Retrospective: 40 Years Since ‘E.T.’ Phoned Home By Jesse Striewski

Long before Stranger Things, are imaginations were captured by a man named Steven Spielberg, and a loveable little guy known simply as “E.T.” The film became an immediate hit, and a staple for every ’80s kid such as myself (what kid back then didn’t want to be able to fly on their bikes with their friends, and after dark at that?!).

Originally released on June 11, 1982 (after premiering at Cannes on May 26), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial follows the story of Elliot (Henry Thomas), a suburban ten-year-old who discovers his newfound friend from another world in his backyard. Along with his older brother Michael (Robert MacNaughton) and kid sister Gertie (Drew Barrymore), Elliot keeps E.T. a secret from his single mom (Dee Wallace) and government agents hot on the trail, all while bonding with the little fella and incorporating some of his traits.

The film sways from Sci Fi/adventure to drama (with just a hint of horror in the beginning), and broke the record of highest grossing film of all time, knocking Star Wars out of the coveted spot and remaining there until another Steven Spielberg film, Jurassic Park, took the title of number one eleven years later in 1993.

It also spawned countless toys and merchandise, including the ill-fated Atari game, notoriously remembered as one of the worst video games of all time after being rushed for a Christmas 1982 release (to this day it still remains a topic of lore to many). There’s even been theme park rides, such as the original E.T. Adventure ride still operating at Universal Studios Florida to this day.

Copies of the ill-fated Atari 2600 game and an original VHS of E.T. – the Extra-Terrestrial from the author’s collection.

In a 2020 interview with the film’s star Dee Wallace, I had to ask her what made the film so endearing after all of these years. Her response was simple enough; “I still cry, I still laugh. As we all know it’s just a magical movie, and has become a part of our consciousness. I never get tired of it, or talking about it – and I can’t say that about all of my movies (laughs). It opens hearts and reminds people of what’s really important, and we just need a lot more of that these days.”

I couldn’t have possibly said it better myself if I tried. All these years later, instead of terrifying, this little green man from another planet still manages to pull at our heart strings. Spielberg has entertained us all and caught lightning in a bottle both before and since its release, yet there’s still just something special about E.T.

Film Review: Top Gun: Maverick (Paramount Pictures)

By: Jesse Striewski

Tom Cruise returns as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell and director Joseph Kosinski takes over for the late Tony Scott (whom the film is dedicated to) to deliver the long-awaited sequel to the 1986 blockbuster Top Gun. And unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re probably already well aware of what an all out thrill ride Top Gun: Maverick truly is.

Kenny Loggins’ hit from the original film “Danger Zone” opens the film the only appropriate way possible, as we quickly find our protagonist still working as a test pilot in the U.S. Navy, purposely avoiding promotions all these years in order to continue flying. But he’s quickly whisked away back to Top Gun to train a group of elite pilots for a specialized mission that ultimately only he can pull off.

Initially, my only complaint was the actual establishments of said new pilots – who come off just a tad on the obnoxious side at first – and the quick pace we’re introduced to new characters as though we already know them (the lovely Jennifer Connelly plays a former love interest perfectly, though). But once the awkwardness passes, it’s pure escapist entertainment of the highest level, filled with plenty of action, and unexpected drama (no spoilers, but the scenes with Val Kilmer, who briefly reprises his role as Tom “Iceman” Kazansky from the first film, really got me).

In this entry, Maverick not only faces adversaries in the sky, but several on his own team, having to prove himself not only to an admiral (Jon Hamm) who doesn’t want him there, but the son (Miles Teller) of his former late RIO and best friend from the first film, Goose (Anthony Edwards).

Forget whatever negativity the anti-establishment, blue-haired “critics” out there might want to spew about this being a “recruitment” video (they’re just miserable with their lives anyway); this is a damn good film that brings back the days of when movies were actual “events,” and I felt like that kid in the ’80s again, popping his copy of the first film in the VCR to re-watch it again for the umpteenth time). Cruise is at the top of his game in Top Gun: Maverick, and you’re missing out if you don’t take flight along with him.

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Retrospective: Poltergeist: 40 Years of Suburban Terror By Shawn McKee

Few things can tap into our inner fears like ghost stories. Gothic ambience, supernatural mystery, and fears of the unknown often drive the fascination with the haunted house sub-genre popularized in books and films throughout the ages.

Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House remains a literary landmark of psychological horror finely adapted into The Haunting in 1963 and later a Netflix series directed by Mike Flanagan. The classic film House on Haunted Hill (1959) starred Vincent Price as an eccentric millionaire, offering unsuspecting guests $10,000 to spend the night in his haunted mansion.

George C. Scott left his mark on the genre, starring in the 1980 thriller The Changeling. Stanley Kubrick adapted Stephen King’s The Shining into one of the most influential horror films of all time with his epic take on the modern ghost story. We’ve witnessed the mediocre fare of The Amityville Horror series, the found footage phenomenon of Paranormal Activity, Japanese imports like The Grudge, and a slew of others from the likes of Blumhouse and A24.

There are too many to mention, but one thing is clear, horror sometimes works best when it’s consigned to the familiar surroundings of home. No other film in recent memory captures this localized premise quite like the 1982 horror hit Poltergeist, where one family faces malevolent spirits from beyond.

The film’s opening credits impose over a closeup of an American flag on television with The Star-Spangled Banner playing, followed by white noise. The Freeling family sleeps soundly as their youngest daughter Carol Anne awakens and approaches a flashing television. She then engages in conversation with an unknown entity. After placing her hands on the screen, an apparition bursts from the TV and flows into the wall above her parents’ bed. The room rumbles, shaking the parents awake. They find their daughter unfazed and welcoming their new visitors with the now iconic line, “They’re herrre.”

Five-year-old Heather O’Rourke made movie history with that line. She was perfect for the role as was the entire cast. Since its release, Poltergeist has become a mainstay of our culture. It remains a timeless work, boasting impressive special effects courtesy of Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) and Robert Edlund of Star Wars and Ghostbusters fame.

The movie embodies a uniquely idyllic time and place, centering on an average American family facing an unreal situation. Their plight intensifies after Carol Anne is sucked into parallel dimension, with little hope of getting her back. This frightful spectacle of suspense, drama, and horror was achieved through the combined forces of movie master Steven Spielberg and horror legend Tobe Hooper. Rarely would we ever experience such a film from two artistically opposite spectrums. Their differing sensibilities created a perfect balance of heart and horror amid a movie embroiled in controversy over creative control and the tragic fates that would later follow some key actors involved.

Poltergeist concerns the Freeling family who reside in a quaint California subdivision complex. The father, Steve (Craig T. Nelson), is a realtor who sells homes among the very complex he lives in. His wife Diane (JoBeth Williams) spends her time raising Carol Anne, eight-year-old Robbie (Oliver Robins), and teenage Dana (Dominique Dunne). Their seemingly normal existence is upended upon the presence of an unexplained paranormal phenomenon. TV channels change on their own, glasses spontaneously break, chairs move, and the family dog seems fixated on the wall above the parents’ bed. These strange and subtle occurrences are only the beginning of an increasingly sinister threat determined to wreak havoc on all who occupy the home.

After Carole Anne’s inexplicable disappearance, her parents enlist the aid of an investigative parapsychologist team to provide answers and help recover their daughter. The sympathetic team soon determine that the house is besieged by the presence of a “poltergeist” that must be studied and recorded with video cameras and audio equipment. The stakes are raised, and the true nature of what they’re up against becomes more apparent (and frightening) as the story proceeds. Rescuing Carol Anne is the catalyst for a desperate family pushed to the brink. After bouts of sleepless nights, the father discovers matter-of-factly from his boss (James Karen) that their entire housing development was built on a former cemetery, where they moved the headstones but not the bodies underground.

Poltergeist is the kind of movie dominated by everlasting set pieces. I don’t find the movie “scary” in a traditional sense today, but there were moments as a child, where I was too frightened to watch. The giant oak tree crashing its branches through the children’s second-story bedroom window, the clown doll coming alive, skeletons spilling out of coffins, and the house imploding into another dimension are just a few memorable moments of macabre. And who can forget the hapless researcher tearing his face off in a bout of hallucinatory fervor?

It’s a gripping story, where everything on screen works, including Zelda Rubinstein’s turn as the predominant medium who attempts to “clean” the house once all hell breaks loose. All is not what it seems, and just when we think it’s over, the movie pulls us back in, accompanied by Jerry Goldsmith’s heart-pounding score.

As viewers, we’re invested in the family’s plight because they’re down to earth and relatable. Such traits have always been Spielberg’s strong suit with characters. The movie feels very much like a Spielberg film, which fueled endless debate over who actually directed it. As writer and producer, Spielberg was contractually obligated to E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) at the time and unable to direct. He hired Tobe Hooper based on the strength of Hooper’s landmark horror classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and his first studio film, The Fun House (1981). Hooper, in turn, wanted to emphasize the horror aspects over what was originally a science fiction story, with wondrous results.

During production, A Los Angeles Times article insinuated that Spielberg was the real director of the film based off comments Spielberg made about “taking charge.” This, coupled with marketing Poltergeist as a Spielberg film, further casted doubt on Hooper’s role, but the record has since been made repeatedly clear…mostly. Anyone who knows and admires Hooper’s work (as I do) can clearly see his directorial touches. It is undoubtedly a Tobe Hooper film. Despite it being his most commercially successful work, he never quite recovered from the implications following the film’s release, which has since become Hollywood lore.

Further infamy arose around the murder of actress Dominique Dunne by her ex-boyfriend shortly after the film’s release. Heather O’Rourke then succumbed to a rare form of intestinal septic shock after filming Poltergeist III in 1988. There has been countless speculation of a Poltergeist “curse” due to the use of real skeletons in the film’s climax and its overall exploration of the supernatural. Such notions are common but no less disrespectful to the talents lost and their families.

An entire piece could be written about the television symbolism portrayed throughout Poltergeist, for starters. The film’s endearing relevancy comes down to its realism, intelligence, and innovative take on the supernatural. Such rarity is further distinguished by its status as one of the most notable PG-rated horror films out there. Spielberg and Hooper successfully appealed the MPAA’s initial R rating. It’s a movie that left a huge impact on my childhood that can still be enjoyed and embraced by fans and newcomers alike. Just leave the light on after watching. You can never be too sure.

Simple Plan at Epcot’s Garden Rocks on 6/4/22 By Jesse Striewski/Photos By Brooke Striewski

I can’t say that pop punkers Simple Plan have ever been at the top of my list of bands to see – and I’m pretty sure I actually have seen them at at least one of the many Warped Tours I made my way to in the early 2000’s (though can’t say I even remember). But, my teenaged kid wanted to check them out at Epcot’s Garden Rocks series, and knowing this is the band that does the theme song for What’s New Scooby-Doo?, I said “why not?”

It was quickly apparent after arriving in time for their second set this past Saturday, June 4, that this was obviously not the same crowd that were here with us for other recent shows like Starship Featuring Mickey Thomas. But still, there was no denying the amount of energy on stage, and it was no doubt infectious on tracks like “Nothing’s Ever Going to Bring Me Down,” “Jump,” “When I’m Gone,” “The Antidote,” “Vacation,” “I Can’t Keep My Hands Off You,” and “Crazy.” A brief guitar solo segued into the band’s biggest hit, “I’m Just a Kid” (which appeared in just about every clunker stoner flick back in the day like Grind and The New Guy).

When the band re-emerged for their third and final set of the night, they surprisingly played a completely different set (albeit still no theme from Scooby-Doo thrown in, unfortunately), and opened with the 2002 pop punk staple “Addicted” (one of the few songs in the band’s catalog I actually know well, thanks to it forever being tied to the memory of a break up at the time).

From then on the band continued to bring it with both old songs and new in the form of “The Worst Day Ever,” “Astronaut,” and “Iconic” before going though a trio of covers that the crowd went crazy over, including Smash Mouth’s “All Star,” Avril Lavigne’s “Sk8er Boi,” and The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside.” The band then wrapped things up with “Where I Belong” and finally, “Perfect,” which saw cell phones lighting up the night sky.

Although I probably won’t be rushing to see Simple Plan again the next time they come around, I can’t say I regret catching them this past weekend. And if their brand of catchy pop tunes is up your alley, by all means, check them out if you get the chance.

Series Review: Stranger Things Season 4 – Vol. 1 (Netflix)

By: Jesse Striewski

It speaks volumes for a show to still be as captivating as Stranger Things is four seasons in, and yet somehow this series only gets better with time. Within seconds of it starting, you’re instantly sucked into its world, and forgot about everything and anything else going on around you, the ingredients of not only great, meticulous writing, but flimmakers who actually care about their art.

This latest season contains so many subplots, I’m not sure if I can even sum it all up accurately without giving too much away. Long story short, a new evil in the form of a demon named Vecna is threatening Hawkins, and after the popular school cheerleader (Grace Van Dien) is killed in the house of local metal head and leader of the local D&D club, Eddie (Joseph Quinn), the kids get wrapped up in solving the mystery while trying to stay alive.

Meanwhile, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), who has since lost her powers and struggling to adjust to living a “normal” life, is brought back to a facility by Dr. Owens (Paul Reiser) to help regain her strength back. And while all this is going on, Hopper (David Harbour), who survived the events of season three but has since been imprisoned in a Russian hell, is plotting his escape while Joyce (Winona Ryder) and Murrary (Brett Gelman) get tangled up in a kidnapping while attempting to free him.

While the show has always paid homage to ’80s films like E.T. – the Extra-Terrestrial (among many others), this particular season has a strong influence from the A Nightmare on Elm Street series, with dream-like sequences similar to those from said franchise (there’s even a brief appearance from Freddy Kruger himself, Robert Englund). And the tributes to such metal bands as Dio and W.A.S.P. via the Eddie character are a nice touch as well.

Since the show first started in 2016, it’s caused an unprecedented pop culture phenomenon, and rightfully so, considering the care and attention to detail put into Stranger Things is immaculate. There’s an artistic integrity often not found elsewhere these days, and I find myself wanting to go back to revisit the earlier seasons each time a new one emerges. There’s a simple reason why we respond so strongly to ‘throwbacks’ like Stranger Things; maybe it just reminds us of a time when the world – and life itself – was just a simpler place.

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Paul McCartney at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, FL on 5/28/22 By Jesse Striewski/Photos By Brooke Striewski

I’ve witnessed greatness on stage many times in the nearly three decades since I first started going to concerts. I’ve seen many early rock and heavy metal bands from “back in the day,” including pioneering acts such as Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Blue Oyster Cult, Aerosmith, and even The Rolling Stones. But never before have I managed to catch one of The Beatles, the ones who started it all, and undeniably my earliest memory of rock music going back to when my parents had first introduced me to them so many years ago.

But that finally happened this past Saturday, May 28, when legendary former Beatle himself Paul McCartney took the stage at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, FL. I was there to witness this much anticipated event with my wife, son, mother-in-law, and extended family and friends of the Rewind It Magazine family. I don’t think a single one of us could issue a word of complaint if we tried.

Opening with the classic Beatles track “Can’t Buy Me Love,” I was instantly transported back to childhood memories of seeing old black and white footage of the fab four bobbing around on stage together. For the next two and a half hours, I found myself so transfixed on that stage, possibly the most lost in music I’ve ever been in my lifetime prior.

The next few songs, “Junior’s Farm,” “Letting Go,” “Got to Get You Into My Life,” and “Come On To Me” all served as decent enough warm ups that were paving the way to better things, the blues-ly Wings staple “Let Me Roll It” and the Sgt. Peppers-era “Getting Better” being a couple of said things. “Let ‘Em In” followed before McCartney dedicated “My Valentine” to his wife (who was in attendance for the show) and oddly enough featured actors Johnny Depp and Natalie Portman “signing” the lyrics on the video screens.

“Nineteen Hundred Eighty-Five” was up next with some retro lazer light work, while more classics like “Maybe I’m Amazed” and The Beatles’ “I’ve Just Seen a Face” followed. Paul then dug deep with a track from his pre-Beatles Quarrymen days, “In Spite of All the Danger,” as well as “Love Me Do,” each featuring a little history of their original recordings from McCartney.

The semi-newer track “Dance Tonight” was next before McCartney took the stage solo with an acoustic guitar to perform “Blackbird,” another chill-inducing moment. “Here Today” was next up, before McCartney joked about the lack of interest usually reserved for newer music, before appropriately going into a newer track in the form of “New,” featuring the refrain “We can do what we want.”

Another Beatles number, “Lady Madonna,” proceeded before the interesting “Fuh You,” and although the Sgt. Pepper track “Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite” attempted to bring the psychedelic vibe with it, it was definitely one of the weaker moments of the night. A little backstory on late Beatle George Harrison preceded a ukulele-driven version of “Something” before picking things up again with the goofy but harmless “Obla Di, Obla Da.”

From then on it was nothing but the best, including some Abbey Road (my favorite Beatles album) era classics like “You Never Give Me Your Money” (which McCartney explained he and his current band had never performed live before) and “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window,” before launching into “Get Back.”

Another Wings track, “Band on the Run,” followed before McCartney took the piano again to serenade the crowd with “Let it Be,” blow everyone away (literally with various pyros and explosions) with the James Bond theme “Live and Let Die,” and invoke the entire stadium to sing along with “Hey Jude,” the unforgettable, massive Beatles anthem from 1968, and close out the first set.

It didn’t take long for McCartney and company to take the stage again for an encore, beginning with “I’ve Got a Feeling,” which he explained Get Back director Peter Jackson had isolated John Lennon’s vocals for specifically for the tour, and fans were therefore given a rare treat. “Birthday” and “Helter Skelter” got the crowd on their feet again, while the epic climax of “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End” (hands down one of my favorite Beatles medlies) was finally enough to choke up an old dog like myself, as I became overwhelmed with emotion, knowing just what greatness I had just experienced.

As if this wasn’t all enough in itself, a chance encounter on the way out of the stadium found us actually crossing paths with Alter Bridge and Creed guitarist Mark Tremonti (see photo below), who was more than happy to briefly chat with us about the concert we had all just witnessed (among other things). I couldn’t possible write a better ending to an already epic story if I tried.

The Rewind It Magazine crew (from l to r; Jacob Striewski, Shawn McKee, Jesse Striewski, and Brooke Striewski) with Alter Bridge/Creed guitarist Mark Temonti after Paul McCartney’s show last Saturday, May 28 (Photo by Jhennifer McKee).

Tony Orlando at Epcot’s Garden Rocks on 5/21/22 By Jesse Striewski/Photos By Brooke and Jacob Striewski

This was originally going to be a much different concert review than it is, but sometimes life has a funny way of working out. When I headed to Epcot with the family for yet another Garden Rocks concert I was expecting to see ’80s new wavers A Flock of Seagulls. But it became quickly apparent that was not happening when, after arriving, the older gentleman next to us quipped, “You guys don’t look old enough to know who Tony Orlando is!”

And so began our adventure at a Tony Orlando show, which was surprisingly more entertaining than any of us expected the ’70s performer to be. It’s doubtful that few in attendance were expecting Orlando to open with a blistering cover of Led Zepplin’s “Whole Lotta Love” either, but that’s exactly how it went down.

From then on, Orlando ran through his most popular hits including “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Around the Old Oak Tree,” “Candida,” and “Knock Three Times,” before going into a medely of “La Bamba/Twist and Shout.” In between all of this, there was a brief solo that found drummer Timothy Pope emerging from behind his set to continue playing his sticks on everything from a bar stool, to the very front of the stage itself.

Tony Orlando and fan during his show at Epcot on 5/21/22.

There was also some interaction between Orlando and a female fan holding a sign with a photo of them from 1979 on it. Orlando promptly invited the fan onto stage, where he finally planted a smooch on her after all these years. This of course drew plenty of applause from the audience.

Next up, 18-year-old bassist Captain Sibley took over vocals for a cover of Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al,” showcasing the young newcommer’s talent, before finally finishing the set with hyped-up version of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.” I can’t say I was ever a big Tony Orlando fan, but I also cannot deny how much fun he was to watch perform live, proving that nothing beats live music no matter what.

Retrospective: 45 Years since ‘Star Wars’ Took us to a Galaxy Far, Far Away By Jesse Striewski

Long before the countless spin-offs, Sci Fi conventions, and overly complex storylines, Star Wars was simply just another rite of passage for an average kid growing up in the ’80s such as myself. Back then, we didn’t see it as the crowning achievement of filmmaking that it has since come to be known as today; we just thought it was really…cool.

I was not around yet when George Lucas’ landmark film was originally released to theaters on May 25, 1977, but I was caught up with a quickness, having an older brother and cousins who were already savvy to the series before I was. Original action figures from the toyline were already firmly in place in my household, and each and every time any of the films were shown on TV, it became an event for everyone.

The original film/space opera, which has retroactively come to be known as Episode IV: A New Hope in many circles, introduced the world to some of pop cultures most iconic figures; Mark Hamill as the everyday hero Luke Skywalker, Carrie Fisher as the lovely Princess Leia, and Harrison Ford as badass smuggler Han Solo. Then of course there were the unforgettable, non-human characters like droid C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), wookie Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), and the evil Darth Vadar (voiced by James Earl Jones).

Star Wars became the highest grossest film ever at the time, earning over $775 million at the box office, and clinging to that title until E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial eventually surpassed it a few years later in 1982. The film’s success spawned two initial sequels, 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back (largely viewed by many as superior to the original) and 1983’s Return of the Jedi, each equally essential viewing for kids from my era.

Even without anymore films being released throughout the rest of the decade, various action figures and other media sources kept the franchise alive throughout the ’80s; two made-for-TV spin-off films based off the Ewoks were released in 1984 and 1985, respectively, and an animated series based off them, as well as Star Wars: Droids, also kept the material alive from 1985-86.

The original Star Wars trilogy on VHS, courtesy of the author’s collection.

Then of course the late ’90s brought on the remastered versions of the first three films, which found them with newly added footage thanks to George Lucas (I still despise these versions to this day), and the even lesser-received prequel trilogy, beginning with Episode I – The Phantom Menace in 1999 (my least favorite entry of all the Star Wars films, yet ironically the first one of the series I ever saw on the “big screen”), which in turn spawned several animated shows, as well as the theatrically-released The Clone Wars in 2008.

In 2012, Lucas relinquished his ownership and sold the rights to Disney, who revived the franchise with yet another sequel trilogy, starting with 2015’s The Force Awakens. Since then there’s been numerous spin-off films in the form of 2016’s Rogue One and 2018’s Solo, as well as a host of new shows like The Mandalorian, The Book of Boba Fett, and the upcoming Obi-Wan Kenobi.

It’s been forty five years now since one man’s imagination took us to a galaxy far, far away, and while the material that has come since may not be quite on par with the original film and trilogy, I still watch with anticipation each and every time something new comes along in the name of Star Wars. I can’t imagine having had to endure a childhood without something as whimsical, and feel genuine pity for those who have missed out. May the force be with you, always.

Album Review: Stabbing Westward – Chasing Ghosts (COP International)

By: Jesse Striewski

It’s been over twenty years since the last time Stabbing Westward released a full-length album, and that’s probably about the same time I actually popped on one of their CD’s (don’t get me wrong though, I was actually there to cover one of their shows for Rewind It Magazine back in 2019, and the band did a stellar job).

Chasing Ghosts has got to be one of the tightest “comeback” albums that’s come out in the past decade. From the moment it kicks on with “I Am Nothing,” it’s as though no time has even passed at all. Or perhaps the feeling of going back in time would be a more accurate description, with tracks like “Damaged Goods, “Cold,” and the bass-driven “Push” all echoing of ’90s industrial rock perfectly.

Even if Stabbing Westward have never really been up your alley, Chasing Ghosts might pleasantly surprise you. It’s certainly better than half the garbage that passes for mainstream rock these days, and a damn shame they’ll still keep cranking generic junk on modern radio stations over something actually listenable such as this.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars ‘

Interview with Actor Stuart Fratkin By Jesse Striewski

Stuart Fratkin might not be the most recognized face from the ’80s and ’90s, but he certainly played a huge role to the entertainment world – not to mention my own world – during those eras. Appearing in such staple slapstick comedies as Teen Wolf Too and Ski School, not to mention a host of popular TV shows at the time, he no doubt graced both the big and small screens far too many times for one to even keep count.

I was recently able to pick Fratkin’s brain about his entire career, and found his answers both insightful and fascinating (as I so often do with many of my interviewees). But before I got into his war stories from years in the trenches of the acting field, I asked him to give readers an idea of what he’s been up to more recently. He informed me; “After some smaller parts in the early 2000’s I began to transition to the business world. I became partners in a shaved ice business that I got featured on several shows I guest starred on and eventually sold it. I realized I could not make a living for my family on $1.75 residuals from Divorce Court, so I took a job in the
technology industry and have been successful for the past 10 years or so. I reengaged with my commercial agent a few years ago and have been actively auditioning. My goal was to get back into entertainment after my kids were grown and off the payroll! (Laughs).”

I wondered if he would give me some backstory on just how he got into acting, and he enlightened me; “Classic story of, ‘I had the burning desire to entertain and make people laugh’ ever since I was a kid. I have vivid memories of making 8mm movies, arranging skits at elementary school and being an extra on Camp Grizzly, a pilot with the late, great Carl Ballentine in the late 70’s. My parents were moderately supportive and not until I showed my mom a check from Girls Just Want to Have Fun for $650 did she believe it was possible.”

Regarding his experience in said first film role in 1985’s Girls Just Want to Have Fun, he elaborated; “I got my SAG card on that movie. I was in a cold reading class with a casting director named Gino Havens who brought me in for the lead role. He was impressed enough that I was brought to meet the producers immediately. The role was eventually offered to newcomer Jonathan Silverman, otherwise…who knows?! I accepted the role of Sam and most of the experience was great except for Lee Montgomery. He sucked. After shooting my scene, my manager at the time came to find me and desperately asked if I already shot my part. I said I did, and she said, ‘they didn’t clear you with SAG before and now they have to Taft-Hartley you.’ That’s how I got into the union.”

Another early role that sticks out on his resume was an appearance on The Golden Girls in 1986. I asked Fratkin if he knew at the time what a special show he was a part of, and if he had much time to get to know the show’s stars while on set. He informed me; “Incredible. Had I have known then what I know now, I would have appreciated it more. I watched all of the rehearsals from the bleachers and reveled in their professionalism, candor, work ethic and warmth. I was fan of Maude growing up and working with Bea on our scene was a highlight from my early career. Guest star Polly Holiday yelled at me backstage on tape night because I tried to speak to her
while she was getting into character as the blind sister of Betty White. I responded
with, “Calm down. It’s only a sit-com, Flo.” Just kidding (Laughs).”

Aside from The Golden Girls, Fratkin made a number of guest spots on several other notable shows from that time frame, including The Facts of Life, Silver Spoons, and Sledgehammer!. I asked if he was a fan of any of these shows before appearing on them, and he said; “No. I was not a fan of any of them. Facts… was actually my first network show. I had the pleasure of meeting a dude on my first day of work that I bonded with because it was his first day of work, too. We were both a little uncomfortable, but we became pals and he was a good dude. His name was George Clooney. See what I did there?? I set you up and you were like, ‘who was it??’ and it turned out it was Clooney!! (Laughs). Anyway, I ran into him several times over the next few years, and he really is a good guy. The experiences were meh. Nothing earth shattering on either sets. I will say that after being in theater throughout high school and college, I felt very comfortable in front a live audience. Sledgehammer! was a lot of fun and kitschy. I did a lot of guest starring roles around that time, 1984-1987.”

Of course I had to ask what his experience in Teen Wolf Too was like, and if he had researched Jerry Levine’s portrayal of the Stiles character in the 1985 original or not prior to playing him in the 1987 sequel. He explained; “No. I had not seen the first film prior to auditioning for TWT. I received a script in early 1987 of the sequel and it was very funny, original and quirky. That’s not the movie that was made, which is too bad because it could have been a very good movie on its own rather than a retread of the original. I did not think it was in my best interest to see Jerry’s performance from the first film while auditioning and working on the movie. I thought about it but felt I needed to put my own spin on Stiles. I’ve mentioned this before in other podcasts but while working on TWT, I discovered that the Stiles character has different first names in TW and TWT. He’s called “Rupert” in the first one and “Ridley” in the second one. In my mind, they were related, but not the same. Hence, my interpretation was my own. I ended up seeing the original after the shoot was over. It’s a very different movie than the second one and Jerry was outstanding.”

And as far as what it was like to work with such legendary actors on the set like John Astin, Jason Bateman, Mark Holton, and the late James Hampon, Fratkin says; “I couldn’t believe my life! All of 1987 was a dream. After I booked the job, the fun began. We shot the movie at Montclair College in and around Montclair, Upland and Claremont, California. One of the lasting memories I have is upon meeting Jason, Mark and the rest of the cast, we bonded in Jason’s suite getting high and drunk. It was a great time for a bunch of 20 somethings. Being a fan of films from the 70’s, I was star struck meeting Jim Hampton. He was impressed that when I met him, the first thing I said was, ‘hello Caretaker!’ He was a sweet guy and I hope he rests in peace. I’ve spoken about my overall experience on TWT as not being fantastic due to a vicious prick executive from the studio, Atlantic. Whenever he was on set, no one wanted to go near him for fear of being chastised or criticized. Observing behavior on set, if director Chris Leitch had a tail, it was tucked firmly between his legs a la Buffalo Bill.”

Fratkin has also appeared in a number of non-comedic roles as well, guesting on the likes of Matlock, Freddy’s Nightmares, and the sorely underrated Vietnam series Tour of Duty. I asked him to tell me a little about these experiences as well, and he explained; Matlock is the gift that keeps on giving. I’m referring to the residuals, not the performance (Laughs). Long hair, New York dialect and a stereotype punk is a recipe for a poor and laughable role. Andy (Griffith) was cranky and unapproachable. It seemed he was at the end of his Matlock-ed contract. If you’ve seen that episode; picture Andy’s lines being written out on the pool table, furniture and by the camera. Opie would be ashamed (Laughs).”

He continued; “Absolutely loved Tour of Duty. This episode was directed by the great producer Ron Schwary (Tootsie, Ordinary People, Batteries Not Included). I had a very high opinion of myself at the end of 1988 and went into read for this show, booked it and off to Hawaii to shoot it. It was a fantastic experience and one of the highpoints in my dramatic career. The cast was great led by Terry Knox and Stephen Caffrey. It was a very rewarding experience highlighted by Ron, who was an absolute sweetheart. If you’re a cinephile, watch Tootsie again. Ron plays the agent in the scene with Director Sydney Pollack and Dustin Hoffman in the Russian Tea Room.
Freddy’s Nightmares was a lot of fun, too. This was around the time when I was trying to grow up and play different age groups and be more of a character actor.

Fans may also recall Fratkin had co-starring roles on a handful of short-lived TV series, namely The New Adventures of Beans Baxter, and They Came From Outer Space. I asked if he considered these to be some of his career highlights, and if he had wished they would have perhaps caught on more and lasted longer. He replied; “To address the former and latter questions; hell yes. Beans came first. It was the inaugural Fox season and they were greenlighting everything. Conceived and directed by Savage Steve Holland (Better Off Dead, One Crazy Summer), it was way ahead of its time. Quirky, fun, entertaining and a little odd. I was still young in industry years and felt spoiled that I booked this role as it was fairly easy. For most of my career, I’ve been able to improvise on most of my auditions and it served me very well on these two different jobs. Beans was an unfinished script, meaning it was still evolving when we shot a 10-minute pilot presentation in 1987 at Cal Arts in Valencia, California. The rest of the shows were shot in Vancouver, BC (Hollywood, North) when other series were filming at the same time including Wiseguy, 21 Jumpstreet and the movie Stakeout. It was a great time and often a big party. I made a lot of friends on that shoot and was heartbroken when I got the fateful call in my apartment in North Hollywood that Fox had cancelled the show.”

He continued; “Three years later, I worked on a movie called Ski School where I met Dean Cameron. I took that role knowing that I would get a chance to work with Dean and there
would be a good chance that mayhem would ensue. That job led to Dean and I working together and a comedic shorthand was created between the two of us. We had a chance to audition for TCFOS together and aside from having an amazing time, the process was nothing less than magical. It’s not often in an actor’s life that they meet someone and they are just symbiotic. That was Dean and me. I sorely wish that magic would have continued because I firmly believe, given the right vehicle, we would have gone down as being inseparable.”

I asked him to elaborate more on his working relationship with Cameron, as well as how he feels today about the previously-mentioned cult classic Ski School the two did together in 1990. He stated; “The answer above addresses part of the question, but I had been aware of Dean for
several years prior to eventually meeting him at the airport to get on a plane to Canada to shoot Ski School. Dean had a reputation in the biz as the one to beat. If you were auditioning for the offbeat, best pal, comedy relief dork, Dean got all those roles because he was/is incredibly talented and gifted. After a few years of losing roles to him, I wanted to join him, not beat him.
And…love Ski School. Another fun time with the cast, crew and Whistler. No other opportunity I had in my career could I say that the producers came to actors and said, “we’re going to be short on time in the movie, can you guys write some scenes?” All of them are in the final cut. A fun, sexy, stupid cult film that’s fun to get drunk and watch. I fully endorse that!”

And as far as why he didn’t appear in Ski School 2 a few years later? He explained; “Dean told me it was because they didn’t have the money. I secretly think it was because I did not go to the photo shoot for Ski School 1 and I was being an asshole about it. I regret that decision because I think it cost me that job and maybe a Ski School 3: Fitz Marries Paulette (Laughs).”

As the ’90s went on, Fratkin appeared on more staple shows from that era such as Doogie Howser, M.D., Baywatch, and Friends; as far as what those were like, he told me; “Friends was great. I read for the pilot episode when it was called Friends Like Us for Chandler, so the producers remembered me. They were awesome. It was a great little role, and I came back for a second episode later in the season, and that scene was eventually cut (another residual windfall).The other shows kept my wife and I fed for a while, but those kinds of guest starring roles will not buy you a house. I was making the rounds and trying to maintain a foothold while I was growing up and trying to transition to adult roles like Melrose Place, Murder One, Judging Amy (twice), NYPD Blue (twice) and Courthouse.”

Another book mark in Fratkin’s career was his appearance in the 1998 summer blockbuster Godzilla. I was curious how he felt looking back on the film, which performed far better finaically than it did critically. He stated; “I remember quite vividly how incredibly excited I was to be part of it. Being a huge fan of the Godzilla movies from my childhood (hence the “Godzirra” reference I wrote into Ski School). My wife and I went to the premiere at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, and were thrilled to see my scenes were completely intact and received quite well. Overall, I was disappointed with the final cut. I wasn’t a fan but yikes, they play it a lot!”

Fast forward to some of Fratkin’s most recent acting credits were on such memorable shows as Spin City and Malcolm in the Middle in the 2000’s. Regarding these roles he noted; “Not a lot to say about these gigs. I was still trying to figure out where my career was going. Spin City was fun and as fan, loved working with the cast. This was Charlie Sheen’s first season and he was still kind of feeling his way around a sitcom. Since I was familiar with Heather from Melrose Place, it was fun to work with her again. My part was small, and I remember really needing a job, any job. After working as an actor for almost 15 years, I was reaching a point where I needed to make some decisions. With a mortgage, two young kids and a decent stream of residuals, it was almost time for a break. Malcolm was the last job that I remember thinking, if I wanted to make a good living, three lines on a sitcom was not going to cut it.”

Before our conversation was finished, I asked if we’ll be seeing him in anything in the near future. He assured me; “I hope so! I feel the need to express myself and hope to get some opportunities. That was the plan all along!”