Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Monster Madness: Memories of MonsterVision

video 
 The regular intro for the original MonsterVision on TNT. 



When I was a kid in the early 90s, there were two shows in particular that I absolutely loved, both of which turned me on to a lot of classic horror, sci-fi and monster flicks that I otherwise might not have seen. Those two shows were Mystery Science Theater 3000 on Comedy Central (originally The Comedy Channel), and MonsterVision on TNT. MST3K I'm sure many are well aware of, as it's classic mix of camp and humor made it incredibly popular and people who never even saw the show back when it was on still know about it, and rightfully so. As a matter of fact, I'll have to give MST3K it's very own blog entry at some point down the road, as it certainly deserves it. 

Visions of my childhood.


But then there was TNT's MonsterVision. Starting in (apparently) March 1993, this "show" was originally basically just a Saturday night marathon of various classic (and sometimes not so classic) "monster movies". The first movie would start at 8pm eastern time, and there would usually be two or three movies, though for certain special "themed" marathon nights, there could be more. For awhile, there was another, after program called "100% Weird" that would also often show monster movies, though in it's case, it was usually, as the name implied, obscure, weirder stuff. Now before we got much further, it bears saying that most people that DO remember MonsterVision, remember it for one central figure: Joe Bob Briggs, the host of the show from sometime in 1995 through the show's end in 2000. While I like Joe Bob as a character, and he certainly could be entertaining, for me, when he took over it represented a gradual shift in the programming from what I had loved about it, to something that I didn't like nearly as much. To better explain, when MonsterVision first started, it didn't have a regular host, and sometimes had no host at all. But more importantly, the movies they originally played from 1993-1995, were indeed true to the name; classic 50s and 60s (mostly) science fiction and horror films. When Joe Bob took over, I'm not sure whether it was his choice or the producers, but they gradually shifted away from those movies that I, as a kid and still even today prefer, and moved into more 70s and 80s "exploitation" and slasher type films. I have nothing at all against Joe Bob Briggs, in fact I remember he himself fondly. But I always felt that as the years went on, the quality (to me) of the movies they chose to show on MonsterVision greatly declined, to the point that the name no longer even made any sense. As I understand it, Joe Bob himself felt this way to a great extent in the end, blaming TNT itself for calling the shots on what he could show. 

Kali fight scene from The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974)



But back on point, that 1993-1995 era was where it was at for me. Weekends became genuinely looked forward to by yours truly, beyond the normal reasons. I looked forward to them then because I'd have MonsterVision on Saturday night, and cartoons (most especially my favorite at the time, X-Men) on Saturday morning. It was directly because of MonsterVision that I first saw movies like "First Men in the Moon" and "Mysterious Island", as well as "The Fly", "It, Terror From Beyond Space", "Earth vs. The Flying Saucers", "20 Million Miles to Earth", etc. I also first saw some real craptastic ones like "Plan 9 From Outer Space", "The Wasp Woman", "From Hell It Came" and "The Cyclops", but you know, as a kid, I didn't really think about how badly done they were, I took things at face value and watched a movie purely for what was going on in the story, not production values. So I was glad for every movie I got to see. It's fair to say that I got genuinely excited every time MonsterVision was listed in the TV Guide (remember those?).

Most times, the movies shown would be just a selection of unrelated fair. But then other nights, they'd have the "themed" shows, where all the movies had some tying element. For example, one night the theme was "Small Titles, Big Scares", where they showed films like "The Blob" and "Them", both absolute classics in their own right. Another night, it was spaced themed, and so cheesily enough, they called it "TNT's MoonsterVision" that night. Yet another night, they had an all Ray Harryhausen stop-motion movie marathon, which is where my love for Mr. Harryhausen and his work really took off. I had already seen movies like "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad", which to this day is one of my top favorite movies of all time. But during that marathon, I got to see "Clash of the Titans", and "It Came From Beyond the Sea", and most likely one or both of the 70s Sinbad films, "The Golden Voyage of Sinbad" and "Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger". 


The climactic scene with the Kraken, in the original Clash of the Titans (1981)








But in all of that monster goodness, the one memory that sticks out the most to me, is as I remember it, around Thanksgiving 1994. They had a multi-day marathon to ring in the new year, and wouldn't you know, it, miracle of all miracles, it was a GODZILLA marathon. It goes without saying that I grew up absolutely, madly in love with Godzilla movies. I'm not sure I can even fully explain what it was, but I just loved the big guy. I can't even fully remember which movie I saw first, but the one I first owned on tape was "Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster". I was hooked after that and every time I'd see another Godzilla tape in the store, I'd have to beg to get it. Sufficed to say, having a two night mega-marathon of Godzilla and other assorted Toho kaiju (Japanese for monster) movies, I was fucking stoked. As in beyond excited. The stars had aligned and I was in for the weekend of my childhood. Might sound sad to some, and certainly I had great weekends growing up where I actually "went out and DID something", but I'm telling you, I loved Godzilla so much, that this memory stands in stark contrast to everything else in that respect. 

I'm sure at least one or two of the movies shown I had already seen (which didn't bother me in the slightest, naturally). But luckily for me, most of the movies they showed, I actually hadn't seen yet, so I was getting to see all new Godzilla films, that I might otherwise not have gotten the chance to, as I don't remember ever seeing them in my local video store (remember those?). Among those I was first exposed to, the most prominent that I remember for sure being shown, were "Godzilla vs. Mothra", "Godzilla's Revenge", and the final Showa era Godzilla film, "Terror of Mechagodzilla". I do believe they also showed "War of the Gargantuas" and "Godzilla on Monster Island" (actually titled Godzilla vs. Gigan), neither of which were as good, but I hardly cared back then. To top it all off, to promote the marathon, between movies, they'd play a kind of promotional music video they had put together, of clips from the movies, to the sweet strains of Blue Oyster Cult's "Godzilla", a song I was also being exposed to for the first time. I don't mind telling you now that upon overcoming the amazement that someone had made a kick-ass rock song based on my favorite monster, my 12 year old self was, in fact, dancing around the living room to this video. I also remember my grandmother staying up with me to record the Godzilla films I hadn't seen yet on tape, so that I'd have them for my collection. I have all but one of the original "Showa" era movies on DVD now, but I do in fact still have those recorded tapes, the only such tapes I retained from my childhood (recorded that is). I'm sure they don't play very well by 2012, but fuck it, I'm never getting rid of them, just for nostalgia's sake.

And the crowd goes wild!


As far as I know, this marathon was the last big hurrah for what I suppose I'd dub "MY era" of MonsterVision. As I said near the beginning, sometime in 1995, when they brought MonsterVision back after being off the air for awhile, Joe Bob Briggs was the new permanent host, and the format totally changed. They began showing things like "Friday the 13th", and other more modern films like that. Those slasher type flicks have never been my personal cup of tea, and so the "Golden Age" of my beloved MonsterVision was over. Which, naturally, made me rather sad. It didn't help that, ironically enough, right around the same time in 1995, original MST3K host Joel Hodgson (character Joel Robinson on the show), left his own creation over creative differences with the producer. Longtime writer and bit-part player Mike Nelson took over, and while it was certainly a much less drastic change than MonsterVision had been, it was still a minor blow to this kid, because I had really loved the Joel character (plus it was HIS show, dammit). All in all, Mike was great, and so was Joe Bob. But in the end, I guess you could say that, in a symbolic way, those changes in my two favorite (non-animated) shows, in a way represented how my life was changing at the time too, my moving to a new town, my grandmother passing away, and me officially entering teenhood. But regardless of how life changes, the one thing we always have (unless we get Alzeimers or amnesia), is our memories. And my memories of my Saturday nights with MonsterVision will always be something I cherish and look back fondly on. Some of the best nights of my life. 


And with that deep thought, I'll leave you with one last video clip, the promo footage of that infamous "Godzillathon" on that New Year's Eve, long long ago. Cheers. 



5 comments:

  1. Great blog! I love MST3K, I've seen every episode except for maybe 10 or so, which is a lot with close to 200 episodes at an hour and a half each. Never seen Monster Vision though, I lived out in the country so we couldn't get cable until we finally got a satellite sometime in the 90's. I used to love Elvira when I was a kid, and a similar show called Sammy Terry, which was basically old sci-fi/horror movies hosted by a guy dressed like a zombie or vampire or something on a local channel.
    Godzilla is definitely in my top 3 favorite movie franchises of all time. I actually have all of them on DVD besides Godzilla 1985, and Godzilla Vs. Biollante (those two have yet to be released in North America on DVD, however I do have Biollante on VHS). This makes me a little sad because 1985 was the first Godzilla film I ever saw back in the 80's, and I've been hooked ever since. I don't care how cheesy some of them (Godzilla vs. Megalon)are, I still can't get enough of them.

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  2. Thanks! Yeah I actually popped in a tape last night thinking it was part of the MonsterVision Godzilla thing, and it was actually from something else I only vaguely remembered. It was called like "Night Comfort Theater" or something, it was basically a furniture store that promoted themselves by playing classic Sci Fi and horror type films late at night, while also (naturally) interspersing ads for their store. I think this was a pretty common thing back in the 70s and 80s, for businesses to do things like that. What a trip, either way.

    And yeah, Godzilla is certainly Top 3 for me too. The only ones I don't have on DVD, like you said, are Godzilla vs. Megalon (which is supposed to come out on DVD, but for some reason it hasn't?), and 1985 and Biolante. I've seen bootleg (basically) copies on DVD on Amazon, from Hong Kong or whatever, basically the movie with subtitles. I was tempted...but I'd sure rather them just put them out on American DVD.

    Thanks for commenting, and cheers!

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  3. Yeah, the Megalon DVD I have is a bootleg I found at a convention. From what I understand of it other companies have the publishing rights to those movies in the U.S. So until either Toho gets the rights back or those companies choose to release them they won't come out here. Another one I want is Rebirth of Mothra 3, I haven't even seen that yet. I'm sure of the reason they haven't released that here.

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  4. What really pissed me off, was when the far superior newer DVD release of Destroy All Monsters came out, I ordered it on Amazon, FROM Amazon themselves, and I waited and waited and waited for my copy, which never got mailed. I finally contacted them (several times), and it went from being "temporarily out of stock" so I had to wait, to basically just cancelling my order in disgust because they were never going to get any more copies. I could still get a copy, but not at the bargain price I had originally purchased it for. I still want it, so someday. The one I have now is crap, doesn't even have a menu!

    As for Megalon, last I checked, it was listed as "coming soon" or whatever on Amazon, but it never has a release date. So yeah....some kind of holdup. From what I understand, some special features stuff has even been made for it, but no DVD yet. Dumb.

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  5. Nice look back at MonsterVision. I used to watch the USA Network "Up All Night" movies with Rhonda Shear,she was sassy and cute.
    I grew up watch the Big G as well and my 2nd favorite character was and Jet Jaguar.

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