If you thought I knew how to cover the stranger side of pop culture, you should check out my latest YouTube obsession, the Oddity Archive. Because he does it better!
YouTube Channel Shoutout
I’ve given a few shoutouts recently for several channels whose work I watch with a diligent eye, a smile on my face…and the intense concentration and excitement of an excited geek.
In recent months, I’ve praised urban explorers Dan Bell and Ace’s Adventures and their journeys through dead/dying mall culture. As you know, I dabble in pop culture bizzarreness, especially nostalgic pop culture bizarreness. And I’ve found a channel that makes it so weirdos like me can revel in someone else’s equal enjoyment.
To be honest, I have no idea how I found the Oddity Archive, but it has already been responsible for a recent Music Monday post on my blog, so you know it means business in my life.
Oddity Archive delves into the strangeness of pop culture (specifically the nostalgic kind), and tells its story through history lessons, local commercials, and any relevant footage. Host Ben Minnotte sits behind his box and tells the tale of these bizarre moments in pop culture. His tales are funny, the pop culture is odd and painful, and all of it is done with proud geeky passion.
And for every new episode, a different picture on the box.
He’s smiling behind that box.
Ben’s topics run the range of pop culture oddities – riffs, short films, local access programming (think Wayne’s World, but terrible), VCR gaming, analog broadcast sign-offs, drive-in theater ads, and children’s programming. The stranger, the better!
The webseries premiered with the Max Headroom hacking story, and from there, has gone on to cover anything that is pretty much on the level of that infamous incident. There is strong language as well as some not safe for work imagery in the video link
If you’re still reading this, then obviously, this piques your interest.
Which brings me to the part you came here for…VIDEOS!
How about a whole playlist of oddities? Go on, click play!
Uploads via OddityArchive (Playlist via Michael Roden)
Ok, it’s more like let’s watch “Sonic Fury.” But here nor there, folks.
On a Sonic Fury-Like Alternate Universe…
Back in 2015, an excited writer named Allison Venezio wrote a piece for a certain retro blog. She talked at length about a game. It wasn’t much of a game – you put the tape in a VCR and connected a “console” (the console’s maker called it a “base unit”) to your VCR. You took aim at targets, and your actions (or inactions) didn’t effect the outcome. It wasn’t much of a game.
That game, however, contained decent visuals. It tried so hard. And the only reason it contained those decent visuals was because those visuals came from an actual feature film.
That game, you ask? Action Max’s Blue Thunder. The writer? This one! It was my first Retroist article, and I am proud that so many articles later (this is my 127th), I’m still with Retroist, cranking out the best of the best in rare weirdness and Chicago music.
It’s an awesome ride, which doesn’t quite describe what you’re about to read and watch…
Highway To the Sonic Fury – er, Danger Zone!
Welcome to the friendly skies of Chroma Key, where your final training exercises are being held. This training is your ticket into Sonic Fury, which is probably Top Gun Lite.
Joining you on your final training exercise is Alabam (“True” Fact: the last “a” was left off so Worlds of Wonder wouldn’t get sued by the state of Alabama), and these two enthusiastic pilots:
Your friendly neighborhood Native American pilot, “Chief,” and that old hot dog…”Trucker.”
I bet he did that for the kids.
You’re nickname for the mission is Ace, this is a nicknames-only mission, and it should be a cut-and-dry final training session…
Yeah, movies never wrap up that fast, why should Worlds of Wonder dare to be different?
Friends, let’s grab our light guns and take to the friendly skies of Chroma Key to complete our training for “Sonic Fury,” aka “Not A Top Gun Ripoff Squadron.”
The best part? I’ll be joining you for the ride!
That’s right, my happy face is confined to the lower corner of the screen, covering up the flashing “target” placement area.
Oh, and apparently I’ve lost my mind.
And whenever you’re ready, click play and join in on the mutual torturing, littered with drones, me giggling, and the feel of a company that really thought they had something big going on here.
PREPARE FOR ACTION!
Upload via Allison Venezio / Allison’s Written Words
I covered one of the other Action Max games on my blog for my Halloween article, if you’re still feeling brave after your training mission for Sonic Fury!
Prepare thyself! By the end of this article, you will not only remember Hi-Tops Video, logos IN SPACE will be burned into your conscious memory!
All The Production Logos
If you grew up in the 1980s and early 1990s, you’re familiar with the “mainstream” production company/distributor logos. Think Universal, 20th Century Fox, and Warner Bros. You’ll also likely remember some of the not-so-mainstream “budget” production company/distributor logos. For this argument, think Key Video, 1980s aerobic/exercise videos, and (shudder) Vestron.
The commonality that most of these bigger groups (and moreso the budget groups) is their family-friendly/children’s sublabels.
Focusing On Sublabels…
The 1980s brought about quite a few sublabels of larger companies – Playhouse Video (20th Century Fox), Children’s Video Library (Vestron Home Video), and this all-too-memorable logo…
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That jingle, the lacing up shoe. This is a logo that ’80s kids could easily identify. This was Hi-Tops Video, and it was a company that released (almost) everything kid-friendly.
“Almost” was because they had stiff competition from those other distributors…and not all of them were splashy and high-quality.
Hi-Tops Video was a sublabel of Media Home Entertainment, itself a division of Heron Communications, and their childrens’ distribution and production arm. The company actively released thirty-five different productions as a distributor, and ten as a production company between 1986 and 1992.
Their releases ranged from toy tie-in cartoons of the time (The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin, Captain Power, Lady Lovelylocks, and even two Barbie specials), and television shows (Long Ago and Far Away, Pee-Wee’s Playhouse), to imports, a guide to home safety for children, and a “profile video” about actor Chris Young.
Which I can’t find video proof of, folks. But I found the home safety video!
Hi-Tops and Logos…IN SPACE!
In order to know Hi-Tops Video and how it started, we have to go back a few years…eight years, to be exact.
Media Home Entertainment was founded in 1978 by Charles Band, with three sublabels – The Nostalgia Merchant (very old or classic films), Fox Hills Video (special interest and obscure B-movies), and the aforementioned Hi-Tops Video. After a rocky start due to ABKCO Records suing Media for releasing The Rolling Stones’ Hyde Park concert, and then for their releasing of Beatles material, Media became one of the largest independent video distributors in the United States.
If you ask me, I think there was more cause to sue them for this ugly logo…
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…and blatant (though intentional) misuse of proper spelling!
But they redeemed themselves…IN SPACE!
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And then they changed their music…IN SPACE!
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Though they associated with Cannon.
Hi-Tops Video Releases
Hi-Tops Video released the majority of the earliest Peanuts specials as part of “Snoopy’s Home Video Library.” When I worked in the video store, we had the Hi-Tops prints of A Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s The Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown. The store even had It’s Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown (with She’s A Good Skate, Charlie Brown on the same tape), but released by Media Home Entertainment. Imagine that surprise when I rented the video! I had never seen the Media logo prior to that!
While most of their product were imports and programs based on established series and toylines, Little Schoolhouse was an original release (as were the aforementioned home safety video and profile on actor Chris Young).
Behold, original material!!!!
Uploads via UncleSporkums (and his awesome YouTube Channel!) and CringeVision
The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin In the Land of Hi-Top Video!
And I didn’t even know this – The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin releases were designed to be compatible with Teddy Ruxpin himself. They also dug out that man-sized Teddy Ruxpin suit to ensure that live-action Teddy Ruxpin never quite went away. His purpose? Ppening and closing segments on the videocassettes…
Behold, EXHIBIT A!
Upload via redilliop
Of course, I’m still shuddering over Come Dream With Me Tonight (the video, not the song itself!).
It’s all fun, games, and lacing up your sneakers, until your company goes under, taking you with them.
Such was the case with…
The Great Unlacing: The End of Hi-Tops Video
As fate would (unfortunately) have it, the early 1990s meant the end of an era in children’s home video distribution and production. In 1990, Media began downsizing its staff and selling its assets in the wake of Gerald Ronson’s (part of the family that established Heron International) in the Guinness share-trading fraud in Great Britain.
Media ceased operations in 1993, with Hi-Tops Video inactive the previous year (though Wikipedia cites that they were active until 1996). The Peanuts specials were acquired by Paramount in 1994, with Warner Bros. acquiring them in 2008. Most of their catalog is effectively out of print, but alas, You Tube is an amazing treasure trove for the Hi-Tops Video library.
So um, wow. Not short, sweet, and too the point, but still quite the composition in words and visuals. I, for one, love this logo – always have. Hi-Tops Video is a part of the childhood experience of video renting in the 1980s. I smile when I see this logo show up, even moreso if I see a Hi-Tops videocassette somewhere. The catchy jingle, shoe lacing up and bouncing into the background? All the makings of the 1980s nostalgic childhood experience, my friends.
Spoiler Alert: “The Devil’s Gift” is terrible regardless of the version.
But first, on a semi-related note…
It’s my BIRTHDAY!!!!
I’ll give you all the pertinents:
I’m aware I don’t look it.
This post is relevant to birthdays.
All of that said…
The Devil’s Gift…Is A Hell Of A Birthday Present!
Let’s face it, we all get that one gift we don’t like. We suck it up and thank the giver for their efforts…then focus our time and undivided attention on something else. I’ve never had that experience (honest!), as rumor has it I’m easy to shop for.
Someone needs to tell the kid in this movie that he should have played with his other birthday gifts. Because this movie would have been over faster!
The Devil’s Gift is a 1984 feature film directed by Kenneth J. Berton, he of the stinker Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders, which is only watchable with riffing and Ernest Borgnine.
For me, that’s probably because my Uncle Sam looked just like him. This is actually Borgnine, not my Uncle Sam.
The Devil’s Gift is infamously known in its heavily-edited, child-friendly form (as seen on Mystery Science Theater 3000), and until recently, this was the only version I knew about. I figured, “oh, it’s a short film and it was needed to pad out the runtime of this longer film.” It was version I saw as a sixteen-year-old MSTie in 1999, and several times years later.
…and the DVD cover that makes me scream B.S.!
The Devil’s Gift is an actual living, breathing representation of what a truly terrible movie one can make (that doesn’t involve Tommy Wiseau), and how it can absolutely feel disjointed even without heavy editing. Again, not involving Tommy Wiseau.
The original version is darker and more “violent,” but just as cheap, ugly, poorly-plotted and clunky as the version seen on MST3K.
Again, I’m absolutely certain Tommy Wiseau’s name does not appear anywhere in the credits.
Oh, the “Plot…”
Michael Andrews receives a cymbal-banging monkey as a birthday present, purchased by his father David’s girlfriend, Susan. The toy monkey was found among the ruins of a burned-down house, untouched by the damage surrounding it, and brought to an antiques shop, where Susan later decides this monkey is a Great Gift Idea.
And that’s where the fun begins!
Each time the monkey bangs his cymbals of his own accord (the first clue this “toy” could not possibly be safe to play with), something happens. And by “something,” I mean death. Houseplants, the family dog, a housefly. And if it isn’t death, it is near-misses involving Michael: a near hit-and-run, attempting smothering, and attempted drowning. The monkey wants this kid dead, and two out of three times, it wants Susan to be the killer. The other time, it wants a car to kill him.
This is a terrible, horrible, ugly, schlock-filled, low-rent film that tries to be horror/thriller, and comes up comedy/Not Thriller. And the ending…let’s just say Merlin doesn’t arrive to retrieve his monkey.
The plot of the film is similar to Stephen King’s short story The Monkey, which is obviously an insult to King’s genius, since this movie is far from the caliber of Stephen King’s genius (it is alleged that the movie is plagiarized from that story). I’ve used “clunky,” “ugly,” “cheap,” and “poorly-plotted” to describe this movie, all of which is accurate. The acting is ugly, the people are ugly, the general look of the film is ugly, and I swear that 1970s couch every grandparent had is prominent in this house. I recall laughing at the riff “Hello, 1970s house” hysterically as a teenager, acting like I totally got why it was so funny. As an adult, I get the joke…this is a 1970s house. This is 1976 trying to masquerade as 1984.
The runner up for laughs? This scene with riffing…
Upload via WhiteBimboMan
If the guys from RiffTrax ever get their hands on it, I will be proudly claim firsties forking over the cost to see it in the theater. I have no shame.
The Devil’s Gift
Behold, the gift you don’t want, in its original form, complete with home video logos and trailers at the end.
For me, the real “gift” is that it is the 1985 Vestron Video print, complete with that screeching logo.
Anyway, celebrate my birthday with me over a movie about a possessed toy, and that toy’s determination to kill. It’s a helluva gift that you might just say the devil had something to do with…
Admit it, you giggled a little.
Anyway, here’s the ugly truth of a film…
Upload via m1lkm4n
But, if you prefer the equally awkward, heavily edited, family-friendly B-story of a Z-grade film, then by all means, watch the original, if only for Ernest Borgnine.
THE FUTURE also comes complete with early 1990s Dennis Miller smarm and smirk!
For the record, I’ve always liked that smarm and smirk.
Now, I Don’t Wanna Go Off In A Rant Here…
When I was almost in my teens (and carrying right into today), Dennis Miller was my hero. He never failed to amuse me (even when I didn’t get the reference), he was aware his acting skills were terrible (Bordello of Blood, anyone?), and he had books in publication. I like funny men, I like bad acting, and I love books. Say what you will about him now, but I (still) love the guy. He still cracks me up…and I still don’t get every reference.
I’ve been lucky enough to see the man perform live twice (once in 2005, another time in 2006). The first time I saw him (at Borgata’s Music Box Theater), the show was initially “sold out,” but a random Ticketmaster email with the promise of available tickets 24 hours before the show meant seeing him perform. The second time (at Circus Maximus Theater, Caesars Atlantic City), it was a surprise that I knew about three weeks before.
Most “critics” say he’s lost his edge. I don’t believe that for a second when you don’t miss a beat in your material. He’s still as esoteric as he ever was, but damn, I laughed hysterically each time.
Back to the 1990s…
In the early 1990s (post-Saturday Night Live), the man was marketable, and he turned up everywhere. ESPY hosting duties, Primetime Emmy hosting duties, Talk Show #1, Talk Show #2, a movie here, a movie there, commercial, commercial, commercial, another movie, commercial.
He was the spokesperson for everything, folks.
And as I just found out…he hosted corporate marketing videos!
Allow me to turn over a New Leaf…
New Leaf Enertainment
In 1992, Blockbuster Video, coupled with IBM, turned over a “new leaf” in THE FUTURE of home video and gaming rentals. The concept allowed retailers access to a vast digital library of films and video games, copied into a cartridge or disc.
The company name, you ask? New Leaf Entertainment!
And they asked Dennis Miller to tell us about it, while dispensing of esoteric references and technological talk, while displaying his bad acting skills and his hilarious depiction of a French accent.
That’s probably his best acting, folks.
Although, if you saw Disclosure, he’s not that terrible of an actor. But Michael Crichton wrote his part with him in mind, so…
Seriously, he was REALLY good in this movie. Especially when he turned his back on Michael Douglas. You’d think an actual actor with actual acting chops publicly questioned Douglas’s character’s “transgression.”
Anyway, I could tell you all about this amazing technology Miller can’t wait to tell us about, but why don’t I let him do that instead?
Click play, cha-cha!
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Sounds great in theory, right?
It Sounded Like a Great Idea…
But it wasn’t. Because it never happened.
Well, not in 1992.
The whole concept wound up being just that…a concept. A concept with terrible acting and presentation material that may as well have been Miller’s stand-up routine.
I wonder if Dennis Miller remembers that he did this.
The idea sounds amazing in theory, but technology as it was in 1992, as well as a weak distribution model, lead this the whole idea.
For more information on this (and the eventual testing phase in 1994), the Gaming Historian covered the gaming end of it on his show.
(That’s how I found the Dennis Miller marketing video!)
Upload via Gaming Historian
What do you think? Was this a great idea in theory, or just an idea of what was to come once the right technological advancements were made?