Throwback Thursday: “Movie Monsters From Outer Space,” 1983

This was another book during my grade-school days that really fed my excitement about monsters — Jerry A. Young’s 1983 children’s book, “Movie Monsters From Outer Space.”  (Why does the author’s name sound so much like a pseudonym to me?)

I’m sure it’s obscure by now.  If memory serves, this was another title I ordered from those classroom bulletins put out by Scholastic Book Clubs.  (I was in the third grade, I think.)  It gave kids a brief, fun run-down of a bunch of space-based baddies — those are the Cylons from the original “Battlestar Galactica” (1978) on the cover.

It featured a bunch of older B-movies too.  I remember really wanting to see “Forbidden Planet” (1956) after seeing a picture of its monster there.

I also seem to remember reading about Ridley Scott’s original “Alien” (1979), although I suppose that I could be recalling another book.  (It would be odd if Scott’s masterpiece were described here, because it was … kinda not for kids.)

 

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Throwback Thursday: Monogram’s “Battlestar Galactica” models (1978)

These “Battlestar Galacatica” models were released by Monogram in 1978, the same year the TV show debuted.  My older brother had all four of them hanging from the ceiling of our room.  (I was a first grader in 1978, and still a few years away from model building.)

I definitely had watched the show, but I wasn’t quite as into it as the other boys in my class.  (And that’s probably ironic, considering my sheer fanaticism as an adult for Ron Moore’s remake series between 2004 and 2010.)

The other boys were constantly screaming about it.  (Maybe I was just a quiet kid — it seemed to me at the time that they were endlessly hollering about whatever it was that they liked.)  I’m not sure why I was less enthusiastic — I certainly loved my “Star Wars.”   And a year after “Battlestar Galactica” hit the small screen, my best friend Shawn and I went nuts for a show that is now remembered by few — “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.”

 

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Throwback Thursday: “Metal Man” action figures!

The “Metal Man” action figures are a bit of a strange late-1970’s phenomenon for two reasons.

First, Zee Toys produced them with no backstory — there was never any fictional universe established by a comic book or cartoon or movie.  They just sort of appeared under my Christmas tree around 1979 with names like “Questar,” “Radon,” and the lazily repetitive “Roton.”

Second, they were actually made entirely of die-cast metal.  They were heavy, with more joints and points of articulation than “Star Wars” figures, which were simpler and more cheaply made, if far more popular among first graders like me.

Those two things gave them a lot of mystique to an imaginative little boy.  I loved them.  Sure … they were confusing.  Radon looked a bit like a Cylon from “Battlestar Galactica,” but he wasn’t one.  And how did his “Sky Sled” fly?  Upright, so that he could see where he was going?  Did he just recline on it?  For some reason I spent a lot of time thinking about that — probably when I was supposed to be doing my homework.

Seriously, these were treasures.  I still have the above three, I think.  “Corporal Chrome” looks like he would be fun to hunt down.  And “Major Mercury” deserves his own goddam album cover.

The 1970’s … weird, but fun.

Bugeyedmonster.com has a really neat rundown of the entire toy line right here (and here’s where you can get a glimpse of “Major Mercury”):

http://www.bugeyedmonster.com/toys/metalman/

 

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Throwback Thursday: “Star Trek,” the Original Series

I really missed the boat with last week’s Throwback Thursday — it was the 50th anniversary of the entire “Star Trek” franchise, with the first episode of the original series airing on September 8, 1966.  (And even the term “franchise” seems way too narrow to describe “Star Trek” in all of its incarnations — it’s really more like a permanent part of western popular culture.)  I’m not old enough to remember the show’s original run, which was a surprisingly scant three years.  But I remember it in syndication when I was not much more than a baby in the mid- to late 1970’s.

“Star Trek” was something that my older brother and maybe my father watched.  (I was fixated on programming that was more comprehensible for young kids, like “Land of the Lost” and reruns of “The Lone Ranger.”  Seriously, the original black-and-white serial western was still in reruns back then.)

But “Star Trek” was definitely something I was attracted to as a tot, doubtlessly resulting, in part, from the contagious ardor for it that I saw in my older brother.  (He might not admit it today, but he was a bit of a hard-core science fiction fan long before I was.)  The show was on at our tiny house in Woodhaven, Queens, quite a lot.  He also had toys and posters connected with it.  (And anything my older brother owned was something I endeavored to play with when he wasn’t looking.)

He had that Captain Kirk toy among the figures produced by Mego that you see in the bottom photo.  (Again, 1970’s “action figures” were often pretty much indistinguishable from dolls.)  In the early 1980’s, he had a totally sweet giant poster depicting diagrammed schematics for The Enterprise in surprising detail.  I’ve Google-searched for it, but found only similar pinups.  The one hanging in the room we shared was blue.

I remember him annoyedly correcting me because I called it “Star Track.”  (I did not yet know the word “trek.”  I myself was confused by my own mistake; I knew that there could be no “train tracks” in space, even if I studied the opening credits one time just to make sure.)

I was precisely the sort of pain-in-the-ass kid who fired off an incessant barrage of questions when I saw something on TV that I didn’t understand.  My father was patient to a fault when I punctuated his World War II movies with inane questions.  (I’m willing to bet I eventually acquired more knowledge of the war’s European theater than the average six-year-old.)  My brother was not always so forbearing.  I actually remember him changing the channel away from shows he was watching, like “Star Trek” or “MASH,” if I joined him at the little black-and-white television we had in our room.  (The poor guy needed me to lose interest and go away, so that he could at least hear the damn show.)

Certain “Star Trek” episodes remain memorable to this day, even if I understood maybe 15 percent of what transpired onscreen.  The was The One With The Domino-Face Men, which the Internet now tells me was actually titled “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.”  Then there was The One Where Kids Ruled Themselves on a Deserted World, which made a really big impression on me.  (The Internet tells me this one was “Miri.”)

As I grew up, the show faded from prominence in my child’s psyche.  It was just never my fandom of choice.  Nor was it for many other kids I knew … by the 1980’s, it was already considered “an old TV show.”  The kids on my street were always excited about the feature films; even if we were underwhelmed by the “slow” first film in 1979.  Blockbuster movies were major events back then, and fewer, and they were enigmatic in a way that is impossible after the Internet’s arrival.  (I think that Millennials will never be able to understand that, in the same way that you and I can never appreciate the vintage “serials” that our parents watched before the main feature at a Saturday matinee.)

In the 1980’s, just about every boy I knew was preoccupied with the space-fantasy of “Star Wars.”  On television, we had cheesefests like the original “Battlestar Galactica” and “V.”  As we got older, we gravitated toward the “Alien” and “Predator” film franchises.  At home, I read Orson Scott Card and Harry Harrison, and as I approached college toward the end of the decade, I’d discovered Arthur C. Clarke.  If we’d known another kid who was really into “Star Trek,” I’m not sure we would have considered it “nerdy.”  It would just have been very weird, because it we viewed it as a campy tv show from maybe two decades prior, like “Bonanza” or something.  I don’t think I ever even thought of the franchise as really relevant or popular until I was at Mary Washington College in the 1990’s.  “Star Trek: the Next Generation” would regularly draw kids out of their dorm rooms into the lobby at New Hall.

Still, it’s hard not to develop an emotional attachment to something that stimulated your sense of wonder as a tot.  I … felt pretty damn sad when Captain Kirk died in 1994’s “Star Trek: Generations.”  I saw it in a theater in Manassas, Virginia, I think, with my girlfriend at the time.  She actually felt she had to console me after seeing how doleful I was on the drive home.

 

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Throwback Thursday: “Halloween III: Season of the Witch” (1982)

Young people, let me try to explain what it was like for a kid who loved movies in the early 1980’s.

There was no trivia section for the Internet Movie Database.  There was no Internet Movie Database.  There was no goddam Internet.  This meant that information about new movies came mostly from other second-, third- or fourth-graders.  And that was one imperfect grapevine.

Sometimes the information was flat out wrong.  Brad Fisher told me at the beach in the summer of 1980 that Han Solo dies in “The Empire Strikes Back.”  (Yes, “Star Wars” fanatics, I am aware that Harrison Ford wanted the character to die.  Now grow up and watch Ron Moore’s “Battlestar Galactica.”)

Other times, the information was technically accurate, but confusingly articulated.  Such was the account of Jason Huhn, the kid across the street, of Ridley Scott’s “Alien.”  (That was a 1979 movie, but I wasn’t even allowed to watch the bowdlerized version that was on television a few years later.)  “Its head is like a tube.”  Jason told me thoughtfully.  “It has, like, two mouths.  It has a mouth, and then a mouth inside a mouth.”

Finally, the other boys’ reviews were occasionally just too spoiler-heavy.  In 1984, I had the entire rope-bridge scene in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” memorized in detail before I got to see the movie myself.  (Maddeningly, most of Mr. Greiner’s sixth grade class had seen it before I did, and Jason Girnius was particularly exuberant in recounting its climactic fight.)

“Halloween III: Season of the Witch” was something of a different animal.  None of the kids in the neighborhood could figure that one out.

“Michael isn’t in it!”  That was the buzz.  To a boy in the 1982, Michael Myers was an icon on par with “Friday the 13th’s” Jason.  (Leatherface was a bit before our time, and Freddy Krueger and Pinhead hadn’t arrived in theaters just yet.)  Even those of us who weren’t allowed to watch the movies had heard all about him.  It utterly confused us that that a “Halloween” movie could be made in which he was absent.

It … looked pretty scary, at least.  Its poster and tagline suggested that young trick-or-treaters would be victimized instead of teenagers old enough to babysit, so that was more frightening to a young boy.  (As an adult today, I suggest that this movie absolutely did not turn out to be a classic horror film, despite the pretty terrifying basic plot device revealed at the end.)

Today a simple Google search would inform us of John Carpenter’s plans — an anthology series in which every subsequent “Halloween” sequel was a standalone horror story with the holiday as a theme.  (I think I’d question the wisdom of that even as a kid; the studio wisely resurrected the slasher four years later.)

But the gradeschool grapevine was not so informed.  There weren’t even any tentative hypotheses among the kids on my street.  I think we just shrugged it off and returned to talking about “Star Wars.”  We just figured that adults sometimes did some really puzzling, really stupid things.  That’s a belief I still hold today.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that I occasionally engender that belief in others.

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