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Merchandise First, Movie Later!

It's Christmas season. Time to buy more crap than usual. And some of that crap might be movie tie-in crap. A lot of hard earned cash will be blown on Lord of the Rings collectibles and Harry Potter gak. So let's take a look at movies that were brought into existence to sell stuff. Hey wait, you cry, most movies work that way. Yeah, yeah, but the movies below were hastily thrown together after meticulously designed tie-in merchandise had already been created. Not the other way around, where the Frodo big gulp cups and action figures pop into this world at the same time as the Lord of the Rings theatrical trailers. In these cases, toys came first, movies followed.
Topping the list, we have, yet again, Garbage Pail Kids...


2/10/05.  The Humboldt County Travelogue NPLU's long lost documentary now available on DVD!



Sasquatch Ain't Dead Yet, an interview with investigator Jimmy Chilcutt.
The Films of Jensen Rufe, an interview with filmmaker Jensen Rufe.


The Black Hole

The Care Bears Movie

Darby o'Gill and the Little People

The Garbage Pail Kids Movie

Mars Attacks!

Masters of the Universe


Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory



The Garbage Pail Kids (1987)

IMDB info

Rotten Tomatoes info

Review by Jon Olsen  
Written by Melinda Palmer and Rod Amateau, produced and directed by Rod Amateau. Starring Mackenzie Astin, Anthony Newley, Katie Barberi, and Ron MacLachlan.

A Topps Chewing Gum Production. This is a truly wretched film, and it must be seen to be believed. Old Town Video was the only place I could find it.
The opening title sequence takes place in outer space and shows pictures of the principal characters, along with their names, on giant trading cards which float through earth's orbit. A garbage pail with rocket thrusters also flies around.
This is a live action adventure in which a twelve year old, possibly orphaned boy named Dodger lusts after a seventeenish bimbo named Tangerine, who's going steady with a butt-ugly tough named Juice, who leads a co-ed gang of bullies, all hideously attired in fishnet tank tops, tiger-stripe leotards, and other eye searing costumes that might have been cool to wear in the eighties, god help us all.
Dodger lives in an antique store with his buddy/mentor/surrogate father figure, Cap'n Manzini, who has given up his career as a magician to sell beads and junk. Manzini's most valuable (and dangerous) possession is a green-slime leaking garbage pail. He warns the ever curious Dodger that it must never be touched because it is a sort of "Pandora's Garbage Pail", containing all the nastiness of the world.
As luck would have it, the garbage pail is accidentally spilled and seven obnoxious midgets with giant rubber heads escape. They run around, squealing, farting, pissing their pants, stealing pepsi trucks, getting into barroom brawls, rerouting geysers of sewage up victims' tooshies, and otherwise wreaking havoc, all in the most unentertaining manner possible.
They are the Garbage Pail Kids. Naturally.
They befriend Dodger, because the script says, so he puts them all to work in the basement, making ugly fashion garments, which he lovingly gives to Tangerine so she can sell them by the back doors of nightclubs.
Let me say that again: The people who were paid good money to come up with an idea for a movie about Garbage Pail Kids could come up with nothing better than putting 'em to work in a sweatshop to make clothing for a fashion show.
Maybe the money wasn't so good. Maybe the people who came up with this idea were working in a sweatshop themselves.
There are many horrible songs and one horrible musical number, all composed by co-producer Michael Lloyd. I mean horrible. Even if the Garbage Pail Kids could move their lips to sync with the lyrics, that musical number would still give your brain dry rot.
I rented this film twice. I didn't want to rent it twice, but after I saw it the first time, and told all my friends how bad it was, they insisted I rent it again and show it to 'em. They were curious. And now they are sorry, because the film brought them just as much pain as it brought me.
This is a bad, bad, bad movie. If you like a movie that rubs your nose in shit, scurry out and rent this one tonight.


The Care Bears Movie(1985)

IMDB info

Rotten Tomatoes info


Written by Peter Sauder, directed by Arna Selznick. Starring the voices of Georgia Engel, Jackie Burroughs, Mickey Rooney, and Sunny Besen Thrasher.

Animated. I have the soundtrack album of this movie for some reason, it's great for driving my friends up the wall. From this album, it is possible to glean a vague idea of the plot, which prevents me, thankfully, from having to actually rent this movie. Though I promise you, I have seen this piece of shit before. However, watching it again is a painful prospect. It has something to do with a kid named Nicholas who has no friends, so he is persuaded to help an evil magician do nasty things to the Care Bears, which apparently is a bad thing. Don't ask me why.
And the Care Bears join forces with the Forest Friends (new toys!) and together they shoot heart rays from the gut (this is called "staring") and vanquish evil. Something along those lines. I guarantee you, you will regret renting this. Let's move on...

Masters of the Universe (1987)


IMDB info

Rotten Tomatoes info

Written by David Odell, directed by Gary Goddard. Starring Dolph Lungren, Frank Langella, Courteney Cox and Meg Foster.

Live, oily action! Yes, oily. As in Dolph Lungren. Who plays the lead character: Heman. Who has enormous muscles that are for cosmetic purposes only, and extremely oily. Who speaks English so badly you have to wonder if the three dialogue coaches were a team or merely a succession of sackings.
Heman's sidekick is a puppet elf thing, with a cock-and-balls shaped head, named Gwildor. He has invented a casio keyboard, shaped like a giant spark plug that allows people to hop dimensions.
For some reason Heman and Gwildor hop to Earth in the eighties and befriend Courteney Cox (training bra young in this flick) and her wanna be rock star boyfriend, who thinks that Gwildor's spark-plug-shaped casio thingy is some kind of electronic musical instrument.
Our heroes eat buckets and buckets of fried chicken from some fast food franchise which was given a lot of free advertising in this movie and then Skeletor's goons (led by shitty film femme fatale Meg Foster) show up and menace humanity. Courteney Cox is frightened, but Heman comforts her by pressing her tiny head into his massive, greasy peck.
The high point of this film is watching superb actor Frank Langella, in the role of Skeletor. There is a scene where Heman is enslaved and brought before Skeletor in chains. Let me put it another way: oiled muscles, furry loin cloth, and bound in chains. This scene is very gay. Frank Langella realizes this, and Dolph Lungren obviously doesn't. Watching the interaction between these two actors-- or rather the one actor and the body builder-- is hilarious. Langella gleefully delivers each of his lines as if to say "we are so gay, and you are my bitch, Heman". Poor Dolph Lungren.
I'll bet he was mad when he watched this movie again, after his English had improved.
A terrible film, but entertaining if you are a child of the eighties and have been drinking enough.

The Transformers Movie(1986)

IMDB info

Rotten Tomatoes info

Written by Ron Friedman, directed by Nelson Shin. Featuring the voices of Orson Welles, Robert Stack, Leonard Nimoy, Casey Kasem, Eric Idle, and Scatman Crothers, among others.Holy shit, what a cast!

Animation. Of the cheapest variety. According to one of the User Comments on the Internet Movie Database, "You must be a fan to get anything out of this film." I can't argue with that. This was a very hard movie to follow. For one thing, even though this was a movie, a feature film, and not just another episode of the TV show, the creators decided to stick to their usual Limited Animation production standards, so the action is difficult to comprehend. It's all a jerky, stop motion swill of purple deathrays and orange explosions. With an unending ambient track of crappy hair metal songs about robots in disguise.
I'm old enough to remember the original Transformer toys. They were far more interesting than this film. Back in those days, you were a nobody if you didn't own at least ten Transformers. Garbage Pail Kids were also important status symbols.
On the plus side, this film has impressive-- or at least amusing celebrity voice actors (see cast list above.) Orson Welles in his second to last film role. Poor bastard.
Also, if you watch carefully, there is one shot where you can see a cloud shaped like a marijuana leaf, and in another scene there is an explosion in space that looks like a vagina.

Rainbow Brite and The Star Stealer (1985)

IMDB info

Rotten Tomatoes info

Written by Howard R. Cohen, directed by Bernard Deyrie`s and Kimio Yabuki.

Ani-fucking-mated. I remember being forced to sit through this movie when I was about eleven years old... I'm pretty masochistic when it comes to the low quality of movies I will subject myself to, but I'm not masochistic enough to rent it again, all these years later, for a proper review. I remember it had something to do with some Q-bert like creatures covering a giant, planet-sized crystal with yarn, and this was making the weather really crummy on earth, and the only scene I specifically remember is one in which a TV weather forecaster quits his job and walks off the set in tears because the weather is so dismal. Again, this review is purely from memory. If you are really keen to know what it's about, rent it yourself, I've got more worthwhile bad movies to waste my time with.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

IMDB info

Rotten Tomatoes info

Written by Roald Dahl, directed by Mel Stuart. Starring Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson, and Peter Ostrum.

Live action. But wait, you may protest, this film was no transparent attempt to sell stuff! This is a much loved adaptation of a classic children's book! Yes. And no... Not many people realize it, but this much loved musical adaptation of Roald Dahl's twisted children's book was meant, first and foremost, to be a merchandising ploy. The film was funded by a certain chocolate bar company. The film's release date was set to coincide with the arrival of Wonka Bars on candy shelves across America. A blizzard of intense advertising preceded the fateful date. But on the eve of the highly anticipated day...Floop! Factory glitch! The Wonka Bar's debut failed to coincide with the film's premiere. So there was a movie, but there were no new chocolate bars. Not for a while, anyway. Instead of chocolate bars, the world got Oompa-Loompas. And that's a good thing, right? If you get a chance to watch the recent DVD release of this film, be sure to peruse the special features. The chubby German boy who played Augustus Gloop is interviewed, years later, and he looks and talks exactly the same, except that he's thirty years older. It's fucking hilarious, and worth the price of rental alone.

Mars Attacks! (1996)

IMDB info

Rotten Tomatoes info

Written by Jonathan Gems, directed by Tim Burton. Starring Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Annette Bening, Pierce Brosnan, Danny DeVito, Martin Short, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michael J. Fox, Lukas Haas, Natalie Portman, Pam Grier, Lisa Marie, and Tom Jones. Again, holy shit, what a cast. I believe that even Jack Black and Christina Applegate had small parts.

Live action, yet again. Another bastard child of Topps Chewing Gum and Hollywood, but this one brought me two hours of giggly joy. Yes, it's a silly, stupid, ridiculous movie. It has more budget and special effects than it knows what to do with, and it's way too long. All the same, I loved this fucking movie. How can you go wrong with those little green Martian fuckers running around, shrieking "Gak, gak, gak-gak!!!"? "Do not run... We are your friends." Zap! And Slim Whitman songs making their heads burst like zits! And so much, so very much more... Another rare instance of a merchandise tie-in movie that brought joy, instead of pain.


There are, of course, many, many more films out there that grew from merchandise. The selections reviewed above barely scratch the surface of the tie-in genre. I could write a book about this genre if I was so inclined (I'm not). As I write these words, Pokemon 4 is on the marquee at The Movies. Had I more space, I might have mentioned such gems as My Little Pony, and G.I. Joe, and the hundreds of film franchises that have sprung from the loins of video games, and even board games. Can we also count psuedo-biographical pop music drek such as Spice World, Crossroads, Glitter, and 8 Mile? Aren't pop stars a sort of merchandise too, after a fashion? I guess if we tread that territory we find ourselves perilously close to the world of TV remakes, Scooby Doo, Josie and the Pussycats, Charlie's Angels, and so forth. The tentacles of merchandising are everywhere! Where does one draw the line?