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How goes it everyone? As you may have noticed I've finished the two month long mystery movie marathon and have gone back to some general...

Monday, May 16, 2022

The Cat Creature (1973)

This made for television flick is a by the numbers take on the vampire myth but has a certain charm that I rather liked. Things kick off with an appraiser going to a spooky old house to look at the collection of a wealthy deceased man. This includes a basement full of Egyptian artifacts. He leaves to go get his recorder and we see a thief sneak in and steal a necklace from a mummy. Well, that isn’t going to end well.

Without the necklace the mummy comes back to life and kills the appraiser after he returns. We then see the burglar trying to sell off the stolen trinket but the woman who runs the shop tosses him out. She doesn’t want to deal with hot merchandise you see. When her shop assistant picks up a stray cat and then tosses herself off a balcony there is a job opening that is filled by a new girl named Rena. I’m sure that won’t be important later. It is because Rena is the mummy come back to life. She needs to drink blood to survive and can turn into a cat because she was a follower of the cat god Bast. Toss in a local professor called in by the police to make sense of the Egyptian stuff and a police detective for a good time.

I’m glossing over a lot of the plot because I don’t want to spoil anything. Yeah, I know that I let you in on the fact that Rena is the mummy, but that is so obvious it doesn’t matter. The Cat Creature is a solid movie with a decent plot and direction. The story might not be all that original, but it excels in the execution. I was amused to find out after watching this that the movie is an unofficial remake of The Cat People, which is my favorite Val Lewton flick. They certainly double down on this by casting the leading man from that flick and its sequel as the appraiser who meets his end early on in this one. That actor was Kent Smith in case you were wondering. Though if I’m being honest this movie doesn’t come close to the classic film it was inspired by, but then not much does.

The pacing of the story is decent, though it does drag a little in the middle. The script was written by Robert Bloch so that shouldn’t be any surprise. He knows the formula for writing horror and makes sure that something interesting or important is happening to keep the story moving along. The cast is filled with familiar faces like Keye Luke, John Carradine, Stuart Whitman, Meredith Baxter, and David Hedison. There is a lot of talent in front of the camera and that makes The Cat Creature all the more entertaining to watch.

If I had a complaint, it is that even by the standards of the early seventies made for television movies The Cat Creature is awfully tame. They lean too heavily into the attacks being shown as shadows cast on a wall which I understand is an homage to The Cat People, but there they use it sparingly as the payoff for the action here it is used again and again. This gets old quickly and I was hoping for some variety.

In the end this is a solid if unremarkable effort. I’m glad that I watched it since it checked a lot of boxes for me. Remake of a movie I love, fun cast, and made for T.V. are all things that I enjoy. But I don’t know if that is going to be enough for the average viewer. I suppose I give The Cat Creature a lukewarm recommendation.

 

© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

Friday, May 13, 2022

Fatal Exam (1990)

I’m always on the lookout for older movies that I’ve never seen before. Fatal Exam has been on my radar for a few years as it has a great cover/poster. But then I finally got around to watching it and I now see why it was never recommended to me back in the days of the Mom and Pop VHS stores. Yikes!

The movie opens with someone pounding on a guy’s apartment door. The guy’s name is Nick and we quickly… well not quickly but eventually find out that he is a college student, has a friend named Roger and a sister, Dana. They are all in the same parapsychology class. Oh, the guy pounding on the door is a mullet having sword carrying maniac. But it was all a dream anyhow so who cares? The final exam for the class is spending a weekend in a haunted house where we see in a painting that the guy from the earlier dream is the same dude who killed his family at the house and now haunts it.

The three of them as well as some classmates head out to the house. After wandering around doing nothing they go to sleep and then a head shows up in a coffee table. Then they see some ghosts, a couple of them disappear, and they find a painting. The painting leads them to go digging on the property for some buried treasure because… reasons. Then we get a long monologue about science and parallel universes trying to explain what is happening. This confused me because nothing is happening. Then we get a finale where we find out that *gasp* the creepy professor from earlier is trying to do a ritual by sacrificing the kids so he can make a deal with a demon for ultimate power.

This movie is awful. First up it is almost two hours long and has maybe fifteen minutes of interesting material. Though I might only have thought it was interesting since everything else was so monotonous. The acting is dreadful and the dialogue tedious. There was nothing natural about these characters and I was rooting for the end credits to show up after less than twenty minutes. The editing is also quite bad allowing shots to linger long after they should. I don’t need to see them investigate the basement of the house for ten minutes! You can show a couple minutes and then use the dialogue to tell us that they were thorough. The day for night is a disaster as well with them going to sleep at night with a window behind them showing that it is broad daylight.

'80s hair... so much product
Despite a release date of nineteen ninety this movie was shot in eighty-five and took a few years to finish. That explains the mullets, giant hair, and clothes. This was my favorite part of Fatal Exam, but then I’m a child of the eighties so that might just be me. The synth soundtrack is also very similar to other output from the decade, but here it is very intrusive. Honestly how can you add music to a scene and have the levels so far off that you can’t hear the dialogue?

The gore is negligible with a throat cut being the highlight. We get a very cheesy looking demon and a guy in basic white makeup playing the ghost. Even for a low budget I found the proceedings tame. This along with the horrible performances, bad pacing, and other filmmaking mistakes makes Fatal Exam a movie that I would have been happy to never of checked out. Still, it does have an awesome cover. Take my advice and stop there.

 

© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Call Girl of Cthulhu (2014)

It doesn’t happen often anymore that I pick up a movie solely based on the title, but that is exactly what I did here. While browsing for a copy of Bone Tomahawk, which I will eventually get around to reviewing here, I saw this on the shelf at my local used shop and had to have it. I think we can all agree that most of the time this sort of purchase ends in disappointment, but not this time around.

The story opens with a man named Carter being questioned by the police. They mention that they are dealing with forty-three bodies and a new STD. This movie already has my attention. Thru a series of flashbacks, we see that Carter is an artist and virgin who becomes obsessed with a hooker named Riley. The thing is he really is a good guy so when he hires her to sit for one of his paintings, she takes a liking to him, and they start to date. But things go wrong when a crazy one-eyed professor asks Carter to recreate a book, the Necronomicon I think, so that they can stop some cultists from summoning Cthulhu. Many weird things happen before we get what is an ending that is honest to the Lovecraft universe.

I kept things a bit vague above to not spoil the movie. But be warned that the rest of the review is going to ruin some of the coolest gags in Call Girl of Cthulhu so if you don’t want that to happen skip to the last paragraph. To begin with the basics this is a very low budget flick that uses the resources at hand very well. They have a smallish cast and just a couple of locations that I think could have all been sets in a single warehouse. They keep the cast small, though we do get a lot of faceless cultists and a nice batch of demonic hookers. But as far as speaking roles go, they kept it to a bare minimum.

Why is this important? Every penny they didn’t spend there they were able to dump into the practical effects work. We get so much good stuff like monster boobs (who knew internet porn was bad for you?), exploding heads, tongues cut out, death by dildo, some girls lose their heads, some minions’ heads explode, and a tentacle is jammed thru yet another noggin’. This is a very bloody movie filled with nifty practical effects work. It reminds me of the glory days of the eighties and that wasn’t even the best bits. Riley goes thru a change from attractive working girl to full on latex monster. Along the way we see her grow vagina tentacles, pee acid in a golden shower gone wrong, drops some monster feet on a fetishist, and eats her customers in very bloody ways. You know this one might not be for the kiddies.

Toss in some surprisingly plentiful sleaze and nudity with some jokes that land well, and you have a decent flick. Oh hell I didn’t even mention the STD that gives one unfortunate fella a monster dick and not in the good way! Call Girl of Cthulhu checks so many boxes that I can’t help but to highly recommend it. It is a fun trip from start to finish and I’m glad that the title caught my attention. Check it out.

 

© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

Monday, May 9, 2022

Ghost Catchers (1944)

I’m a huge Abbott and Costello fan so I’m always interested in checking out other studios attempts at creating their own comedy duos to cash in on the popularity of the pair’s movies. I’ve covered some of those here at the site already and Ghost Catchers is another of them. Though I just now realized that I’ve never covered Abbott and Costello here. I’m going to have to fix that oversight soon.

A southern gentleman has arrived in New York City with his two lovely and talented daughters who are about to put their debut concert at Carnegie Hall. They sign a lease on a mansion that is supposedly haunted and sure enough the first night some spooky stuff goes down. The oldest daughter, Susanna, runs next door for help and ends up in the middle of a night club act with the comedy duo Olsen and Johnson. After a misunderstanding and an extended bit of singing and dancing the boys eventually come next door to sort things out.

What is going on? Well, there is a ghost, who they chase away with loud music. Then there are gangsters in the basement stealing a million dollars of booze from a hidden cellar. But then the ghost comes back to save the day when they are walled up Edgar Allen Poe style after the crooks catch them. Making their escape thru the wall into the club there are some more shenanigans and even more singing and dancing. Then the credits roll.

I wanted to like this movie, but it falls into the trap that many of these knock offs do. The comedy isn’t that good. I know that Olsen and Johnson did a few movies together, but they aren’t that funny. All their gags are “borrowed” from much better performers and that sort of recycling was annoying. This is especially obvious when they mention Abbott and Costello by name and even reference Hold that Ghost which this movie is obviously trying to copy. They do their own take on the famous candle gag from that one and trust me it isn’t good. I’ve said this many times before and it continues to be true. Don’t reference a much better movie that I’d rather be watching.

The pacing is off as we get way more musical numbers then we do comedic stuff. The supposed stars Olsen and Johnson feel more like supporting actors then they do leads. I was excited to see Lon Chaney Jr. and Tor Johnson in the credits, but they are hardly in the movie. Johnson is unrecognizable and Chaney Jr. is wasted as a nameless thug. You had a perfectly good villain and instead we get a generic forgettable bad guy. I mean Chaney Jr. had already done several legit horror flicks at this point for Universal so what is up with that? Then again did we even need the gangster stuff if you were going to do the ghost story? The filmmakers really needed to make up their mind.

This is a hastily put together cash in on a trend that is such a pale imitation of what inspired it that I can’t recommend it. Want to watch a great movie with the same plot filled with a genuinely funny comedy team? Watch Abbott and Costello’s Hold that Ghost.

 

© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

Friday, May 6, 2022

The Crimson Cult (1968)

I pride myself on being a horror nerd but occasionally I stumble over a movie that has somehow escaped my attention. The Crimson Cult aka. Curse of the Crimson Altar is one of these. The cast includes Christopher Lee, Barbara Steele, Michael Gough, and Boris Karloff! Seriously how did I miss this one? Well one order to Kino Lorber and I have the Blu-Ray in my hands.

After a trippy set of scenes with a naked woman being whipped and Barbara Steele sitting around covered in some odd blue makeup, we meet our protagonist. Our story follows Robert Manning as he goes looking for his missing brother Peter. It seems that they are in the antique business and Peter was out looking for things to buy. After Robert gets a note pointing him towards a small town he jumps in his convertible and goes looking for his overdue sibling. One that we realize was part of that psychedelic opening scene.

When Robert arrives at the country estate where his brother was last seen he ends up in the middle of a happening party with lots of body painting, booze, and half naked ladies. Here he meets Eve who takes him to see her uncle Morley (Lee’s character). They claim that his brother never stayed at the house but not long after accepting an invitation to stay the night he finds a candlestick that matches one his brother included with the note. The rest of the movie is Robert trying to figure out what happened to Peter, dealing with the locals, and trying to bed Eve. Spoilers he does!

This is not a good movie, and I can see why I’ve never seen it pop up on my radar before. The story is uneven with several painfully slow spots. It never establishes the town, locals, and most importantly the legend of Lavinia Morley the local witch legend. This is further confused by an ending that left me wondering what the point was. Spoilers ahead. Morley was using hypnotism to make the characters have bad dreams insinuating that none of the supernatural stuff happened. Why did he do this? Someone mentions as the house is burning down that he must have been mad. That is about as good as we get. Then the movie doubles down with the characters seeing Morley turn into Lavinia… so there was a witch? This ending was confusing and was a bad ending to a mediocre movie.

Karloff is wonderful
Despite a stellar cast we spend most of the time with Manning and Eve. Now both are decent but when we have Steele, Lee, Gough, and Karloff in the cast I’d much rather be watching them. Gough is decent as a stuttering manservant to Lee’s Morley. He doesn’t get much screentime but what he does get is fun. Christopher Lee is honestly not very good in the role of Morley. Though I don’t think it was his fault as there is nothing in the story for him to sink his acting chops into. The character as written is a terrible villain as we don’t even know he is the cause until the last five minutes or so. Karloff is very frail and spends most of the movie in a wheelchair but damn is he good. He has a couple great monologues and there is a reoccurring gag about appreciating a fine brandy that had me cracking up. The guy does more acting with a look then most can do with pages of dialogue. He also gets to be the hero in the end, which was awesome. Karloff is the only reason to watch The Crimson Cult. Barbara Steele is wasted in what can be best described as a glorified cameo.

If you are a fan of Boris Karloff and haven’t seen The Crimson Cult, then you should. This is one of the best performances from the latter part of his career. In fact, it is my understanding that this was the last movie to come out while he was still alive. If that doesn’t interest you, I’d recommend skipping this one. Sadly, it was a missed opportunity to have a good time with some very well-known genre actors.

 

© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Grave of the Vampire (1972)

This along with Blacula and Count Yorga is one of my top three “drive-in” vampire flicks. I’ve been watching this one for years having first seen it on a local horror hosted late night movie show. That transitioned to VHS and then to those budget public domain DVD sets. Of course that means it has always been a beat up and neglected print. But now the folks over at Shout Factory have put out a remastered Blu-Ray with some deleted scenes. Damn I’m excited to check this one out!

The movie opens in the forties with a couple sneaking off from a party to have some sexy type shenanigans in a nearby graveyard. That ends up being a terrible idea because a vampire named Caleb Croft climbs out of his coffin drinks the fella dry and has his way with the lady. She gives birth to a son who is part vampire and nurses him. Though she eventually dies. The action moves forward to the early seventies with the now grown-up boy, James, looking for his bloodsucking father to get some revenge for what was done to his mother.

He does eventually track him down and signs up for his class, Croft is teaching night classes of course! This leads to some murders as Croft does away with an annoying college girl who has figured out his secret and a love triangle of sorts. See James’ lady friend is the spitting image of Croft’s dead vampire wife. All of this results in a séance, more murders, and a twist ending where James puts his father down but with twisted results.

Again, I’ve always loved this movie. Long before Blade we had James the day walker half-vampire half-human. The late great William Smith is excellent as James Eastman playing the character with the right mix of brooding and anger. Michael Pataki is fantastic as Caleb Croft oozing evil as he murders his way thru the cast. He isn’t the tortured type forced to feed but seems to enjoy playing with his food. The rest of the cast is solid.

The story is paced well without any slow spots. Every scene we see is there to move the plot along and either develop the characters or set us up for something twisted that will come along shortly. More than once the movie does something unexpected, mostly due to the unpredictable nature of the Croft character, so you are always guessing as to what is going to happen next. I also thought that the idea of him fathering a half breed was a neat take on the vampire myth. Sure it might not seem so unique now, but for the early seventies this was unexpected. I will admit that there is an odd jump with new characters being quickly introduced for the séance which sets up the ending. But I’d rather they just dive in and keep things moving along briskly then spend time setting up more characters that are just there to be killed off.

This new Blu-Ray has a fantastic transfer which allowed me to appreciate how well Grave of the Vampire was shot. There are so many shadowy scenes that I can actually see now and while it never bothered me in the past this allows me to enjoy the movie that much more. I was also impressed with the deleted scenes. Most of the time these are just bits of dialogue that were trimmed out for pacing reasons. But here the scenes are extended lingering shots of Croft dispatching his victims. While not overly gory they do have a disturbing vibe to them, and I can see why they were trimmed initially. Though it is sad because we lose some excellent bits with Pataki. The guy was clearly having a blast playing Croft.

Grave of the Vampire is one of those rare flicks that has aged well. It is great to see a company spend the time and money to clean up and give it a proper release. I highly recommend it and can say that the new Shout Factory Blu-Ray is the way to watch it. I don’t often recommend people go buy physical media anymore, but this is one of those times that you should.

 

© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Don’t Panic (1987)

Recently I have discovered the movies of Mexican director Ruben Galindo Jr. Specifically the three that were dubbed and released in the US. I have already watched Cemetery of Terror and Grave Robbers, so I only had Don’t Panic to check out. I’m glad that I waited to watch this one until last because while I loved the first two this one has issues.

Michael has just moved to Mexico City and is celebrating his birthday with some school friends. After they leave some of them sneak back and convince him to play with a Ouija board. He wants nothing to do with it, but there is a cute girl, so he caves and has a go. Immediately he starts having nightmares of someone killing the other people at the party. But these aren’t just bad dreams as the bodies start to pile up. Clearly something evil is afoot and it is up to Michael to try and save them as well as defeating the evil. Who is the killer and why is this happening? Okay there are some spoilers coming up so if you don’t like that stop reading now. 

For a bit we are led to believe that it is Michael who is possessed. But it turns out that his best friend who brough the board and contacted the spirits is the one who has a demon hanging out in his noggin. Though they are somehow connected so Michael dreams while the other guy kills. This all leads to a big showdown between the pair where no one wins. Yeah, it finishes on a downer. 

Dinosaur PJs... okay I guess
Don’t Panic suffers from some serious pacing issues. While I suppose that they were trying to build some tension and mystery with the story it comes off as confused and disjointed. Sure, we find out what is happening in the final act, but by that time I didn’t really care. The characters aren’t interesting, the story moves along at a glacial pace, and the payoff feels rushed and pointless. It also doesn’t help that the acting isn’t very good with a lead actor and actress that I didn’t care about at all. The worst bit though was the possessed friend, Tony, who doesn’t have enough screen time nor presence to make for a compelling or interesting bad guy. I wasn’t interested in either the story or characters. 

Gore wise there is one highlight with a knife thru the chin that looks decent. The rest of the gore is mediocre and nothing memorable. Almost all of it is backloaded in the last third of the movie which again doesn’t help with the pacing. This is a movie that needed to follow the formula closer and give us boobs or blood every few minutes. 

Let me recommend Cemetery of Terror and Grave Robbers from this same director. As I’ve already mentioned these are great, but Don’t Panic not so much. If you have already watched this one and dismissed the other two trust me, you need to go back and check them out. Not much else to say here. 


© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer


Friday, April 29, 2022

Hell Van (2022)

I’ve always prided myself on being transparent about things here at the site so before I begin this review I want to let everyone know that I’m friends with the filmmaker who made Hell Van, Jorge Delarosa. I even had the pleasure of a set visit which I wrote up for Midnight Magazine a couple of years ago. I know that I can still be objective despite this, but I didn’t want anyone to think that I was “shilling” for the movie. I guess that is a spoiler of sorts since I’m clearly going to give Hell Van a positive review.

The story is deceptively simple. We have a firefighter who drives around in his red van burning down churches. Eventually he burns one down that is full of kids. When the locals finally corner him he kills himself right after a “hail Satan”. You guessed it the red panel van is the titular character! The chaos doesn’t end there as everyone who encounters the vehicle ends up dead or worse. The damn thing even drives itself off the salvage lot it was towed to and cruises around town. If you look inside something snaps and you do terrible things. Sometimes to others and sometimes to yourself. I’m trying to keep things vague here as to not spoil the best bits. Eventually the sheriff, played by director Delarosa, corners the thing at the local drive-in for a final confrontation. Though it doesn’t end like I was expecting.

You know I realize that I just wrote that I wasn’t going to spoil things but I don’t think I can properly sing the praises of Hell Van without doing so. With that in mind and if you don’t want the movie spoiled stop reading right now and track yourself down a copy. This is a great movie that I’m going to recommend. As of the writing of this review I don’t think it is available for purchase but that should change soon. Check out their website at https://www.slowmutants.com/ for updates. Now on with the good stuff.

I watch a lot of independent flicks and if you have read many of my reviews you know that one of my biggest complaints is that far too many filmmakers don’t have a fleshed-out story before they go off to make their movie. Hell Van has a very cool story with a beginning, middle, and end. It may seem odd that I’m patting them on the back for such a basic thing, but it’s a huge issue with indie filmmakers. Not only does this have a cohesive narrative but the characters are fleshed out with some history between them. We have a woman cheating on her husband, some drama between father and son, as well as marital issues. None of these slow the main plot of the killer van down, but it adds to the depth of the characters. You feel like these are real people, which makes what happens to them even more disturbing. Solid story with characters you care about is not limited by your budget only by the time you put in ahead of shooting. This is the way it should be done.

I also love how weird the ending gets with what I think is an asteroid or something like it smashing into the drive-in during the big finale. This goes hand in hand with the odd and twisted flashes of scenes that pop up now and then. These inserts set the tone and keep the audience off kilter without overwhelming the story and taking us away from the proceedings. This along with some odd camera angles and the red lighting used when people are in and around the van gives the proceedings a certain The Beyond feeling that as a big Fulci fan I dig. This very much feels like a late seventies early eighties movie.

The special effects work is stellar. There are some fun kills like a bullet to the head, a shotgun to the chest, some gut munching (yes, we get zombies!), and a guy gets sick and is mutated with what I think are teeth sprouting from his skin. That last one is very creepy and I got to watch the makeup get applied during my set visit. Toss in some self-mutilation with a creepy gag involving eyes being gouged out and you have a bloody fun time. They also do a couple exploding cars. Not the crappy CGI that I see in most independent movies but actual cars blowing up and burning! Toss in a couple people getting set on fire and you have a movie that is trying to do things in a very “old school” manner that you just don’t see anymore. Hell, we get a couple of actual models used for a burning church and for the tracking shot of the asteroid thing hitting the drive-in. I loved this!

This is a fantastic movie that I absolutely loved. Again, I don’t think that I’m being biased and if I had issues with Hell Van, I would voice them. Before watching the movie I sat down and literally created a list with check boxes that I wanted to see or for some not see. When the end credits rolled I had all the boxes checked and couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend ninety minutes. This is the sort of filmmaking that we as fans should support. I promise that you won’t be disappointed with this one. Again hit their website up at https://www.slowmutants.com/ for more information.

 

© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Throwback Thursday - My Favorite Al Adamson Movie

note: I wrote this for the Grindhouse Purgatory issue dedicated to Al Adamson. I'm not a big fan of his but I've always dug Five Bloody Graves and was happy to cover it for the issue. 


My Favorite Al Adamson Movie: Five Bloody Graves

by John Shatzer

How is everyone doing? Here I sit putting the finishing touches on my article for the latest issue of Grindhouse Purgatory quarantined in my house. We are living in a strange world my friends. I had kidded that sitting at home on the couch watching movies was something that I had been training for my entire life. It was fun for a week or two, but then I got bored. Thankfully, I have this article and a few other projects to keep me occupied while I wait for the world to get back to some sort of normalcy. Hell, maybe by the time you are reading this we are all hanging out again and talking movies. Enough with all of this depressing shit lets dive into some Al Adamson Western goodness

When Pete told me that the next issue of the magazine was going to be a tribute to Al Adamson I sort of panicked. While I love cheesy low budget movies, I’ve always felt like many of Adamson’s flicks were boring and not at all fun. Sure, I dig Satan’s Sadists and Angel’s Wild Women, but those were already spoken for. Then I remembered Five Bloody Graves and did a little jig. While I haven’t seen it in years, I did think that I enjoyed the movie so after asking to make sure it was available, obviously it was, I went looking for a copy to review. There is a surprising amount of options, but I decided to watch a beat-up print complete with scratches and pops. It just seemed right.

Before I get to talking about the movie, I suppose I should give a bit more explanation when I say that I find Adamson’s work boring and not fun. To begin with let me stress that I have watched all of his movies. I’m a big drive-in nerd and love bad movies. Hell Ted V. Mikels is one of my favorite directors, so I’m not unrealistic when it comes to independent movies from the ‘60s and ‘70s. When I watch an Adamson flick it doesn’t seem like there is a complete script as characters seem to do random actions that don’t always make sense. There is also normally a ton of padding which makes for a tedious viewing experience. I’ve seriously used his movies to help me fall asleep during bouts of insomnia. I’m not being a smart ass about this it’s the truth. There are some exceptions like those I’ve mentioned above, but they normally are helped along by a great cast having fun. But this one is different in that it has maybe the most unique and best story that Adamson ever shot. Now that you know where I’m coming from let’s get to talking about Five Bloody Graves.

Ben Thompson, played by drive-in legend Robert Dix, is riding back from somewhere when he starts to meet up with people. One is an old flame, another is a half-breed Indian that he is friendly with, and yet more are a group of stranded travelers stuck when their wagon rolled over and the horses ran off. The connection between all of these characters, other than Thompson, is that they are all being menaced by some Indians that have gone on the warpath. Toss in some gun runners that have been providing the means for the Indians to stir up trouble and we have our characters.

Robert Dix is excellent
After watching some bad things happen eventually all the characters end up together and have to fight their way out of the territory they are in while being harassed and picked off along the way. If the Indians trying to kill them isn’t bad enough you also get some internal conflict as most of the characters are flawed and turn on each other. By flawed I mean cranky and downright abusive. Between the ambushes and bickering most are lost on the way. I can’t say more without explaining a very important plot device.

The story of Five Bloody Graves is an interesting one that is surprisingly complex and filled with action. Almost immediately we get this strange narrator talking directly to the audience about Thompson and his history. How he lost his wife to a bullet that had been intended for him and how he had been seeking out death since then. But he couldn’t die because he was a servant of death and that death wasn’t done with him yet. Then you start to figure out and eventually are told that our narrator is death and that he is explaining why things are happening. So basically, the idea is that everyone who Thompson meets up with either dies by his hand or gets caught up in the violence surrounding him. This is best summed up by one of the last lines in the movie, “…there can be but one victor and that is death…”. This is kind of deep.

Referring back to what I had mentioned above I was a bit concerned when I started watching this one because it starts off with that feeling of random characters and action scenes not really fitting together. It seems like Dix’s character is just going to ride around stumbling over one fight to another for the duration. For a good half an hour that is what happens, but this is actually just introducing the characters and setting up the rest of the story. Once they all meet up what felt like disconnected plot lines suddenly click together. At that point all of the stuff that was set up gets resolved and we find out more about Thompson and his connection to death. I had forgotten the details in the years since I last watched Five Bloody Graves and found myself really getting into and enjoying it as the narrative progressed. The pacing is wonderful with a lot of shootouts and fighting to keep things interesting and moving along briskly.

Speaking of the shootouts and fighting the stunt work is top notch. You get a lot of gun play with actors that clearly know their way around firearms. Many of the cast members had a long history working on Westerns, more on that later, and it shows. Nothing can kill a flick more than seeing people who are clearly not comfortable with guns trying to act as if they have lived their lives with one strapped to their hip. Same goes for riding horses, which again this cast is total comfortable with. This includes a lot of trick riding, especially falls. The fight choreography is very good as the fights feel real and there aren’t the awkward pauses that you sometimes get in low budget flicks. Considering that John ‘Bud’ Cardos helped with the stunts as well as starring in one of the roles that shouldn’t be a surprise.

John Carradine sighting!
I’ve already mentioned Robert Dix but that isn’t the only familiar face you get to see. Scott Brady, veteran of many drive-in favorites as well as a frequent guest star on television shows sinks his teeth into an abusive pimp traveling with his “girls”. Jim Davis, another veteran of television as well as a ton of Westerns, gets to play a gun running rapist that gets what is coming to him. John ‘Bud’ Cardos is Joe Lightfoot, the half-breed Indian and sort of side kick to Thompson. It doesn’t end well for him. Best of all is John Carradine in the most John Carradine of characters the cranky old preacher Boone Hawkins. Seriously guys there is a lot of “A” list drive-in talent in this movie.

One more thing that I wanted to mention that I found amusing. I had just covered Beyond Atlantis for the Sid Haig tribute issue and was shocked when I heard some familiar music at the opening of Five Bloody Graves. Now this isn’t the first time that I had that happen to me where someone used the same music library to score their flick (Night of the Living Dead and Teenagers from Outer Space come to mind) but it was weird that it happened in back to back movies I was covering for Grindhouse Purgatory. Plus, I’m such a huge nerd that immediately after the end credits rolled on Adamson’s flick I had to pop in my Blu-Ray of Beyond Atlantis.

Honestly, I found this movie to be very entertaining and highly recommend that people check it out. My opinion about Al Adamson’s work in general hasn’t changed. I’m still not a fan of most of it. But I think that it is important, especially in this day and age when everyone is looking to get offended, that you all understand something. I’m not saying that his work has no value. Adamson has a lot of fans and if you are one of them then good for you. There are plenty of filmmakers and movies that I love, and other people hate. The majority of his stuff just doesn’t appeal to me. 

Well I suppose this is all I have to say about Five Bloody Graves. As always you can email me with any questions or comments. I’m even willing to debate the value of Adamson’s work with anyone out there. I’d love to hear from you regardless of whether we agree or not. That email address is gutmunchers@gmail.com. Until next time stay safe and keep watching the classics. Thanks, as always, to 42nd Street Pete for letting me write for such a cool magazine. Don’t forget to support him by buying back issues and check out his Gunslinger books. They kick much ass!

 

© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Crabs! (2021)

We see a nuclear plant explode because that happens sometimes. Then it transitions to a shot of lady boobs as a couple is getting busy on the beach. A crab interrupts them, which freaks the girl out but the guy, after some initial frustration, decides to mess with it. This leads to his face getting eaten off and an unfortunate attempt to help him with a big rock. Okay movie you have my attention.

We are now introduced to our main characters. Phillip the teen stuck in a wheelchair, his chipper bestie Maddy, Phillip’s deputy older brother Hunter, and Maddy’s super-hot science teacher mom Annalise. Oh shit I almost forgot my new favorite character, Radu the exchange student. They are going along minding their own business, which means Phillip is building mechanical legs to allow him to walk, when the crabs show up. The nasty little critters start to kill everyone leading to a big showdown with the momma crab that is the size of Godzilla. Lucky for us the same power source that allowed Phillip to make mechanical legs also power the giant mecha that they build to fight the creature. This movie is awesomely weird.

If not clear yet this movie is a comedy that also works well as a science fiction/creature feature flick. The pacing is fun with laughs and occasional gore tossed in along the way. This is the tried-and-true creature feature formula that we all know and many of us love. I dig that they don’t try to reinvent the wheel but rather focus on the execution. They made a fun flick that gives you damn near everything you could want in a movie like this. Likeable characters combined with cool monsters and a splash of blood. The jokes all land and had me giggling consistently from start to finish. I enjoyed the character of Radu who has the best lines. He is the perfect comic foil for the story to not so much focus on but have pop in now and then with something silly to say.  

Time to do some SCIENCE!!!
The creatures look good and are all practical effects work. We even get a bit of Kaiju action in the finale which is also brought to the screen with dudes in rubber suits. The crab monsters look cool and have a couple of different forms. The kills, while not overly bloody, are satisfying and we get a lot of them. There is some real carnage at prom, which all good horror movies should have! Some highlights for me are the dangling eyeball, the DJ blood spray, and a dude bro losing his face. There is a bit of CGI for a nasty looking dead whale, but that didn’t ruin things for me. All in all, this was an excellent effort on a budget, and I give the filmmakers a lot of credit.

A flick like Crabs! is why I never stop watching weird movies. Sometimes you stumble over one that sticks with you and that you want to share with people. Please do yourself a favor and go find a copy of this one. You won’t be disappointed.

 

© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Master of Horror (1965)

Time to check out an anthology that I’ve never heard of before. Master of Horror was originally released in Argentina in the late fifties. In sixty-five it was recut dropping one of the three segments and dubbed for a U.S. release. The stories were adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe tales with The Case of Mr. Valdemar and The Cask of Amontillado being the pair that made the cut.

First up is The Case of Mr. Valdemar. In this one we are introduced to a doctor who thinks he can use hypnotism to cure insanity. He goes to an insane asylum and does his magic on a woman patient there. It works too well as she wakes up during the night sane and dies of fright when she realizes she is locked up in the nut house. Discouraged he is visited by his friend Valdemar who tries to encourage him. During that discussion his impending death from an incurable disease comes up. The pair decide that Valdemar will by hypnotized right before he dies to see if they can prevent it. That isn’t going to end well.

This isn’t too bad. The story drags a bit, but overall, I was interested. I’ve read the story, so I knew what was coming. Still the adaptation was decent enough to keep my attention. This is a low budget affair with minimal sets/locations. It leans heavily on the cast to sell the scenes to the audience, which they do. That said the payoff at the end when the long dead but still talking Valdemar is snapped out of his trance was decent. He basically melts/decomposes in front of his doctors. Simple effect but sometimes those are the best kind. I rather liked it.

The second story was The Cask of Amontillado. When a salesman rolls into a small town and starts to romance a married woman her husband takes notice. The boastful man talks about his knowledge of wine and since the husband runs a successful vineyard he offers to take the man into his cellar to sample the finest examples from his private stash. It isn’t until they are down there that it becomes clear it is a setup. The husband knew all along that his wife and the salesman were canoodling and is determined to make them pay. Thus comes the infamous “walled up alive in the cellar” bit that even the most casual Poe fan recognizes. 

They took some liberties with this story when adapting it to the screen. I get why since the source material is light on backstory and motivation, but I only wish they had done a better job. I can’t say that the story grinds to a halt because it never gets rolling at all. I was never interested in the characters and the illicit frolicking of the lovers feels nothing more than filler before they get to the good stuff. The actors are okay, but I never felt like there was any horror in the man being walled up. Not even when the fate of the wife is revealed to him. Unlike the first story the cast here doesn’t sell it and that made for a tedious watch.

Clocking in at a total of sixty-one minutes Master of Horror isn’t a big commitment. The first story is worth a watch so despite my disappointment with The Cast of Amontillado I’m still going to recommend tracking this one down. It can be a bit of a hassle finding a copy but if like me you are always on the lookout for cinematic oddities, I think it is worth the effort. What I need to do now is find the original cut with all three stories and some English subtitles. 

 

© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

Friday, April 22, 2022

House (1985)

Time to delve deep into another franchise. This time around it is the loosely connected House series of movies. I know you, the uninitiated, probably thing there are only two in the series. Well, there are four so that is enough to make it a franchise in my book. Time to dig into the first and honestly best in the series.

William Katt plays a famous horror author named Roger. As the story opens we see that he is struggling to write his next book amid recently losing his son and getting divorced from his wife. His aunt who raised him kills herself and he moves into her old house. The same house where he saw his son disappear into the swimming pool, though no one believed him. Not long after arriving he starts to see ghosts including that of his aunt. She warns him that the house tricked her and that he needs to get out before it is too late. But he won’t leave. Instead, he works on his book about his experiences in Vietnam. We see these played out as flashbacks. It is here that we meet his army buddy Big Ben. Things don’t end well for Ben and that has a connection to the house and Roger’s son disappearing.

This is a classic from the eighties and one that most of us probably rented more than once on VHS. It has a great group of actors with William Katt, Richard Moll, and George Wendt, who is Roger’s nosey neighbor Harold. Moll and Wendt are both known for their comedic roles and that is put to good use in House. While I wouldn’t consider this a horror comedy it does have a lot of funny lines in it. Having some cast with comedic timing works in favor of the movie and was some inspired casting. The underrated Fred Dekker wrote the story that the screenplay is based on, and Steve Miner directed. That is a lot of horror cred right there, so it isn’t any wonder the movie works so well.

Being an eighties horror movie, we have to talk special effects work. We don’t get any gory kills, but we do have four cool looking creatures. First up is the closet monster that Roger encounters early on after his return to the house. It is a large puppet that pops out and attacks him a couple of times. While it looks like a puppet, I still think that it works well on screen. Then you get Demon Sandy. Roger’s ex-wife stops by to check up on him, but of course it isn’t her but the house messing with him. Quickly we get demon Sandy, which is an actor in a latex body suit and is reminiscent of Henrietta from Evil Dead II. We also get a stop motion skull bat that attacks Roger when he crosses over to look for his son. Cheesy but again I rather liked it. Finally, zombie Big Ben shows up. This makeup gets a lot of screen time, and deservedly so. This is by far my favorite creature.

This is a great movie and a must see if you are a horror fan. It seems that I see a budget DVD with House and House II in the aisles of most big box stores every Halloween, so it is easy to get your hands on. I highly recommend it.

 

© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Critters Attack! (2019)

It has not been a good couple of years to be a fan of the Critters franchise. I recently checked out the series that popped up on Shudder, review here, and didn’t like it at all. At the end of the review I held out hope that someone would come along and do a proper film reboot or sequel for the franchise. Well I got my wish… sort of.

Before I start please note that this movie has nothing to do with the original franchise. It isn’t a sequel and has no connection to it other than the Critters. Don’t let Dee Wallace’s appearance fool you into thinking this is connected to the “classic” franchise. The story follows a young woman, Drea, and her brother Drake. She is trying to get into college, and he is an alien conspiracy nut. This is important because it is used as the excuse for no one believing him when he sees a spaceship crash.

The pair live with their uncle, who is also the local scruffy sheriff. This is important later in my review. Finally, we have Dee Wallace playing Aunt Dee. I guess she is a bounty hunter because she knows about the Crites and has a big gun. The Critters crash land and start eating the locals. There is also another Critter that turns out to be a good one and is there to protect the human race. We know this because she is white and well, they actually assign it a gender. Stuff happens… people die…and I was disappointed.

This movie is awful. The Critters franchise was always accused be being a Gremlins rip off and I’ve defended it against that for years. But here they went full “Gizmo” with the good Critter who loves the kids and just wants to help them. What is next? Don’t get them wet or feed them after midnight? That was a completely unnecessary plot device that misses the point of the franchise completely. These are alien invaders dropping by to snack on humanity, we don’t need good Critters! The bounty hunters filled that need in the other movies and that worked just fine.

Speaking of bounty hunters how about they explain Aunt Dee? Is she an alien shapeshifter? If not, how does she know about the Critters? Maybe she is a government agent? The movie spends way too much time on the annoying children when they had a perfectly good story to explore with Dee Wallace’s character. I don’t want to say that the child actors in Critters Attack weren’t good. It might have to do with a poorly written script that gives them nothing to do and no character arc. I’m sure if given more time the filmmakers would probably have screwed up the character of Aunt Dee as well.

I did think that they did a decent job on the Critters. The puppetry is fine, and the creature effects work was decent. Though there are times where they clearly didn’t have a way to make them move across the scene and interact with the cast. This is obvious with the “good” Critter that spends most of the time stuffed into a backpack. And while there are many attacks, they don’t have that one kill that defines the movie like the others did. For example, when Billy Zane loses some fingers in the original. Still I’m glad this wasn’t a CGI fest so there is that.

That is the only good thing that I can say about Critters Attack. It just isn’t a good movie. Fans have waited a long time for a decent entry into this franchise and I’m afraid we might have a long time more before we get one. Sadly, I’m going to recommend skipping this one.

 

Ó Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Hellraiser IV: Bloodline (1996)

Well friends here I am continuing my deep dive into the Hellraiser franchise. As I stated in my review of Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth, I never went any further with these movies. From here on out it is all new to me, which should be fun. Right? I mean how bad could things get? Really, I’m worried now…

I guess with the fourth installment the filmmakers decided to try and explain the puzzle box and the cenobites and hellscape contained within it. The movie starts in the future when we are introduced to Dr. Merchant. It seems that the good doctor has hijacked the space station he designed to experiment on a very familiar box. The army/space cops show up in time to stop him… sort of. While being interrogated we get to find out that his family has done battle with the box and demons from its very inception. This is because the distant ancestor was the toymaker that made the box.

We get two flashbacks. The first tells us about the toymaker and the crazed wizard that commissioned the box. After delivering the box the toymaker sticks around and is horrified to see the ritual that allows it to open the doorway to the Hell allowing a princess from hell, Angelique to enter our world. He tries to destroy the box and send her back to hell, but obviously fails. Then things jump to another ancestor in the nineties that has built a building based on some drawings he inherited from the toymaker. Plus, there is some nonsense about the bloodline having memories and passing them down. Here we get to meet Pinhead for the first time as he pops out and has a bit of a disagreement with Angelique about her methods. She uses seduction to get what she wants and well you guys probably know how Pinhead solves his problems. This leads to some conflict and eventually she goes full cenobite.

After the second flashback we bounce back to the future and watch an abbreviated fight between the space cops, Pinhead, and some of his new friends. Luckily throughout the other stories there was this MacGuffin of a new box that would destroy the minions of hell and their portal. With some very bad CGI we get to see how that works and the good guys ride off in a shuttle.

If this guy hired you to make a toy would you?
My first observation about Hellraiser IV is that it was directed by Alan Smithee. If you aren’t in the know on this sort of thing that is the named used when the director of the project wishes to have his name removed from the finished movie. The director’s actual name is Kevin Yagher and he directed such illustrious movies as… well nothing. He did this and a couple of Tales from the Crypt episodes. He would rather have no feature film credits on his resume than admit he directed Hellraiser IV. Let that sink in.

If that tidbit didn’t give it away this movie is a complete mess. In some ways it feels way too ambitious in both the epic story that is trying to be told as well as the limited budget that they had available to them. Let me speak to the story first. There are basically three distinct plots in the movie. You have the original toymaker fighting against Angelique and those that summoned her. Trying to set right what he had unintentionally done by making the box for them. He consults a random science guy who is doing an autopsy. Who is this character and why would he have any advice on what to do? That’s never explained, hell I don’t think he even gets a name. The toymaker goes back and gets caught, it is hinted that something happens to his “exquisite” fingers, but we never see it. Was something cut out of the movie? If so, why leave the dialogue referencing it in?

This happens again in the second story as there seems to be a lot more to the relationship between Pinhead and Angelique then what we get to see on screen. There are bits that hint at a rivalry as well as an attraction between the two, but it is never fleshed out on screen. Even her ending where she tries to betray him, and he turns her into another cenobite seems to have had been written with something more behind it then what we get. Again, it feels like something is missing.

The wraparound with the marines is abbreviated and forced. It is all action and itself feels tacked on just to resolve things as they reached the end of the runtime and budget. I’ll have more on budget later. There is a horrendous bit of editing at the end where Dr. Merchant goes from running down a hallway to calmly talking to Pinhead, to us then finding out that it was a hologram and that he is really in a shuttle flying away from the space station with the character that we just saw him talking to earlier before they go their separate ways. This might seem redundant me mentioning this again at this point, but something is clearly missing.

The new crew
Speaking of the budget there is a dramatic difference between some of the effects work. At times we get some decent practical effects work with bodies being skinned, hooks piercing flesh, and hearts getting ripped out of chests. Good stuff indeed. But then we suddenly get terrible CGI work. This is most noticeable with the space station that is clearly some crappy computer-generated model that they can “fold” up in the software to make another cube. There is also a gag where a pair of twins get formed into a new cenobite that is cringeworthy, even by mid-nineties digital standards. Much like the plot this is an odd mix of stuff that just doesn’t seem to belong in the same movie.

I’m going to stretch that idea of not belonging into my final point. This is the fourth movie and it travels in time. I don’t think that it is too unreasonable for them to somehow tie the characters from the first three flicks into this greater story arc. They don’t and in fact it doesn’t make any sense why any of those characters would have come across the cube since there seems to have always been a Merchant descendant available to “finish” the job and open the larger gateway to hell. It actually feels as if the previous, and much better movies, were just times where Pinhead was bored… That sucks.

Hellraiser IV Bloodline is a terrible movie that I am glad I skipped until now. I’ve never been a big fan of this franchise but even I think that it deserves better than this. I can’t see how the sequels could get any worse than this, but I’ve heard things. Clearly, I’m not recommending this one and I ask that you wish me luck as I dig deeper into the mess that is this franchise. Though I need to take a break so it may be a while.

 

Ó Copyright 2022 John Shatzer