Tag Archives: release

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…

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Portside Brewery’s Big Chuck Barley Wine Ale!

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“Big Chuck’s getting a beer?! When?! Where?! MUST. HAVE. NOW.

That was more or less my reaction when I first learned a month or so ago that local legend “Big Chuck” Schodowski was getting his own beer. It’s funny how after all these years, the announcement of “somethin’ new” related to one of Northeast Ohio’s movie hosts *still* has the ability to turn me into a total spaz.  It’s one facet of my personality that I’ve come to accept as never changing. And, when it’s something out-of-the-box like a beer (as opposed to your expected t-shirts and whatnot), well, that’s the kind of thing that can turn me straight-up violent with anticipation.

I’m (sorta) kidding of course, but considering that the March announcement of Portside Brewery’s Big Chuck-themed barley wine ale didn’t include a specific release date (I only saw a somewhat-vague “In April” release mentioned) or where I could find it for sale when it was on sale, I was a bit concerned about finding some of my own. Was it going to be available only in Cleveland-area stores, or all of Northeast Ohio? Maybe there was an article somewhere that answered these burning questions, but I sure didn’t see it.

More troubling to me than all that, however, was the specific mention that the release was going to be limited to about 8000 cans. Not 8000 cases, not 8000 4-packs, 8000 cans. That doesn’t seem like very much to me, at all. Especially when you consider all of the Northeast Ohio beer-drinkers that could potentially be interested in this. Now, under most circumstances, I take the statement “limited edition” with a grain of salt; I’ve picked up so many ostensibly ‘collectible’ things over the years with that term plastered all over ’em that it really doesn’t mean anything to me anymore. Anything made to be collected usually isn’t worth much in the long-run. Everyone goes out and buys it (because it’s “limited edition,” you know), which means it’s not scarce, which means…well, you get the picture.

BUT, unless there’s another run, Big Chuck beer really is a limited edition, and considering it’s a disposable product, there are less likely to be unopened cans popping up online in the future. Then again, the sad fact of the matter is that there are people as fanatical about this kind of thing as I am; the more I think about it, the more I can almost guarantee there’s going to be a bunch of folks at the next Ghoulardifest getting Big Chuck to sign can after can for them.

All of this was indeed running through my head to prior to finally finding Big Chuck beer for sale in my neck of the woods. And with the way my mind works, I had basically worked myself into thinking “there’s no way I’m going to be able to find this stuff at one of my stores! It probably sold-out instantly, anyway!” I get the same way with concert tickets, though in that case it’s a bit more understandable. Heaven help anyone that gets in the way of my purchasing Springsteen tickets, by the way.

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Of course, in other, similar instances, I always tend to see the glass half-empty as far as my probable success-rate is concerned. But in reality, I usually do come out of things kinda sorta successful. It’s rarely as bad or rough as I get myself worked up into thinking it is or will be. And such was the case with Big Chuck beer. Prior to the release, a friend of mine said it would in all likelihood be at Acme. Since I had no idea when it was hitting stores (if it was hitting anyplace in my near-vicinity, that is), I just sort of started checking this store or that store when April came around. Three Giant Eagle stores, one independent drive-thru, and the info that Big Chuck beer was indeed at Acme “store #1” later, I finally decided to check the Acme on State Road in Cuyahoga Falls. Since this Acme is nearby and easily visited, it’s a mystery why I didn’t check there sooner, but nevertheless, they had it, and it’s now mine, as the picture above aptly demonstrates. Big Chuck beer, happily traveling in an official Acme-brand shoppin’ cart. Tis beautiful.

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There they are, the fruits of my semi-fervor. Ain’t they cute? The red plastic rings keeping the cans together are a sign of quality, and the well-known Big Chuck caricature on the front of the cans is ample proof that this isn’t just another alcoholic beverage, this is a product. Or, dare I say, an event? And look, the UPC is housed in an Ohio! Even before tasting it, you know this is something special. At $10.99 a pack, they kinda have to be.

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There’s the can, liberated from the necessary plastic rings that keep the four cans together and away from ragamuffins and whatnot.

Big Chuck beer comes only in 4-packs of 12 oz. cans. At $10.99 a pack, it’s most definitely a premium beer. Didn’t stop me from buying 3 packs of it, though (one to drink, sparingly, at home, one to drink, sparingly, with friends, and one to keep minty sealed fresh for the rest of my days). Your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter is many things, but rolling in dough he is not, so I had to make sure the $35 or whatever it totaled out to after taxes was not spent in vain. So, that means you can thank the higher-price for this post.

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For scale comparisons, there’s Big Chuck beer next to a regular ol’ can of Diet Pepsi and an Adam West Batman action figure. It’s the same size and height as the Diet Pepsi, but not as tall as the Batman. This is really a pretty pointless pic, since everyone knows what a 12 oz. can looks like and Batman has nothing to do with anything. I’m not sure why I’m including this at all, but hey, there it is. “Holy superfluous picture, Batman!”

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Geez o yikes – Big Chuck beer ain’t for the wimps! 11.7% alcohol is just under the current 12% Ohio limit. $10.99 for a 4-pack of 12 oz. cans may sound like “a lot for a little” to some, but if you’re just looking for alcoholic content, well, it kinda evens all out in the end (besides, a limited edition beer from a microbrewery almost has to cost more than your average beer, right?)

The high alcohol content presents a small problem for your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter: I am by no means a teetotaler, but the fact is that I’m not much of a drinker, either. The result is that I have an admittedly sad tolerance, which I’m sure is probably letting John Wayne down somewhere, somehow. Prior to picking up this beverage, I think the last alcoholic anything I bought was a pack of that Budweiser Cranbrrrrita stuff right before Christmas, and it sat untouched, except for one (by my Brother), in my fridge for several months afterwards, until I brought them to a friends, where I think I eventually ended up having one, maybe two, tops. I have no problem with alcohol, but I’m the first to admit I’m a lightweight.

So, I can drink Big Chuck’s beer, but I’m gonna have to drink it slo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-w. There’s just no conceivable way I can drink this thing even remotely fast, unless I want to put myself into a drunken coma, which I don’t. This, of course, is not a fault on the part of the beer at all, it’s totally my shortcoming. I yam a weakling, I admits it. As it stands, I’m gonna have to nurse this beverage like a, um, nurse.

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See that mug? Is it not fitting for the occasion? It’s the closest thing I have to a legit Big Chuck mug, at any rate. Never mind that the graphic on it is kinda obscuring a clear view of the Big Chuck beer outside of the aluminum prison it was formerly housed in, it’s still a nice match to me. Especially since when I do drink, this is totally my mug of choice.

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As you can see, it’s a dark beer, and boy, is it powerful! A big beer for Big Chuck! Another downside of not being much of a drinker is that I can’t really describe all of the nuances of the flavor (seriously, I admire the people that can drink wine or something and then list all of the little flavors they pick up, because I’ve just never been able to do that.)

Portside Brewery has done the formerly impossible though, because prior to this, I haven’t been a big fan of dark beers, preferring instead your lighter domestic beers (not only am I a lightweight, but I’m also extremely mainstream). Believe me when I say this is a good beer. I’m not just saying that because my judgement is clouded by fondness for Big Chuck, either. No joke, I really, really like it! It has that kind of bitter-y taste you associate with dark beers (what is that? Malted barley? Hops?), but in a good way; no cringing here. I may be taking it in slowly, but I’m totally enjoying it. This is really good stuff, the perfect drink to sit back and relax with after a hard day of work. Of course, in my case, a hard day depends on how long I decided to sit in front of a VCR going through ancient videotapes, but I’m assuming the sentiment is the same for people that have real jobs.

In the interest of full disclosure, I first tried Big Chuck beer the other day with a buddy, and he was picking out all of the subtle (or maybe not so subtle, I don’t know) flavors. He was impressed, as were two other pals that tried it. Unlike me, these guys know their beer, and Big Chuck totally passed the test with them. It also passed with high marks from my Brother. My word may not always mean much, but theirs certainly do.

So, you’ve got a limited edition beer featuring a local television legend that comes in a swanky can and is tasty to boot. I consider that a successful purchase. I should pick up some more while I’ve still got the chance. Sure, it’ll take me forever to drink all of it, but I’ll enjoy every second. I know full well that things I’m super-anxious to pick up are often hyped (in my mind) to near astronomical proportions, so much so that sometimes it’s impossible for them to live up to such lofty expectations. But, Big Chuck beer was definitely worth the wait and search. I dig it. It’s certainly worthy of the Big Chuck name.

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Awww, now it’s just a 3-pack. Tis a bittersweet sight.

I guess the only question remaining is: when are we going to get a “Lil’ John” Rinaldi beer?

Just for fun:

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(Visit the official Portside Brewery website here, and the official Big Chuck & Lil’ John site here.)

UPDATE: Totally went and got some more, which as it turned out, was the last one on Acme’s shelf (my brother got the penultimate pack.) Will more arrive in the future? Only time will tell, but I’m certainly stocked for awhile!

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Front Row Entertainment’s Fantasy Mission Force VHS (1996)

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Unlikely as it may seem, I was super stoked to find this sealed VHS copy of the Jackie Chan film Fantasy Mission Force at the Midway Plaza Goodwill recently. And not because I’m a Fantasy Mission Force megafan, either; lots of people love it (albeit for all the wrong reasons), but I can’t count myself among them. It’s a whacked-out flick, and I probably should enjoy it for the complete insanity that endears it to so many others, but I just don’t. And you can’t make me.

Nor am I an especially big kung fu movie fan. I like some of the Bruce Lee films, and I have a special affinity for The Dragon Lives Again (a nutbar “Brucesploitation” film where “Bruce Lee” dies, goes to the underworld, teams up with Popeye, and fights Dracula. Yes, really), but if I have any kind of kung fu fandom in me, it is only of the most casual variety.

(Anyone who has seen both is probably now wondering why I like a film as oddball as The Dragon Lives Again but don’t like the-also-super-weird Fantasy Mission Force. Search me. Also, while on the subject of weird kung fu, I so wanted to love Bruce Lee Strikes Back From The Grave, but man, aside from that opening intro, dude, screw that. Awesome theatrical poster, though.)

Fantasy Mission Force ostensibly stars Jackie Chan (his role basically amounts to a bit part), is ostensibly set during World War II (cars from the 1970’s show up, and references to Abraham Lincoln, James Bond and Rocky are made), and is ostensibly…well, I don’t really know where I was going with that kinda-gag. It’s a crazy flick, though. (To be fair, all of the inconsistencies are intentional.) It starts off with a bizarre singing-drinking party, then later there’s a Scottish soldier and his ultra-annoying sidekick, a tribe of Amazons, and a sojourn to a haunted house. It’s one “what the hell?” moment after another, and I’m not exaggerating, that reaction is pretty much nonstop throughout the whole thing. Oh, and to top it all off, there’s an obnoxiously catchy theme song that bores itself into your head for 97 years at a time.

Actually, when I describe the movie like that, Fantasy Mission Force does sound pretty awesome. I take back all the awful things I said about it? Nah.

So, if I don’t really like the movie, why get so jazzed upon finding a sealed copy at Goodwill? It’s not even remotely rare, and if all I wanted was a sealed copy, I’m sure they’re found easily enough online. No, only nostalgia could get my adrenaline pumping in regards to a film like Fantasy Mission Force. Here’s the ultimate proof:

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That $2.99 price tag. I know it by heart. The image is burnt into my memory. This sticker is proof-positive that this tape originally came from Best Buy’s fabled (in my mind) $2.99 VHS section. Not only did I dearly love this section, where films of an otherwise-doubtful sales-potential resided (silent shorts, b-westerns, spaghetti westerns, cheesy horror/sci-fi; a lot of crap not unlike Fantasy Mission Force, basically), but that also means that this copy of Fantasy Mission Force is as identical in every aspect as possible to the one I had in the late-1990’s. Where did my original copy go? All will be revealed in due time (settle down, I’ll get there.)

Also, don’t you just love that picture above? Jackie seems to be glaring at the price with so much resentment. “I’m only worth three bucks?!

For a short time in the late-1990’s, I was on a kung fu kick, so when I saw this tape (and having seen no other Chan flick beforehand) in Best Buy’s $2.99 section, I snapped it up right quick. I was already well-acquainted with the section, so it’s not like I didn’t know what could reside there, but that didn’t stop me from happily carrying it to the checkout counter like I’d just found a pot of friggin’ gold. It must’ve been the summer of 1998, because I’m positive I didn’t have this the summer before, and because the clerk asked if I was getting it for my Dad for father’s day. No, nosy checkout guy, this one is [was] mines. Further evidence it was summer of ’98? I had my copy of the film for about a year before it left me.

Where, how and why it went, you’ll soon know. But first, a closer look at the tape itself.

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Front Row Entertainment was a budget outfit, and make no mistake, their Fantasy Mission Force sure looks like a budget tape. You’d never see a major studio putting out something looking like that above. That said, it IS a bit more competent than a lot of cheapo videos. At least as far as the packaging goes. I mean, look at it. The pinks, blues and whites make it look like something akin to an ice cream cone. Do I dare take a bite out of it? It’s an aesthetically pleasing sleeve, even if it doesn’t scream “hot kung fu action!” and completely belies the actual product, which as previously mentioned, is NOT a thing of beauty.

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The back of the sleeve is plain-Jane, but adequate enough. I mean, the description is perfectly serviceable, though the final sentence is a massive understatement. Maybe it’s impossible to properly explain a film like Fantasy Mission Force in the space of one VHS back-cover.

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See, sealed. Did you think I was lying? I wasn’t. I can get an opened copy anywhere, so I refuse to crack the seal of my assuredly-from-Best Buy-and-just-like-the-one-I-used-to-have version.

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No, I didn’t succumb to temptation (ha!) and open it. As fortune would have it, I received a totally random and completely sleeve-less copy in a recent tape lot. Why was it in there? Was it a premonition? I don’t have the answer to those burning questions, and you’d better believe I wasn’t even remotely as excited as I was when I found the Best Buy-sealed copy (seriously, what are the odds of that in this day and age?), but if nothing else, it allows me to show you, the reader, what the actual tape looks like. Exciting, isn’t it? Amount of tape used: approximately a foot. High quality it was/is not.

Okay, the preliminaries are out of the way. Now, the real reason I was so excited to find this: my original copy is the subject of one of my fondest Northeast Ohio horror movie host memories. Behold!

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That is absolutely my original copy in The Ghoul’s hand, during the summer of 1999. The Ghoul had been on WBNX TV-55 for roughly a year at that point, and that year had seen me become a big fan of his. I had also watched my copy of Fantasy Mission Force twice in that year, and I just couldn’t stomach a third. I mean, no kidding, it sucks pretty bad. So, my VHS became the subject of the first package I ever sent The Ghoul. The package also included a “Parma Yo-Yo” (which The Ghoul seemed to like a lot but never did anything with again) and a big “Ghoul Power!” banner, but the Fantasy Mission Force tape was a grand finale of sorts. Being a young, 13-year old Ghoul fan, of course I asked him to blow the thing up.

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Being a man of the people, The Ghoul kindly obliged my request (“ask and you shall receive in Ghoul Power land!”), and trust me, there is no more fitting fate for Fantasy Mission Force than one of The Ghoul’s boom-booms. I really was jumping up and down during this whole segment, and the final fate of my awful movie was totally the topper. You have no idea how much I just loved all this. And while it doesn’t translate as well into still-pictures, this was a seriously satisfying blow-up.

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Those final two images are the last looks I ever had of my beloved Fantasy Mission Force tape. I don’t know what kind of firecracker he used, but man, that thing obliterated the video, as you can well see. It was, and is, a beautiful thing.

Keep in mind, not once have I regretted sending The Ghoul that tape. Oh, there are plenty of tapes I had, later got rid of, and ended up regretting, but this wasn’t one of them. The whole segment has become legendary to me. Fantasy Mission Force may not be good for much else, but it was certainly good for this.

And now I have a sealed copy, just like the one I sent to The Ghoul 15 years ago! Has it really been that long? Sure doesn’t seem like it. Maybe if The Ghoul ever comes back to local TV, I’ll send him this copy, too…

Nah, the chances of me coming across another sealed copy from the long-gone Best Buy $2.99 section are just too slim. The only question remains: where to put the tape? It’s stupid sealed Fantasy Mission Force, after all. It’s gotta go somewhere of semi-honor, doesn’t it?

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It’s got action like Commando, and it’s got comedy like Dan Aykroyd. A fitting combination? Hmmmm…

Star Classics Night Of The Living Dead VHS (1985)

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This one comes courtesy of my good friend C, who was thinking of your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter while out hitting up far-away Goodwill Stores (hey, who doesn’t think of me while thrifting?) and kindly brought me back this tape. Thanks C! C’s the coolest.

If y’all will recall this post, you’ll note the mention of my love for old budget tapes of public domain Superman cartoons. Well, unmentioned in that post and unbeknownst to C when he came across this tape, I also get a big kick out of budget copies of the 1968 Night Of The Living Dead, a film that falls into the same murky PD-release arena. There are no shortage of Night Of The Living Dead tapes and DVDs out there, and some of the cheaper ones can be pretty interesting, even amusing. I may not get as jazzed to find a Livin’ Dead tape as I do Supes, but they are indeed something I keep an eye out for, and this particular release is one I would have snapped up myself had I come across it in the flesh (see what I did there?! Flesh! Because the movie is….awww never mind.)

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The side of the box, obviously. Ain’t it cute?

Star Classics put out a lot of stuff on VHS in the earlier years of the format. They were, to the best of my knowledge, strictly a budget label, dealing mainly in public domain flicks. To the best of my recollection, I’ve got this tape, Tulsa, and Godzilla Vs. Megalon (which isn’t public domain now but was, or at least believed to be, at one point) on the label, and they all share a similar, fairly plain, art style. That is, the Star Classics banner across the top, the title and cast above a shot from the film that’s surrounded by lights, while onlookers gawk at all of it.

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Star released a lot of old time classic Hollywood films, and regarding those, the front artwork makes sense. I mean, you’ve got the onlookers, dressed old-school, looking up at a lighted sign that could hold anything from Casablanca to Gone With The Wind to Citizen Kane (not that Star had a prayer of ever releasing any of those those movies). It projects a nice “Golden Age of Hollywood” vibe, is what I’m saying.

Except that it just doesn’t quite work in this case. Night Of The Living Dead, yeah it’s a classic, but it doesn’t really project the same spirit as the movies intended for this kind of art. It’s not the fact that it’s a horror movie, either. Frankenstein? That’d be fitting. Dracula? That would work, too. But Night Of The Living Dead? Ehhhh, not really. There’s some kind of disconnect here, and frankly, it’s that exact disconnect that appeals to my weird sense of humor.

And just so we’re clear, no, Frankenstein and Dracula were never released on the Star Classics label. Not the famous Universal versions I’m referring to, at least.

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It took me far too long to figure out that the logo is a cat with a bow tie and bag full of, I guess, Star’s magic. Besides the fact that Night Of The Living Dead isn’t exactly a ‘magical’ film on par with, say, The Wizard Of Oz, I find it off-putting that my VHS box is subjecting me to a Rorschach test. Don’t judge my precarious mental state, box!

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They eventually moved to regular slipcovers (and a more conventional artwork style), but older Star Classics releases were usually (always?) in larger-than-normal jackets/boxes. As the photos above attest, there’s more air in there than need be. My Tulsa is the exact same way, and my Godzilla Vs. Megalon is in a box just as big, but is actually a flip-lid, rather than a slide-out. This is all important stuff, so pay attention.

Making big ol’ boxes wasn’t unique to Star, though. Lots of companies did the exact same thing. In the days before the innernets and whatnot, many people made their rental selections based on how eye-catching the cover art of a given movie was while walking down the aisles of the video store. The old adage “bigger is better” often applied here, and Star Classics certainly had the “bigger” part down. “Better,” though? The boxes are big, but to be completely honest, they’re also pretty boring. These were budget releases, and they look it. About all they have going for them, besides artwork that’s head-scratching to probably only me, is size.

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The back of the box, featuring the same onlookers marveling at the copyright info. 1985 was a long time ago. Cue some prick telling me it wasn’t long ago at all when this was printed…now.

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WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT?!?! WILL SOMEONE PLEASE TELL ME?!?! Did they really need to include that little banner? People can figure out that the description on the back pertains to the film within without that extra little fanfare. I’m clearly just being snarky for the sake of being snarky now, because there’s not much I can make fun of regarding the description. The whole “returning satellite” thing in the film was more of a theory than conclusive evidence of why the living dead are, erm, living, but aside from that, it’s a serviceable summary.

High quality VHS? Higher quality, I guess. It was recorded in LP, as opposed to EP, so that’s a good thing.

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With these budget releases of the film, part of the ‘fun’ is to see just how trashed the print is. Public domain and all, yo. You shouldn’t ever go into one of these expecting pristine film quality, and Star Classics release is no exception. It’s certainly not the worst print I’ve come across, but this is a long, long way from Criterion quality.

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Whoa! Did someone drop their cigarette on the film? Most everyone smoked back then, after all (wasn’t it good for you back in the day, too?)

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The print is a bit too bright and contrasty. You could be forgiven for not being drawn to the “Night” in the title and completely missing the car on the road in this screencap.

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Poor Johnny! He’s white as a ghost! Kinda fitting in a horror movie, even if there are no ghosts to be found. His face actually blends in with the car! In fact, it may even be a bit brighter! And the sad thing is, this is all par for the course with these cheapo releases. Don’t get me wrong, I love ’em, but it’s for all the wrong reasons.

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Spot the zombie in this pic and get 100 bonus points. High def this thing most certainly isn’t. Not that anyone should really expect it to be, so where am I even going with this line of reasoning? The print’s not all that great, is what I’m sayin’.

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It may not be the most prestigious of releases when it comes to Night Of The Living Dead, but it is a neat little throwback. Nowadays we have budget DVDs carrying the torch, but the old cheapo VHS’ just seem so much more, I don’t know, innocent? Is that a term that can be applied to a film like Night Of The Living Dead? Anyway, I had some fun with this particular release in this post, but the truth is that I love tapes like this. The old school videos, both big budget or otherwise, of the 1980’s and into the early 1990’s, man, they warms me heart like you wouldn’t believe.

Big thanks again to my pal C for providing me with fodder for my silly little blog this tape!

New Generation Video’s Superman VHS (1989)

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I found this tape last night at a thrift store I seldom visit; this particular place rarely has much that interests me, but what it lacks in Northeast Ohio Video Hunter-appropriate fodder it more than makes up for in irritation, though to their credit visits there have resulted in several scores.

I wouldn’t be a good whatever I am if I didn’t make the occasional trip to the place, even if it’s just a token visit. And that’s really all I intended last night’s pilgrimage to be. Make no mistake, last night’s visit wasn’t exactly one for the books, but I did come away with the above-seen Superman tape, and I did leave without the overwhelming desire to hit somebody, so I’m calling it a successful visit. It doesn’t hurt that I’m a total sucker for budget Superman tapes.

That has much to do with my formative years, though. I mean, did any of us not grow up with the Fleischer/Famous Studios Superman cartoons of the 1940’s? I know they were a balanced part of my childhood, and given the sheer number of cheapo VHS (and now DVD) releases over the decades, I suspect the same for untold numbers of other people. Not that Superman is unique in that area; the public domain status of the cartoons (not to mention the enduring popularity of Superfella in general) have made them easy fodder for countless fly-by-night company releases, but the same can be said of any number of Popeye shorts, or Looney Tunes/Merry Melodies, and so on and so on. Needless to say, the tape seen above is one such release.

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As a young babychild, I had three similar Supe tapes, only one of which has survived to the present day. The one that’s still with me is a fairly competent release in terms of packaging and whatnot, but the other two were, to the best of my recollection, both from the same company and were much more slipshod affairs. I can’t remember the last time I saw those two tapes (literally, God only knows what happened to them), but the amateurish packaging was apparent to even my 4-5 year old eyes. We’re talking sad artwork with mismatched colors and so on. I’d like to think if I came across copies of those tapes somewhere, I’d be able to recognize, but hell, for all I know, I already have identical copies, and I’m just not realizing it. By no means is this the only budget Superman tape I’ve bought over the years, and considering pitiful artwork is a hallmark of said releases, they tend to all sort of blend together in my increasingly cluttered mind.

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Actually, part of the personal appeal of this particular release is that it’s decidedly more competent than your average budget VHS release. Seriously, the quality-level falls somewhere in between those childhood Supes tapes, leaning more towards the “competent-but-still-only-worth-the-$2-it-originally-retailed-for” end of the scale. No one’s going to be fooled into thinking the tape contains anything pulled from the archives of whoever, of course, but the artwork is good and, despite the absence of any kind of description on the back, there are no misspelled words, which is a mild surprise. It really all comes down to the artwork: it almost looks too good for a tape of this nature. Really, aside from the yellow on Supe’s boots (which may have been standard at one point, I really don’t know), it’s a darn fine representation of the Man Of Steel. Even the logo, which usually looks decidedly hand-drawn on these releases, is pretty professional looking. I wouldn’t be surprised if the pic and logo were ripped from an actual Superman comic or press release or something somewhere.

The semi-slick lookin’ artwork on my copy is marred only by the presence of two pieces of tape that must have been coated with the most adhesive substance in the universe. Look close at the pics of the front cover and you’ll see. This tape can not be removed without tearing the box, which in a bizarre way is kinda sorta fitting; Superman may be indestructible, but so is the thousand year old scotch tape on his box.

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Yeah, I’m thinking the logo and pics used on the front and back of the box were pulled from somewhere else. I mean, as much as I love Superman, I’m not exactly a die-hard, hardcore Superfan, but I’m still pretty sure I’ve seen these images before, especially the artwork on the back of the box. So, is that sort of thing allowed? I’d guess not, since most budget releases of the Superman cartoons featured clearly ‘homemade’ artwork (no joke, some of them were legitimately ass-ugly creations.) That said, considering the distribution of this tape was probably in the tens of, well, tens, I’m assuming it either never came to the attention of DC Comics, or it did and they totally laughed it off with the wave of a hand and an “aw pshaw!” Or, maybe the artwork was slightly redrawn for this box, thus somehow legalizing it?

The only reason I’m mentioning all that is because isn’t DC Comics or Warner Bros. or whoever owns all this insanely protective over that sorta thang?

Also, how long was New Generation Video around? Internet searches are of no help whatsoever, regardless of what combination of words I type in. At any rate, I can’t think of any other releases by them, and the sad but true fact of the matter is that I have more knowledge on this subject than should probably be legally allowed. That said, I’m far from an expert on the matter, and the world of public domain cartoon VHS tapes was a murky one indeed, often consisting of tapes with hazy-at-best origins. Now, I’m not suggesting this NGV should be lumped in with those other, more mysterious tapes or their companies (at least we get an address and barcode on the back), just merely observing.

While on the subject, I remember Mom taking my Brother and I to the D&K Discount Store in the State Road Shopping Center waaaaay back in the summer of 1997, and there were tons of tapes similar to the one we’re looking at today. Who made them? Where did they come from? That info is lost to time, but what I can tell you is that I strongly suspect this NGV tape came from a similar store.

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Three cartoons doesn’t seem like a lot, and of course they’re not, but that was par for the course for tapes like this. To New Generation Video’s credit, at least it’s not one or two Supes shorts and then unrelated ‘toons padding out the rest of the tape, as was so often the case. The episode titled “Superman” is actually “The Mad Scientist,” which is one I’m well familiar with from my childhood, and the one I’d consider my favorite not only of this bunch, but of all the Superman cartoons. The other two, I’m actually not that familiar with. I don’t recall them from my childhood tapes, and thus am less nostalgic for them.

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There’s a close-up of the New Generation Video info at the bottom of the back of the tape’s sleeve. Innit the logo cute? The approximate 30 minute running time is close enough; the tape runs around 27 minutes, so, yeah.

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The label, obviously. This is the only place on the tape that any kind of copyright date is found. Note the presence of “NGV Vol. 13,” which is also found on the sides of the tape’s sleeve (scroll back up and look if you don’t believe me.) So, there were ostensibly12 other New Generation Video releases, at least. I love the defective tape warranty on the label; rather than simply shelling out another $2-$3 for a new copy from wherever this originally came from (I refuse to believe this cost more than that, even back then), someone would rather piss away $2 on shipping and handling, plus the cost of sending the defective tape itself back, and then waiting 4-6 weeks for a replacement? Dude, screw that.

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Uhhh Ohhh!!! Is my tape’s defective?! Has that warranty expired yet?!?! I guess that explains the rattling I’d heard ever since I picked the tape up. To be fair, I discovered this in the store before I bought it, but since the other side of the tape’s flip-door was still attached, I figured it would work fine. I’m a renegade that way.

And I was right, my VCR accepted the tape without qualms, and spit it out without blowing up, so all is well on that front. That said, go back up two pics and look at the tape label. Notice the standard “adjust tracking” line. Never has that disclaimer been more apt than this tape. The tracking was really rough, and the following screencaps were the best results from the fruits of my labor.

(To be fair, I was running this tape through a VCR that has at this point ran through approximately 500 million ancient VHS tapes, including some of questionable quality from a condition-standpoint. Maybe the part of my VCR that handles the super-fine trackin’ required for this video is just shot, I don’t know.)

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As for the cartoon themselves, the best I can say is that I’ve seen worse. If the tracking wasn’t constantly throwing hissy fits, these would be unspectacular-but-serviceable representations of the Superman cartoons. Of course, there were scratches, there was dust, and as the screencaps attest, the color varied from cartoon to cartoon.

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But, these shorts have certainly looked worse over the years. I was actually kinda surprised to find these looking as decent as they do. Maybe back in the day when there wasn’t 25 years under the tape’s belt and it was played on a decent VCR, things looked even better.

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Like I said, I’m not all that familiar with these two. I could watch them and write out a dissertation, but I’ve already invested far too much time into a budget VHS that only I and maybe 8 other people care about. Apparently, “Terror On The Midway” was the final Supes short produced by the Fleischer Bros., before they were outed by Paramount and “Fleischer” became “Famous Studios.”

I can also say there seems to be odd cuts between the Superman intro screens and the episode titles seen at the beginning of the shorts. “The Mechanical Monsters” is missing an end card entirely, merely fading out and then into the start of “Terror On The Midway.” Also, “Superman”/”The Mad Scientist” was the very first in the Superman series of cartoons, but includes a Famous Studios intro card, rather than Fleischer. As much as I like these shorts, I don’t know every detail of their history, so maybe these are all aspects common to other tapes.

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Uh oh! Cool splicin’! Or something like that. This Paramount ending card comes from the conclusion of “The Mad Scientist,” and it was did done treated poorly at some point. In general, the body of all the cartoons look okay, but the beginnings and ends typically look rougher, as it so often goes.

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That’s it, New Generation Video’s 1989 Superman tape. I never thought I’d be able to find as much to say about it as I did, but now that I’ve given it a semi-thorough review, I suspect Superman Superfans the world over will now be climbing over each other for their own copy.

If nothing else, at least I got something out of that thrift-trip last night.

UAV’s Santa Claus Conquers The Martians 1987 VHS Release

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Tis the season? For one of the worst movies ever made it certainly is. If I’m gonna get a post out of this one, baby, the time is now. It’s 1964’s Santa Claus Conquers The Martians, a movie that not only lives up to the promise of awfulness delivered in the title, but actually surpasses it. It’s widely considered one of the worst movies ever made, and make no mistake, that ranking is justified. It’s not so much an ‘offensive’ bad though; don’t get me wrong, it’s probably capable of killing a few brain cells, but you probably won’t feel like taking a shower afterwards, like you would if this were Manos: The Hands Of Fate or something.

Back in the good old days of late-1990’s Ebay, before films like this were reissued on DVD, I remember this (and other) copies of the movie going for some good dollars. Maybe not mighty dollars, but definitely mightier dollars. It was the same deal with any number of old then-long-out-of-print videos, such as Giorgio Moroder’s Metropolis, and the VHS release of the M*A*S*H series finale (and Heaven help you if you wanted a Laserdisc copy of any of those, because then you would need to spend the mighty dollars). Nowadays, you’d be lucky to get even a few bucks for VHS copies of those, but back then, you’d have to pry open the wallet a bit. I know I certainly did, particularly in the case of Moroder’s Metropolis.

When I found this particular copy at Goodwill for the low, low bargain price of $1, those days were long gone, but I still received a residual thrill when I came across it. And what makes it even better is that this copy is sealed, all new and minty fresh-like. This post won’t be the last time you see me talk about Santa Claus Conquers The Martians this holiday season (and I know just saying that now obligates me to a future post that at this point is still only a half-formed idea, but sometimes I need that extra incentive), so I don’t really want to open & play it to take screencaps; how many new sealed copies can still be out there nowadays? Plus, it’s out on DVD (I have a budget copy with the title Santa Claus Defeats The Aliens), and it’s public domain, so you can even download it without fear of the authorities kicking down your door and beating the hell out of you, which is always preferable. My point is, the actual movie is readily available if you want to see it, so lets just look at the finer points of this stupid tape.

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Ignoring the gaudy cover photo, which, if the title somehow didn’t tip you off, points definitively to the fact that this is an awful, awful movie, my favorite part of the cover is actually the Christmas banner at the top. As if this is a heartwarming tape you’d want to bust out every Christmas Eve and watch with the kids or something. Theoretically meant to be a treasured part of your Christmas library, suitable for placement next to Rudolph and Chuck Brown, if you will. There’s also the declaration of “Christmas Videos,” which is just awkward as all hell; is that the best they could come up with? I get it was probably a budget line of seasonal tapes or something, but geez, say “Treasury Of Christmas Classics,” or “Holiday Film Favorites,” or even a quirky “Santa’s Top Flix Pix” (I should be getting a million dollars a week for these ideas). As it stands, the horribly generic “Christmas Videos” works more as a lame descriptive device than it does as a vehicle to get you to add this tape to yer videa library (didn’t stop me from buying it, obviously).

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Of course, ragging on the front cover is really just me being a nitpicky bastard. The back of the box, though, they make it too easy. The description reeks of half-assery. “A bunch of aliens,” huh? That’s the best they could kick things off with? My high school English teacher would have punched me in the face if I turned in a paper that included a line like that. I guess you shouldn’t expect much out of a description that is five sentences long and wastes one of them on Pia Zadora. I get that her name is almost always a big selling-point for releases of this film, and it’s not so much the inclusion of it that bothers me. Rather, it’s the whole “precocious” remark that I find particularly irritating. Never mind that her character isn’t really any more precocious than any of the other kids in the movie (maybe even less so, when compared to the Earth kids), it’s just an odd comment in general. “Oh, Pia Zadora is precocious in this? Well, I had my doubts, but now I’ve gotta buy it!” Seriously, why even bother including that? On the plus side, the first part of the description sums up the film aptly, which is good, because it saves me time trying to explain this crap.

But, maybe I’m being a little harsh on a thousand year old budget tape. It was meant for the lil’ baby childrens, after all. And when you’ve got a movie titled Santa Claus Conquers The Martians, you have to do what you can to make the sale. Maybe it was easier back then, before the innernets, when all you had was Leonard Maltin and his cronies to tell you about ancient movies such as this. Something tells me most parents weren’t consulting Mr. Maltin’s annual movie guide prior to heading to K-Mart where tapes such as this were inevitably found.

“A must for your Christmas video library.” Ha! Told you that’s what they were going for! The best thing about that whole “Christmas Library” ideal actually isn’t even part of this particular video. Rather, there were other VHS releases of Santa Claus Kicks Martian Ass Conquers The Martians that really took the theme to new heights. I don’t have ’em, and thus can’t post photos (I refuse to nab another person’s pics), but some of them went all-out. Ribbons & bows, Santa on his sleigh, and so on. I feel a little cheated on that front, but screw it, mine’s sealed.

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I did done told you it was sealed! Would I lie to you? Never! The fear remains that this could have been opened and re-shrinkwrapped at some point in the past, a revelation that would cause me to lose sleep for several weeks days. But, I doubt it. The box is in too nice of shape.

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That be it, Santa Claus Conquers The Martians, via UAV’s 1987 VHS release. For all of my joking, the film has become a perennial holiday favorite. Not for the reasons the producers probably would have intended, mind you. This isn’t It’s A Wonderful Life Part II. Rather, it has instead become the choice of bad movie lovers the world over, having gained a cult following that’s really quite impressive, especially for a film that isn’t the original Night Of The Living Dead. Mystery Science Theater 3000 once tackled it, and for years it was the movie featured in Son of Ghoul’s annual Christmas show. Only the 1959 Mexican Santa Claus holds a similar dubious honor, conversely The Ghoul’s annual Christmas movie choice (and MST3K riffed that one, too). Of the two, I prefer …Martians, if for no other reason than I find it less freakish, but suitably oddball nevertheless. Plus, the persistent rumor that Jamie Farr is in it makes the film all the more endearing to me (no, Klinger’s not really in Santa Claus Conquers The Martians, but I sure wish he was; such is my love of M*A*S*H).

Really Old Japanese VHS Copy Of Mothra Vs. Godzilla!

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Through the magic of box-digging (and boy, I had to do some serious diggin’ to root this one out last night), look what I has been done founded: a really old Japanese VHS release of 1964’s Mothra Vs. Godzilla, aka Godzilla Vs. Mothra, aka Godzilla Vs. The Thing. I picked this up in the Summer of 2001 during a visit to the G-Fest Convention in Chicago. There was a Japanese mall nearby in which I also picked up some vintage Japanese Ultraman tapes, but this particular video I found at the convention itself. I (and by “I” I mean “parents”) paid $25 for it. Too much? Not enough? I have no idea, but I do know that after several intensive hours minutes of online searching, I couldn’t find pics of any identical tapes anywhere out there in internet land.

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Unlike the Ultraman tapes, which I picked up more or less because they were something neat that I probably wouldn’t be coming across again anytime soon (traditionally, I’ve had pretty much zero interest in Ultraman, save for a period of time when I was verrrry young and some channel somewhere was playing one of the iterations of the franchise), I really, genuinely, instantly wanted this Godzilla tape. Let me explain: I still really like the original run of Godzilla movies from the 1950’s, 1960’s & 1970’s, but back then, I was a huge fan of all things ‘Zilla. I had to have been, since G-Fest, a convention dedicated to all things ‘Zilla, was in Chicago. That is, not exactly a 45 minute drive from Northeast Ohio. And man, G-Fest was like the end all, be all of everything that I liked at the time. I even got my VHS tapes of Godzilla Vs. King Ghidorah and Godzilla 2000 (which we actually picked up at a Blockbuster in Chicago because I had neglected to pick up a copy prior, which I know may tarnish my former-megafan credentials, but so be it) autographed by the respective people involved with said movies.

But, I digress. Anyway, that’s the tape’s spine in the pics above. The smart money is on the film’s title being written on it. At the bottom of the spine is what I presume the cost of the tape was in Japanese Yen. Is saying “Japanese Yen” redundant?

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Since I neither speak nor read Japanese, I have no idea what any of this says or when this tape came out, but I’m guessing it was released at some point in the 1980’s. I get the impression this was a Japanese rental, and the somewhat degraded video quality seems to bear that out. Then again, most 100-year old VHS tapes don’t look that great anyway. At any rate, the tape is, as has been established, a Japanese copy of Mothra Vs. Godzilla, and it was put out by Toho Video, as one would/should expect. That being as it is, all of the dialog is, fittingly, in Japanese, and thus incomprehensible to me. No dubbing, no subtitles. Listen, I just barely passed French in high school, so don’t go asking me to learn a new language now. It’s a lost cause; an incapability I have learned to live with.

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So, anyone read Japanese? Click on the pics for an enlarged version and tell me what this all says! I hope my pictures display the writing semi-legibly. Have the past 12 years been a succession of sleepless nights due to my inability to learn the Japanese language? That’s for me to know and you to find out (but seriously, if anyone can translate anything in this post, please give us the lowdown in the comments). I think it’s safe to say the back of the box contains a description and various copyright info. I mean, some things are universal, aren’t they? Watch that not be at all what the back of the box contains, just to spite me. Wouldn’t be the first time a tape played mind games with your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter.

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There be the videa itself. I always dig the grey flip-doors of older cassettes, further evidence this is quite possibly from the 1980’s. Unless Japan did things differently, which is something I really have no idea about. The clamshell that houses the tape opens from the left, rather than the right as they do here in the states.

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There’s the side-label of the tape. I assume it simply reiterates the film’s title and other pertinent information. The level of wear on this label further leads me to believe the tape was a former rental in its homeland, but that’s based strictly on a gut feeling; there’s no factual basis for that thought whatsoever.

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Lookit this! Original inserts! Fronts and backs! They both look they could be mailed away. What for? I have no idea. The one on the left looks like some kind of warranty card, but the one on the right I haven’t a clue. Was it for the Toho Video catalog, perhaps? Or maybe it’s for some swanky item that couldn’t be had otherwise? Someone has to have the skinny. Considering this tape is probably fairly scarce nowadays, I’m guessing these cards are even rarer finds. To be honest, I had completely forgotten about them until I opened the clamshell for pictures. They were hidden under the tape, so good thing I had the desire to photograph the tape’s spine, or you may have never seen them.

Now for some actual video content…

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This is the first thing seen on the tape (beyond the standard blank black screen that is commonly found upon the start-up of most commercial tapes, I mean). I’m guessing it’s copyright information; “Don’t go copyin’ this tape!” and so on.

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The title, appropriately in Japanese. Perhaps the first screencap is a mention that the film is presented in widescreen, a fact that pleasantly surprised me. I was expecting a fullscreen edition, but widescreen is always welcome. I’m not sure how well my pictures show it, but as previously mentioned, there is some tape degradation, which, really, you have to expect. It’s an old tape, after all. Happily, it’s an NTSC VHS, meaning I can play it here in the U.S. with ease. No resorting to any funny business to get this fella running!

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Another look at the widescreen process, condition of the print, etc. Seems like a pretty nice, colorful print to me.

For those not in the loop (as we hepcats say), Mothra Vs. Godzilla is a 1964 entry in the Godzilla series, the fourth overall. As you may assume from the title, ‘Zilla fights Mothra, who is, fittingly, a big ass moth. It’s not just a good Godzilla film, but also, I feel, a good film, period. I’ve always loved this movie, from the first time I saw (and taped) it on Joe Bob Briggs’ MonsterVision (remember when TNT played good stuff like that?). I’m pretty lenient towards any Godzilla film from that original 1950’s to 1970’s run anyway (with the exceptions of Son of Godzilla and Godzilla’s Revenge; I’ll take goofy Godzilla Vs. Megalon over either of those any day), but even so, Mothra Vs. Godzilla is just a real strong, entertaining movie on its own. If you haven’t seen it, you’d be well-advised to purchase your own copy, preferably one with dubbing or subtitles in the language most understandable to you. Me? I’ll hold onto this Japanese VHS for dear life, but if I want to actually watch the movie, I think I’ll go with Joe Bob’s airing (come to think of it, I should probably get around to converting that tape to DVD sometime). Oh, and I have an old Paramount VHS of the U.S. version, too. Just thought I should throw that in somewhere.

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One final close-up of the front cover. Man, the more I look at it, the cooler it is. Nice and colorful, certainly eye-catching and appealing. I dig it, baby. Then again, I’m a sucker for stuff like this. This is a tape I’ve always been proud to own, but it was only upon digging it out last night that I remembered just how undoubtedly cool it really is. I got some neat things at that 2001 G-Fest (including a stylin’ original Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster lobby card), but I think this tape was ‘the big find.’

(I just did another internet search, and still came up with nothing on this tape. So, seriously, if anyone has any info about it they’d like to share, post it in the comments! Please!)