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Featured Post - The Giallo Marathon

Yep I'm back with another marathon. This is a first for me here at Crappy Movie Reviews as I've never spent much time on Gialli. The...

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Camp Blood (1999)



I’ve never seen a Camp Blood movie. In fact, I’ve actively ignored them. But when I found out that there were eleven of the damn things and that some friends of mine have already done a marathon of them, I knew that I had to join in. I mean how bad could they really be? I’ve seen some horrible movies so I’m sure that I can survive these. 

The movie opens with a couple walking thru the woods. She is looking for an elusive bird and he is checking out her butt. They stop and get frisky when a clown shows up and kills them both. Then we meet our main characters. Couples Jay and Nichole as well as Steve and Tricia have decided to go camping. Jay has hired a guide named Harris to take them out in the woods. Before they get to the woods and meet the guide, we are introduced to a couple of hunters who find the lady bird watcher and then are dispatched by the clown. Then we get some scenes of the couples walking to camp, setting up tents and telling ghost stories. They wake up the next morning to find Harris burned up and dead. Lost in the woods without their guide the couples try to get out as the clown stalks them. 

For the briefest of moments, I thought we had a good movie here. Initially the pacing is spot on with the birdwatcher and her boyfriend getting stalked and killed. There is some nudity and gore right away. I was thinking to myself ‘they understand the formula’. But then the Camp Blood goes off the rails. We get a lot of walking and talking to pad things out, which is odd since the movie is only seventy-three minutes long. But they clearly didn’t have enough material to fill out that time, so this is what we get. For a decent stretch of the movie, we don’t have any kills, which for a slasher flick isn’t a good thing. The movie is backloaded with some fun stuff in the last ten minutes or so, but that is ruined by the ending. This is one of those flicks that has an ending, then another ending, and then yet another ending. 

The Killer Clown
Tricia, our final girl, manages to kill the clown by running them over. The car never stops, and she continues to drive down the road to safety. Cool ending… but wait. Suddenly the clown is in the back seat and chokes her out. Bummer ending no one lives… but wait. Tricia wakes up in a mental ward being interviewed by a doctor and detective. So, she must have lived. But they think she killed everyone. Fine Camp Blood has a triple twist… but wait. The doctor, detective, and nurse are played by the same actors that portrayed her friends Jay, Nicole, and Steve. So, is she maybe just delusional? I’d say that they were trying to be overly clever but without all these different endings they wouldn’t have hit that magical seventy-minute mark to sell the movie as a feature. 

The low budget kills are my favorite part of Camp Blood. We get ten kills with the highlights being a machete to the chest, a neck getting snapped, another machete attack to the neck, and a burned-up body. Though my favorite kill is a nicely done machete thru the noggin’. The acting is okay, and the movie is mostly shot during the day. The night scenes around the campfire are poorly light and hard to follow. But nothing much happens during them, so it didn’t bug me too much. 

Camp Blood isn’t a good movie. Neither is it terrible. This falls into the mediocre category which means it is utterly forgettable and a by the number’s slasher flick with pacing issues. I can’t recommend it. 

Next up Camp Blood 2

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer



Friday, January 29, 2021

The Skull (1965)



The movie kicks off with some gravediggers in a spooky cemetery. Now that is how you start a movie! We see them dig up a grave and remove the head from the corpse inside the coffin. One of them then takes it home, kicks a naked lady out of his bathtub, and then proceeds to remove the flesh from the skull. Not long afterwards he lets out a scream and is dead.

Years later we are with our main cast. Christopher Maitland, played by Peter Cushing, is a scholar of superstition and is at an auction where he is outbid on some statues of demons by good friend Sir Matthew, played by Christopher Lee. Afterwards Maitland is visited by a sketchy fellow that always seems to have things to sell. They make a deal for a book about the infamous Marquis de Sade that is bound in human flesh! The man promises to return the following night with something even more valuable.

As promised, he shows up the night with a skull, the one we saw earlier. It belonged to the Marquis de Sade and is said to have supernatural powers. Maitland is a skeptic not only in the skulls supposed powers but that it even belonged to de Sade. He mentions it to Sir Matthew who admits the skull was stolen from him and that he doesn’t want it back. This intrigues Maitland who starts to pursue it and ends up entangled in all sorts of satanic shenanigans. In the end he comes to believe that the skull is in fact very evil and that it might have been a mistake to acquire the damned thing.

This is a wonderful old school horror flick. The story is paced well and gets right to the action with the graverobbing. Never fear despite the quick start it doesn’t dump the entire plot out for us as we get bits later with flashbacks to fill in the story. I enjoy the fact that we have something spooky and mysterious happening from start to finish. This is the kind of movie where you need to turn the lights down and watch in the dark. Heck we even get Maitland being menaced by some weird Satanists!

Not only does The Skull have a great story it also boasts genre favorites Cushing and Lee. There is also get blink and you will miss them appearances from Michael Gough as the auctioneer and Patrick Wymark as the sketchy dealer of stolen goods. Additionally we get direction from Freddie Francis who did some wonderful horror flicks in the sixties for Amicus, of which this is one. There is a lot of horror cred in front of and behind the camera with The Skull and it shows.

Peter Cushing does a fantastic job in his role. Much of the horror from The Skull comes from its influence on the characters as it tries to twist them into doing terrible things. The last fifteen minutes of the movie is basically Cushing doing battle with it as he fights to not stab his wife to death. He does this with no dialogue using instead his body language and facial expressions to portray the struggle within. Not many actors could convincingly pull this off without it seeming silly or overly dramatic. Cushing nails it. To a lesser extent Lee, who has a very small role here, adds some gravitas to the proceedings as he sets the stage for what the skull can do. Him not wanting anything to do with it is key to telling the part of the story that sets up what is to happen later.

Skull Vision!
The movie is also shot beautifully. The way that they use lighting both an odd and disturbing green light when the skull is active, to the strobing lights used when it is annoyed the movie finds creative ways to let the audience in on when something bad is happening. You also get some neat perspective shots like the hallway full of gas as well a neat use of mirrors to distort what we are seeing. I’m also a fan of the slightly cheesy “skull view” where the camera is placed inside the skull so we can see what it does. This is a visually interesting movie that makes the sort of absurd premise of everyone being afraid of the skull work.

I could go on but don’t feel the need to. This is a wonderful movie that I highly recommend everyone check out. I’m as big of a Hammer fan as the next guy but I’ve always thought of the Amicus flicks as overlooked gems that were on the same level as the more famous studio. Check it out you won’t be disappointed.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

 

 

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Slither by John Halkin

This is the second book of Halkin’s that I’ve read for review here at the website. Though they share a similar title Slither is unrelated to that earlier book, Slime. The only thing that they share are familiar themes of nature run amok and mankind’s unwillingness to acknowledge a threat right in front of him. In Slime it was killer jellyfish and here with Slither it is killer worms. You know I really do love these Eco Terror books from the seventies.

Our main character is named Matt Parker, a cameraman for television programs. When we first meet him he is in the sewers under London shooting a program and is immediately faced with some strange worm like creatures. Let me take a moment here to clarify the monsters. They are referred to as worms but are really legless lizards or salamander type creatures. Why not just call them snakes you might ask? Well they don’t constrict or inject venom, but are actually the ripping, tearing, and chewing kind of critter. We find that out pretty quick as they attack and tear Matt up pretty well.

The remainder of the book is Matt’s crusade against the worms. He sees the threat as they continue to grow to larger sizes and multiply in numbers. In spite of some horrific things that happen neither his bosses at the T.V. network, nor his family believe him. There is even a line from one of the “experts” where they are called no more dangerous than Ferrets. Clearly this isn’t the case, but will anyone believe him before it is too late? Along the way Matt nearly loses his life, daughter, and spoilers coming… does lose his wife to the worms.

This is a great read. We jump right into the action with Matt’s attack and are then introduced to the other characters establishing the world in which the story is going to take place before getting back to the worms and people being eaten. There are a few sequences where characters are introduced for the sole purpose of being added to the menu. This could be boring, but each death is handled uniquely enough that it never gets old or feels repetitive. Halkin isn’t breaking any new ground here and is telling us a by the numbers monster tale, but he does that very well. As a reader I found myself satisfied with what I got. With that said I also wanted to point out a few things I noticed between this and his earlier book.

While I enjoyed Slime, I had some issues with it that I think are handled much better here. First up the kills in Slither are much nastier and described in gorier detail. This is a creature story and I want them to be both scary and disturbing at the same time. Fingers get gnawed off, guts are spilled, private parts are on the menu, and they aren’t afraid to kill unexpected characters. There are a couple of deaths that I didn’t see coming at all until they were dead on the page. That is a nice bit of writing and made the book a page turner which I finished in a couple of sittings. It would have been one, but I did have to get up for work the next morning.

The characters are more likeable here as well, especially the women. In the previous book Halkin spent a lot of time seemingly going out of his way to make the characters unpleasant. While Matt isn’t the nicest of guys you do end up rooting for him and his family in the end. He has flaws but I found him to be a decent protagonist for the story and that kept me engaged as the reader. It felt like an us versus the worms mentality which much like my previous point kept me interested in the book.

I’ve been digging these British authored Eco Terror books. Guy N. Smith’s Crab series, James Herbert’s The Fog, and Halkin’s Slime and Slither have all been fun reads. Of the ones I’ve mentioned I’d say this is second only to Herbert’s The Fog. I highly recommend Slither as a nice way to spend an afternoon flipping pages. You won’t be disappointed.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Nightmare Symphony (2020)


Via a digital screener I was given the chance to check out Nightmare Symphony which is currently playing festivals. I wasn’t sure what I was getting into but was pleased to find out that this is a Giallo shot in Italy and was written by a frequent Fulci collaborator Antonia Tentori. We also get a theme song from Fabio Frizzi, though I’m not sure it was specifically written for this movie it was still awesome to hear. There is some serious old school Italian filmmaking cred involved here so I was hoping to love it.

Let’s talk a bit about the plot of the movie. First thing we should establish is that this is if not a remake of Fulci’s Cat in the Brain (aka. Nightmare Concert) it was at least inspired by it. That movie has Fulci playing a version of himself that gets caught up in his latest horror project blurring the lines between reality and fiction. This movie also has us following a director, this time played by Frank LaLoggia who has directed some stuff including The Lady in White. That is a cool callback having a director play the part. Before you get annoyed with me as I will refer to him as the director in my review, they never actually give the character a name. So, I don’t have much choice.

The opening is rather brutal and sets the tone for the movie, at least the ending of it. We see a beautiful woman drop her towel and jump in the shower. A mysterious killer dressed as a Peacock is stalking her and when the lights go out and she is attacked. There is liberal use of a razor to cut her up and the camera lingers on the skin being sliced up in a neat bit of practical effects work. Not a bad way to start things off.

Then the director arrives in Rome to finish the edit on his latest horror movie. He is shown a magazine that mentions the woman’s death and is shocked. It seems that she was the start of the very movie he is editing. We also meet several other characters such as an angry actor who psyches himself up in the mirror, a rude guy that hangs around the editing bay, Izzy the director’s friend who is helping him finish the movie, as well as an obnoxious producer and a writer who is angry with what was done to his script. These characters and more act as either victims or suspects and in the best tradition of the Giallo sometimes both.

Movie looks great!
There is a lot to unpack here. The movie did a good job keeping me interesting in what I was watching. There always seems to be something happening to move the story forward. The pacing is solid and the movie clocks in at a tight seventy-eight minutes and doesn’t waste a second of that time. The main character was engaging and the supporting characters interesting enough. I was enjoying the movie until we get to the ending. I’m not sure what to make of it as they do this thing where it is possible it was all in the director’s head, or if somehow he was the killer and is being haunted. Additionally, there are so many nightmares during the movie that I wasn’t sure if this was just another bad dream. I get it that this fits with the title and the Fulci movie that inspired this one. But the one change I would have made was to give Nightmare Symphony an ending rather than keeping it vague.

Kills are fun and creative
The movie nails the practical effects work. Seriously this is some good stuff. In addition to the lady in the opening we also get a knife to the mouth, a couple faces getting cut up with one being completely removed. A head is squished by a car and someone gets suffocated with a script. This is all done onscreen and the camera lingers on the deaths showing the audience how nicely the special effects work looks. Not only does it look good but there was an effort made to make the kills as creative as possible and, in some cases, clearly catering them to the victim. I can’t emphasize enough how great this is to see. Nightmare Symphony has that old school feel to it that I love. Far too many new movies use CGI and/or are filled with generic kills. As someone who grew up watching seventies and eighties movies this movie put a smile on my face.

The camera work is creative, and the music is perfect. Other than clearly not being shot on film, not a complaint, this movie could be dropped into a marathon of classic Gialli and it would fit right in. Again, the ending really bugged me, but I can’t ignore all the other things that I loved. If you dig this genre you will want to check out Nightmare Symphony. I heartily recommend it.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Monday, January 25, 2021

Castle Freak (2020)


Well, there is another remake of an old Charles Band flick. I liked Puppet Master Littlest Reich so maybe this will be decent. Plus, I was never a fan of the original Castle Freak, so I don’t have an axe to grind with this one. For my plot synopsis I debated pointing out the differences as I explain the story but decided against it. I figure that if you are reading this you have either seen the original and don’t need my help or haven’t and don’t care. With that bit of business out of the way I suppose we might as well jump in and see what we have.

We meet our main characters Rebecca and John as they are partying with some college friends. This is important as they are students at some college in Massachusetts. I’m thinking it might be Miskatonic University since this movie leans heavily into the Lovecraftian mythos and one of the characters is sporting a t-shirt from that fictious institution. John gets liquored up and gets behind the wheel leading to a horrible accident, one that blinds poor Rebecca. Later, they don’t specify how long, the pair are in Albania checking out an inheritance from Rebecca’s long-lost mother. You know that sort of thing never ends well.

Some shenanigans happen as Rebecca hears something moving in the walls, a local drug dealer gets killed, and we get a lot of flashbacks of Lavinia, Rebecca’s dead mother. There is of course also the freak running around. Some friends from school show up to help move the furniture and sell off the valuables from the castle, which means they basically came to up the body count. People get murdered, cultists stop by for a summoning, and I think that the world comes to an end as they summon the old ones. If you know anything about Lovecraft’s fantasy world you know what that means.

I have some good things to say about this movie, so I figure that I’ll start there. I liked the cast of unknowns. I mean at least I haven’t seen any of these actors before, so it was a pleasant surprise when the lines were delivered with competence. There are a few vapid and one-dimensional characters but that isn’t the fault of the cast as they aren’t given much to work with. Many of them exist solely to get killed off anyway so I’m not going to pick at them or the movie about this.

The creature design is solid, and the freak looks as good if not a bit better than the original. It is an honest to God actor in latex, which if you read my stuff you know how much I enjoy that. We get some nice sticky and gooey kills. Highlights are a head twisted around like a corkscrew, some self-mutilation thru religious practices, eyes are gouged out, and a head is squished like an overripe grape. We also get some rather disturbing… well I guess for lack of a better word alien “junk” on display as at least one character is inseminated with the seed of an elder god. This movie goes some very disturbing and fun places.

Now we come to my one complaint and it is a sizeable one. Most of all the good stuff I talked about with gore and twisted story bits happen in the last twenty minutes of the movie. This is one of those flicks that backloads all of the good stuff and doesn’t give the audience much to chew on before that. Since this movie is an hour and forty-five minutes long that is a very bad thing. Hell, the friends aka. additional victims don’t even show up until the fifty-minute mark and then wander around for half an hour before anything happens.

This seriously uneven pacing makes the first hour plus of Castle Freak a chore to get thru. While there are some cool easter eggs here and there including a random Cthulhu statue and a copy of the Necronomicon it isn’t enough to make it interesting. I don’t hate this movie and it does have a payoff at the end, but I can’t imagine every sitting thru it again. For me there is zero reason to revisit it now that I’ve seen the ending and now how things shake out. I suppose if you are a big fan of Lovecraft this one might be worth a watch. Though I can honestly say that unlike The Unnamable, another Lovecraft flick I revisit every couple of years, I won’t be watching Castle Freak again.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

 

Friday, January 22, 2021

Ghost Stories (2017)


I was poking around Hulu one night and saw this popup on the list. Being in the mood for a spooky movie I thought it was a perfect flick to check out. First thing that surprised me was that it was an anthology, though if I had been paying attention to the title, I suppose it should have been obvious. So as is the case when I cover one of these, I’m going to break each story down.

The wraparound story that bookends the others follows a skeptic T.V. personality whose show specializes in debunking and embarrassing the hucksters that prey on the vulnerable people. His name is Phillip Goodman and thru a series of flashbacks we see that he had a terrible relationship with his father, much of it revolving around their Jewish faith. This I think lead him into actively attacking all things supernatural. In another flashback we also see that he was inspired as a kid by another investigator named Charles Cameron. That man disappeared under mysterious circumstances while finishing up an investigation.

After watching Goodman take down a John Edwards style television psychic the story follows him as he receives a package in the mail. It is from the long missing and presumed dead Cameron. He has invited Goodman to come for a visit. He does and finds that his hero is in terrible shape both physically and mentally. He wants, almost dares Goodman to investigate three cases that lead him to believe that all the things they have been debunking are real. This leads to the three stories we are to watch.

The first case has Goodman interviewing Tony Matthews. The former night watchman at an abandoned mental institution has a spooky story to tell about the ghost he encountered one night at work. The ghostly little girl who was dumped scared and alone parallels Tony’s own daughter, who is also in the hospital. She is suffering from “locked in syndrome” which means she can’t move or interact with the world around her. After getting the bejesus scared out of him he starts to visit his daughter again, still traumatized by the events he experienced.

If the rest of the movie is going to be as good as this, I’m in for a treat. There are several jump scares and overall the atmosphere is good. This is a spooky story with doors slamming, lights going off, and a coffee mug that moves on its own. It starts off subtle and builds up to a great finish. The actor playing Tony has to carry the story as other than a voice on the radio he is the only character. He does a fantastic job pulling it off.

The Devil is annoyed
The second case is an interview with a young man named Simon Rifkin. This young man has a bad habit of stretching the truth, including if he had passed his driver’s test or not. Coming home from a party he accidentally runs over something in the road while fielding calls from his parents. If that weren’t bad enough it is hinted that it was the Devil he hit. It should come as no surprise that old scratch isn’t too happy about that and decides to let Simon know it.

Of the three this is the least scary and the weakest story. Other than one very cool bit with a hand grabbing his shoulder I didn’t find it tense at all. This one leans more into the general creepy vibe provided by the woods and the nifty bit with a tree that comes to life. Still I can’t say that this is bad I just wasn’t into it. Plus, it really isn’t a ghost story is it? Just saying…

The third and final case has Goodman visiting a man named Mike Priddle, played by Martin Freeman. He and his wife had been career people until deciding to start a family late in life. This led to medical procedures to help them conceive. She gets pregnant, but has a difficult time of it, so she ends up in a clinic under treatment. This leaves him at home alone where some creepy stuff starts happening. It leads to him seeing the ghost of his wife who had died giving birth to something not quite human. This story is told to Goodman while they were out hunting and when it is finished Priddle suddenly kills himself.

Don't wake the baby!
They saved the best for last. There are a ton of scares with this one as we not only get a ghost, but a creepy figure under a blanket, things stacking themselves, and other poltergeist shenanigans. Pay close attention as much of the best stuff is subtle and in the background behind the character. I love it when filmmakers make you really pay attention. The performance by Freeman is excellent and the way they stage things are perfect.

After this we then finish with the wraparound story. Goodman returns to Cameron angry that he has been set up. All of the stories can be explained away with guilt, paranoia, and/or depression. Here is where things go off the rails. Be warned I have some spoilers coming so you might not want to continue. Cameron stands up and rips off a mask revealing that he is Priddle… only Priddle isn’t Priddle. I know it is confusing but stick with me and I’ll explain. Goodman is caught up in some sort of personalized nightmare as Priddle/Cameron takes him back to a time when Goodman was young where he didn’t intervene, and an innocent mentally disabled kid died. He must be in some purgatory, therefore proving an afterlife… or maybe not.

There is another big reveal that shows Goodman lying on a hospital bed on life support. Thru some dialogue from his caregivers we find out he tried to kill himself, but only managed to put himself in a vegetative state. Or so they think so. All of the characters from the stories mirror those people working at the hospital so on some level Goodman must be aware of his surroundings. He isn’t trapped in some supernatural hell but an actual living one that nobody around him realizes he is in.

As much as I enjoyed the ghost stories the twist ending ruined things for me. It feels like one of those movies or shows where everything is resolved with the “you were only dreaming” trope. I was having fun with some killer ghost stories only for the movie to hit me with the reveal that nothing I just watched was real. I suppose that is a clever twist that might work for some viewers, but it annoyed me. That said I think there is a lot here to enjoy and while I’ll not watch Ghost Stories again because of how it ends the movie is still worth a look.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Thursday, January 21, 2021

The Fog by James Herbert

First up to avoid any confusion I need to point out that this has nothing to do with John Carpenter’s movie the Fog. This completely unrelated book has nothing to do with ghosts or leper colonies. Instead it falls solidly into the ecohorror subgenre that was popular in the seventies.  This is also the second book that I’ve read and reviewed for the website. I rather enjoyed that book, The Spear, and it made me seek out Herbert’s other work.

The book is set in England and follows John Holman, who works for the government investigating different environmental concerns and problems. This is sometimes done with other parts of the government, like the military, unaware of it. Returning from investigating a secretive military base Holman is caught in what appears to be a natural disaster as a huge crack opens up in the earth and basically swallows a small village with him along for the ride. He manages to escape but is exposed to a strange fog that drives him crazy. Literally he becomes a mental patient in minutes! He recovers, we later find out due to a blood transfusion because of other injuries and becomes immune to the effect of the fog. This is important since it is spreading across the countryside making people lose their minds in violent ways.

I could go on about the plot, but it isn’t necessary. The Fog is a solid bit of ecohorror that shows us again that the human race is sometimes too smart for his own good. The “monster” here is a manmade disease that lives in the fog and feeds on those that it infects. Basically, this thing is a cancer that destroys and consumes the brain, making the host progressively more insane and violent. This leads to all kinds of twisted stuff like mass suicides, murder, rape, and all sorts of other abhorrent behavior. All of which is luridly and effectively brought to the page by Herbert. I’m a huge fan of exploitation movies of the seventies and how sleazy they can get. The Fog has a similar vibe and I enjoyed the heck out of it.

Some other things that I wanted to mention include the characters. Our main character of Holman is your typical protagonist in this sort of story. He is a crusader, here doing all he can to make sure that the environment is protected. Between this and protecting his lady we have all the motivation for his actions that we need. There aren’t really any antagonists, but we do get an interesting twist with a character that was hostile to Holman early on before they realized there was an issue with the fog. When they are exposed the irrational part of their brain causes them to go after him again. That was a fun twist and leads to a nifty showdown. To finally destroy the threat, they have to blow up a big chunk of London. See Herbert knows how to end a story like this!

As much as I enjoyed the Spear this book is even better. This was Herbert’s second novel after The Rats, which is supposed to be an even better bit of ecohorror. I will be tracking that book as well as his other works down and adding them to my collection. You can expect to see some of them reviewed here at the Horror Dude Blog in the future. And if it isn’t’ already obvious I’m recommending The Fog.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Holidays (2016)


I haven’t done an anthology for a while so it was time. I figure the easiest way is to break them down in order with a plot synopsis and briefly what I thought about them. Holidays has eight segments, each one covering a holiday (makes sense, right?) without a wraparound story. Might as well dive right in. Oh, and a huge warning here there are spoilers!

Valentine’s Day. An unpopular girl is being picked on by the rest of the swim team. The coach of the team tries to encourage her and later gives her a card. It is a rather harmless card, but we see that in her mind it is a romantic gesture. We also find out that in spite of looking healthy the coach has a serious heart problem. Can you see where this is going? Yeah, she decides to find him a heart and of course chooses one of her tormenters as the donor. We don’t get to see much of the attack but do get a nice shot of the heart right at the end. This was a strong way to start the movie and I rather liked it. Sadly, they weren’t all this fun.

St. Patrick’s Day. Set in Ireland the story immediately establishes the pagan nature of the legend of St. Patrick. This is important because a creepy little girl shows up in a teacher’s class. The teacher does her best to make the little girl smile, but nothing seems to work. That is until the little girl leaves a cryptic note and a snake made out of twine. Not long afterwards the teacher is pregnant after a one night stand and the little girl smiles at her. Only she is pregnant with a snake! Someone no one makes her go to the hospital and she refuses to get rid of it. When she does give birth, we find out that her one night stand and the girl are related and that they are all pagans. This wasn’t the worst of the batch but not great either.

Easter. This is the most screwed segment of any. I’m not sure what exactly the point is but we see a little girl being put to bed by her mother. She keeps asking questions and her mom keeps promising that if she goes to sleep in the morning there will be chocolate. But then the little girl says she is afraid of Jesus because he came back from the dead! Finally, she does go to sleep but wakes up later in the night. When she gets up for a drink of water she runs into the Easter Bunny who is also part Jesus… I think that is what they were going for. Since she saw him she has to take his place and I guess become the new Easter Bunny. This has the sense of something that is trying to be cool but isn’t. I really didn’t like this one at all and it has nothing to do with the religious stuff. It just didn’t make any sense.

Easter Bunny Jesus... I shit you not!
Mother’s Day. Here we find a woman that really doesn’t want kids. But somehow every time she has sex she gets pregnant no matter how many precautions she takes. A doctor recommends that she head off to a new age fertility clinic run by her sister. When she arrives they drug her, she has sex with some random guy, and they keep her captive until she gives birth. Not sure what is coming out of her because the segment ends with a man’s bloody arm popping out. This had interesting moments but in the end it didn’t make a ton of sense. Still it was better than Easter Bunny Jesus.

Father’s Day. They never explicitly say but the woman who is basically the only character in this segment was abandoned by her father. One day a package shows up with a tape that he recorded the day he left her. He was going to meet someone mysterious and mentions it is a once in a lifetime chance. The tape promises if she follows his instructions she will see him again. Of course, she does follow the tape and ends up in a creepy old building and approaches a figure sitting in a chair. Something happens and then it ends. That is about all we get here but unlike Mother’s Day enough is hinted at with the tape that it kept my interest and more importantly I didn’t feel cheated. I liked this one but not as much as the next story.

Halloween. One of the reasons that I decided to watch Holidays is because Kevin Smith directed one of the segments. I’m a big fan of his work, though his horror outings haven’t been too stellar. Though Red State kicked ass! Here we find a guy recruiting girls for his web cam porn business. He is clearly selling them a bill of goods and when he arrives back to his apartment we meet his current stable of girls. It is quickly apparent that he is an abusive scumbag. After he decides to have some fun with one of them they turn the tables on him. Next thing you know he is on the webcam and in an “uncomfortable” situation. Yeah it gets pretty twisted. This is a solid entry but the next two are the best.

Christmas. Seth Green plays a father looking for that Christmas Toy that all the kids want. He arrives too late to get the last one, but when the man who got it has a heart attack he takes advantage and makes off with the gift for his son. The toy is called a UVU (you view you) and is some kind of goggles that connect to the internet and show you stuff tailored for you. This leads to his wife finding out that he left a man to die for a toy and for Green’s character to discover something even more disturbing about her. Great entry that has a nice twist ending.

New Years. We first meet up with a man who is unstable. This is obvious when he kills the woman tied to a chair because it wasn’t working out. He must meet them on dating sites because before too long he is on another date on New Year’s Eve. He is a bit awkward while talking to her but excitedly accepts her offer to return to her apartment. Looks like we are going to see him murder another person, right? Of course not! There is a twist that every horror fan should see coming a mile away. She is crazier than him. This leads to the best gore in the movie with a foot getting chopped off and an axe to the noggin’. Good stuff.

There are some fun segments mixed in with some mediocre and confusing ones. Overall, I found the movie to be okay but not great. Unlike Creepshow or Trick-r-Treat which I own and watch every October one viewing of Holiday is enough. I’m glad I watched it off of Netflix and only invested a couple hours of my time on it. That is about all of the credit I’m willing to give. It is worth a watch but not more.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Monday, January 18, 2021

Where have all the People Gone (1974)


Time to kick it with another old school ABC movie of the week. This time the legendary Peter Graves plays Steven Anders. Along with his son and daughter they are in a cave digging for fossils when something strange happens. An earthquake almost drops the roof on them and when they make their escape, they find that their cook and guide is sick. He tells them that there was a bright light that coincided with the earthquake. He eventually dies and turns to a dust. They make their way to town and find out that everyone or most everyone else has also turned to dust. The rest of the movie is the family and a few stragglers they pick up along the way as they try to make it home where they hope that their mother/wife is waiting for them.

This is an extremely simple yet effective story. We have a small group of characters that get stranded in an unfamiliar place and must make their way back home. This extended road trip gives the narrative it’s structure and is what everything else revolves around. Another great bit of writing is how they manage to slowly dole out information to the audience while keeping enough of it in the dark so as to keep you engaged and wanting more until the very end. The cook lets you know that something is up, and it is killing people. Then we meet a catatonic woman, so there are other survivors. A dog shows up which introduces the fact that the animals have gone mad. There is even a bit with a guy stealing their ride showing that people might be the real danger.

I was also surprised by how dark the movie can get at times, especially given that it was a made for T.V. flick. While you don’t see it on the screen, we do get a story about a pack of mad dogs killing and eating the woman’s kids! We also see a young boy orphaned when some looters gunned his parents down in front of him. Finally, there is the ending, which I won’t spoil here, but has the potential to be a real kick in the butt! Toss in a line from another character that some people have gone crazy like the animals for an extra twist. This is solid story telling.

They manage the post disaster setting well. 
The most familiar face in the cast is the before mentioned Peter Graves. While not spectacular he is solid. The guy brings a seriousness to what could have been an absurd situation which makes the movie work. The late great Noble Willingham has a small role, and a very young Kathleen Quinlan plays Graves’ character’s daughter. While I didn’t recognize anyone else the entire cast is very good.

So, I need to mention the one thing that most everyone who watches this movie might notice. You have a stellar event that kills some people turning them into dust as well as making animals and some people crazy. Does that sound at all familiar? Substitute a comet for the sun and you have the plot to Night of the Comet. Someone clearly saw this when they were growing up and either consciously or subconsciously remembered it!

I really like this movie and am surprised that more people don’t talk about it. It might not be Kolchack or Gargoyles good, but it is a damn fine piece of science fiction. If you are looking for an end of the world flick that doesn’t involve zombies or aliens, then I highly recommend Where Have all the People Gone.

note: I've linked the entire movie above since it is readily available on YouTube.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Friday, January 15, 2021

Good Against Evil (1977)


Time to get back to the swinging seventies for another made for television gem. This was an ABC movie of the week that was supposed to lead into a series but wasn’t picked up. That becomes sort of important later on in the review so keep that in mind. The movie was also made during a time where the country was obsessed with all sorts of devil stuff. Remember that the Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby did big business just a few years earlier. Now let’s get onto the review.

The movie kicks off in the fifties with a woman in labor. She keeps screaming about them not getting her baby. Eventually she gives birth and shortly after meets an unfortunate end. Really stairs in devil movies should be avoided at all costs! Her daughter is taken in by a group of people, who we quickly find out are Satanists. The girl, Jessica, has been chosen to be the vessel of the anti-Christ. To that end they make sure that any potential boyfriends don’t stick around long. Basically they kill anyone who likes her, which of course leads to some commitment issues.

With that established we can move forward twenty years to a grown-up Jessica working in San Francisco as a fashion designer. There she meets a man named Andrew and the pair fall in love. This of course can’t be allowed to happen as she is spoken for. Their relationship leads to an attempted murder via horseback riding and some other shenanigans. Eventually the coven kidnaps Jessica and erases her memory. But as long as Andrew loves her, she can’t get it on with the Devil. So, the coven attempts to force him back with an ex-girlfriend. They do this by having the Devil possess her daughter which leads him to meeting a priest, Father Kemschler, who figures out what is happening. The movie ends with Andrew and the priest heading off on a road trip to save Jessica and maybe the world.

To start off with I need to address a pretty big issue with Good Against Evil, the ending or lack of one. If you remember earlier, I mentioned that this was made as a pilot for a series that wasn’t given the green light. To that end they were trying to set up an ongoing storyline so while much of the movie is spent establishing Jessica and her situation it never gets a resolution. Instead we get a subplot of Andrew’s ex-girlfriend and her daughter tacked on at the end for the sole purpose of introducing the Father Kemschler character which would have been necessary in the ongoing series. I completely understand if that annoys viewers but as a veteran of these made for television flicks this sort of thing happens often and doesn’t bug me.

Richard Lynch is great!
With that out of the way I want to talk about the story and a bit about the cast. The story is very much a product of its time. It feels like a mashup of Rosemary’s Baby and the Exorcist with the limitation of getting it past the censors. While it isn’t as nasty as those movies it still has its moments. The bit with the mother being chased around the hospital in the dark by the nun is creepy. There is also a really effective gag used when Jessica walks to the altar in a church that is simple but works great. Though the highlight of Good Against Evil is the exorcism scene which is killer! Who knew that throw pillows could be tools for the Devil? I’ll admit that the movie is sort of melodramatic and cheesy at times. But as a fan of this sort of movie that is to be expected.

The cast is really good. Andrew is portrayed by Dack Rambo, who was a familiar face to television fans of the seventies and eighties, is excellent in the role. As the lead he has to carry much of the movie and does so successfully. We also get a great performance from Dan O’Herlihy of Halloween III fame as Father Kemschler. He kicks much butt during the exorcism scene. We also get a brief and very early appearance from actress Kim Cattrall. But my favorite character is the lead Devil Worshiper, Mr. Rimmin. Richard Lynch shines in the role that sadly doesn’t get much screen time. I’m sure he would have factored much more into an eventual series.

We almost had a television series about a priest and reporter on a road trip to beat the devil. That would have been awesome and really short of adding a bigfoot into the mix could they have been any more seventies? Sadly, that didn’t happen but at least we still have this movie to let us know what could have been. As of the writing of this review you can watch this on YouTube. I highly recommend that you give it a shot.

note: Since it is available I linked to the movie on YouTube instead of the trailer.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

 

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Strays (1991)


 

I have covered quite a few made for television movies here at the website. I enjoy the heck out of them, always have. Most of what I’ve reviewed have been older movies from the seventies and early eighties, the stuff that grew up watching. I’ve known about Strays for a long time, but it never interested me until I saw that it came out on Blu-Ray and I then found that release on sale. I figured I’d take a shot and see if a killer house cat movie would entertain me.

Strays starts off with an older woman feeding the massive group of cats that she has accumulated. She realizes that there isn’t enough food and goes into the basement to get more. The audience gets to see that something follows her down and either kills or causes an accident that kills her. After this tease we meet our main characters of Paul and Lindsey who have decided to move to the country after having a daughter. They are shown the house by Lindsey’s sister Claire, who is also a Realtor and is going thru a nasty divorce.

This last bit becomes important because Paul is her divorce attorney who is oblivious to the fact that Claire is putting the moves on him. This drives a wedge between Lindsey and her sister as well as putting a strain on her relationship with Paul. This added isolation from her closest family is used in the big finale where the large tomcat that killed the old woman decides that the house is his and attacks Lindsey and the kid while they are home alone. The cat even manages to cause a car crash which means they just can’t hop in it and drive away. This is one smart and angry feline.

I really wanted to like this movie. It has all the cheesy hallmarks of something that I’d force my friends and family to suffer thru again and again with me. A silly premise of house cats killing people and marking its territory caught my attention while reading the back of the box. The stuff with the sister-in-law hitting on Paul is a bit sleazy and weird which is a nice addition. There is the comic relief of the vet who comes to take care of the family dog, Bennie, after he meets up with the nasty cats. Fear not the dog is okay in the end! The vet is just one of the quirky supporting characters that pop in and out. There were so many good things here, but I just didn’t like it. Why is that?

It isn’t the cast, which is filled with some familiar faces. Timothy Busfield (Revenge of the Nerds) does a good job as Paul and really tries to sell that a cat strikes that much fear into him. Veteran television actress Kathleen Quinlan is equally as good in the role of Lindsey. Claudia Christian, who most fans will recognize from her time on Babylon 5, nearly steals the movie as the randy sister-in-law Claire. Hell, the movie was written and produced by Shaun Cassidy! There is a lot of talent in front of and behind the camera.

It's just a cat!
The huge flaw that Strays has is that it has one big tomcat menacing the family. In spite of the plural title the only cat that attempts to do any real damage is that one cat. It isn’t even a special cat. No mutations, not terribly smart, no supernatural powers, hell it isn’t even all that large. It is just a damn cat! Now I know how bad a cat scratch or bite can hurt, so I’m not entirely discounting that, but the characters act like they are in fear of their lives. Maybe if all the cats were actually attacking them I’d be down with it, but a single cat… I’m just not buying it. This movie should have been pissed off cat meets size nine work boot end of story.

I wish that I could recommend Strays to you, I really do. But I just can’t get past their weird decision to make a single cat the source of terror. It never feels dangerous at all and that spoils the fun. They double down with a freeze frame on a kitten as the place is being shown to a new family. Oh NOES a kitten! This one isn’t even worth laughing at and I’m thinking you should skip it and watch the equally silly but much better killer cat movie The Corpse Grinders.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

A Warning to the Curious (1972)


I’m no expert when it comes to British television, though I do enjoy the heck out of it, but it is my understanding that there is a Christmas tradition, at least there was during a good bit of the seventies. Every year they would do a short made for television ghost themed movie. A Warning to the Curious is one of them that was recommended to me by my friend Dan. I don’t think that he steered me wrong.

An amateur archeologist, Paxton, is on the hunt for a legendary crown said to protect England’s shores from invasion. The idea is that if it is buried and hidden away no one will invade the country. Paxton considers the legend foolish and goes looking for the item. Of course, he finds the crown and makes off with it. But what he didn’t expect was that a ghost was guarding it and pursues him to retrieve what he has stolen. After telling his story to his new friend Dr. Black he sets off to put it back. But will that save Paxton from the ghost’s revenge? Well, this is a ghost story so of course not.

This is a very British story. What I mean by that is it is a very slow burn that focuses on being creepy and not so much the jump scares that modern audiences expect. Not saying that there aren’t a few good frights, there are. But if you are expecting some slick modern scary Nun or Doll movie then this one will disappoint you. Personally, I prefer that the movie take its time and build up to the conclusion, which is exactly what we get here. While I saw the ending coming it was still entertaining because of how well it is presented. Let me talk about the best and most memorable example of this.

They take the time to establish that the last surviving member of the family that took it upon themselves to guard the crown died of consumption. Which is to say he developed a nasty cough and probably pneumonia. This is important because while we don’t see the ghost several characters hear a wheezing in the dark of someone trying to breath, which of course is the guardian looking for what was stolen. This includes the creepiest of the sequences with Paxton alone in his room when the lights go out and we can hear that he isn’t alone. It is such a creepy scene and I loved it!

I could go on but I don’t want to give any spoilers away and the movie is only fifty minutes long so there isn’t a much more to discuss without ruining the best bits. If you are looking for a classic ghost story then you might want to track down a copy of A Warning to the Curious. I enjoyed it a lot, so much so that I’m interested in finding the other entries into the series. I also found out while researching this that the BBC revived the series fifteen years ago. Might need to check those out as well. Consider this a recommendation from me.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

 

 

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Metal Shifters (2011)


The other night I’m digging thru a bunch of DVDs and Blu-Rays that I retrieved from my storage locker. It was time to start weeding out the collection again you see. This one caught my eye as it was a flick that was made to air on Sci-Fi channel a few years ago when they still showed original movies. I thought it was time to give it another look. 

Things kick off with a Russian satellite getting knocked out of orbit by some space junk/meteor that it runs into. The thing crashes into a field next to a depressed town, all the foreclosure signs give that away, in Idaho. A couple of enterprising brothers load it up and take it to the local junk dealer. A price is agreed on, and they leave it in his yard. Where things get dicey is when the green space gunk covering the wreckage that can also bring metal to life attaches itself to the giant metal sculpture that the owner had been working on. Suddenly you have a metallic monstrosity stomping around the countryside killing everyone that it touches. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that the green gunk is some kind of germ or bug that eats metal, including the iron present in human blood! Get touched and get dead. 

This is the cheesy Saturday night Sci-Fi channel movie in all of its glory. Cheaply made with a silly premise Metal Shifters delivers everything that a viewer like me wants to see. Small isolated town that can’t escape, the gunk gives off an electrical field that kills the cars and has to hold up in a location waiting for the solution to their problems to present itself. All the while they get picked off one at a time. This is the classic monster movie formula, and they use it very well here. Toss in a “B” grade actress that you might have seen before, Nicole de Boer from Star Trek DS9, and kill a character that you wouldn’t expect to die to let the audience know that sometimes the rules might not apply, and things get interesting.

The movie also knows what it is, and I appreciate that. Without insulting the audience, the filmmakers’ sort of poke fun at the genre with some jokes and comments here and there. For example, the junk dealer is accused of being a wizard by a bar patron because of his golem, they keep referring to the traditional Jewish monster in the dialogue. Also, the eventual secret weapon they use against the monster is funny considering where they are hiding for most of the duration. 

The special effects work is decent. The “monster” is brought to the screen thru the use of CGI and some practical effects work. I was especially fond of the giant claw that keeps reaching in windows trying to grab the cast King Kong style! The digital work when we see the entire thing stomping around isn’t too bad for the budget. Though there is a bit at the beginning where we see the satellite get hit that was pretty awful. Overall, I was satisfied with what was on the screen. 

Good story, paced well, decent characters, passable effects and creature. Metal Shifters is worth a watch. Not great but it will scratch that monster movie itch if you are looking for something different to check out. I think you can find this pretty easily either on physical media or streaming. Give it a shot. 


© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer



Monday, January 4, 2021

Chupacabra Terror (2005)


More made for T.V. fun with another Sci-Fi channel flick. This time John Rhys-Davies of Lord of the Rings fame does battle with the legendary Chupacabra onboard his cruise liner! It all starts off when a Cryptozoologist sneaks a captured Chupacabra onboard to take back to the United States. Mostly he does this to prove to his critics that he was right to pursue the creature. Of course, the men whom he told not to open the crate proceed to do just that. I mean if he is going to spend all that money for them to sneak it into the cargo hold there must be something good for them to steal. You just can’t trust criminals these days…

Anyhow once loose the Chupacabra tears thru the passengers rapidly. Though they do manage to almost trap it when the damn cryptozoologist props a door open so it can escape. Really dude what were you thinking? Lucky for us he gets his proper comeuppance when he comes face to face with his prize. Eventually some Navy Seals show up and more violence happens before they finally decide to blow the ship up. Situations like this are why I won’t let my wife book us on a cruise!

This is a silly movie filled with characters that do dumb things when faced with a monster that is killing everyone. The most egregious character is the cryptozoologist that keeps trying to save his monster to prove he isn’t crazy no matter how many people get killed. How is he going to get away with it? Does he think that he can get it off the ship after all the mayhem? Of course not, but you have to have a mad scientist in this kind of movie. Someone needs to be obsessed with getting their “white whale”. We also get a gigolo that gets killed going back for his stolen money and Navy Seals that keep shooting a bullet proof monster. None of this annoys me because it is par for the course when watching a cheesy monster movie, in fact it is almost a necessity. 

Where many of these movies fail is uneven pacing, poor creature design, and lame kills. Chupacabra Terror nails two of these and is okay on the third. First the movie gets right to the action, introduces our characters, and then jumps right back into the chaos. There is a lot of creature and not a whole lot of wasted time. That makes for an entertaining hour and a half. The creature is fantastic compared to the CGI nonsense that we normally get from these movies. It is a guy in a suite and is brought to the screen with practical effects work. Not only does that have an old school vibe to it but it also is decent work. The only disappointment I had was with the kills which are tame even by T.V. movie standards. Most of them happen off screen and we don’t get much blood at all. The goriest kill is a Yorkie that ends up as a snack. God Damn it movies leave the dogs alone! 

Other than the dog killing I have no complaints about Chupacabra Terror. It is a solid movie that knows what people expect and gives it to them in a decent package. Not a classic by any means but some good old monster movie fun. If you get the chance check it out. 


© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer