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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...

Sunday, April 30, 2023

Featured Post - May is Mystery Movie Marathon month

I thought it was time that I kicked off another of my review marathons here at the site. I've been in the mood to check out some more old school murder mysteries and since I'm in charge that is exactly what I'm going to do. Not sure how long this marathon will be... probably until I either run out of flicks or if I get bored with them. The plan is to keep a running list here of what I've watched. Now lets get onto the fun stuff. 

Movie 1 - Mystery Broadcast (1943) link here

Movie 2 - Death on the Nile (2022) link here

Movie 3 - The Last of Sheila (1973) link here

Movie 4 - The Fatal Hour (1940) link here

Movie 5 - Doomed to Die (1940) link here

Movie 6 - Phantom of Chinatown (1940) link here

Movie 7 - Charlie Chan in Shanghai (1935) link here

Movie 8 - The House of Secrets (1936) link here

Movie 9 - Charlie Chan in Paris (1935) link here

Movie 10 - Charlie Chan in The Chinese Cat (1944) link here

Movie 11 - The Black Camel (1931) link here

Movie 12 - The House of Mystery (1934) link here

Movie 13 - The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939) link here

Movie 14 - The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939) link here

Movie 15 - While the Patient Slept (1935) link here

Movie 16 - Charlie Chan in the Secret Service (1944) link here

Movie 17 - Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (1942) link here

That wraps up this year's mystery movie review marathon. I had fun diving into this genre that honestly not many folks cover. Truthfully based upon the traffic it is probable that most folks also don't care about them. But I do and this is my site so that is that... now I'll get back to the horror, exploitation, and other wackiness that we can all appreciate. 


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Friday, April 28, 2023

Day of the Nightmare (1965)

Well now this is a movie… Recently I acquired a pile of Something Weird Video discs filled with oddball flicks. One of those was Day of the Nightmare. I figured it was about time to check them out and since this one was sitting on the top of the pile into the old DVD player it went. Yep, that is how I picked this one first.

Jonathon Crane is a painter who is using a Go Go dancer as a model. She boogies around topless before trying to seduce him. He isn’t into it because he is married but she keeps trying and eventually he ties her up and spanks her. Then there is a flashback that doesn’t make sense later, but I’ll get to that. In this flashback we hear a monologue of the time that this girl tried to kill his wife. We watch that “girl” get on a bus and sneak up on Jonathon’s wife while she is unloading groceries. Only it is painfully obvious that the “girl” in question is the actor in drag. Turns out he has mommy issues and maybe daddy issues which resulted in him having a psychotic break and developing a girlfriend that is actually him who tries to kill his wife. Um… okay.

Along the way we also get to see a swinger’s party, some lesbians making out in front of Jonathon for money, and lots of naked sixties ladies. This is all before he is eventually tracked down by a detective, played by John Ireland (what the Hell is he doing in this low budget sleaze fest?) and run over by a boat. How was this a flashback when he is telling the story to it’s bitter end which shows us his dead body floating in the ocean?

Yeah, this flick isn’t so much about the plot my friends. That is also why I mentioned the sleazy things above as Day of the Nightmare hangs it’s hat on shocking the audience with all the naughty stuff you normally wouldn’t see in a movie. At least in the sixties when this bad boy was made. It was a low budget movie that I’m certain was sold on the previously mentioned naughty stuff as well as having the main character a man dressed as a woman. In addition to not making a lick of sense the movie also has serious pacing issues. There are long stretches where not much happens and is a chore to get thru. Did it really need to be ninety plus minutes long? The answer is no.

The pacing issues aren’t helped by some things, like the swinger’s party, clearly being shoehorned in for shock value. This might have worked a bit when it first hit the drive-in circuit (trust me this didn’t play in “polite” theaters but likely fit into the passion pits of the Midwest) but in today’s “smut at your fingertips” internet world it falls flat. This is apparently the only credit for the director as well as most of the cast. It screams of a low budget exploitation flick that probably made the producers their money back. The only real mystery here is how the hell John Ireland signed on to make this? Then again, he isn’t on screen for most of the sleazy stuff so maybe he had no idea what he was appearing in. And I guess a paycheck is a paycheck.

Day of the Nightmare is a terrible movie that probably should have been left unfound and unsaved. But it is out there so if you trip over a copy my recommendation is keep on going right past it and save the ninety minutes of your life that you can never get back.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Throwback Thursday - Night of the Living Trekkies by Kevin David Anderson and Sam Stall

note: This is another book review from my old website. At the time I was obsessed with any zombie fiction that I could get my hands on. This was of course before the glut of books, comics, shows, and movies that hit the market when zombies became “cool”. This on still holds up well.

You know when I heard that someone had combined two of my favorite things zombies and Star Trek, I was psyched. Though I will admit after the failed attempt to do the same thing with the Star Wars universe I was a bit worried. But unlike that book this doesn’t take place in the Trek universe, but at a convention. That is pure genius.  Before I talk about the book though lets talk a look at the story.

Jim Pike is a veteran that has come back from the Middle East with some issues. Despite being qualified for much better work he has chosen to become a security guard at the Botany Bay Hotel and Convention Center. His experiences in the war have convinced him that he doesn’t want to have any responsibilities at all. When his sister, Rayna shows up with here friends and everyone starts to munch on each other things get very difficult for Jim. It is up to him to lead a group of survivors out of the Botany Bay hotel and to safety, whether he wants the responsibility or not. Toss in a “Klingon” named Martock, a beautiful girl dressed as Princess Leia, and a scientist with a secret for a good time. 

What can I say about the book? It is a great read that will please both the fans of Star Trek and those looking for some good zombie fun. The Trek fan in me really appreciated the references to the series, from the names of the characters and hotel, to the acknowledgement that hard-core Trekkies and Star Wars fans don’t get along. That is a touch that non-geeks wouldn’t ever add or understand. I also thought that the time spent showing how the convention was setup and the levels to which some fans take it was pretty nifty. I mean you have a regular guy that can’t deal with the situation, but is forced to get in touch with his inner Klingon and then becomes a killing machine! Nice job guys.   

Night of the Living Trekkies also manages to be a very good zombie story as well. You get plenty of Gut munching (always a good thing!) and there are some gory bits here and there. I mean if you have ever wanted to read about a guy dressed as a Klingon chopping thru zombies with a Bat’leth then this is the book for you. But it isn’t all just about nerdy fun, as there is a clever and disturbing zombie story at the core of the book. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I found the sci-fi twist to be very enjoyable. 

This could have been a silly and poorly written cash in on a couple of popular genres, but the authors Kevin David Anderson and Sam Stall put a lot of effort in to make the book a good read. I was very surprised how much fun that the book was and highly recommend it. 

© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Message from Space (1978)

You know for all my love of seventies cinema and as much as I constantly talk about and cover various “sploitation” flicks I’ve never dove into the fertile ground of Star Wars “sploitation”. In case you are wondering what the hell I’m talking about these would be the movies that were inspired by bigger budget successful Hollywood flicks. Jaws spawned movies like Piranha and Grizzly. Other examples would be the Exorcist “homages” like Abby or The Possessed. “Mockbusters” weren’t a new invention, sorry The Asylum, but existed for as long as someone had a camera and an idea how to cash in on what was popular. And there wasn’t anything quite as popular in a post nineteen seventy seven America then Star Wars.

So why haven’t I covered these movies before? Mostly because they are, at least in my experience, quite awful. Not sure if it is an inability for most filmmakers to make a science fiction flick but unlike some of the other examples I’ve mentioned from other movies the ones cashing in on Star Wars are bad. Off the top of my head the only one that I remember sort of enjoying is Star Crash and that is mostly watching Joe Spinell being his own special sort of greasy. But since one of my colleagues on the Bloodbaths and Boomsticks Podcast picked Message from Space and I had to watch it anyway I thought I’d sit down and share my thoughts with you folks here.

Here is my plot synopsis. Some bad guys invaded some good guys planet and in that process apparently made it a terrible place to life. The remaining locals, completely outgunned, have some magic nuts. An old guy throws those magic nuts into space and tells Bootleg Japanese Princess Leia to go protect them. It is at this point where we meet the bad guy, Samurai Darth Vader, who sees the magic space nuts fly away. He doesn’t care until his mom comes in and yells at him, so the sends bad guys after Bootleg Japanese Princess Leia. She has escaped the planet on her wooden sailing ship…because that works.

"Bootleg" Japanese Princess Leia
Following me so far? Then we are introduced to the Teenage Hot Rod gang in Space who are racing around in their “jalopy” space ships. There is a rich girl, who is actually part of their gang I think… it gets confusing. But they get chased by spaceman Roscoe P. Coltrane aka. the space cops. They get away but end up crashing because the magic nuts smashed into their ships. Why? Because they were chosen to save the peaceful folks. We also get to meet military guy, played by Vic Morrow, who quits the military after they make him deactivate his favorite robot friend. Not to worry though he has a new robot friend which I guess is an improved model? He also gets a magic space nut. A few more folks get magic space nuts like Barbershop quartet guy who lost his three partners and the rightful king of the bad guys who rids a horse and happens to be Sony Chiba. I’ll call him Space Hattori Hanzo.

Still with me? The chosen nut heroes go back to the planet to stop the bad guys who have used a memory machine to read a witch’s mind which is code for stock footage of nature. But it is really good stock footage because now they want to invade Earth! So, they fly the planet they have currently wrecked… no you didn’t read that wrong… and start a war. Now the nut heroes not only have to defeat the bad guys, save the good guys, but also rescue the Earth. They do manage that and sail away on the wooden ship. Woo hoo.

What the actual hell did I just watch? Honestly, I’m not sure what the point was with Message from Space. They are clearly “borrowing” from the Star Wars characters with the archetypes. Hell, the costumes the characters wear are very similar to what those they were inspired by wear in Lucas’s flick. That is why I named them the way I did. The big finale of the movie even has then flying thru a gauntlet of laser cannons and fighters so they can shoot the “generator” and blow up the planet, which looks suspiciously like “not a moon” aka. a space station. There is even a musical cue that comes very close to but totally not infringing on some of the John Williams score.

I guess this is a space ship...
When they do their own thing, it gets very weird. What is up with the magic space nuts flying around choosing folks to fight the bad guys? Why the hell was that the choice? Also, when not almost getting sued by John Williams the soundtrack is filled with odd ‘70s music that would have fit better in a Moonshiner being chased by cops type of movie. It is very out of place in what is supposed to be a science fiction flick. All of this is wrapped up in a meandering hour and forty five minute runtime that feels much longer. While I totally get that sometimes things are lost in translation, this is a Japanese production, I’m a huge fan of the Kaiju movies and most genre offerings from Japan. I am also inclined to like anything from Toei. This is the same company that made The Green Slime and I love that movie. When I say that this movie is painfully slow I think that I’m being reasonable and fair.

The one positive that I took away from this one is that the miniature work is good. If you like small models flying around the screen and exploding, then the movie with scratch that itch. I’m a fan of this type of practical effects work and appreciated both the design as well as the execution. That said I found Message from Space to be difficult to get thru and can’t recommend it. It will be a long time before I sit thru another Star Wars “sploitation” again.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Friday, April 21, 2023

Komodo (1999)

The movie opens with a ship unloading illegal animals on an island off of the coast of North Carolina. Some of those are mysterious looking eggs that the hippie (how they billed him, no judgement from me) drops. Nineteen years later, which we find out thanks to a nice crawl on the screen, a young boy named Patrick arrives on the island with his parents and his dog Buster. God Damn it movie don’t do it… After some exploring something chases him and yes they kill the dog. And his parents too! But I'm really sad about the dog. 

Things move to a time after that where we meet a therapist named Victoria who is trying to help Patrick. He has blocked out what happened and is suffering from PTSD. Her bright idea is to take him back on the island to see if they can trigger his memories and get him some resolution. The island is now off limits or at least I think it is. There is some question about that. What is obvious is the only people on the island are the oil company employees, specifically a couple of men hired to kill on the creatures running around on it. See those eggs from earlier were Komodo Dragons, which are endangered. If it were to get out that there was a colony of them on the island it would mean the company would have to stop drilling.

This led them to not telling anyone of the danger which the evil boss doubles down on when he callously gives the “no witnesses” order. Yep, everyone must die. Thankfully Oates, one of the hunters, saves Victoria and Patrick by flying them off in a helicopter to live happily ever after. Well other than the PTSD from all the other friends and relatives that Patrick just saw torn apart and eaten.

Komodo is one of those movies that you don’t want to overthink if you want to enjoy it. There are obvious plot holes that the audience needs to accept, and the movie has a sort of nonending that is a bit annoying. But what it lacks it more than makes up for by checking all the creature feature boxes. It establishes that there is something going on quickly and as much as I hate them killing the dog right off it does let you know that no one is safe. I mean honestly, they killed the dog! It is also a neat trick that they keep the creatures hidden for the first half hour or so while again letting the viewer know that there is danger. Showing the monster too early is a mistake that far too many of these movies commit.

When we do see the Komodo Dragons they look pretty good. They are brought to the screen with a combination of CGI and practical effects work. We get many closeups of the monster attacking the cast and it put a smile on my face to see the latex and rubber doing their thing. The appliances look great. When it is CGI, mostly for the long shots and them moving around the screen, it is also pretty good. CGI, especially in the late nineties, can be hit or miss but here they hit. That shouldn’t come as a big surprise since the director, Michael Lantieri, was a special effects guy on lots of movies including the first couple Jurassic Park flicks. When a guy comes from that side of the house it normally means that the creature effects will at least be good.

The cast has a couple familiar faces. Jill Hennessy is mostly known for her work on television but does a decent job here playing Victoria. She isn’t given much to do but does her best to bring what has to be the worst therapist ever to the screen. Billy Burke who I guess is best known to a certain crowd from the Twilight series is our heroic hunter who refuses to commit murder. They do try to shoehorn a backstory about a dead wife and being on the run in a ham-fisted way but again he isn’t given much to do other than shoot a shotgun and be heroic. Again, this isn’t the kind of movie you watch for plot and character development. Nope this is all about the big ass lizards!

While not a perfect movie this is a perfectly watchable creature feature. Manage your expectations and I think you will have fun with Komodo. This seems to be streaming all over the internet on various services as of the writing of this review so it shouldn’t be hard to find.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Throwback Thursday - Fever Dream by Preston and Child

note: This is another review that I wrote many years ago for my old website. I'm still obsessed with the characters and the work from Preston and Child. Their books still are some of the best action/adventure/mystery stories going today. 

Since I sat down to read The Relic when it first came out years ago I’ve been a big fan of the work of the authors Preston and Child. Together they have written some very entertaining and thrilling books. Really more than once I’ve found myself watching the sun come up as I’ve spent a Friday or Saturday night reading an entire novel in one sitting! While I didn’t read Fever Dream in one sitting, I did enjoy the book immensely. 

The story involves a recurring character named Special Agent Pendergast, who has been the featured character in several of their novels. Here we the reader are introduced to his wife, Helen, who I don’t think has ever been mentioned before. Spoiler Alert: After a brief flashback that introduces her and then shows her terrible death the action moves to the present. Quite on accident Pendergast discovers evidence that proves his wife was murdered and sets off with the help of his old friend Detective D’Agosta (another reoccurring character) to track down who is responsible for her elaborate murder. To accomplish this they must retrace the last few years of Helen’s life, and while doing that they stir up a mystery from the past. Before you know it there are assassins taking shots at them and angry locals chasing them across the Bayou. 

This is such a great book. The story is very engaging and an excellent read. There is a fine balance between action and mystery. The plot isn’t overly complicated but does offer a few unexpected twists and turns that held my attention from the first page to the last. Though I will admit this is the first of their novels that I figured out before the end it didn’t diminish my enjoyment at all. Probably because I expected that I was wrong and was pleasantly surprised when the big reveal came. By now the characters are very familiar and well rounded, but even with that I love how each of the books that feature the Pendergast character gives us just a bit more of his background and family history. Here we get introduced to his life as a big game hunter and of course his brief marriage and wife. The authors do a wonderful job weaving this into the existing character without having to go back and “rewrite” history to make it fit. I also really dig how the book resolves nicely all while setting up a couple more plot lines that will need to be resolved in future works. 

Really if you haven’t taken the time to read one of the novels from Preston and Child you need to give one a try. I’ve been hooked since their first book and can say without qualification that I’ve yet to be disappointed by them. At least when the work together that is. Hell, my only real complaint is that I’m dying to figure out what happens with the plot lines they left dangling at the end of the book! Hurry up and get to writing damn it… 

© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

The Brain Machine (1972)

In my never ending search for that next forgotten drive-in gem I sit thru a lot of bad movies. Probably more than is good for me. Sadly, The Brain Machine is one of those. So I think that the story is about the government being evil and covering things up. I say I think because this is the kind of movie that sort of has a plot but doesn’t actually seem to care about it. Let me try and explain that.

The movie starts off with a science guy stealing some files and getting away from the government security guards. There is a call made to a general or at least some dude in an airplane that they call the general… I mean costumes are expensive! He flies back and barks out orders to catch the man and find out what he stole. This leads to exciting scenes of planes landing, cars driving, gates swinging open to let the cars into what appears to be a gated community. You know exciting stuff. Almost twenty minutes in and other than someone mentioning the titular machine we haven’t seen a thing about it.

Eventually we are introduced to some science people who talk about subjects for the experiment. The thing they have in common is that not one of them has living relatives. That seems ominous to me. They get the folks in and there is a lot of interviews, which we get to watch… the entire interview… so thrilling. Then they go into a room, a mysterious something starts, and they start to hallucinate. Then there is an electrocution, suicide by hanging, and we find out that the government has been remotely controlling the experiment all along. They murder everyone to keep their crimes quiet and move the machine. But why? I guess they just like to be assholes because no one ever explains what the plan is.

This is a movie that was made with what I can only imagine was zero idea as to the plot. Not once does this cobbled together bore fest ever rise to the level of being watchable much less interesting. Characters drop in and out seemingly at random dropping long stretches of dialogue that do nothing to move the story along or explain what is happening. This sucks because they did have a decent cast including James Best (Dukes of Hazzard, The Killer Shrews) and frequent television actor Gerald McRaney. There were some working actors here that had they been given something to work with might have been okay.

When we aren’t getting long stretches of lame dialogue, we get a lot of scientific “gobbly gook” being spouted at us along with lots of folks starring at screens yelling about what was going wrong on them. I mean we don’t see the screens because that would have cost them money. Just in case I haven’t made myself clear yet this “movie” is mind-numbingly slow and boring. It is responsible for one of the worst eighty minutes of my movie watching life and this is coming from someone who has watched all the Witchcraft and Camp Blood movies! Hell, the government bad guys are just a series of shots of a couple dudes sitting in a closet making phone calls. I’m not kidding there either.

I’m going to say that not only am I not recommending The Brain Machine but I’m begging you to stay away from it. This is the sort of movie that will make you want to move to an isolated cabin in the woods without electricity and never watch a movie again. I know that seems like I’m being funny or overly critical for comedic purposes but I’m not. It’s that bad.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Friday, April 14, 2023

Mysterious Island (1961)

Set at the end of the Civil War we watch as some Union prisoners break out of a Confederate prison and make their escape in a balloon. This all happens while a huge storm is blowing in and it carries them all the way across the country. When things finally calm they find themselves far out over the Pacific Ocean. The balloon crashes near an island and after swimming to shore they realize that they are now marooned there. After some exploration they discover survivors from a shipwreck, which introduces our ladies and their love interests. They go about setting up house and trying to survive.

This is complicated by the presence of oversized animals like giant crabs, chickens, and bees. But why are these things so huge? It turns out that Captain Nemo has been experimenting with gigantism to solve the world’s hunger issues. Yes, that Nemo of the Nautilus! For a while he quietly helps the survivors while staying hidden. But when some pirates show up and start blasting away with their cannons, he reveals himself. But it isn’t just the pirates that are a threat as the volcano on the island is about to erupt so they all need to make their escape. Sadly the Nautilus was damaged and can’t go back to sea, but he has a plan. This leads to the finale as they race against time to repair the now sunken pirate ship so they can sail away to safety.

This is a personal favorite of mine. I’ve been watching it since I was a kid as this was always playing on Saturday afternoons or during the summer. This is one of the first adventure movies that I can remember and along with Journey to the Center of the Earth was responsible for my lifelong love of everything Jules Verne. The movie itself holds up pretty well for being over sixty years old. The story is paced quickly and spaces out the good stuff evenly. We get an exciting prison break followed by the tumultuous balloon ride. When they land there is a big fight with a giant crab, some ladies washing up on shore, and then a giant chicken and bees. Hell, we even get some pirates attacking!

Sure, this is probably a bit hokey but imagine a young boy watching this. It checks all the boxes that a seven or eight year old me wanted to see. While I admit that nostalgia might be a big part of my love for Mysterious Island, I still think that it is fun. There is nothing wrong with a simple old school adventure story and this is certainly that.

If that doesn’t make you want to watch this one then how about some awesome stop motion effects work from the master Ray Harryhausen? As I’ve already mentioned we get a giant crab, chicken, and some bees all of which are brought to life with the magic of stop motion and composite shots. I especially loved the first gag with the crab. It turns out that instead of building the model from scratch with clay Harryhausen deviated from his normal process and built his armature inside and actual crab shell! I thought that was cool, so I had to mention it. Damn I almost forgot the giant octopus! Can’t have a Captain Nemo story without a giant octopus.

There are also some green screen shots with the balloon that were shot on a soundstage as well as some cool composite shots of them working underwater. There is even a model ruined city that I think was done just to show it tumbling down when the volcano erupts. I appreciate that. Toss in some neat sets with the interior of the Nautilus as well as the model work of the sunken pirate ship and you have more than enough cool visuals to keep anyone entertained.

In case it isn’t clear yet let me just come out and tell you that I love this movie. I could keep going on, but I think that I’ve made my point. I highly recommend everyone go look for a copy of Mysterious Island. As of the writing of this review the movie can be found on Amazon Prime as well as YouTube. It is well worth the three or four dollar rental.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Night Life (1989)

The movie kicks off with a teenager prepping a body at a mortuary. When he goes to take the leftovers out to the biohazard dumpster he sees some of the cool kids from his school necking in the parking lot. They notice him after me makes some noise and sure enough start to bully him in front of their ladies. This continues to the next day but Archie, the bullied kid, decides to play a joke on them with some frog’s legs from biology class. This leads to them to pranking him back causing Archie to lose his job and with that his college money.

Don’t feel too bad though as his uncle Verlin, who fired him, hires him back. It seems that there has been a big accident involving a chemical transport and a car. Sure enough it was the bullies and their ladies who were killed, but not until after getting a chemical bath. Things happen including Archie’s gal pal Charly leaving town, him being forced to prep his classmates for their services, and the lightning strike that knocks out the phones and puts the compressor for the freezers on the fritz.

Oh yeah, the lightning also brings all the dead assholes back to life. They get a second chance to torture Archie as well as kill anyone that comes near them. Soon Charly is back in town, her plans didn’t work out, and the pair of them are forced to flee from the undead homicidal teens. This leads to multiple attempts to destroy the monsters, a car chase, and of course them realizing that they were always really in love with each other. Hey man this is an eighties flick!

For this review I watched Night Life on VHS. Which is probably the only way to do so since I don’t see that it has had a proper DVD or Blu-Ray release. I could be wrong but I didn’t even see a hyper inflated used copy online for sale so that is normally what that means. That may also play into why I never knew that this movie existed and I’m a child of the eighties as well as being a huge horror nerd. Then again, I was prepared to watch something that would explain why I had never seen this before, or in less nicer words I thought that the movie was going to suck.

Honestly, this is a fun movie. The story is very familiar and checks all the horror/comedy/teen boxes that movies like Night of the Creeps or Return of the Living Dead established as must haves. Just to be clear this movie isn’t as good as either of those as they are the gold standard that set the formula Night Life is trying to follow. While I admit the story is a bit uneven leaning heavily into the teenage shenanigans and comedy in the first two thirds and then going exclusively horror for the last third rather than mixing it together throughout, I did enjoy both. The tonal change was a bit abrupt and annoying but the characters were fun and the payoff from the zombie teenagers was satisfying.

Axe to the noggin'... good times
Scott Grimes of Critters fame is our lead Archie. He is playing the same kind of character that he did there and basically everywhere else I’ve seen him. Nothing wrong in being typecast if you are good at it and he is very good playing the sarcastic and eventually heroic type. John Astin is Uncle Verlin and is his normal awesome self. It is a smaller part but he steals every scene he is in. Anthony Geary (UHF), Darcy DeMoss (Friday the 13th part VI: Jason Lives), and Lisa Fuller (The Monster Squad) all appear as well. This is a solid cast.

The gore isn’t over the top and plentiful, but we get some good gags. There is a broken neck, a torn throat (offscreen), a dude gets shot, and old Uncle Verlin gets inflated until he pops. There is also some gruesome violence done to the zombies with some cringeworthy preparation including sewing up of lips and some head twisting. There is also a hand thru the chest, an eye gets popped out, and my favorite an axe splitting a noggin’. All in all, it was decent.

I’m not the sort of person that throws around “lost classic” as those are quite rare. This is a solid “B” movie that I’m guessing either folks have forgotten about or maybe the rights are somehow tied up in knots that companies don’t think are worth sorting out. Either way if you are lucky enough to find a copy of Night Life it is worth you time to give it a watch. I know that I’ll be checking my copy out again.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Secret Santa by Andrew Shaffer

Completely at random I stopped by an actual brick and mortar store. Browsing the horror section, as I am apt to do, I was excited to see that Max Brooks had put out a Bigfoot book, Devolution, which I reviewed here. Quite by accident I saw a display for Secret Santa and the cover grabbed my attention. I figured it sounded good so while I was there I grabbed a copy.

The book, set in the eighties, has us following a young book editor named Lussi. She has lost her job due to some corporate mergers and while successful in bringing horror novels to market is struggling to find a new job. Her last hope is an interview at a stuffy company, Blackwood-Patterson, which leans more into “legitimate” novels. While speaking to the owner, who is dismissing her earlier work, he has a heart attack and later dies. Speaking to his son Lussi manages to work her way into getting a job as a senior editor with the promise to bring in the next Stephen King to the struggling company.

What follows are some resentful co-workers, spooky encounters with a mysterious man in the park, and a stolen fruitcake as well as a series of unfortunate accidents that may or may not be accidents. In fact there is something evil loose in the old office building Blackwood-Patterson occupies and it is killing people. Lussi eventually figures out her connection to the thing and tries to stop it, though that might come at a huge cost. 

This book is billed as a horror comedy in several of the listings I’ve looked at. I don’t think that is accurate as I never found anything funny about the story. That said I did appreciate the horror elements. This plays out much like an eighties low budget horror movie with a simple and predictable plot that checks the necessary boxes before reaching a conclusion that is both expected and satisfying. We even get a fun little epilogue that jumps to thirty years later where we see future Lussi and get a hint as to how things may turn out for her.  Much like the movies I compared it to earlier Secret Santa is an uncomplicated and easily accessible bit of fun. The story jumps right to the action and is a quick read. I finished it in around four hours spread over a couple of nights.

If you are of a similar vintage to myself, you might also get a kick out of some of the eighties references. Shaffer doesn’t beat you over the head with them but just gives the reader a tease to remind them when the story is set. The deaths in the book are tame, but this isn’t the kind of read that I would expect to be terribly disturbing or gory. We also don’t get much into the “head” of the creature and know what the motivations are beyond it being hungry for the pain of others. There was probably more meat on the bone of this story, but it was left behind to keep things humming along.

The word that keeps popping into my head when I am writing this review is lite. Secret Santa is a bit of fluff that is enjoyable but will probably be forgotten not long after finishing it. That isn’t a criticism as I really did enjoy the book. This goes back to something I bring up every so often and that is not everything has to be art. Sometimes it can just be fun. If you are looking to enjoy yourself with something a little bit spooky then I’d recommend picking up a copy.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Monday, April 10, 2023

Unhuman (2022)

Time to go digging into the offerings from Amazon Prime. I stumbled on this movie and thought I’d give it a chance. I’ve only recently discovered Marcus Dunstan’s Collector series and since he also directed and co-wrote this one with Patrick Melton (Piranha 3 DD) it had potential to be good. But was it?

The movie opens with our main character, Ever, getting ready to go on a field trip with her class. This group of kids are doing it for extra credit and involve the normal mix of outsiders and cool kids. Ever’s best friend Tamra is also going and picks her up in a sweet ass Gremlin. Not important to the story but I love those cars. They make it to the bus where their teacher/chaperone Mr. Lorenzo takes all their phones. So, no calling for help when things go sideways later on. They drive off down the road but along the way run into something and crash.

Right before the accident they hear a radio broadcast warning folks to shelter in place. There has been some sort of chemical or biological attack. There is something crawling around the outside of the bus and eventually it gets inside and attacks Mr. Lorenzo. This sends the students running off thru the emergency exit, though they don’t all make it off. Eventually Ever, Tamra, a couple oddballs named Steven and Randall as well as the bullies meet up and take shelter in what looks to be an abandoned apartment complex in the middle of nowhere. The infected, including the other kids from the bus, shamble up and lay siege to where they are hiding.

Okay now I need to enter spoiler territory. I can’t continue talking about Unhuman without giving some rather important things away. You can skip to the last paragraph of this review for my conclusion. I promise to keep that spoiler free. Now that the warning is out of the way let us continue.

What seems to be a straightforward infected/zombie type flick goes completely off the rails when it is revealed that it is all faked. The bus crash, news report, the elaborate setup of the “abandoned” apartment building was all part of the plan. Seems that the oddballs Steven and Randall are angry and want to switch things up on the bullies to teach them a lesson. They do this with the help of a couple adults in the bus driver who was bullied by the Mr. Lorenzo when the pair were in high school, and a drug dealer who likes to stir shit up. The latter is important because when they catch the students, they shoot them up with some drugs that make them super compliant which explains why they shuffle around chasing after the “survivors”.

Does it though? Unhuman strikes me as a movie that is trying so hard to be clever and in the end that is what kills it. The hoops you must jump thru to make any logical sense out of the plot are so enormous that after the reveal I couldn’t care less what I was watching and was just waiting for it to be over. I get it… this is a horror movie lighten up. Had this been an actual infected or zombie flick I would have been willing to suspend my disbelief. But they chose to reel that story back in and tried to set this in some sort of high school bullshit drama reality. As a viewer it isn’t my fault that I’m now expecting things to make some sort of sense.

There is no world where four people can have this planned out and think that everything will be okay after it happens. Folks get hurt, and while they may not feel it while shot up on the drugs (which is altogether a dumb narrative idea) they get hurt. Somehow they also have convinced themselves that no one will remember what happened. But not everyone is on drugs. Plus, the folks that they want to “learn” their lesson will have to remember or what is the point? And right from the start things get out of hand as the drug dealer attacks and kills Mr. Lorenzo. Why did they continue if this was an innocent bit of high school shenanigans? Oh, and I get it “they are just kids”. Well except for the two adults who will go to grown up prison, so yeah.

Then again, I’m thinking since Randall brought a bag full of weapons with him and beats the “zombified” bus driver to death with a piece of wood he maybe intended to kill them anyway. But then why didn’t any of his co-conspirators come free right then and there? I mean now there are two murders. How about a conversation to explain why this wasn’t a deal breaker? But then that would have required a well thought out and logical driven script which we simply don’t have here.

There isn’t much in the way of special effects work. No one really dies… well except for the bus driver… oh wait he is alive and tied up at the end of the movie, so I guess not. Well Mr. Lorenzo is dead as we have seen his dead body starring lifelessly for several scenes. Then he sits up and drops a one-liner as they get the bus fired back up and drive away. Was this supposed to be a comedy? It wasn’t funny so I certainly hope not. In conclusion no one dies, the entire movie is a fake out, and is a poorly executed one at that. I get that they wanted to do something different and give them credit for that. But you have to do a whole lot better than what we ended up with here.

If you want to see a decent angsty high school bullshit movie with actual stakes, then may I recommend the Christian Slater double feature of Heathers and Pump up the Volume. Ironically, they are far more realistic and have some funny black humor in them as well. Unhuman you can skip altogether as it is a mess of good intentions and poor execution.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Friday, April 7, 2023

Mansion of the Doomed (1976)

The movie opens with a desperate man on a mission. His name is Dr. Leonard Chaney, and he is an eye specialist. This is ironic as due to an accident his lovely daughter Nancy is now blind. Partially out of love but more so out of guilt (he was driving the car) he is determined to restore her sight. But how can he accomplish that? He decides the only way is to transplant the entire eyeball from a living donor! I bet you can see where this is going.

The first donor/victim is Dr. Bryan who is not only a colleague of Dr. Chaney but was also his daughter’s boyfriend/significant other. It is hinted at that he has left her after she lost her sight, so Chaney seems to think it is a good place to start. Amazingly enough she can see again, but it only lasts for a couple of weeks and her father is back starting all over again. By that I mean he keeps going out and finding victims so he can knock them out and remove their eyes. Though it seems futile because none of the other surgeries even temporarily restore her vision. But being a doctor, he won’t just kill the donors so soon he has a cage full of them in his basement. This leads to an attempted escape, his nurse being murdered by an angry victim, and eventually them being released to get their bloody revenge. Sounds like a good time, no?

I enjoyed the heck out of this movie. I was a bit worried when the credits started off with “A Charles Band” production but this was back when he cared and was trying to make a good movie. The voice over from Dr. Bryan lets us know what he is thinking and sets his desperation up to heal Nancy right away. That then leads to him slowly becoming more and more monstrous as he keeps pushing. In his own mind we see him try to justify the blinding of his Guinea pigs with the “I’ll fix them once I have this perfected” only to conveniently forget that would mean blinding someone else. This total lack of logic as well as the performance from Veteran actor Richard Basehart sells the character and the story.

Speaking of actors selling the story we get a very young Lance Henriksen as the first victim and eventual ringleader of the blind Dr. Bryan. He disappears for a long stretch until his eyeless face is revealed in a cool jump scare. Once that happens we see a lot more of the basement and the caged victims interacting with each other. This makes what has happened to them so much worse. The script also takes the time to show different reactions from comatose, to wanting to escape, and finally homicidal rage for what has happened to them. I was shocked that the script has us spend that much time with them. I was expecting an exploitative drive-in movie, and this was far more than that.

We should talk special effects. This movie doesn’t have many kills as again the doctor tries to be humane; I mean other than ripping their eyes out and keeps them alive. When they do die it is tame with an escapee getting hit by a car and the nurse being strangled. Where the movie shines is the makeup used to show the eyeless prisoners as well as some gruesome gags with the surgeries. I was again shocked and surprised to see a familiar name connected with the work. This is a Stan Winston flick! He manages to make the audience squirm on a low budget, and I dug it.

The final thing that I wanted to note was the director. Michael Pataki is more well known as an actor appearing movies like Graduation Day, Halloween 4, The Return of Count Yorga, and my personal favorite Grave of the Vampire. He only has three directorial credits to his name with this being his first. From what I see here he had some talent as a director, and it is a bummer that we didn’t get to see more from him. If you haven’t figured it out yet I’m recommending Mansion of the Doomed. It is a fun, creepy, and at times gross movie that checks all the boxes I want from a drive-in horror flick with the bonus of an excellent script.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Thursday, April 6, 2023

Throwback Thursday - Midnight Movie by Tobe Hooper

note: This is a review that I wrote ten years ago. I don't remember where it was originally published. I thought it was on my old website but I believe I had shut it down by then. 

So when I heard that director Tobe Hooper had written a book I have to admit that I was a bit dubious.  I mean the guy knows how to shoot a horror film and create atmosphere like no other.  Not only is the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre genius, but Salem’s Lot is the best King adaptation ever and the Funhouse is very creepy.  But I’ve never felt like his strength was the plot or storytelling.  So how could this translate to a book where that is about all he had to work with?

The short answer is that I was wrong and totally underestimated Hooper.  The book tells the tale of his fictional first movie called Destiny Express.  When a local kid from Austin Texas digs up the only copy and decides to show it at a rundown bar he invites Hooper as a special guest.  But watching the movie has a strange effect on everyone that watches it.  Some become suicide bombers, others zombies, and some develop a strange STD that causes colorful things to happen.  Collectively this is referred to as the “Game” and it sweeps the country.  It falls to Hooper (his fictional self in the book) and others to stop the Game before it is too late.

I really enjoyed this book.  The story is told in a very interesting way.  Some of the events are written in the first person, as you would expect.  Though the perspective is changed from one character to another.  You also get excerpts from blog postings, twitter, and emails.  These help to fill in the blanks from characters that wouldn’t be around to explain things after the fact.  Now this could have been very confusing, but it is handled in such a concise way that it works.  There isn’t a wasted sentence or event described.  It makes for an interesting and entertaining read.  I found myself unable to put the book down wanting to read just one more chapter. 

One more item that I feel the need to talk about is the man himself, Tobe Hooper.  I’m not sure if it is his reputation or the fact that he has backed out of so many conventions that he was scheduled to appear at, but I never thought of him as someone whom I’d like to meet.  Admittedly there have never been rumors of him being a jerk or anything like that; I just thought he didn’t want any part of the fans.  My opinion has changed a lot after reading this book.  Sure it might all be fiction but I’d like to think that the self effacing and down to Earth Tobe from the book is close to the real one.  I say this because the Tobe in the book explains why he dreads public appearances and why they are such a pain.  It is almost like he is trying to explain himself to the fans thru the book.  Then again maybe I’m reading too much into it.

I highly recommend Midnight Movie.  It is a great read and worth your time.  I also have a new found appreciation for a director that whose work I’ve always liked.  Can it get better than that?


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Land Shark (2020)

A man and his son are fishing when they “catch” a cow’s head. If that weren’t weird enough for you a giant shark jumps out of the water and heads towards the nearby city. Then the action movies to three days earlier, which we know thanks to the helpful crawl on the screen. There are some science nerds doing experiments on a shark. Why? They want to cure cancer or so the evil… wait we don’t know that yet… the totally not evil corporate CEO tells us. He makes the lovely Dr. Ye move to phase three even after she warns him it is too fast to proceed. But they follow his orders, and the shark gets mad after the treatment. So mad that it starts to smash windows and eat people.

You may be asking yourself “what the hell is going on?”. I know that I was. Well, it turns out the evil… we know this now… CEO wanted to cure cancer by modifying the DNA of a shark by splicing in some Earthworm DNA. Why? SCIENCE BABY!!! This means that even when the survivors of the attack make it out of an escape hatch the shark can now swim thru the dirt to catch and eat them on the land. Neat. Evil CEO makes comic relief skinny guy and his side kick comic relief fat guy catch the shark. How does he manage that after they quit? Shoot a lady! Why? Because he is an EVIL CEO. Were you not paying attention? More shit happens, the Evil CEO gets chummed, the henchmen die, and our comic relief along with the still not dead Dr. Ye kill the Land Shark and save the day.

There has been a weird trend lately with these made for the Chinese domestic film market flicks showing up at stores or streaming online. The most recent one that I’ve covered before Land Shark was Curse of the Kraken. They all have the same formula which is a story that copies some elements of more popular movies, a mess of a cast that is mostly there to die (sadly offscreen omitting any of the red stuff), and an awful CGI beast/monster. This movie is no different. Clearly genetic manipulation of sharks leading to a bloodbath references a movie like Deep Blue Sea. There is the added Evil CEO character that is almost a must in monster movies (especially from Communist China). This gives the movie a “been there done that” feel that doesn’t help matters.

Road Trip with the Land Shark!
We are also inundated by a lab full of characters, only a few of which are ever given names. One of the “named” characters is actually referred to in the subtitles as “glasses guy”. I shit you not! This is how disposable the characters are in the story. Speaking of disposable just about the time when the cast is at a manageable level and you think “okay now maybe I can get interested” we get a couple SUV loads of random henchmen with assault rifles to muddy things up again. Spoilers none of them get names and all are dead before the credits roll.

Our monster is an awful CGI shark that they can’t seem to keep in scale. Just to be clear I’m not talking about it growing larger as it feeds. That I totally get. But when it attacks the lab what we see underwater could clearly not be swimming around in the two or three feet of water on the set that the actors are in. Even when it switches to the underwater shots of the shark in the lab it is generic footage that looks like it was intended to show it in the open water. I don’t expect Jurassic Park here fellas, but at least put some effort into it. I can’t remember the last time I was this bored of a movie and this thing only clocks in at seventy five minutes long. How did they manage that?

This is a terrible movie that I can’t recommend. When you make the worst Asylum movie look interesting, which Land Shark does, then you are in big trouble. Very big trouble. I really need to stop watching these… but maybe the next one will be good. I know I have issues.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer