VHS Theatre: Grampa’s Sci-Fi Hits (1989)
I found this essential Amvest VHS at the late lamented Tower Video in Sacramento after I had left my own position at the Watt Avenue locale (when John McCrea from Cake was a clerk at the hipper Tower Records next door). For a few reasons, one that involves youthful hallucinogenic shenanigans, I well recall the night I rented this tape, along with HEAD and LEGEND for a profound evening before the VCR, also armed with a video camera to record my visionary observations (given my state). But I digress. We’re talking about GRAMPA’S SCI-FI HITS – and by “Grampa” I mean Al Lewis of THE MUNSTERS fame, assaying the role he seemed to adore playing (if you recall his Howard Stern appearances and his Italian restaraunt) but this time in an inexplicable green-screened cartoon rocket ship and a heard but not seen pet bat named “Igor.” Grampa guides the wayward ship through space while providing us with a stellar collection of genre trailers in fairly good quality given the format and company. I’m a sucker for previews and this does not disappoint.
Starting apropos with the FLASH GORDON serials (including the re-released ones to capitalize on STAR WARS), we jump to the fantastic teaser for the kitsch 1980 remake (“Pathetic earthlings, who will save you now?”), then go into the fun trailers for that space kitty kat, BARBARELLA and the scary, brilliant one for ALIEN. Grampa jumps around the genre spectrum with ads for THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (“The cast is completely crazy”); FARENHEIT 451 (“Look for her – there she is: Julie Christie”) and the perfectly awful DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE GIRL BOMBS, directed by Mario Bava, starring Vincent Price and that immortal duo of screen comedy, Franco and Ciccio. As if that’s not enough, we go to the wild, way-out VILLAGE OF THE GIANTS with its incredible Jack Nietzche theme, “The Last Ride” and one of my personal 60’s drive-in favorites. Whoever put this collection together knew their stuff, for the trailers are arranged thematically, so we get a nice selection of classic kaiju like GODZILLA; GODZILLA VS MEGALON; GHIDRAH THE THREE HEADED MONSTER (“A new high in screen terror!”); VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE; ATRAGON (“You will see flying saucers!”); and of course, DESTROY ALL MONSTERS. There’s a few oddities like CREATION OF THE HUMANOIDS, one of Andy Warhol’s favorite films and you can see why; and BATTLE OF THE WORLDS, one of many 60’s Italian space operas, but this one features Claude Rains (“in his most challenging role!”). Grampa also presents trailers for EARTH VS THE FLYING SAUCERS with iconic SPFX by Ray Harryhausen, the technicolorful, THIS ISLAND EARTH, and of course, THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. Then we get a final burst of landbound horror with THE BLOB (“starring Steve Mcqueen and a cast of exciting young people!”). Some of the films advertised on the box such as FRIDAY THE 13TH PART II and THE INCUBUS don’t show up, fitting since neither belong.
Eventually Grampa must sleep the sleep of the undead, bringing this nifty night of previews to a fitting end. Tho the banter with Grampa and Igor isn’t the height of wit, Lewis is fun to watch and it’s certainly not as painful as many of the 80’s compilation tapes. Strangely, the second in this series, GRAMPA’S MONSTER MOVIES, is available on DVD while this superior one is not. I didn’t even have a copy until a couple years ago until I made a pilgrimage to the Amoeba VHS section specifically to find it — and by Gawd, I found the damn thing for only one dollar. Yes, twas as awesome as my psychedelic memory recalled. So if you’re browsing the tape racks of a store or garage sale or on the webs, keep your eyes peeled for this sc-fi blast from the video past and pop it in for a Friday night pizza party…tell ’em Grampa sent you.