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!