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Podcast 19

Well here we go again. If you haven't noticed I have been on a few podcasts. I had been on a break, which I'm sure most of you have ...

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Throwback Thursday – The Nestling by Charles L. Grant

note: I had completely forgotten I had an earlier run in with Charles L. Grant as an author. I’ve covered a couple of his Oxrun series books here and here. While I enjoyed those, I didn’t like The Nestling at all. I don’t think I ever got around to reading the Raven. I’ll have to check and see.

Jason Clarke is a reporter from back east that is summoned to the valley he spent part of his childhood in by a desperate relative. There is something wrong in Windriver Valley. First there were the animal attacks and then the deaths started which only adds to the tension between the Whites and Native Americans, who infused suddenly with cash started buying up ranches. The Native Americans buy them, but don’t work them cutting off the only source of money for the town. The local businesses, all owned by whites, suffer from the lack of money coming in from the closed ranches. Jason’s relative, Galen, expects him to sort out what is going on and tosses him into this powder keg. This in spite of the fact that Jason and his mother were run out of town after his father was killed after going on a bender. Jason realizes before most everyone else that there is something way beyond a simple disagreement or conspiracy and that that valley has been targeted by something evil. 

I had heard good things about author Charles L. Grant. That combined with the nice blurb on the cover from Stephen King (yes, I know you should never buy into those) convinced me to pick a couple of his books up from the local used bookstore. I haven’t read the other book yet, but I honestly have to say that I wasn’t all that impressed with The Nestling. The story is interesting and I’m always up for a good horror story that integrates Native American beliefs and folklore. But there are a couple of things that just killed the book for me. First of all there are just too many characters in the book and it gets really hard to follow who is who. Again and again I had to backtrack to figure out what character just got killed or beaten up and how they relate to each other. Really there are several minor characters that have their entire families mentioned in passing with the reader supposed to make those connections later on. If you don’t then the story makes no sense. What makes it worse is when you get the to the end of the book only to find out none of this mattered as it has little to do with the story and resolution! 

My second problem with the book partly relates back to the first. Like I said there are too many characters, but if that weren’t bad enough the book jumps between different characters and storylines constantly. Now I will give Grant credit all the various storylines do end up connecting in the end but this constant jumping between characters and story made The Nestling a very frustrating book to read. Just about the time that I had some interest in a character or had gotten into a rhythm reading the book it jumped to another character or story. Grant keeps shooting himself in the foot every time the plot starts building up momentum by stopping and restarting with new characters.

I know that this book was up for some awards when it came out in eighty two, but I found it a real chore to get thru and just didn’t like it. I can’t recommend The Nestling. That said I have the other Grant book, Raven, that I picked up and will give it a chance.  Maybe this one just didn’t work for me.

© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Hickey and Boggs (1972)

This is an interesting movie that I was recently reminded about when some folks online were talking about it. It had been on my to watch list before but as is the case when I have so many damn movies to check out, I had forgotten about it. Based on a script written by Walter Hill (48 Hours, The Warriors) and directed by Robert Culp, who also stars, it follows a pair of detectives played by Culp and frequent co-star Bill Cosby. Am I allowed to like a Bill Cosby movie anymore?

We follow along as they are hired to find a woman named Mary Jane, which seems like a simple job. But this gets them into a lot of trouble as Mary Jane is tangled up in some missing money from a robbery that the mob wants back. I think it is her husband that was part of the crew that stole the money and then hid it from the gangsters that were either owed a cut or planned the crime. The movie doesn’t really tell us too much about that. What we do see is our detectives Hickey (Cosby) and Boggs (Culp) running around Los Angeles dodging mob hitmen, the police, and other folks looking for Mary Jane and the missing cash which she is trying to launder. This leads to some shootouts, fist fights, and a finale that honestly, I didn’t see coming.

I’m trying to keep things a bit vague as much of the fun here is watching the story unfold. What I’ve shared about the stolen money, Mary Jane, and the mob is shown early on. But there are some other plot twists that I don’t want to spoil. What I can say is that I rather enjoyed the movie. The story plays out like an old film noir with some hardboiled detectives dealing with the criminal underground dodging bullets while trying to get some resolution. Even after getting fired they keep at it. Why? I’m not entirely sure but I get the feeling that they have some sort of code that makes them feel they must see it thru. But then again by then they have figured out that some serious cash is involved. Plus, there is a thing that happens later which makes it very personal for Hickey.

I will admit that like many of the hard boiled detective flicks this one does meander a bit and leans so heavily into the dozens of characters that it can feel a bit long and confusing at points. The filmmakers don’t feel obliged to spoon feed the audience how all the characters and goings on connect to one another. This is the sort of movie that you have to pay close attention to and even then, might lose you. Now I like that sort of thing, so I had no issues with it. I just wanted to point it out.

The cast here is solid and filled with many familiar faces. Not only do we have the stars Culp and Cosby, but this is a whose who of seventies television stars and character actors. Rosalind Cash (Good Times, Uptown Saturday Night) is Hickey’s ex, Robert Mandan (Soap, Kojak) is the mob boss, Michael Moriarty (Law and Order, The Stuff) is one of his henchmen. Hell Isabel Sanford (The Jeffersons) has a blink and you will miss it bit part. When you have a cast this good it is hard to make a bad movie.

Hickey and Boggs has a gritty take that many later seventies flicks would share. While I won’t say that this is to the level as something like The French Connection, Chinatown, or Serpico it does scratch a familiar itch. If you haven’t seen this one before and like those movies I think you may enjoy it. If nothing else it might be worth a watch just to see an early writing effort from Walter Hill as well as the only feature movie directed by Robert Culp. That last one really bugs me because I think he had an interesting vision and would have loved to see more from him as a director. As of the writing of this review you can find this one floating around the internet to watch for free as well as a reasonably priced DVD.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Monday, September 18, 2023

Darker than Night (1976)

Doing another dive into the stacks of movies that I’ve collected but haven’t watched I stumbled over Darker than Night. This Mexican made movie bills itself as a haunted house/ghost story and quite frankly I was in the mood for one of those.

The movie opens with an elderly woman petting her black cat. We never get to see her face but do watch her tend the garden, knit, and dote on her feline friend. Though it ends when she has an attack of some sort and dies all while the cat watches traumatized. Then we meet what turns out to be our main characters. The four beautiful young women are Ofelia, Aurora, Marta, and Pilar. Turns out that Ofelia is the niece of the woman and has inherited the house as well as everything inside of it. So off they go to check it out.

When they arrive they are greeted with the creepy housekeeper, Sofia, who is clearly not pleased with the disrespect that they show towards the possessions of her former mistress (not in the creepy way but as in the long time employer way). The girls also don’t like the cat, but Ofelia is taking her aunt’s wishes that she takes care of it seriously and it does seem to grow on her. Weird stuff starts to happen though when they hear a voice calling for the cat at night in the garden as well as the house. This gets much creepier when the cat is accidentally locked in the basement and dies. Suddenly there is the apparition of the old woman, and the girls start to be scared to death.

So, is it a ghost or is there something else going on at the house? Also, what is up with the cat’s death? There are many questions that get answered before this one ends and I’m not going to spoil it here in this review. Why? Because I liked this movie quite a bit but the guessing as to what is going on is part of the fun. The guessing game as to if things are supernatural or if it a more mundane and corporeal threat killing off the girls is kept vague until the very end. Sofia at times seems suspicious and it becomes clear that she is taking blame for things that she may not be responsible for. Is she protecting someone? If so, who could it be? I like the mysterious aspects to the plot as it kept me engaged with both the characters and story.

The above is key because I’m sure many horror fans might be annoyed by how long it takes for the movie to get rolling. I will warn you that this is a slow burn to start with not much happening for the first half hour as the characters and situation is setup. After that we get a lot of sneaking around the spooky house building atmosphere before things really kick into gear. But when it does there are plenty of weird noises, moaning, and crying echoing in the darkness to set the mood. This is at times a very creepy movie and I appreciated that they filmmakers leaned into this sort of stuff rather than cheap jump scares. But then again this was the seventies when people put effort into trying to scare the audience so that isn’t too much of a surprise.

To sum things up I did really like Darker than Night. It meanders a bit in the first half, but it makes up for it by keeping us guessing as to what the hell is actually going on. There is the previously mentioned atmosphere as well as a solid ending that mostly answers all the questions we the audience have. It is worth checking this one out. I believe that Vinegar Syndrome just put it out on Blu-Ray, so it isn’t too hard to locate.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Friday, September 15, 2023

Ju jin yuki otoko (1955)

A Japanese Abominable Snowman movie… Hell yeah I was going to watch this. Before I go any further though I do need to point out that for this review I watched the movie under it’s original title and cut. There is a butchered version for the American market under the title Half Human. Basically, it got the Godzilla treatment with much of the original film cut out and inserts with American actors cut in to make it “relatable” to the market. Don’t watch that version, it is terrible, but check out the original instead if you are interested after my review.

Things kick off with some folks waiting for a train as a storm blows outside. A man walks in and starts to interview them. They are apparently survivors of an expedition and have a story to tell. Then it jumps back in time to some friends skiing and having fun on Mount Fuji. They never say this but that is where the movie was shot. A pair split off to check out a cabin while the others head down the mountain. A huge snowstorm blows in and they are all trapped. Later a search party finds one of the men’s bodies, but the other is missing.

It jumps back to the survivors at the train station before continuing in another flashback. This time it is the next summer as the sister and friend of the missing man have joined an expedition. It is looking for both the missing man as well as a legendary creature who lives in the mountains. This group is followed by another lead by a local carnival owner who wants to capture the creature. Shenanigans ensue as the creature seems to stalk them. Later they all meet up with a local mountain tribe that worships the snowman as their protector/god. The monster does somethings and the humans do some even worse things. It all leads to a finale that had me a bit bummed. See the creature wasn’t so bad. Yeah, this is another of those movies where we have a misunderstood creature that is less a threat and more of a victim of the humans around it.

I wanted to like this one. The creature effects work are good with the suit and the performer under it doing a fantastic job. That shouldn’t be a surprise since this is from the director, Ishiro Honda, and the studio that brought Godzilla out the year before. Instead of a monkey suit being repurposed it is clear some thought went into the making of the snowman. While vaguely apelike it does come off as something different. I also think that the fact we don’t have lots of cardboard buildings getting smashed and that the performer interacts with the cast in many scenes also makes it a bit more fun. Don’t get me wrong I dig Kaiju movies, but this shows the quality of their work much more. I suppose I’m a sucker for a rubber suit in a monster flick.

But there is one huge and glaring issue with Ju jin yuki otoko and that is the pacing. Clocking in at ninety four minutes there is way too much padding. There are long stretches of characters walking, talking, storms blowing, and them admiring the scenery. Don’t get me wrong the movie is beautifully shot. The black and white photography of the natural surroundings borders on art. But as much as I appreciated how it looked it was at times painful to sit thru. There is a cool story here and we do have some fun action as the story ramps up to the finale but it takes far too long to get there. Toss in the fact that the story jumps around in a nonlinear fashion and the added complication of subtitles (again I watched the Japanese version) and this is a movie you must pay attention to and that can be a chore.

I didn’t hate Ju jin yuki otoko and am glad to have checked it out. For me, the creature design was worth a watch by itself, and I consider myself a fan of Honda. But I fear that the casual viewer might find this one too much of a slog to sit thru. That said this is still a far better flick than Half Human.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Throwback Thursday – To Wake the Dead by Richard Laymon

note: This is another blast from the past. I had totally forgotten about To Wake the Dead and honestly I don’t think I’ve checked out any of Laymon’s other books. I do remember really digging this one so I’m going to have to go looking for more. I mean it has been nine years since I read this one so it really is about time I get off my butt!

Amara was an ancient Egyptian princess that bore the bastard child of the god Set. In exchange he promised her eternal life, only I don’t think she thought it would be as a withered husk that could only come out when the seals locking her tomb were broken. Of course that is what happens and she makes good her escape leaving a wake of dead bodies behind her. All of this is done in search of her missing baby, or actually any baby will do. Our main characters are a police detective named Tag and his girlfriend Susan who is also in charge of the mummy exhibit so connections. In addition to the mummy we have a storyline involving some kidnapped people being kept in cages, a man that has a connection with the previous owner of the mummy, and some kids driving to Hollywood to escape their old lives and make it big. The three intersect at the end and as they all end up encountering the undead creature.

There is a lot going on in this book as the action jumps between the different characters and their plot lines. At first this was a bit off putting but once I got used to how the story was flowing, I had fun with it. This also helps to keep things fresh as I’m not sure focusing on any of the three would have made for a good book. Just to be clear I’m saying that because of a lack of material and not writing skill. There just wasn’t much meat on the bone of the individual storylines so it needs all three.

I don't normally mention gore when I’m writing a book review but here I will. There is a lot of nasty stuff in the book and Laymon has a gift in describing the mayhem to the reader. The mummy makes a mess of quite a few characters as necks are ripped open and eyes gouged out in bloody detail. But that isn’t all that there is. We also get a lot of sexual torture stuff with the captives in their cages including a nasty twist where the captors get what is coming to them. Additionally, throats are slit and necks broken that have nothing to do with the mummy and her violent goals. These extra bits of violence make for a bloody read.

Since I’m on the topic of violence and gore one thing that the book does nicely is make sure we know that no one is safe. We get characters established and come to like them only to have them killed off in disturbing and brutal ways. And the author has no qualms about killing not one, but two kids! Not many authors will take that step and kill of youngsters in their work.  Basically you don’t know who is going to go next and that made To Wake the Dead all that more fun.

I liked this book a lot. I had never heard of Layman until now and after one book consider myself a fan. He is an excellent writer who knows how to tell a story and I will be searching out his other books. I highly recommend this one.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Brooklyn 45 (2023)

This movie is set at the end of nineteen forty five as the world is winding down from World War II. Our characters are former operatives celebrating their first holiday home. Well sort of that is. Their host, Colonel Hockstatter, recently lost his wife to suicide and is tortured by it. Seems she thought their neighbor, a German woman, was a Nazi spy. But everyone ignored or dismissed her concerns which led to her slitting her own wrists. Another named Archibald has been accused of a war crime involving blowing up a room full of kids. We later find out it was under orders from Hockstatter. There are others including a patriot, Major DiFranco, and a former civilian interrogator named Marla who has brought her new husband Bob along.

Once they arrive in the… I guess you would call it a parlor or living room… Hockstatter asks to do a séance to contact his dead wife. Reluctantly they do so and sure enough the ghost responds. Unfortunately, the circle is broken and the door is left open which means the ghost isn’t going to let them go until some things are resolved to it’s liking. This leads to secrets being revealed, old hatreds uncovered, and even a little bit of torture. I can’t say any more without spoilers and I certainly don’t want to do that.

This is an interesting movie. When it popped up on Shudder I wasn’t sure what to expect. It looked like a ghost story, and it is, but there is so much more going on. While there is a supernatural element with a ghost coming back to finish a job it isn’t either for the good of all or even an evil act. What is interesting is that the wife’s spirit basically took the paranoia and hatred from life into the afterlife. It is very clear that is the case because the moment someone acts on it and gives the ghost what she/it wants they are free to go. Though honestly no one including the audience I think are going to feel a sense of satisfaction from what they just watched as it is unsettling. But I’m guessing that was the point so well done movie.

While I found the movie to be one of the best written genre flicks I’ve seen in a very long time there is little chance that a ninety minute long runtime would be sustainable set in a single room without some excellent performances. This cast is filled with working actors who bring a realism and believability to their characters which is critical to the Brooklyn 45 working and quite the trick given how based in fantasy the actual plot is. Other than Larry Fessenden and Anne Ramsey I didn’t recognize the names but all of them are excellent. The movie simply would work without them but with them and the excellent writing it makes for a good watch.

I have the feeling that Brooklyn 45 is going to stick with me for a while. If you are looking for a standard by the numbers horror/ghost story, then this isn’t for you. On the other hand, if you want a bit of drama and character studies along with the spooky stuff then you need to check this one out. I had fun with it, and I think you will as well.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Shivers (1975)

I spend a lot of my time here at the site reviewing new or obscure older movies. That is a conscious decision as I want to try and talk about stuff you guys have never heard of or seen before. It is way more fun for me and I hope is more useful for you readers. But every now and then I like to revisit and talk about an old favorite and Cronenberg’s Shivers is one of those movies. Please indulge me as I nerd out and if you haven’t seen this movie, you are in for a treat.

The movie opens with an advertisement for a high rise apartment building that sits on an island near the city. It has all the necessities for the community like a medical clinic and grocery store. Everything you need right at your fingertips without having to leave home. With that setting established we are treated to an older gentleman breaking down the door to an apartment and grabbing a young woman. After strangling her he tosses the body on the dining room table and does some impromptu autopsy action on her. After pouring something caustic into her chest cavity he slices his own throat with a scalpel. Now that is how you start a movie my friends!

Now onto the rest of the characters and story. We meet another resident of the building named Nicholas. He is having some issues with his stomach as he gets ready for work. On his way out he stops at the woman’s apartment and finds the bodies but instead of raising the alarm he goes to the office. We also meet his wife, Janine, when she goes to see her neighbor Betts (legit horror legend Barbara Steele!) to ask for some advice. She is concerned that he has been acting weird and Betts suggests talking to the facilities doctor. Here we meet Roger, the doctor, and his nurse/girlfriend Forsythe (the always awesome Lynn Lowry).

Dude has worm issues!
Lots of twisted stuff happens before we find out that man from earlier was experimenting on the woman. He wanted to create a parasite that would take the place of a failing organ creating a mutually beneficial situation. Instead, he created a monster that infected the host ramping up their sex drive to infect others. Yep, a sexually transmitted parasite that eats you from the inside out. No one and I mean no one does body horror better then David Cronenberg!

The story is interesting and unlike anything that I’ve seen before. The action kicks off right away with the door being broken down and the girl mutilated to stop the parasites. Then it quickly establishes the characters and lets us know what is going on. The cutting between the doctor’s investigation and the infection progressing in Nicholas lets us know exactly what is happening and what is likely to come for the characters newly infected. This tightrope is walked perfectly by writer director Cronenberg never lingering longer than necessary. It makes for an entertaining though disturbing watch.

On the subject of disturbing the body horror that comes with the idea of something physically infecting and hijacking a human being is itself twisted. But when you add in the sexual aspects of the infection it makes the movie even creepier. While it doesn’t get quite as in your face as the notorious characters in George Romero’s The Crazies (another Lynn Lowry flick) there is some nasty stuff hinted at in this movie. The father basically offering up his daughter was chilling without being too in your face. This is the kind of movie that explores ideas and horror that will get under your skin and make the audience uncomfortable in ways they maybe hadn’t expected. That is when director Cronenberg is at his best.

There isn’t a lot of what I’d consider gore in Shivers. There are some good gags with the worms coming out of the mouth but most everything is right off screen and implied. The most in your face effects work is the initial attack and suicide. I think that was a wise choice as it sets the tone for the movie and lets your imagination fill in the blanks of what you aren’t seeing. Most of the chills from this movie come from how it makes you feel and where your mind wanders instead of blood spraying in your face. I know that isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I love it.

I think that I have made it very clear from the start that I dig this movie a lot. Just in case you weren’t already sure though I’m highly recommending you check it out. There is a newer release of this movie on Blu-Ray from Lionsgate that is filled with some cool extras and has a wonderful transfer. That is what I watched for this review and am glad to have finally upgraded my old VHS clamshell. It is worth the upgrade for sure.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer