Author Archives: Shawn Robare

Transformers & G.I. Joe, finally the shared universe I always dreamed of…

As an 80s nostalgia nerd it’s kind of hard to pick a favorite brand or property from my childhood. There are just way too many fond memories and of the thousands of things that I love from that decade each and every one of them has the power to take me back and give me the warm fuzzies. However, looking back and remembering how I felt at the time, if I had to nail down the stuff that I considered my favorites it would unquestionably be G.I. Joe and the Transformers. Not only was I completely smitten by both toy lines, I was also heavily invested in both cartoon series. Between the ages of 7 to 13 almost every afternoon you could find me in front of the TV after school emersed in the worlds that the Sunbow animation staff created, or in our dining room setting up epic battles with my collection of Hasbro toys.

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Those two universes were practically sacred to me and they felt very interconnected. As I grew older and started digging into the background of the properties it downed on me that there were a lot of reasons for this. I mean the toys were all developed or marketed by Hasbro, the cartoons were both handled by Sunbow/Marvel Animation utilizing the same pool of voice talent, show runners and writers, and much of the periphery merchandise was also handled by the same companies (both comic book series were Marvel for example.) At the time I didn’t realize this and as I sat in rapt attention during the cartoon or when coming up with stories to play out with my toys I always chose to entertwine the universes. The idea of Cobra Commander and his legion of terrorists and Megatron and his armada of Decepticons teaming up to face off against the Optimus Prime and the Autobots and the entire roster of G.I. Joe was always a go-to story for me. Even though I planned out a ton of epic battles in my head there was always a part of me that was bummed out because this crossover universe wasn’t official. It never stopped my from day dreaming about it, but I always felt a tinge of sadness because what I really wanted was to see some actual “official” crossovers and for the most part it never really officially existed until now. There were a handful of teases, specifically in the Sunbow cartoons that stoked the flames of my crossover desires like the time that a character who was for all intents and purposes Cobra Commander popped up in a season three episode of Transformers titled Only Human

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This character was named Old Snake in the episode and is almostly undeniably Cobra Commander as he was voiced by Chris Latta (who provided the voices of Cobra Commander and Starscream on the Sunbow cartoons), was the defunt leader of a one great terrorist orginization and even has the iconic mirrored face plate. But as they never referred to him specifically as Cobra Commander, nor did they evoke Cobra or even feature a Cobra logo insignia, it leaves it up to question enough that it feels way more like an homage to me than an actual crossover. There’s also an episode featuring an older version of the Joe team character Flint (whose real name is Dashiell Faireborn) in that thrid season of Transformers. But again, the connection isn’t explicit. He’s not refferred to as “Flint” and there are no G.I. Joe connections beyond inferring the identity of that character through context clues based on his appearance and the fact that, that character’s daughter’s name is Marissa Faireborn. The closest connection between the universes in the cartoon series is the appearance of a newscaster named Hector Ramirez that pops up in most of the Sunbow series set in modern times (G.I. Joe, Transformers, Jem, and the Inhumanoids.) But as solid a connection as this is, it doesn’t have the panache of seeing Autobots pop up in an episode of G.I. Joe.

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Now, there is a very popular and very explicit connection between the two universes that I’m sure readers are screaming about right now, and that’s the Marvel comics crossover G.I. Joe and the Transformers that was published back in 1987. You know, this is about as clear cut as you can get in terms of universes crossing over, and I’ll agree that it’s cool and groundbreaking, but there are a couple of reasons that I kind of dismiss these comics. For one, I never stumbled upon those comics until well into my adulthood, and two, the comics always seemed like they were outside of the official continuity to me. Much in the same way that it’s arguable whether the Star Wars novelizations are cannon, or if it’s just a product to enrich the brand which is the officially released movies. For me, when it comes to G.I. Joe and Transformers the official continuity begins and ends with the cartoon series, animated films, and the toy lines. Again, I’ll be the first to admit that this is more or less just my weird way of perceiving the universes, but it just feels right to me. So I’ve been waiting for over 20 years to see something released in one of these two realms that unites the properties.

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So when I learned that Hasbro was releasing an official crossover toy in the new Transformer Combiner Wars line I was absolutely floored. The toy, a hybrid Decepticon/Cobra jet named Viper that was modeled after a variation of the Cobra Rattler and it’s main pilot Wild Weasel, is one of the first pieces of widely released Hasbro merchandise that finally officially merges the universes of G.I. Joe and the Transformers. As soon as I laid eyes on grainy pictures online I knew I had to get my hands on one asap, and I want to give a huge thank you and shout out to my buddy HooveR for hooking me up with the toy of my dreams.

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Now, as far as I’m concerned Viper is (for me) one of the most important pieces in the modern Hasbro offerings because it acts as a link that has the potential to spark an entire line of toys that I feel are in a way tailor-made to fill a void in my nostalgic past. Now, I know that there are still folks out there that are going to want to point to earlier examples of the G.I. Joe and Transformers universe’s crossing over in toy form. I mean there are a couple of specific examples that spring to mind, namely the 2004 Transformers Energon figure Snow Cat which is an homage to the G.I. Joe vehicle of the same name and general design. But again, as cool as an homage as this is, it’s not explicitly a crossover. There’s no G.I. Joe logo and storyline attached.

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A more apt example would be the SDCC exclusive release of the Starscream decoed Sky Striker set that was released back in 2011. The set came with a Cobra Commander pilot figure armed with an appropriately-sized Megatron laser pistol. Again, this is a super cool set that I really wanted to get my hands on, but there were some aspects to the release that again make me feel like it’s outside of an official crossover. First, the set was a limited edition only sold at the SDCC which means that most folks couldn’t get their hands on it, and second, even though the repainted Sky Striker looks really awesome as “Starscream”, it was just a repainted Joe toy. They didn’t re-tool it so that it could transform or anything. So as cool as it is, it doesn’t feel official to me.

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Viper on the other hand is about as official as you can get, widely released, branded with both G.I. Joe and Transformers insignia logos, and functions as both an action figure, vehicle (with the ability to transform.)  It may be a narrow view for some, but for me, this is the toy I’ve been waiting for for over 20 years!  Here’s some more views of Viper….

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I love the way they made Viper an homage to Wild Weasel too, a really nice touch…

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I have no idea whether Hasbro is testing the waters with a figure like Viper, but I hope they are.  I’d love to see a whole line of hybrid releases like this.  I can totally imagine transformer Hiss Tanks, Vamp jeeps, or Tomahawk helicopters.  I can even see a combiner made out of the various Dreadnok vehicles.  The possibilities are limitless!

 

Help Kickstart Buy the Rights!

A few months ago a good buddy shared his idea for a new project he was working on, a project that I immediately knew was going to be awesome.  Fast forward to today and that project is on the brink of becoming a reality and I couldn’t be happier.  What am I talking about?  My friend and fellow nostalgia buff, Tommy Day from Top Hat Sasquatch has developed a wicked awesome card game called Buy the Rights.  In a nutshell, it’s a cinema-themed party game where the players develop movie pitches based on a mix of Plot, Genre, Hero, & Hero Descriptor cards they draw.  Each turn players pitch their movie to a producer who has a set budget to spend any way they see fit.  Then the role of producer passes on to the next character, everyone else draws new cards and makes pitches, and so on.  At the end of the game the player with the most money wins.

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Being a huge movie buff (I do co-host a podcast about Cult Films) and an avid game player I was immediately sold on the concept.  And now Tommy has taken the game to Kickstarter to raise the funds to get the game properly manufactured and into the hands of gaming enthusiasts everywhere.  Before he launched the campaign Tommy had a batch of prototypes printed up and my girlfriend Jaime and I were lucky enough to receive a copy to play-test.  Recently we had a bunch of friends over for a cookout and figured it was the perfect opportunity to pull out the game ad kick the tires a bit…

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As I mentioned, the game is comprised of four decks of cards, Plot, Genre, Hero, & Hero Descriptor.  Each deck has 100 different cards, so there are almost limitless combinations that can be formed when devising movie pitches.  Half of the fun of the game is trying to put together a halfway coherent idea with the randomly drawn cards, and the other half of the fun is “selling” the pitch to the producer.  So when the best movie idea in your hand is Horror Film (Genre) about a Dyslexic Plumber (Descriptor & Hero cards), who has to play a championship basketball game against aliens (plot), you really have to pull out the charisma to get the producer on your side.  In all seriousness, the game is a lot of fun and while we were playing we were constantly laughing at the pitches…

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Buy the Rights follows in the tradition of games like Cards Against Humanity and Apples to Apples, and is perfect for both audiences (it can be played perfectly clean, or depending on the players and ages can get pretty hilariously “adult”.)

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I was also super stoked to have Tommy commission me to draw a piece of Buy the Rights art for the Kickstarter campaign.  Right now if you pledge at certain levels you can get a nifty vinyl sticker of this piece I illustrated…

Buy the Rights VHS Illustration

There’s a lot of fun rewards too, aside from the game itself which is the real gem, there’s also a really swell print that was illustrated by Cole Roberts, as well as a cool T-Shirt.

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So if this seems like something you’d be interested in, please take a few minutes to check out the campaign, watch the video, and help Tommy make Buy the Rights a reality. This one fully gets the Branded in the 80s stamp of approval!

Transformers through the eyes of a 10 year-old…

If there’s one thing that I try very hard to do with this site it’s to attempt to transport my perspective into the mind of my 10 year-old self so that I can try and see things (like all the old cartoons, toys, and ephemera) as I did almost 30 years ago.  This is way easier said than done as it’s next to impossible to let go of a lifetime’s worth of baggage and my pesky adult perspective that I need to have in place for most of the time.  It’s at those times when it’s proving a real struggle to get back into that childlike mindset when I wonder what it would be like to have a child of my own who I could share all of the stuff that I grew up with and watch their reaction firsthand.  Having children just hasn’t been something that was in the cards for me up to this point, and most of my friends who have had children did so later in life and so most of them are still too young to share this kind of stuff with.

Well this past week I had the opportunity to babysit a friend’s 10 year-old son Alex for a few afternoons, and after spending the last decade literally reclaiming my childhood in the form of comics, toys, and a mountain of cartoons on DVD I figured I’d be in the perfect person to watch and entertain the kid for a few afternoons.  Well, even though I feel like I had a pretty good shot at relating to him and the stuff he’s into, I do remember what it was like being a kid and being babysat by someone who was trying their damnedest but failing to relate to me.  That was probably my biggest concern going in, that I’d attempt to be hip by knowing about stuff like current cartoons or cool for having a huge collection of toys, yet still failing to make a connection. I mean, I have a wall full of Masters of the Universe and G.I. Joe toys still mint on card.  Would Alex think I was crazy for not opening them?  Basically all I knew for certain was that he was a huge Transformers fan who thinks that the Decepticons are jerks and that his favorite characters are all of the Autobots.  All of them.

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I knew I’d be watching him for three days and on the first it was pretty much just as awkward as I’d expected.  Being really into Transformers Alex brought his copy of the War for Cybertron XBox game so that we could play it.  Well, if I haven’t already mentioned it on the site before, when it comes to modern video games I suck.  I’ll be honest, I very happily peaced out after the Nintendo 64/Playstaion era of gaming and never really had any interest in picking it back up.  I’d much rather play Galaga than Skyrim, and I’m totally fine with that.  I’m just not a gamer and if you hand me a controller that has more than 4 buttons and a D-pad I’m totally lost.

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So when Alex busted out his copy of War for Cybertron I was actually nervous about having to try and play co-op with him.  Luckily he didn’t understand what the co-op option meant, so I just played dumb when there was no option for the second player to join after he launched the single-player campaign.  At that point I was fine just watching him blast a bunch of Transformers to rubble.  Actually, watching him play the game was kind of hilariously interesting because regardless of the fact that I mentioned to him that I was well versed in the lore of the Transformers he took it upon himself to tell me all about the characters and the world.  I decided to just play dumb and learn from the master.  “Whoa, that guy is named Jetfire?  What does he transform into?  A jet?  Whoa!”  Mind you, I wasn’t being sarcastic or patronizing, just trying to let him take the reigns of the discussion.  He played the game non-stop for 5 hours straight while I watched and asked about all the characters and locations.

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Actually, this was kind interesting for me on another level since I’d never played the game before and have very distinct tastes when it comes to the Transformers.  The game is an amalgamation of visual design and continuity from all iterations of the mythology and universes.  So you have dialogue directly lifted from the 1986 Transformers movie mixed with references to the Bayformer movies, and character designs that are somewhere in between those live action films and the Classics toy versions of the characters that were released about a decade ago.  Mix that with dialogue from Frank Welker and Peter Cullen and it makes for a very trippy experience.  There are even nods to the original Marvel comics, specifically the smelting pits.

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This also underlined something for me that I was well aware of, but never really out much thought into which is that a brand like the Transformers has a longevity that is kind of amazing.  I mean, I feel kind of old thinking about it, but having been around before they were originally designed and released, enough time has passed that there are almost three generations worth of folks who can lay claim to a variation of the characters.  In another decade we’ll being seeing families where the grandparents were into the original G1 versions of the characters, parents who grew up on the later 90s, early 2000s cartoons and the Bayformers, and there will be a new generation of kids whose reference point for the characters will be the new video games and the latest trilogy of Bayformer movies that are on deck to be released over the next few years.  We’re already seeing that with brands like G.I. Joe, but I find it fascinating that something that was developed and launched when I was a kid will have that sort of generational longevity soon.

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Well, on the second day I was only watching Alex for a couple of hours and honestly I still had a headache from the constant barrage of crap blowing up in ultra HD in that game the day before, so I decided instead of firing the XBox back up, instead we’d watch a movie.  Knowing he loved the Transformers and since I’ve never been able to share some of my childhood favorite flicks with a kid of my own I decided that I’d take a chance and screen the 1986 Transformers movie for him.  I knew he’d never seen it and honestly I was dying to know if the flick still held up for today’s kids who have their own, way more kinetic versions of the characters than the ones I grew up loving.  I always felt the movie was ahead of its time in terms of the violence, the sort of crazy level of action and a plot that basically moves at the speed of light.  So what would a modern 10 year-old make of this film I love so dearly?

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Well, I’m pleased to say that it held up pretty damn good, though there are some scenes where it was painfully obvious that Alex was getting bored.  All of the jokes seemed to hit him in just the right place (we both turned to each other and laughed during the scene where Grimlock is begging Kup to tell his war stories), and for the most part the fast-moving plot seemed to keep his attention.  The opening scene with the Lithonian’s planet getting eaten by Unicron seemed to bore him, and any scene that was devoted to back and forth bickering between Unicron and Galvatron also made him snooze.  But throughout the rest of the film there was definitely a mix of him literally being on the edge of his seat and standing up cheering.  It was really interesting seeing him react to the vehicle character of Daniel, one that most fans who grew up with the film tend to deride and mock, but Alex was all in.  Whenever Daniel was in peril I’d hear audible gasps from Alex, even in early scenes where he busts his hoover-board.

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Probably the most gratifying experience was watching Alex react to a couple of key scenes in the movie, namely the death of Optimus Prime and the psuedo-death of Ultra Magnus before the final siege on Unicron.  There were no tears during Prime’s death, but this was probably the moment when Alex became fully invested in the story (at least judging from his body language.)  You could tell he was heavily focused on the characters and really wanted the Autobots to survive and to defeat the Decepticons.

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He also really seemed to get behind the idea of the Matrix of Leadership because when it came around to the scene where Galvatron has Ultra Magnus ripped apart to get at it, Alex was really bummed out.  He actually screamed out “No!” when Magnus fell.  So even though at the outset he had that sort of disinterest because the movie seemed so old, three quarters of the way in he was hooked.  I attempted to ask him some questions afterwards, but being a sort of shy 10 year-old who never really spent all that much time around me, he was pretty tight lipped.  I was really curious if he noticed that some of the lines in this movie were also in the game he loved (“One shall stand, one shall fall”, “Bah Weep Grah Na Weep Ninibon”, “First we crack the shell, then we crack the nuts inside…”, etc.), but he didn’t seem to notice.  Granted, I’ve seen that ’86 movie over two hundred times, so the dialogue is permanently etched into my brain.

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I was also curious about the infamous scene where Spike utters the word “Shit” when they try and blow up Unicron with Moon Base Two.  Again, he didn’t seem to notice during the actual film, and I wasn’t going to ask him a point question about curse words afterwards.  The final little bit of a litmus test to gauge his enjoyment with the older G1 versions of the characters, my girlfriend and I picked up a six-inch vinyl Optimus Prime figure (that is strikingly accurate in terms of the depiction from the original cartoon) as a gift for Alex.  I gave it to him right before we watched the movie and all throughout he was clutching it and posing it towards the screen. On the third day when he came back, he still had the toy with him, so I’m taking that as a sign that he enjoyed that 1986 film.

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All in all, it was really fascinating to get a glimpse into what it would be like to share my nostalgia with a kid, and it gives me hope that if I do decide that the time is right to have a child of my own soon, that I’ll be able to pass down a love for some of my favorite 80s era stuff.  That actually gives me a lot of hope for the future and it reminds me that I might get a lot of use out of the overflowing shelves of cartoons I own on DVD some day.

Branded in the 80s is also on Instagram

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Just wanted to take a moment and point out that Branded in the 80s is also on Instagram.  There’s a lot of stuff that I have in my collection that doesn’t always make it to the site, stuff that’s a lot of fun, but not necessarily something I feel the need to write about in a long winded fashion (as I’m prone to do :p ).  So a few years ago I set up an Instagram as an outlet to share pictures of the collection.  I also tend to post stuff there pretty regularly, at least four or five times a week, so if you’re looking for a quick 80s fix you can follow me there @smurfwreck.  Here’s some examples of stuff I’ve posted recently…

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Peel Here #118: The Exhaustive Selectra Horror Prism Vending Stickers edition!

4560287382_404990f06c_oAs I approach my 10th anniversary of running Branded in the 80s I can’t help but feel a pull towards revisiting some of the topics and products that helped to launch the site back in 2006.  I’m a different person than I was at the outset and enough time has passed that I feel like I might have something more to add to those early articles.  Some of it is having a new perspective on the material, and some if it is finally having access to a much larger collection to showcase and the collector in me, the completest, is compelled to set about making something a little more definitive.

Back in 2009 I addressed one of my 80s era collecting holy grails when I wrote about a small collection of obscure horror movie-themed prism vending machine stickers.  Vending stickers are a hard thing to date because of their bootleg and disposable nature.  They don’t feature copyright notices so you kind of have to use context clues to date them.  As a kid, the only vending horror sticker that I manged to get my hands on was one featuring Clive Barker’s 1990 movie Nightbreed, so I assumed that the stickers were released in at least 1990, but I was also working under the assumption that the entire set of stickers (at the time I guessed that there were maybe 40-50 available based on some collections I saw online) were released at the same time.  Now I’ve managed to dig up some more information that leads me to believe that these stickers actually debuted in 1989 and were potentially released in waves throughout the end of 1990 or so.  But before I get ahead of myself let me bring it back to the beginning and talk a bit about what these are and why I love them so damn much.

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As I mentioned I found my first sticker back in 1989 while my family made a big move from Florida up to New Hampshire.  At the time I was 12 and had been sort of weaning myself off of stuff like G.I. Joe and Transformers and was turning into an angsty teen who wanted to spend all of his time reading Uncanny X-Men comics and Stephen King novels, listening almost exclusively to Metallica and Megadeth, and watching horror movies.  By this point I’d seen and was mildly obsessed with both Hellraiser films and had just recently picked up a secondhand copy of Barker’s first Books of Blood short story collection.  I was also an avid reader of Fangoria and remember reading an interview with Clive Barker about his new project Nightbreed in the October 1989 issue.  So I was excited for the flick and sometime during the drive up to New Hampshire my folks stopped off at a restaurant that had one of those sticker vending machines in the lobby.  I’m not sure if it was a Pizza Hut or something more in line with a truck stop diner, as we were inclined to have stopped at either, but sometime on that trip I found a machine, slid my two quarters into the push handle and pulled out a little while cardboard sleeve that had a foil prism Night Breed sticker inside.  I was beyond stoked and as soon as we were settled into our new home my dad gave me an old black particle board bookcase from his office and the Nightbreed sticker was peeled off the backing and stuck prominently above my collection of horror paperbacks.

NightbreedI always loved that sticker, partly because it had different imagery than anything else I’d seen relating Nightbreed, and partly because of the super simplified art style of these prism stickers.  Much like art adoring trading card wax wrappers, there’s something that I find really appealing about the bloby, offset, screen tone colors and thick, bold shadowy style of the reproduced line art.  And very similar to my Barfo candy experience, after I found my first prism horror sticker I was never able to locate anymore for a very long time.  In fact it wasn’t until 2009 when I finally found a small set of 5 stickers on eBay, 20 years later.  I mentioned this in the previous piece that I wrote, but these are the type of collectibles that become really hard to find years after their release.  Not only are they most likely unauthorized bootleg merchandise, but they’re designed to be disposable.  I mean they cheapo stickers that are used to adorn trapper keepers and school notebooks.  These things are used, abused and thrown away, so it really rare to see them pop up on the secondary “antique” market.  The best resource for finding them over the last decade has been when small stockpiles of them have been unearthed in old storage lockers and they show up in bulk sets for upwards of $1k on ebay.  But since these are highly prized and sought after collectibles by folks in the horror fandom community they tend to get snatched up and resold individually.  Sometimes you can get a good deal and sometimes folks sell these for $100 a pop.  So if you’re looking to collect these I’d suggest watching eBay like a hawk and being patient.

Over the last 6 years I’ve been buying them here and there and before I knew it I had a pretty sizable collection.  I’m still not sure exactly how many different horror stickers were offered, but I’ve been able to identify at least 93 including variations.  On eBay I also stumbled upon a 1989 catalog for the company that produced and distributed them, Selectra, which answered the question of when they were originally released…

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So, without further to do, here’s a gallery of all the awesome Selectra prism horror movie vending stickers that I’ve been able to track down (there are four that I know of that I haven’t gotten my hands on, a second Nightbreed one featuring Dirk Lylesberg, The Town that Dreaded Sundown, one with a lady being force-fed a spider from a movie I can’t identify and a Puppet Master sticker.)

A Nightmare on Elm Street 1   A Nightmare on Elm Street 1b   A Nightmare on Elm Street 4

A Nightmare on Elm Street 5   A Nightmare on Elm Street 5b   A Nightmare on Elm Street Freddy 1

A Nightmare on Elm Street Freddy 2   A Nightmare on Elm Street Freddy 2b   A Nightmare on Elm Street Freddy 4

I find it interesting that there were variations of the same sticker offered in slightly different formats.  Like there were some that were die-cut and didn’t have any prism material showing through the ink like with the second Freddy in the three stickers above.  Also, though obviously they are based on the same promo still of the character, two different artists tackled the stickers with one being way more accurate.  Then there are some that are just downright embarrassing in terms of execution like the Nightmare sticker on the far right in the row below…

A Nightmare on Elm Street 5c   A Nightmare on Elm Street Freddy 3   A Nightmare on Elm Street Freddy 6

A Nightmare on Elm Street Freddy 5   An American Werewolf in London   Bark at the Moon Ozzy Osbourne

Beetlejuice   Brain 1a   Brain 1b

Then there are weird variations like the two stickers for the 1988 movie The Brain above that are based on the same poster artwork but are vastly different in quality…

Blob   Friday the 13th Part 8   House

Brain Dead   Childs Play   Creepshow

It’s also interesting looking at the imagery that was used for the various movies.  Most of these draw from poster or VHS artwork while some of them, like the Child’s Play sticker above, are more interpretations of the movies, sometimes with some weird logo designs…

Critters   Day of the Dead   Deep Star Six b

Deep Star Six   Evil Dead2   Fly

Then there are some stickers which seem vague when it comes to the title of the film, or at least the entry in a series of films, like the Evil Dead II sticker above that drops the “II”.  Yet the Fly II sticker has the the correct title and tag line.  Weird…

Freakshow   Frightmare   Friday the 13th Part 6

Friday the 13th Part 5a   Friday the 13th Part 5b   Friday the 13th Part 7

Funhouse   Halloween   Halloween 4a

It’s also interesting to me to see what films managed to get stickers, and sometimes, specifically what films that are part of a series.  So some of the more obscure horror flicks like Frightmare and The Brain get stickers, yet as far as I know there are no Pumpkinhead, Night of the Comet, or Lost Boys stickers.  Then there is are stickers for the first and fourth Halloween flicks, but not parts two or three.  Can you imagine a sticker featuring all three Silver Shamrock masks from Halloween 3?!?

Halloween 4b   Hellraiser 1a

Hellraiser Pinhead 1   Hellraiser Pinhead 2   Hellraiser Pinhead 3

Then there are stickers, like the three Pinhead variations above, that were produced repeatedly.  I think there might even be a fourth variation of that design with a plain silver prism fill around the portrait.

Hellraiser   Hellraiser2a   Hellraiser2b

Hellraiser2c   Horror Show   Nightbreed

Nightmares a   Nightmares b

Howling b   Howling   Memorial Valley Massacre

Monkey Shines       Night of the Demons

Phantasm 2a   Phantasm 2b   Phantom of the Mall

Phantom of the Opera   Psycho 3b   Psycho3

Return of the Living Dead Part 2   Return of the Living Dead Part 2b   Return of the Living Dead Part 2c

I love seeing the differences between some of these variations.  I find it interesting how different each of these Return of the Living Dead Part II stickers came out…

Return to Horror High   Scanners   Scarecrows

Screaming Mad George 1   Screaming Mad George 2   Screamtime

I also think it’s interesting that of all films to be adapted into sticker we get not one, but two variations on Brian Yuzna’s Society (above), neither of which is the more famous imagery of the face emerging from a butt

Shocker 1a   Shocker 1b   Slaughter High 1

Slaughter High 2   Sleepaway Camp 3   Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 Leatherface

Supernaturals 1   Supernaturals 2   Swamp Thing

The Gate a   The Gate b

They Live   Thou Shall Not Kill Except   ToxicAvenger

Vamp   Werewolf   Zombie Nightmare

So, are there any other Selectra prism horror vending machine stickers floating around out there that you’ve seen that I didn’t cover here?  I’m curious just how many different ones were made…

For me the 80s didn’t end with a whimper or a bang, but with a fake puking noise…

5741481453_25e5050515_oI spend a lot of time writing and creating stuff for Branded to celebrate all the things that I loved about growing up in the eighties.  Part of why I do this is to share my collection of junk that I’ve amassed over the years, and part of it is trying to capture and share that intense feeling of “holy crap, I had that” that one feels when they encounter something that had been completely forgotten up until that point.  That rush of memory and familiarity is like a drug to me, and it’s as rare as it is fleeting.  It’s basically chasing the dragon of nostalgia.  I can only hope that there are folks who visit this site and are reminded of something lost from their childhoods.  Something small and relatively inconsequential that they’ve completely forgotten about and that by stumbling across a post or picture they stop whatever they’re doing and get that wave of sweet nostalgia that starts in the pit of your stomach and quickly spreads like adrenaline through the rest of your body.

This past week I had one of those magical moments where I was just scrolling through facebook and then all of the sudden I felt like a Mack truck slammed into me as my eyes landed on something that I hadn’t seen or thought about since 1989…

Barfo Candy Ad

Facebook friend and all around awesome vintage candy collector R. Vandiver shared the above Topps sales sheet to the Novelty Candy Marketplace FB group and I just froze for a few minutes in disbelief.  I couldn’t believe that I had forgotten about these Barfo Family Candy containers!

Barfo Candy Box 1Not only had I forgotten about these, but on a personal level, this amazingly gross novelty candy is one of the last official pop culture experiences I had during that golden decade as a kid.  I spend the entirety of the 80s living in central Florida (in the both the Tampa and Orlando areas) and it was on the last day of December of 1989 when my family packed up, picked up stakes, and moved north to the Massachusetts/New  Hampshire area.  My father had recently been transferred to a new office and he’d already taken a trip up by himself to drive one of our two cars up to the small apartment we were going to stay in for a couple of months while our new house was being built.  I distinctly remember we kicked off a two-day road trip on New Years eve as there was a live band playing Auld Lang Syne in the motel restaurant/bar we stayed at that night in Virginia.

That morning, after we’d been on the road for a couple hours, my dad stopped at a Stuckey’s somewhere in north FL to fuel up.  I think I’d begged for some money so that I could go inside and load up on Yes & No Invisible Ink Question & Answer books, Slim Jims and candy for the trip.  The particular Stuckey’s we stopped at was a weird combination of gas station and diner, with two separate buildings.  I poked my head in the diner area first where there was an area towards the back that a had a spinner rack full of comics and the Yes & No books as well as coolers full of soda and a rack full of beef jerky.  I couldn’t find any Slim Jims, so I settled on a small bag of jerky, a glass bottle of blue Fanta, and a Battleship heavy edition of the Yes & No books.  Strangely, there was no candy in this section, so after I paid for my junk I headed over to the gas station building next door to see if there was any in there.  I’d already spent the majority of the money my dad gave me (beef jerky is always so damn expensive) and I think I had about a dollar and a half left when I stumbled unto candy nirvana.  I definitely considered myself a sort of candy connoisseur at this point in my life having spent endless hours in our local 7-Elevens and Walgreens trying every possible thing that I could get a sugar high off of, but this Stuckey’s had some stuff that I’d never even dreamed existed.  I was hoping I’d find some of those little cartons full of orange and fruit punch-flavored bubble gum, or maybe a Mr. Bones Coffin full of the chalky Sweettarts-like candy, but there was a whole shelf full of novelty plastic heads full of candy as well as a full box of Barfo Family candy that just about made my head explode.

Barfo Candy Box Art

I was still a huge fan of Garbage Pail Kids at the time and was all into the super gross art in MAD and Cracked magazines, so when I saw the Barfo candy I was in love.  Sitting right next to these were a box full of plastic Batman heads full of candy, and I was also a super fan of that film, so I was torn trying to decide how to spend the rest of my loot.  In the end I had just enough for one Batman head and one Barfo head, but I vowed that I’d find a place to pick up the rest of the Barfo heads as soon as I had more money…

Barfo Candy Box 2

The Barfo head that I chose was Ralph, the kid, and if I’m recalling correctly it was filled with a grape flavored goo that came oozing out of his mouth when you pushed down on the accordion plunger.  This terrified and sickened my parents, but I loved it.  It didn’t even bother me that I was basically making out with a tiny candy dispenser.  I spent the next hour in the backseat making fake puking noises in between squirting the liquid candy into my mouth.  I’m sure my parents thought long and hard about leaving me on the side of the road all throughout that trip…

Ralph

In doing some research it turns out there were four members in the Barfo family, the kid, Ralph as I mentioned above, his two parents What’s Up Chuck and Oozie Suzie, and the family dog Arf-Barf.  The concept of these little disgusting novelties was the brainchild of Abe Morgenstern who, according to Topps alum Drew Friedman, came into the office with a turkey baster one day after Thanksgiving and demanded to know how they could turn the baster into a candy dispenser.  From there it was passed on to a few folks at Topps including Art Speigelman & Mark Newgarden who came up with the idea to model the dispensers after a 50′s era nuclear family, and eventually Drew Friedman and Patrick Pigott who designed and illustrated the box art.  Stan Hart, a MAD magazine writer, coined the Barfo name.

Barfo Candy Family

Whats Up Chuck                   Oozie Suize                   Arf-Barf

After we got up to New England I recall searching for stores that had the Barfo candy on sale, but sadly I never found any.  Not only were these amazing designs in terms of gross-out candy dispensers, but as far as I can remember these were also years ahead of of the whole liquid lollipop phenomenon of the mid 90s.

Man, I can’t thank R. Vandiver enough for reminding me about these, and Drew Friedman for detailing the history of the development of the product over on his blog.  He even posted pictures of the super rare prototype dispenser that is perhaps even more nightmare inducing than the final candy heads!  All in all, as far as the 80s go, literally, one of the last pop culture memories I have before ringing in 1990 with the house band at some less than memorable motel bar is of making my own personal Sofie’s choice as to which member of the Barfo family I took home with me on the morning of December 31st 1989.  That and all the fake puking sounds I made in the car while eating the candy…

 

These Should Exist: The Rad Edition

I’ve been having a ton of fun creating digital trading cards recently.  I think this project sort of falls inside the dead center of my Venn diagram that is a mix of being creative, learning to hone my Photoshop skills, and geeking out about all the 80s stuff that I love.  With that in mind I’ve had a hard time focusing on much else for the past few weeks and decided I might as well dive into creating another set of cards while I’m enjoying the hell out of it.  So over the past week I tackled another of my all time favorite films which also just happens to be criminally under-merchandused, the 1986 BMX-ploitation flick Rad!

Rad Wrapper

For anyone that’s been reading this site for any length of time or listened to the podcast I co-host, The Cult Film Club, it should be pretty clear just how much I love this flick. I must have rented this flick from the local mom & pop video store 2.6 million times as a kid and I was always bummed that it never caught on with audiences in the theater the way that it did on VHS and on cable.  Though this isn’t the sort of film that made sense to spawn a toy line, I always felt that the movie would have been perfect for adapting into one of those youth novelizations or, well, a trading card set…

Rad_3_Hal_combo

Rad_1_Cru_combo     Rad_2_Cru_Cant_combo

Rad_4_Bart_Taylor_combo     Rad_5_hanging_out_Combo

It’s weird, when I tackled this set I thought it was going to be a cake walk in terms of picking what scenes and characters to include on the cards.  I mean I love the crap out of this film.  But that actually became a problem because after I started compiling a list it was quickly topping out at one hundred cards.  Creating that many cards would have taken forever and I knew that I had to draw a line at around 30 cards.

Rad_6_Helltrack_combo

Rad_7_SgtSmith_Combo     Rad_10_DukeBest_combo

Rad_8_Wesley_combo     Rad_9_Mopheadboy_combo

Narrowing the list down was tough.  Sure, there were a bunch of cards I wanted to make that highlighted some of my favorite lines (“The only thing I’m good at is riding THIS bike!”, “Let’s Walk this sucker”, or “Gnarly!”), but when I was limiting myself to 30 these were some of the first to go.  I also wanted to include at least one card for ever major pro BMX rider featured in the film, but that would have been half the set right there.  So I ended up making sure that I at least included cards for the two main stunt doubles, Martin Aparijo and Eddie Fiola.

Rad_31-32

Rad_12_rexrod_combo

Rad_11_pegride_combo     Rad_15_qualifier_combo

Rad_13_wannadance_combo Rad_14_bikedance_combo

I also wanted to include cards for all the awesome bands and musicians on the soundtrack, I mean what is this movie without the sweet dulcet tones of John Farnham or Sparks?  Again, these had to go…

Rad_17_groupies_Combo

Rad_16_asssliding_combo     Rad_27_Timmer_combo

Rad_28_radracing_combo     Rad_29_bestbuds_combo

Rad_26_Christian_combo

There was also an issue trying to source enough interesting radical facts for the card-backs.  Again, since this movie never got the DVD treatment there were never any making-of documentaries shot, no director commentaries, etc.  There were a handful of BMX magazine articles and the official/unofficial commentary track that Bill Allen, Bart Connors, Sam Bernard, Martin Aparijo, Eddie Fiola, and Jose Yanez recorded last year that were invaluable for compiling the facts that made it onto the card backs.

Rad_23_Helltrack_combo

Rad_18_Cru_Bart_combo     Rad_19_Cru_360_flip_combo

Rad_20_Hulk_Hogan_combo     Rad_21_Bart_takesout_Rod_combo

Rad_22_Bart_Fair_Race_combo

All in all, I’m really happy with how the set turned out and I can add it to the list of digital trading cards that I can only dream about being real, sitting in binders between my Goonies and Little Shop of Horrors cards…

Rad_25_mikemiranda_combo     Rad_30_bicycleboogie_combo

Rad_24_Bart_joins_RadRacing_combo

Interview in Non-Sport Magazine

So, speaking of all these throwback digital trading cards I’ve been working on, I totally forgot that I was interviewed last October by Ryan Cracknell of Non-Sport Update Magazine (and his site Trader Cracks)!  Just got my hands on a copy of the issue, the Feb-Mar 2015 edition, Volume 26, Number 1.

1

The interview mainly deals with the set of The Monster Squad cards I made last Halloween, but it also touches on my non-sport card collecting during the 80s as well.  Here’s a picture of the article if anyone’s interested in reading it…

2

These Should Exist: The Young Guns Edition

I’m still toying around with the idea of making this a regular feature here at Branded, but after recently creating the sorely needed and non-existent Adventures in Babysitting cards a couple weeks ago I got to talking with my pal and Cult Film Club co-host Paxton about collaborating on a set of Young Guns and Young Guns II digital trading cards.  We both love those movies (as evidenced in our two-part double feature podcast from this past year), but I’d say that the love Pax has for the films is way, way up there, most definitely in the realm of my love of The Monster Squad.  So we hunkered down, traded notes on design and Photoshop secrets, and proceeded to create our own sets of Young Guns trading cards that we both believe should really have existed.

I’ll start off with series one, and as with any good set of 80s era trading cards we felt like we needed some rad wax wrappers.  For this set we created two, a hero…

Wrapper YG1 A

and a villain…

Wrapper YG1 B

As for the cards themselves, Pax and I are gonna split up the set we designed, each showcasing half.  If you want to “collect them all”, you’ll have to head on over to his bitchin’ site the Cavalcade of Awesome to get the rest.  Also, in terms of design, this Young Guns series one set provided the perfect opportunity to tap into a wonderful and wonderfully misused 80s era Topps card flourish, the mystifying real wood-bordered 1987 Baseball cards!

YG1_2_Doc

So, from my perspective, I both loved and loathed that ’87 wood border design back in the day.  That was the year I picked up the baseball card collecting bug and that Topps mega set (over 700 freaking cards) was my jam that summer and fall.  I mowed so many lawns to save up enough dough to collect that entire set one wax wrapped pack at a time, so I loved the entire experience collecting it and trading cards with my friends.

YG1_4_Chavez    YG1_6_Steve

Much like in the flick Big, there were plenty of “…need it, got it, got it, need it…” sessions with my buddies, but all of us were scratching our heads as to why Topps chose that weird ass border design.  Was it supposed to represent a close-up of a baseball bat?  Who knows.  What I thought at the time was that it made the set look like they were Bonanza cards, so when Pax brought up the idea of doing this Young Guns set I felt it was finally time to utilize this design in a way that it would truly shine…

YG1_8_Buckshot    YG1_10_Murphy

YG1_12_Spirit_World

Though these sets are pretty damn time consuming to make, I love the challenge they present to try and nail that 80s aesthetic in the look and “feel”.  With each passing set I work on I feel like I’m getting better and better at nailing that vintage look.  While Pax and I were making these and passing them back and forth we were both feeling that need to have these printed up for real so we could stick them in binders and stare at them all day long…

YG1_14_ReapIt

YG1_16_Iron     YG1_18_Pals

As I mentioned above, these are only half of the cards Pax and I designed.  If you want to collect the rest (of course you do!) then head on over to the Cavalcade and unwrap his Series 1 pack!

Of course, like most fans of the Young Guns movies (as well as Billy the Kid on film fans that dig these 80s interpretations), it’s hard to consider the one flick without the other.  Though it’s considered a sequel, the continuing story of Billy the Kid and the Regulators of Lincoln County New Mexico in Young Guns II really is just the second half of a larger single story.  So when we set out to make these cards for the 1988 film it was a given that we’d also have a Series 2.  Here’s a tease of one of the wrappers for that series we did, and we’ll release the full set of cards soon!

Wrapper YG2 B

Once again, if you dig these digital trading cards, please head on over to the Cavalcade of Awesome and complete your set!  For those taking a close look at the numbering, you might see that there are some chase cards for these sets that we’ll be sharing elsewhere as well!

You’re in love with a…WTF?!?

While discussing Mannequin on the latest episode of the Cult Film Club (a podcast I co-host) we brought up the fact that in the 80s “unconventional” romances on film was sort of a thing. You know, boy sculpts girl, boy gets fired for taking too long constructing girl, boy stumbles upon girl in a department store window, boy gets job at department store to be close to girl, girl turns out to be a real girl, they fall in love, boy ends up saving girl from a giant chipper/shredder. Your basic run of the mill love story for the 80s. Since this style of film was so prevalent during the decade, I thought it would be fun to rank my top 15 weird-ass WTF 80s romance flicks. Strangely enough, ONLY three of them star Jeff Goldblum!

#15: The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)

15 - Purple Rose of Cairo

Woman hearts Fictional Character

I first saw this on HBO back in the day and it broke my young mind. For those who haven’t seen it, this Woody Allen film stars Mia Farrow and Jeff Daniels and centers on Farrow’s character Cecilia falling in love with Tom (a fictional character in the movie within a movie played by Jeff Daniels.) Tom, having somehow noticed Cecilia watching him from the audience over and over, breaks the 4th wall (literally) and steps out of the film into the real world to get to know and eventually fall in love with Cecilia.

#14: Earth Girls Are Easy (1988)

14 - Earth Girls Are Easy

Woman hearts Blue Fuzzy Alien

What do you get when three horny (and rather furry) aliens crash land in Geena Davis’ pool while attempting to seek out some hairless female companionship? Hilarity. It’s also the first of three times that Jeff Goldblum finds his way onto this list. Written by kooky Julie Brown, this flick captures the WTF hyper-color weirdness aesthetic of the late 80s particularly well…

#13: Date with an Angel (1987)

13 - Date with an Angel

Man hearts a Real Life Angel

Proving that it’s possible to make a romantic film in the 80s about a man falling in love with an angel an not using Real Life’s Send Me an Angel, Date with an Angel is a rare gem indeed. Though it’s a romantic comedy, the premise is kind of WTF (aside from the fact that there’s angel romance in it) as the main character is about to die from a brain tumor when the angel sent down to fetch his soul accidentally crashes into a satellite, breaks her wing and falls into the main character’s swimming pool. Only in the 80s….

#12: Vibes (1988)

12 - Vibes

Psychometist Man hearts Trance Medium Astral Projectionist

Hello again Jeff Goldblum. Okay, so if you’re noticing, the general gist of this list involves rather normal people falling in love with abnormal beings, and technically this movie has two abnormal people falling in love with each other, but still, it’s such a weird romantic madcap romp that I had to add it to the list. Besides, it upped Jeff Goldblum’s participation to 20%! Either way, I love this flick as it’s fun watching Cyndi Lauper acting, something that she didn’t do nearly enough of back in the 80s…

#11: My Stepmother is an Alien (1988)

11 - My Stepmother is an Alien

Man hearts Super Hot Alien

This was one of those films that I completely missed out on back in the day but finally caught up with thanks to my CFC co-host Jaime. I love 80s era Aykroyd so it was awesome finally catching up with this flick where he plays a scientist working on sending radio waves into space. He stumbles across Kim Basinger, an alien from a world called Cosine N to the 8th, who is investigating the source of a disturbance that is wrecking havoc on her home world. The unlikely duo fall in love and in a very fish out of water setting we get to see Basinger’s Celeste discover a world of amazing experiences on Earth. Also, notable for introducing the world to a young Alyson Hannigan…

#10: Making Mr. Right (1987)

10 - Making Mr Right

Woman hearts Adorably Naive Android

This was one of those films that I saw two million times on Comedy Central throughout the 90s. Starring John Malkovich in the dual roles of scientist inventor Jeff Peters and his creation Ulysses, who is designed for replacing the human element in long term deep space flight. When Frankie Stone is hired to do PR for the Ulysses project she gets more than she bargained for when the android falls in love with her and the world he was created to leave.

#9: High Spirits (1988)

9 - High Spirits

Man hearts Ghost of Murdered Bride

This is another flick that I totally missed out on until recently when Jaime sat me down to watch it. I love The Gute, Steve Guttenberg, and as you’ll see Daryl Hannah is no stranger to starring in these types of weird, WTF romantic comedies. I’d also call this flick a hidden gem with some really fun performances by Liam Neeson, Jennifer Tilley, Beverly D’Angelo, and Peter freaking O’Toole.

#8: Electric Dreams (1984)

8 - Electric Dreams

Man & Obsessive AI Stalker Computer hearts Woman (who’s into the computer kinda)

Electric Dreams is one of those super weird early 80s flicks that was riffing on the whole 1984 “big brother” theme, but wrapping it up in a romantic pseudo-comedy. Miles in need of organizational help finds the “perfect” AI -driven computer, computer and Miles both fall for their new neighbor, Cellist Madeline, weird love triangle ensues. For fans of last year’s Spike Jonze flick Her, this movie feels like it was a heavy inspiration…

#7: Walk Like a Man (1987)

7 - Walk Like a Man

Woman hearts Man-Child who was Raised by Wolves

One of my favorite guilty pleases of the 80s, this flick is Howie Mandel at his best. The researcher/teacher/student/pet relationship between Penny (Friday the 13th Part 2‘s Amy Steel) and Bobo is beyond heart warming and the zany antics with Bobo’s brother and sister-in-law (Christopher Lloyd and Colleen Camp) are hilarious. To this day I still want to shove a Raisinet in the mouth of anyone who does good work…

#6: My Demon Lover (1987)

6 - My Demon Lover

Woman hearts Man Possessed by Horniness-Induced Demon

This is not a good movie. It’s actually really awful bordering on unwatchable in parts but I still have a soft spot in my heart for Scott Valentine (Nick from Family Ties) and can’t help but love the concept. As a horny young boy Kaz (Valentine) was cursed by the gypsy grandmother of his first kiss to forever become a horned demon whenever he gets, well, horny. Since then he’s roamed the streets of NYC as a begger bum who purposefully acts as obnoxious and chauvinistic as possible to avoid falling in love with a a woman he knows he’ll never get to keep. That is until he stumbles upon Denny (played by Michelle Little), a girl who specializes in hopelessly dating scum. Match made in Heav…er…Hell.

#5: Mannequin (1987)

5 - Mannequin

Man hearts Two Thousand Year-Old Egyptian Princess trapped in a Mannequin

What more can I say about this flick that we didn’t address in our most recent episode of the Cult film Club or on our 30 Things We LOVE About it list? Andrew McCarthy is at his Andrew McCarthy-iest and Kim Catrall is perfect as Emmy. Nobody said falling in love with a dummy would be easy…

#4: Weird Science (1985)

4 - Weird Science

Two boys heart the Woman of their Dreams, that they Built Themselves

How do you find the perfect woman if you’re a nobody dorky geek with only one friend? Easy, join forces with said friend, throw a copy of Frankenstein on the VCR, strap on your mother’s bra, hack governmental imaging software, feed in numerous magazine and newspaper clippings, and tap into the mystical wish fulfillment ether to will the perfect woman into the body of a Barbie doll you have hooked up with a battery. Easy peazy. Now break out the chips, dips, chains, whips, and .357 revolvers and get to it!

#3: The Fly (1986)

3 - The Fly

Woman hearts Man whose DNA fused with that of a Fly in a Teleportation Accident

I know what you’re thinking, this flick isn’t a romance. Well, even though it’s a horror film, I truly think that the core story is more of a dark romance, much like Clive Barker’s Nightbreed or Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead. Besides, this list didn’t have nearly enough Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis, so there. And who wouldn’t want to make-out with Seth Brundle, even during his vomiting on doughnuts and eating the liquidy after effects phase…

#2: Splash (1984)

2 - Splash

Man hearts Mermaid

Probably the most classic (and classy) of the WTF romances of the 80s, Ron Howard’s Splash set the bar for inter-species love. Also, is it just me or was Daryl Hannah born to plays roles like Madison? I mean highly emotive, mostly silent (I’m thinking Pris from Blade Runner, Ayla from Clan of the Cave Bear, etc.) This is also the film debut of the Tom Hanks that would steal all of our hearts throughout the decade. Also, eating lobsters shell-on is pretty hardcore…

#1: Howard the Duck (1986)

1 - Howard the Duck

Rock Star hearts Alien Duck

So I’ll be the first to admit that Howard the Duck isn’t really a romance, but as far as WTF romances go, the fact that it’s alluded to that Howard and Beverly “get it on” is amazing and awesome. Especially awesome for ducks hoping for some Lea Thompson love. In my book that makes it number one.