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Featured Post - Slasher Marathon 2021

Since I started the website I've done a Slasher marathon every summer. This time I thought I'd start things off in the first week of...

Friday, June 11, 2021

Mother’s Day (1980)

The slasher marathon continues with Mother’s Day. This is a movie that I’ve been meaning to watch for a long time, but just never got around to cracking open the DVD. Then it showed up on the Last Drive-in with Joe Bob Briggs and I figured this was a great way to watch the movie. Honestly, I feel a bit dumb waiting so long.

Things get rolling with a motivational speaker spewing crap at an audience who is eating it up. Afterwards a couple of hippie types ask an old lady for a ride, clearly up to no good. But before they can get up to anything the car breaks down and some guys from the nearby woods come out and kill them. The old woman is Mother, and these are her boys Ike and Addley. You want me to be interested in your flick kill some hippies!

Then we meet a group of girls who have been friends since college. They like to take trips together every year and this year they have decided to go camping in the woods. Guess who they run into! Before you know it, the girls are being assaulted, chased, and pushed to their limits as the insane family uses them as practice. I think that Mother is training her boys to be the best serial killers ever. It must be something like that with all the training montages which is a first for slasher flicks or at least the first I’ve seen.

I really liked this movie. It is a bit weird that the killers, especially Ike and Addley are the most likeable characters in the movie. They have a goofy sort of dynamic between them that is kind of appealing. Of course, they also murder and rape so that isn’t good. How writer director Charles Kaufman pulls this off I don’t understand. It shouldn’t work with the tone shifting so radically from scene to scene. And yes, Kaufman is the brother of Lloyd Kaufman and this is a Troma movie. Though it is much different from the goofy flicks we all expect from them. This is a nasty and at times brutal movie. Though again the most disturbing bit is how much it makes you like the killers. If all feels a bit greasy but in a good way.

The kills are decent for an early eighties’ movie. We get a respectable six kills with two early on and then the rest towards the end. That leaves a long stretch without any deaths, though they do make up for it with some other horrible things. Some of the kills are tame like a dude getting choked and one character that just dies quietly after being brutalized. We do get death by Drano/Television, some hatchet work, and a head lopped off. Though my favorite kill is death by plastic boobs. I can honestly say I’ve never seen that before. All this action is topped off with a twist ending that I didn’t see coming but loved. This final surprise also involved some makeup work as well, which was cool looking.

I debated if I should add this to the slasher marathon. While it has the rape/revenge storyline this also has the gore, stalking, and nudity that are all hallmarks of the subgenre. So, I figured why the hell not include it. Though I’d be hard pressed to argue with someone who thought it didn’t belong I feel like it does. Again, I really liked this one and recommend that everyone give it a chance.

 

Ó Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Night School (1981)

Time for me to get back to basics. Night Shift is a slasher movie that I watched back in the heyday of the eighties and honestly didn’t like all that much. But then that was on beat up VHS tape in a 4:3 aspect ratio rather than the beautiful new HD Blu-Ray. I wonder if that will make a difference. Spoilers it does!

The movie kicks off with the Boston skyline. On a personal note, in the eighties, I was living in Boston so that was sort of fun for me to recognize. We see a woman sitting with a child waiting for her to get picked up. She works at a preschool and when the kid leaves she is left all alone on the playground. That is until a leather wearing killer shows up on a motorcycle complete with a tinted faceplate. The girl is attacked, killed, and has her head cut off. Not a bad way to start a movie off.

We are then introduced to Austin, the detective assigned to the case. This isn’t the first killing where the victim has been decapitated, and it isn’t the last! More and more young ladies are found murdered with their heads lopped off and placed in water. One is an aquarium, another a sink, and yet another a bucket. What is up with that? Well Austin connects all the victims to a girl’s school and more specifically a professor Millet. He just happens to teach anthropology with a focus on primitive traditions including head hunting! Is he the killer? Did they make it that obvious? I’m not going to spoil it for you because I loved Night School this time around and don’t want to ruin the fun.

Seriously, what a difference a decent transfer can make. Not only can I now appreciate the way the movie is shot with things happening in the shadows, the way scenes are framed, and yes some of the more artistic camera work, but the sound is much better as well. I can hear the dialogue clearly and you also get some important musical cues that I think weren’t as noticeable before. This was like watching an entirely different movie. In the past I’ve always been sort of neutral towards Night School. I didn’t hate it, but it was easily ignored, and I never recommended it. That has certainly changed.

Love the look of the killer
The story is fun and different. Instead of following a bunch of kids getting picked off we get a lot of adult characters like Austin and Millet. The police are involved and there is more of a mystery here than just a line them up and mow them down scenario. We do get a decent number of kills with five characters meeting their end. Though be warned that most of these are offscreen and those that aren’t end up bloodless. The best part is a couple of severed heads. If you are looking for a gorefest this isn’t it. Paced well I was never bored with what I was watching and enjoyed the characters and their interactions with each other. This is a well-acted and written movie. The story also has a decent twist ending as well as another sort of funny one tacked on at the end.

In some ways this almost plays like a tamer Giallo with the killer in black, including black gloves. The subplot of the professor and his many lovers also is very important and adds that bit of sleaze that is very familiar to fans of the genre. Heck the detective and his sidekick comic relieve also would fit nicely in a Giallo. Then again, this movie makes at least one big reference to slasher movies. Early on the cops visit a peeping Tom that they suspect as the killer and placed prominently in the scene is a hockey mask. I’ve always considered this to be a slasher, but the argument could be made that it belongs in this other category.

This is a fun movie. There is the required nudity, enough kills, a couple severed heads on screen, and a mysterious killer. I also liked the connection between the murders and headhunting which gave Night School a neat spin. I was disappointed by the lack of gore, but that is my only complaint. I recommend that people check this one out. Just make sure to find the Blu-Ray in HD.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Wolfsbane by William W. Johnstone

This is the second book that I’ve reviewed here at the website from prolific author Johnstone who was better known for his westerns. I mention that again because I feel like some of that traditional cowboy storytelling found itself into this supernatural horror tale. More on that later.

The story takes place in a small Louisiana town and involves an ancient family of Satan worshipping werewolves and witches. A few decades earlier the locals found and killed one of the men of the family who was afflicted with the werewolf curse. His elderly wife, who is a powerful witch, has waited until the time was right to return to get revenge on the descendants of those that killed her husband. This involves bringing her werewolf relatives back to life as well as turning her victims into zombies to do her bidding. All of this is overseen by Satan himself, who apparently lives in the swamp nearby.

The granddaughter of the evil witch lady is somehow ignorant and innocent of this family curse. She ends up hooking up with a mercenary that was chosen by God to do battle with Satan. The mercenary quickly goes from “this is all bullshit” to “hey Satan how goes it?” Being the chosen one he does what a mercenary/soldier/hero does and takes the fight to them. This all leads to an abrupt and forced ending that clearly was meant to set the rest of the series up. And yes, there are many more books in this series.

I don’t think that I’m a Johnstone fan. While I was enjoying the other book I read from him, Bats, it didn’t stick the landing. Here I have the same problem. The story ends with our hero falling into the basement of the house and waking up five years later. The characters that were established have all either died or moved away. We are just left with our mercenary climbing out, meeting a priest that was apparently waiting for him, and getting ready for what I expect is the action in the second book. We don’t get an ending that satisfies this story but rather have a “to be continued” ending and that annoyed me.

Beyond the ending I have to say that for the most part I wasn’t fond of the story. First, we have werewolves, witches, zombies, and vampirism all mixed in with Satanism. This is a bit too much for the story to define and support. None of it is fleshed out and you get the feeling that Johnstone is sort of tossing stuff in because it is evil. Plus, the werewolves drink blood, the witch can only be killed with silver bullets, the zombies inexplicably can talk and aren’t killed with head shots. They never define the rules to the monsters in the story and that is annoying.

The story itself structurally has issues. Let’s take the zombies for example. They just sort of show up and no one is surprised by it. Some of the victims are killed and stay dead after their bodies are found. Others reanimate and stroll around… why? Also, characters go from minor and hardly defined to suddenly showing up and speaking as if they have been vital to the story all along. There were many times I had to stop and go back to try and figure out who the hell they were. That is just bad storytelling. I could give more examples of this, but I don’t feel the need to.

I know that Johnstone has a hardcore fan base who love him. Based on the two books that I’ve read from him I’m not one of them. There are so many much better written horror novels out there that I’ll not be spending any more time with this author. I can’t recommend Wolfsbane.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Monday, June 7, 2021

Deadly Detention (2017)

This looked like a newer slasher flick, and I suppose in a way it is. That said movies like Deadly Detention are why I have trust issues. I’ll explain that later in the review so stay tuned. Until then let’s talk about the plot.

The movie opens with some shaky camera action as people are being chased. Then we backtrack to find that a group of high school students are serving detention at a decommissioned prison. That seems odd but there is a throwaway line of dialogue about the high school having an infestation of possums. I suppose that explains it. In addition to the students, we have the principal and a bus driver. They get locked in and sure enough people start getting killed, eventually. The surviving students are led thru the prison by a mysterious voice over the intercom who locks and unlocks doors herding them towards something. Stuff happens, there is a twist, and mercifully the movie ends. Though not without flipping the bird to the audience one last time.

This is a bad movie. The pacing is terrible as they take way too much time establishing the characters that are nothing more than typical stereotypes. The angry loaner, the weirdo, the nerd (this time a religious kid), the jock, and the super vain horndog. We have all seen these before and don’t need twenty minutes of filler establishing them. Yeah, it takes twenty minutes for anything to happen. When things finally do get rolling it is disappointing, but I’ll talk about the kills later.

In addition to being slow Deadly Detention has a very predictable plot. I recognized the killer and their motivations the second they were mentioned. The fact that during their big rant they brag about how they manipulated the situation by planting the possums didn’t help make things any more believable or fun. Maybe it is because I’m a jaded old horror fan but there was nothing interesting or engaging about the story as it was so easy to figure out. There is one attempted twist at the end, but I found it dumb.

I do want to acknowledge that the tone of the movie sort of feels like it is supposed to be funny. Are they attempting to play this one for laughs? Well, if they are, they failed at that too. There are a couple times where I was a little amused, but Deadly Detention isn’t all that comedic. I think it is possible that the filmmakers didn’t know what they wanted to do and managed to fail at both horror and comedy.

Last thing I want to mention are the kills and special effects. Every kill happens offscreen and there is very little gore ever shown on the screen. We only get to see a bit of blood after the fact. Top it off that there are only five kills in the entire movie, and you have a slasher that doesn’t measure up. But then there really aren’t five kills. As I mentioned above, I think that this was being played for laughs. That is cemented in my mind when a character that was clearly stabbed to death suddenly returns and, in a toss away line of dialogue right before the end credits lets on that all the other victims are still alive. Including the kid that clearly bled out and the girl whose head was repeatedly smashed until a cell door was able to close on it! What the hell movie?

This is a bad one that I’d recommend everyone skip. I have no idea what they were thinking other than toss a bunch of ideas on the screen and see if any of it worked. Well, nothing did and I can think of many better options to watch when you want some teenagers picked off by an angry killer bent on revenge.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Friday, June 4, 2021

Sweet Sixteen (1983)

This is the first movie in this summer’s marathon that I hadn’t seen before. It is getting increasingly rare for me to find a slasher that I’ve not seen yet, so I was excited to check this one out. It has an amazing cast including Bo Hopkins, Patrick Macnee, Don Stroud, Michael Pataki, and Larry Storch. That is a whole lot of acting experience right there. The fact that I hadn’t heard much about this one sort of scares me. Well might as well dive in. 

Melissa moves into town with her father, an anthropologist doing research nearby, and soon runs afoul of someone. She is a rather “friendly” girl and being as pretty as she is there is a lot of attention coming her way. The boys that pursue her end up dead, so something is wrong with that. We are given several suspects, including her overprotective father, but nothing is set in stone until the very end of the movie. Along the way we also get to see some racist locals going after the “damn Indians” whom they blame for the killings. This leads to some non-slasher drama that I wasn’t expecting.  

In theory Sweet Sixteen is a slasher flick. You have the mysterious killer knocking off victims while the sheriff tries to figure out who the killer is. There is also a cool supernatural vibe where the killings appear to be done with some sort of ancient ceremonial knives, thus tying both the Indians working on the dig as well as the Melissa’s father to the crimes. Having some suspects and keeping the audience guessing is a key for one off slashers where we don’t’ have an established character. There is the requisite nudity, which is expected in a slasher flick. But what is weird is how many of the characters are much older adults. Normally in a movie like this the adults are at best supporting characters and at worst something to be sent off on vacation or a business trip so that the teens can get up to hijinks and the killer can get to murdering them! 

I did find the story to be very slow at times. There are long stretches where nothing much happens on screen. The kills are spaced unevenly with three of the meager six we get happening in the last fifteen minutes. The special effects work is lame and the kills mediocre. The first is okay enough as a drunk kid gets stabbed, but after that most of it is offscreen. What we do see are quick glimpses. I was left wanting more. To top things off when they finally resolve the plot it doesn’t make a lot of sense. We do get a few lines of dialogue trying to sum up what happened, but it feels forced and didn’t work for me. 

I know in the past that I’ve mentioned some movies that were repackaged and presented as a slasher flick when they were really a thriller or just a murder mystery. This movie feels like one of those, but I think it was actually shot to cash in on them. Either someone didn’t get the memo, or they just did a bad job on the script. One more thing I wanted to mention is that the movie is very dark, but to be fair that might be the VHS copy that I watched but I wanted to mention that in case there was a better copy out there you would know to look for it if you were so inclined. I’m not going to recommend spending your time watching Sweet Sixteen, but if you must try to find a copy where you can at least see the action. Really though I’d recommend passing on this one. 


© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Wrong Turn (2003)

I struggled with whether I should put Wrong Turn into the slasher movie marathon. An argument can be made that it doesn’t follow the formula and is more of a Hills Have Eyes type of flick. But then again it does have a Just Before Dawn vibe. I might overthink these things… In the end I decided to include it in this year’s marathon so let us dive right into the plot.

After watching a couple of rock climbers meet a grisly fate we are introduced to Chris, a newly minted doctor on his way to a job interview a week after the rock climbers are killed. Due to a traffic jam he decides to take some backroads and ends up running into the other characters, literally. His vintage Mustang is trashed when he rear ends an SUV that was stopped in the middle of the road due to some tire damage. Damage we soon find out was caused by some barbed wire on the road. Staring off ominous, aren’t we?

No one is hurt in the accident, so they head off in search of help leaving a couple at the cars to keep an eye on things. First thing that happens is that couple is picked off by some unseen killer or killers. The rest of them end up at a shack in the woods that is disgusting and freaky. There is a container of something in the fridge that the doctor realizes is bad, but before they can leave the owners come home. Here is where we meet our cannibal inbred mutant hillbillies. Some bodies are butchered, there is a big chase thru the woods, arrows are shot, heads are lopped off, and basically a good time is had.

Great creature design on the mutants
I had forgotten how much I enjoyed this movie. While far from perfect Wrong Turn has enough going for it that it is a solid horror flick. The story is paced well and the movie clocks in at a tight eighty-four minutes. This makes for a very entertaining experience where there is always something interesting happening on screen. This is the case even before the killers show up! While the character are being introduced, they are simultaneously setting up the environment and creating a spooky atmosphere. Having grown up in the country I know how creepy the woods can be and they capture that nicely.

When I sit down to watch a movie like this, I want to enjoy the special effects work. We get a respectable seven kills in the movie with most of them being onscreen. If I have one complaint about Wrong Turn it is the use of CGI to bring the kills to the audience. We do get some decent practical effect work with a couple of arrow hits and a fun gag with barbed wire, but a majority of the most creative stuff is digital. This includes my favorite kill that involves an axe to the face and a neat gag with the life going out of a victim’s eyes. I hadn’t seen anything quite like this before and enjoyed the ingenuity of the kill, but was a bit bummed it wasn’t done with practical effects work. Though I suppose I’m being a bit picky about it and should probably cut them some slack.

I have no complaints with the design of the killers. We get three different inbred mutant hillbillies and they all look great. Even without dialogue they seem to have different personalities and are a lot of fun to watch on screen. The creature design allows the actors to give a performance with just enough latex to make them look twisted without being cartoonish. These are clearly well thought out and for me are the highlight of the movie.

Wrong Turn is a good movie that unlike many of its contemporaries holds up well almost twenty years after it was released. If you want to see a “newer” slasher with an old school feel this is one of a couple that I’d recommend checking out. Stay tuned as you are going to see even more newer slasher flicks on my list this year.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

The Demon Crown by James Rollins

I read a lot of books that don’t fit nor get covered here at the site. The Sigma Force series is one of those that really doesn’t fit. That is until I read The Demon Crown, which is filled with the normal globe-trotting adventure stuff but also has a horrifying plot that got under my skin.

We are introduced, or re-introduced if you are familiar with the series, to our cast of characters quickly. There are a lot of them but basically, they break down into a couple of teams. There is a group centered around spy couple Seichan and Gray. They are at the end of a long vacation and are present in Hawaii during an eco-terror attack. A swarm of huge wasps are unleashed on the islands and go on a rampage. Soon they are on the trail of those responsible for the attack which has its origins in the Second World War as well as an organization called the Guild.

The second group is made of other agents, lead again by a couple, Kat and Monk. Very quickly they realize that the wasps that attacked Hawaii have an unexpected connection to the Smithsonian and American history. This leads them to follow the journey of the man who donated his money and collection to create the Smithsonian, James Smithson. One of the items in his collection or at least one that eventually was recovered, is the key to the mystery and hopefully can provide a solution to the plague of the wasps.

The idea with this story is that the wasps do what they normally do. They lay eggs in living victims who then give birth to the next generation. See where the horror comes from? Our characters are in a race to find a solution before all the people and animals infected by the nasty bugs sudden burst and fill the air with more! Rollins hammers away at this idea with the character of Seichan, who is infected and whom we follow as she works with the others to solve it. This includes some spots where it is explained what is going to happen to her at each phase, the final one being the critters burrowing into bone. This freaked me out, but in the good way that horror fans can understand.

Some other observations. The pacing of the story is perfect as there is always something going on to move things further down the plot arc. The action plays out nicely and I thought that the mystery they had to unravel was also compelling. Tying the fictional in with the historical is something that Rollins has done quite a bit in this series and has become very good at it. The idea that the events laid out here have their beginnings in the early eighteen hundreds and also reference the Second World War and the attack on Pearl Harbor was a nice touch. I’m a history nerd and love when this is pulled off well.

I was surprised that this far into the series, I think Demon Crown is the thirteenth book, that Rollins was able to write something that is accessible to a new reader. If you picked this book up without knowing of the others it would still make sense. The references are kept to a minimum and in the case of the reoccurring characters the author spends just enough time fleshing them out without boring those not new to the franchise. Don’t be scared off from The Demon Crown because it is part of such a long series.

This is an excellent read that I highly recommend. If you are interested in reading the entire series the place to start is with Sandstorm, another great book. Give this or really any of Rollins’ other books a chance. You won’t be disappointed. 

 

Ó Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Friday, May 28, 2021

Macabre (1958)

I’m a huge William Castle fan. The man made some of my favorite horror movies of the fifties and sixties. Sure, they are cheesy, but that is part of the fun. In all the years that I’ve been watching and enjoying his movies I’ve never seen Macabre. This is his first foray into what would become his signature gimmicky independent movies so it was about time for me to correct this omission.

The movie opens with the sheriff, played by Jim “Thurston Howell” Backus, talking to the local undertaker. He is complaining that a child’s coffin was stolen from his showroom. While this is going on the town doctor, Rodney, pulls up across the street. There is bad blood between the sheriff and the doctor. They were both in love with the same woman, but she chose the doctor, and died while giving birth to their first child. The sheriff as well as many of the locals blame him for her death as he was off having drinks with another woman instead of taking care of his wife.

This is important because when Rodney arrives home from work he finds that his daughter, Marge, is missing. While out looking for her the phone rings at his house telling the woman who picks it up that she has been buried alive and has four or five hours of air. With this news Rodney swears them to secrecy and goes looking for her based on the clues the caller gave. Why not call the cops? We already know that the sheriff hates him, especially after seeing the flashbacks that explain the animosity. The doctor wasn’t a very nice man. The rest of the movie is the search for the missing girl as well as trying to figure out who took her and why.

I kept my plot synopsis vague leaving out some details because this is a decent movie that I don’t want to spoil. That is doubly important because unlike his later efforts this Macabre isn’t a horror movie as much as it is a mystery. This leans heavily into the who done it and why plotline as they race to find the girl. Figuring that out might help them find Marge in time. That said we do get a lot of entertaining scenes of them creeping around a spooky cemetery in the middle of the night. This leads to a couple of gags that I won’t spoil but are clearly reused later in House on Haunted Hill. I found the story fun and the big reveal at the end a bit melodramatic but satisfying. When everything is explained it all makes sense, including some things about the story that had bugged me while watching it. Can’t say much more than that without spoilers.

The pacing is solid as well as the direction. Castle had worked for many years doing “B” pictures for the studios and television programs. By the time he set off on his own he knew how to make a lean flick that got right to the good stuff. Macabre is no different. He also cast some great actors in this one including the previously mentioned Jim Backus who even before his turn on Gilligan’s Island wasn’t really known as a heavy. Here he plays a bit of a bad guy. Another face that fans of seventies television will recognize is Ellen Corby who was Grandma on the Waltons. She did a lot of work in old Hollywood and was an excellent go to for a supporting role.

I really liked this movie. Though unlike his horror flicks I’m not sure how much I’ll re-watch Macabre. Being a mystery once you know what is coming a lot of the fun is taken out of it. That said the first watch is a blast and you get the bonus of seeing some early gags from Castle. Plus, I’m a completist and needed to see it. I recommend this one to both Castle fans as well as fans of mysteries.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Featured Post - Slasher Marathon 2021

Since I started the website I've done a Slasher marathon every summer. This time I thought I'd start things off in the first week of June. Having covered almost a hundred of them already I'm starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel a bit. Though I've found some great ones down there in the muck. While you will see some familiar franchises (I still haven't gotten to all the Friday the 13th movies yet) I hope to bring you some new stuff as well. At least that is the plan. 

For previous years click on the links below. 

Slasher marathon 2020

If you have suggestions as to a movie you think I should cover drop me an email at gutmunchers@gmail.com and I'll add it to the list. Look for the reviews to start Wednesday June 2nd and last until I run out of movies to talk about.

-John


Movie 1: Wrong Turn (2003)

Here we go. I thought I'd start off the marathon with a newer movie that I really like. While it isn't perfect Wrong Turn is a fun throwback to the crazy redneck hillbilly genre of the seventies. I know that some of you won't like it on the list here but it checks enough boxes for me to include it. 




I dove back into the eighties to check out Sweet Sixteen. This flick falls into that category of repackaged to make it look like a slasher. Though they might have also thought they were making a slasher movie. I don't really know because this one is sort of a mess. Still it is kind of a slasher so here it lands. 




I thought since I had such terrible luck with digging into the eighties that maybe I should try something newer that I've not seen before. Spoilers... that didn't end well either. I'm honestly not sure what the filmmakers were trying to accomplish with this one. Half horror and half comedy it fails to deliver either. 




This movie has been on my list to cover since I started doing these marathons back in 2017. To be honest I was never a fan of the flick but it had been years and there was a new cleaned up Blu-Ray released so it was time to revisit. I'm glad that I did.





Here is another movie that may or may not belong in my slasher movie marathon. You could make the case for Mother's Day being a rape revenge flick, but it doesn't fit nicely into that category either. We get enough stalking and killing, the setting in the woods, and some fun kills. This checks a lot of slasher movie boxes so I'm including it here. 

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Night of the Cobra Woman (1972)

I found another shot in the Philippines movie to review here for the website. This one kicks off with some nurses looking for plants to help their patients. This must happen during World War II since a Japanese soldier shows up and rapes one of them, leaving her for dead. Luckily the other, Lena, went into a nearby cave and was bitten by a snake. One that just so happened to be a God! That allows her to save her friend because you know… snake magic!

The action then jumps forward to “today” being the early seventies when this was made. There is an American student in Manilla studying antivenom and she decides that she must find the legendary Firebrand cobra. That leads her to a still young Lena and all sorts of shenanigans ensue. When Joanna, the American girl, tells her boyfriend about her search he heads out to see Lena. That is a bad idea because not only is he bitten by a cobra, but Lena then falls in love with him. This is unfortunate since she isn’t kind to her lovers, draining them of their “years” and leaving them old men. Luckily, snake venom will temporarily reverse the process. This all leads to a big showdown where I think evil wins. Yeah, it really does.

This is a low budget cheesy drive-in movie that is silly in all the best ways. The story is a bit confusing at times but serves the purpose of getting Lena her victims while providing an excuse for her to disrobe. Most importantly is the plot is tight and there is always something interesting happening on screen. You will not be bored by this movie. The acting is passable, and the cast are trying their best with what is a silly idea. Speaking of actors, I absolutely love Vic Diaz in this movie. He plays a dual role as the hunchbacked child born of the rape as well as the Japanese soldier who fathered him. Neither role has any dialogue, but he excels as Lope, the hunchback, hopping and squealing thru his scenes. Seriously this dude is a treasure of the drive-in genre. I also did a double take when I recognized actress Joy Bang in the role of Joanna. She was in one of my favorites Messiah of Evil the following year. She didn’t work a lot seeming to retire in the early seventies, so it was neat to see her show up here.

Cobra Eyes!
The makeup effects are goofy looking though all the skin peeling did creep me out. Though that might just be a personal hang up. Unfortunately, the rest of the gore is real. There are cock fights, an eagle killing a snake, and another snake getting chopped up. I’m not terribly squeamish myself having grown up hunting but it sucks seeing animals killed for the purposes of entertainment. It didn’t spoil the movie for me as this was common in the Philippines and part of the culture, but it did bug me. If you are sensitive to that sort of thing, be warned.

I like this movie. It checks a lot of those must have drive-in movie boxes. A small cast doing their best. Just a couple locations for most of the shoot. Special effects on a low budget. And an attitude of just going for it. This isn’t a perfect flick at all, but Night to the Cobra Woman does have its moments. I recommend checking it out.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

 

 

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Phantoms by Dean Koontz

Well it was only a matter of time before I reviewed a Koontz novel for the blog. He is one of my go to writers when I want to kick back and enjoy a few hours of literary horror. Here I decided to check out Phantoms, which I hadn’t read before, but I really dug the movie adaptation. Though I realize I might be the only person that did… well one of two… “Affleck, you the bomb in Phantoms, yo!”

Jenny is returning home to Snowfield, a small mountain town in California, with her younger sister Lisa. Their mother having died recently Jenny is now her only family. The town is eerily silent when they arrive and quickly enough, they discover a couple bodies. They make their way to the Sheriff’s substation and finding it abandoned make a call for help. This brings the sheriff, Hammond, and several of his men to their aid. Finding more bodies and thinking it might be a viral outbreak or unidentified disease they quarantine themselves and call for help from the military.

I’ll let you in on a little secret… it isn’t either of the above. What is it? Pretty early on Koontz lets the reader in on the fact that there is some intelligence behind the events. Something lurking in the shadows ready to leap out at any moment. This leads to the drama and tension that he does so well at creating. For a good chunk of the story it isn’t clear if this is some supernatural bugaboo or if it could all be explained by science. We get to see both sides thru the different characters populating the story. In the end it is still sort of left up to the reader to decide thru a series of clever twists. I love it when a book keeps you guessing.

The horror elements to Phantoms are very satisfying. The title refers to the fact that the thing lurking in the shadows can create doppelgangers of those that it has killed. Basically, phantoms that look correct, but aren’t quite right, that pop out and mess with the characters. The thing also enjoys tormenting people and has an excellent running conversation via a computer. In a way I think that Koontz predicted the horrible language used on texting/messaging all the way back in the early eighties! In addition to what I’ve already mentioned above there are some excellent kills where the absorption of victims is described in some detail and we even have a couple times when people are torn apart by tentacles. There really is a heck of a lot going on in this book!

My only criticism of Phantoms is that so much is happening in the book. I loved all the stuff related to the town but there is this odd bit tacked on with a man who killed his family and was arrested by Hammond. He breaks out of jail and ends up in the mountains where he meets another ancillary character who had been mentioned as the leader of a motorcycle gang. They exist only to be influenced by the shadowy creature into trying to get some revenge at the end of the novel in a sequence that feels equally as tacked on. This entire subplot and these characters seem unnecessary.

I’ve already mentioned the movie based on this book. As I normally do, I thought I’d compare the two of them. Sherriff Hammond seems like a much older character in the book, but the movie stars a younger Ben Affleck circa the late nineties. We also get the sister, Lisa, aged up a bit as she is portrayed by Rose McGowan. He was twenty-six and she was twenty-five when Phantoms was released. The movie also does a smart thing and focuses on the happenings in Snowfield, ignoring the murderer and biker gang. Other than that, it is really faithful to the book and what I’d consider a great adaptation.

I’ve always liked the movie and honestly liked the book even better. It’s an excellent read that is packed with enough creepy stuff to keep any horror fan glued to the pages. I’ve only mentioned a couple of the disturbing images and goings on in my review here. There is a lot more of it to be enjoyed. I recommend tracking yourself down a copy of Phantoms.

 

Ó Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

 

 

 

 

Monday, May 24, 2021

Hand of Death (1962)

I’m always talking about the fifties as the decade of the cheesy monster movie, but we got a few in the early sixties as well. This one stars John Agar as Alex, a scientist working on nerve gas to prevent a nuclear war. Yeah, I get it, but it was a different time, and this is a goofy creature feature so just go with it. Things kick off with the mailman showing up in a sweet little Model “A” Ford and immediately collapses in the front yard of a farmhouse. Some hazmat suit wearing figures come out and carry him into the lab. The poor guy had the misfortune of walking into one of Alex’s experiments, but no harm is done as they revive him.

Excited at the success Alex returns home to speak with his mentor, Dr. Ramsey, and his lady Carol. He thinks he can finish his formula in a month and returns to his lab in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately, things aren’t quite going well and, in his rush to make the deadline he gets careless. So much so that he is exposed to the nerve gas, but it doesn’t kill him. It absorbs into his body so that anyone he touches dies. The poison in his system is also slowly killing and mutating him as well. Much mayhem occurs until as all proper monster movies should it ends with a sad walk away from the dead creature.

Hand of Death is a very simple and familiar creature feature. Well-meaning scientist has an accident and turns into monster. He has a love interest who he puts in danger. The police/army roll in to save the day. We are all a little bit sad at his fate but also understand you shouldn’t play God. This formula was used again and again and to some extent is still used today. I’m okay with the movie not breaking any new ground as long as it is executed well. Clocking with a runtime that is barely over an hour Hand of Death is a fast paced and fun watch. John Agar was very good in these sorts of flicks and it is no different here. We also get to see a very young Butch Patrick, Eddie from The Munsters, as a kid who has a close call with the monster.

Its clobbering time!
I did do a double take when Joe Besser from the Three Stooges shows up as a service station attendant. This leads me to one observation and that is the odd attempts at humor. In between the horrible deaths we get some comedic bits including the brief scene with Besser. That seemed odd, but it doesn’t slow things down or ruin the monster, so I guess that it isn’t a big deal. Still weird though.

The creature is a very basic design, but it works well. The makeup looks very much like The Thing from the Fantastic Four comic, which was created a few years after this. Could there be some inspiration there? Who knows, but it is fun to speculate. The deaths are all brought to screen with the victims covered in the same deformities as Alex, though they aren’t resistant to the poison, which is why it kills them right away.

If you are looking for a way to turn your brain off and kill an hour there are a heck of a lot worse ways to do this than Hand of Death. While not the best example this is a perfectly serviceable monster movie that will scratch that itch if you feel the need. I recommend it.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Why? (2019)

I was digging thru my to watch pile when I found this movie and thought I’d check it out. From what I could find online it was pitched as a slasher movie, but really isn’t. What it is or at least is trying to be is a psychological thriller with most of the movie a cat and mouse game between a woman in an isolated cabin and a crazed killer who likes to wear faces. Well, that sounds familiar doesn’t it?

After showing us a woman getting killed in a parking garage the action moves to a woman and man in bed talking about their big weekend at “the cabin”. They seem to be in love and shit so that is a thing. Then the action moves to a lady and her guy having sex in a tent in the woods. Someone sneaks up on them and hacks them to death with an axe. At this point I had no idea what is going on, but the movie had my attention. Three solid kills right away, maybe this was a slasher flick. Then it all goes sideways.

The woman from earlier in bed is named Blake and we see her driving to the cabin when she gets a phone call. This serves two purposes. One to establish that cell service is crappy where she is headed and two to give us our first glorified cameo. Natasha Henstridge shows up for a hot minute on the phone as her editor. After promising to work on her new book Blake stops at a store and the locals get weird when she tells them she is headed to the Conrad cabin. I suppose they know there is a killer running around. But if so, why not say something? Yeah, I know horror tropes and all.

As you have probably figured out the killer is around and starts to mess with her right away. He even breaks in the house and watches her sleep. Though I found it annoying that he is always magically able to be right there in the shadows and she never sees him. I can forgive a couple of times, but they do it again and again. At some point she had to know he was there. Even more annoying is when she sees the killer, she drops her phone and runs away… aimlessly thru the woods. It was at this point I began rooting for the killer just to get this movie over with.

Other things happen like her boyfriend calling the local sheriff for him to do a welfare check. This allows Lance Henriksen to show up on the phone in yet another glorified cameo. He sends his deputy out and blah blah blah… You know what? I really didn’t like this movie.

Clocking in at only seventy-eight minutes this movie had to work very hard to be this boring. After some fun kills in the first ten the rest of the flick is nothing more than an uninteresting killer in a hoodie walking around the woods/house. All the characters are bland, including said killer, and I honestly didn’t care what was going on. Henstridge and Henriksen are obviously cashing paychecks as both are phoning in their performances… literally! Some of the kills look decent and there is a fun gag with a faceless woman, but that doesn’t save the movie.

I have no idea what they were trying to make here but whatever it was they failed. There clearly was some talent here as the movie looks good and is shot well. The makeup was also fine, and I don’t think the cast was too bad. They just had no plot and not even enough ideas to fill up the short runtime. Oh, and they only got to that length with the inclusion of an obvious nightmare scene and tacked on gag with a babysitter that had absolutely nothing to do with the main story. Why? I guess the title is referring to the audience looking at each other and asking, “Why did I waste my time watching this?”. I don’t recommend wasting your time on this one.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

 

 

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

The Forgotten Room by Lincoln Child

This is another in the series of stories surrounding Dr. Jeremy Logan, an enigmalogist. The title and discipline are one that he has made for himself. A history professor by day he finds himself brought into situations to investigate phenomenon that has no logical explanation. I’ve totally read these out of order having already reviewed Terminal Freeze for the site, where he is a supporting character. I’ve also covered the follow up Full Wolf Moon. Thought I’d might as well fill in the gap.

Things kick off with Logan at a press conference having solved the riddle of Loch Ness. Thru solid research he has proven that there is no way that the creature can possibly exist, so everyone needs to stop putting themselves at risk searching the treacherous waters. Then of course we see the private conversation afterwards about destroying the evidence that he has found. Nessie exists, but to protect it and those looking for it the powers that be decide to cover it up and destroy the evidence! Cool way to start the story. This conversation is interrupted when he is summoned to return back to the U.S. to help out an old friend.

The Lux is a thinktank, basically a place where the smartest of the smart can get together and do research. They are housed in a huge mansion that has been their home for a hundred years. One of their retiring members had a mental break and killed himself in a rather gruesome way. Those in charge don’t believe that it was a simple suicide and hire Logan to investigate. Backtracking on the work that the man was doing before he died Logan discovers a mysterious room with an even more mysterious machine in it. The remainder of the book is the unraveling of the purpose of the room and contents. Also why are people hearing voices? And who is trying to kill him?

Yet again the author does a fantastic job of playing on the expectations of the reader. For much of the book it seems as if the machine is summoning or at least allowing ghosts to speak to the living. Different characters hear voices and music in the night and eventually they intrude on the day. This causes all sorts of erratic behaviors including attempted suicide and violent outbursts. Logan keeping his mind open dives into the work as if it is some sort of primitive EVP device. But as more of the story is revealed a scientific, but not less fascinating story is told. Much like Full Wolf Moon I like the idea of logical real world explanations of the supernatural.

The last quarter of the book the action kicks up as the killers descend on the Lux after it has been evacuated due to an incoming hurricane. There is a big chase scene thru the mansion as Logan’s survival skills and cleverness are put to the test. Eventually he is able to turn the tables on the antagonists and save the day. If I had a complaint about The Forgotten Room, it would be this sequence. The running around and hiding form the killers gets monotonous after a while. I loved the setup and the mystery leading up to it, but this just seemed forced. It was like Child didn’t have a good way to end the story.

We also get some more background on the character as it is explained he was briefly a member of the Lux before his field of study was deemed unworthy of the institution. This is also the first time that Logan’s wife is mentioned. I enjoy that these snippets of information are parsed out slowly by Child to the reader giving more depth to the Logan character one book at a time.

For me the Forgotten Room wasn’t a slam dunk like Terminal Freeze or Full Wolf Moon. But it still is a solid book that is a decent read if you find yourself a copy. That said if you wanted to dip your toes into the world of Dr. Jeremy Logan, I’d recommend Terminal Freeze as a better place to start. And it is the first time he appears as more than a minor character (he is mentioned or appears in one scene in earlier books) so you would be reading it in order!

 

Ó Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Saturday, May 15, 2021

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)

The government is conducting an experiment in the arctic circle where they are testing out some atomic bombs. The most recent test sets something free from the ice. The scientists find this out when they go to check on the results of their latest experiment and run into a dinosaur that had been frozen in the ice but is now on the loose and hungry. Bad things happen leading to the death of one of the men and the other is ignored and sent to talk to the psychiatrist. You know because it couldn’t have been a dinosaur. 

When a fishing boat and lighthouse are destroyed those in charge start to listen. A paleontologist gets involved and helps to identify the dinosaur and determine that the creature is trying to return to it’s old hunting grounds. Unfortunately, that turns out to be where New York City is! The creature goes stomping around town eating people and smashing buildings and generally making a nuisance of itself. The army comes along and starts shooting it, but soon discover that it is carrying some nasty prehistoric diseases which means its blood is toxic. So, no pew pew unless they want everyone to die. In the end they shoot/inject it with a radioactive isotope that will kill it as well as the diseases it carries. 

This is one of those fifties movies that has somehow gotten lost in the shuffle. The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms has everything you could ask for from a creature feature. The pacing is great with the monster showing up early and often. It was a nice twist that we the audience gets to see what our main character sees but have to watch him be dismissed by everyone else. When the doubters are onboard, the action continues with a series of attacks and battles with the beast as it smashes its way down the East Coast. I also thought the twist of it having diseases and not being able to just blow it away was cool. I don’t remember another sci-fi movie using this as a plot point before, at least not one of these creature features. 


The special effects work is a lot of fun. The titular beast is brought to the screen thru the magic of stop motion which is blended in perfectly with some nice model work. They do a fantastic job of adding in the actors and sets to match it up. This is done with some rear projection techniques that are old school, which of course I dig. Some of the best gags are an underwater diving bell, the big finale with a roller coaster, a wall that falls on some actors, and the lighthouse getting smashed. That last one with the lighthouse is an iconic sequence. 

My personal favorite and the one that scared the hell out of a very young me is a bit with a police officer. He shoots at the monster and while reloading gets snatched up. The scene lingers on the now stop motion legs kicking as he is chewed up and swallowed. That is gruesome for a movie from the fifties, and it has always stuck with me. Now of course the desensitized old man that I am just smiles with nostalgia. None of the above should come as a surprise though since the legendary Ray Harryhausen was responsible for all of the miniature and stop motion effects.

The monster is toast!
I have a few more things to mention. The cast includes genre favorite Kenneth Tobey, who shows up in a lot of these science fiction flicks. We also get small roles from two very young actors that would go on to be famous. James Best (Killer Shrews, Dukes of Hazzard) is a radio operator and the great Lee Van Cleef (Spaghetti Westerns… so many Spaghetti Westerns) is the sharpshooter brought in to take the monster down. If that weren’t enough the script was based on a story by Ray Bradbury. Is it any wonder that this movie is so good?

Clearly, I love The Best from 20,000 Fathoms. I grew up on movies like this and can say if I were to list my top five fifties sci-fi/horror flicks this would easily make the top ten if not top five. If you haven’t seen this yet do yourself a favor and track down a copy. It is well worth the effort. 


© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer


Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Boys from County Hell (2020)

When I saw this pop up on Shudder, I knew that I had to give it a watch. I mean an Irish vampire flick sounds too good to be true. Toss in the fact that it was also pitched as a horror comedy and well I really wanted it to be good. So, was it? Let’s dive in and see.

The movie kicks off with an older couple sitting in their living room watching television. Suddenly they start to bleed out of their orifices and the door busts in, though we can’t see who it is. Then the movie jumps back two months, and we see some locals taking tourists out to check out a cairn marking the grave of a supposed vampire from local legend. They clearly aren’t believers because they scare the shit out of the tourists and laugh at them. But they got free beer out of it so all is good. But then things take a spooky turn.

There are a lot of moving parts with this movie and a plethora of characters. I’m going to do my best to keep it simple and not spoil anything. The legend of the vampire is real and thru an accident he is brought back to life… or I guess un-life. The locals start to get killed off with one or two coming back as vampires. But they have their own unique rules for how that works, which is explained with some dialogue. I also loved how the vampire can feed at a distance which made it even creepier. We also have a conflict between a father and his son, who is trying to make his dead mother’s farm viable. The son is one of the “boys” that must do battle with the vampire. Things get bloody and fun before the finale.

I enjoyed the heck out of this movie. It takes a while for the crazy stuff to get going but when it does it never stops. Limbs go flying, blood gets drained, eyes bleed, noses bleed, and yes vampires get staked. Though that doesn’t kill these “real” vampires it only slows them down. The last half of this movie is very bloody and very fun. The first half we meet the characters and set up the story to come. This is also very well done, and I found myself rooting for them and a bit sad when inevitably some of them don’t make it. I don’t consider that a spoiler by the way. Boys from County Hell is a vampire flick you must know that it isn’t going to end well for everyone.

The Boys
I was a little concerned that we were going to get a lot of CGI but not so much. Too many of the kills happen offscreen but we do get a decent throat slash and an axe to the leg. Though my favorite might be a gag with a metal pole and a vampire’s heart. I think that these were practical or maybe practical with a CGI assist. They look that good so if it was digital, I’m impressed. Where the movie is outstanding is creature makeup. We get a couple “normal” vampires that look about what you would expect them too. But the old vampire that is awakened and set free, Abhartach, looks amazing. He has a very nosferatu look to him and it works perfectly. While they keep him hidden for much of the movie when he does pop on screen, they don’t shy away from showing the audience. The actor portraying the monster also does a great job bringing a character with no dialogue to life. In a movie like this you need to nail the creature and they do that.

This is one of those times when I really wanted to like a movie and ended up have a blast with it. I love the different take on the vampire myth and the fact that the script takes the time to include dialogue explaining the rules for these creatures of the night. Which ironically is one of the things that they changed; daylight is no big deal! If you have Shudder check out Boys from County Hell. If you don’t sign up so you can watch this and some of the other great genre flicks they have for streaming. I highly recommend the movie and the service.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

 

 

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

The Sea by R. Karl Largent

I’ve been reading a lot of Largent’s books lately including an earlier tale starring the same character that is the protagonist of this book, Elliot Wages. Since I enjoyed the Ancients, I was all in to check out his next adventure. When I read that The Sea was about a search for Nazi gold and involved the Bermuda Triangle I was sold!

The main character of the book and whose point of view the reader experiences the story is Wages, an author who likes to investigate weird things for inspiration. Minding his own business and headed down to meet an old pal for what he thinks is a friendly visit Wages gets sucked in a search for a sunken U-boat full of Nazi gold. Eventually he finds himself in the middle of the sea on a disabled ship surrounded by strangers, at least one of whom is a murderer. Someone doesn’t want the search for the gold to be successful and is willing to kill to stop it! If that isn’t enough for you toss in a vanished barge, a prehistoric shark, and a fog so thick you can’t see more than a couple of feet. This one has all the creepy hallmarks to be a great time.

Unfortunately, the Sea somehow misses the mark. The book opens with a lot of great action and mystery. Before we get to the meat of the plot Wages ends up protecting a mysterious and beautiful woman from his past. Her abusive husband comes looking for her so when Wages leaves on his trip, he insists she come along. Though it is convenient that she is also a diver, which the expedition can use. The missing barge and prehistoric shark are introduced early on after they arrive and start diving, which gets us right to the action. Then the sabotage and murders begin and adds to the mystery of what is going on. These are all good things that had me sucked right into the story. But then things took a turn about three quarters of the way in.

I’m going to do my best to keep things vague, but there will be some spoilers coming. I hate doing that but to explain my issues with the Sea I need to mention some specifics. With that warning I’m ready to proceed. First the book mentions the Bermuda Triangle and shows us a semitruck sized prehistoric shark in a few scenes. But then mostly dismisses both, especially the shark that is used to fill out a couple of pages but then disappears. The most important bit with the shark is implied and annoyed the hell out of me, more on that later. Don’t tease me with a supernatural/creature plot and then ignore it. This is further complicated by my second complaint.

We end up with a big conspiracy with characters trying to steal the gold for themselves. I guess that is okay, but the twist at the end is terrible. In hindsight I suppose I should have seen it coming, but the “plan” that was put into motion has so many moving parts that it is almost impossible for them to have predicted it would turn out the way they wanted. The entire thing is so implausible that instead of a “AHA” moment you get a “No Freaking Way” moment. This made me even more irritated with the author abandoning the shark and/or triangle plotline.

The third and final issue that I have with the book is a personal pet peeve of mine. I hate it when we have a protagonist that doesn’t get to be involved in the resolution of the story. Here Wages ends up on a life raft adrift in the ocean while the “bad guys” get away on a boat. Weeks later, after being rescued, he is reading the paper and sees a report that the boat was found without any survivors. The reader is supposed to infer that the shark attacked and ate them… So not only is the “hero” not involved but he doesn’t seem to care about getting revenge on the men who tried to kill him! What the hell is that all about? We get zero resolution.

Largent is a good writer and like I said for much of The Sea this was fun read. But as a good friend of mine likes to say, “they crapped the bed at the end”. This is one of those books that is ruined by the lame ending. I’d recommend checking out The Ancients from Largent, which also features the character of Elliot Wages before reading this one. As far as The Sea goes, I can’t recommend it.

 

Ó Copyright 2021 John Shatzer