Tag Archives: trailer

VHS Review: Godzilla (1998 Widescreen Version)

You know, I originally had a whole different post planned for a late-July update. It didn’t happen, with the result being that now I’m scrambling to get something up before the end of the month, lest the blog become, uh, update-less. Or something like that.

This actually works out perfectly though, because recently I’ve been mega-nostalgic for the late-1990s of my youth, and since we are now in the thick of summer, things from these months in particular. In that arena, I’ve got something that strikes more than a few chords.

Behold: To your left, it’s the 1998 US remake of Godzilla, that product of Hollywood that, for a few months at least, dominated the American entertainment front. (And yes, I know the movie actually released in May, but I still think of it as a late-90s summer blockbuster, and thus, that’s where I’m coming from with this article. May counts, right?) I had already fallen in love with the original Godzilla movies by the time this came out, so to be around for a brand new theatrical adaptation? Too cool! (Nostalgic Bullet Point #1 = CHECK!)

‘Course, this isn’t just the ’98 Godzilla, it’s the ’98 on Godzilla on good ol’ VHS, and therefore you should be having visions of Blockbuster Video right…about…now. (Nostalgic Bullet Point #2 = CHECK!)

‘Course, this isn’t just the the ’98 Godzilla on VHS, either; it’s the widescreen version. Cool winnins! Now, while I’ll never claim this particular release to be rare, anyone that regularly hits thrifts stores and whatnot up like I do knows there’s at least a 90% chance you’ll find the regular full-screen edition on any given visit. No joke, it’s uber-common. The widescreen edition, however, is not as commonly found.

This tape strikes particular chords with yours truly not only because it’s ‘Zilla and it’s VHS, but also because of my dad. No, he didn’t take me to see this in theaters; I didn’t see any of the film until it hit home video. (Not for any particular reason, I just never went to the movies all that often; still don’t, truth be told.) Rather, it was the “home theater” TV set-up dad put together. Hi-Fi 4-Head VHS VCR, surround sound, the whole deal. Even though we generally (always?) went the full-screen route with the VHS tapes we bought, it was a darn impressive home theater, especially sound-wise. I could be in the other room or downstairs, and as soon as I heard that booming rumbling, I knew someone was watching a movie! (Nostalgic Bullet Point #3 = CHECK!)

So yes, this tape, even though we didn’t have this particular version then, it absolutely takes me back. I’m not sure how much nowadays, but back in the 1990s, getting the theatrical “experience” at home was a pretty big deal. And that’s where these widescreen releases came in. Judging by their relative scarcity, I’m assuming they were more of a niche market, but for those that wanted the whole picture (as in aspect ratio) with their movies, they were a must.

Like I said, anyone that regularly scours the VHS sections of thrift stores undoubtedly comes across the normal full-screen Godzilla on a regular basis, and as such, should be familiar with that textured (embossed) dark green sleeve peering out at them, probably sandwiched between 19 copies of Titanic and that one sports bloopers tape you can’t believe anyone ever wanted. Whatever your thoughts on the movie itself may be, you can’t deny Columbia Tristar gave it wildly attractive packaging. Well, you can deny it, but I won’t believe you. Either way, it’s a perfect artifact of late-1990s home video. (Nostalgic Bullet Point #4 = CHECK!)

This widescreen edition, however, changes things up a bit. Many widescreen releases of the time had the same general layout of the full-screen editions, often with only a banner along the top or similar, relatively minor, notation regarding the aspect ratio. Not so here; there could be no mistaking what you were getting with this one, with declarations not once but twice on the front cover alone. And, if you somehow missed the “Widescreen Presentation” at the top, the gigantic “WIDESCREEN” running down the right side of the cover had to have slammed you like the foot of ‘Zilla himself.

This comes at the expense of the full-screen edition’s textured cover however, and that hurts me deep. Instead, the artwork is, as you can see, squeezed into a box, and without said texturing. The black-and-green color scheme is attractive, and the overall presentation feels like something special, but to me it’s not as visually stunning as the more-common full-screen edition.

(The back of the box, except for the expected alterations to the aspect ratio information, is identical to the regular release, so if you live in some weird world where you immediately identify video tapes by the back cover first, that ain’t gonna fly here man.)

Oh, by the way, you can actually play the video! Go figure! Dig this…

Any kid growing up in the VHS era has to remember the strings of trailers and whatnot that often preceded the movie on major studio releases like this one. I mean, for people my age, there was Batman rushing out for a Diet Coke, that kid playing baseball before Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Hulk Hogan’s smash hit Suburban Commando trailer lurking before Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II. This stuff is indelibly burnt into my mind and, I’m sure, the minds of countless others my age. Sure, we could have fast-forwarded through them, but the fact so many of us grew up knowing Suburban Commando was a thing means we usually didn’t. Or at least, I usually didn’t. To me nowadays, these additional bits stand out to me as much as the movies they were preceding. And yes, I totally have “Right Field” stuck in my head now…

Anyway, Godzilla was no exception to this. Before the movie, you’ve got some previews! There was some trailer for The Mask of Zorro, but the main areas of interest for our purposes today are the two Godzilla-related bits.

First, an ad for Godzilla: The Series, an animated continuation of this very movie that aired on Fox Kids back in the late-90s. No, not this series, this series. I was a little too old to watch Fox Kids by the time this debuted, though from I understand it it had a more mature artistic style, and was probably aimed towards somewhat older audiences, but the fact remains I only caught fleeting moments of it. (Still, according to Wikipedia, it was a direct follow-up to the film, which I think is cool.)

After that, an ad for Godzilla: The Album, the official soundtrack to the movie that was about to start. I won’t say this soundtrack is as ubiquitous as the full-screen VHS Godzilla, but it’s up there. Wikipedia sez it was heavily focused on alternative-rock, and one look at that line-up of artists to the right seems to bear that out.

I never owned the soundtrack, though my cousin did. All I know is that the cover of “Heroes” was inescapable around that time, and naturally it shows up in this ad, which means it has now replaced “Right Field” in my head. Since I’m not a fan of even the original version of that song (“Heroes,” that is, not “Right Field”), I’m not especially enamored by this, though even I will admit that hearing it instantly places me in 1998, so far-reaching was the song back then.

So, Godzilla, the movie itself. That’s the title screen to the left, yo. As I said, I didn’t see it in theaters during release, though I was certainly excited for it. The Taco Bell tie-in promotion was sampled, and toys were collected. Even better, the wave of promotion brought forth reissues of many of the original Godzilla movies on VHS, some of which had become pretty hard to find prior. I think only Godzilla Raids Again and Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster remained MIA, though Destroy all Monsters got a first-ever US video release around that time, as did many of the heretofore unavailable (domestically) installments from the 1990s. It was great, and I fondly recall going to Blockbuster one night, seeing 1991’s Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah on the shelves along with a slew of other new-to-me entries, and just being blown away. This was completely unfamiliar territory to me!

(Of course, we saw the same wave of merchandising here in the DVD era when 2014’s Godzilla came out, and in the same wheelhouse, 2005’s King Kong remake, as well. I love these releases that show up whenever Hollywood puts out a new, mega-hyped remake! Indeed, they’re some of my favorite things about these updates!)

Anyway, Godzilla 1998. It featured a totally-new, iguana-like Godzilla, with extensive CGI animation to match, and since it was by the same guys who did Independence Day, the flick was a special effects extravaganza. In short, the kind of movie that instantly comes to mind when you (well, I) think of the American summer movie season.

All that in addition to a plot in which ‘Zilla stomps all over New York City, chases Ferris Bueller and the voice of Moe Szyslak around, and has a ton of baby Godzillas cause he’s now capable of asexual reproduction, well, it didn’t take long for negative word-of-mouth to strike the film. The longtime G fans naturally hated it, and because it was a loud, special-effects laden Hollywood product, the critics weren’t especially kind to it, either. Of course, the reactions from casual moviegoers, who were probably just looking for some entertainment and didn’t necessarily care whether the flick was faithful to the source material or not, varied as you’d expect.

Truth be told, in previous years I’ve been more on the negative side of the fence in regards to the film, though as of late I’ve taken a more positive stance on it. I don’t really see it as a legit “Godzilla movie,” but I think that’s just the trick needed. Taken on its own merits, yes it’s big, yes it’s loud, and no, it’s not exactly an exercise in intellectual stimulation, but for what it is, a product of late-90s Hollywood, it’s perfectly serviceable entertainment. Your mileage may vary of course, and I can certainly see someone being unable to forgive it for the Godzilla mythos it ignores and/or destroys, but me personally? Aw, it’s not so bad. I look at it the same way I do 2006’s theatrical Miami Vice; as an adaption of the original material, it’s not so successful, but as a standalone film taken on its own merits, it works.

You know, I spend so much time looking at ancient budget VHS tapes, it’s easy for me to forget that the format can look and sound really, really nice. Relatively speaking, of course; it’s still not digital quality, but as a product of a major studio, this widescreen version of Godzilla could (and probably did) show off entertainment centers equipped only with VHS pretty adequately. Also, an SP recording never hurts.

Here, you can see ‘Zilla busting out of what remains of Madison Square Garden. (His discovery that the lil’ baby Godzillas are now dead really irks him, by the way.) Maybe my screenshot isn’t the greatest in the world, but if nothing else, it gives you an idea of how this appears in action, not only due to the letterbox format, but also the quality in general. Trust me, it looks nice, though not without the expected VHS ‘grain’ (which only adds to the old school vibes of the tape, in my opinion – it’s a good thing).

Also, the sound; it has that booming quality I mentioned earlier! But then, why wouldn’t it? It’s a Hi-Fi stereo tape, played in a Hi-Fi stereo VCR. And bear in mind, I played this on my crappy beater VCR; had I run this through a high-end, or at least higher-end, deck, this would have all came off even better! Still, as it stands, it’s pretty impressive to me eyes (and ears).

Look, it’s 2017. Obviously my widescreen Godzilla VHS is now wildly, wildly obsolete. Not only format-wise, but also because there’s a new, mega-deluxe 4K Blu-ray release of the film. Have at it over on Amazon! That said, for the time this tape came out, unless you were a Laserdisc loyalist or an early adopter of DVD (I assume this released on DVD right away, anyway), this was the best version of the film for the common man-about-town, on a format basically anyone and everyone owned by that point. Laserdisc was still niche, DVD hadn’t taken off into the stratosphere yet, and VHS was king; that’s 1998 home video in a nutshell.

So, the next time you’re out thrifting, and you’re looking for a Hollywood special effects extravaganza by way of VHS, Godzilla, widescreen or otherwise, isn’t a bad choice, despite the infamy it has garnered over the years. You can sit back, let the sound and CGI envelope you, and turn off your mind for 2+ hours. Pretend it’s 1998 again; you’ll be happier that way. I know I am. (Though, you may have to contend with the hopes that the VCR doesn’t eat the tape; hey, I’ll never say 1998 was perfect!)

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Son of Ghoul 30th Anniversary Tribute!

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That screenshot above was taken nearly five years ago, during Son of Ghoul’s 25th anniversary special. (Has it really been five years? I refuse to believe five years passed that quickly!) A momentous occasion for sure, and a marvelously entertaining episode to boot. Interviews with past crew members, historic clips and bits, and an honest-to-goodness movie (The Most Dangerous Game), it was a fantastic show that stayed on my DVR for, no joke, around 6 or 7 months. It was like the perfect summation of what made Son of Ghoul, well, Son of Ghoul.

However, something SOG said, not during that episode but during a later show, has stuck in the back of my mind ever since it was uttered: when describing his 20th and 25th anniversaries, he made an off-hand comment about a potential 30th, essentially stating he had no idea if he’d even make it to 30. It was something along the lines of “Can I make it that long?” It was a throwaway line, not even really a joke, but it did bring up an interesting question: in this day and age of waning local television, where horror hosts in particular are an increasingly endangered species, could SOG hold in there for the big 3-0? How long can a good thing last?

I don’t know where today falls in the ultimate larger picture of The Son of Ghoul Show, but I do know that Keven “Son of Ghoul” Scarpino has accomplished the nearly impossible: a horror hosted movie showcase that has continuously run weekly since June 13, 1986 – 30 years ago today!

Make no mistake, this is a monumental achievement. Any television personality doing what they do for an uninterrupted 30 years is something to be celebrated, but a horror host? It’s not unheard of for one to run for a number of years, leave the airwaves (for one reason or another), and then come back some time later. But, to stay on for three decades, simply by doing what they do best? All while facing station changes, shifting television landscapes, and the decline of horror hosts on over-the-air TV stations nationwide? Just how does that happen?!

In fact, he is easily one of the longest continually-running horror hosts in the nation! Indeed, it seems he is THE longest running! That just makes this achievement all the more amazing!

It’s times like this that I count myself especially fortunate to be a Northeast Ohioan, or at least a TV-watchin’ Northeast Ohioan. It seems like if a local television personality has had an impact on us, they never really go away. I mean, Ghoulardi was only on from 1963 to 1966, and yet, Ernie Anderson’s iconic host is still instantly recognizable around here. And Big Chuck & Lil’ John? Even when they ‘retired’ back in 2007, they were still all over the place, and then they came back to TV in 2011. My point is, if you can make it around here, there will always be a place for you, somehow, somewhere.

Throughout all the changes in television in general, never mind locally, over the last 30 years, SOG has been there, doing what he does best: hosting a movie, performing in some skits, interacting with the viewers. It’s perfect “sit back and chill” weekend entertainment, and SOG has it down to a science. I simply can’t imagine a weekend without his show, a fact that made his uncertainty in regards to reaching 30 years a bit unsettling. Northeast Ohioans have long memories, but I suppose nothing and no one is immune to the sands of time.

But for now, SOG is still here, still plugging away, and I couldn’t be happier about it. I go way back with the show. Indeed, quite a few of my weekends have featured The Son of Ghoul Show, starting all the way back to the fall of 1997. In many ways, my love of local broadcasting can be traced back to The Son of Ghoul Show. That’s not a small statement I make, either.

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The man himself, via an exclusive shot taken at his 1997 personal appearance at JC Comics & Cards. Check out the SOG cake to the right!

Anyone taking even a cursory glance at this blog has undoubtedly seen the presence SOG has had; I’m blatantly and unabashedly a longtime fan. We’ve looked at an episode or two, he’s gotten specific shout-outs during all three of my Ghoulardifest write-ups, and heck, I even took the time to post an update when his time slot was shifted back in February 2015. ‘Course, it was the big extensive interview with the man himself nearly two years ago (as of this writing) that was the ultimate example of SOG on this BLOG. (See what I did there?)

So yes, SOG reaching 30 years on the air is a big deal in general, but especially for me. Why? Because I’ve been around for 19 of those 30 years. I had seen Big Chuck & Lil’ John first, and was aware of Superhost in my formative years, but truthfully, it was SOG that introduced me to this whole Northeast Ohio horror host deal. And therein lies some nostalgia…

(I know I’ve related some, or all, of this before, so please, bear with me…)

I first discovered the show in the fall of 1997. At the time, I was looking for a Mystery Science Theater 3000 surrogate. I had become (and remain to this day) a die-hard fan of MST3K, but at the end of summer ’97, it was too expensive to keep the premium cable box needed to access the Sci-Fi Channel, and thus, MST3K (the network later became part of our basic cable package, but that was a few years away). Being only 11 years old, I didn’t have much say in the matter, and so, as summer came to a close, it became increasingly obvious I needed something to satisfy my bad movie-mocking needs.

Also during that same summer, I had become aware of “The Cat,” TV-29 in Akron, TV-35 in Cleveland. While I was primarily a horror and sci-fi fan (albeit a still-burgeoning one), The Cat introduced me to a wider range of older, sometimes wildly obscure, flicks. B-westerns, silents, foreign films and so on, I quickly found a growing interest in all of them.

By the time fall came around, I was jonesing for MST3K, or something similar, and I was jonesing bad. In retrospect, it’s a bit odd that it took me several months to actually discover The Son of Ghoul Show, but the fact is that some idle channel-surfing one Saturday night landed me upon SOG’s annual Halloween show. He was on Friday and Saturday at that point, same episode both nights, so I guess this would have been November 1, 1997 (since an online calendar tells me Friday was October 31st).

The movie was the original Night of the Living Dead, a flick he runs each Halloween. My brother Luke was watching with me, and as I recall it, we turned the channel on just as SOG’s introductory segment was coming to a close. The movie started shortly thereafter, and man, that was all it took. Before long, I was hooked. It took me a minute to realize that SOG was dropping in sound effects and music into the movie, but I loved it. I loved the film too, which was my first time seeing it.

But it was the host segments and skits that really got me. SOG was something entirely new to me. A genuine horror host, a concept I only had a vague notion of prior (I never thought of Chuck & John as horror hosts until later, and besides, it took me a few more years to really appreciate them). He was witty, he was acerbic, he was silly, he read mail. In short, it was everything I had been craving. In that single two-hour block that Saturday night, an entire new world of television, of comedy, was opened to me. Baby, I was done.

And he was ours! This was all local! SOG is the kind of entertainer anyone from anywhere can enjoy, but his program takes on a whole new dimension if you’re from the area. I doubt I was cognizant of all that when I watched for the first time (in fact, I’m sure I wasn’t), but it’s a factor that became increasingly important to me the more I watched and the bigger a fan I became.

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Another exclusive shot taken at JC Comics & Cards. Here SOG autographs a promotional picture, for either my brother or myself. We both still have our signed pictures to this day, either way.

Even though it was only until the following week, it was a long, long wait for the next episode. I was in 5th grade, and while (as I recall it), the other kids were into wrestling and/or MTV and whatnot, I personally could not wait to see more of this new thing I found.

Finally it was there; the movie was The Vampire Bat, and I knew I had made the right decision in jumping on this bandwagon. (I also learned it was the same movie, same episode both Friday and Saturday nights, but this wound up being beyond helpful. If I particularly liked a movie or bit, or one of the letters I later started sending in was on, I could sample Friday night and record Saturday night.)

From there on out, it was a constant sense of discovery. Nearly every single week, I was seeing a movie completely new to me. Okay, sure, they weren’t good movies, but they weren’t supposed to be! I can’t say this is where my love of watching bad movies because they’re so awful began, but the selections SOG ran certainly helped fuel the ongoing desire for a good baddie. The Hoodlum, The Corpse Vanishes, Santa Claus Conquers The Martians, Colossus and the Amazon Queen, all of those (and many more!) were introduced to me via SOG. I can’t say I ‘love’ the films, but they hold a nostalgic place in my heart nevertheless, simply because of how and where they fall in my lifetime.

And it was all so funny! I loved the mail segments, where SOG’s acerbic, sarcastic wit was on full-display. He had no problem goofing on the letter writers, and really, that was part of the fun, even if you were the one who had written in! And the skits! Barfaby, Mr. Banjo, Fatman and Rotten, Zero, Eat At Joe’s, and even the one-offs, so much of it had a hip, edgy, oftentimes “warped” tone that made the whole experience irresistible. I mean, “Genie of the John,” in which SOG played the titular character, one who emerges from a toilet? Stuff like that appealed (and appeals) endlessly to me.

‘Course, when I began watching, I didn’t really know about the first home of the show (Canton’s WOAC TV-67, from 1986 to 1995), and thus what bits were new and what bits old. Nor did I have a full understanding of the Ghoulardi lineage, only a vague knowledge of the tradition. (Ah, the days before the internet presented every last drop of information at the touch of a button!) This was almost all totally new to me, but I loved it.

Within just a few weeks of my becoming an instant mega-fan, SOG announced on the air that he was going to be making a personal appearance at JC Comics & Cards on State Road in Cuyahoga Falls. JCs?! I knew right where that was! It was practically just down the street from me! Dare I go and meet my newfound hero? Of course! (By the way, JC Comics & Cards is still at the same location; you’d be well-advised to stop in and buy some stuff – there’s a lot of great things there!)

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That’s my brother Luke on the left. I’m the one on the right. A rare shot of me not being a total badass? I think I’ve aged for the better.

Looking back, his personal appearance at JC Comics & Cards was probably my first real celebrity meeting. Okay, my school had a Cleveland Indian (don’t remember his name) appear and sign autographs once, and I had gotten baseballs autographed outside of (then) Jacob’s Field before, but as far as being a fan and specifically seeking out a meet-and-greet, SOG was the pretty much the first.

There was only one hindrance: I was a fairly shy 11 year old. It’s something I’ve long since grown out of, and nowadays I have no qualms with walking right up to a celebrity and bugging meeting them. But back then? It was totally uncharted territory for me. I didn’t quite know what to expect.

So, the big day arrived. My brother, mom and I waltzed into JCs, and there he was: Son of Ghoul, in person! I was excited and insanely nervous at the same time. I needn’t have worried though; as has been proven time and time again over the years, SOG is absolutely fantastic with his fans. He was personable, he was funny, he answered all questions posed to him, he took pictures, he signed autographs. Even if I did lock-up once after asking him a question (shy and all, remember), it was a great experience.

In fact, here’s something about the visit that I’ll never forget: after we had met him, got our pictures and so on, I was browsing the comics, and I found that 1988 reprint issue of Action Comics #1, for $3. Without prompting, SOG came up and actually looked at it with me, marveling at the price and the 1938 date in the corner. I thought (and think) that was just the coolest. When a personality goes that extra mile to interact with a fan, it shows how genuine they are. In the years since, talking with SOG or watching him talk with other fans, I know my impression of him back in ’97 at JCs was spot-on.

It really is hard to put in words the influence SOG had on me growing up. His show helped shape how I look at movies, at comedy, at broadcasting, everything. And I’m not the only one; There were other kids my age that were just as enthralled with it as I was.

In fact, this blog has introduced me to one: Brett Van Wagner. He discovered this site due to the SOG content, he messaged me, and we’ve been chatting ever since. Even though he lives out-of-state and we’ve never met in person, I’m proud to call him friend. We’ve even had shockingly similar experiences with The Son of Ghoul Show, and we’ve both been fans for nearly the same amount of time. I’m going to turn things over to him for a moment here; I’ve known for awhile now how important his recollections of “SOG history” are, and when I came up with the idea for this post, he was the first one I asked to contribute. Here he is now in his own words…

Brett:

Where to start? First off, a huge thank you to the Northeast Ohio Video Hunter for letting me be a part of an article about such a historic moment in Northeast Ohio television! Although we have never met, I have enjoyed emailing the author of this blog and sharing memories and stories of Son of Ghoul for probably close to a year now. Our SOG stories are actually quite similar, and it makes me wonder how many other kids our age were watching the show at that time. While I live in Florida now, I make it home to NE Ohio from time to time and perhaps one day we will meet up at a convention or SOG appearance. But, thank you for allowing me to be a part of this!

I was first introduced to the Son of Ghoul Show sometime in 1997. My dad would occasionally have the show on, although it seems like my mom would always make him turn it off. My dad grew up watching both Ghoulardi and The Ghoul, and would talk about watching those shows when he was young. After months of catching a few minutes here or there, I remember the first episode I ever watched from start to finish. It was Friday, August 29, 1997 and it was the first week of 6th grade for me. After a week of realizing that middle school was now my life, I realized I needed something to take the edge off. The movie that night was Godzilla vs. Megalon and I only recently realized it was actually a rerun of the very first show to ever air on the CAT. Going back and watching that episode again, it makes quite a bit of sense, as SOG refers to the fact that we are now seeing him in prime time and actually in Cleveland quite a bit. A great episode to officially start watching. The episode also featured what would quickly become, and still is, my favorite SOG sketch, Mr. Banjo. I’m not quite sure what it was about that green-screened dog, but no matter how many times I hear the opening rifts of that song and hear SOG start to talk in that ridiculous accent, I truly laugh out loud every time.

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This is the Mr. Banjo character Brett is referring to. Coincidentally (as you’re about to read), this is from a promo for The Brain That Wouldn’t Die!

In all of the years, my favorite SOG movie is The Brain That Wouldn’t Die. Fittingly, my very first fan letter was read during a show that featured this movie on October 10, 1997. Honorable mentions for other movies that I have a soft spot for go to favorites such as The Giant Gila Monster, Alice Sweet Alice (the only SOG movie that actually scared me as a kid – love it now though) Phantom from Space, Plan Nine from Outer Space, Killers from Space, (I’m noticing a space theme here) White Zombie, and the lost but still survives on VHS collections somewhere, Lethal Justice.

Despite the dungeon and skulls the faux scary vibe of the show, what I took away from the show more than anything was a love of comedy. From all of the drops in the movies (yeah, I know Bill Cosby has kind of fallen out of grace in society in the last year, and rightfully so.. but those old comedy albums of his are pure gold and the way SOG would incorporate drop pieces from those albums into the movies and show were fantastic) to the incredibly dry and witty sense of humor SOG would posses during mail breaks and show segments, the show for me was comedy first and foremost. SOG never fails to make me laugh with one of his one liners or observations during a skit or mail break. In addition to helping me with my love and appreciation for comedy, SOG always reinforced my love of The Beatles. While most kids grew up listening to their sing-a-long tapes, I remember listening to our old Beatles LP’s as young as 3 or 4, and my love for the band is still just as strong all these years later. Knowing SOG shared that love and appreciation for the band and incorporated them so heavily on his show was the icing on the cake.

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Another exclusive shot of SOG at that fateful JC Comics & Cards appearance!

Just like the Northeast Ohio Video Hunter, the first time I ventured out to meet SOG at a personal appearance was in December 1997 at JC Comics and Cards in Cuyahoga Falls. Heck, maybe I have met him after all. What I do remember is how friendly and kind SOG has always been to his fans. He remembered me from letters I had written, talked to my dad and I, and was just such a nice guy. I would again go to many personal appearances, including the 1999 FrightVision where I would spent lots of time talking to my horror host idol and also had the chance to meet, according to the headshot, the one…the only…Fidge! Fidge was also the nicest guy in the world, and the years he and SOG spent together are the best years of the show for me. The last time I saw SOG (and Fidge) in person was in October 2002 when they had the stage show during Fright Fest at what was then Six Flags Worlds of Adventure amusement park. (Sidenote, I am also a HUGE amusement park and roller coaster buff. Geauga Lake Amusement Park, which was a Northeast Ohio institution that spent a few years as a Six Flags park before becoming Geauga Lake again under the same owners of Cedar Point, Cedar Fair, is a place that I miss more than anything and am super sad about losing) Back on track, even though I haven’t seen SOG in person since 2002, I have stayed in touch with him via e-mail and he is nothing but kind and helpful to his fans. Questions I have had regarding episodes, etc, always are answered and he is just the nicest guy in the world, despite what he may want us to think from his on air persona.

It was so sad to hear of the passing of Fidge, especially because of the circumstances, in 2003, and SOG handled it with such class and respect in the tribute episode. Between that at the recent Colonel Klink tribute episodes, SOG has proven that even in the worst situations, he is the ultimate professional and is able to bring the audience together to celebrate the lives of two great men who were so influential on the show.

As the years went on, I went off to college and then moved to Florida eight years ago. I’ve experienced several jobs, a few serious girlfriends, and the usual ups and downs of life. Still, I always caught SOG any time I was home in Ohio on a Saturday night. In the more recent years, I have purchased over 20 episodes of the show from the SOG website and as time continues to go on, I’m sure I will purchase 20 more. Any time I am feeling a bit homesick, or just at the end of a long week, the excitement and comfort of popping in a Son of Ghoul DVD is just as strong as when I first discovered the show nearly 19 years ago. There have been countless horror hosts that have come and gone, but for one host to be on for 30 consecutive years is truly an amazing feat, especially in today’s constantly changing broadcast world. Hats off to the Son of Ghoul. I can only hope he appreciates not only the accomplishment of 30 years on the air, but how influential he was for kids like me who didn’t really have a place to fit in. Thanks for everything, SOG. Here’s to a happy 30th anniversary, and hope for many, many more.

Brett Van Wagner

It really is wild how close our experiences with the show are. I think we would have become fast friends back in the day, and I’m certainly happy to know him now. His contribution is invaluable to this article and I can’t thank him enough for providing it. You is good people, Brett!

Brett also touched on a great point: it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the show. The fact that it has continued to survive though every seemingly-insurmountable obstacle shows not only how durable the show is, but how good SOG is at what he does.

The Son of Ghoul Show has survived a nasty lawsuit in the late-1980s, time changes, station changes, the switch to digital TV in ’09, the eroding of local TV in general and the presence of horror hosts in particular, even actual deaths…

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The passing of Ron “Fidge” Huffman in 2003 was an absolute shocker. Fidge was SOG’s sidekick, and in the late-90s/early-2000s, he was ever present. He took a lot of abuse on the show, but I think he knew it was all in fun; his presence gave the program something of a “warped” Big Chuck & Lil’ John quality.

I had the fortune to meet Fidge at FrightVision ’99, where that autographed picture above comes from. He couldn’t have been any nicer; it truly seemed like he got a kick out of the whole thing, and it showed when meeting his fans. I’m truly sorry that he passed; I’m glad I got to meet him when I did.

Something else Brett mentioned was the more-recent death of Jim “The Colonel” Klink. Klink went way back with our local horror hosts, sending tons of his artwork to Superhost and later SOG. Not only that, but at least as far as SOG went, he’d send in packages of random items, always decorated with a variety of stickers on the outside (as SOG said once, he couldn’t believe the post office accepted them!). Needless to say, SOG ragged on Klink quite a bit too, but again, it was all in fun.

I never met Klink, though I did see him walking around at Ghoulardifest once or twice. I wish I would have went up and spoken to him now. Still, he did leave this nice comment on my interview with SOG page, and it’s worth sharing here:

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The outpouring of grief online for Klink was quite large, and reading that comment, it’s easy to see why. He was a genuinely nice, enthusiastic fan, as his note above makes abundantly clear.

As Brett mentioned, SOG’s tribute shows to both Fidge and Klink are fantastic. Genuine, honest, funny, they were perfect in honoring both guys.

Their passing was tragic, and the unfortunate fact of the matter is when a show reaches such longevity, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll run into something like that. It comes with the territory of being on for so many years, I suppose.

Indeed, when something like that happens, it only serves to remind you of how far back this all goes, and how quickly it can all go away. By this point, SOG has become a veritable staple of Northeast Ohio television. It’s simply impossible to imagine a time when he’s not on the air in some fashion. But obviously, all good things come to an end, which makes treasuring them while they’re here all the more important. I’ve made that mistake with some other shows, but luckily, I won’t make it here. I’m grateful for each week SOG is on the air.

So, that’s my history with SOG, but it’s not a finished history by any means; it continues to this very day. His current shows, of course I’m there, and just like when I was 11, I still get a sense of anticipation in hearing what movie will be shown on a given night, or seeing if some letter or package I sent in is going to be presented. Stuff like that I don’t think will ever change.


So, my thoughts, and Brett’s up above obviously, on this big 30th anniversary are now known. But, I also reached out online for some other contributions to this big ol’ tribute, to help show what an impact SOG has had on other viewers and collaborators. Some wonderful additions were gathered, which I’d like to share now.

From famous fellow horror host “Wolfman Mac” Kelly (who for years shared Saturday nights with SOG on our local RTV affiliate; SOG 7 PM-9PM, Mac 10 PM-12 AM):

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Son of Ghoul with Wolfman Mac, as they appeared together during an episode of Wolfman Mac’s Chiller Drive-In.

Hey Son Of Ghoul, happy 30th anniversary to you my fellow horror host! You have such an awesome talent and your fans are truly fortunate to have YOU keeping the genre alive. Er…undead…

I had the honor of meeting you a few years ago at Wasteland. You’re not only a great horror host, you’re also a really good guy. All the best to you. Stay Creepy!! – Wolfman Mac

Mac, like SOG, is one of the coolest, nicest guys you could ever hope to talk to, which is not something that can be said for every television personality.

From longtime SOG-friend and genuine good guy Jungle Bob Tuma (check out his official website!) comes this hilarious recollection:

Jungle Bob, longtime buddy of Son of Ghoul and all-around good egg. Photo used with permission.

Jungle Bob, longtime buddy of Son of Ghoul and all-around good egg. Photo used with permission.

I remember the time that the Son of Ghoul & I went out to eat after Cinema Wasteland at an all you can eat Chinese Restaurant (his favorite place to eat). He had been there the week before & ” spoke up” when somebody tried to leave without paying their bill. This made him a hero to the girls who worked there…while we were there, we noticed them smiling, they even brought over a plate of crab legs for him.

He went to go wash his hands & I took my pen & drew a heart & wrote “I love you” on his napkin & when he returned I told him that the Chinese waitress wrote it…I had no idea that SOG would call the waitress over & ask her name & flirt with her…I even tried to stop him but when she came over she let him know that it was not her who wrote that …she also told him that she actually saw me write it while he was away from the table…

He looked at me & said..”OMG Jung, what is wrong with you…I am so embarrassed!” I thought about it & said to myself…”See, we even have fun when we are not on TV…Whether we are on & off the air, Keven (SOG) & I always seem to have a good time & that’s why we have been friends for so long… Happy 30th buddy & looking forward to our next Chinese dinner, LOL.

Anyone that has seen Jung on SOG’s show or watched them interact together in-person knows they have an incredible rapport that is absolutely hilarious, as his story demonstrates!

JB is not only ridiculously friendly, but he knows pretty much everything about every animal ever. You’d be well-advised to book him for any event.

From my buddy Matt Brassfield over at Rotten Ink:

Son of Ghoul with Dayton's Baron Von Porkchop. Photo used with permission.

Son of Ghoul with Dayton’s Baron Von Porkchop. Photo used with permission.

Hometown Horror Hosts mean a lot to viewers, and Cleveland has had their share of iconic hosts from Ghoulardi to Superhost in the golden age of broadcast TV hosting to modern late night ghoulies…but for over 30 years The Son Of Ghoul has entertained viewers with his silly antics and zany sidekicks like the Fidge (R.I.P.) and has truly became a staple for the Cleveland area.

I have had the honor to have met and chatted with Son Of Ghoul many times during his convention appearances and he has always taken the time to shoot the breeze and even was the first to introduce me to footage of Superhost as well as Woodrow The Woodsman! Son Of Ghoul is a Horror Host Hall Of Famer, a Musician, a Comedian and from Rotten Ink as well as from the cast of Baron Von Porkchop’s Terrifying Tales Of The Macabre, we want to wish Son Of Ghoul a Happy 30th Anniversary and wish him many more years of TV goodness.

Matt’s also the producer of Baron Von Porkchop’s Terrifying Tales of the Macabre; check it out!

My Facebook pal John Walch had this photo of SOG with his son Lil’ Kong to share, along with the following comment:

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Photo courtesy John Walch.

The highlight of April’s Cinema Wasteland show was when my son met Kevin. Such a great guy.

Yes he is!

From another Facebook pal, Danny Harasyn:

I live in Lake County and Time Warner won’t give me the station SOG is on …..so I had a friend I worked with who lived in the area Time Warner carried the show record it for me each week…

I know what he means; there was a time in the earlier-2000s in which we were using rabbit ears, and you could NOT pick up SOG’s show to save your life.

From Facebook’s Gary Smith:

Photo courtesy Gary Smith.

Photo courtesy Gary Smith.

Several years ago. it seemed like every week, I would see him at Jamie’s Flea Market in Amherst. On top of that, getting a chance to see and chat with him at Ghoulardifest and Monster Bash conventions the past few years. Looking forward to seeing him again at this year’s fests and congratulations on his 30 year milestone.

Thanks Gary!


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One final personal story before I close this tribute out. This one means as much to me as the nostalgia of discovering and watching SOG back in the late-90s does.

Back in November of 2011, I had a serious hand injury at where I then-worked. This was my first (and thus far only) real injury. Sure, I had sprained my ankle before, pinched a nerve in my neck, relatively little things like that, but this was a biggie. I eventually clocked three separate surgeries, a five-day hospital stay, several weeks of a home IV, and a whole lotta physical therapy. It was a mess.

I was blessed with some legitimately great doctors and nurses that helped me through the ordeal. I am thankful every day for that. Today, while there is some remaining evidence that a severe accident occurred, you probably wouldn’t notice unless I pointed it out to you. It could have been much, much worse, so yes, I’m most definitely grateful to those that made sure it wasn’t.

But anyway, back in December 2011, much of what I eventually had to go through was still ahead of me. All I knew was that I was injured, I was off work until after the new year, and I was severely bummed.

Meanwhile, prior to all that, after being a regular writer-in’r to the show in the late-90s, I had begun sending packages to SOG again in 2010 or so. Shortly before my injury, I had mocked up a SOG-album cover in a parody of Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run cover, titled Born To Be Awesome. (See above.)

So, Saturday, December 24, 2011, it was SOG’s annual Christmas showing, appropriately airing on Christmas Eve. At a time when I was in critical need of a morale boost, SOG presented the album cover on the air. Not only that, but he really seemed to get a kick out of it! And that was in addition to all the older holiday-themed bits and cartoons, which all made for a wonderfully entertaining episode.

Obviously, SOG didn’t know what I had been going through at the time, this was all business-as-usual for him, but this was absolutely the pick-me-up I needed at that moment. I’ll always be grateful for that.

I think that points to an often-unrecognized aspect of not only The Son of Ghoul Show but any program people may turn to during those times when they just need to escape: they become more than just a television series to us, something deeper, though perhaps indefinable. And when they reach a historic milestone, like SOG has today, you feel, in some small way, a part of it, even if it was just by tuning in for so many years. And by now, I think it’s safe to say I’ll hang in there with him till the very end.

meandsog

Your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter hangin’ with the man himself! Ghoulardifest 2013.

There’s no better way to finish this article than with some words from the man himself, Keven Scarpino, aka Son of Ghoul. I reached out to him for a closing comment, and in true SOG-fashion, he first gave me Yeah, I would give a comment if I thought anybody actually reads your posts. LOL” Of course he was kidding (?), and immediately followed that up with this statement, directed towards all his fans:

Thanks for hanging with me all these 30 years. The viewers are the reason I’m still here – plus nobody else is willing to work as cheap as I do. Stay Sick! SOG.

Kinda says it all, doesn’t it?

Happy 30th anniversary Son of Ghoul! Here’s to the next 30!

WJW TV-8 – The Big Chuck & Lil’ John Ghoulardi Special (October 10, 2015)

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I usually don’t look at ‘modern’ television broadcasts, especially broadcasts as recent as this past weekend, but this was so unabashedly cool that I can’t resist. Besides, it may be a new broadcast, but it’s a new broadcast of older material which in turn featured even older material. There, wrap your mind around that!

‘Course, the fall-back here is that this is my blog and I’ll write about what I want. I could go in the backyard and describe all the neat-lookin’ rocks I find if I so desire. You keep pushing me and I just might, too.

I was made aware of this special just the night before it aired: on Saturday, October 10, 2015 at 3:30 PM, WJW TV-8 would be airing the 30 minute Big Chuck & Lil’ John Ghoulardi Special. I’m glad I only had to wait less than a day for this, because man, I was stoked. A Big Chuck & Lil’ John special, airing (roughly) in their old Couch Potato Theater time slot, and focusing solely on Ernie “Ghoulardi” Anderson, the man who set this whole thing in motion waaay back in 1963? I was so there.

This is what I love so much about Northeast Ohio TV: for all of the changes it has gone through over the years, the steady erosion of locally-grown programming in favor of syndicated content and whatnot, there’s still a sense of history here; there’s a reason Big Chuck & Lil’ John have been forever in the public eye, Son of Ghoul is still plugging away, and no one bats an eye when a special regarding a character that hasn’t been on Cleveland airwaves since 1966 is allotted a 30 minute time slot. Doesn’t hurt that Ghoulardi had (and continues to have) an incalculable impact on so much of the populace, either.

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The announcement I saw didn’t elaborate, and I automatically assumed this was going to be a half hour edition of their regular skits-only show, tailored solely to Ghoulardi material. As it turned out, this wasn’t actually a new special; as the above screencap attests, this was instead a re-broadcast of Big Chuck & Lil’ John’s tribute to Ernie Anderson following his 1997 death. It’s actually not too far off from what I envisioned, just 18 years older. I guess it makes sense to simply re-run the earlier special; a new version would just cover the same ground and take time to film.

Not that I’m complaining, mind you. Anything that gives Big Chuck & Lil’ John and Ghoulardi airtime is absolutely fine with me. Always. Besides, seeing Chuck & John on that old set with the studio audience gets the nostalgia fired up somethin’ fierce.

(By the way: why the slightly fuzzy reception in this day and age of ultra-clear digital everything? Meh, for old times’ sake I recorded this onto DVD on my downstairs CRT TV, which apparently doesn’t play by the same rules as my cute HDTV upstairs does. I also DVR’d the special upstairs, but what the heck, this DVD is already made and handy for screencaps, so here we are.)

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Being a tribute to Ernie Anderson, in addition to actual Ghoulardi footage there’s also a lot of reminiscing, as you would expect. In addition to a short bio of Anderson and how he wound up as Ghoulardi, among other stories Chuck recounts the famous tale of his stealing a Ghoulardi poster off a bus while Anderson kept the driver distracted. Funny stuff!

Keep in mind, this originally aired some time before the phenomenal Ghoulardi: Inside Cleveland TV’s Wildest Ride book was released, and waaaay before Big Chuck’s terrific autobiography (head on back to that BC & LJ store link for that one), so a lot of the information here hadn’t been widely recounted and available to the masses yet.

(For the record, both of those books are absolutely essential reads, not only for Northeast Ohioans or fans of Horror Hosts, but for television lovers in general; both offer an indelible snapshot of TV history, an era that won’t be repeated, and are ridiculously entertaining to boot.)

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Much of the tribute also consists of Chuck’s one-on-one interview with Anderson himself, obviously conducted some years prior. As I recall it, this interview provided the basis for a previous BC & LJ special show, though integrating the segments into this tribute show makes all the sense in the world, given the circumstances.

After giving up Ghoulardi in 1966, Anderson went to Hollywood and made the mighty dollars doing voiceover work. I have countless commercials/promos featuring his voice, and on a nationwide scale that’s what he’s really known for. At one point during this show, Chuck mentions that when Ernie went to Hollywood and became a millionaire, it didn’t change him a bit; he was still the same guy he was back in Cleveland. You get a real sense of that during these interview segments. There’s no showing off, no posturing or anything like that. It’s just two friends talking about the old times.

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As far as actual Ghoulardi material goes, with only 30 minutes and so much ground to cover, well, you’re only going to see so much. However, the official Ghoulardifest website sells a phenomenal DVD of much (all?) of the remaining footage from Ghoulardi’s show, the only official place to get this stuff. I have it in my collection, and you should have it in yours too.

As for this special though, I personally would have liked to see a few more bits with Ghoulardi on his set doing his thing. As it stands, there are two brief clips, and the skit you’re seeing above, The Pitching Coach.

Y’see, Chuck got his behind-the-camera and, as in this case, his in-front-of-the-camera start on the show, performing in skits and even providing the basis for running gags such as the whole “PARMA?!” thing. In this skit, he plays the new pitching coach for the Cleveland Indians, who proves to be fairly incompetent. My favorite moment comes when Ghoulardi tosses a ball back to him, and it lightly hits Chuck’s arm; Chuck holds his arm in pain and pouts in the corner while Ghoulardi tries to apologize!

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More Chuck, this time in one of the legendary skits from Ghoulardi’s show: Parma Place.

Parma Place was a take-off on the soap opera Peyton Place, and the line of skits basically existed to poke fun at the Cleveland suburb of Parma. The loose idea was that Chuck’s character was always trying to make time with Anderson’s wife behind his back (and often right in front of him), but the more notable aspect of the skits were the stereotypes of Parma they perpetuated: white socks, polka music, and so on.

And this was all in addition to the jokes Anderson would make about the suburb when in character as Ghoulardi. Naturally, some residents of Parma didn’t take too kindly to all this, but it’s all still funny, and the genesis of a running joke that continued (and continues) on through The Ghoul and Hoolihan & Big Chuck (& Lil’ John).

A few different Parma Place entries are spotlighted during the special, and this screencap comes from a moment when Chuck’s character “Jerry” gifts Anderson with a pair of white socks, to which he and his wife marvel at endlessly.

Also, you have no idea how funny I find Chuck’s PARMA shirt.

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A fun bit where Ernie Anderson interviews, well, himself. Using a split screen and some handy pre-filming, Ernie Anderson as Ernie Anderson interviews Ernie Anderson as Ghoulardi (who insists he be called “King”). It actually works pretty well; in fact, for the time period it’s fairly seamless.

My favorite line: “I first got my start as Ghoulardi when they fired me from channel 3 and 5 wouldn’t hire me!

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The whole open-wounds-shock of Anderson’s passing may not be as hard to take today as it was in ’97, which is understandable; it has been nearly 20 years, after all (20 years? I refuse to believe this all happened that long ago!). That’s not to say it isn’t still sad, because of course it is. I don’t mean to downplay anything here, it’s just that after 18 years, (most?) Northeast Ohioans have learned to live with Ghoulardi being gone, really gone.

All that said, there is a moment that still packs an emotional wallop in this tribute: the final scene returns to Chuck interviewing Anderson, and Anderson recounts that he met a lot of great people in Cleveland, and then jokingly says to Chuck “You’re not one of them,” to which they both crack up. After they calm down a bit, he then adds “You are, you’re great,” and then the scene freezes as the copyright info pops up. It stays there a bit before fading out, and in that little moment, the deeper meaning of all this is hammered home: it’s not just about what Anderson accomplished as Ghoulardi and what he meant (means) to Clevelanders, it’s also about the genuine friendship between him and Chuck that was there up until the very end of Ernie’s life. It’s a terrific, honest scene, and an absolute perfect way to end the special.

You know, maybe it’s for the best that they didn’t film an all-new Ghoulardi tribute episode; it would be nearly impossible to improve upon this one. From the recollections to the clips, it’s as concise a definition of the character and what he represented to Clevelanders as you’re likely to get in half an hour.

But wait! In a for-modern-day rarity of rarities (for me), there were some great commercials during this broadcast. ‘Course, they all had to with Ghoulardi and/or Big Chuck & Lil’ John, but frankly, that’s how I prefer things. Behold:

Big Chuck For Empire Windows

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Chuck has been pitching Empire Windows for quite awhile now, often in print ads that come nearly every week in one of those circulars. I haven’t seen a whole lot of TV advertising with him for the company, so I was glad to see this and add it to my collection (y’see, through my massive collection of old videotapes, I have amassed a large “archive” of commercials, promos and whatnot featuring horror hosts, and not just our horror hosts, either; it spans the entire nation).

Chuck gives really a pretty standard pitch, though the commercial is so short (15 seconds) there isn’t a whole lot of time for much else. Chuck says he’s been plugging the company for 29 years at this point; that’s as long as I’ve been alive!

If I ever need new windows, I’ll go to Empire. Why? Big Chuck told me to.

Empire Windows’ official website is here.

WJW TV-8 Big Chuck & Lil’ John Ghoulardi Special Promo

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A mega-quick (5 seconds!) promo for the special itself, which aired less than a minute before the show began. I was really, really happy to capture this one; not only does it give me fond memories of this, but also because I just wasn’t sure if there even was a promo for this special. I don’t care how short it is, either; it’s another one for the collection!

The voiceover: “The Big Chuck & Lil’ John Ghoulardi Special, today at 3:30!” Yeah, yeah, basically the same info that’s printed on-screen.

Ghoulardifest 2015 Commercial

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I’m thinking Ghoulardifest is the reason this special was run in the first place; what better promotion could there be? In prior years, the convention was sponsored by WBNX TV-55, but this year it’s WJW, which means they’ve got carte blanche as far as Ghoulardi footage and whatnot goes. It’s a more involved commercial than what has aired in recent years, which more or less usually amounted to basically Chuck & John standing in front of a green screen and giving their pitch. In this spot, however, lotsa Ghoulardi clips are interspersed with the pertinent information, though perhaps oddly, Chuck & John are nowhere to be seen.

WJW was pushing Ghoulardifest pretty hard during the special (as you’d expect). A full 30 second spot aired twice during the show, and a 15 second version right after it.

Needless to say, I am now even more jazzed for Ghoulardifest, which is saying something since I’m always jonesing for the convention. Yes, I will be attending again this year, and yes, there will be another write-up. In the mean time, check out my 2013 and 2014 reviews! And if you can attend, please do so! It’s always a blast!

The Ghoulardifest website with all the info y’all need is here.

The Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show Promos

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And finally, promos for Big Chuck & Lil’ John’s current 30 minute Sunday night show proper were, for obvious reasons, ran twice during the special. On the left, a spot featuring a brief clip from their Nukey Shoes skit. On the right, the bit where, as part of the opening fanfare for a movie, John gears up to hit a gong but instead accidentally nails Chuck in his, erm, manhood. Yikes!


 

I love the fact that a special so undeniably Cleveland in every facet can still air on local TV here in 2015. The sad fact of the matter is that there’s not always a place for this kind of thing on modern airwaves. Like I said at the start of this post, there’s a very real sense of history in Northeast Ohio television, one that seemingly won’t let people forget the accomplishments of its past.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

WJW TV-8 – Big Chuck & Lil’ John’s Pregame Show (September 20, 2003)

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Man, I used to tape a lot of stuff, so much so that it’s not uncommon for me to come across something I recorded myself back in the day and yet have NO recollection of ever doing so. (See: this post.) When it came to all of the crap things I taped, I like to think that I have a pretty good memory, but I’ve been genuinely surprised by what I recorded years ago enough times to realize that my mental synapses aren’t always untouchable when it comes to this sort of thing.

While this particular broadcast isn’t one I had completely and totally forgotten about capturing, I only retained the vaguest memories of taping it. For obvious reasons, I’m sure glad I did, though. Behold: from WJW 8, it’s Big Chuck & Lil John’s Saturday afternoon “Pregame Show,” from 2003. Has it really been 12 years since this first aired? I refuse to believe it’s been 12 years. I was 17 years old! A junior in high school!

Truth be told, I’m really not sure what drove me to record this. I was of course a full-fledged Big Chuck & Lil’ John fan by 2003, but, aside from a few scattered instances (such as the one seen in this post), I didn’t really tape their show(s) that often. Thanks to those aforementioned super-vague memories, I seem to recall there being something ostensibly special about this broadcast. Maybe I thought it would be a one-off kinda thing?

No matter, because I taped it, I saved it, and thus, here we are.

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Even though the branding is never used here, make no mistake, this is really an installment of Couch Potato Theater, Big Chuck & Lil’ John’s long-running Saturday afternoon showcase, which was always in addition to their regular late night program (they had moved to Saturday nights after MadTV by this point). The features shown during Couch Potato Theater varied from week-to-week; could be a movie, could be old comedy shorts, could be episodes of The Abbott And Costello Show. Or, as in this case, it could be just be skits.

As implied by the whole “Pregame” thing, this episode preceded baseball on WJW 8 that day (actually, it precedes a local special on football and an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer before the game, a difference of scheduling that is noted during the show). As such, it’s a half-hour show made up entirely of skits.

Actually, one thing I really like about this broadcast is just how much it reminds me of Big Chuck & Lil’ John’s current show: 30 minutes of skits with the occasional host segment. One major difference between now and then, besides the set and live audience of the old days I mean, is how ‘current’ they were back in the day; references and reminders of what was going on around Northeast Ohio, including where they would be appearing in person (indeed, as per an announcement from Chuck, they were appearing somewhere following this very episode), was a constant part of their hosting duties. Not so hard to understand, since they were (I’m guessing) in the studio quite a bit back then. It’s a much simpler affair nowadays, though anything that keeps Big Chuck & Lil’ John on the air is fine by me.

(Speaking of on the air: up until a few months ago, WJW was running Big Chuck & Lil’ John’s new show in a Saturday11:30 AM time slot, which reminded me even more of the old Couch Potato Theater days. They’ve since moved them to 11;30 PM, Sundays. I DVR the show no matter what, so the time change doesn’t impact me all that much, but I preferred Saturday mornings solely due to that nostalgia element it presented. There was just something about kicking off your Saturday with Chuck & John!)

Being only 30 minutes in length (or, if you want to be really anal, about 28 minutes; the next show didn’t start immediately after this one, dig?), I naturally don’t have a whole lot to work with here, even if I do find it incredibly cool and undeniably nostalgic. But, I’ll give it a shot.

First up, the skits themselves:

Muldoon’s Bar

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One of my all-time favorites, though I’m pretty sure it’s just a filmed version of an old joke. “Resident Irishman” Tom Bush plays Paddy, who every week or so enters Muldoon’s Bar for two shots of Irish whiskey: one for him, and one to drink for his brother back in Ireland (“To his health!”). One week, he stops at the bar, but only orders a single shot. The bartender is understandably concerned about Paddy’s brother back in Ireland, but when questioned, Paddy reveals the truth: his brother is fine, and in fact, the one shot he drinks is for him. So why not the second shot? Because Paddy gave up drinking for Lent! I love it!

 

The Amazing Stanley

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You can almost see where this one is going from the start. it’s the classic “sawing a woman in half” magic routine, which “The Amazing Stanley” performs to the satisfaction of the crowd. It’s only backstage that the “magic” of the illusion is seen: it’s been two little people curled up in the individual sections of the box! It’s a trip seeing John in high heels, and as per the host segment following the skit, the woman is played by John’s real-life sister.

 

Rockhead

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The Rockhead skits were never my favorites, though I think there were only a few of them. It’s a parody of Rocky, obviously. In this one, Rockhead is training for his big fight with “Alonzo,” while fake Adrian continuously nags him to give up boxing and instead take a steady job as a delivery boy for Rego’s Supermarket. Rockhead always gives the idea the brush off, until he disturbs Alonzo during his training; Alonzo angrily crashing through the wall is enough for Rockhead to immediately change his plans for the future. Fun fact: Chuck’s Rockhead wears a Ghoul sweatshirt throughout the entire skit!

 

Art Modell’s Back!

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Even though he passed away three years ago, Art Modell still isn’t the most popular guy in Northeast Ohio. But back in 2003, the hate for him was pretty venomous. He took away our Browns, man! This sketch plays into that sentiment. In it, Modell is seen talking on the phone and snickering; turns out Cleveland wants him back! We just couldn’t live without him! The pay-off to the skit is that he is indeed brought back to Cleveland…selling hot dogs! And to further insult him, he’s seen calling after people asking if the men’s toilets are backed up while holding up a plunger!

Obviously, there’s no way the real Art Modell was going to come back to Cleveland just to film a skit ragging on him. Instead, “Art” is either seen from behind or, using the same technology as Clutch Cargo and Conan O’Brien, with a pair of live-action, talking lips superimposed over a still image of his head.

It’s a very, very Cleveland sketch, needless to say.

 

$10 Magic Wands

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A pretty well-known skit. A sidewalk salesman tries to sucker John’s character into buying a magic wand for the low, low price of $10. The prospective customer is apprehensive until he sees the magic wand instantaneously produce a beautiful girl right before his very eyes! He quickly buys a wand, and the salesman sneaks off. The Purchaser’s attempt at using the wand produces a woman alright, albeit one of a rather more robust variety, who then proceeds chase him around as the skit ends.

 

Madame Mary

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Another skit I’m pretty sure is just a filmed version of an old joke. In fact, I know it is; variations of the gag are really pretty common. In this version, an old man goes to visit fortune teller “Madame Mary,” and asks her if there is pro football in Heaven. The good news? Yes, there is indeed pro football in heaven. The bad news? He has box seats for the next game!

 

Ben Crazy

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A classic. The Ben Crazy skits are always welcome, and this is a particularly good entry. The scene opens on a group of doctors drawing lots. One Dr. White wins, much to the chagrin of everyone else. He then enters a hospital room and informs a “Ms. Goodbody” that it’s time for her morning shot. Obviously, this is not a shot in the arm! So that’s why they were drawing lots!

 

The Certain Ethnic Artist

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Another really good one. Chuck’s classic Stash character is the “certain ethnic artist.” He’s seen painting a portrait of John, the results of which, well, you can see above.

Okay, so that does it for the skits themselves, but what about the host segments? I’m so used to Chuck & John only appearing intermittently during the new show that I had forgotten just how many there were back then; they follow every single skit! For the most part, I like the batch of skits seen in this episode, but as far as I’m concerned, the real heart lies in the host segments. Just seeing Chuck & John on that classic set takes me back like you wouldn’t believe.

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Did you notice the pizza box on the table in the host segment screencap way at the start of this post? That was your first clue that quite a bit of the host segments are dedicated to pitching Pizza Pan pizza (alliteration). Pizza Pan was a big sponsor of Big Chuck & Lil’ John at the time. The fellas even did a number of commercials for the company (I’ve got a few). Chuck & John make a point of showing off the pizza box and mentioning the company numerous times during the episode. This is borderline The Pizza Pan Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show!

The gimmick of Pizza Pan was this: order a pizza and have it delivered, you got an extra pizza free. Even better, order a pizza and pick it up yourself, you got two free pizzas! Obviously, a deal like that is going to attract some attention, and for a time, Pizza Pan was pretty ubiquitous in Northeast Ohio. I certainly partook of the ‘Pan more than once. Why? Chuck & John told me to. (Also, free pizza is always nice.)

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At one point during the show, the owner of Pizza Pan himself joins Chuck & John onstage to further promote the company. Not only is a special deal mentioned (free ribs when a pizza is ordered – at the Mentor location only), but also the then-recent expansion of the company to more areas. I wasn’t kidding, there was a time in the early-to-mid-2000s when Pizza Pan was a pretty big local chain.

And then, it just sort of seemed to fade away. I seem to recall, though don’t quote me on this because my memory isn’t that clear on the matter, that after awhile the free pizza deal was done away with. If that is indeed what happened, I guess I can understand it; the whole free pizza thing was what the company built its success on!

There are a few locations still around though. As to whether the free pizza deal was brought back or not, I couldn’t say (the official website seems to only give me the current locations and the ability to order online). Check the official website out to see if there’s one near you.

See, now I’m plugging Pizza Pan! Why? Chuck & John, man, Chuck & John.

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Finally, the pregame show ends with a mention of their feature for their normal, late night program: Rocky II! They both seem quite excited by this, not only because they had run the original Rocky the week before, but also because this is apparently the third good movie they’ve had in a row, though what entailed the third movie in that line-up isn’t stated.

Now is as good a time as any to mention that I love the old movie bumpers Big Chuck & Lil’ John used for their films. The Rocky II one above is a good example. There’s something just so right about them, though my nostalgia obviously plays a part in that feeling.

(By the way: I didn’t notate on the tape when this originally aired, but Bob “Hoolihan” Wells’ 70th birthday is mentioned as coming up on September 27th, and this episode followed my recording of Conan O’Brien’s 10th anniversary show and preceded Saturday Night Live‘s 29th season premiere. Those aired September 14th and October 4th, respectively, and with the help of this calendar, it pretty much has to be September 20, 2003. I can’t see a way that it’s not!)

Anyway, during these broadcast recaps, I usually look at some of the interesting (to me) commercials found during the respective airing. Being only half an hour, again, I’ve only got so much to work with, and frankly, there wasn’t a whole lot that stood out to me. BUT, there were two I couldn’t end the article without taking a quick look at:

 

Buddy’s Carpet Ad

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Buddy’s Carpet! At one time, it was pretty difficult to watch local TV in Northeast Ohio without seeing at least one Buddy’s Carpet ad. Initially, Buddy himself pitched the company in these commercials, though later on a woman (his daughter, I guess?) took over those duties. As evidenced above, this is one of those later commercials. No matter, because it still gives me a far bigger nostalgic charge than any carpet commercial has a right to.

Buddy’s Carpet is still around, though like Pizza Pan, it seems the locations are more limited now. Check them out here.

 

Regency Windows Ad

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I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that up until fairly recently, I didn’t realize I hadn’t seen a Regency Windows ad on TV in a long, long time. Just like Buddy’s Carpet, their commercials were nearly omnipresent on Northeast Ohio TV. Most of them featured owner and spokesman Mikey (that’s him above) screaming “I’m gonna save you a lotttttttta money!” This ad is (probably) one of the few where he doesn’t give his famous line, but he’s still there, and he’s still excitable, so it’s not a total loss.

Turns out Regency Windows closed some years ago, though what remained of the company was purchased by Window Nation. That official website is here.


 

For what is only a 30 minute recording, this one actually packs quite a nostalgic wallop for me. Besides the whole Big Chuck & Lil’ John Saturday afternoon thing (which is more than enough by itself), there’s also Pizza Pan, Buddy’s Carpet, Regency Windows (and more specifically, Regency’s Mikey), and of course, the skits.

Also, It’s amazing to realize that in 2003, in four years Chuck would retire and they’d be off the air entirely, but in less than 10 years, they’d be back hosting a show that is very reminiscent of this (and other, I’m sure) pregame episodes, a show which continues to this day. If there’s one thing I love about Northeast Ohio, it’s that more than once, our movie hosts have not gone quietly into the figurative night. One way or another, they find their way back!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Robot Rump?!" - Servo

“Robot Rump?! Oh…” – Servo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

BarNone Auto Loans Ad

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

 

Office Max Highlighters Ad

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

 

Geico Gecko Ad

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

 

Cabin Fever On DVD & VHS Ad

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

 

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles On Nintendo Gamecube Ad

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

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

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

Next On Sci-Fi Promo

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


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

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

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

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

mst3k final ep 11

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

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

mst3

*Standby for shameless gushing.*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas & New Year’s with The Ghoul, Son of Ghoul and Big Chuck & Lil’ John (1998/1999)

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There it is. Not the most-heralded of my many late-90’s/early-2000’s tapes, but certainly one of the more-heralded ones. Please ignore my sloppy, 12-year old handwriting (I’ve kinda sorta improved in that area), and while we’re at it, please ignore The Avenger (a 1961 Steve Reeves film) and the vague “TV Land Programs” descriptive line; those recordings are not conducive to our ultimate goal today (indeed, the TV Land stuff was recorded later, in the summer of ’99). Nope, we’re focusing on the ‘big three’ of Northeast Ohio horror hosts today, all on one powerhouse of a tape, all recorded during or around the holiday season of 1998/99, and all part of some serious nostalgia for me.

1997-1999 was probably the time period most responsible for making me, well, me. Not completely, of course; I continued to refine my goofy self (whatever that means) in the years following, but there’s little doubt that some of the things I’m a still a huge, huge fan of first took hold of me in the era this tape hails from. I had discovered Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Son Of Ghoul in ’97, The Ghoul came back to Cleveland TV in ’98, and despite first watching them in ’96, I really started to appreciate Big Chuck & Lil’ John around ’99. Except for the absence of MST3K and the now-head scratching inclusion of The Avenger, the tape seen above is really a pretty great description of your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter’s interests in the late-90’s. Even the old TV Land programming is a sight-for-sore-eyes.

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The lead-off recording was The Ghoul’s first Christmas special of his WBNX TV-55 run. It’s also one of the earliest episodes I have from those WBNX years. I recorded the first couple episodes (which I still have), and a few select later ones (which I don’t), but as it stands, this is one of the earliest to survive. In lieu of any other opening credits or theme music, the specialized “Ghoul’s Christmas Special” title makes it clear that this is a ‘big deal’ in the Ghoul Power world. Also a big deal: according to a quick internet calendar search, this aired on Christmas ’98, a Friday, which was obviously December 25th (at the very tail-end of the day, 11:30 PM, but hey, it counts).

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The Ghoul loved the Christmas season and would go all out to celebrate it, including the special Christmas-themed border and groups of kids in attendance, as seen above. It’s clear he loved the holiday season, and the next year, he would even have, roughly, a month-long celebration, running the 1935 Scrooge as well as Santa Claus In Mother Goose Land (which was actually The Magic Land Of Mother Goose and was, if I recall correctly, only vaguely Christmassy) in addition to the film that was also shown that first year…

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It’s the 1959 Mexican film Santa Claus. A the time, I was only familiar with this movie via what was printed in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide, and since it wasn’t listed in Leonard Maltin’s guide nor had I discovered IMDb yet, I had no idea what year it was even released in, which is why, if you scroll back up, you’ll see I have only “Mexican” listed in brackets next to the title on the tape sleeve. I wouldn’t have known even that if the opening credits didn’t mention Mexico.

The Ghoul loved running this movie during Christmastime, and I have four separate Christmas airings of it: this first one from 1998, plus 1999, 2000 and 2001. And for all I know, he ran it again and again during the rest of his WBNX run.

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Truth be told though, I’ve never much cared for the movie. If it weren’t for the fact that it was then a (to me) obscure foreign film, and one that had been MST’d at that, I’m not sure it would have survived all these years, let alone the three other airings I have. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I have all of them, the more Ghoul the better, but I’m not as enamored of this flick as others are. In fact, for a movie that’s gained a pretty impressive cult following, I really can’t stand it at all. Oh, I should love it for the incredible weirdness it presents (Santa battling the forces of evil, wind-up mechanical reindeer, Merlin, and a bizarre pair of moving red lips that are the very definition of “terrifying”), but I don’t know, it’s a movie that has always left me cold.

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Not so with the second recording on the tape, which would have aired on Saturday, December 26th. It’s Son of Ghoul’s Christmas special! At the time, SOG was on both Friday and Saturdays, 8-10 PM, so an identical episode would have been aired the day before on Christmas Day as well. It’s interesting that both The Ghoul’s and Son of Ghoul’s shows were/are so different, yet they both really went the extra mile for Christmas.

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Oooh, I’m diggin’ that swanky green border! Unlike usual episodes, SOG read the mail on the main dungeon set, as seen in that left screencap. On the right, the screencap comes from the very close of the show. As you can see, they even had a guy in a reindeer costume, and fake reindeer poop on the floor to go with him/it! Tis the season?

SOG’s annual Christmas show has become one of my favorite ‘extra’ parts of the season. Nowadays he’s only on Saturdays, and every weekend before Christmas, there’s a yearly show dedicated to the holiday. More than once (twice, to be exact, including this year), stuff I’ve sent in has been presented on the Christmas show, and it’s always a nice addition to my holiday season. I was regularly writing SOG by 1998, but nothing of mine was presented during his ’98 special. Considering I never really had anything particularly interesting and/or important to say back then, that was probably for the best.

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It hasn’t been shown for a few years, but Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (see, I told you my UAV tape wasn’t the last you’d see of it this holiday season!) was once a yearly tradition, not unlike SOG’s running of Night Of The Living Dead every Halloween. I like this movie waaaay more than Santa Claus. It’s weird, it’s goofy, it’s idiotic, but all in a good way. Some may argue that the other movie was all of that and more, but the fact remains that Santa Claus Conquers The Martians is my preferred bad movie for the Christmas season. Even the MST3K version was, in my opinion, superior to their take on Santa Claus.

Speaking of the MST3K version, when they riffed the film, their print didn’t include the title card as seen above. Apparently, because of that, many people were unaware that the film circulated/circulates with a title card. which was odd to me, because by the time I saw the MST3K episode, every print of Santa Claus Conquers The Martians I had seen up to that point had a title as you’d expect.

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I first saw this movie when SOG ran it during the Christmas season of 1997, and then right after, I got my copy of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide for Christmas 1997, and learned they did the film, too. It’s a pretty weird movie, clearly aimed at the lil’ baby childrens, in which martians kidnap Santa in order liven the martian children up. It includes Pia Zadora (who, contrary to my UAV tape’s description, is not especially precocious – yes, I’m still irritated by that line), and a guy that looks a lot like Jamie Farr but isn’t Jamie Farr (much to my chagrin).

That left screencap above is either the embodiment of the Christmas season, or a truly nightmarish visage, I can’t decide. Maybe it’s both.

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At one point, SOG superimposed himself into the movie, and tried to light Santa’s pipe. I thought that was pretty funny.

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The last (applicable) recording on the tape is the New Years portion referred to in the title. It didn’t air on New Year’s Eve or Day, nearest I can figure is it was broadcast in the first half of January, but nevertheless, this episode of Big Chuck & Lil’ John’s Couch Potato Theater has some pretty strong memories attached to it (not the least of which is the image above, well familiar to me from so many Saturday afternoons).

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Ah, Big Chuck & Lil’ John on their old King Kong set. It was the same set as their usual Friday night Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show, except Couch Potato Theater was always broadcast Saturday afternoon and was called, you know, Couch Potato Theater. Couch Potato Theater was a bit of a wild-card: sometimes a full-length movie would be shown, other times old Three Stooges shorts or episodes of The Abbott And Costello Show, even skits-only if time was an issue (similar to what the revived Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show is now). In this case, though, old silent short comedies were the day’s subject.

My recording of this almost didn’t happen. At the time, I was a big, big fan of silent comedy films (still am, actually, though not quite as fervent), and trying to catch and tape some of them when they were run as unscheduled-between-programming-filler on WAOH/WAX was a common thing with me. Somehow, though, I missed the TV Guide listing for this episode of Couch Potato Theater, in which several old silent comedies were run over the course of the afternoon. To make matters worse, we had to leave soon because my brother had a basketball game. So, I grabbed the only available tape, cued it up after The Avenger, and hit record. Better than nothing, right?

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I began taping in the middle of some Keystone film, the title of which I no longer remember, but was able to capture the entire last subject of the day: Charlie Chaplin’s The Champion, a 1915 Essanay film, which was from the period when Chaplin’s movies started to get really good. From how I understand it, this particular short has been the subject of much editing and whatnot over the years, but the version Big Chuck & LIl’ John ran was the Blackhawk Films print, apparently one of the better ones. Certainly lengthier, if nothing else.

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The Champion, as the name and screenshots kinda sorta show, detail Chaplin’s Little Tramp character becoming a boxer. The subject of boxing is one I’ve always liked (having grown up on the Rocky movies), and the addition of an English Bulldog is always a plus, so yeah, I like this short. I’m sure I have many of them on cheap, public domain DVDs, but I’m not as familiar with Chaplin’s Essanay films as I am with his Mutual work, which I consider my favorite of his.

At the time, I was just then starting to appreciate Big Chuck & Lil’ John, something that would be more fully-realized when I began watching The Abbott And Costello Show on their Saturday afternoon program. Still, I recall having made a habit of at least checking the listing for their Friday night show, so I’m not sure how I missed the listing for these old silents. I can’t remember if I discovered the broadcast while flipping channels or if I came across it that day in TV Guide, but either way, I came in when most of it was over. It was one of those feelings, unfortunately well-familiar to me as a heavy-taper by then, of “Oh man, I’m missing this!” Of course, the follow-up “Well, at least I got some of it” took a bit of the sting away.

(If you go way back to the top and look at the tape’s label, you’ll see that the listing for this is off to the side and not where it should be, right after The Avenger. That’s because, for years, this broadcast was unlisted on the tape. I don’t know if it was due to the haphazard nature of the recording or what, but for whatever reason, I never labeled it properly. Oh sure, I took the time to label “TV Land Programs” later that summer, but Chuck & John got shorted on that front. It wasn’t until 2011 when I was making a concerted effort to label a lot of my tapes that had suffered in obscurity for years that this was duly notarized. It took a bit of searching, I could only remember it was on a tape with a purple Sony tape, but finally I found it, labeled it, and it is now given the proper respect it so deserves.)

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There’s just under an hour of Chuck & John action on the tape, but even so, several skits were captured. My favorite of them (tied with “The Lil’ Flash,” at least) was Cuyahoga Jones, their Indiana Jones parody. This was the first time I had ever seen one of these skits, which were part of a continuing storyline in which Cuyahoga tries to steal the “Kapusta Diamond.” Big Chuck played Cuyahoga, and Lil’ John played Shortstuff. In this one, they tried to earn $20 in order to buy supplies to help them carry the safe containing the diamond out of the castle. Pretty funny stuff!

Believe it or not, there’s a lot of memories tied into this tape, more than I could ever hope to accurately describe in print. The video itself, yeah, I fondly recall all of this stuff from that winter season, but it also brings to mind that general period in my life. All of the things/shows/etc. I was and am into, sure, but also other memories, like going to the mall with my Mom for Christmas shopping, come to mind when thinking of the era this tape comes from. As much as I love the actual recordings, I think those memories are even more important to me. Maybe I’m doing a sloppy job of getting across what I’m trying to say, but hopefully you know what I’m getting at. I’m sure you can all relate in one way or another.

And so, with that, this Christmas post nears an end. I sincerely hope all of you have a fantastic Christmas and New Years. Thank you to all that have taken the time to read this blog, and in some cases, even pass the link around. Have a wonderful holiday season and be safe in the new year.

Stay tuned, more goofy stuff to come!

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