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Featured Post - Mystery Movie Marathon

I thought I'd kick the new year off with another movie marathon. I thought it was time to check out a few old school mystery flicks. Som...

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Cannonball! (1976)

There was a brief craze of car based drive-in movies that cropped up in the seventies. These flicks ranged from the serious like Vanishing Point all the way to the absurd like Death Race 2000. Cannonball falls more towards the latter which shouldn’t be a surprise since it is made by the same director, Paul Bartel, and was made the following year. With that in mind lets dive right into some more automotive carnage.

Our main character in Cannonball is Coy Buckman, played by David Carradine. We meet him as he is having a nightmare where he is driving a car only to be shot thru the forehead. He wakes up and then sneaks out to the garage to find his best friend Zippo working the car from his dreams. There is a big race, the Cannonball, coming up and they are getting the car ready. The winner gets a cool 100k and becomes an immediate legend. This brings together a motley crew including a German professional race car driver, a van full of lovely ladies, a surfer couple, and an old enemy from Coy’s past. Once they hit the road hijinks ensue.

I think that Cannonball is trying to be a funny movie, but the tone is so off that it doesn’t work, at least for me. There is some light comedy that is immediate followed by someone getting blown up or smashed under a car! I’m not talking slapstick stuff where we see them walk away with there hair all frazzled… these characters die! While that works well in the odd dystopian setting of Bartel’s previous effort, Death Race 2000, here it fails. That is probably because it is set in the real world and I just couldn’t get past the fact that with this many bodies dropping the characters would be able to just walk away at the end.

A more important question is how are we even supposed to like these characters? The best example of this is Bennie, played by the always awesome Dick Miller. The character is introduced with his henchmen planting something on the German’s car. We later find out that he is Coy’s brother and has a ton of money bet on him to win. So of course, he is going to have all these complicated schemes that will lead to fun shenanigans, right? Nope he just straight up kills people while the movie plays it up as if he is comic relief. I found that rather jarring. It would have been much better if they had just made him a villain and given the movie a darker tone. Instead we get other bits of comedy like the singing cowboy broadcasting from a Dodge Charger, the van of lovely ladies “dealing” with some cops, and the continually more banged up Lincoln Continental gag. I really don’t know what to think about this one.

They straight up killed that dude!
This was a New World Pictures production, so we get the Corman regulars showing up. In addition to those that I’ve already mentioned we also get actresses Mary Wornov and Belinda Balaski. Directors Joe Dante and Allan Arkush make small appearances. Roger Corman even shows up for a short scene as a district attorney trying to shut the race down. Though hands down the best and craziest cameos have director Paul Bartel, who also plays the mobster taking all the bets from Miller’s character, in a scene with a couple of henchmen. They are played by an uncredited Sylvester Stallone and Martin Scorsese! All these people have connections to Roger Corman and the low budget flicks he was cranking out as either a director or later a producer.

I like Paul Bartel’s movies. The aforementioned Death Race 2000 as well as Eating Raoul and the criminally ignored Private Parts are great movies. His stuff is always quirky as he has a unique style. I’m not sure if it just doesn’t fit this kind of movie or if he needed to go completely dark or light with this one. Cannonball doesn’t work for me and I can’t recommend it.

© Copyright 2020 John Shatzer

Sunday, April 26, 2020

The Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman (aka. Werewolf Shadow) (1971)

Paul Naschy was a prolific star of horror movies coming out of Europe for many years, but somehow many fans aren’t aware of him or at best know him as that werewolf guy. He was a heck of a lot more than just that… though he did a lot of werewolf movies, including this one.

Naschy plays Waldemar, a nice guy who also happens to be a werewolf. We see him come back from the dead after the silver bullets are removed from his chest. He kills a doctor and cop then the action moves onto a couple young women. Elvira and Genevieve are traveling to the north of France to research a legendary lady vampire. They are in search for her tomb to do school stuff like papers and PHDs. They almost run out of gas looking for the village before they find Waldemar who invites them to his house. Then things get weird.

He is of course a werewolf. His crazy sister lives with him trying to protect him from himself by chaining the man up on the full moon. I say she is crazy because for no reason she decides to try and choke one of the girls out! Some more things happen, Genevieve and he open a tomb and accidentally bring the vampire woman back to life. There is some girl on girl action, a silver cross is found that can kill the vampire as well as the werewolf. Though it can only be wielded by someone who loves him. Which works out well since he and Elvira are madly in love after a day or so. There is a big showdown where sad stuff happens, and a few people live happily ever after.

Naschy as the werewolf
When watching a Paul Naschy flick you need to adjust your expectations when it comes to storytelling. There will be some overall cohesive narrative that drives the action, but many characters will come and go, as well as do mind boggling odd things that require the audience to make some rather large leaps in logic. A prime example of that is the sister trying to kill one of the girls when she arrives. It isn’t explained why she would do that? At least later on when she attacks again it is because they found where she has been chaining Waldemar up and is afraid they will tell someone. But why the crazy bits when they first arrive? Mostly I think it is to show a bit of skin and hint at some naughty stuff. Can we fault them for that?

I should also explain two things that you need to understand and accept if you are going to enjoy Naschy movies. First it will get a bit sleazy with lots of female nudity and girls kissing on each other. These were made for a seventies audience and the man knew what they wanted so it was shoehorned in no matter what. You have to respect the man for that. Second the werewolf effects work is going to be Naschy in simple makeup that leaves him recognizable. He likes to play the werewolf, growling and drooling all over the place. His energy as the creature is part of the fun and what makes these movies very watchable. But don’t expect any over the top makeup effects.

Of the Naschy films this is one of the weaker movies. I only say that because I wanted a much bigger showdown in the versus movie. I want the werewolf and vampire woman to seriously throw down. Sadly, its over quick and left me disappointed. Other than that, this one checks all the boxes that I look for. Not great but worth checking out if you are interested in Naschy or European horror movies of the late sixties and early seventies.

© Copyright 2020 John Shatzer

Thursday, April 23, 2020

The Recall (2017)

I’m in another of those moods where I go looking for movies that I’ve never seen or heard about before. I do this to mix things up and sometimes find a cool flick no one is talking about. Let me assure you right away that the Recall is not one of those.

The story kicks off with some astronauts doing a spacewalk. A giant shadow appears, and they grab their heads screaming. Then we meet five annoying young people, two couples and the nerdy guy, going to an isolated cabin for Labor Day weekend. They arrive but not before meeting up with a local survivalist/hunter played by Wesley Snipes! Then we meet a bunch of new characters in a bunker talking about stuff before the action moves back to the kids. Some clouds show up and then aliens arrive. They are there to kidnap people for reasons. Everyone dies then gets better. The aliens leave and then the army/cops try to re-kill the kids. But they can’t because the aliens gave them superpowers. Why? Well for reasons of course! Then the movie ends with them looking at the clouds because the aliens came right back after having just left.

This movie is terrible. I suppose that is all I need to say but that would make for a lousy and lazy review. So, let me give you some examples. First up is the story and character development. Within thirty seconds you know that the moody kid, Charlie, is going to have some deep and disturbing backstory. He does because his girlfriend died in a car crash that was his fault. This has scarred him but no worries. After he is kidnapped by aliens his dead girlfriend shows up an tells him to let her go. He is all like “No way I can’t” and then she is like “come on dude” so then he is like “ok”. Then the aliens drill into his skull… for reasons. Just like that his deep-seated issues are gone. That is both bad storytelling and character development. Do you want more? Okay I think I can help you.

The other guy with a girlfriend, Rob, is Charlie’s best pal. Until he sees an alien and then he immediately starts fighting with him. They go from friends to Rob threatening to shoot him in about two minutes of screen time. I’ve seen character lose their shit in movies before, but Rob actually tries to shoot and kill his friend for no discernable reason. What the hell movie? Are you seeing a pattern here? There is more but I don’t feel the need to share.

There are worse places they could probe... just saying.
The only slightly cool thing about The Recall is the Wesley Snipes character. He is a former astronaut that was abducted and released by the aliens years earlier. This wrecked his life and gave him some insight to them. He knew they were coming back and he was waiting for them. He chews up some scenery, has the only good lines in the movie, and basically kicks ass. Sadly, he isn’t on screen enough to save The Recall. I would have loved to see an entire flick of him versus them but that isn’t what we get.

I will admit that the filmmakers do a good job with the special effects work. The CGI of the spaceships arriving, and the big storms is decent enough. The latex work used to bring the aliens to the screen is also decent. They clearly had some money to spend and took the time to make The Recall look good. I just wished that they had spent some time on the story and character development.

Clearly, I’m not recommending the movie. It was a boring mess that had me looking at the clock early on. I watched and finished The Recall so you wouldn’t have to. Take my advice and skip this one.

© Copyright 2020 John Shatzer

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Train of the Dead (2007)

I like to check out horror movies from all over the world so I’m always on the lookout for them. When I found Train of the Dead on YouTube it seemed interesting. A ghost story from Thailand set on a train. I’m a sucker for flicks set on trains so I decided to dive right in.

We have two storylines that quickly intersect with each other. We meet a young man that doing motocross on his dirt bike. Think X-Games complete with the blaring generic music that goes along with one of those videos that the GoPro camera crowd likes to upload online. Thankfully we move quickly away from that to a group of criminals who are robbing a daycare facility, because I guess they have a lot of money. The robbery goes sideways and results in a police chase. That chase ends badly as the getaway van crashes into a shop that the young man from earlier is working at. They take him hostage and sneak onto a train that is leaving town. Almost immediately they notice the train is filled with some weird people that ignore them.

I’m debating how I should proceed with this review. On one hand I don’t want to spoil anything but on the other anyone who has ever watched a horror movie has to know what the big twist is going to be. To get into the nitty gritty of Train of the Dead I’m going to have to drop some spoilers on you. If you don’t like that sort of thing skip to the final paragraph that I promise won’t give anything away.

So here we go. They all died in the big crash/gunfight that ensued. If that weren’t obvious enough by the fact that we never see another police officer and/or the weird passengers, it is sealed by the fact that a member of the gang that we saw get shot down suddenly shows up on the train. Now this could be a cultural thing and the Thai audience it was made for wouldn’t be expecting a twist. But for me that knowing what was going on before the characters do spoiled much of the fun that could have been had by trying to figure out what the heck was happening. Seriously, this really tripped me up and got in the way of me enjoying Train of the Dead. It also didn’t help that the movie has some very slow spots that caused me to look at my watch more than once. It makes for a boring hour and a half.

There are some good things about the movie. You get a couple solid jump scares with some ghosts coming back to haunt the gang members as they start to figure out what is going on. I also liked the train as transportation to hell setting. This leads to some interesting ideas of the afterlife that aren’t what you would normally see in a western movie. Cultural differences are one of the reasons that I dig watching international horror flicks. There is a cool bit with the idea that people who should have died but are being kept alive by machines get stuck in a holding pattern unable to move along. That idea is fascinating, and I think will stick with me.

Do I recommend the movie? In spite of the things that I mentioned above the overall glacial pacing and long drawn out scenes where nothing happens is too much to overcome. The good stuff gets buried and isn’t enough to recommend Train of the Dead. I’m going to suggest you pass on this one.

© Copyright 2020 John Shatzer 

Monday, April 13, 2020

Wolfcop (2014)

I’m going to do something a bit different with this review. Normally I let you know at the end if the movie is getting my recommendation or not. Most of the time you likely know which way I’m leaning before that, but it still isn’t “official” until the last paragraph. Hear me now… GO WATCH WOLFCOP! This movie is awesome, and I love it. If you need convincing, then feel free to continue reading.

Woodhaven is a small town best known for its world-famous drink and shoot! Basically, they invite a bunch of hunters to get wasted and head out into the woods with loaded firearms. Folks really seem to like it and they get angry when it is cancelled. Though the authorities sort of had to do it when a body is found in the woods. Lucky for everyone that local cop Lou Garou is on the job. Well actually he is a drunk that accidentally stumbled onto the weird ritual murder and only kind of remembers what he saw. The important thing to know is that he is now a werewolf and a cop. WOLFCOP!

Be warned spoilers are coming. Really if you haven’t seen the movie go watch it now! Well I warned you… Woodhaven is infested with shapeshifters who need to kill a werewolf every thirty-two years to keep themselves alive and in power. Something about the blood does it. They pick Lou to curse because he certainly isn’t going to give them any problems since he is an incompetent drunk. Of course, being the natural born hero that he is they thought wrong!

Horror comedies are hard to pull off. Sometimes you are really funny but lack the gore to scratch that itch. Other times the horror works but the comedy doesn’t. Here we get the perfect formula with lots of laughs and plenty of blood in the perfect ratio. Lou Garou is played up as the village idiot, which is why he is chosen to become the werewolf. This allows some early slapstick stuff as Lou stumbles his way thru becoming the creature. He goes from drunken shenanigans to supernaturally powerful drunken shenanigans. This is all with the help of the local gun shop owner and conspiracy nut, Willy. Lou stops a robbery, gets some liquor doughnuts, and customizes his car in a great montage scene. There is never a dull moment as the story and jokes come at you quick. This is what happens when you have a great script before turning the camera on.

Trust the liquor!
Wolfcop is also a very bloody movie. I know when we got our first transformation scene that the filmmakers hadn’t skimped on the gore. The first time Lou “wolfs out” he is in the men’s room. How does one put this politely? He inner wolf busts out of his wang! Then some dudes come in to capture him (they are late and are working for the bad guys) which leads to some flesh ripping limb tossing goodness. More mayhem ensues as Lou works his way thru the minions of the shapeshifters before the big finale. Which I’d like to add involves an alcohol power up.

This movie has everything that a fan would want from a horror comedy. It is funny and gross. You get cool one-liners and a face ripped off. What isn’t to love? I keep saying it but will do so yet again. GO WATCH WOLFCOP! I highly recommend it.

© Copyright 2020 John Shatzer

Thursday, April 9, 2020

The Stepfather (1987)

The time has come for me to take a critical look at an old video rental favorite of mine. The Stepfather stars Terry O’Quinn as a man in search of the perfect family. Now as all of you out there know that is an impossible task. Unfortunately, when O’Quinn’s character realizes that his current family isn’t going to fit his idea of familial bliss he bails and goes in search of a new one. Though unlike most people he doesn’t get a divorce he murders them all instead! We know this because we see him changing his appearance and walking over the bodies of his current family in the opening scenes of the movie.

With that setup we see him married again, now going under the name Jerry Blake, and trying his best to be a good stepfather to Stephanie. Things are going a bit rough, but it looks to be getting better as teenage Stephanie starts to appreciate Jerry. But then the brother of the woman he killed earlier (the first family) convinces the local newspaper to bring the story back up a year after the crime. The jig is up for Jerry and he knows it is only a matter of time before he is found out. Plus, it just isn’t working out with Stephanie and her mother, so it is looking like he needs to try again fresh. Yep, time for more killings.

Let me start off by shooting down the idea that this is a “classic” of the eighties. The Stepfather is a very good movie but in no way is it on the level of Evil Dead or Re-Animator. Those movies bring a lot to the table and have so many reasons to love them. The Stepfather has one thing going for it and that is Terry O’Quinn as the titular character. He gives one of the best performances in any horror movie from a decade filled with some good ones. There are scenes where he is saying all the “right” things but there is a look in his eyes that tells you he is contemplating the best way to murder you at that very moment. It is subtle and disturbing on so many levels.

This is one creepy dude
The character also hardly every raises his voice even when he is stalking and killing people! So, when he does it is used to great effect. Specifically, I’m thinking of the basement scene where he reacts in private to the news article in the paper about the earlier killings, and his total overreaction to Stephanie getting a goodnight kiss. This allows those scenes to be even more powerful than they otherwise would have been because the audience can see the character getting desperate and knows what happens when he feels the need to run away.

Now I don’t want to imply that other than O’Quinn the movie is subpar. The writing does a good job supporting and setting up his performance. The best example of this is a bit early on when he steps over the body of his young daughter that gets called back to several times as he deals with the kids of his clients. They think he is just a charming family man who they can trust, but we know that he flat out murdered a child and thought nothing of it. That brings an additional level of creepy that helps set the tone. My point is that while there are some good things here, they all are either in support of or overshadowed by the main character. Remove him and the rest of it feels rather generic.

Sure he kills people... but he also is an animal lover.
Speaking of generic the kills in the movie are disappointing. Other than some fun with a two by four and a stabbing we only see the bodies afterwards. Both of the kills that I mentioned cut away before anything too graphic is seen. Though the lumber inspired beatdown has a brutality to it that was interesting. I know that many might make the point that this isn’t the kind of movie that hangs its hat on a bunch of gore. While I don’t disagree, some good kills would have been a nice addition to The Stepfather and ties back into my original point of not quite reaching the level of classic.

Perhaps I’m splitting hairs with this review. Clearly, I like it and will be recommending the movie. Terry O’Quinn is awesome in the role and that alone is worth a watch. I just have always had this feeling that they could have taken that performance and supported it with a bit more horror in the gore and scares. The Stepfather could have been a bona fide classic but ended up as a very good movie instead.  

© Copyright 2020 John Shatzer

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

The Head Hunter (2018)

The Head Hunter is set in vaguely Nordic fantasy world populated with all sorts of monsters. Our character, and for most of the movie the only character we see, is simply known as father. His life is hunting monsters and killing them. Thru a series of flashbacks and grave visits we discover that his daughter was killed by a monster and that he has been hunting for it ever since. Along the way he answers the horn, which blows frequently, that summons him for another mission. Eventually this brings him back to the creature that killed his child and he successfully slays it, ready to hang it with his other trophies. But something bad happens and things get messy.

I want to keep my plot synopsis vague because I really enjoyed this movie and don’t want to spoil anything. The plot is simple and straightforward, while at the same time extremely engaging. For most of the movie we see the results of his hunting but not the fight. The horn echoes and he leaves with the next scene him returning with a bag containing the noggin’ of the unfortunate monster that crossed his path. The rest of the time is him going about his business of fixing up his isolated cabin, visiting his daughter’s grave, and using some concoction he mixes up to heal himself of the wounds he gets from his many fights.

I’m not sure why but I was fascinated by what should have been rather slow and mundane things aspects of his day. I suppose it was partly due to how they parse the story and background of the character out slowly and keep hinting that there is going to be a big payoff at the end. Which there is, but not what you would expect and that is another reason I love The Head Hunter. It keeps messing with the audience’s expectations which is great. The filmmakers manage to walk that tightrope of keeping the viewer off balance and engaged at the same time. No matter what was on screen I needed to know what happened next to Father.

I love how gritty and lived in this world feels.
The sets, armor, and monsters (again mostly just the heads on the wall) are pulled off incredibly well. They look lived in and if you watch closely the armor shows more wear and tear as the movie progresses. The filmmakers pay close attention to detail and as a viewer who has been accused of being somewhat picky about those sorts of things, I very much appreciated it. The latex heads hanging on the wall are beautifully made and look lifelike. The one big monster fight we get at the end is shot well and exciting. Honestly this movie is damn near perfect!

I guess my only complaint is the ending, which I did not like. Again, I’m going to keep the spoilers at a minimum, so all I can say is that it isn’t necessarily a bad way to end the story of Father. I just liked the character so much I wish it had been different. In the end this is one of the finest independent movies I’ve seen in the last twenty years. I’m not exaggerating about this. The Head Hunter is my new gold standard for making movies with next to no budget. This movie feels like they had a million dollars but in reality, the budget was only about thirty thousand. How the hell did they pull this off? Bravo guys and if it isn’t clearly obvious yet I’m highly recommending this one.

© Copyright 2020 John Shatzer