Saturday, September 10, 2016

Be Kind, Please Rewind: Godzilla Top Ten

It would be too easy to fall back on size-based puns when talking about Godzilla, so let's just say that 2016 is a very important year for everyone's favorite radioactive monster. He may have celebrated his 60th anniversary a couple years back with the release of Legendary Pictures' Godzilla (2014), the second American-produced film in the franchise, but his latest adventure is far more important and potentially historic. Re-titled Shin Godzilla for its eventual U.S release, the most recent outing for "The King of the Monsters" is the first to be produced by Toho Co., Ltd., the company solely responsible for the other thirty-films in the series, in nearly twelve years. Excluding the two American "remakes", it will also be the first time I get to see Godzilla rampaging on the big-screen. Excited doesn't even begin to describe how I'm feeling as I count down the days until its release.

To commemorate such a monumental event, I've decided to dig through stacks of tapes in search of some gold. After setting aside the couple dozen Godzilla flicks I own on VHS, the only way I could think to tick away the time between now and October 11th is to pick and rank the cover-art from several of them. Prepare yourself for a monster-sized examination of my Top Ten Favorite Godzilla VHS Covers.

10. Godzilla 2000: Millennium (1999)

Released by Columbia/TriStar Home Video, 2000.

The final VHS-release for Godzilla in the U.S, Godzilla 2000 was also the only film in the franchise to get a theatrical release in the States in thirty years. I missed it on the big-screen, but rented it frequently once it hit shelves at the nearby Hollywood Video. It's... not my least favorite from the series, but it may be close.

Still, despite my lukewarm feelings for the movie itself, there's so much potential there in the cover-art. Godzilla has clearly spent time alongside "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and the rest of the WWF "Attitude Era" cast, bulking up and ready to kick-ass. And lurking in the background, looking way more ominous and deadly than he does in the film, is one-off adversary, Orga.

The "Get Ready to Crumble!" tag-line immediately reminds me of Michael Buffer, which I'm sure was the intention, but all it does now is date it in a completely drag way. This is the most '90s that Godzilla will ever be, and that is not necessarily a good thing.

9. Godzilla Raids Again (1955)

Released by Video Treasures, Inc., 1989.

Confession time: I've never actually seen Godzilla Raids Again. It's the one film in the series that's somehow eluded me, even though I've owned it both on VHS and DVD for several years. I really don't have any valid excuses for putting off on watching this pivotal piece of cinema. Not only is it the first of many sequels in the franchise, but the film also serves as the original monster-versus-monster showdown from Toho, pitting Godzilla against his eventual ally and friend, Anguirus.

It's actually because of the second-billed kaiju that this VHS broke into the Top Ten. Even though I haven't yet watched this film, Anguirus' inclusion in the later Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972) is one of my favorite monster appearances from the entire series. I adore getting the chance to see him front and center on this cover, holding his own in a fight with Godzilla, with a city burning in the background. There's no way I would have ignored this tape as a kid if it had been available to rent at any of my local video stores.

 8. Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)

Released by United American Video Corporation, 1991.

This is the first of three appearances from this particular entry in the franchise. I'll have more to say about the film itself in just a bit, but I wanted to focus solely on the cover-art here. For those of you who have little to no background when it comes to Toho's menagerie of monsters, I'll simply point out that the winged creature that Godzilla is facing off with isn't Megalon at all, but instead Mothra.

Mothra doesn't actually appear in the film.

There's a pretty rich history of crudely illustrated and vague covers you'll discover if you do a bit of research into the Godzilla series, but there are few that rival this one. I almost love it more because of it's misleading art and racially insensitive title font.

7. Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)

Released by Viking Entertainment Inc., 1988.

Remember what I said a moment ago about crudely drawn covers?

Here's the second appearance from Godzilla vs. Megalon, and it's the one that's most-fueled by nostalgia. Long-time readers may even recognize it from a previous post. While it isn't the oldest tape in my collection, it's the one that I've personally owned the longest. My very first VHS. I can still remember visiting Paperama, a now long-defunct local retailer, with my grandmother and pleading with her to buy this for me. I'm not entirely sure why she decided to give in, but I'm forever thankful for her kick-starting two decades of collecting VHS by doing so.

Even if it didn't hold a ton of sentimental value for me, I still would have ranked it somewhere on the list. There's something about the simplicity of the design that drives me wild. I really dig the illustration, sure, but doubly so when it's been paired up with that green-striped border surrounding it. Plus, Godzilla looks good with a pink and purple cotton-candy sky behind him. Sugary sweet in his mindless destruction of another major metropolis.

6. King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)

Released by GoodTimes Home Video Corp., 1998.

This is almost a precursor to those lazy photo-shopped DVD and Blu-ray covers that you see all the time nowadays. Released to coincide with the theatrical Godzilla (1998) from TriStar Pictures, this copy from GoodTimes Home Video utilizes images of the two title monsters from a variety of sources. None of those include the actual movie, however. In fact, both the head-shot of Kong and the smaller "running" image of him are from the 1976 remake of King Kong.

It's also the only American-released Godzilla VHS to feature a clam-shell case. I honestly didn't know that such a thing existed until a few months ago, when I stumbled upon this copy at the flea market. So, despite already owning two different versions of the film, I gladly threw down the five-dollars the vendor was asking for. Picking it up also planted the seed for this post, so while now it happily coincides with Shin Godzilla's upcoming U.S release, it's actually six-months in the making.

5. Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1966)

Released by GoodTimes Home Video Corp., 1992.

God, that title font.

The cracked lettering on Godzilla's name isn't anything groundbreaking, but the candy-corn coloring is something truly beautiful and unique. It totally distracts me from the gorgeous hand-drawn image of a monstrous lizard breathing fire into the face of a gigantic lobster, which is both a blessing and a curse. I absolutely love everything about this cover, and I think I may regret not actually ranking it higher.

4. Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)

Released by GoodTimes Home Video Corp., 1985.

The third time this film appears on the list, but it's the only one in which the title antagonist actually appears. Still noticeably absent, however, is the real star of the film, Jet Jaguar. Part of a campaign in which Toho would produce a film based on a fan-submitted hero, Godzilla vs. Megalon wasn't originally intended to feature Godzilla at all, but instead a robot hero inspired by the then-popular Super Sentai series. The company decided last minute to re-title the project to include Godzilla, fearing that Jet Jaguar would not be able to carry a film on his own.

The image of Godzilla battling Megalon atop The Twin Towers may seem an odd artistic choice, especially considering the film's final battle takes place entirely in some undisclosed [and completely deserted] field in Japan, but it actually makes sense with a little explaining. The cover-art is recycled from the poster for the film's original U.S release, which happened to be only a short time after the King Kong "remake" hit theaters. The poster for the Dino De Laurentiis film also featured Kong standing atop the Towers.

3. The Return of Godzilla (1984)

Released by StarMaker Entertainment Inc., 1992.

There isn't a film in the series that I've seen more than The Return of Godzilla, aka: Godzilla 1985. It's one of the handful of titles that I rented regularly as a kid from our neighborhood rental store [and my eventual first job], Video Showplace. Godzilla never looked nastier, returned to his roots as a destructive force of nature. Ignoring the decades of cartoonish battles and borderline super-heroics that the franchise eventually devolved into, the Godzilla depicted here is the dark and dangerous monster he always should have been.

2. King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)

Released by GoodTimes Home Video Corp., 1987.

This is -the- Godzilla film that best defines my childhood. There's nothing that immediately transports me back to those lazy Saturdays of watching weird movies on TV quite like this one. I still have vivid memories of catching it on TBS' Super Scary Saturday, a mid-day "horror" program hosted by Al "Grandpa Munster" Lewis, so just looking at this cover puts me into a state of euphoria. It's big, bright, and stupid in the best ways possible.

I often imagine that this is what the inside of my brain looks like.

1. Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989)

Released by HBO Video, 1992.

Here's another tape that I've owned for ages, and it played a very important role in my life as a fan of Godzilla. I'm not entirely sure why, but the Heisei period of the series ['84 to '95] was largely ignored and neglected when it came to my local video stores. I didn't even know about the existence of these later films until I came across Godzilla vs. Biollante at a Strawberries Music & Video back in the late '90s. Thinking that I had just discovered a "lost" Godzilla film, I immediately purchased and ran home to watch it. Shortly after that, I found out that there had actually been five additional sequels I'd missed entirely. It was a reawakening for me as a life-long fan, and I couldn't have asked for a better reintroduction to my favorite movie monster.

This is probably the most intricately detailed illustration of any Godzilla VHS. Honestly, it's breathtakingly beautiful and totally bad-ass. Combining such flawless cover-art with a film that reignited my fiery radioactive love for Godzilla, there shouldn't be any surprise why this took the top spot.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

The Year of Trash

2015 was not particularly great for It's Trash Culture. My attention shifted from posting here and turned to other social medias, like Twitter and Instagram, where minimum effort paid out a much larger reward. Those accounts have accumulated several hundred more followers than this blog, which is equal parts awesome and sorta' heart-breaking. Neither of them would exist without this, the place I started to celebrate all the stupid and wonderful things that have won my heart over the years. I'm here to wax nostalgic and to share the bizarre stuff I've unearthed in my constant search for more pop-culture bullshit. That's always been my mission statement, and the previous year was a complete failure. Well, okay, mostly complete. I did manage to get halfway through the Friday the 13th franchise before slacking off and disappearing for two months.

I can't guarantee that the next year will be any different. There are always half-hearted promises to post more that fall to the wayside. I always have the best of intentions, don't I? The combination of crippling anxieties and unadulterated laziness that makes up 92% of my existence almost always win in the end, though. The urge to give up, to let It's Trash Culture waste away into nothing, is overwhelming. But somehow not as much as my love for talking about Z-grade films and old Happy Meal toys.

Yes, I'm actually here to chat a little bit about old Happy Meal toys.

Even if there came a day where I packed away this blog, that won't stop me from transforming into a borderline hoarder before I go too. The hunt, hitting up thrift shops and flea markets for oddball collectibles and forgotten treasures, will always flow through my blood. Yesterday was the first day of a new year, and it was spent like so many of the days of yesteryear; stopping by my local Savers Thrift on the way home from work. Their wall of grab-bags has been an absolute treasure trove the last couple years, and my latest visit was no exception.

A pair of bags marked $1.99 were packed full of nostalgic catnip in the form of '80s and '90s era Happy Meal toys. Above is a quick glimpse at most of the goodies I took home and added to The Trash Collection, but we'll be taking a better look at several of the pieces in a second. Everything from Tiny Toons to Super Mario Bros. 3, with a handful of less notable [but still wildly exciting] giveaways included. Are you still glad that I decided to stick around for 2016?

Let's see what we can do to change that.

We're gonna start with McDonalds' main man, Mr. Ronald McDonald, The Hamburger-Happy Clown. This PVC-version of everyone's favorite fast-food peddling mascot was available in Happy Meals back in 1988. Despite being the prime age for devouring Happy Meals during '88, I somehow never owned this particular piece until now. I love its simplicity, and apparently that giant star that Ronald's leaning on glows in the dark. Which means that it'll find a spot on the shelf nearby my bed that's loaded with lots of glow-in-the-dark toys and trinkets.

The Tiny Toons flip-cars were released three years later, and were the first of two sets that McDonalds released for the franchise in the early '90s. These are both actually the same toy; each car flipped over to reveal a second character, and this one features Montana Max and Gogo the Dodo. I already owned a couple of the other toys in this particular set, so I'll be holding onto one of these and probably trading off the extra. Or maybe not. Maybe I'll keep 'em both because I am a crazy person who needs more children's toys from two decades back in his possession.

Here's what first caught my eye in those grab-bags yesterday. The raccoon-variation of Mario and a Koopa Paratrooper were released in 1989, the same year that The Wizard debuted in theaters, and both served as a proper introduction to the world of Super Mario Bros. 3 for kids in North America. I remember having the Paratrooper toy when they were originally available, and mine suffered the same fate as this guy; the pump that was attached to activate his "jumping" feature is long-gone. It's not the worst thing ever, because he actually displays a lot better without the awkward obstruction.

You might have noticed the pair of Gadgets, the wacky mouse-inventor from Chip n' Dale Rescue Rangers, hanging out in the background. It's another set that McDonald's featured back in '89, but it's one that I skipped entirely as a kid. I was probably too distraught over never getting a Goomba from the previous Mario wave, and swore off Happy Meals until 1992 when they'd do a Batman Returns tie-in. Still, golly, she's a pretty cool and totally adorable addition. I guess I'll have to hunt down a Monterey Jack to display alongside her.


I honestly don't remember them ever releasing a set of Hook (1991) Happy Meal toys, so imagine my surprise and my excitement when I discovered this Rufio hiding away in one of the grab-bags. It's far from the best representation of my favorite edgy Lost Boy, but beggars can't be choosers. Actually, I doubt I'll hang onto him for very long, because it's a garbage toy with a water-squirting action feature. Unless you're a member of The Masters of the Universe [Snout-Spout] or a goddamn Pokemon [Blastoise], don't ever find yourself saddled with a water-squirting action feature. You'll probably end up thrown away, and even I won't rescue you from that landfill, Ru-fi-oooh.

Until doing some quick research for the release years on these toys, I didn't know that The Fry Guys [or Fry Kids] were originally Hamburglar-esque villains. They were first called The French-Fry Gobblins, and were known to sing songs while stealing peoples' french-fries. My appreciation for these bizarre characters has since increased a hundredfold. I think they may have knocked Grimace from the top-spot in my Top Ten McDonaldland Inhabitants list that I plan on posting sometime in 2023.

Rounding out this hodgepodge trio is Taz Flash from the Super Looney Tunes. While originally intended to see release a year earlier, where it would run alongside Toy Biz's DC Comics Super Heroes toy-line, the Happy Meal wave was delayed until 1992, a year after the Toy Biz line was cancelled. Still, seeing the classic Warner Bros. characters dressed up in super-hero costumes was a pretty neat concept, and pairing Taz, the Tasmanian Devil, with The Flash was a brilliant move. The early '90s were big for both characters; The Flash had his own television series, which aired on CBS from 1990 to 1991, and Taz was riding high on the Looney Tunes resurgence of the decade, scoring his own animated series, Taz-Mania, and becoming one of the brand's flagship characters.

Unfortunately, I didn't save the best for last.

I'm not particularly fond of Garfield outside of his Halloween adventure, and seeing him dressed up for a jungle safari and smiling is pushing all the wrong buttons. I'd much rather that McDonald's had done up a series of Happy Meal toys based on Garfield's animated peers, the gang from U.S Acres. Safari Garfield isn't the worst thing in the world, I guess, but that doesn't ease the pain of never owning a Wade Duck toy.

There isn't much to say about Miss Piggy, either. She was part of the Muppet Babies set that was released in 1987, back when I didn't totally despise her character. Yeah, Miss Piggy is easily my least favorite Muppet, which I know isn't a particularly novel opinion. Everyone hates Piggy, right? She might end up along with Rufio in the nearest trash receptacle before I hit publish on this post. I could save her pink car for Garfield to use, but that fucking lazy, lasagna-loving cat might not be far behind.

I barely remember Gravedale High, a short-lived animated series featuring the voice of Rick Moranis, but the guy in the middle is the third Happy Meal toy based on it that I own. He's Sid, son of The Invisible Man, who was the class-clown impersonator in his monstrous high-school clique. Based on the rather cool giveaway toys I've acquired this last year, and from little I've read about the series, I'm really tempted to go back and watch the show. Most animated programs from '91 haven't held up very well, but any show that stars Ricki Lake as the voice of a chubby mummy-girl named Cleofatra can't be all bad.

Oh, and I lied about not saving the best for last.

Totally unrelated from all the talk of McDonald's Happy Meals is Batly the Bat, my absolute favorite character from Eureeka's Castle. I was perhaps a couple years too old to watch the children's show when it began airing on Nickelodeon back in '89, but I remember summer days spent at my grandparents' home, hanging out with my kid sister and my younger cousin and watching it. Pizza Hut released a trio of puppets the following year, and I have vague memories of my cousin having the Magellan the Dragon one.

I nearly lost my cool when I saw Batly stuffed in a grab-bag, packed in next to a Barbie doll and some lousy Spider-Man toy, hanging out on the toy-wall. Even if he didn't look like he might be Brain Gremlin's nerdy distant relative, there was no way that I was leaving him behind. Batly has already taken up permanent residence on a nearby stack of VHS and Betamax tapes, where I can glance over adoringly at him whenever the fuck I want.

Actually, I'm lucky I didn't get too distracted putting this all together with him only a couple feet away.