Friday, January 31, 2020

Memory, Blog: The Sunday Night Ritual Revisited (Sorta?)

A little under a year ago I wrote an article about my old Sunday Night Ritual, which I pretty well never missed from 1996 right up until 2002!

The Coles Notes: I'd settle in to enjoy the last dregs of my weekend and watch The Simpsons, typically whatever other show Fox chose to air in between, and my favourite show of all time, The X-Files.

So, why are we talking about this crap again? Well, ever since I wrote that post I've had an unyielding urge to try and recreate that Sunday Night Ritual and I finally did it (kinda, sorta)!

I figured if I was going to attempt this, it made the most sense to start at the beginning, so let's travel back to the first night The X-Files aired on Sunday night, which was October 27th, 1996. What was on that night? Well, it being so close to Halloween, Fox decided to air back-to-back episodes of The Simpsons "Treehouse of Horror", with a re-run of the prior year's special (VI) followed by the latest edition (VII). Then The X-Files slid into their new slot with "Unruhe", one of the most well-remembered "Monster-of-the-Week" episodes from the series.

It was actually a full night of The Simpsons. Before airing the latest Halloween episodes, there were repeats of "22 Short Films About Springfield" and the "138th Episode Spectacular". "22 Short Films..." is one of my all-time favourite episodes and features a peak into the lives of some of the lesser-known residents of Springfield, including Bumblebee Man. The "138th Episode Spectacular" is the third clip show of the series, but the one everyone remembers, because it had early clips from The Tracey Ullman Show.

I have no idea if I watched these re-runs or not, honestly, but I thought it was too interesting not to note!

If I'm being honest, I probably didn't start out my night watching The Simpsons on this particular evening. At the time I was an avid watcher of 3rd Rock From The Sun, which was on at 9 o'clock AT on NBC. Luckily in 1996 this didn't rub against The Simpsons, because Fox would air the newest episode at 9:30. This would change the following year, however, when The Simpsons would lock in at 9PM followed by King of the Hill at 9:30. 3rd Rock From The Sun, however, moved to Wednesdays in 1997, so it all worked out!

I didn't particularly feel like revisiting 3rd Rock From The Sun for this Sunday Night Ritual, however. When I saw that Fox kicked off their new big Sunday flagship line-up with back-to-back editions of "Treehouse of Horror" I couldn't resist to watch that instead.

The Simpsons "Treehouse of Horror VI"

Although a re-run, this is probably one of my favourite Simpsons Halloween specials. If you're unfamiliar with the specials, they would feature three non-canon spooky stories set in Springfield. Let's examine each of them!

As good as "Attack of the 50 Foot Eyesores" is - its basically The Simpsons take on kaiju films - it isn't a stand-out for me. Still a lot of fun, though!

"Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace" is exactly what it sounds like; a spoof on A Nightmare on Elm Street. This one features Groundskeeper Willy as a Freddy-like character who is hunting down the children of Springfield because their parents were lazy and negligent, resulting in his death. The nightmare sequences in this episode are just such a great copy of what you would find in an ANOES film and the crazy colour palette of The Simpsons makes them that much more opulent to look at.

"Homer3" might be one of my most well-remembered segments from the entire series. This was the episode where The Simpsons went 3D. Homer, in an attempt to avoid his sisters-in-law Patty and Selma accidentally enters The 3rd Dimension. Ultimately Bart tries to save him, but Homer ends up sucked into our world, which he's quickly okay with after finding an Erotic Cakes store. I can recall the ads for this episode showing Homer in the "real world" and him being in 3D and I couldn't wait to see it. You have to remember that Toy Story had come out the year prior and 3D animation was all the rage, so it made sense for The Simpsons to have some fun with it.

The Simpsons "Treehouse of Horror VII"

The latest edition of the long-running Simpsons Halloween specials was great and contained some classic shorts even if they weren't quite as memorable as those in the prior special.

It starts out with "The Thing and I", in which we find out that Bart was actually a conjoined twin, but that his brother, Hugo, was so evil he had to be surgically disconnected and hidden away in the attic. It features some great lines from Dr. Hibbert.

Second up was "The Genesis Tub". Lisa accidentally creates a tiny society while working on her science fair project, which becomes much more advanced than our own society and comes to see her as their god and Bart as their devil. It's an okay segment, but nothing to write home about. It does have one of my favouite quotes that I still use to this day: "Why am I so fat?" You'll have to watch to understand!

"Citizen Kang" is probably the strongest short from the episode. The popular aliens Kang and Kodos, who first appeared in the original "Treehouse of Horror", return - this time abducting then-President Bill Clinton and Senator Bob Dole so they can impersonate them in a bid to take over the planet. It's a great dive into the foolishness of that election and has some really funny lines.

The X-Files "Unruhe"

This episode has all the trappings of an unmemorable MotW episode. It follows a serial killer, which was pretty routine for the show, but I guess it did add the paranormal element of "phantom photograpy". Oh, and Scully gets kidnapped! Real original! The thing is despite it looking weak on paper it's a really great show.

That said, I think the fact that it was the first Sunday episode, was basically their "Halloween" episode for the year, and had Pruitt Taylor Vince in a lead role make it memorable.

If you're not familiar with the name, Vince appeared in many different television and film roles through out the 90s and early 2000s, most famously Identity (2003), and has a very distinct feature that makes him stand out: an eye condition known as nystagmus, in which his eyes sort of vibrate back-and-forth.

It all comes together in a great episode that kicked off the shows Sunday night run, which lasted right up until the finale episode in 2002.

Now, I have to be honest with you... this was all a bit of a cheat. You see, I originally planned to re-create this ritual in October of last year. I wanted it to be a feature for my Halloween 2019 stuff, but no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't squirrel away the time on a Sunday to make it happen. I was initially going to wait until next year to try again, but like I said before this has been on my brain since last February. I've tried repeatedly to make it happen and with my hectic life and busy work schedule it just kept slipping through the cracks.

So, I did what I had to and I just waited for the opportunity to present itself, which finally happened the past Tuesday. I know, I know. How can you have a Sunday Night Ritual on a Tuesday!? Finding two hours to sit down and relax just doesn't happen for me right now and I had to run with it.

Beside the fact that it was on the wrong night, it also wasn't very relaxing. After a long day at work, a quick supper, taking my eldest to swim class, and finally getting all the kids to bed I decided to shoe-horn this in and I just couldn't wind-down. Revisiting the episodes were all great fun, but when I used to watch these shows I would practically fall asleep it was so chill and that just wasn't the case this time around.

It also didn't help that I had to stream The Simpsons from Disney+, which meant I had to sit at my desk and watch these shows. That just doesn't jive. I have to be firmly ensconced in my couch or bed for true authenticity.

So this particular attempt at The Sunday Night Ritual was a bit of a failure. But I don't think I'm done there. I have to give this another try and really make it as authentic as possible, so instead of trying to cram the event in because I'm hankering to do it, I'm going to just take my time and make it work on a rare quiet Sunday, when (hopefully) the kids are all sound asleep and I can really enjoy it. Even if that happens in like 13 years...

Anyway, I hope you had fun with this trip down memory lane, if only to enjoy reading about the TV shows that aired that night.

Hopefully there are more to come!

Friday, January 17, 2020

Nostalgia Bomb! - Snow White Cream Soda

What was it?

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

When was it available?

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

What about today?

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

Why do I remember it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 10, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope you enjoyed!