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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, November 30, 2023

Throwback Thursday – The Gathering Dead by Stephen Knight

note: This is another book review that I wrote a decade ago. I did read more of Knight’s books after this one and remember enjoying the heck out of them. That said I don’t think I reviewed any for either my website or any other projects I worked on. At least there aren’t any in my archives.

The dead have risen and are quickly overrunning New York City. An elite team of soldiers is sent to bring a man named Safire and his daughter out of the city and to safety. Safire has some research that might help control the plague that is threatening to destroy the world. The team manages to get him on a chopper, but the dead still take them down (in a most gruesome and clever way…). The survivors end up trapped in a nearby building and looking for a way out. The bodies continue to pile up as the zombies take their toll on those still alive. Do they get the man and his precious knowledge out in time? Well I’m not going to spoil that.

Okay so this is one that I took a chance on. It had great reviews on Amazon and the Kindle version was really inexpensive. I do love some zombie fiction and am always on the lookout for a new series to dive into. Most of the time I'm disappointed, but it is a book like The Gathering Dead that makes the other misfires worth it.

The pacing is insane. It opens up with the rescue team making their way across the city to Central Park where the helicopters are waiting to get them out. Right from the start you can see that the characters are going to be heartless when the leave a woman and her child to the zombies. They have a single-minded purpose and that is to deliver their package to safety. This is a slightly different spin from most of the zombie fiction that I’ve read with survivors just trying to stay alive and sometimes hold onto their humanity. Not to say that there isn’t some hesitation and guilt in their decision. The characters are well developed and given unique personalities. The military characters could have easily been caricatures but instead Knight gives them some definable personalities within the limits placed on them being soldiers. This also leads to a backstory which itself provides some tension as the group moves it way across the city. 

The gore and zombies are presented in a way that I think fans will like. They shamble around in large groups and are dangerous with their sheer numbers. That is a very “Romero” approach which I dug. We get some suitably “sticky” deaths, but the author doesn't linger on them. Though I would have liked him too it does serve to keep the action moving along. Since that is one of the biggest strengths to the book, I can’t argue with that and it keeps the reader engaged. Staying within the framework of the traditional zombie as a monster Knight does toss in a few twists of his own. One of which is a nightmarish idea that had never occurred to me. Again I don’t want to spoil anything but lets just say skyscrapers won’t ever look the same to me again!

To sum things up, great pacing, fun characters, satisfying zombies, and some good twists on the genre make for a good read. With the current zombie craze I’d love to see this book made into a nice and bloody movie. Then again they would probably put a pretty boy like Brad Pitt in it and ruin a perfectly good story.  That said I highly recommend The Gathering Dead.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

C.B. Hustlers (1976)

You guys ready for another batch of Automotive mayhem? These are the movies set in and around the car culture and/or highway life. It is a uniquely American thing and was very important for the drive-in movie market from the fifties thru the sixties. This one, for better or worse, is a prime example.

Let me start with a plot synopsis, though for a movie like this it doesn’t much matter. There is a guy who goes by the C.B. Handle of Dancer. He drives around in a sweet custom van (Hot Box 1) talking to truckers on the radio. Why? Well because he has another van (Hot Box 2) with working girls in it, the titular C.B. Hustlers, and acts as their pimp. We find this out pretty fast as he directs them to a truck stop and they get right to work.

There is also a local sheriff who wants to clean up his county and get rid of all the undesirables. This includes a bunch of van enthusiasts who are having a festival/rally in an open field. I suppose there is some conflict because the girls ignore their normal eighteen wheeler customers for the four wheeler customers, but nothing much comes out of it. The local paper, basically a couple guys who serve as comedic relief, are also trying to do an expose like them “Watergate fellas”. Stuff happens and then the movie is over.

C.B. Hustlers is a prime example of someone making product for the drive-in circuit rather than a movie. There isn’t much story here, so it is easy to imagine this as the second or third feature on the bill when the audience was well into the other pursuits. There is a reason that they were called passion pits you know. There is some eye candy for those occasionally looking up at the screen in both the cool vans and the ladies getting naked. There are a lot of examples, and they are spaced evenly throughout the duration. And if you insist on watching the movie, as I did for this review, there are also some attempts at humor. Though they don’t really work well.

My biggest issue with the movie is a complete lack of plot. They have at best an outline of what they want, but many of the scenes are clearly improvised. We also get wide shots from way back with characters walking up and “talking” to each other. Far enough away that you can’t see their mouths move which allows the filmmakers to dub whatever dialogue or exposition they need in to push the story along. After about half an hour C.B. Hustlers runs out of steam and becomes tedious. This is the case even though I watched the VHS cut which removes ten minutes of the movie! From what I can tell it isn’t anything good they were just trying to speed it up.

Fans might be interested in the fact that the movie was directed by Stu Segall who was responsible for the much better Drive-in Massacre. It also stars… well one of the girls is played by Uschi Digard. If you don’t recognize that name, she was an actress who brought her ample “assets” to many a Russ Meyer flick.

Unless you are a diehard drive-in aficionado like myself, I can’t imagine you would have any desire to spend your time watching C.B. Hustlers. It had a decent formula and folks behind and in front of the camera who knew what they were doing. Sadly, the utter lack of plot dooms this to the pile of painfully mediocre schlock.

© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Monday, November 27, 2023

Outlaw Johnny Black (2023)

I’m not sure when I first saw this teased, but I believe it was around the release of director/star Michael Jai White’s Black Dynamite. I loved that movie and was super excited to see his Blaxploitation Western. I’m a huge fan of Fred Williamson, Jim Brown, and Woody Strode and they made some great flicks in the sixties and seventies. Truth be told I sort of forgot about this one until I saw one of my friends talking about it online. That same day I had a copy in my possession and dropped everything to watch it.

The movie opens with Johnny Black riding into a town. He is there to find and kill a man named Brett Clayton. While Johnny is an outlaw Clayton is a murderer who is there to rob the bank. We see in the first of a series of flashbacks that when Johnny was a boy his father, a gun toting preacher, was shot by Clayton. Since then he has been on a mission to get revenge. But Johnny is also a decent guy and when he sees the locals beating up on some Indians he stops them but accidentally gives the sheriff a heart attack. That leads to him being convicted, saved from the gallows, and spending the rest of the movie on the run from the law.

Along the way Johnny meets up with a preacher named Reverend Percy, steals his identity (to be fair the thought he died in another Indian attack) and falls in love with a lovely lady while waiting to steal money from a church. I mean he is an outlaw after all… Though something happens to him when he is forced to preach to keep his cover. His father’s words come pouring out of his mouth and suddenly make sense. Now instead of wanting to make off with the loot he now wants to save his lady friend, Jessie Lee, and protect the community from the evil rancher Tom Sheally. Don’t worry though as guess who shows up to burn the town to the ground on behalf of the bad guy? Yep, old Brett Clayton is going to get what is coming to him.

Outlaw Johnny Black isn’t what I had expected it to be. I was anticipating an over the top violent homage to the Spaghetti westerns common in the old exploitation days of the Grindhouse and Drive-ins. We do get some of that but most of the movie is about reminding us what is so great about the movies that inspired this one.

There are some clever homages to the exploitation classics westerns or not. Early on we get a Billy Jack reference about a foot meeting someone’s head and there not being anything they can do about it. Jai White also channels his inner Eastwood when he lets the undertaker know how many coffins to get ready when he rides into town. There is a last minute rescue from the gallows that will seem familiar to fans. Toss in a big saloon fight with all the highlights you would expect like a guy sliding down the bar, someone going over the railing, and that sort of thing.

The humor is also spot on. Whether in the spirit of the non PC culture with white guys playing many of the Indians as well as the shall we say… manly Indian lady that Percy is forced to marry many of the jokes do feel like those we would get in the seventies. There is also a reference to the classic Mel Brooks flick Blazing Saddles. Yeah, a horse gets punched and knocked out! Though instead of Mongo it is the previously mentioned Indian lady. We even get a funny gag when Johnny Black is dying of thirst in the desert and his horse kicks the bucket. It literally kicks the bucket! Maybe it is just me, but I found that very funny. We also get some great dialogue with the following line being one of my favorites. “I’m Crackshot Bob…” “Now you just shot.” Not sure if that works out of context well but trust me it is hilarious.

White is channeling his inner Hammer
The cast that Michael Jai White has assembled is great. Byron Minns, who was awesome in Black Dynamite is equally as good here as the Reverend Percy. He brings some over the top comedic delivery to his character that works well with the deadpan deliver that White brings to the lead role of Johnny Black. He is an excellent sidekick and the pair of them have chemistry that makes the story work. Barry Bostwick is good as the bad guy Tom Sheally though he isn’t asked to do much. Randy Couture, Tommy Davidson, Kevin Chapman, and Chris Browning all shine in supporting roles. Michael Madsen shows up in a blink and you’ll miss it bit part too. Those names might not be familiar to you, but I guarantee the faces will ring a bell.

Director/Actor/Writer Michael Jai White is clearly a fan of the movies that he is parodying with Outlaw Johnny Black. To that end I wasn’t surprised with the cameos. While we never see him as he only does a voiceover, I instantly recognized Louis Gossett Jr.’s voice. He does a voiceover as the preacher who was gunned down by the bad guys in a letter. There is also a very cool moment at the end of the movie where the main cast members toast a couple of fellas sitting on a balcony. Those men? Fred “the Hammer” Williamson and the late great Jim Brown. I loved the fact that respect was paid to the men who worked on and inspired a movie like this. It is that sort of attention to detail that made me dig Black Dynamite and Outlaw Johnny Black.

If you haven’t figured it out yet I’m going to recommend this movie. I hope that it does well because I’d love to see what Michael Jai White can do next. I certainly hope it doesn’t take another fourteen years for someone to give him the resources to make a follow-up.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Friday, November 24, 2023

Black Samson (1974)

This is an entry into the Blaxploitation genre that no one seems to ever talk about. That is a damn shame because it stars Carol Speed of Abby and The Mack fame as well as one of the got to bad guys from seventies cinema William Smith. I’m getting ahead of myself here so before I go much further let’s talk Black Samson. 

Things kick off with a couple of white guys wandering into Samson’s bar. They are clearly up to no good as one of them keeps propositioning one of the dancing girls like she is a hooker. That annoys the proprietor, and he warns Johnny Nappa, William Smith’s character, that his buddy needs to cool it. He doesn’t so a proper beat down occurs, and the man is tossed out of the bar. That isn’t a good thing because they were mobsters and were scoping things out. It seems that they want to move into the neighborhood with their smack, but Samson keeps his street clean. Everyone seems to respect that except for hotshot Johnny Nappa. 

The rest of the movie plays out with escalating violence as Nappa keeps trying to buy off and then kill off Samson who won’t let his people or neighborhood down. Ladies get smacked around, bars get blow up, cars get crashed, and much justice is meted out with Samson’s weapon of choice an impressive staff. Finally, the mobsters get tricked into the neighborhood so that everyone can let them know just how they feel about their attempts to flood their home with drugs. Spoilers it involves kitchen appliances getting tossed off buildings. 

This is a fun movie with a great story that while not groundbreaking is executed in a way that makes it entertaining. Things kick off with a bang as Samson tosses the gangsters out of his bar. We get a little bit of character building with the homeless guy acting as a night watchman for the bar before more butt kicking occurs. This is one of those flicks that manage to tell you a decent story with characters that you will like all while keeping things moving along briskly. It is never boring, even on a fourth or fifth watch. 

This is a very seventies experience filled with all sorts of odd fashions and groovy dialogue. Really its beautiful baby just beautiful. We get some quality seventies nudity with a lot of the ladies showing some skin. Not trying to be creepy but this is a drive-in movie, so such things are expected. Black Samson delivers the goods in this category. We also have a decent car chase, fight scenes that are pretty good, and a fun soundtrack. Everything that I expect when I sit down to watch a Blaxploitation movie is on display and I dig it. 

I should mention one thing. While I’m not in support of judging a movie that is nearly fifty years old by today’s standards, I will say that William Smith’s character is a racists asshole. Because of that he uses a particular slur a lot in the movie. Given that he is the bad guy and that we are supposed to hate him and root for Samson I’m okay with it. But I also equally understand if that might bother a viewer, so I wanted to mention it. Since I’m going to recommend this one and I don’t want anyone to sit down and be traumatized by the language. 

Like I just said I’m going to recommend Black Samson. This movie is a lot of fun and checks a lot of boxes. I watch it every few years and always enjoy it. If you haven’t seen it I encourage you to track down a copy. You won’t be disappointed. 

© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde (1976)

Blaxploitation movies dipped a lot into the horror genre putting their own unique takes on them. This is the first one that I’ve covered for the site, but it won’t be the last. Here we have a doctor named Henry Pryde. He is a successful doctor and researcher who still takes time to volunteer at a free clinic. Though one of his regular patients, Linda, accuses him of just feeling guilty about being so rich. We also see that Pryde is working on a formula to regenerate liver tissue. His mother drank herself to death and he hasn’t gotten over that. 

You can probably guess what happens next. Pryde’s formula has side effects. The worst one is that it turns you white and homicidal! As the story plays out we are told that Pryde’s mother was a cleaning lady at a brothel and when she collapsed he went looking for help but none of the ladies would open their door to him. So, when he gets all crazed killer, he targets working girls and their pimps for his wrath. Did I mention that Linda is a working girl? She ends up on his list but the cops show up in the nick of time to save the day. 

This movie has an interesting take on the story that I rather liked. The motivation for Pryde going after prostitutes didn’t make much sense as he went from wanting to experiment with is drug to lets just kill people. But then the movie, in an excellent bit of writing, lets you in on why when he loses control, he targets them. Unfortunately, the writing also is very flawed. First up there isn’t a whole lot of story to fill up the runtime. So, there is a lot of talky bits as Pryde does science stuff with his assistant. There is also a lot of Linda and her friend’s kids that doesn’t do anything to serve the actual plot. 

It also bugged me that they do their best to setup Pryde as a smart guy. But then after seeing the serum turn a rat into a killer that wipes out everything in its cage as well as turning a very sick woman nuts and having her attack a nurse, he still injects himself. I’m pretty sure that he would have realized there were issues. Toss in the fact that at sometimes he is bulletproof and other times when it serves the plot he suddenly isn’t! They had the makings of a cool movie here but just failed to deliver on it. 

Bernie Casey seems like a good choice to cast as the lead. He normally is good in whatever role he was cast in. I’m not sure if it was just a poor choice on how to portray the character or if he was just phoning it in but he isn’t very good. There isn’t much effort put into bringing Pryde to the screen and the performance feels flat. The one exception to this is when he is relating to Linda what happened to his mother. He nails that scene which makes the rest of his performance rather disappointing. The rest of the cast is decent, but nothing terribly memorable. 

The makeup on Casey when he turns into Hyde is simple but very effective. We get some pale skin, contacts to make the eyes weird looking, and a dusting of white in his hair. Again, it is very simple, but also creepy. He is also a large man so when he is all “monstered” out it is intimidating and effective. It wasn’t until I was watching the credits that I realized this makeup was the handywork of the late great Stan Winston! 

Dr. Black Mr. Hyde isn’t a terrible movie, but it is disappointing. There was potential here but they somehow missed the boat. Still if you are a fan of Blaxploitation movies, especially horror ones, this is probably worth a watch. Though unlike Blacula or Abby, I can’t see myself in a hurry to watch it again. With that lukewarm recommendation I’m out. 

© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Soul Brothers of Kung Fu (1977)

This is one of those movies that the title alone stopped me in my tracks. I mean Soul Brothers of Kung Fu. I must watch this! When I realized that it also starred Bruce Li (note the spelling) that only made it even more of a must watch. In case you were uninformed after the death of Bruce Lee there were a lot of knock offs that paid “homage” to the man. Bruce Li was one of the if not the best of them. Toss in some Blaxploitation vibes and I’m sold.

The movie opens with a couple of men and a woman on a raft at sea. They are stranded and in dire need of help. The next scene is them on a boat rescued. Then later they are living in Hong Kong and Wong, the Bruce Li character, keeps getting in fights and losing his job. But all the fights are righteous because he is just trying to do right. This includes saving a young black man named Tom from a beating. He becomes the fourth friend, and they train him in Kung Fu. I’m thinking that is how they got the title.

Wong ends up annoying a crime boss or maybe just a Kung Fu guy, I’m not sure. Regardless that man sends his three best after Wong. During the fight they kill his wife and cripple him. Tom sticks with him and helps him rehab while the other man from the boat, Chin, becomes a bad guy. This leads to some Kung Fu revenge as Wong puts everything right. Heh… yeah, I did that on purpose. In the end there is only one man standing and he has lost everything. That is kind of a bummer ending that I didn’t see coming.

Other than the inclusion of the Tom character and some racist bad guys this movie isn’t as much of a Blaxploitation movie as it is a Kung Fu flick made to appeal to the urban grindhouses. But then to be fair there isn’t much to this story to fit it into any specific category. The plot is paper thin and there are no explanations as to character motivations. Not only that but there are characters that drop in and out as needed including one that just sort of disappears never to be seen again. At best the story and those non-Kung Fu fighting parts are there just to bridge the many scenes of ass kicking. I think that I’m okay with that.

The fights are many and take up most of the runtime. They are inventive with some happening in the ring, others in a park, and yet more in a lumber mill. These are just a few of the plentiful sequences of mayhem that we are treated to. The actors are all very good martial artists and execute the solid choreography perfectly. When I watch a movie like Soul Brothers of Kung Fu I want to see a lot of punches and kicks being thrown and boy howdy do we get that with this one. Movie you had one job and you delivered the goods.

This isn’t a great movie and I’ve already stated that the plot and characters leave a lot to be desired. But I still liked it. Based on feedback from earlier reviews of Kung Fu movies I also feel the need to say the following. If you aren’t a fan of such things, then you probably won’t like this movie. Seriously I’ve had these conversations in the past. On the other hand, if you dig some Martial Arts and want to see gravity defying moves then Soul Brothers of Kung Fu is for you.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Slaughter (1972)

I haven’t covered many Blaxploitation movies here at the site. If you are unaware of what I’m talking about with this genre the following link will explain it better than I can. Wikipedia is our friend! I watch a lot of these flicks, so I thought it was about time to correct that. So welcome to my first ever marathon of Blaxploitation movies.

Former football star Jim Brown stars as the titular character Slaughter. He is a Green Beret who comes home after his parents were killed in a car bomb. He understands that his father had mob connections, but his mother was innocent. That means that someone is about to pay for what they did to her. Starting with his Dad’s girlfriend he works his way back to the hitman, but just as he is about to put him down things go sideways. Slaughter gets caught up with the Treasury Department, he screwed up their investigation, and ends up in South America. Not only can he fix what he screwed up, but that is also where his parent’s killer is as well. Two birds one stone sort of thing.

I figured why not start off with one of the better but sadly lesser known Blaxploitation movies. Slaughter is a kick in the butt with the action starting from the opening scene and coming non-stop most of the way until another bit of car related violence at the end. In between we get car chases including one with a plane. There are many fistfights, a knife fight, gunfights, and Jim Brown even gets physical with a car. Seriously the bad guys are fighting him with cars while he jumps around them kicking ass! We do get some character development and a subplot of Slaughter falling for the head bad guys lady, but it is paced well so that it never slows the movie down. In fact, we get just enough to root for Slaughter and against Dominic (the assassin and main villain).

The editing of the action sequences are great and it flows perfectly on screen. Jim Brown wasn’t that far removed from his football career and was still a world class athlete. It shows as he is very smooth and natural in all the physical stuff he is asked to do. What gets lost and something a lot of people don’t realize is that he was a good actor as well. Sure, he might not be an Oscar level talent, though an argument can be made he was never given those types of roles. What isn’t debatable is that he can carry a movie.

The rest of the cast is equally as good. You have Stella Stevens as Ann, the gangster’s girlfriend who falls for Slaughter. Rip Torn is Dominic, the gangster who likes to drop “N” bombs and generally make an ass of himself. Torn is really good in this movie and you can’t wait for Slaughter to kill him. Don Gordon who is normally relegated to small supporting roles has a decent part as Harry, the partner Slaughter doesn’t want. Finally, there is a small glorified cameo from Cameron Mitchell. There is a lot of talent around Brown and it only helps to make the movie that much better.

What else haven’t I mentioned? There is a great theme song and a lot of fun groovy music. The camera work is great and includes a weird “fish eye” lens that gives some of the action sequences a unique look. Honestly, I don’t have a bad thing to say about this movie. It is exactly what I want when I sit down too watch an early seventies action movie and because of that I highly recommend Slaughter. Do yourself a favor and track down a copy of the movie.


Ó Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

The Haunted by Bentley Little

The Perry family have decided that their neighborhood has been getting just a bit too rough with the skater kids and the bullying of the youngest their son James. So they start to look around and find a beautiful older house in a quiet neighborhood for a good deal. You know if the house is too cheap that normally means something bad. But I digress.

Instead of a bad roof or a furnace that needs replacing what the Perry family get is a haunting of sorts. See it isn’t just one ghost but a whole bunch of them as their new home is the center of an evil that has plagued that part of Arizona for as long as people have lived there. What starts off as some creepy stuff escalates with the teenage daughter, Megan, being spied on and having awful text messages on her phone. It also effects the mom and dad, Claire and Julian, in a more adult way. The spirits that haunt the house keep upping their game until the family flees, but that doesn’t stop things. By then the evil has already gotten it’s claws into them. What happens? I’m going to recommend reading the book to find out.

True story. I picked this book up while on vacation solely based on the blurb from Stephen King on the cover. Sure I know that many times those things are done as favors to publishers and editors, but I figured “I’m at the beach… might as well give it a shot.” Off in the cart it went with my Diet Cheerwine (a true delicacy of the south). Now I didn’t get to start the book while on vacation but when I got home I got right to it.

The story is solid and paced well. The setting of the house and the characters of the Perry family are established quickly allowing Little to start making us squirm. There is a genuine sense of dread as he shows early on that whatever is in the house is going to mess with folks. From the adults who get a heightened sex drive and their inhibitions lowered making for some awkward and honestly creepy moments to the kids who are tortured in different ways. This is especially so in how he describes how the young teen daughter Megan is terrorized. From text messages from an unseen voyeur telling her to take her pants off to seeing a sleeping friend practically molested at a sleepover while everyone else is asleep it isn’t afraid to “go there”.

Just to be clear I never felt that Little crosses the line of good taste, though the more sensitive reader might want to skip this one. Instead he goes just far enough to make it certain that the kids as well as their parents are in real danger. Of what? Sure they might be killed or worse. Even after we get the ending I felt like all involved are going to be traumatized for the rest of their lives. That adds some additional emotion weight to the story. I found myself caught up in the characters and the fates they were dealt.

If I had one criticism of The Haunted, it is the ending. We get such a fantastic build up only for the conclusion to feel rushed. Not only that but I hadn’t ever read a haunted house/ghost story with a plot quite like this one. But the ending is overly familiar and a bit of a letdown. But I’m not going to let the last thirty pages (really that is how quickly the story wraps up!) ruin the book for me. If you dig horror novels, I think that this book is for you.

Before this is wrapped up I wanted to mention that it was a pleasant surprise when doing research for this review that the author was also responsible for the short story that was adapted into my favorite Masters of Horror episode The Washingtonians. Though given the style of this book and how much it uses history to tell the story that completely fits. Between that and how much fun I had with The Haunted I’m going to have to track down more of his books.


Ó Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Monday, November 13, 2023

Kill Them All and Come Back Alone (1968)

Time for even more fun as I check out this Chuck Conners flick. Conners plays Clyde McKay who is leading a gang of misfits. When we first see them, they are attacking a Confederate army camp (this movie is set during the Civil War). But that turns out to be a test of their abilities as it is the Confederates who sent McKay off looking for the gang members with the idea of hiring them. The real target is a guarded stash of Union gold. Before they set off McKay is given one final instruction. To kill the rest of the gang after the gold is stolen so that there is no way to trace the crime back to the Confederate army. Why are they worried about this? Well, there is a very good reason, but one I won’t spoil here.

Kill Them All and Come Back Alone is a mixed bag for me. On one hand I really did like the story. It is part western and part heist movie. There are a lot of moving parts that reminded me of Ocean’s Eleven, the Sinatra flick not the Clooney remake. The plan involving a bar fight and sneaking into a secure fort by hiding in the water wagon is clever. They also think out that part of the movie well. Not all these westerns take the time to make sure that the plot is as solid as it is here. So, I appreciated that.

The characters are also a lot of fun, though in a very basic way. Conners’ character is the only one that really stands out as the rest are reduced to strong guy, knife guy, explosives guy, weird gun guy, and of course stab you in the back guy. They characters are less personality and more gimmick, but I’m okay with this. The movie is more focused on the action sequences then it cares about character development. Considering the movie was directed by Enzo Castellari that isn’t a surprise.

Where the movie loses me a bit is with the pacing and ending. There are portions of the movie that feel forced as if the filmmakers felt the need to pad things out. The bit with them “auditioning” before the actual heist takes time to establish a couple of characters, only one of which appears again after the first ten minutes. Then you get a bit of the traveling and getting to know them before they get to work. Again, even with this the characters are more or less reduced to their archetypes, so this all feels like a waste. I was also looking forward to what appeared to be another “no one wins” endings like we get in El Condor, but they do a switcheroo and give a happier ending. If you are happy about murdering bad guys making off with lots of gold that is.

There is a lot to dig here, but it is tempered with some slow spots. Kill Them All and Come Back Alone isn’t the first movie from the Spaghetti western subgenre that I would point folks to, but for the well versed looking for something different it is worth a look. It’s a flawed movie but not terrible.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Friday, November 10, 2023

A Pistol for Ringo (1965)

Ringo has just been released from jail after being acquitted of murdering a member of the Benson family. When the sheriff hears this, and that the Benson’s have ridden out looking for him he takes off to try and prevent something bad happening. It seems that Ringo is handy with a gun and not too picky about shooting folks who threaten him. The sheriff is late and by the time he arrives Ringo has already killed the four men in self-defense. Still, he arrests him and tosses him in jail.

Ringo is still there when bandits roll into town and rob the bank while gunning lots of folks down. A posse sets off after them and the bandits end up surrounded at a fancy ranch between town and the Mexican border. One of the hostages is the sheriff’s fiancé, Miss Ruby. They surround the place, and the army is called for, but the sheriff knows that all the hostages will likely die so he hatches a plan. Send Ringo in to win the bandit’s trust and free the prisoners before the cavalry arrives. In exchange he will get thirty percent of the stolen money. The rest of the movie is Ringo playing the bandit leader, Sancho, manipulating him into what they hope is a fatal ambush.

This movie is a blast. It starts off with a gunfight before we even know what the heck is going on. Once Ringo and the bandit gang are established there is another huge gunfight with them robbing the bank and shooting up the town/locals. Then it switches gears a bit and we are treated to some excellent twists and turns and there are double, triple, and quadruple crosses! Sancho isn’t as clueless as we are led to believe… but then maybe Ringo knew that. This is that kind of movie and it is a lot of fun to watch. I’ll not go into more detail so I don’t spoil anything.

Giuliano Gemma is great as Ringo. He pulls of the sort of nice guy who will kill you if you cross him but would rather crack a joke unless he decides you are a danger to him then you die. It is a complicated character, sort of the murderous rogue. This sort of antihero is why I love Spaghetti westerns so much. We also get good performance from Fernando Sancho as the bandit leader Sancho. I remember him fondly from Minnesota Clay, another great Spaghetti western, and he is just as good here. There are also good performances from Nieves Navarro (Death Walks on High Heels, The Big Gundown, and several Emanuelle flicks) and Lorella De Luca (The Bloodstained Butterfly). Anytime I see some lovely ladies from Gialli I’ve watched it makes me happy.

The action sequences are executed nicely with lots of gun play, some stabbings, and fists are thrown around. They are spread evenly throughout the duration and are easy to follow who is who. We also get some decent explosions, and the sets are rather extensive. This looks like an expensive movie with a good budget. Toss in an excellent soundtrack from the legendary Ennio Morricone and you have a badass movie. I can’t believe that I hadn’t watched this until now, but it won’t be a one off. There isn’t a single bad thing I can say about the movie. I recommend you guys checking out A Pistol for Ringo.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Challenge of the McKennas (1970)

Time for another western. The movie opens with the hanging of a man by some bad guys while his lady begs them to stop and cries beneath his swinging body when she is unsuccessful. Later another man stops by and helps the woman to her buggy, buries the body, and takes her to the nearest ranch for help. Turns out that ranch is her home but instead of being happy to see her the father, Don Diego, is annoyed that he buried the man on his land. Seems that Diego was responsible for his hanging because he didn’t approve of his daughter’s choice in boyfriend. The mysterious stranger Jones, played by John Ireland, quickly moves on and heads to town, but not until he annoys Diego.

In town Jones meets up with the local madam, Maggie, and runs afoul of Diego’s son Chris. Thru a series of escalating events including another rancher trying to win Diego’s approval in marrying his daughter by killing Jones, things get much worse. As the violence escalates, we also get more background to Jones, including why he can be so violent but still refuses to wear a gun. When he is finally forced to kill a man, all bets are off and things end quickly and rather bloody. 

I really liked this movie. First up John Ireland is fantastic as Jones, carrying most of the movie with his portrayal. He is rather mysterious in the fact that he keeps quoting scriptures, while casually tossing a bible away. He is also quick to anger and not afraid to use his fists or even threaten to use a pistol, though he never carries one. At least not until the end. Though the ending has him tossing it away in disgust as he realizes the folks around him forced his hand. Why is he like this? You know I’m not going to spoil that, especially since the story is slowly reveals that and gives the ending a real punch. I will say that it is very satisfying and is well thought out. I also liked that it isn’t a clone of the already iconic and much copied formula that most Spaghetti westerns were following by the early seventies.

I’ve already mentioned how much I liked Ireland’s performance. We also get another familiar face as Robert Woods, who I just covered in 4 Dollars of Revenge, plays a villain role here as Chris, the spoiled son of Don Diego. At first is seemed like he was going to be the foil to Ireland’s heroic Jones, but he is really manipulated by his father. He is so eager for his acceptance that it causes the violence and eventual deaths to occur. That was a cool twist. Woods is also a perfect blend of weasel and irrationally violent. He is good in the role.

The action sequences are exciting and range from a cool bit with some Molotov cocktails, multiple fistfights, and a climactic gunfight that while short is stylistically shot and immensely satisfying. There are a few spots where the stuntman standing in for Ireland is clearly obvious (it isn’t even close!) but that didn’t bother me much. Speaking of style this is also a beautifully shot movie with one of the highlights being the sun poking in and out from behind the hanged man’s body swinging on the rope.

There is a lot to recommend Challenge of the McKennas and I’m going to recommend that you track yourself down a copy. I think it is easy to find, but I hadn’t heard of it before finding it in my to watch pile. Though if it isn’t an Eastwood or a Van Cleef flick that isn’t too surprising. One of the reasons I’m doing this mini marathon is to correct that and find some new to me Spaghetti westerns. This one is worth finding.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix

I’ve been a fan of Hendrix’s books since I first stumbled over his novel Horrorstor about his fictional version of an IKEA being a portal or at least sitting on top of a portal to some supernatural realm. Good spooky fun. Since then I’ve checked out some of this other books but thought I’d finally get around to reviewing one of them for the site. That book is obviously The Final Girl Support Group.

Hendrix has a habit of mining familiar concepts and putting a creative and entertaining twist on them. Here he explores what happens to our favorite “final girls” from various slasher movies after their traumatic experiences are behind them. See in this world those movies are based on real events and therefore real final girls. He has characters that reference the familiar franchises such as Friday the 13th, Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Though he has to walk a tightrope to avoid getting into copyright troubles fans are going to know who is who. Well sort of, but I’ll talk more about that later.

We meet the final girls as they are in a support group meeting with their therapist. Here one of the girls announces she is done holding onto the past and wants to move on. This leads our main character, Lynette Tarkington, to freak out as in her mind this is the beginning of the end for them. Things get even worse when they find out that one of them, Adrienne, who they thought was late, was murdered after another slaughter happened at the camp where she became the final girl. That character is based on the Friday the 13th franchise if you can’t tell. When someone takes a few shots at Lynette and hits one of the other girls all hell breaks loose.

The rest of the story is her trying to figure out who is trying to kill the Final Girls. She has figured out that someone has manipulated them and that someone knows their secrets. Is it one of the other girls that has gone crazy? Have their killers gotten together with superfans to do them in? Or is there some unknown person behind it all? I’m not going to spoil it there. I mean that is the whole reason to read the book.

This is a solid book. Things move along briskly, and the book is a quick read. As a slasher movie fan I was able to follow some of the shortcuts in the histories of the various final girls. Again, they aren’t the same as the franchises he is clearly referencing but they are close enough that Hendrix doesn’t need to spend too much time on their background. I suppose that some readers might find the survival of certain characters hard to swallow given how mangled and messed up they get, but these are final girls, so they are used to taking a lot of abuse.

It was also neat to see how the girls themselves don’t necessarily consider Lynette a final girl. She is based on the Linnea Quigley character that gets stuck on the deer antlers in Silent Night Deadly Night and unlike the others never did her final battle with the killer. At least until now when she has to save them all or die trying. That was a neat place to take the story and shows the sort of creativity that I’ve gotten used to from this author.

One final positive I wanted to mention the big twist in the revelation as to who the killer is. Without spoilers I will say that I thought it was clever that the motivations were so clearly in the now. The story isn’t so much updated but contrasts the horrors of the past compared to what the horrors of today are. Well and one is based on fiction, the final girls, while the other is more in the news and happens. I can’t go further without screwing things up. Read the book to find out what I’m talking about.

If I did have one complaint about the book it is that there are so many girls and storylines that sometimes things do get a bit muddled. I did find myself having to backtrack to figure out who he was referring to and how they connected. I read this in two sittings, so it was fresh in my mind. I fear that it might even be worse if you aren’t familiar with the slasher movies and tropes that this book references. After writing most of this review I did go online and see what other folks were saying and it does seem that many readers were struggling with this. Not a deal breaker for me I just thought I’d mention it.

While The Final Girls Support Group isn’t my favorite from Hendrix it did hit that sweet spot of nostalgia and entertainment. I got a kick out of seeing these alternate versions of some of my favorite horror characters without it being too ‘member berries. If you dig slasher movies then I’d recommend tracking down a copy of this one, it is a good read.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Monday, November 6, 2023

4 Dollars of Revenge (1966)

Bandits ambush a shipment of captured Confederate silver that is headed to Washington to be turned over to the government. This is during the Civil War, and it is a big deal. The escort is lead by Captain Dexter who ends up being the only survivor after being left for dead by the thieves. This was his last assignment as he was about to resign his commission to run for governor. After being nursed back to health he is eventually charged with planning the robbery and causing the death of the men under his command.

Convicted he is sent to prison and after what I believe is supposed to be a couple of years is almost killed. Knowing that someone is trying to murder him he makes his escape and goes looking for the men trying to kill him as well as those who framed him! The rest of the movie is Dexter backtracking from one suspect to the other until all those responsible for the crime and framing him.

I liked 4 Dollars of Revenge. While not one of the “A” list Spaghetti Westerns it does check enough boxes that it was a fun watch. I loved the mechanic of him having four silver dollars from the supposed crime being given to him by the court so that he will never forget his crime. This leads him to leaving one with each of the bodies after he exacts his revenge along the way. That is a neat plot device and obviously inspired the title. Yeah, it might seem improbable that he would have been allowed to hang onto the valuable coins while in prison, but this is a movie and I’m willing to suspend my disbelief.

The movie is paced decently and quickly establishes that Dexter is a good man surrounded by snakes who are out to get him. We are given plenty of suspects who have motive to get him out of the way. He has a political rival, a relative who is always hitting him up for money, and even a rival for the love of a beautiful woman. So many folks would like him gone. Without giving anything away I will say that I enjoyed how the story plays out. The who and why of the setup gives way to plenty of revenge and action. That is what I want in a western and I got plenty of it.

That said the shootouts and many fistfights are staged well and exciting. People are flying all over the screen and much blood is spilled. We even get a nifty saber fight that you don’t normally get is a flick like this. There is some fancy gunplay, and I was amused by how many shots Dexter can manage before reloading. Yeah, it is one of those magic gun westerns. But again, when I’m enjoying a movie, I don’t have time to get picky about the details.

I don’t want to oversell 4 Dollars of Revenge. It isn’t top notch but sometimes you can have a by the numbers genre flick that is worth a watch. If you are looking for something familiar but don’t want to pop in the same Eastwood or Van Cleef flick, then this one might be for you. If you are new to the Spaghetti Western, then there are much better places to start than here. That said as a fan of these flicks I got some enjoyment out of this one.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Friday, November 3, 2023

The Red, White, and Black (1970)

This western is set after the Civil War when the U.S. Army fielded all black cavalry units commonly referred to as Buffalo Soldiers. Here we follow a man named Eli who gets caught in bed with another man’s wife. To escape the gun wielding angry spouse he gets in line and joins the army. Then we watch him arrive at a fort and go thru training where we are also introduced to other soldiers as well as the seamstress Miss Julie.

Here is where things go sideways for me. There is a brief romance and then Eli marries Miss Julie. I was expecting more shootouts and cowboy stuff, but we get this instead. Okay fine… but then there is a subplot with a local Indian leader, played by the very white Robert Dix (yikes!). He is friendly and has a treaty with the army, but that ends poorly when a local merchant guns one of his braves down and is in turn killed. Even that makes little sense because they go from friendly to let’s kill everyone without every trying to either hide the crime or explain what happened. Oh, there is also a subplot where Miss Julie hops into bed with another soldier that causes some drama but goes nowhere.

I suppose I would have enjoyed this movie if it had picked one of the storylines and stuck with it. Even if that wasn’t the action that I expected at least I could have followed and maybe had some sort of resolution. Instead what we get is a mess of plot threads that all unravel and never get resolved. Eli is supposed to be our main character, at least I think so. But after spending so much time with him and the fallout from him discovering Miss Julie’s affair he is unceremoniously killed off before the big finale involving the Indians! Yeah, the last ten minutes we are minus what has been the focus of the prior hour and fifteen minutes of plot development.

The above is further muddled with the inclusion of a brief affair and quickly forgotten violence from our main character Eli. Seriously he goes from sympathetic man who we could be rooting for to an abusive and scary husband threating to kill his wife. The entire Indian subplot is also confusing as it serves no purpose other than to maybe insinuate that the African American troops and the oppressed Native Americans should be fighting the real enemy (listen to the song that keeps playing). But then all the white officers are portrayed as at least kind towards the men they command. I’m so confused by this. It basically made it impossible for me to follow or really care about what was happening on screen.

The cast is solid with the previously mentioned Robert Dix as well as the legendary Cesar Romero, Isabel Sanford (The Jeffersons), Barbara Hale (Perry Mason), and Robert DoQuil (Robocop, Walking Tall II). There was a lot of talent in front of the camera as well as behind it with one of my personal favorites, John “Bud” Cardos, behind it directing the action. The fact that they are so let down with a terrible script that also has some very clunky and awkward dialogue makes for an extremely disappointing experience. Obviously, I’m not recommending The Red, White, and Black.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer