Friday, November 29, 2013

Seven Random Picks From The VHSPS

While most spent this Blackest Friday waking up early to assault one another for Westinghouse televisions and dirt-cheap copies of Connect 4, yours truly was out there at 1am to sell the crazies Ipads and Xbox Ones and other expensive electronics. If my poor choices didn't lead me to a life of retail, I would have gladly slept in and eaten leftover squash pie for breakfast. No need to try and beat the crowds for door-busting deals for this Trash Man. There's still plenty of days left to shop and lots of great deals to be found online.

Like those offered by The VHS Preservation Society.

For those unfamiliar with VHSPS, it's a wonderful website that offers affordable DVD transfers of films that were previously only available on VHS. There are quite a few movies that most don't have the opportunity to catch now that videos have become an obsolete medium. Few still have a functioning VCR in their households and sometimes finding additional copies of many of these titles is near impossible or far too expensive. The VHSPS allows film fanatics the chance to add "new" copies of long-forgotten or totally unknown flicks to their collections for pennies and nickels and the occasional dime.

And, naturally, they've jumped on the Black Friday/Cyber Monday bandwagon and are currently offering fifty-percent off all their available titles between now and December 2nd. All you have to do is enter the codeword black50 when you're checking out your order and all discs are half-off. They ran a similar promotion last holiday and I was sure to take advantage of their extreme generosity.

Last year's haul wasn't super-impressive. Four flicks for a measly twenty-bucks was a great deal, too good to pass up, but I didn't have any experience with the quality of their DVD transfers, so hesitated in purchasing too many. Several of my VHS copies of these pictured films are too well-worn to watch or were damaged by tape mold, so it's nice to be able to view them at my leisure without worrying about losing the VHS forever.

The quality for each was about what you'd expect and that's not at all a bad thing. The VHSPS use the best possible source materials for their copies, but there's the occasional imperfection because they're recorded from old tapes. The memories of hours spent roaming your local mom 'n pop video store will come roaring back when you do experience the rare tracking line or audio pop. Charming in how purely nostalgic they can be.

I went a little crazier with my purchases this year. Replacing some recent thrift shop finds with questionable condition with cheap DVD copies; stuff like Stay Tuned (1992) and Neon Maniacs (1986). I'm hoping to highlight a few sometime before the year is out, but today is all about some of the other titles that caught my eye when I was buying my most recent lot of discs.

So, here's several random flicks offered by The VHSPS that I'm hoping to add to my collection sometime in the near future.

Meet The Applegates (1989) is one of those movies that I was always drawn to when I was a kid but never got around to watching. The box tucked safely away on the back wall of Video Showplace, my local haunt and the first place to employ me, with the rest of the Comedy section. I was always intrigued at the idea of giant insects posing as a stereotypical "nuclear" family with the hidden agenda of wiping out humanity. It could be because I've always been more of a fan of bizarre black comedies than your typical slapstick or satire.

Plus, Ed Begley, Jr..!

Jesus, I'd probably seen Brainsmasher... A Love Story (1993) nearly a dozen times when I was a pre-teen. It seems like HBO or TMC used to air it constantly and I'm not entirely sure why I kept coming back to watch it, but I did. We'll blame it on a huge Teri Hatcher crush inspired by her role as Lois Lane on Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. It most definitely is not because of the scene where Andrew Dice Clay leaves an imprint of his fist in some yakuza thug's face, literally smashing his brain in the process.

The Keep (1983) is early Michael Mann attempting an atmospheric horror flick set during World War II and it mostly works. There's an awesome soundtrack from Tangerine Dream that is completely lacking in the current version streaming on Amazon instant video. And since it's still unavailable as a "proper" DVD or blu-ray, nabbing a copy from the VHSPS is the only way to see it as it was originally intended.

It's also further evidence that Ian McKellen can't seem to escape from appearing in movies either with or as a Nazi unless he's a fucking wizard.

I seriously doubt anything I could say about The Hidden (1987) will do it justice. Telling you that there's an alien parasite that leaps from body to body and two cops who are trying to hunt it down is the most basic way of summing it up. It's full of speeding cars and heavy metal music and explosions and a little bit of the ultra-violence one expects from an '80s action/sci-fi hybrid. Also, boobs and Kyle MacLachlan, but not Kyle MacLachlan's boobs.

Time for a true confession of a Trash Man; I love The Two Coreys. You can blame having grown up in the '80s and early '90s and watching too much cable TV, but I adore everything from The Lost Boys (1987) to Silver Bullet (1985) to Rock 'n Roll High School Forever (1991). If either of the Coreys are there, I'm in. Combine the charisma and overwhelming rad-ness-itude of both Haim and Feldman and I'm in heaven. License to Drive (1988) does that and throws in Carol Kane and a younger Heather Graham.

So overwhelming.

Charles Bands' Empire Pictures was responsible for dozens of "classic" genre flicks during the 1980s before turning into Full Moon Pictures and adding even more fantastic titles to their credits the following decade. Zone Troopers (1985) is one of my favorites. Another WWII-era flick, this one features a crashed alien spaceship and the American G.Is who must prevent the out-of-this-world technology from falling into the hands of the Third Reich. It's cheesy, sure, but in the best possible way.

The VHSPS offers copies of several old wrestling tapes; WWF and WCW fare from before their peak runs during The Attitude Era. Most are random compilations from the early '90s, but there's the occasional pay-per-view like WWF's King of the Ring show from 1993. This was the first KotR to air on PPV and is one of the most memorable from the ten-year run. You've got Hulk Hogan prior to jumping ship to WCW defending his championship title against Yokozuna and an eight-man tag match featuring The Million Dollar Man and The Steiner Brothers.

The main attraction to the show, however, was the elimination tournament to crown the true King of the Ring. Spoilers for a two decade old show, but Bret Hart defeated Bam Bam Bigelow in the finals to win. Memorable in that it would eventually lead into a lengthy feud with Jerry "The King" Lawler, a talent perhaps best known for punching Andy Kaufman one-time and hanging out with a midget named Queasy.

Wrestling is dumb.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Be Kind, Please Rewind: The Day of the Doctor

Days go by without words. They become weeks and we're forced to admit that time is not all wibbly-wobbly, that is passes all too quickly and we are never ever ever going to get it back. Best to forget regrets and apologies and get right back into the things that make us happy. That make me happy.

Like VHS and Doctor Who.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the good Doctor; his very first adventure aired November 23rd, 1963 on the BBC. It's not something I would have imagined myself celebrating a few years back, since I only became infatuated with the madman and his box a little over a year ago. It started with a friend of mine mentioning that he caught a couple episodes and that maybe I would enjoy it. Maybe I would! I did have, after all, an odd history with the Doctor.

It started with a stack of novels purchased for mere pennies each at a bookstore that was going out of business near my college. A couple dozen of his adventures sitting on a shelf, looking all too tempting bunched together like that and especially for so cheap. Plus, I was familiar enough with Doctor Who thanks to occasional appearances during the "classic" Sci-Fi Channel years. Not that I ever watched the program, mind you, but through commercials and promos like this one.

So, sometime last year I introduced myself to the current incarnation of the Doctor. I watched Matt Smith's first episode, "The Eleventh Hour", and enjoyed it and continued from there. After a couple months, I'd gone back and devoured every episode and special from the 2005 relaunch and on until the current series. I adored every adventure through time and space, every encounter with the Daleks and the Weeping Angels and even the Autons. Like my love of comic books, though, it was the continuity, the history, that I loved most.

Except I didn't know much of the history, did I? The Doctor had nearly forty-years worth of traveling and saving all of reality that I'd missed completely. Eight different actors portraying "The Oncoming Storm" that I knew little to nothing about. It was something that needed to be rectified and there was no better way to catch up on the Doctor's earlier misadventures than to watch them using an outdated media.

The wheezing of the TARDIS could only sound so good when it's coming from the faint hum of magnetic tape.

Tom Baker, who portrayed the Fourth Doctor, was the obvious place to start. With his ridiculous scarf and robotic dog, K-9, and the most beloved companion, Sarah Jane, by his side. He is arguably the most famous and recognized of all the Doctors, especially to older fans of the franchise. I picked up a copy of Pyramids of Mars from a third-party seller on Amazon, my very first Who VHS, and absolutely loved it. Even with its outdated special effects and questionable "acting", I was blown away by the idea of the Doctor battling an ancient, Egyptian space-god and his mechanical mummies. Super trippy in the best possible way.

Some more Fourth Doctor, including confrontations with the infamous Cybermen and the much more obscure Sisterhood of Karn. The middle tape is The Five Doctors, a special that celebrated the program's 20th anniversary by uniting the [then] current Doctor, Peter Davison, with all four of his previous regenerations. I've yet to watch it, but it's jumped to the top of my watch-list after spending so much of the last week engrossing myself in everything Whovian.

Castrovala is actually the first full serial that featured Davison as the Fifth Doctor and he's off to a bumpy start; forced to confront his ancient foe, The Master, on his premiere adventure. It's actually a sorta' sequel to The Keeper of Traken, which reintroduced The Master after a five-year absence from the Doctor's many, many lives.

Ah, the last two in my little collection are the oddities in Whovian lore. Amicus Productions, a British film company, is well-known for the numerous horror anthologies it's produced over the years. During the mid-60s, only a few years after the Dr. Who program originally aired, they were responsible for filming and releasing two feature-length pictures in full-color. Peter Cushing, who we all remember fondly as Van Helsing and Grand Moff Tarkin, was tasked with playing the part of "Doctor Who", a human who invented a time-machine and found himself drawn into conflict with the murderous Daleks. 

Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965) was followed by Daleks -- Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D (1966), and both were loosely based on earlier serials from the television program. While the Daleks remained mostly faithful to their TV counterparts, Cushing's "Doctor" was a simplified version; a mere human inventor who traveled along with his granddaughters, Susan and Barbara, to a planet ravaged by nuclear war. Not a far cry from the true Doctor, an alien Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey, but enough so that the Amicus films are largely forgotten or ignored by most Whovians.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Of Sick Days, Too Much Sleep and SCREAMERS

Three days lost.

I spent a good 60+ hours in bed earlier this week thanks to a particularly nasty stomach bug. No work, sure, but also no television and no internet and nothing but drinking lots of water and trying to sleep for more than an hour at a time. It's been several years since I've been that sick and I'm not looking forward to a next time. Which unfortunately might be very, very soon. The last couple days were nice ones, feeling better and going out and doing stuff, but I woke up today feeling worse and all I wanna do is climb back into bed.

Since I've been trying recently to focus less on the negative in my life and take a longer look at the brighter, better parts, I thought I'd share some little goodies I picked up yesterday. An early work day meant getting out by noon, which left me with plenty of time to hit a couple of my usual haunts. Seven bucks bought me all the trash you're about to see.

We'll knock the VHS out first, because you should all know the drill by now.

I was pretty late getting around to seeing Mad Max (1979) for the first time; probably only three or four years ago when it happened to be airing on IFC. It's exactly the kind of movie that would have blown me away when I was an early teen. This isn't to say that I don't love it now, because I do, but it's certainly one that I wish I had grown up with.

Meanwhile, I've still never seen Screamers (1995), but I certainly remember the trailer and commercials for it when I was an early teen. The mid '90s weren't a good place to be if you were a horror film or a sci-fi film, and this one combines both and throws in Buckaroo Banzai, too. As the years roll on, though, it seems like film fans and critics alike are re-discovering a lot of flicks from that era, so why not this one?

The following few pics are going to include a series of mini-figures and cereal prizes that I scored in a single grab-bag for $2.99. I originally grabbed it without hesitation when I noticed the contents. I then set it down on a random shelf, picked it up, put it back on the peg where I originally found it, and picked it up for a third time. A half hour spent trying to decide if I really needed to spend three dollars on this crap.

I'm still undecided.

I mean, it's a fun assortment of toys that immediately transports me back to being a kid. There are cheap pieces saved from Happy Meals and the Burger Kings Kids' Club, ranging from Super Mario Bros. 3 to Beetlejuice to Batman: The Animated Series. A couple skateboarding Dinos taken straight from boxes of Fruity Pebbles. Toss in an incomplete but completely naked Michelangelo [Sorry, Miss M. It was never my intention to see your guy in the buff.], and it looks exactly like the kind of stuff I would have thrown into the shoe-box, tucked under my bed, when I was in grade school.

These were a total score.

Fright Flicks were released back in 1988 by Topps. It was a series of trading cards that took screen-shots from several R-rated horror films from that era. Everything from Aliens (1986) to Fright Night (1985) to An American Werewolf in London (1981) were included. These cards would have terrified me as a kid; they certainly don't hold back on the gore or unpleasantness. I've spent the last couple years looking for some, though, and it finally paid off.

And yes, I could have just bid on a box of 'em on eBay for forty bucks right this second, but that sorta' takes all the fun out of it. I enjoy going and finding this exact kinda' thing out in the wild. I adore the fact that a couple sealed packs of twenty-five year old trading cards were sitting on a shelf at a thrift shop only yesterday. I especially like that they only cost me .99 cents each.

Pumpkinhead looks a lot nicer for under a buck.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Throwback Thor's Day: The Incredible Hulk Returns (1988)

While all the other nerds are gearing up for their midnight shows of Thor: The Dark World, I've spent my evening so far traveling back to the year 1988 to take a look at the God of Thunder's first "live-action" appearance. Six years after the end of The Incredible Hulk television series, Bill Bixby would team-up with NBC to bring his furious, green-skinned alter-ego back to to the small screen. On the night of May 22, 1988, The Incredible Hulk Returns aired and somehow a six-year old Trash Boy completely missed it.

This is not at all a tragic thing.

I'll probably lose a few points with my older, pop-culture obsessed brethren, but I am not a fan of the '70s Hulk program. The series was already near cancellation when I was originally born, and I didn't really get a chance to catch it until the Sci-Fi Channel was up and running and broadcasting reruns. It's boring. So boring. If I really wanted to see an emerald-hued Lou Ferrigno smash tables and bend "iron" bars around corrupt cops and drug lords, then I guess maybe the show would appeal to me. As a kid raised on giant, transforming robots and the animated exploits of Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends, there just wasn't enough super-heroics or epic battles to satisfy me.

All these years later, my original opinion of the "classic" Bixby/Ferrigno joint still stands. I thought the first Incredible Hulk made-for-TV special might alter that, however slightly, by adding in one of his Marvel Comics peers. But even the Mighty Thor himself couldn't save this dud.

See, the idea with The Incredible Hulk Returns wasn't just to offer up the further adventures of David Bruce Banner and his monstrous "Mr. Hyde". NBC had the bright idea of using the TV movie as a backdoor pilot for a potential Thor television series. It's pretty obvious to anyone who may have actually subjected themselves to watching the program. More time is spent with the Norse god and his "master", a former student of Dr. Banner's by the name of Donald Blake, then with Banner or The Hulk.

Their shared origin involves Blake discovering the tomb of Thor while on an expedition to the furthest reaches of of Norway. Holding aloft the mystical hammer he discovers within, and calling out the name of the All-Father, Odin, he finds himself able to resurrect the Thunder God for the good of all humanity.

Get used to the above image, because you're gonna see it about six-hundred times before anything of significance happens. Actually, nothing really happens at all. Some thugs show up to steal Banner's latest invention, the Gamma Transponder, and the two heroes make extremely short work of them. Even poor Charles Napier.

Oh, sure, there's an extremely brief brawl between Hulk and his fellow Avenger towards the beginning of the movie. It consists entirely of a couple punches, a whole lot of slow-motion Ferrigno, and Thor getting tossed through a window. You gotta remember that at this point in comics, fans had already seen the visual dynamics of guys like Kirby, John Buscema and Walt Simonson working on The Mighty Thor title.The fight presented here completely lacks in the KRAKADOOOOM! department; which only highlights the awful limitations that a Thor program would have also suffered from.

There's also an extended sequence where Thor demands that Blake take him out for drinks and food, and Donald complies by bringing his Norse housemate to a biker bar. Shenanigans ensue.

Thor quenches his mighty thirst with many pitchers of ale! A fair maiden plants a kiss on his cheek! Verily, he doth arm-wrestle one of the guys from Z.Z Top and wins..! These are the great deeds that will surely grant the Odinson entry into fabled Valhalla!

I'm being especially hard on The Incredible Hulk Returns and it's sorta undeserved. It's competently made for a extended television program and Bill Bixby's performance really is pretty solid. And, honestly, I sorta' enjoyed Eric Kramer as "Thor". There's something reminiscent of Chris Hemsworth's performance in both the first Thor film and in The Avengers. This brash version of the Thunder God who is obviously charmed by modern-living on Midgard; stuff like hailing cabs and getting into bar brawls and chasing girls jogging on the beach.

Maybe I would have enjoyed a late '80s, NBC-produced Thor program after-all.

Thor's Day truly is Must See TV.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Halloween is Dead. Long Live Halloween.

Yeah, Halloween is over and all that's left is gathering up the ghoulish garbage and tossing it out with the rest of the trash. Scouring the clearance aisles at your local retailer like a vulture or a hyena with Whoopi's cackling laugh in search of cheap decorations and half-price, fun-size Milky Ways. It's time to make like Target and CVS and Wal-Mart with everything red and green and silver and gold. Ho-ho-ho and don't forget to tramp the dirt down on the shallow grave of All Hallows' Eve.

Unlike all you ungrateful monsters, who've moved on to tinsel and gingerbread and goddamn candy canes already, I'm not too quick to dismiss Halloween. I can't! There's still so many horror flicks to watch and I never carved a Jack O'Lantern and is it kosher to eat Frankenberry and Yummy Mummy post-holiday? Too much stuff left undone could mean more to look forward to next year, I guess, but that's far away and I'm easily distracted. I need something to keep me focused on spooky shenanigans and there's only one guy I can turn to for the moral support.

The Goodwill Geek did a stellar job of documenting his own Halloween season, which was already enough to get me in the mood for the macabre. Everything from carving pumpkins to highlighting creepy reads and all the eerie decor you could ever want. And along with sharing daily insights into his own [and his wonderful family's] frightening festivities, he was also kind enough to share some treats with yours truly.

It's hardly the first time he's sent a box full'a treasures my way, but it's certainly the most terrifying selection of trash to ever grace my doorstep. Let's take a peek at the deadly delights that are sure to keep me dreaming of vampires and graveyards and falling leaves for the next few weeks.

Skeleton Warriors..!

You might remember that the previous package from Mr. G.W Geek contained an awesome assortment of monochromatic mini-figures; the highlight of which was a skeleton archer. Well, there was four-times the battle-ready boneheads this time around and I absolutely adore them all. Just looking at this sinister quartet and I can hear Danny Elfman's "March of the Dead" playing.

I recognized one of the creatures that comprise this unlikely pair right away, but it took a little digging to ID the other. Odd that the monster I couldn't place belonged to the original line of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers toys circa 1994. I was on the verge of middle school at the time, perhaps too old for spending my Saturday mornings familiarizing myself with the exploits of Jason and Kimberly and Alpha 5. But aye-yi-yi-yi-yi, I kept up with their adventures until the arrival of Lord Zedd and Tommy becoming the White Ranger. I must not have been paying too close attention, though, because I don't ever recall the Rangers battling The Clawing Dramole. He's the perfect combination of ridiculous and monstrous, which is sorta' why I loved watching the Power Rangers in the first place.

His brighter blue bud beside, however, I recognized immediately as being from the short-lived Creepy Crawlers cartoon and toy-line. I only recall catching a few episodes of the animated series and never owned any of the action figures, but after digging him out of that box, I kinda' wish that I had invested more into both.

Oh! I didn't remember his name or anything about the character, but it turns out that he's known as Commantis. In the cartoon series, he was created when a batch of kung-fu video tapes [YES!] were dropped into the "Magic Maker" and so he's a ninja/karate-master/samurai mantis-hybrid that was born from VHS and supernatural slime. Sounds right up my alley, doesn't it?

A couple more Power Rangers pieces, but these two are from the theatrical feature film and not the long-lasting television series. The Red Ranger isn't Jason, I guess, since he was probably already off in WeHo doing gay-porn by this point in the franchise's history. He was replaced by Rocky, who may as well have gone on to do the same following his own tenure as team-leader. It really doesn't matter what the second Red Ranger ended up doing, because he'll always fail to live up to his predecessor. And there's no way he's as cool as the other "bendie" Power Rangers toy I've got here-- the Tengu.

No, it's not the mythical creature from Japanese folklore, though they do share a name. This "bird-warrior" is instead the feathered henchman of one-time Rangers' foe, Ivan Ooze. I've never seen Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: The Movie, but apparently they were created when ol' Ivan hocked a loogie and they formed from his slimy spit. I just went and watched the clip and man, Goldar seemed way too into it.

The Stalker Predator doesn't look too pleased with being stuck between two non-poseable pieces of Power Rangers memorabilia and I can't say that I blame him. Released by Kenner in [wait for it...] 1994, he's used to keeping far better company. A companion set to their killer Aliens line from a few years earlier, the Predator series boasted a fantastic assortment of "yautja" warriors. The Stalker figure, with its glow-in-the-dark feature and its armor consisting of xenomorph remains, is probably one of the best offered. I'm psyched to add him to my growing Aliens/Predators collection.

I'm not sure where The Geek dug up these bizarre half-person, half-animal horrors from, but I love them dearly. Perhaps not as much as they love one another, but who can blame Shellfish Guy and Frog Lady for falling for one another so passionately. Neither had many options for mating, so let them figure out the logistics between the two getting super-freaky and we'll all just be happy for them and their unholy union. Remember to use protection, you two!

Pirate-themed Scooby and the gang..!

I can actually appreciate the exclusion of Freddy, because lord knows I hate ascots. I will not, however, forgive whomever is responsible from making these toys for leaving out my personal favorites, Scrappy Doo and Flim-Flam. It puts me in a minority, I'm sure, but my love for The 13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo [mostly due to Vincent Price's involement] knows no bounds. I just want to own something physical to pay tribute to the best 11-episodes of the Scooby Gang's misadventures and I don't think that's asking for much. Someone please get on that as soon as possible.

Please and thank you.

Out of the toys and into the fine literature.

Yes, I do consider Nintendo's Worlds of Power: Simon's Quest to be one of the greatest books ever written. There's a reason why I "borrowed" a copy from a friend in grade-school and never got it back to him. Of course, that copy mysteriously vanished sometime between 1993 and now, so for all I know the supposed "goodwill" of a certain Geek may have been hiding the guilt of a notorious book-thief who is just now returning my stolen property. I still have no plans to get it back to the original owner, though.

I don't have a whole lot to say about Freddy Krueger's Tales of Terror: Twice Burned just yet. I'm hoping to give it a good read-through sometime this week, and maybe hopefully there's a future post lurking within those pages. If you're fiending for some nightmarish tales now, however, you can always go take a a quick detour over to Miss M's place. Her latest Dorkette Book Club featured another title in the series, Virtual Terror, and I'm sure it pales in comparison to the personal tale she also shared with her readers in that very same post.

Because I needed more reasons to declare The Goodwill Geek one of the most generous individuals I know, he decided to include Stephen King's Cycle of the Werewolf, a novella I've been searching for a copy of for a while now. Eric from Toyriffic posted about it as part of his own Halloween countdown a little while back and I happened to leave a comment mentioning my hunt. So, naturally, G.W being the observant and way-too-nice guy that he is, noticed that and sent a copy my way. Because he really is just that incredible a person.

It almost makes me sick with gratitude and envy.

Where as Son of Celluloid, a vicious graphic novel that features the art of Steve Niles, might just make me nauseous with its gory and violent depictions of a sentient tumor tormenting the occupants of a movie theater. Most of Clive Barker's works leave me feeling a little filthy, but I think this one will probably earn the top-spot when I eventually get around to devouring the book's contents.


Like I said, the man pays attention. And while I've never been shy about sharing my love for magnetic tape, it's always nice to add some more analog to the collection. The Last Starfighter is an old favorite of mine, but one that I haven't found before on video, so I'm glad to have it. I also had never heard of The Final Sanction before tearing it free from that box, but it looks amazing and the description on the back does not disappoint. We may be seeing the return of my "weekly" [ha ha] Be Kind, Please Rewind feature soon so I can pay the proper respect I'm sure it deserves.

My sincere thanks once again to The Goodwill Geek for amazing gifts, sure, but especially for always sharing kind words and thoughts, and for giving us one of the best blogs out there. Here's to you, mate!

...he also sent me The Boxing Noid and I seriously love it more than life itself.