Tag Archives: vhs

VHS Review: BATMAN & ROBIN Widescreen Edition (1998; Warner Home Video)

I don’t have a ton to say about this one, because it’s shrinkwrapped and I can’t bring myself to crack the seal. Now granted, it’s not factory shrinkwrapped; judging by the amount of wear on the box itself, this is almost certainly a used copy that was re-shrinkwrapped at some point. A former rental, perhaps? I don’t know, but the fact remains I can’t work up the nerve to rip the plastic off.

And why’s that? Because this is Batman & Robin, that of generally-poorly-regarded late-90’s sensibilities, on VHS. Of course, under normal circumstances this isn’t an even remotely tough movie to find on the format, and indeed, we took a look at a one such example years ago.

Still, why the need to keep this as minty sealed fresh (such as it is) as possible? Take a look at the red banner string across the top edge of this tape, because that’s what makes this one special. It’s the widescreen edition! That’s cool! And evidently fairly rare; I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in person before landing this copy, I’ve seen none for sale on eBay (currently or in the past), and Amazon turned up nothing upon keyword searches.

In fact, it wasn’t until I did a Google image search that I found a single shot of the mythical beast, which linked to this Amazon listing, which oddly enough I couldn’t figure out how to bring up otherwise. Maybe it’s a UPC thing. (Look, I did the legwork for you!). There were exactly two used copies for sale there, I bought the cheaper one, and here we are.

Aside from that banner along the top (and which extends to the sides, FYI), the front cover is identical to the ‘normal’ VHS release; you know, Arnold in his career-defining role as Mr. Freeze, looming above wildly miscast George Clooney as Batdude and Chris O’Donnell as Robin, plus Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy and Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl. Seriously, if you hit up thrift stores as often as I do, you’ve seen this cover approximately six thousand times by this point. Except for, you know, that banner

That Amazon page is really my only resource for this release, and it tells me that it hit shelves on April 14, 1998, several months after the regular edition, which according to Amazon dropped on October 21, 1997. There was no small amount of negative press leveled at the movie, so it’s a little surprising to me that Warner Bros. thought there’d be enough demand to warrant a widescreen edition, especially one so many months later. I’m assuming the print run was pretty low, which would explain why there are quite possibly only two copies in the entire universe. Approximately, I mean.

Actually, for the most part, the print runs of widescreen VHS editions in the 1990s seems to have been lower in general. I pay special attention to these while out and about, and I even keep an eye on online auctions, and they tend to show up much less often than their full screen counterparts. There are exceptions of course, but apparently widescreen VHS editions of movies were a pretty niche category throughout the 1990s and even into the 2000s; maybe widescreen didn’t truly catch on until DVD flourished, I don’t know.

For example, I think I see at least one copy of that double VHS Saving Private Ryan set every time I’m out – the full screen edition, that is. And yet, just a couple of weeks ago, I finally found the seemingly-less-common widescreen one, which naturally became mine. Jurassic Park is another one; I’m not talking about the later THX edition with the shiny cover and all that, but rather an earlier copy that, like Batman & Robin here, looks identical to the full screen edition except for a red banner along the top edge. I stumbled upon that version by happenstance at Goodwill a few months back, and there was no way it wasn’t going home with me.

1989’s Batman and 1992’s Batman Returns also received the widescreen treatment on VHS, and while there’s a bit more evidence supporting them out there, even those don’t show up frequently at all. I’m not sure 1995’s Batman Forever even got a widescreen VHS – though eBay listings say otherwise; I’m guessing they’re auto-listings repeating an error over and over, because every time I tape a closer look, it’s the regular full screen tape.

I just realized not everyone may know what widescreen (or letterbox, as it was/is also called) refers to. Wikipedia explains it better than I ever could, but simply put, it’s the preservation of a film’s original ‘wide’ theatrical aspect ratio on home video, rather than cropping, panning and scanning for a 4:3 screen. Of course, we have big ol’ widescreen TVs and Blu-ray and whatnot now, so it’s not much of a big deal anymore, but back in the standard-definition television days, widescreen was the way to go if you wanted to see the whole movie. Yes, the image was technically smaller, with big black bars along the bottom and top of the screen “sandwiching” the film in the middle, but you got the entire image, and that was the important thing.

Does Batman & Robin benefit from this enhancement? It’d take more than letterbox to save the movie, but then, maybe that’s why I get such a big kick out of this release. “Well, it’s not a very good movie, but at least now we can see all of it…”

Plus, I just like widescreen in general. As such, I try to pick up these versions whenever I can. Or more truthfully, I like to get both pan-and-scan and widescreen copies when possible, not unlike both mono and stereo LPs.

Like the front cover, the back cover for the widescreen edition of Batman & Robin is practically identical to the full screen version you trip over while walking down the street. The only real differences are the additions of a 1998 copyright date added to the fine print and the box at the bottom explaining the widescreen situation (as opposed to the usual “this film has been formatted…” line). Look, Batman & Robin‘s 1:85:1 aspect ratio hath been preserved!

If you go back and read my older article on the full screen edition of the tape (albeit a Blockbuster-branded one, hence the article in the first place), you’ll see I felt the descriptive summary on the back cover was a little “out there.” All these years later, widescreen or not, that feeling remains. In lieu of re-sharing my thoughts in a slightly altered form, I’m just going to copy and paste what I wrote then, because you can’t plagiarize yourself and it’s my blog and I’ll do what I want: “My favorite part is the mention of ‘New very special effects…’, as if these special effects are substantially more special than your usual , run-of-the-mill special effects. I love this tape. Also, ‘From our Batfamily to yours’? That’s adorable Give me a break.”

Batman & Robin is one of those movies I’m inexplicably fond of. Yes, the negative buzz surrounding it is warranted. BUT, it’s such an artifact of late-1990s Hollywood and the period of my life in which it falls, that I just can’t hate it. In fact, I’m going to quote myself again here, because like I said, my blog, my rules: “Despite the fact the movie is one of the worst things ever, I have an inexplicable fondness for the film. Well, not really for the film per se. More for the time period and where it falls in my lifetime. Going further into all that would be a huge digression, so let me stay kinda on track here. Batman & Robin: I remember the release, I remember (and sampled) the Taco Bell tie-in promotion, and I remember the revelation that it apparently made theater-goers cry. I wouldn’t know, though; we tried to go see it, but the only available-to-us showing was sold out, so we settled for, I’m pretty sure, Men In Black.”

Look, this is all my half-hearted way of trying to close this one out. Like I said before, I can only say so much about a sealed tape. And besides, today the prospect of a widescreen version of this movie isn’t so novel anymore; you’ve been able to see it this way since it hit DVD, as far as I know. (Wasn’t it a flipper disc, with full screen on one side, widescreen on the other? I have an old DVD copy boxed away, but I refuse to dig it up for an article approximately four people are going to read.)

Still, a widescreen VHS copy of Batman & Robin, that’s pretty neat. I don’t know how long it was in print or for how long it was sold, but in my experience, it’s not easily found nowadays. Since the regular VHS version had that late-90s home video charm in spades, it stands to reason that the special widescreen edition does as well, though I’ll admit the feeling of ‘exclusivity’ takes away from the mass-market, mainstream appeal of the version you usually come across. Or something like that.

I don’t know where exactly I’m going with this. Look, 1997’s Batman & Robin, they put it out on a widescreen VHS, and you’ve just see the proof. THE END.

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Video Rental Artifact: ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES (1991; 1992 Blockbuster-Branded VHS)

Sometimes when I’m out hunting for this or that and I find a VHS tape that strikes my stupid dumb fancy, it’s not always just about the tape itself. I mean, yeah, it helps when I have at least some vested interest in the release proper, but oftentimes there are ‘supplemental’ features that will take a a tape from “well, alright, I guess” to “must must must buy and you can’t stop me and if you try I’ll throw down legit.” Today’s subject is a definite example of the latter.

(HINT: I’ve been down this route before.)

Before we get to that, let me provide a little backstory first: It’s 1991, I’m five, and the big budget Kevin Costner film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is seemingly aimed directly at me and my kind. Kenner put out a neato toy line that, unbeknownst to me then, was chock full of re-purposed molds. (Y’all get genuine props for reusing the Ewok village as Robin’s forest fortress, Kenner!) There was even a Nintendo game that, I discovered years later, was actually pretty good (a rarity in the world of NES movie-based carts).

The marketing worked, and just like a year earlier when I jumped on the Dick Tracy bandwagon hardcore (or at least as hardcore as is possible for a four-year old), little me was all about the Hood. Erm, Robin Hood, I mean. Dad took me to see the film in theaters, and frankly, I don’t remember much about it, but it was probably a bit too dark for a five-year old.

Nevertheless, there’s some definite nostalgia on my part now when I look back at Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. It’s not a film I’ve revisited in the 27 years that have elapsed, but yeah, nostalgia. Plus, it’s a film I can conceivably see myself revisiting nowadays, which is no small feather in its cap, or arrow, or [insert further Robin Hood-themed pun here].

The VHS release of this movie is not even remotely hard to find. Lately, I’ve noticed that a lot of movies from that era, which for the longest time were seemingly ever-present used, are not as commonly found nowadays. I’m not saying they’re rare, not at all, but unless it’s ’89 Batman, Jurassic Park or (looking ahead a bit) Titanic, you’re not always guaranteed a quick find while out hitting up the thrift stores and whatnot for VHS. (It’s not a dead format thing – yet – either, because I still come across a lot of VHS during my travels.)

No kidding, it took far longer than I care to admit to stumble across Cop and a Half, another one I saw in the theater back in the day, until I finally, finally did, several weeks back. It was a moment of triumph, flourish, and bravado that, quite frankly, I probably shouldn’t be so ready to admit. Of course, once I finally found that copy, some two weeks later I came across another one; I picked that one up too, on principle alone.

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is, in my mostly-useless experience, not one such release. Hardly a thrift run goes by that I don’t come across one or more copies of the flick on VHS. As such, nostalgia notwithstanding, I’ve never felt much need to throw one in the cart when I’m out and about and picking up too much crap I don’t really need, because it’s pretty much always available.

But then, this copy came into my life, and that all changed.

Several weeks back, during a fairly impromptu thrift trip, the location of choice had somewhat refreshed their home video shelves, which meant there was a decent selection of obsolete media for yours truly to gawk at. I didn’t see much worth buying at first glance, but then I happened to take a closer look at the copy of Robin Hood that was laying there, of which I had previously paid little attention. This was fortuitous because, man, I had inadvertently stumbled upon not only something that tied into my formative years, but was also a legitimate artifact of the video rental-era – an era that was also a part of my formative years!

Behold! It’s a vintage Blockbuster Video-branded copy of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves! Cool winnins!

I’m always on the lookout for tapes like this, and while Blockbuster-emblazoned stuff isn’t very hard to find, in my (again, mostly-useless) experience, tapes prior to 1995 or so show up much less frequently. (This is from 1992; hold your water, you’ll see proof in a moment.)

Of course, as far as the sleeve goes, this branding extends only to the shrinkwrap; the jacket itself is your common, garden-variety Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves VHS sleeve, what with the title and Kevin Costner with his flamin’ arrow and whatnot. If I were to be foolish enough to remove said shrinkwrap, outside appearances would belie the real history of the tape.

And that history, the very fact this is such a relic of the video rental-era (at or very near its height, no less), when Blockbuster was veritable king of the VHS world, that alone makes this tape worth the 60 cents the thrift store was asking for it. You could claim that I’m flippin’ my beans over that swanky old school “previously viewed” sticker, and I am weird enough to buy a tape just for something like that, but it’s really the whole package with this one. Like I said, this is a legitimate artifact of early-1990s home video! The fact I have real history with the movie just makes it all the better; I wouldn’t be as happy if this were a copy of Curly Sue, for example. (Sorry, Jim Belushi.)

That particular “special price sticker” on the front isn’t something I come across often at all when it comes to used VHS buying; usually, it’s those square yellow stickers from the mid-90s or circular red ones of later years that I find affixed to my obsolete video formats.

But it’s the sticker on the back of the sleeve (well, shrinkwrap) that puts this one over the top, though. Dig this: this copy of the movie was placed out for sale on February 9, 1992! And look, it was only $9.95! This was a time when you could get away with charging that much for a used VHS tape! (Though, granted, wasn’t $9.95 like $600 in 1992 dollars?)

In a nice turn of events, there was no description on the back of the sleeve for the sticker to obscure, though the fine technical print wasn’t so fortunate. Still, you get the typical ballyhoo of quotes and taglines and whatnot. And look, recorded on BASF tape!

I’m not sure when Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves debuted on home video. In the U.S., it hit theaters on June 14, 1991, and while home video releases didn’t move as quickly then as they do now (or so it seems to me), I would assume it was out in time for the Christmas season. At any rate, by early ’92, this particular Blockbuster location had a used copy out for sale. I’m going to guess that this was a holdover from an initial “rental push,” after it first debuted on VHS. That’s my theory, anyway; early-92 seems pretty close to when this would have initially hit rental shelves. Or not; what do I know?

As I said, remove the shrinkwrap (not that I ever will), and that video rental lineage mostly goes away, but slide the tape out of the sleeve, and there’s a piece of evidence a bit more solid…

Ah, the famous “y’all betta rewind” reminder! As per the norm, slapped right over the left window of the tape! Thas adorable. And look, the previous owner did NOT rewind all the way to the start! Despite that being the benefit of owning a tape yourself, I still demand restitution. But from whom?!

I’m not sure why the title “label” on the tape, which is actually just printed right on the casing itself, is upside down though. Was this normal, or a mistake? I come across plenty of Robin Hood tapes, so I really should know this, but I, uh, don’t.

Actually, during a thrift trip just two nights ago, one store had not one but two copies of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves on VHS for sale. Well, technically, one plus a sleeve; the first copy was legit, but the other one had what appeared to be a blank tape mistakenly (?) housed in the sleeve, and severely molded to boot. The ‘real’ one, however, I checked, and it had an actual label on the tape, placed right side up. Maybe a later pressing? I don’t know, but my attempts at sleep later were relatively tortured, and there’s the slight possibility that it was a subconscious reaction to this Robin Hood conundrum.

None of this really matters and I’m clearly just babbling now.

(EDIT: The label as seen here is normal; I’ve since verified it with yet another stumbled-across copy while out thrifting. I didn’t buy it, but maybe I should have…)

Anyway, I’m not going to play this; what would the point be? I can get a “watching copy” at essentially any time I please; heck, I had yet another chance just the other evening! And probably another one later today! And besides, for the purpose of this article, what could I really say? “It’s Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood, on, uh, VHS…” The quality will be fine, SP, not up to the standards of DVD, but then, would you expect it to be?

No no, this particular copy hath been deemed my “collector’s copy,” and as such deserves a place of honor. Like a shiny display case or something, maybe with a rotating stand. You know, like how they show off rotisserie chickens at the grocery store. No, wait, that might end badly…

Really, I get a big kick out of this find. As mentioned, I have childhood memories of not only the movie Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, but also the associated merchandising hype that went along with it. Add to that definitive evidence of Blockbuster Video’s heyday, which lends an even more decidedly early-90s ambiance to the proceedings, and you’ve got something that could really be considered special. If you’re into old home video, anyway.

On a final, related note: you can almost be guaranteed that if I ever come across a copy of 1989’s Batman, or even 1992’s Batman Returns, with similar Blockbuster-branding all over it, there’s a good possibility you’ll hear my giddy exclamations from wherever you may currently be situated.

RCA DRC6350N 6-Head VHS VCR & DVD Player (March 2006)

After writing about my neato RCA S-VHS VCR the other day, I’m in the mood for some more RCA home video action. This one’s a bit newer than the S-VHS, and while not exactly cutting edge anymore, it still somehow ‘fits’ with the current home theater landscape. Or something like that. You figure it out.

Dig this: from March of 2006, it’s the incredible RCA DRC6350N combo unit, boasting both a DVD player and a VHS VCR…a 6-Head VHS VCR. That’s cool. And as you’d expect, it’s all in Hi-Fi. Cool winnins!

This was a recent thrift find of mine. Well, I found it a few months back, before the new year. It’s not quite as recent a find as the S-VHS, but it hasn’t been so long that the allure has faded from my mind yet, either. Or something like that. You figure it out. At any rate, I really, really like this one. I forget how much it was, five or six bucks, I’m pretty sure. To find a machine of this quality at a thrift shop for that price is an increasingly rare happening nowadays.

I know what y’all is thinking: “Hey North Video Guy, what’s the big deal? Companies made combo decks forever! They’s a dime a dozen!” Well, yeah; by the time VHS breathed its last (*sniff*), basically the only VCRs you could find new for sale were VHS/DVD combos. In the U.S. anyway. Or at least in my part of the U.S. anyway. Or something like that. You figure it out. Point is, for the last ten years or so that the format was on the market, odds were that if you needed a new VCR, you were going to get a DVD player with it whether you wanted one or not.

And here’s the deal with many (but I’m not saying all) of those VHS/DVD combos: by the time the 2010s dawned, many of these units were readily found – some with DVD recording capability and some without – but the one thing they (almost) all had in common was that they were, well, kinda on the cheap side. They made okay beater units, they did their job, but high-end or particularly long-lasting they were not. I know from experience that getting some of your EP or LP tapes to track properly and stably was often an exercise in bitter frustration.

Things weren’t always that way though. I can very literally turn my head to the right at this very moment and gaze longingly at a VHS/DVD recorder I purchased new from Best Buy for around $500 back in 2005. It was top of the line at the time, or at least the most top of the line deck to cross my path of vision. Sleek, classy, relatively powerful and solidly built, just five or six years later it was all but impossible to find a newly-made deck of similar high quality. I don’t use that machine very much anymore, though it mostly still works, and even if it didn’t, I paid $500 for it so not only will it never be thrown out but I’m also probably going to insist on being buried with it.

Anyway, now that I’ve provided some backstory, rest assured this RCA VHS/DVD is one of those good VHS/DVD combos…

It says “Hello” when your turn it on! Wild, man…

Many of the combo decks that started showing up in larger quantities around 2010/2011 were so light you could palm them. No kidding, I can literally turn my head to the northeast and glare at one such example right this very moment. This RCA is not one of those. It’s relatively heavy, with a nice metal casing and cool rounded top edge. It just feels like a well-built machine, and the silver-and-black color scheme is still attractive here and now, 12 years later.

‘Course, you might not be able to realize that quality from my picture here, because my phone just refused to focus up to my satisfaction. Or maybe the pop I drank gave my hands the jitters, I don’t know.

Some videophile is probably going to show up in the comments and tell me why I’m so very utterly wrong, but to me, there are definite benefits to using a 6-Head model, as opposed to the common 4-Head variation. 2-Heads? We don’t talk about 2-Heads.

First off, the VHS portion of this machine works very, very well. For the most part anyway; every once in awhile, after stopping, rewinding, and then hitting play, it was almost like the VCR wouldn’t “pick up” on the tape and I’d be left with a blank screen. I’d have to stop and hit play again to get it to “snap” back in place. But, that can’t be a flaw inherent to this unit; rather, it’s almost certainly a consequence of being 12 years old and used for who-knows-how-much before falling into my hands. In the grand scheme of things that’s nothing, and otherwise, it loaded, played and displayed very well.

So yes, the VHS side does work quite nicely, showing some real quality and reliability – VHS was still current enough at the time to warrant such things, and sadly, said such things would not be evident on the general marketplace a whole lot longer. Plus, it’s a 6-Header! You just didn’t see many of these! The beauty of 6-Heads is that you’ve got excellent tracking, stable picture, extra clarity, and crystal-clear forwarding and rewinding in playback mode. Really, really nice quality on this one.

The DVD side works fine too. Or at least appears to. The drawer was smooth and responsive and it loaded up whatever I threw at it, but It was kind of a toss-up as to whether I could watch something or not. That is, I don’t have the original remote for this machine, and some discs require the usage of an “enter” key to get a title playing proper. The ones that respond to a simple press of the “play” button were fine, but for the ones that didn’t, well, staring at menus endlessly isn’t my idea of entertainment.

What I did get to play, I mean really play, worked fine and displayed well. I mean, it’s a DVD player, what’d you expect? Still, the original remote would be nice here; it’s not a huge deal for me, but if needed, I could always get a universal one.

(Again, none of this is a fault on the player itself; it’s just that after 12 years, remotes get lost, man.)

The left side…

For a nice as this machine is for the time it came out, at the end of the day it’s still from March 2006; unfortunately, the days of loading a VCR up with feature upon feature were looooong gone by then. As such, you only get the bare minimum of controls (though again, I’m operating without a remote, which almost certainly bars me from options such as setting the VCR timer, fiddling around with the clock, and so on and so forth).

…And the right side.

So at your fingertips you’ve got play, stop, eject, open/close, record, pause, rewind, fast forward, channel selection, a VCR/DVD toggle, the prerequisite power button, some additional A/V inputs, and…that’s pretty much it. Granted, you don’t need much else on the front panel, provided you weren’t planning on setting a timer recording. I suppose you couldn’t ask for a whole lot more for the time this was released. Well, you could, but realistically, this was the best you could hope for.

There’s certainly a nice selection of inputs and outputs along the back. Unlike the previously-linked S-VHS, there’s only S-Video output here, but as this was nearly 11 years newer, you’ve got component outputs for the DVD side, which is certainly welcome. Plus, there’s the standard red-white-yellow outputs (and for the VCR, inputs), along with the RF jacks. Also, a coaxial plug, because yeah.

(Like I said last time, to be full proper review, I feel shots of the back of these machines are necessary, but in truth, I never have all that much to say about them. My hope is that my pics will provide specific info for the right person when and if they come looking for it.)

Also, whoever owned this before me took the time to label the antenna in and VCR/DVD out jacks. I probably should have removed those tags, but whatever.


I like this one a lot. I’m apparently not the only one; most of the old reviews on Amazon are glowing.

Nowadays, it’s not too tough to find VCRs at the thrift store(s), though prices naturally vary. The problem is, in my experience a good many of them are of the lower-end variety; I typically don’t come across genuinely solid, well-built decks that often. I mean, yes I do, but it’s not like every single trip, and at this point, there’s got to be something really special about it to get me buy one, besides.

And as for DVD players, meh, dime a dozen.

Make no mistake though, this RCA VHS/DVD combo is special. True, it’s not particularly feature-packed, but the overall quality, from build to function, is just so nice and solid. I like everything about it, but most of all, if I’m being honest, it’s the 6-Heads. They really do make a difference!

RCA Home Theatre S-VHS VCR #VR725HF (July 14, 1995)

Dig this intensely cool piece of 1990s home video technology I picked up! Found recently (at the end of January or start of February) at a somewhat-far-off thrift store, the RCA “Home Theatre” S-VHS VCR (model number VR725HF) came into my life…for only $4. Four bucks?! That’s a great price for a regular VHS VCR, never mind an S-VHS VCR! Needless to say, it became mine.

I was initially a bit apprehensive with this one. It was a little grimy, and while I plugged it in and tested it as best I could while there, it didn’t seem to be working quite correctly at first, though this was naturally all “sight unseen.” (I.e., it wasn’t hooked up to a TV.) Eventually it seemed to be running well-enough for me to take a chance on it, and besides, it’s not like I trip over Super VHS while out and about all the time anyway. And so here we are. The final verdict? Read on!

As you can better see in this closer-up here, not only was this a 4-Head, Hi-Fi model (as you’d probably expect of an S-VHS), but it was also part of RCA’s “Home Theatre” line. Not “Theater,” “Theatre.” Fancy! Around the late-1980s and up through at least the mid-1990s, RCA really pushed this concept, through swanky TVs, audio equipment, and as advertised on the deck here, even their own satellite receivers. Naturally home video was also part of that equation. This was all a relatively big deal in the 90s, as technology was advancing far enough to where the “home movie experience,” or at least something approximating it, was a progressively feasible goal for consumers. Back then, the better, more-advanced equipment you had, the cooler your living room was. Then again, this was almost-certainly true before and after, too; people always want the biggest and best, after all.

This model also has the VCR Plus+ feature. Lotsa VCRs around that time did. What was it? Next to programs listed in TV Guides and whatnot, there was a numerical code. Punch it in on the appropriate VCR menu, and it’d automatically record the show. I never used the feature back then, and I don’t think our VCR at the time even gave it as an option, but it’s a neat concept.

This isn’t the first S-VHS deck we’ve seen here in recent months. Astute readers (all two of you) will recall the incredible “prosumer” Panasonic AG-1970 that I wrote about back in September. That thing is a legit beast, and while no one will claim this RCA to be in the same league (it’s decidedly a “consumer” unit, as opposed to a “prosumer” one), it definitely lives up to the “Home Theatre” branding. If nothing else, it’s nicer than the Memorex S-VHS VCR I wrote about years ago.

I’ve mentioned before my ambivalent feelings regarding electronics, or more specifically VCRs, from the 1990s. In general, they seemed to become cheaper, flimsier, less-feature-packed, less-reliable than decks from the 1980s. That’s a generality of course, and naturally there were exceptions. Some (okay, many) VCRs from that decade fell into the “affordable” arena, often with plastic casing, 2-Heads, no stereo, etc. etc. etc. My old Zenith is a good example. BUT, some rose above whatever trappings the format had fallen into, be it through slightly more features, higher build quality, or just through a slick-casing. My rad ProScan is a great example.

Well, this RCA is undeniably one of those exceptions. You might be tempted to think that all S-VHS VCRs would be exceptions, since they were Super VHS and thus higher-end by definition. That wasn’t necessarily so (I direct you back to the previously-linked Memorex post), but luckily this RCA is one of the good’uns.

Though compared to my last S-VHS adventure, you may not think so at first. It doesn’t have a ton of options built into it. Or at least, none that I can see; the original remote was MIA, and hey, maybe there was more that could be accessed there. As it stands here though, you’ve got only standard play-stop-eject-rewind-forward-record-pause options at your fingertips. I can’t even access the much-ballyhooed VCR Plus+ option. Near as I can tell, anyway.

Luckily, much of what I can do is accessed through a jog shuttle. I do loves me a jog shuttle, even if it’s usually just for aesthetic reasons. Turn the knob for faster rewinding for fast forwarding, stop for still mode, hit play to get back in action, that’s how this RCA goes about things.

Also, there’s, uh, specific buttons for stopping and ejecting, and recording.

Speaking of recording, you didn’t have to record in S-VHS; you could use this as a regular ol’ VHS VCR, if you so desired. This is accessed through the little S-VHS button pictured here. The light sez it’s on. Since S-VHS required specific S-VHS tapes, and since regular VHS tapes were far more common, if you wanted to pick up a cheap blank tape at the grocery store, you’d just push the S-VHS button “off,” and then you were good to go! I don’t know if the recording quality for normal VHS would have been any better than usual, but 4-Head Hi-Fi is always a good thing anyway.

Unlike many mid-1990s VCRs, instead of a cheap plastic casing, the RCA VR725HF is housed in good ol’ metal, and with the black color-scheme, it’s a pretty slick-lookin’ beast. There’s some rounding on the front corners, but it’s mostly slim and boxy, though ridges (?) along the bottom almost give it a foot-stand-like appearance. I don’t know how to describe this, bu I tried to show you in the pic here.

I like the looks of this one. It has a heavy duty appearance and feel, yet a clean, elegant design. It almost (almost) comes off as minimalist, but in a good way. I may not go so far as to say it is minimalist, because it compares well to many of the other VCRs of the period in this regard. No, it doesn’t boast a ton of features, at least not on the unit itself, but what’s here is attractive. True to its name, this had to have look derned classy in the home theaters (theatres) of the mid-1990s.

Here’s the precious, precious back of the VCR shot you’ve all been clamoring for. I feel like I’m required to include these shots for this to be a full, proper review, but in truth, I never have all that much to say about them. It’s the connections area of the unit, okay? Antenna, AV, and S-Video jacks are all found in abundance. I do like that it has S-Video in and out ports.

Also, see, 7-14-1995. Did you think I was lying? I wasn’t.

Even though I picked this machine up over a month ago, it wasn’t until this past Wednesday that I dragged it out, cleaned it up, and started fully testing it. You know why it didn’t seem like it was working correctly when I first did preliminary testing upon discovery? Because upon initial start-up, it brings up an option (via blue screen) to scan for channels. Pressing (most) any button will exit out of that, which is why it did seem to start running well shortly afterwards. Or maybe it just hadn’t been used in years and needed time to warm up, I don’t know. Like I said, it was sight unseen.

(I guess there’s some form of ancient memory inside, because despite unplugging the thing after doing a quick channel-scan, it hasn’t asked me to scan again upon subsequent power-ups; what was scanned has, erm, remained scanned.)

Anyway, I don’t know if it was serviced at some point or just built insanely well, but this VCR works wonderfully. Like I said, it was a little dirty when I grabbed it, and even now you can see some scratches on the front panel in my pictures (I did give the whole thing a good disinfectant wipe rubdown), but despite its former life and July 1995 birthday, it handled just about everything I threw at it like a champ. I tempted fate and kept it going for over four hours Wednesday, ran both a ‘good’ tape and a problematic one in it, and both displayed wonderfully and came through the ordeal unscathed. (This is good, because I’m fond of both tapes, and had one or both been eaten, there’s a good chance you’d have heard me yelling from wherever you are. “What’s that?” “Oh, it’s just North Video Guy screamin’ again.”)

The only issue that came up was that the stereo kept switching to mono with a few things I recorded back in 2012, BUT those were from the same channel, same brand of tape, same program even. It didn’t do that with other recordings from around the same period, so maybe it was a fault on the channel? Or the tape brand I used? I don’t know, but I’m considering this RCA “workin’.”

‘Course, I kinda wanted to see the actual S-VHS stuff in action too, you know? I mean, it handled my old, regular VHS just fine (indeed, phenomenal tracking, picture stabilization and sharpness, even with SLP), but when you’ve got a (relatively) super-charged machine like this, you gotta see it all.

Luckily, I had some S-VHS tapes. They were given to me a few years ago, and despite not having a (working) S-VHS VCR right then, it was really only a matter of time. So, I went digging for them, and came up with the 2003 CBS broadcast of Bruce Springsteen’s Barcelona concert. I’ve owned the entire show on DVD for years, but this was recorded in S-VHS SP, so hey, gotta check it out!

It looks terrific. Okay, sure, at the end of the day it’s still consumer videotape, it’s not as sharp as a DVD or something, BUT the higher-resolution is immediately noticeable. I mean, just look at Bruce here! The quality is, needless to say, superior to even a regular SP-recorded tape.

So, for only $4, I got a real bargain. An RCA S-VHS VCR that appears to work perfectly, and looks cool to boot. I hit up a lot of thrift stores, but things like this just don’t show up everyday, and certainly not at that price. RCA did good work, and that’s evident even now!

Back in the 1990s, for our home entertainment center, we had an RCA 4-Head Hi-Fi deck. Not an S-VHS, mind you, just normal VHS, but for years it served us well. I eventually ran it into the ground (young tape-head and all), but that was hardly a fault on RCA’s part. When it comes to 1990s VCRs, it was probably one of the better ones to be had. Dad was big into the entertainment center thing, so that deck coupled, with surround sound, it was definitely cool to watch (and hear!) big budget Hollywood product on that thing.

This RCA S-VHS VCR reminds me of that childhood deck, which is totally an added bonus here. All in all, another fine addition to my collection!

VHS Review: TEXAS TERROR (1935; 1985 Vintage Video Release)

“Say, that cover looks kinda sorta familiar!”

If you’re saying a variation of that phrase to yourself right now, it means you’ve read this article. And if that’s the case, it also means you’ve probably got too much time on your hands. That’s okay though; so do I.

Yes, Vintage Video makes a return to my stupid dumb blog, and while the subject this time around is admittedly less eye-popping than Al “Grampa” Lewis hosting Night of the Living Dead, it’s no less rare; old school Goodtimes/Congress/UAV/ etc. budget VHS releases of certain titles are (relatively speaking) a dime-a-dozen, but Vintage Video? These tapes show up far less often, though there doesn’t seem to be a huge difference in value –  it takes someone with the same arbitrary whims as I to go after them, and fortunately for me, I appear to stand alone on that front. (I.e., no one else seems to care as much as I do.)

No joke, more than once I’ve gone out of my way to pick these videos up, regardless of title. I’m not sure if the company was always a subsidiary of Amvest Video, or merely became one later, but either way, I’ve become incredibly fond of their releases. Sure, most (all?) of them were just the public domain staples that nearly every company took a shot at releasing, but there’s a quirky aura about these Vintage Video tapes that I can’t resist. Or maybe it’s just that whole eventual Grampa thing, I don’t know. (If none of this is making sense to you, and there’s a good chance that it isn’t, go read the some 900,000 words I wrote about the subject in the article linked above.)

Anyway, I’m excited for today’s subject for three specific reasons: 1) It’s a pre-fame John Wayne B-Western, his 1935 Lone Star (aka Monogram) entry, Texas Terror, as you can plainly see above. Let it be clearly stated: I love these Lone Stars. You ask me to put together a list of my favorite Wayne flicks, guess what? Blue Steel is going right up there with Stagecoach – a statement I make without hesitation despite the probable destruction of my street cred. I’m a B-Western junkie, and a Wayne fan, so these Lone Stars are directly up my alley.

2) I grew up watching B-Westerns. I talked about this recently; in the late-1990s, our local independent station WAOH TV-29/WAX TV-35 regularly ran syndicated content from the America One Network, and each weekday (and often on weekends, too) they’d play an afternoon “Western Theater.” You wouldn’t be seeing things like The Searchers on the program; oh no, it was the B-Westerns of the 1930s and 1940s that they presented, and at 11/12-years old, I quickly grew to love them – a love I carry with me to this day. America One often seemed to have unique prints of their films, too; not necessarily wildly different prints as far as the actual content of the movie went, but the picture and sound quality of their features could vary quite a bit from more ‘common’ versions found on other networks and/or home video. Coincidentally, and fittingly, the same often goes with these Vintage Video/Amvest releases!

3) I didn’t know this company (these companies?) ever even released any westerns. I mean, it was a safe guess that they did, but listen, I’ve spent far too much time researching these titles, and in the course of that research I’ve seen comedies (Movie Struck), dramas (The Blue Angel), silents (The Gold Rush), mysteries (The Woman in Green), sports biopics (The Joe Louis Story), even action (Fists of Fury), and of course the sci-fi and horror of the Grampa series. But until Texas Terror, never a western. I mean, I assume they put out The Outlaw and/or Angel and the Badman, because nearly every budget VHS manufacturer did, but if so, *I’ve* never seen them. So, when I discovered they not only released a western, but a B-Western, and that B-Western was a John Wayne Lone Star, I got far more excited than an ostensibly-reasonable adult should have. I mean, we’re talking unacceptably giddy here. Needless to say, it had to become mine, and as you may have surmised by now, it did.

In relation to the other Vintage Video titles, this one is a little unique: usually (but not always) for their covers, they’d go with the original poster art, merely flanked with the “Vintage Video” border you’re seeing above (they eventually dropped the border). But here, it’s an original composition; a stock (I guess) shot of Wayne, made to look appropriately old-timey. I dig the ‘western’ font of the front cover cast-credits, though I feel the graphic used for the actual film title is wildly inappropriate; to me, that’s more befitting an 80s horror movie or something. Totally belies the comparatively-quaint creaker (alliteration?) contained within the video, man. But then, that’s that quirky aura I was talking about earlier!

As for the back cover, it follows the general layout of the other Vintage Video products of the period. Sometimes, some of the pertinent information demonstrated the era from which it came; that is, hey, the internet wasn’t around yet! Texas Terror was not made in 1940; it’s absolutely from 1935. Doesn’t sound like that big a deal, I know, but there’s a world of difference between the John Wayne of 1935 and the John Wayne of 1940. (In the same vein, my VV copy of Black Dragons lists the release date as 1949, when in actuality it’s definitively a poverty row product of 1942.)

Also, some of their descriptions could be a little…off. Not bad, just…off. I made the same point in that Night of the Living Dead post. Here, there’s a mention of Wayne’s “great style,” but what exactly that style is is never specified, so it just comes off random. The synopsis would have flowed better had they dropped that part entirely. The “of course” near the end kinda stops the rest of the summary dead, too; the whole thing would run smoother had those two instances been cut. Still, they got the point across, so mission accomplished anyway I guess.

Also, I just realized that the entire description is only two sentences long.

Also also, they spelled “thieves” incorrectly.

Bear in mind, I’m not intending to come off negative here; this tape, and others in the same line, positively exude a budget label charm. Indeed, as the video industry progressed from the 1980s to the 1990s, you saw the major studios evolve, but the budget labels? That quirky charm never really left, and to an extent it continues today with cheapo DVDs, though to me those feel inherently less special; pressing a disc just ain’t the same, bro.

I guess what I’m getting at is collecting these public domain titles on old school budget video labels is endlessly fun. You get a peak at that early (or at least earlier) era of home video, and you often get fairly unique sleeve art, front and back, which is the case here.

(Also, if I ever find out Vintage Video/Amvest/whoever released a version of Blue Steel, I will legit flip my beans.)

So, on to the movie itself…

Lone Star Productions was, from how I understand it, a division of Monogram Pictures. Or was it merely Monogram under a secret name, not unlike Konami with their Ultra Games label? (I’m reasonably sure I’m the only person on the internet to make that reference in regards to a Monogram/Lone Star movie, and if you don’t get it, that’s because there’s not much of a comparison between the two entities at all.) Monogram was, for those not in “the know,” a poverty row purveyor of cheap theatrical entertainment, in pretty much any genre you could think of. Westerns were big business at the time, so needless to say, their output in that field was not inconsiderable.

From my first glimpse of Blue Steel so, so long ago, the thing I found immediately striking about these Lone Star pictures was their introductory sequence; a gigantic sheriff’s star, stampeding towards the viewer, the company’s name boldly emblazoned in the center of it. All of sudden, the thing stops, then transitions to the respective title and credits of the feature, all still contained within the star. And of course, this was always accompanied by a heroic, appropriately-western score.

If you’re wondering just why I find/found these intros so fascinating, it’s because, quite frankly, you didn’t always get such hype at the start of these poverty row westerns. For films that were, more often than not, pretty chintzy (in a good way), the opening fanfare exhibited by the Lone Stars was really pretty unique in the field.

While on the subject, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a non-John Wayne Lone Star western. Maybe that’s because these are so widely available today due to the star power involved. At any rate, did Monogram give Lone Star flicks to other actors? Yes? No? I dunno.

Actually, it’s the John Wayne factor that makes these Lone Stars so (relatively) well-known nowadays. Just like our tape today, budget releases on VHS were myriad, and that continues with DVD releases from every manufacturer under the western skies. (See what I did there?) I mean, when you’ve got American film icon John Wayne in a bunch of public domain movies, that’s the sort of thing a company looking to get cheap-but-eye-catching product on store shelves has to take advantage of.

Indeed, some of my favorite budget movie releases, on both VHS and DVD, are those of these John Wayne B-Westerns; not necessarily all of them, but rather the ones that use later-era shots of Wayne and/or appropriately ‘epic’ or ‘majestic’ backdrops for their cover art. The intent with these is clear: to make the unsuspecting consumer think these are “real” Wayne movies, and not the creakers they actually are. Oh don’t get me wrong, I love these Lone Stars, and I’m such a B-Western junkie that truth be told I’d head for them over some of Wayne’s later, big time stuff. Still, aside from the fact they feature the same star and are technically moving pictures, there’s just no real comparison between the two. Therefore, the more misleading the cover art for a release of one of these cheapies is (or was), the more appealing it is to yours truly. Go figure!

So anyway, Texas Terror. Through various compilations, I undoubtedly own it approximately 97,000 times over – give or take a couple thousand. Still, until I picked up this neato Vintage Video release, I wasn’t all that familiar with the movie. Blue Steel I know backwards and forwards, and I’ve at least seen a chunk of the others, but Texas Terror? For all intents and purposes, this was a new one on me.

Going in, don’t expect an early prototype of Stagecoach, okay? This is John Wayne, but also sort of, uh, isn’t. Frankly, it’s kinda fun seeing him outside of Hollywood and, I don’t know, ‘raw’ I guess would be the best term for it. The actor is the same, but the acting isn’t. Does that make any sense?

Soooo, all that said, ignoring the young John Wayne factor, and my love of B-Westerns and Lone Stars in general, I gotta admit, after watching it, Texas Terror really isn’t all that good of a movie. I mean, as a B-Western, I guess it’s alright, but as far as these Lone Stars go, there were much, much better flicks. If you’re looking at B-Westerns in general, Texas Terror ranks somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. “Mediocre” seems to sum it up pretty succinctly.

The plot centers around John Higgins (Wayne), the local sheriff, who mistakenly believes he’s killed his best friend Dan Matthews. During a shootout between Higgins and some robbers, Dan is killed by one of the hoodlums; upon discovery, Higgins thinks he plugged him (right screenshot), and subsequently resigns as sheriff and goes to live in the wilderness.

A year later, Dan’s daughter is heading into town to take over her late father’s ranch, when she is, naturally, beset by outlaws (it must run in the family). Higgins, now quite a bit scragglier, rescues her. Despite his heroism, she thinks he was one of the outlaws. Eventually, Higgins cleans himself up and comes back to town, his goal being to take down the gang once and for all. In the course of doing so, there’s a blossoming romance, a huge misunderstanding, and perhaps improbably, a square dance that devolves into a cow-milking-contest.

Oh, and George Hayes is also in this, minus the whole “Gabby” persona. Can’t forget to mention that!

Texas Terror, as previously stated, it isn’t all that good, but there are some interesting aspects to it that help set it apart. First of all, Wayne’s Higgins (I can’t type that without thinking of Magnum, P.I.) grows a beard during his exile period, and this is the only film I can think of where Wayne’s character features full facial fiber (alliteration). Sure, he had a mustache (and quasi-soul patch) in The Shootist, but this is the only instance I can think of where he had a legit beard. (I’m not saying it is the only instance, I don’t claim to have seen every single John Wayne movie ever, but this is certainly the only instance that comes to mind).

Random Thought: is it just me, or does Wayne kinda look like Kevin Love in this screencap?

Also, I appreciate the usage of Native Americans as heroic characters. Here, they’re friends with Higgins, and come to his aid in grand fashion during the film’s climax. Sure, their ‘accents’ may not be politically correct now, but Texas Terror bucks the frequent western trend of treating Native Americans as antagonists. I like that.

These Lone Star westerns often featured cool, though slightly generic, titles, and Texas Terror is no exception. Is the title an indication of Wayne’s character, the outlaws, or the plot in general? Blue Steel was the same way; no in-film reference ever related to the title, but it sure sounded neat.

As for the print and tape quality of Vintage Video’s presentation, this copy is in SP, which is always welcome, though it’s kind of a wash since the source material is so battered. I’m not saying this is the worst Texas Terror has ever looked, but this particular print certainly saw better days prior to VHS release. Besides the not-inconsiderable amount of dust, dirt and scratches, accumulated via untold trips through the projector and who knows how many generations removed, the bigger issue is that this version is pretty blasted. No joke, some of the images are far, far too bright. Look at the screenshots to the right here; the upper-image features a positively ghostly John Wayne, whose face seems to be a part of the wall behind him. And the lower-image? You’d be forgiven for not immediately realizing our heroine is even in the scene!

Still, like the sleeves these sorts of tapes were housed in, seeing the varying picture quality of these budget releases was/is part of the fun with collecting them. No, a major studio probably wouldn’t have put a print in this condition out (unless, say, there was only one known extant copy existing; definitely not the case with Texas Terror), but that’s why there were budget VHS tapes back then. The old adage of “you get what you pay for” could and often did come into play here, but I prefer to think of it more like, hey, the company got their hands on the only print they could, so let the chips fall where they may. Or something like that. Look, it was a different time in home video, and better sources might not have been available, or at least easily accessible. Especially if the manufacturer was a relatively minor player in the game.

So, there you have it: Texas Terror, as presented by Vintage Video, the (eventual?) alter-ego of Amvest Video, from 1985. I still haven’t seen another western put out by either company, and while I can’t really recommend the movie for B-Western and/or John Wayne fans (seriously, Blue Steel is pretty good; go with that one instead), it’s certainly an interesting, and for now, unique, addition to my collection. I’ve got more than a few cheapo John Wayne tapes littering my “archives” (ha!), but this one has automatically become one of the more-notable entries. I don’t say that lightly, either.

VHS Review: Frankenstein (1931; MCA Videocassette Inc., 1980)

Happy Halloween!

Once again we come to the big day! This entire month (well, most of it), I’ve tried to keep things adequately “spooky,” and it has all been leading up to this showstopper. We’re gonna throw things waaay back with what is quite possibly the very first home video release of what is also quite possibly the greatest horror film ever made: 1931’s Frankenstein! If it’s not the first release, it’s at least certainly among the earliest, not counting home super 8mm copies and whatnot. (I’m talkin’ VHS and Betamax here, man.)

In the realm of horror movie royalty, Frankenstein resides way, way near the top; if it’s not #1, it’s at least a top ten’r, maybe five’r. And even if its ability to scare has almost-certainly diminished in this more-jaded movie-going age, it still easily and aptly holds up as a genuinely great, great film, one that supports more than a few iconic moments and has basically become the veritable symbol of Halloween (you know, today).

This was put out my MCA Home Video (then billed as MCA Videocassette Inc.) in 1980, and while Frankenstein was by no means a ‘new’ film even then, it’s wild to realize it hadn’t even hit 50 years old by that point. It’s now 86 years old, and this tape itself is closer to 40 than it isn’t. I’m not sure where I’m going with all this. It’s an old VHS of an old movie that wasn’t quite as old 37 years ago as it is today, okay? There, wrap your mind around that!

When this was released, home video was still very much in its infancy. These tapes weren’t exactly cheap, never mind the VCRs required to play them. As such, rentals were the main order of the day, but even so, don’t underestimate what a revolution in movie-viewin’-at-home this was. No longer did someone have to wait for their favorite flick to show up on TV, if or when it ever did; nope, all it took was a quick trip to the video store to net them a rental, or ownership if they felt like really prying open the wallet. (Full disclosure: I have no idea how much this tape originally retailed for.)

Although they’re a more-protected species nowadays, at the time these Universal classics were still widely seen on local stations, regional horror hosted programs, and so on and so forth. But to actually own an official copy of the film, to pull it off the shelf whenever you darn well felt like it? That’s something we totally take for granted nowadays, but for classic horror fans in the early years of home video, I’m just not sure it got much cooler than that!

‘Course, while there are some differences in the print here, which we’ll get to, it’s not like this movie was unique to one specific era of home video; nowadays, you can get the film itself or the entire series on DVD or Blu-ray. I find it hard to believe that anyone reading this post hasn’t seen Frankenstein, but if by some chance you haven’t, you really owe it to yourself to pick up a minty fresh new copy right quick.

Anyway, this tape. Anyone familiar with the later video releases of not only this movie but the other Universal classics will recall how elaborate and striking their covers often were, sometimes even utilizing original poster art. Gene Shalit could even show up, too. As such, the relative sparseness of this release is a little striking; it’s the kind of tape that really could have only come out in those first few years of home video.

Not that it’s bad, mind you. The mostly-purple & black color scheme is attractive and gives off the appropriate vibes one would associate with a movie of this nature. Ditto for the tinted close-up of Frank’s mug. I like the semi-Gothic (?) font used for the title, and I’m by no means a “font guy.” It’s just, like I said, the whole thing feels a little sparse compared to what was to come, though that’s no one’s fault; video covers would soon become increasingly eye-catching – the simpler, earlier days of the format soon gave way to big ol’ boxes and legitimately striking artwork, all in an effort to entice prospective buyers/renters (obviously). I guess what I’m saying is that this release could have only come out in those first few years of video. Wait, I already said that! Well, it still holds true.

If not the film as a whole, then at least the actual character of Frankenstein (or “Frankenstein’s Monster,” for all you technical types) has become, arguably, the most famous of Universal’s many many monster movie (alliteration) creations. It stands to reason this original flick (along with fellow-perennial-favorite Dracula) was among the first released on home video by MCA. Frankenstein‘s sequels had to wait a bit longer to come to VHS, however; for example, The Ghost of Frankenstein didn’t show up until 1993!

The back cover continues the color scheme, along with two shots from the movie and the expected description. Be happy there even was a description; some early video releases used the back cover primarily to hawk other titles from the company. The description here is pretty good, giving just enough exposition to draw the buyer-renter/whoever in and nailing the hype without ruining the movie. And look! Says right there: “The greatest horror film of all time!” Told ya!

Here’s what the back cover doesn’t tell you, though its not at fault by any means: Frankenstein is a movie that has been released numerous times on numerous formats – but not quite this version. I’m a little unclear whether certain scenes were excised before the original theatrical release or upon a subsequent re-release (I’ve heard both), but either way, Frankenstein was seen for years in a (slightly) truncated form. Perhaps the most famous example of this was Frank’s inadvertent drowning of little Maria; an edit to the print made the monster seem much more sinister than the original cut intended, and that’s all viewers knew for decades. The missing scene was rediscovered and rightfully added back to the film in the mid-1980s (video releases from the time notated this fact right on the front cover), and that ‘fixed’ Frankenstein is what we’ve had on home video for years. (There were a few other fixes, but unlike the King Kong I linked to a bit ago, the film wasn’t extensively chopped up.)

HOWEVER, since the footage hadn’t been rediscovered (or at least added back in) yet, of course the first few video releases were of the older, non-restored print, and needless to say, that’s what we have here. Now, naturally I’d never argue that Frankenstein should definitively be seen in this form, but it’s absolutely fascinating to see the version that was it for decades, and which is now, you know, not.

While on the subject of the print, Frankenstein has been restored and remastered over the years, and the result is that the version we have today looks pretty stunning; Universal has treated these films well! Even if you just watch one of them on Svengoolie, you’ll usually see something pretty crisp and clean – Universal does good work, and as far as Sven goes, they often provide upgraded prints as they come along, too.

But for a 1980 VHS release of Frankenstein, well, what could you really expect? The print is good, it’s certainly watchable, and probably better than what would have been airing on TV around that time. But, there’s an amount wear, dust, etc. to the print that just wouldn’t fly nowadays. Maybe it’s not that surprising; it is an early video release of a movie from 1931, after all. Don’t get me wrong; this Frankenstein doesn’t look ‘bad’ by any stretch of the imagination (I mean, you can’t even tell from the title screen screencap there), It’s just that, frankly, I’m so used to these Universal horror films looking so…so clean. But hey, you gotta start somewhere, huh? And yes, I know the remastering technology wasn’t then what it is now. (By the way, for a VHS tape that’s closing in on 40 years old, it looks and plays quite well on that particular front.)

So, do I really even need to describe Frankenstein? Even if someone hasn’t seen it (yeah, uh huh), they know the basic storyline. Even though this film was adapted from Mary Shelley’s 1818 book, this Universal adaptation, which deviates wildly from the source, has become the iteration burned into the synapses of the public. When people think “Frankenstein,” 99.9% of them think of Boris Karloff’s immortal portrayal here. And the plot? The story has become a horror staple; people know the background and the monster even if they haven’t seen this 1931 masterpiece.

The plot concerns one Henry Frankenstein, a scientist who believes he has discovered the secret to reanimating life. As such, he, along with his hunchbacked assistant, go about stealing dead bodies and piecing them together. You know, an arm here, a leg there. (As I said before, we live in a more-jaded age, but worded like that, it still sounds pretty grisly.) Things take a wrong turn when, as the final piece of the puzzle, the assistant steals an abnormal brain. (You’re thinking of the Young Frankenstein gag right now, aren’t you?) Henry, via lightning storm, succeeds in giving the mass of body parts life, bad brain and all. If there’s one image from this movie that can be considered the most iconic in a film full of iconic moments, it has to be Henry’s exclaiming “IT’S ALIVE!” when the creature begins to stir. Trouble, of course, soon follows.

And that brings us…Boris Karloff. His portrayal of the monster is an absolute marvel; a creature capable of death, destruction and vengeance, but at the same time, also humanity. The fact he does this with no real dialogue is amazing. Yes, the monster has a deranged mind, he kills, but there’s also a real gentleness about him; watch early on, soon after he’s first reanimated, and sunlight is let in through the roof – the creature futilely reaches up towards it, and it’s just an incredible moment. Indeed, one of the great tragedies of this older print is that some of that humanity is obscured – the scene where he accidentally drowns Maria is a chief example, and though only a very small moment in the overall film, it’s a very important one, which is why the later, restored versions of Frankenstein are such a triumph.

And how about that make-up! There have been numerous depictions of Frankenstein’s monster over the years, but only one that continually sticks in the mind of the people, and that’s Karloff’s portrayal here. Sunken cheeks, flat head, bolts in the neck, the whole shtick; c’mon, you already know how he goes!

Many people point to 1935’s Bride of Frankenstein as topping the original. I can understand that thought, but I still gravitate to this first film, though the monster’s newfound power of speech in Bride makes for some iconic screen moments. At any rate, the first three movies in the series (this, Bride, and 1939’s Son of Frankenstein) feature Karloff as the monster, and he’s fantastic in each one. Those are terrific movies in general, though I love this series as a whole (and have a particular soft spot for 1942’s The Ghost of Frankenstein).

Still, it all comes down to this original Frankenstein. This is the kind of movie horror films are built upon. No joke, it’s quite possibly the perfect Halloween movie, rivaled only by Night of the Living Dead. But whereas Dead is a gritty, nihilistic late-1960s social commentary, Frankenstein is, in my mind, the definitive horror film of Hollywood’s golden age. Both are great, but for pretty different reasons, even if they do both share the whole “reanimated corpse” theme.

Frankenstein, to me, is the horror film of that era in Hollywood; evocative sets, a fantastic storyline, unforgettable acting, a budget. Everything about it is just right. It draws you in from the first scene and never lets you go. How can anyone not love it?

So, to have the movie here in what is probably the first edition released on VHS, it’s not just a cool collectible, nor is it just a cool relic of home video’s past. I mean, it is all that, but it’s also a piece of horror movie history; the first time consumers could own the movie for home use, authorized and officially. As I said before, I’m not sure it got much cooler than that!

And with that, our big Halloween update comes to a close. Have a happy and safe holiday, everybody! And hey, why not throw 1931’s Frankenstein on at some point, whatever version you may have?

VHS Review: The Little Shop of Horrors (1960; Video Treasures’ 1990 Colorized Version Release)

We’re coming to the home stretch gang; Halloween is next week! By now it should be obvious that when it comes to seasonally-appropriate movies, I prefer the old stuff: The classics of the 1930s, the poverty row works of the 1940s, and the cornball drive-in fare of the 1950s and 1960s. Some of the flicks I dig are generally perceived as less-than-great, while others are widely considered legitimate classics. Today, we’re looking at something from the latter end of that spectrum.

1960’s Roger Corman opus The Little Shop of Horrors is somewhat of an anomaly. Based on the plot and production values (it was filmed for figurative peanuts in only two days!), by all means this should have been little more than a cheap and cheesy horror quickie; fun and entertaining perhaps, but not something particularly good. That’s not how it turned out though. Everything lined up perfectly for Shop, the result being a genuine classic. It’s fast-paced, well-written, and thanks to some terrific dark humor, pretty funny. It may very well be Corman’s best movie. I certainly consider it to be.

As it turned out, a fate that befell other ‘big’ horror films also happened to befall Shop: It lapsed into the public domain, and that, coupled with its status as a “cult classic” ensured that the movie would be readily available at pretty much any given moment. No joke; you’d almost have to be trying to avoid The Little Shop of Horrors in order to not see it!

Enter the mid/late-1980s, the booming home video market, and the then-new (and then-controversial) process of colorizing black & white films. It stands to reason that some of the more legendary grayscale movies would be prime candidates for colorization, and that’s where our subject today comes in: The Little Shop of Horrors was given the color treatment in 1987 and released by the much-missed Vestron Video.

The tape we’re looking at now, however, is not that Vestron release, but rather a 1990 re-release by the industrious Video Treasures. Video Treasures put out a lot of tapes around that time, and there’s some legendary titles amongst its ranks. I’m not sure how they came to own the rights to the colorized version of Shop, but as far as I’m aware it’s the exact same print as Vestron’s. And so here we are.

First off, look at that cover art! Just look at it! Yes, for those unaware (all three of you), Jack Nicholson is indeed in The Little Shop of Horrors, though it apparently wasn’t his very first appearance in a motion picture. Still, it’s certainly one of his earliest, and the acclaim garnered by the film as a whole means that everyone involved was/is for the better, Jack included.

Though, the cover art points to a popular trend among releases of Shop: They like to play up the Nicholson angle, even though he’s not in it for very long. I mean, it’s understandable; he’s a name draw, an uber-recognizable face, so of course you gotta take advantage of him. But in reality, Jack isn’t even close to the star of the film (he was still a few years away from Batman, man).

The cover art used here is some of the more-famous artwork to be found gracing the front sleeve of a Shop release; it was used on no less than four separate VHS releases of the movie. Maybe even more, I don’t know. Three of those were for this colorized version: The 1987 Vestron release, this 1990 Video Treasures version, and one by Avid Home Video in 1992. The fourth one was United American Video’s 1987 VHS of the original black & white print, and that’s the one I had back in the day (still do, actually). Found in Best Buy’s fabled $2.99 VHS section, I was immediately drawn to that cover art, and actually picked up two copies: One to watch, and one to keep minty sealed fresh. That well-drawn picture of Jack, dressed to the nines and happily pointing at a presumably-killer plant, was and is immediately eye-catching, and as far as I’m concerned, some of the coolest cover art of the late-1980s/early-1990s VHS era.

The synopsis on the back cover is word-for-word the same as what appeared on the Vestron release. Actually, it was the same on the 1992 Avid VHS release, too. It seems that whoever gained the copyrights kept the particulars and only changed up the formatting and appropriate criteria (i.e., manufacturer etc.) somewhat.

That’s okay though, because the description does a pretty good job of selling the movie. Why fix what ain’t broken? I do take a few issues with it, however: 1) Calling it a “trash masterpiece” doesn’t work for me. It’s a cheap comedy-horror film, yes, but I’ve never thought of it as “trashy.” 2) Audrey wasn’t the daughter of the flower shop owner, was she? 3) That final line kinda gives away the conclusion of the film, though not definitively, and I suppose it could be taken either literally or figuratively. Still, I would have left that part out.

(Also: Hey, Video Treasures was situated in Ohio! Cool winnins!)

Needless to say, the fact that this is the (then) newly colorized version of the film is touted more that once, and why wouldn’t it be? You could get a regular ol’ black & white version anywhere! And speaking of the colorization…

Wikipedia says the movie has been colorized twice: This one, and a 2006 version by Legend Films. That Legend version was well-received, but this one less so. First off, Legend does good work, so that part doesn’t surprise me. As for the reception of this initial colorized version, I get that was released relatively early in the colorizin’ game, but even so, I actually didn’t mind it. Don’t get me wrong, I prefer that movies filmed in black & white stay in black & white, but as a relic of a time when the coloring process was still quite controversial, I can’t help getting a small nostalgic kick out of the proceedings.

And I’ve certainly seen worse colorized films. A trained eye will certainly be able to tell this wasn’t originally filmed in color, but to me, it’s less jarring and “in your face” than it could have been. Actually, some of the colors looked a little muted to me, though that may have been a combination of the tape’s age, the LP recording speed, my cheap beater VCR, and/or my eyes playing mind games with me. I don’t have any real complaints concerning the colorization process, but then again, it’s not like I don’t have the original version readily available to me at any and all times; maybe it would have been a different story if this was the only print accessible, which of course was one of the fears regarding colorization as a whole in the first place, but it’s not so it isn’t. (IMDb says this colorization was authorized by Roger Corman himself, but it also mentions there were several continuity errors in the coloring process, so I’m guessing that was probably more a reason for the poor reception than anything.)

I will say that the movie’s intro was a cause for concern, however. Look at that title screen above; see those “colored boxes,” for lack of a better descriptive term? As the opening scrolls to the right, those boxes just sort of remain stationary (for the most part), and it’s not a great effect. It reminds me of those old school color “screens” people used to place on their black & white TVs. Methinks they would have been better off giving the opening credits a single, solid color, but things settle down once the movie proper starts.

So, The Little Shop of Horrors. Is there anyone here that hasn’t seen this movie? Raise your hands as if I could possibly see you please. No? No one? Thas what I thought. The critical acclaim and public domain status have both ensured that this is one of the most widely-seen classic horror films going. It doesn’t top Night of the Living Dead in availability, but then, what movie does? Shop can still be mentioned in the same “ain’t no copyright on dis flick” breath though, and that’s pretty impressive nevertheless.

The plot, for all six of you who haven’t seen this, concerns one Seymour Krelboyne, a lowly worker at a skid row florist. Seymour is a screw up, and at the threat of being fired, Seymour saves his job by presenting an odd plant he has grown as an attraction for the shop, named “Audrey Jr.” (after fellow florist Audrey, who Seymour is in love with). The plant is unusual; it’s a hybrid with some venus flytrap genes in it. Unfortunately, Audrey Jr. doesn’t like to eat; attempts at ‘normal’ plant nourishment don’t do anything for it. It’s only after it accidentally gets a taste of Seymour’s blood that the truth is revealed: This thing craves humans! After pricking his fingers dry, Seymour knows that more is needed to keep the thing alive. Soon after, Seymour accidentally, and fortuitously (ha!), causes the death of a stranger. In order to cover his tracks, he scrapes up the body and feeds it to Audrey Jr. (above), and from there on, well, you can see where this is going. Seymour must satisfy the plant’s cravings with more and more human morsels.

There’s a healthy dose of humor in The Little Shop of Horrors. Jewish humor, to be specific. Jewish names and lingo are thrown about liberally. Further laughs are found in Seymour’s constant unwitting acts of murder; he never means to kill, it just sort of happens, though of course the curiosity of the cops is aroused nevertheless. Indeed, the film plays out somewhat like a morbid spoof of Dragnet, with Joe Friday and Frank Smith parodies found in Sgt. Joe Fink and Officer Frank Stoolie, who are on the case of the missing persons. (On a side note, the Dragnet-ish feel is something I really appreciate about the film, being a big fan of the actual TV series, and totally adds to the charm of the movie. It’s not unique to Shop, though; the 1956 Lon Chaney Jr. “epic” Indestructible Man used the same device, and even though for years I gave that movie short-shrift, a recent viewing found me reappraising it, not just due to the general entertainment factor but also thanks to the Dragnet-esque framing used.)

So what about Jack Nicholson’s role in the flick? As I said, he’s not in the movie very long, but his sequence is very funny. Jack plays masochistic dental patient Wilbur Force, who Seymour works on while posing as a dentist (after killing the real dentist – in self-defense, mind you). Jack doesn’t become a meal for Audrey Jr., but he gets one of the funniest moments in the whole film. As a masochist, he actually enjoys the visit to the office, with the final gag being him happily walking out and displaying his new trainwreck of a smile. Funny stuff! Jack would later get bigger roles (duh!), and even starred in Corman’s The Terror alongside Boris Karloff some three years later, but when it comes to his uber-early work, well, it’s tough to top his small bit here.

The Little Shop of Horrors is a movie that really holds up. Unlike a lot of horror/sci-fi films that have lapsed into the public domain, Shop is genuinely good. Sure, it was cheap and quickly filmed, but in my opinion that just adds to the charm. The horror elements are legit, but the film is largely a goof, and it all comes together perfectly as a whole because of it. Clearly it did something right; besides the unending fandom attributed to it, the flick also served as the basis for a popular musical, which in turn became the 1986 theatrical adaption/remake.

Like any colorized movie, I’m not sure I could ever recommend the altered version over an original black & white print, but as a supplement to the real deal, I’m fine with it. Colorization has obviously advanced in the years since, but there’s something about taking a trip back in time and watching a work from the earlier years of the process that’s a lot of fun. It’s not always perfect, but as a late-1980s/early-1990s throwback, it’s worth a watch. It makes for good, fairly-harmless Halloween viewing, if nothing else.

(By the way, for a print apparently authorized by Corman, I was a bit surprised to see that this particular version did not include the original ending credits. Many black & white copies lack them as well. My very first viewing of the movie, off of good ol’ 29/35 way back in like 1997, featured them, but few, if any, I’ve seen since have.

Speaking of 29/35, last night channel 29 said goodbye. The station will live on, without any line-up changes, as Cleveland’s channel 16, though unfortunately Spectrum doesn’t currently carry that feed. This means yours truly is going to need a real antenna to pick it up. Even though the channel isn’t really gone, to me this truly feels like the end of “The Cat.” No other station, local or otherwise, was quite as important to me while growing up than The Cat, and as such, it feels like another piece of my childhood is lost forever. Such is the way with life, however. The memories will live on, and I suppose that’s the best any of us can hope for.)