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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...

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Throwback Thursday – Dead Sea by Brian Keene

Keene ventures back into the realm of the Zombie with this book. It really isn’t a follow up to The Rising, and the zombies are a bit more traditional here. This time around there is Hamelin’s Revenge, which is a disease that is passed thru saliva and blood, rather than demonic possession. Initially it only seems to affect a few species, but then it starts to jump into previously immune creatures. Before you know it there are zombie pets, horses, cattle, and God knows what else wandering the streets looking for a meal. The central character in the book is Lamar. After being forced from his home by the fires sweeping thru the overrun city he ends up on a Coast Guard ship with a few other survivors. Deciding the sea is their best chance they get the vessel seaworthy and get away from the land. But when Hamelin’s jumps into the fish even the ocean isn’t safe.

I really enjoyed this book, much more than his earlier efforts at zombies, The Rising and City of the Dead. It isn’t that those books aren’t good, they are. But I just never really got into the idea that the zombies were reanimated when they were possessed by demons. Call me a purist, but I prefer my zombies old school. With Dead Sea Keene changes things up and has the cause of the uprising a bit more traditional, Hamelin’s Revenge. Get bit or blood on you and soon you will be shuffling around looking for someone to gnaw on. Keene is a great writer and this more traditional take really turned out a great story. He does a wonderful job of making the characters, even the minor ones, jump off the page and be very real. This is key to making it work because then the reader cares about them as he picks them off one at a time, which is really one of the things that zombie fiction is all about. Characters are introduced, we like them, and then bad things happen. 

The book starts off in a familiar setting with Lamar hiding out in his barricaded house, but then moves to the ship at sea, which I thought was neat change. The zombie nerd in me always thought that a ship would be a safe place to hang out if the and when the zombies showed up. Though this proves not to be such a great idea in Keene’s version of a zombie apocalypse. The idea of the plague jumping species was a fun twist with zombie dogs and horses wandering about. But the best are the Zombie whales swimming around the ocean! Yes you heard me correctly there are zombie whales!

Bottom line if you dig zombie fiction and haven’t read Dead Sea you are really missing out.  This is hands down one of the best pieces of zombie fiction that you will ever read.  Brian Keene is the man.  I highly recommend this one.

© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Kids vs. Aliens (2023)

I saw this one pop up on Shudder and that combined with the fact that it is from the director of Hobo with a Shotgun I was sold. I mean I loved Hobo, and this was also based on a short he, Jason Eisener, directed for V\H\S\2 so I had high hopes. Where those hopes dashed or did I enjoy the feature length take on the story?

Right away it is established that something odd is happening as a bright light crashes into the ocean near some fishermen. When they are snatched off the boat by a creature in the water, we are given the proper foreshadowing. Then we meet our main characters. Teenager Samantha is babysitting/hanging out with her younger brother and his friends. They are making a movie about aliens and wrestling when some teenagers lead by the cool boy, Billy shows up at the barn. There is a bit of a conflict before Billy starts to flirt with Samantha. Well that isn’t going to end well.

Thru the flirting Billy convinces/manipulates Samantha into hosting a party at her family’s house while mom and dad are out of town. He then gives all his shitty friends permission to trash the place because he is a dick and was just using her. After that is established Aliens show up and attack the party hauling off a lot of the party goers including the little brother and his friends off to the lake. Samantha grabs some convenient scuba gear and goes after them. This leads her to the ship, which was underwater, where she finds a sword. The rest of the movie are the kids fighting the aliens all while Billy turns into a bigger and bigger asshat. Then we get to the end… Be warned spoilers are below.

The kids... don't get attached to them
Ready for the ending of the story? The government or perhaps an alien allied conspiracy shows up. They kill all the characters, again most of whom are just children, and put them in meat lockers with the alien bodies. The end. Seriously movie what the actual hell is this shit? But then I shouldn’t be surprised by such a nihilistic ending from a movie that completely misses the tone that I believe they were going for. The movie plays out like a tween type Goonies or Attack the Block style story. The protagonists are all younger and there is that over the top and at times silly (the sister finds a magical sword and cuts her way thru aliens to save the day!) vibe that is unique to movies or shows like this.

But then in a rather jarring and underwhelming turn of events the characters are dropping “F” bombs all over the place. I get that might be how kids talk but this is a movie about aliens invading a high school kegger so don’t try to pull that excuse on me. There is also some pretty nasty bullying that honestly isn’t ever resolved with the bullied kid getting their revenge/happy ending. Again, everyone freaking dies! I suppose unresolved storylines shouldn’t be that surprising. Though did we need to see their bodies hanging in cold storage as the last shot of the movie?

The Aliens look cool
For the budget we get a couple decent kills and the aliens are fine. Lots of aliens are hacked and run thru, which is fun. There is also a mutation where one of the teenagers is dumped with some goo that turns them into a monster. Why does this happen? They never explain it. Another of the teenagers gets dunked in some other goo and melts into liquid. That is a neat gag though they also never explain why that is happening. The lack of explanation is rather annoying given that Kids vs. Aliens is slow at times, despite only being seventy five minutes long. Some dialogue attempting to throw out theories from the characters for the audience to grab onto would have been a welcome respite from the yelling back and forth that we get.

This movie is an example of genres being stuck together when they probably shouldn’t. The language, gore, and nihilistic ending simply doesn’t mesh with the kids as main characters adventure story with some humor. What was the audience for this movie? And then we have the pacing issues that I briefly mentioned above as well. In the end this feels like a short that was extended into a feature without having enough meat on the bone nor a clear idea of who the audience was supposed to be. I can’t recommend it.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Monday, June 26, 2023

The Blackburn Asylum (2015)

A Jeep full of annoying twentysomethings are driving down the road. They pass a couple with a baby who are going to check out an abandoned mine. Well Dad is, Mom and baby are along for the ride. Because taking an infant into a dangerous mining operation in the middle of nowhere Alaska is something reasonable. The trio go to the mine, find some unpleasant locals, and get dead. Well Mom and Dad do, the baby is important later.

Then we get back to the other characters. They have no cell service… because horror movies would be way too short if you could just call 911. They also find a rockslide blocking the road and a dead lady in a crashed car. So they have to turn around for help. But after a while they find a firefighter who tells them the road is closed due to fire, so he sends them back into the middle of nowhere to fend for themselves. Even after they tell him about the accident. This brings them to a gas station, they are running out of gas, where they meet some creepy ladies who have a penchant for taxidermy and serve as the harbingers… the ones who tell them not to go to the mines. Which is exactly what they do! Some of them die, mysteries are revealed, and we do eventually get to hear about an asylum that for some odd reason was built on top of an active mine. The end.

Why do I do this to myself? I knew what this probably was and yet I persisted in watching it. The Blackburn Asylum feels like a movie made by folks who watched much better flicks and were sitting taking notes. Need a creepy gas station… check. Must have weird locals who will fill in narrative blanks and then die… check. Our main characters need to be annoying and obnoxious city folk… check check. Toss in some taxidermy and the always present board filled with missing pet posters and newspaper articles about missing people to complete things. We also have a vain female character talking about how she loves her face and a final girl that mentions she was good with a bow and arrow. These things may pay off later in very ham-fisted and predictable ways.

If I haven’t made myself clear yet the writing is bad. This really does feel like a bad copy of much better movies. I’m all for filmmakers tipping their hats to their favorite movies, hell I recently reviewed X and there it is done right. Here it just makes me think of stuff I’d much rather be watching. This is further compounded by some terrible pacing. After a couple quick kills, we then have to sit thru some driving, talking, stopping to pee, more driving, then the landslide. Here you may think things get rolling, but they don’t. We get more driving, some talking, running out of gas, wandering around a mine, relationship drama, more walking, more drama, then some running. Finally in the last half hour the kills start up again.

The kills are generic with a couple happening offscreen. We do get a nifty snapped neck, and a rebar thru some faces. But these are mixed in random bodies that I suppose are matched up with the missing posters from earlier. But this makes me feel cheated as any of these kills would have made for a much more interesting way to spend my time rather than listen to the characters drone on inanely at each other. The movie even manages to divert from the normal killer hillbilly formula with some good old tie them to a table torture porn. Our vain girl from earlier gets her face burned off… gee never saw that coming. There is also some death by acid funnel to the throat. Neither of these are nearly as good as they sound. We also get some bad CGI for the rockslide and some fires that I suppose were necessary. Oh and I completely forgot the movie’s obsession with terrible jump cuts that obscure the action and gore. To be fair was and is a staple of horror in the last couple of decades. Though that doesn’t make it any less annoying.

Clearly, I wasn’t impressed with the cast nor their performances. What I did find odd was one of the killers is Ken Kirzinger under a rather shitty looking Halloween mask. We also get a brief appearance from the Soska sisters. I’m guessing they owed someone a favor, and this was how it was paid back.

All in all this was a miserable way to spend eighty four minutes. If you want to watch a much better version of this sort of story, check out Wrong Turn or maybe even The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I can’t recommend The Blackburn Asylum.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Throwback Thursday - That Time Rankin/Bass teamed up with the Japanese to make movies for ABC

note: A few years ago I signed on to write up some articles for a magazine titled Gravely Unusual. Specifically, I chose to write about various genre related television projects, which readers of Crappy Movie Reviews will know is a favorite of mine. Sadly this only lasted a couple of issues and I’ve already posted the other one here. Today I thought I’d share my other submission.


Television Terrors: Growing up in the Warm Glow of the Boob Tube

The Rankin/Bass and Japanese movies that ended up on ABC

by John Shatzer

Here we are back for another installment of Television Terrors. This time around I thought I’d talk about an odd collaboration that occurred in the late ‘70s between Rankin/Bass and some Japanese studios. This is a series of three movies that ended up premiering on ABC here in the States while getting a theatrical release in Japan. Initially, I had thought this was the plan all along. However, after doing research for this article I realized that the original idea had been for The Last Dinosaur to get released to theaters in the US, but the filmmakers couldn’t drum up any interest. After that movie was such a success, the other productions were sold to television even before they were finished. Because of this I consider these productions all to be television movies and decided to cover them here.

Before I go any further, I should chat a bit about my history with these movies. If you haven’t caught on yet I’m a huge fan of all things related to horror on the small screen. I was aware of the “movies of the week” that were cranked out to fill the voids in the schedule, having seen many of them in reruns on my local horror hosted shows years after their premieres. At some point in the mid ‘80s I heard about these strange projects and immediately went looking for them but was unable to find copies to watch. I filed it away and moved on to the next thing. I honestly had totally forgotten about it until recently when I stumbled over an article that mentioned them. This time, armed with the internet as a resource, I found what I was looking for. Though I imagine given the title of this article you probably figured that out already. After waiting over 3 decades, it is time to dive in.

I figured that I’d start with 1978’s The Bermuda Depths. This is the second of the trio and was the one that interested me the most. Mostly because one of the stars, Carl Weathers of Rocky and Predator fame, does battle with a giant sea turtle. The Japanese side of the production came from the same company that did the Ultraman shows that I loved growing up as a kid. I was so hoping for some killer Kaiju action which I must inform you never happens. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Things kick off with a guy sleeping on the beach who we later find out is our main character, Magnus. A beautiful woman, played by a very young Connie Sellecca, comes strolling up and smiles before disappearing back into the sea. Magnus wakes up and then we are given some background as he meets up with Eric, Weather’s character, who is working on a research vessel. Eric and another man named Paulis are continuing the work of Magnus’ father. Magnus has returned to the island to sort out his history and to try to remember what happened to his father. We get hints that since being orphaned as a child he has had a rough go of it. Signing on to help Magnus gets involved with Eric and Paulis’ work. Also in the mix is Sellecca’s character, Jennifer, who we find out has a strange connection to Magnus and his father.

Now you might have noticed that I have yet to mention the giant sea turtle. I’m not burying the lead here as the turtle is barely in the movie and is mostly seen in the last few minutes of the flick. Much of the movie is focused on developing the relationship between Jennifer and Magnus and revealing the secrets within that relationship. Be aware that there are some spoilers coming so if you don’t like that sort of thing stop reading right away. You have been warned.

Jennifer was/is the imaginary friend that Magnus had as a child (another flashback we get to see) who is also a legendary sea creature that was once a woman but sold her soul to a turtle god to avoid drowning. Or at least I think that is what they were going for. If I’m going to be completely honest here the movie is quite confusing. I had to stop it to go back and see if I missed something more than once. That hardly ever happens to me since I tend to really pay attention when I’m watching a movie. Sadly, that is only one of the many problems that I noticed.

Finally the Turtle!
The Bermuda Depths feels like a movie that tried to do a lot of stuff but never settled on one thing long enough to be entertaining. We get the promise of a monster, which never really happens. The title mentions Bermuda, which being a ‘70s production made me think it might have something to do with the Bermuda Triangle. While that is mentioned and hinted at nothing really comes of it. We get a bit of a mad/obsessed scientist vibe which also doesn’t turn into anything. There is even a bit of Jaws with the characters on the boat doing battle with the turtle, but it ends too quickly to be worthwhile. The filmmakers are throwing a lot at the audience to entertain, but it doesn’t work.

The casting of Burl Ives as the scientist Paulis also doesn’t work for me. He is wrong for the part and really the movie in general. He mostly mumbles through lines and spends his time cracking and eating peanuts. The only thing that I did really like about The Bermuda Depths was the casting of Carl Weathers. He is good playing Eric and is the only character that seems to have some sort of story arc going from friendly to obsessed with the fame that might be gained by killing the turtle and proving its existence. Plus, he wears a pair of shorts that have to be seen to be believed. I was having flashbacks to gym class in the ‘70s and was traumatized. 

One of the hazards of this hobby and tracking down movies is that when you find them you realize why they were difficult to locate in the first place. Many times, they were buried because they are just bad. While I’m pleased to have finally scratched this one off of my bucket list, I’m hoping that this isn’t a harbinger of things to come. Fingers crossed that the other two movies are more fun.  

Next up I thought I’d go back to the first project Rankin/Bass tried to get off the ground and look at The Last Dinosaur. This movie stars Richard Boone as Masten Thrust Jr., the owner of a large oil company that has been successfully exploring the polar caps in search of reserves of crude oil to drill. Thrust is also known as a big game hunter who has shot and killed many animals, including some endangered ones. We are given the idea that he is rich enough to get away with such things. The story picks up with him landing in Japan and heading off to company headquarters to check in with some scientists and have a press conference. Here is where the story kicks into gear.  

Chuck Wade works for Thrust’s oil company and is the only survivor of a mission that stumbled onto a hidden valley that is warmed by a nearby underwater volcano. This land is trapped in the past and is filled with dinosaurs, one of which ate the other members of his crew. Thrust is putting together an expedition to retrace their steps with the intent of studying the creature. Though when they arrive there are all sorts of dinosaurs to deal with as well as some cavemen! The T-Rex that ate the original crew causes some grief by constantly trying to snack on them, as well as stealing their ship because it was shiny. At least that is how they explain why it disappeared.

The plot then jumps to four months later as our survivors are struggling with the locals, both the reptile and mammal variety. They have also picked up one of the cavewomen who has taken a shine to them. They call her Hazel and try to teach her things. Stuff happens, including a dinosaur throwdown between the T-Rex and a Triceratops, as well some fighting with the cavemen over food. Eventually they do stumble over their ship and get it ready for a return home, but of course Thrust refuses. He has become obsessed with killing the T-Rex which leads to a weird but sort of enjoyable ending. I can’t say more without spoiling The Last Dinosaur. 

This is a much better movie than The Bermuda Depths with the most obvious reason being that we get to see the creature as well as other fun stuff. The dinosaurs are clearly actors in rubber suits flailing about at one another but being a Toho co-production that is exactly what I wanted. This movie promises monsters and doesn’t disappoint. In addition to the T-Rex there is a giant turtle, Pterodactyls, and the Triceratops. There is also miniature work used to bring the ship and its home base to the screen. If you dig Kaiju movies, then you will be pleased with what we get in The Last Dinosaur.

Richard Boone is chewing the scenery and having a blast. He yells a lot of his dialogue and the supposed love scenes between him and co-star Joan Van Ark are painfully awkward. Somehow this adds a certain cheeseball charm that works for the movie. The theme song is very ‘70s and again just fits. We even get some familiar giant lizard sounds coming from the T-Rex. Toho was involved so it shouldn’t be a surprise that this happened.

Sure it is silly... but I liked it.
While I was watching The Last Dinosaur, I also noticed something else that amused me. It probably wasn’t done on purpose but still, who knows? Our female lead is played by the previously mentioned, Joan Van Ark. Her name is Francesca Banks, and she is an award-winning photographer. She has cut her teeth taking photos in warzones including what I think was supposed to be Vietnam. She’s a blonde female photographer who is brought along as the press representative to document the expedition. Fans of Kong: Skull Island might notice some similarities here.

You might also notice that the movie is called The Last Dinosaur. Here is where I think that the writing is subtle and deeper than one would expect from a monster movie like this. The “dinosaur” referred to isn’t the giant reptile, but I believe is actually the character of Thrust. From his rough treatment of women (even for the ‘70s is a bit much), to the character’s resistance to returning to civilization, I believe the point is that he is the dinosaur. This is further reinforced with the casting of Boone, who is best known for playing cowboys and tough guys, and who was nearing the end of his long career when he made this movie. Then again maybe I’m just reading too much into it. Regardless, the movie engaged me in a way I wasn’t expecting and that added to my enjoyment.

Now it isn’t all good and I do have one complaint. The movie is way too long. I watched the uncut version of the movie that clocks in at 106 minutes long. There is a lot of padding at the beginning of the movie including an extended press conference that goes nowhere and is unnecessary. I did notice that the TV cut is only 95 minutes long so that might be the one to watch. Despite dragging at times there is still enough fun to be had that I think this one is worth a watch. If nothing else the giant rubber monsters stomping around should put a smile on your face.

Well, I’m glad that The Last Dinosaur was decent. I’ve spent a long time tracking these movies down and it would have been disappointing if they all were as bad as The Bermuda Depths. Fingers crossed that the last of three is also a good time. Might as well toss The Ivory Ape into the DVD player and see what I’ve gotten myself into.

The Ivory Ape starts with some farmers in Africa trying to protect their crops from a gorilla that is cleaning them out of bananas. There is a bit of an argument since the animal is protected and they are going to get in trouble with the game warden if they injure it. Though that doesn’t stop them from eventually shooting and capturing it. But it isn’t just any gorilla. It’s a rare white one that zoos and collectors all over the world will be willing to pay big bucks for. A ruthless poacher, Aubrey Range, takes the ape and loads it on a ship bound for Cuba. Why Cuba? Well, he illegally smuggled it out of the country so that is the only place he can sell it without getting arrested. A storm blows up and the ship is forced to dock in the Bahamas where the rest of our characters get involved.

Baxter and Lil are crusaders that have the papers to seize the ape and return it home where it belongs. Baxter also has a friend, a former big game hunter named Kazarian, who lives on the island. Kazarian gets roped into the hunt when the ape breaks free after killing someone and escapes onto the island. Behaving unusually aggressive, the gorilla creates a panic which leads to a posse of armed men tracking it down. One of those men is Kazarian and another is the poacher who is trying to destroy any evidence of his smuggling. Though the Inspector in charge gives Baxter and Lil a chance to capture it alive, things go about as well as you would expect, which isn’t great. In the end, which I won’t spoil here, we find out why the gorilla was acting aggressively and our characters either learn a lesson or are able to be righteously indignant.

Well crap… There are some things that I enjoyed about The Ivory Ape, but it is a flawed movie.  Much like The Bermuda Depths, I feel like this movie promised me a creature feature, but what I got instead was a drama with a conservation message. Normally I wouldn’t be too hard on a movie that did a switcheroo like that if they managed to do a decent job at it. Sadly, that isn’t the case here. The movie is padded with so much unnecessary baggage that I never could get into or care about the story.

For example, we get an entire subplot of Kazarian, Palance’s character, coming out of retirement to hunt again. Why did he quit? Thanks to a monologue we find out that his son was taken by a crocodile and he had to do the unthinkable to stop his suffering. He shoots the kid and not the croc (!), though it is hinted that it was already too late to save him. While this is interesting, it does nothing to move the story along and is never referenced in any way later in the movie. Combined with Palance barely playing a part in the movie, this is all wasted space. You could have cut his character out entirely and trimmed about twenty minutes off the runtime which would have helped the pacing a lot. Of course, they didn’t do that since Palance is top billed and used to sell the movie.

On the positive side of things Palance is very good in the movie. Unlike The Last Dinosaur where the Hollywood vet Boone chews scenery, Palance is subdued and very believable as the tortured Kazarian. The ending where he figures out what is happening through the scope of his rifle and tries to, but fails to stop what happens, there is a pain on his face that tells you more than any bit of dialogue could ever do. The rest of the cast is equally good including Steven Keats, who was also in The Last Dinosaur, and Cindy Pickett. A good cast can make up for some silly material and this is a very good cast.

Speaking of silly, I can’t ignore the 800-pound gorilla in the room. See what I did there? The titular creature is nothing more than a man in a gorilla suit. It doesn’t look any better than the poverty row studio films of the ‘30s and ‘40s. I get that on their budget, and with the technology of the time, this was as good as they could do. But the choice of using stock footage side by side early on, just points out how fake it is. And I’m not going to lie that because this was a Toho co-production, I had expected a giant gorilla to appear and that the fact it is just a regular sized guy in a suit bummed me out. Again, if they had done the other stuff better my unmet expectations wouldn’t prevent me from enjoying The Ivory Ape.

The Ape
In the end, I can’t say that I would recommend The Ivory Ape. It isn’t awful and I’ve seen much worse, but it doesn’t do anything to make itself memorable. This is, at best, an oddity that “made for TV” nerds like me probably will need to track down. This is by far the hardest of the three to find. The weakest of these productions is clearly, The Bermuda Depths, which has zero going for it. The plot meanders along, never amounting to much, and is filled with characters that are uninspiring. Plus, we barely get any monster in it with the turtle showing itself at the very end for just a couple of minutes. Trust me it isn’t worth your time.

The best of the bunch is The Last Dinosaur. Now this is what I expected when I saw Toho was involved. Lots of guys in rubber monster suits, cheesy cavemen makeup, model ships zipping around the screen. This movie has it all! It isn’t perfect, but if you dig Kaiju flicks then I think you will have fun with it. It doesn’t surprise me that this was the easiest of the three for me to track down. I can see the appeal, which likely kept it in circulation.

So that is it for another installment of Television Terrors. It was a blast for me to finally track these movies down and to share them with you here in the pages of this fine magazine. As always, I want to thank Edwin for the opportunity to participate in such a cool project. If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to get in touch by emailing me at gutmunchers@gmail.com. I love talking to other fans about this stuff. I’ll see you all next time when I return with even more spooky stuff from the old boob tube.

© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

X (2022)

Okay I suppose it is time for me to take a look at this latest from director Ti West to see what all the buzz is about. I am a fan of his other movies so I’m not coming into this with some preexisting dislike of his movies. Nor am I resistant to popular horror movies as an effort to be “cool”. Anyone that has hung around me or read my site here knows that I’m not at all worried about being cool. I just hadn’t gotten around to this one yet seeing that I’m mostly watching shitty old drive-in flicks. Please note the not caring about cool bit from earlier. Time to dive in.

The movie opens with Maxine, played by the current “it” horror girl Mia Goth, taking a bump of coke before being corralled by her boyfriend Wayne. They are off on a road trip with friends to make a dirty movie. Set in seventy nine there is some talk of making the next Deep Throat as well as some cool tunes playing in the background. Here we meet the other performers Jackson and Bobby-Lynne as well as the director R.J. and his girlfriend/sound person Lorraine. Piling into the van they head out into the Texas countryside, yeah it is set in Texas, for their destination. Wayne has rented a boarding house from an unsuspecting farmer to shoot his movie.

Once they arrive scenes are shot, characters are developed, and lots of people get naked. We also find out that the elderly couple aren’t at all what we expect them to be. But then maybe being that this is a horror flick, and they are creepy they are exactly what I as a horror nerd expected. Regardless after about an hour into the proceedings the bodies begin to drop. Some secrets are exposed, and we sort of get an ending with a bit of a twist. Though I’m glad that West did that more as a tease or “got ya” then really hanging any important plot points on it.

Gnarly finger violence!
People dig this movie, and I can totally see why. The kills are creative and executed well. We get a cool neck stabbing/decapitation, a pitchfork thru the eyes, a couple bits of shot gunning, and a gator attack. Though my favorite has to be a in your face head squishing that was both gooey and bloody in the best ways. What can I say I’m a horror nerd who loves his gore. In this way X more than met my expectations. There is also some fun gnarly bits with a nail thru the foot and some smashed fingers with protruding bone. Though for me the best is dairy cow roadkill. Growing up in the country that one hit close to home.

Being set in Texas during the seventies this movie also gives off some serious Texas Chainsaw Massacre vibes. In the hands of a lesser filmmaker this could have come off as a rip off or pale imitation, but West is better than that. His talent allows for this movie to push those familiar buttons of isolated farmhouse, clothes, music, and youth versus age all while telling his own unique story. This feels like something that might have happened down the road from the Sawyer’s house. It was more like West invokes a bit of the lore and locations but keeps it fresh. I dig that he did his own thing but still was able to give the horror audience a bit of a wink and nod. I also loved the fact that we get some gator action which I’m thinking might be another reference to a Tobe Hooper flick, Eaten Alive.

Did we really need a musical number?
Again, I’m a fan of Ti West but, and yes there is a but, X suffers from a very familiar issue. I’ve shown a lot of my friends his earlier movies, The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers. While their reaction has been mostly positive, they all point out pacing problems. I’m beginning to think it might just be his aesthetic as a director, but West does fall in love with spending long stretches with characters talking. This allows him to put out the bigger messages his movies are trying to get across before the mayhem starts, but these are horror flicks and the mayhem is what we signed up for. With X that means we hear the characters talking about being young and doing what they want to do before they get too old to do it. This is further hammered away by the old couple’s motivation for the killings, which is that the old lady is angry that she isn’t attractive or special anymore.

I guess that was a spoiler… but hasn’t everyone already seen this? It felt like I was the last one to get to it. Regardless that means while the last forty minutes of the movie is bonkers and fun with all sorts of creative kills, we get an hour of folks shooting a fake porno, talking about the porno, singing a song (I kid you not!), and driving in a sweet seventies van. There is even a bit of relationship drama when Lorraine decides to perform in a scene to the dismay of her boyfriend R.J. I understand the narrative importance of establishing the characters and the greater themes of the plot, but did it really need an hour of runtime? Also, couldn’t you have mixed in some kills earlier on so that the movie was more even? Just a thought.

In the end I see the value of X and why fans are in love with it. While I’m not in the “best horror flick ever” crowd, and they do exist out there, I would recommend checking this one out. Oh and can we please stop with the Mia Goth should have won an Oscar for this movie talk? That just makes us all look silly as genre fans. I’ve picked up a copy of Pearl, which is the prequel also starring Goth, and will be reviewing that soon.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Friday, June 16, 2023

The Unknown Terror (1957)

The movie kicks off with a man exploring a cave. We see a pool of water bubbling and then he sees something horrific as he screams. Roll the credits. After that we learn that his wife and her husband are planning an expedition to find him. He was looking for the cave of death, which doesn’t bode well considering what we just saw. After a musical number… not joking… which is supposed to be a clue to the whereabouts of the cave they head to South America. Along the way we also meet the local native who will guide them, Raoul, as well as another man named Pete. Seems that Pete has a history with Gina (the missing man’s sister) and her husband Dan. One that explains both his crippled leg as well as how he is able to guilt them into being part of the expedition. 

The eventually reach the village and find the cave. Along the way they meet another American, Dr. Ramsey, who is there doing research on the local fungi. Seems he has made some breakthroughs in his research thanks to the local flora and fauna. It is about at this time when the first monster covered in fungus shows up. Yeah, the good doctor is up to no good. The rest of the movie is some spelunking (cave exploration), monster fighting, dynamite explosions, and scuba diving. Then the sun comes up and the credits roll. 

This is another fifties science fiction flick that I haven’t seen before. While it was nice to check it off the list I wasn’t thrilled with what I got. The pacing is very slow with our main characters spending most of the first forty minutes talking about their history with each other. Pete was injured saving Dan you see. Also, Gina was Pete’s girl until after the accident so that is also a bit of a kick in the butt for him. After forty minutes the monsters start to show up and the last half hour is decent, but it takes way too long to get there. Unlike Flight to Mars, we do get a monster in fact a few of them, so I dug that. 

I also feel like there is something missing. Not sure if they rewrote the script along the way or if things were cut for runtime and/or budget. There is a native girl married to Dr. Ramsey that Pete seems sweet on. She reciprocates his feelings, and we get an odd line about how she was also crippled but not anymore. I was sure that something about the experiments healed her and that she would help Pete the same way, but after setting it up they ignore it. The girl also never appears after a point, and it is hinted that Pete and Gina are back together. I found this to be distracting. 

The creatures are decent. We get several infected humans who are covered in fungus and look decent. While the movie never gives us a single line of dialogue to explain what is going on I suppose they look cool so who cares. That said the big monster that infects them is just a bit of foam. Not foam rubber mind you but bubbles and foam like you might see on top of your sink as you do the dishes. This was disappointing and one doesn’t seem to connect to the other. They could have just stuck with the fungus monsters and it would have been fine. 

The Unknown Terror isn’t a horrible movie. It is flawed though, and I’ve seen this kind of story told much better elsewhere. I would say that this one is for completists only and even then it will be a watch once and move on sort of flick. If you want to watch a similar flick, I’d recommend Caltiki, the Immortal Monster. That one is much more fun.

© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Throwback Thursday - Dead City by Joe McKinney

note: This is a book review that I wrote for the old Gutmunchers website. As I was always looking for more zombie stuff to cover the work of McKinney caught my attention. I suppose this is a spoiler but while this was my first dive into his work it certainly wasn’t the last.

The book establishes that there has been a series of hurricanes that have battered the coastline of Texas as in introduces us to our main character. Eddie Hudson is a police officer in San Antonio Texas working the evening shift. Responding to reports of a prowler he runs smack dab into an uprising of zombies. While the book never explains why there are zombies, it does hint that it might have to do with some new illness related to the devastation from the storms. After establishing the dead are walking around eating the living the rest of the book is Eddie trying to survive and find his wife and young son. 

Let me say something right here at the beginning of this review. Dead City follows a familiar and predictable story that anyone who has ever seen a zombie movie will recognize. But I still enjoyed the heck out of this book. I like the main character of Eddie, as well as the other characters that he runs into as the plot unfolds. McKinney does a wonderful job of making him likeable and as a result bringing the reader into the story. I was completely invested in the character and that kept me turning the pages wanting to know what happened next (it was a long night without enough sleep!). Another thing that McKinney does very well is the structure of the story. Most of the book takes place during a single night. I’m not sure how he pulled it off, but when I was reading Dead City it felt like it had a manic pace. As a reader I was getting as exhausted as the main character was. Though again the book kept me hooked and up way past my bedtime, so that might have played a part in this.

I wanted to get back to what I had already mentioned about the plot being familiar. This book is an excellent example of what a writer or even a filmmaker can do when they pay attention to the pacing of a story and the characters. A talented author can jump into an established genre like zombies and still have fun with it while entertaining their reader. This is the only book that I’ve read from Joe McKinney, but if it is any example of what I can expect from him it won’t be the last. 

Lets talk about some gore. While McKinney doesn’t linger much on describing the terrible things done to the living and the dead in this book, I did find it satisfying.  Don’t get me wrong we are treated to plenty of headshots, teeth gnashing, and a bit with a baby that is disturbing. As I’ve already touched on the pacing of the book is part of the fun, so if each zombie and kill were described in great detail the pacing would have suffered. 

I’m a sucker for all things zombie and Dead City is a great zombie novel. If you like your monsters shuffling and deceased, you will enjoy this book. I recommend taking the time to track down a copy.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Terror Eyes (1989)

The eighties had a lot of anthologies like Cat’s Eye, Body Bags, and Creepshow. But for every classic like those we had lesser filmmakers cobbling together short films with some sort of wraparound to make a feature film they could dump on the ravenous home video market. Many times they were painfully bad. Where does Terror Eyes fall? Might as well pop it in and see.

There is a wrap around story that is supposed to connect the shorts containing the meat of the movie. Here we have a woman named Eva who is an ad executive. We find out thru some dialogue that her boss has unexpectedly tasked her with writing a script to a horror movie. Why? Don’t know and it is never explained as we never see her boss. Though there is a hint that the devil or some demon is the motivation. I guess that evil needed another crappy direct to VHS horror movie release. Seriously that is the plot. We see Eva hammering away at a keyboard when a story suddenly interrupts her.

The Book of Life sees a couple getting ready to go out. Hey wait a minute… yeah that is the same actress that plays Eva as the woman dealing with her redneck husband laying on the couch. So it is going to be one of those movies where the same actors are cast in different roles. Okay movie I got it. A salesman shows up and offers them the book of life. Yeah, that isn’t spooky at all. It turns out that the book is predicting Troy’s (the lay about husband) life or maybe just letting them know what is coming. When they skip to the end it says he kills himself. In an attempt to prevent that he dumps acid on it and sure enough melts himself.

See what happened there? Yep, they jammed in one of the most predictable tropes of horror in and thought no one would notice. This story is utterly predictable and had me waiting for it to just be done with. The second the book showed up I knew exactly what was going on and sadly had seen this executed so much better elsewhere. Though the melting Troy special effect was decent and the best gag in the movie it wasn’t enough for me to change my mind. They have to get better than this right? I mean you never lead with the best story first… Damn it.

Roebuck chewing up the scenery
When the Book of Life story ends we see Eva waking up from a nightmare. Basically the same nightmare we just watched. Daniel Roebuck is her husband and was also the door to door salesman that we just saw deliver the book. She has trouble getting back to sleep and we see that someone is watching her from outside. Wait a minute. I thought this was supposed to be her listening to friends tell spooky stories when the went camping so she could steal them for her script. Now there is someone stalking her? And she just had a nightmare that had nothing to do with her friends telling stories. Movie make up your mind! They do eventually go camping so cool or maybe not.

Before her friends start telling stories her husband, Richard, goes to take a pee and a demon or maybe the devil gasses him. I’m not kidding here that is what happens. Then he takes his place and goes to the campfire to “encourage” the stories. Then they start to tell their spooky tales.

 Manny’s story is that he used to be a scumbag. He was at the track checking in with his bookie. He made some bad bets and owed big, but to pay things off with Mike (the bookie) he has agreed to sneak in and rob his wife’s safe. Seems that Mike is a kept man and wants out from under, both literally and figuratively, his older wife. When he arrives at the agreed on time, he finds the woman dead and himself framed. He had setup an alibi at a theater and runs back there. Only when he does it is the morning of the previous day. He now can replay the day out and make things right. Only being a scumbag, he doesn’t try to save the murdered woman but instead tries to manipulate it so he can get all the stolen goods for himself. Though that goes wrong, and he goes to prison. This story ends with him looking at his friends across the campfire and dropping some dialogue like “sorry you found out I’m a murderer.”

Some of the campers then go out into the woods to pee, including Eva. They find Richard’s body in the woods and are properly freaked out. When they return to the campfire and he is still there they are like, “dude you are such a dick”. But even after being told he never left and clearly realizing some shit is up they still sit down to hear the next story. I guess no one thought to write a script.

I don't remember '80s video games like this!
The last segment is Julies’ story. Her sister Alex is a chess expert who announces her crusade against a gaming company that releases games that mistreat women and reinforce little boy fantasies. You know like shitty eighties horror movies did. This movie is so meta. Really you have no idea just wait and see. After her press conference she is kidnapped by the crazy owner of the company and forced to play a game for her life. Solve the puzzles and live, fail to and die. Spoilers, she solves the puzzles and turns the table on the bad guy.

This might be the most interesting story, but it is hampered by a lack of resources. They clearly didn’t have the budget necessary to tell what was on the page and because of that things look a bit flimsy. The traps aren’t as clever as they should be and using terrible Atari 2600 video game graphics to track the progress of Alex and the dangers pursuing her looked terrible in the late eighties and haven’t aged well since. Still there is a bit of something here that did have me perked up in my chair. Props for that.

After this final story, the demon Richard jumps up and is pissed that they weren’t good enough to make into a movie, unintentionally meta. Using finger guns… I shit you not… he murders all of Eva’s friends. Then she wakes up. Apparently she fell asleep next to the campfire and dreamt the whole thing. Then we see her being interviewed after her script has been turned into a movie. The movie we just watched. Which the demon was mad that wasn’t good enough to be a movie.

In the end no one dies, nothing matters, and this was a waste of time. Though I’ll admit I had a bit of nostalgia as this is the sort of nonsense I used to rent. Sadly despite that I can’t recommend Terror Eyes.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Monday, June 12, 2023

The House on Tombstone Hill aka. Dead Dudes in the House (1989)

This movie starts off in the forties where we see a young woman casually drinking from a straw while an elderly lady paces back and forth over the body of a man. After that scene it skips forward to the present and by that I mean the eighties. Some “dudes” show up at a house with their lady friends. Apparently one of them got it on the cheap and they hope to fix it up for fun and profit. Hey, it was the eighties! They make some jokes, smash a tombstone that is in the front yard, and generally make assess of themselves. 

When they finally go inside a couple of things happen. One the old lady from earlier shows up. She was apparently awoken as a vengeful spirit when they trashed her headstone. She threatens them and then sneaks off upstairs. They also discover that all the doors and windows are locked, and they are now trapped inside. Then the old lady starts to kill them off in gruesome ways. Their only hope ends up being Buddy, their friend who they sent on a beer run. Lets just say that doesn’t work out so well for them. We also get a couple of random guys that show up and sneak in because I guess they wanted a bigger body count and had to add some more victims. Stuff happens and folks get murdered. Then the movie ends in the most eighties horror way… which I’m not going to spoil here. Though I don’t recommend you watch this movie. Yeah, I’m confused too. 

It isn’t like I hated House on Tombstone Hill because I didn’t. But I also didn’t like the movie. This is a prime example of a filmmaker seeing what other popular much better movies were doing and then trying to copy it. Here we have a wisecracking killer in a lot of makeup, the old lady is clearly a younger actor made up, that smacks a bit of Freddy Kreuger. Then you have them all trapped in the house being picked off by a ghostly figure they can’t kill who then reanimates their dead friends to chase them around ala. Night of the Demons. Those are the most obvious examples but there are more if you pay attention. This movie comes off as a pale copy of a copy of those movies and only reminds me of better flicks. The fact that the director is best known for making those redubbed versions of public domain movies like Night of the Living Dead makes the lack of originality not a huge shock. 

Dead or alive Bob is a dick!
The acting and dialogue are okay for a low budget flick like this. There is nothing special here and some of the performances are over the top, especially that of Bob who continues to be a dick even after he is dead. But that adds a bit of charm to a flick like this. The kills are also solid for the lower budget with a machete to the hands, a gut stabbing, a slashing across the face, and my personal favorite getting sawed in half by a window. In that way it does feel like an eighties horror flick and that was appreciated. 

Sadly, this isn’t enough to help with the glacial pacing that the movie suffers from. We get bursts of activity with long stretches of boring yelling at each other. The characters keep wandering off to get murdered without the story even trying to explain why. They just do it. There is no reason for a movie with the thinnest of plots clocking in at over ninety minutes. A good editor could have helped cut some of the chaff and maybe made this a better watch. In the end it is a mediocre effort that will only remind you of movies you would much rather be watching. I can’t recommend The House on Tombstone Hill. 

© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Friday, June 9, 2023

Flight to Mars (1951)

It has been a while since I’ve done some old school fifties sci-fi reviews, so it was about time that I returned to it. I had never seen Flight to Mars, which should be concerning since I’ve been watching this stuff for over forty years. Is this a hidden gem that escaped me or is there a reason that it never played on my local stations? Might as well jump in to find out.

The movie opens with some astronomers looking at Mars thru a telescope and talking about the mission that is just about to leave. Apparently it was kept a secret up until the last minute, even from Congress! Guess that is where the money from those five hundred dollar toilet seats went… Okay that was very much an eighties thing to say. If you don’t get it this was the joke about where all the money for various secret slush funds came from. Now back to our plot synopsis.

We finally meet the crew which includes some scientists. One of them is a lady scientist who is in love with the mission leader. Also along for the flight is a reporter by the name of Steve. He is played by the only real familiar face in the cast, Cameron Mitchell. They eventually take off, talk about space stuff that happened (rather than show us), dodge a meteor storm, and crash on Mars because the storm damaged their landing gear. Immediately after crash landing they meet the locals who welcome them with open arms. They help them repair the ship but have ulterior motives. Mars is dying and despite having technology far superior to Earth they never have managed to sort out the whole rocket ship thing. So they want to steal and copy the repaired ship so they can invade Earth. That always seems to happen in these flicks.

Martian space babe!
Some other stuff happens including a Mars space babe falling in love with the mission leader which causes the lady scientist to get mad. Though she eventually gets over it and falls for Steve, who has been hitting on her since the start. They make their escape with a couple of Martians who hope to negotiate a peace and save their people’s lives without starting a war. The end.

There are some things about Flight to Mars that I did like. The old school miniature work with the ship flying is fun. Not great mind you, but it has that fifties charm that I sometimes crave. We see it takeoff, dodge meteors, and crash land. It is clearly a model running along a string in a miniature landscape, but I dig that sort of thing. The sets for both the spaceship as well as the Martian city are also decent. Though the fact that they hop into what are clearly army cots for takeoff was sort of funny. Oh and when they arrive on the planet their spacesuits are nothing more than repurposed bomber jackets and masks from World War II. Don’t get me started on how the Martian space babes are dressed. But again, this sort of silly stuff is right up my alley and what I expect to see when watching a movie like Flight to Mars.

Not kidding about the jackets
You may be expecting a big but here and rightfully so. As much as I got a kick out of a lot of the movie it is also painfully slow. We get extended debates about the mission and whether it is worth the cost and effort, which is why it was kept secret. The characters are also introduced by Steve interviewing them, which is not only tedious, but we don’t anything that establishes the characters, so it is also quite pointless. While flying to Mars they spend time talking about what they saw, some romance drama between Steve and the lady scientist, arguments about it being a one way mission, and other exciting tidbits. After they land there is a bit of intrigue with the locals, but mostly in the fact that the Martian space babe falls in love with the mission leader.

You heard that right. No monsters, very little action, but lots of romance and talk about people’s place in the universe. That isn’t at all what I signed up for when I sat down to check this one out. If I want some romance with my sci-fi rocket ships, I’d much rather be watching It! Terror from Beyond Space or Forbidden Planet. At least those movies had monsters in them! Flight to Mars is just a boring old mess that feels much too long for it’s seventy two minute long runtime. Heck they don’t even resolve the main story line before rolling the credits. I can’t recommend this one at all.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Thursday, June 8, 2023

Throwback Thursday - Night of the Living Dead by John Russo

note: This was originally published ten years ago for another website. To make it fit here at Crappy Movie Reviews I had to make some format changes. The contents of the review remain unchanged.

Okay so Night of the Living Dead is one of my favorite movies ever. It launched the zombie genre that is obviously important to me. I mean I ran a site called Gutmunchers! A few years after the movie was made someone came to Russo, who was involved in the movie, and asked him to write a novelization. That book is what I read for this review. Now that we have some of the history out of the way lets talk about the book itself.

This is a pretty faithful adaptation of the movie. The setup is the same with Ben and Barbara arriving at the farmhouse, both looking for shelter from the undead wandering around outside. They board up the house, deal with zombies, and are surprised by the other survivors in the basement. We still get the conflict between Ben and Harry Cooper (one of the basement survivors) and things end the same way that they do in the movie. For the most part if you have seen and enjoyed the movie (how could you not?) then you will like the book.

That last sentence was a huge relief for me to write. As a fan I’ve had a difficult time dealing with Russo. On one hand I think that he is a very nice guy who I’ve met several times. He is very kind and generous to the fans. He also had a lot to do with the formation and creation of Night of the Living Dead, which is a huge plus for me. But I’ve also had issues with Russo. All his post Romero movies have been either terrible or barely passable. I also have disliked his attempts to go back and live off of Night of the Living Dead. For example, the comics or new footage he shot for the classic movie. I won’t even go into his attempts to continue the zombie story without Romero and the resulting legal wrangling.

This novelization is maybe the best thing that I’ve read from Russo. He follows the movie plot closely and when he does deviate it is to add things that they couldn’t have shot. There is a bit more gore and the deaths of the characters are way more gruesome. From Johnny being eaten to the barbeque at the pickup things are way more graphic. Russo is also able to share the thoughts of the characters and explain their actions or lack of them to the reader. While this doesn’t change anything it does make you more sympathetic to a Harry Cooper. Sure he is a coward, but he does care about his daughter. 

For me this is exactly what I wanted when I sat down to read this book. Russo is spot on and does a wonderful job with the story. I’d say that this is a must read for any fan of the movie.  t is available in a book called Undead, which also includes Russo’s Return of the Living Dead novel. It is his original idea for the story and is dramatically different from the movie. Instead of the familiar characters we get a sequel/follow up to the events of Night of the Living dead and is worth checking out. I recommend all fans of the zombie genre as well as Romero/Russo fans track themselves down a copy of Undead.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer