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Featured Post - Mystery Movie Marathon

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

Monday, October 31, 2022

Return of Dracula (1958)

I’m back with another review from one of my favorite decades for horror, the nineteen fifties. This time around I checked out a vampire movie feature everyone’s favorite, Count Dracula. So let’s dive in and see what we have. 

The movie starts off with a voiceover that tells us Count Dracula was read and that he was a vampire. He spread his evil and was never completely stopped. It is at this point that we see some men arrive at a cemetery and enter a tomb. Armed with stakes and crosses the open a coffin only to find it empty. Seems that they have missed out on their chance to finally stop Dracula. He has escaped, but to where?

Next up we meet a painter that is finally escaping Eastern Europe for freedom in the United States. He says his goodbyes to family and boards a train. Guess who is his compartment companion? Yep Dracula, who proceeds to kill him and then take his place. So now the Count has arrived in America to start a new life or is suppose un life. He tries his best to fit in with the family while moving his coffin to a nearby cave and targeting a blind girl as his first victim/acolyte. All is well until the men from earlier arrive. It seems they have tracked him to his new home. 

This is a much better movie than I anticipated. The story is interesting and combines the traditional vampire narrative with some goofy fifties monster movie goodness. Dracula creeps around being charming in spots while at other times manipulating the murder of others. He kills the blind girl Jenny only to call her back as a vampire so she can do away with one of the men pursuing him. The pacing of the movie is solid moving from one creepy scene to another without wasting any time on unnecessary padding. This makes for a quick and engaging movie that I have to say was a lot of fun to watch. 

Return of Dracula is shot beautifully in black and white taking advantage of some interesting locations like the cave to bring a lot of atmosphere to the flick. The attack on Jenny is shot in such a spooky way it shows the effort put into the lighting and camerawork. The filmmakers use some neat effects with smoke and basic in camera effects to make the vampires materialize out of nowhere. There is also a neat gag when they finally stake Jenny where the black and white film suddenly has a splash of red with the blood. I even dug the familiar but well executed post death of Dracula where we see him age and turn into a skeleton before our eyes. Again, nothing new but well done. 

This is another movie from the fifties that I somehow had missed. I’ve owned this DVD for many years but somehow Return of Dracula has fallen thru the cracks. Now that I’ve watched it I feel silly having waited until now to check it out. I highly recommend that you avoid my mistake and track yourself down a copy. You won’t be disappointed. 

 © Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

Sunday, October 30, 2022

The Living Idol (1957)

The movie opens with some men climbing up a set of narrow stairs in an Incan pyramid. When they reach the top they discover a statue of a jaguar, which freaks Juanita out. She is a lovely young lady that was with the men. One of the men, Terry, races after her. Turns out that and she are sweet on each other. When Juanita’s father dies in an accident at the dig the other man, Doctor Stoner, adopts here. Following so far?

Months later Juanita is living with Stoner in Mexico City where he is working on his theories regarding superstition. This is important because he thinks that Juanita is cursed or something like that. She has never been right since being scared by the jaguar statue. When Terry returns from Korea, he is a photographer, he picks back up with her. But soon it becomes obvious that things aren’t right. There is a big fight between the jaguar god, in the form of an animal that Stoner releases from the zoo and Terry. Some people die and the rest live happily ever after. 

I really wanted to like this one. Sadly, the story spends far too much time on the romance between Juanita and Terry. There are several dance numbers, some romance, and much drama. That shouldn’t be a big surprise since this was co-produced by a large Hollywood studio, Allied Artists and that was par for the course. Sure, there is an occasional “what the Hell” moment to let you know there is something supernatural afoot, but these are spread out too much for the movie to create any momentum. Forty minutes in and we have yet to see much of anything in the way of old school horror. That brings me to the other big issue. At forty minutes in we still have another hour to go! This movie is far too long for what it is, and they could have taken a cue from the independent horror productions of the fifties and trimmed it down. 

The cast is decent with the most familiar face being Steve Forrest, who I recognized from his television work in the seventies. The Living Idol was co-directed by Rene Cardona, who I know from several Santo movies. I also have to say that the fact this was shot in color, a novelty reserved for bigger budgeted movies in the fifties, as well as it being shot on location was nice. The movie is beautiful and takes advantage of the exotic locations available to the filmmakers. We also get some nifty carnival sequences that are highlights of the first half. I just wished they had a tighter grip and focus on the story they were trying to tell. 

I noticed that many folks compare this to Cat People. While the subject is similar and they both share a sequence where the lead actress is traumatized by a trip to the zoo, that is a far superior movie. There is some mystery and tension to that movie that we just don’t get with The Living Idol. Again, I wanted to like this one but simply can’t recommend it. 

© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Isn’t it Shocking? (1973)

I’ve been having some amazing luck finding old made for television flicks to cover here at the site. This one stars Alan Alda of Mash fame as a local lawman named Dan. He wakes up at his girlfriends one morning to find out that one of the locals has died of a heart attack in the middle of the night. But he is bothered by the fact that she wasn’t wearing a nightgown. When her husband follows soon after he is suspicious, especially since he is missing his PJ’s as well. 

More bodies follow with the only connection being that they all graduated from high school in the same year. Dan struggles to figure out not only the why, but also the how of the murders. With the help of the local doctor and her father the coroner he does eventually sort it all out. But will that happen before the killer is done? And will Dan take the big promotion and move to a bigger town? 

Isn’t it Shocking? is interesting in that the story, while fairly direct, does keep you guessing as to the motive until the end. Honestly even then I wasn’t totally sure why the killer did what he did. Maybe he was just angry, but it is also possible that in his old age he was losing his mind and made a proverbial mountain out of a molehill. Since it isn’t a surprise who the killer is I might as well give you a bit more detail on what I’m talking about. The murder is Oates, who I think was kicked out of school after a prank went wrong. 

Again, we know who the murderer is all along so the story hangs it’s hat on watching Dan try and solve the mystery. This means that the drama and entertainment has to come from the actors. If we don’t have the cast selling us the story and keeping your eyes glued to the screen, then this won’t work. Here is where the movie excels. Alan Alda is surprisingly good as the lawman trying to figure things out. He makes you feel Dan’s pain as friends and neighbors die on his watch. He is supported by the likes of Louise Lasser (Crimewave, Blood Rage), Will Greer (The Waltons), Ruth Gordon (Rosemary’s Baby, My Bodyguard), and Edmond O’Brien (The Wild Bunch). So, there is a lot of talent in front of the camera. Their performances are the reason to stick around and see how things work out. 

I was also surprised when I realized that Isn’t It Shocking? was directed by John Badham. Not only did he do a bunch of killer television shows but also brought movies like Blue Thunder, War Games, Stakeout, and Bird on a Wire to the screen. Hell, he also directed Saturday Night Fever, which isn’t a favorite of mine but is undeniably part of seventies pop culture. These old network television flicks used to be able to collect a lot of talent which is why so many of them are worth checking out. Which is why I’m going to recommend everyone do here. You can find it on YouTube as well as other spots online. Give it a chance I think you will dig it.

© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

Friday, October 28, 2022

The Stick (1988)

In my never ending search for movies that I may have missed I stumble across some odd ones. The Stick is a weird sort of mashup between Platoon and your traditional ghost story/revenge tale. Complete with the pointlessness and horrors of war as well as your supernatural comeuppance for bad acts. 

The movie opens with a small detachment of men being ambushed while on patrol. I believe that they are across the border in some sort of police action with the neighboring country. This is a South African made movie and I think they had sort of an unofficial conflict with rebels that kept sneaking across the border for safety. Not entirely sure and wasn’t wanting to get a history lesson for this movie. I apologize in advance if I get any of the details wrong. After seeing them all killed by some mysterious men with guns, we get to see a meeting where the officers are yelling at the troops. This leads to another series of patrols with platoons split up into sticks, groups of seven to eight men. It is one of these sticks that we follow. 

The rest of the movie are these men crossing the border, arguing with each other, gunning down a village, and getting killed themselves by what appears to be the ghost of the witchdoctor and those mysterious warriors. Along the way we see one of them, O’Grady, lose control and murder a child that they had let go. There is also a spooky ritual as it seems the witchdoctor has blessed some soldiers that may or may not be the enemy. 

While The Stick does have a lot of supernatural elements including people coming back from the dead, ghostly visions, and attacks from nowhere this movie plays more like a futility of war story than it does horror. Though I suppose that is itself a sort of horror. The first half to two thirds is them on patrol walking across the wilderness in search of the enemy. This establishes the characters and sort of lets you know who each of them is. There is the violent one, the stoner, the gung ho soldier, the reluctant guide, the ineffective officer, and the man who is sort of our eyes. A participant but also the commentor. His voice is used in a voiceover that attempts to connect the parts of the story into a cohesive narrative. It sort of works, though at times gets a bit intrusive. 

The pacing is also quite bad with lots of pausing to take in what is admittedly some beautiful scenery as well as lots of talking. When we do get to the spooky stuff it does pick up a bit, but even then it is them walking back towards base in an attempt to escape it. This leads to a lot of taking, arguing, and not enough revenge and ghost stuff. Hell, some of the deaths seem random including stepping on a landmine! Still there are moments that worked so I don’t want to dismiss The Stick completely. I was just disappointed in what I got. Based on what I read before and after watching this was sold as a horror movie and is not that at all. 

I’ve already mentioned that they do a good job capturing the setting on camera. This is at times a pretty movie and considering I noticed that on the beat up VHS copy I watched for this review that is saying something. Also being as low budget as they were you get a lot of handheld camera work which puts you right on the ground for the chaotic combat scenes. That can be annoying but here helps to tell the story decently enough. I felt like I was right there in the middle of things with the characters and that helped keep my attention, offsetting the difficulty of keeping track of the action. 

I don’t want to get into much more detail as I might spoil things. My concerns are that you manage expectations before sitting down to watch this movie. If you are wanting something scary that will creep you out then this isn’t the right choice. I also wonder if the story translates as well to someone who doesn’t have a good grasp on the setting. While not a great movie I think that to the right audience in the correct state of mind it has a story worth listening too. I’m just not sure I was either of those. I can’t recommend it. 

© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

Thursday, October 27, 2022

The Food of the Gods (1976)

I need to review more Bert I. Gordon flicks for the site and this is one of my favorites. I remember more than one Friday night spent staying up late to watch this on my local horror hosted movie show. It was a staple.

The opening credits roll around a football field were a team is practicing for the upcoming big game. Our main character, Morgan, tells us in a voiceover that they are given a couple of days off and decide to go hunting on a nearby wooded island. One of them is killed, we know by giant wasps, but the characters don’t. This leads to Morgan running into a lady at a nearby farm when looking for help. After taking their friend back to the mainland Morgan and the other hunter return to the island knowing that they need to take care of the problem themselves.

Here is where things start to get good. In addition to the men returning, we are also introduced to a businessman and a scientist that have come to cash in on the discovery made by the farmer. See there is something bubbling out of the ground that when mixed with feed will cause animals to grow to enormous size. We also meet up with a pregnant woman and her boyfriend who are stranded in their RV. Now that the characters are back on the island they must deal with rats, giant rats that are feeling a bit peckish. That means that the characters are now on the menu! Stuff happens, which I’ll not spoil here, before it all ends… or does it?

Director/Writer Bert I. Gordon knows how to make a movie like this. He spends little time introducing characters but instead sets up the MacGuffin that is causing all the giant critters and then gets to them right away! There is no mystery here as right away we know giant wasps are buzzing about, even if the characters don’t. But then Morgan runs into giant chickens right away and sees a regular sized wasp munching away on some chicken feed. Hell, Mrs. Skinner even points out the rat holes showing us that they also have gotten into the super food! We know what is coming and it comes quickly with lots of mayhem and oversized critters. This makes for a movie that not only is a blast, but also doesn’t allow you to overthink what you are watching.

The wasps, chickens, worms/maggots (awesomely gross), and rats are brought to the screen with all of Gordon’s old school tricks. You have regular sized animals crawling over miniature sets to set the scale. This model work is well done, especially the Winnebago. There are also some crude in camera bits to bring the wasps attacking the characters that I admittedly wasn’t too impressed with. But my personal favorite gag was how they use puppets and latex to have the monsters interreact on camera with the cast. That is some classic stuff and while not giant rabbit attacking in Night of the Lepus it still made me smile.

Got to burn them!
The cast is solid with Marjoe Gortner starring as our main character Morgan. The guy showed up in so many seventies movies that while you may not recognize you know who he is. We also get some classic star power with Ralph Meeker and Ida Lupino. The latter who was in The Devil’s Rain the year before. Lastly the lovely Pamela Franklin is Lorna, Morgan’s love interest, who also appeared in one of my favorites The Legend of Hell House. Gordon knew how to assemble a cast, and this is one of his better ones.

Sure, Food of the Gods is a bit silly. But that is what you should expect from a Bert I. Gordon flick. Giant sized creatures running around killing folks before getting killed off in the final act. This is a formula, and it works especially well here. If you are looking for a monster movie, then you can do a whole lot worse than this one. Give it a chance.


© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

V/H/S/99 (2022)

I know that these anthology movies have been a mixed bag for some folks and that there are a couple of stinkers in the franchise, but I liked the most recent entry so when this showed up on Shudder, I had to take a look. I’m going to tackle each of the segments one at a time in the order that they appear. I’ll start off each bit with the title of the individual story to keep it all organized.

Shredding. The first has us watching a garage band of kids breaking into an underground club that was shut down years before after a terrible accident killed a bunch of folks. Some of them was a band that they liked, or I suppose claim to like. I say that because after they arrive the idiots decide to do some really dumb stuff that angers the ghosts of the band which leads to them coming back and bloody mayhem ensues.

I didn’t like this one at all. There are some neat looking creatures on a budget and some attempts at gore but the way it was shot makes it impossible to follow. I get it is found footage and that the camera is going to bounce around but to then double down on a silly effect to make it look like it was recorded over other stuff that keeps interrupting and bleeding into the picture was bad. I couldn’t tell what the hell I was supposed to be paying attention to.

Suicide Bid. Next up we see an unpopular, or at least it is hinted she is, girl attempting to join a sorority. I guess they call this a “suicide bid” since she is only trying to join the one and is banking her entire social life on making it in. The sisters at the sorority take her to a spooky graveyard and tell her the story of it being haunted by a girl that was buried alive. She needs to climb in a coffin and be buried alive for the night. But we see they are just messing with her. Sure they put her in the coffin and made it seem like she was buried alive, but she wasn’t and they are just hazing her. Though when the cops show up it goes sideways.

This one pushed my buttons. I have a bit of claustrophobia so her being crammed into the coffin is already a bit freaky. But when they add water into the mix (it rains and the box floods) that had me squirming. Of course, we also get a ghost/zombie creature and a fun twist tossed in as well. While not perfect this one was worth my time.

Ozzy’s Dungeon. Remember those weird Nickelodeon gameshows that were geared to kids? Imagine if there was an underground version of that where bad things happened to those who lost but the reward was getting a wish granted by an all-powerful creature called Ozzy. We watch a young woman participate in the show while being cheered on by family. It doesn’t go well, and she ends up with a nasty looking broken leg and loses the game. The action moves to a later time where the girl’s family has kidnapped the host for ruining her life. Some gross stuff happens, and they end up getting her a wish from Ozzy. But that may have been a huge mistake.

I’m not fond of the ending, which seems forced and is unexplained. But there is some gross stuff in this one including that busted leg that gets twisted around again and again. If you don’t like seeing broken bones in your movies, then you will want to hit the fast forward button here. We also get some fun with acid, crawling thru poop, and a monster that is impressive for the lower budget that these filmmakers were working with. Finally, the actress that plays the mother is awesome.

The Gawkers. Next up is a pervy teenager who uses his camera to spy on his neighbors and overall is just a creeper. He and his friends set their sights on the hottie that moved across the street as we see them sneaking peeks at her in the swimming pool wearing her bikini. When his little brother helps her setup her new iMac (it was fun to see the old shipping box… nice touch) they install spyware that lets them use her webcam to be even more creepy. Though they get way more than they bargained for.

Spoilers ahead. You have been warned. I loved this one. It dusts off a monster that is hardly ever used in movies. I dug the fact that these filmmakers were thinking outside the box. If you are wondering why I’m delaying in mentioning the creature it is to make sure that no one sees it before processing my spoiler warning above. Okay now is the time. There is a freaking Medusa in this flick! How cool is that? I didn’t see it coming, though they certainly gave us enough hints. The monster and it’s kills are brought to the screen nicely. This was a satisfying and entertaining inclusion in the movie.

Mabel rules!
To Hell and Back. Finally, we have saved the best for last. Some documentary filmmakers are invited by a cult to film their summoning of a demon into one of their willing members. Things go sideways and the pair somehow find themselves in Hell. Luckily, they meet a friendly demon that helps them find their way back home by hitching a ride with the summoned demon back to our world. Seems simple, doesn’t it? Well, there are complications and it doesn’t end well for our duo.

Recently I covered a found footage movie called Deadstream from directors Joseph and Vanessa Winter. This is their segment for this anthology, and it is an absolute blast. The sheer amount of creatures and gore in this one is amazing. We get several demons, dozens of bodies, stabbings, and a CGI demon in the shadows that all work perfectly. These are filmmakers who have a knack for squeezing every penny out of their budget and I can’t wait to see what they do next. I was also happy to see that they brought actress Melanie Stone in to play the helpful demon Mabel. She was great in Deadstream playing a creepy ghost and does an equally excellent job here as a demon. V/H/S/99 goes out strong with this segment.

This was such a great time that I’m obviously recommending it. That first story is weak but push thru that and there are some gems here. If they can keep making good quality horror on a budget I hope that this series never ends. As I’ve already mentioned this is streaming on Shudder. Give it a chance.


© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Dead Before Dawn 3D (2012)

We meet Casper who has some bad memories of the family business, the Occult Barn. We see in a flashback/dream that he watched his father die on the floor after a particularly nasty item fell on him. This has scarred poor Casper who hasn’t set foot in the place since it happened. But when his grandfather, played by the awesome Christopher Lloyd, wins an award he is guilted into covering the shop. The rules are never close during business hours, and never ever go withing spitting distance of an urn.

The girl Casper has a crush on stops by the shop with some other kids from the college and trying to impress her he takes the urn down from the shelf so she can have a closer look. It breaks and he freaks out. They tease him and make up a curse that the evil spirit they just released will inflict on them. Anyone they look at will kill themselves and then come back to murder them. It will be death by hickey… which is a thing, I guess. But if they give a hickey to one of the recently returned monsters after them then they become their slave. Also, they have to put the demon back in the urn before dawn or they will be cursed forever. Much mayhem and silliness ensue as the entire town is trying to kill them before the credits roll.

I watched this one when it first came out. Damn that was ten years ago! I remember liking it a lot and I have to say that nothing has changed. The story is solid and checks a lot of boxes for me. They quickly establish the characters and the outline of the story. Then they jump right into the action with lots of creatures show up and start killing folks. Honestly, that is about all you can ask from a monster movie like Dead Before Dawn. They double down on the fun with a creative twist where the characters make up the curse as a goof, not knowing that the demon they release is angry and uses it against them. So we get for the first time in cinematic history Zemons, half demon and half zombie! This is a nice and funny take on the typical possessed and/or zombie flicks that we get so often.

If what you have read so far hasn’t clued you in yet this movie is played for some laughs and it works. From the silly nature of them making up the rules to the curse on the fly to one of our main characters getting turned into a Zemon when he gets a “dickey” from one of them there is a lot here that had me smiling. They even acknowledge that they have cast Christopher Lloyd by having his character yell a familiar catch phrase when he finds the broken urn. You know the one… it rhymes with late dot!

The design of the creatures are generic with them basically just looking pale with weird eyes. But I was okay with that as they do look demonic. There are also some fun kills that while not overly explicit are creative and work with the overall comedic nature of Dead Before Dawn. There is a kick to the face, a leap from a balcony, some trophy stabbing, crossbow action, a toaster in the tub, and a gnarly looking snapped neck. Though my favorite is the death by first down marker at the football game.

Good cast, decent creatures, fun kills, and jokes that land most of the time make for an entertaining way to kill an hour and a half. I feel like this one maybe slipped past a lot of folks as I don’t see that many people talking about it. I recommend you all give it a chance. It is a lot of fun.


© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

Monday, October 24, 2022

Maximum Overdrive (1986)

Maximum Overdrive is the single director credit for legendary writer Stephen King and is based on his short story Trucks. The action takes place at a truck stop inhabited by a motley crew of truck drivers, ex-con employees, and their sketchy boss. As things progress we add a bible salesman, a hitchhiker, and some newlyweds to the mix. They all must deal with machines coming to life with homicide on their minds. Soda machines, ATMs, lawnmowers, construction equipment, small planes, electric knives, video games, and yes big eighteen wheelers (aka. semi-trucks) go on the attack. The rest of the plot is our characters dodging the threats, arguing with each other, and eventually planning an escape to an island where there aren’t any roads or vehicles. People live and people die, some in awesome ways! 

This movie is a prime example of my philosophy of “not everything has to be art”. This story is very simple and to the point. There is a crawl at the beginning talking about an asteroid and radiation followed by a character talking about how it would be a good plan if you wanted to invade to “clean house”. This is followed up by another crawl talking about how a Russian weather satellite, which was armed with lasers and nukes, destroyed a UFO. I guess we are supposed to believe that this was some alien invasion, but none of that really matters. What does matter is we meet a bunch of likeable characters and watch them get picked off in horrible ways. King as director and writer executes this perfectly and it results in an entertaining experience.

There is a decent amount of gore as the machinery goes wild. A waitress has an electric knife tear into her arm, a soda can dents in a man’s head in a gruesome way, people are gunned down with an overabundance of bullet hits, several people are sent flying by trucks, and we see a kid get run over by a steam roller! That last one is my favorite. What I have the most fun with is how creative they had to get with the kills. This isn’t as simple as a zombie or slasher going after someone. Nope they had to find creative ways to put the characters in harms way so that the, sometimes immobile, machines can kill. That goes back to the script and writing, which of course is great as it is Stephen King after all. 

The cast is filled with lots of character actors that are good at their jobs and bring the characters to the screen. Pat Hingle, Yeardley Smith, and Leon Rippy are probably the most recognizable and best. The lead is Emilio Estevez who Hollywood tried to make into a leading man/action hero but is best in quirky projects like Maximum Overdrive. Everyone seems to be having fun and there is some scenery chewing, I’m looking at you Pat Hingle, but it all works. 

In the end this is the sort of movie that you shut your brain off for ninety minutes and enjoy. Don’t over think it and have fun with rocket launchers blowing stuff up, and cars running people over. Embrace the nutty chaos and you will have fun. If you think that you are able to do this then grab a copy and get to watching. 

© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Winterbeast (1992)

Let me start off this review by telling you that this isn’t a good movie. I say this because when you try to follow my plot synopsis that is going to become obvious. But please stick around to the end because I have some things to say about Winterbeast that need to be heard. 

The movie opens with a park ranger walking into a room and asking a guy if he is okay. But he obviously isn’t when he turns and starts to peel bits of himself off! Then there is a stop motion monster that attacks. But don’t worry this is a dream, though it isn’t obvious at the time due to some bad editing. That same ranger, who is named Bill, goes to work, and talks to his partner who is looking at old girly magazines. There is a lady park ranger who was brought down the mountain by a good Samaritan. She and her partner were up there marking trails, but something happened. What? I’m not sure because the movie doesn’t tell us! 

The rest of the movie is them walking in the woods, talking to a lodge owner who refuses to shut down because of tourists, bodies are found on a totem pole, and lots of different stop motion monsters’ attack. Finally, it is explained… sort of… that there is a demon on the mountain that I think wants to make more demons or at least let them in. That explains all the different creatures attacking folks. Also, somehow the lodge owner is involved, but this isn’t explained. He does get to put on a plastic mask and dance though so that is a thing. This is a confusing movie.

This is the kind of movie that is more fun than it should be. Like I think I’ve already shown the plot as it is makes little to no sense. It seems that they sort of had an idea but instead of referencing and connecting scenes together the filmmakers just float stuff out there and let it be. We also get the sort of terrible acting that I expect out of a low budget flick like this. To their credit everyone manages to spit the lines out but much of it is flat. Basically the story and performances aren’t the selling point. 

There is a lot of charm to how the movie was made. It was shot on film, mostly 16 mm but I think that there was some 8 mm mixed in as well. This gives Winterbeast a silly seventies vibe that caught my attention and put a smile on my face. Then they double down with that by adding four or five stop motion monsters attacking the characters. Does it make any sense that they show up for a scene or two and then aren’t mentioned again? Nope. But the minute one of them picks up a character and we are treated to a Gumby like death scene as they are animated as well had me laughing… not giggling… but laughing out loud! 

There are also some props that apparently came from a Dokken video. Not sure if that is a real thing but if it is then cool. The movie only clocks in at an hour and seventeen minutes which helps. I think this is one that could have worn on me if it overstayed it’s welcome. And while the plot makes zero sense, they keep throwing silly shit at you, so I sort of just shrugged and enjoyed myself.  Finally, there is a sweet ass Datsun pickup truck! Okay that last one only means something to me. If you understand what you are getting yourself into and are willing to turn your brain off Winterbeast is worth a watch. It is currently on Shudder, but I see that it has popped up many other places as well. It shouldn’t be hard to find. 

© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Bigfoot: Man or Beast? (1972)

Time for another bit of seventies fun with this Bigfoot documentary. This is an earlier entry into that unique cryptid fascination that caught me up when I was a kid, I’ve never actually watched Bigfoot: Man or Beast before. Thanks to a good friend who hooked me up with a copy on VHS I get to fill in that gap.

There isn’t a narrative, well sort of maybe, I guess. After starting off with about half an hour of people talking about their experiences and encounters with the legendary Sasquatch, we then spend the remaining hour or so with a researcher named Robert W. Morgan. He serves as both the host and narrator. He is leading a team into the woods doing some research. This leads to a lot of him talking about theories and where they may look. There is some drama with a forest fire that forces them to abandon all their hard work, but it is mostly stock footage of nature and trees burning.

This second bit seemed awfully familiar, but I know that I hadn’t seen this before. Then after a bit of poking around I found that a lot of the Morgan stuff had been edited into the In Search of Bigfoot a few years after this came out. Even the release date for Bigfoot: Man or Beast? is a mystery. It seems to have gotten a very limited release in seventy-two but got a wider release in seventy-five, which explains the copyright mark from that year. That means it was only a year before being reused for In Search of Bigfoot.  These drive-in guys knew how to hustle and get the most out of what they paid for, that is sure.

Now that I’ve given you a bit of background and explanation, I suppose I should hop into reviewing the movie. You should know that I’m a huge nerd for this sort of flick, having been caught up in the excitement of it all when I was a kid growing up in the seventies. I’m one of the few people you will meet that sings the praises of Ivan Marx’s The Legend of Bigfoot, which is honestly a nature documentary with a guy talking about Bigfoot as they go along. Not a thrilling movie for sure, but I dig it.

Robert Morgan
Maybe it is the lack of nostalgia since I’ve only just seen this one, but it was really boring. The pacing is terrible with long stretches of a narrator droning along with seemingly unreleated footage rolling in the background. The encounters are basically people sitting on couches talking about what happened to them instead of the cheesy fun reenactments from something like The Mysterious Monsters or Legend of Boggy Creek. I’ve heard all of these stories before and some of them are very creepy, but they manage to suck all the energy out of them with how the filmmakers present the tales here.

We get all the classic tropes of the Bigfoot documentary like tracks, the Patterson Gimlin film, and the crippled foot proving that no one could fake a particular set of tracks. If that sounds familiar it is because many of the same faces that are in this movie as experts also appear using the same basic material in the much superior The Mysterious Monsters. Guys like John Green, Robert Morgan, and Grover Krantz all show up in both. Watching this movie made me want to watch that one instead. Not a great sign.

I’m glad that I’ve finally watched Bigfoot: Man or Beast? and am able to scratch it off my list. But I won’t be going back to this one as there are much better options. If you haven’t seen any of them, please pick one of the other movies I’ve mentioned in this review. On the other hand, if you are a veteran of Sasquatch documentaries then maybe you will get something out of checking this one out. Just keep expectations low.


© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

Friday, October 21, 2022

Fiend without a Face (1958)

A man is found dead after lurking around an airbase. The military wants to investigate what killed him, but the locals refuse to let them. They even stop any attempts at an autopsy. They just assume that he died because of the nuclear reactor in the nearby base. They also blame the issues with their dairy cows on this as well. They are rather angry at the military. This is only made worse when more bodies are found. Eventually the doctor’s figure out that the brain and spinal cord of each victim is gone!

Is this an alien invasion? I mean it is a creepy fifties science fiction movie so that would make sense. But in a clever twist it turns out that it isn’t the military but instead a retired professor who has been using their nuclear powered radar to fuel his own experiments. The result is a bunch of creepy looking invisible monsters that he has lost control over! The best part is when the reactor gets out of control and the monsters become visible though. Then it gets good… really good.

This is one of those fifties movies that people don’t talk about, but the creatures show up everywhere. Trust me if you have seen a documentary or special about science fiction movies then the brain monsters from Fiend without a Face have been shown. I know that normally I talk about the plot and characters first but I’m making an exception here since the creatures are the reason to watch. Initially you don’t see them only hear something moving around the scene with some occasional hay or grass sliding out of the way. The kills are sold by the actor grabbing at their neck and falling to the ground.

But when the power is amped up from the nuclear plant running out of control, they get so supercharged that we get to see them in all their glory. A brain with eyestalks that movie around by pushing themselves on spinal cords. See where all the spare parts from the victims went? This is brought to the screen with some well executed stop motion work as well as latex puppets that get wrapped around the cast when there is an attack. The best part is when they are shot, they sort of pop and spit out what I suppose is blood or maybe monster ooze. Pretty gruesome for a fifties flick and I love it.

The cast is okay with the only highlight being Marshall Thompson as Major Cummings. He is the army officer trying to sort out the killings and is who we follow as the story unfolds. It was interesting to see him here as in the same year he also appeared in It! The Terror from Beyond Space, which is another favorite of mine. He had a good year. His love interest is played by an actress who had a rather short career. Kim Parker is Barbara and does a rather risqué bit, at least for the time, involving her in the shower. I think that she retired to have a family. What was interesting about her though is that she was a refugee who survived a Concentration Camp. After the war she traveled to and settled in England (where this movie was made). Nothing to do with her acting, she is pretty good, but that sort of real life horror put this silliness in the proper perspective.

This is an excellent flick that I highly recommend to everyone. It gets right to the good stuff and never stops being creepy and fun for a second. I’m not sure where it is currently available but for this review I watched the Criterion release.


© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

Thursday, October 20, 2022

The Blob (1988)

There aren’t many remakes that are worthy successors to the originals, but this is one of them. We meet the inhabitants of a small town including our main characters of the bad boy, Brian Flagg, and the pretty cheerleader, Meg Penny. We get to watch them go about their lives with Meg cheering on the high school football team and going on a date with Paul. Brian gets hassled by the cops and rides his motorcycle around. Meg even has a preteen little brother who sneaks out to see a movie he shouldn’t. When a homeless man pokes an asteroid, it sets off a chain of events that leads to the military descending on the town and quarantining them.

See it wasn’t actually an asteroid that crashed in the woods. It was a biological warfare experiment and is now getting out of hand. The Blob is basically an eating machine consuming anything living, including the locals, and growing bigger after each meal. At first no one believes Meg, including Brian, but soon enough it is impossible to ignore. How do you stop a monster like this? Well, I’m not going to ruin it for you. But then I would expect that you have either seen this or the original, so you probably already know.

This is how you do a proper remake. You take inspiration from the original and respect it but don’t do a shot for shot clone like the Psycho remake. Nor do you ignore what made the original such a good flick and wreck it like Rob Zombie’s Halloween remake. Instead, you remind folks of what was cool and then lean into what you can do that it couldn’t. Here we get to see familiar takes on the diner, the theater, and the old guy kicking things off with some foolish poking it with a stick action. There was something familiar about this that put a smile on my face.

The magnificent '80s mullet
Overall the pacing is solid with not a slow moment in the ninety or so minute runtime. They establish what is happening with a bit of humor. Meg’s dad being the pharmacist was a goofy but cool laugh before the horror starts. But once they get to the creature it is one kill after the other with just enough plot development to make you care about the soon to be blob victims. Not only is this a remake done right but this is a perfectly executed creature feature. The cast is great including Kevin Dillon as Brian. He has the most luxurious of mullets. A pre Saw Shawnee Smith is Meg and does a good job in the role. Young actor Michael Kenworthy is the little brother and plays basically the same role in another movie also made in eighty eight, Return of the Living Dead II.

But here is where they up the ante with The Blob remake. We get a ton of cool creature effects and some nasty kills. The blob oozes around the town eating anyone it finds in some gruesome ways. People get melted on screen with their bones exposed and flesh dripping off. Someone gets yanked down a sink drain headfirst, an annoying theater goer is yanked by the face up to the ceiling, there are collapsing boobs, and a meat sack sheriff too. Though my favorite kill has to be the bent backwards deputy. That one has always stuck with me.

The effects and kills are a blast!
I also dug that they doubled down on switching it up and surprising the audience with some of the plot choices. First up they killed off the character that looked to be the love interest in the most horrific of ways. Yeah, he has an arm off! Hell, they even kill a damn kid including his half empty skull popping up out at the audience. These are very eighties things that were available to the filmmakers and almost expected from that gooiest of decades that simply couldn’t have happened in the fifties.

I loved this movie when I first rented it back in the day and while there are a couple greenscreen shots that don’t hold up the practical effects work and kills are top notch. The cast is fun, and the story perfectly executed. I highly recommend everyone give this one a watch.


© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Rocktober Blood (1984)

Just when I think I’ve run out of slasher movies from the eighties I stumble over another one. Rocktober Blood is another example of that. The movie kicks off with a singer/songwriter named Billy laying down his newest track. It is quickly apparent that he is a jerk as he treats everyone like shit. That includes a beautiful young singer named Lynn. After leaving for a bit Billy comes back and murders both engineers that were working with him in rather gruesome ways before chasing Lynn around.

Then the movie jumps forward two years. Thru some exposition we find out that Lynn testified at his trial and that he was sentenced to death. He is already dead and buried since in this world I guess that can happen in a couple of years. Though he insisted he was innocent during the entire trial Lynn saw him. Or did she? Now Lynn is the lead singer of Billy’s band and is about to release a record of his songs. But it looks like that isn’t sitting well with his ghost since someone who looks just like him is killing folks and taunting Lynn trying to make her crazy. Is this Billy returned from the grave? Well… can I spoil a movie that is approaching forty years old? Would that even be considered a spoiler?

Before I go any further, I will warn you that I’m going to give away the big plot twist. If you don’t want that to happen, then I’d suggest skipping to the last paragraph. The movie’s pacing is incredibly uneven. I was excited when we got some stellar kills in the first fifteen minutes. There is some stalking and some nudity as well. I thought that I had found one of those hidden gems that was going to follow the formula and be a good time. The acting from the killer is over the top and cheesy which is mixed in with some decent rock and roll music. But once the movie jumps ahead, we get a lot of inane dialogue about what happened. Sure, there are some sweet eighties style up close aerobics, but that can only take you so far.

Things do pick up again as we find out Billy had a twin brother John who did all the killing but that somehow no one ever knew about. He framed his more famous sibling and sat back to watch him get killed. But now he thinks that Lynn is screwing up the music and must also die. Though not right away apparently as he picks off a bunch of her friends first. I mean he could kill her anytime because he keeps showing up and taunting her with “rainbow eyes” which is the song that was written for her.

The kills are solid. There is a decent throat slash, and another person is pinned to a wall with some metal spikes. The real highlights are when the killer slaughters some backup dancers by gutting them and lopping off one of their heads. We get a couple great gags, but they all are either in the opening or the big finale. What happens in between is very slow and boring. I also liked the killer in his skull mask, but once the mask is off he looks like a bootleg Sean Astin which isn’t scary at all.

In conclusion Rocktober Blood is a weird low budget slasher flick that has a few fun kills but that is about it. I can’t imagine wasting another ninety minutes on this one so I can’t recommend spending money on it. Maybe if you find it streaming or you can rent it then give it a shot.


© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Raven’s Hollow (2022)

A young lady is walking in the woods when creepy stuff starts to happen. She makes it back home before something, leaves or insects, swarms her and she disappears. After that there are some men on horseback. As they ride along, they discover a man strung up with his insides on the outside (never a good thing) who whispers “Raven” before dying. One of them, Cadet Poe, decides that they take the body to the nearest town. That town is named Raven’s Hollow. Uh oh…

The locals are a mixture of mysterious and hostile. Regardless they clearly aren’t welcome in town but decide to stay one night. That night one of their number comes up missing. This leads the rest of them to try and figure out what the hell is going on. Why do the townsfolk refuse to acknowledge the identity of the body, who clearly was known to them? What is this raven creature that they seem to fear and perhaps worship? And finally, what is up with the beautiful Charlotte who has caught Poe’s eye? There are a lot of questions and before the end they will be answered. Sort of, I think.

I’d consider Raven’s Hollow a mystery with horror elements. At it’s core the movie is about who or what is responsible for the killings, along with how it connects to the locals. Our main character is Edgar Allan Poe, a fictional version of the real life author. I had no idea that Poe attended West Point, but he was briefly in eighteen twenty nine. That is when this movie is supposed to take place. It is what I’d consider a very slow burn as it spends a great deal of time trying to create an atmosphere while unraveling the goings on that lead to the murders. While that might not be everyone’s cup of tea I thought the filmmakers did a great job and was interested in what was on screen.

When we finally do get to the supernatural elements of the story I was satisfied as well. The creature is eventually revealed and while CGI it has such an otherworldly look to it that this was probably the only way to bring it to the screen. The kills aren’t too elaborate or plentiful but serve the story perfectly. Folks get gutted, throats cut, one unfortunate cadet gets skewered, and a heart gets torn out and tossed down to Poe. Not terribly bloody but it was gruesome enough to sell the rest of the proceedings.

The sets and locations are amazing for a low budget movie. This feels like a creepy old town from the early eighteen hundreds. At least in that over stylized creepy horror movie way. I know that this movie was shot in Latvia and I’m not sure if those were standing sets or something they built but it looks awesome. Toss in some clever references to Poe’s later work insinuating that these events made him who he was, and you have a well made movie that is worth checking out. I recommend that you track this one down. Currently it is streaming on Shudder, which itself is worth your time and money.


© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

Monday, October 17, 2022

Flesheater (1988)

This is another Pittsburgh shot zombie movie. Though it has a solid Romero connection being that the director, star, and writer is Bill Hinzman. For those not in the know he played the cemetery zombie in Night of the Living Dead and while not implicitly stated his zombie character in Flesheater is suspiciously familiar. But even with that connection is this movie worth a watch?

Some “kids” go off into the woods for a Halloween party. They are getting there on a hay wagon pulled by a tractor so if you grew up like I did nothing quite says fall like scratchy hay and the smell of diesel fuel. While headed to their campsite the tractor passes a fella trying to pull a stump out of the ground. This is important because after some partying we go back to that guy and see him accidentally unearth a coffin and then break the seal. Inside is Hinzman’s flesh eating zombie who gets right down to business munching on his neck!

The rest of the movie consists of the zombies, anyone killed by the Flesheater rises as a zombie to spread the love, as they chow down on the locals. Some highlights are a family getting ready to go trick or treating and a barn party. There is also an abbreviated siege with the original group of kids holding up in a farmhouse. It all ends exactly how you would think. Which brings me to my final thought… God Damn it Vince you did it again! If you are a zombie movie fan you will get where I’m coming from.

This isn’t a great movie and most certainly not a classic of the living dead genre. What it is though is fun. The story, while predictable, moves along quickly getting from one attack and gag to the next without ever getting bogged down with silly stuff like character development or story. The Flesheater is on the loose and killing which is all that matters. Hinzman gets the fact that occasionally you can be entertaining without trying to make art. Before anyone tries to tell me that I’m not being fair or reading too much into it I had the chance to sit in a ballroom and listen to him interact with the crowd while the movie was playing. He knew exactly what he was making and had fun with it. That translates from the screen to the viewer which is why the movie works as well as it does.

Gotta have some gutmunching!
Since this is a zombie movie we need to talk about the creatures and the kills. First up these undead are your typical blue/grey faced ghouls without much in the way of makeup tricks. Other than zombie Harv they are basic. That is okay though because they make up for it with over twenty kills in the movie. Some are offscreen and again basic, but we do get some highlights. There is a pitchfork to the gut, some throats get torn out, a leg gets hooked, a nose is bitten off, and many zombies are shot in the noggin’. Though my favorite kill of the movie is a hand thru the chest. This is a sticky and gooey watch and I have always and continue to have a blast with it.

Again, not everything has to be art or try and make important points about society. You can also just make a dumb horror flick with zombies doing zombie things in an attempt to entertain an audience. That is Flesheater in a nutshell. It is a fun way to kill an hour and a half, which is all you need to do sometimes. So, kick back, turn your brain off, and enjoy the show.


© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Old People (2022)

I always am looking for newer horror movies that are interesting and bring something new to the game. When this German production showed up on Netflix, I decided to check it out. While the results are mixed, I’m glad that I did. 

The movie begins with a young woman arriving at a large apartment complex during a rainstorm. She is talking to her boyfriend/husband on the phone and lets him know she has arrived and needs to get to her job. From the outside markings on her car, she is involved in elder care. The apartment door is open, so she lets herself in and after some creeping around the old man who lives there smashes her head in with his oxygen tank. Okay… you have my attention. 

A voiceover lets us know that what we are about to watch, the main story, happened earlier or at least the same night as what we just saw. A woman is taking her children, a teen girl and her younger brother, home for a wedding. When she arrives, she has to pick her father up from a rest home, which is complicated by her ex-husbands new wife or girlfriend working there. Then the wedding happens but at the same time the elderly get a homicidal rage in them that is directed towards the young. I suppose they are feeling abandoned by a world that has moved on and decided to house them in awful conditions. They never explain if this is a biological or some supernatural affliction, it just happens. The remainder of the proceedings are the survivors trying to escape the violence. 

I don’t want to go into the plot any further as that might spoil things. There are some surprises as to who lives and who dies. Be warned that this is the kind of movie that is trying to kick your ass and make you feel things and at times it is successful in doing that. There are characters that are very likeable that have terrible things happen to them. This includes some of the elderly who are the killers. One of the most disturbing parts of the movie happen before the violence kicks in when we get a look at the home where they are forced to live. Woefully understaffed the residents are strapped to beds to protect them from wandering. They lie there in their own filth waiting for someone to take care of them. There is also a heartbreaking bit with a resident who thinks that our main character is his daughter, which is revisited in a soul crushing bit later on. If you notice closely many of them are just confused and not necessarily violent, but you never know who is and who isn’t. 

Old People got under my skin. But here is where I felt a bit let down. They sort of hint at an underlying motivation of them being abandoned by their families as a reason for what happens. Whether that is a supernatural force, or a virus doesn’t matter. This is a powerful message about aging that I wish the filmmakers had spent more time developing. Instead at some point it feels like our killers just become a stand in for zombies or infected turning this into a by the numbers horror flick. I think it lost something of what made it interesting when that happens. 

The above comment doesn’t mean that the horror elements don’t work. They do. The kills are mostly offscreen but in a very old school way that is fine. They are staged in a manner that lets your mind fill in what is happening, which is far worse than what they could have shot. This is further reinforced with some sound effects and after the fact shots of the bodies. There are stabbings, the oxygen bottle to the face, and some heads getting bashed in. Also, the violence is done in a realistic disturbing manner. People don’t get stabbed and die, they scream, gurgle, and beg/fight for their lives. I did mention already that this movie is disturbing, didn’t I? 

Old People isn’t a fun horror movie and might not be for everyone. I also must restate that I think they missed out not going more into the motivation or at least the social commentary on how society treats the elderly. But the movie is still a very effective kick in the butt horror experience and that makes it worth checking out. 

© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer