Featured Post

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...

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Super 8 (2011)

As a rule, there aren’t many big budget movies that I get too excited about or even feel like I should cover for the horror dude blog. Super 8 is an exception to that rule. It has some science fiction elements and we get a monster that eats people! I never knew we were so crunchy. Yeah, this one belongs here.

To establish the characters, we see that the lead, a boy named Joe Lamb, has just lost his mother in a terrible accident. We are also introduced to his motley group of friends that say inappropriate things on accident. We also meet a man that comes to the funeral only to be tossed out and arrested by Joe’s father who is a local deputy. We later find out Joe’s mother was covering the man’s shift when she was killed so his dad has some issues with him.

Four months later school lets out for summer and the boys start to shoot their own zombie movie on, you guessed it, Super 8. Recruited into the cast is a young lady named Alice who Joe has a crush on. Unfortunately, she is the daughter of the man who was tossed from the funeral, which complicates things with both of their fathers. The crew are shooting at night when a train crash happens right in front of them. Actually, it happens all around them as they are dodging debris while the cars disintegrate around them. It was no accident though because Joe watched a truck drive down the tracks causing the derailment. What they don’t realize until reviewing the film later is that something crawled out of the wreck and is now prowling around their small-town snacking on people and stealing car engines. To cover things up the military starts a fire and evacuates the town. But the boys head back home when they find out that Alice was taken by the creature. Lots of running and screaming ensues as they try to escape both monster and military, who is now in full on combat mode.

This movie works on a couple of levels for me. First is the nostalgia that it provokes. Between the toys, music, models, and even the old Super 8 camera this reminds me of my childhood. I guess I’m just the right age since in nineteen seventy-nine, when the movie is set, I would have been the same age as the characters. Now that can be a double-edged sword. I’m ready to call bullshit at the first mistake when a filmmaker tries to recapture a point in time, especially so of one that I experienced. But I have to say they nail it. Even the posters and things just sitting on shelves are spot on. That was impressive and a nice trip down memory lane for this old guy.

Okay I had to pick the Lens Flare picture...
The movie has a decent adult cast of actors, but really relies on the kids to carry the movie. Here they chose a very good group of young actors and actresses to play the various kids in the movie. There isn’t a weak link in the batch, which is good because they are asked to do a lot. From awkward attempts and preteen romance to screaming in terror as a monster who just ate a guy is chasing them, they are believable throughout.

The story is simple, but solidly written. It has a predictable ending and can be shmaltzy at times, but I’m okay with it. Not every monster movie needs to break new ground or be brutal and traumatizing to be a good time. Super 8 is the kind of movie that could be a bet scary for the small ones but is an excellent choice for kids around the age of the characters in the movie. The one thing that I found annoying is a single “F” bomb that is dropped. Not only is it not needed but it feels a bit forced in the scene. That is my only complaint.

Super 8 is a monster movie so we need to talk creature here. Everything is CGI, from alien to train wreck. But it is done really well and where the CGI meets actual props/sets is blended so seamlessly that it is barely noticeable. This helps make the digital work seem more natural and not as obvious. The bus crash is a prime example of this. The creature is CGI, but the bus is a real set. I dare you to go back and watch the sequence and tell me where the creature ends and set begins. Even when it is just the creature and all CGI on screen it looks good. There is a neat gag when it’s attitude towards the humans changes a bit and something interesting happens with its eyes. This is subtle and really important to the scene and what happens next. That kind of attention to detail is what makes the difference between well done and bad digital effects work.

This is an excellent throwback to the days when movies for kids were sophisticated and fun rather than the dumbed down stuff we get now. It shouldn’t be a surprise that it was produced by Steven Spielberg and directed/written by J.J. Abrams. If you have been under a rock for the last five years and don’t know about Super 8 go watch it. Not kidding stop reading this, turn off your computer and go rent it!

© Copyright 2020 John Shatzer

Friday, March 27, 2020

Stanley (1972)

Tim is a good guy that just wants to be left alone in his isolated home in the swamp. Just back from Vietnam he has a horrible opinion of the human race and tries to live his life without hurting anyone or anything. His attempts at this are complicated by the racism shown towards him as he is a Seminole Indian. His only human friends are an old stripper that it is hinted had a relationship with his father and a doctor that runs a clinic that he supplies with snakes to be milked for their venom. I say human friends because his best friend is Stanley the rattlesnake. In fact, Tim has a lot of snakes that live with him that not only don’t bite him but actually seem to be somewhat friendly. Is this because Tim is an Indian and has some spiritual attachment to them? Is it perhaps that the snakes find that they share a common enemy in human beings? The movie never really explains why but he and the snakes are kindred spirits. 

If this were the movie then it wouldn’t be that much fun so of course there is a villain of sorts. We have a disreputable fellow named Thompkins who keeps sending his men into the swamp to capture and kill snakes. Snake skin belts are all the rage in New York City and he is getting good money for them. This keeps escalating until Tim and Stanley end up tricking a couple of the men into walking into quicksand. Spoiler alert, they don’t save them! But one of the men sent in, nicknamed Psycho, finds Tim’s cabin and smashes Hazel and her babies. Hazel was Stanley’s “wife” and the babies his children. This sends old Tim spiraling downwards in a fit of anger, which is made worse when he sees his stripper friend bite the head off of one of the snakes he gave her!

Things wrap up with some revenge on all the people that wronged them. But in a weird twist Tim takes things too far when he kidnaps a witness and tries to make her stay with him in his “Eden”, aka. his shack in the swamp. Things get very weird when Stanley refuses to just take orders and decides to stop Tim’s rampage. In the end the rattlesnake is our hero… weird movie.

I love Stanley and have since the first time I watched it years ago on one of the local horror hosted late night television shows. This movie is one of the best examples of a drive-in movie that you will ever find. It has that exploitive feel of being pitched as Willard with snakes which had just come out and was a huge box office success, so of course an independent filmmaker had to take advantage of that. But this movie also taps into something that would become a staple in later years and that is it deals with a Vietnam vet coming home and not fitting in. The character of Tim hates people after being traumatized by his time in the service. While we see his people invite him to come live in the village, but he can’t or just won’t. Something about going to war damaged him in a fundamental way. It makes him a sympathetic character, even when he is killing people!

Our main characters
We also get some drive-in staples to sleaze things up a bit. There is Alex Rocco playing Thompkins as the creepiest swinging seventies guy you can imagine. From his over the top wardrobe, to things he casually says to Tim about being an Indian, to the really inappropriate stuff he says to his daughter the movie dials it up to an eleven on the “scuzzy” scale. Spinal Tap references always make me smile. There is also casual pill popping by Psycho as well as real snakes being killed on camera. Yeah that last one would never fly today but they actually shoot and smash live rattlesnakes on camera. Hell, after filming they made Stanley, the star of the movie, into a wallet! Isn’t that some shit?

Not everyone likes old drive-in movies or those that can at times push the boundary of good taste. I’ve always enjoyed this movie and have gone out of my way to get as many people as possible to watch it. From that experience I can confidently say that most of you who would take the time to read this review or care about my opinion on movies will enjoy this one. I highly recommend Stanley.

© Copyright 2020 John Shatzer

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Squirm (1976)

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the world’s only killer earthworm movie, at least that I know of, the Jeff Lieberman directed “classic” Squirm. I could try and be cool like all the hipsters and act as if I enjoy this movie ironically, but damn it I love it! Let me attempt to tell you why you should as well.

Mick has made plans to come to the small town of Fly Creek to check out some antiques for his business. Though it is clear that he is really in town to check out the beautiful Geri, which is good for him since she is also interested. His visit coincides with a big storm that has knocked out electricity to Fly Creek and the surrounding areas. This is important since the downed power lines are dumping a huge electrical charge into the earth and that is driving the local population of worms to become homicidal! Killer worms that sneak up and kill you because of electricity… seems legit!

Of all the nature run amuck movies this is maybe the silliest and most memorable of them. Now let me warn you that if you sit down expecting something serious you are going to be disappointed. But then again who pops in a movie about killer worms and expects a serious horror flick? Don’t get me wrong this isn’t played for laughs and the cast is taking the proceedings seriously which just adds to the fun. But when you are dealing with such an absurd setup as killer worms slowly sneaking up on people to kill them without the victims noticing it is going to lead to laughs.

The movie is filled with a ton of funny situations as people suddenly look down and are shocked to see the floor covered with “deadly” threats. Others sit quietly and wait for their doom to arrive. Then again, we also find out that the worms are smart and plan attacks, like loosening the roots of a tree so that it will drop onto the dining room of a nearby house as the family is sitting down for supper! None of this is explained, nor do we find out why the characters are so willing to sit and watch the worms slowly close in on them. But honestly it doesn’t matter because while Squirm is absurdly goofy it is also very enjoyable.

Worms to the face!
I suppose if you really hate worms then this one might get under your skin a bit. I say that because they use a lot of real worms. I think they had a few hundred pounds of them on set. There is even a story that they bought so many that there was a shortage of worms for fishing season in the area that they shot the movie. Other than a face getting partially eaten and a couple bodies seen after the fact we don’t get much else in the way of special effects and gore. That said for a cheesy seventies drive-in movie I’m totally okay with that. The movie promises killer worms and by God delivers them!

Squirm isn’t the greatest movie ever made. But director Jeff Lieberman takes what he had and gives the audience an enjoyable way to kill ninety or so minutes. Not everything has to be art and sometimes movies can just entertain. I’ve always been entertained by Squirm and recommend it whenever I can.

© Copyright 2020 John Shatzer

Monday, March 23, 2020

Split Second (1992)

I’m a big Rutger Hauer fan but somehow totally missed catching this one when it came out. In fact, I just recently watched it for the first time more than twenty-five years after it was released. Was it worth the wait? Read on and find out.

Hauer plays detective Stone, a cop who is on a mission. His partner was killed by a mysterious serial killer years earlier and he is determined to find the killer and make them pay. Early on we also get to see that Stone has a strange connection to the killer and knows when he is around. After some shenanigans at a club where the latest victim is found slaughtered in the ladies room, he is partnered up with a young straight-laced detective Dick Durkin. So, we are all ready for a buddy cop movie… except that isn’t what we get at all!

The movie is set in the distant future of 2008 where global warming has caused the oceans to rise and London, where the movie is set, to be partially flooded by the Thames river. This is important because we eventually find out that the killer isn’t a person at all but some sort of mutated rat sewer monster that because it had attacked Stone years before now carries part of his DNA with it. This is why there is a psychic connection between the two. Stone and Durkin, along with his long dead partner’s wife (played by Kim Cattrall), end up venturing into the flooded sewers to do battle with the monster.

Again, how did I miss this movie? The dialogue is snappy and gives Hauer the chance to chew the scenery and generally be awesome. This is him at his best and if you are a fan of the man, then you will love Split Second. His character of Stone is tortured by guilt, while also being self-destructive, super violent, sarcastic, and generally a pain in the ass. This is a perfect role for him because no one else played this better in the eighties and nineties. The rest of the cast is solid with the aforementioned Cattrall as well as some other familiar faces showing up along the way.

Hauer was the man!
The movie is paced perfectly and gets right to the action without ever stopping for too long. Split Second is an action movie in every sense. Shots are fired, people are killed, things blow up and very large guns checked out of the armory. That last one is a reference to a line of dialogue from Durkin after he finally sees the creature and realizes that most bullets bounce right off it. Speaking of the creature it doesn’t get much screen time which was a bummer. When you do finally see the monster, it looks decent. I mean honestly it is clearly an Aliens rip off but is executed nicely so I give them credit for that if not originality. The movie uses a lot of fast cuts and shadows to keep us from seeing too much which is fine until the big fight at the end. By then I wanted to see it and Hauer do battle. Because of the editing I was a bit disappointed with the finale.

Overall Split Second is an excellent movie that again proves there were good genre flicks coming out in the nineties I just wasn’t paying attention! It has become pretty easy to find and I recommend that you either stream or add it to your collection. You won’t be disappointed.

© Copyright 2020 John Shatzer

Friday, March 20, 2020

Society (1989)

Society is one of those movies that I never got around to watching. Not sure if it was just not available at the shops I was renting at in the early nineties. Though to be fair at some point this transitioned from that to everyone saying, “You have to watch this movie… it is totally something that you would love”. I have this weird issue with people telling me that. Probably some deep-seated insecurity or perhaps the need to be contrary. I ignored all of the suggestions over the years, but then Joe Bob Briggs played it and of course I had to watch it.

Poor Bill is a rich white Beverly Hills kid that doesn’t get along with his family. But unlike some of the overly dramatic spoiled children we get in other movies this time he might have a point. They make little effort to include him in their snooty society events and don’t mind that he misses his sister’s coming out party for a basketball game. Things are clearly messed up as we later get hints tossed at us that Bill’s sister is way too close to their parents… like creepily familiar. Shit is getting weird, though this is nothing yet.

Bill ends up figuring out that he is adopted and doesn’t really belong or fit in with his family and I don’t mean in an afterschool ‘you don’t understand me’ kind of way. This society that they belong too is actually made up of a race of beings that aren’t human. They are shapeshifters and are able to melt their bodies and twist into all kinds of shapes. They also like to have giant gooey body pile orgies and don’t care about how closely you are related. Though the real deal breaker for Bill is when he finds out he has been groomed to be consumed by the group. Basically, you get melted into a pile of them as they absorb you. Not sure if it is for nourishment or if they are just really creepy. I’m probably going for the latter.

Okay, what the hell movie? This flick from director Brian Yunza is incredibly messed up and I’ll admit enjoyably twisted. The plot is paper thin and makes no effort to hide the fact that Bill is being setup. You have over the top nasty characters that seemingly get away with anything they want to. This is also one of those flicks that has the villains pulling off overly complicated and unnecessary tricks to mess with Bill. I mean they just plan on killing him on the special night anyway so why all the extra effort? I guess you could attribute the plans to them being evil and twisted, but the story already did a good job of establishing that.

Things get weird... very weird
But honestly Society isn’t about plot and character. Instead this is all about the payoff at the end. A bunch of naked rich white people melt and consume a single victim, Blanchard, who was dating Bill’s sister at one point. There is a giant pile of flesh that melt into and around him until the leader basically climbs up his butt to finish him off… I think that is what happened. Seriously what the hell movie? When it is Bill’s turn to “contribute” to society he escapes because I guess their only weakness is being fisted up their butt (again with this…). Not sure why the rest didn’t stop him. Then again does it matter.

There are two reasons to watch Society. One is for the many WTF moments that come early and often. The second is for the payoff at the end where we get to see some insane special effects work that is unlike anything else I’ve ever seen before. Now these are both very good reasons to watch the movie. But as for this cult status that it seems to have gained, I’m not sure I agree. I’ve finally seen it and it’s cool, but this certainly doesn’t have the performances or re-watch value of say Re-Animator or The Dentist (another movie directed by Yunza). I’m going to recommend this one but at the same time not buy into the cult classic status that has been endowed on it by some overeager fans. If you can I would watch it on Shudder with the Joe Bob Briggs takes mixed in during the breaks.

© Copyright 2020 John Shatzer

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Slither (2006)

A small town is about to celebrate the opening of deer hunting season, or maybe it is the closing of it. I’m really not sure, but there are a lot of flannel and guns in town so that is cool. One of the big shots locally is named Grant Grant. He is married to a beautiful local teacher named Starla. One night when she rejects his advances, he hits a bar and then wanders into the woods where he is attacked and taken over by an alien worm. This slowly mutates him into a monster that while still retaining some of Grant’s memories and insecurities also gives him an overwhelming urge to either consume or control everything living in town, both human and animal. Against him are a few survivors including local lawman Bill Pardy, Starla, Mayor MacReady, and a couple others. It is up to them to stop the menace before it can expand beyond town and destroy all life on Earth. This all leads to an explosive finale.

I was one of the people who went to see this on opening weekend, and I loved it! Though according to my research, I was apparently one of the few who did go see it in the theater. For this review I checked on the box office and was shocked to realize how poorly that it did. I knew it wasn’t a hit, but this actually flopped horribly. That annoys me because Slither is one of the best monster movies of the last twenty years and I plan on proving that to you with this review.

First the cast and crew are excellent. Nathan Fillion is really good portraying Bill Pardy with the same self-deferential charm that would serve him well in later roles like Castle. He has some very funny lines and can also believably pull off the action sequences. Elizabeth Banks is great as Starla delivering some serious dialogue in over the top silly situations. Though the best performance comes from Michael Rooker, who spends a lot of the movie under a ton of makeup effects. He is both sympathetic and scary as a man struggling with the changes happening to him. Director James Gunn also brings an appreciation of the genre as well as a wicked sense of humor to the proceedings, both of which were nice to see.

Speaking of humor this movie is chocked full of great dialogue. From Pardy admitting that he is going to change the encounter with the alien possessed deer to make him the hero to the family fun day line there is some very quotable gold in Slither. My favorite line has to do when they see a person absorbed by the Grant monster blob and Pardy dropping the classic, “Well, now that is some fucked up shit.” Between the writing, line delivery, and timing from the cast there is a lot to enjoy, but let’s not forget that this is still a horror movie about an alien invasion. Which of course leads me to the next discussion.

Slug attack!
It is time to talk effects, gore and kills. In addition to the funny bits Slither also gives you about everything you could want in the way of special effects work. There are hundreds of worms that come popping out of a bloated woman that Grant used as an incubator for his alien brood. When she pops they come out like a tidal wave. This leads to a lot of slug attacks as they are squirming down throats and taking up residence in brains. Early on they have a cool effect that looks like an x-ray that follows the first alien as it possesses Grant. We get to watch it shoot up his spinal cord and take over. We also get people split in half, guts hitting the ground, more than one headshot, acid getting spit at people, and of course the creature design on Grant. A lot of this stuff is digital, but it looks decent enough. We do get some practical gags along the way as well. There is a lot to appreciate here and I can’t think of a single scene or gag that isn’t pulled off.

Great cast, dialogue, director, special effects, and kills make for a fun movie. Why didn’t Slither find an audience? Is it because they released it in March rather than October? Were people not interested in a rated R creature feature? It confuses the heck out of me because this was and is a great movie. My only consolation is that fans have found it in the decade plus since its initial theatrical run. If you haven’t discovered the awesomeness of Slither yet go get yourself a copy. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

© Copyright 2020 John Shatzer

Monday, March 16, 2020

Mom and Dad (2018)

While prowling around the internet I stumbled upon the announcement that there was a new movie coming out starring Nicolas Cage. I can’t lie and pretend that I wasn’t interested. As bad as most of his recent outings have been there is some enjoyment out of seeing him overact and chew on the scenery. Then I read that Selma Blair was co-starring and that the movie was about an epidemic of parents killing their children. Now this has some potential!

Things start off nicely enough. Cage and Blair play the parents of a teenage daughter and elementary aged son. The movie follows the family on its normal day that is derailed by media coverage of kids being killed. This prompts the parents to track down their children to protect them… and of course as soon as they see the kids, they become homicidal. The daughter, Carly, jumps into action to protect her little brother with the aid of her boyfriend, Damon. Eventually Carly and her brother end up in the basement where Cage and Blair’s characters try to gas them by messing with the supply line to the furnace. They are so going to blow up their Dad!

Much mayhem and violence ensue. This includes the paternal grandparents showing up for a planned supper and going apeshit as well. I guess it doesn’t matter how old the kids are you just got to kill them all! Who could they possibly have cast as Cage’s father? God dang Lance Henriksen! Things get really crazy really fast with some kitchen cutlery and a prized muscle car. After some deaths and more terrible stuff happening the movie just sort of ends and does so in a perfect way.

I rather enjoyed Mom and Dad. There are some horrific and disturbing scenes in it. Oddly enough they don’t have much to do with gore. There is a scene in a hospital where Blair’s sister is giving birth and the buildup to giving her the baby to hold for the first time was gut-wrenching. The audience knows something bad is up, but the characters don’t. This also leads into a quick bit with fathers starring at their newborns thru the glass. The look on their faces is creepy as hell.

Cage is always awesome not matter how bad the movie.
When we finally get to the meat of the plot with the parents coming home to kill Carly and her brother it gets crazy. Mostly because Nicolas Cage is awesomely over the top. Dude is singing the Hokey Pokey while trying to kill them which is a call back to him being lovingly goofy early in the day. It was also really funny to see Mom and Dad fighting over him bringing a gun into the house that she didn’t know about. I mean the kids could get hurt! Sure, they are trying to kill them, but he needs to be responsible I guess? The dialogue and the normal conversational way that Cage and Blair deliver it only adds to how bonkers this whole setup and situation is.

Most of the kills are implied or off screen. You see a bit of gore, but this isn’t the kind of movie that is going to linger on it. The direction and editing are solid and keep the action moving along and slowly building tension. You can see something coming but aren’t sure what. In fact, the movie ends in a totally abrupt and surprising way. But I liked it a lot. The opening credits have a very retro feel to them and was a nice way to start off. I also noticed a lot of cool older songs that as a child of the eighties I really dug. The highlight for me was when Erasure’s Chains of Love pops on during a big fight in and around the muscle car. It was an odd choice but this is an odd movie so it works.

Honestly, I haven’t even scratched the surface with Mom and Dad. There are so many cool things going for this one that all I have left to say is check it out. Good flick that is worth your time.

© Copyright 2020 John Shatzer

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)

Kids are hanging out necking in the woods when they see a shooting star. Mike and Debbie decide to interrupt their fun and investigate since it looked like it crashed nearby. They aren’t the only ones as Farmer Gene gets there first with his dog Pooh Bear and trust me that doesn’t end well. The kids show up afterwards and end up thinking it is some strange circus since a big top has been setup in the middle of the woods. Only it isn’t a circus but is in fact a space ship filled with Killer Klowns! The title is beginning to make sense now, right?

The pair get back to town where they try to get the police to believe them, but of course that isn’t going to happen. I mean adults… am I right? Only when officer Dave sees the Klowns in action that he sets Mike free to warn the town while he goes to the station to summon help. But will that be in time? The Klowns are running all over town killing and kidnapping the locals for food. I suppose a Klown does have to eat… The movie ends in a big showdown between our heroes and the alien menace who luckily does have a weakness they can exploit.

I love this movie. The premise is absurd but works well for the overall tone of Killer Klowns from Outer Space. This is a parody of the old fifties monster movies that I’ve covered quite extensively here at Crappy Movie Reviews. You have “kids” (actors well into their twenties portraying characters much younger than that) finding out about an alien invasion and trying to warn the adults. They don’t listen to the teens, or in this case college students, and accuse them of playing pranks. This is taken to the extreme when Officer Mooney, played brilliantly by the great John Vernon, refuses to acknowledge the phones ringing off the hook. His response to all the calls for help? Kick back at his desk and ignore them!

There are other examples and references to the classic fifties sci-fi tropes such as the out spot when it all starts, a farmer being the first victim, something crashing from the sky, and eventually the younger generation saving the day. These are all lifted from the Blob but were used repeatedly in movies like Invasion of the Saucer Men and The Giant Gila Monster. This connection to old movies only makes me love Killer Klowns more.

The Klown makeup is great and varies from one to the other giving all the alien baddies a unique and individual look. The Chiodo brothers, who made this movie, got their start off as special effects guys so this attention to detail shouldn’t come as a surprise. This is all practical effects work with actors in actual rubber suits and masks as it should be! The Chiodo brothers were also responsible for another favorite creature feature of mine, Critters, so I’m a huge fan. The kills aren’t terribly bloody, but we do get a head knocked off which is fun. The rest of the kills are Klown themed and include cotton candy guns, shadow puppets, and little popcorn monsters. God, I love this movie!

This is a personal favorite of mine. I had the chance to see it on its initial release and have never forgotten how much fun it was to see in the theater. Since then I’ve watched it every year around Halloween and even managed to catch a screening in the theater this past year (check out this link). Regardless of how many times I’ve watched Killer Klowns from Outer Space is has never disappointed. You can’t ask for much more than that. I’m recommending this one if you haven’t figured it out yet.

© Copyright 2020 John Shatzer

Monday, March 9, 2020

House of the Long Shadows (1983)

I’m a huge fan of director Pete Walker’s movies, especially his output from the seventies. He had retired by the end of that decade only to return for this one last time. With House of the Long Shadows he was hired by Cannon films to make an old school horror flick and boy did he succeed at that.

Desi Arnaz Jr. plays Kenneth, an American author touring England promoting his latest novel. When his publisher makes a comment about how they don’t write them like they used to Kenneth bets him that he could knock out an old school story in twenty-four hours. The bet is accepted, and an isolated country house is chosen as a nice quiet location to work. Only the place turns out to not be so peaceful. The weekend that he arrives to write also happens to be the same time that the former inhabitants decide to revisit their ancestral home. If that weren’t enough the publisher also sent his lovely assistant Mary along to spook Kenneth and distract him! I suppose all is fair when bets are involved.

Now if this alone were the story it wouldn’t be terribly interesting, would it? The family has a skeleton in their proverbial closet, as well as one upstairs in a locked room! Before anyone realizes it they are all being stalked and killed off one at a time by an insane brother bent on revenge. It doesn’t matter if you are family or not, being present is enough to make you fair game. The rest of the movie plays out as a mystery/stalk and kill. Along the way we get a couple old school twists and turns to make things entertaining.

I love this movie for a couple of reasons. The first of which is the casting. When Walker was hired to direct an old school horror movie, he basically cast everyone still living from the old days. The patriarch of the family is played by John Carradine with his sons being portrayed by Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and Vincent Price. Let that marinate in your brain for a few seconds. Here we have four of the greatest horror actors ever, and certainly the best still living at the time. The only bummer was that they had intended to cast Elsa Lanchester as the only daughter, but she was too ill to travel to the set. Not only is it amazing to see these guys working off of one another, but individually they are each able to bring something unique to the screen. Cushing plays the mousy, cowardly brother with zeal. Price is larger than life delivering over the top soliloquies and chewing up scenery, and well Lee is awesomely creepy. This alone makes House of the Long Shadows worth a watch. But that isn’t all we get.

Look at this cast... seriously drink it in. Amazing...
The source material for the movie is based on an old play, Seven Keys to Baldpate, which itself had already been made into a movie seven times as well as a television adaptation in the fifties. While this story only loosely references the material in spirit it is very close. Basically, this is a more modern, for the early eighties, take on the old dark house movies that were immensely popular in the thirties. We get hidden doors, cobwebs, candles, and a big storm outside effectively trapping our characters in a giant spooky house. Of course, there is murder and a family secret that no one wants to revel as well as an unknown and unseen killer lurking about. The filmmakers effectively took these classic actors and put them in an equally classic story completely succeeding in making a fun throwback film.

I could and want to go on talking about House of the Long Shadows, but I’m afraid I’d spoil things and I really don’t want to do that. The decade of the eighties was dominated by Slasher movies and other gorefests. While I love those movies there is something special about seeing these old favorites getting a chance for one last hurrah together. Plus, this is the only movie where the big three of Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and Vincent Price appear onscreen together. How can you pass that up? In case it isn’t obvious I’m going to recommend that you don’t pass on it. For many years you could only find this movie on bootlegs of varying quality, but now there is a very nice and affordable Blu-Ray from the fine folks at Kino Lorber. I suggest this as the best way to check out the movie.

© Copyright 2020 John Shatzer

Friday, March 6, 2020

Herschell Gordon Lewis’ Bloodmania (2017)

I’ve known about this movie for a while now but avoided watching it. First it was the final project of one of my favorite directors, H.G. Lewis, which made me sad. This is the last new thing that I would ever see from him. Second it was an anthology with only two of the four stories being directed by him and I’ve heard bad things about the other segments. I really didn’t want the last new H.G. Lewis movie to be anything other than great. Eventually I sucked it up and checked it out.

The first story is directed by H.G. Lewis and is called Gory Story. It is a random bit of nonsense that basically exists to be bloody and do horrible things to the main character. Brewster has a hook for a hand and inexplicably it has a mind of its own. Basically, the hook makes him do terrible things on accident, mostly to himself. Though he has a hook because he tried to cut off his cheating girlfriend’s hand with a chainsaw and lopped his own off instead. So maybe he is just a klutz.

As one would expect from a story from H.G. Lewis this has a lot of gore in it. Brewster not only lops his hand off in a flashback, but he also loses an eye, gets puked on by a kid, and gets his legs run over. For the most part the effects work is practical but done on the cheap. The latter is important because that is what I want from an H.G. Lewis flick, lots of cheap gore. There is also a bad pun towards the end that made me groan and giggle simultaneously. So far, I’m digging the movie.

Next up is Attack of Conscience. Time for the first segment that Lewis didn’t have a hand in. This is an odd story where we see the same woman being killed by the man that she loves in different scenarios. She is killed in a car wreck that he causes, tossed off a roof, nailed to the wall and burned alive. It ends when he finally just shoots her. It all is very confusing until we realize that she is in a coma. Thru some narration by the doctor taking care of her we find out that she did something violent to the man and his new girlfriend before ending up in a coma. I guess what we see is her in purgatory of sorts, so I suppose the title makes sense.

This story seems like it wanted to be deeper than the budget allowed it to be. Attack of Conscience attempts to have a dreamlike vibe and explore the concepts of guilt and eternal punishment. Any chance as success is ruined by the lousy CGI gore, mediocre acting, and an inexplicably stupid end credits sequence that revisits this segment and kills any impact the story might have retained. I appreciate that this was an attempt to do something different, but it failed miserably.

H.G. Lewis returns as director for the next segment called The Night Hag. After seeing an older couple being killed by something mysterious, we see a new family has moved into the same home. The mother is disturbed by the house and warns her children not to fall asleep. Dad is obviously perturbed by this and sneaks some medicine into her drink so she can sleep. Big mistake as a creepy figure crawls out from the walls and starts to eat his wife’s hair! More weird stuff happens until the couple’s young daughters come to the rescue with some hair remover. I guess they were listening to Mom and were ready to do battle?

Now this is an H.G. Lewis movie!
Other than an odd choice of playing the death of the older couple as a sitcom, complete with a laugh track, this is by far the best entry. Ironically it also has the least amount of gore from the four segments. Lewis instead gives us a very creepy and scary story with a creature that is well designed and frightening. The Night Hag was done with the same low budget as the other stories but looks amazing on screen. While we do get on head ripped off as a highlight of the effects work what really pops the creature design. It is the star of this segment and kicks butt. I found it cool to see that even at the end of his career Lewis had other things to offer rather than just the over the top blood and guts that made him the Godfather of Gore.

Things end up with Gorgeous, a heartwarming story about an all-girl rock band and their homicidal manager who ends up killing everyone in sight. The girls are about to hit it big and decide to go with a younger and hipper representative who understands them and the audience better. But their old manager isn’t going to be tossed away so easily. His last day on the job is also the day they are going to shoot their big music video, so he decides that is as good a day as any to start killing them off. From here it becomes your typical stalk and kill flick. Nothing wrong with that and very satisfying.

This is the most “H.G. Lewis” of the bunch. Over the top gore with a killer spouting odd catch phrases and gleefully murdering his way thru the story. Hands get cut off, a throat gets slashed, intestines are pulled out, and damage is done to an eye! There is tons of nudity which is also fun. The killer, Gordo, keeps crowing “Cock-a-Doodle-Doo” and acting like a fool as he commits his murders. Basically, being awesome in that over the top silly way that I want when watching anything with H.G. Lewis’ name on it. While I still dig The Night Hag the most this is a close second.

All four segments tied together with a wraparound of H.G. Lewis introducing and commenting on what we have just or are about to watch. I was very worried about Bloodmania being a poor way to say goodbye to a legend like Lewis, but they nailed it. Even my least favorite of the four isn’t horrible and the last two kick so much butt that they more than make up for it. This ended up being a great farewell to a legendary director.

© Copyright 2020 John Shatzer

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Harry Price: Ghost Hunter (2015)

I’ve had this on my Amazon Prime to watch list for a while now. I’ve recently been on a haunted house/ghost story kick, so I figured it was time to check it out. Plus, it is a British production and I’ve had some great luck recently with spooky stuff from England. 

Set immediately after World War I the movie opens with Harry Price conducting a bogus séance to milk some cash out of a frightened family. He asks them to leave the room so he can cleanse it which allows the audience to watch him gather up the devices he used to trick them. He collects his cash and heads home. Waiting for him on his front step is a young man in a uniform. Remember that this is right after the war. One thing leads to another and based on the bogus information from an earlier scam the young man kills himself in front of Price.

Years later, well into the twenties, Price has dedicated himself to actual research and goes around trying to explain and debunk spiritualists. Clearly this is him doing penance for his earlier sins. When a very powerful member of parliament is caught up in a scandal involving his wife and their haunted house Price is called in to explain things away. He doesn’t want to, but immediately feels sorry for the woman and decides to try and save her. If he can’t explain her behavior and make things better, she is on her way to spending the rest of her life in a sanitarium.

I can’t say much more than what I did above without giving away spoilers and I don’t want to do that with this movie. Harry Price: Ghost Hunter is an excellent bit of fun that I’m going to recommend. The story is great and has an interesting twist by making our main character a skeptic who tries to explain everything away with science. This means that spooky things happen and we the audience question if it is real or not (cinematically speaking that is) while the protagonist is automatically dismissing it. I can’t remember a supernatural haunting movie that pits the audience against our main character in such a way and I found it a fun exercise. Is this a real haunting or is it some political intrigue attempting to sabotage the career of someone being groomed to lead the country? The story walks that tightrope nicely where it could go either way and maintains the suspense until the credits roll. Do we get any answers at the end? Do they explain it all away or is there a ghost? My answer is… sort of. And that is one of the reasons that I loved the movie.

This is one of those ghost stories (whether it is really a ghost or not!) that managed to create and maintain tension without any jump scares. The movie has so many creepy moments that it doesn’t need to toss the proverbial cat from stage left to generate interest. There are doors that slowly open and close, bells that ring when they shouldn’t, voices when there shouldn’t be any, and the always great strange sounds/knocking. I’ve said it many times when reviewing ghost stories here at the site that I love this old school stuff. My favorite is setup by a single line of dialogue… “He is standing right behind you…” Trust me when you see the scene it will send chills down your spine!

I enjoyed the heck out of Harry Price: Ghost Hunter and recommend it. This is an old school spooky tale that will satisfy fans of the classics like The Uninvited and The Haunting. In case you don’t know those movies (shame on you!) that is high praise.

© Copyright 2020 John Shatzer

Monday, March 2, 2020

Cabin in the Woods (2011)

Have you ever wondered why the characters in horror movies all seem to do the dumbest things? Why do they go off in the scary woods to make with the romance? Are they really stupid enough to play with the creepy stuff in the basement? Well Cabin in the Woods gives answers to all of these questions and more.

Things start off in an office building where we see some workers discussing how the Swedes have failed and it is up to them or the Japanese to get the job done. Um okay… Then we see college kids hop into an RV and head off for a weekend trip at an isolated cabin. Along the way they meet up with a creepy gas station attendant that is sort of a harbinger of doom. They get to the cabin, act stupid, and generally give you what you would expect from a horror film. Then we are back to the workers taking bets. There is a pool on which monster the kids will choose to bring about their doom. What the Hell movie?

Okay so here is the skinny on what is happening. There are elder gods locked deep within the Earth that require a sacrifice. But the key to this is that those sacrifices have to be young and have to of ended up dead by their own choices. So, the governments of the world setup young people in situations that can and will go horribly wrong. Apparently, it isn’t against the rules to nudge or help the sacrifice along thru the use of chemicals and gas. Want people to get frisky in the woods? Pump some pheromones into the environment. Need a smart person to make bad decisions? They have a gas for that. Hell, they even sneak some chemicals into hair dye to make the fake blonde girl act like a real blonde!

Weed saves lives!
I enjoy it when filmmakers take a genre and turn it on its head. This is exactly what Cabin in the Woods does. They take all the expectations of an eighties horror movie, dumb kids, drug use, sex in the woods, etc. and explain it all in the most clever of ways. I was amused the first time that I watched Cabin in the Woods and I still enjoy it after several viewings. Cabin works both as a horror movie and as a parody of one. That is a rare thing. But where it gets really nifty is how the system breaks down on them. One of the sacrifices is a stoner whose chronic weed smoking has immunized him to the drugs they use to influence their behavior. He is the only one that questions everyone else’s behavior. Why are normally smart people acting dumb? Why is the friendly guy suddenly turning into the “alpha male” and the nice girl getting slutty? It is a fun flip of how these sorts of burnout characters are normally handled in horror flicks. He sort of becomes the hero in the end.

Damn they even do a decent Werewolf!
In addition to being clever and well written the movie does deliver the creatures. While they choose a family of zombie hillbillies to be their killers, they had other choices. When they escape into the facility underneath the woods, they let the rest of their potential monsters loose on the facility and the workers. We get to see a werewolf, a pinhead want to be, creepy ballerina, ghosts, killer clowns, and my personal favorite a unicorn. Don’t laugh those horns are sharp! I almost forgot the merman… don’t want to do that.

The final thing that I wanted to mention is the ending. While the rest of the movie has a tongue in cheek feel to it the ending is awesomely horrible. Spoiler alert. A couple of the kids survive, and the movie ends with the old gods rising and destroying the world. How is that for an ending? This movie is funny, twisted, and depressing all at the same time. I love it and recommend checking out Cabin in the Woods.

© Copyright 2020 John Shatzer