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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...

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.

 

© 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.

 

© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Hellraiser III Hell on Earth (1992)

My trip down the Hellraiser wormhole continues with the third entry in the franchise. Hell on Earth is the last one that I watched and even then, it was on Showtime years ago, maybe the late nineties. I hadn’t seen this in a while and was interested in what I was going to get. It stars Terry Farrell (Star Trek DS9) and was directed by Tony Hickox of Waxwork fame, so I had some hope for it. Might as well jump in and see.

Red cowboy boot wearing douchebag J.P. Monroe stops by a gallery in the middle of the night to buy some art for his equally douchey club, The Boiler Room. He sees a very familiar stature, the pillar from the end of part II, and decides that is the item he wants. Then the action switches to Terry Farrell’s character of Joey, an aspiring reporter, who happens to be in the emergency room when they bring in a man wrapped in chains. You can probably guess what happens next. After his gruesome demise she obsesses on solving the mystery. Why was he covered in chains and why did he head explode? You know reporter stuff.

Joey tracks down the woman, Terri, who was with him when they brought him to the hospital. She leads her to J.P. who has made a deal with Pinhead who because of the events of the previous movie has somehow been released into the real world. That means no more rules and a lot more murder! There is also a bit with Joey being scratched by one of the chains in the hospital that connects her with the familiar box and allows the ghost Elliott (Pinhead when he was still human) to contact her. With his guidance she tries to return Pinhead to Hell and save the Earth from his wrath.

This was a way better movie than I expected it to be. The story is tight with the mystery of what is happening being slowly unraveled. This is the first movie where the rules have changed which keeps the audience a little off balance. This would have been annoying if the story hadn’t explained it and in fact made it central to the plot. Pinhead is loose and has no limitations on himself anymore. You no longer need to make a deal with the devil to get messed up! Not only that he has been separated from the human half of his being, so the violence is even more brutal and random. The club scene where he destroys what seems to be a hundred people is crazy and unlike anything up until this point. I dug that.

The cast is solid with Terry Farrell and Doug Bradley carrying the movie. Bradley has a decent amount of screen time as both Pinhead and Elliott, which is cool. The rest of the cast is solid but not terribly memorable. Several of them get to play both human as well as Cenobites as Pinhead goes about rebuilding his crew. We get a smoking cenobite, a bartender/flamethrower cenobite, a D.J. cenobite that throws CDs like ninja stars, and my personal favorite a cameraman cenobite that gets some very funny lines.

The gore is pretty damn good for the nineties. There is all sorts of blood spilled in the club with flesh getting ripped by chains ending in fishhooks. Some of the highlights are an exploding head, some pointy things jammed thru heads, a camera lens punches clean thru another noggin’, and my favorite a woman is skinned alive as her skin to ripped off in one clean jerk. There are also explosions and creepy art coming to life. My inner gore hound was more than satisfied with what I got in Hellraiser III Hell on Earth.

I’ve heard that in most people’s opinions this or part IV are the best sequels in the series and after them things go downhill quickly. We shall see as I plan on making my way thru the rest of the series. Until then all I can say is that this is a fun movie that is worth checking out. For this review I watched the Arrow Blu-ray that was released as a box set with the first three movies. I’m not familiar with what the other releases of this movie look like but it is pretty sharp here. Check it out and I’ll be back with the next in the franchise.

 

© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer


Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)

Time to dig into this first sequel in the Hellraiser franchise. Picking up right after the end of the first flick this one finds our heroine Kirsty locked up in a mental hospital as no one believes her father was killed by demons and a mattress ate her stepmother. I guess when you come right out and say it that makes some sense. While in the hospital she meets Dr. Channard who takes a particular interest in her case. He seems determined to help her but is also very creepy. Turns out he is aware of the puzzle box and wants to go for a stroll in hell. Because of his research he knows how to bring the evil stepmother, Julia, back out of the mattress by feeding it blood. This leads to the puzzle box being solved and some cenobites wreaking havoc.

All the above leads to Kirsty and her new friend Tiffany doing battle in hell with the cenobites, Julia, and the good doctor Channard, who is now a cenobite. Along the way we get some background on how Pinhead became what he is. This also leads him to find his humanity and immediately pay the price. You know I always remembered these movies having more Pinhead in them then they have so far.

I hadn’t seen this movie in a while, and I have to say it is way better than I remember it being. I might even like it more than the first! The pacing is surprisingly fast as we get a gooey flashback to the finale of the previous film and jump right into Kirsty and the crazy doctor. No slow buildup here with some experimental brain surgery and a patient that likes to cut on himself with a straight razor as early highlights. While it lags a bit when they first get to hell things pick up for an insane ending that I was very satisfied with.

The cast is great the second time around. Ashley Laurence is perfect in the role of Kirsty and Doug Bradley shines in his limited time as Pinhead. This is also the first time in the series that we get to see him out of the makeup. For me I also liked that we get to see his human side as that makes him a far more interesting character and is the beginning of fans really embracing Pinhead as a horror icon. I get that some fans disagree with it, but sometimes I like a little bit of depth to my monsters. Though I think that most forget that the real villain of the first two movies is actually Julia, Kirsty’s stepmother. Clare Higgins is gleefully evil in the role and is a highlight of this as well as the first movie.

I’ve already mentioned a bit about the gore, but I want to speak on it just a bit more. As stated above we get an extended and horrible sequence with a mental patient seeing maggots on him, they aren’t really there, and proceeding to hack away at his own skin with the razor. This goes on for a while and the camera lingers. It is the kind of cringeworthy practical effects that I love. The skinless effect on Julia and her “shopping” for skin leads to some good stuff as well. There is the doctor getting turned into a cenobite, someone losing their heart, a room full of patients getting wiped out, and someone even gets drained of their blood on screen. This damn thing is gory as hell and I liked it.

In the past I was never a fan of the Hellraiser franchise. As I’ve gotten older I think that I’m appreciating it more and more. I’m encouraged and looking forward to checking out the rest, at least the next couple anyway. I’ve heard bad things past that. As for this one I highly recommend it.

 

© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

Friday, April 8, 2022

The Invisible Man in Mexico (1958)

I do love these Mexican made horror movies. This one isn’t exactly a remake of Universal’s Invisible Man, but it is sort of close. A man named Charles is framed for murder. He is convicted and sentenced to prison. But his scientist brother has invented an invisibility formula that allows him to escape with the help of his fiancĂ©. Initially he wants to prove his innocence but then eventually just decides to leave. His brother is looking for the cure to the invisibility formula so Charles can join the visible again. Yeah he used the experimental drug on him before knowing if he could reverse it! That seems bad. 

Much like the more famous movie one of the side effects of the formula is that Charles is slowly going insane. So much so that instead of leaving town or allowing himself to be made visible again he says that the “creator” has told him to kill everyone in the city! He tries to do this by contaminating the water supply. Luckily the police are able to stop him and his invisibility is reversed so that everyone can live happily ever after… except for the dead people. Hey man its just a movie, right?

Let me begin with I know that this isn’t a good movie. After a very quick start the action slows down to a crawl. The last hour is a chore to get thru as we mostly hear Charles ranting and raving about the world as he slowly goes batty. There is also a lack of action as for long stretches nothing happens to move the story along. We also have some odd narrative choices like the police figuring out that Charles is invisible! That seems like an odd leap of logic. Then again this is also a world where people keep handy bullwhips in their living rooms, so I guess that is plausible. Yeah, you know not so much. Slow and filled with plot holes the script leaves a lot to be desired. 

SCIENCE!!!
I did like the old school effects they used to bring the invisible man to the screen. Doors rigged to open by themselves, some of the cast pantomiming their interactions with an actor that wasn’t there, and items rigged with wires lifting them in the air. It might seem cheesy, but this is done very well, and I liked it. The dubbing is silly and doesn’t match well but as a fan of that sort of thing it put a smile on my face. On some level I was enjoying The Invisible Man in Mexico.

Can I recommend the movie? That is a complicated question. While I enjoyed some of the goofier stuff, I can see that the pacing is going to be a deal breaker for many, and rightfully so. This can be at best recommended as an oddity for those who enjoy either the Mexican sub-genre of horror or just want to see all the fifties horror and sci-fi there is. I’m afraid that anyone else might be bored by it. 


© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich (2018)

When I heard that they were making another Puppet Master movie I didn’t care. This might be blasphemous to some fans of Band’s movies, but he had pretty much driven the franchise into the ground with progressively worse sequels. Then I heard that this wasn’t going to be a Full Moon flick and that he had allowed someone else to make a Puppet Master movie (by allowed I know he got paid!) I was interested.

Things kick off with the great Udo Kier chewing up some scenery as Andre Toulon in the long-ago time of nineteen eighty-nine. There he has some interaction with a bartender and her girlfriend before making them his victims. See Toulon is a Nazi, which is a big change from the previous movies, and hates homosexuals. Well he pretty much hates everyone… he is a Nazi so there aren’t many people he doesn’t want to kill. His homicidal shenanigans get the attention of the local police and they bust into his mansion guns blazing.

Things then move forward in time to the present day. Edgar is moving home after a divorce, which doesn’t make his family very happy. While there he finds a Blade Doll in his dead brother’s bedroom and figures out it is worth some money. So, he heads off with his new girlfriend and boss to a convention commemorating the thirtieth anniversary of the Toulon murders to auction it off. They arrive just in time for the puppets to reanimate and start a murder spree. It seems that Toulon is getting some life force from these kills his puppets commit allowing him to reanimate himself. All of this leads to Edgar and his girlfriend, Ashley, having a final showdown with the living corpse of Toulon.

I don’t care what any of the mainstream critics think of Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich this movie is awesome. Things kick off with Udo Kier being creepy as hell in an example of how “stunt” casting should work. Instead of a sticking a familiar actor in your movie just to show you could, here they gave the man something to do. Not only that but they put him in makeup and let him be the creepiest version of himself. That was awesome and was followed up with the first kill of the movie. Right from the start I knew that this was going to be an entertaining ride.

The main characters are introduced after the credits and are fun to watch. Thomas Lennon does an excellent job playing Edgar as a possibly depressed and always sarcastic human being. There is real chemistry between he and Jenny Pellicer who plays Ashley. This is the central relationship in the movie and makes the non-puppet parts enjoyable. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t say something about Nelson Franklin as Markowitz, Edgar’s boss and friend. I never expected a good story and cast in a Puppet Master movie.

Udo Keir is having fun!
Have no fear though this one isn’t all dialogue and acting. There is a lot of blood spilled in this movie and it is all practical effects work. Let that sink in for a moment. This is all latex, fake blood, and honest to God puppets moving around the screen. The kills are plentiful and well executed. A head gets lopped off and another crushed like a grape thanks to Pinhead. A Jewish couple is torched, and another stabbed to death during sexy times! Intestines are pulled across the floor, eyes stabbed out, a chopper puppet makes like a lawnmower on some people and we even get an arm ripped off. But the best kill of all involves a pregnant lady that you have to see to believe. These are only a few of the kills in what has to be one of the bloodiest flicks I’ve ever seen in a very long time. Again, this was all practical effects work! I was in bloody horror nerd heaven.

I haven’t even mentioned some of the insane dialogue or funny situations that the movie gives us, the viewer, to chew on. I’ve already watched this one twice and I never do that with new horror movies. Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich is without a doubt a must see for fans of the horror genre and especially fans of Full Moon/Charles Band. They took his creation and dialed it up to an eleven. I highly recommend this one.

 

© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer