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October 2022 marathon

Every year I do an October movie marathon where I watch all sorts of spooky shit. I revisit classics from my favorite directors like John Ca...

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Silent Night Deadly Night (1984)

I suppose it was about time for me to get to this most infamous of Christmas horror flicks. Though if I’m going to be honest, and I always am, the controversy is sort of overblown. Other than the Santa outfit this movie isn’t terribly shocking for a slasher flick and was never intended for the kids that still believe in Santa to see anyway. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Things kick off with young Billy going to see his grandfather, who when no one is looking scares the hell out of him. On the way home he then sees his parents murdered by a criminal dressed as Santa. Now an orphan he is raised in an orphanage run by a nun with some odd issues at how to properly raise children his issues become worse. Between the ideas of punishment from the nun and the idea that Santa has a naughty list, things go rather poorly when he is asked to dress as jolly old Saint Nick by his employer. Determined to do his best and believing it is now his job to punish the naughty he goes on a killing spree.

As I’ve already stated this movie is rather infamous for the reaction it got when first released. I suppose that parents didn’t like a slasher flick about Santa killing people coming out right before Christmas. Who knew that might be an issue? Though again this was never intended for the younger crowd there were some unfortunate advertising mistakes like running ads while the kiddos were watch the television. In a way the controversy and subsequent pulling of the movie from theaters was probably the best thing that could have happened to Silent Night Deadly Night. Don’t get me wrong the movie is a solid slasher flick, but this pushed it into must watch territory.

This is not going to end well...
The story is paced decently, though the Billy growing up in the orphanage stuff isn’t terribly interesting to me. Though once he dons the red suit and starts growling “Naughty” at his victims it picks up. What is a nice touch is that we can sort of understand why Billy does what he does. The guy is messed up and is only doing what he thinks he is supposed to do. For a slasher movie to make us feel sympathetic to the killer is a nice twist. Also, the fact that the plot basically follows him as the main character and not a final girl was a bit different from the formula. I like it when filmmakers subvert my expectations and/or put their own spin on things.

The gore is plentiful and of course there is some nudity. The lovely Linnea Quigley provides that and is done away with in one of the most creative and festive kills you will ever see on screen! Other kills include some work being done with a hammer and axe. There is a lot of blood and fun, though this time I did notice that more of it happens off camera and implied then I remember from past viewings. That said it is still a good time and delivers what I expected with a solid eight kills and one accidental death.

If you are looking for a Christmas themed horror movie then this one is an obvious choice, though I’d still pick Bob Clark’s Black Christmas before it. But then that is a genuine classic, so this isn’t a shot at Silent Night Deadly Night. If you are a horror fan and haven’t seen this yet you really should.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

 

 

 

Monday, December 20, 2021

Jack Frost 2: The Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman (2000)

I love these movies and I’m not going to apologize for it. They are silly, over the top, and filled with goofy dialogue as Jack drops one-liners right and left. While this isn’t as good as the original there is still some fun to be had with this worthy sequel. With that said lets get to the story.

It has been a year since Sheriff Tiler and his town were terrorized by the killer snowman Jack. After a recap of what happened and how he was created we are treated to some dummies digging up the containers of antifreeze that contain his remains. Of course, someone dumps hot chocolate in the tank and that brings Jack back to life. Why? Hey man I don’t need to explain the science! He immediately heads off to kill Tiler who happens to be in the tropics celebrating Christmas with his wife and soon to be married friends.

Now you would expect that location to prevent our snowman from being able to continue his homicidal ways, but you would be wrong. Jack heads on down to the islands stopping along the way to murder some lost at sea guys for their carrot. Hey, he needed a nose. When he gets to where he was headed, he takes a few tourists out before changing the climate and making it snow. How does he manage this? Hey man I really don’t need to explain the science. We do find out that Jack was able to track the sheriff because he bled into the antifreeze in the first movie, so they share some genetic material now. That is important because of a banana allergy.

This movie is goofy as hell, and I love it. The dialogue is filled with some very funny lines which I won’t ruin by repeating them in this review. Even after repeated viewings it still is laugh out loud funny. We also have some great setups for the kills including an ice cube gag with a model that was a blast… literally. The plot is quickly paced and wastes no time getting to what we want, a wisecracking killer taking out his victims. The characters aren’t well developed but the cast is solid enough to get the job done and lets be honest this isn’t the sort of flick that leans too heavily into that sort of thing anyway. The late Christopher Allport is back as the Sheriff, and he has some fun chewing up scenery. The rest of the actors aren’t well known but again they do a good job. That said watch for a blink and you’ll miss it appearance from genre favorite Doug Jones.

The kills are more cartoonish and played for laughs. While we get a lot of CGI because of the tongue in cheek nature of the proceedings I was okay with this. The highlights include some icicles bursting thru chests, a woman drowning in a frozen swimming pool, a neck slash, an arm gets torn off with a wicked snowball, and some tongs to the eyes. My favorite is an ice anvil that squishes one woman “Wile E. Coyote” style. In addition to Jack, who is basically just a costumed actor we also get some baby snowball monsters that are puppets. They get to create some havoc before getting whacked by science. Well, I mean someone figures out that they share DNA with the sheriff, so we wrap back around to bananas again!

Jack Frost 2 is played for laughs and does it very well. I’ve always enjoyed this one and try to watch it every couple of years around Christmas. If you haven’t seen this or the first movie I can’t recommend them enough. Trust me this will put you in a very merry mood for this most festive time of year.


© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

 

 

Friday, December 17, 2021

Krampus (2015)

Here we are with another Christmas horror movie. This time around we watch as a young boy named Max deals with his extended family and all the bickering that comes with it. After being thoroughly embarrassed by his cousins he storms off saying he hates Christmas and all of them! That is a bad thing since it gets the attention of Krampus aka. Saint Nicholas’ shadow. Instead of Santa they get a very angry spirit and his minions who are determined to get up to some serious mischief. One by one they all fall victim to them until only Max is left. But then he wakes up in his bed and goes downstairs to see his family next to the tree opening gifts. It must have been a dream and we are getting a happy ending… or not.

I enjoyed the heck out of this movie. The story is entertaining and jumps right to the action without hesitation. There is always something annoying, creepy, or scary happening on screen, which makes for a quick ninety-seven-minute runtime. The movie quickly becomes a siege with all sorts of spooky festive critters trying to get in the house. Spoilers they do manage to get in and that is when it really hits the fans. We also get a fun animated flashback where the German grandmother, who knows things, explains her history with Krampus and what is about to happen. There is a lot to enjoy with this one.

The cast is excellent in their roles with the highlights being Adam Scott, Toni Collette, and David Koechner. This one is played for laughs at times so Scott and Koechner are given a chance to shine. This movie also proves that if you give Collette something decent to work with, she can be a great actress… I’m looking at you Hereditary! We even get some fun with the late Conchata Ferrell as the unpleasant Aunt Dorothy who can handle a shotgun pretty well.

When I sat down with this one, I expected a decent looking creature and that is what I got. The Krampus design is all practical effects work and looks awesome. What I didn’t anticipate was the menagerie of mayhem that accompanies our main bad guy. There are CGI Gingerbread men who wield a nail gun, a maniacal teddy bear that tripes to chomp on folks, a crazy jack in the box that acts like an anaconda in the way it eats people up, and a creepy baby doll. Oh, and I almost forgot the creepy elves and the stabby machine in the attic. I did say there was a lot going on. Though be warned that this one is PG-13 so you aren’t going to get a lot of gore or creative kills. In fact, while we get a few implied deaths in the end it appears that everyone survived.

Sometimes you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. What we have with Krampus is a movie that is just fun. Other than a twist at the end that I didn’t see coming this is a predictable flick that checks a lot of boxes. There is some humor, some horror, and some fun creature effects work. If that would make your holidays merry, like it did mine, then check it out.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

 

 

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Throwback Thursday - The Decline of the Genre Podcast

Note: I originally wrote this for my old website twelve years ago. I just found it while digging thru my archives and thought I'd post it here at the new site. Why? Well being a consumer of podcasts as well as a creator of them my points are still if not even more valid today. I also want to make sure that everyone understands that I do this to help out my fellow podcasters from falling into traps that will destroy the interest in their shows. So now lets get onto it.


Disclaimer:  Let me be very clear that this is in no way an attack on any particular podcast or website.  This is more my take on the rise and eventual decline of podcasts dedicated to the genre movies that we all love. 

Like many of you I was really into the horror podcast scene of several years ago.  This is even before I thought for a second about doing my own show.  We all had our own favorites, but regardless of what shows you listened to the experience was the same.  Personally, I looked forward each week to downloading the shows and listening to fellow fans talking about the new releases and discussing their memories of growing up the warm glow of the television while watching the late-night horror show or a favorite VHS tape.  For a guy like me it was a Godsend because I lived in an area where there wasn't a community of fans for me to connect with. 

But then something changed.  At first, I thought it was just me getting old and jaded.  Then I started having one conversation after another with fellow fans on the net and at conventions.  It seems that I wasn't alone in suddenly losing interest in the podcasting scene both as a contributor thru the Gutmunchers podcast and as a listener.  What happened?  I have some ideas that I'm going to share in this article. 

Before you start recording ask yourself some questions.  (aka. What the hell am I doing here?)

Before you ever record a second of a show you need to ask yourself what your goals are.  What kind of show do you want to do?  What sort of content do you want to provide?  Can you pull it off?

These might seem like obvious things to sort out before you do a show.  But I’ve listened to podcasts that are put together by people who are in love with the concept of a show but haven’t put any thought into it.  When I started the Gutmunchers podcast I knew that I had a specific set of goals.  Heck I even had a mission statement (like the on the front page of the website).  I wanted to review a couple movies in each show.  These would be movies that either myself or my co-host liked.  I didn’t care if it was a new release or not.  My goal was to turn other fans onto the movies that I liked. 

The other big goal of mine was to interview interesting people who worked in and around the movies we all loved.  Some of them had done other shows and some of them hadn’t.  One of our first interviews was with Carol Speed who a lot of fans and promoters thought was dead (I’m not kidding guys).  This was the kind of person that I wanted to talk to and share with others. 

Now I’m not trying to say that this was the only way to do a show.  There are a lot of different approaches to podcasting.  When the shows first started it was all new and people put a lot of thought into what they wanted.  Especially since in the early days the editing tools and hosting weren’t necessarily free people it caused put effort into it.  Then things got cheap and even free sometimes so that everyone piled on without thinking about it.  This of course leads to my next point.

Too many podcasts (aka. The good ones got buried quickly)

I think that the combination of free tools for editing and free hosting options lead to everyone and their brother starting up a podcast.  This is further complicated by the ease in which you were able to get it added to iTunes and therefore delivered to anyone that had an iPod.  When this first happened, I thought it was amazing to be able to reach so many individuals with so little effort.  And it really was.  But that also caused a fatal reaction for the podcasting scene.

With all the free services that were available you could literally decide to do a show and have something “live” in just a couple of hours.  And this was with some basic editing.  So what happened is that suddenly everyone had a podcast and the market was saturated.  Not only that but since it so easy most of the shows were put together terribly.  The editing was lousy, there was dead air, and no one put any effort into the content.  I could go on, but I’ll talk more about this later.  Bottom line was that the one show that put the work in and sounded somewhat professional got tossed in with the fifty others that were garbage. 

I know you are asking yourself what is the harm in friends recording stuff and being goofy?  If it was just a hobby like when my friends and I used to make “shows” with my old cassette recorder then no harm no foul.  But that isn’t what happened.  Those involved acted much like the independent filmmakers that run around the woods over a weekend with a camera and call it a movie.  They started to promote their “shows”, fought for listeners, started tearing each other down, and went to companies to try and get screeners.  Now personally as a fan I got so burned out with the feuds (to be fair I was part of one) and the hosts constantly bitching about one another that I stopped listening.  I don’t think that I was the only one either.  As a former podcaster, it was also embarrassing to tell anyone that I had a show because I didn’t want to get lumped in with this crowd.  Hell, I always lead off with the website and never mentioned the show until I was established with them. 

You just aren't that interesting! (aka. Fart jokes just aren't that funny after the 20th time)

This one is simple.  I've sampled so many different podcasts that I lost count a long time ago.  One of the observations that I made along the way is that far too many podcasters want the show to be about them.  In some kind of attention-grabbing desperation move they want their personality to be the central focus of the show.  Sorry guys but even Howard Stern got boring after a couple of years of listening to his radio show uncensored and I personally think he is a genius.  What chance do you have in holding an audience?  The answer is not much.

In my humble opinion, a horror podcast or really any movie podcast should be about the flicks and not about some goof talking about how much his farts smell or calling his co-host names for two freaking hours.  Guys you need to understand that the movies are your content and are why your audience is "tuning" in for each episode.  When we were doing the Gutmunchers podcast I tried hard to focus on what was important, the DVDs that we were covering and the interesting people that we were interviewing. 

Too many people half doing half assed work.  (aka. Watch some damn movies!)

This one just kills me.  I was listening to a show that I won’t name here.  They were doing a best of show where they discussed all the horror flicks from a particular year.  Only they hadn’t seen or couldn’t remember half of them!  This is just lazy and shows a total lack of respect for your audience. I might have sucked as a podcaster, but I always watched the movies and did the work for the show.  If you don’t have the time to do your research, then chose a different direction for that particular show.  Maybe the professionals can just wing it but you can’t.  If you could then someone would be paying you to do this instead of you recording it in your bedroom. 

This leads me to another point about doing the work.  Would it kill you to have a script?  I’ve listened to shows that had no focus and wandered all over the place.  The hosts didn’t know what they were trying to do or in what order they wanted to do it.  You need to know what the plan is before you ever record a damn thing.  There is nothing so annoying as dead air. Podcasting isn’t a visual medium, so you need to keep things rolling along. Nothing will bring a show to a screaming halt faster than not having a script.

Wrap up (aka. Yes, I probably pissed off some people)

These are my thoughts on what happened to the podcasting scene.  When I first started writing this I approached it as a how to for podcasting.  You know so I could pass on my experiences and encourage other budding podcasters.  But the more I got into it the more I realized that I didn’t want to encourage anyone to become a podcaster.  Trust me the work you put in will never be worth it.  The online horror community is vicious.  You are either going to do a lousy show and add to the crap already out there, or you will be good at it and then incur the wrath of those that are jealous of your success.  Instead of spending hours editing and tracking down interviews I’d recommend just chilling out and watching some movies. 

Agree with me?  Disagree with me?  I don’t hide behind a screen name, and I put my contact information right out there.  Either way you should feel free to email me at gutmunchers@gmail.com with feedback.  This isn’t meant to be a shot at any podcaster or show in particular and shouldn’t be taken as such. 

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

I’m Dreaming of a White Doomsday (2019)

I hadn’t heard about this movie until my friend Donovan picked it for a podcast that we do together. We were interviewing the director, Mike Lombardo, so I figured it was a good bet the movie would come up. With that in mind I went off to Amazon and rented myself a copy. Please note that there are spoilers in my review. I rather enjoyed the movie so I recommend you just go watch I’m Dreaming of a White Doomsday and then come back to see what I have to say about it.

Doomsday has happened and the world is destroyed. We see a mother and her young son in a bomb shelter counting the days until their food runs out. In a series of flashbacks, we see that the husband/father had headed out for more supplies but never returned. That means mom must leave her son to go looking for food. She finds another survivor who is hurt and tells her that something attacked her and her brother. We never see what that is but it does let us know that the world is scary outside of the shelter. To protect her son she steals the injured girl’s food and leaves her to die.

Returning to the bunker we watch as mom realizes that it is hopeless. She finds some cookies in the girl’s bag and makes one last Christmas treat for her son, with a poison chaser. Yeah, she is planning a double suicide! Merry Christmas… Here is where it gets weird. As they are decorating, and she is planning Santa Claus shows up and marches across the wasteland. He has the boys name on his list, yeah this is the “real” Santa, and is hauling a bag of toys. He reaches them and immediately attacks the boy. Santa can’t die as long as a child lives who believes in in and the poor old fella just wants to put himself out of his misery. So yeah, the mom’s plan doesn’t work as Santa chokes the kid out before she can poison him.

This one is a kick in the butt!
This is a depressing and serious movie that I can’t say I enjoyed in the traditional sense of having fun with it. But I very much appreciate how well it is made and that ending has stuck with me for a couple of days. I know that some might find the pacing a little slow but I thought it was fine. The characters are going thru the motions in what seems to be a hopeless situation, so it kind of had to be that way. Plus, this is more of a drama then an action movie so if you are looking for a shoot ‘em up with monsters then this isn’t the flick you should be watching. The twist with Santa is worth the wait. That hooked me as it was unexpected and fun. This is an example of a solid movie that sticks the landing with a crazy fun ending.

The acting is decent especially the young actor who plays the son. Honestly, I’ve seen big budget productions have horrible casting choices when it comes to casting a child. Here the director/writer Lombard got very lucky to find a kid that has talent and can act. He is one of two actors that has to pretty much carry the movie so this could have been a deal breaker. They are helped with well written dialogue that feels natural. Something else that I liked about the writing was the fact that the movie managed to tell us a compelling post-apocalyptic story without having a huge budget. They keep is simple, spending most of the time in the bunker. This controls their locations and scales down the setting to what they could afford. Nothing will kill a movie like being overly ambitious and exceeding your resources. Here Lombardo clearly knew what he had and used it perfectly.

Due to the nature of the story I can’t imagine revisiting this one often. But the fact that it bothered me says that I’m Dreaming of a White Doomsday did the job it intended to do. I don’t think this one is supposed to put you in a holiday mood, but instead is meant to tell you a slightly off kilter and darker story. Mission accomplished. If you have stuck with me this far I’d like to recommend that you check this one out. It is one of the best written and interesting stories that I’ve seen filmed in a long time. I highly recommend it.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

The Ten Best Movies of 2021

Since I’m already making this list for a podcast that I do I thought it might be fun to share my top ten movies of the past year. These aren’t all going to be horror, though honestly most of them will be. That is my favorite genre, so it just works out that way. Below are the best new movies that I watched this past year. Or at least new to me. I’ll start off with number ten and move my way up. Oh and since the year isn’t over yet I reserve the right to change the list if I catch anything awesome over these last couple of weeks.

The list below goes from bottom to top so the last movie you see is my favorite movie of the year. I realized after assembling the list that it might not have been that obvious how I set it up. So with that clarification lets get to it.

I’m Dreaming of a White Doomsday (2019) – This movie from independent filmmaker Mike Lombardo blew me away. For much of the runtime I was thinking I knew exactly where the story was leading. I mean it was still a very well movie that I was digging, but then there is a huge twist. One that is totally original, unexpected, and shocking. As an added bonus this is a Christmas themed horror flick!

Force to Fear (2020) – This was one of the best low budget movies I’ve seen in a long time. A solid mashup of action flick and slasher movie. The kills are a little lame, but the action sequences are well staged, and I loved the characters. Best of all it is beautifully shot. This, like the previous movie, is a prime example of an independent filmmaker knowing their resources and shooting the best movie they could within those limitations.

Prisoners of the Ghostland (2021) – This Nic Cage flick is, as you would expect, completely nuts. We get mutants, samurai, and cowboys all existing in the same universe. I also loved the visuals, the swordplay, and of course Cage’s take on the odd character. Plus, they blow one of his balls off. I think we all agree if you blow off one of Cage’s balls then you get at least a three-star bonus. Spoilers this isn’t my only Cage vehicle on the list! If you are interested, I covered it for the site. Click here for the review.

Werewolves Within (2021) – I had no idea what I was getting into with this movie. It turned out to be a blast with cool characters, an interesting mystery that kept me guessing, and in the end a decent werewolf reveal. Plus, the AT and T lady… damn. If you are looking for a funny and quirky take on the Lycanthrope genre then this is the flick for you. My full review can be found here.

The Deep House (2021) – Honestly The Deep House wouldn’t’ have been on my radar but it was picked by my friend Kyle for the Bloodbaths and Boomsticks podcast, so I watched it for the show. I was shocked at how great this movie was. A haunted house under the water! Both spooky with good scares as well as the skin crawling feeling idea of running out of air topped off with an ending that kicked my ass. This was a lot of fun. Check out my full review here.

Caroushell the 2nd (2021) – This is the sequel that we deserved. The original Caroushell was a fun flick that featured a carousel unicorn coming to life to get some payback on the people that treated him like crap. Duke, the unicorn, gets a backstory and a son in this follow up. Just as funny but with more heart filmmaker Steve Rudzinski somehow tops himself the second time around.

Willy’s Wonderland (2021) – Nic Cage is back on the list. This time he is fighting satanic knockoff Chuck E. Cheese animatronic mascots. I know a lot of fans liked Mandy, but for me this is the vintage crazy eye Cage that I wanted. Hell, he doesn’t even have any dialogue and still kicks ass. I loved this flick. If you need more encouragement then Cage versus animatronic mascots check out my full review at this link.

Benny Loves You (2019) – Who doesn’t love a killer stuffed animal? This movie is gleefully twisted and gory. The pacing is spot on with something fun always happening on screen and most of the jokes landed for me. The titular character Benny is one of my favorite new horror icons and I hope we get some sequels. I had a blast with this flick.

Nobody (2021) – This feels like an old school action movie like a Death Wish flick. Lots of action Bob Odenkirk is kick ass as the family man who is a former hitman. The dialogue is fantastic and the movie balances action and story perfectly. Odenkirk does such a wonderful job portraying a character that tries to get away from who he was but eventually gives in when he is pushed too far. Really this is a must watch.

Fear Street (2021) – I cheated a bit with this one. Technically they are three movies but tell one main story. These fear Street flicks were an amazingly fun time. Somehow, they managed to make three different movies that all stand alone as solid flicks all while doing a nifty bit of world building. When I got to the end of the third installment I wanted more. That is a good sign. Check the links below for my full reviews.

Fear Street Part One 1991

Fear Street Part Two 1978

Fear Street Part Three 1666

Before you get mad at me for leaving something off let me give you my honorable mentions. Movies that either were on my list and got bumped or were fun but just didn’t cut the mustard. Boys of County Hell is a fun Irish vampire movie. Mortal Kombat was a surprisingly fun bit of mindless action movie. Shadow in the Cloud has my favorite Chloe Grace Moretz performance ever. Boss Level is another fun mindless action movie that reminds me of the old school flicks I used to watch all the time. Psycho Goreman was a fun flick, though the nineties nostalgia didn’t play with me as I’m a bit too old for it. Finally, Cowgirls vs. Pterodactyls is every bit as silly as the title suggests but was also a heck of a lot of fun. Okay now you can get mad!

So, there you have my list. I’d love to hear if you think that I’ve missed anything or for you to share your list with me. You can email me at gutmunchers@gmail.com. I look forward to hearing from you. Now to create a new word document and start filling it up with the good stuff for 2022.

 

 © Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Monday, December 13, 2021

Letters to Satan Claus (2020)

The movie opens years ago when we see a spoiled little brat angry that her out of work parents can’t by her the Darby dream car that she wants for Christmas. Because of that she writes an angry letter to Santa telling him all she wants for Christmas is for her parents to be gone. Later in flashbacks we see her and her younger sister on Christmas morning opening presents… each one containing a piece of her murdered and chopped up parents. Feeling festive yet?

The movie jumps twenty-two years later, and we see that the litter girl, Holly Frost (yes, all the names are very festive) is an investigative reporter. Though her dream is to get the anchor’s seat and that chance has finally come. Though she needs to be more approachable, so her boss sends her to Ornament… yep that is the name of the town, to cover their yearly Christmas festival. This also happens to be her hometown that she has been avoiding since high school.

Holly comes home, drinks a lot, and is totally snarky. She also finds the letter she wrote as a little girl and realized that she misspelled Santa as Satan. Again, being sarcastic and a scrooge she sends Satan another nasty letter. He shows up again and starts killing everyone. Initially no one believes Holly but eventually enough people disappear, and bodies drop that they catch on to what is happening. She must find her holiday spirit so that she can lead the rest of the town in a battle to send Satan on his way! This is a weird movie.

I don’t know how many of you out there either watch those Hallmark Christmas movies or have a spouse that does, but this is a fantastic parody of those. Let’s look at some of the tropes of those and see how they twist them in Letters to Satan Claus. Obviously, we have the fish out of water successful big city girl come back home only to be charmed by the simple ways of small-town America and falling in love. Here she has to so that Satan can be banished, and the killings stopped, but it is pretty much the same thing. There is also a handsome man who lost his wife and has a young precious daughter. Here the wife was killed by a falling hot air balloon and the daughter is a creepy adult child that well… just has to be seen to be believed. In the end Holly rejects the big job to return to her small-town home to be with the man she loves… though that doesn’t turn out as you would expect. We even get a proposal from a secret prince from Eastern Western Europe!

Now if that doesn’t appeal to you there are some horror goodness that might. We get some fun kills like Aunt Becky the baker getting tossed into her oven, cookies that bleed and ask why you are killing them, and even death by obnoxious Christmas music! Though I think the biggest thing that I learned is if a snowman suddenly comes to life and offers to show you what can be used for his eyes you might want to step back a few paces. Just to be clear this isn’t an overly gory movie but the kills are creative and most importantly festive. The look of Satan Claus is decent. They created an actual appliance and have an actor in it which is always what I prefer. Here he has some snappy one liners and cackles in a silly but creepy way. To sum it up I liked the kills and the creature.

I suppose if you haven’t been forced to watch Hallmark Christmas in July, and yes that is a real thing, then you might not get some of the jokes in Letters to Satan Claus. But there are still others that are more obvious that will probably put a smile on your face. To catch them you must be paying attention to the dialogue because they sneak some good ones in under your nose. This movie is very well written, acted, and directed. It will be on my yearly watch for the Holidays list from this point forward. I highly recommend Letters to Satan Claus.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Friday, December 10, 2021

Prisoners of the Ghostland (2021)

Like him or not Nic Cage has been on a roll lately. He has made some interesting movies, including the great Willy’s Wonderland. When I saw Prisoners of the Ghostland pop up on Shudder I knew that I needed to check it out. I’m glad that I did.

The plot synopsis is going to be confusing. Mostly because the plot is very strange and dare I say quirky? Cage is a bank robber; we know this because we see him and his partner at work. Later thru a series of flashbacks we find out that the robbery went bad, and he left the other robber to be caught by the authorities, though not until after a shootout. This is important later. We also see some women escaping from a prison or brothel, not sure which it is. Then rather abruptly we see one of them wake up in what appears to be a refugee camp. She was having a nightmare about mutants or zombies or something like that.

Have I lost you yet? Some time has passed and Cage’s character has been caught. He is told by the governor, played by genre legend Bill Mosley, that he is the man to recover his granddaughter from the Ghostland. It is a forbidden place that they don’t go but he can. The missing woman is one of those that we saw escape earlier. They give Cage’s character a leather jump suit with bombs attached to it to ensure his compliance and behavior and send him on his way. There are some mutants, one of his testicles and arms get blown up, I think there are ghosts, and in the end a town is saved and lots of bad guys die.

Prisoners of the Ghostland is an odd but enjoyable flick. The setting is confusing as you have what appears to be feudal Japan with the costumes and buildings sitting right alongside with modern guns and cars. There are samurai fighting side by side with cowboys. Mosley’s character is wearing a white suit and cowboy hat, but his right-hand man is a traditional samurai who is feared for his swordplay. It can get a bit confusing at times, but I realized that to enjoy the movie it required turning off the logical part of your brain and just watch what is being tossed on the screen.

Cowboys, Samurai, and Bill Mosley!
Now please don’t misconstrue my previous comment with the idea that the plot is nonsensical. There is an interesting story being told. You have a robber that is redeeming himself thru saving the girl. Though not like you would think. In one of the flashbacks, we see that the girl isn’t the actual granddaughter of the governor but was taken by him when her mother was killed in the shoot out at the bank. So, helping her is setting something right. We also have an odd bit with the melted ghost of his former partner who died when the prison bus had an unfortunate encounter with some toxic waste. There is a lot going on here and trying to figure out how it all connects kept my interest.

Cage is excellent and does a great job carrying the movie. He really has been on a role lately doing movies that fit his odd sensibility as an actor. The guy has certainly cracked the code on the types of characters he should play. That said I almost feel as if Bill Mosley steals the movie as the governor. He basically steals every scene he is in, and I can honestly say this is his best work since The Devil’s Rejects.

There is a lot to like about Prisoners of the Ghostland. The fights are great, the swordplay choreographed very well, the set design is excellent, the lighting adds to the mood and atmosphere. I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. I can’t recommend this one enough, it is one of the best of the year. Check it out. Again, it is streaming on Shudder as of the writing of this review.

 

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Throwback Thursday - Spaghetti Westerns

note: Back in the day I wrote a Blu-Ray review column for Grindhouse Purgatory magazine. I thought I'd post my look at some Spaghetti Westerns here. This includes a great Lee Van Cleef flick, The Grand Duel. 



The Blu-Ray report: Spaghetti Westerns

by John Shatzer

 

            Every time that we get a new home video format I watch as the companies putting out movies run out of material. They end up digging up all sorts of obscure films to fill their inventories. As a movie fan this can be both fun and overwhelming. Do I double dip on a Blu-Ray, or don’t I? What about the releases I’ve never heard of? Well fear not good readers I’m back again to help you out with the Blu-Ray report. This time around I thought it would be a nice change of pace to check out some Spaghetti Westerns.           

            The first disc I grabbed was a double feature from Mill Creek Entertainment with 4 Dollars of Revenge and The Last Gun. I’ve seen the latter so decided to watch 4 Dollars of Revenge. The movie opens with Captain Dexter returning from the Civil War. Dexter is a war hero, wealthy, and someone that those in power want to run for Governor. He is also involved in a love triangle between himself, the lovely Mercedes, and another army officer. Dexter tries to resign his commission to pursue politics, but his commanding officer insists that he deliver it, as well as a shipment of Confederate gold to Washington D.C. personally. So off he goes but along the way his patrol is ambushed and everyone but Dexter is killed. Miraculously he survives after being left for dead but soon ends up in prison after he is framed for the crime of stealing the gold. He escapes and goes looking for the men who destroyed his life.

            Many Spaghetti Westerns follow the formula of a wronged man getting revenge on those who wronged him. When done properly it can be a blast and in some ways 4 Dollars of Revenge nails it. We have many suspects that might be to blame for Dexter’s predicament. Was it his drunk cousin who keeps asking for money? Perhaps the fellow officer who is vying for the love of the same woman? Could it be a political rival that wants to stop Dexter from becoming Governor? Heck it might just be bandits looking for some gold. The movie gives us many options and I appreciate that. There is also a gimmick with 4 of the gold coins. Dexter is given them to remind him of his crime, so when he gets revenge on someone he leaves a coin behind, which ties into the title 4 Dollars of Revenge. See what they did there?  

            Unfortunately, as much as I liked how the story was setup and the plot device of the coins the movie has a fatal flaw. It is so damn slow! As an example, when the movie starts we get scene after scene of Dexter riding into town with people welcoming him home. After the first couple I figured out that he was well liked. Then we get a lot of talking as Dexter chats up his fellow officers, his lady, and anyone else that stops him on the street. Some of this is establishing characters, but much of it is just filler. Speaking of filler, the camera tends to linger on scenes long after anything pertinent to the plot has happened. The shots are nice but I don’t need to see background characters dancing. This makes the movie feel much longer than its 88-minute runtime.  

            Again, this Blu-Ray is from Mill Creek Entertainment, which is a budget releasing company. While it does boast on the back of the case that it is a new HD transfer I wouldn’t have high expectations. It looks like they did a transfer from a 35mm print, but it hasn’t been cleaned up. There are image defects, scratches, and an occasional pop in the sound. We also don’t get any special features. The biggest advantage to this disc is that you can normally pick it up in a bargain bin for less than 5 dollars. Still I’m not sure that 4 Dollars of Revenge is a good deal even at that price.

            The second disc that I grabbed is also a budget release from Mill Creek Entertainment and is a double feature of The Grand Duel and Keoma. I decided on the Lee Van Cleef vehicle The Grand Duel, which has also been released under the title of The Big Showdown. Van Cleef plays an ex-sheriff, named Clayton, that is doing all he can to help a murderer escape the bounty hunters that are trying to bring him in. The man, Philipp, has a large bounty placed on him after he is accused of killing the patriarch of the Saxon family. Early on we find out that Clayton knows that he is innocent, which is why he keeps trying to convince him to run away to Mexico, but Philipp refuses. He was framed for the murder to get him out of the way when the Saxon’s killed his father. There was silver found on some peasant’s land and Phillip’s father was organizing them to stop the Saxon’s from running them off and stealing the mine. This leads both back to town and a showdown with the Saxon brothers.  

            Unlike 4 Dollars of Revenge just about everything is perfect with The Grand Duel. The gunplay starts off early and continues until the end credits roll. We get many shootouts with lots of Saxon henchmen finding their ends at the hands of our heroes. Lee Van Cleef quietly chews up the scenery portraying a bad ass like only he can. He is dangerous and knows it even if those challenging him don’t. As I mentioned above the story of a wronged man getting revenge is common in Spaghetti Westerns but here it has an added twist. Philipp doesn’t know who he is looking for! He wants to know who killed his father and who framed him for the patriarch’s murder. This is a mystery that isn’t resolved until the very end of the movie and since it isn’t the same person we get a couple of reveals.

            Great pacing, entertaining story, lots of gunplay, and Lee Van Cleef. What isn’t to love here? As an added bonus, I was shocked at how nice the movie looks. When I saw the Mill Creek Entertainment logo I had low expectations about the transfer. While the Blu-Ray is bare bones and has no special features, the transfer is stunning. Like the first Blu-Ray this can be had very cheaply in the bargain bin of many large retailers. Unlike the that disc this one is worth every penny for The Grand Duel alone. Add in Keoma, which is a decent movie starring Franco Nero, and you get a double feature that is a steal. I highly recommend this one.

            Well that is it for this installment of the Blu-Ray report. I hope that I was able to steer you away from wasting your money by pointing you to the good buys. If you enjoyed this please check out my blog at horrordude.blogspot.com for more of my musings on all things movie related. As always please feel free to email me at gutmunchers@gmail.com with any complaints or compliments! I’m always eager and ready to converse with another movie fan.

 

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Bigfoot vs. Megalodon (2021)

nothing in this poster happens!
This title had me thinking I was going to watch some silly CGI fest. You know like Sharknado only with Bigfoot. That isn’t what I got at all. What we have with Bigfoot vs. Megalodon is an animated movie, and I use that term very loosely, that takes place in space. What the hell did I get myself into?

Let me see if I can explain the “plot” of Bigfoot vs. Megalodon to you. It is far in the future and humanity or rather what is left of it has just finished a war with lizard people. Though they look like your classic grey aliens. The evil lizard dudes are now led by Stalin and Crowley… yeah, they use a lot of names like that. Somehow a genetically modified Megalodon survived in the now barren and ruined depths of Earth’s oceans. I guess the Nazi’s did stuff to him. With the help of an ass kissing robot, he steals a ship and starts doing stuff. The lizard dudes want to capture him because of his DNA being weaponized to turn humanity into lizards too.

There is also a princess and her clone boyfriend that talk a lot about having sex and making babies. They also have Bigfoot on the ship with them as he is part of their alliance as well as the princess’ clone sex toy’s best friend. There is some nonsense about Bigfoot getting lured in by Crowley and betraying his friends and then the shark is also around. Stuff happens and then we get left with the idea that they are going to make a sequel. God, I hope not. If you haven’t noticed what we don’t get is any versus action. I don’t think that Bigfoot and the Megalodon share a single scene together!

This movie, and I not even sure I should call it that but for the purposes of this review I suppose I will, is dreadful. The story is impossible to follow with dialogue that sounds as if it was written by a teenage boy. The action seemingly jumps at random between scenes and characters and comes off as choppy. I was paying close attention, both to figure out what I was watching and as a way to stay awake. This might be the most boring attempt at storytelling I’ve ever watched, and I’ve been at this for a long time.

New word... crapimation!
The above isn’t helped by the way the movie is animated. Have you ever played a nineties video game and seen those lame cut scenes? Imagine if you had to watch over an hour of those masquerading as a movie! The character models used are horrible looking, all of the humans are mostly seen in their armor, so they don’t have to try and animate their faces. When we do get to see the princess out of her armor she stands in a static pose for a long time as the camera rolls round. She doesn’t move for the entire scene. When they do try to animate the Aliens, the mouths don’t match the dialogue. Oh, and the Bigfoot… sweet baby Jesus that is just horrible.

What we have with Bigfoot vs. Megalodon is a movie that has zero plot, terrible dialogue, and inept animation. That isn’t a recipe for success. I haven’t disliked a movie this much in a very long time. Frequent readers to the site will remember my rants earlier this year when I plowed my way thru both the Witchcraft and Camp Blood franchises. I would much rather watch any of those again then sit thru this dumpster fire. Don’t be fooled by positive IMDB ratings this is trash.

 

Ó Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Monday, December 6, 2021

The Deep House (2021)

Tina and Ben are YouTubers who record themselves exploring out of the way and abandoned places. Ben is all about the clicks and to that end they find themselves in France to explore a town that was “drowned” when a dam was built flooding the valley where it lay. Their hope of getting some good underwater footage is dashed when they arrive to find the supposed out of the way location a tourist destination filled with families. Tina suggests that they make the best out of it and take some time to enjoy it.

These plans are derailed when a mysterious local informs them of an out of the way place that no one goes to. Underneath the lake there is an intact house and grounds for them to check out. Ben, still looking for his clicks, decides to go for it. Soon he and Tina are in their scuba gear swimming into the very dark lake. They find some stairs, an abandoned car, and finally the house. Oddly enough all the windows are barred but they do eventually find an attic window that is open. Once entering the house things get very spooky. Yeah, the place is haunted!

I’ve watched a lot of haunted house movies in my life. Some of them great and some of them not so great. But I would have assured you that I’ve seen everything you could do with the subgenre. That would have been wrong. The Deep House takes the tried-and-true formula and puts a crazy interesting twist on it. The idea that the house is under the lake and that they must dive to get to it was awesome. How has no one ever done that before? It adds a surreal feel to the proceedings that fit perfectly with the story. We also get the added bit of tension from the limited amount of air. It puts things on a clock and both the characters as well as the audience are aware of it. The best haunted house/ghost stories all have tension, and this adds to it.

The scares are plentiful, and the movie is very creepy at times. The visuals of bodies floating in the basement, as well as the ghost girl that keeps popping up is great. They don’t overuse jump scares and I appreciate that. Way too many newer horror movies try throwing the proverbial cat off camera at the characters to get you to jump. That normally just makes me roll my eyes. Though I have to point out that the filmmakers are very clever with that particular trope. Twice in the movie there is a jump scare of sorts with a fish darting out at them from the darkness. Though the second time it appears it serves to move the story along which made it feel less cheap. It was also not until the fish appears a second time that I realized it was a catfish! Okay that is just brilliant and had me laughing.

This is one of the best movies that I’ve watched this year. Clocking in at only eighty-five minutes it wastes little time getting to the good stuff and when it starts it never lets up. The creepy out of this world setting, scares, and big twist were all satisfying. My only complaint is that I wasn’t fond of the ending, but that isn’t a deal breaker. Do yourself a favor and check out The Deep House.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

 

Friday, December 3, 2021

Terror from the Year 5000 (1958)

Just when I think I’ve seen all the sci-fi and horror flicks of the fifties I find another one. This one was brought to my attention by a good friend, and I knew that I had to check it out right away. Terror from the Year 5000 extremely low budget regional movie was shot in Florida and follows the story of a brilliant scientist working on time travel. He has figured out a way to send items into the future and have items sent back. It seems that he has managed to contact those future humans and has started working the machine out.

Sadly, his money man and assistant Victor is very impatient. He decides to crank the machine up and when he does, he brings a future woman back to the present, of course the present for this movie is the fifties. She is horribly mangled by radiation and wants to retrieve him for his uncorrupted genes. But since everyone freaks out when they see her, she kills a nurse and steals her face! Eventually the scientist, his daughter, and a colleague Dr. Hedges all rush to the lab to prevent Victor from going to the future, though their efforts don’t end the way I think they hoped.

Terror from the Year 5000 is a low budget cheesy fifties science fiction/horror flick that tries it’s best. The cast is decent but are saddled with a story that is thin and lacking much action. We get a lot of sneaking around as Hedges tries to figure out why Victor is stalking around the house at night. There is also some swimming, getting of supper, and even a bit of peeping tomfoolery. All of this is fine except I signed up for a monster movie and I’ve not gotten much… no check that any monster at all!

Eventually we do get to see the future lady, but she is kept in the darkness and out of sight for a long time. When we do finally see her, she is wearing the stolen face of the unfortunate nurse. This is late in the story, so it basically escalates quickly and before you know it, we get to see the monster in all its glory. Damn even for the time this is a silly makeup effect. The ending feels rushed and after waiting all that time for something to happen I kind of felt cheated.

I was amused to find out that the creature in this movie is played by an actress named Salome Jens who has had an amazing career with this being her first feature film credit. It seems that she does a lot of voice work, but I recognized her, well her voice anyway, from her role as the lead bad guy changeling on Star Trek Deep Space Nine. Yep, both times I’ve seen her she has been buried under makeup. Though she also played the nurse so when the monster is wearing her face it is her.

Do I like this movie? It has issues and I was disappointed in the lack of monster action. That said I’m a big fan of regional filmmaking and drive-in movies, so this checks a couple of boxes for me. It is also a very short movie clocking in at around sixty-six minutes, so it isn’t a huge investment of time. I guess if you like these old cheesy movies then you will want to check out Terror from the Year 5000, if not then probably not.

 

Ó Copyright 2021 John Shatzer