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Monday, December 5, 2011


Another of those compilation sets of shows that either everyone has forgotten (presuming they knew about them in the first place) or episodes that have fallen into the clutches of public domain. This time, they’re all Christmas (and a couple of Thankgiving) programs.

As with the entry below this one, this set has a bonus Virtual Fireplace. Figured it would be the same one, but no, this one is different. Nice to find another one I didn’t have before.

As I mentioned in the previous entry as well, my LEAST favorite TV version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL is one with Basil Rathbone as Scrooge. When I saw that one called CHARLES DICKENS’ A CHRISTMAS CAROL was on here, I was sort of prepared that it would be the Rathbone debacle. As it turns out, this is one with Taylor Holmes (who?) as Scrooge with Vincent Price narrating. Can’t go wrong with Vincent. Chalk this one up as a hidden treasure.

Did you know that TV legend Betty White once played a character with the last name of “Angel”? I didn’t either until I saw a few minutes of A DATE WITH THE ANGELS on this set.

The number of episodes are as follows:


All other listed programs only have 1 episode each – or were “one-shot” shows to begin with.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Ok, I’m a sucker for DVD sets of movies that are in the Public Domain. I’ve been known to buy a set because it may contain only 2 or 3 movies I didn’t have before. Such is the case with HOLIDAY FAMILY CLASSICS.

Got this one as a “Wal-Mart” special at – you guessed it – Wal-Mart. It was amongst their $5 movies.

Yes, I had most of the movies listed and yes, I figured that some of the stuff contained therein would be awful, but there are treasures, too.

It shows that there are 12 Holiday Movies here, although some of them were television shows and not movies. It also mentions that there are 27 Christmas Cartoons. This, too, is not true. Some of the alleged “cartoons” are actually live-action short films, the kind your second grade teacher might have shown you – either in the classroom or as part of a school assembly on those Holiday “play days” we used to get back in the days when girls had cooties and long before I’d heard the term “receding hairline”.

Anyway, it’s the live action short films that I found to be worth the price of admission alone. A number of these movies were distributed by the Castle Films Company, with which I had a love throughout my childhood. For what it’s worth, I STILL love Castle Films. But, aside from that, there are films from both the “Coronet” and “Official Films” studios. These companies may not ring a bell with you off-hand, but you might remember them from their opening frames.

One of the Castle Films, A CHRISTMAS DREAM, appears to have suffered both actual damages and also the ravages of age, but is otherwise interesting to watch.

Couple of the cartoons are basically just sing-a-longs, O LITTLE TOWN OF BETHLEHEM and JINGLE BELLS. You just follow along with the words at the bottom of the screen in case you happen to forget the lyrics to JINGLE BELLS (which, by the way, I just learned was written to be performed at Thanksgiving, not Christmas; makes sense to me because I’ve never considered JINGLE BELLS to be a Christmas song anyway).

There appears to be a couple of versions of THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS, each with a different title, in this set. These are part of the live-action movies.

A PRESENT FOR SANTA CLAUS has been irritating to me in all the years that I’ve seen it. I really can’t explain why, though. Perhaps it’s the shabby Santa costume or the fact that Santa really needed to gain some weight here to be credible. Might have even been the bad acting. Maybe all three, in fact.

Now, if you’ve never had a disc of this before, there is a neat little extra in the set called VIRTUAL FIREPLACE. Quite a number of years ago, on New York public access television, someone got the brilliant idea of broadcasting what has become known now as THE YULE LOG. Very simply, it was a video loop feed of wood being burned in a fireplace. For those who didn’t have a fireplace of their own, this was a warm and fuzzy concept. In subsequent years there have been many Yule Log-type DVDs (and yes, even VHS tapes) on the market. I’ve got quite a collection of them. Even caught myself with doubles of some of them because some marketing booger changed up the packaging and I bought it thinking I was getting something new. Luckily, though, the VIRTUAL FIREPLACE is something I’ve never had before, so it was nice to have this “new” one for my library.

As for SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS – well, it IS one of my favorites. I’ve come to the conclusion that one can NEVER have too many prints of this movie. Wonder if Pia Zadora shows this to her grandkids nowadays? “Look, kids, it’s Grandma when she was a little girl playing ‘Girmar’, the girl Martian. Didn’t I look adorable in green makeup?”

Also included here is that infamous Kiddie Matinee favorite, SANTA CLAUS, from Mexico. Producer K. Gordon Murray bought this film, re-dubbed it, provided all the narration himself and turned it into this incessant little “anti-masterpiece”. I have to plead guilty to having seen this in theaters for something like a 35 cent admission; as to whether the movie is ultimately annoying, well, on that one I must plead the fifth (and probably drink one as well in order to work up the courage to sit through it again).

The SCROOGE film here is from 1930 and is probably one of the worst movie versions I’ve ever seen. Worst TV version was one starring Basil Rathbone and hosted by Fredric March. My favorite version? Easy! It’s the 1938 version with Reginald Owen and a very young June Lockhart, but that one’s not in the Public Domain and so couldn’t be included on this set.

THE LITTLEST ANGEL is here. I’m talking about the Johnny Whitaker live action TV series that was sponsored originally by Hallmark Hall of Fame. How they let this one slip into the Public Domain is beyond me. The story concerns a little boy who dies in a fall and goes to Heaven in time to witness the arrival of Jesus in the manger on Earth. Fred Gwynne plays sort of a guardian angel to the littlest angel; almost expected him to do that deep, silly Herman Munster laugh, wave his arms around and call for Lily.

Although it says that MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET is one of the movies here, don’t be fooled. It’s a one-hour TV version starring Thomas Mitchell (“Uncle Billy” from IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE). Sometimes folks get confused when different tellings of the same story appear on these compilations; they’re usually NOT the ones you’re thinking they are.

Some of the other movies here are ones I’ve never seen before. Case in point: any of the LITTLE WOMEN stories. Was never that much into Louisa May Alcott and all her “Little” tales.

As for THE NATIVITY and THE PILGRIMAGE PLAY, I’m kind of curious to see what they are; they were part of the reason I forked over 5 bucks to get this set. I suppose that I will have to sit down over the upcoming Thanksgiving Holiday and check ‘em out.

From what I’ve seen so far, this would be a good DVD compilation to have in your home. The kids, however, might get bored with some of the cartoons contained here (as they are dated), but give them SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS and maybe they’ll like it for all the bright colors. Or maybe it’ll warp ‘em for life. That’s the chance you have to take.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


The late William W. Johnstone wrote horror novels that were quite unlike anything you’ve probably read before. He didn’t need to belabor a point over several pages like some mainstream horror novelists do; no, instead, Bill zapped you with the shock and then went right on to the next one. After a while it became a game for me to see if I could anticipate what the upcoming jolt would be. More often than not, I didn’t see where it would come from or what it would be.

Bill was not afraid to mix genres, either, when he wrote. In his serial killer novel, NIGHT MASK, he had a werewolf thrown in for good measure.

Bill stopped writing in the horror field sometime before his death. His Western novels had really taken off at that point, and all his energies and focus went in that direction. He achieved “USA Today Bestseller” status on a lot of his Westerns and so it was more lucrative for Bill to exclusively write “oaters” (as I’ve heard writers sometimes refer to their Western novels). But, for a time, we were lucky that he wrote some of the most oddball horror books out there.

Many years ago I read THE DEVIL’S LAUGHTER. However, given time and distance, I can’t really recall much about it. In a way, this is good because it will be like reading the book for the first time. This one is on my nightstand, in a small stack, waiting for me to finish one book and reach over and pick it up. The only sad thing is that eventually I will reach the point where I’ve read all of them and will know that Bill’s not here to write any more of them. It’s akin to having your wine cellar run dry.

Bill wrote a handful of books that he called the “Devil” series; they had the word “Devil” in every title and concerned supernatural investigators/fighters Sam and Nydia as the protagonists. I flipped through THE DEVIL’S LAUGHTER tonight looking for Sam and Nydia’s names. As I did not spot either of these characters, THE DEVIL’S LAUGHTER does NOT seem to be part of the Devil series.

If you haven’t tried any of Bill’s horror novels, find one (any one) and read it. Then, please, let me know what you think.

So long, Bill. You are greatly missed, my friend.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Don Imus said of this book: “Elvis, Jesus & Coca-Cola is this generation’s Catcher in the Rye. And it doesn’t make you want to shoot a Beatle.” True, but as much as I like this book, it didn’t curb my desire to see Lady Gaga flattened by a steamroller, either.

But be that as it may (and I doubt if it was), ELVIS, JESUS & COCA COLA is another of Kinky Friedman’s tour-de-forces in his impressive catalog of comedic mysteries. Ever since I first read his inaugural novel, GREENWICH KILLING TIME, I’ve been coming back for more whenever his newest book would hit the stand. Sadly, Kinky is not doing mysteries anymore (at least for the time being), but I occasionally still see new publications of his just-made-up “wise old sayings” or reprints of his newspaper columns.

Fans of oddball recipes will be enamored of this book, too, because it includes the recipe for Coca-Cola salad, which was considered to be one of Elvis Presley’s favorite dishes (aside from peanut butter and banana sandwiches and blackened - almost cremated - slices of bacon).

The plot of ELVIS, JESUS & COCA-COLA has to do with a film of Elvis impersonators shot by a recently deceased friend of Kinky’s, Tom Baker. There is a secret contained within the frames of the film that someone is willing to kill for. It’s Kinky’s mission, along with “the Village Irregulars”, to find out what the secret is and to solve several murders and a disappearance.

If you’ve never read a Kinky Friedman novel before, you should be aware that he tosses off some incredibly entertaining one-liners – something he has managed to do (and make it look easy) from book to book. All the while, he writes a pretty good mystery, too.

Amidst all that, though, you will find that Kinky has some pretty profound things to say about the human condition. You’ll be laughing one minute and then find him tugging at your heartstrings in the very next paragraph.

There is a memorial at the end of the book devoted to Kinky’s late cat, Cuddles. When our cat Rusty died, I grabbed this book and read the memorial aloud to Karen (my better half). She misted up when I was done reading it, but I wanted to show her that a person’s love for their deceased pet endures even after the heartbreak of losing something so precious, and that life is invariably better when we are loved by a cat. Thanks, Kinky, for teaching me that

Friday, August 5, 2011


Back in the early 80's, Warner Books decided that they were going to publish some original "Dirty Harry" novels. So, as part of their newly created line of men's action books (see tag below), these all-new Harry Callahan storylines found a publishing home.

There were several other series in the "Men of Action Books" line, but I only followed 2 or 3 of them.

The "Dirty Harry" books were exciting to find and I later learned that Clint Eastwood/Malpaso Productions owned the character and may have been getting a cut of the sales. They also held all motion picture rights. None of the stories were used for the later films, that I recall, and after this, the 12th book, the series folded. Too bad, really, because everyone liked Dirty Harry.

There were two writers on this series working under the name "Dane Hartman" (same initials as "Dirty Harry", eh?). One of the writers was, if memory serves, Leslie Horvath. Horvath wrote every even numbered book and it was obvious (to me, anyway) that he cared little for the series and was only doing it for the paycheck. Let's hope that Horvath's subsequent books are better written and provide a modicum of lucre for him. Perhaps what he's doing these days is not "beneath" him.

Anyway, this book is only worth having if you are a collector. If not, don't bother, but DO look for books 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11. The other writer, Ric Meyers, cared about and understood the character of Harry Callahan; this comes through in his writing.

Monday, July 18, 2011


Ok, I admit it: I was looking forward to this one. Seems like all the SYFY channel “biotech gone berserk” movies that had previously been released on DVD had previews for this one on the discs.

Was it worth the wait? Yes. And no. As I also expected, it was very formulaic. This, I’m guessing, is probably one of the legacies of SYFY channel’s former honcho, Bonnie Hammer. I’ve never quite forgiven Hammer for yanking “Mystery Science Theater 3000” off the air. Hopefully she’s now working at Winchell’s Donuts – at the drive-thru window. Graveyard shift. Yelling at bums who pee on the side of the building. Whatever.

Jay Andrews directed this one. Someone needs to tell Jay that if you have one main bad guy in this movie, then said bad guy needs to have a spectacular and ironic death, especially since he’s the one responsible for these lab experiments gone wrong. It’s called “gratifying the audience”. Jay misses the boat here.

David Carradine plays the main corporate villain in this epic. A far cry from his likeable guy image as Kwai Chang Caine in “Kung Fu”.

His role in DINOCROC VS. SUPERGATOR turns out to be one of his last ones. At least he sort of makes it through the picture, so Carradine’s alleged “auto-erotic asphyxiation” kink hadn’t yet killed him. Guess we now can pretty well figure what he was doing back at the hotel during his off-camera hours, eh?

Standard body count for a film of this type, including a couple of bikini-clad beauties. Would have added a humorous flair if the croc had spit out one of the bikini tops and used it to floss with. Probably would have got a ringing endorsement from the American Dental Association.

The one real surprise is that Roger Corman does NOT have a walk-on part here. He does, however, provide commentary, along with Jay Andrews, on a separate track.

I hardly ever listen to commentary tracks on movies of this type; I figure I already have a handle on “what the director meant” in his handling of certain scenes. Really not a lot of subtext to read into when the camera shows the croc munching a girl’s legs off. It’s not Cocteau or Bergman we’re watching here – it’s just another assembly line SYFY channel movie, so I have to say “no thanks” to what the “Peanut Gallery” has to chime in with.

Monday, July 4, 2011


"Weird Al" Yankovic has just released his newest CD, "Alpocalypse". Nice to see he's still out there and doin' it nearly thirty years after he first hit it big. In fact, he's lasted in popularity much longer than a lot of the bands and singers he's parodied over the decades.

When I discovered Al in 1983, I was young enough then to know and understand which songs he was parodying. Now, I'm afraid that the parade must have passed me by - it would explain all these peanut shells on the ground - because other than "Perform This Way" (Al's parody of Lady Gaga's "Born This Way"), I'm lost as to the other parody songs. However, in this case, it really doesn't matter. Al makes 'em all funny.

I bought this CD just last week at Wal-Mart. There are two versions on the market now - one is JUST the CD, the other being CD and DVD. The CD/DVD combo really IS the one to get. It'll cost about 3 bucks more, but trust me, it will be worth it.

The DVD does not contain every song on ALPOCALYPSE. The first video, CNR, is a tribute to the late Charles Nelson Reilly; the animation (all videos are animated or partially animated on the DVD) on CNR is done "South Park" style. Very funny, actually. So, too, is the fact that Charles is portrayed as an ass-kicking dude in the video.

Another video, CRAIG'S LIST, is not identified as a parody, but if you're an older fella like me, the music may bring to mind The Doors song, SOUL KITCHEN. Al certainly is decked out here like Jim Morrison.

The DVD runs in the neighborhood of 40 minutes, give or take.

The CD's contents are as follows:

Perform This Way
Skipper Dan
Polka Face
Craig's List
Party in the CIA
Another Tattoo
If That Isn't Love
Whatever You Like
Stop Forwarding That Crap to Me.

STOP FORWARDING THAT CRAP TO ME really hits home because we've all experienced exactly what Al is singing about in this song. This one is the crown jewel on the CD, although there are some that come a close second.

So thanks, Al, for doing what you do. Hope you'll keep 'em coming.

Saturday, July 2, 2011


While doing some scanning of my old comic books, I ran across this ad. I don’t normally scan the ads, but this one was just too good to pass up.

The irony here is that he should have been doing ads for Bruno Magli shoes….

Friday, June 17, 2011


We’re talkin’ ‘bout the unforgettable Jeff Goldblum/Geena Davis from 1986 here.

Found this one in a used bin at Blockbuster and snatched it right up, surprised that no one got to it before I did.

I’ll never forget the first time seeing this one because Karen became ill right afterward at the theatre. Neither of us expected it to be as graphic and nightmarish as it was. Since that time, I usually have to screen a horror film ahead of time so that I can warn Karen when something upsetting is about to occur.

It’s the extras disc that really provides some interesting information about THE FLY, though. There are the requisite chats with stars Goldblum and Davis, but also with John Getz, who played Geena’s editor in the movie – and who loses a foot and hand to the acid-like Fly barf that Seth lovingly horks upon them.

There are, of course, deleted scenes, too. One scene in particular was a bit much to take – it involved Seth’s evolving cruelty and something called “the catmonkey”. ‘Nuff said on that level. There is also a number filmed epilogues that didn’t make the cut, either.

The version I have is an anniversary edition of THE FLY, so this is why all the goodies came with it.

Thursday, June 9, 2011


Yes, that's a face on the book's cover and yes, it's in a jar. However, the woman depicted is probably NOT Eleanor Rigby.

I first became familiar with Bill (I knew him and was told to call him that) Johnstone through his myriad of oddball horror novels. He also wrote post-apocalyptic stuff, Westerns, military thrillers and worked in many other genres as well.

NIGHT MASK is one of his more unusual books because it combines a serial killer story with some other weirdness, including werewolves.

You never knew what you were going to get with a Bill Johnstone horror novel; therein lay the charm.

I hope they re-print all his horror novels so that I have a fighting chance to get those I missed.