Pecs, Pies And Videotape: Confessions Of An ’80s Video Junkie

Slap It In The VCR And They Will Come…

WARNING: Contains strong violence, some mild language and scenes of a dodgy sexual nature

time slip

“Lay me place and bake me pie, I’m starving for me gravy” – David Bowie.  

Know you now of days long past.

A time when the world was young, when video recorders thrived;

the worldwide web but a twinkle in its inventor’s eye,

and wild adventure was fore’er in the offing…

What better way to spend this Bank Holiday Weekend than traipse through the Mall of Nostalgia?!

My life changed forever in mid-August 1984, when we acquired our very first video cassette recorder: VHS you understand (the cool one); the sole kid who often touted the “merits” of Betamax would invariably get beaten to a pulp by the bigger boys.

From that hallowed point onwards, life revolved (spooled?) around tapes: tapes of action movies, tapes of TV comedy shows, tapes of planes, trains and automobiles for Dad, and ballet for Mum, tapes of this an’ tapes of t(h)at. Back then, you see, being able to watch a TV programme a day, a week – or months(!) – after its broadcast date shouted sheer genius! 

And don’t forget the pies… 

Possibly the main reason why best school-buddies: Ed and Boz dropped by my gaff at weekends, and during holidays, involved the double fix of excellent videos and scrumptious pies! In those days, our considerable larder came ram-packed with meaty goodness: steak and kidney, minced beef and onion… but one couldn’t stomach cheese and mushroom – still can’t. All supplemented by a kitchen drawer overflowing with potato chips of every possible flavour!

Probably the coolest addition to the high street was the video rental store. Our local awemonger: Video Stop received frequent visits by yours truly. Don’t regret admitting that more time was spent in there browsing around its ram-packed shelves than in the school library…  

If you – like me – are a child of the 80s, then you will know all-too-perfectly-well what this blogger is blatherin’ on about.

“Don’t insult my intelligence! Please, don’t make me kill you… It will spoil all my fun” – Diana.

For weeks, the latest sci-fi TV sensation from the States had been advertised.

Just known as V – Earth’s first encounter with extraterrestrial visitors! Arriving in fifty motherships, they seek water and resources to save their dying planet, and in return they will bestow upon us all the fruits of their knowledge. TV cameraman Mike Donovan (Marc Singer) stows away aboard the LA mothership and discovers the shocking truth: they are reptilian invaders come to collect humans as food!

The original 2-part opener thrilled me and Ed on the Monday and Tuesday nights respectively. As it went out @ 10:30pm, Dad stuck around to check its suitability for us; he got swept along qith the engrossing drama and SF thrills, and – seeing how enraptured we younglings clearly were, he went out to purchase a VCR on the Wednesday morning.

Way ta go, Daddio!

For that night, the 3- part series: V The Final Battle began, and the whole caboodle got so much better.

Marc Singer was a revelation. Or – more precisely – his pecs motivated me to build upon my embarrassingly weedy frame and maybe – just maybe – rather than beat me up in the playground, the girls would instead start to respect and, perhaps, fancy me…

Another main reason to watch V, of course, was Jane Badler as scheming scientist: Diana – hotter than a pie that’d just come outta the oven.

‘Tis a pity she’s a lizard…

Really, we could not move on without mentioning one of the ultimate SF badasses:Ham Tyler. He holds a reserved place in Brad’s Badass Brigade. Take a butcher’s @ this classic scene and you’ll see why:

“Now that’s a waste of good luggage” – Ham Tyler.

“Just give me some meat an’ a bowl a’ noodles, and make it snappy!” – Hsiao Feng.

Back in the day, you could, inevitably, get titles so indescribably bizarre.

Take – for instance – Time Slip aka GI Samurai: a madcap Jap piece a’ crap. Caught in a sinister storm, an army division is hurled back to the Samurai Era. In the batshit-bonkers carnage that ensues, their tank fires on cavalry charges and all Sonny Chiba (yes! for it is he!) can do is watch his men wiped out by wave upon wave of arrows…

Most of the titles on offer in Video Stop seemed to be rip-offs of either Alien or Mad Max. The latter – fantastically awful titles that had more cheese than, well, a cheese pie – already received somewhat “fervent” attention in this Post.

If a rental proved too turgid to sit through, one constantly-reliable go-to could always be slapped back in the VCR.

Beach Of The War Gods – directed, and starring, that great Taiwanese action-star: “Jimmy” Wang Yu (yes! the one and only!) – is a gloriously hard and funky epic from the legendary Golden Harvest stable. During the 16th century, the Japanese laid siege to the Chinese coastline: killing, looting, burning and other frightful deeds. The petrified plebs of the Windy City dread imminent attack until-!

The Stranger moseys on in…

He persuades Iron Man (yes! Iron Man!) and Brother Li Love (a moody paleface with twenty daggers strapped onto his tunic) to aid him in leading the locals to fight off the Jap hordes.

As to be expected, the dubbing is hilarious, the foley artist is having a gas, and the surf guitar (yes! surf guitar!) soundtrack is outta sight, man!

The climactic battle – hackin’-an’-a-slashin’ through the city streets – is faster and more furious than your average Chinese flick, featuring scintillating choreography, and it just keeps on going and going!

…And going!

But the very first bout a’ blade-battering – when Hsiao Feng Two-Blades kicks off! – is particular gobsmacking. To me, this scene will ALWAYS be a frenetic fave and as-cool-as-fudge:

“Anything you say can and will be held against you…in the court of Robocop” – Jerry.

ALIEN BODIES…

One classic film that constantly eluded me was the original Alien. Although one unforgettable day did come mighty close to changing that…

The box read: “Alien: Starring Tom Skerritt” written in black felt tip. Aha, that’s the bunny! methinks, me quest is over!

Sure enough, Ed and Boz stopped what they were doing and pedalled frantically over to my gaff. Ed had the king-size steak and kidney, Boz tucked in (rather unbelievably) to the cheese and mushroom, while Brad had the beef and onion. Three chip packets rustled in unison as the video started playing. Hmm, no 20th Century Fox logo; funny, not even those iconic credits came on neither…

Strangely, the screen opened, NOT on the dark, foreboding world of LV426, but in a brightly-lt bedroom. On a huge double-bed reclined three young women, with barely one bikini between them.

We gawped in horror as they proceeded to do something unmentionable. With a light bulb…

Searing into my soul, Boz fixed me with his most intense where-the-fudge-is-Tom-Skerritt?! stare: “Jeez, Brad! Ya tryin’ ta corrupt us, fella?!” he blurted. “This must be one of dem Video Nasties that Mrs. Shufflebottom warned us about in class last week! Fer pity’s sake, mate, put Beach Of The War Gods on again, willya?!”

“BLAZES!” yelled Ed, almost spitting his pie out. “I can ‘ear yer Dad comin’ up the hallway! Eject, fella! EJECT!!”

The jittery vid-jockey lunged towards his VCR, an itchy finger quivering over the Eject button.

The bally thing!

It clicked; it whirred. The picture took FOREVER to switch off.

The tape chugged out, just as Dad marched in. To pick up a pencil…

Remember only too well THAT looong, wretched slog back to Video Stop. Too embarrassed to glance at other passers-by – felt like they were staring at me with utter disgust.

Honestly!

A boy of my age…

Carrying SUCH SMUT through a densely populated area…

Too timid to look the video store worker in the eye and hand over THAT TAPE Or have the nerve to inform him that this was definitely NOT the version “directed” by Ridley Scott…

Imagine my utter relief to find, upon arrival, the lad-in-charge had popped out for a pie! The offending article could simply be dropped in the Returns box. Huzzah, my anonymity – not to mention my dignity! – remained intact! To be on the safe side, managed to avoid the store for a WHOLE WEEK so they wouldn’t be able to trace me back to that… that ghastly horridness.

Of course, the three amigos never spoke about it…

Don’t think any of us dared go near another Tom Skerritt movie…

“Okay, who ordered the Burly Beef?” – Sarah Connor.

My dear father and the joy of video rentals granted one of the most memorable birthdays of this boy’s life. Inevitably, Ed and Boz came round for my 14th – with cards and gifts (tapes, obviously).

And lo!

It came to pass that Dad had got me a swell gift – he’d sneaked out and rented a video! (blub)

The cover alone was ultracool – a futuristic dude holding a groovy shoo’er, but sporting the MOST IMPECCABLE PECS! Suddenly, such good vibes emanated from this tape…

Two groovy fellas travel back in time to Los Angeles to hook up with the same clumsy waitress. And then the big guy gets blasted away. Uff, so what…? But then – SWEET BABY JESUS! – he only gets up and spends the rest of the movie chasing the other two across LA! Turns out that he – ha! get this: happens to be a cyborg, sent back to terminate that po’ woman presumably before she can do any more damage to that Diner.

It’s the most ridiculous thing, but pulled off with such great gusto; the action is top-notch, while the pace? Relentless! You know its title; it’s become one of THE iconic SF greats of the 80s – and deservedly so.

Dad was absolutely delighted to see me so happy, and – bless ‘im – only rented ANOTHER video!

He felt chuffed to bits, convinced that he’d got THE PRIZE. As you well know, Aliens is the sequel to the film that would, eventually, take another THREE YEARS to reach my Christmas stocking…

The awesome merits of Aliens appeared not so long ago in this Post.

But what turned out to be really mind-blowing? Corporal Hicks (Michael Biehn) is also a stalwart member of the the Badass Brigade – Hey! This is turning into quite a nifty reunion! Plus, Biehn had already showed off his pecs in that other Movie of the Day!

A Michael Biehn double-bill the perfect birthday present for anyone!

GOD BLESS MICHAEL BIEHN.

“You could warn them… if only you spoke Hovitos!” – Dr. Rene Belloq.

“Yo, fella, save the BEST till last.”

The BIGGEST movie of Summer ’84 had to be something called: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Knew that it was an old-fashioned action/adventure movie, but that was all. Until Ed clarified that it was actually a sequel to a blockbuster that caused a sensation back in ’81: Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Not only promising the ultimate pie-eating experience, we reckon this was our VERY FIRST rental. Whoa, what a visual feast to get the ball – or, in this case, boulder – rolling!

Raiders is a MASTERPIECE; yes, yes, Brad concedes – it IS BETTER than Beach Of The War Gods…

Here is one of its undisputed highlights – one of the finest action sequences EVER produced. John Williams excelled himself here. On my all-time chart, his pieces that give me goosebumps include: The Imperial March; the Tattooine Theme, and the sequence that begins here @ 1:54

Best moment? 4:38ha ha!

Let’s go!:

“Didn’t any of you guys ever go to Sunday school?” – Indiana Jones. 

That, my fellow thrill-seekers, wraps it up for this May Day Weekend.

Since our TV set switched to a digital network, access to our video channel has become a bugger to fix; mould has damaged some of the tapes; Video Stop vanished long ago – the unit is now a softcore hardware store; those friends are long gone; Brad himself is still chooglin’.

However: “It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage” – his teeth are worn and bent; his hair is thinning like no tomorrow; and he doesn’t seem to remember ever owning a droid…

But his pecs are – by Jove! – still as firm and pliant as ever!

HUZZAH!

Be Kind, Rewind

 

The Gung-Ho Iguana And Other “Strange Friends”

Greetings, Starfighter. You have been recruited by the Star League to defend the frontier against Xur and the Ko-Dan armada. 

last starfighter

“Terrific. I’m about to get killed a million miles from nowhere with a gung-ho iguana who tells me to relax” – Alex Rogan.

Aeons ago, when my very first science fiction stories were written, aliens played vitally important roles – some were integral supporting characters; a select few even played the lead. For me, what extraterrestrials said or did usually held vastly greater significance than anything humans got up to.

In that far-flung past, before the www. and even DVDs (and Blu-ray – whatever that is), thrill-seeking goonies like me had to get their SF fix from renting VHS tapes. Some of my all-time favourite movies were originally viewed via this invaluable medium; all the walking, talking, hilarious, fearsome and painful aliens one could wish for whirred and clicked their weird and wonderful way through my weary, long-suffering VCR. These otherworldly characters had more immediate impact than anything uttered by any tedious Terran. 

So, these are the strange “companions” who not only thrilled and entertained me, but compelled me to create my own marvelous menagerie of cosmic characters.

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“Science fiction aliens are both metaphors and real possibilities… Aliens may represent hopeful, compensatory images of the strange friends we have been unable to find” – Gary Westfahl.

One of the most important videos ever rented had to be The Last Starfighter (1984), the magical tale of young Alex Rogan (Lance Guest) recruited to fight in a galactic war because he showed all the right skills necessary… by playing a video game in “some flea-speck trailer park in the middle of tumbleweeds and tarantulas.” 

It was supposed to herald a new age in special effects, but its computerized graphics look hopelessly outdated by today’s relentlessly sophisticated standards. Nonetheless, it holds more timeless charm and traditional storytelling methods than most of the CGI-drenched pap we have to contend with nowadays.

This was due, to a certain extent, to the amazing, dependable Grig (Dan O’Herlihy) Alex’s charismatic pilot who helped explain and drive the plot as well as providing a few comic moments. Unlike most reptilians, here was a swell dude who didn’t deserve to get suspended in any xenon mist – one of the best (benevolent) aliens in SF movies:

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“…Virginia fights for us! He will fight the Torquas in the south. The Warhoons in the north! And he will be called Dotar Sojat! “My right arms”!” – Tars Tarkas.  

In my earliest days of printed sci-fi (over)consumption, there was no way to resist the bizarre imagery and sheer escapism conjured by Edgar Rice Burroughs, when he chronicled the adventures of John Carter: a Civil War veteran from Virginia, mysteriously transported to the planet of Barsoom (Mars).

In the very first novel: A Princess of Mars (first published in 1917), he would meet what became – quite literally – my favourite Martian: Tars Tarkas, Jeddak (chief) of the Tharks – those doughty, green-skinned, 7-foot tall, 6-limbed warriors of the red planet.

Incidentally, as far as subsequent research has shown, it would appear that Tars Tarkas – imbued with an ironic sense of humour and painful memories of a past romance – could well be the very first individual, talking, thinking extraterrestrial being in (science) fiction!

For ages, a major movie production of John Carter of Mars had been mooted for some time, but it took ages until a sufficient level of sfx to successfully render the Tharks could be attained. Typically, the movie went to all that trouble of getting the movements and mannerisms of the Tharks just right, but failed to animate the human characters…

Who did this fanboy envisage providing the voice for Tars Tarkas?

Why, Willem Defoe, of course! And guess what? The makers shared the same vision – great! 

Close Encounters 4

“He says the sun came out last night. He says it sang to him” – Project Leader.  

The most obvious candidate for best friend from beyond the stars has to be everybody’s favourite mentor: Yoda, but so many blogs have been written about him already.

Instead, on a personal note, honorary mention must go to the spindly-limbed Alien Ambassador from Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). Although he appeared for the briefest of moments – with his endearing smile and accompanied by John Williams’ cute incidental music – that pint-sized traveller captivated many hearts (of my generation at least). It’s a shame he never spoke – we were all left to speculate what he would/could have said. Even The Special Edition – released three years laterfailed to add any precious further insights.

When Spielberg’s E.T. came out in 1982 – (then) becoming the highest-grossing movie of all time – this lil piggy stayed at home – i.e. didn’t want to sit through such an overlong treacly spectacle which featured a “much more ugly muppet.” It was decided then: return my attention to the more malevolent, antagonistic bug-eyed beasties so rampant and commonplace in mainstream sci-fi!

Yet all the time, my mind kept drifting back to that Ambassadorwhat a cool friend he would have made; at that time, we would have shared the same height… as well as plenty of outlandish stories and all sorts of other cool stuff; explored distant worlds together; and exchanged candy no doubt!

Brad would have gone where no infant-sci-fi-eater had gone before. But alas…

He would never learn that alien’s name. 

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“Take up a cause, fall in love, write a book!” – John Carter.

Cheers!

Xenomorph! It’s Got A Great Defense Mechanism – You Don’t Dare Kill It…

In space no one can hear you scream.

alien 1979

“The biggest problem, of course, was: What’s the alien going to look like? I mean, you could screw around… trying to come up with something that wasn’t all nobs and bobs… When I went into Fox for the first meeting, they had a book there by H.R. Giger: The Necronomicon. I took one look at it, and I’ve never been so sure of anything in my life” – Sir Ridley Scott.  

With Halloween just weeks away, it would be cool at this point to just break away from the usual SF themes explored in this Blog, and delve into something darker and more sinister. The cold and cruel depths of outer space seems like an all-too-obvious choice in which to set horror movies. A quick glance over the last 35 years since Ridley Scott’s seminal sci-fi shocker: Alien reveals that the challenge was met with some gruesome, sleazy and downright odd specimens!

It doesn’t matter that E.T. (1982) – with its endearing portrayal of a harmless but lost, dopey-looking alien – overtook Star Wars to become the Highest Grossing Movie Of All Time. No, audiences clamoured for beasties with a bit more bite, preferably with acid for blood…

A whole spate of low-budget video nasties offered a range of horrendous xenos (of the cheap and nasty kind!) and delivered a standard mix of gore, dimly-lit scenes and a copious supply of invariably loud and incredibly dumb humans whose chances of survival were just as miniscule as their “acting” abilities.

Let’s rummage through the bargain bin of bug-eyed beasties and see what this SF/Horror hybrid really looks like! So, anyone fancy a bug hunt?

xenomorphit

“Giger seems to be painting aliens, but the closer you look, the more you realise he’s painting twisted versions of us” – Clive Barker.

The term: “xenomorph” was first used in connection with the weird cyclopean entities of It Came From Outer Space (1953). With their spacecraft having crashlanded in the Arizona desert, these aliens could take on human form, but in the rare glimpses of their natural forms, they were truly terrifying.

Possibly the grandaddy of sci fi-horror beasties would have to be It! The Terror From Beyond Space (1958). Having gone to the trouble of creating a genuinely scary-looking “Terror,” the creature still hid in the shadows for maximum shock effect (not to mention to make the most of a miniscule budget!) It! holds a special place in this Post, being widely regarded as the primary influence behind Ridley Scott’s vision.

Alien (1979) is justifiably considered to be the pinnacle of SF/Horror; not only does it capture the claustrophobia and debilitating loneliness on a space freighter in an unknown sector of the galaxy, but it also can be treated best as a traditional haunted house story set in deep space. The biomechanoid design of the xenomorph by the late great H.R. Giger has stood the test of time as one of cinema’s greatest creations. The Swiss surrealist artist derived his unique style from his own nightmares; how fitting then that he has gone on to disrupt the sleep of many others!

And ya know what? Harrison “I’m Han Solo/Indiana Jones, get over it” Ford turned down the opp to play Captain Dallas(!), while Peter “walking carpet” Mayhew lost the chance to don that infamous xenomorph suit.

“I find that hard to believe,” said Ripley incredulously.

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“You still don’t understand what you’re dealing with, do you? Perfect organism. It’s structural perfection is matched only by its hostility” – Ash.

During the mid-80s, there were hordes of downright despicable carnivorous aliens on bloodthirsty rampages in SF movies, at a time when slasher flicks were dominating the shelves labelled: “Horror” in every video rental shop. Despite this serious lack of variety, this blogger nevertheless confesses to have rented out (almost thirty years ago, of course) some of these cheap and (below) average Alien clones on too many weekends to mention. Among them, the likes of Star Crystal and Titan Find would get screwed up played in my long-suffering VCR.

Actually, these rip-offs were just as ridiculous as they were unlimited. To illustrate this extreme situation, take for example: Galaxy of Terror (1981) (aka Planet of Horrors) produced by Roger Corman, and then Forbidden World (1982) (aka Mutant) produced by (yes!) Roger Corman – very confusing, especially considering how their equally shoddy production values made them virtually undistinguishable!  

Interestingly enough, considering the tacky nature of the special effects, more or less the same team responsible for Titan Find (1985) would reunite shortly after for another marauding monster vs. hapless humans thrill-fest. Only this time the effects were supervised by an FX Master: Stan Winston, and a certain James Cameron was onboard to direct the Mother of all Bug Hunts: Aliens (1986).  

It’s ironic to think that the only true rival to Alien came in the form of its own sequel! (There is too much to say about this veritable Classic, so will deliver a Post devoted to this some day soon).

Has it really come to this conclusion? That in order to make a really enjoyable SF/Horror monster movie you had to have either Scott or Cameron’s direction?! Or Giger’s superior design?! Admittedly, back in the day, there was a certain charm… then, but now that brand of garish and outrageous action/horror cannot exist outside the 80s, and the enthusiasm once readily mustered for them can never be replicated…

Well, it’s getting late, and it’s a heckuva long way back to Earth, so…

Back to the old freezerinos.

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Sweet dreams!