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Featured Post - Mystery Movie Marathon

I thought I'd kick the new year off with another movie marathon. I thought it was time to check out a few old school mystery flicks. Som...

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Christmas Presence (2018)

More holiday horrors. This English production starts off with a couple of young girls playing in the woods. Seemingly one of them is grabbed by a tree or something before the setting moves to years later. McKenzie has booked a house for her friends to party at during the Christmas season. In case you were wondering she is one of the little girls from earlier now all grown up. He father has recently died so everyone is coming to cheer her up. To that end she has rented a house in the country. I’m sure that it’s close proximity to her sister’s place of disappearance wont’ be important.

After meeting the other characters we are then given multiple party montages with drinking, snarky comments, and even an impromptu lingerie show! One of them is a clothes designer who gifts his friends clothes from his new line. There is a lot of talk about gender, politics, and being gay. None of this particularly bothered me for the content. I just mention it because between that and the extended party scenes it takes far too long to get to any of the spooky stuff. Though eventually Hugo, the fashion designer, disappears and they split up to go looking for him. So here we go with the horror… right? Nope they all wander around, some feelings are discussed, and eventually they return back to the house.

After a while they find his body by the woodpile where I guess they never thought to look earlier. That is when the spooky stuff starts to happen. There is some malevolent force picking them off one at a time. They all see something different as it uses their greatest fear to kill them. Though some of them are a stretch. I mean the claustrophobic girl dying by a couch “eating” her! Sure she suffocates but is that really the best they could do? If they had been playing this for laughs maybe but this is supposed to be serious.

Eventually we find out there is a local caretaker who I guess worships Satan, honestly one throwaway line ten seconds before the end credits roll is all we get. He is there to clean up the bodies after they are murdered. To answer my question from earlier the location near the sister’s disappearance ends up not being important at all. They never tie her the Satanist and other than being McKenzie’s fear. She has guilt over leaving her, which is never completely explained either. So, in the end it seemingly is a random coincidence.

Not a fan of this one. The story does have an interesting germ of an idea at it’s core but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. I was unsatisfied with the limited screentime that the Satan worshipping caretaker gets. He actually seemed like an interesting fella but is hardly onscreen. Instead, we are treated to a bunch of uninteresting caricatures with McKenzie and her friends. I don’t blame the cast as they all seem to be doing their best with the paper thin story and terrible dialogue. I just didn’t buy that these folks would actually be friends and want to hang out. The fact that the movie doubles down and tries to make the plot more about the drama in their lives and less about the horror just added to how tedious sitting thru Christmas Presence was.

The visuals are stunning
The deaths in this movie are fairly tame. Many happen off screen and others are just odd. I’ve already mentioned the death by couch but have you ever seen a death by coughing up buttons? Like actual buttons from a cardigan! Maybe I missed something but was it established that the character had a phobia about buttons? I did find one particular kill with a character slashing his own throat only to be stabbed and hacked after dropping to the ground to be solid. The final kill in the movie has a Wicker Man vibe to it but is poorly done. Again, I feel the need to remind filmmakers to never remind the audience of a much better movie they’d rather be watching. This was a terrible way to end the movie and left me even more disappointed in what I had just watched.

While most of my review has been negative I will give the movie some credit. It is beautifully shot. They certainly know how to make the woods and old house look and feel creepy. Some of the creature effects are good as well. But in the end this one starts off slow and ends with a whimper. I can’t recommend Christmas Presence.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Monday, December 18, 2023

Silent Night, Deadly Night part 2 (1987)

This is a sequel to a movie that I rather like. You can check my review for the original Silent Night, Deadly Night here. This movie also has it’s fans, which my review is likely going to piss off! I suppose that is a spoiler, but I feel like my criticisms aren’t going to be covering any new ground. But in case you haven’t seen this one before I might as well start with a plot synopsis… what there is of it anyway.

The killer from the original movie was named Billy. In that movie we see that he had a younger brother named Ricky. Both of them end up in a Catholic orphanage after their parents are killed by a criminal dressed as Santa Claus. He also attempts to rape the mother in front of Billy before slitting her throat. Years later when they are older and Billy has turned eighteen he gets a job at a toy store and gets put in a Santa suit. When told to do what Santa does… well you can figure it out. He starts killing anyone who is naughty and after a while pretty much anyone who gets in his way.

Now you might be asking yourself, “Why are you recapping the plot to an entirely different movie in a review for the sequel?” That is an excellent question that I’m about to answer. Most of the plot to Silent Night, Deadly Night part 2 is told by Ricky to a psychiatrist after he has been arrested for going on his own homicidal rampage. So basically, we get a ton of flashbacks. In fact, the first forty minutes of this eighty eight minute long movie is just the best parts of the original cut in as his memories. Half of this sequel is recycled footage! You know I’d much rather be watching that movie than this one.

When we finally do get to the original material it is also told in flashback form. That means we get random bits with characters getting introduced to either die or date Ricky and then die. He meets an abusive boyfriend and runs him over with a jeep. Then there is a loan shark who he stabs with an umbrella. Finally he meets a pretty woman named Jennifer and they do some grown up hugging. After that she gets really annoyed at him when he murders her ex-boyfriend with a battery charger. So he strangles her with an antenna from a car. When a security guard shows up he takes his gun and shoots people until he runs out of ammo and is arrested.

Yeah got it... Garbage Day.
Though they apparently didn’t have enough new material so there is another couple random kills after he breaks out of the mental hospital where he was being interviewed. Somehow, again zero narrative in this flick just random scenes strung together, he ends up attacking the nun from the first movie who is clearly not played by the same actress we just saw in the extended flashbacks.

This is just a miserable movie to sit thru. There is zero attempts at story or character. As I’ve already stated half of this movie are the highlights from the original. When they get to the new stuff it plays like someone was making it up as they went. It gets awfully tedious watching characters appear form nowhere to die, rinse and repeat. There isn’t even a story here. None of this is helped by the fact that actor Eric Freeman is required to carry the movie. I have no idea what he was thinking but his performance is one of the worst that I’ve ever seen. He has said in interviews that he had conflicting direction about how he was supposed to portray Ricky, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. But this is just terrible.

The Kills are lame.
I suppose being a slasher movie I need to talk about the kills. Just to be clear I’m ignoring all the gore from the flashback scenes. These filmmakers had nothing to do with that and I refuse to give them credit for it. Ricky is responsible for eleven deaths. Most of them are offscreen or the result of his shooting spree. These are completely uninspired and mundane, like the rest of the movie. There is a fun gag with an umbrella and the last kill has a head rolling. I mean neither are particularly great but by comparison with the rest of this mess they stand out.

If you are a fan of this movie cool. I myself also reference the legendary and badly delivered “Garbage Day” line ever Thursday night when I take out the trash. The lovely Mrs. Crappy Movie Reviews gets a kick out of it. Okay that was a lie. It annoys her much like this Silent Night, Deadly Night part 2 annoys me. This one should have been binned and taken out many garbage days ago. You want to watch something cool go watch the original. That is a bit of festive fun for the whole family!


© Copyright John Shatzer 2023

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

It’s a Wonderful Knife (2023)

Continuing with some holiday horror I thought I’d check out this flick that just dropped on Shudder. I mean it has a catchy name and some familiar faces so why not? I mean I’m sure it is all gimmick and not very good… but then again, I could be wrong. 

We meet the members of a couple of families the Waters, and the Carruthers. Henry Waters, played by Justin Long (one of those familiar faces), is the mayor of Angle Falls and is a bit of a sleaze bag. No spoilers there as he is clearly trying to muscle in on the family-owned business’s downtown to remake Angel Falls into his own vision. The Carruthers are led by dad David, mom Judy and siblings Winnie and Jimmy. Well on Christmas a crazed killer wearing an angel costume murders and elderly man and then goes after Winnie and her friends. Though she manages to stop the murderer and reveal he was Henry, who clearly had a screw loose. But not before her best friend Cara dies. 

Now here is where the take on another famous holiday movie comes into play. A year later everyone but Winnie has moved on. She however isn’t in the mood for the holidays and after a big blow up with her family wishes she was never born. See what they did there? Any who without her stopping the killer due to never existing the town of Angel Falls has gone right to hell. The murders have hit twenty-six or twenty-seven (the characters can’t decide…) and Mayor Waters has taken control of the downtown. 

Since we already know who the killer is they just explain that he was targeting families who had property or businesses that he wanted to take. So it was all about money at least at first. Along the way she befriends the weird girl Bernie, finds out a secret about her boyfriend, and generally learns to appreciate her life, despite the murders. There are a few twists that I didn’t see coming before we get the happy ending with Winnie reuniting with her family in a world where she was born. I mean it is still a year later and a bunch of folks are dead… Merry Christmas?

Okay I know that I sounded a bit snarky in my plot synopsis. It may have also been a bit vague on details but that is because I really liked It’s a Wonderful Knife and don’t want to spoil it. The story is surprisingly sweet for having a body count of ten! Sure there are some brutal deaths, but we also get valuable life lessons in between the murders. Now that might seem like something that can’t and shouldn’t be able to exists together, but the story is so cleverly written that it does. I had expected a lazy cash in on a nod to a classic but there was real thought put into the characters, twists to mess with audience expectations, and dialogue. Nothing feels forced here, not even when an exchange like, “You are my George Bailey.” “Will you be my Clarence.” It feels natural and a connection the characters would make. This is what happens when a talented writer, in this case Michael Kennedy, is given time to flesh out character and story. 

Most of the cast is made of younger actors and actresses that I’ve not seen before. There are a few familiar faces with the previously mentioned Justin Long appearing. We also get Joel McHale as David Carruthers. I don’t believe that people give him enough credit as he is normally solid in any role he is given, and this movie is no different. There is also a very short buy memorable appearance from William B. Davis as an early victim of the killer. Who doesn’t love to see the Cigarette Man show up now and again? 

The kills are spaced out and decent enough. These aren’t classics like the old days, and they lean too much into digital for my taste. But there are a lot and many of them are cleverly conceived. The highlights for me are an eye stabbing, an axe to the back, a solid looking throat slash, and a satisfying gut stabbing. Thought the most festive has to be the candy cane thru the mouth. It was both Holly and Jolly!

It wasn’t until after I watched It’s a Wonderful Knife that I realized the director of this movie, Michael Kennedy, was responsible for Patchwork which is a movie that I dug a lot. He also made a movie called Tragedy Girls that I’ve been meaning to check out. I’ve caught bits of it, and it looks interesting. But I’m getting sidetracked. I highly recommend checking out It’s a Wonderful Knife. I think it will fill you with some holiday cheer. 

© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Friday, December 8, 2023

Christmas Blood (2017)

A killer Santa movie from Norway! I’ve not seen one of those before… I mean I’ve seen one from Finland and another from the Netherlands (okay technically not Santa Claus but close enough!). But I’ve never seen one from Norway. Honestly, I was pretty excited to check it out.

The movie opens with a little girl sneaking downstairs to check out the presents under the tree while her father or maybe stepfather is snoring blissfully away. She tears and rattles things all while we see someone lurking behind her. There is a muffled scream and the father wakes up. Investigating the sound, he finds the girl dead and is quickly dispatched himself by someone dressed as Santa. The police arrive and find them butchered but manage to locate the killer and one of the cops, detective Rasch, puts several rounds into him.

As the credits roll, we see that the killer had been busy for many years racking up a body count well over a hundred. He also kept a naughty list that the police find, but never figure out why they were targeted. Though there is a bit of a throwaway line about them all being in trouble with the law at some point in time. We also find out that the killer Santa survived the shooting and was quietly and secretly locked up. But he has busted out, so it is up to a new detective, Hansen, to find him before too much murder occurs. Spoilers… it gets very bloody before he recruits the now retired and perpetually drunk Rasch to help him.

All while this is happening we meet up with another set of characters. They are all coming to an isolated town far in the north reaches of Norway to visit a friend named Julia. We find out that her mother was on Santa’s list but committed suicide. Though that doesn’t seem to bother the killer as when he arrives he just starts tearing thru Julia and her guests. Eventually the detectives figure out the pattern and arrive in time to save Julia, but her friends are toast. I suppose that is a spoiler but if you have ever watched a movie like this you should readily identify them as fodder for the body count. Things wrap up… well honestly, they don’t which is one of the issues I have with Christmas Blood.

I wanted to like this movie and there are things that I do enjoy, but it also has a couple fatal flaws that drag it down. The story is interesting with the killer having a naughty list that isn’t ever totally explained. I do like some mystery as to motivations when I’m watching what is basically a slasher movie. Sometimes the idea of a random killer targeting for reasons that no one really knows is scary. But then the story just meanders thru the hour and forty four minute runtime tossing characters at us who do nothing to move the plot around.

We see a sequence with Hansen visiting a morgue that allows the filmmakers to show us a very naked woman and a coroner who apparently loves pastries and likes to eat while he works. Admittedly this is amusing in sick way, but after spending time on it the detective declares it has nothing to do with the killer Santa and it is never mentioned again. We also have a random killing of a couple cops that are investigating someone on the list and find a body. They are then killed off themselves. Why bother? I mean we already know that the guy is a brutal killer, which is reinforced later, so what is up with the random characters just introduced to die?

This isn’t the first example of unneeded characters slowing things down. Before the killer arrives at the girls we get a couple of brothers added to the menu of victims who are there solely to die though not before participating in a drawn out “partying” dance montage. One of them does get to assault one of the women before being dispatched so I guess we are supposed to get some satisfaction out of his death. But really did we need a date rape in this flick? It adds nothing to the story other than a bit of nastiness. Hell, the girl doesn’t last more than a minute or two after her rapist and is killed in another way that violates her. Yeah, think The Mutilator. So now I was bored and annoyed which isn’t a good combination.

You'd better watch out... behind you!
I will give the movie credit for some inventive kills and the fact that they are plentiful. We get fifteen kills, with some happening offscreen and others being seen after the fact. There are butchered bodies, some head bashing, more than one decapitation (including the little girl in the beginning), some throat cutting, and lots of guts. Really this killer likes to drive his axe into many a midsection which leads to more than one person rolling around with their own intestines in hand. They must have really dug that effect/appliance because they use it a few times. There is a very Evil Dead fountain of blood as well. But my favorite kill in the movie has to be the guy getting his spine ripped out. Does it make sense? Not at all but I thought it was a fun gag.

I’ll also say that I thought a couple of the jump scares worked well. But in the end this movie is saddled with far too many characters and subplots to ever create any momentum. So, while the gore is an excellent payoff the scenes leading up to it failed to keep my interest. Overall it makes for a boring watch, and I can’t recommend Christmas Blood. There are much better Killer Santa movies out there to watch this most festive time of the year.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

12 days of Christmas Horror the 2023 edition!

I haven't done one of these in a while but have been feeling a bit festive this year so I thought I'd check out and review some newer Christmas Themed horror movies. Despite being called 12 Days of Christmas Horror I can't guarantee I'll get to twelve movies. I just dig the title so stuck it on my holiday marathon a few years ago when I did the first one. Also I should point out that not all of them are going to lean too heavily into horror as will be obvious with my first movie below, but more on that later. So I suppose we need to get on with the proceedings. 

New Reviews - My 2023 Marathon

Movie 1: Amityville Christmas Vacation (2022) - This independent movie is less than an hour long but director/writer/star Steve Rudzinski packs the short runtime full of good stuff. The movie leans heavily into the comedy but does have a ghost... so yeah horror. This one is a blast. Click here for my full review. 

Movie 2: Christmas Blood (2017) - Who doesn't love killer Santa Claus movies. I mean except for the super religious soccer moms who have been trying to ban this shit since the eighties. This one is from Norway and was interesting. Read my full review here

Movie 3: It's a Wonderful Knife (2023) - This one popped up on Shudder and has supporting performances from Joel McHale and Justin Long. That alone got my attention as well as the play on words that the title gives us. It ended up being a solid fun movie. Check out the full review here

Movie 4: Silent Night, Deadly Night part 2 (1987) - I've been avoiding this one for several years but figured it was time. Honestly I don't understand the love for this flick. It is bad... really bad. The best parts are in the forty plus minutes of reused footage from the original. Here is the full review. 

Movie 5: Christmas Presence (2018) - I found this one on Shudder and thought I'd give it a chance. Not great but I've seen worse. Yeah that is about the best thing I can say about this one. Follow this link to the full review. 

Well that is it for this mini marathon. Yeah it was short but with this being the holidays I got busy. I'll be back after the first of the year with more movie reviews. Might also drop my best of the year list on the 31st as well. If not I'll see you all next year!

Movies from previous years - the good stuff

I thought it might also be fun to mention some of my favorite Holiday Horrors that I've already covered for the site in previous years. These are the movies that I find myself rewatching every December to get in a festive spirit. Don't judge me!

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) - The most controversial of all the Santa slasher movies this one lives up to the hype. Decent kills, including the most festive of murders, and a twisted storyline make for an excellent gift for all horror nerds. 

Jack Frost (1996) - A killer is doused in chemicals and bonds with the snow turning him into a mutant killer snowman! Plus Shannon Elizabeth has a shower scene... hey where did his carrot nose go? So good that they had to do a sequel!

Jack Frost 2: The Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman (2000) - More Killer Snowman fun... this time in the tropics! Yeah it is warm but this is a mutant killer snowman so it makes sense. 

Letters to Satan Claus (2020) - Imagine what happens when someone at the SyFy channel decides to make a horror spoof of the one plot Hallmark has for their Christmas movies? You get this awesome bit of holiday horror. 

Fatman (2020) - Mel Gibson is a pissed off Santa Claus who is targeted by an even angrier mob boss who is also a child. This leads to a big showdown with a hired killer. This one is more action than horror but still a blast. 

Elves (1989) - Is this a good movie. Not at all. Do you need to see it? Absolutely! Why? Dan Haggerty, Nazis, and killer Elves summoned thru some sort of nonsense. Not often is bad good but here it is. 

A Christmas Horror Story (2015) - This awesome anthology is fun from start to finish. Toss in a story with William Shatner as a radio host and you have yourself the makings of a very merry evening. 

Santa's Slay (2005) - Bill Goldberg is a murderous Santa Claus. Do I need to say more? How about a star studded opening that sees some familiar faces including horror icon Chris Kattan (inside joke...sorry) brutally killed? 

Amityville Christmas Vacation (2022)

I’m a big fan of independent movies and one of my favorite indie filmmakers is Steve Rudzinski. Amityville Christmas Vacation is a continuation of his Wally Griswold character. The loveable and bumbling cop wins a contest to spend Christmas in scenic Amityville not knowing that the evil owner of the bed and breakfast has chosen him for her own nefarious purposes. There is an evil ghost haunting the place who she feeds unsuspecting guests too.

After saying goodbye to his cat and rats, who play important roles in the previous movies like Meowy Christmas and A Meowy Halloween, he heads off for a couple days of relaxation. When he arrives the ghost, Jessica, goes about trying to scare him. He is so clueless however that he keeps misunderstanding what is happening and apologizes to her. Confused she eventually falls in love with him, much to the dismay of the owner, Samantha, who decides to call in a ghost hunter to get rid of Jessica to get rid of the now unhelpful ghost. Seems she has gotten to like the killing and is rather annoyed. After a couple of funny twists and turns the movie ends. Is it a happy ending? Well… Wally has terrible luck. That is all I’m going to say here.

Clocking in at a quick forty seven minutes Amityville Christmas Vacation wastes no time on padding but jumps right into the gags. From an early bit with Wally packing an impossibly deep suitcase to the slapstick shenanigans that take place when Jessica is trying to scare him there is a lot to enjoy. If you have read any of my other reviews of low budget independent movies, you will be familiar with my “shoot what you have the resources for” mantra. Rudzinski is an excellent example of a filmmaker that gets that.

The cast is small which allows him to limit the number of speaking roles. This allows Rudzinski to use the actors he has available to him to the fullest. All of them are quite good which is especially important because comedy is hard. The dialogue is clever, another hallmark of his movies, so if the actors don’t have comic timing it would be spoiled. Here the jokes are delivered and land with a great deal of skill. This includes Rudzinski who not only wrote the script (along with Bill Murphy) and directed but also starred as Wally. Just great stuff.

From the first time I watched CarousHell I’ve been a big fan of this filmmaker. I’ve never been disappointed by his movies, including his earlier work which was way better than I would have expected for a director and writer just starting out. Check out this as well as his other movies at the Silver Spotlight website. Personally, I recommend the CarousHell movies (soon to be a trilogy!) but you can’t go wrong with any of them including Amityville Christmas Vacation.

Update: CarousHell 3 is out. Go check it out now! Seriously you wont' be disappointed. 


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Monday, December 4, 2023

Steel Arena (1973)

More automotive shenanigans with me checking out Steel Arena. The plot, such as it is, follows a driver named Dusty. When we first meet him, he is hitching a ride into a small town. He strolls into the bar and after letting the bartender know he can’t afford his drinks is offered a job. They want him to run some moonshine which leads to a car chase after the sheriff shows up at the still! Dusty isn’t getting paid because he lost the load but does end up in a brawl where he meets Buddy. The pair then take the car down to enter a destruction derby for the prize money. Not only do they win but are then offered a job as daredevils for the traveling stunt show.

The rest of the movie are the pair along with the other drivers and stunt folks going from town to town smashing cars, jumping and smashing cars, and flipping and smashing cars. There is a lot of smashing here. We also get an attempt at storytelling where Crash, another driver, gets jealous that Dusty is the new featured driver in the show and is getting all the good stunts. This leads to bigger and more dangerous stunts as everyone has to up their game. Folks start to die and then the credits roll.

Much like C.B. Hustlers, which I covered recently, this movie is light on plot. There is just enough narrative to connect the various stunt shows. The story follows the pattern of some talking, a stunt show, some more talking as they drive to the next town, and another show. We do get hints at subplots with the owner of the show manipulating Dusty into riskier tricks to draw bigger crowds. There is also a lady that travels with Dusty, though I don’t think she ever gets a name. They even setup the fact that a now fired and angry Crash is going to sabotage the big jump that happens at the end of the flick. Though nothing is ever shown on screen and things end abruptly with the final scene being the girl boarding a bus to go home. Story wise there isn’t much here.  

The lack of plot isn’t helped by the fact that the cast is made up of actual stunt drivers using their real names and not actors playing parts. This means when they do try to deliver lines it mostly comes off flat and uninspired. So maybe not spending much time trying to develop characters and storylines is a good thing. The flip side of this is the cast is doing the stunts on screen and that brings a realism to the proceedings you don’t see in most of these movies. Cars get smashed up and the character climbs out of them, many times without a cut (to the scene not the actor)! That was a cool twist on this familiar genre.

The stunts are also well executed and since most of them are on tracks as part of a show take place in a controlled environment where they can really crank things up. Though the same tricks are show again and again as they build up the desire to jump further and flip more. From a narrative standpoint it makes sense, but seeing it play out repeatedly gets a bit old. Still, I think that while this isn’t a great movie it does bring enough mayhem and smashed up old cars that fans of this subgenre will dig it enough for at least a single watch.

Not a huge recommendation but unlike some of the other tedious entries I’ve covered, again C.B. Hustlers is a prime example, there are enough payoffs with the car crashes that I can’t completely hate it. But then again, I did grow up in the seventies where going to the county fair to see folks purposely run into each other until either they or the car couldn’t continue was considered a fun Saturday night! Still is actually…


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Friday, December 1, 2023

Hooch (1977)

Eddie Joe, played by Gil Gerard, is running shine and the sheriff knows it. But every time he tries to catch him in the act he either gets away or doesn’t have anything on him. This is especially annoying to the sheriff because Eddie Joe is sweet on his niece Ginnie. If the criminal stuff isn’t enough, he is pissed off that Eddie Joe is stepping out with another woman, Jamie Sue, the daughter of one of the other moonshiners! Toss in the fact that Eddie Joe is the only supplier of shine that refuses to pay the sheriff off and it gets messy.

It gets worse when a stranger shows up in town. His name is Tony, and he is a mobster checking out the local bootlegging scene. When he sees how much money can be made he brings his boss in and they start making plans to take over. With the help of Old Bill, Jamie Sue’s pop, they locate the other stills and blow them up. Then they try arranging a meeting and try to blow up the bootleggers themselves. Along the way they try to frame Eddie Joe for the crime and turn the locals against him. Not only does he have the best shine, but his still is hidden and is the only one they haven’t been able to get rid of. This leads to a big finale with a shoot out and a car chase. Damn I forgot to mention that Eddie Joe drives a sweet El Camino.

I really liked this movie. It is a mix of carsploitation, moonshiners, and hicksploitation blended in a fun package. Gerard is great as Eddie Joe playing it low key and laid back. It is almost as if the part was written for his personality, which it was. He also wrote the story that the script was based on! There is always something happening on screen whether it is him romancing one of the two ladies, cracking wise with the sheriff, or the comedic gags with the locals it is a blast. There is a bit in the middle with a musical number and a lot of dancing and a bar fight that feels like padding where Hooch slows down a bit. But then the movie does pick up after that and ends in a fun finale.

It was the '70s and Gil was cool!
I was expecting a bit more car chase action, but what we do get is fine. Honestly, I don’t think they had the budget to crash anything so manage your expectations. You do get to see a couple nice rides and folks do end up in disposable vehicles, so you know they are going over an embankment or into the river. The inclusion of the mobsters halfway thru feels a bit forced but the actors are decent and there are some laughs to be had. It was weird to see Danny Aiello in a movie like this. He plays Tony and ends up with a butt full of buckshot… comedy!

A few other things to mention about Hooch. The soundtrack is filled with some appropriate seventies’ country toons. There are some awesome lines like, “I like my bourbon old and my women young.” Seriously Eddie Joe is one smooth operator when it comes to the ladies! There is even a funny Kojak line that if you don’t recognize one of the actors you will miss, but it made me giggle. Finally, the financial success of this movie was partly responsible for the creation of The Dukes of Hazzard. Honestly as a child of the seventies how the hell did I not know about this movie before now?

I had a lot of fun with Hooch and recommend that you go track yourself down a copy. It is a fun bit of drive-in cheese that is a must watch for folks who dig cars, hicks, or are just looking for a fun way to kill ninety minutes.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Throwback Thursday – The Gathering Dead by Stephen Knight

note: This is another book review that I wrote a decade ago. I did read more of Knight’s books after this one and remember enjoying the heck out of them. That said I don’t think I reviewed any for either my website or any other projects I worked on. At least there aren’t any in my archives.

The dead have risen and are quickly overrunning New York City. An elite team of soldiers is sent to bring a man named Safire and his daughter out of the city and to safety. Safire has some research that might help control the plague that is threatening to destroy the world. The team manages to get him on a chopper, but the dead still take them down (in a most gruesome and clever way…). The survivors end up trapped in a nearby building and looking for a way out. The bodies continue to pile up as the zombies take their toll on those still alive. Do they get the man and his precious knowledge out in time? Well I’m not going to spoil that.

Okay so this is one that I took a chance on. It had great reviews on Amazon and the Kindle version was really inexpensive. I do love some zombie fiction and am always on the lookout for a new series to dive into. Most of the time I'm disappointed, but it is a book like The Gathering Dead that makes the other misfires worth it.

The pacing is insane. It opens up with the rescue team making their way across the city to Central Park where the helicopters are waiting to get them out. Right from the start you can see that the characters are going to be heartless when the leave a woman and her child to the zombies. They have a single-minded purpose and that is to deliver their package to safety. This is a slightly different spin from most of the zombie fiction that I’ve read with survivors just trying to stay alive and sometimes hold onto their humanity. Not to say that there isn’t some hesitation and guilt in their decision. The characters are well developed and given unique personalities. The military characters could have easily been caricatures but instead Knight gives them some definable personalities within the limits placed on them being soldiers. This also leads to a backstory which itself provides some tension as the group moves it way across the city. 

The gore and zombies are presented in a way that I think fans will like. They shamble around in large groups and are dangerous with their sheer numbers. That is a very “Romero” approach which I dug. We get some suitably “sticky” deaths, but the author doesn't linger on them. Though I would have liked him too it does serve to keep the action moving along. Since that is one of the biggest strengths to the book, I can’t argue with that and it keeps the reader engaged. Staying within the framework of the traditional zombie as a monster Knight does toss in a few twists of his own. One of which is a nightmarish idea that had never occurred to me. Again I don’t want to spoil anything but lets just say skyscrapers won’t ever look the same to me again!

To sum things up, great pacing, fun characters, satisfying zombies, and some good twists on the genre make for a good read. With the current zombie craze I’d love to see this book made into a nice and bloody movie. Then again they would probably put a pretty boy like Brad Pitt in it and ruin a perfectly good story.  That said I highly recommend The Gathering Dead.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

C.B. Hustlers (1976)

You guys ready for another batch of Automotive mayhem? These are the movies set in and around the car culture and/or highway life. It is a uniquely American thing and was very important for the drive-in movie market from the fifties thru the sixties. This one, for better or worse, is a prime example.

Let me start with a plot synopsis, though for a movie like this it doesn’t much matter. There is a guy who goes by the C.B. Handle of Dancer. He drives around in a sweet custom van (Hot Box 1) talking to truckers on the radio. Why? Well because he has another van (Hot Box 2) with working girls in it, the titular C.B. Hustlers, and acts as their pimp. We find this out pretty fast as he directs them to a truck stop and they get right to work.

There is also a local sheriff who wants to clean up his county and get rid of all the undesirables. This includes a bunch of van enthusiasts who are having a festival/rally in an open field. I suppose there is some conflict because the girls ignore their normal eighteen wheeler customers for the four wheeler customers, but nothing much comes out of it. The local paper, basically a couple guys who serve as comedic relief, are also trying to do an expose like them “Watergate fellas”. Stuff happens and then the movie is over.

C.B. Hustlers is a prime example of someone making product for the drive-in circuit rather than a movie. There isn’t much story here, so it is easy to imagine this as the second or third feature on the bill when the audience was well into the other pursuits. There is a reason that they were called passion pits you know. There is some eye candy for those occasionally looking up at the screen in both the cool vans and the ladies getting naked. There are a lot of examples, and they are spaced evenly throughout the duration. And if you insist on watching the movie, as I did for this review, there are also some attempts at humor. Though they don’t really work well.

My biggest issue with the movie is a complete lack of plot. They have at best an outline of what they want, but many of the scenes are clearly improvised. We also get wide shots from way back with characters walking up and “talking” to each other. Far enough away that you can’t see their mouths move which allows the filmmakers to dub whatever dialogue or exposition they need in to push the story along. After about half an hour C.B. Hustlers runs out of steam and becomes tedious. This is the case even though I watched the VHS cut which removes ten minutes of the movie! From what I can tell it isn’t anything good they were just trying to speed it up.

Fans might be interested in the fact that the movie was directed by Stu Segall who was responsible for the much better Drive-in Massacre. It also stars… well one of the girls is played by Uschi Digard. If you don’t recognize that name, she was an actress who brought her ample “assets” to many a Russ Meyer flick.

Unless you are a diehard drive-in aficionado like myself, I can’t imagine you would have any desire to spend your time watching C.B. Hustlers. It had a decent formula and folks behind and in front of the camera who knew what they were doing. Sadly, the utter lack of plot dooms this to the pile of painfully mediocre schlock.

© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Monday, November 27, 2023

Outlaw Johnny Black (2023)

I’m not sure when I first saw this teased, but I believe it was around the release of director/star Michael Jai White’s Black Dynamite. I loved that movie and was super excited to see his Blaxploitation Western. I’m a huge fan of Fred Williamson, Jim Brown, and Woody Strode and they made some great flicks in the sixties and seventies. Truth be told I sort of forgot about this one until I saw one of my friends talking about it online. That same day I had a copy in my possession and dropped everything to watch it.

The movie opens with Johnny Black riding into a town. He is there to find and kill a man named Brett Clayton. While Johnny is an outlaw Clayton is a murderer who is there to rob the bank. We see in the first of a series of flashbacks that when Johnny was a boy his father, a gun toting preacher, was shot by Clayton. Since then he has been on a mission to get revenge. But Johnny is also a decent guy and when he sees the locals beating up on some Indians he stops them but accidentally gives the sheriff a heart attack. That leads to him being convicted, saved from the gallows, and spending the rest of the movie on the run from the law.

Along the way Johnny meets up with a preacher named Reverend Percy, steals his identity (to be fair the thought he died in another Indian attack) and falls in love with a lovely lady while waiting to steal money from a church. I mean he is an outlaw after all… Though something happens to him when he is forced to preach to keep his cover. His father’s words come pouring out of his mouth and suddenly make sense. Now instead of wanting to make off with the loot he now wants to save his lady friend, Jessie Lee, and protect the community from the evil rancher Tom Sheally. Don’t worry though as guess who shows up to burn the town to the ground on behalf of the bad guy? Yep, old Brett Clayton is going to get what is coming to him.

Outlaw Johnny Black isn’t what I had expected it to be. I was anticipating an over the top violent homage to the Spaghetti westerns common in the old exploitation days of the Grindhouse and Drive-ins. We do get some of that but most of the movie is about reminding us what is so great about the movies that inspired this one.

There are some clever homages to the exploitation classics westerns or not. Early on we get a Billy Jack reference about a foot meeting someone’s head and there not being anything they can do about it. Jai White also channels his inner Eastwood when he lets the undertaker know how many coffins to get ready when he rides into town. There is a last minute rescue from the gallows that will seem familiar to fans. Toss in a big saloon fight with all the highlights you would expect like a guy sliding down the bar, someone going over the railing, and that sort of thing.

The humor is also spot on. Whether in the spirit of the non PC culture with white guys playing many of the Indians as well as the shall we say… manly Indian lady that Percy is forced to marry many of the jokes do feel like those we would get in the seventies. There is also a reference to the classic Mel Brooks flick Blazing Saddles. Yeah, a horse gets punched and knocked out! Though instead of Mongo it is the previously mentioned Indian lady. We even get a funny gag when Johnny Black is dying of thirst in the desert and his horse kicks the bucket. It literally kicks the bucket! Maybe it is just me, but I found that very funny. We also get some great dialogue with the following line being one of my favorites. “I’m Crackshot Bob…” “Now you just shot.” Not sure if that works out of context well but trust me it is hilarious.

White is channeling his inner Hammer
The cast that Michael Jai White has assembled is great. Byron Minns, who was awesome in Black Dynamite is equally as good here as the Reverend Percy. He brings some over the top comedic delivery to his character that works well with the deadpan deliver that White brings to the lead role of Johnny Black. He is an excellent sidekick and the pair of them have chemistry that makes the story work. Barry Bostwick is good as the bad guy Tom Sheally though he isn’t asked to do much. Randy Couture, Tommy Davidson, Kevin Chapman, and Chris Browning all shine in supporting roles. Michael Madsen shows up in a blink and you’ll miss it bit part too. Those names might not be familiar to you, but I guarantee the faces will ring a bell.

Director/Actor/Writer Michael Jai White is clearly a fan of the movies that he is parodying with Outlaw Johnny Black. To that end I wasn’t surprised with the cameos. While we never see him as he only does a voiceover, I instantly recognized Louis Gossett Jr.’s voice. He does a voiceover as the preacher who was gunned down by the bad guys in a letter. There is also a very cool moment at the end of the movie where the main cast members toast a couple of fellas sitting on a balcony. Those men? Fred “the Hammer” Williamson and the late great Jim Brown. I loved the fact that respect was paid to the men who worked on and inspired a movie like this. It is that sort of attention to detail that made me dig Black Dynamite and Outlaw Johnny Black.

If you haven’t figured it out yet I’m going to recommend this movie. I hope that it does well because I’d love to see what Michael Jai White can do next. I certainly hope it doesn’t take another fourteen years for someone to give him the resources to make a follow-up.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Friday, November 24, 2023

Black Samson (1974)

This is an entry into the Blaxploitation genre that no one seems to ever talk about. That is a damn shame because it stars Carol Speed of Abby and The Mack fame as well as one of the got to bad guys from seventies cinema William Smith. I’m getting ahead of myself here so before I go much further let’s talk Black Samson. 

Things kick off with a couple of white guys wandering into Samson’s bar. They are clearly up to no good as one of them keeps propositioning one of the dancing girls like she is a hooker. That annoys the proprietor, and he warns Johnny Nappa, William Smith’s character, that his buddy needs to cool it. He doesn’t so a proper beat down occurs, and the man is tossed out of the bar. That isn’t a good thing because they were mobsters and were scoping things out. It seems that they want to move into the neighborhood with their smack, but Samson keeps his street clean. Everyone seems to respect that except for hotshot Johnny Nappa. 

The rest of the movie plays out with escalating violence as Nappa keeps trying to buy off and then kill off Samson who won’t let his people or neighborhood down. Ladies get smacked around, bars get blow up, cars get crashed, and much justice is meted out with Samson’s weapon of choice an impressive staff. Finally, the mobsters get tricked into the neighborhood so that everyone can let them know just how they feel about their attempts to flood their home with drugs. Spoilers it involves kitchen appliances getting tossed off buildings. 

This is a fun movie with a great story that while not groundbreaking is executed in a way that makes it entertaining. Things kick off with a bang as Samson tosses the gangsters out of his bar. We get a little bit of character building with the homeless guy acting as a night watchman for the bar before more butt kicking occurs. This is one of those flicks that manage to tell you a decent story with characters that you will like all while keeping things moving along briskly. It is never boring, even on a fourth or fifth watch. 

This is a very seventies experience filled with all sorts of odd fashions and groovy dialogue. Really its beautiful baby just beautiful. We get some quality seventies nudity with a lot of the ladies showing some skin. Not trying to be creepy but this is a drive-in movie, so such things are expected. Black Samson delivers the goods in this category. We also have a decent car chase, fight scenes that are pretty good, and a fun soundtrack. Everything that I expect when I sit down to watch a Blaxploitation movie is on display and I dig it. 

I should mention one thing. While I’m not in support of judging a movie that is nearly fifty years old by today’s standards, I will say that William Smith’s character is a racists asshole. Because of that he uses a particular slur a lot in the movie. Given that he is the bad guy and that we are supposed to hate him and root for Samson I’m okay with it. But I also equally understand if that might bother a viewer, so I wanted to mention it. Since I’m going to recommend this one and I don’t want anyone to sit down and be traumatized by the language. 

Like I just said I’m going to recommend Black Samson. This movie is a lot of fun and checks a lot of boxes. I watch it every few years and always enjoy it. If you haven’t seen it I encourage you to track down a copy. You won’t be disappointed. 

© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde (1976)

Blaxploitation movies dipped a lot into the horror genre putting their own unique takes on them. This is the first one that I’ve covered for the site, but it won’t be the last. Here we have a doctor named Henry Pryde. He is a successful doctor and researcher who still takes time to volunteer at a free clinic. Though one of his regular patients, Linda, accuses him of just feeling guilty about being so rich. We also see that Pryde is working on a formula to regenerate liver tissue. His mother drank herself to death and he hasn’t gotten over that. 

You can probably guess what happens next. Pryde’s formula has side effects. The worst one is that it turns you white and homicidal! As the story plays out we are told that Pryde’s mother was a cleaning lady at a brothel and when she collapsed he went looking for help but none of the ladies would open their door to him. So, when he gets all crazed killer, he targets working girls and their pimps for his wrath. Did I mention that Linda is a working girl? She ends up on his list but the cops show up in the nick of time to save the day. 

This movie has an interesting take on the story that I rather liked. The motivation for Pryde going after prostitutes didn’t make much sense as he went from wanting to experiment with is drug to lets just kill people. But then the movie, in an excellent bit of writing, lets you in on why when he loses control, he targets them. Unfortunately, the writing also is very flawed. First up there isn’t a whole lot of story to fill up the runtime. So, there is a lot of talky bits as Pryde does science stuff with his assistant. There is also a lot of Linda and her friend’s kids that doesn’t do anything to serve the actual plot. 

It also bugged me that they do their best to setup Pryde as a smart guy. But then after seeing the serum turn a rat into a killer that wipes out everything in its cage as well as turning a very sick woman nuts and having her attack a nurse, he still injects himself. I’m pretty sure that he would have realized there were issues. Toss in the fact that at sometimes he is bulletproof and other times when it serves the plot he suddenly isn’t! They had the makings of a cool movie here but just failed to deliver on it. 

Bernie Casey seems like a good choice to cast as the lead. He normally is good in whatever role he was cast in. I’m not sure if it was just a poor choice on how to portray the character or if he was just phoning it in but he isn’t very good. There isn’t much effort put into bringing Pryde to the screen and the performance feels flat. The one exception to this is when he is relating to Linda what happened to his mother. He nails that scene which makes the rest of his performance rather disappointing. The rest of the cast is decent, but nothing terribly memorable. 

The makeup on Casey when he turns into Hyde is simple but very effective. We get some pale skin, contacts to make the eyes weird looking, and a dusting of white in his hair. Again, it is very simple, but also creepy. He is also a large man so when he is all “monstered” out it is intimidating and effective. It wasn’t until I was watching the credits that I realized this makeup was the handywork of the late great Stan Winston! 

Dr. Black Mr. Hyde isn’t a terrible movie, but it is disappointing. There was potential here but they somehow missed the boat. Still if you are a fan of Blaxploitation movies, especially horror ones, this is probably worth a watch. Though unlike Blacula or Abby, I can’t see myself in a hurry to watch it again. With that lukewarm recommendation I’m out. 

© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Soul Brothers of Kung Fu (1977)

This is one of those movies that the title alone stopped me in my tracks. I mean Soul Brothers of Kung Fu. I must watch this! When I realized that it also starred Bruce Li (note the spelling) that only made it even more of a must watch. In case you were uninformed after the death of Bruce Lee there were a lot of knock offs that paid “homage” to the man. Bruce Li was one of the if not the best of them. Toss in some Blaxploitation vibes and I’m sold.

The movie opens with a couple of men and a woman on a raft at sea. They are stranded and in dire need of help. The next scene is them on a boat rescued. Then later they are living in Hong Kong and Wong, the Bruce Li character, keeps getting in fights and losing his job. But all the fights are righteous because he is just trying to do right. This includes saving a young black man named Tom from a beating. He becomes the fourth friend, and they train him in Kung Fu. I’m thinking that is how they got the title.

Wong ends up annoying a crime boss or maybe just a Kung Fu guy, I’m not sure. Regardless that man sends his three best after Wong. During the fight they kill his wife and cripple him. Tom sticks with him and helps him rehab while the other man from the boat, Chin, becomes a bad guy. This leads to some Kung Fu revenge as Wong puts everything right. Heh… yeah, I did that on purpose. In the end there is only one man standing and he has lost everything. That is kind of a bummer ending that I didn’t see coming.

Other than the inclusion of the Tom character and some racist bad guys this movie isn’t as much of a Blaxploitation movie as it is a Kung Fu flick made to appeal to the urban grindhouses. But then to be fair there isn’t much to this story to fit it into any specific category. The plot is paper thin and there are no explanations as to character motivations. Not only that but there are characters that drop in and out as needed including one that just sort of disappears never to be seen again. At best the story and those non-Kung Fu fighting parts are there just to bridge the many scenes of ass kicking. I think that I’m okay with that.

The fights are many and take up most of the runtime. They are inventive with some happening in the ring, others in a park, and yet more in a lumber mill. These are just a few of the plentiful sequences of mayhem that we are treated to. The actors are all very good martial artists and execute the solid choreography perfectly. When I watch a movie like Soul Brothers of Kung Fu I want to see a lot of punches and kicks being thrown and boy howdy do we get that with this one. Movie you had one job and you delivered the goods.

This isn’t a great movie and I’ve already stated that the plot and characters leave a lot to be desired. But I still liked it. Based on feedback from earlier reviews of Kung Fu movies I also feel the need to say the following. If you aren’t a fan of such things, then you probably won’t like this movie. Seriously I’ve had these conversations in the past. On the other hand, if you dig some Martial Arts and want to see gravity defying moves then Soul Brothers of Kung Fu is for you.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer