Tag Archives: scifi

WJW TV-8’s The Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show – “Terror of Mechagodzilla” (December 12, 1997)

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“How’d y’all find somethin’ from just a week later, North Video Guy?”

Remember last Monday, when I spotlighted my own personal recording from December 5, 1997, 19 years to the day? Evidently, your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter was a busy little taper in the waning weeks of 1997, because just a seven days later, I recorded yet another powerhouse of a broadcast – and directly after that Son of Ghoul episode from last week, to boot! By and large, I taped things I was interested in (“gee, no kidding!”), but even so, very rarely did I capture a phenomenal double-header such as this.

From December 12, 1997, 19 years ago today (!), it’s The Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show, and its presentation of Terror of Mechagodzilla. Rest assured, if the post last week got my nostalgia rolling, this one here blasts it sky high.

Coming at a time when my Godzilla fandom was at (or very near) its height, and as part of general Christmas-month festivities, you have no idea what fond memories that bumper above fills me with. Man, I was 11-years-old, Christmas (and Christmas break!) was right around the corner, and I was discovering a new-to-me Godzilla flick; an early Christmas gift if there ever was one! Throw Big Chuck & Lil’ John in that mix, and, well, does it get much better than that? I posit that it does not.

Also, depending on how busy/lazy I get, there may or may not be an actual Christmas post here at the blog. So for the time being, consider this it, okay?

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This broadcast was also a life-preserver of sorts.

In a story I have recounted before, my parents dropped cable near the end of summer ’97. The cable box was too expensive, and having even less money than I do now, I didn’t have much say in the matter. So, for the foreseeable future, basic television channels were going to be it. As a young film-buff, this was not an ideal situation, with the most grievous aspect being that Mystery Science Theater 3000 was now barred from me. I was (and am) a big-time MSTie, so this hurt deep.

Actually, the loss of the Sci-Fi Channel as a whole was a serious blow to yours truly. Their Godzilla marathons were things of beauty, serving to introduce me to many entries I was unaware of prior, especially the 1970s stuff, some of which was out of print or otherwise not readily available on home video in the late-1990s. Coincidentally, one of the last things I taped before we dropped the cable box was Sci-Fi’s airing of Godzilla Vs. The Cosmic Monster, the prequel to the very film we’re looking at now!

There were some positives to being cable-less at the time, however. First and foremost, I now had to pay more attention to the local channels available to me. That’s how I came to be a Son of Ghoul fan. And, looking back, it was in this time period that the seeds of a legit love for Northeast Ohio broadcasting were first planted; that love would blossom in full within the next few years, and continues at full-strength to this very day.

Also, there was another silver lining: In the late-1990s, Godzilla films could still show up on ‘regular’ TV channels. It seems that steadily decreased as the 2000s dawned, and in retrospect I was witnessing the tail-end of it here, but at the time, all I knew was that I had the opportunity to catch a ‘Zilla flick unbeknownst to me prior.

And so here we are, Terror of Mechagodzilla. I needed some fresh ‘Zilla in my life, and this came at just the right time. I can still recall the excitement upon first seeing this listing in TV Guide that week; I’m not sure I was even aware of this film beforehand! That’s the title screen up above, by the way. The Terror of Mecahagodzilla title as seen here always looked newly-generated to me, and thus, I think the print aired by Big Chuck & Lil’ John that night was the same one as released on home video in the late-1980s. This movie went through a number of edits in the US, and frankly, I’m not sure exactly which one I’m looking at here. I guess it’s the chopped up US theatrical edit. This is the one I grew up with, at any rate.

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Made in 1975 (but not released in the US until 1978), Terror of Mechagodzilla is a direct sequel to Godzilla Vs. The Cosmic Monster, aka Godzilla Vs. The Bionic Monster, aka Godzilla Vs. Mechagodzilla. In that one, alien ape guys had created a robotic double of Godzilla, as part of the expected “take over earth” plot. Godzilla (and new buddy King Caesar) naturally intervened. Earth was saved, ‘Zilla’s good name was cleared, and so on and so forth.

Now, in Terror of Mechagodzilla, the aliens are back; not only do they have continued plans to take over the world (of course), but they also want to revive Mechagodzilla. And, with the help of a human scientist that hates all mankind (bet it’s fun looking in the mirror each morning!) and his now-cyborg daughter (she was dead then she wasn’t; thanks aliens!), they summon heretofore-unknown undersea monster Titanosaurus to team up with their Mechagodzilla to help eliminate Godzilla once and for all.

Above: Godzilla suffering a beat down at the hands (claws?) of his robotic clone and Titanosaurus. You can probably guess the eventual outcome, but Terror features (in my opinion) some significantly more exciting monster battles than many (most?) of the immediate (read: 1970s) Godzilla films preceding it. Also, even though he has a bit of human help with Titanosaurus, it’s nice to see Godzilla on his own, not having to team up with another giant monster (or in Jet Jaguar’s case, robot) to get the job done.

Terror of Mechagodzilla is unique in several respects. First off, it’s the last entry in the original “Showa” series (1954-1975, or 1956-1978 if you go by US release dates); Godzilla would take a break until the mid-1980s. That means this is the last of my “preferred” Godzilla flicks – the 1980s on up entries have never done much for me, and trust me, I’ve tried. (Is that anathema to admit? Oh well, it’s the truth.)

Furthermore, I can’t think of a single entry in the original Showa series that’s a direct sequel such as this one (unless I’m just totally blanking on a similar, earlier occurrence; correct me if I’m wrong, big time G-fans). There were prior Godzilla movies that sort of followed along from previous events (for example, Godzilla is buried in ice at the end of Godzilla Raids Again, he breaks out of ice at the start of King Kong Vs. Godzilla), but to actually pick up on the story line from the film right before, same antagonists, back with a revised plan, it’s kinda neat.

It’s also far less silly than most of the other 1970s installments. There’s a very somber, dark feel to the film, not unlike a lot of mid/late-1970s cinema in general, really. It’s kind of jarring to see Godzilla in that light, honestly. Granted, 1971’s Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster was a pretty dark film as well, and even occasionally surreal (Smog Monster is also one of my top personal favorites), but the presence of a “Kenny” (i.e., little kid) dissipated some of that bleakness. Here, with much of the focus on a woman (the cybernetic Katsura), it lends a very different tone to the proceedings.

There’s little doubt that returning-original-director Ishiro Honda had much to do with the radical shift in that tone. There may be giant monsters leveling a city, but the plot is generally pretty serious; in some ways, this feels like an earlier Godzilla film, but with a definitively 1970s-look to it. Truth be told, it’s pretty refreshing when compared to most of the other G films of the decade. Make no mistake, Honda makes a huge difference; just compare any one of his Godzilla films to one that’s, uh, not, and you’ll see.

When I first watched this airing 19 years ago, truthfully, the movie didn’t do much for me. It’s a somewhat slow moving, character-driven piece; Godzilla really isn’t in it all that much, and while I wasn’t an 11-year-old that needed instant gratification in his ‘Zilla movies by any means, the fairly-talky nature of the film coupled with the late hour (11:30 PM start time) and 2 1/2 hour length of this broadcast, it all took a toll on my patience. Quite honestly, I was bored by it – though it was still Godzilla, so there was zero chance of my recording over it later.

But you know what? Upon this latest viewing, I found myself getting into the movie – far more than I expected to. Don’t get me wrong, this still isn’t Godzilla’s finest hour, and how many times could they go back to the “invading aliens” well? I can think of two 1970s entries that don’t use that plot device: Smog Monster and Megalon. (And even then, Hedorah was initially an extraterrestrial organism.) Godzilla clearly needed a break, but even so, the generally serious tone and character-driven story (which I can definitely appreciate now) allowed the original series to end on a higher note than I previously gave it credit for.

Here, buy your own copy and judge for yourself!

(Funny-to-me movie moment: The discovery of Titanosaurus near the beginning of the film has a group of scientists in utter disbelief over the new “dinosaur,” as if that sort of thing should be even remotely surprising after decades of monster attacks and city-levelings. Seriously, by that point, it should rank pretty low on the “disbelief meter.”)

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And that brings us to Big Chuck & Lil’ John – and even better, Big Chuck & Lil’ John during the Christmas season! In 1997, I wasn’t yet the true BC & LJ fan I’d be in just a few years, and so my tuning in to their show was, at the time, based almost entirely on the movie featured. As such, I didn’t spend as many Christmases with them as I now wish I had. Still, being able to relive seeing a new-to-me Godzilla movie for the first time on their show is pretty great all on its own.

19 years ago, I can’t believe it! It was a banner Christmas that year. As I said last post, my brother and I got a Nintendo 64; kids today probably can’t imagine how positively mind blowing Super Mario 64 was back then. To go from 16-bit to that, it was a monumental leap. Also, I’m pretty sure that was the Christmas that brought yours truly a couple new Godzilla VHS’ under the tree. Cool winnins!

Anyway, Chuck and John. This wasn’t exactly Christmas Eve, it was only December 12th, so while there’s a general smattering of holiday cheer throughout the show, it’s not an overtly Christmassy affair. As seen above, there’s the expected wreaths and the Lionel train set on the floor (more on that in a bit), and a couple of fun Christmas skits, but it’s all mixed in with the ‘normal’ Big Chuck & Lil’ John shenanigans you know and love. The result was an exponentially strong show, from both movie and a BC & LJ-material standpoints. No joke, this one is a blast.

[For those just tuning in to this blog, and there are apparently a few of you, Big Chuck & Lil’ John were, respectively, Chuck Shodowski and John Rinaldi, who hosted movies and performed comedic skits on Northeast Ohio’s TV-8 from 1979 to 2007, though the format stretches back to 1966 with Bob “Hoolihan” Wells and The Hoolihan & Big Chuck Show. And even further back to 1963 if you count the Ghoulardi years, which Chuck had a hand in, too. Anyway, the show ended in 2007, but they came back with a 30-minute, skits-only show in 2011, which is still running. Cool winnins!]

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Because it’s a Godzilla movie, the “Cuyahoga Kaiju” club makes up a part of the studio audience – pretty cool! According to Chuck, they even brought the Godzilla-related items sitting on the desk that night! (Yes, I know one of those is a Gamera; we’re all friends here, right?) The Cuyahoga Kaiju are apparently still around – or at least, they have a Facebook group. I joined the FB group, though as previously stated (well, inferred), my knowledge of post-Terror of Mechagodzilla-related Kaiju matters is woefully lacking, plus I ain’t exactly an ever-flowing font of Kaiju knowledge anyway. Thus, any kind of membership on my part is probably best left behind a keyboard, where I can think about what I’m going to say before I make an absolute fool of myself. Granted, that would probably still happen either way, but the severity would be lesser. Maybe.

Wait, where was I going with all this? Oh, the studio audience, right.

At this point, it was time for the first trivia question of the night. As I have recounted before, I almost always knew these, but since I was at home, shouting at the TV screen would yield me no sweet, sweet prizes for giving the correct answer. You had to be in the studio audience for that, man.

The prize for trivia #1 was a gift certificate for the Lakewood YMCA Christmas tree lot, which was pretty handy since it was only December 12th; still plenty of time to get a tree home and set up in the house, had you not done so already. Stop calling me a procrastinator. Anyway, the question was: What were the names of Santa’s eight original reindeer? A lady in the back row (I don’t know if she was part of the Cuyahoga Kaiju or not) gets it. This is an instance where I kinda sorta remember the names of the reindeer, but probably would have screwed up live and in-person nevertheless.

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A very funny Christmas-themed skit follows.

John has brought his wife an early Christmas gift home, and it has to be opened right then. She’s hesitant, and begins guessing what could it be. It’s something she’s always wanted, and no, don’t shake it! When it begins leaking all over her new dress, she’s horrified, and asks if it was perfume. Nope, it’s a…puppy!

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Look, I love Big Chuck & Lil’ John’s skits, but there’s no doubt some of them were built on a pretty thin premise. And speaking of thin…

In this one, three guys in what I can only guess is the washroom of a gym pass by a mirror and take the opportunity to flex their muscles. The third guy is on the skinny side of things, and when he’s not satisfied with the result of his flexing, he artificially builds up his muscle mass – with shaving cream.

And…that’s kinda it.

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Look at this sign of the times!

In what turned out to be his final album (he died in October of ’98), polka king Frankie Yankovic’s then-recent Songs of the Polka King Vol. 2 CD was pitched. Not only does it make a good stocking stuffer, but get this: Chuck & John actually sing on it! No kidding, they’re on Yankovic’s cover of My Melody of Love! (Surely you recall the Bobby Vinton hit version?) Pretty snazzy! This CD is now out of print, but not too hard to come by used.

Fun Fact: Drew Carey and Weird Al Yankovic (no relation to Frank) were on Songs of the Polka King Vol. 1!

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After that reminder, a short video of Chuck & John’s trip to BW-3 the previous Monday for a wing-eating contest and Monday Night Football is shown. There was of course a winner, trivia, and a good time had by all. And according to them, it would all be done again the next Monday.

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Another Christmas skit follows that.

Here, Chuck is working a tree lot, which promises a half-off sale. Suddenly, he gets a call from irate customer John; he didn’t expect the tree to be literally half off!

Didn’t John notice when he was loading the tree up to take home? Or am I just thinking too much about this?

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The next skit isn’t specifically Christmas-themed, but appropriate enough due to the gift-giving nature of the holiday. I like this one a lot.

John is a sidewalk salesman for “lucky charms” (no, not the cereal; actual lucky charms), and when he entices passerby Chuck to purchase one, it’s revealed that it was actually the last in stock. As John prepares to go home to get some more, a safe falls on him!

Get it???

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Perhaps the quintessential, or at least most “quintessentially idealized” (does that make any sense?) Christmas gift is a train set. In this jaded day and age, I’m not sure how popular they actually are, but when you think “Christmas toy,” there’s a good chance you’ll think of one of these.

As such, it makes sense to pitch one on show, and that night, Big Chuck & Lil’ John did just that. They were raffling off a genuine Lionel train set, with a winner to be pulled on their December 26th show.

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Immediately after that announcement came this one: If someone was still in need of a last-minute gift, they could pick up the then-new book Ghoulardi: Inside Cleveland TV’s Wildest Ride, by Tom Feran and R.D. Heldenfels. It’s interesting to look back at a time when this book was still basically “hot off the press.” In short order, it became a certified local institution. When it comes to Cleveland TV history, this is one of the books to have.

I believe I got my own copy the next Christmas, and to this day I love it. Such a fascinating, detailed look at what essentially started (sorry Mad Daddy Pete Myers) the Northeast Ohio horror hosting legacy.

The book has remained in-print since it was published. Get your copy here. If you have an interest in Ghoulardi, TV history, horror hosts, and/or Cleveland, it is a must have! Utterly vital and completely entertaining, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

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A Saturday Night Mysteries installment, a favorite recurring skit of mine.

The gist of these was that a detective (or detectives) were called in to see if someone selling something or otherwise asking for money was on the up-and-up. It would quickly be deduced that he or she was not, and the reason why would be revealed later in the show. The challenge was for the viewer to determine, from the clues given in the first part, how the detective knew it was a fraudulent scheme.

In this one, an English archaeologist claims to have uncovered ancient cave paintings, and wants a wealthy widow to finance an expedition to unearth more artifacts. Detectives Schodowski and Rinaldi (of the “Parma Detective Agency”) are called to determine if the guy is legit. After hearing his story, Detective Rinaldi quickly declares the archaeologist a phony.

How did he know? “The answer? Later in the program!”

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A funny bit in which, despite a prominent “NO HUNTING” sign, Lil’ John happily struts through a park, gun in hand and dead birds (aka, rubber chickens) slung over his shoulder. When he’s stopped by the game warden, he claims he was just out taking target practice. When the warden points out the birds over his shoulder, John freaks out, throwing them to the ground and screaming about how “gross” they are!

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Trivia time again.

For this round, winner got four passes to the then-new An American Werewolf in Paris flick. The question? Besides St. Nick, what is another name for Santa Claus? An answer of “Kris Kringle” gets it. Too easy.

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Because it’s a Japanese movie that night, the next skit is considered particularly fitting. I’m fine with that, because this is one of my top favorites. I had totally forgotten it was included in this episode too, which made its inclusion double-exciting for me.

To start the show (evidently this was an episode intro back whenever it originally aired), Chuck interviews Judo & Karate expert John. Problem is, John is very into it, and constantly goes off on Chuck, pummeling him. When he first comes out and shakes Chuck’s hand, he automatically flips him over his shoulder and then chops and kicks him!

John has written a book, “How To Karot Good,” a title I absolutely love, and attempts to demonstrate techniques from it, which only results in further pain for Chuck. Trying to roundhouse kick some wooden boards? Chuck winds up kicked in his, uh, nether region. (John’s concerned “You alright man?” while Chuck writhes on the ground is a riot.) After that, karate-chopping a wooden board? The rigged board breaks and Chuck winds up getting it in the face!

Yes, it’s a skit that relies heavily on physical humor, but John’s chopping and kicking Chuck while screaming stereotypical karate “sounds” is hilarious. And the final gag, in which John demonstrates how he’d deal with being surrounded by attackers, is terrific: In slow-motion (because it’d be too fast for the cameras otherwise), he mimes running away!

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A goof on the old Ella Fitzgerald Memorex ads, in which both Ella’s actual voice and her voice as recorded on a cassette tape shattered a glass.

Here, opera singer “Ella Carmela” sings for “Rememorex” audio tape. Her voice shatters a glass, and her recorded voice shatters…Chuck!

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The conclusion to Saturday Night Mysteries. How did Detective Rinaldi know it was all a scam? Cavemen and dinosaurs, as one of the cave paintings posited, did not exist at the same time! What did the culprit (the wonderfully named “Benny the Gooch”) use as research? The Raquel Welch movie One Million Years B.C.!

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“Kung Fu-Ski,” a take-off on the old Kung-Fu TV series. I’m not all that familiar with the series, so forgive my not really knowing which characters are being parodied here.

A traveler, played by Chuck and who I guess was supposed to be the main character from the show, travels through the desert, begging for water. He comes upon a stand, which only sells neckties; no water. The traveler continues on, and eventually comes upon a restaurant. When he goes inside and desperately asks for water, he’s turned away…for not wearing a necktie!

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A play on the old “workplace suggestion box” idea.

Here, Chuck sheepishly puts a suggestion in the box, only to have boss John pop out of it after he’s gone, get on the phone, and ask his secretary to remind him to fire that “Schodowski jerk” first thing in the morning!

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A terrific skit; this “Kielbasy Kid” entry is up there with the karate sketch as my favorite of the night. This was also my introduction to the Kielbasy Kid, and thus holds some added nostalgia for me.

Here, the Kid and his Indian sidekick “Kishka” have had their home ransacked by a mysterious thief three times now. So, to combat the robber, they set up a pot of water rigged over one door, and a string of cans attached to the other. Whichever door the thief comes in, they’ll be alerted.

One night, it works; someone has come through the can-rigged door, and the Kid and Kishka tackle him. Turns out…it’s Santa! St. Nick angrily takes the 100 pound sack of kielbasy he brought as a gift and leaves. When the Kid tries to stop him, the pot of water falls on his head, and Kishka loudly cries at the loss of all that kielbasy.

This skit is run frequently enough on Chuck & John’s current 30-minute show, but strangely, there’s a small moment edited out that was intact for this airing: After setting the traps, the Kid and Kishka are going to bed. When the Kid sees Kishka’s stuffed animal laying in it already, he throws it out, saying there isn’t enough room for three in the bed. This causes Kishka to loudly cry. I’m unsure why this short scene is (usually?) cut from current broadcasts; maybe it’s a time-issue? I don’t know, but it’s very, very funny.

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Because I was all about the movie when I recorded this back in December ’97, I didn’t tape the intro or outro to this episode, instead beginning at the very start of the movie, and stopping right after it ended. This is something that causes me to cringe now, both as a completest and as a Big Chuck & Lil’ John fan, but back then, I didn’t know any better. It was all about the ‘Zilla, man!

As such, this was the last skit of the night as far as my tape goes, airing right before the concluding segment of Terror of Mechagodzilla. This is “Fallacy island,” obviously a parody of Fantasy Island. Here, a hapless man who can’t get any attention from women comes to the island, asking to make himself irresistible to them. The result? He’s turned into a puppy!


And that was the show itself, or at least as much as I captured of it. A very strong installment from all standpoints, far more so than I gave it credit for upon my initial viewing 19 years ago today.

The last remaining facet? A few of the more notable commercials to have aired during it. You want Christmas? You’re about to get it! Not a ton though; just a few of my favorites. Honestly, there were some great, nostalgic (for me) ads here, but I’m only gonna spotlight three of them right now. Why’s that? Because these, these signify late night and/or local Christmas advertising in a nutshell.

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Commercial #1: A spot for one of the perennial Christmas gift suggestions, The Clapper. Or rather, the revised “Smart Clapper.” Everyone knows about The Clapper and the gimmick behind it; clap on, clap off, baby! You can turn anything that plugs into an electrical outlet on or off just by clapping! Just plug The Clapper in, then plug your device of choice into The Clapper, and then have at it!

So, what was different about the Smart Clapper? You could plug two devices into it, that’s what! Clap twice for one appliance, clap three times for the other. The commercial makes ample demonstration of this, too. Turn on the lights, turn on the TV, and heck, if someone tries to break in while you’re away, there’s a feature where The Smart Clapper will turn on your lights (if they’re plugged into it, that is) at the slightest sound! Neato!

The Clapper is still sold today, and every year around this time you’ll begin seeing the commercials for them with that oh-so-familiar jingle. And you know what? These things do work, and they’re pretty cool lookin,’ too. Plus, they’re handy, especially if someone has mobility problems or the like.

Bottom line: I have a Clapper. And you should too.

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Commercial #2: A spot for one of the other perennial Christmas gift suggestions, Chia Pets. Everyone knows about Chia Pets; they’re even more ubiquitous than The Clapper. Available year-round but particularly visible during this time of the year, you’d almost have to be trying to not know what a Chia Pet is.

Just in case you don’t though: Chia Pets are pieces of pottery, typically shaped like an animal or human head or what have you, with which you smear the included plant seed concoction all over them. Then, with enough watering and sunlight and whatnot, plants will actually grow on the pottery, giving an animal fur, a head hair, and so on and so forth. You gotta pay some attention to ’em, but these do work and they look pretty neat, too.

For this commercial, the number of different Chia Pets and Chia Heads are spotlighted. The Chia Heads in particular are given prominent screentime, including a Chia Professor and Chia Clown. BUT, what really makes this spot is the brief but very cool set-up: an archaeologist has discovered ancient pottery, that just happens to be Chias, and by the end of the ad, he’s wound up with a treasure chest full of ’em. It’s a surprisingly involved production, with the archaeological scenes interspersed with the ‘normal’ Chia shots. Quite honestly, it’s the coolest Chia Pet commercial I’ve ever seen.

Bottom line: There’s an old Chia Head floating around my basement somewhere, but now I want a new one. And you should too.

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And finally, commercial #3: This one is less of an obvious choice than the previous two, mainly because it’s for Sun Super Savings Centers, a chain of electronics and appliance stores that I’m not sure exist anymore. Nowhere near me, at any rate.

The premise for the ad is simple: Sun has the big time Christmas season savings, especially on a mega-cheap Microwave (above right; $67?! Bargain buck bill!). Included are the perquisite shots of a family opening their gifts around the Christmas tree on, ostensibly all from Sun, and ostensibly all on Christmas morning. It’s a pretty typical Christmas-themed electronic and appliance store ad, really.

So why include it here? Two reasons. 1) Look at the kid on the left above; he’s just opened a Nintendo 64 controller! As I mentioned earlier, my brother and I got our Nintendo 64 that very Christmas of 1997, so that alone is enough to make me spotlight this Sun ad here; a kindred spirit! And 2) I bought my first brand new video game console with my own money from Sun; a Sega Genesis, in the mid-1990s. That alone is enough to make me spotlight this Sun ad here. So, fond memories and all that.

Bottom line: I loved the Nintendo 64 and really loved the Sega Genesis. And you should too.


And with that, our big giant look at Big Chuck & Lil’ John’s presentation of Terror of Mechagodzilla draws to a close.

You know, it wasn’t until I pulled out the tape that held Son of Ghoul’s The Hoodlum for last week’s post that I realized, boy, Big Chuck & Lil’ John hosting Terror of Mechagodzilla during the Christmas season would make a fine, fine follow-up article. Like I said during my intro, these were taped back-to-back, and between the two, I don’t think I could find a better, more powerful trip back to the Christmas season of 1997 in my video collection. Some scattered individual recordings, perhaps, but what we’ve seen over these past two weeks is not only an indelible slice of Northeast Ohio television in the late-1990s, but also a peak at my 11-year-old mindset, which, TV-wise, isn’t all that different from my modern day mindset, truth be told.

For this update as well as the last, I was originally recording because I wanted to capture and relive this weekend entertainment over and over. What I wasn’t aware of then was that I was also capturing a significant part of my life – as reflected by my television viewing habits, anyway. Over the years, as my knowledge of Northeast Ohio television history increased and I became more appreciative of what I grew up watching, it was stuff like this that I became more and more grateful for both taping and keeping. For example, Son of Ghoul last week, that was a winner from the start. But the broadcast we’ve looked at today, as I said earlier, it was initially all about the movie featured. It wasn’t until I really started to “get” Big Chuck & Lil’ John that I realized Man I’m glad I held onto that!” Needless to say, that holds doubly-true today.

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One final note…

I’m a busy cat, and since there’s a good chance this will be my last post of 2016, here’s a Christmas-appropriate image from earlier in the show we just finished looking at. Chuck’s holding a wreath, dig? Christmas. Also, I want that Gamera toy on the table somethin’ hardcore.

Actually, the more I think about it, the more I think I will leave this as my official Christmas post; it’s not like I can really top Christmas-themed Big Chuck & Lil’ John and ‘Zilla, anyway. Who could? So, with that said, I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year. Be safe, be well, and be kind to one another.

See you in 2017!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They sleep in coffins, man!

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Another cool aspect: Bela’s basement laboratory.

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

Bela’s got a cool lab, man!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, maybe just one to hang up somewhere…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

———————
Special Compilations:

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

The Nostalgia Merchant’s 1978 VHS Release of 1933’s King Kong

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Happy Thanksgiving!

We are now at quite possibly my favorite point in the whole year: right smack in the middle of the holiday season. The three-pack of Halloween-Thanksgiving-Christmas is the genesis of some of my fondest memories, and every year I look forward to this three-month stretch.

When it comes to Thanksgiving, not only do you have the excitement of Halloween just behind you and the anticipation of Christmas literally right around the corner, but you have a holiday that really gets by on just its own merits; all you have to do is eat and be thankful. That’s it! The absence of the crass, mega-commercialization that has come to define Christmas is something I really like about Thanksgiving (early bird sales on turkey day notwithstanding), though Christmas has the deeper symbolic meaning (at least, it’s supposed to). But then, both of those holidays can entail visiting with relatives you may or may not be able to stand, in which case Halloween gains the upper-hand in the “mental well-being” department. (Ironic, huh!)

In all seriousness, I really do love all three. Why am I not including New Years in that lot? Meh, New Years has always been kind of a downer to me. I see it as heralding the end of the holiday season I have just enjoyed so much, which of course is exactly what it is. Just doesn’t do it for me, man.

Anyway, Thanksgiving. It really is a simple concept (well, unless you’re the one hosting dinner), consisting mainly of eating copious amounts of food, being thankful, however one may personally go about doing that, and in more modern times, watching a whole lotta TV, which of course is the facet of the holiday that this post takes residence in. The annual Macy’s parade and football garner the most attention, but movies can be, and often are, a big, big part of it too.

In that regard, Thanksgiving’s unofficial movie mascot is none other than King Kong and his ilk. Maybe not so much anymore, but for years King Kong, Son of Kong and Mighty Joe Young were staples of Thanksgiving Day television broadcasts in markets all across the country. Indeed, a few years back we took a look at a complete 1979 broadcast of Son of Kong on New York’s WOR-9, and this year, we’re going to see Papa Kong himself in action.

For Thanksgiving this time around though, we’re not going to look at Kong via an old television broadcast, but rather through, quite possibly, the first home video release of the original 1933 film. From 1978, here is King Kong on The Nostalgia Merchant label, and from top-to-bottom, it’s one of the coolest tapes in my collection (I don’t make that statement lightly, either!).

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This is not an easy tape to come across. In fact, it’s pretty darn rare. So when I saw a copy for sale online (the first one I had ever seen, actually) and fairly-reasonably priced to boot, I jumped at it. Money well, well spent, and that’s coming from me, a guy that’s almost perpetually broke!

Yeah, yeah, I can hear it now: “Well, gee, Northeast Ohio Video Hunter, I’m seeing a buncha Nostalgia Merchant Kong tapes for sale online!” Okay, finding the movie on the Nostalgia Merchant label itself isn’t even remotely hard; beginning around the mid-1980s, Nostalgia Merchant had a wide range of films out on video store shelves, complete with pretty cool, eye-catching slipcases. Heck, I’ve had that respective VHS release of King Kong for years now.

This tape, however, isn’t one of those. This is from before all that. From how I understand it, and I’m the first to admit I’m no expert here, Nostalgia Merchant first began life in 1976, at the dawn of the home video era as we now know it. They first specialized in 16mm and Super 8 films and the like, and then, near as I can tell, began releasing their movies on VHS and Betamax starting in 1978. Considering pre-recorded home videos didn’t come on the scene until 1977, Nostalgia Merchant was in the game waaay early on. I have no idea if these were mail-order only releases or how long they were available before the more well-known iteration of the company (apparently after it affiliated with Media Home Video) began re-releasing many of the same movies in their subsequently more-common form, but I do know that these 1978-copyrighted tapes are (at the very least) highly obscure nowadays.

Indeed, I had no knowledge of these super-early Nostalgia Merchant releases at all until I happened upon one at a nearby thrift store some months back. It was volume 3 in Nostalgia Merchant’s line of Laurel & Hardy shorts releases, which was cool enough on its own, but it was the copyright of 1978 that figuratively raised my eyebrows; in this day and age, I really don’t come across tapes of such vintage all that often. When I do, I tend to snap them up, so in the case of Laurel & Hardy, I had no problem plunking down my three big bucks.

Still, for as much as I like Stan & Ollie, which is quite a bit, when I looked at that generic die-cut sleeve emblazoned with all the stars ostensibly available on the label, and especially at the list of other titles available on the back, I couldn’t help but feel that getting some of them in the ‘format’ would be even cooler. Make no mistake, King Kong was way, way at the top of that list. So again, when I happened upon a copy for sale online, I had to take the plunge.

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Now that I’ve got my precious, precious King Kong, I’m seeing several more “gotta haves” listed on the back of the box. In the same vein as the subject for today, Mighty Joe Young is probably now at the top of that list. Furthermore, apparently the only legitimate video release of Return of the Ape Man was on an early Nostalgia Merchant tape like this, so needless to say that’s also something I need in my life, as well.

Believe it or not, I had to order this movie from a Canadian seller, but as the sticker on the back of the box attests, it originally hails from Chi-Town. Whether the tape eventually arrived in Canada due to something such as the owner simply moving there, or instead due to a more convoluted history, I couldn’t say. No matter, it’s in my hands now, and that’s where it’s going to stay.

I find the old video store sticker itself incredibly interesting, too. Since the national Hollywood Video chain was started in 1988, it’s a safe bet a tape this old wouldn’t be showing up at a Chicago chapter. Rather, methinks this was an early video store that happened to share the same name but was otherwise unrelated to said national chain. If someone had more info on this Hollywood Video, perhaps a more exact time-frame for the release this King Kong tape could be deduced (as in, how long it was, roughly, out there).

Anyway, some may see this old school video store sticker as a detriment to the original tape sleeve. Not me. I’m a sucker for remnants of the early video era, and this Hollywood Video of Chicago sticker fits that bill nicely. Besides, these generic early Nostalgia Merchant sleeves were all the same; someone could always switch it with another tape’s sleeve, should they wind up being overly concerned about this sort of thing.

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Like I said above, and just like my aforementioned Laurel & Hardy tape, this sleeve is a one-size-fits-all variety. In other words, it be generic. Anything pertaining to the movie contained within is on the tape label itself, rather than the back of the sleeve as would become common in short order. And actually, that’s not uncommon with these super-early video releases; for example, the very first pre-recorded videos on the Magnetic label eschewed any kind of description (beyond the basic facts of running time, stars, etc.) in favor of a list other titles available.

It wouldn’t take very long for that sort of thing to morph instead into a product that was really trying to sell the prospective buyer on the movie, both in fancy-shmancy artwork and descriptions so vivid they’d practically punch you in the face repeatedly until you decided to just rent the damn tape already. So, seeing these early examples of the format hold some interest beyond that whole initial “thas an old copyright!” exclamation you undoubtedly shrieked, either vocally or mentally.

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Also just like my Laurel & Hardy tape in the same format, the tape kicks off with a static, very “filmy” logo. I really have a hard time explaining it, it has a real home-made feel to it, like it was copied from an actual film reel or something. This site calls it a grainy, 16mm, Film-O-Vision style, and that explains it better than I ever could. See that up above? Thas the early Nostalgia Merchant logo, is what it is.

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I love everything about this movie. Should I ever be required to absolutely, positively name my top 10 favorite films, this original King Kong  is safely, safely on that list. It’s quite simply a film I’ve never gotten tired of.

You know, even though I own the movie many times over, old VHS releases are, to this day, still a severe weakness of mine. This one, I had to have it obviously, but really, any Kong tape I come across and don’t already own, it simply must become part of my collection. And therein lies a tale…

It all stems from when I first saw the 60th anniversary edition (with the swanky roaring chest box) for rent in 1996. I knew only the most basic details of Kong beforehand, but as soon as I laid eyes on that tape (and pressed that oh-so-cool roarin’ button), it became a film I had to see. It doesn’t hurt that I was just getting into horror and sci-fi films and general tape collecting around that time, either. I was with a friend and his mom at a kinda far-off video store when I saw that rental tape, so it couldn’t really come home with me right then, and besides, I wanted to own the film outright.

Problem was, the tape was released in 1993 (1933, 1993, 60 years, dig?), and in the three years since, for whatever reason, it was impossible to find for sale. Remember, this was before Amazon, eBay, and such. You were basically limited to the brick-and-mortar stores around town, and if Blockbuster couldn’t order it, guess what? Y’all was outta luck. (Oddly enough, I later did ask mom to call that store about the Kong tape, and they seemed to have no idea what we were talking about. The hell?)

So, being a young video taper, I banked on a TV airing. Even then I knew Kong was a Thanksgiving movie. But as luck would have it, it didn’t air that Thanksgiving. Figures. It didn’t really air anywhere at all, truth be told. So, I settled for whatever Kong did show up on TV. Before I was actually able to see the original, I recorded, watched, and became a Kong fanatic via the 1976 remake (which was, in retrospect, pretty bad, but I didn’t know any better at the time), the Japanese entries (King Kong Vs. Godzilla & King Kong Escapes), even the Son of Kong sequel I wound up seeing before I saw the movie that started it all.

Anyway, eventually Turner Classic Movies ran the original, I taped it, and here we are. But like I said before, to this day, when I come across a Kong tape, I pretty much need to buy it. Simply because it was so hard for me to see for so long. Doesn’t hurt that it’s a terrific movie that I appreciate more and more as the years go by.

That’s the title screen up above, by the way.

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I can’t imagine anyone stumbling upon this post that hasn’t seen the original 1933 King Kong by this point. When it comes to classic giant monster movies, it’s pretty much the cream of the crop. From storyline to special effects to pure excitement, it’s incredible just how well this movie has held up. Some of the acting and attitudes date the film to the early-1930s, but those are easily forgotten thanks to the overall aura of timelessness that is the hallmark of genuinely great movies from the time period. Remember my similar sentiments regarding Undercurrent? They’re even more apt in regards to King Kong.

(Some spoilers ahead)

The plot concerns filmmaker Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong), famous for his many jungle movies, who wants to make the biggest and best jungle flick of them all. He needs a pretty face though. So, he heads out into New York to find the perfect girl for the part. He comes upon Ann Darrow (Fay Wray), who has some acting experience, albeit limited.

Ann is everything he’s been looking for. So, he enlists her for the picture, and he and his crew set off on the high seas, headed towards the mysterious “Skull Island.” The natives there supposedly worship a god they call “Kong,” an idea that hopefully promises to be the very spectacle Denham needs to make his film the massive success that he wants it to be.

When they finally arrive at the island, they stumble upon the native ceremony featuring their latest “bride of Kong.” The natives are initially angry at the interruption, until they notice Ann, and begin making offers for her (Denham: “Yeah, blondes are scarce around here.“). Denham and his crew obviously make a hasty retreat back to the boat.

That night though, the natives sneak aboard the ship and kidnap Ann. Her absence is quickly noticed, and the crew sets out to rescue her. When they arrive back on the island, they find that Ann is set as the new bride for Kong.

As per the screencap above, that’s when King Kong himself makes his grand entrance. Kong is a gigantic ape, the king of his domain, and he is instantly enamored with Ann. He grabs her and runs off into the jungle, leaving her would-be rescuers with little choice but to go into the unknown after her.

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Kong ain’t the only big giant thing on Skull Island, though. Turns out numerous prehistoric creatures call the place home as well. Dinosaurs, pterodactyls, snakes, they’re all humongous and they all have to be dealt with along with Kong. Kong not only thwarts his pursuers, he’s also a scrapper; he fights (and defeats) every creature that comes his way, both to protect Ann as well as to further assert his dominance. This is Kong’s turf and he rules it completely.

The special effects here are largely of the stop-motion animation variety. Despite being from 1933, they, against all odds, hold up wonderfully today. Even with all the CGI trickery of modern movies (including Peter Jackson 2005’s version of King Kong, which was really far better than a remake has a right to be), stop-motion has such a, I don’t know, more natural look to it, I guess. It’s amazing how special effects from the early-1930s can still portray so well the emotions of the creature they’re animating. Somehow, you really believe Kong is excited, happy, angry or hurt. It’s uncanny!

Willis O’Brien was behind the stop-motion animation, and one viewing of King Kong is all it takes to know why he was such a master at his craft.

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Ann is eventually rescued and Kong is captured and brought back to New York. A spectacle such as Kong is even better than the picture Denham intended on making!

For as great as the entire movie is, this is my favorite part of the film, when Kong escapes, re-captures Ann, and goes on a rampage throughout the city. The contrasts between the real jungle and the concrete jungle are obvious here, and just like on Skull Island, Kong is nearly unstoppable. He wages a path of destruction everywhere he goes, probably just as much out of fear and confusion as it is anger and protection of Ann.

For me, one of the most memorable parts of Kong’s trek through New York is his wrecking a passing train. The shots of the passengers unknowingly hurtling toward Kong and then the looks of shock and fear on their faces when he attacks drives home a point that may be hard (or even unfathomable) for some modern viewers to grasp: there was no instant communication back then! Kong could stomp around the city, surprise people in their apartments, even wreck a train, and no one would be the wiser until he’s upon them. No cell phones, no texts, no news update. I don’t know why this little aspect stands out to me, but it does.

The rampage through New York is actually fairly short, especially when compared to the amount of time spent on Skull Island, but it basically acts as the prototype for every “big huge monster causing havoc in a major city” film that was to follow. King Kong wasn’t quite the first movie to tackle this or other plot points featured in the film (1925’s The Lost World basically served as a test-run for much of this), but few, if any, films ever did it better.

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And that all leads to one of the greatest moments in cinematic history: the climatic sequence of Kong climbing to the top of the Empire State Building and battling oncoming airplanes sent to shoot him down so Ann can be safely rescued.

I think we all know how it ends: Kong puts up a valiant effort, but in the end, the bullets take their toll and Kong tumbles off the building to his death. And yet, even though the ending is common knowledge nowadays, it still manages to be absolutely thrilling. And, despite the carnage, you actually feel for Kong here; you can actually see how he realizes he’s not going to win this fight, and you actually feel sympathy when he, in his own way, says goodbye to Ann before he gives up the ghost. The whole sequence is just fantastic.

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And that ending scene! Even if you’re just limiting yourself to giant monster movies, it’s hard to top it: after Kong has met his demise, Denham pushes his way through the crowd and looks sadly at the creature. His response to the statement that the planes got him? “It wasn’t the airplanes, it was beauty killed the beast,” one of the great final lines in movie history. That coupled with that last image and then the fade-out, man, it’s just fantastic.

Yeah, I know, I just gave away much of the film, but even so, if you haven’t seen this movie, go see it! I can’t possibly do it the justice it deserves in just this article alone.

A couple points about this particular release of King Kong:

First off, it’s pretty scratchy and dirty. Some scenes are way too bright, and some scenes are way too dark. It looks more like an old television print than it does a home video release; heck, this might be an old television print, though it’s missing the identifying hallmarks of such (i.e. the old “C&C Movietime” logo that vintage TV prints often carried). Most people probably didn’t care at the time though; it was such a novel concept to be able to own and watch a movie at home whenever you wanted that the print quality of the movie wasn’t that much an issue. Still, it’s probably safe to say that this is the roughest looking print of Kong ever released to home video proper (excluding pre-VHS/Beta releases, of course).

Also, the label states the run time is 105 minutes;  Ignore that. The running time is closer to 97 minutes. Yes, this is an older, cut print of King Kong!

Lemme explain: when Kong was first released in 1933, it was a Pre-Code film. That is, it was released before the infamous Hays Code was rigidly enforced. But, the film was so monumentally popular that it was re-released numerous times throughout the years when the Hays Code was rigidly enforced. Thus, scenes that passed muster the first time around were steadily excised for subsequent releases. Segments featuring Kong ripping off Wray’s clothes and sniffing his fingers, stomping and chewing on natives, and dropping a woman to her death during his New York rampage were all deemed inappropriate and eventually edited out of the movie.

Those scenes were later rediscovered and added back to the film, and most home video releases (to the best of my knowledge) are of the complete King Kong…but not this one. That’s right, many (or even all) of those ‘controversial’ segments are missing from this early Nostalgia Merchant release! Whether this is a result of this being an old print prepared for TV or just a pre-restored print in general, it’s still pretty surprising to see this cut version of the movie, especially since every home video version I had seen prior had all of the footage. Even the later Nostalgia Merchant releases specifically touted the film as the uncut version.

I’m not complaining though. In this and age, it’s nearly impossible to find a version of the film that isn’t complete. But to watch one of the older variations, one that several generations of movie lovers probably grew up with, and in its probable initial home video release, no less? That’s pretty cool!

By the way, the long-lost spider pit sequence isn’t in this one, either.

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It’s tough for me to find words adequate enough to portray just how cool this tape is. Sure, at heart, it’s just an old, scratchy, edited print of King Kong. It wouldn’t be the choice of purists, I know.

But that’s not really the point. This was, in all likelihood, the first release on the then-fledgling VHS home video format. It’s not even just that this was probably the first, either; rather, it’s what that represents (and this goes for the early years of home video in general). That is, no longer would someone have to wait for their favorite film to show up on TV, which in the case of King Kong, could conceivably not be until next Thanksgiving. With a tape like this, any day could be Thanksgiving.

And that’s yet another reason why I do what I do and collect what I collect. It goes beyond the movie, beyond the copyright date, and deeper into what it all represents as a whole. Man I love this hobby.

Plus, it is a really, really old release of King Kong. I can analyze all day if need be, but when it comes right down to it, that’s just neat. No way could I have envisioned owning this when I first set my eyes upon that roaring box edition way back in 1996!

Have a great Thanksgiving, everybody!

Ghoulardifest 2015!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caesare’s official website. If you have the chance to go see him, please do so!

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

Speaking of their website, check it out.

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

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

Jungle Bob’s official website.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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R.I.P, Colonel.

The official Son of Ghoul website.

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A dream realized! I wanted to meet Janet Decay (aka The Daughter Of The Ghoul, aka Janet Jay) last year, but she was either off doing something or I missed her completely. So, I definitely wanted to meet her this year.

She’s doing a new show with Grimm “James Harmon” Gorri titled The Mummy and the Monkey. When they asked me if I had seen it yet, I had to sheepishly sputter in the negative. D’oh! I had seen The Daughter Of The Ghoul Show before though, which I liked, so I had no problem buying a DVD of their new show. They even gave me a cute lil’ free button; cool winnins! They were both incredibly friendly; I foresee great things in their future.

One thing I noticed when the guest list was announced (and this has been pointed out by others) this year was the lack of national celebrities. For example, last year Arch Hall Jr. and Dee Wallace Stone were in attendance. While I would have liked to talk with Arch Hall again, and I had my concerns when no one like that was included in the show this year, I think it’s cool that the guests were overwhelmingly Cleveland-centric AND that the turnout was so good. It shows that our guys can hold their own and still make for a successful show, and Janet Decay & Grimm Gorri are prime examples of that; their table was very busy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The official Big Chuck & Lil’ John website.

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

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

The official Midnight Movie website.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My official The Mummy and the Monkey DVD of the original Little Shop of Horrors, a swanky flyer, and that aforementioned official button. I pinned the button to my jacket when we took the photo, and promptly forgot it was there for most of the day, and that’s not a bad thing!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Amvest Video’s Grampa Presents VHS Series: 1939’s The Human Monster (1988)

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Happy Halloween!

I can’t believe Halloween 2015 is here! The year zipped by like nothing, and this last month in particular has been a whirlwind. I love Halloween, but there’s always a sad feeling when the big day finally arrives; the whole month is a build-up to October 31st, and then Halloween itself comes and goes in a quick 24 hours. And just like that, full attention is then directed to Thanksgiving and Christmas. Halloween just ain’t long enough, man.

Some readers may remember last year when my Halloween-appropriate output during the season was decidedly lacking. Real life and all that jazz. I have rectified that error somewhat this year; last week we saw Gene Shalit’s visage pitch 1941’s The Wolf Man on VHS, and for this Halloween day post, I’m going above and beyond. Gene Shalit and Lon Chaney Jr. are a tough act to follow, but I do believe I have accomplished just that, with this: Amvest Video’s Grampa Presents VHS series, starring none other than Al “Grampa Munster” Lewis! And he’s hosting Bela Lugosi’s The Human Monster! Cool winnins!

There were a bunch of these Grampa Presents videos for Amvest, though the overall distribution was so limited that no one is quite sure just how many were actually released and how many were merely proposed releases. A good number of titles did make it out of the door in some amount, but none of them are easily found nowadays. Indeed, these releases range from highly obscure to impossibly rare. Heck, even non-Grampa-branded Amvest titles are often tough to come by. Some of these tapes are worth more than others, mostly depending on rarity and/or how cool/popular/whatever the movie featured is. But for those so inclined, enough diligent internet searching should turn up at least some fairly affordable prospects. I mean, these are rare, but not that rare. They ain’t the Honus Wagner of VHS tapes, man.

So, when I was able to nab this tape for a price that didn’t cause my arms to flail about in utter dismay, I jumped at the chance. A bit over $20? A little pricey for an ancient budget VHS, but I can live with it. Don’t underestimate just how gratifying it is to finally have one of these tapes in my collection. I’ve been aware of the series for some time now, but the pricing/availability/whatever just never worked out for me. But, I was able to make it happen in time for this Halloween post, and that’s something I really hoped to accomplish.

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Much of my fascination with the Amvest Grampa videos stems from two factors:

1) The apparent limited distribution and uncertainty regarding which titles in this series did and didn’t actually hit store shelves, plus the murky aura that often tends to surround these cheapie, dime store video releases in general. It sort of lends an air of mystery to these tapes, and I find that endlessly intriguing.

2) I’m an Al “Grampa” Lewis fan, period. He was such a cool guy, and he never resented the Grampa character typecasting that stuck with him following The Munsters. On the contrary, he took it and ran with it. Besides these videos, there were the personal appearances, television commercials, his own restaurant, even an Atari 7800 game. So yeah, if he’s going to have his own line of VHS tapes in which he hosts public domain horror movies, I’m all over that.

And just look at that cover art! If that isn’t budget tape greatness, I don’t know what is. Caricatures of Bela Lugosi and Wilfred Walters (not Hugh Williams as the cover implies), drawn in the proud public domain tape tradition (on cardboard so flimsy I’m actually a little surprised the sleeve has survived to the present day as well as it has), with an illustration of Al “Grampa” Lewis overlooking it all. When it comes to the realm of mega-cheap 1980s budget VHS tapes, it just does not get cooler than that.

The artwork used for the tapes in the series ranged from “pretty darn decent” (usually the ones that used real photographs or original movie poster art as their basis) to “hilariously amateurish” (many, but not all, of the entries with hand-drawn original artwork), though I’m thinking the illustration for The Human Monster falls somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. You wouldn’t have seen CBS/FOX releasing something like this, but for what it is, a budget video featuring a public domain movie, it’s perfectly serviceable, maybe even above-average.

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The back cover, naturally. The description is perfunctory, as is par for the course with tapes of this nature (click on it for a super-sized view and judge fo’ yo’ self).

What takes this aspect of the release from “meh” territory to “greatest achievement of mankind” territory is the “Grampa’s Ratings” feature at the bottom. Apparently, Grampa gives the film two bats and a description of “Horrible Horror,” which probably isn’t the best way to pitch a prospective customer on your video until you realize you’re supposed to think this was Al Lewis himself giving his seal of approval, in which case how good or bad the movie is is almost secondary to the mental picture of Grampa sitting down and critically analyzing it.

I wonder if Amvest actually did solicit Lewis’ opinion and those are his own real words on the back? I can easily see it being a gimmick the marketing department (?) cooked up to add some extra allure to the tape, but I can just as easily see Lewis matter-of-factly stating his opinion. “It’s hohrrable horrah, Hoyman!” That was my attempt at an Al Lewis-style New York accent, though it probably doesn’t work in print as well as I hoped. Just play along here, okay?

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The tape itself, featuring the plainest label and cheapest film reels in the universe, as well as approximately 3 feet of actual video tape used total (make note of this fact; it will come back to haunt me later).

Okay, preliminaries out of the way, we now come to the real reason anyone bought the tape back then or cares about the tape today…

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Al “Grampa Munster” Lewis! Look at him up there. What a badass.

Like I said before, I’m a huge Al Lewis fan, and seeing him doing his Grampa shtick in any format is a pleasure. But, when that shtick entails horror hosting, man, that’s directly up my alley. On that front, these Amvest videos not only feature Lewis hosting a movie, they were also released in 1988, which was smack in the middle of Lewis’ run on TBS as host of Super Scary Saturday, a weekend showcase in which he hosted horror and sci-fi films as his Grampa persona. Back in June, I looked at one such broadcast.

By ’88, home video was a genuine fact of life, and by then it had progressed to the point where it was actually feasible to have budget tapes. Considering Lewis wasn’t shy about lending his Grampa-persona to anyone willing to pony up the bucks, his TBS show was doing well with the kids, and Thriller Video had some success with Elvira hosting movies-for-video, it makes total sense to try to get in on some o’ dat. Heck, this sorta feels like an attempt at aping Thriller’s Elvira videos, only more cut-rate and kid-friendly.

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Those used to his Super Scary Saturday set and its expansive “mad scientist lab” set-up are in for a bit of a shock here. A ‘real’ lab set is nowhere to be found; instead, a green screen featuring a stock shot (I guess) of a lab, with added tinting and neon-squiggle accents (hey, it was 1988), is used for this endeavor. It looks, well, it looks kinda rinky dink, but Amvest was a budget outfit, and after shelling out the Grampa-bucks, you do what you can afford.

The setting may be a low budget affair, but his dialog is classic Grampa. Really, I can’t see how anyone couldn’t love the guy. He opens with a joke about viewers mistaking him for Paul Newman (note: he’s not), and then makes specific mention of personally watching a movie from Amvest’s film library with you, the viewer. Since these tapes were almost certainly aimed at kids (for the most part; there’s a couple more-intense films sprinkled throughout), his patter fits perfectly, and he (obviously) had his act down to a science by that point. So even though it isn’t/wasn’t a high-end setting, it all still works wonderfully, and it’s all to Lewis’ performance.

And really, while my feelings may be slightly skewed because this is Halloween day, this all just feels like the kind of tape parents would put on for kids that were too young to fully partake in Halloween activities but still wanted to give them something ostensibly spooky to stare at. I love it.

By the way, there was an opening sequence to all of this wackiness, but as was the case with so many budget videos, there was no customary blank black screen or copyright notices prior to the start of the show/movie/etc. The program itself started at the very beginning of the tape. Problem with that set-up is that when it comes to tapes of this nature, that’s when tracking and whatnot is still getting situated, and as far as this tape goes, by the time things settle down to a coherent viewing-point, Grampa is already into his pitch. This irritates me.

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Rumor has it that these intros and outros were the exact same for every Amvest Grampa Presents release, with only a voiceover changed to reflect the different films featured. That is, Grampa would ask the unseen Igor what the feature film was for that video, and then look on expectantly as the title was announced via the aforementioned voiceover.

Methinks the quality control at Amvest was a little lax, because for this release, they forgot the voiceover! What this means is you get to watch Grampa listening in anticipation to absolute silence and then excitedly proclaiming “That’s the one!” Even for a budget video company, I can’t believe they let something like that slip through the cracks. It’s unintentionally hilarious until I remember I paid over $20 for this damn tape.

(Amvest’s apparent laxness manifests itself in more dire form later, but we’ll get to that in due time.)

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Being wildly public domain, this isn’t a hard movie to track down in the slightest, but oddly enough, until I got this tape I only ever saw the film under the original British title of Dark Eyes Of London.

As stoked as I am to have this video, I’m the first to admit this flick has never been a favorite of mine. In fact, I find it fairly dull. I first recorded it (under that Dark Eyes Of London title) off of WAOH TV-29/WAX TV-35 waaay back in, I’m pretty sure, 1997. At the time, I was into any and all old horror and sci-fi films, and being from the 1930s/1940s sweet-spot (which I still have a strong affinity for to this day), Dark Eyes should have instantly found a place in my heart

But, it didn’t. Even this latest viewing did little to change my opinion that it’s a slow-moving, dry, overtly British film. Not that I mean to knock British films, there’s a ton of great ones even from just the same time period as this, but British horror and sci-fi has just never appealed to me the way similar U.S. products in the genre(s) have. It may be anathema to admit this, but even the Hammer films have never really tripped my trigger. And Gorgo? A less fun (and overrated, in my opinion) Godzilla knock-off. In fact, Vincent Price’s Theatre Of Blood has been the only British film in this genre to genuinely, raptly hold my attention.

So, hey, I know this won’t be a popular opinion, but I’m being honest: I find The Human Monster infinitely less fun than Bela’s The Ape Man, Invisible Ghost, or what have you. And, I know I’m probably in the minority there; a lot of people love this movie. That’s fine, I don’t want to stomp around babbling about how bad it is or anything like that, but frankly, it just doesn’t do much for me.

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You know, I realized that as of late this might as well be the “Bela Blog.” Over the past year, he’s popped up here via Superhost’s Dracula broadcast, Son Of Ghoul’s Plan 9 broadcast, my SPN Network post, even that recent Mill Creek movie set review and just last week in the previously-linked Gene Shalit Wolf Man VHS post. Even a few stray times beyond all that, too. Bela definitely has a presence here.

This wasn’t a conscious decision on my part, though. I can only write about what I’m sufficiently fired up over, and it was sheer coincidence that Bela Lugosi figured into so much of it. Not that I’m complaining; I’m the first to admit I’m a big fan of his. Bela, Boris Karloff and Vincent Price – if a movie features them, it doesn’t matter how good or bad it is, their involvement is enough to garner at least some interest on my part (The Human Monster included). Such is my admiration for them both as actors and as a horror/sci-fi junkie.

In this one, Bela plays one Dr. Orloff, an insurance salesman that kills clients for their policies and then collects the big money. Probably not exactly a foolproof plan, but no one ever said evil guys are always rational. Orloff also masquerades as a fella named Dearborn, who runs a home for the blind, a locale that figures prominently into the plot.

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I think a large part of my lukewarm feelings towards this movie stem from the fact that it just isn’t very “horrific” in a typical-of-the-genre sense. Bela doesn’t create any creatures, there’s nothing supernatural about it (it’s The Human Monster, after all), and again, I find the proceedings verrry dry. I’ll take Bela turnin’ himself into an ape guy any day.

Bela Lugosi’s performance aside (I may not be a fan of the film itself, but he does play his role well), the sole aspect of the movie I find genuinely interesting is Wilfred Walter’s monstrous, blind baddie, Jake, who you’re helpfully seeing above. Jake is a resident of Dearborn’s home for the blind, and does the killing for Dr. Orloff. He certainly does look scary, and to the credit of the filmmakers, there are some terrific shots of him. He doesn’t really save the film for me, but he certainly makes it more bearable.

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Look at that, Amvest felt the need to watermark the movie at one point, as if someone was interested in stealing their silly lil’ flick.

Given that this is a budget video release of a public domain movie, no one should ever expect a pristine film print, and the condition of this The Human Monster certainly lives up (down?) to those expectations. It’s dusty, dirty, scratchy, but yet, thanks to the LP recording speed, relatively sharp and clear. It could have looked so much worse, so that aspect was a pleasant surprise.

A decidedly less-pleasant surprise was in store for me though, and it was this surprise that concluded the tape. According to this thread over at the Our Favorite Horror Hosts forum, there was no set recording-mode that these Grampa Presents tapes would be produced in. Could be EP/SLP, could LP (such as this one), could be SP. I have seen pictures of Grampa tapes with an SP sticker affixed to the back (this one here), so SP and LP tapes are definitely out there, and I assume EP/SLP ones were released as well.

And that brings us to that eyebrow-raising conclusion: it appears that despite the LP-recording speed used for this copy, there was only enough tape for an EP/SLP recording. You know what that means, don’t you? The tape ran out and ended before the actual movie did!

That’s right, no stunning conclusion to The Human Monster, and more distressingly, no Grampa outro. My reaction to this revelation was something akin to “AW C’MON!” though I don’t recall my exact words. I wasn’t real happy, though.

Don’t let that dissuade you from picking up a copy of this video or any other in the series, though (unless I’m going after it too, in which case kindly back off pal). I doubt this is representative of the Grampa Presents tapes in general; my guess is it’s merely what many would term a “defective video.” Like I said earlier, I’m guessing Amvest’s quality control was a bit lax. I don’t mind discovering this, but I do kinda mind spending $20+ to find out.

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And yet, in the overall picture, the incomplete recording doesn’t really bother me that much. I mean, yes, of course I’d prefer the whole thing (duh!), but the rarity of the tape coupled with that perfect slice of late-1980s cheapie VHS essence, that recording snafu is almost overruled by all of that. In fact, it actually kinda adds to that late-1980s cheapie VHS essence! It’s not an ideal situation, obviously, but I try to look at things like this as glass-half-full.

I contacted my friend Jesse (one of the most knowledgeable guys I know and a genuine good egg to boot) to see if he remembered these Grampa Presents tapes from back in the day. He did indeed; if anyone would, Jesse would. He recalled that they were briefly (about a year) sold at Rolling Acres Mall (possibly at Camelot) for under $10. In the years since, he’s come across used copies only once or twice, and given the horrid artwork, he didn’t feel compelled to pick them up. That all fits perfectly with what I know about these tapes (which admittedly isn’t much). Jesse gets around much more than I do, so if he’s only come across copies a handful of times at most, their distribution had to be painfully limited.

Honestly, even though I personally didn’t have any entries in this video series until this one, it still serves as a nostalgia piece for me. It absolutely reminds me of the budget tapes I had growing up, warts and all. Heck, this just feels like something I would have (should have?) found at D&K in the old State Road shopping center. I never did, of course, but I’d like to think I would have snapped it up with a fervor comparable to what I feel going after these nowadays. Maybe even more fervor back then, because this was all so new to me at the time.

I’ve got a lot of tapes. Thousands and thousands, to be frank. When it comes to just the prerecorded stuff, I’ve got so much and have crossed so many personal “wants” off my list over the years that it’s hard to get really, genuinely stoked over a tape. It happens from time to time though, and in the case of not only this tape but all of the Grampa Presents tapes, well, I got the hunger. I don’t care if the intros and outros are essentially the same for each one, I don’t care if the quality is lacking, I don’t even care that this tape doesn’t even play all the way through. The bottom line is it’s Al “Grampa” Lewis, it’s horror hosting, it’s obscure, and it’s just plain cool. I want more, and I’m determined to get more!

And with that, this Halloween post comes to a close. Have a fantastic, fun and safe Halloween, everybody! See y’all after Ghoulardifest 2015!

Thriller Video – Elvira Hosts 1957’s The Cyclops (1985)

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I’ve mentioned before just how revelatory eBay was to me in the late-1990s. I first signed up in 1999, and already being a burgeoning video collector, it was positively jaw-dropping to see the multitudes of obscure, out-of-print, sometimes just plain weird tapes for sale that, otherwise, had long, long disappeared from store shelves. The options were virtually limitless, and it was made all the better when the other, non-VHS crap you could buy was taken into consideration. If you had the money (and being around 13/14 years old at the time, I rarely did), things that were absolutely unobtainable prior could now be yours relatively easily. As long as you were willing to pony up the bucks, anyway.

‘Course, the eBay of the past was also a bit of a no man’s land, what with buyers that may or may not actually pay (PayPal wasn’t around yet; snail-mail money orders were the common method of payment), sellers that may or may not send the item, and retaliatory negative feedback that could be thrown around if one party so much as thought the other was scrunching their nose at them. A lot of policies have been implemented since then, and though eBay seems to favor buyers over sellers more often than not, for what it’s worth I think things are better now than they were in the late-1990s. You still hear cases of people getting cheated from time to time, but at least there are more protective measures in place.

Anyway, while those days of constantly searching eBay in hopes of finding collectible VHS tapes are more or less over for me, there are still some videos that give me that old feeling. That thrill of finding something really special, something that I just wasn’t going to come across otherwise (unless I got really lucky at Goodwill, anyway).

And that brings us to today’s post: from looooong gone Thriller Video, it’s Cassandra “Elvira, Mistress Of The Dark” Peterson, hosting the 1957 Bert I. Gordon classic, The Cyclops! Cool winnins!

(Also, hilarious-but-true fun fact: look closely at the header picture above; you can see my Supe’guy shirt reflected on the front of the tape. This is a consequence of the clamshell the VHS now finds itself housed in apparently being the most reflective surface known to man. After several attempts to downplay said reflections during the picture-taking, I finally said “screw it” and let the best result speak for itself.)

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This wasn’t the only movie Elvira hosted for Thriller. Oh no, there was a long line of ’em. Of the series, The Cyclops was the only one that I really, really wanted, though. Don’t get me wrong, if I came across any of the titles at a yard sale, thrift store or what have you, I would gladly snatch them up with a fervor that would almost certainly give onlookers cause for serious concern. But, The Cyclops is the only entry in the series I ever planned on going out of my way for.

Indeed, I kept relatively regular tabs on eBay for a copy that, price-wise, wouldn’t cause me to throw my hands up in utter despair. In good shape, some of these can still go for some decent dough. So, when this particular copy popped up with a buy it now of $14.99 and free shipping, I figured it was finally time to cross the title off my list. I can live with being $15 poorer, but could I live without Elvira babbling about a big giant one-eyed thing? Luckily, I’ll never have to find that out…now.

As you can see, my copy has been cut and placed into a clamshell for rental purposes. Uncut Thriller Video boxes are pretty big beasts, which wasn’t an uncommon route to take for many companies in the earlier days of home video; the more lurid the cover art and the bigger the box, the more eye-catching the release would be on the shelves. Thriller exemplified that ideal quite well. Plus, they had the benefit of Elvira gracing their boxes. (You can see uncut examples of their tapes, including Elvira’s The Cyclops, here.)

The fact this particular copy was cut for a clamshell and subsequently thrown on the shelf of Wonder Book & Video (is this the same company?) for rental purposes, which comes with the prerequisite sunfading to the cover, probably accounts for the low-ish auction price, though I don’t necessarily see any of that as a drawback. It’s not uncommon to find these releases cut for clamshell cases, plus It saves me the hassle of clearing space for a big huge box (yeah, I’ve really got that much stuff), and more importantly, the tape plays into not only my love of horror hosts and the earlier days of home video, but also the rental store boom of the time. That’s totally worth $15 to me. Plus, more material for my silly blog is always nice.

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A few important factors are evidenced on the back of the box: 1) Lon Chaney Jr. is in the movie, which is a sight just as welcome as seeing Boris Karloff or Bela Lugosi listed in the credits of anything. Doesn’t matter how good a movie is or isn’t, a flick with him in it is at least worth a cursory glance. No kidding, it’s always fun seeing Chaney in a movie (and that’s coming from a guy that has not only seen but also owns Al Adamson’s Dracula Vs. Frankenstein!).

2) I wouldn’t be surprised if Cassandra Peterson herself wrote the synopsis, because that, coupled with the required picture of Elvira, gives a pretty good impression of the character’s sense of humor and just what viewers were headed for. Indeed, for anyone unaware of Elvira prior (yeah, all four of them) that were standing around mulling over renting this or The Jewel Of The Nile yet again at the video store, they had to get a reasonably good idea of what they were potentially getting themselves in to.

3) The tape is short. Really short. The Cyclops is only 66 minutes as it is, and adding the FBI warning screen, the company logos, three Elvira segments, three trailers for other Thriller Video releases, and closing credits, the running time still doesn’t top 75 minutes total. It’s a quick one, alright. I’m okay with that.

4) Can you believe there was a time period when a used former-rental could garner $40? Now every time I pick up a tape at Goodwill for a buck, I’m going to feel bad for those that may have shelled out the mighty dollars online for a similar copy, before DVD came along and ruined everything. Aw, no I won’t (though rest assured, I was one of those people, more than once).

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The tape itself. Not a whole lot I can say about it, except I like the red (some would say BLOOD RED, HAW HAW HAW) color scheme of the label, and it has that cute lil’ “Be Kind, Please Rewind” sticker slapped on it.

And again: can you believe someone once paid $40 for this tape used? It’s been awhile since that was acceptable!

Then again, I’m the guy that paid $15 for a movie on a wildly obsolete format, so I don’t have a whole lot of room to talk, either. (Even less so when you consider the sheer amount of money I’ve wasted spent on used blank tapes!)

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I think most everyone knows Elvira, “Mistress Of The Dark.” On a national scale, she is almost certainly the most well-known horror host there is. Indeed, Elvira’s visibility went faaaar beyond the horror movies source, eventually branching out into beer commercials and even her very own movie. By a certain point, it was easy to forget that she actually had her own show and hosted movies, because Elvira was everywhere. People couldn’t get enough of the whole Gothic valley girl shtick. Hey, it was, and is, funny!

Elvira hosted horror & sci-fi movies, via her program Movie Macabre, for a number of years, and such was the popularity of the concept that there were a lot of home video releases with her doing the exact same thing (something that continues to this day with DVD). While Thriller’s series of tapes are far from being the only ones out there, they were the first ones to bring Elvira to home video. That in and of itself makes the Thriller series interesting, and even more so when you consider there were actual licensed movies in the line-up, as opposed to the public domain offerings of so many of the later videos.

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There were a few reasons that I wanted Thriller’s The Cyclops over the other titles in the series. First and foremost, I just really, really like the movie in general, and this is apparently one of the few (only?) legitimate VHS releases, though it is out on DVD now.

Also, the vast majority of the movies featured in the Thriller Elvira series were either in actuality Hammer House Of Horror entries, or made-for-TV flicks (1973’s Dracula starring Jack Palance, for example). There were a few theatrical films presented, but the only one really up my alley (and, I believe, the only one from the 1950s) was, say it with me, The Cyclops. The fact that I’m actually, genuinely fond of the movie just makes it all the better.

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And, it’s a Bert I. Gordon film! Even more up my alley! So much of the mental “giant __________”  image that people picture when thinking of American sci-fi films from the 50s can be traced back to Gordon’s films. His initials are “B.I.G.” and boy do his movies live up to them! Giant bugs, dinosaurs, people, Gordon specialized in ’em all. Sure, the effects were on the, erm, cheap side, but as far as I’m concerned, that only adds to the fun. Want a good 1950s sci-fi movie for your Halloween party this year? Bert isn’t a bad choice.

I’m pretty fond of most of Gordon’s films, but truth be told, The Cyclops just may be my favorite of the bunch (and yes, I felt that way before I owned this tape). You don’t hear about it as often as you do The Amazing Colossal Man, Earth Vs. The Spider or The Magic Sword, but I feel it ranks among his best work.

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Being such a short movie, things naturally move at a pretty decent pace, which is perfectly fine with me. I love 50s sci-fi, but a slow-moving, talky picture can try even my patience.

(Beware: some spoilers ahead!)

In The Cyclops, things kick off with an expedition led by one Susan Winter (played by Gloria Talbott) heading into a Mexican valley, where Winter’s fiance Bruce disappeared in a plane crash three years prior. Susan doesn’t believe he’s dead, and so she, a scientist acquaintance, a pilot, and a habitual complainer miner (played by your hero and mine, Lon Chaney Jr.) all head off in search of Bruce. That’s them up above, if you don’t believe me.

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As with 85% of all movies made in the 1950s (statistic fact, look it up), there’s radiation involved. In this case, once in the valley, Chaney’s character “Marty” quickly discovers the land is saturated with uranium. That’s him doing so above if you don’t believe me. From that point forward, he will not stop whining about getting back to civilization to stake a claim in the land. Look, I’m a Chaney fan, but even I have to admit his character gets real irritating, real fast in this one.

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As with 98% of the 85% of all 1950s movies with radiation involved, said substance has turned regular sized creatures into, as you would say, “big’uns.” A few prior “did I see that?” instances are confirmed when a big ol’ hawk is seen swooping down on a mouse (these are real animals, and it’s a little surprising that they included such an “in yo face” shot of the hawk tearing, literally, into the rodent).

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More big fellas. A giant spider is encountered, and just as quickly forgotten when a supersized lizard makes its way into the picture. And then another lizard shows up, which naturally provides for a wrasslin’ match between the two.

Gordon achieved special effects such as these through the magic of rear-projection. While as still pictures things don’t look so bad, in practice they were, shall we say, often less than convincing. Anyone that has seen the giant grasshoppers in his Beginning Of The End knows how this all plays out.

But, while the effects aren’t exactly critically-acclaimed, they do add a terrific 1950s charm to the proceedings. And besides, I’ll take Bert I. Gordon’s rear-projected creatures over whatever brain dead crap Michael Bay throws at the screen any day.

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Big lizards and whatnot are all fine and dandy, but everyone is here for the big guy himself, and man does he know how to make an entrance! One of the more talked-about moments in The Cyclops comes when the titular character is first introduced on-screen. In the scene, the main characters are in a cave, when something pushes a huge boulder in front of the entrance. Then, without warning, up from behind the rock pops the Cyclops!

It’s a moment that online recollections often describe as pretty shocking back in the day, and while I’m guessing people today are far too jaded to ever actually be scared by it now, as far as I’m concerned it’s still most certainly a surprising and downright cool introduction to the one-eyed menace.

And what a look the Cyclops has! He’s (according to the scientist) about 25 feet tall, with one side of his face deformed, and one eye (DUH!) peaking out of the other. He’s actually reminiscent of the title character in Gordon’s later War Of The Colossal Beast, (or rather, is War Of The Colossal Beast reminiscent of The Cyclops?) which is fitting, since Duncan Parkin played both.

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More low-budget-but-fun special effects: Marty meets his maker via the hand of the Cyclops. ‘Course, since a giant hand is being superimposed over Chaney’s character, there isn’t any realistic contact made between the two; the hand just kind of flutters around while Chaney screams and falls over dead. It doesn’t look at all like he’s being or been squished, but anything that shuts the Marty character up is fine by me. The Cyclops is just a victim of circumstance, but Marty was willfully a jerk. So who’s the real villain here, hmmm?

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Oh this is great. At one point, the Cyclops grabs Susan, and to achieve the impression that she’s being pulled out of the cave, rather than the hand grabbing her and pulling her out (which would’ve been impossible or at least incredibly difficult in this scenario), instead the entire image moves to simulate the giant retrieving her. It doesn’t get much cheaper than that, and thus I love it so very, very much.

Again, Michael Bay can keep his mindless CGI, I have infinitely more respect for a special effect that doesn’t look realistic in the slightest but has some actual heart behind it. You can tell Bert I. Gordon had a genuine love for his work, and that’s of tantamount importance. To me, that overrules how realistic or unrealistic a special effect is.

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Of course the Cyclops has to fight something besides Lon Chaney Jr. at some point in the film, and that promise is fulfilled in a giant boa constrictor. It’s a real snake, so naturally it’s just a regular-sized example of the species (which, granted, is still pretty humongous). Apparently it was a well-trained snake, because while it wraps itself around the giant, it doesn’t appear aggressive in the least. Rather, it looks like the Cyclops is forcibly holding onto the thing while thrashing about (which, of course, is exactly what Parkin was doing; if you’re going to use a real boa to stage a fight, I guess there’s not a whole lot else you could do, not without getting the thing really mad at you, anyway).

By the way, it’s revealed that missing fiance Bruce is actually the Cyclops, having been mutated by the radiation in the three years since crashing. Just thought I should mention that somewhere.

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Perhaps the most well-known moment in The Cyclops comes during the climax: as the creature attacks, a makeshift spear is grabbed, some brush tied around it, lit on fire, and then thrown directly into his eye! Yikes! Okay, sure, we know it’s a fake eye, obviously, and the quick edit between the spear being thrown and actually making contact with the eye is beyond cheesy, but boy, it still manages to look painful, and even a little disturbing. This was an eyebrow-raising moment for me the first time I saw it, and trust me, that’s not a feeling I was expecting to have when I first sat down to watch the movie!

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Even more disturbing is the Cyclops himself pulling the spear out of his eye, and then helplessly crying as blood streaks down his face. It’s to the everlasting credit of Gordon and/or Parkin (and/or Paul Frees, who provided the wordless noises/grunts/etc. the giant constantly makes) that you actually do feel bad for the Cyclops here.

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And so, the remaining three members of the expedition make there way to the plane and take off, leaving the radioactive valley as the Cyclops lies on the ground, blinded and presumably dead.

A happy ending? Well, yes and no. Sure, the heroes (Marty not included) make it out alive, but when you really think about it, The Cyclops wasn’t really evil. Rather, he was just a mostly-mindless, mutated beast, and it was thanks to a factor (the radioactive valley) that was beyond his control. And, he does at points show some ability to vaguely recall Susan and what he was before the radiation did what it did to him. It’s actually kind of a sad outcome for him when you think about it, even if there wasn’t much anyone could do for the former-Bruce by that point.

You know, I’m probably putting too much thought into what was supposed to be a nice, simple 1950s drive-in movie, one probably intended to be little more than background noise to the noisily necking teenagers of the time.

Believe it or not, to me The Cyclops does recall, or at least seem to mimic, the more-famous Universal sci-fi films of the same period. Of course, it’s much lower-budgeted, and quite a bit shorter, but there’s something about the cinematography and plotting and even the music used that brings to mind the Universal films of the time. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me. Either way, it’s a movie I genuinely enjoy. And it’s made all the better when it’s horror hosted.

Speaking of which…

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Having never seen an Elvira Thriller presentation prior, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Was it simply going to be an episode of Movie Macabre thrown on tape, or would it be specifically shot footage? The opening image of the Thriller Video logo as part of the actual set answered that question, as did Elvira herself mentioning this was another Thriller presentation. Elvira stuff exclusive to this line; I dig it!

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Much of Elvira’s act revolved around double-entendres and the like, usually in regards to her, erm, ‘appearance.’ There was an edge to her humor in general though, and the introduction to the movie is ample (doh!) proof of that. Her description of the Cyclops is a riot: “Everything about this dude is giant-sized! He’s got a big head, big arms, big legs, and the biggest…feet I have ever seen!” Funny stuff!

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Again, because I had never seen one of these tapes before, I wasn’t sure if Elvira would just provide simple bookends to the movie, or if an actual episode of the series would be imitated. I was pleasantly surprised to see that while the movie itself is (I guess) uncut, there is a short break at, roughly, the halfway point for Elvira to come back and remind everyone that she’s hosting this movie. In the bit, she has a few toys and is mockingly reenacting the movie before noticing she’s back on the air, nervously remarking “Oh..hi! I was just, um, playing with myself!” while tossing the toys away.

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Her outro declares that while the movie wasn’t the greatest, it was “Sure better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick! Oh, sorry, Bruce…” Ha! She also wonders if Mr. T was the dialogue coach for the Cyclops (he grunts a lot during the movie), and posits that Lon Chaney’s character could provide the basis for a sequel (I sure hope not!).

More interestingly, while I was half-expecting some trailers for other Thriller titles at the end of the movie, as was the M.O. of many video companies at the time, I was surprised to see them actually incorporated into Elvira’s outro segment. Full, ostensibly Thriller-produced trailers for Dracula, The Picture Of Dorian Gray, and Charlie Boy (all three part of Elvira’s series for the label) appear during this closing segment, before Elvira concludes matters with a declaration of “Unpleasantos dreamos!” Get it? Her ending phrase was always “Unpleasant dreams!” and the movie has the Mexican theme, and, and…aw never mind.

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See, 1985. Did you think I was lying? I wasn’t. I love the obviously computer-generated titles of the closing credits; they’re such a fantastic reminder of the medium and the time this was produced in.

As the copyright indicates, Thriller was part of the International Video Entertainment company. There were videos put out simply under the I.V.E. banner, but methinks Elvira works so much better with a label called “Thriller.”

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Elvira still has a home video presence via DVDs, but as far as I know, none of movies found in this Thriller series have been re-released outside of these 1985 tapes. Certainly the Elvira segments themselves haven’t appeared since, having been tailored specifically to Thriller Video (at least they were for The Cyclops).

That being the case, Elvira’s Thriller Video presentation of 1957’s The Cyclops proves why there is still some worth to VHS (and Beta): many movies/shows/etc. on video have since been re-released on DVD (thus naturally killing the value of the older tape releases), BUT there’s still many, many titles that have not been given the digital treatment. And, it’s for the reason that the old video format shouldn’t be totally abandoned in this day and age.

Plus, it doesn’t hurt when a videotape-exclusive title is ridiculously entertaining in every way. Elvira hosting The Cyclops via the long-gone Thriller Video certainly fits that description. I may not add new old pre-recorded VHS tapes to my collection as much as I used to, but when I do, it’s because they’re most definitely cool, and rest assured, this one certainly is just that!

(Happy surprisins: despite being 30 years old and a former-rental tape that was run through who-knows-how-many VCRs over the years, the quality of my copy was still really pretty good. See, these old VHS tapes are more resilient than they’re often given credit for!)

Mystery Science Theater 3000 Returning To TV?!

(UPDATE: It happened! Read about it here!)

It looks like it’s true!

Looks like I’m a day late on this one; I was so wrapped up in my WFLD Batman post yesterday after work that this totally slipped past me. You have no idea how much I’m flipping out right now. Okay, so I’m not literally slam-dancing or anything like that, but on the inside, I’m totally going nuts. I’ve been waiting years for this to happen, along with no doubt countless other MSTies. July 5th can’t come fast enough for me!

(Don’t know what Mystery Science Theater 3000 is? Read the link! Real quick: it was a show where a guy and his two robots heckle a bad movie.)

The link doesn’t mention which/how many episodes will air on Retro TV; the mention of 11 seasons and both Joel and Mike makes it vaguely (to me) give the impression that it will be all of them, but I somehow doubt that; there are just too many rights issues involved with so many of the movies featured on the show. Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t be any more thrilled no matter what episodes they’ve acquired rights to, and you’d better believe I’m taping all of them, though I probably already own most of them. I’m going to take a wild guess and suppose that only the shows featuring public domain movies will be ran. And I’d be totally fine with that. That’s still plenty of good MST3K for me.

(EDIT: Satellite News has the info: 26 episodes, many but not all of the movies are in the public domain.)

Oh, I have the episodes I originally recorded myself, as well as episodes I bought/traded for, and of course I have many (but not quite all) of the DVD sets, but there’s just something about the fact that MST3K will be back on ‘real’ TV that makes the world a little bit better place. It’s been over 10 years since the series has been on broadcast television; The Sci-Fi Channel (no, it wasn’t “SyFy” yet) ran one last episode on January 31st, 2004 (experiment 912 – The Screaming Skull) before dropping it.

So, yeah, I’m stoked. Mystery Science Theater 3000 is coming back to TV, and that, my friends, is awesome.