Category Archives: Overdue Books

Monster Squad in Print, part 2…

10710926_10152738966882328_5146327273773526587_nEarlier in the month I shared a series of Monster Squad articles and interviews that appeared in the pages of Fangoria and Starlog magazine back in 1987, and as an addendum to that post I wanted to share a couple more vintage magazine articles that debuted after the film had already been released in the US.  As much as I love reading “lead-up” articles and interviews it next to impossible to avoid that pervasive sense of optimism and awe that comes with what basically amounts to PR and publicity (both from the perspective of the interviewer and interviewee. ” Of course <insert current film> is the best work I’ve <insert director> ever done.”  “Of course I loved ever second working with the actors, studio, marketing department, etc, etc, etc…”  It’s the nature of the game.

The best thoughts on a film come later, after it’s been digested by the audience and there is some distance to reflect and see how things fit into the bigger picture.  Unfortunately it’s rare that we get to see articles written from this perspective that aren’t 20 or 30 years or more out from the events; we hardly ever get articles written a year or two later that reflect on the success or failure, and if we do it’s usually only a postscript to the artist’s newest work.  That’s why this Starburst Magazine article from volume 10, issue 12 published in 1988 is fascinating.  Though the article is written to support the ’88 release of the film in the UK and Europe, Dekker has already felt the brunt of the US box office failure and is living in that moment of clarity with some distance and lessons learned.  It doesn’t hurt that the magazine is mainly a UK publication because that probably freed him up a bit to air some grievances…

Starburst Magazine Issue Vol 10 Issue 12 1

I also included a review there at the end that was originally published in Starburst Magazine vol. 10, issue 10 that is way more favorable than the critical reviews in the US.

I thought I’d also take a moment to share the cover article from Scary Monsters Magazine, issue 2 which was still being printed as a zine back in 1992.  There’s not a lot to the article except some straight forward clinical listing of plot and who the cast and crew are, but it’s still a fun bit of Monster Squad ephemera…

scarymonsters

The only other 80s era magazine that I am aware of that definitely had a Monster Squad article was issue 10 of Samhian (again, I think this was out of the UK), but I have yet to snag a copy for my collection.  Are there any other articles from the 80s that you folks are aware of?

Samhain Issue 10

Now for today’s trading card…

Monster Squad Wrapper

Since there was never any MS merchandise produced, specifically a Topps trading card set, I thought it would be fun to make a mini set of 80s-style digital trading cards for my favorite movie of all time. So come back each evening for Trick or Treats and collect them all!

Today’s card is #5, Phoebe “The Pheb” Crenshaw!

5 Phoebe Crenshaw F-B

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The Writing Squad, taking a look at the Script for The Monster Squad

10710926_10152738966882328_5146327273773526587_nOne of the pieces of my Monster Squad collection that I love the most is a copy of the script that Fred Dekker and Shane Black wrote back in 1986.  I love digging into novelizations and scripts to see what differences there were between the initial idea and the final films, and since MS never had a novelization (a crime!), the script is the best source for variation and deleted scenes.  The copy I have is dated July 30th, ’86 and is marked as the third draft…

Cover

From what I have pieced together via old Fangoria interviews, commentaries and DVD featurettes, the initial idea Dekker had was to pit the Little Rascals versus the Universal Monsters a la Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein.  When he came up with the idea he was hip deep working on both Night of the Creeps and writing a script that would eventually become If Looks Could Kill, so even though he had studio interest in the concept, he took the ideas he’d written and handed them off to his college buddy Shane Black to take a stab at writing the script…

Fred Dekker

Black had been bombing out in his attempts to start his acting career, and he’s just sold a script about a phantom platoon in Vietnam, so he thought, what the hell and decided to sit down and write The Monster Squad.  As an exercise he decided to write the script in the same voice and style as Dekker who had a unique outlook on scriptwriting that is very unconventional in the industry…

Shane BlackBasically Dekker liked to address “the audience” and producers in his scripts, including a ton of asides that not only describe the tone and setting, but give back-story and also predict the way people should react to the scenes.  So reading a Dekker script is anything but dry!  Here’s some examples of how he would do that..

Example of the Script addressing the Audience 1

Example of the Script addressing the Audience 2

Example of the Script addressing the Audience 3

I love how the duo describe EJ & Derek as kids who will grow up, get ugly and sell shitty used cars, or the way they invoke the popcorn munching excitement of the finale…

Anyway, Black’s first draft of the script was apparently amazingly ambitious where he threw in everything he and Dekker would want to see in an Our Gang Vs. Monsters movie regardless of the potential budget to bring these ideas to fruition.  So for instance, in the opening of the movie when Van Helsing comes to vanquish Dracula he’s sailing in on zeppelins with an army of torch wielding villagers assaulting the castle.  I’d love to get my hands on a copy of that original draft.  The two then compared notes and then Dekker took a another pass at editing down and tightening the script and eventually the two agreed on the draft that I was able to procure.

At the end of the day what ended up in this third draft is very much what ends up on film, though there are a handful of deleted and alternate scenes that are pretty darn cool.  Today I want to focus on some of the alternate versions of scenes and I’ll come back tomorrow and share a bunch of the cool deleted segments.  So, in terms of alternate, I guess what I’m getting at is that some scenes played slightly different from script to film and were either slightly more intense or there were characters that end up slightly different from page to screen.  For instance, Eugene was envisioned as a much more timid character, one that has “no business” being in a monster club as we see in the descriptive text from this deleted scene (alright, I’m including one deleted scene, but not because it’s particularly as a scene, it’s the descriptive stuff about Eugene that stuck out to me…)

Eugene is the character most different from the movie

So, as Sean alludes in the final film, the rest of the Squad ends up actually going to see Groundhog Day Part 12 at the drive-in and we get this short joky bit with the kids in Eugene’s father’s car.  He’s described as wearing cutesy Pooh Bear PJs and is scared to death, which is not how he ultimately ends up coming across in the final film.  From the Bedroom breakdown I did we can fully see that he’s a fan of some violent comic book characters (Dreadstar, the Punisher and Wolverine), and instead of Pooh Bear he prefers Robotech PJs.  Not only that but nothing really seems to phase the kid outside of an actual monster hanging out in his closet or all hell breaking loose in the final sequence.  I love how he dead pans to Sean that the “Creature stole my Twinkie…” or that “Mummy came in my house…”  The Eugene described in the script would have tendered his resignation to the club as soon as the Mummy shuffled out of his window that night…

Another deviation from script to screen was the whole naked photo of Patrick’s sister business.  In the film, aside from Rudy ogling her through a camera set up in the clubhouse, the whole thing plays off as a perfect accident as Frankenstein’s Monster accidentally snaps a photo of her undressing that Rudy later has processed and they use it to eventually blackmail her into being their virginal incantation reader for the final showdown.  In the script there is no accident about acquiring that photo.  In fact, it’s all part of the plan…

Alternate sequence of the naked photo 1

This stuff plays way more into the Our Gang origins of the Squad as they try their damnedest to get a photo of Patrick’s sister naked…

Alternate sequence of the naked photo 2

It’s eventually Horace that snaps the picture as the rest of the gang has to literally drag a horny monster away from Patrick’s house!

There are also a lot of sequences in the script that are way more intense than they would eventually end up in the finished film, particularly during the final fight in the town square.  For instance, in the bit where Horace faces off against the Gillman, in the final film he gets trapped between the monster and the locked door of the town magazine shop (where EJ & Derek are hiding.)  Horace of course realizes he can’t run and blows the creature away.  But in the script this plays out a bit different as he uses the shotgun to first decimate the glass door of the shop in one last ditch effort to get away, and also to take his anger out on the bullies…

More Intense Scene Hoarce Final Battle

I get why this was toned down, I mean the idea of one kid holding a shotgun on another is a little crazy, but man would I have loved to see EJ pee his pants…

A lot of the sequences involving Dracula in that final fight play out more intensely too, including the face-off between him and the Monster…

More Intense Scene Frankenstein and Dracula Final Battle

This sequence not only has Dracula hit so hard that he flies up and impales himself on a large cross (instead of an iron fence spear), but it also reveals that the Monster was more mortally wounded (is that possible?) in the old house explosion.  It describes him as having his face caved in!  Ouch!  Bo-gus, indeed.

Lastly today I wanted to point to just how brutal the final fight between Sean and Dracula was scripted…

More Intense Scene Sean and Dracula Final

I mean holy crap!  That is a fight.

Tomorrow I’ll be back with a look at a bunch of deleted scenes from the script, but until then, here’s today’s trading card!

Monster Squad Wrapper

Today’s card is #7, Frankenstein’s Monster!

7 Frankenstein F-B fixed

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Fangoria Interviews The Monster Squad!

10710926_10152738966882328_5146327273773526587_nShortly after I first saw The Monster Squad I discovered one of the magazine staples of my youth, Fangoria.  At the time, around 1987-88, there were no shops around me that carried magazine back issues and my parents weren’t keen on me ordering from the Fangoria back issue catalog, so I never got a chance to get a hold of any of the ones that had Monster Squad articles.  It wasn’t until I was in my late 20s and I managed to procure a rather large collection of the periodical that I finally got to sink my teeth into a handful of issues that covered my favorite film.  I thought it would be fun to share those articles today.  Also, this is the perfect opportunity to point to my friend Paxton’s Countdown this year as he’s spending the entire month celebrating that glorious horror magazine.  So head on over to the Cavalcade of Awesome and check out what Pax has in store.

First up today I have issue number 61 from February 1987 that features an interview with Fred Dekker on the set of Night of the Creeps.  Though the majority of the article focuses on Creeps, there are a couple of early tidbits about The Monster Squad and Dekker always makes for a great interview subject because of his no nonsense attitude and honesty.

Fangoria 61 Cover

Next up is issue number 66 from August of 1987, the month that Monster Squad hit theater screens.  This issue features another interview with Dekker and has some fun promotional and deleted scene stills.  You can also clearly see that Dekker was very unhappy with the management of Creeps by the production company and is so much happier now that he’s on the MS set and things seems to be going much better.

fan66001

The follow up issue, number 67 from September of 87 features another Squad article, though this one is a feature interview with Dekker’s co-writer on the film Shane Black.  There’s some fun insight into the writing process between the two of them in this article, and an explanation of the tone and presentation that their script takes (which is really fun to read and very unconventional.)  I also made the connection that the character of Detective Sapir is a reference to one of Black’s writing heroes Richard Sapir who co-created and wrote the Destroyer series of novels (with the character Remo Williams.)

fan67001

The last Fangoria article I have is from issue number 70 from January of 1988 and features and interview with Stan Winston’s crew of special effects artists.  The article is half about their work on Pumpkinhead, but the other half delves into their work on The Monster Squad.  Kinda fun to meet the guys behind the art…

fan70001

As a special bonus I also have an article from the September 1987 issue of Starlog (#122), which features an interview with Dracula himself, Duncan Regehr…

122 Starlog 1

Now for today’s trading card!

Monster Squad Wrapper

Since there was never any MS merchandise produced, specifically a Topps trading card set, I thought it would be fun to make a mini set of 80s-style digital trading cards for my favorite movie of all time. So come back each evening for Trick or Treats and collect them all!

Today’s card is #19, The Amulet!

19 Amulet F-B

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Wait, there are four Ghostbusters?!?

ghostbusters_poster

Poor Winston Zeddmore and Ernie Hudson, it seems like outside of the Real Ghostbusters cartoon and the various comic book series Winston/Hudson is always getting the shaft.  Whether it’s being dropped from 95% of the merchandising of the first film not appearing on the posters or on some of the home video releases over the years, the fact that Hudson is snubbed for most of the film’s original trailer (there’s even a montage of everyone who is starring in the film and when it gets to Hudson, the footage is there but only silence from the announcer), or the fact that Hudson was even passed over when he auditioned to reprise the character in the cartoon for crying out loud.  Both the character and the actor can not catch a break.  I’m surprised they didn’t put William Atherton on the poster just to rub it in a little more…

36249-ghostbusters-old-full

Well, I’ve been aware of these slights for awhile, but I never realized just how deep this snubbing went.  Last week I found that copy of Starlog (issue 98 from September of 1985) and while flipping through it there was a spotlight on Ernie Hudson, specifically in reference to his recent stint as one of the Ghostbusters.  At first I was just skimming the article because I thought it was probably a fluff piece, but the more I read the more I realized that even though he was overjoyed to work on the film and is happy with the final result, the Ghostbusters he helped make was not the one he signed on to star in.  In fact, if the version of the script that swayed Hudson to sign on had been filmed things would be a lot different!

Starlog 98

Sigh, Hudson doesn’t even get a blurb on the cover…

First of all, the way Hudson frames it in this article the character of Winston was in the film longer, originally hired at the outset with Janene when the trio of Stanz, Spengler, and Venkman open the business.  But aside from that there was originally a much richer back story for the character including the fact that he was ex-military, and not just some random guy off the street looking for a job.  He always felt like the odd man out in the films since he wasn’t a scientist like the other three (well Venkman is debatable.)  On top of those slights, some of his bits from the original script were dished out to other characters during filming.  For instance Winston was originally the character that was to be cornered by Slimer in the hotel hallway, which of course went to Bill Murray.  Then later in the film it was Zeddmore that had the Stay Pufy brain fart that brings the Destroyer in the form of a giant marshmallow man!  Well, at least he still gets the “big Twinkie” line…

You can read the article for yourself below…

So, what do you think, has Winston been getting the shaft?

I’m basically still Chunk at heart

For the majority of my life I was, well, let’s say pretty husky.  As a very young kid I was actually pretty skinny, say up until I was six or seven, but starting with my family’s first big move across state, and then all over the east coast things got a little difficult for me and well for a bunch of reasons food became my comfort.  But I’m not really sitting down to write about that as much as describing an aspect that contributed to my personality as a kid.  Moving around a lot, overweight, and to be quite honest I was one hell of a weird kid.  My mom has always kept an unusual schedule, sleeping during the day when my sister and I were at school and my dad at work, and then staying up till all hours of the morning watching late night cable.  When she would go grocery shopping it was usually at one of the stores in the area that was open 24 hours and she liked to hit them up between 10:00pm to 12:00am to avoid a bunch of other customers and to basically have a stress free experience.  When she went on the weekends I’d tag along and wander around the vast empty store, browsing the toy aisle for 45 minutes talking to myself out loud and making mental lists of all the stuff I would ask for on my upcoming birthdays and Christmas.  From the outside I’m sure I appeared pretty damn weird, but I was fully aware of it and for the most part didn’t care how I looked or seemed to others.  I was entertaining myself and that’s all that mattered.

So when relating to characters from pop culture, it should come as no surprise that I’ve always felt that Chunk (Jeff Cohen) from the Goonies is more or less my spirit animal…

Goonies

I was never great at making friends though I always managed to, and when I did I tended to over compensate, exaggerate and be kind of a handful just like the loveable Lawrence.  In my defense Michael Jackson, nor his sister, ever came to my house to use the bathroom…but I saw Stephen King in a Maine bookstore once on vacation (sure I did…)  I wouldn’t say I was using the character as a role model, but I sure did feel his pain whenever he’d spaz out or make a fool of himself…

Chunk a Mess in ActionTruffle Shuffle

I also had a weird habit of wearing Halloween costumes was past the point of being “acceptable” for normal attire.  I mean I’d be hanging out in the house dressed up in my sweet ninja gear during Christmas or I’d be tooling around the neighborhood in my “G.I. Joe fatigues” and beret for instance…

8555990730_7987102d84_z

…so later on in life when I found out about Jeff Cohen’s penchant for waring weird and wacky headgear both on and off the set of Goonies, I totally related.  Part of it was that need to perform, part just trying to over compensate.

Jeff Cohen Hat Obsession

Anyway, this is all a lot of lead up to the fact that I just found this old back issue of Starlog magazine in a used bookshop this past week and I was overjoyed to see that it included an interview with Jeff Cohen (and Corey Feldman, but Jeff steals the show)!  Usually these articles only focused on the adult actors or crew, so it’s pretty rad to find one that was concentrating on the kids, but wasn’t fluff from an 80s teeny-bop magazine.  Hope everyone enjoys reading this as much as I did…

Starlog 98

Again, from the article Cohen has a quote about his character Chunk that really echos my childhood experience as a pseudo-Chunk…

“Chunk is too much, but he doesn’t care.  He likes it.  He doesn’t like being fat, but he likes having his own personality.  He’s a little bit flashy, wears plaid pants and a big Hawaiian shirt and struts around…he’s a klutz and a liar.  He lies to his friends, but nothing to hurt ‘em.”

Anyway, the interview is all over the place as both Feldman and Cohen are hyped up and excited, but I still think it’s a fun read and a great snapshot of these two actors in the prime of their Goonies experience.  So glad I found this…

This book is, well, RAD!

4461391534_02cce86892_oIn 1986 my family had yet to own a VCR and every weekend we’d trek out to the little mom & pop video rental store next to the Goodings on Red Bud road in Castleberry Florida and we’d rent a machine and each pick out a title to take home. Invariably I would always end up with the same two VHS tapes, one in either hand, trying to decide what flick I was going to re-watch for the hundredth time. In my left hand was Red Dawn, a film I could endlessly watch for C. Thomas Howell alone, and in my right was always Rad. 4 out of 5 times I would walk out of the store with the copy of Rad. I can’t explain exactly why I was drawn to the film so much, but at 10 years-old Rad spoke to me like no other film. I mean the box art alone was always enough to get me excited with the crazy paint-splash font on the logo, to the wild mix of purples, reds, and hot pink that was impossible for the eye to pass up when scanning the video shelves.

RAD VHSI’d usually wait until Saturday morning to watch the flick, right after the cartoon blocks and I’d consumed my weight in Capt’n Crunch. Then I slip it in the hulking rented VCR with the top-loading eject door and wait for those familiar opening keyboard notes and guitar strums from John Farnham’s “Break the Ice” to start up. Then it was and hour and a half of BMX bliss, after which I’d frantically run out of the house, grab my bike and attempt to recreate the freestyle bike tricks in the opening and closing credits (which was a lot harder than it looked not only because I was clumsy, but because I didn’t have a true BMX bike at the time so my handlebars and front wheel could only rotate so far without getting tangled in the handbrake cords.) I imagined I was Cru Jones as I tooled around the neighborhood on my red and white Huffy, racing imaginary cops on motorcycles and speeding down the huge hill in my subdivision as if it was my last shot to qualify for Helltrack.

Fast forward 28 years and I’m still enraptured with the movie Rad, still constantly stick it in the DVD player (I have a cherished bootleg copy that literally stopped playing a couple months back to my shock and horror), and I still want to be Cru Jones on some level. Is Rad the best movie of the 80s? No. Is it one of my personal favorites regardless of the visible goofs and some questionable acting (I’m looking at you Bart Connor – just kidding, well, kind of)? Yeah, yeah it is. One of the things I’ve tried to do since I got online in the late 90s/early 2000s was to check in on the cast members, in particular Bill Allen who played Christopher “Cru-sier” Jones in the flick. At some point about 6-7 years ago I stumbled upon his personal website, which at the time was the one place besides all the bootleggers on ebay that was keeping the flame of Rad lit. So imagine my surprise this past month when I saw that he was getting ready to release his memoir titled My Rad Career. Floored doesn’t begin to describe how excited that bit of news made me, and I was (or imagine I was) one of the first in line to order a copy in mid-May.

Bill Allen MemoirAs soon as I got it in the mail I began to devour it.  It’s a quick and dirty recounting of Mr. Allen’s 30 year career in and outside of Hollywood.  It touches on everything from his time spent guesting on TV from sitcoms like Family Ties to series like Amazing Stories, to the films he’s worked on or starred in like his first role in And They’re Off (where he met a young George Clooney also doing his first film.)  The book features some interesting and hilarious anecdotes about Hollywood’s behind the scenes, including Clooney’s penchant for practical jokes, what Brad Pitt was like when he was first starting out, and the grueling and life-threatening truth behind the whirlwind military training the actors received when preparing for the film Born on the Fourth of July.  The chapters about his friendship with Brandon Lee leading up to Lee’s accidental death on the set of The Crow are especially touching and had me in tears.

My favorite aspects of the memoir center on his time spent filming Rad.  I’ve read a lot about the flick over the years but there were aspects of the film that I never realized like the fact that Bart Connor was in pretty bad shape and in such pain after his gold medal winning Olympic outings that he could barely walk let alone dance very well.  It speaks to why he tended to be shot from the waist up in the film or sitting.  Little details like this really enhance the viewing experience for me as it puts the movie in a whole new context and almost lets me view it with fresh eyes.  So if you were ever curious what it was like to make out with Lori Loughlin, the down side of ass-sliding, or what it was like working with Hal Needham and a bunch of world class BMX riders (like Eddie Fiola, Jose Yanez. and Martin Aparijo), this book is a must read.

Allen’s writing style is very conversational which makes the book a very easy and satisfying experience, and makes it feel like he’s sitting in a recliner across from you sharing his time in the spotlight.  For a life-long fan of Rad like myself, I was very grateful to get a chance to read about Bill Allen and his adventures from the man himself.

You can order your copy of My Rad Career directly from Mr. Allen at his site.

Apparently 8 is the magic number…

So, in just a couple of weeks Branded in the 80s will turn 8 years old.  Though it’s kind of arbitrary, we tend to focus on the “big” anniversaries in the five-year increment territory, but I had a couple of milestones I really wanted to hit when I started this project.  The first was making it to the seven year mark because I have a special fondness for that particular digit.  The second is marking the 8th birthday of the site because again, it has a special meaning to me.  I first dreamed of having my own little spot on the internet back around 1998.  I’d been farting around the interwebs via AOL and Compuserve and I really wanted to stake out a small piece of the digital landscape to do something.  My best friend, who was in the midst of getting his computer science degree at the time, had just recently built a website for a class project and he promised me he’d help me build one of my own.  It never materialized, though a lot of that had to do with my not knowing exactly what it was that I wanted to do with a website.  Regardless, that marks the beginning of what would eventually become Branded, and it took me eight long years of brainstorming and procrastinating before I eventually settled on what I wanted to do.  So in the back of my brain I’ve always hoped that I’d be able to keep this thing going at least as long as it took me to get it off the ground.  Well, mission accomplished I guess.  As for my next milestone, well, I don’t really have one I guess.  I’m kind of curious to see what will happen at the eleven year mark considering that will mean that I would have spent slightly more time talking about the 80s than the decade itself lasted.

Anyway, when I look back at where the site started and where it really took off for me the one aspect that kind of changed everything was when I started investing in a pretty stupidly large collection of 80s stickers to scan and share.  Part of this came out of wanting to acquire a bunch of the stickers I had as a kid, but another was that there was a distinct lack of sticker scans floating around on the internet and I felt like it was an opportunity to contribute a small portion to the digital nostalgic pop culture zeitgeist.  One of the aspects I love about the nostalgia-minded community is the eagerness to share the cool junk that we love.  So it was pretty neat timing that while I was thinking back on all of this I was approached by the cool lady behind the rad RainbowBrite.co.uk website with to help share some fun stuff.

cologo01She obviously runs a pretty neat Rainbow Brite fan site, so she acquired a bunch of info and ephemera to post up there.  But in her research and collecting she’s amassed a bunch of other cool non-RB stuff that she felt needed to get out there.  So she graciously offered to send me some scans of a pretty neat 1985 Mattel Events Guide to share here at Branded.  Tying this in a bit more into my silly milestone is that I just happened to turn eight the year this Event guide was published (seriously, there has to be something to this, numerology-wise…)

Mattel Events Guide 1

These event guides were sent out to retailers as a way for Mattel to bolster excitement for their product lines and I’m sure to secure a larger market share of the retail market by encouraging stores to increase orders and devote more shelf and peg space to Mattel stuff.  They did this by helping to host local in-store meet and greet events with some of Mattel’s most popular brands and characters.  So if you were lucky enough to shake hands with Skeletor at a Toys R Us back int he day, most likely this was one of the guides that the store had to help them schedule and promote the event…

Mattel Events Guide 2

It’s really cool to get a glimpse into this aspect of the marketing and promotion of some of our favorite toys from back in the 80s.  Not only is it cool to see some rad artwork that only exists to promote these in-store events (like the neat illustration of the Hot Wheels play area that was shipped to the store), but it’s also awesome to see and read about some of the swag for the event that was either given away (like the Hot Wheels kid’s drivers licenses) or became a “free item with purchase” like the super cool Hot Wheels combination watch/wallet below!

Mattel Events Guide 5

1985 was also a great year for Mattel toys because they were hip deep in the Marvel Secret Wars toy line…

Mattel Events Guide 4

What really struck me about this Secret Wars event is that it wasn’t just geared towards boys.  Mattel makes it clear that “boys AND girls” will received a free water color poster.  That kind of inclusion back in the 80s seems pretty rare, but then again, Mattel worked on some pretty progressive toy lines like these two favorites, Princess of Power and Masters of the Universe!  I mean I know most of the boys who were into He-Man were also secretly into She-Ra…

Mattel Events Guide 3

Man, I feel like I missed out so much on these in-store events.  I never managed to attend one and after reading through this guide I feel like I missed out on some amazing experiences and swag.  So, I wonder if a little boy could have been initiated into the Legion of Good receiving a free golden power ring and poster?  I sure as hell hope so.  Also, holy crap, a 15 foot high replica of the Crystal Castle?!?  How awesome would that have been to see?  I wonder if the stores had to ship them back or of they were ordered to destroy them.  I have to imagine that one of these must have made it into a private collection.  Hell, at that size it would practically be big enough for kids to play in as a fort.  The mid boggles at the possibilities…

Mattel Events Guide 6

Apparently for ’85 Mattel introduced new full body costumes for He-Man and Skeletor.  I’ve seen photos of buff guys in the He-Man duds before, but never a full body costume like this complete with toy-accurate mask and all.  I like that they even managed to replicate the spiny fin on Skeletor’s wrists (like on the toy…)  Sadly there was no 15 foot Castle Greyskull or Snake Mountain, but there were some pretty rad glow in the dark posters!

Mattel Events Guide 7

A lot of this stuff has to be pretty rare.  I searched for awhile and couldn’t find and example of the glow in the dark Masters of the Universe poster (not even on He-Man.org!)  So it;s cool at least to get a glimpse into this promotional world to know that this stuff exists.  FYI, there’s a bit more to this Event Guide, specifically the Rainbow Brite section, but if you want to see that head on over to the cool RainbowBrite.co.uk to find out what was in that in-store event.  Thanks again to them for sharing this rad piece of 80s toy ephemera and helping to make the nostalgia community that much richer!

Mattel Events Guide 8

 

I was a Teenage Mutant Ninja Gamer & Other Strangeness

Recently while organizing one of my bookshelves I found myself reminiscing over a stack of my old RPG game books.  I haven’t gamed in well over a decade and a half, but I’ve clung to the various modules, rulebooks and expansions because I spent so much time pouring over them I can’t imagine not having them around.  I first discovered table-top gaming as a dorky teen.  My father had just recently moved our family across country twice within a year and I felt disconnected from everything save what was going on in the pages of the Uncanny X-Men and Wolverine.  It was the end of 1990, and having just turned thirteen I was also caught up in the whirlwind hype of another group of “teens”, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, thanks to becoming slightly obsessed with the first live action film that was released in theaters earlier that year.  I was basically living exclusively through and for the fantasy worlds of cartoons, movies and comics having had to leave my friends and sister in Florida, and then not even getting a chance to connect with any other kids while I was up north for 9 months.  Our family ended up putting down roots just outside of Atlanta and after scouting out a local comic store where I could get my monthly sequential art fix I began to feel at home.  At the time comics were my lifeline for sure…

AmazingSpider-Man328It wasn’t long after that I was enrolled in the local middle school, finally starting my eighth grade year of school about three weeks late.  I spent my bonus summer vacation time in an extended-stay suite while our family was waiting for our new house to be finished being built, and I was suffering from terrible case of cabin fever and feeling utterly disconnected from other kids.  Though normally an extreme introvert, when I first started riding the bus to my new school I was kind of dying to break out of my shell and meet some new kids.  One afternoon I was sitting alone behind two guys that were having an animated conversation about comics.  I wish I could remember exactly what they were talking about (if I had to guess it was probably McFarlane’s art on issue 328 of the Amazing Spider-Man featuring the “Mr. Fixit” grey Hulk), but whatever it was I was so happy to have found some other comic readers that I did something I had never done before.  I butted myself into the conversation telling them all about my comic collection and how one of my favorite comics was issue 8 of Wolverine that also featured a guest appearance by Mr. Fixit.

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I offered to bring in doubles I had for that issue for both of them the next day, and thus started a friendship with a group of local misfits that lasted all through high school and college.  It wasn’t long after this that they introduced me to another friend of theirs and before I knew it we’d sort of formed a tight nit group of four, like the Three Musketeers and d’Artagnan, or more appropriately, the TMNT.  We all watched the Fred Wolf cartoon and had a smattering of action figures, but after a chance encounter with another local teen on the bus that winter we were introduced to the glue that would keep our little cadre together for years to come, the core rulebook for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness…

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There was a couple of older kids that were a grade ahead of us (in high school!) that we kind of knew and traded comics with occasionally and one day they brought the above book on the bus and it kind of blew our 8th grade minds.  I think we’d all heard of Dungeons & Dragons, but none of us was really all that into high fantasy and never contemplated that there might be role playing games that were outside of that genre, let alone based on a comic/cartoon series that we all liked.  Within the week all four of us had manged to secure copies of the main book and we were all on the lookout for sets of non-standard dice so we could start creating characters and figure out how to play this game.  I remember bugging my parents relentlessly to find a place where I could get some role playing dice, and after consulting the phone book I found a store in a ritzy mall 30 miles away called the Sword of the Phoenix that specialized in stocking all sorts of dice and game books.  That weekend we made the trek out and I bought my first two sets of clear gem dice (one purple and one blue.)  I only have a couple of these left in my collection (two four-sided) that you can see below…

donnydice 1

Looking back this entirety of the experience is kind of a blur, but for about three or four years we had a standing Saturday gaming session that rotated between a handful of our houses.  Typically these involved a metric ton of Cheetos, Cool Ranch Doritos, white cheddar Smartfood popcorn, yellow vanilla Zingers, and gallons upon gallons of store-brand soda.  At the time these weekend meetups seemed so epic in scale.  We’d all take turns acting as the gamemaster, writing what we thought were magnum opus stories to test the intelligence and mettle if our group, though in reality only a couple of us were semi-decent at running the campaigns (certainly not me) and the rest of us were more concerned with equipping our characters with stuff and jukeing up their abilities.

The basic concept of TMNT & Other Strangeness is creating mutant animal characters that exist in same world of Eastman & Laird’s creations.  It’s sort of like combining the A-Team and the Turtles, where the game master creates environments for a group of characters to have an adventure in.  I say the A-Team because the game is sort of geared towards creating mercenary-like characters in battle-torn militant environments.  It didn’t help that we all read comics like the X-Men and were well versed in the Star Wars universe, so when we wrote stories they tended up feature a tyrannical villain with hordes of nameless soldiers put in the story specifically for our characters to annihilate.

TMNT Space

It’s actually funny that we ended up playing as long as we did as we all kind of sucked at the core concepts of role playing.  We all tended to try and shoehorn the play into a more hack and slash video game experience, and we very rarely worked together as a team no matter how hard we tried.  When it was all said and done, each of us was way more interested in creating a whole bunch of characters, outfitting them, and doodling pictures of them, rather than actually playing them in a game.  It wouldn’t be until a few years later when we all made the switch from the Palladium gaming system (the publisher of TMNT and other games like Robotech and After the Bomb) to the more story-oriented system published by White Wolf (Vampire: The Masquerade, Werewolf: The Apocalypse, etc.) that we’d evolve a bit.

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In fact, it got so bad in our group that we all became game-lawyers, spending hours debating and arguing over rule and character creation minutia.  All of our copies of the core rule book were heavily underlined, with highlighted passages and notes in the margins.  We probably spent more time arguing than we did gaming, yet it still kept us regularly meeting up and “playing” for years.  Over time we also drafted other friends into playing with us, and at one point there was about 10 of us rotating in and out of the group.  The fighting between the group became so fever pitched that it eventually came to a head and it formed a schism between the founding four members and we split the group in two to play separately, complete with spying between the two factions and a whole bucket-load of hurt feelings.

Weird TMNT

I hate to admit it but at the end of the day we all sucked at role playing.  Even so, I wouldn’t have changed a single second of the experiences I had being a part of that group of friends.  When I look aback at these books now I get a visceral sense of what I felt like at the time, a mix of heady nostalgia and fear that I’ll have to try and create a campaign all on my own again!  I also fondly remember what it was like finding a group of friends and what it felt like to be included.  To have our own little clique where it was us against everyone else.  Back when we first started hanging out we all chose one of the Turtles as our mascot.  Over the years my recollection of who picked who was kind of hazy, and I would have sworn that I picked Donatello since he’s my favorite character.  But while flipping through my copy of the book last night I was greeted by some very awesome notes that were scribbled in the book that reminded me that I was totally a Raphael guy…

TMNT Friends

Just four geeky teens against the world.

 

The Seedy Adult Underworld of 80s Family Entertainment

I know every generation says this about the decades when they came of age, but growing up in the 80s was seriously a whole different world; like living on another planet at times.  There was a lot more going on when it came to entertainment aimed at kids in terms of adult themes and material that surely went over the head of most of the viewing audience.  Looking back I love this and really appreciate that the creators and writers didn’t dumb down the content, even if some of it might stray a little further towards “adult” than many people might realize. You definitely saw this in a cartoon like Ren & Stimpy (which granted was the early 90s, but was the culmination of the freedom the previous decade expressed), which constantly toed the line of what was considered decent for a kid’s show.  Heck, I’ve mentioned before that I think John Kricfalusi is very probably the guy responsible for animating anthropomorphic penis aliens into the background sequences in the Saturday morning cartoon Galaxy High (particularly in the first and second episodes)…

Galaxy High penis creature 2

I was having a conversation with a co-worker the other day about catching up with some 80s flicks that they hadn’t seen in over 20 years, in particular Ghostbusters and the Goonies.  The topic turned to the awkward dream sequence featuring a sex scene between Dan Aykroyd’s Ray Stanz and spectral “presence”.  I guess you could call it oral innuendo, but the background behind that sequence is pretty plain.  Ray banged a ghost.  It’s one of the interesting aspects of reading the original Richard Mueller novelization

Ghostbusters Novelization

In the book (which is based on the Aykroyd/Ramis screenplay) we learn that, that dream sequence was actually from a real sequence planned for later in the film.  Right after Ray and Winston are driving through the city talking about the end of the world, when the two go to Fort Detmerring looking for a spook. They split up and Ray stumbles upon a room that is a replica of a revolutionary war officer’s barracks. He finds a uniform and puts it on, lays on a bed and promptly falls asleep. When he wakes, the ghost they were looking for is about to go to town on his junk. Apparently this sequence was largely cut, but I’m betting none of them wanted to ditch the blowjob joke, so they sandwiched it into the montage (and it also explains the old war uniform Ray is wearing beyond the fact that they morphed the scene into a dream.)  What’s even weirder is that this is actually the culmination of a plot thread in the book where Ray is both lonely and changing his feelings about catching the ghosts. Since Peter is courting Dana and (in the book) Egon and Janine are becoming an item, Ray is looking to blow off some steam, and the experience with the ghost is just what he was looking for. Also, there’s a bit with Ray thinking about how it might be wrong to catch these ghosts just to jail them in the containment unit, and when he awakes to his spectral date-night he wonders if maybe some ghosts are good.

The author, Mueller, actually expands the sexuality in the novel here and there. For instance, everyone thinks about sex to one degree or another, but if I’m used to dealing with a character where this is never brought up, say the Librarian in the opening sequence of Ghostbusters, then when she starts “thinking” about how she feels guilty for seeking out all kinds of ancient kinky woodcuts featuring taboo sexual practices in the library’s non-public collection, well, I get a little weirded out. As far as I can tell, the librarian character in the script is slightly different; she’s written to be rotund and in her mid to late twenties, but for all intents and purposes the scene in the script is almost shot for shot what we’ve come to know and love in the final film. Mueller, though, felt the need to paint her as a bit more sad and depraved, which for an incidental character is pretty weird. This sort of thing pops up here and there in the novel, including in the scene where we’re first introduced to Dana as she gets out of a cab and goes into her building. The narrative is fractured into a bunch of perspectives as a handful of people on the street take notice of her and give their two cents. One of these includes an elderly man walking his dog who glances at her and thinks, “…how long (has) it been since it’s been long…

This is actually a trend in 80s era novelizations, and for some movies that might be surprising, like say, the Goonies book

Goonies Novelization

Now you may be asking what could possibly be sexualized in the Goonies, I mean it’s not like there’s a secret love scene between Chunk and Sloth right?!?  Well, Sloth love Chunk, but that’s actually (and thankfully) not explored in the novel, but that didn’t stop author James Kahn from evoking electricity-induced orgasms.  Say what?!  Um yeah.  So in the wishing well sequence, at the end, after Andy has sent up the bucket empty, all the kids realize that they’re covered in leeches. Data has a bright idea and end up strapping two wires to a 20-volt battery. He sticks the wires in the water by his feet sending a light electrical charge through his body that’s lethal enough to kill the leeches. He does this for the rest of them, and afterwards, James Kahn tags on a small scene that is, well, almost obscene. After getting the shock, Andy and Stef are standing off to the side, and Kahn describes them as having “…limp smile(s) and small sigh(s)…” Then Stef says to Andy, “I got all tingly – just my luck, I’m in love with a pond!” After which the following passage appears: ‘It annoyed Andy, for some reason, I don’t know, like someone had made her feel good and she didn’t want to…’ Then Andy hauls off and slaps Data saying “Don’t-you-ever-try-that-again-with-me-Buster!” What the hell! Did Kahn actually suggest that Andy and Stef had orgasms from the electric shock!?!  Yeah, yeas he did.

What I’m really curious about is how much of this was in the original shooting script.  I know the leech sequence was in the script (as it made it’s way into both version of the book, including the leaner kid’s version) and was shot and deleted (and has sadly been lost to time), but how much of the subtly was in the actual film versus something that Kahn added for the book.  On the one hand, looking back this is so weird and out of place in the story, yet I have to remind myself that I was reading about pre-teen and teen orgasms in Judy Blume books when I was 7 years old!

There had to be flicks that were completely pure and free from blowjobs and sexual innuendo though right?  I mean you’d never see any of that in E.T. The Extra Terrestrial right?!  Wrong.  Again, taking a look at the novelization by William Kotzwinkle we get a much darker depiction of the story than what would eventually end up on film (well, I’m assuming the following sequences weren’t shot…)

ET Novelization

There’s a sequence in the novel where Elliot, Steve and Gertie’s mother Mary (played by an exasperated Dee Wallace in the film) is so lonely and lost in her own mind that she fantasizes about disappearing from life and, believe it or not, masturbation. (See page 17; the innuendo is there.) She’s also simultaneously dreading the world her children have to face, wondering if they’ll succumb to overdosing on drugs, all while listening in on them playing a campaign of Dungeons and Dragons in the kitchen.  There’s also portions of the book where E.T. becomes weirdly stalker-ish and longs to bond with Mary, starring at her from the closet, thinking about how he could fulfill her needs.  E.T. even gets pretty downright creepy in the sequel novel, E.T. The Book of the Green Planet, where he reaches out to his long lost friend from Earth, melding with the now older Elliot’s mind from across the cosmos.  It comes across very peeping Tom-like, and sort of disturbing.  Experiencing love and yearning “through” Elliot.

ET sequel

All in all, though all of this adult stuff might seem really questionable on the surface of things, again, I’m really glad that these authors and creators took the chance to expose kids to the real world.  Some of it is for the sake of comedy, some of it is important info that awkward pre-teens probably need, and some of it is just exploring deeper adult themes.  Weird, interesting and kind of neat…

Getting Slimed by the Oral History of Nickelodeon…

Sometimes it’s really hard to find the balance between being a fan of something and being, well, fanatical. I’m not making a judgment call on one being better or worse, it’s more of a perspective thing; how often times I have a hard time knowing where the line is between wading out far enough into the pop culture sea to swim and where it begins to get so deep that I’m constantly worried about drowning in useless knowledge. I’ve been thinking about this idea a lot while reading the recently published book, Slimed!: An Oral History of Nickelodeon’s Golden Age by Mathew Klickstein. When I saw the book on Amazon I immediately put it on my wish list as I’m a huge fan of Nick, particularly the stuff that aired between ’81-’95 or so. I grew up on the fledgling channel’s syndicated content like Pinwheel, Mr. Wizard’s World, Out of Control, Danger Mouse, Count Duckula, Paddington Bear, and You Can’t Do That on Television, and loved the shift into original programming in the mid to late 80s through the 90s with stuff like Double Dare, Nick Arcade, Hey Dude, Welcome Freshman, Salute Your Shorts, The Adventures of Pete & Pete, and Clarissa Explains It All, not to mention their groundbreaking foray into animation with shows like Rugrats, Ren & Stimpy, Doug, and Rocko’s Modern Life. I was lucky to be one of the kids with access to cable in the early 80s and had a chance to watch the network blossom from a very independent-minded kids channel into the juggernaut of a brand that it is today.

Slimed

I was super stoked when my parents sent me the book for Christmas and immediately tore into it looking for the story behind the network and shows I loved so much as a kid. But after only a few pages I noticed something that really started to bug me, specifically with the format the author chose to deliver the history of Nickelodeon, the “oral history”. For those unfamiliar, oral histories utilize firsthand accounts on a subject via interviews with those who were intimately involved. Whether it’s using vintage print or video interviews, or new ones with pointed questions to document a specific period of time or event, the idea is to capture the thoughts and feelings unfiltered by a single person’s perspective (outside of editing of course.) Though information gathered in this manner is still biased from interviewee to interviewee, a balance forms as more and more subjects are brought in to speak on a particular subject. Though the technique is far from new, there have been a bunch of books utilizing this format to tackle sprawling subjects like the birth and rise of punk rock (Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain’s Please Kill Me), the Post Punk music landscape (Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life), or the history of Saturday Night Live (Tom Shale’s Live From New York.) These books range from brilliant (Please Kill Me) to brilliant train wrecks (Live From New York), with much of the praise or problems falling squarely on how well organized the information is presented. You see these books are largely if not completely a collection of attributed quotes; page after page of snippets strung together by theme or timeline (or both), with little to no summation by the author/editor. In the case of Please Kill Me, McNeil and McCain exhaustively separate the interview snippets in bite-size four-year chunks, sub-categorized by theme (or band.) Though there is an appendix listing every participating interviewee and how they fit into the story of punk, the way they’re presented you get to know these contributors and the need to flip to the end of the book to figure out who is speaking is rare. On the other end of the spectrum you have Live From New York, which flits from topic to topic with little to no connective tissues between interview blurbs.

Unfortunately Slimed! falls into the category of brilliant train wreck. How many of you recognize the laundry list of shows I mentioned in the opening paragraph? Okay, for all those that raised their hand, how many of you can name the actual actors, voice actors, animators, directors and producers on more than one of those shows? I’m betting a lot of those hands dropped. I hardly consider myself a Nick historian, but after a bunch of conversations with friends I’ve found that I’ve managed to remember way more stuff about the channel than I probably should know. But if my life depended on naming anyone in the cast of Clarissa Explains It All besides Melissa Joan Hart, well, let’s just say I’d be price-shopping for cheap cremations. This is the first place where this book falls down. Though there is a detailed alphabetically ordered list of interviewees at the back of the book, I found myself constantly flipping to the back to figure out who was talking. Though the author goes to pains to defend his formatting choices (specifically in response to any 1-3 star reviews on Amazon that mention the formatting issues) stating that he put a lot of thought into trying to make sure each person’s opening quote mentioned any pertinent shows they were involved in, I think he’s deluded himself into thinking that the readers are as versed in Nickelodeon as he’s become over conducting the numerous interviews and research to put the book together. Klickstein goes on to champion the “oral history” format by mentioning the thematic threads in the seven chapters of the book (target demographics, music & sound design, visual design, diversity in cast & crew, problems at the network, and the end of the pre-corporate era) and how they supposedly help to keep the reader engaged in the “story of Nickelodeon”, any tonal threads he attempts to weave are dashed by the reader consistently having to flip to the back to figure out who is talking, and about which show. The author/editor references McNeil and McCain’s Please Kill Me numerous times (in the acknowledgements and in responses to reviews on Amazon) as the gold standard and what he took inspiration from when formatting his Nick history. Unfortunately he seems to have missed the forest for the trees as he utilizes little to none of the clear organization of that book. PKM goes year by year, band by band, whereas Slimed! constantly jumps around throughout the 80s and 90s, and never stays on a show for more than a quote or two at a time. While he would like to think that the thematical separation addresses this, the first three chapters have a ton of overlap that makes the initial hundred pages annoying to try and follow.

The formatting issue is compounded by Klickstein’s reluctance to insert his presence into the book as the interviewer. With absolutely no summary or synopsis to lead the interviewee responses the reader is left with only the very general themed topics to try and figure out what the conversation is driving at during a good chunk of the book. There are things brought up that aren’t explained, like the failed Clarissa sequel series pilot called Clarissa Now or references to people who weren’t interviewed (and thus not given a bio in the book), which requires some time spent on Wikipedia to fill in the gaps that the book just does not even bother to try addressing. There are also frequent points in which the quotes reference the inferred questions Klickstein asked, which makes it awkward when you’re left guessing exactly what that question is.  I find it hard to believe that the idea of ordering the quotes by year or grouping them show by show (or at least adding a series annotation by each quote instead of just the name of the person speaking) would have hurt the narrative flow of the book that Klickstein is trying to establish.

For all my nit picking about format, I want to stress that this book is a “brilliant” train wreck. Just because it’s super annoying to try and sift through, doesn’t mean that it’s not well worth the time as it’s chock full of interesting facts and observations from the folks that brought Nickelodeon to life. There’s some great background on You Can’t Do That On Television that wasn’t covered in David Dillehunt’s documentary (You Can’t Do That On Film), as well as some amazing behind the scenes stories about that first wave of Nicktoons (particularly Doug which is a show that seems to get lost between the insanity of Ren & Stimpy and the popularity of Rugrats.) I loved reading about the thought put into the Double Dare obstacle course, how ahead of its time Nick Arcade was, finding out about the awkward teenage romance and breakups behind the scenes of shows like Hey Dude, Clarissa Explains It All and Welcome Freshman. Did you know Michael “Donkey Lips” Bower actually broke that fishing reel in the credits sequence of Salute Your Shorts (and ending up ad-libbing the line about it falling apart?) The book is a treasure trove of fun trivia and helps to pull the curtain back on the shows and a network that helped to define our collective childhoods. It’s just unfortunate that getting through it all is a lot like reading stereo instructions.

Though I wish the formatting had kept the reader in mind, and it would have been nice to get more information oon the ’79-’85 Nick lineup of series (it barely mentions stuff like Pinwheel, Out of Control, Mr. Wizard’s World or the slew of other early shows, and completely omits Turkey Television, Belle and Sebastian, The Mysterious Cities of Gold and The Little Prince), I’d have to recommend the book on the trivia alone.  If you’re a fan of the channel and don’t mind risking a case of carpel tunnel after flipping to the back of the book six billion times, check out Slimed!: An Oral History of Nickelodeon’s Golden Age