Saturday morning revisited

Back in the day, Saturday morning was a magical time. Not to dig too far into the nostalgia rabbit hole (too late), I recall getting up early, my action figures gripped firmly, to catch all of the best cartoons. From the Fantastic Four to Space Ghost to Dungeons and Dragons, the 1970’s through to the 1980’s was rife with majestic material of unending entertainment.

The major stations waged war against each other for the child market with many excellent ideas (the Tarzan/Lone Ranger hour), weird choices (a variety show based on Shazam?) and outright bizarre oddities (the Fonz travelling with an alien?), the morning was a madcap venue of wild colors and excitement. There were also Sid and Marty Krofft shows.

These days, Saturday morning is more about catching up on sleep to be honest, but thanks to the internet and re-releases, one can recreate the experience.

Thundarr the Barbarian

The Herculoids


Mr. T


Available on Amazon:
Thundarr the Barbarian
Saturday Morning Cartoons
Dungeons & Dragons: The Complete Animated Series

The Stone Tape by Nigel Kneale

TheStoneTape_By_Rich_Fox“Let’s say it’s a mass of data… waiting for a correct interpretation.”

The master of British science fiction, Nigel Kneale, may be unknown to you, yet I can guarantee that his work has influenced one of your favorite programs or movies. It’s actually unfair to limit his genre of choice to sci-fi as his work contains elements of supernatural thrillers and moody horror, all set within a relate-able context.

One his most influential pieces, 1953’s The Quatermass Experiment, chronicled the launch of a manned space expedition and the unpredictable events when it returned. The unease with which the slow moving plot unravels may be lost on the modern viewer more accustomed with immediate payoff, but Kneale was working on a deeper level. His vision of space was more akin to HP Lovecraft than Ray Bradbury. There were unspeakably mysterious things in the world of the beyond, not just green men but something outside of our understanding. In The Quatermass Experiment, the horror is in actually making the journey into the limitless void. His influence can be seen in TV programs such as Doctor Who and the X-Files and motion pictures such as Life Force and Event Horizon.


I highly encourage readers to seek out Neale’s work. When it was first screened, The Quatermass Experiment was essentially presented as live television and received an unprecedented viewership. In 2005 (the same year Doctor Who returned to TV), The Quatermass Experiment was updated yet retained its raw live-TV style and starred names familiar to readers of this blog such as David Tennant and Mark Gatiss.

The Stone Tape is perhaps on of Nigel Kneale’s lesser known TV dramas, but is well worth a look. Screened during the 1972 Christmas Holiday Season, when it was once a tradition for British TV schedules to be filled with horror and supernatural stories, The Stone Tape bears a resemblance to some of Neale’s equally enthralling radio dramas.

The Stone Tape’s premise revolves around the collision of science and the supernatural. An enterprising technician is developing a new style of audio recording to compete with the foreign market. Much like Quatermass’ British Space Program, national pride is a strong theme here. Electronics executive Peter Brock has chosen an old Victorian mansion for his work, but finds that parts of the structure date back much further. While the crew is setting up shop for a data warehouse, Brock’s girlfriend Jill has an unusual experience when she witnesses the manifestation of a ghost.

After some skepticism, it is revealed that a previously blocked off section of the estate is indeed haunted. Rather than depart, Brock sees this as a challenge. No one has ever recorded a ghost, after all. If his team were to succeed in this endeavor, it would bring great notoriety… followed by financial success, no doubt.

Then things go pear-shaped.

If you are a fan of British TV and cult horror, this should be on your viewing list. While it is unavailable on home media in the US, you can watch the entire film online via YouTube!

Happy Halloween, my gentle readers.

Fan creates He-Man “Fall of Grayskull” film

He-Man1Influenced by sword-and-sandal tales hearkening back to the pulps, He-Man is a multi-media phenomenon that companies dream of and is still relevant today. After the success of Kenner’s Star Wars action figure line, lead designer at Mattel Roger Sweet dreamed up the notion He-Man, a kind of eternal warrior who could be dropped into any setting (hence the blend of fantasy and sci-fi). The legendary Donald F. Glut and Earl Norem crafted that universe with back-story and a vast supporting cast cementing the character’s place in history. A range of action figures, comic books and a Filmation cartoon followed. In 1981,a legend was unleashed and remains an iconic part of 1980’s nostalgia alongside G.I. Joe a Real American Hero, The Transformers and others.


Part of the wonder of He-Man is the sheer breadth of its mythology. The mini-comic was recently celebrated in a wonderful coffee table book which was heralded as a ‘must buy’ gift this past holiday season. But what is most interesting is where the fans can take the characters. In an age where movies can be made and funded on demand, it should come as no surprise that He-Man is the focus of a fan-film.

Via Robot6 at

Mattel’s Masters of the Universe has endured for more than three decades, inspiring animated series, comic books, video games and, yes, that spectacularly bad live-action film. And now it’s the basis for an incredibly earnest fan film.

Funded through a $12,000 Kickstarter campaign, director Daniel Benedict’s “Fall of Grayskull”stars pro wrestler Brian Cage as He-Man, who of course fights his arch-nemesis Skeletor for the power of Grayskull and the fate of Eternia. If you’re a fan of the franchise, chances are you’ll find a favorite character in this 30-minute short: Teela, Tri-Klops, Evil-Lyn, Hordak (played by Val Staples) — they’re all there.

Although the acting and production aren’t exactly top-caliber, “Fall of Grayskull” is clearly a love letter to Masters of the Universe. As I said, it’s earnest, which goes a long way.

Step back in time (through these amazing vintage toy ads)

Nostalgia is a powerful thing. It’s funny what that we use as touchstones to our past but the toys of the past were so inventive and iconic that it’s no surprise they conjure up almost instant warmth upon first sight.

Though I was not alive when most of these commercials aired, but I am very familiar with G.I. Joe, Captain Action and Stretch Armstrong by reputation. The Six Million Dollar Man ads bring back some fond memories… and don’t get me started on the Mego superhero/Star Trek toys.

Plus, dig those fly-away action Wonder Woman dolls!!

Feeling like you want to take a deeper dive, I highly recommend visiting the Mego Museum, Plaid Stallions, the PlaidStallionsPodcast and the following book:

Rack Toys: Cheap, Crazed Playthings

Enter The World of The Ding-A-Lings

King Ding (and Brain) via Retroist

Vintage toys are more than just plastic things, they are a time capsule to a different time. Case in point is this wonderfully bizarre line from Topper Toys, The Ding-A-Lings. One of the more ambitious and imaginative line of toys from it’s era, the Ding-A-Lings came in a wide variety of colors, sizes and abilities. From the shoe-shine robot to the biggest of all… King Ding, a robot so big his Brain had ti be inserted in the most graphic way possible.

I was lucky enough to see this ad at the Carolina Theatre in Durham but it was also included in the RiffTrax Christmas Shorts Extravaganza.

For more fascinating info on vintage toy robots, I recommend, who put it best:

Like most avid Robot collectors I can trace my passion back to a specific time in my childhood when I received that very special toy sparking a fascination with Robots and Space Toys that has lasted well into my adulthood. The Ding-A-Lings by Topper Toys represented a unique blending of the versatility of brightly molded plastics with the ingenuity of motorized action as they glided along their elevated skyway. My initial set of Ding-A-Lings included Boxer, Answerman, Fireman, Saucer, Claw and that wonder of Battery Driven Wonders-the King Ding with Brain. Most collectors remember Ding-A-Lings as some of the most exciting and cherished toys of their childhood, but like most playthings were lost over the years to hard play, garage sales or fell victim to a younger sibling. Thanks to the Internet, Ding-A-Ling enthusiasts have again found a means to recapture some of their past by forming a loose Ding community to not only put collectors in contact with each other, fill gaps in collections, and provide tips on repair but perhaps, most importantly, to reminisce and validate the existence of one of the most important toys of their lives. Why would a relatively obscure toy line foster such fascination and devotion after thirty years? Ding-A-Lings may have struck a spark with the kids in the sixties who lived through the real space race, kids who not only watched endless science fiction films and television but who sat up late one night to watch man’s first landing on the moon. Firmly embedded in our psyche these toys are a part of our cultural history and express the direction we felt our lives would take with the promises of 2001- A Space Odyssey and Star Trek.

The true story behind He-Man

Back in the day some call the 80’s, a series of mini-comics started to appear in the middle of DC’s offerings. Starring a strange fantastic hero and concerning a mystical blade split in two, it was all very weird and otherworldly. In 1983, a cartoon and toy line captured the imagination of suburbia and a legend was born.

But what lies beneath the plastic shell of our heroic sword slinging hero? Everyone from legendary creator of Filmation Louis Scheimer, animation scribe extraordinaire Don Glut and even sci-fi icon J. Michael Starczynski weighs in on the various and sundry tales of ‘Barbarian Fiction.’

Check out the trailer for this behind the scenes story of the action figure that ruled the 80’s.

Via TwitchFilm:

Muscles! It’s all about the Muscles. Let’s face it. The 80’s were covered in muscles be it block buster movies from Stallone,Ahnold and Lundgren and tons of other impostors, the music industry were littered with well oiled musicians from cheesy dance music to the high octane metal of Manowar. And children’s toys were about to get their share of muscle galore with a legendary toy line and a Saturday morning cartoon that was about to carve its name in stone.

He-Man and The Masters of the Universe grabbed the sword and sandals genre and crammed it down our throats. It was the ultimate adventure, a young prince who’s alter ego is the walking mountain of flesh that is He-Man who battles a skull faced villain and his beastly minions but at the same time gives us a lesson on how to treat friends and not to make fun of others. Essentially the Mr.T cartoon with monsters and more action really.

The franchise still lives on today, though not nearly as strong as it used to be and people of my generation feel He-Manwas a big influence on their lives and helped turn their attention to the more fantastical side things, making nerds of us all.

Now a group of filmmakers have started production of a documentary called TOYMASTERS, chronicling the creation of the character and how it became one of the biggest cultural phenomenons of its day. And judging by the long trailer below it has all the ingredients to make a smashing film, riches, backstabbing and drama. The film is still in production and has a planned release next year and the guys are looking for the worlds biggest He-Man fan to be featured in the film. So if you think you got what it takes to be a contender for the biggest He-Man nerd out there drop them a line through their official website.
Check out the trailer below and then head on over to TOYMASTERS website and take a gander at some additional clips and news.

Many thanks to Johnny Caples for this.

Legends Of The Superheroes

I had a very skewed perception of reality as a kid… I mean REALLY skewed. I was upset when anyone laughed at the 1966 Batman TV show as I was certain my hero would never be anything to laugh at. I was convinced that the superheroes that I adored were godlike creatures worthy of recognition just as much as folklore and historical figures of note. In my mind Benjamin Franklin, Johnny Appleseed and Hawkman were all equally important. In fact, there is probably some comic out there where superheroes interact with folklore heroes as well as honored champions of historical importance and if so… that messed me up.

In any case, when a special two hour program aired on TV in January of 1979, I went through the roof. The Christopher Reeves Superman movie was a major hit in my household, Super Friends was in heavy rotation on Saturday mornings and I enjoyed an ample diet of the aforementioned Batman TV program as well as the occasional cartoon. A newspaper ad displayed the heroes in grainy black and white but to my eyes it was a magnificent display of herculean power. I clipped out the ad and stared at it every day until the fateful evening when it finally aired.


Part of the appeal for Legends of the Superheroes lay in the bizarre selection of characters. At the time, Justice League of America #200 (to date the finest comic ever published in my opinion) was a well read document and it introduced me to the new and old members of that time-honored crew. I took to Green Lantern, the Flash and Hawkman as they were visually intriguing yet I never imagined I would see them on screen alongside Batman!

Adding to the mystique of the TV superhero, I actually met Adam West in costume at the World of Wheels and was convinced (as no doubt was he) that he WAS BATMAN. Therefore, in my young mind, the comic books depicted fictionalized adventures while the actual heroes fought crime on screen every afternoon. As I tried to communicate early on… my vision of reality was tremendously skewed, my fantasies at an all time high and the arrival of an impossible dream come true nigh.

So great was my excitement that for years I imagined that I had dreamed the odd opening sequence in which the heroes assemble to their own unique introduction… because that was all that I remembered. My memory was so choppy that I figured the program never aired or I fell asleep before it started or some such thing. It was not until I walked past a TV playing the Legends Of The Superheroes at a Boston comic book convention that the awful truth finally dawned on me.

Oh yes… it was real.

Jet-ski chase

The story is actually split into two hour-long segments.

The first is a challenge put forth by a dastardly (and entirely random) assembly of rogues; The Riddler (played by Frank Gorshin), Giganta (apparently played by a transexual entertainer), the Weather Wizard, Dr. Sivana, Mordru, Solomon Grundy and Sinestro (unbelievably played by funny man Charlie Callas). The baddies dream up a scheme and the heroes have an hour to stop them.

What follows is a flurry of chicanery and bad jokes as bad actors in ill-fitting costumes wander around LA trying to find trouble, ending up looking like fools. Green Lantern is tricked by Sinestro who dresses up as a fortune teller, the Batmobile breaks down and Hawkman is attacked by Solomon Grundy (masquerading as a mechanic) and strapped to the top of a car. The odd thing is that in my mind this must have all been terribly exciting and action-packed. In reality it looked like a refugee from a muscle beach wearing a papier-mâché hawk mask and a quilt strapped to his back getting assaulted at a Citgo station.

It’s all so bizarre that I think I can understand my lapse in memory. Putting all of the pieces together, I imagine that I watched the first half and fell asleep part way through. Someone lovingly picked me up and put me to bed, vowing never to speak of this atrocity again.

I know that in this age of mega blockbuster superhero movies and the San Diego Comic Con, this special is a recognized disaster of the worst kind, far worse than the Batman and Robin or Catwoman films. But at the time, there was nothing else, just a little boy in suburbia with a rolled up comic and a head full of bad ideas. The fact that I didn’t burn all of my comics that night and instead remembered the event as a dream, something that was too good to have aired on TV speaks not only to my love of the comic book medium but also to the deep resources of my imagination. Or again, maybe I just saw the intro and fell asleep.

But allow me to introduce some perspective here…

Just this past week, the150 million dollar Thor movie was released.

In a few weeks movie goers will be exposed to an X-Men movie, Captain America and the Green Lantern, all racking up millions of dollars in production cost, not even counting marketing.

Yet back in 1979, someone figured that Charlie Callas made the perfect choice for Sinestro.

Different times, man.

Charlie Callas as Sinestro

The second half of the two-hour-long special is far worse, however, and features Tonight Show co-host Ed McMahon roasting the heroes. It’s so painful that it’s not even the so bad it’s good kind of bad. It’s just wrong. Jokes about ‘Retired Man’ and ‘Ghetto Man’ abound.

Finally, the entire affair wraps up with Ed McMahon declaring his magic word ‘Ahkeem!’ and flying into the rafters (well, I’d like to think that’s where he ended up) and the evil transdimensional wizard Mordu delivers a stirring rendition of ‘That’s Entertainment.’

Mordru sings us out...

Finally available on DVD as part of the Warner Home Video archive collection, Legends of the Superheroes contains cut scenes and rarities that will no doubt delight those members of my generation who long for a simpler time yet appreciate that we will never forget that fateful night on January 1979 when our heroes were roasted.

Not exactly recommended… but available by clicking on the image below.

Legends Of The Super Heroes

Ben Cooper made cutting your mouth open fun

Stuck on what to wear for Halloween this year?

Remember those Ben Cooper costumes from the 1970’s? Made of extremely flammable plastic and featuring a hard shell face-mask held onto your face with think elastic, these costumes were famous for the wide variety of licenced characters you could dress up as from film, TV and comic books. What always got to me was that the chest usually depicted a cartoon image of each character and his name! Like Batman on a Batman costume with the word BATMAN over his head… I mean, the REAL Batman doesn’t have to do that, why should I?

But what I remember most about these costumes (aside from trying to wear them under my ‘street clothes’ in case I needed to change into a superhero on the fly) was the little gap in the mouth that I would habitually cut my tongue on. It was such a gestalt memory of my generation that it made it onto the Adult Swim cartoon Venture Brothers when hank dressed up as Batman.

Erick (Monsterama2000) is writing up some great pieces on the Ben Cooper costume phenomenon featuring some rarities such as the two above that I highly recommend, check it out by clicking on the banner below:

Retro cartoons- Spiral Zone

We like to think of our childhood as a simpler more pleasant time but if you grew up in the 1980’s the world was full of crises ranging from the threat of nuclear war to the ever deepening social-economic divide that separated the upper and lower classes. This high stress world was translated into the entertainment of the decade, resulting in films such as Mad Max, Robocop and Adventures in Baby Sitting. Well, maybe not all of those movies were so deeply influenced by the harsh existential reality of the 80’s.

The paranoia of impending doom can be seen in film, music and video games, but my favorite archive of the era is the cartoon Spiral Zone.

Holy crap!

Set in the near future, the mad Dr. James Bent air drops devices from a stolen space shuttle that reduce the population to his mindless slaves. The infected area is referred to as the Spiral Zone because of the pattern of the bombings and the swirling mists of deadly dust enveloping the cities now populated by zombie-like beings. Holed up in the Chrysler Building, Dr. Bent is protected by nightmarish thugs called Black Widows and wisely renames himself ‘Overlord.’

Helpless to stop him, the nations of the world pool their resources resulting in the construction of exactly five suits of armor that will resist the effect of the Overlord’s mind-controlling spores. Against impossible odds, the ‘Zone Riders’ are tasked with attacking the zone generators and removing the Overlord from power.

This cartoon is a beautiful mixture of doomsday and adventure. The future that is depicted is practically hopeless. The major cities are destroyed, the streets are full of zombies and the super powers of the world have put their faith in five soldiers… it’s hopeless! As a kid I would often daydream about an apocalyptic future possibly to avoid doing my homework and also to escape the mind-numbing boredom of middle-class suburban life… but even for me Spiral Zone took the concept a bit far.

It may not surprise readers to learn that the Spiral Zone cartoon was spawned out of the need to use a line of Bandai toys designed by the same geniuses who worked on Gundam. The toys are brilliant and perfectly produced to a degree that is perhaps a bit too much for a cartoon that only lasted a scant 65 episodes. The series was moderately successful and saw a short-lived comic book series, an American-produced line of dolls, action figures and LPs and even a few video tapes.

A cheerful issue of Spiral Zone by DC Comics

A cult cartoon memory that many members of my generation would eagerly revisit on a long Friday evening after a hard day being a grown up, sadly that option is not available. The entire series was released on DVD by a fan site with the approval of Spiral Zone’s production staff (if not the legal allowances of the copyright holders) and were made available at until they sold out. There are currently no plans for an official release, but there are surely some bootlegs of the fan-produced set that can be found if you look hard enough.

The Six Million Dollar Man

“We can rebuild him — we have the technology.”

A mixture of the bronze age comic book adventurer and the modern science fiction novel, The Six Million Dollar Man is an icon of the 70’s. A popular cultural phenomenon, comic books influenced other forms of entertainment of the 70’s in much the same way that the pulps informed early serials of the 30’s and 40’s. Superhuman abilities and extraordinary situations pervaded the comics of the time but in many ways were written in a more down-to-Earth manner that connected to the ‘regular guy.’ Likewise, science fiction adventure stories were very ambitious yet nearly dared filmmakers to realize their stories. In 1973, both mediums combined to introduce TV viewers to a new breed of hero, Steve Austin. A test pilot severely injured in a crash involving a lifting body craft (seen in the intro), Austin is rebuilt as a cyborg, a bionic man.

Based loosely on the novels of Martin Caidin, The Six Million Dollar Man is remembered by my generation for its slow-motion sequences of ‘cybernetic feats’ in which Austin would lift something terribly heavy, jump a great distance or run unimaginably fast. The gimmick was that while Austin moved quickly, he was shown to be movie far more slowly than normal while ‘normal people’ stood still as statues in his wake. It was a weird idea but also left an indelible mark on my generation.

The 1973 novel Cyborg upon which The Six Million Dollar Man was based is much more brutal than the TV program. In fact, it shares many attributes with tough guy fiction that was popularly sold in cut rate book stores. Saved by the a counter-intelligence arm of the US military, the Austin of the novels is a terribly reluctant secret agent who confesses to wanting to take his own life as he experience pangs of angst and agony at being recreated as a robotic freak of nature. But they don’t call him The Six Million Dollar Man for nothing and he owes every penny to the government. Operating as a secret agent and assassin, Caidin’s Austin uses his cybernetic strength to crush skulls and smash through enemies and obstacles alike.

With both of his legs and left arm lost in the crash in addition to an eye, much of Austin’s body was replaced with state of the art robotic parts, installed by the brilliant scientist Dr. Rudy Wells under the supervision of Austin’s friend and high ranking intelligence chief Oscar Goldman. His legs enable him to outrun any Olympic-class sprinter and jump over 25 miles straight up. His replaced arm is recreated as a powerful and deadly weapon, his eye outfitted with a camera for surveillance. He is no longer a human being, he is now an assemblage of advanced scientific weaponry.

Such a violent character had to be toned down for TV.

Actor Lee majors brought a suave sex-appeal and tenderness to the part that made the program a massive success. The special effects and action sequences in which Austin fought rival robots, impersonating androids and of course, Sasquatch (later revealed to be a robotic construction), were very appealing to viewers, but it was Majors himself that was the main draw.


While he had enjoyed popularity in the TV western drama The Big Valley, Majors was quickly recognized as a  television sex symbol thanks to The Six Million Dollar Man. However, his strong yet silent leading man persona made him easily accessible to kids while housewives swooned over his hairy chest. I remember being stunned as a child at how much the man resembled his action figure. His stern face and stoic grin make him appear to be more of a mannequin than a person, which made his cyborg status all the more believable.

Though I don’t think the mustache he grew later on suited him. In fact it made the rather wholesome actor appear… creepy.

The Six Million Dollar Man started as a book, was developed into three TV movies and then a successful weekly TV program that lasted from 1974 until 1978. In that time it spawned a spin-off starring Lindsay Wagner as Jamie Summers, the Bionic Woman (I don’t remember a cost being associated with her implants). It has to be said that Jaime Sommers’s origin was not as exciting as Austin’s. Wagner’s Bionic Woman was a tennis pro who suffered nearly fatal injuries obtained in a parachuting accident after reconnecting with her one-time lover, Steve Austin. Bad luck, that.

Since it last aired on TV, The Six Million Dollar Man has come back three times as the inevitable revival film which, while modest successes, failed each time to gain sufficient momentum to spawn a new series (perhaps it’s just not possible without Wagner or Majors in the leading role?). In any case, The Six Million Dollar Man has become more popular than ever as it has taken on a near-totemic status thanks to its nostalgic nature and the current obsession in youth culture with the 70’s. If you’re going to site anything as being representational of the 70’s, Lee Majors in a red running suit is it.

SMDM Remix

Being a TV program of the 1970’s, the Six Million Dollar Man was adapted into several tie-ins, including read-along books on record, comic books and a line of action dolls. The brilliantly realized ‘bionic eye’ was a remarkable feat of the toy market at the time and showed just how advanced Kenner was in the toy manufacturing business.

Please Visit PlaidStallions by clicking on this image

Alongside the Bionic Man Steve Austin, a large Sasquatch doll (complete with removable panels showing hidden robot parts), the android Maskatron and Oscar Goldman were released in addition to the space capsule playset that doubled as a lab.

Kenner Maskatron commercial

It sounds corny, but I wasted hours of my childhood with these dolls. I remember well the cold Christmas morning when I unwrapped Maskatron with his interchangeable faces and robot sucker arm (was he part Dalek???).

Click on the image to visit YesterVille

To date, there have been several rumored big budget film adaptations starring everyone from Will Smith to Jim Carey. I have no doubt that eventually an ironic comedy starring Will Farrel will be greenlit and we will see the actor running in slow-motion. While I would rather my childhood memories remain golden, I can’t say that I wholly object to that, now that I think of it.

Legal problems that have prevented a modern re-imagining of The Six Million Dollar Man have also kept it from being released on the DVD market in the United States. Just last month, a formal statement was made that the entire program including new documentaries will be released as a massive 106 episode box set (street date November 2010). I hope that this will be embraced by Kenner (now part of Hasbrol) to re-release their action doll line as I think my son would love to gaze through the cybernetic eye of Colonel Steve Austin and see his own adventures.