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It's that time of year again. When the weather starts to get chilly and the leaves change. I love Fall and everything that comes with it...

Thursday, April 27, 2017

13 Ghosts (1960)




I love old horror movies and those of director William Castle are some of my favorites. All his movies have some sort of gimmick to sell it to the theater audience. Here the normally black and white movie is tinted blue so that using a special viewer to see the ghosts better or not see them depending on if you believe. I don’t have one of them but I believe I’m going to have a good time.

Cyrus Zorba is struggling to support his family. As the movie starts we see that the family’s furniture is being repossessed. That same day he gets a notice from a lawyer that his uncle has died leaving him a fully furnished mansion. The only catch is that the house is full of ghosts that were caught by the uncle in his research to the paranormal. They move in and the first night strange things start to happen. Not only are the ghosts restless but there is also a fortune in cash hidden in the house! The only question is should they fear the ghosts or the living who are trying to steal the money? One séance later and we have our answers.

Spooky!
This movie used to scare the heck out of me when I was younger. A dark house with ghosts and danger lurking around every corner pushed all my buttons. Probably because I’m older and have seen some much scarier stuff since it doesn’t affect me like that anymore. Still the movie does a couple of things well. Castle keeps the action moving briskly. Every scene is used to push things along to their conclusion. We get the backstory from a journal and a bit of dialogue here and there. In between are the spooky encounters with the ghosts of the house. Best of all while we have ghosts their intentions aren’t what we expect and the real villain might be someone with a pulse. This isn’t a straightforward haunted house movie which is a plus. Castle always made sure that there was meat on the bone.

William Castle was a genius!
Also, the characters are developed well and the cast is likeable. The actors and actresses have some chemistry, especially those portraying the Zorba family, and the performances are solid. While they might not be household names today Rosemary DeCamp, Donald Woods, and Margaret Hamilton were well established and had a lot of experience. Plus, Charles Herbert was a very popular child actor. William Castle always tried to get the best talent he could and as a group this might be the finest cast he ever assembled.

Okay I know that many consider this kind of movie to be cheesy and dumb. But it also has something that many newer horror movies don’t have. There is a commitment to quality as well as a respect for the work. Castle might have used gimmicks to make his movies stand out and pack a theater, but he still cared about what was on the screen. If you haven’t seen a William Castle movie or haven’t watched one in a while go back and check them out. 13 Ghosts is a great place to start. Don’t be surprised if I’m talking about another Castle flick here on the Blog soon.


© Copyright 2017 John Shatzer

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Haunted Palace (1963)



The action starts with some angry villagers burning a warlock at the stake. He curses them and their descendants for what they have done to him. You know at some point wouldn’t people learn that they needed to gag witches/warlocks before burning them? So of course, years later another man, named Charles Dexter Ward, inherits the place and sure enough is the spitting image of the long dead warlock. The locals try to warn him off, but he ignores them. Before you know it, he is possessed and starts to make good on the threat of revenge. It is up to Ward’s wife and the local doctor to stop him before it is too late.

I grew up on the movies of Roger Corman, many of them starring Vincent Price. I mean these were in constant rotation for all the late-night horror hosts back before the days of cable and VHS. So they have always held a soft spot in my heart just from nostalgia alone. Still I’d say that these are still solidly made, entertaining drive-in fare. Price is excellent as our lead, as he almost always is, and brings the character of Charles Dexter Ward to life. He might chew a bit of scenery, especially when being mean to his wife, but it fits with how the rest of the film plays. Price is one of those rare actors who can make any production, regardless of how bad, watchable with his performance alone. Luckily with the Haunted Palace he has some help from genre favorites Long Chaney Jr. and Elisha Cook Jr. (who is also in another Price favorite of mine House on Haunted Hill).

You can always count on a Roger Corman movie to get to the action and never let up. The Haunted Palace is no different. It starts off with a bang with the burning at the stake and the action keeps coming with some revenge killing and even more burning! Corman makes sure that he squeezes every penny of the budget onto the screen and it shows. The movie feels much larger then it probably should with the money spent on its production. I also like how Corman gives his actors screen time and takes full advantage of their skills. At this point, Lon Chaney Jr. was on the downside of his career and many of the films he made during this time basically wheeled him out and gave him little to do. Here he gets to be a creepy assistant that comes out of nowhere for some jump scares. As a horror fan, I like it when an older
actor is shown respect. Though it was probably Corman wanting to get his money’s worth! Either way it makes it that much more fun to watch.

This movie is very loosely based on H.P. Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. I say very loosely based because other than character names and the mentioning of a couple elder gods it has very little to do with Lovecraft’s universe. I only point this out because if you are a nerd for Lovecraft’s writings, as I am, this might disappoint you. But that shouldn’t make you avoid The Haunted Palace. There really is a lot to love about the movie. Consider this a recommendation from me.

© Copyright 2017 John Shatzer


Friday, April 21, 2017

Book Review - Loch Ness Revenge by Hunter Shea

I don’t only watch horror movies. Sometimes I read a book! Well actually I read a lot of books, many of them horror/monster themed. When Loch Ness Revenge was recommended to me and I realized it was about Nessie I knew I had to check it out.

Natalie and Austin McQueen are on a family trip exploring Europe when their parents are killed at Loch Ness by a monster. Of course, no one believes them and the assumption is they are just traumatized by watching their Mom and Dad drown. Years later, helped by a big insurance payout, they are ready for their revenge when the creature or creatures reappear. They aren’t alone in their quest and are joined by Henrik, an acquaintance of Austin who has his own agenda and is willing to help the siblings. Armed with an arsenal and a pontoon boat they head out on the Loch to kill the legendary creatures (yeah there is more than one!).

The pacing of the story is great with no lulls in the action. Shea manages to establish who Natalie and Austin are as well as their motivations quickly so that we the reader can dive right into the fight with the monsters. That isn’t to say that he doesn’t develop all of the characters. The book is populated with people that jump off the page with their own quirks and issues. Even the minor characters have personalities. Many authors try to add depth to the people populating the story by forcing interludes that interrupt the proceedings. Shea just weaves it into the action without it being a distraction or disruption.   

Random Nessie Picture.
For a book with monsters I thought we would have a higher body count and perhaps a little more gore. Other than the description of their parents being attacked there isn’t much to talk about. When I’m dealing with monsters in either the movies or books I can never get enough of the gooey bits, especially when it is a book and the only limitation is the author’s imagination. This is really my only complaint.

There is nothing in this world that I love more than to sit down for a good creature feature. The giant bug movies of the ‘50s or the Godzilla movies of the ‘60s and ‘70s have given me hours of enjoyment. Occasionally I find a book that gives me the same giddy enjoyment and Loch Ness Revenge is one of them. The book is a quick read at one hundred fifty pages, so it is perfect for summer vacation. Hell, if you are brave enough you should read it on a boat in the middle of a lake and then go swimming!

Remember when I mentioned Henrik’s agenda earlier? Well his father was killed by the Orang Pendek, a Bigfoot like creature in Sumatra. The sequel to this book are the characters getting revenge on them. I’ve already got it on my Kindle. That is how much I enjoyed Loch Ness Revenge and Shea’s writing! If you have an eReader enjoying this book is just a couple of clicks and a small online transaction away. If not the paperback is available at all the big online retailers. I recommend it.

© Copyright 2017 John Shatzer


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Trippin' down memory lane

So over the years that I've been writing about movies I've had the chance to write for a couple of fanzines as well as websites and a magazine. Several years back I was asked to write up something different for a fanzine that is distributed in and around North East Ohio. At the time I was asked I had just read one of Joe Bob Briggs books and wanted to try my hand at that sort of thing. Now just let me be clear the characters of Earl "Buck" Weaver and Skeeter are actually based on some people who I grew up with. So I'm not making fun of anyone! Enjoy my one and only effort at Drive-in Mammories.

Drive-in Mammories

Part fiction, part review, and a total rip-off of the much superior Joe Bob Briggs

Written by Earl “Buck” Weaver

Howdy my name is Earl “Buck” Weaver and I’m a proud American Patriot!  Not sure what that has to do with movies and movie watching but I always like to put that out on the table first thing.  This here is going to be a way for me to educate and share some of the best memories that I’ve had in my long life of watch picture shows at the local drive-in.  These stories are pulled from my memory and might be just a bit exaggerated.  But like my old grand pappy used to say, “If it looks like duck crap, smells like duck crap, and tastes like duck crap it is probably duck crap Jimmy my boy.”  Sure my name isn’t Jimmy, but the man had some wisdom to share.

Okay I should get back to my story.  Way back in the ‘80s my cousin Skeeter and I decided to check out a movie called Without Warning.  Wait I guess I should say something about Skeeter before I go any further with this story.  Skeeter ain’t his given name, but it should be.  I suppose his parents had hope that his skinny head and giant nose would go away as he got older.  Well it didn’t so when you look at him now he looks like a giant skeeter coming in for a snack.  Now that isn’t to say that he is a bad guy, because he ain’t.  That boy would pull half the chewing tobacco out of his mouth and share it with you if you asked them.  Though you probably wouldn’t want to.  Most people don’t like Skeeter, but I do.  Next to him I’m a catch and I’ve used that a lot with the ladies.  You know the lesser of two evils. 

Alright now I’m going to get back to the story.  So Skeeter and I head down to the drive-in to watch Without Warning.  Lucky for us we didn’t have to get there very early since they were showing some silly romance or comedy first.  I’ve always thought it was mighty nice of the drive-in to show the bad movie first so you had plenty of time to get there before the good stuff started.  I can’t exactly remember what it was but since I didn’t have a lady friend going with me it was a waste of time.  That is the only reason I’d ever watch one of these, and to be honest I’m trying to not watch it as I had something else on my mind.  Plus there was a sale on PBR down at the Shop-n-Save so I had other priorities that night.  Might not remember what was playing but I never forget discount beer.

Cowboy Curly be lookin' for his gold!
Where was I again?  Oh yeah the movie Without Warning.  So Cameron Mitchell takes his son, who is a bit of a hippie if you ask me, on a hunting trip.  When all of a sudden these rubber Frisbee things fly out of nowhere and stick to him.  And well that is all we get from him.  Then the action switches to that guy from the TV who takes his glasses off real slow like.  He and some friends head out for some fun in the woods.  Sure enough you know they just got to run into some of those rubber Frisbee things.  Before they get to the Frisbees they run into some friendly locals.  They seem like nice guys and sure as hell know how to decorate!  They are some great actors in this part.  You have tall Bela Lugosi and that cowboy Curly or something like that.  They try to warn them about the woods, but kids in those days just didn’t listen.  If they had only listened to their elders those kids would have been okay. 

You can't tell how cool I am without my shades
About this time we see a troop of boy scouts walking into the woods where the flying rubber Frisbees are zipping around.  Now why anyone would let there children go into the woods without Forrest Tucker I can’t say.  But all the kids have to follow is that stork feller, so you know it might not end well for them.  I did learn that you should stay away from rattlesnakes because they carry germs.  Not sure what kind they have, but who wants to get sick?

Some of the kids disappear and the other two find them stacked up like cordwood.  It is about this time that the rubber Frisbees show up and attack them.  Of course you was probably wondering what was tossing those things around, and sure enough eventually an alien shows up.  It chases the kids around for a bit until Curly shows up to save the day.  Well I guess he sort of saves the day if you consider the fact that most everyone dies.  Still I’d have to say that it was a pretty damn fine movie and I had enjoyed myself when it ended.  Though both Skeeter and me were both disappointed that we didn’t get to see any neeked ladies in this one.  Horror movies are normally always good for something like that. 

It is about this time that things begin to get a little fuzzy for me.  I mean like I said the movie was pretty good, but I had snuck in a couple of six packs of PBR and by now most of them were empties.  And before you think I’m a bad person I had a ride home.  These days they call them designated drivers, but I just called him Skeeter.  In addition to looking a bit sketchy Skeeter didn’t like the taste of beer.  This is another reason that I always kept him around.  That is about all I can remember about that night.  I don't have anything else to say so I’ll be heading out now.  Check in next time for another trip to Drive in Mammories. 

                                                    © Copyright 2017 John Shatzer

Monday, April 17, 2017

Day of the Dead (2008)


I’ve always been a huge fan of zombie movies, especially those of the great George Romero. With the popularity of zombies peaking in the 2000s we got to see some new movies from the inventor of the modern zombie, but sadly we also saw Hollywood cash in on his legacy. This remake, in name only, of Romero’s classic is one of those attempts.

The setting of this version of Day of the Dead switches to a small Colorado town. The story begins with people trying to leave, only to be stopped by an army roadblock. There is a quarantine, or a practice quarantine. We get both explanations. Of course, being a zombie movie we the viewer know before the characters that it is a real quarantine. Soon the infected turn into fast moving, wall climbing, semi-intelligent undead that only want to eat the flesh of the living. Our main characters of Lori, her brother Trevor, and an ever-decreasing group of forgettable fodder must survive long enough to escape the outbreak.

I hate when someone remakes or re-imagines a movie. Most of the time they try to change it so that it plays better to today’s audience. If the original has enough of a following that you want to cash in on its name maybe it works just fine with a modern crowd? Here it isn’t even an update since they toss the entire story. The only thing this version has in common with the original is the title, zombies, and some of the character’s names. That sucks. You know what else sucks? Fast moving zombies! Don’t like them and for the filmmakers to make that choice for this remake annoys me. I hate them (fast moving zombies) and make no apologies about that.

I just want to be clear, this is a perfectly serviceable zombie movie. It hits all my must have bullet points for a night with the walking dead. We get plenty of gore. Heads are shot, faces ripped off, and limbs are gnawed on. Sure, most of the work is done with digital effects, but you just don’t get a lot of good old practical work these days. We also have a great “outbreak” scene. Here it happens at a hospital when all the infected suddenly turn. I love watching characters’ deal with the confusion of zombies. Finally, there are some funny lines and situations. I mean Bub the zombie doesn’t try to eat them because he was a vegetarian! Dumb but still a funny bit.

Notice I said it was a perfectly serviceable zombie movie. If this had been called anything other than Day of the Dead I would have been okay with it. But when you use the name of a legendary movie like the original Romero classic, either as a remake or sequel, you must live up to it. If you don’t then it comes off as a cash grab taking advantage of the work of a much better filmmaker. This is how I felt when I first watched the movie in 2008 and is still the vibe when I watched it again this year. While not an awful movie I still can’t recommend that anyone spend ninety minutes of their time on it. Go grab a copy of the original instead!


© Copyright 2017 John Shatzer

Friday, April 14, 2017

Movie Review - Black Magic (1975)




I like horror movies and I like Kung Fu movies so Black Magic seemed like a no  brainer. Hell, it was made by the masters of Kung Fu cinema, the Shaw Brothers. But somehow it took me almost thirty years to track it down and watch. But I did finally pick up a copy on DVD and pop it in the player a few months later.

I won’t confuse you with a bunch of names you will have trouble keeping track of anyway. The story here involves black magic and using it to create love potions and killing off those that you dislike. There is an evil magician who gets hired to cast a love potion so that a man can seduce a wealthy widow and take her money. It works, but only for a single night. The next morning the woman wakes up and figures out what happened. Instead of being angry she forces him to take her to see the magician so he can cast a love spell for her on a married man she is obsessing over. He does and she steals him away from his wife and friends. As if that isn’t enough she has him cast a death spell on the wife so that she will stop trying to get her husband back. The death spell is brought to the attention of a good magician who saves her and enters the battle so set things right. This sets the scene for an epic showdown. Good vs Evil on the top floor of a skyscraper.

Okay so first thing first, there is no Kung Fu in this movie. The battles are chanting and casting spells so that was a bit disappointing. I thought we would get some traditional martial arts but it isn’t that kind of Shaw Brothers flick. The other thing that I found a bit annoying was the pacing of the movie. It starts off with a bang and ends with a great sequence, but there are times in between that it drags. It isn’t terrible but I think there is some padding to stretch things out.

In spite of what I mentioned above Black Magic does have a lot going for it. It has a sleazy vibe that I didn’t expect from a Shaw Brothers movie. You get some nudity and the first love spell cast on screen is disturbing. I honestly had no idea you could cook rice like that! The death scenes involve a good amount of fake blood and we get several bodies breaking down to skeletal dust. I also thought the battle at the end between the magicians was fun. The effects work is a bit dated and don’t expect Savini level gore (Tom Savini is my gold standard you see) but for 1975 it isn’t bad.


While the end credits are rolling I always sit and try to get a grip on how I feel about a movie. Yeah, I know the Shaw Brothers don’t have end credits but the DVD menu works fine too. I enjoyed watching Black Magic, but I don’t know that I need to see it again. Maybe I might show it to friends but this isn’t going to go into my rotation of movies that I watch every couple of years. If you can find a copy on the cheap (I paid 5 bucks for mine) or get a chance to rent/stream it I think it is worth some of your time.


© Copyright 2017 John Shatzer

Greetings

This being my first post on this blog I suppose I should introduce myself. My name is John and I'm a huge movie nerd. Mostly horror movies, but I'll watch most anything. I've spent the last twenty years writing about movies and interviewing some of the talented people that made them. Mostly on websites like Bloodtypeonline.com and Screamzine.us. Heck I even ran my own website, Gutmunchers.com, for a few years.
In the end it all became far too much work and dealing with internet trolls was a hassle. So I stopped the web stuff and semi "retired" from the hobby. I do still write for a biannual magazine called Grindhouse Purgatory which you can get from Amazon.com (cheap plug!). But the internet was/is dead to me.
So why the Blog? Occasionally I still get the itch to write a review or rant about something that annoys me. I figure that a Blog is the perfect solution. I don't have any deadlines or people counting on me. When writing for other sites I always felt some pressure to make sure I had an article or review ready to go for them. And running my own site was even worse because I got screeners constantly and I didn't want to disappoint or let them down by not covering what was sent. A crappy little blog that no one will likely ever read and that comes with no deadlines or pressure seems like a great way to go. 
So here we are. Well I suppose we might be a stretch. But if you are reading this then I hope you enjoy it. I can assure you that I've had fun watching movies, reviewing, and ranting about them. 

-John