Tag Archives: DVD

Animatronic ROCK!

After reviewing the documentary, Candyman: The Dave Klein story, the film (and Hillary Buckholtz over at I’m Remembering) reminded me that I had yet to talk about another flick that I’d been meaning to write about for a while, The Rock-afire Explosion.  The two documentaries are very similar in that they focus on genius inventors who have been all but forgotten by their chosen industries and have gone under appreciated in the pop culture they helped to shape.  I popped the flick back into the DVD player this weekend though and decided it’s time to share my thoughts…

All the world’s a stage and history is apparently nothing more than a collection of script revisions.  Whether it’s the question of who invented the Jelly Belly jelly bean, or who designed and built the first Whac-a-Mole, the truth isn’t always what’s recorded.  In the case of the Whac-a-Mole, a quick Google search leads to the company that “originated” it, Bob’s Space Racers.  The website describes how it all began “…in 1976 when the crew at Bob’s Space Racers, Inc. developed the first working game for a customer who wanted to try the new concept at a carnival midway…”

What the site neglects to mention is that what they “developed” was reverse-engineered from a prototype they purchased that was designed and built by a guy named Aaron Fechter (who was developing it for a carnival that ended up selling it to Bob’s Space Racers.)  Fechter even came up with the name for the game, Whac-a-Mole.  Very similar to how Dave Klein was written out of the history of Jelly Belly, Aaron Fechter was dropped from the story of the Whac-a-Mole.  But that’s not all there is to Fechter’s legacy, and the anecdote about the famous midway game is only a segway into a much more interesting story, the rise and fall of America’s most famous animatronic band, the Rock-afire Explosion!

For most kids growing up in the early 80s there was only one place they wanted to go for birthday parties and celebrations, Showbiz Pizza Place.  It’s where a kid can be a kid, at least it was if you bought the pizza chain’s tag line, and from the ages of three to ten I was drunk on that company’s Kool-Aid.  From Skee Ball, what seemed like hundreds of arcade games, ball pits, and the afore-mentioned Whac-a-Mole, to tiny completely-carpeted rooms lit by strobe lights under the main stage, game tickets, prizes, pizza, soda by the pitcher, and a little animatronic band called the Rock-afire Explosion, these were the ingredients for legendary birthday parties when I was a kid.  I’ve podcasted and written about my love of Showbiz Pizza and Chuck-E-Cheese at length before, and how it’s almost impossible, even with some remaining C-E-C franchises still open, to get back that feeling of what it was like to dine and play in these establishments as a kid.  Though I was lucky enough to grow up less than 30 miles from Walt Disney World, I can only imagine that for kids that lived in other states, Showbiz was like a mini Disney theme park.  Sure, there weren’t any roller coasters or dark rides, but who cared about those when you had a band full of animatronic, anthropomorphic animals belting out great music from the 60s, 70s and 80s at your birthday party?

When I first started Branded in the 80s back in 2006, one of the first bits of obscure childhood bliss that I wanted to talk about was the Rock-afire Explosion.  So when I discovered that there was a documentary detailing the rise and fall of the Showbiz Pizza phenomena, the band’s creator Aaron Fechter, and how a handful of fans have been striving to bring back the magic I was ecstatic…

Produced and directed by Brett Whitcomb, the film starts with a tone setting awkward pause as Aaron Fechter is gathering his thoughts about the legacy of his creation.  Honestly, these first few seconds were a bit unnerving for me as I was afraid of the direction the film would take.  If there’s one certainty about 80s era fandom, it’s that people either love it or mock it, and usually people just love to mock it.  Though I personally find the sarcastic mean humor that’s rife with 80s homages boring and overdone, it’s the route that most people take, and when all is said and done this documentary walks a pretty precarious tightrope act, only dipping it’s toes into smarminess a couple of times.

The flick is comprised of a series of talking head interviews with Rock-afire Explosion creator Aaron Fechter (and his significant other Kerry), super-fans Chris Thrash, Mike Scherpenberg, Damon Breland, as well as showbizpizza.com head honcho Travis Schafer, intermixed with old vhs video footage of Showbiz commercials, local news clips, company tapes, and some vintage behind the scenes footage of Creative Engineering.  Basically, we follow the story of Fechter, a genius inventor who graduated college at the age of 19, and Chris Thrash, a fan so dedicated to the Rock-afire Explosion that he sought out Fechter so that he could purchase his very own animatronic band.  In a way, Thrash can be attributed with a lot of the recent fan-fair of the Rock-afire nostalgia as his desire to own a copy of the band, and through a series of youtube videos where he programmed them to play some current music has breathed new life into the property.



“I believe that you should be a child at heart and don’t be ashamed of it. Y ou know if there’s something you dreamed or you wanted to do when you was a kid, then do it.  You dreamed it for a reason.  And I dreamed to have this, and I had it.  Some people like it, some people don’t, but I don’t care, it’s mine.” -Chris Thrash

As a kid, one of the coolest aspects of the band and stage show at Showbiz Pizza was that it was like seeing Sesame Street, the Muppets, or Pinwheel live, right in front of your eyes.  In the film fan Mike Scherpenberg really puts in context what it was like for a kid when he says, “If you didn’t grow up with it, then you can’t understand what it meant. It was like meeting a real celebrity…”  And it was. Even growing up in Orlando and having the opportunity to mingle with all of the “characters” at Disney World, seeing the Rock-afire Explosion was so much cooler because they talked and blinked, and ironically just felt more real.  It was truly like seeing a cartoon character coming to life.  Subsequently I probably would have flipped my lid had I realized that I lived so close to the home the Rock-afire, Creative Engineering in Orlando…


Looking back, one of the things I really respect was the amount of thought and back-story went into each of these characters.  Whether it’s good-natured country bumpkin Billy Bob (the face of Showbiz), Fatz Geronimo (piano player and leader of the band), fan-favorite Dook Larue (the astro-dog who played some mean drums), Beach Bear (the resident cut-up, surfer, guitar playing polar bear), Mitzi (the slightly ditzy cheerleader mouse and only female on the stage), or even Rolfe & Earl (the Don Rickels of animatronics), each of these characters was unique and well thought out.



With that in mind, the filmmakers managed to address some odd aspects of this kind of fandom by cutting in both vintage footage of the Creative Engineering workshop with exposed endoskeletons of the various characters in production, as well as current bits with Thrash, Schafer, and Breland grooming their animatronics.  It’s a not-so-subtle way of reminding the viewer that this fandom, as well as most fandom of fictional characters, is a little hollow and can be very strange the closer you get to it.  There’s a bit where Thrash recalls pulling back the curtain once at a show and climbing on stage coming face to face with the frozen robots.  It reminds me of Will Wheaton taking about his experience “meeting” the Muppets back in the 90s at the peak of his Star Trek popularity.   As he watched the puppeteers open a series of drawers and pull the lifeless bodies of these characters out it sort of ruined the magic of the shows and movies.  Personally, this is the sort of touching awkwardness that I can totally relate to, and I think it addresses an honest harshness of fandom, in particular this sort of extreme fandom.  In fact, there’s a bit in the film that shows Mitzi Mozzarella being decommissioned as Showbiz was being integrated into Chuck-E Cheese, and there’s a quick shot of her right after some workers lifted off her cheerleader’s uniform.  I actually gasped a bit at seeing the animatronic’s bare breasts exposed.  What’s left of the kid in me found that weirdly obscene…


Where the documentary falls apart a little for me though, is when it strays away from this honest representation of fandom and wanders into more voyeuristic territory.   Everyone has a little weird in them, and it’s no secret that geeks, nerds, dweebs and dorks typically have more than their fair share.  The flick gets a little uncomfortable for me when it unfortunately starts to focus more on the quirks of the fans and of Aaron Fechter. It starts to feel like its taking advantage of them for entertainment’s sake, working in aspects of their lives that aren’t that important to the narrative.  There’s a bit around the 25 minute mark where Thrash starts talking about his habitual Mountain Dew drinking, and you can feel the film shift away from a celebration of Showbiz Pizza and the Rock-Afire Explosion to his lifestyle as a person outside of the fandom.  Similarly there are moments with Fechter and his relationship with super-fan Kerry that gives the impression that he’s kind of a creepy old man.  I question whether this benefits the story the filmmakers are trying to convey, or if it sort of undermines any celebration of this nostalgia.


Lucklily these uncomfortable bits don’t go on for too long, and in the end the film gets back on track, digging into why Showbiz Pizza and the band are so interesting.  I was glad to also get an opportunity to see some of the performers behind the characters as there’s some footage shot during one of the recording sessions that’s pretty interesting and features glimpses of Aaron Fechter (who voiced Billy Bob), Shalisa James (Mitzi), Rick Bailey (Beach Bear), Duke Chauppetta (Dook), and Burt Wilson (Fatz) performing.  The music in the film is also great with some songs by the Super Furry Animals, and overall a great score.  It’s also fascinating to see the extent that some of these fans go to, to reclaim a bit of their childhood.  Purchasing whole shows (as the set up off all the animatronic characters are referred to in the documentary) for god only knows how much money and setting them up in specially constructed garages and rooms just blows me away.



All in all, there’s a lot to love about this documentary, and I wish there were more flicks out there like it shining the spotlight on some obscure but awesome bits of what it was like to grow up in the 80s. 

As a last bit I thought I’d share two of my favorite pictures from celebrating my birthday at Showbiz as a kid.  Though I look less than thrilled in the group photo (that’s me in the back on the right), I really did love that place…

Marmalade, a Duffle coat, and a bear from darkest Peru…

Well, even though the market for classic cartoons on DVD seems to be unfortunately drying up, there are still a handful of companies taking the chance to release some great shows.   One in particular is Millcreek Entertainment.  Though they typically seem to concentrate on public domain material, in the last couple of years they’ve been actively acquiring licenses and partnering with other studios to act as the DVD production and distribution house.  In fact they’ve begun re-releasing a lot of the cartoons that BCI Eclipse was putting over the last ten years (stuff like Dungeons and Dragons, Defenders of the Universe, and even Bravestarr.)  They’ve also recently teamed up with Cookie Jar, the company that rose out of the ashes of Cinar Films and DiC, to start releasing a bunch of their cartoons on DVD.  One of the these titles I was really happy to see is the complete Paddington Bear, which is coming out on DVD today, February 15th

I have a ton of fond memories watching the Paddington Bear shorts (including the awesome theme music) during Pinwheel on Nickelodeon back in the 80s.  In fact I still feel very lucky that my parents popped for cable because I was introduced to a lot of imported shows and shorts from all over the world, almost all of which came to me through Nickelodeon.  Simon in the Land of Chalk, Danger Mouse, Count Duckula, Belle & Sebastian, the Little Prince, Bunny in the Suitcase, the Hattytown Tales, and of course that adorable marmalade-eating, stow-away bear from the darkest reaches of Peru, Paddington.  The UK series originally aired between 1975 and 1978, and had three follow-up specials that aired in 1980, 84, and 86.  I vividly remember watching it during Pinwheel sometime between 1982 and 1987…

Paddington is based on a series of books written by an ex-camera operator for the BBC named Michael Bond.  He began the adventures of Paddington in 1959 and is still writing them to this day.  As far as the series goes, it was produced by a company called FilmFair, and was directed by the wonderful stop motion animator Ivor Wood.  The series was shot in a very interesting variation of stop motion that blended puppetry with hand-drawn paper cut-outs which gave the show a very convincing storybook look. It didn’t hurt that the series was also narrated by a single actor (the sweet dulcet voice-work of Michael Hordern), so it added a book-on-tape sort of feel to the production.

The gist of the story centers on a chance encounter in a train station where the Brown family happen on a little bear in a clunky over-sized hat and a duffle coat who secretly immigrated to the UK from Peru.  The family decides to adopt the bear and name him Paddington after the Paddington station where they found him.  He might as well be a propber British bear as he loves his marmalade sandwiches and always has time to take tea with family and friends.  Of course in the process of exploring his new hometown he gets himself into all sorts of unfortunate situations, but such is the life for a little brown bear.


One of the aspects that I love about this series is the interesting take on the animation.  In the series there is an odd style which mixes puppetry and miniatures with paper cutouts.   Basically, Paddington and the immediate area surrounding him is typically shot in miniatures while all of the characters and environments not directly in contact with him is done as drawings on paper, though they aren’t combined in post production, but instead all short together on film.  It makes for a very distinct look and tone, not to mention some crazy jump-cuts where a paper figure will hand a paper prop to Paddington that becomes a miniature after the jump.


The Millcreek/Cookie Jar set is (I believe) the first time that the complete series has been released on DVD with all 56 episodes.  It also features the three later specials that I remember also watching on HBO on Sunday mornings during their kid’s block of programming.  These specials have a slightly different look where Paddington sheds his black hat and dark blue duffle coat in favor of a light blue coat, a yellow hat and little yellow rain boots. These specials also updated the look of the paper-cutout animation, increasing the number of “frames” and getting rid of any extra white paper halos around the figures.  They look a lot cleaner and much less clunkily animated than the original series, but all of it is gold in my book…


This set also features a bunch of bonus episodes from two other FilmFair UK stop motion series, five episodes of the Wombles (1973) and ten episodes of Huxley Pig (1989)…


I’d never seen these series growing up, but they’ve very similar in look and tone to Paddington.  I’m secretly hopping that Millcreek and Cookie Jar will see fit to also put some episodes of Hattytown Tales on DVD in the near future (please, please, oh please!)

As far as this set goes, it’s super affordable at $16 for the whole shebang, which honestly is what Millcreek does best.  The packaging is in the new style (discs housed in individual sleeves that snap into the clamshell case) that I’m not a fan of (see my review of the Complete 21 Jump Street for pictures), but at only 3 discs it’s nowhere near as frustrating as some of their other sets.  The picture quality is a little jumpy and grainy, but at this price it’s really a non-issue.  All in all, if you grew up with the British and Canadian programming available on Nickelodeon then this is a must have set that will bring back all sorts of fond memories…

In life you only need to be a genius for 15 seconds…

I never questioned whether or not history was written in stone until I had my eyes opened by a cheerleading coach in my senior year of high school.   No, I wasn’t in the cheerleading program, Coach Gordon also taught World History at my school.  During the one semester I spent in that class there were a couple of things he really opened my eyes to, one being the definition of the word usurp, and the other was the concept of revisionism.  Mr. Gordon was the only teacher I knew that ever questioned the content of the textbooks we all had to use, and at one point he taught us that the content of these books, especially ones centered on history, are written with a point of view and an agenda to impart specific teachable facts.  He wasn’t a complete conspiracy nut, he was just trying to open our eyes to the idea that there’s more out there to learn and that just because something is passed off as a fact doesn’t mean it’s the full truth, it’s just the version that was put to paper.

With that in mind I’d like to ask a question.  Who invented Jelly Bellys?  Well, I don’t know about you, but the first place I’d look for the answer would be on the Jelly Belly website, and more specifically on the company history page.  Go on, check it out and I’ll meet you back here in a few minutes.  Alright, according to the official company history it seems that the man responsible for bringing the world Jelly Belly jelly beans would be Herman Goelitz Rowland Sr.   Well actually the history lists Rowland and an unnamed marketing guru, but really Herman seems to have been the man with the plan.  Well that’s that, right?  Well, maybe not…

Most of us have heard the fairytale about Jack, his cow, and a bag of enchanted beans, but it wasn’t until this past week that I first got a chance to experience a real life variation of the story about a man named David who, instead of selling a cow, sold his bag of magical beans.  Candyman: the David Klein Story is a documentary about the eccentric genius who invented America’s first gourmet jelly bean called Jelly Belly.  Directed and edited by Costa Botes (co-director of Forgotten Silver), the film features David Klein and his son Bert (an animator for Disney and the Simpsons) as they take a look back at the Klein’s life, the creation of the iconic confection that was championed by none other than former President Ronald Regan, and how Klein was more or less erased from the legacy of Jelly Belly.  The documentary follows David on a short tour around a lot of the southern California locations where he worked and developed his passion for making and marketing candy.  The journey is peppered by interviews with friends, family and industry professionals (including some super funny witticisms from Weird Al) reflecting on Klein, Jelly Belly, and his love/obsession with making people happy at any cost.

What really struck me was Klein’s son Bert (who also produced the film with his wife) and how he was sort of using this documentary portrait of his father to set the record straight, not so much to stick it to Jelly Belly, but to validate Klein’s legacy and passion.  David Klein had the idea to take the ordinary maligned jelly bean (brilliantly described as Easter basket packing material by Weird Al Yankovic in the doc), and transform it into a natural, high-quality, great-tasting candy.  He got the ball rolling, contacting the Goelitz Candy Company and getting them to manufacture his ideal bean, and then took to the road telling everyone that would listen about his creation.  There were local publicity stunts, visits to national TV talk shows where Klein was truly decked out in the part of the proverbial candy-man, and zany photo-shoots, all in the hopes of getting the world to notice these amazing Jelly Belly beans.  It was as if he stepped out of the pages of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  For four years Klein was the face of Jelly Belly and is a huge part of the candy’s success.


Costa Botes does a wonderful job of shinning the spotlight on Jelly Belly, Klein and his family, touching on the sadness of the tale without getting too mired in the ennui of corporate shenanigans and unresolved family issues.  The documentary is as much about celebrating Klein’s eccentricities and ideas as it is about being written out of the history of a pop culture phenomenon.  From his use of paper plates as notepads (hard to lose and easy to throw), to his later insane confection creations (my favorite being yellow liquid candy sold in urine sample jars), Klein has led a wacky and truly interesting life and it makes for a very entertaining film.  All in all I think this portrait is the perfect way to remind us that there is always more to the story.


I wanted to mention that though I did receive a copy of this documentary on DVD for review purposes, I’ve also purchased one with my own funds that I’m going to give away here at Branded.  I’m certainly not biased because of an access to review materials, but I also want to put my money where my mouth is, so to speak, and I enjoyed this film enough to do just that.  So if you’d like to win a copy of Candyman: the David Klein Story, send me an email with the subject line “Candyman DVD” and a description of your favorite flavor of Jelly Belly jelly beans by February 17th at 12:00am est.  I’ll pick one e-mail at random to win a copy of the DVD.

The film is currently available via the Indiepix website on DVD, On Demand, or to Download.  You can also see a trailer for the film at the above link.  If you’re curious about what David Klein is doing these days, check out his candy company Sandy Candy!

Lords of Light and Demon Dogs rejoice!

After the disappointing release of the Warner Brothers Saturday Moring Cartoons: 1980s earlier this year, I’ve been in kind of a cartoon on DVD funk.  Included on that set was a single episode of the series Thundarr the Barbarian, which though I had fond memories of watching it as a kid, I didn’t realize just how damn cool that show was until rewatching that one episode.  Because Warners was moving away from full series and season on DVD in favor of cheaper anthology releases, I figured I’d never get a chance to see the rest of the episodes in a format that I really love.

Well, I’m really happy to say that my funk has been broken because the Warner Archive Collection, the company’s print-on-demand arm, has announced that the complete Thundarr the Barbarian will be shipping starting today, September 28th, 2010!

I was excited a year or so ago when the WAC first launched as I was hoping to secure copies of some out-of-print flicks on DVD, but I didn’t hold out any hope that they’d start releasing TV boxsets, let alone of classic cartoons.  But last month saw the WAC release of long overdue series on DVD from the 90s, Pirates of Dark Water

…and from what I’ve gathered from the WAC twitter feed, it looks like a slew of other cartoons are also headed to the POD format…

“We have only just begun to delve into the animation library!  We’ve got a few more series in 2010, +/- 2/month planned in 2011”

Also slated for release are Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space and the 1973 Addams Family cartoon.   The idea that they’re also planning on around two additional releases per month next year is fantastic!  Do I hear releases of the Herculoids, Grape Ape, Speed Buggy, Frankenstein Jr. and the Impossibles, and Mr. T on the horizon?  I sure hope so!

Twitter del.icio.us Reddit Slashdot Digg Google StumbleUpon

You’re friends will be there when your back is to the wall. Well except for Johnny Depp. He hated this show…

I recently had the opportunity to take a look at the Mill Creek re-issue of 21 Jump Street on DVD and I have to say that I was both a little excited about the set and a little bit bummed out.  First off, I have to make it clear that Mill Creek provided a review copy of the DVD, so I didn’t purchase this set.  I am, however, a fan of the show, and I already own a few of the seasons that were previously released by Anchor Bay on DVD.  So for whatever it’s worth, I’d like to believe that my opinions on the set and series are unbiased.

Part of the reason that I wanted to take a look at this set is that I feel like we’re entering an unfortunate stage in the life of DVD as a medium, and Mill Creek is leading the pack into the future.  After living through the first home video boom during the 80s and 90s with VHS, I knew the life cycle of DVD would be relatively short in the grand scheme of things, lasting around 20 years.  Introduced to the public in 1997, I think it’s safe to say that we’re now entering into the last stage of life for the format, its twilight years.  The signs are all around us with discount $3-$5 DVDs available in stores like Big Lots and Wal-Mart, and with a slight improvement of the medium already on the market (Blu-Ray.)  Pretty soon we’re going to see a shift in the releases of films and TV shows as some will only be available on blu-ray or for download, and only the most popular and profitable releases will garner DVD distribution.

So why is Mill Creek important in this scenario?  Well, in the last few years super discounted DVDs have usually consisted of old, discontinued or overstock titles that companies are trying to liquidate to recoup production costs.  Mill Creek on the other hand is leading the charge on first run releases in the budget format, so instead of getting an affordable price on a nicely manufactured set, we’re getting lower quality sets at great prices.  After years of releasing budget public domain fare, Mill Creek is now licensing TV series that other companies have discontinued releases for, as well as picking up the rights to some shows that have never been released on DVD.  One of their first big coups was in acquiring the library of Stephen J. Cannell productions including such shows as Hunter, the Commish, the Greatest American Hero, and 21 Jump Street.  All of these series have been released before, but not at budget pricing.  In addition to these well-known series, Mill Creek is also releasing a lot of Cannell’s lesser known series such as Ten Speed and Brown Shoe, Booker, and Cobra which have never been on DVD in North America (except Cobra which was released in Canada.)  I think this is going to become a trend for the medium in the face of rising music rights costs, especially for TV on DVD, and I’m kind of sad to see it.  I think if it’s successful then it’s going to prove to DVD distributers that subpar sets are perfectly acceptable.

So what about this new 21 Jump Street Complete series DVD set?  Well, being a budget release, the set is attractively priced between $60-$70, which isn’t bad for five seasons of television.  The original five sets released by Anchor Bay in 2004 would have easily set you back $150, so right off the bat we’re talking a 50 to 60 percent drop in price.  But this price reduction also comes with a drop in quality, both in the packaging, features, and in the video quality as well.  First off, the quality of the transfer is pretty close to the original DVDs, at least displayed on a regular player on a non-HD television, but there is a higher compression as there are more episodes per disc on this new set.   The original source material was rough to begin with though, and there’s only so much you can do to pretty it up.

My biggest complaint though is with the packaging which is just medium to subpar.  Though the sets are packaged in clamshell-style cases, the DVDs themselves aren’t housed on individual pegs or spindles.  Instead they’re individually wrapped in plain black paper sleeves which stack together and sort of snap into a frame on one side of the case.  That means that when you want to pull out DVD #17, you have to pull them all out and sift through the sleeves, which can be a pain.  With a smaller set it’s not that big of a deal, but with these complete series sets it really gets to be a pain.

There are also no liner notes and no DVD booklet.  You want to know which episode guest stars Brad Pitt?  Go to IMDB and find it that way because you’ll be searching forever on the DVDs.  Again, with a smaller or season set this wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but with a complete series set it’s really a pain in the butt.  This is also a bare bones, no-special-features release (unless you count the single episode of Booker included in the set.)

Unfortunately, as with the original release of the series on DVD, most if not all of the original music was also stripped from the episodes because of high song licensing issues.  This is the biggest setback for TV on DVD, and in particular with a show like this because the music helped to define the tone, and it provided a boost to the overall quality of the show.  Without the music the series feels so much more cheesy than it was when it originally aired and honestly it’s just a shame.

Talking about the series itself, 21 Jump Street is an example of Stephen J. Cannell at his most playful.  Starring Peter and Michael Deluise, Holly Robinson (Peete), Dustin Nguyen, Steven Williams (the X-Files), Richard Grieco, and of course a young Johnny Depp in his break-out role as Officer Tom Hanson, the show was sort of like the older brother to Saturday Morning cartoons in the 80s.  Usually centered on some hot-button topic of the day, the series was a fun spin on detective shows that gave the actors a lot of range to play all sorts of characters in their undercover roles.

The series is a snapshot of what the Fox Network was like during its inception as well, and helped to define a slightly hipper alternative to the normal programming on the main three networks.  It works best as a time capsule of late 80s television and features a plethora of up and coming and established actors in guest spots like Brad Pitt, Pauley Shore, Mario Van Peebles, Kurtwood Smith, Jason Priestley, Mindy Cohn, Bridget Fonda, Sherilynn Fenn, Josh Brolin, Christina Applegate, Vince Vaughn, John Waters, Shannon Doherty, and Thomas Haden Church.


All in all, for the price, the set is probably worth picking up if you’re a fan and don’t already own the series, though I would wait for a sale.  Right now Best Buy actually has it for the astounding price of $38.

To me the series will always highlight the bittersweet experience of moving on from middle school to high school, and leaving the 80s behind.  It was the beginning of the end for the type of television that I grew up on, and it made the transition into the 90s a little less rocky.  You can pick up this set on July 27th, 2010.

These unofficial trilogies are Officially Awesome in my book!

About six months ago I was having a fun time on Twitter going back and forth with Paxton Holley (of the supremely cool Cavalcade of Awesome), trying to come up with a bunch of unofficial film trilogies.  We got to talking and we decided that it would be epic if we worked on an article together and we decided to flesh out the whole idea of these sort-of-film-trilogies.  So please head on over to the Cavalcade and get your awesome on!

If growing up in the 80s taught me anything it was that any film that was even moderately successful deserved a sequel, and the only thing better than a sequel was a full blown trilogy.  There’s something magical (in the unicorn and rainbow kind of way) about the movie trilogy format that I can’t quite put my finger on, but it’s there all the same.  Something satisfying.  Personally I can point to the experience of growing up with the three original Star Wars films as a point of reference.  In some form, every trilogy I watch is compared to these three films; in particular to their structure of a first film that works as a stand alone piece (incase of box office failure and no sequel money), a second film that enriches the characters and paints a much bigger picture for the world, and a third film which brings a sense of closure to the overarching plot while also giving the characters one more wild adventure.

There seemed to be an endless stream of trilogies that I cherished in and around the 80s.  The Back to the Future films, the Karate Kid flicks, the hillbilly/mutant Jason flicks (Friday the 13th parts 2-4), the Zombie Jason flicks (Friday the 13th parts 6-8), the Bad News Bears flicks, the Look Who’s Talking flicks, the Mad Max flicks, the Naked Gun flicks, the Poltergeist films, and the Meatballs films.  That’s not including other film series that broke into more sequels like the Superman or the Rocky films.  Heck, in doing some research for this crossover I discovered that there was even a trilogy that I was unaware of, Cannonball I, II, and Speed Zone!  I loved the first two and now I have to track down and see the third.

Recently though, I’ve been thinking a lot about conceptual trilogies, film series that aren’t directly connected by characters or story, but have other threads that tie them together.  There are a lot of series written by the same author or that were all filmed by the same director that get a lot of attention; for instance Sergio Leone’s Dollars/Man with No Name trilogy (Fist Full of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly), his epic America trilogy (Once Upon a Time in the West, Fist Full of Dynamite, and Once Upon a Time in America), or John Carpenter’s Apocalypse trilogy (The Thing, Prince of Darkness, and In the Mouth of Madness.)  But there are also a lot of films that just feel like they belong together because of interesting themes and overall concept.  Here are a few of my favorites…

The Ralph Macchio Fight Trilogy.  There are only a handful of films starring Mr. Macchio thoughout the 80s as he was quickly typecast as Daniel LaRusso (not a terrible fate), but of the films that he did make there seems to be a clear throughline of scrapping against all forms of bullies.

Starting in 1983 with Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of The Outsiders, Ralph Macchio stars as Johnny Cade, a 16 year-old greaser runt who’s had enough and is ready to pop.  In the film, Macchio’s Johnny comes to the aid of his friend Ponyboy (played by C. Thomas Howell) who is being attacked by a group of Socs (the rich, douchey, pre-suburbanites of the 50s) because he was hanging out with “their girls”.  Johnny stabs and kills one of the Socs in the scuffle and then he and Ponyboy go on the lam hiding from the law.  Things don’t end well for Johnny, but he does save a bunch of kids from a burning building, so I guess there’s that…

The second film in the Fight trilogy is by far Macchios most famous and probably my favorite film of the 80s, 1984’s The Karate Kid.  Starring as Daniel LaRusso, a kid who moves from Newark, NJ, to Reseda in California and then proceeds to get his butt kicked by bullies right and left.  One chance meeting with the apartment’s reclusive superintendant later and we’re on the awesome rollercoaster ride of banzai-tree-trimming, catching flies with chopsticks, waxing cars, painting decks, and beating the living shit out of a bunch of asshole bullies in skeleton costumes.  Not only did the film give us the ultimate douche in Billy Zabka’s Jonny Lawrence, but it also provided the best fight song in the history of all time, Joe Esposito’s You’re the Best.  It’s to fighting what Barry White is to love making.

The final film in the Fight trilogy is the under-seen 1986 Walter Hill flick Crossroads, starring Macchio as Eugene Martone, a young guitar prodigy searching for the legendary Robert Johnson’s (he of the musical deal with the devil fame) one lost song.  Though there are a couple of dustups in the flick, the fighting all takes place with guitars, in particular in the culmination of the film where Martone accepts a challenge from the devil to out guitar his pet project, rock star Jack Butler (playing with a crazed yet entertaining relish by Steve Vai.)  It seems that in battling the Devil, there is no greater weapon that soulful rock and roll (Just ask Charlie Daniels, the Kids in the Hall, or Tenacious D.)

Crossroads brings me to another themed series, The Walter Hill Musical Battle Trilogy.  Walter Hill is one of those directors that never broke as big as his resume deserves, though he has been a part of some pretty big projects including the first Alien film and the HBO Tales From the Crypt television series.  His eye for style and interesting characters is amazing and I can only hope more people pick up his films as time goes on.  For this trilogy I’ll go in reverse seeing as I’ve already mentioned the culminating flick, Crossroads

The middle film in the Musical Battle trilogy is the insane 1984 flick Streets of Fire.  Starring Michael Pare as Tom Cody, an ex-soldier turned hero for hire who is called back to his home town when his ex-girlfriend, rock star Ellen Aim (played by Diane Lane), is kidnapped by Raven Shaddock, leader of a local gang called the Bombers (played with wicked insanity by Willem Dafoe.)  Cody, along with another ex-soldier McCoy and Ellen’s manager/boyfriend Billy Fish (Rick Moranis in a typecast-breaking performance as a fast talking ass), take on the Bombers and rescue Ellen in a film noir inspired rock opera that culminates in one heck of a kick ass sledge hammer fight that needs to be seen to be believed.  This film drips style much in the same way that Tim Burton or Wes Anderson flicks do.  Hill is a master of creating unique alternate universes that exisit just on the edge of reality, and in Streets of Fire it can be the 50s and the 80s as the same time.

The first flick in this Musical Battle trilogy is probably Hill’s most famous film, 1979’s The Warriors, which is one of those movies that people love, hate, or love to hate.  Personally I love it.  The film is loosely based on the Anabasis an account of a battalion of Greek soldiers, lead by Xenophon, from Sardes to the Black Sea through hundreds of miles of enemy territory.  In the film, Cyrus, the leader of the most powerful gang in New York calls for a peaceful meeting between all the gangs in the city (60,000 strong), in an effort to rally together against the police and the system.  Luther (played by a psychotic David Patrick Kelly), uses this opportunity to assassinate Cyrus, and in the ensuing chaos blames the act on the Warriors, who then have to travel through all sorts of enemy territory in trying to get back to their home turf at Coney Island.  The film is punctuated by updates given by a faceless mouth on the radio informing the various gangs of the whereabouts of the Warriors as they try to evade battle.  Though it’s not an out and out rock opera, it has many of operatic qualities and a very similar visual panache.

Probably my favorite themed film series from the 80s has to be The Alternative/Extreme Sports Trilogy made up of Rad, Thrashin’, and North Shore.  Each film centers on one of the big sports crazes of the 80s including BMX, skateboarding, and surfing respectively.  All of them have similar plots, when a hometown boy (who is pretty damn good at what they do), is confronted with the idea of competing in a tournament that will pit them against the biggest assholes each past-time has to offer. Growing up in Florida in the 1980s I was smack dab in the middle of all three of these crazes, and even though I never tried my hand at surfing I was enamored with all three.

In 1986’s Rad (which I discussed at length before), Cru Jones has to battle against the insufferable Bart Taylor (played by real like Olympian Bart Conner) at Hell Track, along the way winning the hart of pro racer Christian (Full House’s Lori Loughlin.)  1986 also brought us the skateboarding classic Thrashin’.  Starring Josh Brolin as Cory Webster, the plot centers around a friend of a group of local skaters from the Valley who has come to Los Angles to complete in a crazy high speed downhill race.  Webster unfortunately bumps into a insane local gang of punkish skaters called the Daggers, who are led by Hook (played by Robert Russler.)  Of course Cory falls in love with Hook’s more normal sister Chrissy, and the two play Romeo and Juliet while mixing it up with the Daggers (which means plenty of skateboard jousting.)  Lastly we have 1987’s North Shore, which features Matt Adler as Rick Kane, a surfer from Arizona who has never really had a chance to hone his chops in a real ocean.  He wins a local competition and finds himself in Hawaii where noting is quite like it seems or he expected.  Battling against the Hui (locals) on the waves, he ends up simultaneously falling in love with Kiani (Nia Peeples) and being mentored by Chandler, a transplanted soul-surfing guru.  Rick decides that the only way he can prove himself is by winning a surfing competition called the Banzai Pipeline.

Last but certainly not least is the is The William Zabka Bully Trilogy.  I’ve already talked about the Karate Kid (where Zabka plays the leg-sweeping bully we all love to hate, Johnny Lawrence), but he also goes on to play douches in two other 80s flicks, 1985’s Just One of the Guys, and 1986’s Back to School.

Just One of the Guys is my favorite hidden gem movie of the 80s that I must have seen on cable two trillion times.  Starring Joyce Hyser as Terry Griffith, an aspiring teenaged journalist who can’t seem to get any respect because she’s a shapely woman.  Terry hatches a scheme to enroll in another high school (seeing as her journalism teacher has already dismissed her talent), only this time she decides to start cross dressing as a boy so that she can get the respect she deserves for her work.  In the flick Terry is basically playing the Daniel LaRusso role from the Karate Kid, but instead of getting beaten up by Billy Zabka’s Greg Tolan, she instead mentors a geeky guy who can’t seem to get a date, Rick (played by Clayton Rohner.)  Rick has a crush on Tolan’s girlfriend Deborah, and therein lies the Zabka douchery.  Though it’s a slight step down from Johnny Lawrence, Greg Tolan is still a pretty entertaining asshole and it’s fun to see him get his ass kicked by a girl, her little brother and eventually Rick as well.  Whereas in the Karate Kid Zabka was more likely to bust up your ghetto blaster and chase you down with a dirtbike, in Just one of the Guys his coup de grace comes in various forms of exercizing with nerds and geeks.  Between showing off his wedgie-weight-lifting, and his personal favorite lunch table lifting, Zabka had a lot of fun as teh ultimate P.E. bully.

Zabka’s weakest bully performance is in Back to School, the Rodney Dangerfield comedy where he plays Thorton Melon, the owner of a successful string of Big and Tall shops who decides that the only way he can get close to his son is by enrolling in college to be near him.  Zabka plays Chas Osborne, who is the alpha male on the college swim team, and the rival of Thorton’s son Jason (played by Christine’s Keith Gordon.)  Honestly, Zabka is barely in the film and even though he really is supposed to be a douche, he’s kind of justified in his asshole-ery.  He’s a great diver, and he doesn’t even really bully Jason all that much, so when his dive is sabotaged by a young Robert Downey Jr. (playing Jasons best friend), it’s kind of sad.  Though he’s still a douche, I feel sorry for his character and I think it goes a long way to redeeming his much worse bully past.

Anyway, this is only one half of the unofficial trilogies cross-blog special.  For the ultimate in awesomeology and more trilogy fun, head on over to Paxton Holley’s Cavalcade of Awesome, and tell him Branded in the 80s sent ya!

Twitter del.icio.us Reddit Slashdot Digg Google StumbleUpon

VHS means forever…

The wife and I have recently been culling through our collections of various things, trying to free up some room and make our place look a little bit neater.   In the quest to let go I came across what’s left of my meager collection of VHS tapes, movies that haven’t been released on DVD (or at least hadn’t when I choose to keep them) and I just can’t seem to part with.  Throughout the 90s and in to the 2000s I had amassed a ton of VHS tapes while working at a local grocery store.  I was a night manager in the drug/gm department which was over our in-store video rental kiosk, and because I was a burgeoning movie freak I always got first dibs on previously-viewed sales stock.

When DVD came along I started the laborious and expensive process of replacing my collection, and to help bolster that project I sold off most of my tapes on eBay when you could still get a decent amount for them.  Even so, there were a few tapes that I decided to hang onto because I figured they’d never get released on DVD.   It’s been fun over time as some of these titles have become available and I’ve been able to throw away a tape here and there (like my two Tick cartoon videos, MTV’s the Maxx series, Buckaroo Banzai, Goonies, and my Thundercats and Transformers the Movie convention bootlegs.)  Well, the collection had shrunk to about ten tapes, a few of which were gifts (I have a hard time parting with gifts), and a couple more which I just hadn’t thrown away yet (I finally bought a copy of the Die Hard DVD last year.)  I thought it would be fun to share some of the straglers…

First up we have the 1988 anti-classic Hot to Trot starring Bobcat Goldthwait, Dabney Coleman, Virginia Madsen and the voice of John Candy as Don the talking horse.   I loved, loved, loved this flick as a kid (it probably didn’t hurt that Nick at Night was coming into it’s own at the time and I was getting introduced to a massive amount of Mr. Ed re-runs.)  First off you have Goldthwait who was becoming my favorite stand-up comedian with his coke-induced sweaty, garble-mouthed HBO specials and his role as the unpredictable and loving Stork brother Egg in One Crazy Summer, not to mention his really fun turn as Zed in the Police Academy movies and his suicidal turn as Eliot Loudermilk in Scrooged.   I think this is sort of the high point of his career as the goofy funny guy with one of his only starring roles.  In a few more years we get the sort of straightened out and much more seriously crazy Goldthwait with Shakes the Clown and his firebug antics.

At the same time I sort of felt that Coleman was reprising his 9 to 5 horrible boss character, which was a role that I loved him in.  He could also sort of do-no-wrong for me after playing dual roles in Clock and Dagger alongside Henry Thomas.  If there’s one thing this film is really notable for, it probably as the beginning of the end of John Candy’s career.  There were a few promising moments here and there (Uncle Buck, and I actually enjoyed the Delirious flick), but for all intents and purposes it was all downhill after Hot to Trot.   It’s kind of sad…

Debuting the next year (’89) was the insane comedy Big Man on Campus…

…which featured an early performance from the Office’s Melora Hardin, as well as Corey Parker (best friend and one-time step son of Patrick Dempsey), Cindy “Shirley” Williams, and Tom Skerritt.  The star of the flick was an unlikely Allan Katz playing the hunchback Bob Maloogaloogaloogaloogalooga (“One Malooga, four looga’s…”)   Katz was the writer/producer on shows like M*A*S*H, Rhoda, Roseanne and Blossom, and his one big film was Big Man on Campus which to this day I content is utter comedy genius.  The film is silly re-telling of the Hunchback of Notre Dame set in present day California on the UCLA campus with Bob living in a click tower and fawning over Hardin’s Cathy from afar.  When he sees Cathy in trouble while she’s defending her boyfriend (played with amazing comic-timing precision by Parker), Bob swoops down to protect her, outing himself in the process.  At first considered violent, the university decides to study Bob, appointing Parker as his keeper/roommate, and it’s from here that the film really takes a weird turn.

Though it could have stayed pretty much to the obvious stock story, Katz imbues the flick with some much comedic life in all of the zany little details.  There’s all sort of left-field one-liners in the film that I still find myself uttering to this day.   At one point in a mall Bob is asked what he wants from a fried chicken stand (legs, breasts, thighs, you know where the joke is going), but instead of making it overtly sexual and hum drum, he asks for “…two faces.”  On top of the well written script, Katz brings an amazing physicality to the character that’s half John Belushi, and half Harold Lloyd.  I’d plotz if the flick ever came out on DVD…

Next up we have an obscure Billy Dee Williams flick from 1995 called Secret Agent 00 Soul…

The flick is excruciatingly bad and it must have been a favor to a family member that got Billy Dee to star in this.  I haven’t even managed to make it all the way through the film, and honestly I don’t think I ever will.   My favorite character from the Star Wars flicks has always been Lando, and that’s more or less why I’ve been hanging on to this tape (it was a gag gift from a friend.)  My favorite aspect is the post-production design work on the promo materials.   Look at that cover!  Have you seen a worse photo-enhancement job in your life (that is Billy Dee’s head, but it ain’t his body.)  Oh wait, there is a worse job than the cover.  Take a gander at that back cover…

Yup, Billy Dee’s head pasted onto a white man’s body (doing a bad impression of Roger Moore from the flick For Your Eyes Only, though it might even be Moore’s body.)  Classic.  If you ever find a copy of the flick, look for an early guest star appearance by Tiny Lister Jr.

Last up is a film that has actually come out on DVD, but it’s a tape that’s been so loved over the years it’s impossible for me to get rid of it, the one and only Monster Squad!

This tape has been watched and rewound at least two hundred times (personally) not to mention all of the viewings it had at the video store where I picked it up.   I just can’t get rid of it.  I even have a swanky bootleg cover that matches this original cover for my official DVD release (since I hate the new cover artwork so much.)  I think I’d get buried with this VHS (if I were planning to be buried that is.)  By the by, does anyone know who the poster artist is for the Monster Squad?  The art on the cover is signed Craig, which looks like a familiar signature, but I’m not sure who it is…

Twitter del.icio.us Reddit Slashdot Digg Google StumbleUpon

Obscure 80s TV on DVD…

Though there’s a distinct drought of upcoming 80s cartoons being released on DVD, there are plenty of interesting live action 80s television titles that are about to start popping up on shelves.   If I had to make a guess as to three 80s shows that I figured would never see the light of day on DVD it would have been Small Wonder, Street Hawk, and Max Headroom.  Amazingly enough these three titles are actually becoming a reality thanks to the folks at Shout! Factory (which is quickly becoming my favorite outlet for DVD production and distribution.)

Small Wonder was one of those shows that filled the gap between afterschool cartoon watching and primetime when my parents took control over the TV.   I’m pretty sure I remember watching it on the USA network in first run syndication, and for some reason I seem to remember catching it alongside episodes of Out of this World as sort of a double whammy of crazy girl power insanity (OotW was a show that revolved around a girl named Evie that has some nifty alien powers, in particular the power to stop time around her by putting her fingers together, because her father was an alien.)  For those not familiar, Small Wonder was a sitcom that ran from 1985 to 1989 and revolved around a nuclear family that consisted of genius engineer father Ted Lawson, his wife Joan, their biological daughter Jamie and their adopted robot daughter Vicki (a project Ted brought home from his robotics firm dayjob.)  The series has the same basic premise as ALF, with the Lawson family getting used to their exceptional new family member while also trying to keep her robotic secret from neighbors, friends and family.  Honestly, I figured this was one of those shows that would fester in the mire of obscurity, in particular because were no big stars attached that have gone on to create any buzz for an archival release of the show.  But it’s becoming clear that this is where Shout! Factory really excels when it comes to picking DVD projects.  Small Wonder season 1 is already available on DVD…

If that series wasn’t obscure enough, coming on July 13th (just in time for my birthday) we’re also going to see the release of Street Hawk the complete series

Before the internet, Street Hawk was one of those shows that I only managed to catch a couple episodes of before it fell off of network TV and since then also seemed to fall off the face of the earth.  I could never convince my friends that the show even existed.  Street Hawk featured an awesome futuristic urban combat motorcycle and helped round out the collection of vehicle-based action shows of the 80s alongside stuff like Airwolf, Knightrider, the Dukes of Hazzard, and to an extent, the A-Team.  Starring Rex Smith as Jesse Mach, an ex-motorcycle cop recruited by a secret government agency to fight urban crime at speeds up to 300 miles per hour, Street Hawk featured my second favorite vehicle (right behind the chopper in Airwolf).  In fact, it’s probably because of these two shows that I fell so in love with Brad Turner and his motorcycle/helicopter Condor from the cartoon M.A.S.K. as it joined two of my favorite designs into one badass mode of transportation.  The Street Hawk series was more of a hit in the UK, receiving a series of picture books and novelizations, though there was at least one lunch box released in the US.  There was also an unofficial G.I. Joe figure released abroad that came with a similar black motorcycle.

Rounding out the obscure TV DVD releases in August is the complete Max Headroom.  Starring Matt Frewer and Jeffrey Tambor, Max Headroom was one heck of a crazy sci-fi show whose virtual titular character spilled over into the mainstream in the 80s becoming a cult product spokesman, most notably for New Coke and MTV.   The series used speculative fiction to respond to the insane climate of crass commercialism and greed in the mid 80s, in particular on television, and honestly seemed like a very unlikely candidate for release on DVD.

Between these upcoming titles and Shout! Factory’s recent re-release of classic 80s cartoons the Transformers and G.I. Joe, not to mention releases of shows like Freaks and Geeks, My Two Dads, Mr. Belvedere, Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors, and Punky Brewster, the company is really winning me over as a loyal fan.  Shout! Has even snagged the rights to continue releasing the Facts of Life on DVD.  I’m hoping they get similar distribution rights to stalled DVD releases like Silver Spoons and Perfect Strangers

Getting some more 80s cartoons on DVD…

So aside from some odds and ends here and there, new releases of out of print 80s cartoons on DVD have really been slowing down lately (though we did finally get Scooby Doo’s All Star Laff-a-Lympics on DVD.)  I think a big part of this is a mixture of the switch from DVD to Blu-Ray and the general decline in DVD sales.  Just like with VHS when DVDs became cheap there was a too-quick boom where people bought tons of them and then a year or two later were scratching their heads trying to remember why they accumulated a collection of 300 plus movies and television shows.  DVD collecting is one of my main hobbies, in particular building specific libraries (e.g. 60s, 70s, & 80s cartoons and all of the flicks from the 80s that I loved as a kid), so even though I have what seems like six million DVDs I’m not phased in the least. Back to the 80s cartoons though, it’s kind of a shame since there are still a handful of shows that I think really deserve to be available on DVD (like Kidd Video, the Dinosaucers, the Visionaries, Teen Wolf, TigerSharks, and Jem just to name a few.) 

There are a couple of promising movements in the realm of DVD releasing though, namely print-on-demand technology and anthology sets.  Amazon has been playing around with a p.o.d. model by partnering with MTV/Nickelodeon on a series of 90s releases like Doug, the Rugrats, the Maxx, the Head, and Rocko’s Modern Life.  I’m not sure how well these titles are selling, but I can say that I’ve been more than happy with the quality of both the Maxx and Rocko DVDs, and I’d love to see some future releases of Ahh! Real Monsters, Pete & Pete season 3, Hey Dude, Salute Your Shorts, and maybe some 80s titles as well like You Can’t Do That on Television or a best-of Pinwheel.  Similarly, Warner Bros has also been playing around with p.o.d. with their Warner Archives releases, but so far I’ve found the selection to be wanting and the prices are way too high (but you can finally get Lilly Tomlin’s Incredible Shrinking Woman and the Rankin/Bass Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, which is awesome.)  The one company that’s really got me excited though is Shout! Factory which has decided to start their own p.o.d. service that’s specializing in continuing releases of shows that have received initial sets that didn’t sell well and have since stalled like C.O.P.S. and Mr. Belvedere.  I’m crossing my fingers that there is a volume 2 release of Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors in the cards…

I’m not quite as interested in the anthology releases that have been coming out, mainly from Warner Brothers, but there is one that has peaked my interest called Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1980s, Vol. 1

Warner has previously released two volumes each of 1960s and 1970s sets that are interesting, but unfortunately they were a little off-the-mark in my opinion because they contained episodes of shows already available on DVD.  If there’s one practice I hate with DVDs it’s double dipping, and these are the worst because in order to get episodes of shows like the Herculoids or Shazzan you have to also buy episodes of the Flintstones and Hong Kong Phooey.  Nothing against those two latter shows, but they’re already available on DVD and if you happen to own them than these episodes are just taking up valuable real estate on the anthology releases. I think Warner has finally gotten the message though, and with the 1st 1980s release they concentrating on putting out a collection of shows that have never been on DVD before.  The set consists of single episodes of the following eleven shows:

Mr. T

Thundarr the Barbarian

Dragon’s Lair

The Flintstone Kids

Galtar and the Golden Lance

The Biskitts

The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley

The Monchichis

Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos

Tex Avery’s the Kwicky Koloa Show

Goldie Gold & Action Jack

Though I’d love full season sets of Thundarr and Mr. T, I’m glad at least that these shows are going to see the light of day on DVD.  When I first started collecting cartoons on DVD my mission was to get 1 episode of every show I watched as a kid on DVD, and this set will fill in a good chunk of those gaps.  I can only hope that they continue this trend with at least a second volume.  I’m not sure what shows Warner holds the rights to (even though I realize they own a good chunk of Ruby Spears and Hanna Barbera), but I’d love to see some episodes of Turbo Teen, Pac-Man, Teen Force, Astro and the Space Mutts, Fangface, Captain Caveman, the Frankenstones, The Shirttales, Rubik the Amazing Cube, the Snorks and Kidd Video.

Oh and while I’m on the subject of 80s cartoon releasing, I have to say that there is another “innovation” that’s begun to take a foothold lately that I’m not a big fan of, iTunes only digital downloads.  Whereas I’m all for the idea of more streaming and downloadable content, I hate it when releases are subject to only one medium.  It was recently announced that both the Dinosaucers and the Karate Kid cartoons are going to be available on iTunes.   I’d love to have the Dinosaucers on DVD, but maybe I’ll have to settle for watching them on the computer (or eventually on an iPad maybe?)

What can you really say about a film that involves a nerd deflowering a bowling ball that I didn’t already say with this title?

I’ve been thinking a lot about 70s/80s teen sex comedies lately in the wake of Severin Films’ announcement they’ll be releasing the seminal (in every sense of the word) comedy flick Screwballs on DVD.  By the way, the disc comes out today and you can order your copy by clicking on the cover below…

Anyway, back to pondering teen sex comedies.   It’s really surprising to me how often films don’t deliver on what they promise in terms of content, in particular genre flicks.  I can’t count how many times I’ve rented a horror flick that wasn’t scary, gory, or disturbing, or a comedy that just didn’t try that hard for laughs.  This past year a friend and I sat down and watched a ton of 80s comedies both in the hopes of reliving some nostalgia and to finally expose my friend to the original R-rated bits and pieces that he never got a chance to see growing up as a kid.   My experience to most of the films we watched came through either renting them on video or catching them in the wee hours of the morning on HBO or Cinemax.  My friend on the other hand grew up a bit more sheltered and wasn’t allowed to watch most of them, and the stuff that he did catch was on basic cable over the years so he has felt like he’s really missed out on the raunchy adult humor.

Turns out he didn’t miss all that much.  Even flicks like Porky’s really don’t have all that much in the way of nudity or language so bad that it’d make his grandma blush.  Granted Porky’s was the brainchild of Bob Clark, the same guy who brought us the beloved classic A Christmas Story, but he was also the guy that brought us Black Christmas, so we weren’t sure what to expect.  Overall, after watching flicks like Fast Times at Ridgemount High, Meatballs, Sixteen Candles, Revenge of the Nerds, and Risky Business my friend was starting to feel like he hadn’t missed that much at all.  Personally, I seem to have memories of more raunch in my 80s comedies, though there are a lot of flicks that I watched back in the 80s that we didn’t revisit and were more on the periphery in terms of tasteful content like Hot Dog, Kentucky Fried Movie, Class (which seemed really dirty at the time), and the various academy (Police or Screwball) and school movies (Rock ‘n Roll High, or Ski), all the stuff that I’d catch for years on USA Up All Night with Rhonda Shear or Gilbert Godfried.

Sure, most of these films have some rude language and a jiggling pair of boobs here and there, but none of them feel like they’re delivering on their potential, not at least in the way that a lot of exploitation flicks did in 60s and 70s.  When you sit down and watch a Herschel Gordon Lewis film like Blood Feast or Two Thousand Maniacs, you get what you pay for.  When you watch a Jack Hill flick like the Big Bird Cage, Foxy Brown or Switchblade Sisters, you get plenty of violence, language and T&A.  So with the 80s teen sex comedies, it sad that for the most part you really don’t get more raunch.  That isn’t to say that I don’t like John Hughes (the Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink) and Savage Steve Holland (Better Off Dead, One Crazy Summer) flicks, just that there was a relatively untapped market for making flicks that were a bit more visceral.

Well, getting back to the reason for this post, I have to say that I never saw Screwballs back in the 80s and it was one heck of an oversight.   Screwballs is to teen sex comedies what Last House on the Left is to horror.  There are more naked girls, goofy horny guys, and inappropriate jokes than in most other 80s films combined.   In fact the raunch reaches a level of slapstick that is more on par with the feel of a crazy 30s era gag-a-second Fleischer cartoon than an 80s comedy.  The flick was also produced under Roger Corman, which might have something to do with its level of debauchery (but in the best sense of the word.)

If you haven’t seen it, the basic gist of the film revolves around a pact made by five senior guys who all have a beef with one girl, the ultimately virginal Purity Busch.  She’s either gotten them in trouble or lead them on and the guys decide that by the end of the school year they’ll either get to see her "goods" and score, or die trying.  Though the film should be qualified as terrible, where plot is really secondary to the mass amount of gags in the film, the set dressing keeps bouncing between the 50, 60s, 70s, and the 80s, and with acting that for the most part is insanely bad, it’s still pretty great.  It’s almost like watching a live action adaptation of a much dirtier version of MAD magazine that still manages to be funny.  Between sessions of strip bowling, insane make-out sessions a the drive-in, freshman breast exams, trips to the strip club (with a guest appearance by Russ Meyer star Raven DeLaCroix), ornate brainwashing attempts involving an giant fake hot dog, insanely inappropriate cheerleading practice in bikinis, and a milf mom who is playing the cougar to the point of being overdubbed with animal growls, you’ll never be bored.

I can honestly say that I was blown away by this long-overdue-on-DVD gem, for however contrived and cliché a statement like that can be.  I have to give a hand to Severin Films for taking the time and effort to restore this film (as well as stuff like the original Inglorious Bastards.)  The DVD looks pretty good for a lowbudget early 80s film like this, and has a nice set of special features including a commentary track as well as surprisingly insightful interviews with the director Rafal Zielinski and cast (there are clips with the director and some of the actors online.)  I don’t know what more I can say except that, again, the DVD is available to purchase as of today. If you’re a fan of goofy 80s comedies and boobs, than this is highly recommended…