Thursday, May 15, 2014

450RPM Video Vinyl

The SGT250. The first stereo player RCA released.
As a fan of vintage (outdated) media, I always enjoy coming across something old that is somewhat new to me. Recently the media gods smiled upon me and have delivered unto me a machine that has transported me backwards in time to the year of 1982.

My SGT250 enjoying a "Fantastic Voyage".
The RCA SGT-250 is a marvel of video engineering. This large, bulky tank of a unit is a CED player or Videodisk player as RCA dubbed it. It plays a CED which is an capacitance electronic disc. The disc is much like a vinyl record that so many of us grew up listening to before cassette and eventually Compact Disc took over our musical lives. The disc is made up of PVC and carbon and coated with silicone (basically). It is grooved like a record but the grooves are much closer together. When inserted in the player, the disc is placed upon a platter and spun. The disc is read by a needle much like on a record player but smaller. This transfers the audio and video from the disc and to your television. Pretty cool right? Each side holds 60 minutes of audio and video and must be flipped (like a record) if what you are watching lasts over that time period. RCA manufactured this media for consumers from 1981 to 1986.

They stopped developing players around 1984 if Im not mistaken. VHS basically killed this media just like it killed BETA even though the video quality was a little better than VHS. By this time Laserdisc had gotten a hold on videophiles around the country and provided better picture and sound. But still, the videodisc was a short lived cool piece of media if I might say so. And in case you are wondering, yes you can connect these old players to your Plasma or LED televisions. However, these players and discs are all analog so they don't look the best. Now if you have an old CRT or tube set laying around then these movies look fantastic!

The one thing that I have fallen in love with about the videodisc is the fantastic artwork that was used on many releases. The artwork was printed onto a label that was then attached to the “caddy”. The caddy is the plastic “sleeve” that the disc is kept in. The caddy also had a spine which the disc sat in inside the caddy until you slid the caddy into the machine and the machine grabs the spine and holds it when you remove the caddy from the machine. This way you cant touch the surface and get it all cruddy. And believe me you don’t want to! This was a big problem with the format. Dings, scratches or crushed grooves (from storing the discs flat and on top of each other) causes the image and sound to skip, drop out and present all sorts of viewing problems and sometimes great damage to the needle.  So what was I talking about? Oh yeah the artwork!

Much of the artwork used on the caddys was very much the same as their theatrical poster cousins. Unlike the VHS artwork which is compact, videodisc artwork is like LP artwork, big! You have a bigger canvas to present which lets you really take in the great artwork on these releases. RCA took it upon themselves to tie in the fact that the format was circular in shape and incorporated a “ring” around the artwork. This seems to be present in all the titles that RCA released with their logo on the front. Other companies jumped into the “new” format including Vestron Video, Thorn/EMI, MGM and CBS FOX. What CBS FOX did in this format was quite interesting. It seems that they licensed titles to RCA and then at some point jumped into the fray and released those same titles with alternate artwork and their own logo. I really don’t know what drove this but it makes life interesting for those who might want both the RCA and CBS FOX release of the same title. You see we collectors can get batty with this stuff and we want every release of one certain title, we’ve a screw loose somewhere when it comes to this stuff.
Absolutely love this artwork!

Speaking of titles, there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 1500 titles released on videodisc. At first scratch of the surface I felt that all you could get out of this were big name films such as Star Wars, The Ten Commandment and the James Bond films. I quickly learned that simmering under the main stream surface of movies were some slick and sleazy exploitation and horror titles! 

There is your standard fare of horror like Friday the 13th, Halloween II and Alien but the more I started pouring over the database of titles (thanks to I came across some odd ball stuff like Eroticize, Caligula and Emanuelle in Bangkok. The horror titles also include some classic gore such as Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Zombie (YES FULCI!!) which were released from Wizard Video through Vestron Video distribution. Oh and in case you are wondering, yes there are a few more Wizard titles on CED such as The Boogeyman, Slave of the Cannibal God and I Spit on Your Grave.
Flippin' Wizard Video!

Of course with any type of vintage media there are collectors of it and because of that certain titles are going to make your wallet hurt……A LOT. Texas Chainsaw just sold on ebay for $50. Zombie is sitting on there as of this writing for about the same price. Someone on ebay thinks their copy of the The Goonies is worth over $100. You can get plenty of titles for the $3 to $6 range but some of the horror and science fiction titles and cult titles are going to cost ya. Just remember to keep your peepers open because there is always that one seller who doesn’t care and just wants to dump his parents or grandparents old collection of movies to whoever will take them. Of course I doubt grannie sat back on a Saturday night watching Fulci’s slow moving living dead devour the living but hey grannie was always kinda cool right?

 Enjoy a few more pics of some of the great titles that are available in this long gone format. Also drop by the official Videodisc Website as well at for tons of info and a huge database of titles!

Collector Josh modified this SJT100 with a see through top and LED light!
The SJT100 in action!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Deadly Blessing (1981)

Wes Craven is one of those directors who has had a long and rather successful career. He is probably best known for “Last House on the Left” (1972), “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984) and “Scream” (1996). He’s thrown out quite a few clunkers over the years like “Shocker” (1989) but Craven always seemed to have a knack for knocking out a pretty good film when his career needed it. Deadly Blessing came out in 1981, a time when Craven’s career seemed to be at a bit of a standstill since the cult success of Last House and 1977’s “The Hills Have Eyes”. It seems to me this one came out about the right time it needed to in order to boost some life into Craven’s cinematic bloodstream readying the cinema world for  Nightmare which would debut three years later.

His performance landed him a spot in a Motley Crue video.
Deadly Blessing stars Maren Jensen (Battlestar Galactica) as Martha, the wife of Jim Schmidt (Douglas Barr) who is a former “Hittite” and living on a farm next to his father’s farmland of which he has been shunned for “leaving the faith”. Animosity between the two families is quickly established as one of the Hittite men sneak onto the surrounding property and harass Faith (Lisa Hartman)a neighbor, calling her an “incubus”. The harasser is none other than Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes), playing a not so bright Hittite man, William, who constantly is causing trouble with non Hittite neighbors.  Jim runs William off and makes sure Faith is okay. He also meets Faith’s mother, Louisa (Lois Nettleton), who lives next door. Louisa is a midwife and Jim inquires of her services because Martha is pregnant.  That night Jim hears some noises out in the barn and goes to investigate. An unseen attacker starts up the tractor and crushed Jim with it. Martha, awakened by the tractor goes out to investigate and finds Jim’s body in the barn.
The happy couple....later Jim dies...and winds up on The Fall Guy.

At Jim’s funeral, Jim’s father Isaiah (Ernest Borgnine) shows up with his family. They mourn from a safe distance with no interaction with Martha who is considered an “Incubus” now that Jim has died. Martha’s friends Lana (Sharon Stone) and Vicky (Susan Buckner) come to stay with her and help her grieve. Trouble soon starts up again when William and several of the younger Hittite boys sneak in to Martha’s barn on a dare. When Martha investigates the barn the boys are able to sneak back out but William’s foot gets caught in the chicken door and he loses his shoe. Later that night he comes back looking for it and is knifed by an unseen attacker. The next day Isaiah and William’s father come to the farm to ask Martha if she has seen him. Again she is accused of being an “Incubus” by Isaiah but his accusations are met with a door slammed in his face. The next day Lana goes into the barn and discovers William’s body hanging from a rope. The Sheriff is called in but Isaiah refuses to let the Sheriff take the body into town for an autopsy. When the Sheriff tries to tell Isaiah that an autopsy can tell them who committed the murder, Isaiah responds that he already knows who did. Martha has basically been condemned of an act she didn’t commit.
Does this look familiar?

The lovely ladies of Deadly Blessing.
While Vicky is out jogging one morning she meets John Schmidt (Jeff East), Isaiah’s son and Jim’s younger brother. When Isaiah discovers them talking he quickly dismisses her and tells John to shun all of the non believers. John is engaged, not happily, to Melissa (Colleen Riley) his cousin. John is eventually shunned  by his father after he confronts him over being disciplined for talking to Vicky. That night he hitch hikes downtown and meets Vicky. They drive back to the farm and both murdered by what might be a jealous Melissa but we never see exactly who commits the murders. As Lana and Martha wait for Vicky to return from her trip downtown some strange things occur at the house. Lana opens a milk carton that is filled with blood and Martha finds a scarecrow poised inside her room. She discovers that the flower on the scarecrow is the same that was buried with Jim. She goes out to the family burial site and finds that his grave has been dug up. This is when she discovers that it was Faith that was committing the murders. Martha and Lana fight off Faith and Louisa in a bloody finale that has Melissa the victor in an odd twist. After all the bodies are cleared away, Martha is left alone in the farm house and is visited by the ghost of Jim. He tells her that the Incubus is still here and the floor suddenly bursts forth and a demon, the Incubus, drags Martha to Hell.
Mermaid Isaiah delivers the gospel.

This film had me up until the last 30 seconds! Craven delivered a really well written yarn about good vs. evil and the Puritanical imperfections of religious zealots. He also delivered the goods on the exploitation level with a good dose of nudity and stuck with the good ole slasher rule that if you stray from the straight and narrow, you’re gonna get killed. The musical score also delivered some mood setting Omen like narratives courtesy of James Horner. There is also a nice dream sequence involving Lana, mysterious hands and a spider. Craven developed a very uneasy mood throughout the film, especially with the inner workings of the Hittite family. I think the film could have done with a little more focus on that aspect as it seemed to provide some rather chilling moments. My big complaint is that ending! Yowsa! I didn’t expect the shock ending and well it kinda leaves the film flat. Still though Deadly Blessing is a good early 80’s piece that really set up Craven for what would become one of his best films, A Nightmare on Elm Street.