TV Rewind – The Greatest American Heroine

Episode #5 – The Greatest American Heroine



From the Phuyuck and For Your Consideration Podcast Archives we bring you repackaged and brand new episodes!!

VHS Rewind! Creators, Mark Jeacoma and Chris Hasler discuss the The Greatest American Hero spinoff, The Greatest American Heroine!


TV Rewind – 1972 TV Guide Fall Preview

Episode #4 – 1972 TV Guide Fall Preview



From the Phuyuck and For Your Consideration Podcast Archives we bring you repackaged and brand new episodes!!

VHS Rewind! Creators, Mark Jeacoma and Chris Hasler discuss the 1972 TV Guide Fall Preview Issue!


“The End of Vintage Cable Box”

I started the Vintage Cable Box series at the end of August, 2015. The series bowed with entries for Wes Craven’s Swamp Thing, the Rodney Dangerfield vehicle, Easy Money, and the Citizen Kane of teen sex comedies, Porky’s, directed by Bob Clark, who would later, inexplicably, bring us A Christmas Story (though both movies shares a nostalgic connection in their themes). Over 200 essays later, it’s finally time to pull the plug, and I thought I’d take this time to answer some questions and fill you in on my thought process. Cable television was an incredible oasis at the time; we’re talking 1984 through 1986, two short years. Growing up poor in Cincinnati and then Philadelphia, my Mother had a job opportunity in Tennessee, the State of her birth, and she thought we should live near some family at that time, so we moved down there in the late Spring of 1984.

Attack of the comically-oversized condom.

Philly had no cable in certain neighborhoods, usually anything below Broad Street in the “historic” sections of the town. Cable lines were considered unattractive and would detract from the beauty of the older neighborhoods. This has since been rectified with underground lines, but back then all you had were roof antennas, rabbit ears, and aluminum foil to improve reception of the 12 channels you were granted, three of which were VHF networks, and the rest were independent UHF sources. Add to that the fact we didn’t get our first VCR until probably 1986, so the television was practically a miracle sent down from heaven. We had a 19-inch RCA Colortrack on a rolling stand until I spilled chocolate milk into the back of it, and then all of our television came from a 12-inch black & white Sylvania. It cost $200 to have the television repaired (back then you had to have your electronics repaired), so we took it down to Tennessee with us, and then my Mother invested $125 in a used 25-inch Magnavox color console. It was magnificent.

No cable for you!

This is how I close every Vintage Cable Box article:

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.

So we come from a place with only 12 channels to a place with over 30 channels. Imagine the switch-over. This was the premium package. Compare it to today. I was looking at the cable box channel guide the other day. It isn’t just one HBO channel, it’s six. It isn’t just one Cinemax channel, it’s six. It’s East Coast feeds, and West Coast feeds. Forty sports channels. Twenty cooking channels. It’s countless news channels. In 1984, we were overwhelmed. In 2018, we’re drowning in entertainment options. I only wished we had a VCR, because I felt then (as I do now) the analog picture and sound was perfect. Cable television picture quality was much better than VHS/Beta quality. For a time, we had HBO and Cinemax, and The Movie Channel, which was probably my favorite for offering an incredible assortment of films and film festivals. This was my film school education. Every filmmaker would say if you wanted to know how to make films, just watch films. Technique comes from another place; the source of inspiration and style built somewhere in your psyche, and you can’t learn that in a school setting.

The Precious.

I dug in, and this is where my love affair with movies began. I make it a point to watch every movie I choose to include. Some movies were more difficult to find than others. Some movies were so terrible I didn’t want to continue watching, but I stuck it out for the sake of veracity. As I write this, I’ve just finished writing my review for 1981’s Rollover. I have a good set-up in the bedroom for watching old videotapes; a big-screen CRT* and a 4-head (admittedly mono) Sansui VHS VCR. Sometimes if a movie is available in a superior format, and reasonably priced, I’ll grab it, but I do try to stay as close to the time period as I can. I’ve given some movies much more time than they deserve (i.e. Screwballs, Jekyll & Hyde Together Again, They Call Me Bruce?). Other movies (personal favorites) were written on “auto-pilot” because I knew them so well. I could quote dialogue and remember key edits. There is also the sad fact that some movies get more promotion and rotation than others, and continue to be enjoyed today, while others disappear down a rabbit hole of bad production deals, shady financing, and limited distribution (i.e. Get Crazy, Somebody Killed Her Husband).

The obscuring haze of nostalgia.

I’ve received an enormous outpouring of praise from readers, as well as suggestions. I do take suggestions, but it’s usually when I’ve forgotten a title that did play endlessly on cable television within that admittedly brief window of time and, more importantly, when I’ve actually seen the movie in question. Vintage Cable Box is mostly about my remembrances of those years. On occasion, a reader will suggest a title, and it will not be representative to me of a movie I remember in the rotation of cable television. There were tiny little movies that played constatntly on cable television, like The Sender or Midnight Madness. There were big box-office blockbusters. There were the flops. As I write this, I’m reviewing Smithereens and Rollover, two very different movies. In that brief time period (1984-1985) cable television was an incredible, eclectic, diverse collection of unique entertainment, and most of it was exceptional. Sadly, it isn’t like that anymore. Cable television is a thousand channels, a lot of it prescribed in an algorithm-like fashion, designed to cater to the entertainment needs of a vast audience that does not include the likes of me. It’s so boring. Or perhaps, because there are so many choices, I’m not in a hurry to watch. In the old days, we didn’t have a VCR, so we had to be there – at a specific time, tuned to a specific channel, to watch a movie.

Wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper too?

Consider the VCR. We laugh at VHS and Beta now. I did a whole series about the history of home video with David Anderson. In those days, it was the quite the coup to have all three Star Wars movies on tape playing through your old CRT. It mattered. Now we laugh because we have high definition, big screen. A movie theater in your living room! It’s amazing. How soon we forget. We also forget that too much of anything reduces value and appreciation. Now that we have so many choices, we stop caring about times and places. We won’t rush home so we can have dinner ready and watch our favorite show. Instead, you program the DVR, and take your time doing whatever you want to do. A couple of buttons pushed and I can record a whole series. In case I forget to record a whole series, I can just watch anything I want “on-demand.” No wonder we’re all getting fat!

There were titles I had considered reviewing but ultimately decided not to review. Tom Cruise comes to mind. He would be an obvious choice to evaluate because his work was crucial to the early days of cable television. He had a small role as Steve Randle in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Outsiders. After that, he appeared in Losin’ It (which I did enjoy) with Jackie Earle Haley and Shelley Long, and then Risky Business and All the Right Moves made him a huge star. Cruise wouldn’t explode in his popularity until the mid ’80s with Top Gun, Rain Man, and Born on the Fourth of July. He was little more than a teen heartthrob at the time I was watching cable television; the time-line of that very small window was crucial to my choices for the column. I think the ’80s was a time of Dudley Moore and Steve Guttenberg, teen sex comedies and slasher movies, John Carpenter and Steven Spielberg (though I don’t recall reviewing any Spielberg movies for Vintage Cable Box – it was another matter of time-line). Obscure titles were what I sought out originally. I thought about The Buddy System and Nate and Hayes, WarGames and Psycho II, Get Crazy and Rhinestone, not Tom Cruise.

Sorry, Tom.

I learned a few things, too. I learned that the (comparatively) smaller brain of the eleven or twelve year old child compared to that of a forty-five year old adult is much more willing to fill in the blanks of a shoddy narrative or a bad performance or a balls-out terrible movie than viewed through the narrow, rigid scope of maturity. I find I have very little time in my life now to throw caution to the wind and look at every movie coming out. My prejudices will extend to comic book movies and big-budget blockbusters; those movies are simply not made for me. In fact, I tend to look upon those my age who enthusiastically watch comic book movies with some degree of either pity or derision. Where I was willing to give a movie like Screwballs a chance when I was twelve, I won’t even watch a new Jurassic Park movie these days. I just don’t have the time to waste on dinosaurs, or talking raccoons for that matter. It all feels so ridiculously disposable. That’s what has happened to movies today. They’ve become disposable.

No thank you!

We come to the end of the journey. I did this for fun, but then I discovered I had regular readers. I want to thank each and every one of you. If there was one grievance from yours truly, it would have to be that I, in my estimation, wrote some really good material that wasn’t popular with readers because the movie I was writing about was not that popular. I could get big numbers on a title like Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (in 3-D!), and tumbleweeds for The Big Chill, which I considered one my best written reviews. I don’t understand how that works, but thanks for reading all the same!

“Misunderstood, 1984”

“Baby Jesus wouldn’t eat this rotten junk.”

Misunderstood, 1984 (Gene Hackman), Producers Sales Organization

An all-out laugh riot from start to finish, Misunderstood is a wacky, sexy, screwball comedy about a father and son trying to re-connect after a bizarre mishap which results in zany, madcap antics and heartwarming life lessons. Actually. I’m sorry. I have the wrong notes here. Misunderstood is a 90-minute suicide note. I think that’s what I meant to say. Like Six Weeks, this is a movie completely immersed in the melancholy. We start at a funeral for Ned Rawley’s (Gene Hackman) wife, played in flashbacks by Susan Anspach. The flashbacks occur as the body is layed to rest in dismal superimpositions; moments of joy, hugging, kissing, etc. There are happy children on swings, and really what is being played out in the past serves as an uncomfortable contrast with Hackman’s present-day mood. Emotionally unavailable and obsessed with work, he’s now saddled with the unwanted responsibility of primary care for his two sons, Andrew (Henry Thomas) and Miles (Huckleberry Fox).

As a morose authority figure, Hackman acquits himself well. I don’t think he cracks one smile in the first act, but he has to lay it on the line for Andrew, who has to shepherd the younger brother through this living hell of life without their earthy mother. While he’s man enough to express some degree of affection for the little one, he’s got a chip on his shoulder when dealing with Andrew. One of the movie’s failings is the lack of a backstory for Hackman to give us an indication of his hostility. We know that he’s some sort of a shipping magnate-cum-local politician working out of a spacious palace in Tunisia. He’s much more comfortable at his desk than he is eating dinner with this family of strangers. The housekeeper/governess is at her wit’s end negotiating with the children. Andrew is a little rough on Miles, like most older siblings, and you get the feeling is always on the verge of striking him. Much of the story comes from flashbacks. There’s a beautiful moment where Andrew sees a framed drawing of his late mother obscured by a pot of flowers.

Exploring his newfound world of loneliness, Andrew spies on neighbors, dares himself to hang from the edge of a scary tree with crooked branches and observe a ritual burial, where he bursts into tears. This is such a maudlin movie! Everyone (including strangers) go out of their way to help him cope with his loss. We begin to understand that the loss is heartbreaking for Hackman, but devastating for Andrew. Hackman has lost his lover and the mother of his children, but Andrew has, in a way, lost his life (perhaps a portion of his developing personality). Yet Hackman is suffering too. They mourn in different ways. Hackman has buddy and brother-in-law Rip Torn (dressing like Tom Wolfe) and his staff to rely on, but Henry Thomas’ Andrew is almost completely alone, so he acts out in rebellious ways. Huckleberry Fox plays a similar character to his little Teddy Horton from Terms of Endearment; just a cute little energetic boy designed to irritate Henry Thomas. I kept wondering throughout the movie why Hackman was being such an asshole to his older son while babying Huckleberry.

There’s a bit of brief suspense when Miles insists Andrew take him to the center of town where the little boy promptly vanishes causing Andrew to go ape-shit looking for him. He navigates a sea of unfriendly faces and isolates Miles’s voice. It’s a well-paced, well-directed scene and it shows that Henry Thomas can do a lot more than stare slack-jawed at a friendly botanist from another planet. This is a Jekyll-and-Hyde story about children; Miles represents the cute little ball of energy you wish was your son, and Andrew is a plaid and cords-wearing nightmare come alive. Eventually Hackman warms to him, after a race with Torn up and down the jagged cliffs on the breakers of the photogenic Tunisian beach. It’s possible Hackman’s character sees too much of himself in Andrew. Like Checkov’s gun, the tree branch ultimately turns out to be Andrew’s literal downfall. I blame Huckleberry for that one as his added weight (after he insists on trying the branch himself) proves too much. In a final bid to connect to with his son, Hackman comes to the realization he is a terrible father. Like I said, this is an all-out laugh riot!

Misunderstood is an extremely difficult movie to find. It took me over a year to track down a suitable copy to watch. According to lore, there are two different endings, but the version I watched is the movie I remembered from cable television. The movie was never given a DVD or Blu Ray release. I’m not even sure if it was released on laserdisc. Misunderstood was shot in 1982, and not released until 1984. Director Jerry Schatzberg previously made Honeysuckle Rose, Scarecrow (also with Hackman), and The Panic in Needle Park. He would later direct No Small Affair with Jon Cryer and Demi Moore. The end is in sight for Vintage Cable Box. Only a handful of titles remain to explore. It’s been an incredible adventure. I really don’t want to look at any more depressing movies.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.


Vintage Cable Box: The Ratings Game

“In trucking, I only had to deal with thugs, hit-men and goons. But these network guys are scary.”

The Ratings Game, 1984 (Danny DeVito), Viacom Productions

There was an episode of Family Guy a couple of years back where Peter Griffin gets it into his head to steal all the Nielsen ratings boxes from a van. A few hours later, he has rigged the boxes to collect information from his viewing preferences. Peter then realizes he has a kind of power to manipulate the television broadcasting system to his peculiar standards. As a result, all kinds of ridiculous programming is produced. Tired of having his ideas rejected by the Hollywood elite, Danny DeVito’s Vic De Salvo devises a scheme to garner high ratings for his unsold pilot, Sittin’ Pretty (a kind of Three’s Company knock-off starring himself) by sending Nielsen families off on a cruise while he has friends break into their homes and watch his pilot, thus inflating the numbers.

Anyone who has ever had to deal with creative labyrinthian hurdles, heirarchies, and systems of exclusion will understand DeVito’s problem.  He’s an outsider who has gotten fed-up with playing by the rules, so he takes matters into his own hands.  In a way, he reminds me of madman moviemaker Tommy Wiseau and his truly appalling The Room, even to the point where Vic is deluded as to his own talent.  Sittin’ Pretty, while a terrible example of a television pilot, is in keeping with most television series produced at that time (and many these days) so it’s resulting success (or failure) is inexplicable.  Rhea Perlman is a low-level statistician at the ratings company.  While courting her, she gives him the idea to hijack the families.  Either, he was unaware of the need for high ratings, or the (admittedly clever) teleplay is required to educate the audience, or both.  A particularly funny scene aboard the cruise has these bored Nielsen families (no television is permitted on the cruise) engaging in lively discussion about a recent Dynasty episode.

The Ratings Game works brilliantly as a satire of not only the culture television shows stimulate, but in turn the entertainment our culture inspires.  If you believe that television is a pop culture wasteland (excluding the McLuhan argument that television is merely a catalyst for that wasteland – an argument I agree with), the movie will, at least, provide a foundation for that belief.  The Nielsen ratings exists as a kind of sample pool of viewing habits.  The percentages of viewership are based on a small sampling of “Nielsen families”.  For example, if ten people watch your television, Nielsen will estimate a thousand people (who do not have the ratings boxes in their homes) watched your television show.  It’s not an exact science and has caused consternation through the years as people have seen their favorite shows cancelled due to weak or low ratings.  Networks and syndicators take those figures and charges advertisers varying rates for commercials that will air during those shows.

First-time director Danny DeVito, working with a WGA award-winning script by Michael Barrie and Jim Mulholland, and perhaps drawing on his own experience in television, crafts a deliberate, mocking parody foreshadowing his later work.  The cast is made up of a wonderful mix of television and character actors: Gerrit Graham, Kevin McCarthy, George Wendt, Allyce Beasley, and in early roles, Jerry Seinfeld and Michael Richards.  DeVito would go to direct (mostly) unusually dark comedies like Throw Momma from the Train, The War of the Roses (a personal favorite), and Death to Smoochy.  The Ratings Game was produced for the Showtime cable television networks and aired on The Movie Channel.  HBO (Home Box Office) started producing original films a year earlier with The Terry Fox Story.  Made-for-cable films would become an industry unto itself after these first few experiments.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

A Year of Vintage Cable Box!


“Our technology forces us to live mythically”

Marshall McLuhan

My first crush.

Cable television is a beautiful woman (or man, I suppose) who gets into your brain and relaxes you.  She wants you to sit back and unwind.  Just imagine slender fingers rubbing and squeezing against your tense shoulders, then forming a fist to dig into the middle of your spine, and then you hear a satisfying crack and the ease of your joints.  I love her.  She is, as Homer Simpson would say, my “secret lover.”  This is me as an 11-year-old, unlocking the treasure trove, finding the honey pot, and witnessing boobies and enthusiasm, and strong language; the use of the “f” word.  I remember gasping when I first heard it.  I didn’t gasp anymore after I saw Scarface for the first time.  Cable television is different these days; the Pandora’s Box – she offers too much and gives nothing in return.  I looked at my guide the other day – a little over eleven hundred channels, crystal-clear HD, on-demand – anything I want, I can have.  In 1984, we had thirty channels, and if there was something I wanted that wasn’t on cable, I went to the video store.  Bear with me.  I’m not going to start up a diatribe about how things were better when I was a young’in.

Vintage Cable Box is something I always wanted to do.  I wanted to go back to that time when I was a young man, with burgeoning puberty pounding down the door, and Alyssa Milano’s gorgeous face, and Jacqueline Bisset’s tanned body and wet t-shirt, beckoning me.  I tune into Porky’s and come to the realization that there is a whole other world out there: the world of the coaxial cable and the heavy metal box on top of my 25″ Magnavox color console.  From there, innocence becomes a degree of intelligence (not much, but I was eleven, mind you) where cable television becomes my peculiar form of film school.  I can’t tell you how much I learned about movies, about making movies, about filmmakers, watching cable television at this time.  This is my life.  My life is movies.  I eat them up like popcorn.  The Man with Two Brains was the first; turning it on just as the cable guy was leaving the premises – it was exotic.  On the screen, a buxom blonde with a ridiculous accent flashes her bare breasts at Steve Martin.  The cable guy acted like it was no big deal, but we never had cable.  We seriously didn’t.  No cable television in Philadelphia.  My mother had a great job opportunity in Lebanon, Tennessee.  She had family down there, so we moved.  It was a higher quality of life (in theory, but not really).

My second crush.

As the old saying goes, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth over-doing.” We got the premium (or deluxe) package. HBO and Cinemax (which would alternate premiere movies; sometimes HBO would get it first, sometimes Cinemax would get it first. Either way, and in lieu of a videocassette recorder, movies were repeatedly shown. Sometimes they would even be broadcast simultaneously, perhaps a couple of seconds out of sync, and with slightly different color gradients and schemes – HBO always seemed a tad bit brighter than Cinemax. We had The Movie Channel for a time as well, until my mother started assessing the bill. The Movie Channel was interesting. You would find unusual, even obscure films often programmed as retrospectives, and this is how I learned about filmmakers. You would see a handful of Brian De Palma films like Home Movies, Dressed to Kill, Carrie, and Get to Know Your Rabbit programmed alongside Scarface to coincide with that film’s premiere. Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Rear Window, Rope, and The Trouble with Harry were programmed to coincide with the 1984 re-release of those movies. This is why I can never get behind arguments (usually from older people) that TV rots your brain. I don’t know what they’re talking about. Film, in and of itself, is an education, and television was the vehicle (or the medium – per McLuhan) for this delivery system. Me not dumb! Good, write, good!

Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (1948).

I had always wanted share my specific views and history of cable television in the early 1980s.  For a more in-depth analysis into the history of Pay TV and cable television, I suggest Ben Minotte’s fabulous Oddity Archive.  I had the opportunity to interview (with Mark Jeacoma) Mr. Minotte for the VHS Rewind podcast.  He’s an exceptional (and curious) fellow.  The other channels I remember from those times were CNN, Nickelodeon (and Nick at Nite), MTV, TNN (aka The Nashville Network), and WTBS (not just TBS – it was considered a “superstation”, like Chicago’s WGN), the local affiliates, and a couple of bizarre public access stations.  I remember flipping to one of those stations and seeing our landlord at the time, an old Baptist pulpit-punding minister, broadcasting his own show!  He seemed like a nice man, but he wouldn’t allow us to keep any pets.  Nick at Nite was an astonishing find.  I discovered The Bob Cummings Show, Bachelor Father, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, and The Dick Van Dyke Show.  What I remember, in the days before cable television, the UHF stations in Philadelphia: channels 17, 29, and 48.  Channel 17 WPHL would run Star Trek and The Outer Limits.  Channel 29 (WTAF, later to become a FOX affiliate with terrible reception) would run Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, Gilligan’s Island, The Beverly Hillbillies, and The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle.  Channel 48 WKBS (which went out of business in 1983) would show Creature Double Feature on Saturday mornings and afternoons.  Sometimes, if your antenna was in a good position, you could get the Vineland, New Jersey UHF channel.


When I launched Vintage Cable Box on August 31 last year, I fully expected to begin the odyssey with Porky’s, but Wes Craven’s passing away over that weekend prompted me to change up my schedule, so I put out three reviews: Swamp Thing, Porky’s, and Rodney Dangerfield’s Easy Money. Looking at the reviews now, they seem more like perfunctory write-ups, descriptions of plots more than any true evaluation. I don’t think I really kicked it into gear until The Osterman Weekend (September 23, 2016). My Big Chill review the following week I rate as one of my best. National Lampoon’s Class Reunion was a sobering reminder that many of the movies I enjoyed as an eleven-year-old I could not stomach today. Some (very few) of these movies are absolutely horrible to watch. Class Reunion kicked off my first Halloween retrospective. I reviewed horror movies for the entire month and got my first big hit with my review of Amityville II: The Possession. Horror movies get great numbers for me.  What really sells today is nostalgia, and you could even look back on a failed movie, a terrible movie, and express some level of nostalgia or affection for it, but if you can’t drum up that enthusiasm in yourself, it’s not going to work for your readers or your listening audience.  I know I have this problem on occasion

Which brings me to those reviews I might have phoned in, because I couldn’t get into it while loving it as a child, and then considering it some form of exquisite torture in my later years.  November brought me The Rosebud Beach Hotel and Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen.  December’s Christmas cheer brought me The Man Who Wasn’t There, but it also brought me my biggest hit, A Christmas Story (to be rivaled only by Midnight Madness).  I think the elements of popularity and nostalgia (not to mention affection) combine to bring about a newfound interest; it’s not necessarily about how well you think you write.  If you are writing about something a reader has in the back of his or her head, that they remember, that they adore, you’ll get a lot of readers.  Get Crazy, a movie that barely had a release yet exploded on cable television, made me think about some hidden gems; the over-budgeted movies that scam-artist financers would sell to investors from which they would pocket the difference and laugh all the way to the bank.  It’s sort of like the plot to Mel Brooks’ The Producers.  Other examples include Somebody Killed Her Husband and (perhaps) The House of God.


It’s amazing to me how some movies hold up, while others are terribly dated and get worse with age.  I remember adoring Breathless, They Call Me Bruce?, and Jekyll and Hyde – Together Again.  Now I hate them.  I can’t stand them.  In December, I launched a bit of a mini-series in that in appeared to me that several movies were being made at the time with writers as their central characters:  Deathtrap, Author! Author!, Romancing the Stone, Best Friends, and Romantic Comedy.  Nobody would ever dare make a movie about a writer these days.  Romantic Comedy would find it’s way into my series about Dudley Moore.  Moore was all over cable television at that time.  Dudley Moore’s particular skills revolved around his man-child characters, always unsatisfied, depressed, and yearning (or lusting) after women while negotiating his advanced years.  Sometimes, he would take a dramatic detour (Six Weeks), but those digressions were infrequent.  Mel Brooks’ 90th birthday was coming up, and I remembered seeing several of his movies (in another wonderful Movie Channel retrospective tied to the premiere of his To Be or Not to Be remake) so I put together the four that received endless play.

Stacey Nelkin get’s crazy!

There are also the unexpected deaths that changed my schedule (as with my very first review).  I mentioned in my (very quickly cobbled together) review of The Woman in Red that Gene Wilder’s passing forced me to rush that write-up.  I had originally planned to continue my articles up to the point we got the HBO satellite service in Philadelphia, and The Woman in Red would be featured.  The same situation forced me to publish a review for Garry Marshall’s Young Doctors in Love.  After the death of David Bowie, I wrote up the review for The Hunger.  I have a schedule in place, and I tend to write reviews well in advance of publication for this very reason.  So what are we up to?  At last count, 74 reviews have been published.  I had initially expected to put out an article once a week.  I figure I have about another year’s worth of material.  We’ll see what happens, but this has been a wonderful trip back to my past, and I hope you (the readers) will continue this journey with me.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

Vintage Cable Box: “Swamp Thing”, 1982



“Everything’s a dream when you’re alone.”

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.


“Swamp Thing”, 1982 (Adrienne Barbeau), Embassy Pictures

When I started writing reviews for the films which became the basis of this series, the original plan was to start with Rodney Dangerfield’s 1983 comedy, “Easy Money”, but after Wes Craven died, I thought it would only be fitting to pay tribute to one of my favorite horror film directors by looking back and trying to remember if there were any films he made that were shown on cable television during the time period Vintage Cable Box covers, and yes, there was “Swamp Thing” – a movie I truly adore.

Sultry government agent Adrienne Barbeau arrives in the Louisiana bayou to investigate Dr. Alec Holland’s (Ray Wise) experiments in bio-engineering with his sister, Linda. Holland has just made a major breakthrough. Louis Jourdan plays Arcane, a rival scientist who orders his men to attack Holland’s compound and steal his new formula. In the resulting firefight, Holland is contaminated with his formula and disappears in the swamp, presumed dead. Later, when Jourdan’s men try to kill Barbeau, Swamp Thing emerges to dispatch them.

Released a good three months before “Creepshow”, “Swamp Thing” adopts the same comic-book-with-a-movie visual sense, even down to the turning of pages and artwork panels for scene transitions. Craven’s screenplay is intelligent with a sense of humor and the performances (particular those of Wise, Barbeau, Jourdan, and Dick Durock as the titular hero) are wonderful. Based on Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson’s DC Comics series, the movie was made on an astonishingly low $3 million budget.

Henry Manfredini’s score recalls his work on the Friday the 13th franchise, with stings and twists, and Bernard Hermann-like trills. The editing is breakneck in the action sequences and appropriately slow in the more romantic and menacing scenes. The creature itself is a marvel, created by Bill Munns, who would also contribute ghastly creatures for “The Return of the Living Dead”. “Swamp Thing” is schlocky and pulpy, and pure fun to watch.

The early eighties was a time when filmmakers, presumably working on the edge of the mainstream, and outside of the borders of studio control, started getting bigger budgets. Wes Craven was primarily known for “Last House on the Left” and “The Hills Have Eyes”. “Swamp Thing” was his formal introduction to studio work. This was the same year Tobe Hooper made “Poltergeist” and George Romero made “Creepshow”, so a definitive New Horror renaissance had taken place.

SWAMP THING, Adrienne Barbeau, Dick Durock, 1982, (c) Embassy Pictures
SWAMP THING, Adrienne Barbeau, Dick Durock, 1982, (c) Embassy Pictures

Scream Queen Adrienne Barbeau appeared in John Carpenter’s “The Fog” and “Escape From New York”, and would later appear in “Creepshow”. Ray Wise would later star in “Robocop” and Twin Peaks (the television series and the movie). Stuntman Dick Durock appeared in the sequel, “The Return of Swamp Thing” and the spin-off television series, which ran for 72 episodes.

It’s impossible to estimate Wes Craven’s impact and influence on the modern horror movie. A creative thinker and intuitive director, Craven created intelligent horror movies that did not skimp on scares. After “Swamp Thing”, he would create one of the most popular franchises that rivaled only Jason in “A Nightmare On Elm Street”. “The People Under The Stairs” is my wife’s favorite movie of Craven’s. In 1996, he directed Kevin Williamson’s popular post-modern slasher movie, “Scream”, which yielded three sequels.

Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties. You can hear my podcast at Misadventures In BlissVille and you can visit my Facebook group page.

“Vintage Cable Box” artwork by Bronwyn Knox.