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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...

Friday, June 30, 2017

Girls Nite Out (1982)

I’ve tried to avoid the obvious slashers of the ‘80s for this marathon. Girls Nite Out is certainly one of the lesser known from the genre. Honestly, I hadn’t seen it until maybe fifteen years ago when I got the DVD in a box set. Time to join the students of DeWitt University as they go on a scavenger hunt and find death! Wow that was really cheesy…

The movie opens in an Asylum where someone hangs themselves. The action then moves to the big basketball game that sends DeWitt to the playoffs. Other than the victims being members of the team, cheerleading squad, or girlfriends that is all we ever hear of the game again. The night after the big game is a scavenger hunt organized by the college radio station. This sends the students wandering around the campus late at night in dark buildings looking for stuff. Thru some exposition we find out that the person who hung themselves was in fact a former student named Dickie. He murdered his girlfriend after she broke up with him. Now someone else is murdering co-eds as they wander around in the dark for the scavenger hunt! But if Dickie is dead who is it?

This one is a bit of a guilty pleasure for me. I will admit that the acting isn’t very good at times and the budget was obviously very low. The most familiar face is Hal Holbrook and if you watch carefully he isn’t ever in the same scene with the main cast! Really, they use inserted close ups with only him on camera, or the old I’m on the phone trick to put him into the scenes. It also does a bad job of hiding the identity of the killer. They basically show you who it is early on in a way that anyone who has watched horror movies is going to notice. The kills are pretty tame with most happening off screen or in cutaway shots. We get a couple neck appliances to show gruesome wounds but that is mostly it. Girls Nite Out has many flaws that should make me not like it. But I do like it and I’m going to try and explain why.

The killer rules!
First it has a great soundtrack filled with familiar hits from the ‘60s. I’ve never seen a slasher movie with recognizable oldies before and that was kind of fun. While we know who the killer is we still get a lot of suspects which gives a not great cast a chance to chew some scenery. The acting is good enough that instead of being miserable it is kind of goofy. Really, I wrote the word goofy in my review notes and it fits. But the absolute best thing about Girls Nite Out is the killer. One of the first victims is the mascot and the killer takes his costume. For most of the movie we have a bear mascot with claws made from steak knives running around taunting people in a creepy voice. That is awesome!

I debated whether I was going to review this for the blog. On one hand, I love this movie. On the other hand, I’m not sure I can recommend it. It has many of the flaws that make so many entries into the genre tough to get thru. Bad acting, revealing the killer to soon, mediocre effects, and no nudity (sounds creepy every time I write it!). The story isn’t even that original or clever. But damn it there is a bear mascot as the killer! You have been warned, but if you do watch it let me know what you think by sending me an email on the form to the right.

Next up in my Slasher marathon is The Burning

© Copyright 2017 John Shatzer

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Book Review - Attack of the Melonheads by Solon Tsangaras and Gary Lee Vincent from a Screenplay by Bob Gray

Throwback Thursday!
Welcome to my first Throwback Thursday here at the blog. I’ve been writing reviews and other such nonsense for almost twenty years now. My submissions have gone to websites, fanzines, and even a magazine! Some of them got used and some didn’t. Sadly many of those that got used ended up on dead projects including my own website. Some of the work I’m very proud of or more importantly what I was covering is something that I want people to know about. With that in mind I’ve decided to dig into my archives and give them a home here. The first is a book review that I did for a website called Screamzine.

I love the horror movies of the ‘70s and ‘80s.  With first the drive-in market and then the video store boom there was an outlet for a lot of independent horror flicks to be shown.  Sadly, as things got “corporate” those outlets dried up and with them the funds available to the creative minds behind them.  You might be wondering what this has to do with the book review of Melonheads, well read on and find out. 

The story opens years before the main events of the book as we are given a flashback to a creepy doctor/scientist type named Crowe that is picking up some children from a hospital.  These unfortunate children suffer from Hydrocephalus (water on the brain) that causes their craniums to become large and misshapen.  It becomes clear that Crowe is spiriting the children away under mysterious and probably not legitimate circumstances.  But what is he up to?  The story jumps to the present where we are introduced to the main cast of characters including the local football coach, his recently graduated son (and slacker!), as well as the attractive new lady doctor!  Oh and of course the Melonheads who are hiding out in the woods.  When one of them is killed they decide to come to town and get some revenge. Of course, all hell breaks loose!

I’ve kept things purposefully vague in my plot synopsis.  I did this so as to not spoil any of the fun.  After getting off to a slow start the book really picks up and is a blast.  I stayed up way too late to finish and paid for it the next day (totally worth it!).  Maybe because it was based on a screenplay or perhaps just because of the subject matter as I was reading Melonheads it played out in my head like a cheesy and fun horror movie.  It has a definite Castle Freak/Return of the Living Dead vibe to it that I was really digging.  The characters are familiar while still being fun.  We get bits of humor scattered throughout, some of it really juvenile and just to be clear I consider this to be a good thing.  Of course, there are some gruesome kills as well.  Like I said it feels like a horror movie that I would have rented on VHS back in my younger days.

Modern horror likes to go for the throat.  That is true of both the movies and the short stories/novels.  That isn’t a bad thing and some of it I enjoy.  But a book like Melonheads is what I love.  Give me a body count and gore, but don’t forget the laughs.  Anytime that I can be reminded of what makes Horror great it is a good thing.  Melonheads does that and is something we should all support.  Consider it highly recommended.

While working on this review I was in contact with Bob Gray who wrote the screenplay that this book was based on.  It looks like they are going to make the movie and better yet it will be shot in Ohio!  Pardon me while I do a little dance in front of my keyboard…

© Copyright 2017 John Shatzer

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

April Fool’s Day (1986)

After Cheerleader Camp I decided to go back to a slasher that I remember liking quite a bit. Though like Cheerleader Camp I haven’t watched it in years, or at least I don’t remember doing so. The copy that I watched was the old bare bones DVD that I picked up years ago. Not sure if the movie has a better release or not. Regardless let us dive into April Fool’s Day.

Muffy, portrayed by the lovely and prolific ‘80s actress Deborah Foreman, has invited her friends to spend the weekend in an isolated house that she is about to inherit. We meet the guests as they are hopping the ferry to the island. Of course, there is some horsing around and an April Fool’s Day prank. Being a slasher movie this leads to a terrible accident with a member of the crew being hurt. That leads to the only boat on the island being used to rush him to the hospital stranding the guests on the island for the weekend. Soon after arriving Muffy’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic and the guests start disappearing. When their bodies are found in the well it is clear someone on the island is a killer! Is it Muffy or does it have to do with the accident? Possible neither!

It's all fun and games until someone puts an eye out!
In my review for Cheerleader Camp I mentioned how mainstream audiences dismiss Slasher movies as being dumb and just an excuse for gore and nudity. April Fool’s Day tosses that assertion in the trash bin where it belongs. Here you have an intelligently written movie that respects the genre and the audience. The opening scene on the ferry goes a long way towards establishing the characters and the roles they will play as the plot progresses. The characters that normally would be the comic relief get very serious after the accident on the ferry. You see the friends trying to have some fun afterwards at the house, but it is subdued. Then the pranks and other bad things start happening. Their first reaction is to call the police! Okay here we have a slasher movie filled with characters that act like real people in a screwy situation.

The cast is solid with the previously mentioned Deborah Foreman as well as Amy Steel as our two female leads. Amy Steel is every bit as good here as she was in Friday the 13th part II, starring again as the “final girl”. The gore is subdued as all the kills are off screen with us only seeing the bodies after the fact. Like most good slasher movies not in a franchise the identity of the killer is kept in doubt until the very end. When it is revealed it is a huge surprise. Can’t say much more without spoiling things.

I know that a lot of fans don’t like April Fool’s Day. Mostly it is because of the big reveal at the end. This movie came out in 1986 long after the formula was established. Instead of just cranking out another in the line of same stories they did something unique and fun. I think it works really well and recommend everyone give April Fool’s Day a chance.

Next up in my Slasher marathon Girls Nite Out

© Copyright 2017 John Shatzer