Vintage Cable Box: “It Came From Hollywood, 1982”

New VCB Logo

“You see?  You see?  Your stupid minds!  Stupid!  Stupid!”


It Came From Hollywood, 1982 (Dan Aykroyd), Paramount Pictures

In a throwaway sketch straight out of Kentucky Fried Movie or Second City, Gilda Radner hears a report of an escaped Gorilla. She is instructed to lock her doors, shut her windows, extinguish all fires and above all, remain calm. She manages to destroy her house in the process of keeping herself safe. Gilda introduces and provides commentary for movies about lunatic gorillas, men from the jungle, giant monkeys, and robot-gorillas.

Dan Aykroyd is a soldier from another planet on a survey mission, scouting a destroyed Earth (actually it appears to be the Paramount back-lot) and providing insight into silly low-budget (and some big-budget) movies about alien invasions, ranging from Teenagers From Outer Space to the original War of the Worlds, as well as something Aykroyd identifies as “Attack of the Pipe-Welders”.

Cheech & Chong go to the movies. Chong purchases a garbage-can sized bucket of popcorn. They watch The Incredible Shrinking Man, The Amazing Colossal Man, and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. They also get away with some off-color humor and dirty puns. John Candy presents an affectionate (if snarky) tribute to the movies of Ed Wood. Gilda shows up again to show us some very cheap musicals, most of which I had never known about, which is astonishing to me. One clip of note is the enormously racist 1934 musical, Wonder Bar, complete with black-face minstrels and dancing slices of watermelon.

John Candy presents previews of coming attractions, where we get a taste of The Hypnotic Eye, The Incredibly Strange Creatures (Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies), House on Haunted Hill with Vincent Price, and I Married A Monster From Outer Space. We get a few exploitation movies as well, like Black Belt Jones (Right on!) and Mars Needs Women.


Dan Aykroyd’s Troubled Teenagers profiles movies like High School Hellcats, hilarious morality plays about venereal disease and teenage pregnancy, and drug movies, The Weird World of LSD, Reefer Madness, and Marihuana (I don’t know why it’s spelled like that either). Some of the material is repetitive, as in Cheech & Chong’s next segment, The Animal Kingdom Goes Berserk. Favorites of mine like Son of Godzilla and The Beginning of the End (with giant grasshoppers!) are featured. To complete the joke, Cheech & Chong smoke an enormous blunt.

It Came From Hollywood is in parts a tribute, a rebuke, an admonishment, and a document of bad movies, silly movies, terrible movies, as well as misguided filmmakers, atrocious performances, and crappy special effects. The headlining comedians offer zany commentary that serves as brilliant counterpoint to the often intentionally serious and unintentionally hilarious films featured in the movie. It Came From Hollywood was obviously an inspiration for Mystery Science Theater 3000, in which a human, stuck in space with his three loyal robots, is forced to “riff” on bad movies sent to him by a mad scientist and his henchman.

Though most of the humor is meant to pad out the running time, and is often, flat and cringe-worthy, I have a soft spot in my heart for It Came From Hollywood. I learned how to make movies (and more importantly, how not to make them) watching movies like this. There weren’t many compilation movies made in those times. The only other movie I can recall from that period was Terror In The Aisles featuring Universal Pictures horror movies like Frankenstein all the way up to The Thing.

Because of rights issues involving many of the films shown in It Came From Hollywood (over 100 titles!), the film was never released on DVD, so it is extremely hard to find, but it is (for now) available on YouTube. It was nice going back to this movie to be reminded of why I love movies. I don’t care how bad they are. I love movies. I miss Gilda and John.

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: “Assault on Precinct 13, 1976”


“Anybody got a smoke?”


Assault on Precinct 13, 1976 (Austin Stoker), Turtle Releasing

Violent crime and gang activity exploded in the turbulent 1960s. South Central Los Angeles was a veritable hodge-podge of gangs, the children of the poor bathed in the anarchy and the blood of their ancestors. They came to America and were shunted away to live in decrepit conditions. The vast migration of whites had started a decade earlier and bedroom communities were established to keep the middle class safe from the poor ethnic variations.

Assault on Precinct 13 comes along at the right time; an exploitation movie in a largely untested genre (the “gang” movie) with a familiar narrative – in this case, a circle-the-wagons scenario. Lt. Ethan Bishop (Austin Stoker) is assigned to babysit a defunct precinct building in dangerous Anderson, Los Angeles. Idealistic and determined, he remembers his childhood home four blocks away, and how he walked out of Anderson when he was old enough.

A prisoner transfer bus stops at the precinct to care for a sick inmate. On the bus are Wells (Tony Burton) and Napoleon Wilson (bad-ass Darwin Joston), who is moving to death row. Meanwhile, a young girl (Kim Richards) is murdered by the leader of the Street Thunder gang. The girl’s father kills the leader, and runs to the precinct building for protection. Combine these three elements and we have an amazing saga. Hordes of gang members descend on the precinct building, cutting the power, and cops join forces with criminals to defend precinct 9, division 13. They use silencers on their guns and remove bodies so no one will know what is happening.

Carpenter merges elements of two disparate genres: the western, and the horror movie. Carpenter’s synthesized score of stings and minor keys play like a rough draft for his famous Halloween score, accompanied by the clean, grain-less night photography and use of shadow, Assault on Precinct 13 plays like a horror movie, but owes more to Rio Bravo, a favorite film of Carpenter’s. The members of the gangs are like faceless entities; robots trained to kill, or the living dead single-minded in their lust for revenge. They are unafraid, and that’s what makes them and this movie completely terrifying. This is a real-world situation. This is something that could happen anywhere at any time.


What’s innovative about Assault on Precinct 13 is the timelessness of the look. The movie could play today (it was poorly remade in 2005). The lighting design and the cinematography would become a staple of later Carpenter movies like Halloween, The Thing, and Prince of Darkness. Some of my favorite bits occur toward the end of the film. After Bishop shoots a gas tank, burning the remainder of the gang members to death, cops finally take control of the building. After the smoke clears, all the backup cops see is a pile of bodies and three brave souls, a cop, a criminal, and a secretary, and their shell-shocked charge, the girl’s father. When the cops try to take Napoleon away, Bishop rebukes them and says simply to Wilson, “It would be a privilege if you’d walk outside with me.”

There’s so much to pick at with this movie. The characters speak volumes without uttering a single word. The dialogue is kept to a minimum; the proverbial picture being worth a thousand words. Communication is imparted through eye contact and mannerisms. Each of the main characters exist as archetypes: the authority figure, the criminal, the wise-ass, the coward, the brute. It probably wasn’t meant to be picked apart or studied, or analyzed. According to Carpenter, the distributors just wanted a simple $100,000 exploitation movie, but they got so much more.

Assault on Precinct 13 aired on The Movie Channel as part of a retrospective of John Carpenter movies. Among them, Halloween, Dark Star, Escape From New York, and The Thing. Carpenter would go on to direct Stephen King’s Christine, Starman, Big Trouble In Little China and many other fine examples of genre film-making.

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.

“Nightmares, 1983”

New VCB Logo

Cable television was a treasure trove of great horror movies in 1984. You had the old (Psycho, The Birds) and the new (Creepshow, Friday the 13th), something borrowed (Dressed To Kill), and something blue (Jaws 3D – because the water is blue, you see … ahem, moving on!). Occasionally, it can be a crap shoot. You’ll find a gem like The Sender, but then a movie like Nightmares will come on, and then you’ll shy away from anything else The Movie Channel has to offer, but don’t let that deter you. It was the mini-festivals and tributes to certain filmmakers that appealed to me and inspired me to make my own movies.


Nightmares, 1983 (Emilio Estevez), MCA/Universal

“Terror in Topanga”

“Non-addicts cannot understand. Love, Lisa.”

Chain-smoking Cristina Raines runs out of cigarettes. I know how she feels. A chronic life-long smoker myself, I’ll actually leave the comparative safety of my home in the middle of the night, go up a block to the corner Rite-Aid, present my I.D. and get a pack of smokes. I can’t handle being without cigarettes. I’m aware of my problem and I know it’s wrong to smoke and bad for my health, so please, no judgments. Back to the story. An escaped mental asylum inmate wreaks havoc in the Canyon. Doesn’t anybody know not to live in California? It’s nothing but trouble. Against her non-smoker husband’s wishes, she drives off into the night looking for smokes. Bad move. This episode is based on an old urban legend, which I won’t spoil for anybody who hasn’t seen the movie. Suffice to say, it’s good scary fun.

“The Bishop of Battle”

“Try me if you dare.”

Emilio Estevez is a strutting video game hustler who listens to Fear’s “I Don’t Care About You” (a favorite of mine) on his vintage walkman. His game is something called Pleiades, an 8-bit Space Invaders/Galaxian knock-off, but his true passion is The Bishop, a three-dimensional maze shooter game, which he plays with aplomb, but he can never seem to get to level 13. His obsession with The Bishop gets him grounded, but he sneaks out and keeps playing the game. When he makes it to level 13, the arcade video game explodes and all of the silly, pre-X-Box avatars and sprites come to life and Emilio must fight them for real. This is a silly Tron-style Twilight Zone rip-off that is only interesting because of it’s dated appeal. Kids today!

“The Benediction”

“The well is dry.”

Lance Henriksen’s world-weary, alcoholic priest takes to the open road in a 1970 Chevelle after suffering intense nightmares, and the recent death of a child. He is soon menaced by a demonic pickup truck from Hell, with an upside-down crucifix hanging from the rear-view mirror. The symbolism of a demonic truck chasing an ambivalent priest is tantalizing, but the execution of the story feels like a muddled contrivance that recalls William Friedkin’s The Exorcist and Steven Spielberg’s Duel. Though, refreshingly, there is no explanation for why this is occurring, it isn’t enough to keep me interested despite Henriksen’s performance (easily the best in the entire film).

“Night of the Rat”

“I think it’s trying to tell me something.”

After a Poltergeist-like battle with kitchen cabinets and cans of food, shrill housewife Veronica Cartwright implores nebbishy, cheap husband Richard Masur to get an exterminator. The episode is called “Night of the Rat” so you can pretty much guess what it’s about. I can’t think of a more annoying couple than Cartwright and Masur, and here we have to spend a half an hour with them! The beast kills Rosie, the family cat. An old exterminator tells tales of a devil rodent that terrorizes the wicked, or something like that. This episode reminds me of Hammer’s House of Horrors, but the idea of a family being tortured by a giant rat makes me laugh, and then once you see the thing, it’s hard not to bust a gut! Oh, and evidently, it can communicate telepathically with children. God bless us, everyone!

More proof of the dangers of smoking!

Nightmares was an obvious cash-grab after the unexpected success of Creepshow the previous year, but the movie didn’t start out that way. The episodes were originally shot as part of an anthology genre series for television (similar to Rod Serling’s Night Gallery) titled Darkroom, but were deemed “too intense” and graphic for regular viewing. When Darkroom was cancelled, these episodes were edited together into a feature film with added scenes of violence and language. The results are mixed, and unlike Creepshow, there is no thread or host segments to connect the stories.

“Terror In Topanga” and “The Benediction” are the best episodes from this misguided anthology. Cristina Raines was seen in Michael Winner’s goofy but fun 1976 Ira Levin rip-off, The Sentinel. Emilio Estevez was one of the founding members of the Brat Pack with The Breakfast Club and (ugh!) St. Elmo’s Fire. Lance Henriksen was in Near Dark and the TV series, Millenium. Veronica Cartwright appeared in Philip Kaufman’s remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and Richard Masur appeared in John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing. I don’t know what happened to the giant rat. It probably went out for a pack of smokes.

Next up: Halloween III: Season Of The Witch from 1983.

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.


NEW PODCAST: “All Outta Bubble Gum”



“They Live” is a 1988 American satirical science fiction horror film written and directed by John Carpenter. The film stars Roddy Piper, Keith David and Meg Foster. It follows a nameless drifter (called “John Nada” in the credits), who discovers the ruling class are in fact aliens concealing their appearance and manipulating people to spend money, breed, and accept the status quo with subliminal messages in mass media.


The first time I saw the movie was on something called the Universal Debut Network; it was a syndicated movie package that Universal Pictures sold to independent networks, I saw it in 1990, it was on Channel 11 here in New York City. The Universal Debut Network was the pre-cursor to all the syndicated series Universal would show, but at first they started with movies like “They Live”, “Prince of Darkness”, “the infamous extended TV version of the movie, “Dune”, where David Lynch took his name off the credits. Apparently Lynch said, “wait a minute, this movie makes sense now, I’m taking my name off the picture!” So after this run of pictures, shows like Hercules and Xena came on the air because they were thinking about putting together a fifth network at the time.

So how do we look on politics, censorship, liberalism, conservative ideology now as opposed to 1988? In Carpenter’s fantasy, these things are just gradual with no tipping point, no rhyme or reason, but I think certain things happened to bring us a “They Live” situation, like 9/11, obviously 9/11 destroyed our country but in a slow, gradual way, like death by a million cuts.

There’s a great line in a sci-fi movie from 1982, “Endangered Species” starring Robert Urich and JoBeth Williams, where Urich says, “If what’s going on around here is organized, you don’t wanna go up against it! The government. The right wing. The left wing. Mercenaries. The mob. It doesn’t make much difference if you get in their way!”

To me, it’s allegory, like all great science fiction. “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” – in the 50s, it was allegory for the Cold War and Communism. In the 1978 version, it was about the “Me” Generation and pop-psychology. In the ’93 remake, it was allegory for disaffected youth and generation X.