Featured Post

Featured Post - Slasher Marathon 2021

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

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)

I like to wrap up these marathons with a familiar movie or dip into a franchise. I figured that I should cover this… the last Friday the 13th… the one that ends the series… yeah, we all know how that turned out. That said I’m going to cover this as if it was the last one. They did some very clever things to wrap up the franchise and I want to acknowledge that.

The movie kicks off with scenes from the first three flicks. They show some of the greatest hits aka. the best kills and reference some of the older characters. They explain about Jason’s origin and how he saw his mother killed, which apparently pushed him over the edge. Then we see the end of part III. The police have arrived and are picking up the bodies. One of those bodies is Jason who wakes up in the morgue and after dispatching a couple folks heads back to the familiar environs of the lake.

After that we are introduced to our main cast. There are a group of young people headed to a cabin to spend the weekend partying. Next door is a family including a sister, Trish, and her younger brother Tommy. Well Jason dispatches a hitchhiker and then gets to work on the kids! Oh, and the older brother of one of Jason’s earlier victims hikes his way in with a rifle. He thinks that Jason is alive since the body disappeared from the morgue and is hunting him! Shenanigans ensue with some skinny dipping, dancing, paring off, and dying going on until the final credits roll.

This is one of the better installments of the franchise. Again, they were thinking that this was going to be it so the greatest hits to start the movie out felt less like padding then it did remind you of why these flicks are great. It then jumps from the recap into the action. It isn’t long before Jason is tearing thru the cast of this movie. Final Chapter might have the best pacing of the Friday movies since the original. They do a decent job of introducing the characters quickly and getting to the good stuff.

What is the good stuff? Well, the boobs and blood of course. There is a lot of nudity in this flick. Yeah, I know that sounds creepy but as I’ve stated in my other slasher reviews that is part of the formula, like it or not. They spread these scenes out with the gore to keep the action moving along briskly with something interesting and eye catching happening at almost all times. We also get the infamous Crispin Glover dance that once you have seen you can’t ever forget. A young Corey Feldman plays Tommy and does a great job portraying the monster kid who doesn’t run away but instead plays psychological games with Jason to save his sister. I know that if you haven’t seen the movie that sounds weird, and it is, but it works.

Because this was going to be the last one effects maestro Tom Savini returned to finally kill Jason off. And boy howdy does he! Jason ends up sliding slowly face first down a machete blade leaving no doubt that he wasn’t going to survive this. And technically I suppose despite returning, sort of, in another seven sequels he did die here. We also get some stellar kills/gore throughout. A neck gets sawed, heads get twisted, cleaver to the face, several stabbings thru people, someone gets tossed out of a window, a spike thru the ear, and my favorite an axe to the chest. This is a bloody movie and is a great example of Savini in his prime.

I don’t know what else I can say about this movie that hasn’t already been discussed. If you haven’t seen Final Chapter you need to. Even if you haven’t seen another Friday the 13th flick that is okay. This one stands alone and again recaps things so that you get the gist of what is going on. While not my favorite slasher, or even my favorite Friday the 13th movie I can’t think of a better executed example of the formula that made for a great “kids go in the woods and get dead” movie. I highly recommend it.


© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Monday, June 28, 2021

Death Rink (2019)

I have another newer slasher movie to cover here in the marathon. This one has a group of kids staying late to close a roller-skating rink. They combine this task with an impromptu birthday party for one of the girls who works there. As an added bit of fun, we also see the manager dealing with a heavy breather who keeps calling and yelling “SATAN” over and over again. I guess they have a stalker. This becomes important later when someone gets into the rink and starts to murder the hell out of everyone. See what I did there? The bodies drop and the blood flows… a little bit anyways, until all is revealed.

There is a lot to like with Death Rink. The setting is great and very creepy. The closed skating rink works with the story as it is spooky and big enough to hide the killings or more specifically the bodies. This is also a very good job of the filmmaker, Daniel Zubiate, to pick a single location where he can shoot and control things better. Far too many independent directors make the fatal mistake of aiming over their budget with locations they can’t afford or simply don’t have.  Here the location is perfect. It also allows the movie to have a nostalgic feel to it without trying to pick a specific decade in which it takes place. We see a Blockbuster card and a payphone, but at least one of the characters has a cell phone. It feels like an older movie without trying too hard. Then again I grew up in the seventies at roller rinks so they always remind me of my misspent youth.

The movie is very talky, but that is okay with me. The dialogue is very well written, and the cast is decent. When they are sitting and shooting the breeze it feels natural. Even the horndog character that these flicks always have is well defined and portrayed. I know that I’ve been beating on this same dead horse, but this movie proves my point. The one thing not impacted by your budget is the quality of your script. Zubiate, who is also the writer, knows how to write dialogue and picked some good actors to deliver it.

There are some decent budget kills here. The first kill is bad and shot poorly with an actress that doesn’t look distressed while being choked out with a telephone cord. But there is a fun gag with a pizza cutter and a decent stabbing. My favorite kill is a clever bit with a traffic cone being jammed on someone’s head before they get stomped. This kill is sold very well with some blood and sound effects. You think you see a head get smashed but it is only implied. Good job movie!

I have one huge problem that prevents me from recommending the movie. The pacing is all out of whack. At its core this movie is a slasher flick. There is a formula for such things, most importantly you space the kills out every ten or fifteen minutes. I know that sounds picky, but this is the formula because it works. While this movie is a very tight hour and fourteen minutes it takes almost forty-five of those minutes before the killer gets to work. They pack all the kills into the last half hour. Because of that the whole thing feels backloaded and uneven. That might seem like a nitpick, but it makes a huge difference. I found myself wondering if this was going to be some sort of switcheroo and we get to the end to find out there wasn’t a killer, and everyone just goes home.

I really wanted to like Death Rink. There have been a lot of these retro slashers come out in the last few years and other than Final Girls this might be the best. But it doesn’t quite get there for me. Still, I like the director and can’t wait to see what he does next. There is not only a love for the genre in his work, but he clearly has talent as well. This is an odd review because it sounds so positive for a movie that I can’t recommend. But that is how I feel so I suppose this is what you get. If you want to support this filmmaker and rent/purchase Death Rink to do so that is okay. Again I want to encourage filmmakers like this to keep making movies and sometimes that means spending money on something that isn’t perfect or doesn’t work.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

 

 

 

 

Friday, June 25, 2021

The Prey (1983)

The slasher marathon continues with this one. I’ve seen The Prey before, but it has been years. If I remember correctly, it wasn’t very good. That is probably why I have forgotten about the movie though I thought with it being a slasher flick it belonged here. With that in mind I’m ready to give the movie another shot, so without further delay lets dive in.

Before and during the credits we are treated to the sights and sounds of a forest fire. Then we meet a middle-aged couple camping in the woods. The wife wanders off to the river to do the dishes while he chops at some branches. Well, that doesn’t end well for them as they both find themselves dead at the hands of an unseen killer. Then we are introduced to our main cast of characters. A van full of three couples, all of them annoying, and all of them doomed. Okay, maybe not all…

The campers go into the woods, end up at the same campsite as the couple from earlier and begin to meet their various demises. We also have some Park Rangers who have some suspicions when the couple from earlier in the movie is reported missing. The younger of the two heads up to the area where our characters are being picked off to check on them. We also get a bit of backstory from the older Ranger who talks about the big fire fifteen years earlier and how it wiped out a bunch of Gypsies. Many people die and we get a resolution, sort of. I won’t spoil the ending other than to say it is disturbing.

This movie suffers from not having a well fleshed out script and/or story. The setup with the deep woods and the burnt backwoods killer is decent if not terribly original. This is completely serviceable and should have made for a decent setup. But after the great opening with a pair of kills we go almost forty minutes before anything else other than walking and talking happens. Now some of that is establishing the characters and setting the mood for what is to come. I appreciate that and will say it is well done. But it goes on far too long.

There are also additions to extend the runtime with a couple random dude playing the banjo scenes. I’m not kidding here. For no reason there is a guy sitting in a cabin playing the banjo and saying nothing. No effort or attempt is made to tie him into the story at all. We also get a cameo with legendary actor Jackie Coogan as the older Park Ranger where he answers a phone and has a sandwich. There is lots of padding in this one and that is surprising since it only runs an hour and twenty minutes.

The Killer looks great
It isn’t all bad with the Prey. I loved the music and the fact that they used a lot of ambient sound to establish the setting of the deep woods. It reminds me of my favorite backwoods’ slasher flick, Just Before Dawn, which is a great movie. They also use random inserts of critters killing and eating prey, which I think was to set the tone for what the killer was doing to our characters. While he isn’t a cannibal, but he does have something he wants from them. Again, not going to spoil things.

There are also a decent number of kills with eight. We get some tame stuff like a smothering, a fall, and someone choked to death. But there are also some fun gags with a head getting cut off, though to be fair this is seen after the fact. Additionally, we get a snapped neck and a throat ripped out. Combined with the look of the killer, which sadly doesn’t get much screen time, I’m sold on the special effects work here. Though considering John Carl Buechler is responsible that shouldn’t be a surprise. He always did good work on a low budget.

I wish that I could recommend The Prey as I really wanted to like it despite my previous experience. And as I’ve mentioned above the movie does have some highlights. But in the end, it isn’t very good as a whole. The pacing basically killed he experience for me. I’ll not be watching this again anytime soon. That said if you are looking for a slasher from the eighties and have visited all the usual suspects this might be an okay onetime watch. That is about the best I can say for The Prey.

 

Ó Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Blood Frenzy (1987)

Yikes! I’ve been scraping the bottom of the barrel during this fifth slasher movie marathon. I do have some good stuff that I’ve been saving for later. Blood Frenzy isn’t one of those good ones. It is however the second part of the Lisa Loring aka. Original Wednesday Adams slasher double feature. Her other entry is the previously reviewed Iced which is the more famous of the two because she shows a lot of skin… like basically all of it. Enough of that nonsense let’s get to the plot of Blood Frenzy.

The movie opens with a kid playing with a jack in the box. Their drunken father comes in and tosses it away. He removes his belt and is about to beat them when he trips and falls. That gives the kid a chance to pick up a gardening tool and tear out his throat with it. All this happens without us ever getting a close look at the kid. This is important later. You know basically because the kid is the killer so plot twists and all that good stuff. Well not really good…

Years later a doctor is taking some of her patients into the desert to help them deal with their emotional and psychological issues thru some drastic group therapy. After setting up camp and a session they go wandering around. One of them hears the jack in the box playing in the night, which I suppose is some sort of foreboding. The killings also start that night with blame being shifted from one patient to the other before everyone is convinced that it must be Vietnam vet Rick. More people die, secrets are revealed, last minute twists introduced, and the killer’s identity is revealed. Just about what you would expect in a slasher flick.

We do get some eye candy!
That last sentence is important to this review. It feels like someone made a list of what the better slasher movies did and went down it checking boxes off. You have lots of red herrings, suspects that are clearly not really the killer. There are so many that it becomes clear that something else is going on and that the movie is trying too hard to be clever. The plot also randomly introduces another character towards the end to make some other potential plot holes work. Basically, they needed an excuse to explain how a character could have been with the rest of the group and be the killer. Answer… random brother that isn’t mentioned until later. All of this combined with some terrible pacing makes for a tough watch. I got thru Blood Frenzy, but it was a chore.

How are the kills you might be asking? We get seven, which is okay. The first kill is a nifty throat gouging/slashing. They must have liked it as well because they use it again and again. Four of the seven kills are the same throat slash effect that we have already seen. The other three is a stabbing that they cut away from, a sign running thru someone with a poorly executed gag (he is clearly holding it on the side away from the camera, and finally an axe to the back. That last one is okay but doesn’t make up for the generic kills that take up the rest of the action.

The identity of the killers is obvious if you have ever seen a slasher movie before. Again, it is clear that the filmmakers were copying what they had seen in other slashers when making the movie. Despite that they still chose to make the killers generic and forgettable. Toss in some bad performances and you get a flick that isn’t worth spending your time or money on. I don’t recommend it.

 

Ó Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Carnosaur by Harry Adam Knight.

Okay I have some housekeeping items before we jump in on this one. First Knight is a pseudonym for author John Brosnan. I mention this because while all the print copies of this book that I’ve found are under the name Knight I think there are some digital versions floating around under the Brosnan name. The Second item is that while this novel was adapted for the screen by Roger Corman’s New Horizon company the movie has little in common with the book. Finally, you might notice some similarities between the dinosaurs and more importantly their creation between this book and Jurassic Park. This book came out several years before that one so this isn’t a rip off of that more famous book. In fact, one might even say… nah I’m not going there. Okay now onto the review.

The story is set in rural England with our main character being a reporter at a local paper. His name is David, and he is tired of working for a small outfit that bends the knee to those in power. Basically, any juicy story is killed by the local elites. This is especially so when it comes to Lord Penward. When one of Penward’s big cats gets out and kills some neighbors he uses his money and influence to hush it all up. But David, along with his beautiful ex-girlfriend Jenny, get wind of something big. Though instead of working together they act more as rivals both trying to get the scoop. This includes David sleeping with Penward’s neglected wife to get closer to the estate. After a lot of drama and emotional baggage, none of which I was the least bit interested in, the action starts. If the title hasn’t given it away Lord Penward was hatching dinosaurs using DNA and chicken eggs! And he just doesn’t have one like the title of the book insinuates but many. They all get loose and start eating people, which is when things get nasty.

I really did like this book. The story meanders a bit at the beginning, though we do get a couple early attacks to spice things up. There is a bit too much intrigue and the affair between David and Lady Penward takes up far more of the early story then it should. The same goes for the subplot between David and his ex-girlfriend. Things are only interesting when the dinosaurs break free and go on a rampage. Though I will say that my complaints are mitigated by writing that is accessible, and a story that is plotted out well making it is easy to follow. That helps the early stuff at least flow quickly. The book is also short barely topping two hundred pages.

I should also warn readers that this book is written very much in the style of men’s adventure magazines. What I mean by that is the women are either the damsel in distress or the nymphomaniac unhappy wife. David beds both and at time treats both badly. I don’t think in any way that it takes away from the story but if you are sensitive towards that sort of thing then I figured I should let you know.

Carnosaur is a fun book and an easy read. I blew thru it in a couple of hours and while not a book that engrossed me it was fun. Though be warned that if you are looking for literature this isn’t it. What we have here is the print equivalent of a seventies drive-in monster movie, which I dig. If you are in the mood for that sort of thing then I highly recommend Carnosaur.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Monday, June 21, 2021

Support Independent Magazines

I know that I have mentioned some of the magazines that I write for in various tweets and posts here at Crappy Movie Reviews before but I wanted to do so again. I grew up reading mimeographed fan magazines that I picked up in various record and comic stores. That moved into photocopied magazines which itself with the advent of publishing software and home computers became the beautiful creations we can put our hands on today. I get that the internet is an easy source and free, but there is nothing quite like having an actual magazine in your hands. 

Before the accusations start please let me say that I don't get paid and that no one is making their living at publishing these, much less getting rich. All of the magazines that I write for are labors of love, which is why I participate. Whether it is my old friend 42nd Street Pete's Grindhouse Purgatory, Eric and Angie's Midnight Magazine, or Edwin's Gravely Unusual all of these creative people are putting things in print for the love of creating something. I think that is pretty cool. 

If you could possibly take a look at the links below and purchase yourself a copy of one of these publications I would be eternally grateful. And it isn't like I'm asking you to kickstart something with the promise of maybe getting your money's worth. When you support these with your hard earned cash you are guaranteed to get a product in your hands. One that is already done and just waiting on you. Thanks for reading this. 

- John Shatzer aka. The Crappy Movie Reviewer


Gravely Unusual can be picked up at the below link. 

https://gravelyunusual.bigcartel.com/



Midnight Magazine is available at the below link

https://midnightmagazine.bigcartel.com/



Grindhouse Purgatory can be picked up at Amazon or better yet if you would like to get in touch with 42nd Street Pete directly and cut out the middle man just email him at Grindhousepurgatory@gmail.com



Gutterballs (2008)

Before I begin it is important to know that for this review I watched my copy of Gutterballs that I purchased from the filmmaker when it was first released. This would be what they call the Balls-Out Uncut edition. I say this because I know the “normal” version of the movie that most people have access to has the hardcore penetration and some of the nudity cut out. More on that later, I just mention this so that if you understand the version you watch might not be the version that I’m reviewing.

The movie takes place entirely in a bowling alley in the eighties. We can tell that from the clothes and music. You have a group of preppies bowling against an assortment of oddballs. There are some ladies, a tranny, an athlete, a punk girl, and a musician. A big fight breaks out and afterwards the preppies trap one of the girls, Lisa, when she comes back for her purse. This leads to an unnecessarily brutal rape scene that goes on and on.

The next night everyone returns to the alley to finish the game that was interrupted by the fight. Lisa shows up clearly traumatized but not talking about what happened. We the audience know from a “gearing” up montage that someone has made a bunch of bowling themed weapons and made a mask out of a bowling ball bag. Not long after the victims arrive and start to pair off the killer gets to work picking them off one at a time. Eventually we are down to just a couple survivors when the big twist is revealed, and all is explained.

I don’t want to go any further and ruin the movie for you. I’m not going to recommend Gutterballs, especially not this version, but it might appeal to some folks out there. My issue with the movie is how explicit it is. We get a lot of genitals on the screen, both ladies and men. I’m not a prude but it does get excessive. I found myself wanting the movie to get onto the traditional slasher stuff rather than yet another sex scene where we see more than we need to. I know that director Ryan Nicholson was going for an exploitation vibe, but you can overdo that stuff. The rape scene is uncomfortable as it goes on forever and is more voyeuristic than it is making me angry at the antagonists.

The first kill has a woman, who is performing a sex act on camera, get choked out when her head is forced down and she isn’t allowed to come up for air. I suppose that is supposed to set the tone for the movie and it does. We get a lot more kills, though not as explicit, but many of which are sexual in nature. The language used in the movie is distracting as well. Every other word is an “F” bomb and if that isn’t enough there are all kinds of slurs tossed around as well. This isn’t helped by a cast that isn’t very good. The line delivery is clunky and the performances wooden. In the end Gutterballs feels like a flick that is trying too hard to be shocking and to “go there”.

I do have some nice things to say about the movie. The gore and kills are great. They manage to have a theme to the kills using bowling related items as the weapons. A bowling pin gets rammed down a throat, a sharpened pin is used on a few body orifices, a girl gets a couple bowling balls to the noggin’, another gets choked out with laces from bowling shoes, and a face ends up in a ball polisher. Toss in the mentioned death by sex and some shotgun action for a respectable twelve kills, most of them on screen! The execution is great as the camera lingers on some gooey stuff as faces are ground off and eyes gouged out. The best though is the exploding head and guts flopping out from the shotgun work. These are some great effects.

The movie has a decent soundtrack, though it is my understanding that it was all switched up after the release I got. So, results may vary for your viewing. I thought the twist at the end was decent, which is why I didn’t spoil it. I also thought that after a slow start the last forty minutes scooted along quickly and got us to the kills and other good stuff.

Gutterballs would have been an unenthusiastic “it was okay” if it didn’t have all the explicit material. But I found that stuff to be very distracting and in an odd way trying to be over the top hurt the movie in my mind. Now I’m not sure if the other versions just cut the sexual stuff and left the gore intact. That might make for a much better watch. But this is what I watched, and I just can’t recommend it.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Friday, June 18, 2021

Sledgehammer (1983)

In a previous slasher marathon, I covered David A. Prior’s Killer Workout so I thought it was about time to take a look at his first movie Sledgehammer. This shot on video slasher was done with minimal locations and a tiny budget. So how did it turn out? Let’s dive in. 

The movie opens with a lady locking her son in a closet while she has some fun with her lover. She has just left her husband and after some awkward attempts at romance a killer shows up and bashes their heads in with a sledgehammer. See where the title comes from? Ten years later some “kids” show up to party at the house. I used parenthesis because I’m not sure how old they are supposed to be. They act like dumb teenagers, but clearly aren’t that young. After some shenanigans, including a séance, a mysterious killer appears and starts to kill them as well. Who is the killer, and does it have anything to do with the events of a decade earlier? Well, I’m going to tell you so stick around. 

Let me get some things out of the way right at the start. The acting is bad, but not any worse than I would expect from a low budget shot on video movie. But no one is going to win any awards with their performances. For most of the cast this is their only or one of two credits. That isn’t surprising at all. The pacing is atrocious with long stretches of nothing happening. It takes far too long to get back to the kills after the first couple. Between them we have a lot of slow motion and establishing shots that linger way too long. Truthfully this movie can be very boring and I can’t deny that. 

Now that I’ve said that and somewhat warned you the reader, I have to be honest and say that I sort of enjoy Sledgehammer. There is a certain charm to the do-it-yourself special effects work that are featured. We get a respectable seven kills including a sledgehammer to the noggin’, a neck snapping, and a hammer to the chest. Though my personal favorite is a knife thru the neck. None of these rises to the level of Tom Savini or Rob Bottin but for this kind of movie they look damn good, and I appreciate that. 

It’s also amazing to me that this entire movie was shot in a small apartment. If you didn’t know that you would likely think they were shooting the interior of the large house in the establishing shots. Somehow director David A. Prior managed to redress and point the camera creatively so that the viewer would realize that. Whenever a filmmaker can creatively hide their low budget or limitations it gets my attention. That is extremely cool and shows the skill that would be evident in Prior’s later career. 

I watch a lot of low budget movies and have for years. Hell, I rented Sledgehammer back in the Mom and Pop VHS store days. This movie is flawed, and I know that. I’ve already acknowledged many of them earlier in this review. Maybe it is nostalgia, or my love of slasher movies. Regardless I do really like this one. Can I recommend it? Well, I suppose if you have read the review and are still interested then check it out. If not, you will probably want to pass. 


© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer


Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Grave Robbers (1989)

A movie like Grave Robbers is why I keep digging into stacks of stuff that I’ve never seen before. Occasionally you unearth a great flick that you haven’t seen before. Yeah, I know that this is a bit of a spoiler but damn it this was a good time! 

The story opens in the past with a Satanist trying to bring about the birth of the Antichrist thru a ritual and a virgin. He is interrupted by some monks who we find out later are with the inquisition. They chase him down and toss him on the rack to confess his sins. He refuses and gets an axe in the chest for his defiance. But before he dies, he warns them that the axe will eventually be pulled out and he will return to complete his ceremony. 

The action moves to present time or at least the late eighties when Grave Robbers was made. We see a group of girls going on a camping trip, one of whom is the daughter of the local police captain. There is also a truck full of grave robbers out to score some cash in the local cemetery. They of course find the body, pull the axe, and set the killer free. After retrieving his axe, which they took, he starts to chop his way thru the cast until finding the captain’s daughter who I guess must be a virgin because it is ceremony time again. The survivors head back to the cemetery to stop him before the world goes to hell… literally!

This movie is a blast. Much like his earlier flick, Cemetery of Terror, director/writer Ruben Galindo Jr. has made a movie that starts off with a bang and never lets up. The pacing is amazing and slows just long enough to establish the characters before jumping back into the mayhem. He juggles a few storylines perfectly eventually bringing them all together in the end. There are some characters that show up solely to be knocked off but being a slasher movie that is what I would expect. Oh, and unlike Cemetery of Terror which blended so many genres that I couldn’t call it a straight up slasher Grave Robbers easily falls into this category. And it is a damn good one at that!

Killer versus Uzi... who wins?
Since this is a slasher flick, we must talk about the kills. There are an impressive twelve of them in this movie. While some are off screen, we do see some fun stuff on the screen. There is an axe to the chest, neck, and face that are all decent. Necks get snapped, faces get jammed thru metal gates, and someone even gets drowned. Though my two favorite gags are a beheading with bouncing noggin’ and a chest bursting scene that I didn’t see coming but was bloody and featured some intestines. The fact that the director did the effects himself after spending a weekend in Los Angeles working with an FX guy is amazing. Is there anything that Galindo couldn’t do? 

Hell, I haven’t even gotten to the look of the killer yet, which is cool. Imagine a pissed off satanic zombie stomping around in decayed robes, and you pretty much have it. I’ve always been a sucker for the older Mexican horror movies but somehow never knew that they were shooting stuff like this in the eighties. Though it seems like it was only Galindo who was making flicks like this. Still, I’m so happy to have seen this. I know he has a third flick called Don’t Panic that was shot between Cemetery of Terror and Grave Robbers. I must track down a copy of that as soon as possible. If it isn’t clear yet I’m highly recommending Grave Robbers. This is one of my favorite new to me movies of the year!


© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer


Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Moon in Scorpio (1987)

This movie has been sitting in my to watch pile for a very long time. I wasn’t sure what it was, but I did see that William Smith and Britt Ekland starred so I figured what the hell. Both have been in some great movies so how bad could this be? Well, that turned out to be a stupid question. Also, I had no idea that this was a slasher movie of sorts. One set on a sailboat. 

The movie revolves around Ekland’s character Linda. She is the only survivor of a group of friends that set out on a sailboat. Now don’t get mad at me because the movie spoils this right away. Thru a series of flashbacks, though honestly at the time it isn’t clear that they are flashbacks, we see someone make their escape from the very same hospital that Linda is currently in. They stab a couple of folks and then we go back to Linda and her fiancé. She is headed on her honeymoon, not knowing that her new husband has invited his buddies from Vietnam along for the sailboat ride to Mexico. 

After the mysterious figure from the hospital shows up and dispatches a fisherman, they leave harbor and head out. This leads to some drinking, arguing, sabotage, and murder! We also get a subplot of some horrible crime committed by the three during their time in Vietnam. I think they killed some villagers or something like that. We get some stock footage and poorly shot scenes with the actors walking thru what looks like a park as an explanation, so I’m not sure what exactly happened. The killer is revealed and again I think she was supposed to have known something about the crime. But then it turns out the killer was the escaped mental patient. Though the timeline is all screwy as to how they would have gotten on the boat so soon after escaping. 

This movie is an absolute mess. First up they didn’t have the budget to try and do the Vietnam flashbacks, which are distractingly bad. It really does look like some guys walking in the park fighting a war. If you can’t shoot it don’t include it! I’m sure they could have just snuck that plotline in with some dialogue. Though why bother? Other than to give an excuse for some nightmares it goes nowhere. After wasting our time trying to establish it, they jump right to a random killer taking the opportunity to rip thru the cast. There is so much effort trying to talk about ghosts and establish a supernatural story that I’m thinking someone must have tried to twist this script into the still popular slasher genre. I suppose I could do some research, but this movie has already taken up too much of my time. 

I should also mention that this movie is told out of order, but they make no effort to let you know that while you are watching. Eventually I caught on to what was going on but for a good bit of the movie it was confusing as hell. They also did a crap job towards a cohesive narrative using an annoying voiceover from Eklund to connect what seem to be random scenes together to attempt to tell the story. This is just horrible writing. What makes this even worse is the cast that is wasted on it. William Smith and Britt Eklund, I’ve already mentioned, but there is also the always solid John Phillip Law and legendary “B” actor Robert Quarry. There is some talent on this cast, and it is completely wasted with this mess of a story. 

The one highlight are the kills. I thought I was in for a good time as we get a couple nice effects gags with some stabbings right away. But then there is a long pause before things pick up again. The killer starts to use a weird hook/knife weapon to murder people that I thought looked cool. But again, with the crappy writing they never explain where it came from and if it has any significance. If you are going to give your killer a weird weapon you had better let us know why that was their choice. Still there are eight kills including some stabbings, slashings, speargun to the chest, and an eye gets stabbed out. Not top-notch gore but there was some effort put into it. 

Moon in Scorpio isn’t worth your time. While I like the kills this movie is boring, confusing, and just poorly made. Give me a standard set them up and knock them down at a summer camp any day over this nonsense. Stay far away from this turd. 


© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer




Friday, June 11, 2021

Mother’s Day (1980)

The slasher marathon continues with Mother’s Day. This is a movie that I’ve been meaning to watch for a long time, but just never got around to cracking open the DVD. Then it showed up on the Last Drive-in with Joe Bob Briggs and I figured this was a great way to watch the movie. Honestly, I feel a bit dumb waiting so long.

Things get rolling with a motivational speaker spewing crap at an audience who is eating it up. Afterwards a couple of hippie types ask an old lady for a ride, clearly up to no good. But before they can get up to anything the car breaks down and some guys from the nearby woods come out and kill them. The old woman is Mother, and these are her boys Ike and Addley. You want me to be interested in your flick kill some hippies!

Then we meet a group of girls who have been friends since college. They like to take trips together every year and this year they have decided to go camping in the woods. Guess who they run into! Before you know it, the girls are being assaulted, chased, and pushed to their limits as the insane family uses them as practice. I think that Mother is training her boys to be the best serial killers ever. It must be something like that with all the training montages which is a first for slasher flicks or at least the first I’ve seen.

I really liked this movie. It is a bit weird that the killers, especially Ike and Addley are the most likeable characters in the movie. They have a goofy sort of dynamic between them that is kind of appealing. Of course, they also murder and rape so that isn’t good. How writer director Charles Kaufman pulls this off I don’t understand. It shouldn’t work with the tone shifting so radically from scene to scene. And yes, Kaufman is the brother of Lloyd Kaufman and this is a Troma movie. Though it is much different from the goofy flicks we all expect from them. This is a nasty and at times brutal movie. Though again the most disturbing bit is how much it makes you like the killers. If all feels a bit greasy but in a good way.

The kills are decent for an early eighties’ movie. We get a respectable six kills with two early on and then the rest towards the end. That leaves a long stretch without any deaths, though they do make up for it with some other horrible things. Some of the kills are tame like a dude getting choked and one character that just dies quietly after being brutalized. We do get death by Drano/Television, some hatchet work, and a head lopped off. Though my favorite kill is death by plastic boobs. I can honestly say I’ve never seen that before. All this action is topped off with a twist ending that I didn’t see coming but loved. This final surprise also involved some makeup work as well, which was cool looking.

I debated if I should add this to the slasher marathon. While it has the rape/revenge storyline this also has the gore, stalking, and nudity that are all hallmarks of the subgenre. So, I figured why the hell not include it. Though I’d be hard pressed to argue with someone who thought it didn’t belong I feel like it does. Again, I really liked this one and recommend that everyone give it a chance.

 

Ó Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Night School (1981)

Time for me to get back to basics. Night Shift is a slasher movie that I watched back in the heyday of the eighties and honestly didn’t like all that much. But then that was on beat up VHS tape in a 4:3 aspect ratio rather than the beautiful new HD Blu-Ray. I wonder if that will make a difference. Spoilers it does!

The movie kicks off with the Boston skyline. On a personal note, in the eighties, I was living in Boston so that was sort of fun for me to recognize. We see a woman sitting with a child waiting for her to get picked up. She works at a preschool and when the kid leaves she is left all alone on the playground. That is until a leather wearing killer shows up on a motorcycle complete with a tinted faceplate. The girl is attacked, killed, and has her head cut off. Not a bad way to start a movie off.

We are then introduced to Austin, the detective assigned to the case. This isn’t the first killing where the victim has been decapitated, and it isn’t the last! More and more young ladies are found murdered with their heads lopped off and placed in water. One is an aquarium, another a sink, and yet another a bucket. What is up with that? Well Austin connects all the victims to a girl’s school and more specifically a professor Millet. He just happens to teach anthropology with a focus on primitive traditions including head hunting! Is he the killer? Did they make it that obvious? I’m not going to spoil it for you because I loved Night School this time around and don’t want to ruin the fun.

Seriously, what a difference a decent transfer can make. Not only can I now appreciate the way the movie is shot with things happening in the shadows, the way scenes are framed, and yes some of the more artistic camera work, but the sound is much better as well. I can hear the dialogue clearly and you also get some important musical cues that I think weren’t as noticeable before. This was like watching an entirely different movie. In the past I’ve always been sort of neutral towards Night School. I didn’t hate it, but it was easily ignored, and I never recommended it. That has certainly changed.

Love the look of the killer
The story is fun and different. Instead of following a bunch of kids getting picked off we get a lot of adult characters like Austin and Millet. The police are involved and there is more of a mystery here than just a line them up and mow them down scenario. We do get a decent number of kills with five characters meeting their end. Though be warned that most of these are offscreen and those that aren’t end up bloodless. The best part is a couple of severed heads. If you are looking for a gorefest this isn’t it. Paced well I was never bored with what I was watching and enjoyed the characters and their interactions with each other. This is a well-acted and written movie. The story also has a decent twist ending as well as another sort of funny one tacked on at the end.

In some ways this almost plays like a tamer Giallo with the killer in black, including black gloves. The subplot of the professor and his many lovers also is very important and adds that bit of sleaze that is very familiar to fans of the genre. Heck the detective and his sidekick comic relieve also would fit nicely in a Giallo. Then again, this movie makes at least one big reference to slasher movies. Early on the cops visit a peeping Tom that they suspect as the killer and placed prominently in the scene is a hockey mask. I’ve always considered this to be a slasher, but the argument could be made that it belongs in this other category.

This is a fun movie. There is the required nudity, enough kills, a couple severed heads on screen, and a mysterious killer. I also liked the connection between the murders and headhunting which gave Night School a neat spin. I was disappointed by the lack of gore, but that is my only complaint. I recommend that people check this one out. Just make sure to find the Blu-Ray in HD.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Wolfsbane by William W. Johnstone

This is the second book that I’ve reviewed here at the website from prolific author Johnstone who was better known for his westerns. I mention that again because I feel like some of that traditional cowboy storytelling found itself into this supernatural horror tale. More on that later.

The story takes place in a small Louisiana town and involves an ancient family of Satan worshipping werewolves and witches. A few decades earlier the locals found and killed one of the men of the family who was afflicted with the werewolf curse. His elderly wife, who is a powerful witch, has waited until the time was right to return to get revenge on the descendants of those that killed her husband. This involves bringing her werewolf relatives back to life as well as turning her victims into zombies to do her bidding. All of this is overseen by Satan himself, who apparently lives in the swamp nearby.

The granddaughter of the evil witch lady is somehow ignorant and innocent of this family curse. She ends up hooking up with a mercenary that was chosen by God to do battle with Satan. The mercenary quickly goes from “this is all bullshit” to “hey Satan how goes it?” Being the chosen one he does what a mercenary/soldier/hero does and takes the fight to them. This all leads to an abrupt and forced ending that clearly was meant to set the rest of the series up. And yes, there are many more books in this series.

I don’t think that I’m a Johnstone fan. While I was enjoying the other book I read from him, Bats, it didn’t stick the landing. Here I have the same problem. The story ends with our hero falling into the basement of the house and waking up five years later. The characters that were established have all either died or moved away. We are just left with our mercenary climbing out, meeting a priest that was apparently waiting for him, and getting ready for what I expect is the action in the second book. We don’t get an ending that satisfies this story but rather have a “to be continued” ending and that annoyed me.

Beyond the ending I have to say that for the most part I wasn’t fond of the story. First, we have werewolves, witches, zombies, and vampirism all mixed in with Satanism. This is a bit too much for the story to define and support. None of it is fleshed out and you get the feeling that Johnstone is sort of tossing stuff in because it is evil. Plus, the werewolves drink blood, the witch can only be killed with silver bullets, the zombies inexplicably can talk and aren’t killed with head shots. They never define the rules to the monsters in the story and that is annoying.

The story itself structurally has issues. Let’s take the zombies for example. They just sort of show up and no one is surprised by it. Some of the victims are killed and stay dead after their bodies are found. Others reanimate and stroll around… why? Also, characters go from minor and hardly defined to suddenly showing up and speaking as if they have been vital to the story all along. There were many times I had to stop and go back to try and figure out who the hell they were. That is just bad storytelling. I could give more examples of this, but I don’t feel the need to.

I know that Johnstone has a hardcore fan base who love him. Based on the two books that I’ve read from him I’m not one of them. There are so many much better written horror novels out there that I’ll not be spending any more time with this author. I can’t recommend Wolfsbane.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Monday, June 7, 2021

Deadly Detention (2017)

This looked like a newer slasher flick, and I suppose in a way it is. That said movies like Deadly Detention are why I have trust issues. I’ll explain that later in the review so stay tuned. Until then let’s talk about the plot.

The movie opens with some shaky camera action as people are being chased. Then we backtrack to find that a group of high school students are serving detention at a decommissioned prison. That seems odd but there is a throwaway line of dialogue about the high school having an infestation of possums. I suppose that explains it. In addition to the students, we have the principal and a bus driver. They get locked in and sure enough people start getting killed, eventually. The surviving students are led thru the prison by a mysterious voice over the intercom who locks and unlocks doors herding them towards something. Stuff happens, there is a twist, and mercifully the movie ends. Though not without flipping the bird to the audience one last time.

This is a bad movie. The pacing is terrible as they take way too much time establishing the characters that are nothing more than typical stereotypes. The angry loaner, the weirdo, the nerd (this time a religious kid), the jock, and the super vain horndog. We have all seen these before and don’t need twenty minutes of filler establishing them. Yeah, it takes twenty minutes for anything to happen. When things finally do get rolling it is disappointing, but I’ll talk about the kills later.

In addition to being slow Deadly Detention has a very predictable plot. I recognized the killer and their motivations the second they were mentioned. The fact that during their big rant they brag about how they manipulated the situation by planting the possums didn’t help make things any more believable or fun. Maybe it is because I’m a jaded old horror fan but there was nothing interesting or engaging about the story as it was so easy to figure out. There is one attempted twist at the end, but I found it dumb.

I do want to acknowledge that the tone of the movie sort of feels like it is supposed to be funny. Are they attempting to play this one for laughs? Well, if they are, they failed at that too. There are a couple times where I was a little amused, but Deadly Detention isn’t all that comedic. I think it is possible that the filmmakers didn’t know what they wanted to do and managed to fail at both horror and comedy.

Last thing I want to mention are the kills and special effects. Every kill happens offscreen and there is very little gore ever shown on the screen. We only get to see a bit of blood after the fact. Top it off that there are only five kills in the entire movie, and you have a slasher that doesn’t measure up. But then there really aren’t five kills. As I mentioned above, I think that this was being played for laughs. That is cemented in my mind when a character that was clearly stabbed to death suddenly returns and, in a toss away line of dialogue right before the end credits lets on that all the other victims are still alive. Including the kid that clearly bled out and the girl whose head was repeatedly smashed until a cell door was able to close on it! What the hell movie?

This is a bad one that I’d recommend everyone skip. I have no idea what they were thinking other than toss a bunch of ideas on the screen and see if any of it worked. Well, nothing did and I can think of many better options to watch when you want some teenagers picked off by an angry killer bent on revenge.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Friday, June 4, 2021

Sweet Sixteen (1983)

This is the first movie in this summer’s marathon that I hadn’t seen before. It is getting increasingly rare for me to find a slasher that I’ve not seen yet, so I was excited to check this one out. It has an amazing cast including Bo Hopkins, Patrick Macnee, Don Stroud, Michael Pataki, and Larry Storch. That is a whole lot of acting experience right there. The fact that I hadn’t heard much about this one sort of scares me. Well might as well dive in. 

Melissa moves into town with her father, an anthropologist doing research nearby, and soon runs afoul of someone. She is a rather “friendly” girl and being as pretty as she is there is a lot of attention coming her way. The boys that pursue her end up dead, so something is wrong with that. We are given several suspects, including her overprotective father, but nothing is set in stone until the very end of the movie. Along the way we also get to see some racist locals going after the “damn Indians” whom they blame for the killings. This leads to some non-slasher drama that I wasn’t expecting.  

In theory Sweet Sixteen is a slasher flick. You have the mysterious killer knocking off victims while the sheriff tries to figure out who the killer is. There is also a cool supernatural vibe where the killings appear to be done with some sort of ancient ceremonial knives, thus tying both the Indians working on the dig as well as the Melissa’s father to the crimes. Having some suspects and keeping the audience guessing is a key for one off slashers where we don’t’ have an established character. There is the requisite nudity, which is expected in a slasher flick. But what is weird is how many of the characters are much older adults. Normally in a movie like this the adults are at best supporting characters and at worst something to be sent off on vacation or a business trip so that the teens can get up to hijinks and the killer can get to murdering them! 

I did find the story to be very slow at times. There are long stretches where nothing much happens on screen. The kills are spaced unevenly with three of the meager six we get happening in the last fifteen minutes. The special effects work is lame and the kills mediocre. The first is okay enough as a drunk kid gets stabbed, but after that most of it is offscreen. What we do see are quick glimpses. I was left wanting more. To top things off when they finally resolve the plot it doesn’t make a lot of sense. We do get a few lines of dialogue trying to sum up what happened, but it feels forced and didn’t work for me. 

I know in the past that I’ve mentioned some movies that were repackaged and presented as a slasher flick when they were really a thriller or just a murder mystery. This movie feels like one of those, but I think it was actually shot to cash in on them. Either someone didn’t get the memo, or they just did a bad job on the script. One more thing I wanted to mention is that the movie is very dark, but to be fair that might be the VHS copy that I watched but I wanted to mention that in case there was a better copy out there you would know to look for it if you were so inclined. I’m not going to recommend spending your time watching Sweet Sixteen, but if you must try to find a copy where you can at least see the action. Really though I’d recommend passing on this one. 


© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Wrong Turn (2003)

I struggled with whether I should put Wrong Turn into the slasher movie marathon. An argument can be made that it doesn’t follow the formula and is more of a Hills Have Eyes type of flick. But then again it does have a Just Before Dawn vibe. I might overthink these things… In the end I decided to include it in this year’s marathon so let us dive right into the plot.

After watching a couple of rock climbers meet a grisly fate we are introduced to Chris, a newly minted doctor on his way to a job interview a week after the rock climbers are killed. Due to a traffic jam he decides to take some backroads and ends up running into the other characters, literally. His vintage Mustang is trashed when he rear ends an SUV that was stopped in the middle of the road due to some tire damage. Damage we soon find out was caused by some barbed wire on the road. Staring off ominous, aren’t we?

No one is hurt in the accident, so they head off in search of help leaving a couple at the cars to keep an eye on things. First thing that happens is that couple is picked off by some unseen killer or killers. The rest of them end up at a shack in the woods that is disgusting and freaky. There is a container of something in the fridge that the doctor realizes is bad, but before they can leave the owners come home. Here is where we meet our cannibal inbred mutant hillbillies. Some bodies are butchered, there is a big chase thru the woods, arrows are shot, heads are lopped off, and basically a good time is had.

Great creature design on the mutants
I had forgotten how much I enjoyed this movie. While far from perfect Wrong Turn has enough going for it that it is a solid horror flick. The story is paced well and the movie clocks in at a tight eighty-four minutes. This makes for a very entertaining experience where there is always something interesting happening on screen. This is the case even before the killers show up! While the character are being introduced, they are simultaneously setting up the environment and creating a spooky atmosphere. Having grown up in the country I know how creepy the woods can be and they capture that nicely.

When I sit down to watch a movie like this, I want to enjoy the special effects work. We get a respectable seven kills in the movie with most of them being onscreen. If I have one complaint about Wrong Turn it is the use of CGI to bring the kills to the audience. We do get some decent practical effect work with a couple of arrow hits and a fun gag with barbed wire, but a majority of the most creative stuff is digital. This includes my favorite kill that involves an axe to the face and a neat gag with the life going out of a victim’s eyes. I hadn’t seen anything quite like this before and enjoyed the ingenuity of the kill, but was a bit bummed it wasn’t done with practical effects work. Though I suppose I’m being a bit picky about it and should probably cut them some slack.

I have no complaints with the design of the killers. We get three different inbred mutant hillbillies and they all look great. Even without dialogue they seem to have different personalities and are a lot of fun to watch on screen. The creature design allows the actors to give a performance with just enough latex to make them look twisted without being cartoonish. These are clearly well thought out and for me are the highlight of the movie.

Wrong Turn is a good movie that unlike many of its contemporaries holds up well almost twenty years after it was released. If you want to see a “newer” slasher with an old school feel this is one of a couple that I’d recommend checking out. Stay tuned as you are going to see even more newer slasher flicks on my list this year.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

The Demon Crown by James Rollins

I read a lot of books that don’t fit nor get covered here at the site. The Sigma Force series is one of those that really doesn’t fit. That is until I read The Demon Crown, which is filled with the normal globe-trotting adventure stuff but also has a horrifying plot that got under my skin.

We are introduced, or re-introduced if you are familiar with the series, to our cast of characters quickly. There are a lot of them but basically, they break down into a couple of teams. There is a group centered around spy couple Seichan and Gray. They are at the end of a long vacation and are present in Hawaii during an eco-terror attack. A swarm of huge wasps are unleashed on the islands and go on a rampage. Soon they are on the trail of those responsible for the attack which has its origins in the Second World War as well as an organization called the Guild.

The second group is made of other agents, lead again by a couple, Kat and Monk. Very quickly they realize that the wasps that attacked Hawaii have an unexpected connection to the Smithsonian and American history. This leads them to follow the journey of the man who donated his money and collection to create the Smithsonian, James Smithson. One of the items in his collection or at least one that eventually was recovered, is the key to the mystery and hopefully can provide a solution to the plague of the wasps.

The idea with this story is that the wasps do what they normally do. They lay eggs in living victims who then give birth to the next generation. See where the horror comes from? Our characters are in a race to find a solution before all the people and animals infected by the nasty bugs sudden burst and fill the air with more! Rollins hammers away at this idea with the character of Seichan, who is infected and whom we follow as she works with the others to solve it. This includes some spots where it is explained what is going to happen to her at each phase, the final one being the critters burrowing into bone. This freaked me out, but in the good way that horror fans can understand.

Some other observations. The pacing of the story is perfect as there is always something going on to move things further down the plot arc. The action plays out nicely and I thought that the mystery they had to unravel was also compelling. Tying the fictional in with the historical is something that Rollins has done quite a bit in this series and has become very good at it. The idea that the events laid out here have their beginnings in the early eighteen hundreds and also reference the Second World War and the attack on Pearl Harbor was a nice touch. I’m a history nerd and love when this is pulled off well.

I was surprised that this far into the series, I think Demon Crown is the thirteenth book, that Rollins was able to write something that is accessible to a new reader. If you picked this book up without knowing of the others it would still make sense. The references are kept to a minimum and in the case of the reoccurring characters the author spends just enough time fleshing them out without boring those not new to the franchise. Don’t be scared off from The Demon Crown because it is part of such a long series.

This is an excellent read that I highly recommend. If you are interested in reading the entire series the place to start is with Sandstorm, another great book. Give this or really any of Rollins’ other books a chance. You won’t be disappointed. 

 

Ó Copyright 2021 John Shatzer