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It's that time of year again. When the weather starts to get chilly and the leaves change. I love Fall and everything that comes with it...

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

The Conjuring 2 (2016)


I watched the first one and enjoyed it, so I figured I needed to check more of these Conjuring movies out. This first sequel has Ed and Loraine investigating the Amityville house, which I’m guessing most of us are familiar with. She is doing a séance and is trying to figure out if DeFeo was under the influence of a demon when he killed his family. Here we get to see that creepy Nun for what I think is the first time in the series. After some spooky stuff they leave, and Loraine asks that they take a break from investigating for a while. This is because she was given a vision of Ed impaled by a tree branch in what she thinks is a glimpse of a future she wants to avoid. 

Then we get to the meat of the story. There is a family in England where a single mom is trying to raise her four children. One of them starts messing around with a Ouija board and before you know it, they have ghost issues. Things get very bad and eventually the church asks Ed and Loraine to check it out. There are concerns that it is all fake and the church wants nothing to do with a hoax. So, the pair head to London and move in with the family. For a big chunk of the movie there are legitimate questions as to the validity of the events. But eventually they figure out that the ghost is a red herring and that the supposed haunting is being manipulated by a demon. The same creepy demonic nun that Loraine saw in the Amityville house. 

I don’t want to go any further and give away spoilers. Much like my first review I need to point out that I understand the Warrens, Ed and Loraine, have people who believe them and those who thing they were fakers. I’m not here to debate that, I’m here to review a movie. Additionally, there are pretty good sources that say the events in this movie make them seem a lot more involved in this real life haunting than they were. I don’t really care as I’m watching the Conjuring 2 as if it were just fiction. With that out of the way let’s get to my review. 

Like the first Conjuring this movie keeps a lot of action coming at the audience. It creates and maintains a creepy vibe that it sustains for most of the runtime. I did think that it drags a bit while getting the two storylines of the tormented family and the Warrens together. But there is enough good stuff that even when it meanders a bit, they manage to grab your attention again. There is a lot of frightening events in the movie including a swing moving by itself, pounding on the door, a gag with a firetruck that was very good, the reflection of an old man in a television screen, as well as the demonic nun popping in here and there. 

When the Conjuring 2 is subtle like the gags listed above it is great. Unfortunately, it has a reoccurring scare with the crooked man. This is a character that comes to life out of a child’s toy and stomps around the house. It looks very much like a movie monster and reminded me I was watching a movie. When this and the original film are at their best, they make you feel like the events were close enough to reality to have actually occurred. That is very creepy, but this monster ruins that every time it shows up on screen. I found this to be a bummer. 

I have to say I liked this movie. There are a few jump scares and that old man yelling “This is my House” is enough to stick in my brain. In the end the Conjuring 2 is a good sequel that while not as fun or scary as the original still makes me want to watch more. Again, I’m very late to the Conjuring series but so far I dig it. 


© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer


Monday, March 29, 2021

The Block Island Sound (2020)


I saw this pop up on Netflix and thought I’d give it a chance. Things start with a fisherman waking up on the deck of his small boat with a horrible sound echoing and dead fish surrounding him. There is also what I think is an empty dog collar hanging off the side of the boat. Damn it movie you just had to go there! Then things switch over to some guys drinking in a bar. One of them is named Harry, and he is the son of the fisherman was saw waking up on the boat. He ends up driving a friend who I will call conspiracy guy home. Along the way they hit a bird. That seems weird. 

Finally, we are introduced to our third important character Audrey. She is Harry’s sister and a scientist who is called home to the island to investigate a fish kill off. It is revealed that nine or ten tons of dead fish have washed up on shore. That seems bad. We get some electronics freaking out, their dad the fisherman acting strange and disappearing, as well as more dead birds. Harry starts losing his mind like his father did and it just goes downhill from there. What is up? I don’t want to spoil that for you. 

The Block Island Sound is an interesting movie. It has a spooky vibe and takes it’s time showing you what is going on. Along the way we get a lot of ideas including the fact that Harry and his father might be sensitive to electricity and that the new wind energy plant could be messing with them. What about the voices, and electronic noise? The filmmakers do a good job making sure that we only see that happening thru the eyes of Harry. So, it is entirely possible that it is all in his head. That was an excellent job of storytelling. 

We do have ideas of aliens, government conspiracies, and the like, but these are presented by a couple of characters that are presented as disturbed. You almost feel bad thinking they could be right. Many movies like this try to get you to be a believer but this one leans into the audience being skeptical. I liked how they managed this. In the end we do have an explanation of sorts that I won’t spoil here. The Block Island Sound is the kind of movie that will be ruined by knowing too much before you go to watch it. 

My biggest complaint is that the movie is slow. It takes a while to build up any steam and you really don’t see that much action until the very end. And even then, the payoff is satisfying but not exciting. It is way less action and way more science fiction. The big reveal refers to a line that Audrey says, one that she said to her daughter earlier. Again, I can’t even tell you what the line is because that itself would clue you in on the ending. That is the kind of movie that this is. 

I know that I’m not giving you a lot to sink your teeth into with this review. I can tell you that I enjoyed this movie and recommend it. Remember now that you should avoid Googling The Block Island Sound and getting any spoilers. That will ruin all the fun. 


© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer


Friday, March 26, 2021

The Pyx (1973)



This movie has been on my list to watch for years and somehow, I just never had a decent enough copy to watch. I’ve even been as close as having a disc in hand that ended up being defective. Finally, I got myself a functional copy. It is time to check out this Christopher Plummer and Karen Black flick!

Plummer plays detective Henderson who is called to a crime scene. A woman has been killed and found lying on the ground next to an apartment building. Hey that body looks familiar… it’s Karen Black! I thought she was in this movie, guess not. Only she is because as we watch Henderson unravel her murder, we see her last couple of days in a series of flashbacks that tie into the suspects that the detective is interviewing. 

Black is playing a working girl named Elizabeth Lucy. She is recruited by her madame to take the place of another girl who has disappeared. Though we find out that she hasn’t really disappeared, but that Elizabeth has helped her get into rehab to kick her drug habit. Hesitant at first, she is bullied into meeting the strange man and after an uncomfortable bit where he makes her strip and then asks her a bunch of personal questions, he finds her acceptable. To ensure she shows up for her appointment he has her followed by a thug. She shows up only to be drugged and brought to an altar. Seems they want to sacrifice her to Satan or maybe she is to be the Devil’s baby momma? Not sure but she comes to her senses and runs away, falling or jumping to her death. 

By the time that we have seen this Henderson has figured out that there was a black mass and has tracked those down who were responsible for Elizabeth’s death. There is a shootout where the thug buys it and then the creepy guy gets to ramble a bit before getting what it is coming to him. Though his last words make you wonder if Henderson did him a favor. 

The public ate these Devil worshipper movies up in the seventies. This one isn’t as well known but I really liked it. The cast is excellent with the highlights being Plummer and Black. Both are wonderful and carry their half of the movie perfectly. Oddly enough they never share a scene unless you count those where Black is laying on the ground or a slab playing dead. The story is about what I would expect from a police procedural with the big exception being the split storyline and jumping around in time. This could have been confusing, but they executed it very well. 

Well that was quick...
If I do have one complaint it is that the pacing is just a bit off. While I was able to follow along there were times where the movie was dragging. They take time with supporting characters that could have probably been cut. There is a whole subplot with Elizabeth’s gay roommate and a road trip that they take to the house that she grew up in. This all could have been cut and it wouldn’t have hurt the story at all. Other than the pacing I don’t have any issues with The Pyx. 

Some other things I wanted to mention. Karen Black did some singing on the soundtrack and it sounds cool with the music is leaning into the folksy music of the late sixties and early seventies but at least it isn’t disco! While not New York City seeing the seedier side of Montreal was fun. I don’t believe I’ve ever watched a movie shot there before. I also thought it was cool to see Plummer in a sort of hardboiled detective story like this. I’ve only ever seen him in horror and science fiction movies, so this was a neat change. Well, okay he was awesome in Knives Out, so I guess that is the second murder mystery I’ve seen him in. Though there he was the victim.

As I’ve already mentioned these movies were huge in the seventies. Everyone knows about the Exorcist and The Omen, but we also got the Devil’s Rain, Race with the Devil, and many others. The Pyx fits nicely in with that second tier and is one that I’m surprised took me so long to finally get around to. It is well worth the watch and I recommend it. 


© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer



Thursday, March 25, 2021

Space Ninjas (2019)



I watched this movie based on the title alone. I mean Space Ninjas… am I right? Sadly, I need to stop doing this. Blind watching movies because they have a cool name is not the way to make good decisions.

The movie starts with and ends with a wraparound with genre favorite Dirk Benedict from Battlestar Galactica and A-Team fame as Jack Strange. He is the host of a spooky television show and is telling us about the tale of an exclusive high school in Asia where weird stuff happened. This is how the movie is bookended and feels tacked on so that they can feature him on the poster despite him barely being in the movie and never interacting with the characters. 

The rest of the movie are some high school stereotypes, the jock, the shy girl, the nerd, the popular girl, and the bad girl. I could give them names, but they are so bland that I’ll just refer to them as their archetypes. The lights flicker and then aliens! Seriously that is what happens. And when I say Aliens, I mean guys in leather motorcycle outfits with modified helmets on. They carry various “ninja” weapons which is why they are space ninjas. They mow thru the students and anyone else in the building for padding… er I mean extra victims until there is a final girl. The end. 

This is a bad movie. I wanted to like this one, but I just couldn’t. The story is overly simple and repetitive. Split up get killed, meet up get killed, split up again, rinse and repeat. There is no character development as well as zero explanation for why the aliens are there or why they attacked the high school. I get that this movie is playing it for laughs but you still need a story, even a dumb one. Speaking of laughs I didn’t think any of the jokes landed. This isn’t a funny movie at all, which is bad considering they are trying to be. From the word play involving a random teacher who can clone things and is apparently some sort of mad scientist to the janitor being legendary Godfrey Ho I understood the references but didn’t laugh. 

We get quite a few kills in the movie. Sadly, they are all brought to the screen with some horrible CGI. Heads, arms, and legs go flying. Another person slides slowly down the blade of an absurdly oversized sword (someone likes anime), This sounds good but again it is awful looking. The odd part is they either didn’t care or were proud of it because they linger on it for far too long. If you are going to have terrible special effects don’t leave them on screen that long. 

The cast is okay I suppose. There are times when the actors stumble over lines and takes that probably shouldn’t have made it in the movie. But I’ve seen much worse, so I’ll not harangue them too much. I think that they missed an opportunity to have some fun when they had Godfrey Ho in the movie. Instead of having him dispatched by the ninjas maybe he could have had an epic battle with them using his mop. That is what I thought they were going for, but nope. Its like they were trying to make a bad movie and not in a fun way. I don’t recommend spending your time or money on Space Ninjas. 


© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer


Monday, March 22, 2021

Death Promise (1977)

A voiceover tells us about the plight of the poor who are being screwed over by rich landlords all while a couple guys are out jogging. One of them is named Charley and he returns to his apartment to find that the power, water, and gas has been turned off. He hears a scuffle in the hallway and finds his father fighting with some men. Here we see that Charley is a badass karate dude and kicks their butts. Charley then goes to his dojo and practices his karate before kicking some more butt when the minions of the landlord try to release rats in the building. All of this is to drive the tenants out so they can tear the building down for some new construction to further line their pockets with cash. 

When they can’t drive them out “legally” they decide to get a bit more violent. This leads to Charley’s Dad getting killed and in turn him going to China to learn better karate to come back and kill all those responsible. After some training montages he comes back and gets his revenge. See he made a death promise… see how that works in with the title? There is a final big twist at the end with the secret identity of the head bad guy being revealed and more karate happens. 

This isn’t what I would call a good movie. The plot is very thin, and the movie plays out like this. Karate fight, training montage, some dialogue poorly delivered to move the plot along, more karate, and even more training rinse and repeat. It gets somewhat annoying after a while and I’ll admit that at times the movie drags a bit. But I have a soft spot for Death Promise as it checks off two big boxes for me. One is karate/Kungfu/martial arts which it has a lot of. Not only that but it is decent as the cast has some skills. Don’t expect Shaw Brothers awesome, but for an American low budget flick it was solid. And most importantly it was plentiful. This was a strength of the movie and the filmmakers lean heavily on it. That was a smart decision. 

Training Montage!
The other box it checks off is the setting of New York City. This is another fine example of guerilla filmmaking as they are clearly shooting on the streets of the city without permission. You can see people stopping and starring as the actors run down the street and fight in the park. Not only that the movie captures the streets, buildings, and stores of seventies New York City in a way that I really dig. I’ve said it before, and I don’t want to come off like a broken record but there is nothing quite like the city in seventies and early eighties. It is a character itself and brings a flavor to anything shot there in this style. 

Until recently I hadn’t heard of Death Promise but I’m glad that I found it sitting in a stack of stuff I’ve been meaning to watch. Not sure where it came from and how I got it, but it makes me want to dig into the pile some more. Again, this isn’t a great movie but it scratched that itch for me and I think if you are in the right mood it will do the same for you. With that caveat I recommend Death Promise. 


© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer


Friday, March 19, 2021

Stay out of the F**cking Attic (2021)

 


Okay first things first. The title of the movie is one that has a naughty word in it. I don’t feel the need to censor myself but since you can either find this movie listed as it is written above or under the totally neutered title Stay out of the Attic, I figured I should refer to it as such. If that annoys you… well, I don’t fucking care. See what I did there? Anyways let’s get to the review.

Some movers show up at a spooky old house to pack up the possessions of the current occupant, Mr. Mueller, before new owners are to take possession. He seems friendly enough but is a bit weird about the workers. The boss is white, but his employees are Black and Hispanic. This is important later on. While they are a bit creeped out and are unhappy with him asking them to finish by morning, he tosses enough extra cash at them that they agree and get to work. This leads to a packing montage with some spooky music playing.

While packing stuff up they find a bunch of Nazi books and letters referencing Dr. Mengele, who for the uninformed was the worst of the bunch when it came to experimenting on human beings in the concentration camps during World War II. They figure that he must be some nut job continuing the doctor’s experiments when they find a set of twins in the attic, they didn’t stay out, who have been mangled. Unfortunately for them the doctor has the house covered in security cameras and he locks it down before sending a mutant after them. This leads to some violence, revelations about one of the characters, and the big twist as to the identity of the bad guy. Oh and you can see how the race of the workers is an important plot point with Nazis being the bad guys.

I’m trying to keep things in my plot synopsis a big vague. I enjoyed this movie despite some flaws I’ll talk about later. The best part is the story which I thought I had figured out but was surprised as it was revealed. I will share the fact that this movie leans heavily into the Nazi portions of the plot. The doctor is continuing the horrific experiments of the Germans which gives us the sad girl in the attic as well as the crazy mutant running around. Now if you are uncomfortable with using real life horrors like the crimes committed during the Holocaust in a horror movie then this is not going to be the movie for you.

The unsuspecting movers
There are all sorts of references, including the second-floor bathroom being turned into a gas chamber for failed experiments. Like I said it gets rough. Normally I’m able to separate movies from real life and I like having Nazi’s as bad guys since there is a visceral joy to seeing them get the comeuppance in the movies that many avoided in real life. That includes the fate of Mengele who escaped to South America and lived his life well into the seventies before dying at the ripe old age of sixty seven. That said the fact that the girl hiding in the attic was named Anne might have been that step over the line and made me uncomfortable. Not in an artistic way, but in a God Damn it guys you have made your point and that was too far sort of way.

Judging it solely as a movie and ignoring the above I have to say that it is a decent flick. Clocking in at around eighty minutes it gets right to the good stuff tossing the characters in the creepy house. It spends about half an hour ramping things up before the doors get locked and the violence begins. While I didn’t see the identity and motives of the doctor coming, the narrative does follow a familiar pattern of trapping the victims and torturing them. The attacks are okay, and the creature effects work excellent. The look of the mutant as well as that of the girl and her unfortunate twin are well done. There is a great bit of gore with an eye getting removed and a head getting stomped in. But if you are looking for a gorefest this might not be the right movie. There is some good stuff here, but not a lot of it.

This is where I normally talk about the body count and I thought that this movie had a weak one with only three kills. But then thru a plot device and some end credits scene they undo all but one of the deaths. The one they leave in was for a character that we aren’t supposed to like. That was a bit of a bummer and annoyed me.

Stay out of the F**cking Attic is a decent movie that has some baggage that might turn some viewers off. Regardless I think that this is a serviceable horror flick and worth checking out. Just want to make sure that people know what they are getting into without spoiling things too much.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

 

 

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Bats by William W. Johnston

William W. Johnston is a new to me author that was recommended by a good friend. He is best known for cranking out western novels and was prolific at that. Though he also dabbled in some horror and post-apocalyptic stories as well. Since those are more my style, I thought that I’d give him a chance. Finding many of his books available on the Kindle store for a couple of bucks I thought that I’d jump off with Bats.

Our protagonist is Johnny, a former spy/soldier who has retired and moved to a small town in Louisiana. One morning he finds a dead cow and calls the cops. Because he is such a manly man, he instantly knows that something bad is about to happen. And since he is a bit of a prepper, he starts to lock down his already impenetrable fortress of a house getting ready for the shit to hit the fan. Among the first batch of scientists to come investigate is a vet lady named Blair who becomes his love interest. And there are giant killer vampire bats that actually not only drink blood but eat people! I guess that is important to mention.

This was an interesting book and much different from what I’m used to. I was never into those western novels that my grandfather used to read a ton of. I have read a few of them and this book feels a lot like those. The story is simple and gets right to the point with bat attacks and killings early on. The local authorities immediately get to the business of saving who they can while struggling with liberal judges, anti-police reporters, and tree hugging hippies that value the life of the bats more than people. Damn this shit got Fox News really fast! Just to be clear I’m a very conservative guy and in many ways enjoyed the scenes where the reporters whined about police overreach right before having their faces eaten off, but these characters are completely absurd.

Don’t get me wrong there are a lot of great things in the book. The attacks, and there are a lot of them, are described in perfectly gory fashion. Eyes are eaten, faces ripped off, and the author does a wonderful job of slowly laying out the strategy of the intelligent bats as they learn how and when to attack for best results. We are also introduced to some want to be Satanists who end up handling a bat and getting rabies, which again was a cool twist. Though I was eventually disappointed with it, more on that later. Even the preparations that Johnny makes to his house and his taunting of them was fun. There are some enjoyable bits here.

On the not so great side of things I was disappointed in the rabies subplot that was introduced. I thought we were going to have a I Drink Your Blood style bit of mayhem as they killed and infected as many people as possible on their rampage thru the nearby towns. But after a cool setup anything that does happen is mentioned by the characters or on a radio report from the police. There is one bit where the police gun down a few but it is there solely to have a reporter bitching about police brutality before being eaten by bats. So instead of a cool subplot we get another sixty or seventy pages of more bat attacks that play out like the others. This was a missed opportunity at doing something fun instead of padding the story out with more of the same.

I also thought it was weird that Johnny is portrayed as the man with all the answers. He makes leaps in logic and is never wrong. The moment he predicts something is going to happen it immediately does. I kind of like some flaws in my characters so they have some sort of story arc. It makes the plot that much more interesting. I guess this goes back to Johnny being the manly man who is going to fix everything. Though in an ironic twist he doesn’t. That brings me to the ending of Bats, which was annoying.

Johnston takes the first ninety five percent of the book setting up these super smart characters and having them try plan after plan to kill the bats. You would figure after trial and error they would have some satisfying revelation that would then defeat the threat and bring things to a decent conclusion. Nope… Spoilers ahead, you have been warned. Mother nature kills them off because the giant bats can’t be allowed to exist. Bunches of regular small bats all migrate to Louisiana and attack the big ones, who are completely afraid of them for reasons that aren’t ever explained. Ten pages of small bat attacks and the book is done. Not cool dude… not cool.

There were times that I was digging on Bats whole lot. And I was really looking forward to seeing how it all ended. Then I actually got there and was totally let down. Johnston is a good writer and his stuff flows nicely making for a good read, but I really did not like this story. While I can’t recommend Bats though I have a feeling I might like his other stuff a lot more, so I’ll be checking at least one more book from him. Obviously when that happens, I’ll post the review here and let you my loyal readers (hey there could be two of you!) know.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

 

 

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Destination Inner Space (1966)

 


This movie kicks off with a speed boat delivering a navy man named Commander Wayne to a support ship that quickly delivers him to an underwater facility called sea lab. He has been sent there because the scientists assigned to it have been tracking a submarine that keeps buzzing them. Being an expert on such things Wayne is sent to sort out what it is going on. Eventually the sub purposefully cuts off their communication with the support ship above them and comes to rest nearby on the seafloor. They swim out to investigate and find a strange object which they bring back to study. It hatches into an alien amphibious monster and then things get crazy.

The creature is one of many that is onboard the sub, which is from outer space. They are an invasion force and need to be stopped before they begin rampaging across the ocean. It is up to Commander Wayne and the others to do battle and defeat them without any help from above. The creature has already killed the crew of the support ship and wrecked the radio equipment. Is the Earth saved? Well of course it is, this isn’t the kind of movie where everyone dies you see. I guess that might have been a spoiler. My bad.

This is a straightforward and simple monster movie plot that follows all of the tropes of the genre. Monster comes to Earth, people die, one of the heroes is flawed and has a history, a scientist wants to communicate and understand the monster. You know the stuff I’m talking about. While it doesn’t break any new ground, I found that Destination Inner Space follows the pattern without flaw and keeps the action moving along briskly. This one checked all the boxes and did so in a satisfying way that had me interested from start to finish.

The cast is mainly “B” level and for the most part are relative unknowns. The two biggest exceptions to this are Scott Brady, who plays Commander Wayne, and James Hong. Yeah, that James Hong! Brady was a well-known actor who is in a lot of drive-in flicks. Most of the time in a supporting role but here he does the action lead very well. It was nice to see him given a meaty role. Hong is barely in the movie and plays the station’s cook and comic relief. Nothing noteworthy just fun to see him.

I love the creature design!
The real star of the movie is the creature. It is a very cool looking latex job that gets a lot of screen time and really is the highlight of Destination Inner Space. Not only does it have that cheesy rubber suit appeal to it, but the thing looks and moves good both on set and in the underwater scenes. We get a lot of it swimming around in this flick. That shows me that they spent a great deal of time on the design, which is very surprising for what I believe was a lower budget independent movie. I was also impressed with the miniature work used to bring the station and the alien ship to the screen. This also shows an attention to detail and quality of work that I didn’t expect for an independent movie in the sixties.

How have I never seen this movie before? Hell, I’ve never even heard of it until recently! This is something that I would have expected to be in heavy rotation on various monster movie shows when I was growing up. I’m glad to have stumbled over the movie and can now sing its praises to anyone that will listen. If you like creature features you need to track down a copy of Destination Inner Space. I highly recommend it.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Monday, March 15, 2021

Lords of the Deep (1989)

 


Set in the distant future of 2020 mankind has used up all the resources on the surface of the planet and looks towards the ocean to sustain humanity. The movie takes place on one of those deep-sea habitats and has Priscilla Barnes (Three’s Company, The Devil’s Rejects) as a scientist testing some goo that they found on the bottom of the ocean. She turns the goo into foam and seems really excited about that. We also see Bradford Dillman as Cobler, the company man in charge of the habitat. He has called for a replacement team, which annoys Barnes’ character, Claire. The goo now foam is her discovery, and she wants to see it thru.

The goo turns into an undersea alien monster and people start to disappear, including the replacement crew. Cobler starts to lose his mind and eventually we find out that he has been killing the crew to protect the company’s plan to kill the aliens. You know because they are aliens and whatnot. Luckily, the alien goo monsters are cool and want to help the human race, so they rescue the surviving crew from an earthquake that destroys the facility. The end.

This is a pointless exercise that has nothing to say and feels long despite only being seventy-seven minutes. To make a movie like this you need a villain or at least some sort of conflict to make the story interesting. I suppose that Cobler is supposed to serve that purpose, but it is a complete misfire. First Dillman isn’t that intimidating and almost is whiney when he is killing people. The idea that it is the company who is manipulating the situation is a borrowed plot device so you would think that they could execute it better. In fact, most of this movie feels borrowed from much better science fiction flicks. You know it is bad when I spend the duration watching your movie being reminded of others that I’d rather be spending my time on.

Just to be clear I’m not criticizing the cast. They all do a fine job with what they are given. I just think that Dillman was miscast in the role. This isn’t helped by the complete lack of arc or interesting backstory to his character. He goes from leader to bad guy company man without any transition. Though the complete lack of menace from his character is I think on him.

Creature looks cool
The movie does excel with the special effects work. The creatures look decent and are brought to the screen with practical effects work. It is clearly on a low budget, but they do a fine job. There are also several miniatures used for the base and different subs. These have an old school vibe to them that I enjoyed and look good onscreen. This is the most frustrating part about Lords of the Deep, they nailed the hard stuff. Where a movie like this normally fails is the budget and lack of quality special effects work. That isn’t the case here, they just don’t have an interesting story to support the effects. That was a real bummer.

Clearly, I’m not going to recommend this one. It is a throwaway low budget science fiction movie that had very little effort put into creating a story. Instead, they just cut and pasted ideas from popular flicks and winged it. That might work sometimes, but not this time. Lords of the Deep is a hard pass from me.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Friday, March 12, 2021

The Flight that Disappeared (1961)

 


 

I feel like I’ve lost touch with my roots a bit here at the website. I’ve always been a lover of fifties and sixties science fiction and horror flicks but haven’t reviewed many of them recently. I thought it was time to correct that and when I saw this new to me movie show up on YouTube, I figured it might be a good time. It was… sort of. 

We meet our characters as they board a nonstop flight from Los Angeles to Washington D.C. On the plan are Paul Endicott, Marcia Paxton, and Dr. Carl Morris. Morris has created a new type of super bomb with the help of Paxton’s mathematical equations. Endicott has designed a rocket that could be used to deliver the new superbomb. They have all been summoned to Washington for a meeting to discuss the project. Along the way their plane starts to rise uncontrollably until it far exceeds the altitude at which it could operate. Everyone passes out except these three who are pulled off the plane to be judged by the future. 

The idea is that the potential of the bomb they might build could wipe out humanity and therefore they are being judged by the people who may never exist in a place that exists outside time. They are found guilty but are given a reprieve at the last minute when one of the future people pleads for them. See the future has no right to stop the present… or something like that. 

When most people sit down to watch a science fiction movie, they want monsters, aliens, and lasers going pew pew pew across the screen. I’m right there with you. But I also enjoy the more cerebral stuff occasionally as well. The Flight that Disappeared is one of those. Even before we meet the future people there is the character of Mr. Cooper who initially I thought was a nervous wreck because of the airplane and flying. He has gotten out of the hospital and is a bit unhinged. When he realizes that Morris is on the plane, he needs to speak to him. Surprisingly, he isn’t disturbed by the creation of the bomb but because he wants us to strike first before the enemy can get one of their own. The early sixties was right about the time that movies and popular entertainment started dealing with the futility of nuclear war so that was a neat twist to see. 

The movie is very talky and has little action. In fact, there is no action. This is more of a morality play in which characters are judged and start to question if they should build bigger weapons. Early on Endicott even says, “If I don’t build it someone else will.” Which is a common theme to many weapon designers over the years. That discussion has always fascinated me. I mean what if everyone said no?

I’m not sure if it is nostalgia as I’m a member of the last generation that grew up with the threat of the world ending any day due to someone pushing “the button” but I rather liked this movie. Though I will readily admit I doubt it has any re-watch value I think it is worth checking out at least once. Especially since it is available for free. 


© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer


Thursday, March 11, 2021

Full Wolf Moon by Lincoln Child

Child is one half of my favorite writing team and while not as great as his collaborations with Douglas Preston his solo efforts are still superior to most else you will find in the modern techno thriller aisle at your local bookstore. When I saw a copy of his latest novel I had to pick it up and give it a try.

Jeremy Logan is headed to an isolated hotel in the Adirondacks to work on a book he has been writing but hasn’t finished yet. This is because while his day job has him working in academia he is best known as a world famous “enigmalogist” which I think means he goes looking for all sorts of inexplicable stuff and tries to solve the mystery. But again, he has come to work on his book and avoid distractions. When an old college friend who is also a park ranger shows up asking for help with some odd killings in the deep woods Logan is sucked into yet another mystery. This one finds him unraveling the secrets of both an insular clan of locals, some science types who may or may not be up to no good, all while ducking those who wish he would leave things alone. It all builds to a satisfying if not predictable ending.

I enjoyed the heck out of this book. From the first page you are sucked right into the story with a hiker being killed. This sets up some foreshadowing as our main character, Logan, appears in the pages following looking forward to a nice quiet time focusing on his academic pursuits and finishing his book. Of course, we know that isn’t going to happen. Child then takes his time setting up the locations and the inhabitants painting a realistic world that is one hundred percent believable. This is important for later when things get weird. The pacing is brisk, and the characters are well fleshed out.

One of the best choices that Child makes in his books is to place odd supernatural events next to logical characters and scientific explanations. Here we have a story filled with skeptics who are forced to come to grip with the fact that they might be dealing with a werewolf! This conflict isn’t the focus of Full Wolf Moon, but it is referenced as everyone around Logan has to deal with what is happening. The character of Logan comes off a bit more willing to accept the creature, while looking all the time to try and fit it into a scientific explanation. This makes the story more realistic and a heck of a lot creepier than it would have otherwise been.  

Child isn’t the kind of author that will relish or dwell on the gorier parts of the story. He does briefly describe severed heads and other nasty wounds. But unlike some of the other books I’ve reviewed here this is less about the creature and kills. Instead it focuses more on the mystery of who, what, where, and why. While it is different it can be just as much fun when done well. That is the case here and because of that I highly recommend Full Wolf Moon. I finished this book in two sittings one of which included a night where I stayed up way too late unable to put it down.

 

Ó Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

The Conjuring (2013)

 


Yeah, I know that I’m really late to this game. This franchise never appealed to me, so I avoided it. I always figured that this was just your modern “scary” movie with a bunch of telegraphed jump scares. That stuff does nothing for me. But after yet another friend recommended it to me, I relented and checked out this first movie. The fact that it popped up on Netflix for free also helped guide my decision.

The story starts with an introduction to Ed and Loraine Warren, paranormal investigators. They are working with some roommates who thought they invited the ghost of a little girl to live with them in a doll called Annabelle. Ah I see where that is headed. Were they thinking sequels all the way back here? Anyway, they tell the ladies that this was a huge mistake and that the doll is being used by a Demon as a gateway to possess one of them. It doesn’t want the inanimate object you see but will use it to gain a foothold or advantage. They take the doll and lock it up in their basement, which I think is also the basis for a future movie.

Then we are introduced to a family moving into a new house. Some spooky stuff happens with a boarded-up basement, a game of hide and seek, and a young daughter who sleepwalks. There are all sorts of secrets about the house that eventually are revealed. Bottom line is there is the spirit of an evil woman who keeps trying to possess the mothers with the intent of making them kill their own children. Why? I think she was a Satanist and sacrificed her own baby to the Devil. It is up to Ed and Loraine to save the day with an exorcism!

That damn music box...
Let me say something right up front. I know that the Warrens are very controversial characters and that this story is supposedly based on case files. They have true believers and skeptics who are both very passionate. Trust me after watching this movie I Googled them… holy crap! I’m not going to get into any of that shit. I watched The Conjuring for entertainment purposes and not to get into some discussion about the supernatural. Greedo isn’t real and yet I still can enjoy Star Wars. Though for the record Han shot first. With that out of the way lets talk about the movie.

I enjoyed the hell out of the Conjuring, pun not intended. The filmmakers do a wonderful job creating and maintaining a creepy vibe throughout the entire runtime. I seriously was on the edge of my seat wondering what was happening and where the next spooky thing was coming. I’m not talking about jump scares either, though there are a couple good ones. This movie leans heavily into atmosphere and making you uncomfortable. From the hide and go seek clapping gag, to hands that clearly aren’t her daughter, methane smells, suddenly seeing characters breath in the cold air, and of course that damn music box. There is some creepy stuff here to sink your teeth into. They even hit upon a terror that I think most of us had as kids… cover your damn feet with the covers! That got under my skin.

That is a bit creepy
The movie is always interesting and with what I’ve mentioned above as well as a few other surprises that I didn’t there is always something onscreen to hold your attention. Though I do need to warn you that this is the sort of movie you need to pay attention to. Put your phone down and pay attention or you are going to miss something for sure.

The Conjuring is unrelentingly creepy and fun. I know that some of the sequels are mediocre, but I think that I still want to check them out. I know it spawned that doll movie as well as the nun movie. But before that I guess it will be the Conjuring 2. I highly recommend this one.

 

Ó Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Monday, March 8, 2021

Truth or Dare (2017)


Before I start, I need to make sure that everyone knows that the movie I’m covering is Truth or Dare directed by Nick Simon. I know that there have been a lot of movies come out with this name, most of which I really dislike. So, I want to make sure we are all on the same page. Okay now we can get started. 

The movie kicks off in nineteen eighty-three with a couple scared kids, one of whom is on the roof of an old house. He falls to his death and she, we find out her name is Donna, sees a message telling her to pour acid over her head. She does this after preparing a concoction that I think is supposed to protect her. Some credits roll and we are moved to present day. There we meet another group of college kids who are having a Halloween party in the same house. Not only that the host explains the history and wants them to play Truth or Dare. Guess what happens?

So now they are stuck playing the game. If they don’t do the dare the dare will do them. Basically, the game and whatever is behind it will kill them or make it much worse. And they don’t get to do just one dare, no there are three rounds. Each one more deadly than the one before it. They think that they have it figured out and can work as a team, but it gets ugly… like chopping off body parts ugly. 

I like this movie. Initially I thought it was going to be by the numbers “trapped in a house until morning” sort of story. But pretty early on they get out of the house. They even go to the hospital and call the cops, who think that it is all a terrible accident. Unfortunately for them the game follows them and keeps up the pressure. It manages to get one of them in a dorm room and forces another to rob a gas station with horrible consequences. I liked the fact that we got more than just the house as a setting. They even track down the only survivor from last time, Donna, to talk to her about the game. It was a nice twist to see Heather Langenkamp show up in the movie in the role. This is how you stick an icon in without making it feel like a stunt. He is hardly recognizable under the makeup; remember she did pour acid over her head. 

The kills are decent in this movie. Someone gets impaled, another is hung, there is a death by shotgun, some Russian Roulette, and even death by Cockroach swarm. But the death scenes are the highlights. This movie knows how to push some buttons my friends. One of the dares is pulling a couple of teeth, which they show on screen with relish. Rocking back and forth with a set of rusty pliers… damn it movie! But the best is the second to last dare. Cut off seven living body parts. Eyelash and hair are a couple easy choices. Then they get to ripping off a fingernail and shit gets gruesome. In case you were wondering earlobes, fingers, and toes are all also removed onscreen. Though the last, a foot, is sadly off screen. 

This movie pushes a lot of buttons and made me queasy. Gore doesn’t get me but some of the stuff they made the characters do to themselves ramped things up to an eleven on the cringe factor. I don’t know if this is the kind of movie that works as well on a second viewing, but that first one is a blast. I highly recommend Truth or Dare. 


© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer



Friday, March 5, 2021

Spare Parts (2020)


When I saw the trailer for this one hit the internet I was interested immediately. It looked like some sort of girl band gladiator battle flick. Not sure how that was supposed to work, but it sounded cool. Then I got a copy and it sat collecting dust for a couple of months. I totally forgot that I had it. This is one of the many hazards of getting old! Clearly, I found the movie and now am ready to talk some Spare Parts.

Our main characters are in an all-girl punk band called Ms. 45. It is never a good idea when a movie starts off referencing an all-time classic exploitation flick like that. But okay I’m still willing to give them a chance. They are playing a biker bar and a fight breaks out where they kick some ass before the owner breaks things up. While selling merch in the parking lot they meet up with a douchebag in a corvette who later almost runs them off the road. When they give chase, they hit a spike strip and pop all their tires.

This leads them to a scrap yard to get the van fixed but instead are kidnapped by a cult. They are gassed and one of them groggily wakes up to see that their right hands are being amputated and the flesh removed from their lower arms to expose the bones. We eventually find out that they are being prepared to be gladiators in the games that the cult holds to appease the gods. The bones are there to serve as attachments for various weapons. Quickly adapting to their new lives and the mutilation that was done to them the women fight each battle that comes until they finally are able to get some payback. That shouldn’t be a spoiler for anyone who has ever watched a movie like Spare Parts.

People really went crazy over this trailer and again when I saw it, I was into it. I was hoping for an interesting over the top gorefest with maybe some exploitive body horror tossed in. I sort of got that. Very early on we are treated to the girls losing their hands and the flesh being peeled off of their lower arms. That is some messed up shit right there and I was ready for some trauma when they woke up. They wake up and look down at the bones sticking out of their stumps and are like… “damn”. These are musicians who I’m thinking are likely screwed now. The movie had set up a great stomach-churning emotional kick in the ass and glosses over it. That was a bummer and I had hoped for more. I get that this is maybe not that kind of movie, but still guys you had it all setup for you. At least toss us a bone, pun intended.

This is a bloody movie with lots of gore. Throats are cut, a head gets smashed, there is an axe to the back, a head gets cut off, and there is a chainsaw to the chest. My favorites are a pair of face removals one with a motorcycle wheel and another with a chainsaw. These are shown in their gooey goodness on screen. Most of the bloody stuff is practical work with an occasional CGI assist here and there. Gore hounds will be very happy with Spare Parts. I’ve not event mentioned all the kills. There are a lot of them. Hell, the movie opens with a woman collecting spare body parts in a wheelbarrow. You find out later why, but I won’t spoil it here.

Normally the first thing that I talk about in my reviews is the plot. Here the plot isn’t that important. It serves to bridge one fight or training montage to the next. It boils down to cult kidnaps band, mutilates them, they get payback. It’s that straightforward. I appreciate a movie that keeps things simple, but I will admit that it does get a bit repetitive and slow as we see the same predictable stuff again and again. This is where them at least discussing their amputated limbs or the baby… damn I forgot all about the baby in the jar! Yeah, there are things that could have been expanded easily to add a bit more juice to the story.

I had high hopes for Body Parts. Could this be the next cult classic that I had to make all of my friends watch? It’s not, in case you were wondering. I do think that it is decent and if you are looking for gore with very little plot to get in the way then this is the movie for you.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Ancients by R. Karl Largent

Well by now I have to admit that I’ve become a fan of Largent’s work. I’ve already reviewed three of his books for the website and this makes four. Is this as good as those other books? (The Witch of Sixkill, The Lake, and Black Death) I guess we will have to read it and see.

Elliot Grant Wages is a hard-drinking author and author in residence working on yet another book of spooky happenings. An old friend sends one of his student’s Elliot’s way with an interesting story. In the northern reaches of Canada strange tragedies happen every eleven years that have otherwise normal communities falling victim to murder, mutilation, and cannibalism! Thru the research of the grad student, Brenda Cashman, he put on the track of the odd events and figures out where the next event is likely to take place. Of course, he bright idea is to go check it out and Brenda forces her way along with him.

The pair end up in a small town called Chambers Bay, which had already seen strange animal mutilations. The first night they are in town two kids are found dead behind the motel. This is only the beginning as a fog rolls in and cuts the town off from the rest of the world. More bodies appear and Wages figures out that they are up against some ancient cult that has a deadly ritual every eleven years in an attempt to summon their God back to them and break a curse. This leads to a big showdown with many casualties and perhaps an end to the killings.

I’ll be damned if this isn’t another great read. Largent sets things in motion with a couple reports about earlier events and then seals the deal with one from a survivor from an earlier attack. This sets things up quickly without giving much away. By the time our characters end up in Chambers Bay for the main action of the book the reader is primed and ready for it. The town is filled with creepy characters, some who are what they appear and others that aren’t. A couple of times I thought I had things figured out but then we get another twist. These twists aren’t just there to confuse the reader, but actually fit well with the story and by the end all make sense. That is the key to a good use of twists is that when the story is resolved you need to have that “Aha” moment where it all fits together. You get that here.

This is a bit of a spoiler so be warned. Okay that is enough waiting, I guess. Initially you think that there is one creature but there ends up being more than that. The attacks start off small, but then the locals start dropping like flies. The kills and attacks are well described and while not as gruesome as other monster stories I’ve read I found them satisfying. This is helped by the origin of the creatures and by the time that Largent takes in describing them.

This time last year I hadn’t even heard of R. Karl Largent and now he has become one of my favorite authors. I picked up another of his novels at my local used book store today with intentions of reading it soon. It just so happens I think that our old friend Elliot Grant Wages is looking for Nazi gold! Yeah, I’m excited about that one. I highly recommend this and the other books of his that I’ve read, I posted links above for details.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Tentacles (2021)


This is another of those Hulu and Blumhouse movies made as part of the Into the Dark series. Just released it is supposed to be for Valentine’s Day, which I guess I can sort of see. I mean if you have a very dark opinion of relationships and romance.

We see a girl packing in a hurry when she hears a noise outside. Grabbing a knife, she is confronted by someone who we only see as a shadow. The shadow has a tentacle! Fast forward to later and we see the same woman burying a bag of cash in the desert and then heading to an open house. She sticks around after they are done for the day and takes a nap on the bed. She leaves and goes to another open house, this time meeting Sam. She introduces herself as Tara and the pair hit it off right away. Before you know it, Tara is moving into Sam’s house and they are spending all of their time together.

The longer that Sam is with Tara the more smitten and the sicklier he becomes. Eventually he as well as the audience figure out that there is something very wrong with Tara. Basically, she is some sort of monster that is feeding off him with the eventual plan of replacing him. She is some sort of shapeshifter you see. So, all of the nice things that she has done for him like fixing up his house and getting him a big show, he is a photographer, was in fact for her when she became him. Stuff happens and then we get to an ending that is more of a beginning of something even worse. Tara/Sam isn’t the only monster running around Los Angeles it seems.

There are some things that I really liked about the movie. Much of the action takes place in the small house that the couple are living in. This means that our main cast members portraying Tara and Sam need to carry the story. I think that they do a very good job and most importantly have some decent chemistry on screen. Their relationship is the key to all the proceedings both good and bad. I also found it creepy that in hindsight her “get to know you” questions take on an entirely different skew when you realize she is doing homework rather than trying to understand her partner. This is reinforced with her dead expressionless face as we see her beginning to copy his voice and mannerisms.

We do get an attractive monster.
Unfortunately, the movie leans heavily into sex and nudity. He is totally enamored by her and she enjoys him as well. While I understand that this is very important to the story, we get a ton of it and very little of the creature. I wanted less naughty business and more monster business. When you name your movie tentacles, and it isn’t an anime then I’m thinking I should have more of the creature in it. All the above makes for some pacing issues in what is a short movie that clocks in at less than ninety minutes. That should be the sweet spot, but I did find myself checking the clock wishing they would get on with it more than once.

This is an interesting concept with the parasite basically feeding off those around it. Here the monster is in a very attractive package and it isn’t until the very end that it’s true intentions are revealed. I’m sure that there is some big metaphor here about relationships and if that strikes your fancy then you might dig Tentacles. Sadly, I wanted a monster movie and didn’t really get one. Maybe that is my fault, but I just can’t recommend this flick.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Monday, March 1, 2021

Harbinger Down (2015)


There is nothing that I enjoy more than a good old fashioned monster movie. This looks to be just that with the added bonus of Lance Henriksen in a starring role. You heard that right it isn’t just stunt casting, but he has an actual damn role! Not only that he plays a grumpy grandpa doing battle with a terror from space. Damn movie you get me…

The movie opens in nineteen eighty-two with a Russian spacecraft crashing into the ice. We see that something was going horribly wrong, and I don’t mean just the crash. The action moves to present day with a group of science types led by a douchey professor with grad students in tow. One of those students is the granddaughter of the crab boat captain. They head out to check the migratory patterns of Beluga whales and how it is impacted by global warming. While poking around the granddaughter discovers the Russian space craft in the ice and they pull it onboard. At first the only argument is from the professor trying to claim the discovery as his.

I did say he is kind of a douche. But when the body of the cosmonaut disappears, and something starts picking them off one at a time ownership becomes less of an issue. There is a monster onboard that can change its shape and mutate/consume anyone it comes in contact with. We find out thru a twist which I won’t ruin that the Russians were experimenting on Water Bears aka. Tardigrades that can live in just about any environment. The critters mutated into a monster that is now stalking them. If that weren’t bad enough if you become infected by them, you eventually become part of the monster.

The rest of the movie is a familiar creature feature with the diminishing group of survivors trying to escape as well as destroy the monster. If it gets loose humanity is doomed. While Harbinger Down doesn’t break any new ground, it does execute the formula with relish. They quickly establish the creepy environment of the crab boat isolated in frigid waters. Everything feels dirty and wet so when they need to creep around the ship in the dark it works. The characters fit the archetypes that we are used to, but the actors do very well with what they are given making it feel fresh. Henriksen is the

Creature looks awesome
highlight as the crusty captain and grandfather. He also has the best line in the movie. When they eventually come up with a weapon to freeze the monster, they load up the coolant in buckets. Finally tracking down the now much larger monster, it ate a few people and absorbed him, he drops “We’re gonna need a bigger bucket.” Normally I’m not the kind of guy that laughs at stuff like but they nailed it.

The special effects work is stellar and is all practical. The creature is amazing and has several different shapes as well as sizes. They even take the time to show at least one of the characters who was killed as part of the creature. There is a decent nine kills with some of the highlights being an arm frozen off, a mutating/exploding character, someone is grabbed and squished, and death by metal grade. They effectively get pulled thru it… ouch. Though my best is another character getting yanked into a tube that is clearly not large enough for the human body to squeeze thru!

Good creature, fun kills, old school actor given something to sink his teeth into. What isn’t to love here? Harbinger Down is a great throwback to the squishy monster movies of the eighties, and I dig it. I especially love the fact that they went out of their way to not use CGI. All of this makes the movie feel like it belongs to a time twenty-five years before it was made. I highly recommend this one.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer