Category Archives: Retro Reviews

The Underrated Holiday Special “The Christmas Toy” Sponsored by Kraft Commercials!

Once upon a time in the 80s, I had a VHS tape filled to the very last centimeter of oxide-coated Mylar tape of nothing but Christmas specials that were played over and over again throughout every holiday season for years. The thing literally had every Xmas special episode on it including a lot of the classic Rankin Bass entries like Frosty and Rudolph, and not-so-familiar ones like “Twas The Night Before Christmas” and the deep cut of Holiday RB specials, “Leprechauns’ Christmas Gold“. Over the years we added to it, with the very first Simpson’s Christmas Special, and even further down, the masterpiece of Beavis and Butt-Head Do Christmas. Do I still own this tape? Sadly I don’t as this 80s relic was damaged due to that son-of-a-bitch thing called Time. However, I do remember it quite vividly and especially, the very first movie on the tape that opened a plethora of Christmas vomit all over the screen- the highly underrated, Jim Henson’s “The Christmas Toy”.

WAY before Disney and Pixar’s Toy Story, the magnificent mind of Jim Henson told a tale of toys coming to life when no one was around. The story opens up with a cameo of Kermit the Frog introducing us to the home of the Jones family, bonus points to Kermit for including Weegee the family cat, and the kids’ playroom where all the magic happens along with our stories’ toy-time heroes: Rugby the Tiger, Apple the doll, and Weegee’s cat toy Mew- who was my absolute favorite because duh, he’s a cat toy! Even though that little fact was held against him for the better part of the movie.

The Playroom is abuzz with excitement for Christmas Eve with all the toys preparing for the new additions to the area, all except Rugby as he expresses fear and jealousy as he was THEE Christmas toy the year prior that his owner Jamie was most excited for. He hatches a plan to wrap himself up and settle himself under the tree so he may experience that joy once more at a new toy’s expense and it’s up to Apple, another prior favorite Christmas toy, and Mew to talk Rugby out of his nonsense.

I firmly believe Toy Story totally ripped off the premise here as the similarities are just a little too striking for my taste buds. A jealous favorite toy trying to overthrow a new toy? Especially when that new toy is a Space Princess, (ahem, Buzz Lightyear anyone?) With that all-too-familiar morality lesson of acceptance in the end, it’s a hard pill to swallow that someone at Pixar didn’t see this special and sampled from it. The only real difference is the dark turn Jim Henson put as a spin on the story: When a toy is caught out of place when they’re up and moving around, they become “frozen-solid forever”, never to be awoken ever again. Basically becoming a lifeless toy. This happens a few times throughout the movie and one of those instances was brutally sad. But hey, 80s children’s movies went balls to the wall by making kids cry and Jim Henson’s Christmas Toy was no exception to the golden rule of trauma!

The Christmas Toy debuted on December 6th, 1986 on ABC and was sponsored by Kraft which made this special even more deliciously appealing! Which meant the breaks consisted of commercials featuring recipes you can make at home that helped to make every holiday celebration special. Because nothing says holiday magic like processed cheese, described by the soothing narration of Ed Herlihy. Because hey, “The nicest gifts under the tree are those you make yourself.” These commercials hit the spot man, with a visual existence of holiday happiness in a warm and comfortable home, filled with family and loads of cheese.

Oustanding.

Just look at these beuts of Christmas Kraft commercial Heaven.

80sCommercialVault

In early 1994, years after The Christmas Toy aired and a year before Toy Story was released, there was a spin-off series called The Secret Life of Toys. I honestly don’t remember much about it other than it existed and occasionally caught snippets of it on the Disney Channel because, by that time, pre-teen anguish had set in and as fate would have it, it would have been Rugby’s (or hey, Woody’s) worst nightmare having a child that was growing up. However, The Christmas Toy was, and still is, a magical transport of nostalgia and in my humble opinion, a damn good Christmas story that doesn’t get nearly enough credit for being as awesome as it is.

If you want to revisit some “old friends” The Christmas Toy is currently streaming on Amazon Prime free for members. Or, you can just watch it here for free from Youtube uploader, Jer Hart. And in case you haven’t seen it, get ready for a brand new tradition to add to the holidays!

Jer Hart

[Review] “Raised On The ’80s: Unexpected Life Lessons from Movies and Music That Defined Pop Culture’s Most Excellent Decade”

What do The Karate Kid, The Breakfast Club, and Fast Times at Ridgemont High all have in common (besides being totally awesome 80’s movies?) – all of these and more are included in Chris Clew’s new book,  Raised on The ’80s: 30+ Unexpected Life Lessons from the Movies and Music That Defined Pop Culture’s Most Excellent Decade.

Now while that’s a mouthful to say, even more so is this book that I recently read and enjoyed that marries the thought of some of cinema’s most nostalgic films from the 80s’, and life’s harsh lessons with a splash of advice for this weird journey down the road of living according to author Clews.

The 80s’ were a turning point in film and TV where studios got a little ballsier when tackling taboo subjects for audiences. Beyond the “a very special episode” of our favorite sitcoms and “movies of the week”, messages buried inside the explosion of pop culture were both informed and meaningful and were smacked all over our faces from Saturday Morning cartoons to even Blockbuster Action Movies like Die Hard and Roadhouse.

What kind of deep meaningful life lesson does Die Hard have you ask? Well, Clews gives his own perspective here and I happen to agree wholeheartedly:

“Often times the best way to face a tough or challenging situation is with levity and humor.”

Clews dives deep into his own personal experiences with how John McClane’s humor and level-headedness helped him through some wild moments in life along with highlighting this fan-favorite from the decade harbors a few lessons we can take from Bruce Willis’ character.

“Throughout all his challenges, uncertainty, fear, and near-death experiences, there is one constant in McCalne’s Nakatomi Towers world- humor.” It keeps his mind clear, level, and sane and with that sort of mindset, it indeed saved his life. Now if McClane had a negative mindset and a humorless bastard throughout the movie, well, his situation would have turned out very different, and of course, so would the fate of his wife and other hostages. Also, it would have made for a shitty movie.

This is merely one example and just a tiny snippet of what this book that was two decades in the making covers, and a must-read for both nostalgic pop-culture lovers and cinephile critical thinkers. You can pick it up at Amazon here and makes a totally radical gift for the holidays!

Forgotten Playthings: 30 Years of “Dolly Dearest”

I was nine years old scouring our local Mom and Pop video rental store with a friend after devouring a Personal Pan Pizza from Pizza Hut next door when I first laid my eyeballs on Dolly Dearest. Of course, I was intrigued right away as killer dolls were certainly high on my personal interests list; yeah I was a twisted kid. The late 80s’ and early 90s’ brought terrifying playthings front and center in the horror genre with films like Stuart Gordon’s DOLLS, Puppet Master, and the massively successful Child’s Play. However, this one looked different from the rest. Not only was the antagonistic toy shown as a female, but it featured mainly a female led-cast as well; also to note it has a female director as well- Maria Lease but of course you’re not looking at these things as a kid. Being a young girl, this hit all the right horror notes for me and I immediately rented this sucker to see what this was all about.

Needless to say, my 3-day rental turned into a week-long bender on this Sanzia devil doll because I couldn’t get enough of this fuckin’ movie.

The story goes, a well-to-do picture-perfect family of four moves from Los Angeles down to Mexico where dear ol’ Dad seizes an opportunity with an empty doll factory in an effort to start up a successful business. Young daughter Jessica (Candice Hutson) is undoubtedly upset about this up and sudden move but has a change of heart when she and her father discover a plethora of “beautiful” (I think they’re rather creepy) dolls inside their families’ newly acquired factory that seemed to be never released to the masses. Father Elliot (Sam Bottoms) allows Jessica to take one and that’s when the fun begins as they leave the factory and stroll right on past an underground Mayan tomb of Sanzia, (Satan on Earth) where prior to the family’s arrival, an archeologist accidentally released the malevolent spirit of Sanzia; a devil child spirit that, SPOILER ALERT, possesses these dolls.

Now we got a movie!

As soon as this creepo doll is brought home Jessica begins acting strangely. Drawing weird demonic pictures, lashing out, all-around acting like a typical spoiled brat-zo. Which wouldn’t really raise any red flags except the kid starts speaking devil language to the housekeeper in a threatening manner- who is by the way very religious. Well, being as how Dolly Dearest is possessed by a Devil spirit, this doesn’t go over too well with the girl who is rapidly being manipulated by this doll, and she doesn’t last long in the movie. Mom Marilyn played by Pet Sematary’s Denise Crosby, notices these changes right away, most especially after an Omen-like incident with Jessica in the car sensing the house is being blessed by a priest. Elliot is about as blind as a bat to any of this shit and chalks all these outbursts up to tantrums so he is of NO HELP at all in this situation. Soon, Jessica is totally consumed by the spirit of Dolly and Sanzia and it’s pretty much up to Marilyn, older brother Jimmy (Christopher Peter Demetral), and Sanzia Expert Archeologist Karl Resnick (played by Rip Torn) to put a stop to Dolly and the rest of the possessed porcelain freaks in the factory from taking over children’s souls all over the world.

On top of some cool casting, there are some really great behind-the-scenes people attached to the movie. Dolly took a lot of hints from Child’s Play, including using Ed Gale as Dolly for a few of the more difficult scenes that required human-like movement. The doll itself was sculpted by Brian Wade (The Thing) and brought to life by puppeteer Vance Hartwell (Army of Darkness). The unsettling score was composed by Mark Snow, who is probably most famous for his television work on shows like “The X-Files” and “Smallville.”

Dolly Dearest hasn’t gotten quite the love I feel like it deserves over the years; possibly due to the overload of killer doll flicks of the time and it came too little, too late. Grant it, it’s not the greatest movie in the world, however, I feel it has so much charm and is a nostalgic blanket for me personally that warms me to the bone anytime I watch it. It sure as hell doesn’t deserve the sweeping under the rug treatment. Vinegar Syndrome recently released a blu-ray that has been long-overdue and if it’s been a while, or have never seen it, give Dolly a watch (click here) and bask in the peak of 90s’ killer doll flicks.