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Featured Post - The 2021 Halloween Marathon

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

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

The Curse of Nostradamus (1961)

I’ve had some success with Mexican horror movies in the past. Mostly those Santo flicks, but they made some other fun stuff as well. I saw this one and thought I’d take a chance. Before I jump in, I did want to say that this is the movie made by distributors from what was I think a serial that ran in theaters in Mexico. It has been cut up and dubbed for the U.S. television market. If my experience with this sort of thing is correct, I doubt it resembles the original story. Okay with that out of the way let’s get to it. 

This can get confusing so stick with me. The son of Nostradamus is a vampire who has been angry that people have been criticizing his famous father. The son is also named Nostradamus, but also goes by Ericson. He has been waiting four hundred years to get revenge on the men who were enemies of this father. Though I suppose they are all dead so instead he focuses on a Professor Duran. He just had a big conference where he debunked the supernatural and superstition. Our vampire visits him and picks some random mail off Duran’s desk. Seeing the name and address he promises to kill that man. A promise that he fulfills. 

He returns to the professor and shows his power. He won’t kill anyone else if the professor will just recant his position and admit that some superstition is real. Because there is a vampire in front of him that can do spooky stuff. He refuses and the vampire keeps on killing folks, each time asking for the professor to clear his father’s name by admitting the supernatural is fact. It all ends with a big showdown after Nostradamus gets mad and kidnaps Duran’s daughter intending to kill her. He ends up buried and everyone lives happily ever after. 

Of course, that is except for all the people that died because the professor wouldn’t admit what was in front of him! Seriously throw the vampire a bone! It isn’t like you are lying because you just saw a vampire killing people. That is the biggest issue that I have with The Curse of Nostradamus. Our supposed hero could have saved a lot of people if he had just swallowed his pride and admitted he was wrong. This really makes little sense and weighs down what is also a very slow movie with giant gaping plot holes. I’d like to think that the source material, the serial, made a bit more sense and it was whatever hack that reedited it which came up with this convoluted and downright dumb plot. 

On a positive note, the movie is very pretty. This black and white flick is gorgeous and shows that there was some skill behind the camera. Between the lighting and locations, it is pretty movie to watch. This is with me watching a beat-up old VHS rip. Not sure if there is a better copy or even if they original Mexican serials are out there somewhere. I certainly hope so. One of the highlights is a scene where the vampire steps out of the shadows seeming to appear from nowhere behind the professor. This is clearly all on set and in camera. I still can’t figure out how they managed it, but it was awesome. 

Sadly, I still can’t recommend this movie. The plot and pacing are so terrible that it was a chore to get thru. Though the fact that I found a new to me bit of Mexican horror after watching as many as I have gives me hope that there are more out there to find. Just not this one…


© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

The Montauk Monster by Hunter Shea

Shea is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. I have yet to read a book from him that didn’t scratch that horror/monster itch that I was looking for. This is his latest effort, and it doesn’t disappoint. If you remember a few years ago a weird creature washed up on the shore near Montauk. It was clearly an animal that was rendered unrecognizable by being in the ocean and decaying, but it was odd looking. This started the invention of a whole new cryptid that had nerds on the internet speculating to what it was. This is where Shea takes his inspiration.

In his fictional version of Montauk, we are introduced to Gray, a local police officer, who is called out on a call of bodies at a beach in a nearby park. Only the bodies are in an odd state, melting and bubbling. We the reader know that they were attacked by something, but the characters don’t know that yet. The basic story here is that the government has been brewing up a horrible weapon in a lab off the coast. It is a biological weapon nicknamed War Machine. They are nearly unstoppable killing machines spliced together with DNA from many creatures. They are loose and killing anyone or anything that gets near them.

That is pretty bad, no? Well, it gets worse as the scientists decided to splice a super virus onto the animals. Even if they just scratch you a sickness takes hold that leads to your organs turning to mush with you eventually melting! Anyone touched by your remains will also get sick and die and become just as contagious. So, the monsters not only tear thru people but also bring an unstoppable plague! Gray and an ever-decreasing group of survivors at first fight to stop the War Machines but eventually just try to get out of town before the place is firebombed!

I love this book. It has everything that a good creature story needs. The story is quickly paced as we go from first encounter to full blown panic at breakneck speed. Though Shea does take the time to develop the characters both main and supporting well along the way. This is important as the story plays out because when one or more of them dies horribly it has an impact. I found myself rooting for certain characters to make it out, only for them to be victimized, some in horrible ways. When a story like this has generic characters getting killed off it feels too much like a “line them up and knock them off” scenario. Here the body count is high, but they feel like real people. That is cool in a horribly depressing way that I enjoyed. Yeah, I might be weird.

The monsters are brought to the page with vivid descriptions by Shea. Each one is slightly different in both size and appearance. Apparently genetically creating word destroying monsters isn’t an exact science. The deaths are also gleefully described with limbs flying, throats being ripped out to the spine, and people being battered against trees, cars, and anything else handy. We also get descriptions of bodies melting with organs liquifying and even one person popping like a balloon. This is a gorefest folks and I got a huge kick out of it.

I don’t know if it is intentional or not, but Shea’s books remind me of a drive-in movie. Great plots with twisted monsters and characters that are well defined and fun. The best part is that he isn’t constrained with budget and can let his mind go wild. He knocked it out of the park again with The Montauk Monster! Though you can’t go wrong with anything he has written to this point. It is all great! Do yourself a favor and check his stuff out.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Monday, September 27, 2021

Featured Post - The 2021 Halloween Marathon

It's that time of year again. When the weather starts to get chilly and the leaves change. I love Fall and everything that comes with it, especially Halloween. As has always been my tradition here the last couple of years at Crappy Movie Reviews I like to do an annual Halloween movie marathon. I try to squeeze in at least one if not several spooky flicks each day of my favorite month. This year will be no different. I plan on revisiting my favorites as well as working in some new movies that may eventually become favorites. 

My previous best was seventy three horror movies in October. I'm hoping to beat that record this year. Since so many of my events including special screenings have been cancelled or didn't survive the pandemic I'm thinking I just might do it. I suppose that is me trying to make lemonade out of the lemons the world has been handing us the last year or so, but you find the positives where you can. 

Do you do something similar? If so I'd love to hear from you. Let me know what you are watching and if there is something you think I should check out. I'm always looking for new stuff to watch this time of the year. I also enjoy talking movies so drop me a note at the email box on the right side of the page. 

If you are interested in what I've done in previous years check out the links below. 

Movie 1 - Night of the Lepus (1972) - Killer bunny rabbits and DeForest Kelly! What isn't to love about that? I thought I kick this marathon off with some cheese and this fit that bill nicely. I just reviewed it this month. You can read that full review here

Movie 2 - Return of the Living Dead part II (1988) - This is my second favorite zombie movie from director Ken Weiderhorn. Don't worry you will see the other one on my list. I know a lot of people don't like this sequel to what is admittedly a better movie. But I enjoy it's tongue in cheek humor. I reviewed it click here for more. 

Movie 3 - The Thing from Another World (1951) - This classic is one of my favorites. I've always tried to watch it every October since the late '70s. Though back then I had to catch it on the local late night hosted horror programs. Check out my full review here

Movie 4 - The Fly (1958) - It isn't October until I have some Vincent Price in my life. This is an excellent performance from him, even if it is just a supporting role. A fantastic movie that deserves to be considered a classic. It always pops up on my list of things to watch this time of the year. 

Movie 5 - The Thing (1982) - This is another must watch favorite of mine. I have watched this every October since I first got my hands on a VHS copy back in the late '80s. A wonderful cast, insanely good special effects work, and the paranoia of an isolated location. Check out my full review here

October 2nd 

Movie 6 - The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) - I thought a couple of Universal flicks would be a good include in my marathon. This is the last of their big franchises to launch some twenty years after Dracula and Frankenstein. Famous for creature design and underwater cinematography this one still holds up well. 

Movie 7 - The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) - I love Frankenstein but if I'm completely honest this is a better movie. Karloff is even better as the monster in this one, and we also get the iconic Elsa Lanchester at the titular Bride. I don't always watch Universal movies this time of the year, but when I do Bride is always at the top of the list. 

October 3rd

Movie 8 - The Fog (1980) - This is a favorite movie that I watch every October. This is also the second John Carpenter flick in the marathon already. Though it won't be the last. This might be my favorite non Haunted House ghost story ever. Check out my full review here

October 4th

Movie 9 - Zombie (1979) - Can't have a horror marathon without some Fulci. Zombie is one of my favorite flicks of his. I love zombie movies and with the exception of Romero's original trilogy this is my favorite. Check out my full review at this link

Movie 10 - Seance (2021) - Time to hit Shudder up for a couple new to me movies. This looks like an interesting flick with a haunted girls school. Not at all what I expected but I'm glad to have watched it. There are some twists that I never saw coming. 

Movie 11 - Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum (2018) - Another new to me flick off of Shudder. Gonjiam has been on my radar for a couple of years now. Normally I'm not a huge fan of found footage, but this looked cool. A haunted asylum was right up my alley. Sadly this one suffers from pacing issues as it gets repetitive. There are some scares but I wasn't thrilled with it overall. 

October 5th

Movie 12 - Here Comes Hell (2019) - This was another movie that I saw on Shudder and decided to watch. This was a fun low budget gem that combined an old school '30s vibe with some Evil Dead like demon possessions and mayhem. Not saying it is Evil Dead good, but it was a fun watch. 

Movie 13 - Prom Night (1980) - Watched three new to me movies so I figured it was about time to watch another old favorite. I know this is a bit light on gore but it is one of my favorite slashers. For more you can check out my full review here

October 6th

Movie 14 - Sharks of the Corn (2021) - Well the title is cool. This movie is way too long, drags most of the way, is filled with mediocre acting and generally was a chore to get thru. That sucks because I'm a big fan of Tim Ritter's older movies and was excited to check it out. 

Movie 15 - My Bloody Valentine (1981) - This is my favorite slasher movie and I always watch it every October. Now with the gore restored it is even better. For more you can click on the link here to read more about it. 

October 7th

Movie 16 - The Prowler (1981) - Excellent kills from Tom Savini coupled with a decent mystery makes The Prowler a must watch for me in October. I know a lot of fans don't dig this one and I don't understand why. It checks all the necessary boxes and is fun. Click here for my full review. 

October 8th

Movie 17 - The Beast Must Die (1974) - This is a movie that I used to watch all the time when it played on my local horror hosted show. The last few years I've revisited it a few times and have enjoyed it. Nothing beast the groovy '70s music and the infamous Werewolf Break. 

October 9th

Movie 18 - Terror Train (1980) - I was psyched that Joe Bob Briggs decided to show this. I love this movie and it is is one of my favorite early slasher flicks. Jamie Lee Curtis is awesome in this. Check out my full review here

Movie 19 - Tales of Terror (1962) - This Roger Corman produced and directed anthology stars the great Vincent Price in three horror stories. Also in the movie are Basil Rathbone and Peter Lorre, who steals the story he is in. These Corman flicks starring Price are awesome and it has been far too long since I watched one of them. 

Movie 20 - Twice Told Tales (1963) - This is another Vincent Price anthology but this time without Roger Corman. The last story is the best of the bunch but they are all melodramatic. That said Price makes them worth watching at least once, but this isn't up to the work he did with Corman. 

Movie 21 - The Gate (1987) - It has been a couple of years since I watched this. At least I think so. This was a frequent rental for me and I've always got a kick out of it. The Gate is a fun movie with decent special effects work. I watched this one at my friend's backyard cinema. 

Movie 22 - House (1985) - This is an all time favorite of mine. The comedy and horror blend together perfectly with the highlight being the killer one-liners from Richard Moll. The creature design is creepy and there are even some good scares. 

October 10th

Movie 23 - The Cat and the Canary (1939) - People don't seem to realize that Bob Hope made a couple spooky movies in his career. This one has an old mansion in the swamps, murder, and George Zucco in a supporting role. All add up to a decent flick. Check out my full review here

Movie 24 - School Spirit (2019) - This is one of those Hulu Into the Dark movies from Blumhouse Television. It is an interesting take on a slasher movie. While it lacks creative kills and gore the movie is quickly paced, has interesting characters, and a weird twist to the final girl that I found disturbing. 

Movie 25 - Hubie Halloween (2020) - I enjoyed the heck out of this last year when it came out. I get that it might not be everyone's cup of tea but the silly humor and Sandler's cast of friends is a blast. Give it a chance if you want some goofy spooky fun. 

October 11th 

Movie 26 - V/H/S/94 (2021) - I knew I was going to check this out as I liked the first couple entries in what I suppose can now be called the V/H/S franchise. This was a decent collection of stories. I was surprised by how much gore we get. Yeah a lot of it is CGI, but the volume makes up for it. That said I can't see revisiting this one like I do the first two. 

October 12th 

Movie 27 - Halloween H20 (1998) - It had been a while since I've watched this one and I needed to watch and review it for the Halloween reviewathon coming later this month. Honestly I like it a heck of a lot more than five and six, but that bar isn't hard to clear. Still it was nice to see Laurie back in the saddle, and there ins't any kung fu. 

Movie 28 - Night of the Demons (1988) - This is another old favorite of mine. I remember renting it quite often. A great movie with fun characters, good monsters, and some decent kills. Check out my full review here for more details on what I think. 

October 13th

Movie 29 - Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957) - I've been watching this one since I was a kid. What used to be just a fun alien movie with silly creatures has aged well as I've gotten older. This is both a parody and a great example of the genre. I highly recommend this one. 

October 14th

Movie 30 - The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972) - I love these '70s Bigfoot documentaries. This one is probably my favorite. I know they are cheesy, but they always make me feel like I'm sitting in a drive-in eating popcorn. Check out my full review here

October 15th

Movie 31 - The Legend of Hell House (1973) - This is one of my favorite haunted house movies. I love Roddy McDowall in this and we get a lot of twists and turns from the excellent story from Richard Matheson. My full review can be read here

Movie 32 - 10/31 Part 2 (2019) - This is another anthology from some of the best independent horror filmmakers going. I really enjoyed it. There is some decent gore, creature effects, and twists that only seem to show up on these indy projects. Check it out and support in independent horror!

October 16th 

Movie 33 - Chompy and the Girls (2021) - This was one of my co-hosts picks for this weeks Bloodbaths and Boomsticks podcast. It is an odd independent movie about a dude with a giant mouth walking around swallowing little girls whole. Only the girls are all the same and there is some other monster shenanigans going on. Interesting flick. 

Movie 34 - The Body Snatcher (1945) - This was another pick for the next Bloodbaths and Boomsticks podcast. Tim picked this classic starring Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. It is a great movie with a spooky atmosphere that I recommend you check out. 

Movie 35 - Muppets Haunted Mansion (2021) - If you figured out with my inclusion of Hubie Halloween in the marathon I like to mix in some silly stuff. This was a good time and a nice throwback to the old Muppet movies. 

October 17th

Movie 36 - Day of the Dead (1985) - Had to work a Romero classic zombie flick into the mix. This is my second favorite of them. Great special effects work, over the top acting, and some amazing lines from Joe Pilato. You can check out my full review from an earlier marathon here

October 18th 

Movie 37 - Halloween: Resurrection (2002) - I watched this because I'm covering them for the site this October. I really didn't want to watch this but I do what I must. This is every bit as slow and boring as I remember it being. I'll have more when I do the review. 

Movie 38 - Sharkenstein (2016) - I watched this because we are reviewing it for the Shitty Shark Show. It certainly is Shitty so I guess that fits. This movie is far too ambitious for the budget. It also gets very boring as the pacing is off in spots. I don't recommend this one my friends. 

October 19th

Movie 39 - Slumber Party Massacre (2021) - Just to be clear that this isn't the classic '80s Roger Corman flick but is instead the remake that SYFY channel released this month. There are some fun Easter Eggs for the fans but the movie goes out of it's way to switch things around. I'll have more in my full review that should be popping up on the site this month. Bottom line for me is I didn't care for it. 

Movie 40 - Grave Intentions (2021) - This is a collection of short films with a wrap around tying them together. They are a mixed bag with one feeling like a film school project trying to be art for arts sake and another body horror that was a kick in the ass! Overall worth a watch. 

October 20th

Movie 41 - Terror from the Year 5000 (1958) - This is a new to me movie about a scientist that is able to send and receive things from the future. Unfortunately they end up bringing back a radioactive monster lady. I will eventually getting around to posting a review for this one. 

Movie 42 - The Cabin in the Woods (2011) - I can't believe that this movie is ten years old! I saw it in the theater and have loved it ever since. A clever take on the old formula of kids get stupid, go into the woods, and do stupid stuff. Check out my full review here

October 21st

Movie 43 - It! Terror from Beyond Space (1958) - I love this movie and try to watch it every year. An alien sneaks aboard a returning rocket ship from Mars and crawls around the duct work killing the crew. Sound a bit familiar? This one is a blast. For more check out my review here

October 22nd

Movie 44 - Shockwaves (1977) - Peter Cushing, John Carradine, and an island full of Nazi zombies! Seriously guys this is one of my favorite movies. Not incredibly gory but it has a perfect drive-in movie pedigree that makes me smile. If you haven't checked this one out before do so. Check out my full review here

Movie 45 - Cooties (2014) - This is one of the funniest new zombie movies I've seen. There is a great cast including Dwight from the office and a Hobbit. But the best part are the zombie kids and the tainted chicken nuggets that turn them. My full review can be found here

October 23rd

Movie 46 - The Evil Dead (1981) - This is one of my favorite movies to watch in October. Normally I wait until closer to Halloween but this year a friend of mine, Eric, did a double feature in his backyard and this was the first movie. So I watched it earlier than usual. Check out my full review from a couple of years ago here

Movie 47 - Evil Dead II (1987) - What goes better with Evil Dead then the sequel? This is another great movie that ramps up the silliness while keeping the scares intact. Last year I got to see the pair in a drive-in and while this isn't as cool as that I still had a blast watching with friends. My full review is here

October 24th

Movie 48 - The Black Scorpion (1957) - This is one of my favorite giant bug movies. Not as well known by casual fans like say Them or The Deadly Mantis this one has all you could ask for. A great cast headed up by Richard Denning of Creature from the Black Lagoon fame and a cool stop motion monster. Check out my full review here

October 25th

Movie 49 - Prince of Darkness (1987) - This is a creepy movie from the master of such things John Carpenter. Filled with familiar faces this one has grown on me over the years. It still hasn't cracked my top three, but Carpenter made some amazing movies. Check out my full review here

Movie 50 - Critters (1986) - One of the better monster movies from the '80s this has a wonderful cast, cool monsters, and some very funny moments. I try to watch it every couple of years and was about due so I thought the Halloween Movie Marathon is a perfect spot. 

October 26th

Movie 51 - Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988) - I got to see this in the theater when it was first released and years later at a special midnight screening. I love this movie. It is the right balance of comedy and Alien invasion movie. Check out my full review here. As an added bit of fun here is the write up I did when we went to the midnight screening. 

Movie 52Tremors (1990) - I think that this has become my favorite monster movie. I love the characters, the sequels, and the creatures. I always have to watch this during the Halloween season. Check out my review here

October 27th

Movie 53 - Night of the Living Dead (1968) - It isn't Halloween until I watch Night of the Living Dead. Being public domain this was on just about every channel when I was a kid growing up. Then again there were only four or five channels! What else can I say about this classic? Click here for my review. 

Movie 54 - The Return of the Living Dead (1985) - I wasn't done with the zombie movies and decided to pop this bad boy in the old DVD player. This is one of the best non-Romero zombie flicks going. You can check out my review from a couple of years ago here

October 28th 

Movie 55 - Scout's Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse (2015) - This is a more recent addition to my annual October movie viewing. This is an entertaining, funny, and suitably gory flick that brings plenty of zombie mayhem to the screen. You can check out my full review here

October 29th 

Movie 56 - The Tingler (1959) - This is my second favorite William Castle flick behind only House on Haunted Hill. Like that movie this one is cheesy but benefits greatly from Vincent Price's performance. Check out my full review here

Movie 57 - Waxwork (1988) - This was a frequent rental back in the day for me. I love the assortment of monsters and David Warner is excellent. Plus you know... Deborah Foreman! My full review can be found here

Movie 58 - Waxwork II: Lost in Time (1992) - This one picks up at the end of the first movie and continues the waxwork shenanigans, though Sarah gets accused of killing her stepfather when the hand from the end of the first movie follows her home. Decent followup but not as fun as the first one. 

October 30th

Movie 59 - Halloween (2018) - I held off watching this movie until it was nearly time for it to leave the theaters and even then I went only because I was already there to see something else and there was a showing starting right after I got out of the other movie. I was blown away by how great this movie is. I love the original and have to say that this is the sequel that is closest to that one. Check out my full review here

October 31st 

Movie 60 - Halloween Kills (2021) - I wanted to watch this on Halloween since I loved the 2018 movie so much. I have to say it was worth the wait. While not as fun as the previous installment I dug the call backs to characters from the 1978 movie as well as them filling in some blanks. Check out my full review here

Movie 61 - Dawn of the Dead (1978) - This is my all time favorite movie and George Romero is my favorite director. This is the gold standard of zombie movies. I could go on but if you need more convincing check out my review here

Movie 62 - Fright Night (1985) - You can't have enough Roddy McDowall on Halloween. This is one of my favorite vampire movies. Great cast, iconic vampires, and very quotable lines. You can check out my full review here

Movie 63 - Army of Darkness (1992) - I know that this is a silly movie and that a lot of Evil Dead fans don't like it. But damn it I loved this one and it was the first of the series that I got to see in the theater. This is a fun movie that I haven't watched in a while. Check out my full review here

Movie 64 - Halloween (1978) - Of course this is how I normally end my Halloween movie marathon. This is one of the best horror movies ever made and is a must watch. If you need any more convincing then check out my review here


Wrap Up - So I didn't beat my old record of seventy-three movies in October. But I did pretty good with sixty-four. I revisited some old favorites that I always watch this time of the year like Dawn of the Dead, Halloween, and The Evil Dead. I also mixed in some that I haven't seen in a while like Waxwork, House, and The Beast Must Die. I also caught some new flicks that I enjoyed like Seance and Here Comes Hell. This spookiest time of the year calls for variety and I succeeded at that. I hope that you all had a great October and for you normies out there I'll see you next October. For you horror nerds like me... well see you tomorrow. 


© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

House of Horrors (1946)

Time to delve deep and talk about an honest to God classic of the horror genre. This movie has an amazing cast, a deep connection to the horror genre, and was helmed by Jean Yarbrough. You may not be familiar with that name, but he is an amazing director that has some great genre flicks to his name but has been forgotten by all but the most diehard fans of the classics.

The story revolves around a frustrated artist named Marcel De Lange who is angry that the critics don’t understand his genius. We see this when an arrogant critic named Harmon talks a wealthy patron out of buying De Lange’s latest piece by belittling it and the artist right in front of him. This sends the artist out into the night, perhaps to harm himself. Instead, he finds a “hideous” man who is wanted for several murders. He is called the Creeper by the press and is shocked when De Lange rescues him from drowning.

After nursing him back to health The Creeper decides he finally has a friend in De Lange. Though the artist takes advantage of that by talking about how cruel Harmon was to him. The Creeper does what he does, and the critic ends up with a snapped neck. The police initially think a young artist who was also criticized by Harmon is the most likely suspect, but eventually with the help of his girlfriend, yet another art critic, they figure out what is going on. Will they do so before The Creeper ups his body count even more? You are just going to have to watch the flick to find out!

Poor Alfred...
House of Horrors is a very tight movie that clocks in at just over sixty minutes. It wastes no time getting to the good stuff but does show us some character development which is very important. It also does that neat trick that the best horror stories do and that is make you sympathetic to the monster.  Yeah, The Creeper is a killer, but he is also totally manipulated by the artist. It also seems that this is perhaps the first time anyone has treated him with kindness in his life. I felt bad for him, you know when he wasn’t killing people…

The above is partly accomplished due to the performance of Rondo Hatton, who plays The Creeper. He never got enough credit for his acting abilities and was more than just a killer or heavy. In his far too brief career, he was good in just about any part he was cast in. He also reprised the role as The Creeper in another movie The Brute Man from the same year as House of Horrors. He was also the same character in an earlier Sherlock Holmes movie The Pearl of Death. If the name sounds familiar the Rondo’s are the annual horror awards given out to flicks as well as horror hosts and other such genre related artists. The statue is based on the one from this movie. Just thought that was a fun tidbit to add into the review.

The rest of the cast is great and includes Martin Kosleck as De Lange. I loved him in this movie, but my favorite performance from him is his is role in the underrated The Flesh Eaters from sixty-four. If you haven’t’ seen that one track it down. He also had a role in the Batman show from the sixties. I mention this because the unfortunate critic Harmon is played by Alfred himself, Alan Napier! We also get Virginia Grey and Robert Lowery who was in The Undertaker and His Pals. There were a lot of familiar faces in this one.

The movie is beautifully made with lighting that accentuates the creepy vibe. They are especially good when Hatten is slipping in and out of the shadows stalking his prey. A well light black and white horror movie is still one of the most beautiful things you will see on the screen. House of Horrors is a fine example of that. Music is also spot on and helps to build the tension and felling of dread. If you can’t tell I love House of Horrors! I highly recommend that you check out this classic flick. Not only does it stand alone as a great movie, but it’s connection to horror history is another reason that this movie is a must see.

 

Ó Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

 

 

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Alienator (1990)

Fred Olen Ray is back at it with this science fiction flick that has some familiar themes. Kol is an intergalactic criminal who is scheduled to be executed for his crimes. The warden, played by Jan Michael Vincent, is going to enjoy this one. We know because he tells us. There is also an observer, a space hippy that thinks capital punishment is wrong. Some stuff happens including the warden sexually harassing one of his technicians, played by P.J. Soles… damn this is a good cast! Kol makes a break for it, steals a shuttle and crashes on Earth. 

Here is where things get interesting. Some kids hit him with their Winnebago and go to a park ranger for help. This puts them in the way of the robotic body builder lady with a laser who has been sent to kill Kol before he gets up to any more trouble. Since they are with her target, they are fair game. After a body count and seeing the Alienator, the mechanical mercenary, play nice with a deer we figure out that all may not be what it seems. Some people die, and some live happily ever after knowing that the world has been saved… I think. 

This is the sort of harmless low budget fun that Fred Olen Ray is a master at. Not a terribly original flick but executed on a minimal budget in a manner that is entertaining as hell. The story is tight and paced well. There is always some action on the screen and the movie never stays in one location long enough to get boring. The action sequences are simple but work well. There are lots of lasers going pew pew pew, a burned-out body Uncle Owen style, and that lady terminator… er uh I mean Alienator is cool looking. 

The cast is stellar, though not asked to do much they have enough screen presence to keep our attention. In addition to Jan Michael Vincent and P.J. Soles we also get performances from Robert Quarry, Leo Gordon, John Phillip Law, and I’ll be damned Joe Pilato! You might not recognize all these names but if you dig horror/drive-in movies you will know the faces. The director puts together a great cast that can cover for some of the deficiencies that come with a low budget movie like Alienator. 

Special effects wise the movie is a mixed bag. It is clear that the space station is some sort of industrial building, which is a common trick in movies like this. I really do like the design of the Alienator as it looks sci-fi enough to be a passable intergalactic bounty hunter. The laser is sold with some sound effects and on set explosions. Speaking of sound effects whenever she is near, we get a very familiar sound effect. As Chris Rock once said on screen, “George Lucas gonna sue somebodies’ ass!” 

If you are looking for a serious movie then this isn’t for you. On the other hand, if you want cheesy fun then this as well as many other Fred Olen Ray movies will fit that bill. I’m in the middle of rediscovering his work and having a blast doing so. Of course, I’ve now cursed myself. 


© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Time after Time (1979)

It might seem that I’m exclusively a horror dude here at the site. But I’m also a huge fan of science fiction including non-horror sci-fi without monsters trying to destroy cities or invading the Earth. Time after Time was a favorite movie of mine growing up on that I haven’t seen in years. I was almost afraid to check it out again for fear that it wouldn’t hold up. I shouldn’t have worried.

The movie is set in Victorian England where author H.G. Wells is having a dinner party for his friends. The occasion is for him to show off the time machine that he has just invented. One of his guests, Dr. Stevens, arrives late. He has a good excuse though since he is Jack the Ripper! The police arrive shortly after and when he realizes he is cornered he jumps in the time machine to make his escape. Knowing that no one would believe him Wells decides to pursue him to the future to stop the murder spree he has unleashed on the future.

Wells arrives in modern day (nineteen seventy-nine) San Francisco. Stevenson realizes he has been followed and tries to convince his friend that he belongs in the future. That our violent world was made for him and that he should leave him there. When Wells refuses to go back to his time alone it sets into motion a battle of wits between the two men. Wells also has taken up with a woman named Amy, who Stevens has kidnapped to use for leverage. Everything comes to a head with a big showdown between the two men in a museum exhibit.

This is an excellent movie that held up for me today just as it did when I first saw it decades ago. The story is a fun alternate history of H.G. Wells and Jack the Ripper. The story is exciting and keeps the audience guessing at what will happen next. It also tries to explain the historical events thru its own fictional world. I appreciated the effort, and it shows that this was a solid script that was well thought out. The direction from Nicholas Meyer, who also wrote the screenplay, is fantastic. The man made some great movies as a director and wrote even more. Hell, he wrote the screenplay for one of my favorite drive-in movies Invasion of the Bee Girls.

The cast is amazing. We have solid performances from Malcolm McDowell as Wells and Mary Steenburgen as his girlfriend Amy. There are also many other familiar faces in the cast that I won’t point out here as I don’t have the space. Though hands down the best part about Time after Time is David Warner as Dr. Stevens aka. Jack the Ripper. He is menacing in a very polite way that I found disturbingly Victorian. His performance is subdued and frighteningly realistic as a killer who knows what he is and simply doesn’t care. Though I guess maybe that is called into question at the end, but I won’t spoil it with details.

The special effects here are limited to the steampunk looking time machine and a light show when they travel from era to era. It might seem dated to an audience used to CGI, but I rather like the old school vibe to it. Again, even if it doesn’t work for you, it is hardly on the screen and not terribly important to the plot. I guess I should mention that despite this being about Jack the Ripper the kills are almost nonexistent. But then this isn’t that kind of movie so you shouldn’t expect any gore.

I have always loved Time after Time and this most recent viewing hasn’t changed that. If you haven’t checked it out, then you are missing some of the best science fiction that the seventies had to offer. Do yourself a favor and track down a copy. You won’t be disappointed.

 

Ó Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Jump Rope by Ruby Jean Jensen

Ruby Jean Jensen is an author that keeps popping up when talking to friends about cool horror novels from the seventies and eighties. I have been looking for her books, but they are very hard to find and extremely sought after, which is a nice way for saying absurdly expensive on the used market. But finally, her work has come to digital and as soon as I saw that my kindle got a healthy dose of her books. I decided to start off with Jump Rope as it was recommended to me by a good friend Angie.

Jensen was well known for the children in danger genre, and this is a prime example of that. The book kicks off with an idyllic family, wealthy with beautiful children. Until the father, Alex, kills himself. Or did he? Their mother, Amanda, who has a troubled history of foster care and failed marriages before finding true love with Alex, is traumatized by his death. So, she tries hiring a fully time nanny/companion named Rachel. A woman who is also disturbed by the recent breakup of her marriage and loss of an unborn child due to a terrible car accident.

Initially she says no because of what she thinks is a disturbing hallucination but that turns out to be something else. When she sees on the news that the eldest daughter of the family has been murdered on the front lawn of the estate, she changes her mind and decides she needs to protect the children. But from what? That is the interesting part that I won’t spoil here. There are some twists and turns as well as a good supernatural angle that I found satisfying. In the end Rachel does figure it all out but not before a horrible cost has been paid.

Many times things are suggested to me that honestly don’t pan out. But if Jump Rope is any indication, I think I have a new favorite author. The story is solid with enough mystery to keep you engaged without being overly complicated. The setting is basically all at one house and the cast of characters is kept small. Jensen does a wonderful job establishing the story and populating it with interesting people that jump off the page. This is especially so for the children, some of whom it doesn’t end well for. That makes these sad fates all that much more powerful. I found myself wanting to read “just one more page” before putting it down for the night. I was hooked and cared about what happened next.  

The book doesn’t shy away from violence, but also doesn’t linger on it. Much of the mayhem is directed at children so it could have been disturbing, too much so. But Jensen walks that tightrope nicely giving you just enough to be creeped out without going far enough to lose the reader. That said if you don’t like children put in danger and violence towards them in your fiction then you won’t be wanting to read Jump Rope.  The connection to the kids and caring about what happens to them is the emotional core of the book.

If I had one complaint it was the ending. Things are tied up nicely without a whole lot of explanation. We do get a happy ending due to some rather trite after the fact explanation. The person responsible for the killings gets off a bit easy as their comeuppance happens in a matter of a couple of paragraphs. It isn’t even explained why things were resolved in the way they were. Again, I’m being a bit vague here so as not to ruin the ending. I’m doing so because despite what I just wrote the good far outweigh the bad and I’m going to recommend Jump Rope. It really is a great book, and I will be reading more Ruby Jean Jensen soon.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Monday, September 20, 2021

Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace (1964)

I’m a big fan of detective movies but I haven’t spent much time here at Crappy Movie Reviews covering them. I had questioned if they fit with what I was trying to do here, but then I started my Giallo marathon and figured that it was my site so what the hell. As a bonus this movie stars horror icon Christopher Lee as Holmes, so there is that as well. If you don’t like me covering these sorts of movies, I guess let me know by dropping me an email. Now onto the review.

The fun starts with some kids tossing rocks at a body in the harbor. I guess this is to establish London and the locals. Soon afterwards we see Holmes in disguise watching a particular ship in the harbor. He is doing this because his nemesis Professor Moriarty is making daily trips to meet the incoming ships. Turns out he was waiting for a couple of men, one of whom ended up floating in the harbor! This is part of a plan to get some revenge on a fella named Blackburn who stole a priceless necklace that they had stolen from Cleopatra’s tomb. Bodies start to drop as the professor and his men get up their criminal business. In the end Holmes figures out the mystery and thwarts Moriarty’s plan to add the antiquity to his personal collection. Though it isn’t enough to put the professor in jail, so the movie ends with Holmes and Watson setting off in pursuit of more evidence.

This isn’t a very good movie, and I was more than a little disappointed in it. Though I am glad to have scratched it off the to watch list. There are a couple of good things like some surprising attempts at humor that land and Christopher Lee is also good in the role. But the story is a little confusing as it meanders along. We get introduced to a wife of Blackburn as well as the man she was having an affair with. This bit seems to exist only for us to watch Holmes run around figuring things out without the help of the police. This leads me to another issue I have with this flick. The best mystery movies give the audience some clues as to what is going on letting us guess as the solution. Here Holmes hops around and then reveals all without any clues being shared with the viewer. That is a pet peeve of mine and it bugged me.

Lee looks the part
This West German production has some other quirks that I wanted to discuss. The soundtrack is filled with a lot of jazz music, but I think that it is set in the twenties, so I guess that works. Though it feels much more like sixties jazz, which was sort of distracting. Yes, there is a difference! The movie also suffers from some bad dubbing. I’m a big fan of Italian flicks so dubbing doesn’t normally bother me. But the voices here don’t seem to match the characters. I’m also not sure that they had Lee dub his own dialogue in English. I mean he might have, but if so then he did it without any inflection. This was also distracting.

In the end this oddity is probably only for fans of Lee and of the Sherlock Holmes character. Again, I was very happy to finally scratch it off of my to watch list, but it’s not a good movie. I’d recommend the old Basil Rathbone movies or the Jeremy Brett television show for your consulting detective needs.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Saturday, September 18, 2021

The Mummy’s Revenge (1975)

I wanted to watch a Paul Naschy flick and decided to not check out one of his werewolf outings but instead chose this mummy movie. That was a mistake… a big one. After a voiceover explaining that the Pharaoh was a bit of a jerk torturing women for fun, we see a priest and his men take him out. To punish him for his behavior they make it so that he can never pass on to the afterlife. That will come back to bite the people that find his tomb. 

Some archeologists find him and bring him back to London for study. A descendant of the Pharaoh shows up with his henchwoman and goes about bringing the old guy back to life. Oh, and if you haven’t caught on like most every other Mummy movie that follows this plot Naschy is both the mummy and his descendant. So, we get twice the fun, right? Well not really. Things happen, the day is saved… wait no it isn’t. Spoilers! Our heroine dies in the end. And the bad guys burn up. Basically, everyone dies. 

I didn’t like this movie at all. One of the things that I love about most of Naschy’s flicks are that they have their own sensibilities. Sure, he is a werewolf, but sometimes his lady friend is a vampire. Sometimes he is doing battle with vampires. Occasionally his werewolf is a misunderstood victim of the curse and other times he is a randy playboy revealing in it. There is a lot of variety. The Mummy’s Revenge feels like a rehash of the plot from the classic universal flick starring Karloff. There is nothing new or different and it is very predictable. I kept waiting for that special magic that you only get from his Spanish/Italian productions, but it never happens. That bummed me out. 

The movie also has several slow spots where it bogs down on him constantly stalking women because he needs to sacrifice a bunch of virgins to give himself immortal life and bring his lady love back from the dead. I’m not being vague or dismissive here as they never really set any rules. It is more an excuse for the mummy to run around grabbing ladies and then chaining them to a wall for sacrifice. Oh, and that brings me to something else missing. Naschy normally has a bit of sleaze in his flicks with lots of skin showing and many ladies are bedded and do some bedding themselves. The Mummy’s Revenge is noticeably tame when it comes to this. Though I watched the Spanish cut which is supposed to have the good stuff cut out. I’ll not track a different copy down though as I doubt that would save the movie. 

I’m being awful hard on the movie. There are some positives. The mummy makeup is decent, the dubbing is horrible in all the right ways, and we get a lot of kills. Seventeen people die in this movie, though most are tame and offscreen. We do get a crushed head, some throats cut, a nightstick thru the chest, and a woman ages to bones and dust in front of us. Though my favorite is a face getting ripped off. That is a decent effect. But in the end, none of these can redeem what ends up being a slow retread of a much better flick. Next time I’ll stick to his werewolf movies. 



 © Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Throwback Thursday - Exploring the Shelves: The Giant Bug movies

 edit: I've not done a Throwback Thursday in a couple of years so I thought it was time to dig into my archives and pull something out. This is an article that I wrote for Grindhouse Purgatory a few years ago. You may notice that the formatting doesn't match what I normally do here. I thought about changing it, but then decided that I wanted to keep it as close to how it originally appeared in print as possible. Enjoy!

 

I own way too many movies.  Really, I’ve reached the point where I can sit in my movie room starring at the 4,000 plus DVDs, Blu-Rays, VHS, and Laser Discs and don’t have a clue what to watch.  It drives my wife crazy.  Truth be told I know that there are movies that I want to watch but they just seem to get lost in the stacks of stuff.  So it occurred to me that if I had a reason, say writing a piece for Grindhouse Purgatory, it would help me get motivated.  So that is how I came upon the idea for Exploring the Shelves.  Not only do I get to organize myself enough to grab a movie to watch but I get to write about it as well.  Seems like a win win situation. 

So now comes the hard part.  What should the theme of my first Exploring the Shelves be?  Okay actually it wasn’t that hard because something came to mind right away.  See I’m a child of the ‘70s and I grew up watching the late-night horror host shows.  In addition to the classic Universal movies, they also played a lot of ‘50s Science Fiction.  Growing up some of my favorite creature features involved various giant bugs smashing everything in sight.  I can’t think of a better theme to start with than giant bugs.  Time to dig into my collection and knock the dust off a few classics and some maybe not so classic (but still fun damn it!). 

First up from 1957 we need to talk about the Deadly Mantis.  After a brief voiceover explanation of radar defenses (which plays into what happens later) we get to the good stuff.  The story here follows a prehistoric mantis that breaks loose from the ice and wakes up.  It is a bit chilly for him up north so he starts to make his way south.  Along the way he makes short work of an airplane, military outpost, and a few other items before the army and air force pull out the big guns to take care of him.  The mantis meets his end in a tunnel surrounded by wrecked cars.  We even get a good fake out at the end to give us one final scare.

Unlike some of the other giant bug movies this one isn’t afraid to show us the big guy right away.  In fact, we get a still of it right in the opening credits!  They were obviously very proud of the effects work and how the creature looks on screen.  I have to say for the ‘50s it does look really good.  They do a decent job mixing in the stock footage of jet fighters, navy ships, and artillery.  This is going to be a common theme in many of these movies and while it doesn’t match perfectly that is part of the fun.  Toss in a bit of ‘50s sexism with the lone female character and you have a quintessential example of the subgenre.

On a personal note this movie has always been a favorite of mine.  I remember watching it on our local Friday night movie show Big Chuck and Little John.  The end of the movie, which takes place in a creepy fog, really scared the heck out of me.  Sitting on the couch with my Dad being scared of what would happen next is one of my earliest movie watching memories.  Might be my nostalgia talking but I’d give The Deadly Mantis a solid 3 out of 4 stars.

The next movie I want to talk about is Them! from 1954.  The story starts with a couple of New Mexico Highway patrolmen responding to a call about a little girl wandering in the desert.  They find her and what is left of her family’s camper.  A few more bodies pile up and soon an FBI agent (James Arness a couple years removed from his turn as the alien on The Thing from Another World) along with scientists are on the trail.  Seems some giant ants have come out of the wilderness to challenge man as the dominant species on Earth.  Much mayhem ensues and eventually the bugs (are ants bugs?) are destroyed.

Here we have another common theme from ‘50s Science Fiction movies.  The giant ants in Them! are spawned by the nuclear tests conducted in the desert.  If you know anything about the ‘50s it is that everything was either credited to nuclear power or blamed on nuclear bombs.  I’ve also always thought that the cast in the one was stellar.  Arness is really good in his role as the FBI agent.  The rest of the cast is solid as well and includes Edmund Glenn (Miracle on 42nd Street, The Walking Dead with Boris Karloff).  Even old Daniel Boone himself Fess Parker has a brief but memorable appearance.

Them! also does a wonderful job of creating some genuinely scary atmosphere and tension as it keeps the audience from seeing the ants for a good portion of the movie.  When you do get to see them it is worth it.  Clearly they are puppets but they look great.  In fact this is one time where the on screen creature looks much better then what is on the poster.  I mean seriously what is up with those goofy eyes?  This movie hit early on during the monster craze of the ‘50s when the studios were spending some good money and taking these movies seriously.  It shows in quality of cast, writing, and effects.  This is the gold standard of the giant bug movie and deserves a 4 out of 4 stars. 

Let’s move forward a bit for 1975’s The Giant Spider Invasion.  This has the most unique origin story for our large stars.  A meteor or something like that hits Wisconsin.  Somehow its impact creates a black hole.  Honestly, I'm not trying to be vague about this because that movie doesn’t explain the details.  So, the black hole becomes a doorway to another dimension.  One apparently populated by giant spiders.  They start off in eggs that look like geodes and are filled with diamonds.  When they hatch, they are no bigger than tarantulas, but eventually get the size of a house.

I’m a big fan of regional filmmakers.  The guys that made movies specifically for the drive-in market in the Midwest and South like the director of this movie Bill Rebane.  Movies like this were made on a shoestring budget and were filled with “B” level stars if you were lucky.  The Giant Spider Invasion is an excellent example of this.  The most familiar face in the movie is that of Alan Hale, the skipper from Gilligan’s Island.  In fact, his first line in the movie is “Hello little Buddy” so you know they were cashing in on his appearance.  The other notable face is Barbara Hale from the old Perry Mason show.  Overall, the script is solid but nothing special.  This is a creature feature that was cashing in on the success of Jaws only this time with spiders.  Hell, there is even a line in the movie where someone mentions that the spider makes the shark from Jaws look like a goldfish.  Oh, and there is some stock footage of military jets in this one too (recurring theme…)

Again, I’m a big fan of regional filmmakers and of Rebane’s movies in particular.  One of the things that he does best is getting the most out of his special effects.  Whether it is a Bigfoot costume or building a set to make a ghost attack look good he gets some bang out of his buck.  Here you have a rather legendary bit with the giant version of the spiders being made to fit on a VW Beetle.  Watch in the shots that you never get to see its legs touch the ground when it moves.  If you did then you would see the wheels of the car.  This kind of ingenuity is what has always made me a fan of the independent regional filmmaker.

Okay so while I'm a fan of movies made on a low budget I will say that this one doesn't stand up well when compared to something like Them!.  The cast, story, and effects work on The Giant Spider Invasion while fun aren’t as good as they would have been with more resources.  You have to appreciate this movie for what it is and what it was made to do.  Quickly made for a specific market and to take advantage of the new creature feature craze I can appreciate The Giant Spider Invasion.  But realistically the best I can give it rating wise is 2 ½ out of 4.

Let’s jump back into the ‘50s with another classic Black and White entry into the giant bug genre.  More giant spiders except this time they are from earth and stalk around the desert.  Yep, I’m going to talk about 1955’s Tarantula. 

Familiar face and genre vet John Agar plays a doctor named Matt Hastings with a practice in a small desert town.  After they find a body that seems to be ravaged by a disease that shouldn’t have been so advanced it sets Hastings to investigating the goings on with a local scientist.  In an effort to help feed the world the scientist has created a formula to speed the growth up of animal tissue. After an accident a tarantula escapes and grows and grows.  Much mayhem and destruction ensue. 

This is another really well-made movie.  The special effects are solid if a bit dated.  We get to see the spider tear down a house, toss a truck in the air, and do battle with the air force.  It all looks great on screen.  They do a wonderful job of blending the footage of a real tarantula with the actors.  There are a couple of times that they use a puppet, but mostly they avoid that.  Also, there are some decent makeups on the actors that are afflicted with the disease that first puts the Hastings character on the case that are gruesome looking for the ‘50s.

In addition to the previously mentioned Agar the movie also has another familiar face in the cast as the scientist that causes the whole giant tarantula problem.  Leo G. Carroll makes a rare appearance in a genre movie.  He is much better known for being a favorite actor of Alfred Hitchcock in many of his classic films.  A very young Clint Eastwood makes a blink and you’ll miss it appearance as a fighter pilot dumping napalm on the Tarantula (stock footage of jets again).  The director of the movie is another favorite of mine, Jack Arnold.  Not only did he make some other great sci-fi movies during the ‘50s (Creature from the Black Lagoon, Revenge of the Creature, It Came from Outer Space) but he later made some of the better Blaxploitation movies with Fred “The Hammer” Williamson. 

Clearly there was a lot of talent involved in make Tarantula and it shows.  This is one of the better giant bug movies and played a lot on late night movie shows.  I even recently saw that Svengoolie out of Chicago was playing it on his show, so the tradition continues.  This movie falls in between Them! and The Deadly Mantis.  It doesn’t quite get to the quality of the first but is better than the latter.  I’d have to give this one 3 ½ out of 4. 

Well, the time has come to talk about some Bert I. Gordon movies…  Where should I start?  I guess at the beginning would be as good as any so that would be 1957’s The Beginning of the End. So far, we have seen Spiders, Ants, and a Mantis all trying to replace human beings at the top of the food chain.  What other intimidating insects could filmmakers possibly enlarge to terrorize filmgoers?  Well, I suppose grasshoppers might be a good idea.  Yeah, actually that is probably a terrible idea.

Okay so to be fair they aren’t supposed to be grasshopper but instead are locusts.  They get into some crops that were irradiated with the atom (as all good ‘50s creatures were) and go on a killing spree.  The locusts lay siege to Chicago and the military decides that the only option is to nuke the city!  Luckily our intrepid male lead (Peter Graves playing a scientist) figures out a way to broadcast a mating call to lure the locusts into the lake killing them in the process. 

I really enjoy many of Gordon’s movies but Beginning of the End isn’t one of them.  This is a very early effort from him, and it shows.  The pacing is terrible with the movie being really slow at spots, especially the beginning.  When we finally do get to see the giant insects they aren’t that scary.  I mean grasshoppers…  Really?  It is clear that this was also an early effort at his signature special effects.  Gordon used a lot of photographic plates to put the creatures into the scenes in his movies.  Here it is very crude.  We get to see live grasshoppers crawling over pictures of buildings.  It looks very bad on screen and makes me laugh but not in a good way.

Like I said this is a weak movie.  The only redeeming value for me is getting to watch Peter Graves chew up some scenery.  The fact that he plays it so seriously in such an absurd movie is the only reason that I used to sit thru this when it was playing on TV in the wee hours of the morning.  This is by far the weakest of the movies that I’m going to cover here.  I give it 1 out of 4 stars for Graves’ performance alone.

Gordon returned with another giant bug movie in 1958 with Earth vs. The Spider.  This is a bit of a Tarantula knock off with many of the same scenes lifted and done not quite as well. The story starts off with a man driving alone at night when he sees something in the road.  He screams and there is a crash.  The next day we meet his daughter and her boyfriend.  They go looking for him and find a cave with a giant spider in it (another tarantula!).  The pair head back to town and convince their science teacher that something is in the cave.  They return with the sheriff and sure enough find the spider.  They kill it (or so they think) and bring it back to the local high school.  Sure enough it was only stunned and it wakes up hungry!  Much mayhem ensues as you would expect.

Like I’ve said this as a lot of similarities to Tarantula.  First is the fact that it is a tarantula.  But we also get a scene with it attacking a woman in a house.  Additionally, they create some gruesome effects (at least for 1958) involving human beings, this time victims of the spider instead of mutations like in Tarantula.  So they are definitely following a similar formula.  But for a creature feature to follow a formula, especially one from a successful movie doesn’t bother me much.  I just thought I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it.

There is a lot to like about Earth vs. The Spider.  I’ve always liked the fact that it deviated from a common theme in ‘50s science fiction and allowed an adult to immediately believe and act on information from the teenage protagonists.  As a big fan of these kinds of movies that is unusual.  It is also clear that Gordon has started to perfect his techniques in bringing oversized critters to the screen.  You get many shots with photographic plates being used to bring the giant bugs to life, but they have a much more realistic feel to them.  In Beginning of the End, they seem flat and look like pictures, but in Earth vs. The Spider there is more perspective used.  It looks like the spider is in the scene with the actors. 

While not a great movie this one is a guilty pleasure of mine.  I tend to watch it every couple of years and always enjoy myself.  Overall, it is a solid effort from a filmmaker that always aimed to entertain.  I’d give it 2 ½ out of 4.

We finally get to my favorite Bert I. Gordon giant bug movie.  It is cheesy as hell, but also a ton of fun.  I’m speaking of 1977’s Empire of the Ants.  In this one Joan Collins plays a real estate hustler trying to sell some lots in a new development in what I think is supposed to be Florida.  She takes her clients out to the isolated location and soon they find out that giant ants have already made their home there.  We the audience know that they have been mutated by some illegally dumped toxic waste.  The rest of the movie is them trying to get away from the ants.  When you think they have made it there is another twist to the story.

This is the 3rd and final crack that Gordon takes at giant insects as the star of his movie and of them it is the best.  He pulls all his old tricks out to bring the ants to life.  We get the real insects crawling around on photographs that match the actual locations.  The cast and creatures are put together in scenes with different uses of rear projection that works pretty well.  But what really sets this movie apart are the puppets that are used for the close ups.  Sure, the size of the ants changes quite a bit when we go from rear projection to puppets, but that is part of the charm. 

For Empire of the Ants Gordon put together the best cast that I think he had in any of his movies.  The two big names that jump out are Joan Collins and Robert Lansing (who also is half of the human/roach hybrid in the nest).  Toss in a very well-paced story and dialogue that is put together nicely to make one of the most entertaining Bert I. Gordon efforts of his career.  This is another of those movies that played a lot in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s on both cable and the late-night movie shows.  It never disappointed me then and still doesn’t now.  I’d give this one 3 out of 4.

Let’s go back to the ‘50s again with The Black Scorpion from 1957.  An earthquake wakes up a volcano in Mexico as well as freeing up some rather large underground scorpions.  They go on a rampage killing a bunch of locals and just when you think it is over the audience finds out that some escaped.  If that isn’t bad enough there is one particular scorpion that is bigger and tougher than the rest.  After it kills off the others the army is left to deal with the biggest and meanest one.

Now if you are fans of Grindhouse Purgatory you probably know that Pete already talked about this gem in the last issue.  I totally agree with everything that he said.  The stop motion effects work are top notch and a nice departure from what the other movies were doing to bring the bugs to screen.  The Black Scorpion also has a lot more atmosphere going for it than any of the rest of the movies except for maybe the end of the Deadly Mantis.  If you sit in the dark watching this one it will have some scary moments.  We also get some nice set pieces where the scorpions take out a train, attack a stadium, and fight each other.  If you have never seen The Black Scorpion, it is really worth tracking down a copy.  I give it a solid 3 out of 4. 

There are so many of these movies that I had to leave some off the list for various reasons.  Movies like the Wasp Woman from 1959 and 1958’s The Fly are technically giant bug movies.  I mean they are only people sized but that is still big for a bug.  Peter Graves appeared with a giant bug before Beginning of the End when he starred in Killer’s from Space.  While it is technically an alien’s invading Earth flick there are some giant critters including a bug in it.  1957’s The Monster from Green Hell has giant wasps attacking people in the jungle after a space probe crashes and mutates them.  Since we are on the giant wasp theme Bert I. Gordon’s Food of the Gods from 1976 also has an oversized wasp flying around causing issues.  But like Killer’s from Space, it really isn’t all about the giant bugs so I left it off my viewing list.

You might have also noticed that I stopped with the ‘70s.  That doesn’t mean the fun ended there.  The 80’s gave us the Fly Remake and The Nest (there was a giant man cockroach hybrid!).  In the 90s we had Skeeter, Ticks, and Mimic.  The 2000’s gave us movies like Infestation and Mansquito.  Hell, last year alone we had Spiders and Big Ass Spiders!  Movies like this have been with us since the ‘50s and don’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.  I think that is a good thing.

I know that I have probably left out some great movie off my list.  But that is what is fun about this hobby.  Just when you think that you have seen them all or remember them all another one pops up.  So if you think I’ve forgotten anything or disagree with any that I did include feel free to give me an email at gutmunchers@gmail.com.  I’d love to hear from you. 

Until next time I dig thru the shelves have fun and keep watching movies. 

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer