Retrospective: “You Wanted the Best, You Got the Best…” 50 Years of KISS Comes to the End of the Road By Jesse Striewski

I have several “introduction” memories I often point to when it comes to the almighty KISS; usually it’s of a ’70s-era video clip of the band playing “Rock and Roll All Nite” live that seemed to be on a continuous loop on a TV commercial at the time selling one of those “Best of ’70s Rock” comp albums, or the MTV videos of the ’80s I was so often exposed to as a kid, such as “Heaven’s on Fire,” Crazy Crazy Nights,” or “God Gave Rock and Roll to You II” (the latter of which I thought was thoroughly cool at the time for its appearance in 1991’s Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey).

But I think the true, defining moment that made me a KISS fan for life was after acquiring the first album I ever owned by them; a secondhand find of 1979’s Dynasty record. While not regarded as one of the band’s “best” efforts by any means, I was still in “awe” of it all; the cover photo featuring all four band members – Gene Simmons, Paul Stanely, Ace Frehely, and Peter Criss – the ads still intact inside featuring everything from KISS posters to pinball machines, and of course, the giant poster that folded out with the entire band on it. There was no doubt about it; what I was holding in my hand was pure gold (and I’m happy to say I still own it to this day), and I was officially a member of the KISS Army from that moment on.

KISS began life in New York City after two members of the already established act Wicked Lester (vocalist/guitarist Paul Stanley and bassist/vocalist Gene Simmons) decided to venture out on their own and start something new and different that included each member of the group wearing makeup and donning their own individual personas (with Stanley as the Starchild, Simmons as the Demon, Frehley as the Spaceman, and Criss as the Catman, respectively). After recruiting a couple of more local musicians in the form of drummer Peter Criss and guitarist Ace Frehely, the table was set for this new foursome to go after total rock dominance. But their first three albums, KISS (1974), Hotter Than Hell (1974), and Dressed to Kill (1975) found the band getting off with a lukewarm start at best.

It wasn’t until the band dropped Alive! in late 1975 that KISS fever would finally hit the country (and eventually the rest of the world). Showcasing everything right about the band, Alive! captured the pure, raw energy of the their live set (which included everything from fire-breathing to smoking guitars), launching them into super stardom on the heels of a live version of the band’s party anthem “Rock and Roll All Nite” – which skyrocketed the song, and the album up the charts. A trio of hit records in the form of Destroyer (1976), Rock and Roll Over (1976), and Love Gun (1977) helped cement the band as hard rock titans. The piano-driven power ballad “Beth” (sung by Criss) appealed the band to a much broader audience and grew their popularity even further.

But alas, trouble in paradise began to rear its ugly head by 1978, with the TV movie Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park portraying the band more like characters from a Scooby-Doo cartoon than the superheros they were meant to be shown as, and individual solo albums released by each member of the band that year also helped strengthen the ongoing riffs. By 1979’s Dynasty, there was no doubt things were eroding with Criss, who had recently endured a car accident which lead to substance abuse problems), causing him to only perform on only one track off the album (“Dirty Livin'”) while session drummer Anton Fig took up the rest of the slack. Criss’ live performance also suffered, often playing offbeat, or just plain not playing the shows at all.

Vinyl copy of KISS’ 1979 Dynasty album (complete with original ads) from the author’s collection.

By 1980’s Unmasked album, Criss was officially out (with Fig once again covering drum duties), marking the end of the “original” KISS. Enter Eric Carr, who took over the role of new drummer as the “Fox,” and was a much more technically skilled musician than Criss’ rough-around-the-edges approach.

Unfortunately, 1981’s Music From “The Edler,” a concept album that has since gone down as the band’s biggest embarrassment, was not exactly the ideal starting point for the new member. But 1982’s Creatures of the Night found the band going back-to-basic hard rock, albeit at the expense of another member as Frehley had already begun to move on. Several sessions guitarists, including Frehley’s eventual replacement Vinnie Vincent, were used for much of the recording of the album, as Ace made his official departure from the band shortly afterwards.

But the popularity of the band in the early ’80s was still waning, and a cause for drastic change was inevitable. For 1983’s Lick It Up album, the band did the unthinkable for the first time; took off their makeup that had concealed their identities for the better part of a decade. This ushered in a new era, and new life, for the band. Despite this, inner turmoil with Vincent lead to his dismal from the group, and Mark St. John was brought on to play the lead on 1984’s Animalize, another strong output from the guys. But a medical condition with his hands that limited his playing abilities would cause this to be the only album St. John would perform on with KISS (sadly, he eventually passed away years later in 2007), and Bruce Kulick was brought in as the band’s fourth guitarist to fill that spot (despite the rotating door of guitarists, Kulick would stay with the band an entire twelve years).

1985’s Asylum, 1987’s Crazy Nights, and 1989’s Hot in the Shade all continued to build on the band’s newfound success in the mid to late ’80s. But by early 1991 tragedy struck, as drummer Eric Carr was diagnosed with cancer, ultimately taking his life by November 24, 1991. But the band soldiered on the only way they knew how, and with Eric Singer behind the drumkit, released 1992’s Revenge, one of their heaviest albums to date. Unfortunately they once again faced new challenges as the landscape in rock music changed yet again, and grunge took over. There was no doubt that KISS would once again need to reinvent themselves.

And that change came with a performance on MTV’s Unplugged, when Frehley and Criss made their first appearance alongside the entire band for the first time in well over a decade. Recorded on August 9, 1995, I remember watching in awe the night it originally aired shortly after, feeling as though I was a part of history (or, KISStory if you will). From then on, it was a flown-blown reunion of Simmons/Stanley/Frehley/Criss (complete with makeup), and one of the biggest rock tours to date when it kicked off the following year in 1996.

One final studio album featuring Simmons/Stanley/Kulick/Singer titled Carnival of Souls: The Final Sessions was released rather unceremoniously in 1997 before the “comeback” record Psycho Circus featuring the “original” lineup (I say that very loosely) for the first time since 1979’s Dynasty, finally dropped in 1998. But old habits die hard, and halfway through a “Farewell Tour” that ran from 2000-01, Peter Criss was again replaced by Eric Singer. It wasn’t long after before Frehley was ousted as well, replaced by Tommy Thayer, who had worked on-and-off with the band on various projects, including co-writing songs and managing Kiss conventions going as far back as 1989.

With the lineup of Simmons/Stanely/Singer/Thayer, the band would record what will now be their final studio albums; 2009’s Sonic Boom, and 2012’s Monster. It was while they were touring in support of the latter record that I would finally see the “hottest band in the world” up close and personal for the one and only time on July 28, 2012 in Tampa, FL (with Motley Crue as their support act). It was one of the most memorable concerts I’ve ever been to in my lifetime, as much to do with the band itself as it did the longtime crush I ended up not only seeing the show with, but spending the entire weekend (in very KISS-like fashion) with after many years of longing after (for the sake of this article, we’ll just call her “Marie”).

Paul Stanley performing with KISS at the former 1-800-ASK-GARY Amphitheatre in Tampa, FL on 7/28/12 courtesy of the author’s collection.

Although my interest in KISS has no doubt fluctuated from time to time over the years, nothing got me fully back into the band quite like that one single live show did. Until that is, I was able to pick the brain of someone who had actually been there, when I interviewed former guitarist Bruce Kulick for Rewind It Magazine back in 2019. It was without a doubt one of the most exciting interviews that I’ve done in over fifteen solid years worth of music/entertainment journalism.

And now tonight, the band will take its final bow, putting an end to an era that stretches back as far as 1973. They’ve meant a lot to so many over the years (present company obviously included), while many others could have cared less, or have simply written them off as a “joke” for decades. But for what it’s worth, I sure as hell would not be able to picture a world without KISS ever existing in it. Thank you KISS for the memories…you will surely be missed, but never forgotten.

Retrospective: 35 Years Since “Ernest Saves Christmas” By Jesse Striewski

I recently had a conversation with a friend who had noted the theatrical family Christmas film has all but disappeared from the mainstream. Sure, you can still get your fair share of the romantic Christmas movie each holiday season via the Hallmark channel. Or plenty of over-the-top seasonal slashers or stoner buddy comedies, but all of these are a dime a dozen. Where are all the Christmas Vacation’s, the Home Alone’s, and the Ernest Saves Christmases‘ at now?

When Jim Varney hit the big screen as Ernest P. Worrell again for the John Cherry-directed Ernest Saves Christmas (which originally dropped in theaters on November 11, 1988), I was there to catch it with all four of my older brothers and sisters in a New Jersey theater, for the one and only time I can recall the five of us ever going to all see a movie together (if memory serves correct, this may or may not have also been when us kids all stopped by the photography studio of a mall department store to have a portrait taken for our parents that Christmas).

But I digress, back to the movie itself. This time around, Ernest is an Orlando-based cab driver who happens to pick up the one and only Kris Kringle himself (played perfectly by the late Douglas Seale) at the airport, who’s in town searching for a replacement Santa for his inevitable retirement, setting his sights on a local children’s show host name Joe (Oliver Clark) who checks all the marks on the “good guy” list.

But it wouldn’t be an Ernest flick without some complications; Santa leaves his bag of toys in Ernest’s cab, and he and a troubled teenaged runaway who calls herself Harmony Star (Noelle Parker) must not only get it back to him, but also spring him from jail after being incarcerated/written off as just another crazy old man.

Granted, we’re not talking Academy Award worthy material here by any means; but as far as harmless, family-oriented holiday films go, Ernest Saves Christmas is easily a top ten pick on many a list. And having since moved to the central, FL area since originally seeing the film all those years ago, I’ve been lucky enough to have visited many of the locations where it was filmed, including the Orlando International Airport (see photo), making it all the more personal for me. Though it might not be a holiday classic in everyone’s eyes, it remains one in my book to this day.

The Orlando International Airport where Ernest (Jim Varney) picks up Santa Claus (Douglas Seale) at the beginning of Ernest Saves Christmas (from the author’s personal collection, taken on 10/9/23).

Retrospective: 45 Years Since The Night He Came Home on ‘Halloween’ By Jesse Striewski

In the late ’70s, the face of horror and overall cultural landscape of American films as we knew it was changed forever when co-screenwriters John Carpenter and Debra Hill unleashed Michael Myers upon an unsuspecting world via the original Halloween, effectively launching a seemingly never-ending franchise and media machine.

Directed by Carpenter and released on October 25, 1978, the film centers around the aforementioned Myers (played primarily by Nick Castle in this entry), who stalked and killed his older sister Judith (Sandy Johnson) on Halloween night 1963. Fast forward to 1978, when after serving fifteen years in a mental facility under the care of Dr. Samuel Loomis (Donald Pleasence), he suddenly makes a break for it, just in time to return to his home town of Haddonfield, IL on (you guessed it), Halloween.

It’s there he encounters three unsuspecting babysitters whose fates will all be drastically changed; Annie (Nancy Loomis), Linda (P.J. Soles), and of course, the lone survivor (and epitome of heroines), Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). Meanwhile Loomis enlists the help of local sheriff Leigh Brackett (Charles Cyphers) to track down and prevent Myers from seeing through his devious acts.

Rewind It’s (l to r) Jacob, Jesse, and Brooke Striewski with actress P.J. Soles – who portrayed Lynda Van Der Klok in the original Halloweenat Fantasm in Orlando, FL on 10-3-21.

With a budget of larger than $325,000, the film quickly became one of the most successful independent films of all time after earning over $70 million at the box office, and is considered groundbreaking horror, and the go-to example to the slasher genre. Every last detail from its isolated, dark suburban setting, to the simplistic yet eerie music score by Carpenter, struck a lifelong nerve with audiences and non-horror fans alike.

Of course one can no longer talk about Halloween without mentioning its various sequels, remakes, and overall retreads. While 1981’s Halloween II directly followed the first film (and admirably at that), few that came after were able to re-capture that same “feel” as the original. 1982’s stand alone Halloween III: Season of the Witch (which I’ve mentioned before in previous articles was my introduction to the Halloween films, and still my personal favorite of them all to this day) saw filmmakers attempting to try something different, yet audiences were not ready for such drastic changes at the time.

After 1988’s Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, the series began declining considerably, with many of the entries released since being nearly unwatchable (most notably the latest “requels” that began in 2018 and concluded with last year’s notorious Halloween Ends). Yet whatever rehashes that have come and gone since, nothing can ever take away from the original “night he came home.”

Retrospective: 35 Years of ‘Killer Klowns From Outer Space’ By Jesse Striewski

It was simply one of those movies you just had to see to believe; over-sized aliens appearing as grotesque clowns invade anywhere town America and cause havoc with popcorn guns and cotton candy cocoons over the course of one chaotic night (which in theaters originally landed on May 27, 1988).

Spawned from the minds of Charles, Edward, and Stephen Chiodo (collectively known as the Chiodo Brothers) in their directorial debut, the trio applied their skills they had previously honed on such other creature-effects driven films as the Critters franchise. The three were at their creative prime, unleashing one of the wackiest movies to ever hit the screens up until that time.

In the film, young lovers Mike (Grant Cramer) and Debbie (Suzanne Snyder) are interrupted at the local lovers’ lane hot spot when they see what they believe to be a comet crashing to the earth. But upon further investigation, they discover a glowing circus tent where the comet by all accounts should have landed, and it’s then that the mayhem truly ensues.

From there the film becomes a classic case of a group of small town kids trying to save the world from evil, but this time that evil just happens to be murderous clowns. Cramer – joined by two dimwitted brothers in an ice cream truck (played by Michael S. Sigel and Peter Licassi) does an admirable enough job as the leader of the group, protecting Snyder (the de facto ’80s damsel in distress, also known for 1986’s Night of the Creeps and 1988’s Return of the Living Dead Part II) from the threat of both the aliens and one very hard-assed local sheriff (played brilliantly by John Vernon of Animal House fame).

The film is also notable for being one of the final appearances by late old-school actor Royal Dano (who had carved out a niche for playing the “old man” role in many a late ’80s horror film, including 1987’s House II: The Second Story and 1988’s Ghoulies II), appropriately appearing as simply “The Farmer.” Pop punks The Dickies also provided the theme song to Killer Klowns…, complete with an accompanying music video. Years after the film’s release, I was able to actually catch the band perform and even meet their guitarist Stan Lee in 2003 (but alas, I can’t recall them performing the track that night).

The author with Dickies guitarist Stan Lee (left) and The Damned drummer Pinch (right) after Fiend Fest in Tampa, FL on 8/12/03.

Today, the film remains a staple in pop culture, with endless midnight screenings and/or cable showings (the film will once again be featured on the upcoming schedule of Svengoolie soon), and countless masks, decorations, and various other appearances across multiple spectrums (including full displays currently seen on a national level at most Spirit Halloween stores. Not bad for a little comedy-horror flick that brought in $43 million in its original theatrical run (that’s a LOT of cotton and popcorn!).

Author Jesse Striewski (right) with wife Brooke and Killer Klown “Slim” on display at a Spirit Halloween store on 8/26/23.

Retrospective: 25 Years of ‘That ’70s Show’ By Jesse Striewski

I can remember exactly what was happening in my life at the time; I was seventeen years old, had just moved to a new town that very same month, and about the only “friend” I had to my name was my loyal dog Sam. So it was a no brainer for me to invite the gang – who were all close in age to me – of Point Place, WI into my life when That ’70s Show premiered on Fox on August 23, 1998.

The sitcom had a simple enough concept; a group of high school kids navigate their lives during the drug-filled ’70s that many still yearn for. The young cast was beyond easy to relate to; Eric (Topher Grace) was the awkward leader, next door neighbor Donna (Laura Prepon – who I had a raging crush on from the get-go) was the love interest, while Hyde (Danny Masterson), Kelso (Ashton Kutcher), Jackie (Mila Kunis), and Fez (Willmer Valderrama) rounded out their group of misfit friends.

The ensemble cast also included Kurtwood Smith as Red and Debra Jo Rupp as Kittie, Eric’s very-much involved parents. Neighbors Bob (Don Stark) and Midge (Tanya Roberts) portrayed Donna’s airhead parents, while Lisa Robin Kelly sometimes played Eric’s promiscuous sister. Even Tommy Chong eventually got in on the action as a love-able stoner type (big stretch) for several seasons.

But alas, all good things must come to an end; by the end of the seventh season, Grace had left the show, initially replaced by by Bret Harrison before Josh Meyers ultimately filled the gap. Things finally concluded on May 18, 2006, and I watched the “That ’70s Finale” episode from home as a new father (at the time of this writing, my son Jacob is now the same age I was when it originally premiered, effectively aligning him to Eric, while I’ve since gained more in common with Red).

I have also been able to personally catch many of the bands featured/mentioned on the show live throughout the years. From Aerosmith to Kiss, to Blue Oyster Cult, to the band that actually provided the show’s theme song “In the Street” throughout the majority of its existence, Cheap Trick (the very same year the show went off the air in 2006 nonetheless – see flyer below), which the band of course performed live that night.

Unfortunately, time has also done a number on several cast members since the show; Roberts and Kelly both succumbed to early deaths, while Masterson is now facing up to thirty years in prison after being convicted on multiple sexual assault/rape charges, putting a dark cloud above the head of his character Hyde to say the least.

Still, the show’s popularity eventually spawned two spin-offs; the brief but underrated That ’80s Show in 2002, and more recently, the Netflix vehicle That ’90s Show that premiered earlier this year. But no matter what has come or gone since then, nothing can take away the lightning once caught in a bottle by a group of six deviant, albeit well-natured, kids back in 1998.

Flyer from an Orlando, FL Cheap Trick concert post-show party on 11/12/06 from the author’s personal collection.

Retrospective: 20 Years since ‘Freddy vs. Jason’ By Jesse Striewski

After years of endless rumors and speculation, the concept of pitting horror titans Freddy Kruger (Robert Englund) and Jason Voorhees (this time portrayed by Ken Kirzinger) finally came together for fans on the big screen in 2003. For many a fan of the genre, the waiting finally paid off.

Released on August 15, 2003, fans lined up (yours truly with my girlfriend at the time included of course) to see the latest additions to the A Nightmare on Elm Street (eighth entry) and Friday the 13th (eleventh) franchises, which the crossover idea was initially teased at the end of Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday ten years prior in 1993.

The movie starts off promising enough; first audiences are given a brief rundown of the plot (complete with clips from previous entries) before a perky, young skinny dipper (Odessa Munroe) bares all before becoming the film’s first victim via Jason. From then on, it’s one long continuous bloodbath that accumulates in an epic Kong vs. Godzilla type-war.

Monica Keena, Jason Ritter, Kelly Rowland, and Katharine Isabelle help round out the cast, while metal acts like Slipknot, Hatebreed, Ill Nino, and Killswitch Engage add to the film’s youthful appeal via the its soundtrack album (the track “Beginning of the End” from the slightly obscure Spinshank is one of the most underrated tracks found on it).

Looking at it now, the film might be a tad on the cliche and even corny side, but at the time, it was the perfect movie for a 22-year-old to get a buzz on and go see on the big screen with a group of friends. It almost feels as though it was the last of its kind now, as each franchise has since gone on to be rebooted with all new cast and crews (to this day Freddy vs. Jason marks the last time Englund has portrayed Kruger on screen). As the old saying goes, “They sure don’t make ’em like they used to.” I’m glad I was around for at least some of when they actually did, though.

Original Freddy vs. Jason ticket stub from opening night from the author’s personal collection.

Retrospective: 30 Years Since we were first Welcomed to ‘Jurassic Park’ By Jesse Striewski

I remember the summer of 1993 well; I was twelve years old, having just moved from central to south Florida, and only about a year out from a major car accident. In fact, I was actually still recovering from my most recent surgery when I went to go see Jurassic Park, the then-new summer blockbuster from legendary filmmaker Steven Spielberg.

Originally released on June 11, 1993 and based off the book by Michael Crichton, it was the new action-adventure film that everyone was talking about at the time, and you simply had to see. Which is exactly what they did in droves, topping the then-highest grossing film of all time, 1982’s E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial (also directed by Spielberg), a record it would only briefly hold onto until James Cameron’s Titantic four years later in 1997.

The plot is set around a wealthy tycoon (Richard Attenborough) who re-creates the unthinkable – actual dinosaurs – on a far off tropical island. But in order to get approval from his investors to open a theme park with the animals at the forefront, he seeks the “okay” from a group of scientists – Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neil), Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), and Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum). Of course in the midst of their tour of the would-be new park, all hell breaks loose as things quickly go from hopeful to horrifying, turning the seemingly cute family movie into a Jaws-sized carnage fest.

Being still just twelve-years-old at the time the film was released, I was still young enough for some of the film’s massive marketing techniques to apply to me, collecting such items from trading cards to action figures, many of which I still possess to this day or have passed down to either my son or nephew (who is quite possibly the biggest Jurassic Park fan I’ve ever met).

The franchise itself has far from slowed down, producing five sequels (which somehow I’ve managed to still catch each and every one on the big screen, the later few with my own family now), and the original film eventually surpassing the one billion dollar mark at the box office when it was re-released for its twentieth anniversary in 2013. Judging by this, something tells me we’ll still be getting more chances to visit Jurassic Park.

The author (left) and son/photographer Jacob Striewski at a Jurassic Park-themed set at Spookala on 6/10/23 (photo by Brooke Striewski).

Retrospective: 40 Years of ‘Return of the Jedi’ By Jesse Striewski

Like any kid in the ’80s, I grew up on the Star Wars franchise. Back then we didn’t even know how lucky we were at the time, able to actually enjoy films like these for their artistic integrity and not just based on how “cannon” or “inclusive” they were or could be.

Originally released on May 25, 1983, Return of the Jedi was the third and final entry in the initial Star Wars trilogy (long before all of the various prequels, sequels, and spin-offs), and while it often gets a bad rap for being too “kiddie” for the use of fury little Ewoks (there’s no denying how popular the characters would become, spawning an animated series and two made-for-television films of their own), Jedi was equally as epic a film as its predecessors.

There’s no doubt a lot to unpack this time around. Right off the bat, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) travels to Tatooine to rescue the enslaved Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and their old confidante Han Solo (Harrison Ford) from the clutches of the monstrous Jabba the Hutt after the grim confinement forced upon him at the end of The Empire Strikes Back. Armed with the help of trusty droids C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker), as well as Lando (Billy Dee Williams), Skywalker takes down Hutt and his henchmen seemingly with ease.

From then on it’s one heroic adventure after another, as the reunited team fight to take down the empire and the second Death Star under construction. Along the way we learn that Luke and Leia are actually brother and sister, and Darth Vadar (voiced again by James Earl Jones) actually does have some good still left in him. What results is one of the most exciting and satisfying conclusions to play out on film, and could’ve easily ended the franchise right there on a high note.

For better or worse, Jedi helped up the ante merchandising-wise, marketing to every kid within eyesight in true ’80s fashion. Then of course there was that golden bikini donned by Fisher in the first half of the film that had every young man such as myself looking at Princess Leia in a whole new way.

Aside from invoking some of my first prepubescent fantasies, I have other fond memories from my childhood of this particular entry of the series, namely the time my old dog Sam (R.I.P.) started barking at the TV when the ghostly spirit of Obi-Wan (Alec Guinness) first appeared on screen, resulting in instant hilarity. If for no other reason, the film will always remain a classic in my book.

Some items from the author’s personal collection, including a first edition copy of Return of the Jedi on VHS, and a collector’s magazine originally published in 1983.

Retrospective: ‘Critters 2’ – 35 Years since the Greatest Easter-themed Horror-Comedy Film Ever By: Jesse Striewski

Blood-soaked Easter bunnies. Jokes at the expense of pop culture icons like Van Halen and Freddy Kruger. And the hottest Playboy Playmate bounty hunter hybrid the silver screen has ever seen. This was Critters 2: The Main Course – the directorial debut of future horror maven Mick Garris that was originally released on April 29, 1988 – and what a time it was to be alive!

I remember my first viewing of it all too well; it was at a friend’s basement in New Jersey (as so many other movies were witnessed for the first time for me), not long after the film had just been released to video and cable (something my family still had yet spring for). I had already seen the first film – which followed a family (lead by Dee Wallace and Scott Grimes) on a farm being attacked by mirco menaces from outer space. But this one just seemed so much different, and it had, well…breasts (my first time ever seeing them at that, at least on film – so to say it left an impression would be an understatement).

The plot is simple enough; shortly after the events of the first film (which you can look back on as well with my 2021 retrospective, also for Rewind It), Brad (Grimes) returns to his home town of Grover’s Bend, where he quickly realizes he’s not welcome back. Soon enough, it’s discovered the critters (or “Krits,” as they’re often referred to in the series) left behind a batch of eggs their first time around after some of the community mistakenly paints them as Easter eggs (hence the holiday angle with this entry).

Also back to save the day again are the bounty hunters; Don Keith Opper as the bumbling Charlie, Terrance Mann as rock star Ug, and, this time around, the late Roxanne Kernohan as the shape-shifting Lee, who literally “bursts” onto the screen when introduced in said topless scene. Several popular TV stars of the time, such as Sam Anderson from Growing Pains and Perfect Strangers, and Tom Hodges from The Hogan Family are also included, as well as the legendary Lin Shaye of Insidious and A Nightmare on Elm Street fame. Hell, even stereotypical ’80s nerd Eddie Deezen is briefly thrown in there for good measure.

Sure, the original might always be the one most point to, but from the Hungry Heifer to it’s climatic final battle, there’s no shortage of fun to be had in the second Critters entry (two more direct-to-video sequels and eventual reboots would also follow, but the magic was long gone by then). For what it’s worth, Critters 2 defines the old phrase, “They don’t make them like they used to.” They sure don’t.

Retrospective: 40 Years Since America first hired ‘The A-Team’ By: Jesse Striewski

THE A-TEAM — Pictured: (clockwise from left) Dirk Benedict as Lt. Templeton “Faceman” Peck #2, Dwight Schultz as Capt. H.M. “Howling Mad” Murdock, Mr. T as Sgt. Bosco “B.A.” Baracus, George Peppard as Col. John “Hannibal” Smith — Photo by: Gary Null/NBCU Photo Bank

I’m far from what one would call much of a “big car guy,” but as a kid in the ’80s, it was all about the vehicles portrayed in pop culture on the small screen. On Saturday mornings, you had shows like Transformers and M.A.S.K. that each had a heavy focus on their automobiles, while the evenings were dominated by the likes of The Dukes of Hazzard, Knight Rider, and of course, The A-Team.

Originally premiering on NBC on January 23, 1983 and created by Stephen J. Cannell and Frank Lupo, The A-Team followed a “crack commando unit” of highly trained “special forces” Vietnam-era soldiers wanted by the military for crimes they did not commit. After they relocate to the urban jungles of Los Angeles, CA, they become “soldiers of fortune,” available for hire to help those ho need them.

The show starred George Peppard as the leader of the group, Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith (whose line “I love it when a plan comes together” quickly became a catch phrase), Dirk Benedict as ladies/con man Lieutenant Templeton “Faceman” Peck, and Dwight Schultz as the unhinged (yet lovable) comic relief, Captain “Howling Mad” Murdock. And of course, the show was best known for spawning the career of Mr. T as the lean, mean Sergeant “B.A.” Baracus (B.A. standing for “Bad Attitude,” naturally). Mr. T had of course already made waves the previous year as Rocky Balboa’s latest foe Clubber Lang in Rocky III, but the series helped launch him into superstardom.

Although it was often criticized for its cartoon-ish violence and lack of bloodshed despite the use of numerous explosives and/or heavy artillery/machine guns, The A-Team was an instant commercial and pop culture success, with everything from action figures, to Hot Wheels toys finding their way into the hands of the kids of the era such as myself (to this day I still have an A-Team Hot Wheel, and in my early twenties I even owned a ’94 GMC Vandura personally, a later model of the same van actually used in the show). If basing the series strictly on merchandise alone, The A-Team was no doubt a goldmine.

Band of brothers; the author (far right w/ cat) in 2004 with his Random Tragedies bandmates at the time (from left, Caleb Page and Jason “Kurt” Potter), doing their best A-Team on the back of a 1994 GMC Vandura, similar to the one used in the show.

During its run it also attempted to incorporate two separate female reporters as leads in the first two seasons – first Melinda Culea, followed by Marla Heasley – though neither would last very long. By its fifth and final season, a fifth member of the team named Frankie Santana (Eddie Velez) was also added to the group, as well as Robert Vaughn portraying the new “boss.” Several notable pop culture figures from the ’80s also guested over the course of its five-year run, including Hulk Hogan, Rick James, Boy George, and even Wheel of Fortune hosts Pat Sajak and Vanna White. Former Rewind It Magazine interviewee Monte Markham also once appeared on a 1984 episode of the show.

But of course, all good things must come to an end. I was just six years old when the show aired its last episode on March 8, 1987, yet I can still vaguely remember its importance at the time, if for no other reason thanks to my dad and older brother. Of course Hollywood would eventually try to give it the movie treatment in 2010, but as in most cases, it lacked the same magic as the original. Yet the heart of the show still lives on with each and every rerun and “I pity the fool” Mr. T reference uttered to this day.

A couple of A-Team collectibles from the author’s personal collection.