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Featured Post - Slasher Marathon 2021

Since I started the website I've done a Slasher marathon every summer. This time I thought I'd start things off in the first week of...

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Fear Street Part Two 1978 (2021)

I loved Part One and in that review I already spoiled that I enjoyed the heck out of this one as well. I recommend reading that review before you dive into this one. These movies do standalone but there is some world building that I will reference and not explain. To check out that review click here.

Part One left us with the grown-up survivor of the Camp Nightwing killings talking to the siblings Josh and Deena about what happened and how she survived. Here is when we flashback to another pair of siblings, Ziggy and Cindy, who are attending a summer camp. The campers are divided along town lines again with Shadyside being the oddballs and Sunnyvale being the perfect kids, at least on the surface. Ziggy and Cindy are from Shadyside, though the older sister, Cindy, is trying to “better” herself. When Cindy’s gentle and perfect boyfriend grabs an axe and starts to murder everyone blames the witch. She possessed yet another Shadysider causing them to go homicidal.

The rest of the movie are the killer finding and dispatching victims while Cindy, Ziggy, and another friend named Alice try to figure out the legend so they can stop the killings and save Shadyside from the witch’s curse. They find the witch’s hand but can’t find the body under the hanging tree. The legend says that if they reunite the hand with the body the curse will be over. Of course, we the audience know that the body isn’t there because of the first film, which leads to a brutal ending where the girls fail to stop the killers and instead become victims. And when I say killers one of them bleeds on the hand, has visions, and prompts the maniacs from massacres past to come after them. Though of course we know that one of them has survived. How does this help the kids from 1994 aka. the first movie? I’m not going to spoil it here.

They again do a wonderful job telling a standalone story that also serves to build the world and explain more of the legend of the witch, Sarah Fier. We find out more about the history of Shadyside and understand the rules as how our characters can banish Fier. It was also cool that the audience knows they will fail because we already know where the body is, and it isn’t where they were heading. Though even as jaded a horror fan as I am I didn’t expect the ending to be so nasty. Honestly, they gleefully linger on the agonizing death of a character that was made very likeable. I mean you had to see it coming, but damn.

I dig the look of the killer!
The pacing is solid and if you ignore the larger story this movie is still a great throwback seventies slasher flick. The kills are plentiful with nine, though four are offscreen. They also break some rules and kill kids in this movie. You don’t see it but there are limbs strewn about in one scene, so you know what happened! That said there is a nifty axe to the head, a couple axe kills with chests being beaten in, and a head goes flying. My favorite kill though is an axe to the face splitting it. The cuts are quick, but the gore is explicit, so I had a good time with them.

I see a lot of retro slashers coming out and honestly most of them fail miserably. Not only does Fear Street Part Two work to move the greater plot along but it is one of the best retro slashers that I’ve seen come out. Oh, and like the first movie they do a wonderful job with the music. Though I will admit that they use one song which is forever linked in most genre fans with a different franchise. That was a bit distracting as it shows up twice. But hey they had some Captain and Tennille so that was awesome!

I highly recommend everyone check out all three Fear Street movies. Netflix has certainly upped their game with these. I can’t wait to talk about the third installment and hope that this is a continuing project.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Fear Street Part One 1994 (2021)

I was never a huge R.L. Stine fan, though I can understand the appeal. I was just a bit too old for his stuff. That said I did enjoy the Goosebumps movies and even some of the television shows. When I heard that Netflix was going to release a series of movies based on Stine’s Fear Street books, I thought I’d give it a chance. I’m glad that I did.

The movie opens with a young lady working at B. Daltons in the mall. It is closing time and she is getting things buttoned up when a crazy guy in a skull mask shows up and starts trying to kill her. He has already killed a bunch of folks and we see him stab her thru the heart before the local sheriff, Nick Goode, shoots the killer in the head and brings it to an end. But of course, it isn’t over because that is the first few minutes of a movie that is two hours long!

We are then introduced to our main characters brother and sister Josh and Deena. There is also Deena’s drug dealing friends Simon and Kate as well as Deena’s ex, Samantha. This group is tossed into the chaos when the killer from the mall starts to stalk them. The dead killer from the beginning of the movie! They figure out that it has to do with them disturbing the bones of the witch Sarah Fier who cursed the town a couple hundred years earlier. There is also some stuff tossed in about the two nearby communities of Shadyside, where the characters are from, and Sunnyside which seems perfect. So, killers, two very different towns, and a witch’s curse. Got that? Oh and the killers from Shadyside’s past also return from the grave in pursuit.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this movie. It is an excellent bit of storytelling. The filmmakers are able to tell both the plot with killers running around and high school kids dealing with the curse, all while beginning to establish the greater world in which this tale takes place. In other words, I was totally sucked into the survival horror bit of the story all while picking up on the history that may or may not be important later on. I watched all three movies again with my wife a couple of days after my first viewing and I picked up on things that I missed on the first go round. You really need to pay attention and keep your eyes glued to the screen to not miss some of the clues.

Speaking of clues this is not only a great horror flick with some decent gore, but we also get a great mystery as well. We figure out who the killer is early on, but it is his motivation and connection to the killers from throughout Shadyside’s history that had me questioning what was happening. The how and why of this movie is very important and the details are doled out slowly to hold your attention. Add to this a cast of very good young actors and actresses you end up with an engaging and fun horror flick.

This is a horror movie and I’ve already mentioned the gore. We get a solid seven kills with a couple off screen. What we do see includes a brutal stabbing to the chest, an axe to the noggin’, a stabbing thru the chin, and another knife poking thru a chest from the rear. Though the absolute best kill of all three movies… spoilers I suppose… is the bread slicer. One of the characters gets run headfirst thru the device and ends up neatly stacked. I haven’t seen that one before so that had my attention.

One other thing that I wanted to point out is how well they use the soundtrack to set the scene. If you were around in the nineties, you will recognize the music right away. Hell, when the movie opened with Nine Inch Nails playing, I got the vibe and understood where we were at before the first bit of dialogue. This is an outstanding job and is repeated in later installments.

Here is where I normally say, “Gosh I hope the next one is as good.” Though that would be cheating since I’ve watched all three already and know that they are! This is a fantastic way to spend a couple of hours. I do have to warn you that you will want to jump into the next one right away so set some time aside because this might be something you binge all six hours of in one sitting. I highly recommend Fear Street Part One 1994. 


Ó Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Dawn of the Dead by George Romero and Susanna Sparrow

Dawn of the Dead is my favorite movie and Romero is my favorite filmmaker. That statement shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who reads my reviews here at Crappy Movie Reviews. I’m a huge nerd when it comes to the maestro of zombies. I’ve had an original copy of the book for many years but was afraid to crack it open. I just like looking at it in the hermetically sealed acid free package I have it safely tucked away in. Yeah, I know it is obsessive. When I was on my road trip to Evans City, check out the link here, I found that it had been reprinted and snapped up a copy. Finally, I felt comfortable in diving into the novelization of my favorite movie.

Just in case you haven’t seen the movie I’ll give a brief recap. The world is falling apart as the zombies are overrunning everything. It doesn’t help that instead of banding together the people are fighting with each other. Society is going down the tubes quickly, so Stephen and Fran decide to get out of Philadelphia before it is too late. They work together at a local television station with Stephen serving as the helicopter pilot. They plan on taking the chopper and with Stephen’s friend Roger making a break for it. Roger is a S.W.A.T. officer and before he meets up with them invites Peter to come along. The four end up landing on the roof of a Mall and talking it over as their home. Just when things seem to get peaceful and the situation under control looters show up and the thing goes all to hell again.

I’ve seen Dawn of the Dead hundreds of times and was satisfied with the book. It is an easy read that, like the movie, gets right to the good stuff without getting bogged down. At its core the story is about four people trying to survive in a world gone crazy with the dead trying to eat the living. After briefly setting up how bad it has gotten and how far the plague has spread, we get to the attack on the apartment building by the authorities. They are trying to clean out the zombies that are being kept there by the families which leads to a lot of killing. Much of it unnecessary and heavy handed. This is the first time that the reoccurring theme of human beings being the real problem is shown.

After this they make their break from the city and end up at the mall for a rest. Instead of continuing to Canada they instead decide to stick around and fall into an oddly normal domestic life for a few months. They clear out the place and basically have access to anything that they could possibly want or need. After a bit of peace, it is shattered when more people show up to wreck it all due to their greed. What is interesting is that it isn’t only the raiders/looters that are greedy but our main characters who don’t want to let what they have worked for be taken. So again, people die because of each other and not due to the zombies who could have been easily avoided. The dead are winning because the living are stupid, greedy, and selfish.

Since this is a novelization of the script for Dawn of the Dead, I thought it would be interesting to compare how it differs from the movie. The biggest change from book to movie is how long the story lingers on our surviving characters hanging out at the mall before the raiders show up. In the movie we see a lot of them talking and montages of them shopping. Stephen even proposes to Fran, which she declines, in the movie. That isn’t anywhere in the book. I’m not sure why that is different. Perhaps Romero edited the film to show more of them living their lives and therefore more character development. Ironically if you have seen the European cut of the movie it also cuts this daily life stuff out as well. I don’t think that the story suffers either way, it is just different. Personally I like getting to know the characters but I also acknowledge that is what some zombie movie fans consider the worst part of Dawn of the Dead.

The above is the only big difference. The rest I think were just due to the shooting locations that they had and some inspiration on set. For example, in the book the hideaway was hidden at the end of a hallway full of offices instead of a hallway to maintenance. That I think was due to what they had to work with at the Monroeville mall. The iconic Hari Krishna zombie doesn’t make an appearance, nor does the attack in the department store. Both of these were last minute changes due to the look of an extra (Krishna zombie) and for continuity (the department store attack).

I know that I’ve already said this but I’m going to say it again. Dawn of the Dead is my favorite movie and I’ve spent the last forty years collecting everything that I could related to it and Romero’s other movies. I’m glad that I finally found a copy I felt okay cracking open and reading. In a way it allowed me to revisit familiar territory with a slightly new twist to it. Now if they would only reprint The Zombies that ate Pittsburgh! Yeah, I have it and won’t take it out of the bag either. I did mention that I’m obsessive, didn’t I? If you like zombies, then track down a copy of Dawn of the Dead novelization.

 

Ó Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Saturday, July 17, 2021

The Atomic Submarine (1959)

This movie is set in a far distant future of I think the seventies where travel under the north pole is common. That travel is by nuclear submarine, including commercial passenger ships. Suddenly various submarines are disappearing, believed to be sunk. The pole is shut down and a special submarine, The Tiger Shark, is sent to discover what is going on. We know all of this because of some helpful voiceovers, a spinning newspaper, and stock footage of stuff sinking. 

The submarine goes to the pole and starts poking around. There is some drama in the crew as a couple people don’t like each other. We get lots of science talk before they finally see that it is a UFO only underwater. There is some talk of it being powered by magnetism which is why it keeps returning to the north pole. They set a trap and end up ramming the ship, only they get stuck. Boarding it some people get killed and they meet a giant eye stalk alien thing that tells them it is going to come back with its buddies to invade. Luckily, they have a rocket that shoots it down when it takes off. Cool…

This isn’t a very good movie. It has an interesting premise setting the typical Alien invasion flick underwater. I even liked the idea that it had to happen at the north pole so that the ship could keep recharging itself. But the filmmakers execute it poorly. The story moves along at a glacial pace with nothing happening until the last ten of fifteen minutes. The payoff with the alien is cool and the special effects for both it and the model work used on the underwater sub scenes are solid. But there are way too many scenes of actors sitting around a table talking about doing stuff rather than doing it. 

Joi Lansing is in this... for a hot second
None of the above is helped with what I’ve come to realize is an immediate red flag. What we have here is a series of disconnected shots of actors speaking to each other with not one but three annoyingly cheap cheats to connect them. First, we have the narrator popping up to tell us that they waited for a week or cruised around under the pole for a month. Not one character mentions that fact so it wouldn’t surprise me if that was added in later. I would have liked dialogue explaining their frustration. Something other than a disembodied voice talking at me. 

We also get the old spinning newspaper dropping headlines on us. And we also watch a hand write in the ships log telling us of their plans. Most of the last two are accompanied by the narrator. All of this leads to a movie that feels disjointed and sort of glued together by the editor rather than one that had a script and a director that knew what was going on. That kills the pacing and leads to the issues I mentioned above. 

When I first sat down to watch The Atomic Submarine, I was excited. It has a cool cast including a young Brett Halsey, who most of us would recognize for his later work with Lucio Fulci. There is also an appearance by the beautiful Joi Lansing, the always funny Sid Melton, and Tom Conway. That last name might not be familiar to you, but he did a lot of mystery flicks in the forties that I love and was an excellent actor. There was a ton of talent here that was wasted by a lackluster script. 

This one is only for the hardcore fans of science fiction and fifties movies. Even then I can’t see it being worth more than a single watch. For everyone else I recommend avoiding it. his is a bummer because I wanted to like The Atomic Submarine.


© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer


Monday, July 12, 2021

The Devil Below (2021)

I’m generally a pessimist when I see new horror movies coming out. They always seem to disappoint me, but when I saw this trailer, I was intrigued. Mysterious creatures from a deep mine start snatching and killing people. That seems right in my wheelhouse. Toss in the fact that criminally underrated Will Patton figures heavily in the trailer and I was sold. God Damn it movie…

The story kicks off with the aforementioned Patton’s character Schuttmann talking to his son about one of the workers in the mine. Something grabs his kid and takes him away. Then we meet our main cast. Yeah, Patton is a bit of stunt casting as he is hardly in the movie. Strike one. A group of scientists are doing environmental research, only in a plot twist you can see coming miles away they aren’t. To that end they hire Arianne, a mysterious woman who acts as security and a guide. They sneak into what they think is a disaster area surrounding a mine disaster. Sure enough they let the monsters out. 

The rest of the movie is them trying not to die as the locals work to put the genie back in the bottle. Not sure if they are being paid to or just feel responsible for the monsters, but they all work to keep them locked up in the old mine. Lots of people die, and then the survivors close the gate and go back to keeping them contained. Yeah, that is pretty much the entire story. So, there you go. Before I forget Patton does show up a bit in the middle and at the end for a couple of scenes. I guess they had him for a whole weekend?

If you can’t tell I was very disappointed with The Devil Below. Firstly, I hate it when movies do the stunt casting and make you think with their trailer that a familiar actor plays a large role. That seems to be a dick move and sets expectations higher than they should be. I don’t mind watching horror flicks with unknowns, I would just rather know that is what I’m getting. Additionally, I’d also like to be able to watch the movie, including the action. Far too much of what happens with the creatures in The Devil Below is either from the point of view of a camera one of the characters is carrying, or just shitty camera work where you can’t follow what is happening. Not quite to the level of a found footage flick, but it does go there a few times. That sucks because the couple of times we get to see the creatures they look decent. 

Pacing is also a big problem for this one. After an interesting opening there is a lot of stuff establishing the characters of the scientists and their guide. Well, there is an attempt to anyway. I wasn’t quite sure what the group dynamic was and what motivations were before they started killing them off. Though that isn’t because they didn’t have time. We get plenty of walking, talking, camping, walking, and more talking. It just doesn’t go anywhere. Once the creatures do get out things pick up, but by then I should have been invested in at least some of the characters. Spoilers… I wasn’t. 

Other than one fun gag with a spike or talon thru the head I found the kills bland. Nothing else stands out to me. In fact, looking at my notes taken while watching I don’t have much about them. Most of what you get is yelling, the camera bouncing around like a twelve-year-old off his Ritalin, and blood splatter. Again, the creatures look good when we can see them but overall, this was a disappointment. 
The Devil Below is an utterly forgettable and generic monster movie that had a lot of promise but fails to deliver the goods. I can’t recommend this one at all. There are much better movies just like this that you should spend your time on instead. 


© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Friday, July 9, 2021

Target Earth (1954)

A woman wakes up next to a bottle of sleeping pills. She tries the lights and water, but are both out. She gets dressed and discovers that there is no one else in her building or on the streets. She wanders around getting more and more stressed when she finds a woman’s body lying in an alley. Backing up in horror she runs into a man. His name is Frank, and he was mugged and knocked out. He also woke up not knowing what happened. They also find a couple of drunks named Jim and Vicki. The four of them end up running into a robot one of many who are killing anyone the mechanical terrors can find. 

Along with our survivors we see some army scientists trying to figure out how to defeat the robots. Luckily, they have found one that is damaged and are able to experiment on it. They keep cutting back and forth between our survivors and the army working on the problem. Eventually Frank and Nora, the woman with the sleeping pills, are corned on a roof about to be zapped by a robot when the army shows up with their new weapon and saves the day!

I’m shocked that I had never seen this movie before. If you have paid attention here at the site, I love old fifties science fiction flicks. This is a decent one with a superior script and cast. I loved the characters and the actors portraying them. Richard Denning, who played Frank, was in The Black Scorpion (an underrated monster movie) and Creature from the Black Lagoon. He is excellent in this kind of role, that of the hero, and nails it yet again in Target Earth. Whit Bissell has a small part as an army scientist. He also was in Creature from the Black Lagoon and many other awesome genre movies. Though I mostly

remember him as the psychologist who turns Michael Landon into a werewolf in, I was a Teenage Werewolf. The rest of the cast is also solid and were all working actors. This is what is great about these lower budgeted genre flicks from the fifties. They took the time and effort to get good actors in the roles no matter how silly the premise was. 

The story is paced evenly and keeps you guessing for a while as to what is going on. They mention “A” bombs and biological weapons, giving you some other options. When they do reveal the robot, it is only as a shadow. We get a neat gag with a newspaper explaining things before finally seeing what the threat is. My only complaint is the constant cutting away to the army story. This happens too often and is told with a lot of stock footage. I was way more interested in the survivors and them hiding from the deadly invaders. They even toss in a human threat which could have been fleshed out more. Still overall I found the story satisfying and decent. It just could have been better. 

If there is one thing that might trip up a modern viewer it is going to be the look of the robots. Honestly, they look cheesy as hell. Now I love that sort of thing and it doesn’t take away from what is a serious storyline with death and murder. Heck I forgot that we find out that Vicki tried to kill herself with sleeping pills which is why she slept thru the invasion. This movie isn’t playing around. I understand that this was decent looking for fifty-four and that it was a serious attempt but like many of these older science fiction flicks the creature design doesn’t hold up. But don’t hold that against Target Earth.

Clearly, I liked this movie and am going to recommend it. It blows my mind that this is the first time I checked it out. It won’t be the last as I can see it going into the rotation with Thing from Another World or The Deadly Mantis. I liked it that much!


© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer


Wednesday, July 7, 2021

The Crawlers (1993)

A truck is driving with ominous music playing in the background as the credits roll. Then we meet a couple of girls on a bus, Susan and Josie. The bus stops at a gas station and leaves before Susan can get back on. She ends up catching a ride with a creepy dude who gets all grabby and ends up chasing her into the woods. Susan is attacked by something and killed. Then we see that Josie is returning to her hometown nearby. She has an ex-boyfriend, a precocious brother, and a few other familiar/friend character archetypes.  

There is also a science guy who works at a nearby nuclear power plant. He likes to walk around the woods with his Geiger counter and notices that there is a lot of radiation. Maybe that is what got Susan! Well sort of. The plant is run by a crook who has been embezzling money meant for the disposal of nuclear waste and instead has been dumping it in the woods. This mutated not the trees but just their roots. Yep, mutant tree roots are killing everyone! Stuff happens like suicide, the sad demise of the heroic hooker, rednecks shooting at trespassers, and of course the big final battle. You know how you kill roots? Why you bury them of course! Wait… what?

I should have known. The minute that I saw this was co-written and co-directed by an uncredited Joe D’Amato my alarms should have been going off. I mean when he is good, which honestly isn’t often, he makes some fun cheesy flicks. But when he is bad… well you get the idea. This is a bad movie. The story is inadequate for the ninety-minute runtime. We have far too many characters and storylines for the movie to build any momentum. Instead of seeing the roots attacking people we get a lot of walking and talking. There are not one, but two scenes with different guys hanging with the hooker talking about stuff. By the time the bodies start to drop I was already bored out of my mind and wanting the movie to be over. That isn’t a good thing at all. 

Someone needs to layoff the Miracle Grow!
The creatures in this movie are basically just roots. That means they can just have some rubbery tentacle like things flop onto the actors when the things attack. I’m not kidding about this either. This movie reminded me of a very sad Bela Lugosi rolling around being “attacked” by the rubber octopus all while trying to wrap the tentacles around himself. It is that bad. Things aren’t helped by the goofy faces that many of the actors make as they are dying. Though it is kind of funny and is one of the few things I enjoyed about The Crawlers. 

If I’m honest the terrible writing also gives us some awkward dialogue that itself is further complicated by a cast that simply can’t act. Some people overact and others barely can get their lines out before apparently falling asleep. I’m used to some bad acting, but this might be the worst that I’ve seen, at least in a long time. This movie was a real chore to get thru and I’m recommending that you don’t bother. Bottom line here this flick is bad… really bad. 


© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer