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.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Celebrating a Half-Life: Christmas Fallout 2015

The plan was to leave this blog a desolate wasteland until The New Year hit. Yeah, the plan was to start fresh once the levels of radioactivity had petered out. To rise from the ashes like Jean Grey for the eighteenth time. Mutant and proud, we'd meet again in the not-too-distant future, with our faux hoverboards, our third eyes and our Pepsi Perfect. The plan got tossed out the window, however, once Chad [yes, the brains and beauty behind The Horror Movie BBQ] called me out on Twitter to take part in a blog-wide Christmas Fallout event. There was no way that I could resist the opportunity to share screen-time with some of my absolute favorite bloggers.

So, okay, here we are.

The inaugural Pop Pop! It's Trash Christmas Fallout.

I am notoriously difficult to buy for when you're a relative and a casual consumer. My usual haunts are thrift shops, flea markets and garage sales. The urge to sift through other peoples' garbage flows through my blood, but seems to have thinned out a bit for the rest of the family. I can't expect my sisters or my mom to hit up Savers in order to pick me out a stellar grab-bag full of vintage action figures and random Happy Meal toys. No one seems to understand my obsession with dead media, so it's pretty unlikely I'll ever find some odd VHS titles wrapped under the Christmas tree.

That's all okay, but it maybe makes for a boring haul of gifts. I would never suggest that my friends and family aren't way-too-generous, because they are. I received all sorts of gift cards and clothes, and even a little bit of cold, hard cash. There wasn't a whole lot that had my engines revving with excitement, though. So, yeah, this will be a fairly incomplete illustration of all the goodies I got this holiday.

But the stuff I do highlight here?

Oh, it's all so fucking glorious.

One of the yearly traditions for my extended family is a Secret Santa Cousins' Gift Thing. We typically get the whole clan together the weekend before Christmas, and all of the cousins pick a name and then put together a gift for that selected family member. There's typically a lot of gift certificates given, and this year was no exception, but mine came with a little twist. My cousin, Rob, gave me a certificate to my local comic shop, but he also included a handful of titles straight from the dollar-bins. Without any real idea what titles I might enjoy, he managed to score some real winners.

Honestly, as much as I appreciate the credit to my favorite comic shop, I actually would have been satisfied with just this quartet of issues. I'm especially fond of The Flash, because it features one of my all-time favorite Z-grade villains, The Rainbow Raider.

Admission time: I've only seen one of these three titles before.

A few years back, several years back, I was living in California for a short bit. One lazy Sunday afternoon, stuck in bed and searching for something to watch, I stumbled upon Miracle Mile (1988) on some local affiliate station. It's a film that somehow eluded me for nearly two decades, but once I'd discovered it, well, I couldn't understand how I lived without it for so long. I've watched it multiple times since, and was thrilled to add a blu-ray copy to my collection. Totally underrated and so worth checking out.

The other two films, Sorcerer (1977) and Roar (1981), I only know by their reputations. They're both recently released on blu-ray, and they're both universally adored by any and all who have seen them. Much like I had originally intended for the blog, I'm holding off on watching these bad boys until 2016. I wanna start out the year B-I-G.

Jesus, that Cannon Films collection is an absolute beauty.

I only asked for a few things and The Bombs, Babes & Blockbusters of Cannon Films was at the top of my list. There are ten movies included in the set, and every single one of them is sheer '80s perfection. There's a veritable who's who of Cannon Films stalwarts [like Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren] featured, all of whom will keep you entertained for hours upon hours of brain-smashing action. Also, you'll finally get to see Skeletor conquer Eternia, while He-Man and the rest of the Masters of the Universe eat fried chicken and hang-out with Courtney Cox.

My family might not understand what I want most for Christmas, but I do have some truly dear friends that absolutely get what I'm all about. A package arrived just prior to the holiday, so while Miss M [my co-host on Eclectic Mayhem, and the fantastically darling blogger from Diary of a Dorkette] may not have intended it as a Christmas gift, I'm counting it as one. This is only a sampling of all the amazing things she sent, but they're the stuff I wanna show off most. I'm immediately reminded of being a kid again, wanting to brag about all the cool toys I got, and these are definitely the coolest toys I got for Christmas.

Look, it's Toxie! And Scar! A random Smurfette head..! 

The inclusion of the Goldust WWF figure from Jakks is total nostalgic catnip. I was already a few years too old to be collecting these particular wrestling toys when they were first released back in the late '90s, but I was such an unapologetic fan of The Attitude Era that one of my last Christmases in high-school was practically devoted to action figures with "Bone-Crunching Sound". I've been going back-and-forth on rebuilding my collection of WWF toys, and this sorta' cross-dressing Dustin Rhodes might be the start of something. 2016 is gonna be big, remember?

Oh, and a Halle Berry Fucking Sucks pin?

I told you that Miss M really understands me.

Even the boring stuff, like new socks, is worth sharing. My sisters know how much I hate plain white socks and gifted me a whole slew of ridiculous pairs, including the ones seen here. You might think that Abominable Snowmen wielding candy-canes would only be appropriate to sport this time of year, but don't be surprised when I'm still rocking these during May and June and July.

I hope that everyone had their own wonderful holidays full of time spent with family, trips to the Nakatomi Plaza, and all the envious gift hauls you've dreamed of since you were six. I also wanna thank you all for taking the time to visit me, and please be sure to check out all the other participants in this year's Christmas Fallout extravaganza. Links below!

-- The Horror Movie BBQ -- Dinosaur Dracula -- Morbid Much -- The Stunt Zombie -- The Holidaze -- The Sexy Armpit -- The Sewer Den --

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Waiting for October or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Be a Halloweenie

There's only two days until Halloween.

This is both terribly exciting and absolutely gut-wrenching, like mixing candy bars and razor blades, pumpkin spice with anything. Two months spent in anticipation of a single day. Counting down entire weeks while absorbing every spooky movie possible and plenty of sugary sweets. Everything is spider webs, candy corn and trees ablaze with orange and red.

At least that's the idea.

I can't believe there's only a couple more days left, because it feels like I've barely begun to celebrate the season. Sure, yes, I've been watching essential seasonal cinema like Ghoulies II (1988) and Addams Family Values (1993), but it doesn't feel enough. There were big plans to post more content here, covering everything from vampire rabbits to shark-based board games. Maybe there would be an appearance by Dr. Phibes, too.

None of that happened, though. Becoming an adult, something I've avoided for years and years now, has absolutely been kicking my ass lately. Long work days that turned into naps when I got home. Too drained to attempt writing anything that celebrated my supposedly favorite holiday. Worrying about getting the bills paid when I should have been splurging on boxes of Count Chocula. No way for me to stay up late watching AMC's FearFest when I have to be up early the next morning to start the whole cycle over again.

Even the weather betrayed me; the first half of the month was unseasonably warm, nowhere near the hoodie-appropriate temperatures I craved. The leaves refusing to turn, to fall, until about a week ago. There were only a handful of days that were perfect, gloomy and cool, and they were spent inside at work. A retail hell that was already casting aside pumpkins and skeletons for Christmas decor and candy canes. It had become unbearable, nearly annihilating my love for this time of year, and especially this holiday.

Dire straits, indeed.

With only these final few days remaining, I've decided to do my best to salvage them. I'm not going to force things, though, instead indulging in the sort of stuff that should jump-start my blackened heart. Bringing me back from the verge of death like Frankenstein's Monster or Bud the C.H.U.D.

And we're gonna start with The Adventures of Pete & Pete.

Originally airing as a series of shorts on Nickelodeon starting in 1989, Pete & Pete would eventually evolve into a half-hour program that ran for three season (1993 to 1996). It followed the daily exploits of two brothers, Big Pete (Mike Maronna) and Little Pete (Danny Tamberelli), in the town of Wellsville, a seemingly normal suburb that was home to a variety of bizarre characters. The show was a unique blend of day-to-day living with absurd situations, and it appealed to its audience with its lo-fi sensibilities and the inclusion of several notable "indie" bands from the era, including The Magnetic Fields, Apples in Stereo and Drop Nineteens.

For me, living in the suburbs just south of Boston, Pete & Pete perfectly encapsulated what it was like to grow up in a small-town. Those gorgeous summer days spent outdoors, long bike-rides with your friends, Little League baseball games that ended with a trip to the local ice-cream stand for a treat. And, of course, Halloween. When you'd gather together with your siblings and friends, to trek from one neighborhood to the next, trying to score as many fun-size Three Musketeers as humanly possible.

In the season two episode, "Halloweenie", the Petes find themselves at odds when it comes to a spooktacular night of trick-or-treating. Big Pete believes he's too old to don a mask and go door-to-door with his kid brother in search of candy. He's terrified of being caught by his peers, where he'll be deemed a "Halloweenie" by classmates and left to a fate worse than death. Jaded with the holiday, he's even tempted to destroy a jack-o'-lantern. Driven to madness by this overwhelming urge, Big Pete smashes the pumpkin and breaks one of Halloween's cardinal rules. It appears he may be destined, doomed perhaps, to join The Pumpkin Eaters, a gang of mischievous youths hellbent on ending Halloween once and for all.

Meanwhile, Little Pete is obsessed with breaking The Record -- visiting the most houses in one night of trick-or-treating -- an act that will make him a legend. The task might prove impossible, however, when his best-friend, Nona (Michelle Trachtenberg), is forbidden to go out by her father [who's, uh, portrayed by Iggy Pop in one of his several appearances on the show]. Little Pete's only chance to attain immortality is to appeal to his older brother, convincing him to throw on a costume one last time in the name of All Hallow's Eve.

With the entire fate of Halloween now resting on their shoulders, the two brothers are forced to confront the horrors of "Endless" Mike Hellstrom (Rick Gomez) and The Pumpkin Eaters. And Big Pete, much like myself, must learn to embrace the youthful exuberance he'd nearly forgotten and love a holiday dedicated to ghosts, ghouls and mini Snickers bars.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Total Tremors Tuesday

October should be spent surrounded by creatures and spirits. I've done a pretty good job so far of doing just that, cramming at least one Halloween-appropriate flick into each day. The month started with giant naked ghouls hellbent on devouring mankind [Attack on Titan  (2015)], and has since featured alien drug-dealers, cannibals, and half-man/half-fly hybrids. All perfectly macabre viewing material, paired with plenty of treats and the occasional group of friends. With the first week of my favorite season nearly at its end, seemingly passing by far too quickly, I have to pause in order to appreciate something really special.

The return of the Graboids.

Today marks the release of Tremors 5: Bloodlines, the latest installment of the Tremors franchise, and the first sequel in over ten years. I'd only recently become aware of the film's existence thanks to a trailer someone had posted a couple months back. Still, the last few weeks were spent wild with anticipation, counting down the days like it was the second coming of Christ or a new Star Wars movie or something. I grew up a huge fan of the original Tremors (1990); it was one of those oddball horror flicks that my dad couldn't wait to share with me. And since my teens were spent haunting the local video store, there were plenty of days spent familiarizing myself with the first sequel, Tremors 2: Aftershocks (1996). A couple more sequels and a short-lived television series later, and it was safe to declare myself in love with the entire franchise.

Returning alongside the Graboids is Michael Gross, reprising his role of gun-crazy "monster hunter" Burt Gummer. What started as a secondary role in the first two Tremors, Gross has since become the backbone of the entire franchise, appearing in all five films [he played Burt's ancestor, Hiram Gummer, in the 2004 prequel, Tremors 4: The Legend Begins], as well as every episode of the TV series. It's his performance as Burt that elevates even the weakest entry, and it saves Tremors 5 from being just another CG-heavy monster movie.

The plot this time around finds Burt and his latest sidekick, Travis Welker [Jamie Kennedy], traveling to South Africa to deal with a sudden "ass-blaster" infestation at a wild-life preserve. Despite their constant bickering, the two must work together when they instead discover a mutant strain of Graboids that prove more a challenge than even the veteran monster-hunter had been anticipating. There are a few random twists along the way, as well as a handful of homages and one hilarious call-back to the original Tremors that I absolutely loved.

The end result is a serviceable addition to the franchise mythos, but there's little there that's note-worthy outside of Michael Gross' performance. Jamie Kennedy adds almost nothing to the proceedings, and I'd much rather have seen some familiar faces from the series' twenty-five year history in his place. While it's unlikely that Kevin Bacon will ever return as Val, it probably wouldn't have been too difficult to wrangle either Christopher Gartin [Grady Hoover from Part II] or Shawn Christian [Jack Sawyer in Part III] into making appearances.

Hell, I would have settled for a cameo from Melvin.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Be Kind, Please Rewind: The Price Is Right

Sometimes the universe loves me.

I spent my morning off yesterday visiting one of my favorite thrift shops, a not-so-local Savers that I don't frequent as often as I'd like because of the distance. It's not clear across the state or anything, but it can occasionally take nearly an hour or so depending on traffic. The time spent getting there is usually worth it, though. Some of my absolute best finds have happened at that particular shop, and yesterday was no exception. Yesterday may have been my best score yet, and it didn't even happen there. Not really, at least.

While I was digging through tapes in the store's limited VHS section, an older gentleman suddenly spoke to me. Asking if I collected and watched videos still. I, of course, responded affirmatively. Although, I've actually cut back on purchasing tapes the last couple of months. Mostly it's because I haven't had much luck finding anything worth picking up. Constantly hitting the same few thrift shops and flea markets, where the selection rarely changes. Shelves lined with multiple copies of Speed (1994) or The Lost World (1997) that never go away, taking retail space away from the odder titles I might be hunting for.

He mentioned that the local library had boxes and boxes of VHS tapes that they were looking to get rid of.

And they were absolutely free.

This is the kind of scenario that I've been hoping to stumble onto since I started actively collecting tapes. It seems that all the video stores in the area closed before I considered rebuilding my collection, or they were too far away for me to justify raiding their inventory cleansing close-outs. Here was a public library, only a few minutes away, that was looking to purge their supposedly vast collection of tapes by giving them away. Thanking this mysterious messenger, I hurried off to check things out. The whole drive there was spent trying not to psyche myself up too much; worried that I'd be dreaming of the ultimate score, only for the whole thing to turn sour.

This is the first thing I saw when I walked into the library's main lobby. Carts loaded with tapes, a table littered with boxes full of more. There were signs hanging up all over that exclaimed that the VHS were free, but it was a limited time offer. In another two weeks, they'd all be gone, so take advantage now! Even with the evidence right in front of me, I was still nervous and hesitant. There was probably a limit on how many you could take, or maybe you had to have a card for the library. Whatever it was, well, there had to be a catch, didn't there?

Thankfully, there wasn't.

And, so, the hunt could now truly begin...

Another small room off to the side contained three more carts jammed full of former inventory. Titles that ranged decades, their labels marked Discarded in bold red letters. I was ecstatic. Rifling through the tapes, plucking some free and checking the condition. Oh, sure, the original boxes were mutilated; cut so they could fit in plastic cases that better fit the library's needs. I consider myself a collector, but I'm more interested in owning and watching the actual films, and less so with the condition of the case or sleeve. In a few short minutes, I'd already amassed a small pile. One of the library's employees, super-pleasant despite the fact I was there only to raid for free stuff, offered me a bag to set them in.

A few minutes later, she came back and asked if I wanted a box instead, because there was now another pile of titles sitting next to the overflowing paper bag she'd just given me.

After about an hour of searching, going through each cart and carton twice to make sure I didn't miss something in my overly-excited state, I decided to call it quits. I'd loaded the box with thirty-seven tapes, though I could have easily taken twice that. I was already feeling greedy, though, and couldn't justify taking duplicates of stuff I already owned simply because they were free. Besides, I've been stockpiling titles for years now in various formats, and I'm already wondering how I'll get around to watching them all. Maybe eventually I'll make time for them.

Otherwise, I've just been acquiring all these tapes that will one day serve as my tomb.

That, uh, actually sounds more plausible.

Here's my entire haul tucked away in the box I lugged to my car after leaving. It's a pretty solid selection of films, ranging from classic sci-fi flicks to neo-noir to art-house darlings. I'd originally intended to give a good look at everything I grabbed, but have decided instead to highlight the picks that had me most excited. Some of them actually had me on the verge of shouting for joy, which would have been both embarrassing and totally inappropriate considering my surroundings.

I've written and spoken about Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1978) several times in the past, but this is the first time that I've owned the original film in any format. And while I'm a bigger fan of its immediate sequel, the movie that started it all was a must-have for me. I still have a difficult time wrapping my head around the fact that we live in a world where this low-budget, "musical-comedy-horror show" spawned three sequels, an animated series, and a fair amount of merchandise in the early '90s.

It makes me glad to be alive.

I have a bit of a history with both Lone Star (1996) and Devil in a Blue Dress (1995).

Back in college, I was lucky enough to have some friends who were just as obsessed with discovering new films as I was. This meant renting stuff we might otherwise have ignored without the others' input, and here's a pair of titles that we discovered thanks to our shared love for cinema. I haven't seen either in over a decade, but I'm glad that I can revisit, and hopefully enjoy, them again.

Trash Man Trivia:  Lone Star (1996) was one of my Staff Picks at 20/20 Video, the store I worked at while I was living in West Hollywood. I don't think anyone ever rented it.

A small selection of "classic" horror and sci-fi films, including one of my all-time favorites, Them! (1954). I have very specific plans for these tapes; I'm not gonna rush into watching them like some of the others I picked out, instead saving them for part of my Halloween season. I always like having a steady mix of older and newer horror flicks for the holiday, and The Mummy's Hand (1940) is a perfect inclusion with its Universal Studios roots.

Also, I'm really pumped for The Day of the Triffids (1962). I've attempted to read the source novel on a couple of occasions, but always found it a little dry and unappealing. The film, however, I've only ever heard really good things about. We shall see, I suppose, as the days get shorter and the leaves begin to fall.


This is one of those finds that nearly had me whooping and hollering to the heavens. I'm a life-long fan of Toho's giant monsters, practically raised by Ghidorah and Rodan from the get-go. And while I already own several of Godzilla's team-ups with her, I've never owned Mothra (1961) before today. I'm an absolute sucker for this film, and the theme alone [performed by The Peanuts, Emi and Yumi Itō] is enough to give me chills.

It's also another film that I'll be saving for a night closer to Halloween.

There are a lot more goodies that I grabbed, but I'll wait on showing those off until a later date.

Except this one, because who doesn't love The Creature..?

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Ballad of Smiling But Sad Monster Stan

Take a moment and look at that happy fellow up above. You'd never guess that he'd been left to rot his remaining days away on a shelf at the local thrift shop by his creator, Brent.

It's unclear what kind of kid that Brent was back in 1996 when he first gave birth to this beautiful, and beautifully sculpted, monstrosity. Maybe he was an oddball, picked on by his classmates for preferring X-Files to Monday Night Football, picking comic books over kick-ball. Or perhaps he was universally admired for his creativity; spending his days playing bass in a ska band and his nights perfecting his craft creating strange little creatures from clay. Whoever he was back in '96, it doesn't matter, because Brent grew up heartless and cold. More a monster than his forgotten "child" could ever dream to be.

[And if you're curious how I knew that Brent sculpted this nearly two decades ago, well, the bottom of this monster's feet are branded with both details. I am super-observant, yo.] 

I stumbled upon this gnarly purple oddity last night at Savers, and was unsure if I should spend the dollar ninety-nine they were asking for it. It certainly wasn't the price that had me weighing the pros and cons of owning such a majestic piece of pop-art. No, not the price at all. Two bucks was a pretty swell deal for such a unique find. I probably would have paid twice the asking price.

It was the aura of sadness that an item like this carries.

Someone took the time and patience to create it. Regardless the amateurish quality, the inconsistencies and the minor imperfections, Brent was so inspired to let this wild, bizarre thing free from his brain. Maybe it was just some assignment, a grade he had to earn in his sculpture class. I prefer to think that this was a passion project, something he considered fun and cool that he just had to make to get it out of his head. A goofy, ghoulish creature that would have stayed with him forever and ever, unless he made it a real, physical thing.

I imagine that it sat on a shelf in his bedroom all through high school. It could have traveled with him to college, where it would occasionally freak out his roommate in the early morning when he was just waking up. Or the beast may have suffered a fate worse than death. Packed away and forgotten, wasting away in a basement, until the fateful and tragic day came when Brent's dad finally hauled off the box that contained it. Left it with an old stereo and Brent's childhood bicycle at a nearby donation center.

Days would pass, uncertain and terrifying, before this purple wretch would find its way on a shelf at Savers. Where a wandering Trash Man would finally encounter it -- him -- and take him away to a safer place.

Yeah, of course I wasn't going to leave him behind. Despite my initial uncertainty, I knew that I had to give Stanley a better home than others probably would. Even though he isn't a toy, I still had flashes of some parent buying it for their whining child, because the price wasn't too shabby and it would shut them up for a minute. Stanley would be broken within a day or two, swept up and thrown away. I couldn't bear the thought of him destroyed or tossed aside. He deserved to live out the rest of his days amongst other oddities, where he would be appreciated for his uniqueness, quirkiness and kinda' shoddy quality.

Really, he's perfect for me and I hope that I can be perfect for him, too.

[Oh, and for those of you who might be wondering why I named him Stanley, I'll leave you with this random Silver Age comic book cover...]