If you're wondering what happened to The Sharper Image, America's one-stop shop for overpriced junk, this sad tête-à-tête from their website sums it up nicely:
Q. What happened to the Sharper Image retail stores?
A. All Sharper Image retail stores have closed.
After filing for bankruptcy in 2008, the gadget emporium was acquired by a joint venture firm that now operates its website and has nothing to do with the original retailer. In other words, The Sharper Image as you or I know it is dead.
All that remains are old catalogs, and inside each of these is a precious glimpse into a bygone era when we all blissfully teetered on the edge of catastrophic consumer stupidity. The following products were all sold in Sharper Image catalogs from 1987 to 1989 and they each teach us a valuable lesson about what life was like back then.
Man-Sized Dolls Were Your Only Defense Against Rampant Crime
The 1980s were so dangerous, if you didn't have a large man by your side at all times, an 18-wheeler would appear out of nowhere and smash you into smithereens. That scenario serves as catalog copy for Gregory, a "burly six-footer" whose "stern appearance is no accident":
"His rugged cleft chin, square-set jaw, firm expression, and broad shoulders telegraph to criminals that this is a man to avoid." Men want to be this doll, women want to be with this doll.
Some notable features of the $500 mannequin:
-Gregory has no lower legs.
-Gregory can be "changed with cosmetics to any age or race." It should be noted that, in his original state, he looks like a six-foot white baby.
-Like all us real macho men, he is "also available unclothed."
-You can "garb him in sports, casual, or business attire...or put him in a tux for formal occasions." This Gregory didn't get the memo, and showed up to a ritzy new year's celebration in a turtleneck:
Ideally, Piping-Hot Coffee Was Groin Adjacent
The dilemma: You bought great tickets to a San Francisco 49ers game, but you were up all night watching The Pat Sajak Show and need three quarts of coffee to stay awake.
The solution: The Sit N Sip, a seat cushion that stores and insulates three quarts of your favorite hot beverage and dispenses it from a spout placed in between your legs. An invention so simple and elegant, nothing could possibly go wrong to the person using it.
Americans Spent Most of Their Lives Rewinding VHS Tapes
Make that copy of Beaches haul ass with the AutoWinder, a machine that rewinds video cassettes and, uh, looks like a car. The catalog boasts that it "rewinds a two-hour movie in just under four minutes" and "saves your VCR from unnecessary wear and tear." Think of the money you're throwing away by not rewinding your VHS tapes in a tiny plastic car.
Cell Phones Were Important, But Only Because They Made You Look Rich
The Sharper Image was prescient enough to foresee the cellular phone boom, but too status-obsessed to profit on it with anything other than a fake antenna that you put on your car to make people think you were rich.
"Drive to class reunions with this new Phone-E antenna on your car," the catalog's description states, "and even Mr. Most-Likely-To-Succeed will be envious. Everyone will assume you have a cellular phone—the mark of success in the 80s." And if you're worried about someone breaking into your car to steal your rich-person's radio, I know a guy named Gregory who's not to be messed with.
Robots Body Shamed You
Stepping on a scale can be a humiliating experience, but with the Weight Talker II, it's a humiliating experience narrated by a disappointed robot. The scale uses a "pleasant male voice," giving you the terse Ukrainian gymnastics coach you never knew you wanted.
But Getting in Shape Was Easy
"Hello, this is Stetson. No, I can talk, I'm just working out and reading about my stocks. Yes, I too can't wait to see what kind of trouble Alf gets into next. Alright, nice speaking with you, President Reagan."
Toddlers Were Rich Jerks
Little Colby here just had a five martini lunch and he's speeding back to work in his Porsche so he can fire your ass before heading up to the Hamptons.
Joan Weldon and James Arness star in Them! (1954).
Warner Home Video
In the 1950s, Elvis was king, hula hooping was all the rage, and movie screens across America were overrun with giant arthropods. Back then, Tarantula (1955), The Deadly Mantis (1957), and other “big bug” films starring colossal insects or arachnids enjoyed a surprising amount of popularity. What kicked off this creepy-crawly craze? An eerie blockbuster whose impossible premise reflected widespread anxieties about the emerging atomic age. Grab a Geiger counter and let’s explore 1954's Them!.
1. Them!'s primary scriptwriter once worked for General Douglas MacArthur.
When World War II broke out, the knowledge Ted Sherdeman had gained from his career as a radio producer was put to good use by Uncle Sam, landing him a position as a radio communications advisor to General MacArthur. However, the fiery conclusion of the war left Sherdeman with a lifelong disdain for nuclear weapons. In an interview he revealed that upon hearing about the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima, he “just went over to the curb and started to throw up."
Shifting his focus from radio to motion pictures, Sherdeman later joined Warned Bros. as a staff producer. One day he was given a screenplay that really made his eyes bug out. George Worthing Yates, best known for his work on the Lone Ranger serials, had decided to take a stab at science fiction and penned an original script about giant, irradiated ants attacking New York City. "The idea appealed to me very much,” Sherdeman toldCinefantastique, "because, aside from man, ants are the only creatures in the world that plan to wage war, and nobody trusted the atomic bomb at that time.” (His statement about animal combat is debatable: chimpanzee gangs will also take organized, warlike measures in order to annex their rivals’ territories.)
Although he loved the basic concept, Sherdeman felt that the script needed something more. Screenwriter Russell S. Hughes was asked to punch up the script, but died of a heart attack after completing the first 50 pages. With some help from director Gordon Douglas, Sherdeman took it upon himself to finish the screenplay. Thus, Them! was born.
2. Two main ants were built for the movie.
Them! brought its spineless villains to life using a combination of animatronics and puppetry, courtesy of an effects artist by the name of Dick Smith. He constructed two fully functional mechanical ants for the production, with the first of these being a 12-foot monster filled with gears, levers, motors, and pulleys. Operating the big bug was a job that required a small army of technicians who’d pull sophisticated cables to control the ant’s limbs off-camera. These guys worked in close proximity and often crashed into each other as a result, prompting Douglas to call them “a comedy team.”
The big insect mainly appears in long shots, and for close-ups, Smith built the front three quarters of a second large-scale ant and mounted it onto a camera crane. During scenes that required swarms of ants, smaller, non-motorized models were used. Blowing wind machines moved the little units’ heads around in a lifelike manner.
3. Them! features the Wilhelm Scream.
Fifty-nine minutes in, the ants board a ship and one of them grabs a sailor, who unleashes the so-called "Wilhelm Scream." You can also hear it when James Whitmore’s character is killed, and the sound bite rings out once again during the movie’s climax. Them! was among the first movies to reuse this distinctive holler, which was originally recorded three years earlier for the 1951 western Distant Drums. Since then, it’s become something of an inside joke for sound recording specialists. The scream has appeared in Titanic (1997), Toy Story (1995), Reservoir Dogs (1992), Batman Returns (1992), the Star Wars saga (1977-present), all three The Lord of the Rings movies (2001-2003), and countless other films.
4. Leonard Nimoy makes an appearance.
In one brief scene, future Star Trek star Leonard Nimoy plays an Army man who receives a message about an alleged “ant-shaped UFO” sighting over Texas. He then proceeds to poke fun at the Lone Star State, because, as everybody knows, insectile space vessels are highly illogical.
5. Many different sounds were combined to produce the screeching ant cries.
Throughout the movie, the monsters announce their presence with a haunting wail. Douglas’s team created this unforgettable shriek by mixing assorted noises, including bird whistles, which were artificially pitched up by sound technicians.
6. Sandy Descher had to sniff a mystery liquid during her signature scene.
Like Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, Them! has a deliberate pace and the massive insects don’t make an onscreen appearance until the half hour mark. Douglas took credit for this restrained approach, saying, “I told Ted, let’s tease [the audience] a little bit before you see the ant. Let’s build up to it."
So instead of showing off the big bugs, the opening scene follows a little girl as she wanders through the New Mexican desert, listlessly clutching her favorite doll. That stunning performance was delivered by child actress Sandy Descher. Later, in one of the most effective title drop scenes ever orchestrated, a vial of formic acid is held under her character’s nose. Suddenly recognizing the aroma, the traumatized youngster screams “Them! Them!” Descher never found out what sort of liquid was really sloshing around in that container.
“They used something that did smell quite strange. It wasn’t ammonia, it was something else,” she told an interviewer. Still, the mysterious brew had a beneficial effect on her performance. “They tried to create something different and it helped me a lot with that particular scene,” Descher said.
7. Them! was originally going to be filmed in 3D and in color.
To hear Douglas tell it, the insect models looked a lot scarier in person. “I put green and red soap bubbles in the eyes,” he once stated. “The ants were purple, slimy things. Their bodies were wet down with Vaseline. They scared the bejeezus out of you.” For better or for worse, though, audiences never got the chance to savor the bugs’ color scheme.
At first, Warner Bros. had planned on shooting the movie in color. Furthermore, to help Them! compete with Universal’s brand-new, three-dimensional monster movie, Creature From the Black Lagoon, the studio strongly considered using 3D cameras. But in the end, the higher-ups at Warner Bros. didn’t supply Douglas with the money he’d need to shoot it in this manner. Shortly before production started on Them!, the budget was greatly reduced, forcing the use of two-dimensional, black and white film.
8. The setting of the climactic scene was changes—twice.
Yates envisioned the final battle playing out in New York City’s world-famous subway tunnels. Hughes moved the action westward, conjuring up an epic showdown between human soldiers and the last surviving ants at a Santa Monica amusement park. Finally, for both artistic and budgetary reasons, Sherdeman set the big finale in the sewers of Los Angeles.
9. Warner Bros. encouraged theaters to use Them! as a military recruitment tool.
The film’s official pressbook advised theater managers who were screening Them!& to contact their nearest Armed Forces recruitment offices. “Since civil defense in the face of an emergency figures in the picture, make the most of it by inviting [a] local agency to set up a recruiting booth in the lobby,” the filmmakers advised. Also, the document suggested that movie houses post signs reading: “What would you do if (name of city) were attacked by THEM?! Prepare for any danger by enlisting in Civil Defense today!”
10. The movie was a surprise hit.
Studio head Jack L. Warner predicted that Them!, with its far-fetched plot, wouldn’t fare well at the box office. So imagine his surprise when it raked in more than $2.2 million—enough to make the picture one of the studio's highest-grossing films of 1954.
11. Them! landed Fess Parker the role of TV's Davy Crockett.
When Walt Disney went to see Them!, he had a specific objective in mind: Scout a potential Davy Crockett. At the time, Disney was developing a new television series that would chronicle the life and times of the iconic frontiersman, and James Arness, who plays an FBI agent in Them!, was on the short list of candidates for the role. Yet as the sci-fi thriller unfolded, it was actor Fess Parker who grabbed Disney’s attention. Director Gordon Douglas had hired Parker to portray the pilot who ends up in a psych ward after an aerial encounter with a gargantuan flying ant. And while his character only appears in one scene, the performance impressed Disney so much that the struggling actor was soon cast as Crockett.
By the Texan’s own admission, his good fortune may’ve been the product of bargain hunting. “Walt probably asked, ‘How much would Arness cost?’ and then ‘This fellow [Parker], we ought to be able to get him real economical,” Parker once said.
*Warning: This article contains spoilers for Stranger Things season 3.*
As if we needed a reminder of how much we miss a certain late Stranger Things character, Netflix just went and drilled it into our hearts again.
As reported by CNET, the streaming service recently released a video tribute to the Russian scientist Alexei (Alec Utgoff), showing him sipping his Slurpee on a loop for 12 hours. Yep, you read that right: 12 hours of nonstop Slurpee-sipping.
The video is captioned: "To honor our Slurpee sipping hero, we are pouring one out for our pal. Sip along!"
In season 3 of the Netflix hit, Alexei opens the portal between Hawkins and the Upside Down to help the Soviets in their research. When the fan-favorite character gets kidnapped by Jim Hopper, his request is a cherry Slurpee in exchange for information ... and he won't compromise on the flavor.
Tragically, Alexei doesn't make it to the end of the season. And in true Stranger Things fashion, his death was totally unexpected and left fans shocked.
While you're still mourning the fallen character, just try and enjoy the oddly mesmerizing video of Alexei sipping away.