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...]

Sunday, July 19, 2015

It Came From the Five-Dollar Bin: Transform and Roll Out

I've got a big post that I'm working on that ties directly into the latest episode of Eclectic Mayhem. For those of you not already in the know, that would be the podcast I started up with Derek [Goodwill Hunting 4 Geeks], Miss M [Diary of a Dorkette], and Jason Roberts [Nerdy Life of Mine] a few months back. The related post has turned into a much larger project than I was originally anticipating, and I figured I'd do a smaller one in the meantime, so the blog doesn't have another large gap between content.


My local comic shop has been a boon when it comes to finding great deals; everything from the dollar-bin comics to cheap trades, mystery grab-boxes and tons of carded action figures at low, low prices. One of my favorite spots to peruse is a large box tucked aside near their wall of toys and collectibles. It's just a large, generic cardboard box with a printed out sign that exclaims, "Five Dollar Blow-Out!". Or, well, something like that. The long and short of it is the fact that everything within that box is only five dollars.

I thought it might be nice to start doing a semi-regular feature where I highlight some of the stupid, sorta'-cheap items that I pick up from the aforementioned box. So, let's take a quick look at today's five-dollar find.

The Loyal Subjects is an art toy company that focuses primarily on releasing 3-inch, vinyl figures from preexisting, licensed properties like G.I.Joe, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and The Transformers. I don't normally collect their stuff, mostly because I'm not really into modern-era collectibles, even when they represent an iconic brand from my childhood. I will occasionally make an exception, particularly if I can get a solid deal on them. When I noticed a couple of their Transformers Series 2 Blind Box sitting there, for a measly five bucks, there was no way I was gonna pass on one of 'em.

Each wave contains an equal amount of Autobots and Decepticons; Series 2 features four characters from each faction. I was really hoping to unwrap one of the bad guys, since I've always preferred the conniving Decepticons to their heroic Cybertronian peers, but after glancing at the package, I would have been satisfied with any one of the eight figures.

Or so I thought.

Ah, Sideswipe.

He wasn't quite the one I wanted least [that honor belonged to Mirage], but when the other Autobots in the wave included a Dinobot and Prowl, well, I feel a little gypped. Plus, despite Sideswipe actually being a pretty cool character within the G1 Transformers continuity, it's his Generation 2 aesthetic that I love the most. Something about him in jet black, with ridiculous neon green decals, it just reves my engine more than his traditional red n' black color-scheme.

Oh well.

I shouldn't complain, because normally the Series 2 Blind Box retail for twice what I paid for him. It just doesn't feel like Sideswipe will find a permanent home in my collection, though.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

He Wants You... Dead: Uncle Sam (1997)

Happy Fourth of July, all.

I'm sure most of you are out and about, enjoying fireworks and barbecues and spending time with family, but some of us have mixed up priorities. Some of us like to spend our Independence Days watching nearly twenty-year old horror films with murderous patriotic icons. Actually, I'm pretty sure that it's just me and maybe a deranged ex-video store clerk hellbent on recreating the perfect summers of yesteryear. And even that ex-video store employee might be me, too.

I'd never seen Uncle Sam (1997) before today, but I do remember it vividly from my days working at Video Showplace in the late '90s. I can still picture it sitting on the shelf, its lenticular cover beckoning, practically commanding that I go over and check it out immediately. Quietly telling me to ignore the thousands of other tapes that surrounded us. To take it home and watch it repeatedly, never-ending, until the day I die.

Obviously, that didn't happen.

My appreciation for the horror genre was still in its infancy, and I had bigger and better films to embrace before giving Uncle Sam a chance. If I had paid attention to the talents involved in the movie, however, it's possible I wouldn't have waited nearly two decades to finally watch it. The director, William Lustig, is perhaps best known for the cult-classic Maniac (1980), as well as his later films, Vigilante (1983) and the original Maniac Cop (1988). And the film's writer, a regular collaborator of Lustig's, is none other than the great Larry Cohen. I've become a huge admirer of Cohen over the years, especially his work on Q, The Winged Serpent (1982) and The Stuff (1985).

Plus, the cast includes a who's who of fantastic character actors, including Isaac Hayes, P.J Soles, and Robert Forster.

Based on the crew assembled, you might think that Uncle Sam is some under-appreciated classic, perhaps lost in the shuffle of a post-Scream world of meta-horror, simply waiting to be rediscovered. Unfortunately, that isn't quite the case. I'm not suggesting that it's a bad film; it's definitely worth watching, regardless of its reputation on sites like IMDB or Letterboxd. The material isn't anything ground-breaking, but the combined abilities of genre stalwarts in Cohen and Lustig definitely raise the film higher than many of its peers from that particular era of direct-to-video slashers.

The premise is a fairly basic one-- after Sgt. Sam Harper (David Fralick) is killed by "friendly-fire" during a mission in Kuwait, his body is returned to his hometown for a proper, heroic burial. Through some unknown means, the recently deceased soldier rises from the grave to seek revenge on those that he deems unpatriotic. What starts as punishing the corrupt and immoral, however, quickly transforms into a murderous rampage that will spare no-one. It's revealed over the course of the film that Sam wasn't the all-American hero that his nephew, Jodi (Christopher Ogden), believed him to be, but instead an abusive, kill-crazy maniac. Jodi must work with his Aunt Louise (Anne Tremko) and a former sergeant, Jed Crowley (Isaac Hayes), to finally put Uncle Sam to rest.

I doubt watching this film will become a yearly tradition, but I certainly won't hesitate to see it again from time-to-time.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Flea Market Finds: Whatever Happened to Dead-Eye Duck?

My Sundays off are mostly spent at the local flea market, a few towns over, twenty minutes or so from home-base. Attending so frequently, well, I don't usually find anything big enough worth sharing here. The vendors rarely change, their wares even less so, but I still go a couple times a month, more out of habit than anything else. This weekend, I was able to deviate from my normal, boring routine, thanks to the semi-annual Rotary Flea Market at the nearby Marshfield Fair Grounds.

This is the first one I've visited in several years; the last one was a particularly rainy Sunday, with few sellers and fewer attendees, and it kinda' soiled me on revisiting. Until today, where I spent a fair amount more than I was expecting to, but also walked away with quite a lot more goodies than I could have anticipated. We're gonna take a look at what exactly I scored, broken down by vendor.

The very first table to grab my attention, maybe five minutes in, was mostly knick-knacks and worn dinnerware, but stacked up on the far end were several board-games and puzzles. That pile happened to include three of the four G.I.Joe Mural Puzzles from 1987. The woman selling them said that she couldn't guarantee that they had all pieces accounted for, a detail I told her didn't matter, especially when she asked for two-bucks a pop. I was tempted to grab all three, but decided to settle on getting just one, because I'd only just arrived a few minutes before. No need to piss away what little cash I brought along on my first find of the day.

Of course, I picked the puzzle that happens to include one of my all-time favorite Cobra agents, Croc Master.

Table two was located directly across from the first, and I almost passed it by. It appeared to be just another seller with tchotchkes to spare, but sitting at the end of the booth, nearly tucked away under a table, was a storage bin full of loose action figures and vehicles. What you see above is the small selection that I secured for a mere seven dollars. A couple of them, Casey Jones and Walkabout [both from the original run of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles], are duplicates for me, but I couldn't pass them up for so cheap. Likewise, I wasn't super-interested in the generic Kung-fu master in the yellow gi, not until the seller named his price. Turns out that Mr. Karate Man is actually from an old Remco line called Secret of the Ninja. You may see more of him in a little bit. 

Snout-Spout, alias Hose-Nose, is obviously from the tail-end of the Masters of the Universe line, and he's actually a figure I was sorta' hoping to find today. I don't actively collect vintage MotU toys, but he's one of the few that I had to have. Another childhood favorite once more in my possession.

That just leaves Guile from the Street Fighter sub-set of G.I.Joe: A Real American Hero circa the early '90s. Sonic boom.

And here's the mini-haul, the bulk of what I purchased today, all snagged from a single seller. His booth was the most enticing at the show, with a complete set-up of vintage Star Wars and Space: 1999 toys to draw in collectors. I discovered that he also runs a comic and toy shop in the same town the flea market took place, and given the deals he cut me, I'll be stopping in sooner rather than later.

I wanna take a better look at this odd-ball menagerie, so bare with me as I discuss homicidal sheep and four-armed ducks in closer detail.

Power X-Treme!

I was a huge fan of The Centurions animated series back in the day, but was never able to score any of the accompanying toy-line. They were a little too expensive compared to smaller scaled contemporaries like GoBots or M.U.S.C.L.E, and I was content to collect cheaper stuff in bulk. Today, for a single dollar, I was finally able to add Jake Rockwell, the team's Land Operations Specialist, to my collection. I doubt that I'll ever be able to find any of his module armor for cheap, but I'm happy to settle for this guy sitting on a shelf as is.

I wasn't sure what this pair of Greaser-esque dinos actually were; I was, however, entirely enthralled at the mere sight of them. Completely ridiculous with their mohawks and sunglasses, looking like the cast of ABC's Dinosaurs recreating Happy Days, I couldn't leave them behind. A little bit of research revealed their identities, Crank and Tarr from the B.C Bikers line, originally released by Ace Novelty in 1993. I thought maybe figuring out who they were would jog my memory, but somehow this series managed to evade me during my pre-teen collecting years.

This guy I recognized immediately, but really, who could forget the true face of evil?

The Overlord was the main antagonist on the old Blackstar cartoon, Filmation's precursor to He-Man and The Masters of the Universe from the very early '80s. Again, here's a toy-line that I didn't collect as a kid, but have a total appreciation for these days. He'll look good hanging out with Skeletor, Mumm-Ra and the rest of his bad-guy brethren.

It's no coincidence that I keep mentioning Masters of the Universe and here we have one of Remco's many knock-offs of Mattel's blockbuster brand, Arak, Son of Thunder. He was part of a collection called The Lost World of Warlord, which featured several characters from DC Comics' Bronze Age fantasy titles line-up. I've somehow owned the first sixteen issues of Arak's self-titled series the last few years and have yet to read them. It looks like that is about to change, though.

Or, well, maybe not.

I told you before that we hadn't seen the last of Remco's Secret of the Ninja. Here's another master of ninjitsu, this one garbed in black, that I probably would have passed on if he hadn't been so damn inexpensive. There's, uh, not really a lot more to say about him outside of his cheapness. Cheap, I think, perfectly encapsulates Remco's toys as a whole, and especially this unnamed ninja warrior.

Oh yeah. 

Playmates Toys claim to fame may have been TMNT, but they produced a slew of equally bizarre and brilliant toy-lines during the same period as Ninja Turtles original run. Barnyard Commandos hasn't stood the test of time as well as their mutant peers, but it's a series that I was absolutely obsessed with for a brief time. I had a complete set of Series 1 figures, as well as a couple vehicles, but they quickly fell out of favor when I got more into comic books and video games. I remember selling them off at a family yard-sale, an act of betrayal that I wouldn't regret until a few years ago.

It's not a series that I've set out to reclaim, but when I saw a complete Woolly Pullover, the R.A.M.S resident would-be Rambo, there was no going back. He's easily one of my favorite finds from today.

Hooves down.

The number one position actually goes to this guy, Dead-Eye Duck, gunner extraordinaire and ship-mate to Captain Bucky O'Hare. Another series that owes its existence to TMNT, the Bucky O'Hare line was based on a small-press, black-and-white comic book created by the legendary Larry Hama and artist Mike Golden. It's also another staple toy-line from my youth, one I've slowly been rebuilding in secret the last couple years.

Like Snout-Spout, Dead-Eye was one of the action figures I was hoping to find while rifling through the cheap bins. He cost me a dollar, but I gladly would have paid twice that to take him home.

Moving into new territory, we're now looking at my finds from the last table I hit before calling it a day. The seller didn't have much, a half-box of .50-cent comics and some odd, loose collectibles. The two pieces that I had to have were a vintage G.I.Joe thermos, featuring the Class of '85 [which includes fan-favorites like Shipwreck, Quick-Kick and "Commando" Snake-Eyes], and an absolutely incredible Darkwing Duck night-light. The two packs of Dinosaurs Attack! trading cards were added to the mix to sweeten the deal, even though I already own a complete set.

I also grabbed an issue of Weird War Tales, because I can't resist The Creature Commandos facing off against Hitler. I like to imagine a retroactive continuity where The Commandos end the war after tearing Adolf limb-from-limb, and I'm hoping this comic somehow knows that.

Oh, right, the A-Team Action Activity Book. Yeah, despite being a huge fan of the TV series as a kid, I'm not particularly nostalgic for B.A and the gang. The guy only wanted a half-dollar for it, since I'd already bought the other items, so I handed him a couple quarters and wished him a good day of selling.

And the night-light works, which is probably the greatest thing ever.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Total Trash Tuesday: The Grim Adventures of Avengers Grimm

Join Earth's Mightiest Heroes as they battle an ancient evil hellbent on plunging the world into darkness.

Actually, no, sorry, wrong film. This is actually the one where Little Red Riding Hood becomes Casper Van Dien's mindless pawn in his war against Snow White and Rapunzel.

Yeah, by now, we should all be familiar with The Asylum and their unique brand of low-budget film-making. Best known for throwback monster-disaster hybrids like Sharknado (2013) and Mega Piranha (2010), their other claim to fame is an ongoing series of "mockbusters"; films that attempt to cash-in on the popularity of bigger budget, Hollywood-produced movies. Stuff like Snakes on a Train (2006), Transmorphers: Fall of Man (2009), and Atlantic Rim (2013).

Avengers Grimm (2015) falls into the latter category, obviously.

Released two weeks before Marvel Studio's Avengers: Age of Ultron, the film features a team of heroines, not ripped from the pages of comic books, but instead Grimm's Fairy Tales. A quartet of princesses, led by Snow White (Lauren Parkinson), are confronted by the evil of Rumpelstiltskin (Casper Van Dien), and they must save two worlds from his devious plot. Also along for the adventure is the non-princess Little Red Riding Hood (Elizabeth Peterson), whose only agenda is getting revenge on the creature responsible for killing her entire village, The Wolf (played by former MMA fighter, Kimo Leopoldo).

The bulk of the plot revolves around The Magic Mirror, which is able to open portals to the real world, a world without magic, a world that Rumpelstiltskin wants to claim as his own. Due to Snow White's interference, both herself and Rumpel end up stranded on Earth, and the remaining princesses must travel across dimensions to find their friend and put an end to their wicked enemy once and for all. Red's there, too, much to the others' chagrin, constantly on the hunt for The Wolf and somehow getting mixed up with a random gang led by "Iron John" (Lou Ferrigno).

It wasn't bad enough that The Asylum was ripping off The Avengers' name, they also had to include the original live-action Hulk in the proceedings to take it one step further. Still, it's probably a good thing that Lou was all too familiar with ridiculous body-paint throughout his career, because about half-way through the film, well, Rumpel's magic literally transforms him into an "Iron Man". Complete with shoddy make-up that makes him look sorta' like Schwarzenegger's Mr. Freeze from Batman & Robin (1997).

 Oh, and the magically-adept princesses all have their own special abilities. Snow White can control cold and form ice-daggers, naturally, because her name is Snow. Cinderella (Milynn Sarley) is able to transform items into other items [no idea why], and Sleeping Beauty (Marah Fairclough) casts spells that instantly put people to sleep [duh].

Also, Rapunzel (Rileah Vanderbilt) has long hair that's, like, a weapon, I guess?

I don't know, but she uses it to fight Iron-Hulk a few times. It's, uh, it's all pretty stupid.

Look, no one is going to argue that there's anything artistically redeeming in any of Asylum's output, least of all this particular entry. I doubt that anyone willing to subject themselves to Avengers Grimm (2015) is looking to discover some new cinematic masterpiece, but instead the opportunity to shutdown their brains and enjoy watching some harmless fantasy fluff. If that's what you're looking for, sure, there's probably better places to start, but the film is entertaining enough and mostly harmless. And with a brisk run-time of only 87-minutes, it's worth checking out at least once.

The short and sweet is that it's competently made and far from the studio's worst offense, which is about the best you can ask for with this sort of thing.

Friday, March 13, 2015

The 13 Days of Friday the 13th: Day Thirteen

Happy Friday the 13th, all.

Despite a few bumps in the road, we've finally arrived at our final destination; back to Camp Crystal Lake where it all began. The place where a young boy drowned once upon a time, and the monster known as Jason Voorhees was born.

Actually, that's not entirely true.

The part about Jason and Crystal Lake is totally true, but it's the talk about arrivals and destinations that's pretty much false. See, my own journey through the Friday the 13th series might be over, but the real adventure is just getting started. I should be, at the time of this scheduled posting, somewhere about half-way between my home and Cherry Hill, New Jersey. What's waiting for me there is Monster Mania XXX, a weekend long celebration of everything macabre.

Sean Cunningham, the man most responsible for creating the series, will be there. Kane Hodder, the most famous actor to portray Jason, will be there, too. So will the franchise's very first "final girl", Adrienne King. Oh, and let's not forget Ari Lehman, who was the original, water-logged, kid-version of Jason. There may also be a Tommy Jarvis or two, but since Corey Feldman won't be there, well, who cares?

Nah, I'm just playing, John Shepherd. You did the best you could with Part V.

So, obviously, with me away and no films left to cover [except for the ones I watched and neglected to write about?], today's entry is a festive place-holder. I'll be back from Monster Mania on Sunday, and I'm hoping to have lots to share following a weekend of horrors, cosplayers and Judge Reinhold.

Stay tuned, kids, and I hope you have the merriest of Friday the 13ths..!