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,

Friday, October 18, 2019

VHyesterdayS: Halloween Anniversary Edition (1997)

In honour of the spooky season today we're going to talk about the Anniversary Edition of Halloween released by Video Treasures (a.k.a. Anchor Bay) in 1997 on VHS!

I realize now that the clip above appears in 4:3, so you can't tell that its widescreen. If you look reaaallly close you can just faintly see that it's letterboxed. Consummate professionalism...

It's hard to write about John Carpenter's Halloween, because it's all been said time and time again. It's a film classic and its antagonist, Michael Myers, is a horror icon. Halloween became the archetype and best-in-class of the slasher genre and it is still held in the highest of regards to this day.

I personally watch the film every October. My tradition is usually to watch Halloween followed directly by Halloween II, as I love the story the two combine to create. I've eschewed that tradition this year in lieu of focusing on some other titles in the Halloween franchise, but I had to take in the original to kick off October.

And what cooler way than on VHS!

This was probably the best way to watch Halloween in 1997. To my knowledge the DVD wouldn't be released until 1999 and this was the first edition of the film to be presented in widescreen.

And the film looks great on this copy. I actually have never owned a DVD of Halloween, which seems crazy, but I went straight from VHS to Blu-ray. I can't say how the VHS actually stacks up against the DVD, but I can say that its as close to DVD quality as a standard VHS can get.

There is some slight VHS blur, for sure, but the colours and blacks look awesome. I've watched VHS copies of the film where you can barely make anything out in the night scenes, but in this edition there are no issues in that department whatsoever.

The audio quality is digitally mastered and sounds great. I watched with my headphones on and I could hear everything crystal clear. The music and sound effects really pop.

The only gripe I have with this copy is that on the box it states that the film is shown in its "cinematic entirety", which I understood to mean that it included the additional scenes added for the broadcast television premiere of the film on NBC in 1981. Video Treasures did do a VHS release of the Halloween Extended Edition in 1989, so I kind of assumed this would include those scenes as well, but that's not the case. I think what they mean is that you could see the film in widescreen, so nothing was cropped.

So, that was kind of a bummer! The Blu-ray that I have of the film doesn't include these scenes either, so I'm in the market for a home video release that does. I think it would be super cool to watch the TV cuts of Halloween and Halloween II, which also had additional scenes included in its broadcast premiere. It might be the most complete way to enjoy their whole story!

That aside, this is still a really cool release of the movie. It's hard to suggest it, though, for a few reasons. The main one being that if you want to watch a proper widescreen release of the film, you have so many crisper options. Being able to watch widescreen on VHS isn't all its cracked up to be. I have my VCR hooked up to an old 4:3 CRT, so you end up watching the flick letterboxed on the top and bottom. Maybe if I'd hooked it up to a widescreen LCD TV it would've been more enjoyable, but I prefer a CRT for my tapes. Unless you have one of those cool widescreen CRTs, like a nice Sony Wega, it's probably recommended you just get the DVD or Blu-ray.

Now a VHS Extended Edition copy, that would be pretty cool. Maybe I'll keep my eye out for one of those in the future.

Oh, I almost forgot! This edition came with a special feature! This sort of thing was pretty much unheard of 1997, but at the end of the tape they included the film's original trailer. I'm sure this has been uploaded in one form or another to YouTube a million times, but here's the copy I garnered from my tape.

That's it for another episode of VHyesterdayS. It's October and a great time to break out some of your favourite spooky movies and for a nostalgia overload there's no better way than to watch them as you probably did for the first time... on VHS!

Keep it spooky,

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Nostalgia Bomb! - Garfield's Halloween Adventure

What was it?

Garfield's Halloween Adventure was the fourth Garfield television special directed and produced by Phil Roman and written by creator Jim Davis. It was the second Garfield program created by the Film Roman company after Garfield in the Rough. The previous two specials, Here Comes Garfield and Garfield on the Town, were developed by Peanuts TV special producers Mendelson-Melendez.

The show featured the usual cast of Lorenzo Music as Garfield and Gregg Berger as Odie, with a brief appearance of Thom Huge as John Arbuckle, and included C. Lindsay Workman in the role of the Old Man. The music was handled by the usual writing team of Ed Bogas and Desirée Goyette and performed by velvet crooner Lou Rawls.

This time around Garfield convinces Odie to go trick-or-treating with him, a ploy to help the devilish orange cat garnish twice as much candy, candy, candy! But his greed leads him to a brush up with more than just kids in spooky costumes!

When was it available?

The Halloween special first aired on October 30th, 1985 and was followed promptly by an airing of It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, which was typical of CBS during this era. I can confirm for certain that it ran up until 1989 and I'm sure it was played for many years after that, but I don't know when the special officially stopped airing on CBS. It's likely it ceased to be shown in 2000, which was the year that A Garfield Christmas was last seen on live television.

It was released individually on VHS in 1992 and later on DVD in 2004 with specials A Garfield Christmas and Garfield's Thanksgiving. It was later released again on DVD in 2014. This release had the same specials listed in the 2004 disc, but included Garfield on the Town and Garfield in Paradise. It also has a new individual DVD release from 2018.

Image result for garfield's halloween adventure dvd

What about today?

You can stream Garfield's Halloween Adventure on Amazon Prime, which inexplicably has it listed as available since 1996. It's also on iTunes and probably any other streaming service you can think of. The easiest place to watch it, however is on YouTube. You won't get quite the same visual fidelity, although I'm sure it can't be that far off, but one thing you can get on YouTube is an airing of the show with it's original commercials intact!

As is always the case with YouTube links, I can't attest to how long this one will be live, but there are several versions of it floating around.

Oh, and there's that 2018 DVD!

Why do I remember it?

Garfield's Halloween Adventure was required viewing for any Halloween celebrations when I was a kid. I mean, it aired in conjunction with It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown every year! That's high marks.

I wrote about A Garfield Christmas last year, so I knew I had to give the Halloween special the same treatment, but the story is pretty much the same here. Inexplicably, CBS just dropped this show off it's Halloween specials list and it suddenly became difficult or expensive to find on home video.

Luckily, nowadays, it isn't difficult to get your hands on a copy of Garfield's Halloween Adventure, but why the Charlie Brown specials still air and not these is mind-boggling.

One thing I will say about Garfield's Halloween Adventure is that it is legit scary for kids. I believe Jim Davis has said in interviews that they sought to make it something that would genuinely frighten children and they certainly succeeded. Even for this 30-something grown man there is some creepy stuff to be found in this special.

From the monstrous trick-or-treaters Garfield and Odie encounter, to the Old Man covered in warts telling his ghostly tale, and finally the pirate ghosts searching for their hidden treasure, this isn't a light-hearted affair. I considered letting my five year old watch it this year, but decided against giving him those nightmares just yet (although I'm certain I would've watch it at that age).

Image result for garfield in disguise

As was usually the case with Garfield specials, the music here is on-point. I personally prefer the songs in A Garfield Christmas, but that's not to slight the great Halloween-y tunes present in this show. Lou Rawls' voice is perfectly deep to deliver these tracks and I'm glad that they really leaned into the spooky mood.

The TV special was adapted by Jim Davis into a book that was published in 1987 under the title Garfield in Disguise, which was also the working title of the TV special. The story is pretty much the same, but with some slight changes and a different ending tacked on. In the book, Garfield steals a pirate's treasure ring and the ghostly spooks chase after he and Odie until they return it. It was apparently story-boarded and considered for the TV show, as well, but was ultimately dropped, likely to make the 24-minute run-time required for a half hour slot.

I can't let October slide by without taking in Garfield's Halloween Adventure. I hope someday that it makes it back to broadcast television, but regardless it will always be a blast from my past!

Hope you enjoyed,

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Castlevania II: Simon's Quest (1987) - Nintendo Entertainment System

This one has been a long time coming.

First off, readers of the site might - if you try reaaaaally hard - remember that I wrote a review for the original Castlevania during Halloween... 2014. Pretty much right after I wrote that piece, I actually had designs to play its sequel and the years just kept flying by without me devoting the time.

Here we are five years later and I've finally done it!

Now, that's not all. If you'll take a quick trip back in time with me for moment, you'll see a young RyHo, sitting in front of a dusty old Nintendo Entertainment System in a cabin near a lake. It's summer and it's nighttime. After spending the day swimming it's time to find something to while away the long, hot night.

The young lad's cousin has an assortment of games that he's never played before. One of them is Castlevania II: Simon's Quest. With no manual to aid and a cousin who knows next to nothing about the game, the youth tries and tries again, but can't make heads nor tails of how to even play this title. It's not like the Castlevania game he's used to, but all the spooky monsters and bright vibrant colours keep him absolutely enthralled.

That was my first attempt at playing Simon's Quest, circa 1990 or so. This game has been a monkey on my back for approximately 30-effing-years.

This feels good.

I played the game on the new Castlevania Anniversary Collection, which released in May of this year in conjunction with developer Konami's 50th anniversary, alongside two other collections: Arcade Classics Anniversary Collection and Contra Anniversary Collection.

I've had the thing on the NES Classic since 2016, though, and I could've picked it up on just about any Nintendo Virtual Console since 2007, so I have no excuses. Not to mention the fact that copies of the game fall out of NES collector's pockets constantly there's so many of them around.

Be that as it may, I took the plunge and made Castlevania II part of my Halloween 2019 celebrations and I'm so happy I did!

Most people think of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night as the first of the Castlevania "Metroidvania" titles, but the fact is that it all started with... Vampire Killer?

Oh, you never heard of that one? It's considered an alternative version of the original game, which released in Japan and Europe for MSX2 PCs. It landed on European shelves before the series made it to the US and would receive its branding under the "Castlevania" title.

Simon's Quest is the second Castlevania game of this style, which hit shelves in Japan in 1987 and in the US in 1988. That said, since most people don't even know Vampire Killer exists, many would consider this as their first open-world CV game.

All of the classic elements are there: an open, non-linear environment for the player to traverse and new weapons and upgrades that can unlock previously unreachable areas of the map. The player is just plunked in the middle of a town with no idea which direction to traverse and they must speak with the villagers to gain clues on where their adventure should take them.

The game brings back the hero of the original title, Simon Belmont, who after having defeated Dracula has found out that the Master of Darkness managed to place a curse on him before his demise. In order to remove the curse, Simon must find the five parts of Dracula (I dunno what the townsfolk did to the dude after the first game, but shit got dark), which are holed up in five different mansions around Transylvania, and resurrect the monster... so he can kill his blood-suckin' ass again!

As I mentioned, you can go anywhere you want in the game - no levels here- but in true Metroidvania style certain enemies will be too tough to deal with unless you've completed a certain area, retrieved a new item, or upgraded Simon's strengths.

Simon still has his trusty whip to aide him in his quest, which you can upgrade throughout the game thanks to finding hidden gypsies. Yes that says gypsies and I don't mean like kinda hidden. Whoever developed this game doesn't like you and didn't want you to complete it.

This is among a handful of titles for the NES that I usually refer to as the "Nintendo Power sellers", because they garnered subscriptions to the famous magazine like Evians in the desert. Not only are many of the required items and clues hidden in the most devious of places, even if you have all the right pieces to the puzzle the game requires you do the strangest things to progress.

Like, if you have the Blue Cystal, which you need to magically drain a river at the beginning of the game, what would you think? You'd equip it in the menu and hop in, right?


You'd equip it and kneel next to the water for several seconds until the game revealed the hidden path.

This kind of stuff cropped up in The Legend of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, as well. I'm sure it was all a scheme of sorts. You should see my conspiracy board sometime!

So, if you can find the right path, get the right items, figure out all the crazy hidden secrets, survive the mansions, and defeat Death and Lady Camilla, you can take on your old pal, Drac and say bye bye to that curse!

Provided you finish your quest in under 8 "video" days. If not, you die anyway. Yeah, that's what we used to call "Nintendo hard" back in the day, kids!

Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention the "day and night" mechanic, which is surprising, because it will drive you mad as you enjoy this perfectly wonderful game! Every night at 6PM in the game, which by the way you don't have a handy pocket watch or anything so you have no idea when, the game flips you into night. It pretty well just means that the colours get spookier and the enemies get harder, ya know, in case you weren't having enough troubles as it was.

All in all, Simon's Quest is a great game that I wish I had just tasked myself with completing a long time ago. Although I came of age with Symphony of the Night, which is certainly a much more playable Metroidvania, there's a lot to enjoy here. The only issue I would take from the game is the repetition.

They reuse a lot of enemy sprites and the music isn't very varied. I remedied the music problem by listening to Dino Drac's Halloween Jukebox (I can't promise if that link will work after October 31st or not), which I couldn't recommend enough, by the way! As for the enemies, they spice things up by giving them outlandish different colour palettes and I just can't get mad at a game that lets me fight nuclear green skeletons.

Once you get into the groove of deciphering all the crazy stuff the townspeople say and you figure out the trick to finding pretty much all the secrets (just throw Holy Water everywhere... that's it. That's the trick) you'll realize how much fun you're actually having. Just make sure you have that copy of Nintendo Power handy - you know, the one with the beheaded Dracula on the cover (how did they sell this thing to kids?) - and you'll be right as rain!

Like I said, there's no lack of ways to get your hands on Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, but I couldn't recommend the Castlevania Anniversary Collection enough, which is loaded with other awesome games from the series for the price of a pizza ($26 CDN, to be exact). Oh, and the Anniversary Collection also includes Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse, which is the October 2019 Game of the Month for the Cartridge Club! See, win-win.

Keep it spooky!

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Nestlé Scary Chocolate Bars

Here we are on September 25th (as I write this) and I'll be brutally honest: the 2019 Halloween season has been a bit of a bust here in Canada.

I've been scouring department and grocery stores since probably late-August and there's just been dribs and drabs of Halloween-y goodness here and there, but zero knock-outs. Heck, although Wal-mart started their displays off a few weeks ago it was only over the last week that they got all their stuff out. For a few weeks it was just lying in the middle of the display section in boxes.

I don't ever expect to see as much cool stuff in the Great White North as you see in the US, but since August it seems like it's been a Halloween onslaught down there. I don't know how they're all keeping up.

To list a few of the hot items just off the top of my head (I can't attest to how long these links will exist):

And this is by no means a comprehensive list!

I can usually rely on the Monster Cereals Count Chocula and Boo Berry to show up in stores around now, as well as Reese Puffs Peanut Butter Bats, but I've seen no sign of them yet! I did find some ghost listings on the other day for the Monster Cereals, but nothing on the shelves yet.

As a side note: I recently tweeted excitedly about finding the Boo Berry listing, thinking that we haven't had that cereal up here since the 2014 Monster Cereal re-launch, but as it turns out, it's Franken Berry we haven't had up here yet, so I guess if we do get Boo Berry it would be status quo. I'm more of a Count Chocula guy either way.

I was letting it all get me down a bit, but it's time to get out of the funk and start celebrating what we are getting here in Canada and one of the coolest is, without a doubt, Nestlé Scary chocolate bars!

From what I can tell, this is a Canadian exclusive, which rarely happens, but isn't that shocking since Nestlé Canada is a huge presence for the Swiss owned corporation.

So, for the uninitiated, every year Nestlé re-brands its biggest sellers and dresses them up for Halloween. The four bars that get spooky costumes are:

  • Aero as "ScAero"
  • Smarties as "Scaries"
  • Kit Kat which keeps its name, but adds a black cat to the wrapper
  • Coffee Crisp as "Coffin Crisp"

(I can't believe I used two bullet point lists in one post!)

The names aren't just where it stops. Each of these chocolate bars gets a fancy new spooky wrapper to top the whole thing off.

These have actually been out for a few weeks, so this post is coming late, but at first I hadn't even considered writing about the Nestlé Scary bars, because they've really become table stakes in the last few years. I reflexively pick up one of each whenever they hit store shelves, enjoy them with a good horror movie (or four), and then I don't really look back! But that's criminal, because these are so awesome.

There's really nothing different about the contents inside the wrappers, with the exception of Scaries, which are all brown and orange instead of their usual multi-coloured candy coating.

They usually cost a bit of a premium. These days you would never pay more than a $1 for each of these bars, but because of the Halloween branding they're usually closer to $2. This year they actually have an 8-pack available, which makes them much more affordable.

They also come in fun sizes, perfect for giving out for Halloween treats! Here's the one spot that I think Nestlé falls down on this one, however. In my mind, they should re-brand all of their fun-sized bars with the Scary wrappers, but they don't. If you wanted to give out Scaries instead of Smarties, you'll pay a premium there, as well. It's only the most hardcore treat-giver that would spend the money to actually stock these for the ghosts and goblins that come for trick-or-treating.

So that's Nestlé Scary bars! Like I said, before this year I've taken these for granted, but no longer. I've got one of each waiting for me at home so that I can enjoy them throughout October. It may be the same old chocolate, but you slap Halloween on that sucker and you've got a buyer right here!

Now if only I could wash them down with some of that VooDew...


p.s. Big props to my homeboy Elmer Bludd for helping me prop up the bars for these pics

Friday, September 20, 2019

Halloween TV: Spooky Documentaries

Well, here we are folks! We're about shin-deep in the Halloween season. I'd say the true kick-off for most enthusiasts is September 1st or so and I know I started dipping my toes in even earlier than that in August, but with only a few days away from the true start of Fall, there's no denying it: Halloween is coming!

One of my favourite traditions around Halloween since I was a little kid was taking in the seasonal fare on television. Now, I don't just mean the usual suspects, like the cartoon specials, or the Halloween episodes of your favourite sitcoms. Channels like A&E or History used to be rife with Halloween or horror-related documentaries and biographies and this stuff was honestly where I cut my teeth on the macabre.

I could've easily just chosen five episodes of Biography for this list, but I tried to vary, and the following is a selection of five spooky documentaries for you to check out this Halloween season. They're guaranteed to overload your nostalgia and give you those creepy vibes you're searching for until October 31st!

Pagan Invasion: Halloween - Trick or Treat?

I might as well get this one out of the way right now, because it's actually a big cheat! You see, to the best of my knowledge, this show has never aired on TV. If you had asked me a few years back, I would've sworn I saw this on Vision TV back in the day, but I can't find any proof of that. It does have a tenuous attachment to another program we'll talk about down the line, though.

Pagan Invasion was a 13-video series produced by Jeremiah Films in the early 1990s, which is a Christian company that intended to (and I quote), "promote patriotism, traditional values, and the Biblical worldview of [the] founding fathers". I presume the "founding fathers" refers to the United States, where Jeremiah Films is based.

The series tackled all sorts of the world's "evils", including evolution, paganism, and the occult, and of course they made sure to highlight one of the most nefarious issues attacking America in their premiere episode: Halloween.

This video is Satanic Panic at its prime, folks. It is an extremist view of how our culture is letting evil and Satan into our lives by practicing a dark and pagan ritual like Halloween. There's a segment on how horror movies is promoting copycat killers across America (I feel like I've heard this one before *cough* video games *cough cough*) and all sorts of footage of neo-paganists performing rituals in the woods, which they try to edit in such a way to make the whole thing look ominous and it just doesn't pan out. They even have an interview with a man who says that he was forced into Satanism as a child and that every Halloween night occultists the world over are out slaying babies and young children right under our noses.

It's a really heavy-handed attempt at taking a holiday that is about kids trick-or-treating, bobbing for apples, dressing up for fun, and having parades and twist its image into devil-worshipping for the purpose of fear-mongering.

So, why do I suggest it?

Well, it is absolutely laden with clips of old video rental shops, film media events with VHS tapes and posters, and awesome Halloween stores, with lavish costumes and amazing decorations, like die cut cardboard cutouts, blow molds, and signs.

You can have a good laugh at the low-rent CG production values and content, but at the same time enjoy the nostalgic ephemera trickled throughout and that checks a lot of boxes in my book!

The Haunted History of Halloween

This one is a must-watch for me each year!

Initially released in 1997 for A&E, The Haunted History of Halloween is a really cool hour long doc that goes back 3000 years to Ireland and walks through the history of Halloween from its very beginnings to (relatively) where it is today.

I come from an Irish background and have studied some Gaelic, so I immediately find all this Celtic history fascinating, but I still think that this is for just about anyone that calls themselves a Halloween fanatic.

It breaks down a lot of the different celebrations of Halloween, like trick-or-treating, carving jack-o-lanterns, and wearing costumes and shows how these traditions were changed by the introduction of Catholicism and how they ultimately found their way to North America.

There's even a blurb where they mention Pagan Invasion! Maybe this is why I was sure I'd seen that special on TV before? It's brief, but you'll see it, and I wouldn't say they mention it in a positive light.

This special is loaded with great imagery, from spooky old paintings of the pagan Samhain, to stock footage of Halloweens past in America and everything in between. You're going to want to set aside some time to watch this one!

The lineage here is a little weird. As you can see by the DVD art above, this show is branded by the History Channel, but I know for fact that it aired on A&E initially. The only thing I can figure is they continued to air it on History or aired it on both channels (they're both owned by the same company). I've heard there is an updated version that came out in 2012, but I'd say just stick with the 97 version, so you get that nostalgic video vibe, to boot.

Hammer: The Studio That Dripped Blood

This was a new-to-me title this year, but I'm so glad I found it and I just had to share.

You see, every year around this time I get really nostalgic for the old black and white Universal horror films from the 1930s and forward. I mentioned before that my obsession with the horror genre started with a lot of the content that A&E put out in the 1980s and 90s, like biographies on the actors Boris Karloff or Bela Lugosi, and that lead me to their many films beginning with Lugosi's Dracula and Karloff's Frankenstein in 1931.

I get my fix for these films on Turner Classic Movies each October, when they drop a ton of classic horror movie content. The last few years, to spice things up, I've noticed they've been reaching into a different classic horror movie vault: Hammer Film Productions, a company which basically single-handedly revived gothic horror in the late-50s with their takes on the classic monsters Universal made famous 25 years earlier.

This 1987 BBC production titled Hammer: The Studio That Dripped Blood (oh, don't ya love it!?) takes a deep look into the humble beginnings of Hammer through their heyday and finally to their demise in the late-70s. It goes without saying (and yet here I am) that as this film was produced in '87, there's no mention of the revival of the company in '07.

The show focuses heavily on the biggest stars in Hammer's cadré - Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee - but it does feature a few films outside of their influence and I know I learned a lot about the company I hadn't known before.

So, if you're accustomed to Hammer's films there's some great insight here or if you've never seen a Hammer production here's your gateway! And it's loaded with footage from their many, many films that are perfect for this time of year. It is made for Halloween, even if it first aired in June!

Biography: Vincent Price - The Versatile Villain

I had to have at least one episode of Biography in this list.

To keep things fresh, I decided to try and think of a horror icon that maybe doesn't get as much of the spotlight and I settled on the incomparable Vincent Price.

The honest truth regarding this pick, however, is that unlike someone like Karloff, Lugosi, or Lon Chaney Jr., whose careers were - for the most part - embedded in the horror genre, Vincent Price fell into the spooky movies over time. It's 20 minutes or so into the special before there's even mention of a horror film!

That said, you get such a candid look at Vincent Price in this show, which of course talks at length of his career in horror, that it is so worth the watch.

The special has all the accoutrements of a horror-themed Biography; the classic organ music (I'm sure Toccata and Fugue in D Minor is in there somewhere), the gothic set pieces, skeletons, bats, and monsters, oh my! So for Halloween, it does have you covered, but if you want something a little more mired in the macabre, you might want to settle on some of the names I dropped above. But why not spice things up? I mean, did you know Vincent Price appeared on Hollywood Squares 900 times!?

You're not going to find that just anywhere. You can thank me later.

Rivals: Frankenstein vs. Dracula

I had to have one deep cut.

Rivals was a 1995 series produced by the newly minted Discovery Channel, which never shied away from great Halloween content back in the day. The show was hosted by veteran character actor, Gerald McRaney, and took a look at different rivals throughout history. I have to assume this particular episode aired during Halloween of '95, but I can't be sure without a TV guide handy.

Now, Discovery is a Canadian station and Rivals only aired late on Fridays and Saturdays, so it was a pretty short-lived affair that I'm sure not many people are aware of. I personally had no idea it existed and only ever found it while I was searching for new videos to watch about Karloff and Lugosi.

The show documents the careers of both actors from the very beginning, through their launch to stardom at Universal, and ultimately their deaths in the 70s and 80s. It definitely hams up their rivalry to some extent (which it kind of had to, I mean look at the title), but it does offer up some candid information on each of the veterans that I personally hadn't seen and thought was very interesting.

For a show that had nothing to do with horror outside of this one episode, they made the effort of dressing it up right. McRaney hams it up in a Dracula cape a few times and there's appropriately spooky music throughout. It just goes to show with just a little bit of effort you can add a little Halloween into anything!

And that's the whole point of this, right? Let's grab these few short weeks in Autumn before the craziness of Christmas settles in and enjoy the Halloween season. So, light your pumpkin candles, enjoy the cool weather, throw some fake spider webs on the windows, and let's do this!

Keep it spooky,

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

VHyesterdayS: Godzilla (1998)

I intended this to be a more timely release and to coincide with the latest Godzilla movie to hit theatres, Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019), but I have never been one to actually land deadlines nor have I had the chance to see the new Godzilla movie.

That's the kind of professionalism you get here, folks!

All that aside, we're not here to talk about the latest and greatest kaiju flick to land in American theatres. We're here to talk about the first American take on the beloved Japanese phenomenon; Godzilla (1998)!

Godzilla was a TriStar production, one of Sony Entertainment's film companies, and began its life in 1992 when they purchased the rights to do a Godzilla film in North America from the owner of the franchise, Toho of Japan.

As is the case with these mega huge franchises, the intent was to create a new trilogy of films and production really started to gain traction around '94, but with budget concerns this initial version was dropped and Roland Emmerich was brought on board in '96. After penning a script with producer Dean Devlin, Emmerich was ready to film by May of '97. The movie was finally released in May of the following year as Sony's expected big budget summer blockbuster.

Just to frame up the kind of fare at the box office at the time Godzilla '98 was released, the teaser trailer, which featured Godzilla stomping on a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton (a direct jab at 1997's The Lost World: Jurassic Park) was first played before select showings of Men In Black, Sony's box office behemoth the previous year. A full trailer debuted before Starship Troopers in November of '97.

So, this was the kind of company Godzilla '98 kept; sci-fi fantasy films that relied heavily on sophomore CGI special effects.

In an effort to distinguish this Godzilla from previous incarnations, Emmerich hired Patrick Tatopoulos, whose designs were featured in many big Hollywood productions, including Independence Day and Bram Stoker's Dracula. He was tasked at creating a giant monster that was more of an animal. The final design ended up being like a giant, irradiated Iguana with a lantern jaw.

The film featured, in my opinion, a super-interesting cast. The lead roles were Dr. Nick Tatopoulos (that's a lot of Tatopouli!) played by Matthew Broderick, Philippe Roaché played by Jean Reno, Audrey Timmonds portrayed by Maria Pitillo, and Victor "Animal" Palotti who was played by Hank Azaria. The rest of the cast was rounded out by a solid cadre, which included industry vets like Kevin Dunn, Michael Lerner, Vicki Lewis, Glenn Morshower, and Azaria brought along Harry Shearer from The Simpsons for the ride. Oh, and I can't forget that the incomparable Frank Welker actually voiced the monster.

Even though the movie brought in almost $380M from the box office it was considered a commercial failure. It made $55M during opening weekend when Sony execs had banked on $100m. Even though it did make money it was panned by the critics and totally derided by fans of the Godzilla franchise.

Toho was also very derogatory of the American version of their beloved monster. They felt they had just made him a giant animal and the soul of Godzilla was lost. Initially, this Godzilla was called G.I.N.O. (Godzilla In Name Only) or "American" Godzilla in Japan, but is now known abroad simply as Zilla (Godzilla that is no longer a "god").

Regardless of the reception of the film, I've always had a soft spot for it. The marketing was pretty intense, including a soundtrack that actually hit #2 on the Billboard and received Platinum status. It had an original song by (at the time) Puff Daddy featuring Jimmy Page, which sampled heavily from the Led Zeppelin song "Kashmir", titled "Come With Me", The Wallflowers hit "Heroes" in which the music video actually featured footage from the film, and a previously unreleased Rage Against The Machine song, "No Shelter". That's not to mention hot tracks from Jamiroquai, The Offspring, fuzzbubble, Ben Fold Five, Silverchair, Days of the New, Fuel, Foo Fighters, and a remix of "Brain Stew" by Green Day, which featured the sound effects of Godzilla.

I was - and still am - a sucker for sci-fi creature flicks and Godzilla was high on my must-see movies for the '98 blockbuster season.

A funny story, though, is that I actually would have sworn to you for years that I saw this movie around my birthday in '98. My memory of that birthday was that I went to Sam The Record Man (the flagship Canadian record store at the time) and picked up the "Gasoline" single from Moist's Creature album, zipped by Zellers (the once mighty Canadian department store) and snagged a copy of Final Fantasy Tactics for the PlayStation - a game I had been dying to play for months - and that my friends and I took in a showing of Godzilla right after.

Godzilla came out in May, but my birthday is in January. Guess which movie we did see? Deep Rising! It also features and underwater sea creature, so I guess you can forgive me the confusion?

I digress, for whatever reason I've connected Godzilla in my psyche as being a part of one of my best birthdays ever, so to this day I just can't hate the movie.

I have the standard VHS release of the film. For all its apparent shortcomings in Sony's eyes it did receive a widescreen VHS release in 1999, but I have the standard version which hit store shelves in November of '98. This is because the VHS release of Godzilla did gangbusters at rental, scoring over $8M bucks. It also sold substantially well on DVD. As a result, you can typically find the standard VHS for Godzilla at about any flea market or tape lot on reseller sites.

There were no teasers or trailers to speak of on the tape. Instead it was loaded with advertisements. There is a really short ad for an (at the time) upcoming TV adaptation of the popular Animorphs book series, a commercial for Agfa Film, an advertisement for Godzilla: The Album soundtrack, and another TV ad for Godzilla: The Series, the animated Fox Kids take on the Godzilla '98 film.

Make sure to let the whole playlist above roll to see all the clips from the tape!

Oddly enough, this cartoon series gets more respect than the film in Japan. It features a Godzilla of the same features as those found in the Tristar film, but it has some of its predecessors trademark abilities, like his Atomic Breath. The cartoon actually had a fair life of about two years, but from what I've read sub-par toy sales lead to its eventual demise.

The quality on my release is pretty fair and the audio is very top notch when enjoyed in stereo, having been mastered in Dolby Surround Sound. You kind of have to forgive the CG for its time. The images of adult Godzilla really standout from the scenery, even though the monster was coloured so it would blend in well with the urban environments of the film (Godzilla destroys New York City in the movie, by the way). I almost felt like the computer effects were running at a different frame rate from the film or something. Its actually kind of jarring, even on VHS which hides a lot of the faults. The practical creature effects look solid and both the CG and practical effects are on-par with their contemporaries at the time. I still find myself wondering what the CGI looks like when viewed on the Blu-ray that released in 2009.

The pacing of the film is kind of hard to take - it goes at a breakneck speed, not giving any of the characters time to breath. That may or may not be a good thing, because Broderick is at his most "Broderick-y" in Godzilla and just seems so out of place with what's going on in the film. I still gotta love that ragtag cast they put together, though, and having Hank Azaria is a main character is just too cool to ignore.

For all its faults, I had a lot of fun with Godzilla and the standard VHS release is easily worth the price of admission; like I said you should be able to find this thing for $1. The widescreen VHS would be cool to have, but I'm not going out of my way for it. This is a big, overblown action sci-fi monster movie and if that sentence alone doesn't at least kind of sell you on the movie then I don't know why you're here reading my stuff!

Hope you enjoyed this edition of VHYesterdayS! I could drop the old cliché and say, "be kind and rewind", but you know what? You shouldn't rewind your tapes right away. Wait until they cool down, alright? You're ruining them! Sheesh.


Monday, September 2, 2019

The Future of VHyesterdayS

Hi everyone,

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed that I had some issues a while back with Lionsgate and my Terminator 2 video for VHyesterdayS. It was flagged and removed from public viewing, because they claimed it contained too much footage from the film.

I tried to fight it and countered their strike, citing that the footage in the video was of a trailer, which is widely available on YouTube itself, and contains no audio, but my motion was denied and the video won't be back.

I'll be honest, I'm not heartbroken about it.

I got really into YouTube when it first launched even though I didn't partake in making videos right away. I started by posting a "vlog" sporadically, but in 2008 I decided to give it a real whirl and started posting a lot of videos and it was a ton of fun.

The thing is, I never put any production value in whatsoever. It was me and a webcam. I'd slap a title card on it and post the thing. These days, you have to have production values up the yin yang to be relevant and I'm not really enjoying it.

My aim with the VHyesterdayS video series was to quickly highlight some of the tapes in my collection in five minutes or less, but to produce those five minutes was taking me way too long. I would watch the movie, take a ton of notes, and then try to jam all those thoughts into the video, which resulted in me jumbling everything up more times than not. I also "tried" to give it a-go and make the videos look at least a little bit more presentable, by lighting myself and running some content on my many monitors in the background, which is why we're now here.

I think I'm done with the videos.

With my current lifestyle - #IveGot3Kids - its nearly impossible to get the time to even watch a movie let alone write out my notes and record the video. The whole thing was taking up too much time and I think the output was sub-par.

I've heavily gotten into writing for Retro-Def again and now Pixel Elixir, as well, and it just makes sense for me to convert VHyesterdayS into a written article. I squirrel away time during my day to sneak off and write - which I love - and since that's where the passion lies, that's where the content goes!

So, if you're new to Retro-Def, you've stumbled upon VHyesterdayS, and you're wondering why it started out as a video series and morphed into a written one, you've got the whole story. Capeesh?

Now with that out of the way, I've got another edition of VHyesterdayS on deck and it should be out later this week. I've changed things a bit - I'll no longer just talk about the tape, but give a little background into the film, too. You know, flesh things out a bit. I'll still try and post any trailers or cool ephemera that might be on the tape to my VHyesterdayS YouTube channel, which hopefully won't get flagged, but we'll see!

Anyway, I hope you enjoy reading the musings of a 30-something as he taps away at his keyboard about old dusty video tapes. If that's your thing, then boy have you hit the jackpot!


Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Nostalgia Bomb! - Hostess Taquitos

What were they?

Doritos were first introduced into US markets in 1967 and hit small Canadian markets in the 1970s, but it wasn't really until 1987 that Doritos hit their stride in the Great White North, due to a partnership between Hostess and Frito-Lay. Before this - and into the 90s - Hostess had their own flavoured nacho chip brand, known as Hostess Taquitos.

When were they available?

It's hard to pinpoint exactly when they first launched, but I believe it was in 1985. It's also hard to say when they were finally phased out. Hostess Potato Chips themselves were slowly removed from the market in 1996, after Frito-Lay bought the company and decided to bring Lay's Potato Chips in as their main brand (more on that here). It's safe to assume they existed into the early 90s, but I'm not 100% they lasted until 1996, either.

What about today?

Unfortunately, Hostess Taquitos went the way of the Do-do many years ago. Frito-Lay had a hit in the US with Doritos and decided to focus on that brand across the border. That said, one of the Hostess Taquitos flavours still lives on to this day!

Why do I remember them?

Well, pretty much because they were delicious! Although they were way greasier and messier than Doritos, they packed way more flavour and crunch.

The way I remember it is that Doritos really started making gains when they introduced Cool Ranch into the Canadian market. Usually when kids bought nacho chips around here they'd get Taquitos unless they didn't want a cheese flavour. Then they'd buy Cool Ranch. I think they'd probably exist to this day if Frito-Lay hadn't made the decision to go with their American brands over the Hostess counterparts.

It's hard to impress how popular Taquitos were at the time, but Hostess really pushed them as one of their big brands. They even had their own mascot. Their potato chip brand had The Munchies, but Hostess Taquitos had El Taquito, a nacho chip shilling monkey!

Now, here's one thing that I have found weird over the years. I remember there being three kinds of Hostess Taquitos early on, but then eventually there were only two. There was Nacho Cheese, Zesty Cheese, and Crisp n' Cheesy. They were all distinct cheese flavours. I wasn't much of a cheese guy, so I always went for Nacho Cheese, where Zesty had a very strong flavour. I always considered Crisp n' Cheesy to just be like a Hostess Cheese Stick flavour, or as we called them, "Cheesies".

Eventually Crisp n' Cheesy was dropped and there was only Nacho Cheese and Zesty Cheese. If you were to try and look up Hostess Taquitos, however, you'll see that most posts online refer to them having only ever having two flavours: Zesty Cheese and Taco. I don't recall every having Taco flavoured Taquitos. The first flavour of Doritos was Taco, so I don't know if this is just some people mixing things up or if it was a difference in markets here in Canada, but I only saw cheese flavoured nacho chips.

I have recently found a commerical, however - thanks to - from 1985 that validates my memories and shows the three cheese flavours! Watch it in all its 80s glory! It's amazing.

I mentioned that one of the flavours still exists, right? Well, when Frito-Lay decided to push Doritos and get rid of Taquitos they made the smart decision of keeping the Zesty Cheese flavour, which I think was the best seller. So, if you've had Zesty Cheese Doritos, you've technically tasted these short-lived Canadian nacho chips! Doritos have always been a less messy, less greasy option, so they don't taste exactly the same, but it's as close as you can get these days.

Hostess Taquitos were something bold and new in the world of potato chips and salty snacks in the mid-80s. The were absolutely packed with flavour that would turn your parents off instantly, which made them all the more alluring to us kids, and that's why they're a blast from my past!

Now go get some Zesty Doritos!

Friday, July 19, 2019

Stranger Things - Season 3 (2019)

Image result for stranger things season 3 banner

Well, here we are! I finally managed to finish Stranger Things 3 a few days ago.

It's been a really fun run. I'm so glad I went back and watched Season 1 and Season 2 before settling into Season 3. It wasn't just a great refresher, but it was fun watching all the characters grow into who they are in the summer of 1985.

It's also allowed me to see how the show has matured along with its characters. The first season was a solid package that had just enough depth, but didn't step too far out of its wheelhouse. The second season stretched its legs a little on a journey of growth and discovery, but that ultimately culminated where the story began, closing up all the threads created by its predecessor.

The third season had that compact attention to detail that was there in Season 1, but just by shifting things slightly managed to open the world up to all new possibilities.

I should say this now: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS!

As I mentioned Stranger Things 3 takes cues from both previous seasons in that it keeps things compact like Season 1, but also engages characters in interesting groupings like they did in Season 2.

But where to go after Stranger Things 2? Eleven closed the gate and cut off the Mind Flayer from our world, right?

Well, cue those rascals the Russians! This is '85 and President Reagan has taken a strong stance against Gorbachev's Soviet Union. Worries of a secret Russian invasion or on everyone's minds. In the story, it turns out the Russians are working on some kind of machine that can access the Upside-Down. Whether that's inadvertent or not isn't exactly known. My thoughts were that they wanted to create a portal from Russia to the US and that they had no idea they were actually cutting a hole to the Upside-Down.

But they were!

And remember the piece of the Mind Flayer that had inhabited Will in Season 2? Well, it turns out it never had a chance to leave Hawkins before Eleven closed the gate. As a result, it lied dormant in our world. That is right up until the Soviets turned on their machine opening up the gate once more!

I must say, this is some clever writing. I really hadn't considered that the story for Season 3 would so closely connect to the prior seasons. I sort of expected it would be a whole new tale from the Upside-Down, but I had my suspicions the Mind Flayer would play a role, seeing as the final seconds of Stranger Things 2 remind us that it's still out there.

The writers managed to not only tie the story directly to the time period by including the Soviet Union as an antagonist, but pulled in one last dangling thread from the previous stories to cinch the whole thing together.

Then they went and turned it all up to 11. See what I did there? Wait... I made that joke already? Damnit!

There are some new characters in the mix this season, but most of them are background. The main ones would be Robin Buckley, Steve's co-worker at Scoops Ahoy - an ice cream parlor in the newly minted Starcourt Mall - portrayed by Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke's daughter Mia Hawke and Mayor Larry Kline, the douchebag mayor of Hawkins, played by none other than Cary Elwes. Jake Busey has a role in there as a news reporter that stands out and Lucas' little sister Erica Sinclair played by Priah Ferguson has been given a much-earned greater role this time around.

There's a new fan-favourite this season, the cherry Slurpee lovin' Soviet scientist Alexei, played by Alec Gutoff. And we can't forget the cool new bad guy, Grigori the Russian Terminator, portrayed by Andrey Ivchenko. He's the bad guy you love to hate!

Much like last season, we have some new groupings, while some of the tried and true connections from seasons past are tested. We get to see Eleven and Max hang out and although Dustin and Steve continue their bromance they are joined by Erica and Robin. We also have Joyce and Hopper taking their relationship a little further with match-maker Murray Bauman, who is delightfully back this season in a much larger role, as well.

So, just the right mix of old and new!

The most important characters from Season 3 are probably Starcourt Mall and the New Mind Flayer!

Starcourt Mall stands as the central point of everything in Season 3, not only in this story, but in the story of Hawkins in general. Mayor Kline opened the mall much to the chagrin of the townspeople and as a result downtown Hawkins as it once was is dying, with all the shoppers and moviegoers now finding themselves in the hot new shopping mall. Its also literally the centre of the tale, as it is all a front for the Russians' experiments with the Upside-Down. The final throes of the season culminate in the aptly titled "The Battle of Starcourt Mall", where all of the threads of the story are tied in a knot.

And that New Mind Flayer! Yikes! I was calling it the "Flesh Flayer" in my head the whole time. Essentially, the Mind Flayer is trying to find a way to get to El for thwarting its plans in Season 2. This time around its taking control of the townspeople, most importantly Billy; the evil SOB step-brother of Max in Season 2. He is the unwitting first member of the Flayed (basically zombies) and does the recruiting for the Mind Flayer, who is no longer just a swirl of darkness and shadow, but is now made flesh... the flesh of dead rats and people no less!

This thing is so gory! I know it's CG gore and there's a whole contingent that won't find this at all impressive, because its not done in practical effects, but I thought this was really well done and so gross! It is as impressive in its size and ferocity as it is in its disgusting composition. The creators of Stranger Things really outdid themselves this time around.

We also have to talk about Billy for a bit. As I had hoped after watching Season 2, they did his character justice this season and expanded his story. Sure, they took it the route of making him the bad guy, in a way, but they also redeemed him and managed to give us the backstory we needed and that was missing from the second series.

As for the rest of the cast, everyone continues to shine and develop accordingly. All the kids are growing and that's the focus of the story. Dustin, Lucas, and Mike haven't really changed, but they ground the growth of the characters around them, like Eleven and Will. In Eleven's case, we see her becoming a member of society, dating Mike, and finding a best friend in Max, but we also see her lose her powers! She takes care of all the baddies up until the end of the season, where after she's bit by the New Mind Flayer seems to lose her abilities. Now who will she be?

Will technically isn't changing. In fact, he wants things to stay the same, but we can see that even he can't avoid the change and is only rallying against it. I was a little disappointed with his story. Ever since he became so connected with the Upside-Down and the Mind Flayer in previous seasons, I keep hoping that Will will awaken with some sort of cool power to help bolster Eleven's abilities, but he continues to simply be a weather vane for evil.

And we can't end this without talking about the elephant in the room: the "death" of Jim Hopper. After watching him rage against pretty much everything the entire season, we see that he and Joyce Byers are finally connecting and that his life is looking up, only for him to have to die heroically to close the gate once more.

It was a little hard on the head watching Jim scream his way through Season 3, but I think what we're seeing here is a man who is struggling with pretty much everything; his job, his daughter, his feelings for Joyce, and wanting to find his place in the new world after the events of the prior seasons, so it makes sense.

Now, do I think he's actually dead? Not for a second. In true film fashion Jim gets himself in a position where he's next to a lethal inter-dimensional laser machine that needs to be shut down in order to close the gate, which will cause a deadly chain reaction. Suddenly some scientists enter the room with Jim and we seem them evaporated by the device when it's turned off, but do we ever see Hopper actually die? No. If we were going to have watch him die we would be forced to deal with it in excruciating detail. Sort of like watching Spider-man turn to dust in Avengers: Infinity War. There's none of that here. Instead we get a quick shot of Jim looking at the as-of-yet unclosed gate before giving Joyce the knowing, tearful look and signalling her to pull the switch and save everyone else.

There's no way he didn't jump through that gate.

In the post-credits scene, which takes us into the Soviet Union and shows us that the Soviets are, of course, not done with their nefarious research, we are treated to the fact that they have an "American" in custody. I'm sure this is Hopper who went through the gate and ended up in the hands of the Russians. The Soviet research had to have an application and I feel that it was a doorway to the US for a secret invasion and its connection to the Upside-Down was just inadvertent. Jim went through the doorway they had created and right into the Russians' secret facility.

Also, let's think about his final message to Eleven. In a note he had written for her and Mike, Hopper wrote about his true feelings for Eleven, and in a final soliloquy Hopper asks his daughter to do one thing:

"But, please, if you don't mind, for the sake of your poor old dad, keep the door open three inches."

We all know which door Hopper meant, but which "door" did the writers mean?

I hope you enjoyed,