town (1937) – The second disc kicks off with a real gear shift from we’ve seen so far! Originally released by Paramount as Born to the West, Hell Town, while still decidedly a B-Western, has something resembling an actual budget. In stark contrast to the Lone Stars, which are fun but can be a kinda creaky, Hell Town just looks and feels so much more professional. There’s even background music throughout, which makes a huge difference.

Dare and Dink, after some bar-brawlin’.

Wayne is Dare Rudd (yes, really), who along with his lightning rod salesman buddy Dink (yes, really) wander into Wyoming and wind up working for Rudd’s cousin Tom (Johnny Mack Brown!)…but not before running afoul of some cattle rustlers. Rudd already doesn’t have a great standing with his cousin, further exacerbated by his brawling and generally wild ways. Rudd also falls for Tom’s maybe-fiancee Judy – an attraction that is evident to Tom but weirdly never seems to concern him as much as you might think. (Judy is played by Marsha Hunt, who as of this writing is still with us – how neat is that?!)

Rudd is eventually promoted to heading a cattle drive for Tom (think of a proto-Rawhide, minus Clint Eastwood, cause, you know, he was only like seven years old at the time of this film), lands in a crooked poker game, and gets in a big ol’ shoot out. Eventually it all works out for the better, because you don’t expect a nihilistic ending in a B-Western. Rudd winds up with Judy (because of course…and basically at the behest of Tom, so you know it ain’t exactly a flick grounded in realism) and Dink continues to babble about lightning rods.

This is a goooood movie! Not that I haven’t been enjoying the Lone Stars but the higher budget and better script here, needless to say, make a big, big difference. And what’s more, whether it’s due to the script or simply because a few more years of experience had elapsed, but Wayne exudes an easygoing charm and style that makes him seem more like the ‘real’ John Wayne people tend to think of, instead of the generic B-Western John Wayne we’ve been seeing and are about to see more of.

This, my friends, is a very entertaining B-Western, real fun matinee stuff; I like it a lot!

‘Neath Arizona Skies (1934) – Back to the Lone Stars. I taped this one a zillion years ago but I’m pretty sure I never actually watched it, so I’m basically going in fresh here.

The good guy, the bad guy, and the leading lady – who happens to be the sister of the bad guy, who switched clothing with the unconscious good guy prior, unbeknownst to the leading lady but known to the good guy. (Got all that?)

Wayne plays Chris Morrell, who is in charge of a little half-Indian girl that stands to inherit some big oil money – provided he can find her father, or provide proof that her father is dead. Needless to say, this attracts the attention of local hooligans, who want to find the father or kidnap the girl or both so they can steal them big big bucks. Complicating matters is a hold-up in which the robber switches clothes with an unconscious Morrell – and who happens to be the brother of Morrell’s destined-to-be love interest. The little girl’s father is eventually found, and relatively easily, and naturally he runs headfirst into this mess, as well. Look, the way this stuff all intersects isn’t very realistic, but hey, Seinfeld got away with that sort of thing all the time, right?

(Also, I assume this all takes place, say it with me, beneath Arizona skies.)

Oddly enough, despite being in the film and having a fairly visible role, Gabby is uncredited in the, erm, credits. I hope he still got paid! Naturally, Wayne gets the leading lady in the end (because of course), but for once there’s no mention of automatic engagement or marriage, so there’s that. (Hell Town had no mention of marriage either, but that wasn’t a Lone Star so my babbling doesn’t apply there.)

Coming off such a big change of pace, and with an annoying little kid in the cast, I wasn’t expecting to like this one very much. To my surprise though, I found this one pretty entertaining. It’s not a great movie, but it’s not bad either. But boy, coming off Hell Town, the poverty row-ness of ‘Neath Arizona Skies really stands out more than it probably would have otherwise. Much more stilted, much creakier.

(Also, while not as frequent as The Dawn Rider way back early on disc one, there are some moments of heavy compression/artifacting/pixelated break-up in this one.)

Paradise Canyon (1935) – Like I said before, these Lone Stars aren’t in order of release on this set; we haven’t even seen Wayne’s first Lone Star entry yet. But here, we have the last Lone Star picture Wayne made. Were all the stops pulled out for one last grand shoot-’em-up at Monogram, or did the series unceremoniously peter out like a spent river bed in some dry dusty gulch somewhere?

Unfortunately, it was the latter. I found Paradise Canyon, while not terrible, to certainly be on the lower end of the Lone Star spectrum.

Wayne is government agent John Wyatt (just once I’d like his last name to be “Hiatt” in one of these, simply because it would amuse me) who is sent to stop whoever is passing counterfeit money. Wyatt follows and later joins a traveling medicine show he suspects of the crime, only to run smack dab into the real counterfeiters.

You know, this one initially looked like it was going to be a manhunt-type film, with Wyatt following the medicine show from town to town, progressively closing in on his target. Even when the typical Lone Star three cent budget is factored in, that plot, to me, shows some promise.

Trick-shootin’ with a mirror.

That’s not what we got though. In short order, Wyatt finds Doc Carter’s medicine show, helps them escape the local law (he’s a government agent, I guess he can get away with that?), and then joins the show under an assumed name. Did you ever want to see a long, interminable demonstration of the medicine show’s entertainment? If so, you’ve come to the right place! Complete with trick-shootin’, terrible songs and pitching of Doc Carter’s supposedly-Indian-concocted medicine (whatever it is, it’s 90% alcohol), in short order you’ll be tempted to shout at the top of your lungs “hey, this is total filler!” And you’d be right!

Much about this one, to the plot to the dialogue to even the sound effects, filled me with, if not disgust than at least a vague forming of disgust somewhere in the back of my psyche. Or something like that. It kinda annoyed me, okay? I’m not totally sure why either, since one thing I love about B-Westerns is their reliable predictability, but there’s not much that worked for me with this one. And to top it off, the medicine show used a real drivin’ truck to get around; if necessary, go back and read my Lucky Texan take to see how I feel about that. Also, despite the title, I’m not sure if any of this takes place in an actual canyon. But then, admittedly there were points where my attention was slipping and I just didn’t care, so maybe?

The conclusion has Wyatt and the leading lady waiting for the Justice of the Peace to wed them (because of course), only for the film to reveal that he and Doc Carter are off getting drunk on the ‘medicine’ somewhere. What a way for Wayne’s Lone Stars to go out!

I wonder if Wayne and/or Monogram knew this would be it for his Lone Star series? Yes or no, it wasn’t a great way to end things. (By the way, there’s an odd solid border around the screen for the opening credits, which disappears when the movie proper begins. Why?!?!)

Rainbow Valley (1935) – I’ve been looking forward to this one. Y’see, back in the day, some time after that initial Blue Steel caused my VCR to explode and The Lucky Texan became the consolation prize, I found a four-VHS John Wayne box set at Best Buy. It wasn’t a $2.99’er, but it finally gave me a copy of Blue Steel I could hold onto, along with Randy Rides Alone, The Lawless Frontier and this film, Rainbow Valley. Rainbow Valley never overtook Blue Steel in my eyes, but became one of my go-to Lone Stars back then nevertheless.

Every single print of Rainbow Valley I’ve seen has shared the exact same maladies, namely that the quality is pretty wasted and scratchy, as if there was only one extant copy out there and everyone keeps passing it around. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but my curiosity was peaked as to whether the trend continued with this Mill Creek set or not.

In short, it did. Unfortunately, it’s not a unique print of Rainbow Valley here, and by this point I’m not convinced there is another print of the flick out there. Prove me wrong? And oddly enough, something I noticed on this viewing: you can often hear shouting/talking/action in the background of the soundtrack, and it doesn’t correlate to what’s happening on screen. A mistake with the existing print, or was Monogram filming something else nearby which Rainbow Valley got some residual audio evidence of? I wouldn’t be surprised in either instance, honestly.

Wayne and Gabby, sitting in “Nugget Nell” the automobile.

John Martin (Wayne, duh) is an undercover government agent (again), sent to protect the residents of the titular location from the local gang, who are, as you’d expect, terrorizing the populace. They want to drive people out and buy the land up cheap, again, as you’d expect. Martin must put a stop to this. Along the way you’ll get the usual misunderstandings as to who Martin really is, and a leading lady who hates him until she doesn’t. (Because of course.) Oh, and Gabby; Gabby’s in this one too.

Not gonna lie, all I really remembered about Rainbow Valley, besides the trashed quality of the print, was that dynamite played a big role, and I remembered correctly; at one point Gabby drives around in his rickety automobile (grrrrr…) and lobs sticks of dynamite at bad guys, which sounds like it’d make for a cool mission in an original Xbox game, truth be told.

Rainbow Valley is…alright. Re-watching it with a more objective eye nowadays, I wanted to like it more than I did, but, it’s strictly mediocre. I found it to be a better movie than Paradise Canyon (I compare both because that’s the movie immediately preceding this on the set and because both titles share similar a motif, which I only now just realized), and I like the general idea of the film, but in practice it’s pretty by-the-numbers. And yet, I’d still be interested in seeing a cleaned up, or at least better, print of the film.

The unique billing of Wayne as “Singin’ Sandy” on the title card.

Riders of Destiny (1933) – This was actually the very first Lone Star picture Wayne did, and it differs from later productions in a few ways. In contrast to later programmers for the studio, Wayne is specifically billed as “Singin’ Sandy” on the title screen; this is the only time his character is given such a shout-out. I assume Lone Star/Monogram was attempting to create a film series around this character, something which obviously never happened.

Wayne is indeed “Singin’ Sandy” Saunders, and as the feature opens, he lives up to his namesake, riding along and singing a cowboy tune – one of the very first singing cowboys of the movies! It’s an achievement not typically credited to Wayne, and for good reason; we saw him sing in The Man From Utah earlier on this set, and like that film, his singing voice is very obviously dubbed here by someone who sounds absolutely nothing like Wayne.

Anyway, the opening song here isn’t the usual paean to love or lonesome cowpoke lament; no no, this song is all about brutality. No kidding, Saunders sings a tune about total bloodshed. Seriously, it’s all about gunning his enemies down; only a pre-Hays Code flick could get away with something like that in what was probably considered mainly kids fare. It’s a really dark “say what?!” moment, and it’s even repeated later in the film, like a vocal calling card. Yikes!

Saunders is a gunman with a Billy the Kid-like reputation, though in actuality he’s a government agent sent to rid a local town of bad guy Kincaid, who is using both a near-total control of the water supply and the usual strong arm tactics to drive the other ranchers out and buy their land up for cheap. This, needless to say, won’t do, and so it’s up to Saunders to help the townspeople out of this mess.

The plot may not sound all that unusual, but it’s handled pretty well here; Riders of Destiny seems to generally be considered the best of Wayne’s Lone Stars, and while it may not *technically* be my favorite, I think I have to agree with that. As these things go, it’s excellent. After watching the last two movies for this review, I was wondering if I was simply burning out on these flicks, but the more I watched Riders of Destiny, the more I found my attention focused on it. This is a good, good poverty row oater!

Shootout in the street…

Although there’s the usual temporary case of mistaken identity and stabs at comic relief found (they’d be no stranger to later Lone Star entries), what really sets Riders of Destiny apart is how surprisingly dark (as in tone, not lighting) it can be at times. Sandy’s aforementioned song, of course, but later in the film there’s a scene where he lassos two inept baddies together and drags them along the ground behind his horse! Even more shocking, Riders displays the typical shootout in the middle of town at one point, but rather than just having Sandy blow the guy away, he instead quick draws and shoots him twice, then declares that the guy will never handle guns again. There’s then a quick close-up of the baddie with blood trickling down both his hands; Sandy put holes through his wrists! It’s not particularly graphic in this day and age, but for a B-Western it’s shockingly brutal, and almost unthinkable in later Lone Stars, never mind later 1930s poverty row westerns in general.

Even the conclusion of the film, in which Sandy kisses the heroine and promises to be back in time for dinner before riding off, is a little different. It’s a happy ending, but with, to me, a vague, bordering-on-bittersweet undertone. I’m not even giving this a “because of course” declaration this time around, because the romance, while not much (if any) of a focus during the film proper, at least doesn’t conclude with a random engagement and/or marriage.

For as much as I love Blue Steel, objectively I have to admit Riders of Destiny is the premier (as in best) Lone Star flick. Kinda funny that it was also the premiere (as in first) Lone Star flick, though that’s not to say later entries were all wastes. As we’ve seen throughout this review, there were a few dips, but by and large these are still movies worth watching!

Sagebrush Trail (1933) – In a nice bit of continuity with the preceding movie, this was the second Wayne Lone Star. Methinks this was a coincidence; I was trying to figure out if there was any rhyme-or-reason to Mill Creek’s placement of these movies on this set, and then I realized that, per disc, the movies are in alphabetical order.

Like Riders of Destiny, this is an excellent film. Just as good? Maybe, maybe not; I can’t decide. It’s close. It’s certainly a less brutal movie, and Wayne doesn’t fake sing in it, so there’s that. But like Riders, Sagebrush Trail plays out a little differently from how most of these Lone Stars went, or eventually went. And, even though there’s a scene early in the film that places the events in a then-more-modern setting, that doesn’t even really bother me this time around, because I enjoyed the rest of the movie so much.

Wayne is John Brant, and as the film opens, he’s an escaped convict. Seems he was put away for murder, and since we know how these B-Westerns generally go, it can reasonably be assumed that he didn’t do it. We don’t know that right away though, not for sure, and it’s a nice change of pace to have Wayne playing someone who isn’t a sheriff/marshal/government agent – he’s just some guy, running for his life, trying to find who committed the murder he’s been blamed for.

Utilizing the “world is only populated by a couple dozen people” economy that these poverty row oaters, or at least Lone Stars, practically turned into an art form, Brant stumbles upon a gang of thieves and befriends the real killer – unbeknownst to him at first, or course. It seems like the kind of place he should be searching anyway, so he joins up with them, both to find the real baddie and to thwart whatever crimes they hatch.

Broken eggs and Sally, the former being an object of comedy and the latter being the object of Brant and Conlon’s affections.

Lane Chandler plays Joseph Conlon, the man Brant becomes buddies with. The rapport between the two is evident; during a scene in which they goof on each other in a general store, I caught me genuinely smiling to myself! And even though Chandler is technically a bad guy (he was in the store to scope it for a robbery later that night, after all), he never really seems totally bad. He likes Brant, and even towards the end of the film when he finally becomes convinced Brant is a good guy and sets him up for an ambush by the other gang members, there still seems like something redeemable in him. There’s a likability in Chandler’s Conlon that I wouldn’t have expected beforehand!

Naturally (spoiler!) Conlon gets plugged and spills the beans to the law before expiring, thus exonerating Brant once and for all. Then, with Conlon’s body only feet away and still warm, Brant kisses leading lady Sally (because of course), the object of both Brant and Conlon’s affections. It’s kind of an awkward, inappropriate way to end the film, honestly. That aside though, Sagebrush Trail is a terrific movie as far as these Lone Stars go; attention-grabbing and generally fun, it’s among the upper-echelon of these flicks in my opinion.

(I was also pleased to see that Sagebrush Trail got a pretty decent print here. The quality of the preceding films on this disc have varied but mostly stayed in a standard, expected PD movie camp. Sagebrush Trail, however, while not exactly Criterion-quality, is relatively sharp and balanced. I’d say it falls safely within the realm of “good,” as opposed to the usual “well, it’s watchable.”)

Texas Terror (1935) -We’re nearly done with this journey through Mill Creek’s set. The penultimate movie on it is also the last Lone Star we’ll see; the final movie is a Republic offering. If you remember 600 years ago during my intro to this article, you’ll recall my link to my VHS review of this movie. Here, have it again.

I wasn’t real big on the flick following that viewing, and the print used was pretty wasted, which didn’t help matters. But because I’m firmly in “Lone Star” mode right now, Texas Terror can (probably) only go up in my opinion.

And the print? Luckily, Mill Creek does have a different and better print of the movie here.  Like Sagebrush Trail before it, Texas Terror looks surprisingly nice! Granted, it would be hard to look worse than that old VHS copy I reviewed. But while I’m not claiming Texas Terror to look pristine on this set, it sure looks better than I expected it to. It’s relatively good, at least on the higher end of the public domain Lone Star spectrum. It has its issues, no doubt (there’s an annoying ‘pop’ on the soundtrack whenever a scene/camera angle changes, for example), but nevertheless, Texas Terror doesn’t look too bad here. (Something I didn’t notice or don’t recall noticing last time, during an early scene with Wayne’s character and his friend sitting in an office: look close, there are flies noticeably buzzing about, landing on their hats, etc.)

Higgins, thinking he’s accidentally killed his friend Dan.

The plot: John Wayne is John Higgins, and not the one that was always yelling at Magnum, either. No no, this one’s a sheriff, ostensibly in Texas, and apparently a pretty good one – until he believes he’s accidentally killed his friend and father-figure Dan. This causes Higgins to leave the job and became a loner, friend only to Indians. Of course, he didn’t really kill Dan, and after a year-long (!) sabbatical, he returns to town to help Dan’s just-returned daughter Bess run the family ranch as well as find out the whole truth behind Dan’s death. Bess winds up loving Higgins until she doesn’t until she does again, because of course.

Did my opinion of Texas Terror go up this viewing? Well…not really. I want to like the plot so much more than I do; there’s the germ of a decent idea there and the usage of Native Americans as dependable and heroic characters is a plus (even if their dialog is rendered a somewhat offensively), but man, after an okay start, the film devolves into typical Lone Star  fare. A long dance and cow milking contest (!) sequence provides a few moments to further the plot but is really more filler than anything, for example. Even the grand climax with the Indians coming to Higgins’ aid, I found my mind wandering. After that decent opening, the movie is either by-the-numbers or outright dumb. Oh, and there’s another then-somewhat-modern automobile present, which doesn’t help matters in the eyes of yours truly.

Texas Terror is strictly mediocre, probably middle-of-the-road as far as B-Westerns in general go, but probably in the lower-tier as far as these Lone Stars specifically go.

Winds of the Wasteland (1936) – And so we come to the last movie on Mill Creek’s 16-movie “The Duke” set. Like the flick that kicked off this second disc, this isn’t a Lone Star film, but rather one of Wayne’s other pre-Stagecoach B-Westerns that also subsequently fell in to the public domain. Released by Republic less than a year after the final Lone Star, the differences are, like Hell Town, pretty striking. Mainly as far as the budget goes; I have no idea what any of these films cost, I’m assuming Winds of the Wasteland was substantially higher than any of the Lone Stars, but less than Hell Town. Don’t quote me on any of that though.

At any rate, like Hell Town, Winds of the Wasteland has something resembling a budget. Decently filmed action sequences, a good plot and an actual background score, Winds looks less like an uber-poverty row oater and more like a, uh, run-of-the-mill B oater. Or something like that.

Like Sagebrush Trail, Wayne is teamed with Lane Chandler as his buddy. There’s no hidden agendas or secret identities between them this time around though, and oddly enough, I didn’t see the same chemistry here. Maybe they needed that ‘torn between two worlds’ thing? Oh well, it’s nice to see them partnered up again anyway.

Wayne is John Blair, who along with his friend Larry Adams (Chandler) decide to go into the stagecoach business together. Instead of buying fresh though, they wind up purchasing a coach and line for “Crescent City” from the unscrupulous Cal Drake; you can pretty much tell he’s unscrupulous from the get-go, but Blair and Adams evidently can’t, because they buy into it all sight unseen. Naturally they’ve been ripped off; there is indeed a stagecoach and city, but the coach is rickety (and home to a skunk), and the city is almost entirely uninhabited.

The climatic stagecoach race.

Using ingenuity (and a little B-Western luck), they start turning the stage into a success, progressively drawing more people into the city and, naturally, attracting the ire of Drake – who they still owe some installments on the deal to. It all culminates in a stagecoach race between Blair and crooked Drake for a $25,000 mail subsidy, which is of course the final push Crescent City needs to put things over the top. Also, the daughter of Crescent City’s doctor hates Blair until she doesn’t, because (for the last time) of course.

The final action sequence goes on a bit too long for my tastes (I found my mind wandering more than it should have, though the matinee kiddies of 1936 probably loved the whole thing), but for the most part, Winds of the Wasteland is a pretty good flick. I didn’t enjoy it as much as Hell Town or some of the higher-ranked Lone Stars on this set, but it’s a very solid Republic offering. (It’s interesting to note that Wayne displays a bit more “John Wayne-ness” here than he did with the Lone Stars, but not as much as he did with Hell Town, where he came off much more like the John Wayne people think of when they think “Duke.” Experience or scripting or both? You decide!)

(Oh, and that border around the screen during the opening credits of Paradise Canyon? It’s back for this one.)


So there you have it, Mill Creek’s big ol’ 16-movie John Wayne DVD set, “The Duke.” No, as far as his public domain works go, it’s not the most comprehensive set out there. Even Mill Creek themselves have released 20+ collections that not only include all 16 Lone Stars but a bunch of his other PD stuff as well. But like I said at the start of this review, I like the quick, all killer no filler approach of this set. I just don’t want to wade through a John Wayne serial, His Private Secretary or a documentary on The Duke! Sure, I could always just skip those entries, but there’s something to be said for a no-nonsense, concise two disc approach to these things, and that’s what attracted me to this collection in the first place.

Would I have preferred that this set stuck to all 16 Lone Stars, preferably in order of release, and left things at that? Well, yes, I think so. But, Hell Town and Winds of the Wasteland are such enjoyable B-Westerns, and they do provide a nice change of pace, that I can’t really complain too much.

And you know what? Even though some of the Lone Stars dip in quality or fall into the trap of ‘sameness’, the fact of the matter is that I genuinely enjoyed going through this collection, film by film. Like I said before, B-Westerns weren’t/aren’t high art, nor were they intended to be. This is real matinee stuff; fast, simple and easy to digest. By and large this is a very good collection in demonstrating that, with even the weaker films being worth a view.

Mill Creek’s “The Duke” DVD set gets my enthusiastic recommendation, and as we all know, my recommendation is of tantamount importance. Pick it up and let the pre-stardom waves of a young John Wayne take you on a trip to depression-era filmdom!

(Boy, that last line borders on being outright stupid, but this review is now over 11,000 words; I’m spent, man!)

DVD Review: A BIG BOX OF COWBOYS, ALIENS, ROBOTS AND DEATH RAYS (S’more Entertainment, 2011)

You know how much I love budget DVD compilations of old movies; I’ve gone to that well more than once here on the blog. I don’t claim to own, or even seen, all that the “genre” has to offer, and so, it’s always a thrill to find a new, unbeknownst-to-me set – especially one that makes my eyes figuratively pop out. S’more Entertainment’s A Big Box of Cowboys, Aliens, Robots and Death Rays is absolutely, without a doubt one such DVD collection.

This was released in 2011, seemingly to cash in on the hype surrounding a movie I have practically zero recollection of: Cowboys & Aliens. I haven’t seen it and I have no intention of seeing it.

Still, I always love it when a new home video release plays into the vibes of a then-current Hollywood product; we saw this big time with Sons of Kong, and in the same vein comes A Big Box… That is old, public domain movies, in this case B-Westerns with elements of science fiction and/or horror, put together to “ride the wave.” All four of my regular readers will recall how much I love B-Westerns, and when they broke out of the mold and included elements not commonly associated with the genre (that is, sci-fi and horror), as we saw this past Halloween season with 1944’s Wild Horse Phantom, well, that’s just double-interestin’ to yours truly.

Given the title, I was expecting an actual box set, but when my copies arrived (that’s right, copies. I had to order these, and I got two; one to watch watch/review, and one to keep minty sealed fresh cause that’s how I roll), but in reality, what arrived was a four-disc, eight-movie set (two movies per disc, giving them a nice “double feature” feel), all housed in a standard-size DVD case with four hubs inside. Rest assured, I prefer this packaging; it’s a sleek, compact design that doesn’t take any extra space on the figurative DVD shelf, but with enough weight to it to really feel like a product, if that makes any sense. I dig it, is what I’m saying.

I like the cover art. The robot on the horse seems to be a modified version of the ‘bots seen in the first movie of the set (more on that momentarily). As you can see, the graphic artist in charge put him on a horse, threw him in a western village, and gave it a flying saucer to loom overhead – complete with big ol’ explosion! This art is also found (in slightly animated form) on the DVD menu screens, and I like it a lot – even if there are no actual flying saucers in any of these films. It absolutely gets the point across, and appears competently made to boot. Well done, me says!

So now, let’s check it out, disc by disc. Being such old films, the print quality obviously varies movie by movie, as (I hope) you’d expect. Yes, there are splices, scratches, dirt, dust, and quite often the edge of the frame is plainly visible. I don’t mind any of that one bit. The print quality lends these films an added air of old-time matinee charm, and besides, scratches or not, they’re all uniformly watchable.


Disc One: The set kicks off with a bang, with Radio Ranch, a 1940 feature version of the 1935 serial The Phantom Empire. This film alone basically sums of the title of the collection as a whole. Starring Gene Autry (in his first lead outing), the flick combines the singing cowboy sub-genre of B-Westerns with a legitimate science fiction bend, and from start to finish, it’s pretty wild.

Gene hosts a daily radio program from the aforementioned “Radio Ranch,” a showcase in which to sing his songs. He’s amassed quite a following; he even has his own fan club on the premises. Unfortunately, not everyone loves Gene’s show; a group of scientists want him off the land so they can harvest the valuable radium deposit right underneath.

Oh, and also located directly beneath the ranch? A lost underground civilization, and guess what? tThey want Gene outta there too. (These are the “aliens” of the collection’s title; no outer space fellas in this one!) The underground city is a trip; it’s a sprawling underground city (think of a cut-rate Metropolis), complete with goofy-lookin’ robot servants, citizens that can’t breathe our air and thus need oxygen masks (we can breathe okay down there, though), and a really icy (as in disposition) queen ruler.

Since it’s a condensed version of a 12-chapter serial, it stands to reason the flow of the film is a somewhat disjointed, but you know what? It’s a lot of fun, and a good summation of what this DVD set is supposed to be about.

Nearly any film is going to appear tame by comparison, but even so, the next feature on the disc, 1936’s Ghost Patrol, seems really tame, which is too bad because the title of Ghost Patrol is pretty cool. But in actuality, it’s a talky Tim McCoy vehicle, and while there is a legit sci-fi element to it, it doesn’t appear in full until the last 15 minutes of the feature, and even then nothing much happens until the last 4 minutes. As such, this is more of a straight B-Western than anything.

In it, a scientist has been captured by baddies and forced to perfect a death ray, capable of causing a plane’s engine to fail. Said baddies use this to bring down planes carrying the, as you would say, big money. Tim McCoy is a government agent out to put a stop to such shenanigans. Also present is the scientist’s daughter, who…doesn’t do much of anything, honestly.

Ghost Patrol isn’t a bad film, but a little slow and definitely a huge step down from the wackiness of Radio Ranch. Still, neat title


Disc Two: For the sake of full disclosure, I muse admit that when I first dug into this set, this was the disc I started with. Under normal circumstances, I steadfastly refuse to enter in the middle of things, as it were. Nope, I like to start at the beginning and go in order until it’s finished. So why the deviation this time around? Two words: Ken Maynard.

No joke, Ken Maynard is my favorite B-Western actor, and quite possibly my favorite western star period. I haven’t seen a film of his that I haven’t liked to some degree, and the first feature here, Tombstone Canyon, is a flick I’ve been jonesin’ to watch. I actually already owned it, as both a standalone DVD and an old VHS release, but for one reason to another, I just never got around to checking it out, despite its cool concept.

(In fact, the whole reason I stumbled upon this DVD set in the first place was because I was researching different releases of Tombstone Canyon.)

Tombstone Canyon falls much more on the horror side of things than the previous two films. In it, Ken rides into town at the insistence of an old friend, but to get there he has to pass through the titular location, and that’s where the trouble starts. Not only are there some villains running rampant right from the start, but more distressingly, there’s someone dubbed “The Phantom Killer” roaming the canyon. He makes weird howling calls, he’s really strong, and he has no qualms about killing people. The character lends a creepy, engrossing air to a film plot that would have been standard western fodder otherwise.

The ending is also slightly abrupt, but in a good way. Think of some of those shocking endings in certain episodes of the original Hawaii Five-O or Miami Vice, where there’s some violence, and then it just ends. It’s a little like that, and it works really well. The entire climax of the film is terrific, come to think of it.

Tombstone Canyon also boasts the best film print of all 8 movies in this set. Oh, there’s scratches and dirt and such, but the image itself is beautifully sharp and clear. It even looked good while being unnaturally stretched to widescreen on my HDTV. (I refuse to fiddle with the picture settings.) Add that on top of an already phenomenally entertaining flick and first-rate star, and you’ve got easily my favorite movie in the entire collection.

The second disc starts strong and finishes strong, with 1937’s Riders of the Whistling Skull. I’m not sure if this or Radio Ranch is the more famous example of the “weird western” sub-genre, but it’s certainly a heavy-hitter. An entry in the long-running Three Mesquiteers film series, Riders… may be a little (but just a little) less overtly nutty than Radio Ranch, but it’s still pretty out there.

Here, the Mesquiteers get involved with an expedition into a lost city, where a fortune in gold resides. A scientist had previously traveled there but never returned, so it’s up to his daughter and crew to try and rescue him. Along the way, there’s a weird Indian cult (complete with a guy dancing around in a skull mask), murder, some double-crossin’, a skull-shaped mountain (not that one!), even a temple with some mummies! A standard B-Western this most certainly is not!

A ton of action, too. In comparison to how the first disc ended, Riders… is incredibly action-packed. It’s a pretty good movie as a whole too, and since I’m not a big Three Mesquiteers fan, that says a lot.

I dare say that of the four discs, this second one is the strongest of the lot. Two excellent films that are pretty much worth the price of admission alone.


Disc Three: The second half of the collection opens with an entry in the “Renfrew of the Royal Mounted” series, 1940’s Sky Bandits. As you may surmise, Renfrew was a Canadian Mountie, and with the Yukon setting, this isn’t technically a western film, but these Renfrews are (seemingly) usually lumped in with the genre anyway, and besides, it has all the other correct ingredients.

Another reason this inclusion fits perfectly? According to Wikipedia, it’s actually a remake of Ghost Patrol! The plots are strikingly similar; both feature a scientist under the thumb of some unscrupulous types, both feature a death ray that is used to bring down airplanes in order to extract valuable cargo, and both feature the scientist’s daughter showing up to get in the way.

Sky Bandits is a better movie by far, however. It moves much faster, with more action, more usage of the death ray, and with some real comedy relief provided by Dave O’Brien as fellow Mountie. Even the daughter actually has a real bearing on the plot here. Throw in a couple inexplicable-but-fun musical numbers, and you’ve got a fun, breezy flick. I had never seen a Renfrew before, but I genuinely enjoyed this movie! More than I was anticipating, quite honestly.

Next: 1938’s Gun Packer, which is the most ‘normal’ western movie in the entire collection (though it’s a close call between it and Ghost Patrol). Honestly, it’s practically a straight B-Western. Oh, there’s a scientist on the premises, and he’s devised some weird method for making gold “disappear,” as well as created a highly-explosive liquid substance, but the science fiction threads aren’t overt at all here.

Unfortunately, Gun Packer also demonstrates the era in which it was produced. Our hero has an African-American sidekick, played by Ray Turner, and, well, he portrays the kind of stereotypical comedic character that was common in movies at the time. It’s pretty uncomfortable, and it’s in cases like this that a film has to be watched with a historical context in mind.

Fun Fact: Dave O’Brien and Louise Stanley are in both of the third disc’s offerings, making me wonder if the pairing was intentional. Stanley is the usual female lead in both, but O’Brien’s roles are polar opposites; goofball comedic relief in Sky Bandits, one of the bad guys in Gun Packer.


Disc Four: The final disc of the collection starts with 1941’s Saddle Mountain Roundup, an entry in the “Range Busters” series. Another one of those trio films like the Three Mesquiteers, (Max Terhune plays the jokey ventriloquist member in the examples of both found in this collection), there are very strong horror overtones in this one.

In it, cranky land owner Magpie Harper is convinced someone is trying to kill him and, well, he’s right. The Range Busters, already hired to watch over his property, try to figure out who done did it.

Sadly, like Gun Packer, the racial stereotypes of the era rear their head again, this time in the form of Chinese cook (and occasional suspect) Fang Way, played by Willie Fung. His sometimes-shifty behavior, nearly-incomprehensible English and scatterbrained demeanor are wildly unacceptable today, so again, this is a case where you have to view with historical context in mind.

That’s the only serious blight on the movie though, because otherwise, I genuinely enjoyed it. Creepy cinematography, rain storms, a murder mystery, cloaked figures, a cave that is essentially the fill in for an “old dark house,” horror vibes are found throughout. The plot is fun and at less than an hour, breezy enough.

And that brings us to the final movie of the collection, 1935’s The Vanishing Riders, and boy is creeeeeeaky. B-Westerns weren’t exactly high-budget items anyway (hence the “B” branding), but even so, the cheapness of this one really shines through.

Bill Cody (not the Buffalo one) and his real-life son Bill Cody Jr. (also not the Buffalo one) star as a (former) sheriff and his adopted child, respectively. There’s a deserted town, a marauding gang of thieves, a crotchety old man, a lovely leading lady and a plot to rustle some cattle, but I’m going to be honest with you, only two things stick out to me about this one: 1) Cody Jr., roughly 10 years old, has a role comparable to the other adults, and he gets a lot of screen time doing ‘heroic’ stuff. We’re talking Gamera-movie levels of importance for the kid. Frankly, it’s pretty annoying. 2) At one point both Cody men dress both themselves and their horses up in skeleton costumes in order to scare the thieves.

It’s those skeleton costumes that lend a horror flair to The Vanishing Riders, so it fits the theme of this DVD fine, but for as much as I love B-Westerns, the kid-friendly nature of the flick drags this one down for me.


A Big Box of Cowboys, Aliens, Robots and Death Rays is a pretty consistent collection of horror and science fiction-tinged B-Westerns. The overall theme of the set is just so neat that you (well, I) can’t help but love it. Radio Ranch, Tombstone Canyon and Riders of the Whistling Skull are terrific and worth the price of admission alone, Sky Bandits and Saddle Mountain Roundup are fun, solid inclusions, and Ghost Patrol, Gun Packer and The Vanishing Riders, while not up to the level of the other movies in the collection (in my opinion), are if nothing else watchable examples of the B-Western genre and the matinee vibes said genre exemplifies.

Aside from the few noted and unfortunate racial stereotypes that were products of their time, it’s a pretty easygoing set; for fans of B-Westerns, vintage horror and/or science fiction, or all three, it’s not a bad choice. It appears this compilation is out of print, or at least, Amazon currently has no new copies for sale, but methinks it’s worth hunting down; it certainly stands out from the numerous other budget DVD compilations that have hit the shelves over the years!

End of the Year Post: A Fond Final Farewell to WAOH TV-29

And so we come to the the waning hours of 2017. I know this is cliche to say, but this year really did fly by. Another 12 months where I accomplished few things of any lasting importance! These kinds of years are really starting to outnumber the ones where I do accomplish something important…

As ’17 draws to a close, I could certainly take a look at the events we’ve collectively shared as a nation, the celebrities we’ve lost, or the personal achievements I’ve, uh, achieved. On the first two points, others are better suited to that sort of thing, and on the third, I’m wise enough to know that nobody cares.

I won’t completely abandon the idea of a personally-connected post, however. There was an event that took place here in Northeast Ohio this past October that, quite frankly, was like a part of my childhood ending for good. All four of my longtime readers will recall the early, early article in which I paid tribute to WAOH TV-29 in Akron & WAX TV-35 in Cleveland, better known as “The CAT” (Cleveland-Akron Television). Despite my somewhat-erroneously referring to it as “The Cat,” rather than the more-correct “The CAT,” not to mention it being an early effort and therefore not one of my prouder works, the article has become one of the most popular on this site – probably because there’s just not a whole lot of info on the station out there in internet-land.

So, as we say goodbye to 2017, what say we also say goodbye to 29?

(Hunker down, gang; this’ll be a long article. Indeed, I’ve worked on it for much of this month, which is why there was no “Christmas post” proper, though I did get a dash-off day-after update, so you can’t be too mad at me. Or can you?)

I’m not sure when it was first announced, but I became aware that October 25 was to be WAOH TV-29’s swansong on September 9, when an almost-casual bumper stating the fact popped onscreen. It was a shock! What did this mean, exactly? I have Spectrum digital cable; would that mean they would just pick up the Cleveland feed? Or did that mean the station and programming as I/we knew it was done for good? As it turned out, the answer to both of those questions was a big fat “no.”

To be clear, the channel itself is still around, as Cleveland’s W16DO. Even though Spectrum doesn’t currently carry it on digital cable around here (for now?), it can apparently be had with an antenna, which as of yet I have not gotten because I’m almost perpetually broke.

That said, with first the network change from The CAT (largely but not exclusively an America One affiliate) to a Retro TV affiliation in 2009, and then the Cleveland WAX TV-35 affiliate becoming W16DO in 2015, and now Akron’s WAOH TV-29 leaving the air entirely, it really does feel like the last semblance of The CAT has left us; the last outward sign of The CAT anyway, that being the WAOH channel 29 part, is gone. As such, it feels like the book has closed for good on one of Northeast Ohio’s most interesting stations.

Now, don’t think I’m being weird and sulking over the loss of a television affiliate. I mean, yeah, I’m not happy that I can’t (currently) watch it, but I’ve got more important, actual problems to be depressed over. That said, I can honestly say that no local channel was quite as important in shaping my tastes in movies and television growing up as The CAT was. From 1997-2000, it yielded me an untold number of cinematic revelations, and to a somewhat lesser extent, vintage television revelations, too.

So, what I’m going to do now is go through some of my favorite moments and memories from my salad days with the channel. It might give you some insight into not only their programming but also what makes me tick, but quite frankly, this is just something I want to do. Plus, I’m really not happy with that earlier article anymore; an all-new write-up was in order, even though we’ll cover some of the same ground.

(Has my intro been long winded enough? It has? Okay, good.)


Just one of many CAT station I.D. bumpers. (Late-1990s)

I’m not quite sure when it first went on the air, Wikipedia says 1989 for Cleveland, 1995 for Akron, but my first real experience with the channel was in the summer of 1997. I had caught bits and pieces, glimpses really, prior, but on that day, as I was flipping around, I stumbled upon an airing of an ancient, subtitled movie. At 11 years old and going from 4th grade to 5th grade, it may seem weird that a kid as young as I was would care at all about a mega-old foreign flick, but even then I already had a steadily burgeoning interest in cinema. Okay, sure, my wheelhouse was more vintage sci-fi and horror, but the fact is I also took an interest in old cinema in general, and old foreign cinema? It was like I was catching something unique, something not easily accessible to the common man on the street, and while true or not in that instance, that ideal certainly applied to a number of flicks run on 29/35.

Following that fateful day, 29/35 became my go-to movie station, especially around the end of the summer, when my family dropped cable. I can’t exaggerate just how important The CAT was to me; it fostered my love of old movies, especially sci-fi and horror, and in some cases even created my love for certain genres, B-Westerns in particular. Simply put, a large portion of what I love to watch today can be directly attributed to The CAT.

It really was a constant sense of discovery; TV Guide didn’t cover the station, but the local newspapers did, and you have no idea how much I looked forward to getting the channel guide in each Sunday edition of the Akron Beacon Journal, just to see what neato stuff 29/35 had in store for that week. I lived for the days when a silent movie or cool vintage horror flick was on the schedule!

The America One logo, seen endlessly on The CAT in the late-1990s and early-2000s.

Now to be clear, most (but not all; more on that later) of the movies shown on The CAT weren’t owned by The CAT; rather, 29/35 was the local affiliate for the America One Network, and the majority of the films came from their library. As such, a large part of this nostalgia can be attributed to them as well. America One had a lot of fantastic stuff that you couldn’t see anywhere else – then or now. America One eventually morphed into Youtoo America, and up until fairly recently, you could catch a lot of these same movies in their late night slots, though that has diminished quite a bit (entirely?) as of late.

The America One “Western Theater” bumper, seen each weekday afternoon (and some weekend afternoons, too) for years. (1998)

I’m going to guess that the daily movies shown were all at the same time nationwide, time zone differences aside. Maybe not, I don’t know. Either way, here’s how our weekday line-up went: At 10 AM was a 90 minute movie, typically an older flick due to shorter run time. Then at 12:30 PM was “Western Theater,” always a B-Western, which also ran 90 minutes. Needless to say, these two movie slots were easier for me to catch during the summer months than they were during the school year, with holiday breaks being an obvious exception.

Immediately after Western Theater was the 2 PM movie, which went for two hours and ran the gamut of all genres and from all countries, and ranged from the silent era to the 1970s (and sometimes beyond; I seem to recall 1989’s My Mom’s a Werewolf airing in this slot at least once). I liked coming home from school to catch this movie in-progress, especially if it was one that struck my particular interests. Even when it didn’t though, I could be pleasantly surprised; Made For Each Other and Good News were films that I probably wouldn’t have sought out on my own but became fond of just by bumping into them during this slot.

The America One “Hollywood Classics” bumper, seen at 10 AM, 2 PM & 8 PM each weekday. (1998)

Then at 8 PM was another two hour movie, with basically the same set-up as the 2 PM one, though I don’t recall silents popping up as frequently in prime time as they did in the afternoon.

Of course between all of the movies were syndicated TV shows and local programming. The TV shows, I believe, also mainly came from A-1, though it might have been a mix of them and other distributors. For a few years 29/35 really pushed Dobie Gillis reruns with  humorous ads, and in those days of the late-1990s and early-2000s, there were also broadcasts of The Beverly Hillbillies, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Bonanza, and One Step Beyond, also all pushed fairly extensively by The CAT. It was a lot of stuff that was typical of independent stations basically, but looking back,  it would almost seem odd if they weren’t represented there.

This was also around the time that professional wrestling was monumental (again), and The CAT also had a few syndicated examples of that phenomenon. Once, there was some local wrestling out of Nashville or something that somehow got on the schedule one Friday or Saturday night. I never saw it before or since, but since I was never much of a wrestling fan, it might have run 57 years and I just wasn’t paying attention. Or I might be confusing it with something else entirely; it’s been a long time.

There were also some late morning and early afternoon television programs that probably came from A-1. I once caught an episode of the 1950s sci-fi series Captain Z-Ro either soon before or soon after the 10 AM movie, and reruns of The Cisco Kid were numerous for years, airing right before the daily western movie if I recall correctly.

But it was the local programming that really gave The CAT its flavor. Even with all of the America One content, this was such a Northeast Ohio station. When your name is an abbreviation of “Cleveland-Akron Television,” you kinda have to be!

Still from a SOG promo. (1997)

Readers taking even a cursory glance at this blog will know what an influence Son of Ghoul was on me growing up. I’ve written about him numerous times in the past, and most likely will again in the future. The Son of Ghoul Show was probably the flagship program on the station. Because he’s gotten so much spotlight time here already, I’m not going to say too much about SOG in this post. Rest assured though, he was the ‘biggie’ on the channel for me . The show aired on both Friday and Saturday, 8 PM to 10 PM, same episode both nights, and those airings absolutely colored my weekends back then. SOG, more than any other local personality, introduced me to the whole Northeast Ohio horror hosting legend. Sure, Superhost was in his waning days during my formative years (I was waaay too young to understand then), and I had watched Big Chuck & Lil’ John prior, but SOG, SOG was the big one. My love for local TV grew, and grew exponentially, from there.

Handy Randy promo still. (2008)

That was far from the only locally-produced show The CAT had though; there were plenty more. Many, but not all, of these local shows were call-in programs (a natural progression, as 29/35 was the television “arm” of Akron talk radio station WNIR 100 FM), often (always?) produced with only a desk, a host, and Cleveland/Akron phone numbers superimposed on-screen. Dining Out with Steve, in which restaurants were discussed and coupons given out, Steve French Sports Talk, which was exactly what it sounds like, and The Handy Randy Show, about cars and car maintenance, were all mainstays for years. Last I heard, Steve French was still on, and Handy Randy ran for the longest time as well, though as I recall it, the live, call-in aspect was later de-emphasized and it instead became a  prerecorded general car-related program.

Promo still for Smoochie’s program. (1998)

It was obviously a channel suited to any number of topics and shows, and in addition to what I’ve already mentioned, there were programs dedicated to urban communities (Keepin’ it Real), Kent athletics (The Kent Coaches Show), senior living (Senior Talk), even chiropractic health (Back Talk). Local radio personalities Bill “Smoochie” Gordon and Ernie Stadvec also appeared with their own programs over the years, and The CAT even did some quirky stuff,  such as The Big Al Show, which was filmed in a karaoke bar (and near as I can remember, wasn’t on very long). You never knew what you were going to get with The CAT, and because it was all produced “around here,” there seemed to be some leeway; since this wasn’t national material, issues and topics related to the area were prevalent, as you’d naturally expect.

As the 1990s progressed into the 2000s, the nationwide erosion of local TV in favor of syndicated programming and infomercials was only getting worse, and while, yes, 29/35 did have some syndicated shows (The Lighter Side of Sports was a long, long mainstay) and whatnot, the overall local vibes were too strong; you really did get the “Northeast Ohio presence” while watching the station! They absolutely lived up to their name. I wish I had been cognizant of the history behind some of these local shows/personalities back then, especially Smoochie’s program, but hindsight is 20/20. I’m certainly glad I experienced what I did, if nothing else.

When it came to movies and even just general programming on The CAT, late nights were, well, they were sort of a no man’s land. Yes, there were TV listings, but it was often a toss-up if you got what was advertised. Granted, this was sometimes an issue during the day (I remember coming home from school and being so excited to catch 1977’s Snowbeast as the listed 2-4 PM movie…only to instead be treated to 1954’s Carnival Story, which wasn’t quite the same thing), but late nights, you could just never be sure. What was listed in the channel guide might indeed air, or you might get something else entirely, and there was no (discernible) rhyme or reason to any of it.

Furthermore, there was a lot of syndicated programming, programming whose origins you couldn’t be sure of. In other words, where did it come from? Now look, the sad fact of the matter is I’ve been a night owl for years, and the other sad fact of the matter is I’ve also had spotty sleep patterns for years. (Maybe there’s a connection?) At least once that I can recall, I woke up in the middle of the night, stumbled out of bed, and turned on The CAT, only to be greeted with obscure programming produced by who knows who. Not that I ever saw anything weird or disturbing, but looking back, the same feelings that lead David Cronenberg to create Videodrome seemed to be at play with me here. Where did this stuff come from? Keep in my mind, this was all via my skewed, 11/12 year old perception. I probably wouldn’t have the same reaction nowadays.

The AIN station I.D. (1998)

In contrast to the daytime scheduling largely consisting of America One content, late nights (usually?) featured programming from the American Independent Network (AIN). AIN featured some of the same movies as A-1, though the prints themselves were different. For example, the versions of Circus of Fear and The Kansan I saw via A-1 were quite a bit scratchier than what I saw via AIN. Not that it really matters in the long run, but it was a difference I noticed.

AIN could also have some surprising movie selections. Indeed, the very first time I saw 1939’s Stagecoach was through a late night 29/35/AIN airing. I liked it a lot, though there was quite a bit of editing between commercial breaks, which obviously made the film disjointed. (I’m not sure where the editing originated from, us or them.) On the same classic movie front, AIN was the first one to present Fritz Lang’s M to me.

Host of AIN’s Family Film Festival. Anyone know his name for certain?

My first experience (that I can recall) with unique AIN programming on The CAT was a late night airing of 1934’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, or rather, what came right before. Immediately preceding it was 1977’s Wishbone Cutter, a horror film set around the time of the Civil War and starring Joe Don Baker. Wishbone Cutter aired during something AIN had called Family Film Festival, hosted by a guy whose name I think was Tim Brown. I came in for only the last minute or two of the movie, but it was still immediately apparent that it was wildly inappropriate for a program purporting to be aimed at families – which I of course find kinda funny now. (I’ve got a weird sense of humor.)

Outside of the movies and shows featured, The CAT was also a haven for local businesses and their advertising. Because it was an indie station, there were commercials for local establishments that you just wouldn’t, or couldn’t, see on any other channel. This was immensely cool, both then and now.

These ads were, near as I can tell, all produced by 29/35 themselves. That actually ran advertisements spotlighting their free television production services; all you had to do was call. Of course, I imagine you also had to pay for something, sponsorship of a certain program I’d guess, but it seems to me that this still gave affordable commercial opportunities to local businesses that maybe wouldn’t have gone that route otherwise.

To watch The CAT was to tap directly into the atmosphere of the area at the time.


Okay, so I’ve talked a lot about 29/35 as a whole, but what about some of the specific movies and related bits that I found particularly interesting? Some of the stuff that sticks out in my memory? That’s part of my story too, after all!

A few months went by after my summer introduction to the station, and following that, the first really notable movie I caught (and taped!) off The CAT was 1922’s Nosferatu. Nosferatu hit all the bullet points I was looking for at the time: It was silent, it was foreign, and it was a horror film.

It aired at 10 AM on October 31, 1997, which I remember because that was the big Halloween party at my grade school, and we were allowed to go home at lunch time to change into our costumes. I forget what I went as that year, but I do remember eagerly checking the timer-set VHS recording from just a few hours prior; I knew immediately Nosferatu was my kind of movie. An exponentially creepy silent unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula? I loved it. I still love it. Despite purchasing the later definitive tinted & restored releases by Kino, I still have love for the older, ‘regular’ public domain prints of the film thanks to what was aired on The CAT that day (a print that also boasted a fantastically “spooky” score).

(I also remember the afternoon B-Western playing when I got home to change into my costume / check the tape that day; it was the Buster Crabbe oater Devil Riders.)

As I mentioned before, The CAT was one of my main outlets for new old horror and sci-fi, and as such it was responsible for introducing me to far more than just Nosferatu; there was also a lot of the later, more-cornball stuff that crossed my eyes for the first time thanks to them. 1950s science fiction was a particular favorite of mine then, and while I tend to lean towards 1930s & 1940s horror now, I still like 50s sci-fi. Plenty of both showed up on 29/35. Some I loved instantly, some I didn’t, and some I only appreciated years after the fact.

He’s indestructible, and a man, hence…

When it comes to the latter: 1956’s Indestructible Man. The 10 AM CAT showing of the movie back in, I’m pretty sure, late-1997, was my first exposure to it. Oddly enough, neither that viewing nor subsequent viewings did much for me; I found it a dull, slow moving film. Even the Mystery Science Theater 3000 take left me cold.

And yet, a re-watch this past October on TCM found yours truly actually, finally getting into the film. I enjoyed the faux-Dragnet vibes, and at only 70+ minutes, it’s really not that slow moving. Didn’t hurt that TCM ran one of the best prints of the film I’ve ever seen, either. (I’m not sure where I’m going with this. I guess that The CAT introduced me to Indestructible Man, but it took me almost exactly 20 years to ‘get’ it?)

In retrospect, quite a few of the horror & sci-fi movies I grew up with came via the 10 AM CAT movie. King of the Zombies? It wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but check. The Little Shop of Horrors? Check, and I loved it from the start (the print aired on The CAT was one of the few I’ve seen that actually included the end credits, too – even the beautiful copy aired on TCM this past October omitted them). And Ed Wood’s Bride of the Monster? Aside from Lugosi, it’s terrible and not in a good way, but check that one, as well.

Two final points regarding the 10 AM movie: 1) Hillbilly Blitzkrieg once ran on it. A wartime Barney Google cheapie, I came into it already in-progress, and it was just wacky enough to make me wish I was taping. Of course I never saw it run again. 2) Something titled Mountain Lady. I briefly flipped to it, saw an outdoor setting and some big, ugly yellow film scratches, but recall little else about the film. I think it was listed as being from 1968. I didn’t watch very long, though maybe I should have. What was this movie? Where did it come from? Like Hillbilly Blitzkrieg, I never saw it on the schedule, 10 AM or otherwise, again.


The 12:30 PM Western Theater was a big one for me, and quite unexpectedly, too. Obviously I liked the horror and science fiction stuff, and the old imported features, and silent movies, but westerns? I don’t think I had paid much attention to westerns beforehand! Especially B-Westerns! It started off with my just being enamored by them; the obscure creakiness, the thought that I was seeing something not everyone else had. But then, the more I watched, the more I fell in love with the genre.

Of course I knew who he was prior, but I was actually properly introduced to John Wayne through these broadcasts. All it took was one airing of Blue Steel to hook me; it was so different from the stereotypical John Wayne image that comes to mind, him being in a 1930s cheapie. And the hype that was the “Lone Star Productions” intro (which really did stand out from other B-Western productions of the time) made the whole thing feel all the more special.

(Some time afterwards, the famed Best Buy $2.99 VHS section yielded me a copy of Blue Steel; I couldn’t have been happier to own the flick! I eagerly threw it in the VCR when I got home and watched the whole thing – an experience that was dampened by the tape being defective and refusing to exit the machine once the film was over. The VCR got through it unscathed, but of course the tape had to be returned, much to my disappointment. ‘Course, since these Wayne Lone Stars are public domain and have his name attached to them, they’ve been released numerous times on home video, so my disappointment wasn’t permanent.)

But by far the most enduring star to be introduced to me by the 12:30 PM western presentations was Ken Maynard. I had no idea who Ken Maynard was prior; what 11/12 year old in the late-1990s would? And yet, through these daily western broadcasts, I became a fan – a fandom which continues to this very day. Maynard was one of the top B-Western stars of the 1930s, and while you don’t hear his name mentioned very often outside of fan circles nowadays, he made some terrifically entertaining films. Fightin’ Thru, Drum Taps, Come On, Tarzan, all were introduced to me via these afternoon showings.

Come ON, Tarzan! Stop foolin’ around!

1932’s Come On, Tarzan became a particular favorite. I’m not sure if it’s my top Ken Maynard western, but it’s dangerously close; in the top five, if nothing else. I remember seeing it listed in the local guide, and wondering what a Tarzan movie was doing placed in the western time slot. Were they trying something new? I soon learned the truth; Tarzan was the name of Ken’s super-smart horse, who appeared in a large number of his pictures. Come On, Tarzan was terrific – I loved it then, and I love it now. It is very possibly one of Ken’s very best films – in my opinion, anyway.

The aforementioned Fightin’ Thru was another big one. I never once saw a silent or 1920s-era talkie in the 12:30 PM slot, so I took a particular interest in the earliest films possible there, which meant 1930. Near the Rainbow’s End, The Apache Kid’s Escape, and most notably, Ken Maynard’s Fightin’ Thru. I haven’t seen it in nearly 20 years now, but it probably holds up for me; even today I find many of Maynard’s westerns to be really, really good. Indeed, 1944’s Harmony Trail was his last starring picture, and while I had heard bad things about it, when I finally saw it many years later, I enjoyed it immensely – somewhat unexpectedly on my part, to be honest.

At the time, many of these westerns, Ken Maynard or otherwise, were unavailable to the general public, which only added to their allure. The only normative way to watch them (that I knew of) was through an America One affiliate. And if you wanted an “official” copy, you had to seek out specialty, mail-order dealers, because 99% of these weren’t gonna show up on brick-and-mortar shelves, not even my beloved $2.99 section at Best Buy. In more recent years, I have been extremely pleased to discover Alpha Video has released many of these on DVD and at really great prices, too.

1934’s The Tonto Kid, a Rex Bell feature, is another B-Western title that particularly stands out in my mind, but I’ll return to that subject a little later in this article.


That brings us to the 2-4 PM movies. As I said, these were the ones I came home to after school. I became acquainted with so, so many other new-to-me movies here. Hitchcock’s early talkie Blackmail? Yep. The silent Sparrows? Uh huh. The dubbed version of France’s Tall Blond Man With One Black Shoe? Yessir. Circus of Fear? Right on, mama. The Grand Duel? I dug it! Good News? Yes, and unexpectedly, I liked it! The Curse of Bigfoot? I kinda wish I hadn’t seen it, but yeah, that popped up at 2 PM, too. And although I was already well-familiar with it, even Godzilla vs. Megalon ran in this slot at least once, as well.

Like the western showcase, the afternoon slot was responsible for making me a fan of a genre that previously I had paid little attention to: Sword & Sandal films. You know, Hercules and the various imitators he spawned; Colossus, Goliath and the like. I wound up becoming a huge fan of these movies! Hercules, Hercules Unchained, Hercules Against the Mongols, David & Goliath, The Avenger, all stuff I became fascinated with.

‘Course, it was the entries that featured horror & sci-fi elements that really intrigued me. Many of them didn’t, and that was okay, but the ones that did, those instantly became preferred features in the genre. Hercules in the Haunted World and the ones like that were especially awesome to yours truly.

A movie so cool, it deserves two screencaps! The title, and the titular monster!

One of my top favorites was an entry in the Sons of Hercules series, a U.S. repackaging of various Sword & Sandal flicks that went straight to television in the 1960s. (Most, if not all, probably had nothing to do with Herc in their homeland, but it was standard practice at the time for U.S. distributors to “link them” nevertheless.)

This particular entry was titled Fire Monsters Against the Son of Hercules, and with a name like that, well, was there any way it wouldn’t be cool? Herc’s ostensible son “Maxus” did indeed fight some monsters in the film, including one near the very start (right). The title was somewhat misleading in that the main plot didn’t really concern them, but hey, it drew me in, and probably 1960s audiences, too.

(The Sons of Hercules films also had a catchy theme song that had, and has, the ability to get stuck in your head for 97 years at a stretch.)


The hours between the 2 PM movie and the 8 PM movie were filled with various programming, syndicated and local. Then at 8 came another “Hollywood Classics” feature from America One. (It should be noted that many of these films were neither from Hollywood nor would they generally be considered classics, but the bumpers surrounding them still made them feel special nevertheless.)

As I said earlier, the 8 PM movie was much like the 2 PM movie; same gamut of genres, though with (as I recall it) far fewer silents. Material better suited to prime time, basically. Some movies ran in both slots, while others, like Winners of the West, I only saw at 8. (Winners of the West was the feature version of a 1940s western serial, and while on the surface that may seem like something better suited to 12:30 PM, its length precluded it from being in that 90 minute time slot.)

Lotsa neat stuff ran at 8. I had a burgeoning interest in “Spaghetti Westerns” in the late-1990s, an extension of both my love of westerns and interest in foreign films I’m sure, and a few still stick with me. For a Few Bullets More (which featured a great theme song and starred Edd “Kookie” Byrnes and Gilbert “Cisco Kid” Roland) and It Can Be Done Amigo especially. There are times even nowadays where when something is asked of me, I’ll answer with an affirmative “It can be done, amigo.” I don’t do it often, and it’s a reference absolutely  nobody gets, but it amuses me, and that’s what counts.

Of course there was the horror & sci-fi that was my bread-and-butter. Monster From Green Hell first became known to me there, as did The Creeping Terror. Also, one of the worst movies I have ever seen, 1970’s Dracula vs. Frankenstein (aka Assignment: Terror). This wasn’t the Al Adamson film of the same name, but rather the Paul Naschy opus, and to this day I find it utterly terrible. (While on the subject, I know he has his fans, so I don’t want to rag on him too much, but I just don’t get the love some have for Paul Naschy’s films. Every single one I’ve seen has been essentially unwatchable.)

At this point I would like to relate my most memorable tale of the 8 PM movie on The CAT, because it’s the very definition of the kind of films they (or rather, America One) could run. Stuff that was incredibly unknown, you had never heard of prior, and was in all likelihood not commercially available. This next story is, to me, the ultimate example of that phenomenon.

One summer night in 1998 (I think it was a Wednesday; I recall Whose Line is it Anyway? was airing on ABC), I stumbled upon such a flick. I had noticed that the 29/35 movie listed for that particular night was titled Mark of the Beast, but there was no date, synopsis, stars or rating given for it in the local channel guide. Okay, evidently the film was mega obscure!

Well, I was hanging out at my aunt’s house that evening, and must have forgotten or was otherwise busy to tune in at the start, but eventually I flipped to 29/35 (side note: The CAT was on channel 14 via Time-Warner basic cable then) to see what exactly this film was. I was greeted with a movie that was in blurry, somewhat-faded color and in which fast-moving and/or bright objects and titles left streaks/imprints across the screen, there was a lot of buzzing/clicking on the soundtrack, and there was odd narration of some sort. I wasn’t able to catch the whole thing that night, but I was severely intrigued; it all seemed so mysterious! Like Mountain Lady, what was this film? Where did it come from?! In retrospect (because there was no way I could have found the appropriate words back then), it almost seemed otherworldly, as if the images on the screen weren’t really supposed to be there. Such were the qualities of the film (or rather, the print of the film), that it actually came off dreamlike; streaky and fleeting.

America One, according to their online schedules back then, would run some movies twice-per-day, and Mark of the Beast was set to repeat during the overnight hours. I set my VCR timer in the hopes that this would be one of those times where what was listed locally wouldn’t match up with what was actually run. Unfortunately, the listing was correct, and I instead got the as-promised 1933 Philo Vance mystery The Kennel Murder Case. Not a bad consolation, as I watched the recording and thought it was a pretty good movie, but nevertheless, my curiosity was only further piqued by the denial of whatever I had seen the evening prior.

VideoHound’s Golden Movie Retriever (a still-continuing movie guide book that, while not as famous as Leonard Maltin’s previously-annual tomes, had much more extensive listings despite specifically being limited to films released on home video formats) told me Mark of the Beast was a mid-1980s flick about an assassination caught on tape. Okay, maybe that’s the movie I saw; I mean, it didn’t sound like what I saw, but I didn’t catch enough of the plot to make any real judgements there. As for the date, what I glimpsed seemed far older than the 1980s; I was figuring mid-to-late-1960s! (Considering I was only 12, I actually wasn’t too far off, though nowadays I’ve become better at sight-dating and would most likely conclude it came from some point in the 1970s.) Could it be that this was one of those rare times where VideoHound didn’t have a certain movie listed?

For whatever reason, I couldn’t deduce what the actual title here was, and actually emailed the question to America One direct. The guy that responded shared my fascination with the movie – as well as the answer I somehow couldn’t come up with myself.

As it turned out, yes. Eventually the movie reran, 8 PM again, in March of 1999 (and in following years late at night, as well – albeit infrequently). The reality of the film was this: A science fiction-tinged Evangelical Christian production about Armageddon, set in a high-tech underground bunker and starring Joe “Guy from Blade Runner” Turkel. And the title wasn’t Mark of the Beast, but rather, a severely-cropped Six-Hundred & Sixty Six (left). Same difference.

And yes, the movie was intensely obscure. For the longest time, there was NO IMDb listing for it at all, which left me to only guess as to its release date or origin. As per IMDb, it was released in 1972 and shown at churches, as you’d expect of an Evangelical Christian production.

Obviously, there’s a strong focus on Biblical prophesy in the movie, and there seems to be a few aspects taken from Orwell’s 1984 as well, mainly in the Big Brother-like portraits of “The Man” (a leader who has organized much of the world into a single entity) hanging all over the compound. Set at some point in the future, the U.S.A. is now the “United States of Europe,” the new Roman Empire. (We all know how the old one turned out, right?) A single world religion and complete obedience is professed by “The Man,” and there’s a war with China going on. The complex where the film takes place is situated under a mountain, the purpose of which is to house all of mankind’s art and achievements on computers in the event of massive warfare, which seems to be at hand. Indeed, nuclear destruction takes place above ground, seemingly leaving only the small group of survivors in the complex, with limited air and not much to do. To pass the time until the inevitable occurs, they begin studying Biblical prophesy and correlating it with major events in world history, from the past to the present day.

Now look, I’m super Catholic, and initially I was worried that with this being an Evangelical production, there’d be some raggin’ on us. Early in the film, when warfare that had taken place at some point beforehand is described, it’s mentioned that many great artistic works were lost, including what was in the Vatican when it was destroyed. Upon hearing that, I was like “aw, here we go…” But, as the film played on, it seemed that that brief instance was meant solely to describe the loss of art and without any ulterior motive. Indeed, late in the movie the Sacré-Cœur in Paris and its parishioners are described in a positive light. So, even though this was an Evangelical production, it doesn’t seem to focus on any single group of Christians, but rather on where Christianity as a whole fits in with regards to the events taking place.

This is not a bad movie. In fact, it’s really, really good. As it plays out, there’s a stronger and stronger emphasis on Christianity, but it never comes across heavy-handed or overly preachy, which is quite an achievement given the subject matter. Obviously it’s not a happy good time flick, but it’s consistently interesting, and the ultra-modern design of the underground complex lends the film a neat sci-fi flair. Terrific acting by all involved as well, and with some pretty famous names attached to the production; Turkel of course, and the frequent voiceovers by “The Man” were provided by none other than Malachi Throne!


Okay, that story told, back to our regularly-scheduled program…

In contrast to the structured weekday movie scheduling, the weekends were a bit of a toss-up on 29/35. For awhile, you could count on one or two B-Westerns on Saturday afternoon, and I remember three airing in a row once. Same basic stuff that aired at 12:30 PM throughout the week. I still recall anticipating an airing of 1934’s Lightning Range one Saturday afternoon, wasting away the hours until it was finally airtime. I really did look forward to constantly “discovering” these flicks!

Sundays were more up in the air though. Oftentimes, there was nothing that stuck out to me, which means that it was probably a wasteland of syndicated shows and infomercials, though don’t quote me on that. There were surprises, however. I remember once catching part of an episode of Lucan, the super-short-lived series from the late-1970s. I never saw the show before or since, and how it wound up airing then and there I couldn’t say. I didn’t catch the end of it, as we had to leave for 4:30 PM Mass, but it was a random occurrence for sure.

Somehow I think this is actually a cooler title than the promised Goliath and the Vampires…

And, movies could show up on Sunday afternoons, as well. I don’t recall them being a regular feature, but they did happen from time to time. Maybe it was every Sunday after all, I don’t remember. I *do* remember that Monster From a Prehistoric Planet first crossed me eyes this way. I didn’t, and don’t, really like the film, but if nothing else, kaiju was/is kaiju. The Sunday afternoon movie that really stands out to me though played into my affection for Sword & Sandal films: Goliath and the Vampires (right). Yep, one of those with horror elements in the plot! Cool winnins!

Oh did I look forward to this one, and despite the on-screen title simply reading The Vampires, this was the type of Sword & Sandal flick that was directly up my alley. And, that Sunday afternoon was the only time I saw it broadcast on 29/35.

(Oddly enough, for having grown up catching movies in the afternoon during those years, nowadays I can’t stand the thought of watching a film during the daytime. To me, movies are nighttime endeavors; the daylight hours should be reserved for TV shows, or, you know, doing something productive.)


Now is a good time to point out that the old feature films weren’t the only thing that kept me coming back again and again. It was actually what could come after said films. You see, the movie time slots were standard 90 minutes, 120 minutes, that sort of thing. BUT, even with commercials, often the films didn’t fill those entire slots. So, The CAT (or more likely America One) would play some unscheduled filler. These could be silent or sound short comedies, old cartoons like Popeye and the like, and once in awhile, even some weird foreign import cartoons. (Rapirea, animated fare ostensibly of Romanian origin and concerning a detective protecting a new invention from marauding thieves, was particularly bizarre, despite supposedly being intended for kids.) You just never knew what you’d get, if you got anything at all; the shorts weren’t a given.

Furthermore, you weren’t always guaranteed a whole short; the end could very well be cut off so that the next, scheduled program could start on time.

My favorites were the silent comedies. It’s thanks to these filler bits that I became a Charlie Chaplin fan. Chaplin’s Mutual Films output was commonly found in these “slots,” and thanks to subjects like The Pawnshop and The Rink, it became sort of a game for me to deduce if a movie looked like it was nearing its end early and a short was likely coming. Even better was when the selections got even older, such as Chaplin’s Face on the Bar Room Floor or His Prehistoric Past; I wasn’t cognizant of where they fell in the time line of his filmography then, and while in retrospect they were nowhere near as good as the polished Mutuals, but at the time I was just happy to see more new old Charlie Chaplin.

(Once again, Best Buy’s $2.99 VHS section came to the rescue, as I happily snapped up the few Chaplin tapes they had there.)

Is that Chaplin’s Tramp? Guess again! It’s Billy West as “The Hobo.”

Some really unexpected shorts could show up as filler, and one particularly stands out to me because it wasn’t Chaplin, but it wanted to be. Billy West’s The Hobo was a Chaplin knock-off, featuring a titular character that really, really looked like Charlie’s Tramp. There were times when I wasn’t sure that it wasn’t a Chaplin feature, renamed for whatever reason. But no, it was a legit rip-off; an entertaining rip-off, but a rip-off nonetheless. (Furthermore, the print utilized featured narration added in the talkie era, with a voiceover that was the very definition of “jolly.”)

Offbeat stuff like that absolutely sums up my fascination with the potential post-movie short subjects.


So far, most, if not all, of the movies I’ve talked about were America One sourced, and merely being syndicated on The CAT. There were exceptions though, and they came during the holidays. I’ve talked about these instances before, here and here. For the sake of completeness, we kinda sorta have to hit these points again, however. That’s okay though, cause they mean a lot to me.

You’ve probably heard of this movie, right?

Every Halloween, unless it was Son of Ghoul night, The CAT would cut into whatever America One had scheduled at 8 PM and instead run what, near as I could tell, was one of their own films. Yep, it appeared 29/35 had their very own copy of Night of the Living Dead.

You have no idea (well actually, you probably do) how perfect this was come Halloween time. The print of Night that 29/35 was pretty worn, lotsa scratches and whatnot. I’ve described this before on the blog; a well-used copy of Night of the Living Dead can be just as effective, if not more so, than a pristine one. To me, it feels more nightmarish that way. It fit so nicely with the local vibes the channel projected year-round anyway; truth be told, when it comes to “Halloween movie” memories, catching Night this way on The CAT is one of my favorites. They weren’t unique in this area, just about everyone plays this movie come October, but to have one of the Halloween movies played annually on our channel, you just couldn’t beat it.

Same feelings come December too, though of course modified for the season (duh!). This was an even bigger deal to me than Halloween, and the source of some of my favorite Christmas memories growing up.

Every Christmas Eve, The CAT went all out: 1935’s Scrooge, followed by 1940’s Beyond Tomorrow. Not only was it an appropriate double-feature, but the movies were commercial-free, too. This was not something usually done on the station, so it felt all the more special. (Funny thing is this would have worked even with commercials.)

You’ve probably heard of this guy, right?

I never paid much attention to Beyond Tomorrow, but I was all about Scrooge. This was the ’35 British production starring Seymour Hicks, and while most critics wouldn’t list it as the best film version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, it has always been my go-to adaption. Almost certainly because The CAT played it every year, but for me, that’s all it takes. (Like Night of the Living Dead, the print of Scrooge utilized by The CAT was pretty worn, pretty scratchy, but in my opinion that just added to the “old timey Christmas” feeling the film projected.)

Let me see if I can paint an accurate picture of this. I have this memory of Christmas Eve, the living room dark except for the illumination given off by the lights on the tree, a gentle feeling abounding, and Scrooge playing on the TV in the background. The hustle of Christmas shopping was done, it had all come down to this night, I was still young enough to be jazzed for Christmas morning. A lot has (needless to say) changed since then, but I still carry those mental images with me. I hope I always will.


If you were watching The CAT and/or America One in the late-90s/early-2000s, you knew who Alan Stone was.

We’re, or rather I’m, nearing the end of the journey here, but I can’t finish up my look at The CAT without mentioning the host that was seen so often on the channel: America One’s movie host, Alan Stone. (Allan? Allen? His name was never superimposed on screen!)

Alan was cool, man; not only did he host the 12:30 PM western and 2 & 8 PM movies, but he also gave out some great info regarding a feature. He could also be really funny. America One had a film library you could purchase from direct, and occasionally the service would be pitched at the end of a broadcast. I remember once they ran some terrible vampire film, and at the end, Alan point-blank stated something along the lines of “You probably didn’t enjoy this film, but here’s how you can order movies you will enjoy…” In his Texas drawl and with perfect delivery, it was hilarious!

Speaking of that film library, I did once send away for A-1’s free catalog. I unfortunately never bought anything from them (I now wish I had), but in retrospect, I’m glad I got the catalog.

As you can see to your left here, I recently dug it out – just to take a picture for this post. It’s pretty neat to thumb through, though it appears that it only includes their (not inconsiderable) collection of western titles. Probably because that stuff is pretty much all public domain; most of it was B-Western, though I did spot 1949’s Tulsa included (which is PD, as well). I didn’t notice anything non-western listed, though I guess I could’ve missed it – there was a lot in there!

I actually can’t believe this thing survived all these years. For awhile there, I figured it was long gone, until a relatively-recent dig through my “comic box” turned it up. (The “comic box” is a big huge plastic container I’ve had for decades that became the receptacle for my comic book collection and assorted pieces of memorabilia; lobby cards, autographed photos, and other miscellaneous items…stuff not unlike the A-1 catalog.)

I like my America One catalog, but there was one other catalog from a program on the channel (and thus, 29/35) that, in hindsight, I wish I would have mailed away for…

The classic Enigma Theater set and host… (1999?)

Enigma Theater with Edward St. Pe’ was A-1’s horror host showcase. I’m not sure if the time slot it aired in varied from location to location, but here in Northeast Ohio, it ran late, late Saturday nights – technically Sunday mornings. I can’t recall how long it was on around here; I want to say 1998 to 2000, but I could be all sorts of wrong there.

In sharp contrast to the local horror host offerings I was used to, Enigma Theater was much more straightforward; no wacky skits or the like. St. Pe’ would come out, introduce the film, give some info about it, maybe show a few clips, and then he’d just have brief segments throughout afterwards, sometimes pitching the Enigma Theater catalog and related videos for sale. I don’t know exactly what the catalog contained, because I didn’t have the foresight to get one, but today it sounds like something I’d absolutely love to have in my collection.

Enigma Theater had a pretty far-reaching range of films, too. There was the obvious stuff, like The Corpse Vanishes, but also some real surprises, like The Invisible Dr. Mabuse, Circus of Fear, and The Vampire People. Movies that didn’t always pop up on these types of shows. And at the time, it was one of the few nationally-televised horror hosted programs left. That number has since gone back up some, but still, it was relatively unique in that era. I wonder when it started and how long it ran?

I don’t know when Enigma Theater ended, but I know when my first association with The CAT did…


Everything I’ve talked about so far has been from my preferred era of The CAT, 1997-2000. Of course it’s my preferred era though; that’s when I grew up watching it! Unfortunately, that era ended for me at a later point in 2000. You see, to satisfactorily get the channel around here, you had to pay for basic channels. Not even specifically cable, just the ‘regular’ channels. After awhile, that gets pricey, especially since it wasn’t really necessary; all the local channels were free over-the-air. Eventually that was the route dad decided to take, the rabbit ears route. This was all well and good; we still got most of the stations I watched, and while the reception varied, most of it was watchable…

…Except The CAT. The sad fact of the matter was that 29/35 barely came through with rabbit ears. It was a sea of static, with only the vaguest of images in the background and no sound beyond said static. In other words, unwatchable in my neck of the woods via rabbit ear antennas. I was not particularly happy with this situation, but having even less money than I do now (and that’s really saying something), I didn’t have much choice in the matter.

All of sudden, The Son of Ghoul Show, the B-Westerns, and all of the old movies that had made up a large, large chunk of my entertainment at the time were barred to me, and that wasn’t good. On the bright side, this did give me a chance to further explore the other channels available to me, and thus over the following years I was able to more-fully appreciate Big Chuck & Lil’ John, David Letterman, and Saturday Night Live. I even discovered M*A*S*H in this era, which in very short order became one of my absolute top favorite shows of all-time.

Still, I obviously missed, and missed out on, a lot of what was happening on The CAT. Son of Ghoul got his own live call-in game show that ran for several years – and which I missed almost entirely. In fact, I saw little more than scattered glimpses and a promo. How’d I even see that promo? It’s a tale that actually goes back to around 1998…

One weekend afternoon, 29/35/America One ran the 1934 B-Western The Tonto Kid. I caught the film then, and kept waiting for it to show back up afterwards, but it never did – until late 2001.

I must have still kept regular tabs on what was running locally then, because when I saw The Tonto Kid finally pop back up on the schedule, I had to see it. It wasn’t a hand I wanted to play too often, but this was a (personal) big one, so on a weekday afternoon, I went to grandma’s house to catch it. The reception was still pretty fuzzy, but unlike home, the channel was watchable.

First off, The Tonto Kid is a great B-Western, a Rex Bell vehicle that is pretty unknown but a lot of fun. And, it’s lapsed into the public domain, which means that copies nowadays are fairly easy to find. But back then, for 99% of people, the rare television airing was the only viable option to see it.

All was not perfect with the occasion however, and I’m not just talkin’ about the reception, either. In the year or so since I had last watched The CAT, a lot had changed. The Tonto Kid was part of some new western theater presentation – gone was Alan Stone from at least this program, and maybe altogether. In his place was Red Steagall. Even all of the America One graphics and bumpers were new compared to what I had last seen. It was all just such a gearshift. None of it was bad at all, it’s just that I’ve never liked being taken out of my comfort zone, and for me, this was all so sudden.


Over the next few years, I caught other scattered bits of the channel, usually at grandma’s after school, and then in 2006 we finally took the cable plunge again. Son of Ghoul’s time had been shifted around some, at one point airing on Thursday afternoons (in addition to the normal Friday evening broadcast), which was a shocker, though it was alleviated somewhat by a selection of old television programs that were new to me; Meet Corliss Archer and Love That Bob were, are, awesome, shows.

Yes, Magnum was part of RTV’s line-up, and it was AWESOME, especially when we got local ads for it featuring the modified 29/35 logo! (2011)

And then, things really got shaken up, when “The CAT” became “RTV.” That is, Retro Television, a national channel specializing in classic TV. 29/35 became our local affiliate, and while a lot of the local flavor of the station ended with the switch, I gotta say, it was pretty cool. Magnum, P.I., Quincy, M.E., Knight Rider, Airwolf, The Incredible Hulk, Emergency!, and even horror hosting via Wolfman Mac’s Chiller Drive-In and Off Beat Cinema got airtime on RTV. And as we saw a few years ago, RTV became the-then sole place to catch reruns of Mystery Science Theater 3000 on real television. So, it wasn’t The CAT anymore, but RTV was pretty derned good to viewers, too. I just wish I could still watch it, man! (No joke; I’m missing the 1970s Soupy Sales Show they were rerunning when they left local airwaves.)


Goofball (me) on the left, the famous Brett Van Wagner on the right.

At this point, I’d like to turn things over to our good friend Brett Van Wagner, who helped out enormously with his contribution to the big Son of Ghoul 30th anniversary post. Just like me, Brett grew up with all this stuff – one of the few people I know who did! We didn’t know each other back then, but we had similar childhoods, and believe it or not, we were born only two days apart! A few years ago, we met entirely through the blog here, and quickly became friends. Brett doesn’t live in Ohio anymore, but he makes occasional trips back, and on his latest visit, we finally met up in person; we chatted so often, it almost felt like a formality! Brett is indeed a cool cat, and it’s an honor and a privilege to let him tell his story now:

My memories of THE CAT stretch back to 1997. That was the year I discovered Son of Ghoul, as well as this little local TV station that I quickly discovered was owned by the same folks that owned local talk radio station WNIR. Looking back, it is so cool that we had such a gem of a local television station on two different frequencies to cover so much of Northeast Ohio. It was definitely low power and low budget, but it featured a great mix of local content and some cool retro stuff that you couldn’t really find anywhere else.
I remember the bumpers between shows… the still shot of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I remember seeing the ads for “Beats 2 The Rhyme,” which would air “Friday nights at 12:30,” and the literal side of my brain always wanted to correct it to “Saturday mornings at 12:30”
Of course, huge props to THE CAT for giving Son of Ghoul a home for more than half of his career, as well as trying new stuff like the Son of Ghoul’s House of Fun and Games. Without SOG, I would never have followed such a cool and unique local TV station. I know it’s still around as a Retro TV affiliate these days, but where else could you find shows such as Dining Out With Steve programmed alongside Dobie Gillis reruns, a knockoff of Baywatch, a local horror host, and plenty of classic movies. It is always nice to share memories of THE CAT with my friend the Video Hunter – and to know I wasn’t the only one that followed the station so closely!

And with that, our big huge retrospective on WAOH TV-29 in Akron, WAX TV-35 in Cleveland nears an end. What a long journey it has been, and not just in the length of this monster article, either. Few channels and their content have been as important to me. Even though the station still exists in an altered form, the last piece The CAT has exited the arena. TV-29 has split, and with it, an indelible piece of my childhood.

I certainly hope one day Spectrum adds W16DO to their Akron line-up. For some time after 29 left, the screen you’re seeing right here is all I got when I flipped to the channel. Seems like wasted space to me, but then, I have no say or knowledge of the inner workings of cable line-ups; maybe it’s not an easy thing to make happen, I don’t know.

But then, even if it did come back around here, it still wouldn’t be The CAT of my youth. The CAT as I knew it, The CAT that fanned the flames of my cinematic fascination, The CAT that truly lead me to a genuine understanding and appreciation of local broadcasting, that CAT was basically gone in 2009 when it became RTV.

But then, things change. Heck, I’ve obviously changed over the years, too. That’s just the way it goes. Maybe some kid that discovered the station in 2002 or whenever holds the same nostalgic memories as I do for 1997-2000; I know this article is heavily based on my perception, but then, I don’t have a whole lot else to go on.

But it’s those memories, I think more than anything else, that’s so important here. If nothing else, I’ve got those.

Fare thee well, WAOH TV-29!

(Have a happy and safe New Year, gang! See you in 2018!)

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. 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!

Pop Flix’s Bela Lugosi Horror Collection DVD (2009) Review

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I simply can’t resist certain budget DVD sets. Throwing together a bunch of public domain movies in one ostensibly comprehensive collection for $5-$10? I’ll have at that all day. Granted, I draw the line at newer, no-budget, no-name horror/sci-fi/action collections, because I really, really don’t care. But compilations featuring classic movies and TV shows? Those are a severe weakness of mine. And I’m just fine with that. Just by taking a cursory look at the blog, it goes without saying that a premium is placed on those spotlighting the classic horror and sci-fi film genres.

In that arena, we saw TGG Direct’s 3-disc Japanese Monster Movies set a bit over two years ago, and nearly a year ago (almost a year already?!), we looked at Mill Creek’s The Best of the Worst, supposedly featuring the definitive worst movies ever made. Both of those comps were, and are, fun, and I continue to be fond of them. But our subject for today, this release, it’s just outstanding. I love it so much, and it was so cheap, that I seriously bought another copy just to keep sealed for collecting purposes. Not that I think it’ll really be worth anything in the future, but it’s so unabashedly cool, that having both a “watch” copy and a minty sealed fresh collectors copy, it just seemed right. No kidding, this may be my favorite “budget DVD set” ever, and I don’t say that lightly (I’ve got far more of these things littering my DVD collection than I care to admit).

Why the extreme infatuation? Because this set is dedicated to one of my top movie heroes, Bela Lugosi, that’s why! Released in 2009 by Allegro’s Pop Flix division, it’s an eight-movie collection primarily consisting of Lugosi’s 1940’s poverty row output, plus brief excursions into his 1930s and 1950s output. In other words, it’s a ridiculously entertaining set.

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Now granted, this isn’t exactly a revolutionary release. Most of the movies here are entries in Lugosi’s oeuvre that were made during his “B-Movie Period,” and subsequently lapsed into the public domain. (White Zombie being somewhat the exception; it’s the latter, but not the former.) That is, there’s been no shortage of DVD (and before that, VHS) editions out there, sometimes of individual titles, sometimes of compilations like this one. On that front, there are budget DVD sets that include far more of his public domain stuff than this one does.

So why do I like this one so much? Well, there’s something to be said for a clean, concise package, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s exactly what this is. It’s obviously up to individual tastes, but for me, Pop Flix has left out a lot of the “chaff,” and kept a fairly strong line-up. As far as PD Lugosi flicks go, there’s really not a dud in the bunch. Sure, some are better than others, but all are entertaining. Personally, there’s not a “man, skip this crap” on here. And it all stars Lugosi – you just can’t beat it!

Plus, I just really like the Pop Flix label in general. Their packaging, while still obviously in the “budget tradition,” is always clean and attractive (our subject above is a good example – kinda classy lookin’!), and they tend to give you a lot of bang for your buck. These sets generally run between $5 to $10, and even at the extreme of $10, you get your money’s worth. Because they specialize (?) in PD material, image and sound quality will of course vary from feature to feature, but I’ve never seen anything unwatchable put out by them. Indeed, in my experience, you’re usually better off going with Pop Flix. They get my thumbs-up, and as we all know, my thumbs-up are of tantamount importance.

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There’s our line-up, and like I said, not a dud in the bunch. I love the inclusion of original poster art by each title, and the synopsis’ are, by necessity, short and to the point. My only complaint? I wish they would’ve added the original release date of each movie to their respective entry.

“Hey, where’s Dracula, man?!”

It seems that’s a pretty common question whenever these releases are brought up. It’s a little amusing until I remember not everyone pointlessly knows the ins-and-outs of wildly obsolete films like I do. No, Dracula is not on here. Dracula will never be on here. These are public domain features; those without a valid copyright and thus can be distributed by anyone and everyone without having to pay a penny for the rights. Dracula is not public domain, nor will it ever be; Dracula is a Universal flick, and Universal doesn’t exactly play fast and loose with their film rights.

(Besides, whenever I want to watch Lugosi’s Dracula, I’ve got my official releases, I can wait for Svengoolie to run it again, or, you know, I can go the Superhost route.)

To be honest with you though, Dracula really wouldn’t fit here; Dracula is almost too good, too big budget, to work with this line-up. It would look like the one ‘real’ film and then a whole bunch of filler. The exclusion of Dracula (not that it ever had a chance of inclusion) allows these to stand on their own; most of them are fun, low budget, poverty row films from a period when Lugosi was down and needed the work. These kept his name on posters and money in his pockets, and no matter how outlandish the material, he always gave the performance his all. His presence can (and does) take a movie that would be a waste with most any other actor, and utterly transforms it. This set is excellent in demonstrating that.

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Again, I like how concise this whole thing is. Eight movies, spread over two discs, and both are good. Sure, like any of these compilations, there’s a film or two that could have been subbed out for something you’re more fond of (I wish Scared To Death was on here, for example), but it’s hard to complain about what is included. None of these are masterpieces, but they’re all wildly entertaining, and with most only clocking in at a bit over an hour, watching more than one in a single sitting is totally doable, especially at only four films per disc.

Rather than go with some mini-digipacks or a double-wide case or some such nonsense, both discs are housed in a single standard DVD-case, one per side. I like that. Doesn’t take up any extra space on a shelf, while still retaining the clean, attractive design of the whole thing. I dig it!

So, what about the picture and sound of the collection? Like I said before, and like any of these sets, they’re both going to vary from feature to feature. Now, if you scroll back up to that front cover, you’ll see the claims of “Digitally Re-Mastered” and “Sound Enhanced.” Sound-wise, this set actually exhibits pretty good sound quality. I’m not sure what exactly “Sound Enhanced” entails, but I could hear everything, which isn’t always the case with thousand-year-old movies like these.

As for the picture, it definitely varies, but it’s uniformly watchable. Oddly enough, the whole thing appeared considerably clearer and sharper when viewed on my old CRT TV than it did when taking the forthcoming screencaps on my PC. I’m not sure where the variation falls, or what the true representation of quality is, but either way, you’re still getting your money’s worth. Besides, these are the kind of films that really should be viewed on a good ol’ CRT TV – seems so much more ‘authentic’ that way.

Speaking of authenticity, the prints used do indeed exhibit dust, dirt, scratches, splices, and so on throughout. Occasionally the picture is too dark or too light. These were digitally remastered in some way, perhaps, but don’t let that fool you into thinking these prints look substantially different from other budget releases. And guess what? That’s a good thing; it totally plays into the vibes of the set.

“WAIT, you don’t want these as HD restored Blu-rays and whatnot bro?” Look, that’s missing the point. Okay, yeah, restored and cleaned up is of course always nice (Kino’s big deluxe The Devil Bat is definitely on my want list). But, with a collection like this, mainly representing Lugosi’s poverty row period, all the scratches and crackles and splices, they just totally evoke watching this or that at some local theater back in the 1940s or on some local UHF TV station decades ago. Clean these up all you want, it’s understandable and necessary, but there’s something to be said for being able to see the accumulated trips through the projector these prints took for who knows how long. Pristine? Not at all. Fun? Definitely. Evocative of the time period they came from? Absolutely.

But maybe that feeling is partly nostalgia on my behalf. Y’see, this set reminds me of my discovering these films and others like them back in the late-1990s, often via WAOH TV-29 and Son of Ghoul. As much as I anticipate watching Kino’s cleaned up The Devil Bat, I don’t think it’ll give me those same “old school vibes.” Sure, most of the prints that introduced me to this stuff back in the day weren’t that great, but I didn’t care; I was seeing a new-to-me old horror or sci-fi flick, and that “vintage cinema feeling” was just part of the fun. This DVD collection has that feeling in spades. (Plus, would you really expect a budget DVD collection to feature immaculate-looking film prints?)

Am I making any sense at all here? No matter, because with all that said, we come to the actual content of the collection…

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The main menu for each disc is basically the same, with only the movie selection changing (“gee, you don’t say!”). Clicking on any title will bring you to another menu with options to play or select a scene, plus a bit of poster art. Don’t go in expecting audio commentaries or deleted scenes, alright? You’ll get your scene selection and you’ll like it! Like the packaging itself, the menus are clean and to-the-point. I dig the bluish/purplish color scheme.

So, the first disc. It’s really good, but relatively speaking, the weaker of the two. With eight films to cover, I don’t want to go extremely in-depth here, lest this become a three-day read, but we’ll briefly check out each one included. I’m a rebel that way.

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Things kick off with 1932’s White Zombie. Unlike the other films in this set, this was made in the more-immediate aftermath of Lugosi’s Dracula triumph. It’s not a Universal film, though it was filmed on the lot. This was an indie production, and for whatever reason, eventually wound up in the often-murky arena that is the public domain.

Without a doubt, this is the most critically-acclaimed film in the set, with some people absolutely adoring it. I can’t claim to have ever been one of those people. Oh, I like it fine, there’s not a film in this collection I don’t like to some degree, but I was just never as enamored with White Zombie as others were/are. It has a great, almost Universal-like atmosphere, but the acting (besides Lugosi) isn’t all that wonderful, and even though this is apparently the first-ever zombie film (these ain’t your George Romero’s zombies, though!), the plot still leaves me a little cold.

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Set in Haiti, Lugosi plays “Murder Legendre,” a whiz at the voodoo he does so well (hence, whiz). With a first name like “Murder,” you can probably surmise he’s not the nicest of fellas. Murder is pretty good at creating “voodoo-brand zombies,” (those are the kind that don’t eat your flesh), and indeed, he’s got a whole league of them.

A bad situation is made worse when the local plantation owner makes eyes at young bride-to-be Madeleine. Through Murder’s powers, she is turned into a zombie (on her wedding night, no less), and it’s up to her new-hubby Neil to save her and stop Murder once and for all.

It’s not a bad movie, just not one that I ever loved as much as others do. Kind of like my weird Dracula analogy a bit ago, White Zombie almost sticks out as “too competent” here; it almost doesn’t fit with the rest of the cheapies in the set. It winds up skirting the issue, though I’d be hard-pressed to explain why. Maybe it has less to do with anything the movie itself does and more to do with the subsequent mega-public domain status it has acquired in the home video era. No kidding, it seems nearly every budget outfit had a release of White Zombie to call their own.

Or maybe it’s just because it’s a good, fun film. It’s not a great film, but that helps it fit in better than it should. I guess.

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Next up: 1942’s Bowery At Midnight. This was the big surprise of the set for me; when I first saw it listed on the package, I didn’t have high hopes. I don’t think I could recall whether it was a Bowery Boys flick (Bela did two of those), or a run-of-the-mill crime thriller. Either way, my initial response was akin to a big “meh.”

Naturally, I had to take at least a cursory glance for this review. As it turned out, while I may indeed have had a copy already (probably on another budget DVD set), I’m almost positive I’ve never actually watched it. In short order, I found myself becoming absorbed in the movie, quite unexpectedly on my part.

Bottom line: I loved it. No joke, Bowery At Midnight instantly found a place in the upper-echelon of my personal favorite “Cheap Lugosi” flicks. We’re talking a top-five’r here. This is just good, solid poverty row entertainment.

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I wasn’t totally off in my initial assumption regarding the movie. It is, for the most part, a crime thriller. But, there’s a surprising, legit horror twist that’s too random to not love.

Lugosi has a sort of dual-role here, though it’s really the same person: by day, he’s college professor Brenner. By night, he’s Karl Wagner, who runs a soup kitchen at the Bowery. Despite putting up a friendly facade (heck, the name of the soup kitchen is “Friendly!”), the whole thing is a front for Wagner’s life of crime; he has a habit of enlisting rough-types that wander into the kitchen for local heists, and then later offing them (often at the crime scene, no less) when they’re no longer of use. Naturally, you can only get away with that for so long before the cops start to piece it all together.

Where does the horror aspect come in? Hanging around Wagner’s secret hideout in the basement of the mission is one Doc Brooks. Doc likes to take the corpses Wagner leaves behind and use them for his own experiments. Eventually, it’s revealed he’s reanimated them as zombies! Honestly, the whole Doc character/horror aspect feels completely tacked-on, but it still, somehow, fits.

Though, I’m the first to admit I don’t quite get the ending. (CAUTION: spoilers for a 74 year-old movie ahead!) Near the end, the boyfriend (Richard) of Wagner’s employee (Judy) at the mission is shot dead by Wagner himself, and his body given to the Doc. At the conclusion, after Wagner is defeated, Richard is seen rescued, alive and well and engaged to married! Say what? Were these guys not really dead? Or does Judy just not care, since he’s up and talking? He appears perfectly fine, so yeah, I don’t get it.

Which of course means I love the movie all the more. Even with guys gettin’ shot and zombies and weird ending and so on, this all still manages to attain an early-1940s movie innocence. If you haven’t seen Bowery At Midnight, try to check it out!

(I’m trying to keep Lugosi in all the “action screencaps” of this piece, and technically the one above sticks with that; that’s him being killed by the zombies! And the scene actually manages to be genuinely claustrophobic and creepy, believe it or not!)

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Fun fact: we almost saw 1941’s Invisible Ghost here at the blog before. Y’see, a month or two back, I got in a real horror hosted-Lugosi mood. As longtime readers know, back in the late-90s and early-2000s, when I was first discovering all these movies, I was an avid watcher of The Ghoul, and two choices via his show popped into my head: The Devil Bat, and this film here, Invisible Ghost.

Now, whenever I review something like that, it’s from one of my old VHS recordings, and a good deal of the time, I haven’t converted it to DVD for posterity yet. So, no time better than the present! (Plus, it makes grabbing screencaps and going back-and-forth for whatever reason easier.) Problem that time was, I was either running low or down to my last blank DVD-R. Another pack required a trip to the store and spending money, neither of which I felt like. So, I had to pick between the two.

As it turns out, I chose incorrect. I made the DVD conversion and got as far as some preliminary writing before I realized the material just wasn’t really suited to a post. It would have turned into a plain movie review with some token looks at the Ghoul segments. I tried, but nothing doing, so I scrapped it.

(That’s not to say it won’t ever show up here, but as of now, there are no current plans for a post.)

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The movie didn’t give me a whole lot to work with, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. The title makes it sound more ‘spooky’ than it really is though; It’s more of a psychological thriller than a full-fledged horror film to me.

Bela plays “Charles Kessler.” Kessler’s wife has left him, some time prior, and is presumably later killed in a car accident. She’s not actually dead though; she’s been hidden away in the basement by the gardener. Every once in awhile, she’ll ‘appear’ to Kessler, which then puts him in a murderous trance. Yep, Bela kills without really knowing that he’s killing.

Like I said, not a bad film, and prior to falling in love with Bowery At Midnight, *I* would have considered it a stronger ‘second-tier’ film here. As it stands though, this, for me, is one of the weaker entries, though that’s really only relatively speaking; this is still a good one, but it’s a bit overshadowed by some of the other flicks here, in my eyes.

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1941’s Spooks Run Wild finishes up the first disc. This is one of those Bowery Boys/Bela projects I mentioned earlier. Technically, this is an East Side Kids film, which is fine with me. Of the whole Dead End Kids/East Side Kids/Bowery Boys lineage, the East Side Kids entries were always my favorites.

This one is a lot of fun; it’s basically the 1940s matinee movie in a nutshell. It’s more of a comedy than a thriller, but the strong horror-vibe still makes it worthy of placement on the set. (1943’s Ghosts on the Loose was the other East Side Kids/Bela opus, and would have made a good choice for placement in this set, too.)

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If you’ve seen an East Side Kids flick, you can probably guess how a lot of this plays out. Muggs and his gang (The East Side Kids, man!) are New York street toughs; not really bad, just mischievous. In this entry, they’ve been tricked into attending reform camp. Naturally, they don’t hang around there very long, and upon splitting, they wind up at a “haunted” house. To make matters worse, a mysterious killer is on the loose. Wacky East Side Kid situations then ensue, only this time with Bela Lugosi in the vicinity.

Lugosi plays Nardo, who is assumed to be the killer, though in a nice change of pace, he’s not; he’s actually a magician! Also, as the back of the DVD cover correctly points, Bela’s Nardo looks a lot like Dracula. For all you “Where’s Dracula???” folks, there’s your precious, precious Dracula!

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And now we come to the second disc. Look, this whole set is good, but man, disc two is worth the price of admission alone; this is the cool winnins of the set! Just look at that powerhouse of a line-up above! Okay, Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, that’s relatively “meh,” but those first three, all in a row like that? That’s where it’s at!

Remember when I was gushing about Bowery At Midnight, and I mentioned that top five thing? Yeah, those first three movies on disc two are easily in my top five. In my humble opinion, there are no better examples of Lugosi’s poverty row output.

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I’ve got to do a little backtracking here: if you’ll recall this terrible old post, you’ll know I was a little lukewarm on the subject of 1940’s The Devil Bat. Apparently it didn’t do too much for me when I first saw it years ago, and I was still riding on that. Well, intelligence allows for a change of opinion. In the years since that post, I’ve become more and more fond of The Devil Bat. It’s cheap, cheesy, and ridiculously entertaining. You just can’t hate it!

Unlike most of the movies on this set, which were Monogram productions (often through their Astor Pictures division), The Devil Bat is a PRC product (that’s Producers Releasing Corporation, folks). Despite the ubiquity of Monogram in the era, PRC is the studio I think of first when I think “poverty row movie.” They made some cheapies, that’s for sure. Immensely entertaining cheapies, though.

I’m not the only one who thinks there’s some merit to this film, either. Kino took the time released a remastered Blu-ray edition, and there’s even a newly colorized version of the movie out there! No one will claim The Devil Bat to rank among Bela’s most accomplished work, but obviously there’s something endearing about it. You know a film is worth checking out when Kino deems it worthy of a release!

And, unlike Invisible Ghost, there’s now a very strong possibility we’ll see The Ghoul’s showing of this episode at some point in the future.

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Because I’m now seriously planning on reviewing that old Ghoul episode, I’m not sure how much I want to divulge about the film right now. But then, this flick is so whacked-out (in a good way), I suppose a whole lot isn’t needed to sell this one.

Listen to this beauty of a plot: Lugosi is Dr. Carruthers, who has an axe to grind with the cosmetics company he works for. And just as any reasonable person with a grievance would do, he follows the obvious path of creating a big mean giant bat. What, that’s not enough? Okay, how about this: he also develops a special aftershave lotion that, when worn by a chosen “test subject,” attracts said big giant mean bat (“The Devil Bat,” as quickly labeled by the press), which of course then kills the aforementioned aftershave-wearer.

Yes, this means you get to see a helpless victim thrashing about under a gigantic rubber bat. And if that’s not enough to make you want to see this movie, well, then I just don’t know.

No kidding, this one is fantastic. I can’t believe I went so many years not loving it!

Fun fact: there was a 1946 sequel titled Devil Bat’s Daughter, which, as of this writing, has been seen by approximately 12 people since its release, and doesn’t star Bela. No Bela? Pass!

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Saaaay, haven’t we looked at this one before? We sure have! I kicked 2016 off with not only a review of this movie, but also Al “Grampa” Lewis, who hosted it for Amvest Video back in 1988. I go way back with 1942’s The Corpse Vanishes; it was of the first episodes of The Son of Ghoul Show I saw back in 1997 (I taped it, but unfortunately didn’t keep it – d’oh!), Mystery Science Theater 3000 tackled it once, I have a partial recording of the movie on Enigma Theater somewhere, and there were probably some other instances regarding it I can’t even recall right now. The public domain-status of the film (plus the not-as-lurid-as-it-sounds-but-still-pretty-cool title) ensured that The Corpse Vanishes really made the rounds in the decades since it was originally released.

I really, really like this movie. From the cheap sets to wacky-but-fun plot to, well, Bela, it almost comes off as the definitive 1940s poverty row horror film. (I say “almost” because, frankly, the movie preceding it and the movie following it are both strong candidates for that honor, too.)

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I want my Grampa / Amvest Video review to be my definitive (ha!) take on the movie, but real quick: Lugosi plays “mad botanist” Dr. Lorenz, who uses specially-formulated orchids to put prospective brides into a death-like state (on their wedding day to boot!). The brides are then spirited away to his laboratory, where special fluid of some sort is extracted and injected into Lorenz’s aging (and mega-bitchy) wife, in order to rejuvenate her. Reporter Patricia Hunter soon gets on his trail and helps put an end to such shenanigans – but not before we get to see Lorenz and his wife sleep in a cool pair of coffins!

The Corpse Vanishes is less overtly-wacky than The Devil Bat, but in its own way, just as much fun. As the years have gone by since I first saw it, I’ve only grown to appreciate it more and more.

Fun fact: a poster for this movie is plainly visible in the background at one point in Bowery At Midnight! Aw Monogram, you playful folks you!

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We’ve seen this one here before, too. Do I get around or what!

1943’s The Ape Man was included on that Best of the Worst DVD set I linked to earlier. The title-screen here seems to have some sort of weird border/cropping around it (Bowery At Midnight did too – what’s it mean???), though that’s a small price to pay to watch Bela walk around in a perpetual half-ape state.

This movie is fantastic. It manages to out-goofy The Devil Bat, which is really saying something. I can see similar movies being released in the 1930s, and the 1950s, and even beyond. But the sheer nutbar matinee innocence that rampages across the screen here? It’s a movie that really could have only come out in the 1940s. Oh how I love this one.

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Bela is Dr. Brewster, who has been messing around with apes. Wait, that sounds weird. I meant scientifically. Hold on, that still doesn’t sound right. He’s been experimenting on apes. There, that’s better.

And guess what? By doing so, he’s turned himself into the titular character! This is an undesirable affliction for at least 6000 reasons, so it’s up to him and his pet real ape (and by “real” I mean “very obviously a guy in a suit”) to kill people for their spinal fluid, which will turn him back into a full-human or some crap like that. It doesn’t really matter, because this movie is too insane to take seriously, which of course makes it absolutely terrific.

Also, secret special bodily fluids as a plot point again? Was that like the hot scientific whatever back in the 1940s? We saw it in The Corpse Vanishes, and here it is again. And three years prior, Monogram went this semi-route with Boris Karloff in The Ape, which also focuses on spinal fluid as a vital element. The stuff must be the fruit punch of bodily fluids! Wait, that sounds weird, too.

Louise Currie plays the female lead, a photographer, and she’s cute as a button.

Fun fact: there was a 1946 1944 sequel titled Devil Bat’s Daughter Return of the Ape Man, which, as of this writing, has been seen by approximately 12 8 people since its release, and doesn’t does star Bela. No Bela? Pass! Has Bela? Worth a glance!

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After that phenomenal three-pack that takes up a full 3/4 of this second disc, there’s really nowhere to go but down. Even my personal choice of Scared To Death would have seen a drop in quality (ha!).

1952’s Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla finishes up Pop Flix’s Lugosi collection. Like Spooks Run Wild at the end of disc one, this is more of a comedy than a full-fledged horror film. I wonder if that was intentional? End each disc on a lighter note?

The quality of the print here is easily the nicest of all eight films; crisp, clean, clear, with an actual richness and ‘depth’ to it. Which is a wash, because this is also easily the worst film on the set. It’s still entertaining, but it’s also painfully stupid. Like, really stupid. And keep in mind, we just saw a movie with Bela walking around all ape-like for the duration.

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Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo are, uh, Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo. They play themselves, nightclub comics who have crash landed on an island inhabited by stereotypical tribal natives. They also happen to be the dollar store versions of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. If you liked Martin & Lewis, odds are you’ll be severely offended by this ‘interpretation’ of their act. And if you didn’t like Martin & Lewis, you may want to take several steps back from the TV, because you’re liable to straight up karate chop it in half. Mitchell’s fake Dean Martin isn’t so bad, but Petrillo’s nasally Lewis-impression wears real thin, real fast. He makes the actual Lewis character look like Brando in comparison. I mean, Urkel wishes he could be this annoying.

So yeah, fake Martin & Lewis are stranded on this island, fake Martin falls in love with a native girl, they eventually run into Lugosi’s “Dr. Zabor,” who is naturally conducting weird experiments. In a surprisingly unsettling turn of events, Zabor is in love with the same native girl, so he turns fake Martin into an ape, all while fake Lewis continues to be a total spaz. And it’s all capped off by a phenomenally dumb ending that will make you feel all the worse for sitting through the whole thing.

In all seriousness, don’t think I’m not glad this flick is here, cause I am. It’s entertaining, but unlike the previous films, which were charmingly cheap entertainment, Brooklyn Gorilla succeeds as a slack-jawed, love-to-hate it film. It’s essentially harmless, and Pop Flix gets props for not going with the also-public domain and also-uber bad Bride of the Monster, but still, it’s markedly worse than anything else here. The other movies in this collection,it doesn’t feel right to call them out-and-out “bad.” Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla is bad. Entertaining bad, but bad nevertheless.

Honestly, the set as a whole works, but this is the only movie I have any doubts regarding. It steps a bit too far out of the poverty row line-up we’ve enjoyed up to this point; even White Zombie doesn’t stick out as bad. Ghosts on the Loose would have made a better capper, but still, this is a nice, dumb way to finish things up.

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You know what’s neat about this collection? It spans 1932 to 1952. 20 years of Lugosi’s career. No, it’s not a comprehensive set; it mainly focuses on his 1940s poverty row material. Lugosi did make some films for Universal during the time period, but those are absent for obvious reasons.

What Pop Flix has managed to do here is ably represent the Lugosi legend in more ways than one. Lemme explain: you start in 1932, he’s at the top of his game, and then you jump to the era of his career in which typecasting was in full, devastating effect: the poverty row cheapies of the 1940s. Then, you finish in 1952, the twilight of his career, where typecasting is still an issue, and the work is no longer A, or even B, grade. But, he’s managed to attain an almost a mythical aura; his name in the very title of the last movie here demonstrates that. He was legendary enough to receive such billing, even if such legend wasn’t recognized by the major studios.

And the great thing is, Lugosi’s performance never falters. At all. In any of these. Sure, some (most) of these pictures were done more out of necessity than anything else. But, he got paid, they kept his name alive, and he gave them his all. You can’t help but respect him for not half-assing it, whereas, given the material present, most any other actor would have. Like I said at the start of this post, he absolutely elevates a movie all by himself. That’s a good actor. No, that’s a great actor. And he’s on full-display here.

There are lots of budget Bela Lugosi DVD collections out there. A good many have any number of combinations of the same films seen in this one. But, I don’t think I’ve seen one that I’d enjoy as consistently as this Pop Flix product. At only eight films and two discs, that’s plenty of material without being overwhelming. And, it’s consistently entertaining, from start to finish. Even that last flick, as bad as it is, it still somehow works. For movies that have been circulating endlessly forever by this point, Pop Flix managed to do a great job with what they had. It all just clicks. It’s a set that’s far more satisfying than a budget DVD collection has a right to be.

This one gets a big recommendation from your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter. And you know, even if you’re still kinda on the fence about it, those first three movies on disc two alone…

Ghoulardifest 2015!

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Yes, it’s that time of year again: Ghoulardifest! It’s hard for me to adequately portray in words just how much I love going to this convention every fall season. I really do anticipate it the whole year round. Seriously, the very next day, I’m already jonesing for the next show. I’ve been to some conventions in my time, but because it’s so tailored to my tastes and my hometown (well, roughly; I’m an Akronite), I can say without exaggeration that Ghoulardifest is my favorite. There’s a reason I’ve made it a point to make it there every year since 2011. It’s like the Bruce Springsteen concert of horror/sci-fi conventions; one ain’t enough, I needs me more!

Besides, after sitting around going through thousand-year old videotape after thousand-year old videotape, it’s nice to get out once in awhile, y’know?

Ghoulardifest is, of course, the annual celebration of any and all things Ernie “Ghoulardi” Anderson. Not only is his pioneering character and show represented (gee, no kidding!), but also his successors, as well as Cleveland TV in general. Beyond that, a lot of it has more to do with the spirit of Ghoulardi, the era he came from, the music, the movies, that sort of thing. Of course, there’s also a lot of stuff that has no real connection to Ghoulardi, but instead would fit in at any typical horror convention. That’s not a complaint on my part; it all adds up to a lot of fun with something for everybody, except it’s all with a heavy Cleveland theme. That’s why I love it so much!

For the third year in a row, the show was held at the plush LaVilla Banquet Center, which is an absolutely terrific venue for the convention. Driving to the LaVilla to see Ghoulardifest around the same time every year (always on a Sunday; November 1 this year), it has really come to symbolize Fall and the end of the Halloween season and the start of the holiday season for me (even on those years where the show falls before or on Halloween). Some people get up early to shop the day after Thanksgiving, I plan around Ghoulardifest. Considering it’s less hectic and I find things I actually want, I dare say I come out on the winning end every year, but that’s just me.

And lest you forget, Ghoulardifest was almost certainly the reason for that Big Chuck & Lil’ John Ghoulardi Special I babbled about in mid-October (unless it wasn’t, in which case never mind). They ran it several times after that as well, and better promotion for Ghoulardifest I cannot think of.

(Also, should the mood strike you, check out my recaps for the 2013 and 2014 conventions, though I fear some redundancy among those two posts and this one.)

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(Click on any of the pictures to, how do you say, enlarge them.)

I was told there was going to be fewer vendors this year, and maybe there weren’t quite as many as previous shows, but there was still a lot going on. Indeed, it took several walks around the entire place to take it all in, and frankly, I seriously doubt I did take it all in. If anything, and this is just me talking, but less vendors gave the entire show this year a more balanced feel. Not that I’m promoting “less stuff,” but everything I look for at Ghoulardifest was well-represented, but not in an overwhelming way (unlike earlier years, where I was struggling to take it all in and afraid I’d miss “somethin’ good.”).

The heart and soul of the place is really the Cleveland stuff: Ghoulardi, of course, and Big Chuck & Lil’ John (don’t forget, the official title is Big Chuck & LIl’ John’s Ghoulardifest), Son of Ghoul (that’s him doin’ his thing above), and some of Cleveland’s newer horror hosts, plus lotsa Cleveland TV (and even some radio) memorabilia in general. For obvious reasons, it’s a very Cleveland-centric convention, as one would expect.

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That said, if someone from out-of-state were to waltz in without knowing what this was all about (just play along with the scenario, okay?), they’d probably be confused by all this Ghoulardi-hoopla, but they’d also still be able to find some stuff they’d want. There’s a lot of ‘general’ stuff there; that is, things that wouldn’t be out-of-place at any horror/sci-fi convention. Posters, lobby cards, toys, Star Wars, Star Trek, DVDs, music (lotsa CDs and vinyl). Heck, one guy even had a ton of Laserdiscs, and his box of Godzilla LDs was enough to elicit an “oh MAN!” reaction from me, though I was burning money so frighteningly fast that I unfortunately wasn’t able to partake of said Laserdiscs. I just know I’m going to regret not buying that Japanese King Kong Vs. Godzilla LD sometime down the road.

What I’m saying is that even if you’re not into Ghoulardi or the whole Northeast Ohio horror hosting thing, if you like vintage horror or science fiction films, odds are you’ll still find plenty to peak your interest anyway.

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There’s even some newer, “craft-y” type stuff, for those so inclined. Since I’m rarely hip to that sort of thing, my brother tells me the product seen in this picture is “pixel art,” which is as it sounds: artwork, keychains and so on, made up pixel-by-pixel, just like the character sprites in 8-bit and 16-bit video games. I generally only buy video game stuff when it’s vintage-from-the-period, but no doubt this new-fangled pixel art thing is cool. I mean, pixelated Mario Kart artwork? Heck yeah!

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See, my brother and I always hit up Ghoulardifest on Sunday, the last day of the show. It just works easiest for us that way. The downside is that we often miss some of the special guests and events they have going. Readings By Robert and stage shows like that, we don’t always get to see those. This year though, they had some good stuff going on the whole time we were there.

Up above is Caesare Belvano, who does a phenomenal Elvis performance. I don’t always go for the fan-tribute thing, but Elvis is one of the few exceptions. Not only because Elvis is dead and thus my chances of seeing him live are, well, nil, but also because Elvis tribute acts have become an art unto themselves. Rest assured, Caesare does a fantastic Elvis. His voice is unbelievable; he was on-stage when we first went in, and before I even actually saw him up there, I heard him, and his singing blew me away. His rendition of “My Way” was just incredible. I’ve seen and heard a lot of Elvis over the years, and Caesare gets my full approval (not that my approval really amounts to all that much, but whatever).

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After Caesare, The ReBeats took the stage. Beatles tribute acts are another exception for me; I love them and the time period of music they generally cover (aside from Springsteen, 1950s & 1960s Rock & Roll is my preference). In the case of The ReBeats, they of course do The Beatles, but not just The Beatles. While we were there, they were busting into The Dave Clark Five (they do a great “Catch Us If You Can”), and though we were on our way out by that point, according to their website they also cover Paul Revere & The Raiders, which automatically grabs my admiration.

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I imagine Friday and almost certainly Saturday were busier, but there was a pretty good turnout for what was the last day of the show, too. Indeed, Big Chuck, Lil’ John and Hoolihan had a pretty steady line the entire time we were there; getting to Hoolie in particular looked like quite a wait!

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Speaking of meeting the celebrities, here I am with my pal Jungle Bob! I’ve been a JB fan ever since he started featuring his animals on The Ghoul waaaay back in, what, 1999? 2000? Jungle Bob is one of the coolest guys you could hope to talk to, and he always has some creatures at Ghoulardifest. I forget what he said the thing was in his hand when this picture was taken, but it had a blue tongue and a little goatee. Turn blue, goatee, sounds pretty Ghoulardi-appropriate to me! Later on, he was walking around with a chinchilla, surefire proof of how cool JB is.

Jungle Bob’s official website.

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Me with Mike & Jan Olszewski, where I was able to pick up their fantastic new book, Cleveland TV Tales Volume 2. As of this writing, it’s not yet available on Amazon, but when it is, y’all should buy it. And if you haven’t got the first one yet, buy that, too. There’s an added incentive to buying Volume 2, but I’ll get to that a bit later in the post.

Lemme tell you my Mike Olszewski story: I first met him in 1999 at a signing for the book he and Ron “The Ghoul” Sweed wrote together. He was very personable then. But, it was when I met him over a year later that he just knocked me out (no, not literally!). The Ghoul was making a personal appearance at B-Ware Video in Lakewood. It’s long gone, but at the time, B-Ware was a haven for all of the hard-to-find, obscure movies that you couldn’t easily locate anywhere else. Anyway, The Ghoul was filming bits for his show, and when the cameras came out, I kinda sorta retreated further back into the store. Mike saw this, and despite not actually knowing me, he came up and implored me to get on camera. Thanks to him, The Ghoul episode that aired with this footage featured me near the front, loafing about and occasionally cheering. I always thought it was amazing that Mike would take the time to do that for a total stranger. ‘Course, I was a goofy lookin’ 14 year old, but I won’t hold that against him.

Nowadays, Mike occasionally pops into Time Traveler Records, and every meeting I’ve had with him since that day in 2000 has only reinforced my opinion that he’s one of the nicest guys in the world.

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Hanging with Cleveland weather legend Dick Goddard. No kidding, Dick Goddard is weather in Northeast Ohio. I’ve met him before, but this is my first picture with him (I would have had one a few years back, but the camera decided it didn’t want to take the shot, which I didn’t realize until well after we had left). Every time I’ve met him, Dick has been very friendly.

What am I holding in my hand? Why, that’s my now-autographed Dick Goddard CD! How, what, when, where? I’ll explain later.

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My buddy, Son of Ghoul! Every single year, if I’m going to buy anything, it’s going to be at SOG’s table. I actually make it a point to buy from him. He gets more of my money than anybody. Considering I usually have so little of it, I hope that says something.

Longtime readers will know what a fan I am of SOG; I’ve been watching him since Halloween ’97, I still write into the show, and, you know, there was that time I interviewed the man himself. He even recognizes me when I walk up to him, which always makes me feel like a big man.

There was some sad news in regards to the show this year that SOG and I talked about: longtime supporter of all this, Jim “The Colonel” Klink passed away a week before Ghoulardifest ’15. Klink was well-known to SOG fans for his rabid support and many packages sent to the show. Before SOG, he was a big Superhost guy (in fact, I *think* some of his Supe artwork can be seen in this old post of mine). I saw him walking around at least once at previous shows, and we were friends on Facebook, but it’s much to my regret that I never actually met him in person. The show of grief for Jim’s passing on Facebook was overwhelming; he touched a lot of people and became a well-known Northeast Ohio personality simply by indulging in his fandom and being a nice guy.

Besides being his Facebook friend, my limited contact with Klink included this very nice comment he left for my SOG interview. I think it shows what a good-hearted, upbeat guy he was, and thus I’d like to present here as a small tribute to him:

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R.I.P, Colonel.

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Is it corny and/or cliche to say that Fox 8 news anchor Tracy McCool was the coolest? Yeah, I bet she hasn’t heard that enough! Well, she was. Seriously, she was about as nice as it gets. Because WJW Fox 8 was sponsoring the show this year (as opposed to WBNX TV-55 in preceding years), a lot of talent from the station made appearances over the three days. I had brushed up a bit on who was going to be there via the official Ghoulardifest website, though by Sunday afternoon I had promptly forgotten most of it. So, it was a bit of a surprise to see Tracy McCool walk in. She was absolutely great.

You know what really impressed me about her? It wasn’t just that she’d take the time to pose for a picture with a goofball like me. No, rather it was what she was telling a young girl ahead of us: she was explaining good starting places to begin a career in broadcasting, and she wasn’t rattling off facts or anything like that, she was actually talking to her. One thing I admire about a celebrity is their ability to genuinely talk and listen to their fans; not that I expected anything less from Tracy McCool, that’s just a general observation, and fortunately, it applies to many, many of these Cleveland TV personalities (frankly, everyone in this post). Tracy McCool was just awesome.

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I met Bill Ward previously, at the 2013 convention. For years he was the voice of WJW, and make no mistake, that voice is instantly recognizable to many Northeast Ohioans. Just like Tracy McCool (and when I met him in ’13), Ward really takes the time to talk with you, and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone friendlier (I know, I know, I’m repeating the whole “they were nice” thing a lot in this post; hey, everybody was ridiculously nice!). We actually had a conversation about a commercial he did not too long ago for a retirement company, in which he played “Stu,” and he told me some very funny anecdotes related to that ad.

If you ever have the chance to speak with Bill Ward, trust me, you’ll walk away the better for it. An extremely kind and incredibly funny guy.

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Ah, the customary picture with Big Chuck & Lil’ John. I can’t ever leave without one, because even though I’ve got plenty of pictures with them, accumulating more makes me feel important. I wanted to get a picture with Chuck, John and Hoolihan, but Hoolie was so incredibly busy at his end of the table that I wasn’t sure if he’d ever be able to break away for it. Not that I’m complaining, because a picture with Big Chuck & Lil’ John is one of the coolest things anyone could hope to achieve.

This year, they were selling brand new Big Chuck & Lil’ John wine glasses, and Lil’ John had one in front of him complete with some actual wine in it. Every few minutes he’d take a sip and proclaim “work, work, work!” and it just got funnier each time.

I finally got to talk to Chuck about something that’s been on mind for quite awhile: several years ago, I found a locally-released vinyl record by one Scott Read, appropriately titled The Scott Read Show. According to the liner notes, it was a program on WJW produced by Chuck. So, I asked him about it, and Chuck told me it was many one of many shows that he produced, and it didn’t last very long, only about 6 months on the air. I’m thinking next time they’re making an appearance somewhere, I just might bring that LP along to get signed.

Surprisingly, John seemed to remember us from past years; he actually asked if we always came on Sundays (yep). How cool is that? Although, it’s also a little distressing; I had been relying on the idea that if I accidentally did or said something totally stupid in front of Chuck and/or John (and really, it’s only a matter of time), they meet so many people in a year that they’d quickly forget my face and then we could start anew next time. But now, I just don’t know. Oh the agony it is to be me!

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I met Caesare after his set. There were a number of people waiting to get pictures with him, some acting like he was the real Elvis. Of course, he played the part up and was extremely nice to everyone. He was very gracious when I told him what a fantastic show he put on. Great guy!

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Another dream realized! I met The Midnight Movie guys last year, but I missed Dave from the show. As luck would have it, just as we were on our way out, he was in the lobby taking a break, and he was cool enough to take a picture with me. Even better, he told me that they were filming a lot of footage there for a show that should air within the next month or so. I noticed they were filming when I was waiting to take a picture with Chuck & John; indeed, I’m in the background as they were interviewing Tracy McCool. Me? Surprise Midnight Movie cameo? Maybe!

And so, that ended the annual visit to Ghoulardifest. But wait! Before heading home for another year, we had one last stop to make…

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No trip to Ghoulardifest would be complete without the customary visit to the Big Boy restaurant down the street from the LaVilla. A Ghoulardifest excursion just doesn’t feel right without it. In fact, we did skip the Big Boy one year, and by the time we got home, we felt like we had missed out on an essential element of the trip (or at least, I certainly did). And it’s not just because of the whole Manners Big Boy-Ghoulardi connection, either; rather, Big Boy restaurants are rare animals, and there are none near us anymore. So after reveling in all of this once-a-year fandom, it’s only fitting that we revel in some once-a-year food, too.

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I have to give a big shout out to my brother Luke. It’s thanks to him that I’m able to make it to Ghoulardifest every year. He always drives, because if it were up to me to commandeer the car, I’d probably wind up driving it into a ditch or something. Carnage such as that would probably put a real damper on the event.

Luke likes going to these, he digs all this stuff, and he was jazzed for the trip, but he doesn’t get into it all quite as much as I do; I watched a lot of this stuff growing up, but he usually had other interests. Without me, I doubt he’d make the trip, so for him to haul my goofy self up there each and every year is a testament to what a nice guy he is. Luke is a good mang. Plus he paid for lunch.

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I tried looking at the menu to see if there was something different I wanted this year. No go, the Super Big Boy is just too good to pass up. Seriously, it’s one of my favorite burgers on this planet. It’s that good. Look at that beauty! Two patties, cheese, and special sauce. They taste as good as they look. If you ever find yourself in a Big Boy, this is the option on the menu that I heartily endorse.


Okay, that was the show (and lunch), but what about the goods, the loot, the booty I picked up during the trip? I always come home with some good stuff, and this just may be one of my best hauls ever. And even if it’s not, I still feel perfectly justified in blowing through my money at an alarming rate.

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I have the previously-released clear glass “Certain Ethnic Last Supper” mug (you can see it in this post), but when I saw these new white mug versions, I had to get one. Two, actually; my good friend Pete G. helped me out big time by providing me with tickets to the show, allowing me to save some extra precious bucks, so I got him one of these as a thank you. You’re a good man, Pete!

It’s a cool mug, showcasing much of the Northeast Ohio TV talent that has infiltrated the airwaves over the years. There are a lot of mugs/cups/whatever featuring these guys, but this one is easily one of my favorites of the bunch.

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I got this from Son of Ghoul, and man is it cool. It is what it looks like: a picture of Superhost in a wooden frame. Sure, technically I could print out my own Supe picture, get an old frame and make my own, but there was something about this that made me have to buy it as soon as I saw it. It just felt so right.

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Yeah, I bought another. If you go back to my Ghoulardifest post from last year, you’ll see how jazzed I was to get a Superhost shirt from Son of Ghoul. In my weird little world, I decided I needed another one that I could wear around without fear of wearing it out or accidentally staining it. I’m normally a size-large wearer, but I can get away with a medium, which is fortunate, because there were no more larges left. SOG jokingly explaining the sizes sans-large: “You can get an extra-large and throw it in the dryer to shrink it, or you can get a medium and lay off the Whoppers!” I was cracking up!

Like I said before, Son of Ghoul got more of my money than anybody this year. Truth be told, he usually gets more of my money than anyone else every year. I’m fine with that!

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This was a longtime coming, and I’m a little ashamed to admit that it took me this long to get Jungle Bob’s excellent book, BobTails. Naturally he autographed it to me. You’d be well advised to pick one up, it’s good stuff!

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My copy of Mike & Janice Olszewski’s brand new Cleveland TV Tales Volume 2 book. They even autographed it for me! I haven’t had time to read much of it yet (I just got it yesterday!), but the content is directly up my alley. Indeed, it’s already on track to becoming one of my very favorite books of this nature. Why? Because I’m in it, that’s why!

Well, a piece of my interview with Marty “Superhost” Sullivan is, anyway.

A few months back, Mike contacted me asking for my permission to use the bit in the interview where Marty talks about his feelings following the filming of his final episode. Well heck yeah Mike, use away! What a thrill!

When I went up to Mike’s table, he had sample copies of all of his books on display, and I quickly began searching myself out in this newest one. I didn’t have time to find the exact quote (I did when I got home though; this site is mentioned in the body of the section!), but I did find myself listed right at the top of the bibliography. I considered stomping around and shrieking “I is published, I is published!” I decided against it though; having security cart me out for being too obnoxious probably would have put a dark cloud over the day.

But seriously, what a monumental honor for me. This really does feel like some kind of validation, like I’m actually contributing something to something. I mean, okay, most of the time on this blog, I’m just screwing around and posting things that I know only select people are gonna care about. That’s fine, that’s why I do what I do. But, when I do something actually important, and I’d certainly like to think my Superhost interview qualifies, it’s nice to know that the big names (and make no mistake, Mike & Janice Olszewski’s work is VERY well known) take notice. Mike even thanked me again for letting him use the piece and told me what a great interview it was. Hey, if I’m getting Mike Olszewski’s approval, I must be doing something right!

So, thanks again Mike! (And thanks again also to Marty Sullivan for taking the time to speak with me in the first place!)

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Some decidedly cool postcard reproductions of classic Cleveland TV artwork. At a buck apiece, I couldn’t resist. Included: Batguy & Rinaldi, Superhost, The Kielbasy Kid, and Hoolihan & Big Chuck’s good night bumper.

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No, I didn’t buy this CD there, but I was fortunate enough to find it at a thrift store early last week. No kidding, I almost flipped out. The first time I thumbed through the CDs I didn’t even notice it. It wasn’t until my usual second run-through that I saw it. It was placed in backwards, so I was reading the spine upside down, and I thought to myself “wait, am I reading that right?” Obviously I was, and from that moment on it was coming home with me. Quite a few people I told about it thought it was extremely cool as well, and everyone agreed I should get it signed at Ghoulardifest.

It was released in 2002 as a 9/11 tribute, and features vocals by not only Dick Goddard but also fellow WJW 8 talent Tim Taylor and Wilma Smith, along with a few others. There are some standards on it, and some monologues. I like to think of it as Dick Goddard’s attempt at his own The Rising. (How many superfluous Springsteen references in this post does that make? I’m up to three – so far.)

Goddard got a big kick out of it when I presented it to him to be signed. When asked where I got it, I couldn’t lie, so I told him the thrift store. Then, how much did I pay? Well, that was prickly, because I didn’t want to accidentally insult him by telling him the CD was only going for $1.50. I needn’t have worried; he cracked up!

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And finally, my mega-cool Ghoulardifest 2015 promotional poster. Like the Dick Goddard CD, I didn’t get this at the show, but unlike the CD, I didn’t bring it to be signed there. But, I feel I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank my good friend Scott at Time Traveler Records for it. Every year he thinks of me when he gets the promotional Ghoulardifest stuff and gives me the poster after the event. Scott helps me out in so many ways, far beyond keeping me in mind when cool stuff likes this comes along, and I can’t thank him enough. I’m proud to call him amigo.


And with that, my big giant Ghoulardifest 2015 recap comes to a close. From the people there, to the people I met, to the stuff I came home with, to the book with my gol’derned Superhost thing in it, I dare say this was one of the best ones ever. My brother and I had an absolute blast (and a fine, fine lunch). I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s so great to know that Northeast Ohio memories are long; when personalities such as these have meant so much to so many, they never really go away, even if they’re not on the air. Furthermore, the new personalities that come along to take up the torch are not only treated with respect, but also welcomed into the fold, as it were. Ghoulardifest is a celebration of all that, and as a lifelong Northeast Ohioan and TV fan, that’s something I’m absolutely grateful for.

And yes, even though this all took place only yesterday, I’m already starting to itch for the next one!

Mill Creek’s 3-Disc The Best of the Worst 12-Movie DVD Set

 

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Look what I got! A 12-movie, 3-disc budget DVD set of what are, ostensibly, the best of the worst movies ever made! Cool winnins! I was stoked to get this! And it was cheap, too! In general, this set tends to run, from what I’ve heard, between $5 to $10, a price that is completely acceptable even for someone that’s as perpetually broke as I am (mine was $5). And if awful, awful movies are what you’re after, the first disc alone warrants that price (we’ll get to all that in a bit).

Even though this came out in 2013, I just found out about it recently. Guess I’ve been off my budget DVD game. It’s put out by Mill Creek, who have, over the last several years, proven themselves to be purveyors of fine, fine DVD releases. I’m not just saying that because I dream of them sending me a bunch of free crap, either; any company that releases the complete series of Hunter is automatically my friend.

The fine folks at Mill Creek are no strangers to releases such as this, either; there are several budget DVD sets of cheapie horror/sci-fi flicks put out by them. They follow a similar format, except this set is the only one to come right out and tell you that the movies contained within are gonna blow. Since the ‘genre’ of bad movies is particularly popular right now, it’s a pretty smart move on Mill Creek’s part. Hey, got me to buy it, and isn’t that the really important factor here?

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(Click on the pic for a, how do you say, super-sized view.)

I can’t help but feel this is a set geared towards fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (which as has been proven time and time again, is exactly what I am). And It’s not only because of the whole “these are bad movies you can laugh at” concept, either; a full half of the selections on here were featured on MST3K. There were a lot of bad movies on the show, yes, but considering one of the films featured here is known solely because of MST3K, well, I don’t think it’s coincidental marketing (or whatever you’d want to call it).

Though as a longtime MSTie, I tend to see allusions to the show where they weren’t intended to be, so take that for what you will.

Like so many budget DVD sets, the titles found here are limited to the realm of the public domain, which I don’t mind a bit. Sure, some of these movies have been making the rounds for decades, going back to the VHS days (I’m looking at you specifically, The Terror), but when they’re put together under the banner of “entertainingly bad films,” it all clicks in a way that they wouldn’t have otherwise. Why pretend these are something they aren’t? It’s a move I absolutely respect, though in all fairness I does loves me a good bad movie (plus that whole MSTie thing); your mileage may vary, however.

However, If I’m being perfectly honest, I don’t really agree that these are all the best of the worst. There’s a few titles that, while undoubtedly ‘bad’ movies, feel more like filler than anything. Like I said before, Mill Creek has put out other similar sets, and it just seems to me that they used up many of their “heavy hitters” already across those. Example: there’s just no reason The Creeping Terror, one of the most infamous bad movies ever, shouldn’t be on here. Keep in mind that Mill Creek did indeed get the rights to release it (contrary to popular belief, it’s not public domain), on their 12 Creature Features set, so the absence of shag carpet monsters and insane narration on The Best of the Worst is a little head scratching. I guess I can see them not wanting to repeat titles across their various sets, which I applaud, but for the films that are here and what this set purports to be overall, it still feels like a particularly glaring omission to me.

Don’t get me wrong though. While I think there could have been just a bit more refinement in the selections, I am overwhelmingly happy with the set. And besides, despite the title, this probably isn’t really intended to be the end-all be-all release of the best bad movies ever. It’s a $5-$10 bargain DVD set, after all; there’s plenty here to justify that small amount, at any rate.

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The set consists of three, single-sided discs with four movies on each one. Since many of these are pretty short, it’s not an unreasonable amount. All three discs fit in a regular-sized DVD case, on one single spindle. That means if you want to watch a disc that isn’t directly on top, you’ll have to physically remove one or two discs first, but it’s a small price to pay for such a fantastic load of crappy, crappy movies.

And with that said, lets take a brief look at the actual contents of the set, because hey, that’s what the people want, right?

(I might as well say right now that some of the movies on this set I’m more familiar with than others. Most of them I’ve seen, but some I saw looong ago; I’m not claiming to have sat down and watched every one of these exhaustively while taking notes for this. I’m just giving the straight dope on the set, you make up your own minds from there, paisanos.)

Disc One

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The menu for each disc is super simple. What you’re seeing above is basically it. The two film reels in the corners continuously spin, but that’s as close as things get to a “wow!” factor. Not that it really matters, because c’mon, when you’re getting this much bang for your buck, there comes a point when demanding even more turns you from wanting the most for your money into a nitpicky whiner. Cut that stuff out, man. (Says the guy who just complained that The Creeping Terror isn’t here.)

In terms of badness, this first disc is absolutely the roughest of the three. For anyone trying to make it through the whole thing in order, the rest will almost (almost) come as a relief after making it through this one. Disc one includes a bad movie, a really bad movie, and two legitimate contenders for worst film ever. In other words, the entire price of the set is justified in the first disc alone.

Also, all four of these movies appeared on Mystery Science Theater 3000, and I’ll say up front that it’s often strange to realize there won’t be any riffs; you’re watching these as-is. The more well-known the respective episode is, the odder it feels, and there are points where you (or at least I) will instinctively think of the appropriate riffs.

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Can you say “starting things off with a bang?” Manos: The Hands Of Fate, a film that would have been completely and utterly forgotten after its disastrous 1966 El Paso premiere had it not been for Mystery Science Theater 3000 resurrecting it and turning it into one of the most loved bad movies ever. Despite being movie one, disc one, this is really the centerpiece of The Best of the Worst, as far as I’m concerned. Mill Creek must have realized that, as the portrait of “The Master” under the credits on the back of the DVD make clear. Forget the other 11 movies on the set, Manos alone is worth the price of admission.

The beauty (ha!) of the film is that it’s just such a mess. The camera used could only film 30+ seconds at a time, making for really weird continuity. Furthermore, it was filmed silent, so all of the voices were dubbed in later (at least they didn’t go the hackneyed narration route). The capper? It was very literally made on a bet by an inexperienced El Paso, Texas fertilizer salesman (director-producer-writer-star Harold P. Warren). The plot is all over the place, and the music ranges from awkward to downright unacceptable. Basically, every aspect of the film that can be wrong, is.

But, except for a really screwed up scene during the conclusion, it’s really not a movie you can full-on hate, because it is just so utterly out there. Manos tells the tale of a family stranded at remote lodge that is in actuality the base of operations for a polygamous cult that worships “manos.” There’s “The Master” (who rarely, if ever, approves), his constantly bickering bevy of wives, a necking couple in a car that serves no purpose, and some cops that are even more useless. But the character most everyone loves is big-knee’d, shuffling, twitchy-faced, jerky-voiced Torgo (That’s him above), the caretaker of the lodge. Torgo gets his own goofy theme music and, despite technically being a bad guy, winds up becoming something of an anti-hero, even after he makes the worst pass at a woman outside of me. I have a hard time believing the movie would be so loved if it weren’t for Torgo.

I won’t even try to explain further the wonderfully bizarre circumstances surrounding this film, so let Wikipedia tell you all about it. If you like bad movies but haven’t seen Manos yet, well, it’s pretty hard to top. Like I said before, worth the price of admission alone.

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Being on a budget DVD set isn’t necessarily an indicator of public domain status, but word on the street is that this film has indeed lapsed. Which is fine by me, because this is one of the bigger surprises (for me, anyway) on the set. It’s also the newest selection on it, if you can consider 1976 “new.” The subject of one of my very favorite MST3K episodes, this is really bad (and thus, really good) 1970s sci-fi, complete with the dreary color scheme that must have colored the entire decade. It’s just ‘horrific’ enough to satisfy the masses, but just goofy enough to keep things from becoming overly depressing. Featured during the final season, it was and is perfect MST3K fodder for the Sci-Fi Channel era of the show.

Did you know that being hit in the head by a piece of meteorite (“Moon rocks? Oh wow!“) can turn you into killer lizard monster that somehow ties into Native American folklore? Well it can, and to a hapless anthropologist, it does. Also included: Johnny Longbow’s killer stew recipe, a shop that sells both coins and guns, and a tent full of old guys. Oh, and a live performance of the smash hit, “California Lady.” Is it wrong that I’m considering making an MP3 of the song for iTunes?

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Now is as good a time as any to mention that the quality of the films on the set vary from feature to feature, but the condition of the prints is overall better that many “cheapie” movie sets out there. Thus far, Track of The Moon Beast looks okay, and Manos is, well, Manos, but the print used for The Beast Of Yucca Flats is absolutely terrific. There are the occasional scratches and dust, but it’s mostly very clean, crisp and clear. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve seen the movie look better.

Which is a hollow victory, because as far as I’m concerned, it’s the worst film in the entire set. The product of Coleman Francis’ fevered mind, and just like everything else Francis set his hand to, it’s a slimy, unpleasant film. Unlike Manos, which is also grimy but also, against all odds, somehow endearing, Beast is just an ugly, ugly movie. Even star Tor Johnson, who I normally find quite entertaining, can’t save it. Say what you want about Ed Wood, Coleman Francis was an infinitely worse filmmaker. I can’t decide if this is better or worse than Francis’ other cinematic abominations, The Skydivers and Red Zone Cuba (both also featured on MST3K), but in the end, if it has Francis’ name on it, there is no genuine “better,” just different levels of “awful.”.

The plot is some tripe about a defecting Soviet scientist (I hope can you buy Tor Johnson as a scientist, because that is exactly what the film posits) that gets caught in a nuclear blast and is turned into a mindless killer. Even the narrator’s deathless non-sequitur of “Flag on the moon; how did it get there?” can’t provide enough comedic momentum to sustain viewers through the 50+ minute (yes, really) running time.

Oh, the narrator? Yeah, this movie has no real dialogue; it’s almost entirely narrated (by Coleman himself), and what in-movie speech there is isn’t actually synchronized with the film; it’s spoken when mouths aren’t clearly visible or even on-screen at all. The Creeping Terror pulled that crap too, but there it wound up funny. Here though, it just makes you resent life and the fact that something like this could not only be made but also released to an unsuspecting public.

I hate this movie and can’t say enough bad things about it, which of course means it’s a perfect addition to the proceedings, simply because of how sickeningly, jaw-droppingly bad it is.
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After the soul-crushing saga that is The Beast Of Yucca Flats, Eegah almost comes as a respite, and rest assured, that’s not a statement I make lightly, because there aren’t many instances where Eegah can ever be seen as a respite.

Long story short: a caveman still exists in a California desert, he develops an attraction to a teenage girl, kidnaps her father, kidnaps her, they both get saved by the girl’s guitar-wielding boyfriend (though he doesn’t save them with the guitar; that would be just too much!), the caveman follows the whole lot to a pool party, and gets shotted dead. The end.

Eegah is frequently listed as one of the worst films of all-time, a rating that I find just a little overrated. Oh, it’s really bad alright, and there’s an icky shaving scene, an even ickier implication that there was some off-screen romancin’ afoot between the teenage girl and the guy who plays her dad, and an even ickier moment when the girl’s dad basically tells her to put up with Eegah’s affections. There’s even some superfluous songs by the boyfriend (played by Arch Hall Jr., who y’all will recall I met; Arch is a very cool guy and a lot of fun to talk to)!

But, even with all that, I never saw Eegah rising to the levels of near-unwatchability such as, well, the previous movie on this set did. For the most part, it’s 1960’s drive-in schlock, and while it’s certainly terrible, it’s not that terrible. I have a hard time hating anything like this from the decade where, at least on the surface, it’s all meant to be relatively innocent. I guess.

Watch out for snakes!

Disc Two

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Disc two is probably the least painful in the set. Only one movie on it (The Atomic Brain) is gut-wrenchingly terrible. Unfortunately, as far as that whole “movies so bad they’re good” vibe goes, it’s also where the set loses some steam, and from here on out, things are a bit hit-or-miss. The fun-factor never goes away completely, but after that powerhouse (ha!) of a first disc, well, it’s a hard act to follow.

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The Ape Man! Starring Bela Lugosi! Bela is always a plus, and it allows Mill Creek to draw on his name on the back cover. I think Scared To Death may have been a better choice as far as “bad-good” goes (and it’s a color movie, to boot), but I was actually kinda pleased to see The Ape Man here. Though in all honesty, I just kinda skimmed this one here and I don’t recall seeing it in the past, so maybe that’s an unfounded viewpoint.

The plot is formula stuff. Lugosi is a mad scientist whose experiments cause him to turn into the titular character. It’s a poverty row Lugosi flick, though I’m the first to admit that I have a soft spot for those.

And really, that points to my main area of interest with this one: after Dracula succeeded in stereotyping him somethin’ fierce, by the 1940s Lugosi was forced to take on mega-cheap horror/sci-fi flicks not unlike this one. It’s a good example of his film work at the time, to see a legitimate movie legend reduced to movies of this caliber. But, it’s usually fun to see him in anything, and even when it’s a by-the-numbers affair like this, his magnetism can drive the film further than a different actor may have. Plus, the low-budget affairs of the 1930s and 1940s, while obviously not comparable to Universal’s output, can often be pretty entertaining time wasters.

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The Amazing Transparent Man, another flick that popped up on MST3K. I first saw it on The Ghoul, waaay back in 1999 or 2000 (I still have my recording of the episode somewhere). Truth be told, it’s another feature that I think really isn’t that bad. I don’t think anyone will claim it to be good, but it’s relatively painless.

The title makes it sound more spectacular than it really is. It’s actually just a low-budget twist on the classic “invisible fella” formula, only this time with a mad scientist trying to create a slew of invisible baddies as part of a world domination scheme. He enlists a criminal to act as a guinea pig and steal the needed ingredients to complete the scheme.

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The last MST’d movie on the set, and whoo-boy is it a baddie. This is the low-point of disc two, and it absolutely deserves a place of honor in this collection.

The Atomic Brain is some hokum about a decrepit old woman that wants to switch brains with a younger dame. Eternal youth or some crap like that. Eventually, someone’s brain ends up in the head of a cat somehow. I don’t know, this one causes my eyes to glaze over pretty bad, even on MST3K.

The real eyebrow raiser here is just how sexist the movie is towards women, especially since it is woman as the catalyst for all of these shenanigans.

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First off, it was a pain trying to find a good ‘action’ screencap for this one; I was never satisfied with the choices, and even now I’m really not all that happy with my pick. It’s an axe crashing through a wall is what is.

The plot is one of those “fake crime turning into a real one” deals, as a woman trying to scheme her way into a family’s will leads to some very real axe murders.

The really interesting thing about Dementia 13 isn’t so much what it is (though it’s a fairly violent movie for the early-1960s) but rather who was behind it: none other than Francis Ford Coppola! You know, The Godfather guy. Mr. Apocalypse Now himself! And believe it or not, this was his very first ‘legit’ movie! I wouldn’t say it gives much indication of the esteem that would later befall Coppola, though it’s really not all that bad, but it’s most definitely cool to see one of his super early efforts.

Disc Three

best worst 15

Do you mind if I power through this last disc? For as much as I like The Best of the Worst, my enthusiasm for this post is waning fast. Maybe it’s for the best, as in my opinion the last disc is the least interesting of the three. Still, there is entertainment to be had here, though in the interest of full disclosure, I haven’t ever seen the last two movies on this disc in their entirety, because frankly, I just don’t care. Does that cause me to lose my reviewer credentials? I don’t care about that, either.

best worst 16

I first saw Unknown World on Son of Ghoul, and it’s less of a “really bad” movie and more of a “painfully dull” movie.

Having been made in the 1950s, nuclear war and whatnot was a particularly major concern, and here, some scientists have devised a tunneling device to burrow deep into the earth to escape said calamity, should it occur. They do just that, and then…nothing much happens. Well, things happen, but none of them are all that interesting. I mean, burrowing into the earth should provide just as much fodder as an outer space plot could, and yet, the movie completely misses the mark.

No, I don’t enjoy this one, not one bit.

best worst 17

The Terror, a movie that I have tried multiple times to like. No kidding, I want to enjoy this one so much, and it just never, never happens. The saturated colors, Gothic scenery, and stars Boris Karloff AND Jack Nicholson (he’s probably pretty proud of this movie) seem like an absolute recipe for a good time, and yet, it just never does it for me. Furthermore, it’s a film I just can’t get away from. I have it so many times over on various budget movie DVDs/tapes/sets, and even recordings on both The Ghoul and Son of Ghoul, and still it only leaves me chilly frosty cold.

Set in the 1800s, Nicholson is a Napoleonic soldier (the role he was born to play!) that winds up at Karloff’s castle and right into a ghostly scenario. Karloff is being haunted by the ghost of a woman he killed, which in turn is under the control of a witch, and then some stuff happens and it ends.

Really, aside from a couple scenes of rotting corpses and a relatively graphic falcon (?) attack, there’s not a whole lot memorable about this one, and truth be told, I have a hard time following the plot. Rumor has it that this was made in only a couple of days, and, well, it shows.

Man I want to like this movie!

best worst 18

Don’t get too excited, the title seems more lurid than the actual movie, though you’ll be pleased to know it stars Uncle Fester. Some crap about a scientist in Mexico creating animals from humans or humans from animals or I don’t even know. The movie is public domain, I don’t have to worry about providing a satisfactory summary. Here, go to Wikipedia and learn all about it!

best worst 19

And finally, no bad movie collection would be complete without a contribution from Jerry Warren, and here it is. The quality looks like it comes from a VHS tape and some of the dialogue is unintelligible. It sounds like it’s a suckier version of Unknown World, though I refuse to take a closer look at the actual movie to back those claims up. Here, Wikipedia is yo’ frien’ again.

best worst 4

I love this set. I really do. The mere sight of it fills me with joy. Yeah, it kinda runs out of steam for me by the end, but the concept alone is just so cool that I don’t really mind. It’s absolutely worth the couple of bucks it fetches wherever you may find it, so yeah, if it crosses your path, I’d say give it a go.

Hey, Mill Creek, how about a Volume 2? You’ve already got a guaranteed sale in me, and isn’t that what it’s really all about?

(Here is Mill Creek’s official website and here is the product page for this set.)