Monday, March 30, 2020

VHyesterdayS: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)

Today marks the 30th Anniversary of one of my favourite films of all time, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so it only seems fitting that I take in a viewing of the only copy of the film that I have ever owned, the original VHS!

The film was infamously produced by Golden Harvest - an independent film company - with the use of Jim Henson-created suits and features a story that was actually adapted fairly faithfully from the comic source material, much to the confusion of many youngsters at the time. New Line Cinema stepped in for distribution of the film, which went on to be the highest-grossing indie movie of all time with $200M in the box office until The Blair Witch Project took the crown almost 10 years later.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was directed by Steve Barron (director of Coneheads, executive producer of the ReBoot cartoon series, and director of a load of music videos you probably remember from the 80s), and starred Judith Hoag as April O'Neil, Elias Koteas as Casey Jones, and the voices of Brian Tochi, Robbie Rist, Josh Pais, and Corey Feldman (yes, that Corey Feldman) as the Turtles themselves!

1990 was probably the height of Turtle-mania. Although the comic was first published in 1984, it was the Fred Wolf cartoon series that brought the Turtles into everyone's homes in 1987, not to mention the astronomical Playmates toyline.

As you can imagine I, like any other kid at the time, was obsessed with the Turtles, but the idea of a feature film certainly wasn't something on my radar. Then one day I saw the trailer for the film and all bets were off.

What's bizarre about the trailer is that they used a different voice-over for Shredder, but with the same lines (for the most part). Seems kind of weird, considering the incredible performance that had been delivered by James Saito.

edit: As it turns out, David McCharen voiced The Shredder in the film in a voiceover. So maybe the voice in the trailer is actually James Saito? I've been watching this film for 30 years and didn't know that. You certainly do learn something new every day!

I actually don't remember seeing the trailer first. My first memory without a doubt was the poster, which included some kind of mock-up of the Turtles sneaking a peak from under a manhole cover, also featured on the back of the VHS.

Regardless, I had to see the movie and I had to see it right away. So, when March 30th rolled around we were naturally waiting in a gigantic line that weaved out of our little three screen movie theatre and spilled in front of the neighbouring K-Mart. After waiting for what probably seemed like hours we eventually reached the hallway just outside of the box office before my soul was crushed and I found out that all screenings were sold out.

We returned sometime later - I can only assume swiftly - and I got to see the Turtles in "real life" (as far as I was concerned) and all was well with the world.

But, as any 7-year old would, I wanted to watch the movie again! And again, and again, and again! Well, thanks to good ol' Saint Nick I would have that dream, as I found this copy of the film under the Christmas tree that December!

I can't recall owning a VHS tape before this. I have some old cartoon tapes around that might pre-date this film, but I truly believe that this was my first home video ever. Considering how many times I've watched it, it's in remarkably good condition!

Even though New Line did the theatrical distribution, the film wasn't released under New Line Home Video, because it didn't yet exist. New Line would wade into the video market once they made the play to get the rights for the Nightmare on Elm Street series in 1991 (they sold the home distribution rights to Media Home Entertainment in 1985). Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was released in the US under Family Home Entertainment. In Canada, oddly enough, F.H.E. didn't handle the video, but instead it was distributed by MCA via Alliance Releasing, which typically handled a lot of Canadian VHS. That's a little strange only because I had and rented metric tons of F.H.E. tapes when I was a kid, including the home releases of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon show! Distribution rights are weird.

This film - along with the rest of the film series - has received very weird home video installments. There were the original VHS tapes and later fairly bare bones DVD releases. Honestly, they didn't do much for me, so I just never felt the need to upgrade to DVD. I always assumed at some point the Turtles would get the proper video release they deserved, but I'm still waiting. There is a DVD and Blu-ray box set, which includes the two live-action sequels and the 2007 animated film, but again with little-to-no features to speak of. Word is the German release actually contains a commentary by the director. Again, distribution rights are weird.

So, you can pick up this flick for cheap on DVD or Blu-ray at your local Wal-mart, but - as always - I would say there's a certain charm to watching these movies on VHS. Especially, if you were in the target market in the late-80s. The patina on the tape adds a certain quality to the experience that I always find endearing, and none more so than my first ever home video, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Now, break out your favourite pizza and pay tribute to one of the biggest films from your childhood for it's 30th birthday!


Friday, March 13, 2020

Friday the 13th: Part III Japanese Bootleg and 3D Glasses

Nowadays 3D has completely permeated the entertainment industry. Just about any big film release has a 3D option at the theatre and with 3D HD TVs you can watch more and more 3D content in the comfort of your home.

In the '90s and early 2000s 3D movies had been something played out at least a decade ago; a technology that managed to kick out a few theatrical releases and went the way of the dodo. The last remnants were VHS and DVD releases of films littered with the hokey detritus of what once was. Movies like Amityville 3-D, Jaws 3-D, and even a few minutes of 1991's Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare.

Being a big Friday the 13th fan, however, the film that always piqued my interest was of course Friday the 13th: Part III. Oft loved by horror fans for the portrayal of Jason and simultaneously reviled for the acting, one thing that everyone could agree on was that the kills, although interesting, were clearly setups for the 3D effect that no longer added to the scenes, but left them standing out like a sore thumb.

In 2004, after picking up the From Crystal Lake to Manhattan box set I became more and more enamoured with the Friday the 13th films. Previously I would rent the VHS tapes from my local video store, but now I had them to watch as much as I desired. After viewing some special features about my favourite of the lot I became obsessed with the idea of seeing Friday the 13th: Part III the way it had been intended - in full 3D.

Thankfully, eBay was a thing and after some searching I came across a little device that could potentially make my dreams come true! It doesn't look like much, but by hooking up this little doodad to your rear-projection TV (I think it may only work with CRT sets, but I've never tried it on an LCD) it would cast a signal to the shutter glasses, which would cause them to essentially blink in the watcher's eyes.

If you coupled these glasses with the right kind of VHS or DVD it would create the 3D effect I was looking for! But how to find a copy of Friday the 13th: Part III in this format? It didn't exist, right?

Well, let's head to Japan!

After some browsing on a Japanese Yahoo auction site I eventually managed to find just the release I needed. The bootleg's box art is patterned after an official Victor VHD 3D release of the film, but I'm not sure if it's a dub of that VHD or if it's from a completely different release that just used the box art. Either way, the 3D black magic reportedly worked on it, so I purchased the bootleg and waited impatiently for the many weeks it took to arrive on my little island in Atlantic Canada.

I can still remember hooking it all up and trying it out for the first time. I had a small TV that had seen countless hours of video games and X-Files that would do just the trick. After messing around with the cables and getting the right batteries for the shutter glasses, I was ready to experience the film anew.

And it did not disappoint!

Now, before you get all excited let me be real with you; this isn't like the 3D films you're used to since Avatar. However, it beats watching the film in the old red and blue anaglyph 3D, which is actually an option if you picked up the Paramount Blu-ray release from '09.

Would I want to watch the movie like this every time? Nah, not really. It's fun now-and-then to throw on this version and see those old kitschy gore effects the way they were really meant to be seen, but watching the movie through the shutter glasses isn't exactly a treat and the bootleg I have is a little dark and not the best quality.

That said, it meant a lot to me to get to see the film this way back in '04 and even today. I'm doubtful we'll get a real, proper 3D release of the movie that would work on modern 3D TV sets. Heck, I don't even know if that sort of thing is possible! So other than a super rare opportunity to see the film in stereoscopic in theatre we'll be left laughing when Abel dangles that eyeball at the teenagers or when the snake attacks Harold on the toilet, wishing we were in on the gag.