Tag Archives: mystery science theater

A Trip Down Memory Lane (Cause Pandemics Don’t Let Me Do Nothin’ Else, Man)

I didn’t intend on taking nearly two months off here. Y’see, my Wi-Fi, which had been spotty at best anyway, went, as you would say, totally kerblooey. This of course inhibited new updates on my silly little blog.

That wasn’t the only reason, however. There’s also this coronavirus pandemic going on. (Maybe you’ve heard of it?)

No, I didn’t catch the thing. Still, given the stay-at-home order that has been in effect here since March, and thus the fact that I can’t really go anywhere, you’d think I’d have more than enough time sit around and write stupid dumb blog updates. I mean, my internet wasn’t bad the whole time…

(Of course, I’d much rather stay at home than risk catching the virus – and more importantly, spreading it to someone else. Still, the reopening of retail stores on the 12th will be welcome, even if it does mean I’ll probably have to wear a stupid mask while out in public. Although, it’ll be nice to have a reason to be antisocial for once.)

Despite frequent walks around the neighborhood, I’ve stayed pretty much in my abode. And yet, I’ve remained busy enough. Not wanting to sit around and do nothing all day, I instead took this opportunity to dig through many, many boxes, bags and bins of old childhood crap junk memories. Ostensibly it was in an effort to organize, but really, I just wanted to unearth “neat old stuff.” You know, things that should be properly preserved, or at least as properly as I can, uh, preserve them.

This was no small feat, and the amount of dusty, dirty, back-breakin’ diggin’ an’ liftin’ I had to do wasn’t exactly my idea of good time party fun. It was pretty time consuming too, as you may well imagine. And yet, I enjoyed the process! The constant discovery of new old things wound up being pretty addicting! I’ve gone through the vast majority of it all now, and honestly, I’m a little disappointed there’s not more to explore!

Toys, games, magazines, books, knickknacks, papers, even clothes, I dug through plenty of it all. Often, while uncovering some item, the memories came flooding back. Other times, it was like I was looking at a foreign object. Hey, my memory is good, but it’s not photographic.

So, now that I’m back in action, what say you join me on a little journey down memory lane? I’m not naive; much of this will be important to only me, but since I bank on my viewership being mostly comprised of people with nothing better to do (raging pandemic or not), hey, at least it’ll be a time killer.

Oh, and this is by no means the totality of what I uncovered. Not by a long shot. Furthermore, this stuff ain’t in strict chronological order, though certain entries will follow naturally from others whenever I decide to hamfistedly attempt a narrative.

Prepare now to take a trip into the psyche of your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter. What makes him tick? What makes him him? Partial, potentially unsatisfying (not to mention long winded) answers are forthcoming!


Found just two days ago, the Blockbuster Entertainment Guide to Movies and Videos 1998 was the very first movie guide book I could call my own.

In the summer of 1997, I had discovered at my local library the then-latest Leonard Maltin movie guide on their shelves. Being a reference book, I was unable to check it out, and as such I wound up greatly anticipating subsequent trips to the ‘bary to further peruse the book. As a young movie buff, it was a wondrous tome; what did he like? What did he not? What could I discover? What did he score my favorite flick(s)? The internet and endless movie reviews – amateur or otherwise – in the following years kinda took away the usefulness of such books, but at the time Maltin’s guides were indispensable, and I still carry a hefty heap of nostalgia for them.

So why wasn’t a copy of Maltin the first personal guide to become mine? Well, as I recall it, mom promised me a copy for good grades or something (hey, I was in 5th grade!), and on the fateful day when it came time to make good on the promise, I was presented with the choice of not only Maltin’s document, but Blockbuster’s as well (along with a few other choices, which were and are still good, but not conducive to this particular recollection otherwise). Such was the power in the Blockbuster name brand at the time that I was torn; Maltin was already my trusted source, but surely the top purveyors of video entertainment would be an authority of such matters too! You can see what my ultimate decision was.

Did I choose wisely? Well, uh, not really. I have no idea if such things were present before or after, but this 1998 edition was riddled with errors that were obvious to even my young eyes. My favorite example: Godzilla vs. Mothra being listed as a 1964 *French* film. While the idea of ‘Zilla and Mothra sluggin’ it out with the Eiffel Tower as backdrop is undoubtedly delightful, it just wasn’t correct.

I rectified my mistake when the next annual movie guide editions came out, but I can’t help feeling some fondness for my Blockbuster book nevertheless. It may have been spotty fact-wise, but like I said, the chain was an absolute force at the time.

Next we have The Harlem Globetrotters: World Tour for the Game Boy Advance, still minty sealed fresh and with Big Deals stickers plastered on it. Evidently Deals couldn’t give it away at the bargain price of $5, so it was marked down even further to a mere $3. I honestly have zero recollection of ever getting this game, and it may actually belong to my brother, in which case, hey Luke, come an’ get it!

Obviously this isn’t a terribly old acquisition, but had you asked me beforehand if this resided somewhere in residence, I’d have scoffed and then given you a curt “NAY.”

Since it has never been opened, it has, needless to say, also never been played. I almost certainly never played it elsewhere, either. Apparently it was/is considered quite terrible, and as such, that sticker proclaiming it plays on the DS and DSLite handhelds reads more like a threat than anything. I take joy in imagining that Deals couldn’t even collect less than an Abraham Lincoln on these and just started throwing them in the bags with the other respective purchases customers were making, preferably on the sly. That’s honestly more believable when it comes to guessing how it actually came into my possession, anyway. That’d be a pretty funny customer complaint: “I didn’t want this dumb game! No, I *don’t* care if it was free!”

Probably hailing from about 1990, these knock-off Batman knickknacks are a sure sign of not only what an absolute phenomenon the 1989 movie was, but what a bonafide Batmaniac I was. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Ghostbusters and Batman, those were the big three for adolescent me.

While obviously capitalizing on the Bat-hype rampant at the time, you’ll notice that the logo is (I presume) just different enough to (hopefully?) avoid any legal entanglements. It’s not the Bat signal, it’s just a, uh, bat.

I have no idea where exactly these came from, but they’re obviously of the dime store variety. Still, they were Batman-related, and as such, something I needed in my simple little life.

Our line-up: a yellow ninja star-esque throwin’ object adorned with suction cups, a tiny, green, probably unusable even back then yo-yo, a red badge (the tiny lip on the back looks like it’d hang off a kid’s shirt pocket, at least until a mild breeze came by and knocked it off), a pink I-don’t-know-what (something on the back has long since broken off; I assume it was a clip, thus making this a cheap pin, but I guess it could’ve been a handle, making it a shield accessory for legit Batman toys – a scenario that is pretty baller when I think about it), and an orange get-the-ball-in-the-slot game watch, with bands so brittle that, as you can see, one has been lost to time.

The watch I actually uncovered over a year ago, but the others were all finds from my recent digs. What’s funny is I remembered the logo on these, but couldn’t have told you what actual items it could be found on until I, erm, found them. I’m pretty nuts about these though, and each new discovery was a moment of exhilaration for yours truly. Such a cool example of little me and my obsession with Batperson. They now all reside in a little wooden keepsake box appropriately deemed the “Bat Box” by no one but me.

I don’t know if these five items comprise a complete collection of all that I had, it’s reasonable to assume one or more similar Batfakes meeting their demise over the years, but they’re all I’ve found and I know not where else I can look. Heck, I don’t even know what to call the “line,” or how to search for it. At any rate, I love what I’ve got here; as weird as it may sound, these alone made all my searching worthwhile.

Old, unopened, sugar free pistachio-flavored Jell-O pudding. Yes, really. No, it hasn’t been sitting around since my formative years. Rather, this is something I found back in probably 2007, maybe give or take a year either way.

Where’d it come from? From the food shelves of a “salvage” store. The other ostensible edibles there were quite possibly of questionable age anyway, but this, nestled amongst other varieties of Jell-O, it was immediately evident that this box was of a graphic style no longer in production. The font just looked old, perhaps even 1980s old. Irrationally tickled that such a thing could survive to the then-present day, and out for actual sale at that, I plunked down however much the asking price was and happily trotted home with my expired puddin’ dessert, never actually intending to eat it.

(Wait, does Jell-O ever even go bad?)

I rediscovered this box months and months ago, pre-coronavirus and during a different excavation search, and even if it wasn’t expired back when I first got it, it undoubtedly is now. I still have no idea how old it actually is though; the lack of a web address anywhere on the packaging is a pretty good indicator that it’s of somewhat impressive age. It appears that “30 JAN90D6” is stamped on one side of the box – can I assume that means January 30, 1990? And if so, would that be the expiration date? How long is Jell-O pudding supposed to last in general? Maybe this really is from the 1980s?

In the same foodstuff vein, I now present to you my ancient bottle of Heinz Worcestershire Sauce. Unlike the Jell-O you just delightfully read about, this bottle has been around since my formative years. Indeed, it was never even actually lost, and as such may not technically fit in with the overall theme of this post. But if not now, when? Don’t get me wrong, if I got bored enough I could get an entire update out of this alone, but meh, lets just check this one off now. Besides, the longer this post is, the more impressed you’ll be with my literary skillz. Right?

Here’s the story: this bottle of Worcestershire (I’ve never been so grateful to have the ability to copy-and-paste as I am right now with that word) Sauce is nearly as old as I am, which is now over the 30 year mark. Is it as old as me? I don’t think so, but it could be. It’s definitely in the same vicinity.

Why does it still exist? Way back in the day, it floated (figuratively not literally HAW HAW HAW) around my parent’s pantry for years; seriously, it eventually became basically a part of the scenery, more of a decoration than something anyone would actually use to cook with. Years went by, and I grew older – as did the Worcestershire Sauce. As I recall it, it was eventually slotted for trashin’ when a long overdue pantry clean was ordered, but I rescued it from such an ignominious demise and have kept it happy and safe ever since.

I know how that preceding paragraph makes me sound, but I promise you, I’m not a hoarder. I’m a collector, and a sentimentalist, but trust me, I’m not in the habit of keeping expired food around. And yet, I just couldn’t let the Worcestershire be junked so many years ago. I think this was due to a few factors. Mainly, because it had been around for as long as I could remember, but also, that label. I mean, just look at the massive steak on that thing! I can probably attribute my lifelong love of steak (and mushrooms, and potatoes) to that graphic alone, and to this day that’s my ideal image of a steak dinner. And indeed, nowadays I love Worcestershire Sauce in general; if it can be added to a recipe, I’m there at the forefront championing its addition. Add it during the preparation of your hamburgers and just tell me it doesn’t enhance the flavor!

The bottle isn’t full, though there is still some liquid in it. The coagulation around the cap tells me it has probably turned into something fairly poisonous, but you know what? I’m still going to liken it to a vintage bottle of wine, something to be treasured, if not actually consumed. (You could point out the fact that vintage wine could still be consumed if one so desired, but I request that you don’t.)

You know, I now realize that in pursuit of honesty, this entire section of the article makes me sound like a crazy person. Maybe I should have stuck rigidly to the theme and omitted it? Oh well, the Worcestershire Sauce is in the bottle and the cat is out of the bag now.

Back to the non-edibles. As I mentioned earlier, There was Batman and Ghostbusters, and then there was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It’s tough, but those heroes in a half shell may very well have been the definitive pop culture obsessions of my childhood. Toys, video games, books, clothes, never mind the cartoon, those pizza lovin’ dudes were a near constant of formative years. They were, as hip kids say, radical and totally righteous.

So when the first big screen movie came out in 1990, it stands to reason that I considered it something of a cultural event. A watershed touchstone? Sure, why not. What you’re seeing here are two of the promotional items foisted upon the children of America during the insane hype that was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie. On the upper left: a pin, with a shot taken from the campfire scene. That’s Mikey and Don, lookin’ all nonchalant despite the amounts of pain they were capable of doling out. On the lower right: Raph and Leo share a brotherly moment in a shot that I think comes from after Raph had been revived following a severe beat down.

Both items are still technically usable, the pin more so than the keychain, which has cracked and was dutifully covered in tape by yours truly somewhere down the line. Nevertheless, both are absolute powerhouses of nostalgia for me (especially the keychain, because it features Raphael, who we all know was the superior turtle).

I remember, back in the early-90s, an entire wall in Sears (or maybe it was JC Penney?) being dedicated to smaller TMNT items such as these. As I recall it, it was located in the vicinity of the shoes, and if the turtles’ faces could be plastered on it, it was there. We’re talking shoelaces and the like, in addition to the stuff like what you’re seeing above.

While certainly emblematic of the TMNT movie fervor I had at the time, these were far from the only items I had spotlighting that 1990 debut movie; somewhere I have a giant cardboard standup of all four turtles. It has not as yet been recovered, and I sure hope it hasn’t disintegrated into a mildewed pile of sadness. That would be decidedly not righteous.

(My dad took me to see the movie in the theater. I vaguely recall arriving a little late and later spilling some of the green TMNT-esque drink. Loved the movie though, and you know, I think it holds up better today than it has any right to – though in the interest of full disclosure, I’m looooong overdue for a rewatch. It’s been years!)

The Ninja Turtles weren’t my only cinematic obsession of 1990, however. TMNT found a natural place in my heart due to already being a fan of the franchise. My other movie hero of 1990 was, on the surface, a bit more inexplicable though, and his name was Dick Tracy.

Played by Milton Armitage Warren Beatty, 1990’s Dick Tracy was aggressively marketed to kids, and in my case, it worked. Big time. For a period there, I was all about that copper and his sunshiny bright yella coat. Dutifully, we all went to see it at the drive-in; I recall falling asleep at some point later in the flick, but that wasn’t a commentary on the quality of the film (I was too young to judge, and truth be told, I haven’t seen the movie since then – but I want to, because it absolutely looks like something I’d love nowadays).

Beyond the movie itself was a promotional blitz that, in retrospect, seems sorta unlikely for a comic strip character that was hardly a beacon of “hip” to kids my age beforehand. I’ve read that it was intended to mimic the Batman ballyhoo of the summer prior, and even if it wasn’t ultimately as successful, it certainly seemed comparable in terms of all-encompassing hype. Like I said, it worked big time in my case.

The two pins you’re seeing above are just two small parts of that blitz. The button in the lower right, it’s just the expected Dick Tracy logo that was plastered on pretty much everything at the time. (Even today, TMNT notwithstanding, that logo screams “1990”  to me in a way that few other things can.) The pin in the upper left, well, it’s missing the actual pin part on the back, but it’s shaped like a badge, and declaring the wearer to be a “Junior Detective.” I’d seriously consider keeping that one in my wallet if I didn’t think I’d get busted for impersonating a cop and providing the world’s most embarrassing rap sheet. Dick Tracy wouldn’t approve of that.

I fear it’s long, long gone by now, but I’d sure LOVE to find one of the cards from McDonald’s Dick Tracy Crime Stoppers game. I had one, but I haven’t seen it in decades. That, to me, would be more emblematic than anything of the Dick Tracy mania that swept 1990.

The promotional blitz didn’t end there, though…

No, this isn’t an official Dick Tracy item, but in my world, it’s related, and it’s something I was quite happy to rediscover recently. Lemme explain…

In conjunction with the movie came the expected line of toys. Such things were beyond commonplace by 1990; it would have been weirder if they hadn’t released a corresponding toy line! Put out by Playmates, the same folks behind the fantastic line of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures, Dick Tracy and his fellow cast of characters were immortalized in plastic.

Like TMNT, the line was brilliantly detailed, with some of the villains being pretty accurate toy recreations of their disgusting big screen counterparts. Indeed, from looks to scale, these figures would have fit right in the Ninja Turtle world, and while I personally don’t recall doing so, it’s easy to imagine other kids taking advantage of that. The line certainly never achieved the same long running success as the Turtles did, but it was pretty decent for what it was…

…Except for one aspect that burnt me up then, and still puzzles me now: THE DICK TRACY FIGURE DIDN’T HAVE A YELLOW RAINCOAT! How on earth do you make a Dick Tracy action figure and then omit his most recognizable aspect?! It boggles mah mind! Oh, he had the hat alright, but the sensible suit that made up the figure’s attire otherwise just didn’t cut it, man. Not then, and not now. And what makes things even more inexplicable is that Playmates released a Donatello action figure with a raincoat  – that very same year!

Anyway, thanks to what I assume was incessant badgering on my part, mom took pity on me and actually sewed a proper yellow coat out of felt for my Dick Tracy action figure! Thanks, ma! Naturally, that’s what you’re looking at above. Actually, for reasons now forgotten, she sewed me two of ’em; I came across the other during my recent digs, but stupidly didn’t put it aside like I did this second one. I don’t have the stamina go digging again just for that, so this coat above will have to represent all on its own. (They were both pretty much the same, and nobody but me cares about any of this anyway.)

Such things were (are) typical of mom, even with something that in the grand scheme of things is of zero importance. But really, even she must’ve realized you just don’t make a Dick Tracy action figure without the yellow raincoat. You. Just. Don’t. Do. It.

Oh was I happy to find this one; I had been on the hunt for it for well over a year, but I never expected to find it buried among old high school junk. It wasn’t the only surprising find in that batch either; there were some TV Guides that, like this book, I thought were in one specific place but actually, erm, weren’t.

The Kid’s Guide to Home Computers hails from 1983, but that’s not when I got it – I wasn’t born yet! And no, it didn’t come from a thrift store, garage sale or what have you, either.

Nope, I actually got this ‘new’, albeit well, well after it was even remotely current. It was at some store inside of Chapel Hill Mall, I recall it as a Big Lots-styled, closeout type place, but I could be wrong on that. Actually, I could be wrong on it being at Chapel Hill, too; that particular part of my memory has faded. BUT, I do absolutely recall seeing it on a rack along with others books/magazines, and this wasn’t an oldies rack. I mean, if this was a closeout store, maybe they were, but even so, The Kid’s Guide… stood out to me. How it got to where it was and lasted there as long as it did, I do not know. But I’m sure glad it waited around for me!

By then, I was certainly already familiar with the Atari 2600 console, and I believe I was familiar with both the Intellivision and Odyssey 2 too (albeit only via old print advertisements at that point). So, I’ll say I picked this book up around 1995 or 1996. Maybe even ’97, but that seems a little too late. We’ll stick with mid-90s and leave it at that.

I was already a sucker for retro gaming then, though I’m not sure most of it was old enough to be considered “retro” just yet. In those pre-internet-as-we-now-know-it years, this book was an absolute revelation. If the pages within weren’t my first actual introductions to the ColecoVision, Atari 5200, and Atari 8-bit computer line, then they were certainly my first real introductions. As you may surmise from the title of the book, the proceedings lean heavily on the “home computer” side of the equation, as opposed to the “home video game console.” Of course, since nearly all of the home video game consoles at the time were trying to be home computers in some form, there was quite a bit of overlap, and it was fantastic to read all about it.

The book is an absolute time capsule, with chapters on choosing a PC, the various hardware and software out there, even upcoming titles. Most of the major players in the industry are represented, and even a few that, at least now, may not be considered major.

I absolutely poured over all this back in the day, and despite clearly being aimed at kids (as you, uh, gleamed from the title) in writing style and length, it covers a lot of bases. A sign of the times: the Atari 5200 controller was considered an improvement over the 2600 joystick. (And at least on paper, that was true!) Also, this was where I first learned that M*A*S*H had been turned into an Atari 2600 game! Neato!

Okay, sure, technically there’s nothing in this book that can’t be learned online nowadays, but as a snapshot of gaming/home computing in the early-80s, I consider it indispensable. And I’m never letting it get lost again.

Undoubtedly you’re asking yourself right this moment “say, what’s with that swell gem-shaped rock y’all got there, North Video Guy?” And to that I reply “pump the brakes Ace, I’ll explain.” (Seriously, haven’t you been paying attention? I always explain!)

This wasn’t a store-bought acquisition. At one point during my earliest of years, I wanted a “gem.” Why or what kind of gem, I don’t know, and I’m not sure I could have given you a decent explanation even back then, either.

So anyway, my dad took a rock, and polished into the smooth, gem-like shape you’re seeing now. Thanks, pa!

Like so many of the smaller pieces in my childhood ‘stuff’, the gem/rock/thing floated around (figuratively not literally HAW HAW HAW) the house for years, at one point being colored red with crayon (except for some edge chips that you can just barely see in this pic, this was eventually cleaned off), and ultimately being boxed/bagged/whatevered up until I uncovered it during my archaeological dig some weeks ago. It was immediately set aside, because you know, I still really like the gem rock (I’ve decided that’s its official name, “gem rock”). As a childhood trinket, its nostalgia is powerful.

(Of course, I doubt anyone else anywhere would care all that much about it, and truthfully I don’t have a ton more to say about it here; I mean, what do you want? It’s a rock polished into the shape of a generic gem! I gave you its history, so what more can I say? Nothing’s ever enough for you, is it?)

I think you’d have to be of a certain age to really appreciate the ubiquitous LCD handheld video games Tiger Electronics released in the 1980s and 1990s. These things were everywhere; a seemingly countless number arcade or console games, movies, cartoons and sports received dedicated Tiger handheld adaptations. I mean, MC Hammer and Full House even had handhelds! (As a TGIF kid, there’s a good chance you’ll hear me flipping out from wherever you happen to be should I find that Full House somewhere. And minus the whole TGIF aspect, the same goes for MC Hammer too, come to think of it. Also, now’s as good a time as any to mention that it saddens me that Urkel and/or Family Matters never received a Tiger LCD game adaptation.)

Of course, even those that grew up with them tend to admit that they really weren’t very good. Even compared to other single game handhelds like those by Nintendo (Game & Watch!) or Konami (or at least their TMNT games were pretty decent), the Tigers could come up a little short in the gameplay department – even with the diminished expectations that inherently come with a single game LCD.

So why was I so happy to see that they’re being revived? Nostalgia, I suppose. I loved these things back then – even after I had a Game Boy. Cheap and cheesy as they might have been, there was something oddly special about them at the time – and that something may or may not translate to modern times, even for those that grew up with them originally. I don’t know, maybe I innately sensed that the single game set-up and dedicated marquee-like graphics recalled the coin-ops that were still so prevalent at the time? (Actually, I started that thought fully intending to be a smarty pants, except I then remembered that Tiger ran commercials in the late-80s specifically touting the arcade-in-yo’-pocket aspect of these things. In other words, initial smarty pants reaction or not, subconsciously I guess I wasn’t too far off!)

Indeed, when I learned of the revival, I looked around for one that was worthy of specifically reviewing. I obviously never made the plunge, though Street Fighter II was a serious candidate for about 12 seconds (until I played it and couldn’t decide if some of the controls were broken or if that’s just how it was supposed to play.)

SO ANYWAY, that all played into my being pleased when these two childhood examples were rediscovered during my ‘ronavirus-sourced searchin’. Ninja Gaiden II and Sonic the Hedgehog 2, as you can see. Look close and you’ll notice that the screen in Ninja Gaiden II has been smashed beyond repair (?), which is just a real shame. Sonic 2 still plays fine though.

Indeed, my want and anticipation of Sonic 2 was unbelievable at the time. I wouldn’t own a Sega Genesis for a year or two more when I first got it, but I had already become a Sonic fan nevertheless, via the not one but two cartoon series centered around him. For a period, I was all Sonic all the time, despite natively being a Nintendo kid and not owning any actual Sonic games yet. While ultimately a prime example of Tiger translations of ‘real’ video games not exactly living up to the originals, my yearning for this Sonic 2 back then was unprecedented, and comparable to my wanting of whatever Game Boy title was currently on my radar. I played the heck out of it too – it held the Sonic fort until I got the real Sonic 2 some time later.

Oh, and during my searching, I also found Tiger handheld renditions of Batman Returns and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Dimension X Assault (which seemed like somewhat of a novelty to me back then, not only because it talked but also because Konami released the previous TMNT LCDs). I knew automatically that these actually belonged to my brother, and when I sent him a text asking if I could have them or if he actually wanted them back, he replied in the affirmative regarding the latter. I was somewhat disappointed in this response, and that leads me to this interlude.

Here, flanked by those two Tiger handhelds that have been begrudged me, as well as a Pocket Rocker, is Imperial’s King Kong figure. The sad (for me) fact of the matter was that as I dug through all this childhood stuff, I wasn’t finding only my crap, but stuff belonging to my brother as well. He didn’t want all of it back, but the stuff in this picture, he did. The two handhelds, I understand it, those were staples of his childhood, I get it. And the Pocket Rocker was gifted to him by some relative one long ago Christmas, so I get that, too. (What I don’t get is why he got the cool Pocket Rocker, since I was the one who remembered the commercials; IT AIN’T FAIR. I mean, *I* want an almost immediately worthless music playin’ device, too!)

I was really hoping I could finagle that King Kong out of him though. He didn’t go for it, and that hurts me deep. And after I went through the trouble of locating his stupid stuffed Wiley Ewok thing, too! Thas gradditood fo’ ya!

(Of course I kid. Or do I? You decide!)

I thought for sure I had written about these old Big Chuck & Lil’ John stickers before; maybe I had and the post is just no longer up. I do that sometimes. Either way, during my digs I came across a stray example, and despite already having a number of them ‘in their place’, I was pretty derned happy to rescue yet another, because believe it or not, they’re actually some of my favorite pieces of BC&LJ memorabilia.

(I actually came across precious little material regarding Northeast Ohio’s horror hosts during my searches, which is both good cause that means I’ve already got most of it preserved and bad because I, erm, want more. Oh, I found a few bits besides this sticker here, but more is always better.)

These stickers hail from around 2000/2001. They were freebies at the Fox 8 store in Summit Mall. (Yes, a local channel had their own store in a mall; it was honestly pretty cool, and I wish I’d taken even more advantage of it than I did.) I can’t remember if it was beforehand or if it was when I met Big Chuck & Lil’ John for the very first time in person in the summer of 2001 (just before I entered high school), but there were a whole bunch of these stickers (in a basket on the checkout counter, if I recall correctly), and they let us take a handful.

Hailing from where and when it does, this is just such a terrific example of Northeast Ohio broadcasting at the time. I mean, You’ve got Big Chuck & Lil’ John, who are indisputably local legends, and you’ve got the mention of them following another local institution, The Drew Carey Show. Although it wasn’t (normally) filmed there, Drew himself is a Cleveland icon, and the sitcom was set there, so naturally The Drew Carey Show was a fairly big deal around these parts.

It’s hard to explain what a piece of the cultural landscape Drew’s show was in the late-90s and early-00s, or at least that’s how it seemed to me. Everything stopped for the new episodes on ABC on Wednesday nights, and then Drew’s Whose Line is it Anyway?, and of course the syndicated episodes that were airing multiple times a day on channel 8.

The very fact that a Big Chuck & Lil’ John sticker plays into all of that makes it an indispensable part of my collection, no matter how many times over.

You may notice that this particular copy of the sticker is in a protective card case. No, I didn’t find it that way; rather, whilst digging, I also came across two of the only remaining Pokemon cards I own, both contained back-to-back in said protective case. Since Chuck & John trump Charizard any day, out went the cards and in went the sticker – though truth be told, I made the switch mainly just because it amused me.

I’m seriously considering having both Chuck and John sign the back of the sticker if I bother to go to the next Ghoulardifest, and if I could get Drew to sign it too at some point, well, that’d be pretty amazing.

Speaking of autographs, here’s something I found that I had no recollection of ever having, though I do remember the meeting itself.

You’re looking at the autograph of one Don “Action” Jackson, who until recently was one of *the* DJs at WMJI 105.7 FM. He was recently laid off during that iHeart Radio restructuring or whatever it was, and that’s a genuine shame. Not only was Action Jackson ever present during the years in which I was forming my musical tastes (thanks largely due to his station), but he was just a terrific DJ in general – energetic, entertaining, and in no way deserving of such an unceremonious exit.

Anyway, I met him in 2002, at the opening of some store somewhere. (A Giant Eagle, I think? Or maybe a Sam’s Club? I ain’t recall.) That’s obviously where this autograph came from, signed on the back of a “United We Stand” bumper sticker (it was the months following 9/11, after all).

And as luck would have it, he was also giving out Moondog concert tickets as prizes, should you be able to answer four of the performers appearing at the show that year. The guy next to me blanked, but I nailed three of them before blanking on the fourth. I did recall the opening, warm-up act though, so I took a chance, and that was enough to net me two free tickets to the Magic Moondog Coronation Ball 2002. Which leads me to this…

I already kinda knew where this Moondog ’02 program was, it wasn’t really a rediscovery here, but it still needed liberated, so here we are. This program was, of course, the result of my ticket win. My brother and I both went, and I’m not sure about him, but I do believe this was the first real concert I ever attended. Unless you count the KISS tribute band in the parking lot of High Point Furniture, which I don’t.

(What, I treat you to a free, memory-makin’ Moondog concert and you can’t toss that King Kong figure my way, bro? UNBELIEVABLE.)

The Moondog, held annually for years starting in 1992, commemorated Alan Freed’s original Moondog show of 1952, generally considered the first legitimate Rock & Roll concert. 2002 happened to be the 50th anniversary of all that.

The guest line-up on the first page of the program gives you a good idea of what the Moondog consisted of for a number of years. Namely,1950s and 1960s acts, and man, 2002 didn’t disappoint. (Partners in Rhyme, an a cappella group, was the opening act that inadvertently won me the tickets; thanks guys!) Not a dud in the bunch, and one of them (Lesley Gore) is no longer with us. As a first concert experience and a lover of 50s and 60s pop/rock (then and now), it was tough to beat! I specifically remember Gary Puckett’s vocals absolutely shaking the arena.

(And yet, the best Moondog I ever saw was in 2011: The Grass Roots, a few months before Rob Grill died, Eric Burdon of The Animals, whose voice was still unbelievable, The Spinners, who put on a fantastic grand finale-type performance in the middle of the concert, Felix Cavaliere & The Rascals, and headliners America. I mean, I love all of those acts, and aside from the fact it was tough for anyone to follow The Spinners’ showstopper, it’s one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen by someone not named Bruce Springsteen. 2012 was good too but just couldn’t compare, and I haven’t made it to a Moondog since. Actually, I don’t think they’ve even had them for the last few years, which is pretty sad.)

Time for some more Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles memorabilia. This one, I had already found an empty tube some time beforehand, and then I found another during the recent searching. Which one is this? Does it even really matter? Stop being so needlessly arbitrary, you! They’re both the same!

(Yeah, like I have any room to be criticizing anybody for being arbitrary!)

Put out in conjunction with 1991’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, this was a tube of “Squeeze & Lick Lollipop,” as per the now-empty tube you’re seeing to your right. It was really just a fruit-flavored gel, though I recall it being tasty enough. I question the look of anger on Raph’s face as he samples it though; what, if it ain’t pizza it ain’t good?

It’s tough to say when TMNT mania among kids reached its peak. I’d cautiously posit 1990/1991, though. You had the cartoon with three years under its belt, an endless amount of merchandise (toy, game, clothing, food, you name it), and now two live-action movies. Oh, and a live concert tour that featured a promotional appearance on Oprah. That happened too. The early years of the 90s really did belong to the Turtles, at least where kids were concerned. This empty tube does a decent enough job of representing that era all on its own, if you ask me.

I didn’t, and don’t, think the sequel quite topped the first movie in terms of quality, though I will say the second flick did achieve something approaching a microcosm of early-90s kids’ pop culture. Or something like that. Vanilla Ice performing “Ninja Rap” just may be the definitive summation of 1991 when it comes to the world of children at the time. Of course, I’m biased; I was there for it as it happened. My perception may very well (and almost certainly is) skewed.

This follows, cause Ninja Turtles, pizza, ya dig?

Found in a bag of random papers and whatnot, this is an original flyer for Pizza Pan, a local chain that was, as you can see, “home of the free pizza.” I can’t believe this survived to the present day, and even crumpled and a little torn (I’m trying to flatten it out as best I can right now), it’s a find I’m pretty happy to have had.

Here’s how it worked: have a pizza delivered, and you got one free. Pick it up yourself, and you got two free. As seen here, the same deal applied to their ribs. With an offer like that, there’s naturally going to be some buzz, and for awhile there in the early/mid-00s, Pizza Pan was aggressively pushed locally. Big Chuck & Lil’ John themselves even pitched them in commercials, and even their show proper. (Hey, here’s proof!) The push worked, because we certainly sampled their wares more than once.

And then they just seemed to sort of go away. I vaguely recall the free pizza deal being done away with, which, if my memory is correct, is going to hurt business considering that’s what the business was built on. Maybe I’m recalling wrong, though. At any rate, the location nearest us closed, and we never had them again. There’s still a website, though it doesn’t seem to have been updated since 2015, and nearly all of the tabs just lead back to the store locations page – and I’m not sure how many of those are even still open today.

Still, like Mikey and Regency Windows ads (“I’m gonna save you a lotttttta money!”), the promotions for this place were ever present at the time, and for me, an indispensable reminder of that era in Northeast Ohio.

My recent digs weren’t relegated to only bags, boxes and bins of childhood crap, however. I’ve also used this unexpected down time to take the opportunity to sift through my vast, VAST video collection, simply to recover long missing tapes that have been on my mental want list for too long.

The tape, from 2005, that you’re seeing here wasn’t the biggest rediscovery, but it’s certainly one that I’d been searching for for quite awhile, and as such pretty representative of the whole project. When I finally unearthed it, the contents weren’t even marked (something that, I’m sad to say, became quite common for me as the 00s dawned).

While an episode of That 70s Show and part of The Simple Life (The Simple Life, boy, I had forgotten all about that garbage) were captured afterwards, the main purpose of this tape was to grab three episodes of Seinfeld that I found particularly brilliant. This was of course before the DVD releases, when the only way to consistently re-watch these was to tape them via syndication. At the time I was a huge Seinfeld fan, and while the truth is the show hasn’t worn all that well for me now, I do indeed still consider these three episodes to be among my favorites:

“The Bizarro Jerry” (season 8, episode 3), in which Elaine falls in with a group of friends who are the polar opposites of Jerry, George, Kramer and Newman, behavior-wise. I’ll never forget just how clever I found the concept the first time I saw the episode. Oh, and “man hands” stems from this ep, too.

“The Merv Griffin Show” (season 9, episode 6), in which Kramer finds the discarded set from the aforementioned show in a dumpster and recreates the program in his apartment. It’s a little surreal, and while the occasional surrealism of the later seasons of Seinfeld have been criticized (even by myself at one point), it’s an aspect that, ironically, holds up better for me now.

“The Frogger” (season 9, episode 18), in which George buys and attempts to keep his high score preserved on an old Frogger coin-op. This one, besides having the usage of a vintage arcade machine as a natural source of interest for yours truly, was one of the first (and only) episodes I saw first run. In the hype surrounding the series finale, I briefly started watching new episodes on NBC, though I didn’t stick with it. Despite the heartbreaking image of a Frogger machine smashed to bits at the episode’s conclusion, there’s still some real nostalgia at play here.

Obviously the tape is pretty worthless now that the uncut, squeaky clean DVDs are readily available, but at the time, this was as good as I could have hoped for. And dig this, there’s a Pizza Pan commercial during “The Frogger” episode, too! Look, it’s all comin’ together, just like an episode of Seinfeld!

(I’ve managed to relocate nearly all of the tapes I’d been searching for, albeit at the expense of a beater VCR that actually held up for far longer than it should have considering what I put it through. The last hold out? Years ago, I had five tapes loaded with Nick Arcade episodes. I have #1, #3, #4 and #5, but as of this writing, #2 is still MIA. I would have marked that one, so where could it be? It’s drivin’ me ‘nanners, man!)

Hey, did y’all know I was an artist? NO?! Well, that’s understandable, since I’m really not. Not professionally, I mean. I’d like to think that the image to your left here was my only real flirtation with surrealism or existentialism or some artsy fartsy term like that, though.

Here’s the story: during my senior year of high school, my art class was split in two groups. There was photography, and then there was whatever I was in (I honestly don’t remember). The photography part took up most of the teacher’s focus, so me and the two or three others in our group were largely left to our own devices. Oh, the teacher would give us assignments and we’d do them, but since her attention was focused on photography, we got to screw around way more than we would have otherwise. No joke, I once made a makeshift TMNT action figure in a kiln, because some things stay with you for life.

Anyway, one time, I can’t remember if there was a bowl of pretzels set out for us or if someone just brought pretzels as a snack, but I got the idea to dip one in epoxy or something and wing it at a piece of my art paper. The result survives to this day and is what you’re seeing now. I call it “Discarded Pretzel,” and it represents isolation or something. It looks like it’s been spit out, okay? I can’t decide if the pretzel itself is more or less toxic than the Worcestershire Sauce I wrote about several months ago in this article.

We’re nearing the end of our journey here, which is good, because my enthusiasm is fading fast. Still, I find this artifact pretty funny. I don’t know when it’s from, but it’s the result of my brother and I being needlessly destructive.

You know those dollar store G.I. Joe knock-off figures that have been produced forever, right to this very day? Well, at one point my brother and I decided it’d be a good idea to melt a toy roulette wheel into the torso of one. You can ask me why, but I have no good excuses.

Honestly, it’s something so pointless and stupid, I can’t help but love it. I kinda regret ‘modifying’ the wheel (which I think hails from the same general era as those fake Batman things waaaay up above), but considering our clumsy melting skills, it’s amazing that the wheel is not only still functional, but so are the hapless soldier’s appendages. Even his head still turns!

Remember those little I.D. cards on the back of G.I. Joe packages, detailing the attributes of whatever specific figure you bought? I can’t help but wonder how this guy’s would read (even though he’s not a G.I. Joe). I mean, could his specialized skill be any more useless? The dumb wheel doesn’t even work right unless he’s laying down! (We call that gravity, gang.) What, is he hoping to tap into the compulsive gambling habits of Cobra?

The questions are endless; this dude’s a total enigma. I deem him “Wheelhouse,” because that sounds like a G.I. Joe-ish moniker. Oh, and he has to originally hail from either Vegas or Atlantic City, I haven’t decided which yet.

During my digging, I turned up not one, not two, but three old Mystery Science Theater 3000 merchandise order forms! Cool winnins!

I had written the show and sent in some of my artwork back in, probably, late 1997, and that was enough for them to add me to the “Info Club.” Thanks, MST3K! Man, I loved getting these things in the mail; new MST3K merch to buy – too cool! Well, having even less money then than I do now (which is really saying something), most of it was just for me to gawk at, though I did order tapes fairly frequently from them. This is also where my “Bot Building Booklet” and some kind of MST3K-emblazoned folder loaded with stuff came from, but usually, it was all about the VHS.

Do I wish I had taken even more advantage of the wares they offered? Well, of course. Still, I can’t complain about what I did get, and I’m certainly glad to have a decent number of these old order forms survive in my collection. As far as I know, the Info Club is no more, but at least we MSTies have artifacts such as these to remind us. (As well as the on-screen graphic that remains in old episodes.)

And last but certainly not least, we have this dandy little item. Dig this: it’s a State Road Shopping Center coupon booklet, from 2006! Mega cool winnins!

One of the most popular articles on this blog is this oldie, in which I detailed, in photographic form, some of the establishments that had once made up the shopping center. It’s kind of a wash, since it’s an earlier effort and I don’t think it’s particularly well-written, but meh, it is what it is.

Anyway, this booklet was good throughout May 2006 (14 years ago as of this writing!), and I imagine it was a last ditch effort to improve business and stave off the eventual demolishing that ultimately took away the old center and made way for the one that stands today. Or maybe they just though it’d be a nice gesture, I dunno. But look, it was free!

I myself didn’t actually find this; rather, mom came across not one but two of them during her own personal cleaning project. (See, it’s not just me; there hasn’t been much anyone can do around here lately!) She actually asked me if I wanted them! Uh, yeah ma, I do! Mom knows what kind of stuff I collect, so I appreciate her saving these for me. Thanks again, ma!

Not every place in the strip was represented in the booklet, and that unfortunately means no special deals for North Gate Lanes (though I can’t remember for sure now; they may have been gone by ’06). Still, the coupons for Arby’s (still there), Pro-Tec Electronics (relocated), Goodwill (relocated), Fishland Pets (gone, I think?) and Longhitano’s Restaurant (still around in Kent), among a few others, make this an essential piece of local (and I do mean really local) memorabilia for yours truly!


And with that, our little trip down (my) memory lane comes to a close. This was a fun article to write, mostly because it was mainly for me. As I said over 8000 (yes, really!) words ago, much of this is probably only important to me. But like I also said way back at the beginning, hey, it’s a bit of a peak into what makes me, me. Not a big one, but one nevertheless.

If nothing else, hopefully it gave you something to do, provided you’re under the same stay-at-home orders as I currently am. I want everyone to be safe and healthy and to do their part to keep others safe and healthy, but man, I’m ready for this to be over. I never expected to live through something like this pandemic, and I sure hope I never have to live through something like it again.

Stay safe, everybody!

Oh, but before I go…

There, that’s better! Seriously, Dick Tracy without the yellow raincoat, man, it just ain’t right!

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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.)

Mystery Science Theater 3000’s Final Sci-Fi Channel Broadcast (January 31, 2004)

mst3k final ep 1

(Caution: this is an article by an MSTie, so beware of some “technical” jargon y’all non-MSTies might not understand.)

Well lookee what your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter dids dones did dugged up! While going through boxes of tapes, I came across the VHS recording I made of Mystery Science Theater 3000‘s final Sci-Fi Channel broadcast, waaaaay back in 2004 (January 31, to be exact). The episode? 912 – The Screaming Skull (with the Gumby short Robot Rumpus). The time? Saturday morning, 9 AM. The feeling? Well, kinda downbeat, honestly. For as good as this episode was/is, it couldn’t quite overcome the feeling that something special was passing by.

By 2004, I had long captured, on good ol’ VHS, all of the remaining episodes that Sci-Fi could legally air (except for a Blood Waters Of Dr. Z re-broadcast – of course the VCR died for that one), which naturally already included episode 912. This, this broadcast, however, it didn’t really matter what the actual episode was; this was all about partaking in the last Mystery Science Theater 3000 on actual television for the foreseeable future. As it turned out, it would be back in about 10 years, but of course no one knew that at the time. There had been so many rights issues with the movies featured on the show over the years that, for all anyone knew, this was it. ‘Course, we still had the official DVD releases, and the tape trading circles, but even to this day there’s just something about actually tuning in to MST3K that feels so right. At least, that’s how I feel about it; your mileage may vary.

I explained this all a bit better in that older post I linked to, but long story short: I began watching the show when it moved to the Sci-Fi Channel 1997, and by the summer, I was a die-hard MSTie, which I obviously remain to this day. At the time, you needed a cable box to access Sci-Fi, and unfortunately, my dad decided he didn’t want to spend the extra bucks for the box anymore. Thus, that began a period of living with what I had already recorded, getting others to record episodes for me, and the official VHS releases that were trickling out.

That is, until early 2002, when I discovered Sci-Fi had been added to the basic cable line-up. Thanks to Satellite News’ helpful schedule archives, I can pinpoint when exactly I was able to finally see the show on real TV again (via a nearby relative’s house, because at that point we didn’t even have basic cable): February 23, 2002, episode 911- Devil Fish. I was elated (though it figures that the episode largely responsible for turning me into an MSTie, 811 – Parts: The Clonus Horror, had what turned out to be its last Sci-Fi airing about a month prior – just missed it!).

It was a ‘reunion’ that lasted nearly 2 years, and it all came to an end with this one last broadcast.

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Honestly, I can’t believe it’s been over 10 years since this aired. 2004 just does not seem that long ago! I was a junior in high school!

It’s important to note that this wasn’t the actual series finale of Mystery Science Theater 3000; that happened back in 1999, with episode 1013 – Diabolik (though thanks to a rights snafu, episode 1003 – Merlin’s Shop Of Mystical Wonders wound up airing first-run about a month after said series finale, giving heartbroken MSTies one last bit of shiny new freshness). Rather, this was the last episode ever broadcast on the Sci-Fi Channel.

Y’see, after the show finished with new episodes in 1999, it went into endless repeats on Sci-Fi, eventually languishing in a Saturday morning time slot where it would remain for the rest of its time on the channel. Advertising had long, long stopped being run for MST3K, so outside of the fan circles, it was just kind of ‘there,’ treated no better than Saturday morning filler. We MSTies knew better, though; unbeknownst to most, this was the way to kick off your Saturday.

So, after two whole cable channels and having run since 1989 (technically, three channels since 1988, for you lucky Minnesotans who got to watch the series start on the local independent station KTMA TV-23), it all came down to this one last broadcast on January 31, 2004. Well, until Retro TV picked the series up 10 years later, anyway.

"Robot Rump?!" - Servo

“Robot Rump?! Oh…” – Servo

Here’s the deal with episodes of this series: they can be very, very subjective. Because opinions on movies and humor can vary so greatly from person to person, there’s always going to be someone who loves a certain episode to death, while someone else will hate it with a passion. From my viewpoint, 912 is a very good episode. Maybe not a start-to-finish smash, but mostly good host segments, fantastic riffing on the short, and a solid take on the movie. There are undoubtedly people out there that will disagree with that assessment, and hey, that’s cool, too.

912 may not be the all-out, blaze-of-glory episode many would have preferred for the final Sci-Fi broadcast, but it is a solid, enjoyable from start-to-finish episode, which seems just as fitting to me. Maybe because it’s so representative of MST3K as it often was: maybe not every riff connected throughout, but the episode was overall consistently funny nevertheless. I wasn’t kidding a bit ago, by 2004 there really was no better way to start your Saturday.

The one aspect of this episode that most fans seem to agree about: the short film preceding the movie is phenomenal. The shorts were a rarity during the Sci-Fi-era, there were only three of ’em total, but man, quality over quantity. Of the three, I easily give the edge to this one, the Gumby epic Robot Rumpus. This might as well have been made for MST3K, because it fits like a glove.

"It's a fair-to-partly cottony day." - Crow

“It’s a fair-to-partly cottony day.” – Crow

Truthfully, there are some shorts in the MST3K canon that no longer have me rolling the way they did the first few times I watched them; Chicken Of Tomorrow (from 702 – The Brute Man) used to be one of my favorites, but after the last few viewings, well, it has left me a bit cold. Robot Rumpus, on the other hand, I’ve seen this one so many times that by this point I’m fairly certain I’m never going to get tired of it. It starts out hilarious and stays right there. By the time a shot of Pokey prompts Mike to quip “Close-ups reveal the weakness of the whole premise,” I was done for. This one seems to get better each time I watch it.

The plot is, well, it’s a clay-animated Gumby short with the title Robot Rumpus, so don’t expect Shakespeare, alright? In this one, Gumby, rather than do his yardwork chores himself, gets a bunch of robots to do them for him. Things start out peacefully enough, but they soon go haywire; gardens are ruined, paint is thrown about, and a house is lifted off its foundation before Gumby’s pop Gumbo shows to help put things back in order. I’m tempted to call this the weirdest thing ever, but kids programming is by nature usually pretty weird, so it would be an entirely redundant statement (plus, I’m watching a show where a guy and his two robots are trapped in space and forced to watch bad movies; I love MST3K, but I’ll never say the premise isn’t a bit out there – that’s one of the reasons it’s so great!).

Also, it’s nice to know that Gumby holds a Class F license.

"Okay, who turned up the heat in the hot tub?!" - Servo

“Okay, who turned up the heat in the hot tub?” – Servo

A common charge against some of the episodes with particularly strong shorts before the main movie is that the feature never sustains the momentum of the short. I wouldn’t say this is true 100% of the time, but there are episodes where the short overshadows the movie somethin’ awful. So what am I even babbling about?

In the case of 912, you’ve got two forces contrasting each other as much as two forces can be, erm…contrasted? What I’m saying is you’ve got a loud, colorful, clay animated short intended for the lil’ baby childrens, and a long, black & white, slow-moving, drab horror movie for the older set (and by “older set” I don’t mean the “adult” set so much as I do “necking teenagers at the drive-in who couldn’t care less about a skull or why it happens to emitting loud decibels” set). The two don’t really pair well together, for obvious reasons.

And yet, together on Mystery Science Theater 3000, somehow it all works. True, the riffing of The Screaming Skull isn’t on the same level as Robot Rumpus, but with such a dramatic shift in tone, I don’t think you could really expect it to be. That said, I really enjoy The Screaming Skull portion of 912. Any movie that starts off with the promise of a free coffin for anyone that dies of fright during it is setting itself up for some quality riffin’, and Mike & The Bots live up to the challenge. I found myself laughing quite a bit throughout the entire feature-portion of the show (some of the riffing on the good Reverend Snow in particular is fantastic; during a conversation in which perpetually-worried-face Jenni unloads her emotional burden to him, Mike’s “You know, the Gospel speaks of losers like you…” and Crow’s semi-cheery “Oh, well it’s hell for you then!” had me roaring).

"Oh, he's playing with his beach skull!" - Mike "Buy beach skull now and receive free beach clavicle!" - Crow

“Oh, he’s playing with his beach skull!” – Mike / “Buy beach skull now and receive free beach clavicle!” – Crow

(Caution: some movie plot spoilers ahead, like anyone really cares.)

The screencap above makes this one seem more action packed than it really is. The fact of the matter is not a whole lot happens (not until the very end, anyway). This is one of those plots you can more or less figure out from the title and first 5-10 minutes of the film or so.

In it, newlyweds Jenni and Eric begin their new life together by moving into the house in which Eric and his first wife Marion lived before her untimely death. Also, she died under somewhat mysterious circumstances. Also, Jenni used to be in a mental institution. Also, Jenni is rich. Where this is all going couldn’t be any more obvious if someone wrote the entire plot out on a brick and threw it at your face. I’m pretty sure children are born with the knowledge of where this is all heading.

So yeah, Eric tries to drive his new wife batty (again) and thus to suicide by convincing her the house is haunted by the ghost of his first wife, her skull in particular, which naturally only Jenni can see.

Except there’s a twist here. For the stunning (?) climax, The real ghost of Marion shows up, announcing her presence first by chasing Jenni around (which kinda irritates me, since Jenni didn’t really do anything to draw the ire of the apparition, except maybe keeping her face in an almost constantly pinched expression), and then straight up killing Eric (that’s what you’re seeing in the screencap above).

If I’m being completely honest, yes, it’s a dull film with loooong sequences of nothing in particular really happening. BUT, it’s not that bad. I mean, yes, it is bad, no question, but it’s basically inoffensive 1950s drive-in fare. There were infinitely more disgusting things ran on Mystery Science Theater 3000. In comparison to, say, The Beast Of Yucca Flats, The Screaming Skull actually looks pretty derned good (then again, what doesn’t?). And, even though it takes forever to get there, some of the climatic scenes are actually pretty effective, provided you can ignore Eric clearly holding a plastic skull to his neck, and the infamous tossing-a-stool-at-the-ghost scene (which became this episode’s stinger). The movie itself almost lends an easygoing vibe to this episode as a whole, which is weird since it concerns a guy trying to kill his wife with a plastic skull.

The proceedings aren’t overly painful, is what I’m trying to explain.

Oh, and there’s a Torgo-esque gardener named Mickey. He provides some unintended levity to the proceedings, though he’s still a distant third behind Torgo and Ortega in the “really, really weird lackey that probably needs a shower” category.

mst3k final ep 8

The host segments for this episode, like I said before, they’re “mostly good.” I wasn’t super impressed with Tom Servo turning into a butterfly or Pearl, Observer & Bobo tricking Mike & The Bots into costumes for no real reason. But on the other hand, Servo attempting to scam a free coffin is good, and Bobo being shrunk via the most non-existent special effect possible at the end is funny.

But, my favorite host segment is seen above: Crow decides to scare Mike by being a “screaming skull.” Unfortunately, his (fairly wimpy) scream causes Mike to flip out and continuously scream in terror as he beats Crow over the head with a variety of objects (the best scene of the segment is Mike carefully deciding on the perfect golf club to hit Crow with, all while still screaming). The host segments of MST3K can often be a mixed bag, and this episode is no exception, but this moment in particular is a bonafide winner.


 

mst3k final ep 13

I said way up above that advertising for MST3K had basically disappeared from the station following the 1999 series finale. If there were any kind of promos for the series in general following that, I’m unaware of them. I’m guessing there may have been one for Merlin’s Shop Of Mystical Wonders, and Satellite News shows a mini-marathon of episodes at the end of 1999, which I cant imagine there not being some kind of advertising for that. But following all that, MST3K finished life on Sci-Fi strictly on Saturday mornings. When I was able to watch the show in “real time” again in 2002, I certainly never saw any advertising. I want to say there was a “coming up next” deal prior to episodes starting, but even if that’s so, that’s more of a courtesy than anything.

Anyway, in regards to this January 31 broadcast, the only thing even in the ballpark of advertising is what you’re seeing above: the little ‘banner’ at the bottom of the screen, reminding you of what you’re watching. Granted, it was common to Sci-Fi programming at the time, and they also take the opportunity to tell you what’s coming up next (in this case, Fright Night 2), but still, it’s nice to see that even in that little itty bitty way, MST3K was still on Sci-Fi’s radar. Kinda.

While on the subject of advertising, thus far this has been more of an episode review. Which is fine, because after years of hoping and praying, it was finally released officially in the Volume XXXI Turkey Day DVD set. I probably wouldn’t put 912 in my top 10 favorite episodes ever list, but I do like it plenty. Top 20, maybe.

However, this article is supposed to be about the larger broadcast picture. Sure, the episode itself is the main point, but what definitively places things in a certain time and place are the commercials. Just like my other ‘broadcast recap’ posts, I like to finish up with a look at those.

The problem here is that, being from 2004, most of the commercials, well, they aren’t that great. 2004 is just too new to be all that interesting. Still, I’d be remiss in whatever it is that can be considered my duties if I didn’t give at least a quick look at them, so here now are some of the better ones (in my opinion, anyway) that were seen during Mystery Science Theater 3000‘s Sci-Fi farewell broadcast on January 31, 2004:

 

Sci-Fi Channel Stargate SG-1 / Code Name: Eternity Promo

mst3k final ep 14

Hey, you all remember Stargate SG-1, don’t you? Sure you do! After all, it was only on for about 47 years. It was about MacGyver and a guy with a Dodge Ram logo on his forehead going through adventures in outer space or something like that.

Easy SG-1 fans, of course I jest. It was actually a pretty good show, at least what I saw of it when it was in syndication (around here it was WJW TV-8 on weekend afternoons, if I recall correctly). This promo, obviously, spotlights the show after new episodes were moved from Showtime to Sci-Fi.

As for Code Name: Eternity, never saw it. Apparently it was a 1999 Canadian series that only ran a season and then showed up on Sci-Fi. Ain’t I helpful?

 

BarNone Auto Loans Ad

mst3k final ep 15

I had almost completely wiped this series of ads from my memory. BarNone Auto Loans are still around, and at the time they had a line of commercials featuring a dog sock puppet (apparently originally a Pets.com mascot, though I really have totally forgotten all about that hoopla) pitching the company. So, yeah.

 

Office Max Highlighters Ad

mst3k final ep 16

This one spotlights (see what I did there HAW HAW HAW) Office Max’s special brand of highlighters, and centers around one employee’s convoluted “too sick to work” scheme, which fails spectacularly. At least I think that’s plot of the commercial, I didn’t bother to save it to the PC and I refuse to go back and check. I’m pretty sure that’s what it’s about.

 

Geico Gecko Ad

mst3k final ep 17

Geez oh man, it can be hard to realize that Geico’s Gecko has been around for basically forever at this point. I also find it troubling that I can tell his accent is slightly different in this ad from what it is nowadays, even though I’m hardly a Geico Gecko expert. In this installment in the long running series, a boy sleeps while his two robot toys prepare to duke it out. That is, until the Gecko steps forward to pontificate about Geico, much to the amazement of said toys.

 

Cabin Fever On DVD & VHS Ad

mst3k final ep 18

Yes, they were still releasing commercial movies on VHS in 2004. That wouldn’t last a whole lot longer. My reasons for including this one have less to do with the movie (I have never seen Cabin Fever nor do I have any interest in seeing Cabin Fever) and the odds were good that I would have ended up skipping this one entirely (a fate that befell a Burger King ad featuring Steve Harvey trying to come up with a combination name for “sandwich” and “salad”), until I realized it starred Shawn from Boy Meets World. Though, that’s really all I have to say about it. So, thank my TGIF nostalgia for this entry, I guess.

 

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles On Nintendo Gamecube Ad

mst3k final ep 20

Hey, a commercial I can almost get excited for! I say “almost” because aside from the very first installment for NES, I have never played a Final Fantasy game. And, since I generally don’t care for most RPGs, I really have no interest in even that one. In other words, I haven’t played Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles and you can’t make me.

HOWEVER, the poor Nintendo Gamecube, while maintaining a cult following, was basically getting clobbered by Sony’s Playstation 2 and Microsoft’s Xbox at the time. Since Final Fantasy is indeed a big name in the game world, it was nice to see it show up on Nintendo’s underrated console; from a sales-standpoint, it needed all the help it could get (that’s not a slam, either; I had a Gamecube, still do somewhere in fact, and it was definitely a lot of fun, but the system really was an object of derision among most of my PS2-owning friends, which I think was representative of teenagers in general).

At any rate, old video game ads are always a nice example of the time in which they were broadcast. So, 2004, Gamecube, there you go.

Next On Sci-Fi Promo

mst3k final ep 21

Found during the final commercial break of the broadcast, this was a short promo for what was coming up next on Sci-Fi. Fright Night II (hey, it was listed as Fright Night 2 before!) and Halloween II & III would take you up through midday that Saturday. While I’ll never claim to have much interest in any of those films, does Sci-Fi even play movies like them anymore? Of course it’s “SyFy” nowadays, but at last check (and it really has been awhile), it was all homemade SyFy exclusives and whatnot. Then again, I don’t watch the station anymore, so what do I know?


And so, Mystery Science Theater 3000 came to an end on the Sci-Fi Channel. Never has a show-ending stinger felt so bittersweet. We had our tapes, we had our DVDs, but what we didn’t have was knowledge of when or if we’d ever see our favorite show being broadcast again.

A lot of the “specialness” of this recording has dissipated over the years, but for once, this is a good thing. We MSTies have been given what could be described as the royal treatment. MST3K has been making a comeback on actual TV, the DVDs are profuse, and most of the people involved with the show are still out there cranking out the comedy in various forms.

Still, it’s a tape that captures that moment in time when a lot (but not all) of that was still up in the air, and for that, I’m glad I still have it.

Plus, you know, it’s a good episode I like to watch every now and then. Kinda easy to forget that when I’m busy pontificating about (real or imagined?) specialness and whatnot.

mst3k final ep 11

Man, that image above still brings a tear to my eye. Figuratively, I mean. After all, it’s just a show, I should just relax and all that jazz.

VCI Home Video – The Creeping Terror (On Betamax, No Less)

 

creepingterror6

I love this one. Love love love it. No matter how many times I type “love,” I doubt you’re going to understand just how happy I am to have this awful, awful movie on a format that’s only slightly more obsolete than VHS. I’m jazzed, man.

Why? Because I’m a complete and total sucker for The Creeping Terror. I love this stupid terrible movie beyond what is probably considered acceptable limits of, erm, acceptability…? That kind of fell apart, but suffice it to say, I’m quite fond of the flick. It’s one of the worst movies ever made, and it’s gloriously entertaining because of that.

The Creeping Terror has it all: shoddy black & white footage, limited dialogue but plenty of awkward narration, a star that you won’t buy for a minute as a legitimate star and who doesn’t really do enough to warrant being called a star anyway (but being the director/producer/guy who made this movie happen, naturally he had first dibs on leading man-status), a scientist played by the original Marlboro Man (yes, really), a random lecture on bachelor-hood and married life, a very slow-moving monster that looks to be made of shag carpet, victims that not only lack the ability to run or even walk away from said monster but actually crawl into the thing, a rather rotund man and his grandson Bobby (“Bobbbby!“), and the most awkward, goes-on-for-far-too-long dance party that you’ve ever seen.

It’s one “say what?” moment after another, and thus it’s clearly one of the worst (greatest) things ever committed to film. Fittingly, it was given the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment, but the movie is so, so out there that it’s a trip by itself.

I first saw (and taped!) the film in 1998 on WAOH TV-29, years before I saw the MST3K version, and it was the recording of that broadcast that I was most familiar with for years (rarity of rarities: Unlike most of the stuff I taped, I actually wound up watching it!). My reasons for taping it were two-fold: 1) at that time, any old horror/sci-fi flicks were fair-game for my vicious recordin’ tactics (that is, I’d tape anything and everything possible that fit my preferred criteria), and more importantly, 2) thanks to my beloved Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide, I knew the movie had been featured on the show, and even though it would be a few years before I became familiar with the actual episode, the mere fact that the movie was on the show was enough to make me want it.

That said, despite the extreme oddness of the film, it didn’t really do much for me then. Sure, it was an uber-amateurish, grade-z sci-fi flick, but I had plenty of those in my collection already (albeit few, if any, as inept). And while the MST3K treatment has since become one of my favorites, my first viewing of that episode several years after first seeing The Creeping Terror left me a little cold as well.

It wasn’t until almost 2 years ago, when I came across this thread at the Classic Horror Film Board, that my interest in the film rose to peaks I never thought it would. The thread started way back in 2006, and it’s still going! There’s so much interesting backstory regarding The Creeping Terror that the movie itself is almost (but not quite) overshadowed by it all. And since I stumbled across the thread after it was already well, well underway, it was simply amazing to watch as more and more info about the film was progressively revealed. The contributors to that thread are some of the most knowledgeable and downright cool people I’ve come across online, and the sheer amount of information I’ve learned from not only that thread but from that forum in general is something I’m certainly grateful for. If you don’t know how The Creeping Terror came to be (and I sure didn’t), you owe it to yourself to check the thread out. It’s an absolutely fascinating read.

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Indeed, that thread is how I learned of the VCI home video release in the first place. Prior to that, The Creeping Terror is a film I had figured as incredibly public domain. That is, there was endless VHS/DVD releases of it out there, be it standalone or in compilation sets, not unlike The Brain That Wouldn’t Die. I’m not sure how I got that idea in my head, because while there were a few VHS releases, as well as a few DVD compilations nowadays, it turns out The Creeping Terror is not only not in the public domain, it also never had much of a life in the home video market, either. There was apparently a Rhino VHS release in the late-1980s/early-1990s, and of course the MST3K version on both VHS and DVD, but as far as I can ascertain, the VCI release under their “Le Bad Cinema” banner from the early-to-mid-1980s (there’s no video release date anywhere on my copy) was the first. Maybe it wasn’t, but as far as I can tell it was. Either way, in short order the VCI release became one of my “most wanted” videos.

I tend to operate under a “sooner or later I’ll come across it” optimism. Not just with videos, but also with old broadcasts/commercials/etc., electronics, and so on. And time and time again, that optimism and patience has paid off. But, it’s not fool-proof. For example, even though I’ve had a copy for years (two copies, actually), I still haven’t come across the Vestron release of Giorgio Moroder’s Metropolis in person; I had to resort to eBay back in the day (luckily, it’s out on DVD now). Considering VCI’s The Creeping Terror is far, far more rare than that video ever was (Moroder’s Metropolis used to go for big bucks on eBay because it was, at the time, the best restoration of the film, but there were always multiple copies for sale; even though it was out of print, it was really more popular than outright rare), I knew my chances of finding a copy “in the wild” were slim, though certainly not impossible.

Still, when the opportunity to pick up the Beta version of the VCI release presented itself (and I had no idea there was a Beta release beforehand, though given the rough time frame of release, it makes sense), I jumped at it. I paid more than I really would have liked; the final total was akin to what rarer tapes were going for back in the good ol’ days (ha!) of late-1990s eBay. I’ve spent less on (some) used tape lots, but whatever. Needless to say, I was successful, as the picture above can attest.

I love the cover art. I mean, just look at it up there! It’s 1980s in all the best ways. I dig the hand drawn artwork of the era, and the cover of this particular video fits in perfectly: It’s simple, but perfect for this type of film. Though I’ll admit the absence of “The” in the title irritates me. It’s The Creeping Terror, not Creeping Terror! I got the same way with Goodtimes’ 35th anniversary release of The Blob back in the day; the cover listed it simply as Blob, which is even more awkward than Creeping Terror.

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It appears my copy has some staining to the box, mostly visible on the back. I pray it was only someones drink and not something more sinister. It doesn’t smell like anything troubling, or anything at all really, which is always a good sign. Yeah, I smelled the thing. Could I be any weirder?

The description on the back is adequate enough, but not exactly spot-on. None of the film takes place in the Rocky Mountains; it’s set in “Angel County,” California. And while it’s true that a ’57 Ford (I guess it’s a ’57 Ford, anyway) does indeed kill one of the monsters (there are two of ’em), they are certainly not immune to grenades; immediately before the Ford takes the one monster out, the other one is killed by a hand grenade thrown by the illustrious “Colonel Caldwell.”

Still, you can’t fault them for a few mistakes. This is the kind of film where, without intense concentration, it would be easy to let your mind wander and your eyes glaze over. Besides, who would really want or need a deeper-than-necessary knowledge of the film (besides me, I mean)?

Also, the copyright date for the film is almost always listed as 1964, as demonstrated on the back of this box. It was made around that time, but another interesting thing I learned from that aforementioned thread is that it’s almost positive that this film was never actually released theatrically! It seems the public never saw the film until it was licensed for TV showings sometime in the 1970s! And that’s really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the wonderfully bizarre backstory of the film.

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There were a number of movies in VCI’s “Le Bad Cinema” line. It was probably a smart move to tag them as such, because at least as far as The Creeping Terror goes, you’re almost certainly gonna irk a lot of people if you advertise it as a ‘straight’ sci-fi/horror movie. No one is going to buy this as a ‘real’ film, and if by some chance they did, those hopes and dreams would be crushed as soon as the alien craft landing on Earth is shown as (and I’m not kidding here) blurred car headlights and stock footage of a rocket blasting off ran in reverse. Rather than pretend this is something “legit,” it was a wise choice to play up the real strengths of the flick (such as they are).

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There’s the tape itself, with a fairly cheap identification label affixed to it. So now you know. Really, what more can I say about it?

Since I have several Betamax VCRs, there’s never an issue of playing Beta tapes (duh!), but I generally prefer VHS (due to convenience plus it being the format I grew up with and still predominantly use for this sorta thing). As fond as I am of the format, given the choice I probably would have went with a VHS copy over Beta. There is a major benefit to having this on Beta, however: higher quality video (yes, people still argue about this, but Betamax does look superior to my eyes). Granted, there’s only so much that can be done with The Creeping Terror; even a pristine 1st generation film print is probably going to look shoddy to an extent, because it’s just a shoddy film in general (that’s why people love it!).

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Even with the limited number of releases out there, there are worse looking versions. In fact, VCI’s version looks pretty darn good, all things considered. Sure, there’s plenty of film scratches and dust, some scenes are too dark, and some are too light, but the image itself is relatively sharp. I mean, I can actually read the copyright notice in the opening credits; a minor miracle? I really was able to pick out little details in this version that I couldn’t in others, small victory that may be.

From my very first viewing, I remember being mildly surprised that they used what appears to be the design from the opening credits of The Blob for the credits of this movie. Or maybe they technically didn’t and it just looks insanely close.

That’s the title screen up above, by the way. You’ll get a better idea of this momentarily, but the superior sharpness of this particular print was evident as soon as those wondrous words that make up the name of this movie popped on-screen.

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You have no idea what a pain it was trying to get a decent screenshot of the titular character, and I still don’t think I was all that successful. I wanted an all-encompassing shot that would give those unfamiliar with the film an idea of just how goofy the monster is, but the thing is always moving around whilst surrounded by trees and shrubbery and whatnot. Plus, the screen often being on the dark side only made things more difficult for your Northeast Ohio Video Idiot Hunter. Even the back of the video box had trouble with this (scroll back up and see if y’all don’t believe me). Rest assured, it’s a giant shaggy-carpet monster with hoses of some sort protruding from its head. It looks really bad (which of course means it’s awesome). The mostly-obscured illustration on the front cover looks better than the actual in-movie monster (dull surprise, I know).

Much has been made of the “worst movie ever,” and from the screencaps of the monster alone it’s easy to see why The Creeping Terror frequently makes those lists, which I don’t disagree with. It is without a doubt one of the most inept movies ever made; I mean, even Manos: The Hands of Fate was in color and had real continuous dialogue (even if it was dubbed in later, not unlike the small bits of actual speech found in this film), and as silly as Torgo was/is, he’s infinitely more believable than the slow-moving title character of The Creeping Terror. And, hollow victory, The Creeping Terror is better than the similarly-narrated and similarly-hated The Beast Of Yucca Flats in my eyes. Kind of a wash, but whatever.

Actually, for as bad as it is, I’ve seen other movies that may technically be better but I’ve enjoyed far, far less. I’ve seen early-1970s European horror films that have actually left me depressed. The Creeping Terror, though? It’s too goofy to take even remotely seriously.

Though even I’ll admit that the goofiness can’t carry the entire movie. Despite what VCI says on the box, this movie only runs some 76 minutes, and there are long stretches where the monster eats person after person and/or stretches where there is no speech or narration, only silly music, which for all intents and purposes turns this into a silent movie. What I’m saying is the wackiness only goes so far before things become a little tiresome. Still, there’s obviously enough “huh?!” moments to save the whole thing (from a pure entertainment standpoint, at least). Otherwise, I wouldn’t love the flick as much as I do.

Just for the fun of it, here’s some comparison screenshots between my Betamax copy and the version I recorded off of WAOH TV-29 way back in 1998. Of course, since my Betamax copy is a commercially-released version recorded in the high-quality BII mode and the one I taped back in ’98 was recorded some 16 years ago in low-quality SLP off an over-the-air broadcast on a low-power independent station and on a good-but-not-great blank tape, there’s really no direct comparison between the two versions, but hey, let me do this. It brings me joy, and don’t I deserve some of that in my life?

(For all of these, Beta’s on the left, ’98 recording’s on the right. Got it? Good.)

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Remember that time I provided a screencap of the title screen? Here it is again, only twice-over. As the comparison demonstrates, the WAOH broadcast is always much grayer than the Beta. Furthermore, the sharpness of the Beta version is particularly evident here.

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This is our “hero,” the “star” Vic Savage, aka A.J. Nelson, who is responsible for the film. Vic Savage is a pseudonym, y’see? Does our leading man inspire confidence in his Creeping Terror-stopping abilities? I’ll let you be the judge.

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This is from the infamous “Bobby!” scene, in which the grandfather you’re seeing above goes searching for his grandson by stumbling about and constantly shouting “Bobby!” in the most annoying manner possible. Spoiler alert: They both get eated.

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I’m not sure which is more infamous, the aforementioned “Bobby!” or this “Community Dance Hall” scene, in which we’re shown several minutes worth of repetitive shots of people badly dancing while the same tune plays over and over and over. Spoiler alert: They all get eated.

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Man, The Creeping Terror on Betamax. I can’t quite place my finger on why, but it just seems so right. I’ll venture a guess that this was the only release of the movie on the format. Quite a leap, huh?

In lieu of the film as-is, less adventurous souls may opt to hunt down the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment on DVD, or VHS if one was so inclined. But even with Mike & The Bots, the film is pretty out there. ‘Course, if you’re feeling brave, the uncut version is also available on DVD, in a number of various multi-movie compilartions. As far as DVD goes though, your best option really is to hunt down the MST3K version, which, despite featuring the ever-annoying double-sided disc, has both their episode and the uncut movie.

As for me, I’ve got the MST3K version (on VHS and DVD), I’ve got the uncut version in a 12-movie DVD set, I’ve got my old WAOH recording, and now I’ve got this swanky VCI Betamax copy, which has immediately become a treasured part of my collection.

That’s a lotta The Creeping Terror, far more than should be allowed.

Cool recommended readins:

The Classic Horror Film Board Thread

Jabootu’s Bad Movie Dimension Review

The IMDb Page

Satellite News’ Mystery Science Theater 3000 Episode Guide Page

Mystery Science Theater 3000’s Retro TV Debut This Past Weekend (Also: The Musings Of A Lifelong MSTie On His Early Fandom.)

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*Standby for shameless gushing.*

This past weekend, Mystery Science Theater 3000 made its Retro TV debut. I don’t want to say that all is now right with the world, but there’s little doubt that it’s just a little bit better place to live nevertheless.

I talked about this right after the announcement that MST3K reruns would be returning to TV via the Retro TV network, which in Northeast Ohio, is WAOH TV-29 in Akron, WAX TV-35 in Cleveland (the station formerly known as “The Cat.”) I’ve been counting the days (sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively) to July 5, and now that the “big event” (as I have deemed it) has occurred, well, I’m ecstatic. Lemme ‘splain a bit…

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Mystery Science Theater 3000. The show with the robots and the theater seats and the so much ripping on the bad movies. I could go into more specific details, but for the sake of whatever, let’s condense the summation to this: A guy and his two robots are stuck in outer space and forced to watch terrible movies as part of a mind-monitoring experiment, ostensibly in the hopes of ultimately ruling the world with “the worst movie ever made.”  Their only defense? Mocking (or “riffing”) the movies mercilessly.

Of all the shows I love or have loved, of all the shows I am or was an admitted fanatic of, in my own bizarre little world of personal mythologies, MST3K is and always be the “big one.” So much of what makes me, well, me started with MST3K. If I’m being honest with myself, perhaps not so much my initial fascination with movies or my need to continuously collect more of them; that had begun about a year before I discovered MST3K. But, there is little doubt that MST3K launched that fascination into the stratosphere (figuratively speaking, I mean; using the term in a literal sense would probably mean death or at least serious maiming on my part). After MST3K had the hooks in me, I was never the same.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 first started at a local TV station in Minneapolis in 1988, went national in 1989 on what would eventually become Comedy Central, and moved to the Sci-Fi Channel in 1997, which is where I, at 10/11 years old, came in. Since I had a growing interest in old horror and sci-fi films already, it stands to reason that I was far more familiar with the Sci-Fi Channel than I was Comedy Central. When the initial promos proclaiming the series was moving to the channel began airing, I was already tuned into Sci-Fi. Indeed, prior to those advertisements, I was wholly unfamiliar with MST3K. I may have passed it while channel surfing, but that would have been the extent of my familiarity with the show.

An added bonus following my discovery of MST3K was that I began actively searching out the oddball titles, the weird, forgotten flicks, even films that evoked a certain time period I wasn’t around for (I’m looking at you, downbeat 1970’s movies! Relay my well-wishes to Keenan Wynn!) BUT, that was just a side-effect of MST3K fandom. The real benefit of becoming a fan was that it absolutely introduced me to a world of sharper, funnier comedy. It became (and remains) my first, biggest, and longest-lasting TV obsession.

Readers of this sad blog will no doubt have seen my numerous long, blabbering soliloquies of love posts regarding our Northeast Ohio movie hosts: Ghoulardi, Hoolihan & Big Chuck & Lil’ John, The Ghoul, Son Of Ghoul, Superhost, and so on and so on. The fact of the matter is that my love of them initially began with MST3K, which as previously mentioned isn’t even a local product. I remember Superhost from his waning days on WUAB TV-43, I had caught Big Chuck & Lil’ John a few times before & during 1997 (and I certainly knew them as local personalities from all their local endorsements and whatnot) and I was probably vaguely aware of Ghoulardi, But MST3K was really the genesis of my whole movie-hosting fascination (even if I don’t necessarily consider MST3K quite the same thing, though I’d be hard-pressed to explain why exactly I don’t.) After MST3K, there was a new appreciation for this sort of thing, which in turn lead to fandom for, respectively, Son Of Ghoul and The Ghoul, which continues to this day (and at points has reached the same fevered heights.)

Unlike some, I didn’t quite get hooked on MST3K right away; rather, it was kind of slow burn, a gradually building fandom. Initially, I was more interested in the movies, and the running commentary courtesy of the silhouettes at the bottom of the screen was an amusing bonus. But, the more I watched the show, the more I found myself digging it for more than just the featured movie of a given episode, though in all honesty the movie still did, and does, have a lot to do with how a particular episode “strikes” me (again, figuratively speaking. I’d hate to think of an episode physically punching me in the face!) The first half of the initial Sci-Fi season (in actuality the show’s 8th season on national TV, though finer points such as that were unbeknownst to me at the time) featured black & white films from the Universal library. That was the “slow burn” period of my fandom. Some of the movies I liked (The Deadly Mantis), others left me kinda cold (The Undead).

It wasn’t until the spring/summer of 1997 that things hit the fan for me (figuratively I mean, because…aw forget it, I’m tired of that gag.) It began with the May 31st airing of The Giant Spider Invasion, which I tuned into due to my burgeoning but not-quite-solidified fanaticism. After the initial shock of discovering that they were even allowed to run color movies wore off (remember, I was 11 years old, I had no real prior knowledge of the series, and in general never really knew what the hell I was talking about anyway,) things clicked into place, the stars aligned, and I finally, completely “got it.”

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The next week, MST3K was absolutely appointment television for me. The movie was Parts; The Clonus Horror, and the fire from the previous week turned into a full-out inferno. There was no turning back now. I was hooked, absolutely, and I’ve remained hooked ever since. Was it The Giant Spider Invasion episode or the Parts: The Clonus Horror episode that’s really responsible for turning me into a full-blown MSTie? It could go either way, and I tend to go back and forth. Spider was first, but Clonus had the bigger effect and is the episode that I hold more memories for and really feels more like the first. Plus, I think Parts: The Clonus Horror is a genuinely interesting, though not without faults, film. I guess in the end it doesn’t really matter.

All throughout the rest of summer 1997, I watched Mystery Science Theater 3000 every chance I got, but alas, my ability to actually view the show was temporarily halted. At the time, the Sci-Fi Channel was a premium cable channel. I guess “premium” is the right term for it. You needed the cable box to pick the channel up, anyway. At the end of summer ’97, Dad decided he no longer wanted to pay for said cable box, and considering I was only 11 years old, had little say in the matter. So, out went the cable box, and with it, access to my favorite show. I had a few episodes recorded, I was able to get a far-away Aunt with Sci-Fi-access to tape a few more for me, and several episodes had been released on VHS by Rhino by that point, so I wasn’t completely Bot-deprived, but nevertheless, I had no *ordinary* access to my show, and this, needless to say, troubled me greatly.

Over the next several years, more and more episodes were made available on VHS and later DVD, I discovered the numerous tape-trading sites out in internet land, and even Sci-Fi joined the basic cable line-up, which allowed me to walk over to a much-nearer Aunt’s house to record episodes on Saturday mornings, something I took advantage of until January 31st 2004, when the final MST3K (The Screaming Skull) aired on Sci-Fi and thus TV in general…until now.

So, maybe now you’ve got some understanding as to why I treated the show’s Retro TV debut to something akin to the Super Bowl. I’m sure many people, fellow MSTies included, probably saw it as something neat but not necessary. Not me, though. It wasn’t for lack of MST3K, either; I’ve got a lot of episodes, and I think the majority of the series has been officially released on DVD by this point. Unlike 1997 me, I really have no shortage of the show.

No, my excitement stems from the fact that, frankly, I think a show as great as Mystery Science Theater 3000 needs to be on ‘real’ TV. Pristine DVD copies are terrific, of course, but there’s just something about knowing it’s out there, being broadcast over the airwaves. Furthermore, as mentioned waaaay at the top of this post, our Retro TV affiliate is WAOH/WAX. This is the same station that Son Of Ghoul airs on! After my ability to watch MST3K ended with the summer of ’97, I desperately searched for something like it to fill the void, which eventually lead to my discovering Son Of Ghoul. It wasn’t a “well, I guess it’s good enough” replacement either; SOG provided a somewhat different but nevertheless intensely fanatical, erm, fandom in me that continues to this day. Both shows airing on the same station is something I could have only dreamt of so many years ago, and the fact that it is now happening is, I don’t know, poetic justice? That doesn’t apply here at all, does it? It’s fitting to me, is what I’m tryin’ to say.

Plus, I haven’t been able to watch MST3K over the air in “real time” since 1-31-2004, and not in my own home since that summer of 1997. So, that’s nice.

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Following the initial announcement, my fervor was further stoked with a “coming soon” promo on Retro TV, which began airing soon after. It kept me more excited than any 10-second promo that consisted of a more-or-less static image and some sound bytes has a right to. More importantly, the fact it was airing several months in advance showed (to me, at least) that Retro TV was going to go the extra mile for the show. The commercial for Rifftrax’s live Sharknado only bolstered that feeling; if it weren’t for MST3K’s impending Retro TV arrival, I just couldn’t see that promo airing on the station otherwise.

Further proof that Retro TV was going to treat MST3K as something special was the later announcement that it would be airing twice on the weekends: Saturday at 8 PM EST, with an encore on Sundays at 5 PM EST.

This, however, presented a problem for your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter: Son Of Ghoul airs every Saturday from 7 PM to 9 PM. Usually, whatever was on Retro TV at 9 PM wouldn’t be preempted by local programming, so I figured we’d get at the very least one hour of MST3K before Off Beat Cinema at 10 PM. Prior to the 8 PM announcement, I had been presuming that MST3K wouldn’t be replacing the Saturday Off Beat Cinema, which in turn had replaced Wolfman Mac’s Chiller Drive-In (the normal Sunday Off Beat Cinema has continued before and since.)

Oddly enough, for as fanatic as I can be about this sort of thing, if the last hour of MST3K following SOG was all we Northeast Ohioans were going to get, I actually could have lived with that. I wouldn’t have preferred that situation, but some is better than none. And as it turned out, the un-preempted last hour after SOG is exactly what happened. Something about it just seemed so right for me: The show that MST3K lead me to, followed by the show that lead me to it…or something like that. It’s an entertaining three hours, is what I’m getting at.

Luckily, the Sunday 5 PM encore saved things for me, as that aired complete and uninterrupted. I was seriously concerned that infomercials would take MST3K’s place, but come Sunday, all was well.

The fact that MST3K was coming back to TV, even if only through reruns (running the gamut of the entire national run of the series, seasons 1-10,) was such a source of excitement for me that the actual episode that was premiering became sort of an afterthought…

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Retro TV kicked things off with the third episode of the first season, the 1942 PRC cheapie The Mad Monster. It’s a mega-low budget werewolf film, and needless to say, it ain’t very good (a bad movie on this show?! Go figure!) Here’s the deal with the first season: like any good show, there was a period of groove-finding. That is, it’s a hit-or-miss episode at best. I’m not a big fan of the first season anyway; I mean, sure, I generally like it, but after seeing the heights the show reached in the following seasons, it can be tough to go backwards. Add to that an installment of the Radar Men From The Moon serial they covered, which I’ve traditionally been pretty lukewarm at best on, and well, it’s a case where you’ve really got to look at the bigger picture.

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Keep in mind, I’m not looking a gift horse in the mouth; I understand Retro TV logically has to start at the beginning, and it’s probably better to get these weaker episodes out of the way first rather than throwing them in the middle of a run of strong episodes, and rest assured, the vast majority of the Retro TV line-up is downright killer (the list has been modified a bit since the initial announcement. You can read the current retro TV package courtesy of Satellite News here.)

It’s also easy to forget in this day and age of rampant DVD releases and/or otherwise easy access, that for years the season one episodes were scarce. At a certain point, as per request of The Brains (the affectionate MSTie name for the showrunners) the early episodes just weren’t shown on Comedy Central. Eventually some were ran again, but bottom line is that they were greatly downplayed in comparison to episodes from the rest of the series. SO, the fact that some of them (only two at the moment – The Corpse Vanishes is the next episode coming up before they head, briefly, into season two) are running at all, well, they still have that “hey these are kinda rare!” aura, even if they’re really not anymore. I wasn’t even watching the show during the Comedy Central days, and they still sort of feel that way to me.

My main concern here is that someone that has heard of MST3K and may be familiar with the Rifftrax/Cinematic Titanic projects will tune in, not be impressed, and come away thinking the show is wildly overrated. Give it a few weeks guys! Things get good with season two and great with season three on up! Don’t judge until you’ve seen Pod People!

To the episode’s credit, despite my general feelings toward the season (particularly the earlier half of the season,) I did find myself laughing or at least chuckling more than I expected to. I wouldn’t say any part of the episodes amounts to “home run” status, but if nothing else, it’s enjoyable.

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And there are a few nice bits, host segment-wise. The bit where Tom Servo hits on a food processor is particularly memorable, at least as far as the first season is concerned (it’s also a remake of a skit originally done at KTMA.) The show got much better in following seasons, but there are always moments, always the flashes of brilliance, that made MST3K so, erm, brilliant.

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From previous experience, I knew that our feed of Retro TV isn’t always the clearest. Not compared to the local broadcasting that airs on the channel, and certainly not compared to things broadcast on most other stations, and that holds true for MST3K in Northeast Ohio. It’s really my biggest and only actual complaint about being able to watch my favorite show on ‘real’ TV again. Even then, it’s a fairly minor quibble. That said, when I tuned in following SOG on Saturday night, initially I couldn’t tell if they were even playing MST3K. The quality was so dark (which wasn’t helped by the terrible print of the movie in the first place) that I wasn’t sure until I heard the riffs being thrown at the film. When things are light onscreen, it’s not so bad, but for large stretches of the episode, it was difficult, even impossible, to see the theater seats (see above.)

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Those were my observations at least, and mileage may vary in other markets or even elsewhere in Northeast Ohio. But, at the end of the day, none of that really changes the fact that it feels damn good to see images like the one above playing on my TV screen. Mystery Science Theater 3000 is back on the air, where it should be. And for me, I can watch it on the same station as Son Of Ghoul. You have no idea how beyond cool I find that. Most of the episodes being broadcast feature movies in the public domain, so I hold no illusions of some of my all-time favorites such as Agent For H.A.R.M. or the aforementioned Parts: The Clonus Horror eventually showing up.

But that’s okay. I’ll watch this stuff endlessly no matter what they air, because I love the show just that much. I guess when it comes right down to it, I’m not that far removed from my 11 year old self, watching the show all throughout that summer 17 years ago.

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Gee, that was a swell movie!” Wait, wrong show.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


DISC 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


DISC 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


DISC 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

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

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