Friday, January 17, 2020

Nostalgia Bomb! - Snow White Cream Soda

What was it?

Snow White Cream Soda was an independent and hard-to-find cream soda that I had in and around the 1990s. It was a clear or colourless cream soda and was not tinted with any dyes to look pink, which was and is common with different brands of cream soda, like Crush.

When was it available?

This one is a toughie! From my research the company that technically made Snow White sodas has been around since in the 1920s and I've seen some very old-looking cans of Snow White Cream Soda for sale on eBay for extravagant prices, but without exact dates on them. I know for certain it was around in the 1970s to the 1990s and potentially even as late as the 2010s, but more on that in the next segment!

What about today?

The short answer is... I dunno. The long-winded one - because you know I can't help myself - is that the company that technically makes the soda still appears to be around and making pop, so there's a possibility that it could be being made and sold right now in some small markets in Canada. I don't think that's the case, though!

Why do I remember it?

Simply put, Snow White Cream Soda was by far the best cream soda I have ever had!

I first started spotting cans of the stuff at a local convenience store that I frequented as a kid in the early '90s. It was never stored anywhere near the big brands like Coca-Cola or Pepsi and would always be mixed up with the cheaper brands, like Cott or RC. This section of the pop fridge was always in complete disarray and held a mish-mash of cans, so you had to actually take the time to dig through them to find something you were looking for.

The can I know and remember is this one, which I found on the site

I feel like I remember other winter-themed designs on the can, but I could be totally wrong and I have no way to corroborate it. I'm so sure there was one with a cutesy penguin or something, but the Internet is failing me.

Cream soda is always about the vanilla flavour. It's a really simple drink that hearkens back to an older time. It feels right at home with ginger ale or root beer. I feel like around the '80s some soda companies decided to spice things up and started putting pink dye in cream soda as a way of making it more appealing to kids. This isn't inherently bad - in fact I still really enjoy Crush Cream Soda, which does this - but it seems like the flavours started to vary at this time, too. The taste took a backseat to the colouring.

For a long time Crush actually didn't add the pink dye. The label would be pink, but the soda remained colourless. Nowadays the whole brand is pretty well sold on its vivacious coloured sodas, like orange, pineapple, and grape, so cream soda has gone the same route.

No other cream soda had the formula so perfect as Snow White, which is why I believe I was even able to get the stuff in Nova Scotia. You see, the brand is owned by Breuvages Kiri from a small town in Quebec. Like most small brands, it pretty well only distributes in the immediate area, but you could get their sodas as far as Ontario and northern New Brunswick. They had other flavours, which I was surprised to find out, like orange and lemon-lime, but cream soda was their best and brightest and, as such, was distributed with a further reach.

Sometime during the late-90s I stopped seeing the stuff on local store shelves. It was one of those "you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone" moments. I'm sure I enjoyed as much of the stuff as I could, but as soon as I couldn't get it anymore I craved it. It was right at home with a bag of Hostess Barbecue potato chips as a Coke, which in my mind is no small feat.

That said it looks like Breuvages Kiri, also known as TechnoBev in Ontario (because this shit isn't confusing enough), weren't done with the soda. The Snow White brand continued on and even added some flavours to try and diversify. In addition to the three I mentioned above I think there was root beer and cherry. This may have occurred around the 2000s, but it could have been earlier. If you could tell, solid information on this brand is pretty sparse. 

At some point before the 2010s the company re-branded their sodas as simply Kiri and appears to still be a local favourite, having carved out a small enough niche to survive all these years in the rough-and-tumble soda business. The thing is their website has thrown a broken link since 2011 when the company reportedly filed for bankruptcy protection, so I'm not sure what's up. There is another Kiri soda brand from Uganda but, unsurprisingly, there's no connection.

I have read that Kiri pushed other flavours, but I've even read that as late as 2011 they were still producing cream soda with the original recipe. Whether it was still branded as Snow White or made under the Kiri label I can't be sure. From what I've read it was found in Giant Tiger stores in Quebec, which are sort of like mini department stores that are a step up from a Dollarama. We have the stores here in NS, but no Snow White to speak of.

So there's still hope that some day I might be able to enjoy a Snow White Cream Soda in one incarnation or another! I'm not holding my breath, though.

Whether Snow White is still around or not is kind of inconsequential, honestly. As much as I'd love to have it again - should it still exist - it was a slice of time in my childhood and teenage years that I can never get back to. When biking to the store and renting some tapes or games and grabbing a cold soda out of the fridge was always a night well-spent, especially if I was enjoying an ice cold Snow White Cream Soda.

And that's why it's a blast from my past!

Friday, January 10, 2020

Memory, Blog: Before The Blair Witch Project There Was UFO Abduction

In a previous post, I wrote about the fateful night I came across Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County on a TV station I did not frequent: UPN.

In that article, I dropped the "shocking" revelation that the film was a television production by filmmaker Dean Alioto and not a real alien abduction, but I also mentioned this wasn't Mr. Alioto's first brush with this sort of conspiracy.

Rewind to 1989 and Dean Alioto's first film foray, UFO Abduction.

This is where the plot really thickens, like a good pot of Kraft Dinner.

You see, Dean Alioto wanted to make a small indie film in the late '80s and decided on the hot topic of alien visitation. The story is told through a perspective of one character, who is recording a family event with a camcorder. Although it was released almost a decade after Cannibal Holocaust, the film predates The Blair Witch Project and The Last Broadcast by ten years, as well. In a way, it's like the grand daddy of the Found Footage genre (I guess that makes Cannibal Holocaust the great grandpa). That said, UFO Abduction doesn't really stack up on the quality front.

This is a very small budget movie. Shot entirely on a VHS camcorder in essentially one location, the film's run-time is a little over an hour.

Tell me if you recognize this setup: A man decides to videotape his niece's 5th birthday party with the whole family. During the dinner the power goes out and when the cause is investigated it's found that a UFO and aliens have landed near the family home. The film documents the family's last moments as they are attacked by visitors not of this world and eventually abducted.

Yeah, Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County is a remake!

Here's the crazy part: There is a huge contingent of people out there who believe that UFO Abduction is the real deal and not a staged event and that the UPN remake/special is all part of a clever cover-up. There was even a segment on Encounters, the Fox paranormal "news" show (we'll get to it eventually), which featured UFO Abduction in a segment about hoaxes. From what I can tell the producers of Encounters certainly didn't think the tape was authentic, but they interviewed several individuals who did believe in it.

Now, the moment you start watching UPN's Alien Abduction you get the vibe that you're watching actors. The set looks pretty authentic, but the special effects and the wooden acting make it a dead-ringer for a film production. Although UFO Abduction is on a smaller scale, you can tell these people are actors pretty much right away, too.

And the special effects are basically a laser pointer. No cats on the set, please!

You don't get a really great or clear look at the aliens in the TV cut of Alien Abduction, but you get some pretty good looks at them in UFO Abduction and you can clearly tell they're kids in black jumpsuits with expensive alien gloves and masks on. In fact, Dean Alioto has even shared production photos from the set showing the children that made up the "alien" threat in his film. That's not enough to deter the believers, however.

All that conspiracy stuff aside, UFO Abduction isn't nearly as good as Alien Abduction, which I'm aware isn't saying much. It's mostly just people running around screaming in a poorly lit house. The set design on the UFO is pretty good, but they definitely took it to a new level when they did the remake. I didn't get near the chills watching the original movie as I did from the TV show.

That said, it's an interesting film in that it predates The Blair Witch Project and most of the Found Footage genre, so fans of those types of movies might want to check it out. Director Dean Alioto has DVDs available on his website for $20 USD and a Digital option for $15, which is much more cost effective than trying to track down one of the original VHS copies of this film that were sold around UFO conventions in the early 90s. You can also search it out online for pirated uploads, but the quality is abysmal. Up to you!

Another cool tidbit: Dean Alioto started a YouTube channel a few years back and from what I can tell he's trying to fund another film in his Alien Abduction trilogy, which would essentially be another remake of the same story. His Patreon launched over a year ago, though, and things aren't looking good. I wouldn't hold my breath.

Well that's enough about UFO Abduction in all its incarnations. It's time to move onto some cooler paranormal TV shows in this walk down memory lane, but it I thought it was important to cover all the bases on this one.

Hope you enjoyed!

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Nostalgia Bomb! - A Muppet Family Christmas

What was it?

A Muppet Family Christmas is a holiday special produced for ABC by the Jim Henson Company. The show features characters from all of Henson's TV efforts to that point: The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, and Muppet Babies.

When was it available?

The special first aired on December 16th, 1987 and ran in an hour-long time slot. ABC ran the special again the following year on December 2nd, 1988 before the show was re-edited for licensing issues and aired on NBC in 1989 as a part of The Magical World of Disney anthology series. After that it surprisingly aired on Nickelodeon as late as 1997!

What about today?

Today, well... you're out of luck! There have been several VHS releases of the special since around 1990 and even a DVD was produced as late as 2003, but due to licensing issues with several of the songs used, as well as ownership rights over the different Muppet brands, there hasn't been a home video release or broadcast of A Muppet Family Christmas in many, many years. Home video releases of the show fetch upwards of $200 CDN as of writing this.

Why do I remember it?

It's difficult to forget A Muppet Family Christmas once you've seen it! It has to be one of the most ambitious television programs ever produced.

The Jim Henson Company was certainly riding high in the '80s. They had a major success with The Muppet Show in the '70s and then rolled that into three feature films by 1984, and by '87 there were several popular TV shows being produced in joint all over the globe. A Muppet Family Christmas wasn't happy just taking their stock Muppets from The Muppet Show and creating a family-friendly Christmas special, so they went out and dragged in Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, and even created real Muppets for Muppet Babies, which was a cartoon series!

It's interesting to note that this wasn't the first time they brought all these franchises together - technically The Muppets: A Celebration of 30 Years gets that honour - but I think the more adored special is A Muppet Family Christmas.

With all these characters and story-lines intermixed the special really moves. There is zero downtime to speak of. Characters transition from scene to song to scene quickly to make sure everyone gets their limelight in this 45 minute show.

The main gist of the special is that Doc and Sprocket from most of the iterations of Fraggle Rock - these characters were only featured in wraparound segments of the show and were sometimes changed regionally - are renting Emily Bear's home for a quiet country Christmas, while she intends to go to sunnier climates on holiday. Unexpectedly, her son Fozzie and the rest of The Muppet Show gang turn up to surprise her for Christmas! The only Muppet missing is Ms. Piggy, who was finishing some business and intends to make a later appearance, but is caught in a bad snowstorm en route.

Some of the subplots include Fozzie's snowman coming to life and becoming his new comedy partner, the Sesame Street gang stumbling upon the country farmhouse while they're out caroling, Swedish Chef trying to cook a turkey for Christmas dinner, Kermit and his nephew discovering a Fraggle hole in the basement of Emily Bear's house, and Scooter finding an old film reel of the Muppet Babies in a closet!

Outside of the multitude of stories the songs are certainly the biggest feature of the special. There are 12 songs in total in the original edit, which includes some holiday classics, a few original tunes, and a massive medley to round out the program. Seriously, I have no idea how they found that many puppeteers. Outside of the medley there are several standout songs, but I have to say getting to hear Swedish Chef and Big Bird sing a duet of "Merry Christmas To You" is the highlight, in my opinion.

Swedish Chef and Big Bird may seem like a weird combination, but it works with the story. Some other mash-ups get teased, like Oscar the Grouch and Rizzo the Rat or Cookie Monster and Animal, but because of the breadth of the special they aren't explored.

The cherry on top of the whole thing is a small scene at the very end of the special where Jim Henson is enjoying seeing all his creations celebrating together before opting to clean the dishes with the help of Sprocket. It's sad to think he'd pass just three short years after this special aired.

All-in-all, A Muppet Family Christmas is one of the best holiday specials out there and one my most cherished. We didn't have Nickelodeon in Canada when I was a kid, so I would've only had the opportunity to watch the show a few times in the late-80s/early-90s, but it left an indelible mark. It's just so cozy and comfortable! Like most of the specials that I feature on the site it's really sad this isn't broadcast each year, but at least in this case the licensing issues are pretty clear: Disney bought out The Muppets brand in 2004, but the Sesame Street characters is still owned by Sesame Workshop, for instance.

You can still find it to stream in a few corners of the Internet, however. There's a pretty nice copy on YouTube that you can easily search out. I - being a total nostalgia nerd - opted to watch a really poorly recorded copy with the original commercials on I've linked it so you can check it out, but if you're not that jazzed to see old ads for Ritz and Legos... well, actually, what are you even doing here!?

A Muppet Family Christmas is as true holiday classic that still resonates today and that's why it's a blast from the past!

Hope you enjoyed,

Friday, November 8, 2019

Memory, Blog: The MacPherson Tape

A while back I wrote about an alien TV show that scared the pants off me as a kid, Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County. In that post I mentioned that in the UPN special the producers featured "experts" in the fields of Ufology - as well as skeptics - to speak about the as-presented "real" UFO abduction tape.

The interesting thing is that the so-called "experts" weren't really talking about the video that was aired that night.

You see, Paramount (UPN stands for United Paramount Network, by the way) did indeed pay to have Alien Abduction made, but it started out as a movie by filmmaker Dean Alioto under the title The MacPherson Tape and had a fairly different story than what was aired on television.

The basics were there: it featured a family get-together for Thanksgiving, in which the MacPhersons are beset by creatures from another planet, but the producers of the UPN special changed things up.

I actually had no idea about The MacPherson Tape until a few years ago. I was searching for a way to watch Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County on the web, because my folks either taped over or threw out my old recording. I found a copy to download, but when I started watching I realized fairly quickly that it wasn't the show I remembered. There were no title bumpers and no announcer. It looked nothing like a TV show! This was a legit shot-on-video movie.

The original cut runs for an hour and a half, so it's really a feature-length film. The hour long special had a runtime of 45 minutes, which was cut with interviews and recaps, so you can tell that a lot hit the cutting room floor.

Oddly enough, it wasn't just dissected for time, but the beats of the film were all changed, as well. The "ending" of Alien Abduction (seen above), where Tommy is abducted by a dimly lit creature in his bedroom (/me shudders), is actually a scene from the middle of The MacPherson Tape, where he runs to his room to change his pants, is frozen by an alien for a few moments, and then returns to his family unaware of what just transpired.

So, it would appear that this film, The MacPherson Tape, is actually what was presented to the "experts", which makes sense as this version is a fully-fledged found footage film (take that, aliteration!). It's much more impressive than the clips you see hodge-podged together for the TV cut. It sort of seems like an under-handed thing. Some of the individuals that spoke to the film on the TV special were highly-lauded scientists and debunkers. They likely wouldn't have involved themselves with the tape if they knew for certain that it was an out-and-out scam, so it kind of makes the whole thing seem greasy, but who knows? Maybe everyone made a nice cut of the profits and all was well!

I actually still prefer the TV version over the film. It's not just the nostalgia talking, but the ending with Tommy getting abducted in his bedroom is the better edit, in my opinion.

What's also interesting is that The MacPherson Tape predates The Blair Witch Project by a whole year! I know the found footage concept wasn't entirely new when The Blair Witch Project came out, but it's cool to note. The MacPherson Tape doesn't even come close to the quality of The Blair Witch Project, by the way. We're talkin' two different leagues.

Even more interesting is that the film's creator, Dean Alioto, actually got the UPN gig because of a very similar film he made way back in 1989 called UFO Abduction, which predates The Blair Witch Project by a full ten years! But that story is for another time (I promise, I'll at least try to stop typing that).

I hope you got some kind of enjoyment out of all this silly alien TV stuff!

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Halloween Cereals 2019

As is usually the case with Halloween, Christmas, Summertime, etc. all the big corporations find different ways to ingratiate themselves into your grocery list by offering strange seasonal fare you would otherwise never consider purchasing.

You see this sort of thing with all sorts of brands: everything from tea and coffee to snack foods and soda and even kitty litter! Now, I'm definitely a mark for this sort of thing in general, but one product that I seem to key in on is cereal.

I mean it's not hard. I love cereal! I don't eat it every day, but if I see something new and different I can't help it but buy a box.

Usually, you can expect to see some Autumn or Halloween themed cereals on offer at this time of year, but I must say that there wasn't much to be had. Gone are the days that every cereal company kicked out some pumpkin spice variant or kids' cereals spookied up their usual best-sellers.

After weeks of waiting and nearly giving up all hope, I walked into a grocery store the other day and found that they suddenly had a display of three General Mills seasonal cereals! I scored a box of each and the following are my thoughts on them.

Pumpkin Spice Cheerios

This is the biggest surprise for me, personally, and although I was more looking forward to the other cereals on this list I had to try these first.

Now, these certainly aren't new: they've been on the market since at least 2016. I'm fairly certain I've seen them on Canadian shelves in the past, but I've always passed them over. I don't know what it is, but Cheerios have been cranking out new flavours left and right the lately and they're almost always sub-par. Honey Nut and Apple Cinnamon Cheerios are on high-rotation in my house, so its hard to pass up those for something different or limited.

This time around, however, the box completely caught my eye. It wasn't like the old orange box I remembered, and honestly it sold me on at least trying the cereal this time around.

On opening the box I was immediately smacked in the face with the smell of - wait for it - pumpkin! This may seem like a dumb thing to point out, but if we're being honest with ourselves how often does "pumpkin spice anything" ever actually taste like pumpkin? Can you even tell me what pumpkin spice tastes like?

No, you can't!

It's a melange of spices that any company can tweak and change at their will. It usually involves cinnamon and nutmeg, but I can honestly say that I've never had anything that actually included freakin' pumpkin in the mix!

Pumpkin Spice Cheerios actually tote this fact right on the box, stating that it is made with real pumpkin purée mixed with cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove. A pumpkin spice recipe that's actually in writing! It's a nice touch and it pays off.

I'll admit that one of the reasons I wanted to try Pumpkin Spice Cheerios first was because I assumed I wouldn't actually like them. As I said before, these new flavours of Cheerios rarely land. Pumpkin Spice, though, just have a hint of pumpkin flavour and a dash of spices. There's nothing crazy going on here, which is nice. It almost tastes like Honey Nut Cheerios that had a light dusting and definitely seems light on the sugar. There's actually less of the sweet stuff in this box than Honey Nut or Apple Cinnamon.

I've had two bowls to date as I write this and its actually even grown on me, so I think I would give this a recommend, provided your into pumpkin spice and you're not a total Halloween Grinch!

Count Chocula

The Monster Cereals from General Mills have been around since the 70s and were on any grocery shelf in the US up until 2010. There have been several different kinds, but the flagships have always been Count Chocula and Franken Berry. Boo Berry has become one of the strongest in the line up, with Fruit Brute and Fruity Yummy Mummy being offered only occasionally since the late-80s, early-90s.

In 2010, General Mills started offering the cereals only seasonally. The staples are Chocula and Franken and Boo Berry, but in 2013 and 2014 all five were actually released.

Now what about up here in the wilds of Canadia?

It wasn't until 2014 that General Mills - after seeing the greymarket created by people near the border driving and selling boxes of their goods here in Canada - decided to bring the cereal to our great country. For whatever reason instead of going for the three main cereals, same as in the US, the only two on offer here were Count Chocula and Boo Berry.

I wasn't completely broken-hearted by this decision, but I was definitely unhappy with it, as well. More to come on that.

The truth is I'm not a big fruit-flavoured cereal guy and I never have been. I think Fruity Pebbles was the only one that I went for with any regularity as a kid. Now, chocolate cereals? You've got my attention! So, easily my favourite of the two since I first started buying them again in the mid-10s (we can say that now, right?) has been Count Chocula.

I've heard the controversy that they've changed the cereals and they're very unlike their original versions, but I never - and I mean never - had these as a kid.

I feel certain that they were available in Canada, but either my parents wouldn't buy them for me or they just weren't available in my neck-of-the-woods. I know that I always wanted to try them and my parents weren't known to be completely against sugary cereals, so I have to assume it was a limited availability issue.

As a result, I love Count Chocula! I get my requisite box each Halloween, share it with the fam, and have a few bowls of that chocolaty goodness. If the texture or flavour of the cereal and marshmallows doesn't stack up the original I am blissfully unaware! I really enjoy them and that chocolate milk created by the cereal is deee-vine!

Franken Berry

And here we are! I've been searching different grocery sites off-and-on over the past few weeks and I've found ghost-listings for Count Chocula and Boo Berry, so I figured things would continue status quo this season, but suddenly a few weeks ago I found a listing for Franken Berry instead of his ghostly compatriot! I was absolutely in shock as this is one of the few "bucket list" items that I wanted to experience from my youth!

As I mentioned, as a kid I could never find these cereals, but being a child of Saturday morning cartoons I was bombarded with commercials for them as I watched channels like ABC or CBS.

I grew up loving the Universal Monsters and seeing these cereals immediately created that connection in my mind, which was literally explored by General Mills and Universal in 1987. My favourite of the monsters has always been Frankenstein's creature, so of course Franken Berry was the cereal I wanted the most.

Alas, it was not to be.

I have to assume these cereals were available in Canada, but that didn't mean they were all over the country. In fact, a lot of times that would mean they were only really widely available in Ontario and West. Here in Atlantic Canada, whether it was due to population or transportation, we often got slighted by different brands. Growing up on an island certainly didn't help matters!

I can remember many times scouring the cereal aisle looking for Franken Berry or any of the Monster Cereals, but never in my lifetime did I get to try this most coveted of cereals... until now!

As I said before, fruit cereals aren't really my jam... and unfortunately that statement remains true with Franken Berry. I didn't dislike it as much as others I've had, but I certainly can't say that this one trumps Count Chocula for me. I'm still floored that I actually got to have it, though! One thing I would say is that it tasted an aaaaawful lot like Fruity Lucky Charms to me, which I picked up as a promotion this summer. I'd almost like to do a side-by-side comparison to see if there's any funny business going on here.

The story doesn't end there, though!

I'm not going to act like I'm the first person to do this - I know I can't possibly be - but as I was sitting and having breakfast with my kids I thought to myself, What would be the perfect way to cut some of this sugary strawberry flavour, when it donned on me: mix Franken Berry with Count Chocula!

I have created a monster, Count Franken Chocoberry!

I actually don't think I can go back to just eating one of the cereals. I've experimented with different ratios and I think a 2/3s Count Chocula to 1/3 Franken Berry gives the best results. It curbs the incredible sweetness of the Franken Berry with the slight - and I emphasize slight - bitterness of the chocolate in Count Chocula.

So, it turns out this Halloween wasn't a bust for cereal! Or at least for me. I didn't manage to get anything new, but you have to work with you've got in getting the most out of the season.

Halloween is only a week away, folks! If it takes mixing together sugary kids' cereals, do what you've gotta do!

Hope you enjoyed,