And we're off with another plucky collection of `80s commercials! Ten more for your reading/viewing/eating pleasure, covering everything from video games to toys to weird little plastic doodads filled with volcanic liquid. You can download each of the ads featured, but remember, they're in Windows Media Format -- if you're on a Mac, hop on over to a friend-with-a-PC's house. Some good stuff in this batch, including a singing Ms. Pac-Man. Don't believe it? See it...
Atari 2600 -- Ms. Pac-Man:
More was at stake with this commercial that you might think. It's no secret that Atari's rendition of fabled arcade classic Pac-Man was so damned awful that former company president Miles Gildenberg was found shot to death in a back alley with "ripoff" written on his head, penned by the assailants in his own blood. I was really young at the time and found no issues with the game when I inherited the 2600 system from my older brothers, happy oblivious to what I only now recognize as major glitches. Others weren't so giving in their reviews. When Atari finally swallowed its pride to announce intentions on creating Ms. Pac-Man, consumers were skeptical. This commercial had to restore their faith somehow, and it seems like it did.
Though vague in how they say it, the ad totally admits that Pac-Man sucked. They usher in Ms. Pac-Man not only as Pac's wife, but as his superior. They even throw in some weird shit about a "green screen" maze so mysterious and elusive that you'd have to be out of your fucking mind not to buy the game. Just as your head narrowly avoids explosion from all of the excitement, bam, it happens. A Betty Boop-ish animated Ms. Pac-Man breaks through the game footage like a riotous pitcher and busts into a song number quicker than your mind can first process the image of her sultry yellow legs. And believe me, no matter what you think her voice is going to sound like, it's going to absolutely shock you. Line of the night: "Honey, don't you know? I'm more than Pac-Man with a bow!" Enjoy, and sing along.
Smurf Crazy Foam:
Here we have the aerosol-powered juggernaut of the children's foam soap market, Smurf Crazy Foam. They didn't pluralize "Smurf." I contend that they should've. I guess the stuff could be described as a cross between silly string and shaving cream -- it sprayed out in lightning quick strands that lathered outward to the point where even the smallest dose could cover you from head to toe. The foam was available in any number of containers, though this had to be a popular entry in the series, what with it being the singular edition of Crazy Foam that shot its goods out of a hole in a Smurf's head and all. It's not any specific Smurf, just one of the extras that turned up during company picnics or when Azrael was having one of his particularly long Smurf-chasing scenes.
A Bad Case of Worms:
A reader only recently helped me identify these, the long lost glories of my early years. They are beyond a shadow of a doubt the first toy I can remember asking for and getting from a store -- at the Kay Bee that still stands in the same spot of the same mall two decades later. And you heard they weren't doing so well.
A Bad Case of Worms were sets of sticky rubber worm figures shoved in little plastic briefcases, and I don't think I could've possibly loved the things more than I did. The commercial touts their ability to be flung at walls only to slowly slither down like a Wacky Wall Walker, but that was never the interesting part for me. I just considered them my new pet worms, with neatly carved smiles and a body so segmented that I could've forged a thousand new worms if only I had an axe and no heart. They came in several different colors, all cute. I'm not particularly fond of the ad's presentation of the toys as "gross things," but that's because I was young and had never seen a dead worm floating in a puddle before. I didn't know worms could be that disgusting. Nowadays, whenever the waiter brings out spaghetti after I specifically ordered penne, I have to quickly think up any excuse for not eating it besides "I can't eat spaghetti because it reminds me of worms too much." True story.
Oh, to be the kids in this commercial. They're quietly coloring pictures at the kitchen table when their mother walks in and warns them of vast surprises waiting in the garage. They rush to check out the situation, and good Christ, she's waffling back at her ex-husband for getting them ice cream last weekend with the end-all, be-all collection of ride-on E.T. vehicles. Unbelievable. The commercial makes no references to the holiday season, and I refuse to believe that her differently-aged children had synchronized birthdays. This was a bribe gift. And how.
First up, the E.T. Power Cycle, which I actually had, even though my parents are still married. This thing was amazing -- a lot of power cycles had a gimmick, but this one had two. First off, there was a contraption that let it "spin out," which was just absolutely great if you had a few hundred square feet of pavement where no cars were ever present. Secondly, it mimicked Elliot's bike by having a plastic E.T. torso lumbering in the front. That's what I liked most about it. Alternatively, the E.T. Rider was a slow, four-wheel affair that could only be moved by methods of the Fred Flintstone Car variety. That one was for especially little kids, and in the ad, that especially little kid is such an obvious attempt to get someone who looked like Drew Barrymore that I'm shocked she didn't strip down to her panties and have sex with someone in my death metal band right then and there.
Radio Controlled Inflatable Incredible Hulk:
These radio controlled inflatable dolls were conceptually brilliant, mixing kids' love for radio controlled cars with their love for giant, beat 'em up inflatables. The Incredible Hulk was only one of several offered (the commercial also plugs a Dracula version, a robot alien and Mickey Mouse), but they all were more or less the same: ya blew it up, shoved some batteries into the electronic wheeled base, and guided the thing around the living room via a wireless controller. The dolls weren't exactly "fast," but their step was quick enough to scare the crap out of any dog or cat -- more or less the entire point of the toys. I can't say that I've ever owned one, though it's hard not to believe I'd be a much happier person overall if I had.
Really Odd Masters of the Universe Commercial:
I'm still trying to make sense of this one, flubbing my lips with my index finger and making stupid noises. Okay, well, it's kind of a strange combo platter going on here -- they're advertising this Talon Fighter vehicle / Point Dredd castle / Book & Record set as an all-in-one supertoy that covers every point of interest imaginable. But they're doing it all screwy. The record narrated a battle between He-Man and Skeletor using the included elements, with bytes from the actual characters. In the ad, the boy playing with the Skeletor figure grinds his teeth in synch with the villain's words, and by God, I'm surprised television still exists as a legal medium after seeing that. Mattel was notorious for making the more gnarly child actors play with the "bad guy toys" in their ads, but this one takes the Cake of Treachery. Not that this was in any way a bad bunch of stuff, but it's just an odd mix. I can't help feeling that the idea stemmed from Mattel's flirtations with sneaking hard hallucinogenics into their executives' coffee.
The Official Mr. T Doll:
By Galoob! This was pretty much as good of a Mr. T doll as anyone could've hoped for. The commercial boasts one of worst ad jingles I've ever heard, rhyming words that have no right rhyming and generally being uninspired. The kids give looking interested the ol' preschool try, forming all kinds of weird faces as they punch and hit Mr. T as if this was what the doll was intended for. No matter -- even without a stronger ad, the toy was strong enough to be a hit with every kid who wasn't from the south.
T's outrageous outfit was only overlooked for his tremendously detailed pile of gold chains, while Mr. T's famous head is mean in all the right places, yet still bears an intangible softness to convey his inner puppy dog. He wasn't really to scale with any other action figure or doll in known history, only accentuating the real life version's total devotion to uniquity. Mixed with a Barbie and a dreamhouse set, it's a caption contest waiting to happen.
Wham-O Fluid Fantasy:
Wham-O was chiefly known for their fine line of water-squirtin' lawn toys, for those hot summer days where kids just couldn't stop themselves from getting naked, getting wet and giving every pervert in the neighborhood a free show. Liquid-related offerings were the company's specialty, and though this one is far different than anything else they made, it's almost possibly technically under the same umbrella.
Fluid Fantasy was one of those relaxing desk toys, the kind that helped you take the edge off after an aggravating meeting or a phone call from someone who wanted to kill you. It was kind of like a lava lamp without the lamp, in a rectangular chamber of plastic horrors. Ominous liquids in pink and blue swirled in and out of each other like magic, dripping and dropping over a series of oddly shaped obstacles to the delight of the easily amused and stoners everywhere. Similar "toys" are still sold today, in countless colors, shapes and sizes. Due to the eventually-exhaustible nature of the materials involved, it's nearly impossible to find a working version of Fluid Fantasy today. If you have one, it's worth a hundred thousand dollars.
Q*Bert, For Home Gaming Systems: Q*Bert was already an arcade smash, but this commercial ushered in his massive success to another market: Home gaming. The title was available for every worthy system of its time, and though the graphics and controls varied greatly from system to system, it was such a simplistic game that nobody could really get it wrong. Simultaneously peaceful and frantic, playing Q*Bert was the equivalent of soaking in a bath of water that progressively grew hotter and hotter, until finally all of your skin melted away while vicious purple snakes took your last life. I deserve awards for that analogy. The game holds up just fine today, no worse for wear.
Course, the interesting bit in the commercial was the cartoon version of Q*Bert, which I find way more true to the character than the varsity jacket-wearing freak seen in Saturday Supercade. This Q*Bert looks like he should, talks like he should, and really knows how to sell a video game. It's actually the only Atari game I can remember playing to the point of breakage. I can't remember whether that was really from overplaying or from just stepping on the cartridge or something, but I firmly recall my reaction: &!!&@.
Mattel Slime: It's Alive!:
"Slime: It's Alive" came out in the `70s, served up by Mattel in great little trash cans. The original version was only known as "Slime," but this one justified the extra words by adding two plastic eyeballs to the mix, successfully transforming this from a pile of mere play snot to a veritable creature-in-a-can. It's essentially the same stuff Mattel used for the Masters of the Universe Slime Pit and later the Harry Potter Slime Chamber. Considered by most to be the number one type of toy slime ever made, the Real Ghostbusters shed a tear for their Ecto-Plazm while the white-coated Mad Scientist shut down his Monster Lab in a fit of inadequacy. Just a positively classic toy that currently fetches up to and over a hundred bucks a can these days. I don't like it that much, but I'd probably go as high as thirty if the seller threw in some fruit snacks.
BONUS BLURBAGE! Those of a similar age demo should be mighty familiar with "Freezy Freakies," absolutely the greatest gloves in history. Made by Swany throughout the `80s and boosted with severe ad campaigns and powerful word-of-mouth, the gloves may very well be the first fashion accessory kids felt they had to have. Arriving in all different styles for boys and girls, the gloves looked cool enough in their "normal" mode, but when shit got cold, watch out for heaven in your hands. Here, take a look...
Okay, so you had these Freezy Freakies, and they were way popular. So popular, in fact, that at times they became excessively hard to find. For public school kids, trying to persuade their parents to travel all across the state trying to find a specific pair of winter gloves was no easy task. Many failed. The lucky students who walked into the schoolyard at 8:45 wearing Freezy Freakies on their hands were immediately upped to godlike status, and those fortunate few weren't going to blow their popularity with mere high fives -- no, they were going to show off. How? By demonstrating Freezy Freakies' ability to do the unthinkable...
As soon as the gloves grew cold enough, images would appear! In the case of the "Robot" gloves (my personal favorite), an Autobot-like android warrior suddenly turns up, successfully turning any kid's hands into lethal weapons of all-encompassing coolness. Not every edition of Freezy Freakies were as neat as these, but they all retained the gimmick. You had everything from hot air balloons to race cars fading in and out of view, and in their time, there was just nothing more chic to shield your hands from ice-related arthritis with.