Tag Archives: Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday: “The Beastmaster” (1982)!

“The Beastmaster” (1982) was THE movie that captured the imaginations of grade-school boys in the 1980’s.  There were summer afternoons when this was the single biggest topic of conversation.

I almost wrote here that the movie was an obvious knockoff of the far-better-remembered “Conan the Barbarian;” that is how I’ve always remembered it.  But the Internet informs me that they hit theaters only months apart.  Wikipedia also informs me that “The Beastmaster” was actually a commercial failure, and that its two sequels and its television adaptation (all in the 1990’s) were aimed at a subsequent cult following spawned by the original movie’s appearance on 80’s TV.  (I’m pretty sure that’s how my friends and I saw it.)  What the hell was wrong with 1982 audiences, anyway?  Was it something in the water?  “Blade Runner” and John Carpenter’s “The Thing” were also flops that year — and those were some the best science fiction movies of all time.  Talk about pearls before swine.

Anyway, please understand — “Conan the Barbarian” was inarguably the better film.  No matter how much it polarized critics and audiences, that dour, violent, R-rated movie was intended as a serious adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s literary source material.

“The Beastmaster,” on the other hand, was campier stuff that was firmly aimed at kids.  (I was surprised to learn that it had its own literary source material, but its B-movie wackiness only followed those books very loosely.)  It had a PG rating and was jam-packed with garishly grotesque monsters that would thrill a fourth grade boy — the animalistic berzkers were what really got under my skin; my friends were more unnerved by the … bat-people.  (There is a simple but quite effective 80’s-era practical effect that show how these baddies digest a victim alive.  You kinda have to see the movie to know what I mean.)  Hell, even the witches were a little creepy, and witches were not high on our list of things that were scary.  I honestly think the film’s success owes a lot to its successful incorporation of horror movie elements designed to impress the younger set.

“The Beastmaster” starred Marc Singer, who went on to star in another 80’s phenomenon, television’s “V” series.  (I might have loved “V” even more than “The Beastmaster.”)  The movie also starred Tanya Roberts, who was another quite popular topic among gradeschool boys in the 80’s.  John Amos starred in a supporting role, and he did a really good job of it.  A lot of my older friends will remember him as the grouchy Dad in the “Good Times” (1974-1979); 80’s kids might point him out as the owner of “McDowell’s” in 1988’s “Coming to America.”

I really am curious to find out how well “The Beastmaster” has held up over time.  I was surprised to discover that there is a great copy of it here on Youtube.  (Thanks, VHS Drive-In.)  You can bet that I’m watching it this weekend.

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Throwback Thursday: “Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell” (1978)!

“Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell” (1978) was yet another made-for-television movie that rocked my world when I saw it in early grade school.  But it didn’t age well — not even by a narrow margin.  When I saw it on TV again a few years down the line, like maybe when I was in junior high, I realized it was … truly a third-rate horror movie.  (It was every bit s campy as the trailer below suggests.)

It wasn’t all bad, I guess.  It stars Richard Crenna.  And whatever special effects they used to show the titular monster after its demonic transformation were surprisingly decent for a 70’s TV movie.  (I actually wonder if they used the same rotoscope process that Ralph Bakshi used in the same year’s animated “The Lord of the Rings.”)

 

 

Throwback Thursday: this 1986 Laser Tag commercial!

I remember Laser Tag as an exciting but fairly brief blip in 1980’s pop culture.  A lot of the kids I knew got excited about these commercials, a lot of us asked earnestly for Laser Tag guns Christmas, and … none of us got them.  (Our parents seemed unanimous that they were too expensive.)

Ah, well.  The subsequent buzz around my neighborhood was that our parents were probably wise, anyway — we heard later that the guns hardly worked, making the product nowhere near as cool as the commercials depicted.  (I am linking below to Kevin Noonan’s Youtube Channel, by the way.)

And then the fad faded — all the hubbub around Laser Tag (and Photon, its cheaper competitor) just kinda went away.  It sort of makes sense.  Paintball was alive and well as an edgier, more subversive, and more exciting sport; I can’t imagine how these gaudy electronic products could compete with that.

The Wikipedia entry for Laser Tag had a couple of surprises for me.  For starters, the technology for the products’ infrared light guns and sensors was developed by the United States Army in the 1970’s — I guess it was an Ender’s Game-type scenario.  And the first game system using the technology was South Bend’s Star Trek Electronic Phaser Guns in 1979.  (Those toys were released in conjunction with the premiere of that year’s “Star Trek: The Motion Picture.”)

Didn’t see that one coming.  I’ll bet those toys fetch a nice price among collectors.

Anyway, there was another Laser Tag commercial that everybody talked about back in the day … it depicted American and Russian teams competing in a dystopian-future tournament, in which the Statue of Liberty was the trophy.  It’s smile-inducing.  I couldn’t find a really decent copy of it to link to here, but you can find it on Youtube.

 

 

 

Throwback Thursday: this wall-mounted yellow rotary telephone!

Yep.  I’m pretty sure that this is the telephone my family had when I was a little kid.  It had an actual, physical bell on the inside that literally rang when people called.  (And you obviously had no idea who it was; you had to answer it to find out.)  It was loud too.

The phone was a rotary — it made that weird sound in the earpiece when you turned it.  The fancier touch-tone phones would arrive in abundance as the 1980’s arrived and gained a little steam.  They eventually came to include “cordless” house phones — everyone thought those were especially impressive, even if there was some paranoia connected with them.  “People can listen in in your conversations!,” the Luddites among us would warn.

The phone below was the “downstairs phone,” if I remember correctly.  There was only one other phone in the house; it was in my parents’ room upstairs.  (It was the same landline.)  If one of my older siblings received a call and wanted some privacy, they’d have to ask for permission to to talk up there.

I actually remember learning my first telephone number on this phone — my parents had me practice it a couple of times by dialing it.  If you dialed your own number on a rotary phone, you got a busy signal — as a little kid, I thought that was pretty funny.  (I’m guessing I would have been in kindergarten or the first grade — this was about 1978, about the same time I was thrilled by “The Hardy Boys” and “Nancy Drew” on television.)  I can still remember my family’s first telephone number.

Hey, if you think all this is archaic, you should have heard the stories my parents and aunts told me when I was a kid.  They were old enough to remember the “party lines” of a few decades prior, where an entire street would share a single phone line.  Weird, weird stuff.

 

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Throwback Thursday: Tomy’s Waterful Ring Toss Game!

Did anyone else have this growing up in the 1980’s?  I got it for Christmas one year and I flippin’ loved it.

I swear to you that I want to play with it right now.  It would be a terrific stress buster.  The same goes for those moving sands sculptures and the Rubik’s Pyraminx.  The 80’s were filled with cool thingamajigs that were not computerized.

 

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Throwback Thursday: “Fun Dip!”

“Fun Dip” was 1980’s excess tailored specifically for kids; the only way you could get a bigger sugar high was to inject it right into your veins.  Yes, what you see below are indeed pouches of flavored sugar that you shoveled messily into your mouth.  And, yes, that crude utensil was itself also made of candy — so you could chomp down on that when the the sweet powder was gone.

Hell, the stuff even looked like cocaine.

 

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Throwback Thursday: Whistle Pops!

I have no idea why I have been craving Whistle Pops lately, but I am.  They weren’t just a gimmick candy — they had their own taste and it was really damned good.  And you could let the whole world know that you were lucky enough to buy candy from the ice cream man.

Anyway, Wikipedia informs me that these went off of the market for a few years.  Were they just no longer popular?  Kids these days.  And then they were reintroduced to the market, but now they’re renamed “Melody Pops.”

That is absolutely absurd.  They’re Whistle Pops.

 

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Throwback Thursday: Wacky WallWalkers!!!

Okay, the Apple Jacks commercial below is a pretty regrettable example of 1980’s cornball marketing buffoonery.  I’ll tell you what, though — I have fond memories of that wicked-cool glow-in-the-dark Wacky Wallwalker that came as the cereal box prize.  (I am linking her to the DJ Nurse Annabella Youtube channel, by the way.)

Had I gotten mine as a prize with Apple Jacks?  I guess.  I know my mom had returned from the store with these for me once or twice.  (They were the non-glowing variety, but they were still fun as hell.)  She only partly regretted her decision when it became apparent that they left vague streak marks on white walls.  When these cheap toys started losing their key adhesiveness, all you had to do was wash them with soap to make them sticky again.  That might have had something to do with it.

That definitive treasure trove of information, Wikipedia, informs me that Wacky Wallwalkers are made from “elastomer.”  And they raked in about 80 million dollars for the Japanese-American inventor who bought the rights to the toy around 1983 from their prior owner in Japan.

I swear I want to play with one of these right now.

 

Throwback Thursday: this 1985 commercial for Alka Seltzer Plus!

This commercial came up in a conversation today with a friend of mine. I’m honestly not sure why I remember it after 35 years. Part of it is the last guy interviewed in the 30-second ad, and his unusual sentence construction — it’s a linguistic idiosyncrasy I’ve occasionally heard in movies or on TV, but never in real life. It’s just gotta come from a regional dialect somewhere. (The man’s name was Linwood Workman, which unconsciously suggested to others throughout his life that he was a reliable man to hire, I’m sure.)

But I might remember this ad well just because it seemed so weird and campy to me at age 13, when it aired constantly. Ads aimed at my age group made products seem cool and exciting, or maybe just farcically zany. (Consider the Spuds MacKenzie ad campaign, for example.) Ads aimed at adults were strangely cornball stuff. What was the angle here? Were adults meant to trust these people because they were relatable or special? My town had only one professional fisherman (who, coincidentally, was also my science teacher, my part-time employer and a really cool guy. SHOUT OUT TO MR. TSCHIEMBER!) But were small-town New England fisherman especially trustworthy about which cold medicines should we buy? Why?

You could argue that this was a very effective ad, because I remember it after 35 years. You know what, though? I’ve never purchased Alka Seltzer Plus in my life. Maybe I’m just a cynic where fishermen are concerned.

 

Throwback Thursday: this 1983 TV ad for “Stratego!”

I barely remember this TV commercial for Milton Bradley’s “Stratego,” but I sure remember the game.  (Thanks to Youtube user Lokke for posting it online.)  When I was a kid, I used to think of it as “pre-chess” — the strategy game that kids played before they graduated to that paragon of all games — even for adults.  (I was quite the chess enthusiast when I was in gradeschool, which is odd, because I wasn’t exceptionally good at it.)

My skill at Stratego was similarly undistinguished, I guess.  I pretty consistently relied on the most obvious gambit … planting my “flag” piece in the corner and surrounding it by “bombs.”  (To keep my opponent guessing, I’d sometimes pull a switcheroo and plant my “flag” in the other corner.)

My older brother had been playing Stratego for longer than I had; it was his board game, after all.  So he regularly sent his “miners” and expendable pieces straight for my predictable strongholds to ultimately win the game.  (Come to think of it, the kid next door got wise to my standard gameplay pretty early on as well.)

But I still loved it.  Stratego was hella fun.  (Yes, I am back on the “hella” train.)  I remember being in my early 20’s and being delighted when it was mentioned on “The X-Files.”  It was in the Season 2 episode “Colony,” in which Fox Mulder’s long lost sister returns.  (Or does she?)  The first thing the putative sibling does when she she spots her brother is joke about Stratego.  That felt like a shout-out just for me.