All posts by Manic Exorcism

There is a method to my madness. I've just not figured out what it is yet.

The Incredible Transformers Movie That Ruined Plenty of Childhoods Back In 1986

Years before Michael Bay got his greedy paws on the Transformers franchise and gave our favorite robots in disguise the typical Hollywood treatment of loud explosions, dopy human characters no one gives a crap about, and a ton of CG action there was already a full-length feature film that existed.

One more faithfully associated with the cartoons and figures therein represented. Released in 1986 the film was a big deal and, well, definitely left its mark on pop culture. It also shocked – and (to the outrage of parents) broke the hearts – of children across the nation. It made some pretty big waves and that’s for damn sure.

Today we’re looking back at TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE! And the inexplicable controversy involved with it. Now before we go further I gotta warn you that spoilers are inevitable from here on out. The movie came out in ’86 so there’s been plenty of time for word to have already circulated. Still, if you’ve not seen the film I encourage you do then come back to read this. Ok, with that out of the way. 

Genesis 

Kids had it pretty good back in the day. And sure I know every generation tries to claim that, but give it a little thought and it’s easy to see how the ‘80s was the best decade to grow up in. It was the era that really amped up horror movies (practically birthed the Slasher genre into the world), heavy metal was on the rise, we had a gazillion cartoons to lose our minds over, and a new thing called the NES was teaching us a brand new way of living. We still played outside, got sand in our hair, and I remember all my friends and I would go into the woods purposely trying to get lost. It never happened though. At the end of the day, we always made it back home and sat around the family table to eat some of Giovani’s greasy pizza. 

I’m not saying everyone was happy, but it was an amazing time to be alive. We got to not only watch our favorite animated heroes acting out new and amazing adventures on the TV but goddamm we also got toys of self-same heroes that let us make up our own adventures once the TV turned off.

Our imaginations were on fire!  

In my last article, I talked about the art of MOTU and mentioned how He-Man dominated the toy market. That’s true. But also the (titanic) financial success of MOTU showed businessmen that stupid little pieces of plastic could do a magic trick and turn into gold if, if, you knew the trick. So companies slapped themselves around coming up with tricks of the trade, gimmicks they called them, and realized that if the toy was cool it would sell. 

And that was the alchemical secret. We weren’t expecting perfection in what we played with. We just wanted it to be cool. Hasbro must have been drinking some good coffee one morning because someone put two and two together and came up with cars transforming into kick-ass robots and BINGO!

They also had Japanese toy developers who’d already been doing this thing for years to thank for the main inspiration but that’s for another story. Shhhhh.

Hasbro knew they had a hit on their hands and Transformers quickly came into our lives. 

Hailing from the distant planet of Cybertron vessels of immortal good came to our planet calling themselves the Autobots. Led by Optimus Prime in an ongoing struggle with their arch enemies the Decepticons, a galactic band of cosmic terrorists who followed the megalomaniacal command of Megatron. Optimus Prime was the good guy while Megatron was the bad one. Both had their own armies to lead and that simple premise is all it took to make thousands of kids happy. Now I was the kinda kid who didn’t give a flying fuck about cars but once Transformers could turn into mechanic dinosaurs, well then I had to get a few of these things. 

The Inevitable (Commercial) Movie

Transformers were on top of the world and Hasbro was making a fortune. Along with the refugees of Cybertron, their famous G.I. Joe toy line was also raking in the cash. So naturally, they decided to make even more toys! Newer and better ones. They knew this stuff was kiddie cocaine and we were buying it up like little addicts. 

But Hasbro had an ingenious plan, and that’s not sarcasm outta me. Hasbro had their new figures already lined up but in order to introduce them a planned full-length motion picture would reveal consumers to the thrilling new lineup. It was nothing short of an hour and twenty-five -minute long commercial that cost the company a mere five to six million dollars with one goal in mind: sell some damn toys. It was very ambitious of them.

Not only would they be pulling in ticket sells they were very sure kids – having just seen the movie – would rush out of theaters pumped as fuck and begging their parents to rush them to the nearest KB Toys and buy them the newest brand of heroes and villains. Deviously ingenuous!

The plan to part parents from their hard-earned cash was released that August (plenty of time for kids to make out their Christmas demands for Santa) and TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE hit theaters! Just saying those three words together felt like an invocation for greatness. Transformers had all it needed to be a blockbuster masterpiece! 

Featuring cinematic legends like Orsen Wells and Leonard Nimoy in a film with a built-in audience… this had to be something amazing.

For one thing, the movie opens up in one Helluva way. 

We’re introduced to a mysterious floating entity making its way across the cold dark oceans of space. We’re soon to learn this is none other than Unicron, the film’s antagonist and a devastating threat to all life across the galaxy. Right away Unicron targets a peaceful planet of sentient robotic beings and promptly devours this alien world quickly ending the lives of billions. Not a one of them has a hope of escaping the consuming wrath of Unicron.

Now mere seconds before this cataclysm we just saw little robot children horsing around in a robot mall. We’re also shown families all out and about enjoying a typical day. Robots living their best life without a care at all in the whole wide world WHEN OUT OF FUCKING NOWHERE the evil Unicron consumes their existence! So right away it gets our attention and we gotta see what happens next. 

I mean a whole planet just died for fuck’s sake. 

One Will Stand. One Will Fall.

The first act reaches peak performance as a thrilling battle between the heroic Autobots and the evil Decepticons erupts. Now, this is what we were all waiting for. Good vs Evil. Pure legend fuel. The Decepticons take advantage of the Autobots’ low-energy source and use it to their dastardly advantage. The battle is on and somehow it feels almost out of place like this is something that should be happening in the final act of the movie instead. 

Anyhow this battle climaxes in a blistering fight between Optimus Prime and the Megatron. The two champions meet together in a final battle that will determine the future of all sentient life. 

Sadly some idiot keeps getting in the way of the fight and you wish the fuckhead would just go away and let these two guys kick ass. Optimus Prime ultimately wins but both opponents are severely damaged. But victory is at hand. 

Megatron is a dirty, rotten bastard though, and takes a cheap shot as one last-ditch effort. Unfortunately, he hits his mark and blasts a crater directly into Optimus Prime’s chest, dealing nothing short of a death blow. Mortally wounded now the leader of the Autobots hangs onto a thread of life, buying precious seconds so that he may pass over the Matrix of Leadership to someone else to lead the Autobots after his passing. Optimus Prime then dies. And, contrary to what I expected, does not get a resurrection. 

In case you didn’t know that happened I’m being serious. The Autobot hero to thousands of kids died on screen and that’s when audiences lost their shit right then and there. Kids panicked, screamed, and left their seats crying their eyes out as they fled up the aisle. Funny how Hasbro didn’t see that one coming.

Now when your target audience is between the ages of 5-9 it’s a fair chance they’ve not been introduced to death yet. Especially not the death of a hero they all looked up to. This was too fatal for them to compute.

Optimus Prime died and the backlash of it rocked the company. Something Hasbro did not foresee happening. To the suits who wanted to sell snot noses more toys they figured the best way to do that was by literally killing off the old ones!

No less than fourteen Transformers are killed in the movie. I mean holy shit! Over a dozen of them die, and some in pretty wild ways. Seriously, Starscream is shot into little pieces that litter the floor. People who mention this movie always talk about losing Optimus Prime but I was shocked to see Ironhide and Starscream go. You have to remember this was before we were given The Death of Superman and was a formula no one was used to yet.

And in the case of Superman, it was announced ahead of time he was going to die. So we expected it to happen and had time to prepare ourselves. In the case of the Transformers, it was just a sudden deathblow to childhood innocence.

I should mention that even though Megatron doesn’t exactly die…or does he? Well, he’s dumped out into space where he won’t survive and finds himself before the hellish audience of Unicron. Unicron changes the leader of the Decepticons in order to preserve Megatron’s existence, but at a dire price. Megatron is transformed (heh no pun intended I guess) into Galvatron and voiced by the one and only Leonard Nimoy (Spock). Yes, it’s cool such a legendary actor voiced him but do you think little kids give a hamster’s shit about that? The voice was way different and Megatron might as well be as dead as Optimus Prime. 

The movie opens with a whole planet dying. Optimus dies. Megatron dies. A whole lot more died as the movie played out. It’s a helluva ride.

So the dust settled and the smoke cleared and Hasbro quickly saw the folly of their ways. Mainly by the moths flittering out of their wallets. I’m sure no one expected to leave that many kids in a state of heartbreak. But the movie was panned by critics and the core audience had zero interest in going back to the movies to watch their heroes get ass fucked to Hell all over again. So the loss was pretty significant. 

Some may note that I purposely mentioned G.I. Joe earlier. Some may not even know there is an animated G.I. Joe movie, and that’s thanks to the failure of Transformers at the box office. Hasbro intended to release the Joes in theaters with a similar business strategy in mind – kill the old to make way for the new. However, the negative feedback from Transformers: The Movie made the Joes do a few reshoots and change a scene that originally had Serpentor (EMPEROR OF COBRA!) throw a snake spear directly into Duke’s heart thusly killing him deader than fuck. The new cut featured Duke – still getting struck in the heart by a freakin’ snake – slipping into a coma. Duke must be one tough son of a bitch to survive something like that. 

Live and learn you could say. The loss of Optimus Prime was a little much for young fans to deal with. As it so happened the following season saw a happy return of the favored Autobot leader. It didn’t matter that the Matric of Leadership was passed down to Rodimus Prime. Kids wanted Optimus back. And as penance Hasbro complied and returned him. Let that be a lesson to them!

Final Thoughts

Truth be told I really enjoy the movie for what it is. I love that it’s a something of a time capsule of yesteryear and feels far more like a genuine Transformers film than the live-action treatments. The main complaint of the Bay movies is how much focus is on the human characters instead of the titular heroes. That’s not the same for the animated film which focuses wholly on the Transformers. The movie takes us on an adventure across space and over alien planets as the battle to stop Unicron rages. 

Unicron, voiced by Orson Wells (isn’t that amazing?), is a very fitting enemy and looms grimly throughout the film and serves as a fitting threat. His inclusion alone gives the movie a more epic feel. Basically, imagine a Death Star that’s self-aware and can transform itself into a gargantuan warlord. He’s that badass!

Easily he’s the best thing introduced in the movie.

Overall I do recommend watching it if for nostalgia alone. It’s a forgotten sci-fi from our childhoods. There’ll be some time off with the holidays on the horizon and that means plenty of time to watch some ol’-time classics. Why not brush off this old tape and give it new viewing? This time of year always has me going back to old cartoons. 

Manic out!

The Powerful Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe!

It is without a doubt He-Man dominated the toy market of yesteryear. Making his way to our local toy shelves he took his rightful place as the reigning king of figurines and promptly slaughtered the competition. Not even the galactic juggernaut toy line of Star Wars could withstand the power of Grayskull and Eternia’s mighty champions.

He-Man and Masters of the Universe did not have a movie’s storyline to follow and upon initial creation-stages, the classic cartoon wasn’t even a thought at the time. What He-Man did have was his immense look and all the charm each figure brought with them.

That and the breathtaking artwork eruptoing across each package!

These were toys, true, but these were also thrilling works of art. A thing unseen back in the day and it set MOTU apart from its competitors. There was time and passion put into these. Muscles, savagery, feminine beauty (in Teela’s case), and undeniable evil as seen in Skeletor’s demonic visage. The divide between good and evil was clearly revealed in each figure and it didn’t take rocket science to figure out who was who.

Likewise, each figure was a puzzle piece and when all brought together uncovered a fantastical picture of a far-off universe where the never-ending conflict between good and evil raged imperially on the distant planet of Eternia.

The artwork on the display packaging helped fill in the world where swords and sorcery akin to the barbarian world of Conan met technical superiority – such as monstrous tanks and hovering battle crafts – of sci-fi grandeur! It was a brilliant fusion of genres. And power, pure and unstoppable power.

I daresay anyone of us gazing upon Castle Gray Skull was immediately pulled into the vortex of its wondrous world of secrets and sorcery. What exactly was Gray Skull? None of us had a clue. Truth was we weren’t sure if it was meant for good or evil. There’s always been a grim neutrality about the castle and that makes it more wondrous. Plus it looked METAL as all Hell and that made us want it so much more!

First, you’d see the toy but then there’s that Frazetta-inspired artwork on each packaging and it just demanded your attention. It filled the imagination. They didn’t have to put that much detail into packaging, you know, the thing we were going to tear into and throw in the trash. Looking back I now wish I had all the cards and boxes to proudly display and gloat over. Back then we didn’t know better.

Attitude Perspective

Of course, I have to mention the cartoon for a moment.

Originally it wasn’t even in the mind of the creative team behind the toy line. But it was believed that something had to help kids piece together Eternia and the battles for Castle Grayskull. So a daily cartoon was made up out of thin air and pitched. Again, MOTU was an instant hit among kids!

The show was appropriately campy. I guess the laughs and silliness was needed for us stupid kids. For example, Skeletor is a treacherous villain but he’s not too scary, or else kids would’ve had nightmares. And no parent wants to put up with that shit. So he was a bad guy but also kinda a dope. But hey, he’s a lovable dope.

That sort of attitude wasn’t expressed on the package art – or the original comics for that matter. Originally the Masters of the Universe was much more mature in tone and a lot darker. Eternia was expressed as someplace bordering on Hell. A place of dark wonder and sensational battles.

However, rather than being in conflict with each other that darker tone happily balances out the show’s campiness. The two work in harmony. A yin-yang coequality that resonates in fans to this very day. Some look back at the camp and are filled with nostalgic glee. Others look at the inspired art and feel a thrill for dark sorcery and battles in Eternia. The toys fit perfectly into both interpretations thus creating a nice harmony for fans. And both are masterpieces when it comes to art.

Masterful!

He-Man and Masters of the Universe could adorn the walls of any prestigious gallery around the world or be slapped on the cover of heavy metal albums! I mean this was stuff you expected to see on DIO tapes. This was great stuff. It didn’t look sloppy or rushed. There was power displayed in each and every one.

We were too young and innocent to fully grasp what a phenomenon this all was. I know I took it for granted and just came to expect to always have He-Man in my future. And, crazy enough, here I am in my 40’s and I just bought a Viking He-Man and Skeletor, so I guess, in a way, he has been.

Did any of us know we were living through pop-culture history? Of course not. I don’t know if that term even existed back then. We were too busy playing in our living rooms or outside in sandboxes, living and reliving new and bigger adventures (thanks to our toys). We couldn’t have realized people would later covetously look back on our childhoods longing for the magic we all shared in.

For many of us He-Man was all we had and that, at least, gave us something to look forward to. This was something wonderful and we were lucky enough to experience it all firsthand. We all reached up and touched a little bit of magic and it lit our imaginations and really never left us.

Before kids started playing with wands and imagining the wizarding world of Harry Potter we were holding plastic swords aloft in the air and commanding the powers of the universe!

I recently walked through Target and I saw He-Man and the Masters of the Universe on the shelves. I also saw retro Transformers toys and some great Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle stuff from NECA. There were G.I. Joes and I even saw Ghostbusters! “What year is this?” I had a moment, a good moment, where I realized I’m honestly not alone.

This stuff not only inspired me but it had to have stayed with all of us. The good old days can’t be relived I guess but they never left us. Not really. A lot of us have kids (well not me personally) and get to now introduce them to the toylines we ourselves grew up with. With the holidays upon us, it might be a good time to go look around the toy aisles. Give Santa a helping hand.

So who knew the Power of Grayskull would follow us this far?

The Power of Grayskull

Art never dies. Not when there’s passion behind it. Today MOTU has been explored across several animated shows, a live-action movie (hey, rise above the hate), and, oh yes, the toy lines. Four Horsemen rolled out their brilliant Classics line that charged new energy (dare I say Power) and searing details into each figure that echoed the original look of the toys we all grew up loving.

Not to mention the Origins line that’s a glorified return of the MOTU toys we all played with. But there’s also the Revelations and New Eternia stuff. I think it’s clear that He-Man isn’t going anywhere. Fans find ways to breathe fresh life into the property.

There are the comic book runs that extend the legacy of Eternia. There’s even a great crossover with Thundercats (I know right???), a thing I always thought should happen. Glad I wasn’t alone because that’s one Healluva cool story! Maybe I’ll do a review on that one. You guys let me know.

And other artists have come out to lend their talents to strengthen the legacy further. One artist of note is none other than Boris Vallejo, legendary fantasy artist. And it’s little wonder considering how Frank Frazetta’s original Conan work initially inspired the look and feel for He-Man. It began in fantasy and continues by it today.

Afterthoughts

I was just speaking with someone this week about MOTU and he said that it’s possible all his collecting could have begun way back then when, as a kid, he had to get everything He-Man related. And that’s it. That could be the gateway for all of us collectors. For some, it was an introduction to high adventures, magic, heroism, morals, and the responsibility of power. MOTU led way to many things we would adapt as adults later in life. A toy line!

In closing, it would be sinful if I didn’t share a small memory.

I fondly remember one figure in particular just because it was given to me by my Great-Grandma Phillips. She (no doubt) had no clue what these things were but she knew her little Manic loved He-Man so she got me an amazing BATTLE DAMAGE Skeletor. Whoa! I never saw a figure that took battle damage before! I loved it. Now looking back I love it so much more because of my great-grandmother’s associated memory attached to it. I think that’s the only thing I got from her, at least it’s the one thing that stands out to me. She wasn’t long for this world and any time I saw that little toy she came to mind.

Manic out!

Bela Lugosi And The Insidious Charm of Ygor! ‘Son of Frankenstein’

Bela Lugosi needs no introduction among horror enthusiasts. Forever more will he be associated with the nocturnal Prince of Darkness, Count Dracula, for his phenomenal portrayal of Bram Stoker’s titular character. Laying the foundations for the future of talking horror flicks to follow in his haunted footsteps Lugosi also ensured the future of Universal as the House of Horrors. 

Doubtlessly whenever his name is mentioned people primarily associate the late actor with his immortal vampire role. Moldy castles, gargantuan spider webs, capes, shadows, and those piercing eyes are forever etched in the edifice of horror history. Had the man played only one role – that of Dracula – it is for certain he would have secured a timeless legacy. 

What many people sadly miss out on though are the other horror roles Lugosi likewise immortalized by that devilish charm and uncanny of his. Briefly, I am obligated to mention his monstrous role played in Island of Lost Souls, a retelling of the Island of Dr. Moreau, where Lugosi chews up his scenes with feral passionate intensity. 

And then there’s today’s topic at hand – the one and only Ygor, the lumbering grave robber who sensationally steals the show in the third installment of Universal’s Frankenstein legacy, Son of Frankenstein. Critics and horror enthusiasts alike praise James Whales’ horror legends Frankenstein and its celebrated sequel Bride of Frankenstein. Sadly though that’s usually where people stop watching the legacy. Probably assuming nothing that followed could match up to the two remarkable films Whales accomplished to make. Daring, frightening, and downright shocking were the first two movies. So much so that when Boris Karloff’s face was first revealed as the monster people hid under their seats in the theater. 

The third installment not only holds up but is just as magnificent as its prior movies. Mainly due to the combined charisma of Karloff and Lugosi working together. Both playing monsters, both shining with macabre excellence, but, if we’re being fully honest here, it is dear ol’ Bela Lugosi who steals the movie and brilliantly outshines Karloff’s uncanny monster. 

Karloff fought to get Lugosi in the role and insisted the man share in the top billing. Thankfully he won because otherwise the world would have been robbed of one helluva monstrous character! So iconic is Lugosi’s Ygor that to this very day people assume all hunchback lab assistants in gothic horror tales are Ygor.

The truth is the hunchback assistant in the first movie is called Fritz and there was no hunchback in the original novel at all. However, Lugosi immortalized the monster and cemented his hideous grin all across horror history.  Making him a gothic staple just as much as windmills, cemeteries, and crumbling castles.

Whereas Dracula was played seriously, grim, and downright dapper Ygor is polar opposite the image. Ygor is grungy, smells like deep earth from the graves he robs, dirty, and hairy. He was hanged from the gallows but didn’t stay dead, a fact to which Ygor gleefully gloats about in the film. “They die, dead! I die, live!” he says with a devilish smile. 

Synopsis

In the film, Basil Rathbone plays the son of Frankenstein returning back to his family castle where the village people are not too happy to have another Frankenstein in their midst. There Wolf Frankenstein (can we please take a moment to marvel at how METAL that name is) is met by a snooping Ygor who enlists the young doctor into reviving the old monster of his father’s making. Reluctant at first, Wolf finally agrees unable to pass up the chance to improve upon his father’s work. Meanwhile, Ygor has befriended the monster and uses him to kill the men who found him guilty and sentenced him to death. So on the one hand Ygor is using Frankenstein to revive his buddy the monster. And on the other, he’s using the monster to avenge his enemies. Ygor is the devil sitting on everyone’s shoulder instigating and manipulating as he wishes. And he’s laughing his ass off as he does it.

Someone said that Ygor is the instigator among all the Universal Monsters and I like that image. I like to think he lumbers around and stirs up mischief among the Mummy and the Gillman. He would steal the Wolfman’s bone and hide it in Dracula’s coffin as a way to make the two fight. Crazy shit like that and if confronted about it he’d just put his hands in the air, shrug his shoulders, smile, and say “Ygor not do wrong. Ygor was gone fishing.” Or something like that. 

Neca’s been releasing the Universal line right now and I’m hoping someone there has the foresight to make us a proper Ygor figure. I’d throw money at that quick as a lightning bolt.

So here’s to Bela Lugosi and the marvelous monsters and giddy ghouls he gave us. If you’ve not seen Son of Frankenstein this Halloween would be a good time to correct that. It’s also the final time Boris Karloff would play the iconic role of the monster and does so beautifully.

Manic out!