Remember MonsterVision? Here’s a look back!
Welcome one and all, to Retro Revelations, where I’ll be talking about anything and everything retro or classic, so long as it’s old, and so long as I think it’s awesome. Which covers quite a lot of territory, let me tell you. My name is Jesse Moak, and I’ve been madly in love with things like video games, monsters, classic sci-fi/horror/fantasy movies, etc. pretty much as long as I can remember. So I’m going to be imparting on all of you my vast “deep nerd” knowledge of such topics, and sharing with you my own personal feeling and memories dealing with each bit of subject matter. To start with, since it’s still Halloween night, I’m going to share with you the first official “blog” I wrote just a couple weeks ago, in honor of the season, and in honor of my (still to this day) undying passion for the awesomeness that is classic monster movies. Specifically, a certain weekend marathon that used to run on a certain channel back in my “youngin’ days”.
So enjoy, and happy reading!
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.
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 get 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.
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 then cartoons (most especially my favorite at the time, X-Men) on Sunday 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”.
But in all of that monster goodness, the one memory that sticks out the most to me, is, as I remember it, for New Year’s Eve, perhaps 1993, but maybe 1994. They had a two 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 vs. Mechagodzilla”, and it’s direct sequel “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 kickass 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.
As far as I know, especially if it was NYE 1994, 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, and 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 as 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 Joebob deep down. 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 Alzheimer’s 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!