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I've been threatening to do this for a while now and I suppose it is time. Despite me swearing that I'd never force myself to sit th...

Monday, November 28, 2022

Taking time off

Life has gotten a bit hectic for me here at the Crappy Movie Review H.Q. so I've made the decision to take the rest of the year off. That sounds like a long time, but really it is just a month. I plan on returning to the grind in January 2023 ready to go with some recharged batteries and a whole lot more crappy movies to talk about! 

If you need a fix... and honestly who wouldn't... you can still hear me on the Bloodbaths and Boomsticks podcast. You can download and listen to episodes at the below link. Again I'll catch you all back here next year. 

-John


BLOODBATHS AND BOOMSTICKS!


 

Friday, November 18, 2022

Ruckus (1980)

Made a couple of years before Rambo this odd combination of lighthearted chase movie is combined with some Hicksploitation and Vetsploitation elements. If you aren’t familiar with these terms Hicksploitation is when you have some rural characters that are inexplicably hostile and Vetsploitation is when a traumatized vet comes back home and is treated poorly normally leading to some violence.

Ruckus stars Dirk Benedict as a Vietnam vet who we find out was captured twice and spent time in a Viet Cong prison camp, escaping both times. This is important because he doesn’t like being locked up. We see him wander into town and buy a raw hamburger from a stand before trying to leave. The local big shot, Bellows, wants to talk to him about his missing son. He recognizes the unit patch on his jacket and hopes beyond hope that he might know something. But Kyle, the vet, ignores him and tries to leave town.

The sheriff and Bellows are both sympathetic to Kyle, which is an odd change for movies like this where they normally would be the villains and are happy to leave him be. But there is a deputy and a few others that take a dislike to him, which is only made worse when they mess with him, and he kicks their butts! From that point forward they are not only cruel but a bit homicidal towards him. They go from zero to lets murder this guy in a heartbeat. Toss in Bellows’ daughter in law Jenny who is a bit sweet on Kyle and there is some jealousy added to the fire. This all leads to a big showdown that is at times silly chase flick and at other times very dark and violent.

I really enjoyed Ruckus. It is paced well just enough character development to make you sympathetic towards Kyle and to understand the predicament of not knowing for sure that Jenny and her father in law are dealing with. I liked these characters. And again, I was very surprised in the decision to make the sheriff and patriarch of the Bellows’ family kind people. That isn’t what the formula dictates. That said I’m not sure why the locals get so bloodthirsty so quickly and more importantly how they thought they could commit murder under the noses of men who would care and assumedly try to punish them.

On a much lighter note, we get a lot of mayhem in the movie. Cop cars get stolen, there is a big dirt bike chase, another car chase, some boat chasing, and lots of crashes. Dynamite is tossed around in a manner that probably should have maimed folks, but they are okay. Roofs are torn off vintage (though not at the time) trucks and many cars explode. So, you can see why I tossed this in with my automotive mayhem marathon. There is even some romantic bonding while riding dirt bikes. That last one is for the ladies!

The cast is great and includes the already mentioned Dirk Benedict. Linda Blair plays Jenny and her father in law is played by the legendary Ben Johnson. Richard Farnsworth is the sheriff and Matt Clark is one of the bloodthirsty rednecks. You may not recognize that last name but if you watched drive-in flicks in the seventies, you will recognize him. This is a solid cast that is more than up to the challenge of bringing these characters to the screen.

Not a perfect movie but one that I think deserves a look. This one can be a challenge to locate but it is out there if you look hard enough. As of the writing of this review I couldn’t find it streaming on any of the major services but won’t be surprised if it shows up on YouTube at some point.

 

© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Texas Detour (1978)

The opening credits roll over brothers Clay and Dale along with their sister Sugar as they travel along in a groovy seventies van with Dale playing his guitar and singing a song. As soon as the credits finish, they get into a car chase where eventually the van is forced off the road by some criminals who steal their money as well as their ride. This sends the three off on foot where they meet up with a local named Beau (played by Anthony James) who offers them a ride if they can help him get his car running. They do and after an unhelpful visit to the sheriff’s office they end up working at the ranch owned by Beau’s father.

After some working the ranch montages and a bar fight, we see Beau chase down Sugar and rape her. This is the seventies and Texas Detour is a “hicksploitation” flick so that is par for the course. This sets Clay up to chase down Beau and beat the hell out of him. But the sheriff stops him before he does too much damage, though Beau is pissed off. Since his family runs the town, the sheriff can’t do much about it. After Clay beds Beau’s sister Claudia (played by Priscilla Barnes) and Beau is killed by someone else in a barfight things get crazy. Everyone blames Clay for the murder, despite having an alibi provided by Claudia which leads to one final car chase as the they try to escape the county with the sheriff and father of Beau and Claudia in hot pursuit.

Did he ever play a good guy?
I love these movies and their odd screwed up seventies’ logic. The rich family can get away with anything because they own everything. But their influence ends at the county line so all you have to do is get there or in this case jump over a roadblock! This same basic plot was used repeatedly in these cheap but entertaining drive-in flicks. Here they don’t screw the formula up as the movie plays out something like this. Car chase 1, dirt bike race, bar fight with hicks, horse vs. dirt bike race, bad thing happens (rape), another dirt bike race, and final car chase. You mix in some musical numbers and the working on the ranch montage, and you have yourself a movie. Simple but effective as something interesting is always happening from the opening credits to the final frame.

Love seeing familiar faces
The cast is filled with familiar faces including Patrick Wayne as Clay, R.G. Armstrong as Sheriff Burt, Anthony James as Beau (did he ever play a good guy?), and Cameron Mitchell as the pissed off patriarch of the powerful family. Of course, I’ve already mentioned Priscilla Barnes of Threes Company fame in her first starring role. This is a solid “B” cast bolstered with a few Hollywood veterans to round things out. I miss the days when you could get solid working character actors to show up and put in a good day’s work regardless of what kind of movie they were making. I think that is what is missing in today’s low budget flicks.

This isn’t a classic or even a great movie if I’m being honest. Texas Detour knows the formula, adheres to it, and in the end provides us with a fun way to kill an hour and a half. Not everything needs to be art or reinvent storytelling/filmmaking. Some movies are just meant to be a good time. With that in mind I recommend folks track down a copy and check this one out.

 

© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

Monday, November 14, 2022

Checkered Flag or Crash (1977)

The drive-in theaters were filled with “car” movies for most of their existence. Though they really hit their stride in the seventies with flicks like Vanishing Point and Grand Theft Auto. I’ve watched just about all of them over the years so imagine how surprised I was to have found Checkered Flag or Crash. It stars Joe Don Baker, Larry Hagman, and Susan Sarandon as well as being shot in the Philippines. Car movie… check! Cast of actors I dig… check! Shot in one of my favorite locations for drive-in flicks… check! How have I never seen this before?

The story is very simple. Joe Don Baker is a driver who is nicknamed Walkaway because he is the only one that normally walks away from his many wrecks. He has been sponsored by a magazine to take part in a big rally race in the Philippines with the agreement that he takes a reporter along for the ride. What he doesn’t know is that it is a lady reporter played by Susan Sarandon. We also get a bunch of other characters including a pretty lady on a motorcycle, a French race car driver, a local driving a taxi, and a few more. I’m glossing over these because they don’t do much with them other than an occasional scene here and there. We don’t even find out what happens to any of them, though given the sheer number of crashes I’m thinking a lot of them died!

The race is being put on by Larry Hagman’s character. He is determined to finish the thing even after there is a flood and mudslide that forces him to choose a dangerous route where the racers will not only have to dodge each other but construction equipment as well. Why the rush? Well there is a toss away line about him owing “people” money that infers it may be the mob or some other organized criminal enterprise. Don’t worry though we never hear about it again. Heck they even hint that the promised prize money might not exist which is something else that is never resolved.

Checkered Flag or Crash has some serious issues. The plot is paper thin filled with, as I’ve mentioned above, far too many throwaway characters to pad the runtime. It would have been nice to see some of the subplots go somewhere, but that doesn’t happen at all. Even the main plot with Walkaway and the reporter doesn’t have a resolution. He basically is an ass to her leaving her stranded in the middle of nowhere at one point, though she still cares about him. I suppose making your male lead be completely without redeeming qualities might have been a bad choice. I didn’t like any of the characters and that is an issue.

Most of the better car movies have human characters and a story that is set in and around the road/race/chase. Here it is all about staging the car crashes and stunts. There are a lot of them, though the way they are shot makes it difficult to follow the action at times. So not only do we not have much story to keep our attention what they try and hang their hats on, the stunts and racing, is also poorly executed. This is further hampered by them mostly using voiceovers from the actors as the cars roll by to tell the story.

Checkered Flag or Crash isn’t a good movie. I’m happy to have watched it as I’m a nerd for this sort of thing, but there are so many better options for casual fans that I can’t recommend it. Check out one of the other movies I’ve mentioned already or perhaps the more mainstream Cannonball Run or Gone in Sixty Seconds. These are way more entertaining.

 

© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

Friday, November 11, 2022

Supervan (1977)

Automotive mayhem continues here at the site. Today’s review is for the seventies classic Supervan. In case you didn’t know there was a custom van craze back in the day where people would try to outdo one another with amazing paint jobs and interiors to what were plain old vans. That culture as well as the CB culture of the seventies features heavily in this one.

Our main character Clint is leaving the business his father runs to enter a big contest at Freakout, which is a huge van competition. He has a nice van, but there is a secret weapon. His friend has built a sweet custom van that runs on solar power called Vandora. Sadly, along the way he loses his van when he saves a beautiful young lady from some bikers. She is the daughter of the man running the convention who is also a big oil tycoon. Being that she is a runaway and Clint is getting busy with her it doesn’t make daddy too happy. The fact that Clint’s friend used big oil’s money to make Vandora, which again runs on solar energy, is strike two.

The remainder of the movie is basically a chase sequence as the bad guy sends his minions after Clint and tries to hide the solar van away so he can keep selling oil and making money. Against him the van crowd runs interference, talks on their CB radios, and generally party. We also get some fun with the bikers before the end credits roll.

Now the above might make it sound like this movie has a plot. In reality the story just serves to connect a few scenes together. A lot of the movie is just footage of people being silly and having fun at the Freakout. We get a wet t-shirt contest, frolicking, canoodling, dancing, game playing, and other general shenanigans. I think that much of this footage must have been shot at an actual event because it seems random and spontaneous. The scripted stuff is okay and fun. The formula of rebel versus the man is followed closely and the proper boxes are checked. There are attempts at humor which don’t always land but fit nicely in the overall cheesy feel of the flick.

The star of the movie is... Vandora!
Let me talk a bit about the feel of Supervan. I’m a child of the seventies and my father built and drove a couple custom vans during that decade. I have also spent time watching movies at the drive-in so I might be a bit biased here. This one gave me a real nostalgic feel taking me back to some memories that I hadn’t thought about in a long time. The van culture and the CB (my dad also had one of those) chat put a huge smile on my face. While the movie doesn’t have a great plot and is utterly predictable, I found myself having a lot of fun with it. Will you? I’m not sure but I thought it was worth mentioning because I’m going to recommend this one.

Vandora, which I suppose is the real star of the movie, was the brainchild of George Barris. He was the greatest car customizer ever and I’ll fight anyone that says different. If you think of a great movie or television car from the fifties and sixties, I can almost guarantee you that he was responsible for it. He did the Munster’s Coach, the Beverly Hillbilly’s truck, and of course his most famous work is the Batmobile. Vandora looks very cool, though also very uncomfortable to drive. But it gets the job done and does give the movie its central plot hook and draw.

I like this movie and I think that you might like it too. Though its not a slam dunk that will be the case. So, while I recommend Supervan I do so with the warnings listed above. If you do watch it drop me an email and let me know what you think.

 

© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer 

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Corvette Summer (1978)

My deep dive on car movies continues as I take a look at this Mark Hamill flick made the year after Star Wars came out. Here he plays a high school senior named Kenny. We first see him with the rest of his classmates cruising a junkyard looking for a project car. He is a very talented artist and loves cars. He finds and saves a corvette right before it is to be crushed. Then we see he and the rest doing a killer custom job bringing the Vette back to life. At least it is what passes for killer in the seventies. The first night the students take it out for a drive it gets stolen.

The shop teacher, Mr. McGrath, tries to tell them it was just a commodity to be bought and sold. The insurance will pay for it so their efforts still helped the school. But Kenny was very attached to the car, so after graduating he goes looking for it. Ending up in Las Vegas he finds a “hooker in training” named Vanessa who becomes his girlfriend. He keeps having near misses with the car until he finally locates it. It is in the possession of a guy named Wayne who runs a car theft ring. This leads to some shenanigans before Kenny finally rolls back to his old high school to return it. Classes are in session, so I guess that summer is at an end.

Unlike some of the movies I’m going to cover for the Automotive Mayhem marathon this isn’t a ninety-minute-long car chase. I mean Kenny is chasing after the Corvette, but this is more about him meeting different people and growing up. There are people that he runs into along the way like Vanessa and a character referred to as Mr. Lucky, played by the late Dick Miller. This is just such a neat coming of age story that just so happens to have some cool vehicles in it. Again, being a car movie, we get to see some sweet rides in addition to the Corvette including a nice Camaro. Kenny also has to deal with disappointment with adults being dishonest, this was a made for the drive-in so the “you can’t trust anyone over thirty” crowd had to be appealed to.

There is only one big chase, and it happens at the end of the movie. Just one car gets crashed and there aren’t that many stunts. But again, this is a different kind of car movie. Why include it here? Corvette Summer is solidly set in and around car culture, so it just feels right. Plus, there is a bad ass van in the movie. If you have a bad ass custom van in your movie then it is going to get covered in the Automotive Mayhem marathon.

A few other things that I wanted to note about Corvette Summer. We get some excellent shots of the Las Vegas Strip in the seventies that I rather enjoyed. I’m a nerd for these little glimpses of the past that movies like this can provide. I’ve already mentioned Dick Miller, but this is a killer cast. Annie Potts is Venessa, Danny Bonaduce and Wendy Jo Sperber are a couple of his classmates. You might not recognize her name, but I promise you have seen her before. We also get Kim Milford who was in Laserblast. Hell, we even get to see Brion James as a henchman! My favorite though was a sleazy dishonest gas station owner that hires Kenny. I recognized him but couldn’t remember where from. His name is Phillip Bruns, and he was the drunken old doctor from Return of the Living Dead 2.

This is just a fun and breezy way to kill an hour and a half. I’ve loved this one from the first time I saw it and as a kid thought it was cool that Luke Skywalker had a corvette… I mean I was only nine years old so cut me some slack! I highly recommend Corvette Summer you won’t be disappointed.

 

Ó Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Two-Fisted Tales of Times Square by Pete Chiarella

Okay before I start off with this review, I want to be transparent and let everyone know that Pete is not only a frequent collaborator with me but is also my friend. That said I’m not going to give him a free pass and will treat this review like any other book review that I have or will do in the future. Anything else wouldn’t be fair to you the reader nor Pete.

Tales is a collection of short stories set in and around the environs of 42nd Street back in the seventies and eighties. They cover the gamut from ghosts and werewolves, to corrupt cops, and mobsters. While I enjoyed all the stories, I’m going to highlight the ones that I found the most fascinating and fun. With this out of the way lets jump right in.

The Acquisition is a tale about a pimp named Omar who goes overseas for some new “talent”. That is a fancy way of saying he collects himself a lady vampire who they chain up and charge customers to do what they want with her. Omar is more than a little sketchy and eventually greed as well as the need to feed Lilith someone other than the paying customers causes things to get a bit dicey. Lilith eventually gets loose, and things get bloody. The moral to the story here is that you never ever piss off a vampire! I loved the supernatural bits as this is a much different take on vampires than I’ve seen before. The “monster” here isn’t the undead but the scumbag Omar. That was a fun twist.

Retribution is a fun ghost story… well maybe not fun. Candy is a working girl who is kidnapped, brutalized, and murdered by a serial killer. She can’t move on and eventually finds a drunk named Joe who can hear her. She talks him thru stopping the killer and saving his latest two victims. This is a shorter story coming in at seven pages but is another cool story and something that I’ve not seen before. 

The third story I wanted to call out is The Fixer. This has a recently paroled mobster named Vince getting out of jail. We get to see him doing some collections and making bank. His work is noticed and soon he is fixing things for all sorts of folks. I’ve always been a fan of mobster movies and stories so seeing a low-level guy doing his rounds was fun.

There are also stories about a werewolf hitman that actually is mostly just about him being a hitman and not a werewolf. That was an unexpected twist but was cool. There is also a cool bit with an old theater and a slasher movie that causes some issues for a pain in the ass kid. Another story has us following a repurposed location that used to be a peep show but is now a burger joint. That one is a lot of fun.

There are also some characters that pop up in multiple stories as Chiarella uses them to establish a common world where all these events occur. There are crooked cops, an unfortunate former massage parlor employee (she maybe should have stayed put!), a pair of mismatched hustlers, and of course a cool dog. Between the setting and these characters all the stories in Two-Fisted Tales of Times Square fit together nicely. That means they can be consumed one at a time or you can sit down with the book and read them in one sitting. Either way this is a lot of fun. I recommend checking the book out. If you want to get yourself a copy email Pete at mr42ndstreetpete@yahoo.com 

 

Ó Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

 

Monday, November 7, 2022

Grand Theft Auto (1977)

I haven’t covered nearly enough car movies for the site. The seventies were filled will all kinds of automotive mayhem, especially for the drive-in crowd. I thought I’d kick off my look at these movies with Grand Theft Auto. Produced by Roger Corman it was Ron Howard’s first directorial effort. Time to check it out.

Howard plays Sam a wholesome good guy who fell in love with a rich girl named Paula. They go to see her parents to tell them they are getting married, and they freak out. Her dad is running for governor and wants her to marry into the right family. They have already gotten her engaged to a rich boy named Collins Hedgeworth. They take away her keys and think that is that. But of course, this would be a very short movie if it were.

Paula sneaks out and takes the only other car available, her dad’s Rolls Royce. She and Sam head to Las Vegas to get hitched and her father freaks out. Not sure if he is more worried about her or the car! Since he is running for governor, he wants to keep this on the downlow so instead of calling the cops he sends private security after them. When that doesn’t work, he puts out a twenty-five-thousand-dollar reward on her safe return. This if further complicated when old Collins Hedgeworth takes off after them and his mother panics and offers a reward for his safe return. This is basically an excuse to have a bunch of oddballs involved in what is for all intents and purposes an hour-long chase on screen.

My favorite part of Grand Theft Auto is the will they or won’t they wreck the Rolls. The movie keeps teasing you with close calls. It isn’t until the end that you find out if the movie is going to trash the classic. I won’t spoil it for you here. I also wanted to mention that the movie uses a trick that many of these car flicks use. There is a radio DJ who is following the progress of the Rolls and acts as a narrator. This helps fill in the blanks and keeps the audience on track between the crazy wrecks and stunts. As we dig further into these flicks you will see this again.

The stars of the movie...
I love this movie. The story is very simple and the characters likeable. There isn’t much character development but this is a car movie so who cares about that? We get plenty of crashes, stunts, funny characters, and great lines. This isn’t mean to be some new groundbreaking piece of art. I like the cast and it is filled with a ton of familiar faces. We get a couple of Corman regulars like Paul Bartel and Allan Arkush, as well as a lot of Howard’s friends and family. His dad Rance, brother Clint (a personal favorite of mine), and even his television mom Marion Ross appear! It was awesome to hear her swear and flip people off. Someone was certainly having fun. We even get an appearance from Paul Linke (Motel Hell) as snooty rich boy Collins Hedgeworth.  

You can tell that there is a lot of talent in front of and behind the camera. Not only does Howard show his future directing chops buy keeping things exciting and the action moving but he is helped by his editor. Normally I don’t mention editors by name in my reviews but with Grand Theft Auto I thought you might recognize the name Joe Dante. Corman had a hell of a group working with him in the seventies.

...the real star of the movie!
Now that I’ve talked about the cast, I have to tell you that the real stars of the movie are the cars. In addition to the Rolls Royce, we also get a vintage Dodge Charger, a nice little Volkswagen Beetle, and a sweet looking Porsche. These are just a few of the cars that we see on screen. One of my favorite things about these car flicks are looking at the classics that you don’t see on the road anymore. I’m an older guy so as a kid I remember the muscle cars driving around town all the time. It makes me nostalgic.

I’ve mentioned the stunts so let’s take a deeper look at them. There are multiple jumps, burn outs, and other such staples of car chases. Some of the highlights are a smashed chicken coop, dynamite being tossed at cars, a bridge that blows up, and of course they drive a car thru a house. My favorite though has always been the Rolls playing chicken with a helicopter. I noticed that there are a couple spots where they did stuff off screen. Once I think it is for a comedic reveal and the other because they couldn’t actually wreck that particular vehicle. The story wraps up with a demolition derby that sadly takes out many of the stars, the cars, of the movie.

I highly recommend you guys check out Grand Theft Auto. This has been and continues to be one of my favorite drive-in movies. Sadly, I never got to see it there, but it was in heavy rotation on the various late-night movie shows that I did watch.

 

Ó Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

 

 

Monday, October 31, 2022

Return of Dracula (1958)

I’m back with another review from one of my favorite decades for horror, the nineteen fifties. This time around I checked out a vampire movie feature everyone’s favorite, Count Dracula. So let’s dive in and see what we have. 

The movie starts off with a voiceover that tells us Count Dracula was read and that he was a vampire. He spread his evil and was never completely stopped. It is at this point that we see some men arrive at a cemetery and enter a tomb. Armed with stakes and crosses the open a coffin only to find it empty. Seems that they have missed out on their chance to finally stop Dracula. He has escaped, but to where?

Next up we meet a painter that is finally escaping Eastern Europe for freedom in the United States. He says his goodbyes to family and boards a train. Guess who is his compartment companion? Yep Dracula, who proceeds to kill him and then take his place. So now the Count has arrived in America to start a new life or is suppose un life. He tries his best to fit in with the family while moving his coffin to a nearby cave and targeting a blind girl as his first victim/acolyte. All is well until the men from earlier arrive. It seems they have tracked him to his new home. 

This is a much better movie than I anticipated. The story is interesting and combines the traditional vampire narrative with some goofy fifties monster movie goodness. Dracula creeps around being charming in spots while at other times manipulating the murder of others. He kills the blind girl Jenny only to call her back as a vampire so she can do away with one of the men pursuing him. The pacing of the movie is solid moving from one creepy scene to another without wasting any time on unnecessary padding. This makes for a quick and engaging movie that I have to say was a lot of fun to watch. 

Return of Dracula is shot beautifully in black and white taking advantage of some interesting locations like the cave to bring a lot of atmosphere to the flick. The attack on Jenny is shot in such a spooky way it shows the effort put into the lighting and camerawork. The filmmakers use some neat effects with smoke and basic in camera effects to make the vampires materialize out of nowhere. There is also a neat gag when they finally stake Jenny where the black and white film suddenly has a splash of red with the blood. I even dug the familiar but well executed post death of Dracula where we see him age and turn into a skeleton before our eyes. Again, nothing new but well done. 

This is another movie from the fifties that I somehow had missed. I’ve owned this DVD for many years but somehow Return of Dracula has fallen thru the cracks. Now that I’ve watched it I feel silly having waited until now to check it out. I highly recommend that you avoid my mistake and track yourself down a copy. You won’t be disappointed. 


 © Copyright 2022 John Shatzer


Sunday, October 30, 2022

The Living Idol (1957)

The movie opens with some men climbing up a set of narrow stairs in an Incan pyramid. When they reach the top they discover a statue of a jaguar, which freaks Juanita out. She is a lovely young lady that was with the men. One of the men, Terry, races after her. Turns out that and she are sweet on each other. When Juanita’s father dies in an accident at the dig the other man, Doctor Stoner, adopts here. Following so far?

Months later Juanita is living with Stoner in Mexico City where he is working on his theories regarding superstition. This is important because he thinks that Juanita is cursed or something like that. She has never been right since being scared by the jaguar statue. When Terry returns from Korea, he is a photographer, he picks back up with her. But soon it becomes obvious that things aren’t right. There is a big fight between the jaguar god, in the form of an animal that Stoner releases from the zoo and Terry. Some people die and the rest live happily ever after. 

I really wanted to like this one. Sadly, the story spends far too much time on the romance between Juanita and Terry. There are several dance numbers, some romance, and much drama. That shouldn’t be a big surprise since this was co-produced by a large Hollywood studio, Allied Artists and that was par for the course. Sure, there is an occasional “what the Hell” moment to let you know there is something supernatural afoot, but these are spread out too much for the movie to create any momentum. Forty minutes in and we have yet to see much of anything in the way of old school horror. That brings me to the other big issue. At forty minutes in we still have another hour to go! This movie is far too long for what it is, and they could have taken a cue from the independent horror productions of the fifties and trimmed it down. 

The cast is decent with the most familiar face being Steve Forrest, who I recognized from his television work in the seventies. The Living Idol was co-directed by Rene Cardona, who I know from several Santo movies. I also have to say that the fact this was shot in color, a novelty reserved for bigger budgeted movies in the fifties, as well as it being shot on location was nice. The movie is beautiful and takes advantage of the exotic locations available to the filmmakers. We also get some nifty carnival sequences that are highlights of the first half. I just wished they had a tighter grip and focus on the story they were trying to tell. 

I noticed that many folks compare this to Cat People. While the subject is similar and they both share a sequence where the lead actress is traumatized by a trip to the zoo, that is a far superior movie. There is some mystery and tension to that movie that we just don’t get with The Living Idol. Again, I wanted to like this one but simply can’t recommend it. 


© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer


Saturday, October 29, 2022

Isn’t it Shocking? (1973)

I’ve been having some amazing luck finding old made for television flicks to cover here at the site. This one stars Alan Alda of Mash fame as a local lawman named Dan. He wakes up at his girlfriends one morning to find out that one of the locals has died of a heart attack in the middle of the night. But he is bothered by the fact that she wasn’t wearing a nightgown. When her husband follows soon after he is suspicious, especially since he is missing his PJ’s as well. 

More bodies follow with the only connection being that they all graduated from high school in the same year. Dan struggles to figure out not only the why, but also the how of the murders. With the help of the local doctor and her father the coroner he does eventually sort it all out. But will that happen before the killer is done? And will Dan take the big promotion and move to a bigger town? 

Isn’t it Shocking? is interesting in that the story, while fairly direct, does keep you guessing as to the motive until the end. Honestly even then I wasn’t totally sure why the killer did what he did. Maybe he was just angry, but it is also possible that in his old age he was losing his mind and made a proverbial mountain out of a molehill. Since it isn’t a surprise who the killer is I might as well give you a bit more detail on what I’m talking about. The murder is Oates, who I think was kicked out of school after a prank went wrong. 

Again, we know who the murderer is all along so the story hangs it’s hat on watching Dan try and solve the mystery. This means that the drama and entertainment has to come from the actors. If we don’t have the cast selling us the story and keeping your eyes glued to the screen, then this won’t work. Here is where the movie excels. Alan Alda is surprisingly good as the lawman trying to figure things out. He makes you feel Dan’s pain as friends and neighbors die on his watch. He is supported by the likes of Louise Lasser (Crimewave, Blood Rage), Will Greer (The Waltons), Ruth Gordon (Rosemary’s Baby, My Bodyguard), and Edmond O’Brien (The Wild Bunch). So, there is a lot of talent in front of the camera. Their performances are the reason to stick around and see how things work out. 

I was also surprised when I realized that Isn’t It Shocking? was directed by John Badham. Not only did he do a bunch of killer television shows but also brought movies like Blue Thunder, War Games, Stakeout, and Bird on a Wire to the screen. Hell, he also directed Saturday Night Fever, which isn’t a favorite of mine but is undeniably part of seventies pop culture. These old network television flicks used to be able to collect a lot of talent which is why so many of them are worth checking out. Which is why I’m going to recommend everyone do here. You can find it on YouTube as well as other spots online. Give it a chance I think you will dig it.


© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer


Friday, October 28, 2022

The Stick (1988)

In my never ending search for movies that I may have missed I stumble across some odd ones. The Stick is a weird sort of mashup between Platoon and your traditional ghost story/revenge tale. Complete with the pointlessness and horrors of war as well as your supernatural comeuppance for bad acts. 

The movie opens with a small detachment of men being ambushed while on patrol. I believe that they are across the border in some sort of police action with the neighboring country. This is a South African made movie and I think they had sort of an unofficial conflict with rebels that kept sneaking across the border for safety. Not entirely sure and wasn’t wanting to get a history lesson for this movie. I apologize in advance if I get any of the details wrong. After seeing them all killed by some mysterious men with guns, we get to see a meeting where the officers are yelling at the troops. This leads to another series of patrols with platoons split up into sticks, groups of seven to eight men. It is one of these sticks that we follow. 

The rest of the movie are these men crossing the border, arguing with each other, gunning down a village, and getting killed themselves by what appears to be the ghost of the witchdoctor and those mysterious warriors. Along the way we see one of them, O’Grady, lose control and murder a child that they had let go. There is also a spooky ritual as it seems the witchdoctor has blessed some soldiers that may or may not be the enemy. 

While The Stick does have a lot of supernatural elements including people coming back from the dead, ghostly visions, and attacks from nowhere this movie plays more like a futility of war story than it does horror. Though I suppose that is itself a sort of horror. The first half to two thirds is them on patrol walking across the wilderness in search of the enemy. This establishes the characters and sort of lets you know who each of them is. There is the violent one, the stoner, the gung ho soldier, the reluctant guide, the ineffective officer, and the man who is sort of our eyes. A participant but also the commentor. His voice is used in a voiceover that attempts to connect the parts of the story into a cohesive narrative. It sort of works, though at times gets a bit intrusive. 

The pacing is also quite bad with lots of pausing to take in what is admittedly some beautiful scenery as well as lots of talking. When we do get to the spooky stuff it does pick up a bit, but even then it is them walking back towards base in an attempt to escape it. This leads to a lot of taking, arguing, and not enough revenge and ghost stuff. Hell, some of the deaths seem random including stepping on a landmine! Still there are moments that worked so I don’t want to dismiss The Stick completely. I was just disappointed in what I got. Based on what I read before and after watching this was sold as a horror movie and is not that at all. 

I’ve already mentioned that they do a good job capturing the setting on camera. This is at times a pretty movie and considering I noticed that on the beat up VHS copy I watched for this review that is saying something. Also being as low budget as they were you get a lot of handheld camera work which puts you right on the ground for the chaotic combat scenes. That can be annoying but here helps to tell the story decently enough. I felt like I was right there in the middle of things with the characters and that helped keep my attention, offsetting the difficulty of keeping track of the action. 

I don’t want to get into much more detail as I might spoil things. My concerns are that you manage expectations before sitting down to watch this movie. If you are wanting something scary that will creep you out then this isn’t the right choice. I also wonder if the story translates as well to someone who doesn’t have a good grasp on the setting. While not a great movie I think that to the right audience in the correct state of mind it has a story worth listening too. I’m just not sure I was either of those. I can’t recommend it. 


© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer


Thursday, October 27, 2022

The Food of the Gods (1976)

I need to review more Bert I. Gordon flicks for the site and this is one of my favorites. I remember more than one Friday night spent staying up late to watch this on my local horror hosted movie show. It was a staple.

The opening credits roll around a football field were a team is practicing for the upcoming big game. Our main character, Morgan, tells us in a voiceover that they are given a couple of days off and decide to go hunting on a nearby wooded island. One of them is killed, we know by giant wasps, but the characters don’t. This leads to Morgan running into a lady at a nearby farm when looking for help. After taking their friend back to the mainland Morgan and the other hunter return to the island knowing that they need to take care of the problem themselves.

Here is where things start to get good. In addition to the men returning, we are also introduced to a businessman and a scientist that have come to cash in on the discovery made by the farmer. See there is something bubbling out of the ground that when mixed with feed will cause animals to grow to enormous size. We also meet up with a pregnant woman and her boyfriend who are stranded in their RV. Now that the characters are back on the island they must deal with rats, giant rats that are feeling a bit peckish. That means that the characters are now on the menu! Stuff happens, which I’ll not spoil here, before it all ends… or does it?

Director/Writer Bert I. Gordon knows how to make a movie like this. He spends little time introducing characters but instead sets up the MacGuffin that is causing all the giant critters and then gets to them right away! There is no mystery here as right away we know giant wasps are buzzing about, even if the characters don’t. But then Morgan runs into giant chickens right away and sees a regular sized wasp munching away on some chicken feed. Hell, Mrs. Skinner even points out the rat holes showing us that they also have gotten into the super food! We know what is coming and it comes quickly with lots of mayhem and oversized critters. This makes for a movie that not only is a blast, but also doesn’t allow you to overthink what you are watching.

The wasps, chickens, worms/maggots (awesomely gross), and rats are brought to the screen with all of Gordon’s old school tricks. You have regular sized animals crawling over miniature sets to set the scale. This model work is well done, especially the Winnebago. There are also some crude in camera bits to bring the wasps attacking the characters that I admittedly wasn’t too impressed with. But my personal favorite gag was how they use puppets and latex to have the monsters interreact on camera with the cast. That is some classic stuff and while not giant rabbit attacking in Night of the Lepus it still made me smile.

Got to burn them!
The cast is solid with Marjoe Gortner starring as our main character Morgan. The guy showed up in so many seventies movies that while you may not recognize you know who he is. We also get some classic star power with Ralph Meeker and Ida Lupino. The latter who was in The Devil’s Rain the year before. Lastly the lovely Pamela Franklin is Lorna, Morgan’s love interest, who also appeared in one of my favorites The Legend of Hell House. Gordon knew how to assemble a cast, and this is one of his better ones.

Sure, Food of the Gods is a bit silly. But that is what you should expect from a Bert I. Gordon flick. Giant sized creatures running around killing folks before getting killed off in the final act. This is a formula, and it works especially well here. If you are looking for a monster movie, then you can do a whole lot worse than this one. Give it a chance.

 

© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

V/H/S/99 (2022)

I know that these anthology movies have been a mixed bag for some folks and that there are a couple of stinkers in the franchise, but I liked the most recent entry so when this showed up on Shudder, I had to take a look. I’m going to tackle each of the segments one at a time in the order that they appear. I’ll start off each bit with the title of the individual story to keep it all organized.

Shredding. The first has us watching a garage band of kids breaking into an underground club that was shut down years before after a terrible accident killed a bunch of folks. Some of them was a band that they liked, or I suppose claim to like. I say that because after they arrive the idiots decide to do some really dumb stuff that angers the ghosts of the band which leads to them coming back and bloody mayhem ensues.

I didn’t like this one at all. There are some neat looking creatures on a budget and some attempts at gore but the way it was shot makes it impossible to follow. I get it is found footage and that the camera is going to bounce around but to then double down on a silly effect to make it look like it was recorded over other stuff that keeps interrupting and bleeding into the picture was bad. I couldn’t tell what the hell I was supposed to be paying attention to.

Suicide Bid. Next up we see an unpopular, or at least it is hinted she is, girl attempting to join a sorority. I guess they call this a “suicide bid” since she is only trying to join the one and is banking her entire social life on making it in. The sisters at the sorority take her to a spooky graveyard and tell her the story of it being haunted by a girl that was buried alive. She needs to climb in a coffin and be buried alive for the night. But we see they are just messing with her. Sure they put her in the coffin and made it seem like she was buried alive, but she wasn’t and they are just hazing her. Though when the cops show up it goes sideways.

This one pushed my buttons. I have a bit of claustrophobia so her being crammed into the coffin is already a bit freaky. But when they add water into the mix (it rains and the box floods) that had me squirming. Of course, we also get a ghost/zombie creature and a fun twist tossed in as well. While not perfect this one was worth my time.

Ozzy’s Dungeon. Remember those weird Nickelodeon gameshows that were geared to kids? Imagine if there was an underground version of that where bad things happened to those who lost but the reward was getting a wish granted by an all-powerful creature called Ozzy. We watch a young woman participate in the show while being cheered on by family. It doesn’t go well, and she ends up with a nasty looking broken leg and loses the game. The action moves to a later time where the girl’s family has kidnapped the host for ruining her life. Some gross stuff happens, and they end up getting her a wish from Ozzy. But that may have been a huge mistake.

I’m not fond of the ending, which seems forced and is unexplained. But there is some gross stuff in this one including that busted leg that gets twisted around again and again. If you don’t like seeing broken bones in your movies, then you will want to hit the fast forward button here. We also get some fun with acid, crawling thru poop, and a monster that is impressive for the lower budget that these filmmakers were working with. Finally, the actress that plays the mother is awesome.

The Gawkers. Next up is a pervy teenager who uses his camera to spy on his neighbors and overall is just a creeper. He and his friends set their sights on the hottie that moved across the street as we see them sneaking peeks at her in the swimming pool wearing her bikini. When his little brother helps her setup her new iMac (it was fun to see the old shipping box… nice touch) they install spyware that lets them use her webcam to be even more creepy. Though they get way more than they bargained for.

Spoilers ahead. You have been warned. I loved this one. It dusts off a monster that is hardly ever used in movies. I dug the fact that these filmmakers were thinking outside the box. If you are wondering why I’m delaying in mentioning the creature it is to make sure that no one sees it before processing my spoiler warning above. Okay now is the time. There is a freaking Medusa in this flick! How cool is that? I didn’t see it coming, though they certainly gave us enough hints. The monster and it’s kills are brought to the screen nicely. This was a satisfying and entertaining inclusion in the movie.

Mabel rules!
To Hell and Back. Finally, we have saved the best for last. Some documentary filmmakers are invited by a cult to film their summoning of a demon into one of their willing members. Things go sideways and the pair somehow find themselves in Hell. Luckily, they meet a friendly demon that helps them find their way back home by hitching a ride with the summoned demon back to our world. Seems simple, doesn’t it? Well, there are complications and it doesn’t end well for our duo.

Recently I covered a found footage movie called Deadstream from directors Joseph and Vanessa Winter. This is their segment for this anthology, and it is an absolute blast. The sheer amount of creatures and gore in this one is amazing. We get several demons, dozens of bodies, stabbings, and a CGI demon in the shadows that all work perfectly. These are filmmakers who have a knack for squeezing every penny out of their budget and I can’t wait to see what they do next. I was also happy to see that they brought actress Melanie Stone in to play the helpful demon Mabel. She was great in Deadstream playing a creepy ghost and does an equally excellent job here as a demon. V/H/S/99 goes out strong with this segment.

This was such a great time that I’m obviously recommending it. That first story is weak but push thru that and there are some gems here. If they can keep making good quality horror on a budget I hope that this series never ends. As I’ve already mentioned this is streaming on Shudder. Give it a chance.

 

© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Dead Before Dawn 3D (2012)

We meet Casper who has some bad memories of the family business, the Occult Barn. We see in a flashback/dream that he watched his father die on the floor after a particularly nasty item fell on him. This has scarred poor Casper who hasn’t set foot in the place since it happened. But when his grandfather, played by the awesome Christopher Lloyd, wins an award he is guilted into covering the shop. The rules are never close during business hours, and never ever go withing spitting distance of an urn.

The girl Casper has a crush on stops by the shop with some other kids from the college and trying to impress her he takes the urn down from the shelf so she can have a closer look. It breaks and he freaks out. They tease him and make up a curse that the evil spirit they just released will inflict on them. Anyone they look at will kill themselves and then come back to murder them. It will be death by hickey… which is a thing, I guess. But if they give a hickey to one of the recently returned monsters after them then they become their slave. Also, they have to put the demon back in the urn before dawn or they will be cursed forever. Much mayhem and silliness ensue as the entire town is trying to kill them before the credits roll.

I watched this one when it first came out. Damn that was ten years ago! I remember liking it a lot and I have to say that nothing has changed. The story is solid and checks a lot of boxes for me. They quickly establish the characters and the outline of the story. Then they jump right into the action with lots of creatures show up and start killing folks. Honestly, that is about all you can ask from a monster movie like Dead Before Dawn. They double down on the fun with a creative twist where the characters make up the curse as a goof, not knowing that the demon they release is angry and uses it against them. So we get for the first time in cinematic history Zemons, half demon and half zombie! This is a nice and funny take on the typical possessed and/or zombie flicks that we get so often.

If what you have read so far hasn’t clued you in yet this movie is played for some laughs and it works. From the silly nature of them making up the rules to the curse on the fly to one of our main characters getting turned into a Zemon when he gets a “dickey” from one of them there is a lot here that had me smiling. They even acknowledge that they have cast Christopher Lloyd by having his character yell a familiar catch phrase when he finds the broken urn. You know the one… it rhymes with late dot!

The design of the creatures are generic with them basically just looking pale with weird eyes. But I was okay with that as they do look demonic. There are also some fun kills that while not overly explicit are creative and work with the overall comedic nature of Dead Before Dawn. There is a kick to the face, a leap from a balcony, some trophy stabbing, crossbow action, a toaster in the tub, and a gnarly looking snapped neck. Though my favorite is the death by first down marker at the football game.

Good cast, decent creatures, fun kills, and jokes that land most of the time make for an entertaining way to kill an hour and a half. I feel like this one maybe slipped past a lot of folks as I don’t see that many people talking about it. I recommend you all give it a chance. It is a lot of fun.

 

© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

Monday, October 24, 2022

Maximum Overdrive (1986)

Maximum Overdrive is the single director credit for legendary writer Stephen King and is based on his short story Trucks. The action takes place at a truck stop inhabited by a motley crew of truck drivers, ex-con employees, and their sketchy boss. As things progress we add a bible salesman, a hitchhiker, and some newlyweds to the mix. They all must deal with machines coming to life with homicide on their minds. Soda machines, ATMs, lawnmowers, construction equipment, small planes, electric knives, video games, and yes big eighteen wheelers (aka. semi-trucks) go on the attack. The rest of the plot is our characters dodging the threats, arguing with each other, and eventually planning an escape to an island where there aren’t any roads or vehicles. People live and people die, some in awesome ways! 

This movie is a prime example of my philosophy of “not everything has to be art”. This story is very simple and to the point. There is a crawl at the beginning talking about an asteroid and radiation followed by a character talking about how it would be a good plan if you wanted to invade to “clean house”. This is followed up by another crawl talking about how a Russian weather satellite, which was armed with lasers and nukes, destroyed a UFO. I guess we are supposed to believe that this was some alien invasion, but none of that really matters. What does matter is we meet a bunch of likeable characters and watch them get picked off in horrible ways. King as director and writer executes this perfectly and it results in an entertaining experience.

There is a decent amount of gore as the machinery goes wild. A waitress has an electric knife tear into her arm, a soda can dents in a man’s head in a gruesome way, people are gunned down with an overabundance of bullet hits, several people are sent flying by trucks, and we see a kid get run over by a steam roller! That last one is my favorite. What I have the most fun with is how creative they had to get with the kills. This isn’t as simple as a zombie or slasher going after someone. Nope they had to find creative ways to put the characters in harms way so that the, sometimes immobile, machines can kill. That goes back to the script and writing, which of course is great as it is Stephen King after all. 

The cast is filled with lots of character actors that are good at their jobs and bring the characters to the screen. Pat Hingle, Yeardley Smith, and Leon Rippy are probably the most recognizable and best. The lead is Emilio Estevez who Hollywood tried to make into a leading man/action hero but is best in quirky projects like Maximum Overdrive. Everyone seems to be having fun and there is some scenery chewing, I’m looking at you Pat Hingle, but it all works. 

In the end this is the sort of movie that you shut your brain off for ninety minutes and enjoy. Don’t over think it and have fun with rocket launchers blowing stuff up, and cars running people over. Embrace the nutty chaos and you will have fun. If you think that you are able to do this then grab a copy and get to watching. 


© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer