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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...

Friday, March 31, 2023

Cave of the Sharks (1978)

After we watch an extended opening credit with folks parasailing and frolicking on the beach we then see a man in an ambulance. He is a diver who has been missing for six months. His name is Andres and he wakes up in the hospital with his brother and lady, Angelica, looking at him. The police also show up and want to know where he has been. He has no memory of what happened, and they swear that they will be back to ask more questions… but the character of the detective is never seen again. We get a few flashbacks of stock footage underwater and sharks and then Angelica takes him home.

There is also an airplane that crashes. It apparently was carrying some important stuff in a box that the “organization” wants back. I think this is supposed to be a mob or at least a criminal thing. But honestly like much of the rest of the movie it isn’t explained. Mr. Jackson is sent to hire some divers that won’t ask questions and of course he ends up hiring Andres who now has a new boat and partner. When did that happen? Not a freaking clue! They dive for the plane, find sleeping sharks, Jackson double-crosses them, and Andres becomes convinced his missing time has something to do with a bright light and cave. More stuff happens and then Andres gets eaten by sharks… wait what? Yeah, he is dead and the movie is over.

This thing is a damn mess. The story makes no sense at all jumping around the story in a confusing jumble of ideas that are never connected. We go from hospital to Andres back in business without any sense of passage of time. I wasn’t sure if this was a flashback to what lead to his disappearance (it wasn’t) until his lady Angelica shows up and I realized it was later on after he was found. The character of Mr. Jackson appears and disappears just to give an excuse for them to go diving and to explain why Angelica dives to the cave herself later. Andres gets shot and can’t go himself you see.

Nom Nom Nom... needed more sharks!
If this isn’t confusing enough for you they drop a bombshell about two thirds of the way thru when you find out that this is all taking place in the Bermuda Triangle and out of nowhere characters start talking about hidden underwater cities and sharks being mind controlled. Though that mind control gag does explain the seemingly, at the time, random ship full of folks who jump in the water and get eaten by sharks. Yeah, guys this just happens without any reason or acknowledgement. To be clear I’m trying to fill in some blanks because nothing else like that happens nor is explained later.

I could also mention the abrupt ending with Andres getting eaten by sharks, the terrible special effects of the plane crashing in the ocean, the fact that all the shark attacks are implied, or that the pacing is glacially slow. I mean long stretches are either taken up by montages of folks dancing, watching people dance, or eating food while watching people dancing. That is a lot of fun (that was sarcasm folks!). The underwater scuba sequences go on and on with action that is hard to follow.

Just to let everyone know for this review I watched the Swedish cut of the movie. According to my research there is about ten minutes cut. Those scenes aren’t expository in nature but are even more padding, so it is even worse if you find the Italian version. Moving on there is more but I’m tapping out and cutting my losses (already have invested ninety minutes watching it). I had hopes of this Mexican/Italian co-production being a hidden gem. Sadly, Cave of the Sharks is a terrible and boring waste of time. If you haven’t figured it out yet I’m not recommending it.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Terminal Island (1974)

Movies like Terminal Island are why I keep digging thru piles of what mostly turn out to be mediocre or terrible flicks. But once in a while I find a movie that blows me away and makes me ask myself “how have I never heard of this before”.

In a future where the death penalty has been outlawed the state of California has set aside an island forty miles off the coast dubbing it Terminal Island. There is only one way to safely make it onto or off the island with the rest being hemmed in with a minefield. If convicted the condemned are declared legally dead and dumped on the beach leaving them to survive on their own. Occasional supply drops are the only help they will get. We are introduced to this thru a newly convicted character named Carmen. We see her dropped off and she first meets Dr. Milford who offers her some local drugs as I guess getting high is the only way to survive.

The next day she finds out why when she arrives at the main camp and meets Bobby who runs the place with his right hand man Monk. The few women on the island are treated like cattle and are shared among the men. Bobby assigns them out when he thinks the others need some “ass”. The first lines establish this when Bobby tells Monk to “break the new bitch in” and he proceeds to beat her and then take her supplies. This is some sleazy and violent seventies drive-in/exploitation right here. Eventually Carmen and the other women are freed by the few men who left the camp and are being hunted by Bobby and his crew. It all leads to a big showdown where the ladies use some basic chemistry to make grenades and blow the hell out of the place.

Terminal Island is a blast! It establishes the setting and why the inmates are on the island quickly and then moves right to introducing Carmen and then thru her the rest of the cast. The plot starts rolling right away and our protagonists and antagonists are established. Before you know it the knife fights start and folks start dying. Carmen is “farmed” out to the boys and while not explicit it is uncomfortable knowing what has happened and what is likely to continue happening if circumstances don’t change. When the other group of men save them, it still doesn’t get them out of danger as at least one of them considers them property. That leads to the funniest gag in the movie involving some royal jelly, a wang, and a bee’s nest. I’ll let you fill in the details.

Not to sound creepy but the movie also has some nudity, which is to be expected and long with the action/violence is the payoff for watching a flick like Terminal Island. This includes Phyllis Davis who was a mainstay of seventies drive-in fare and later showed up on television quite a bit. For those Charles Band fans these scenes were edited into his Famous T and A release, so you may have already seen bits of the movie. Between this and the action sequences leading up to and including the big finale there is something going on from start to finish.

I’ve already mentioned Phyllis Davis. We also get the lovely Marta Kristen who I remember from Lost in Space as older sister Judy. Don Marshall from another Irwin Allen series Land of the Giants also appears. But what got my attention was the participation of a young Tom Selleck who along with another future Magnum P.I. co-star Roger E. Mosely shows up as a convict. For what is admittedly silly material the cast does a great job and sells it as life and death.

I love John Carpenter’s Escape from New York, which I really need to cover for the site. This movie has a very similar plot and predates it by eight years. It feels like a nice primer to that movie. Not saying it is as good because it isn’t. But Terminal Island has enough going for it that I think both exploitation fans as well as fans of Escape will dig it. I recommend tracking down a copy and giving it a watch.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

The Chill by Scott Carson

This was a random pickup for me. I’ve never heard of Carson before but there were a couple of quotes on the cover of the paperback that caught my attention, so I figured why not. I’m glad that I picked the book up. More on that later. This is also going to be a difficult plot synopsis as I walk the line of talking about the book without spoiling anything.

The story follows the inhabitants of a small town named Torrance. The town located north of New York City is the location of an old damn which was built to create a reservoir that was designed to provide water for the growing city decades earlier. When they built the damn a nearby community named Galesburg was swamped and now lies on the bottom of the manmade lake. As the story progresses, we find out that a few of the families refused to sell and when it seemed that they were going to lose the battle with eminent domain protested with one final fiery protest. In a strange twist after the damn was built and the town destroyed the city ended up not using it meaning the whole thing was a tragic waste.

Our main characters, Aaron the disgraced son of the local sheriff and Gillian who has a mysterious familial connection to the town of Galesburg are drawn into the supernatural goings on. Decades earlier the families that refused to leave were influenced by a mysterious photographer who claimed to be there to document what was happening. But somehow he keeps showing up years later again taking pictures but never aging. It is hinted that he is some supernatural force of nature. This combined with the ghosts of those who feel wronged aid in the failure of the damn and the plans to destroy the real reason that the town was flooded, and the people displaced. That target is New York City!

I really enjoyed the book. The story is an interesting twist that kept me guessing until the end. In addition to the photographer we also get some ghosts, as well as what I think may be a reanimated corpse that doesn’t know he is dead but does talk to the ghosts and helps to move their plot along. As the story progresses characters die unexpectedly and others that I was sure weren’t going to make it to the end turn out okay. I’ve read a lot of books in the horror genre and normally can figure out who is toast, but Carson does a wonderful job playing with my expectations. That made The Chill an interesting read.

Using the disaster along with the ghosts and especially the supernatural photographer the story delves into the folly of human beings thinking that they can tame nature. It seems like when that happens the Earth or perhaps some nature spirits push back at our arrogance. The fact that Carson never defines it leaving much of it as a mystery was a nice touch. The reader only needs to know enough for this particular story and keeping some of it unsaid makes the whole thing that much spookier and fun.

Another thing that I enjoyed about the book was how it ended. Not going into specifics here but the story does leave it open to a continuation of sorts. I feel like these characters are likely done, but there is a hint that much like nature itself, the consequences of flooding the town out, or more accurately the valley in which it was located, are inevitable. While they stopped this particular attempt the spirits have moved on and will try again further downstream.

I could keep going on, but it should be obvious that I dug The Chill and am going to recommend it. It appears that Carson has only done one other novel in the horror genre (this is a pen named and he has written in other genres under his actual name) and I will be on the lookout for that book, Where it Waits.


Ó Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Monday, March 27, 2023

The Creeping Flesh (1973)

Great poster!
The movie opens with someone visiting Professor Emmanuel Hildern, Peter Cushing’s character, in what is clearly some sort of asylum type setting. He goes on about evil as a disease and how he accidentally unleashed it back on the planet three thousand years early! Then we see how that happened in a flashback. Emmanuel is just returning from a trip to New Guinea with the bones of what he thinks is early man. He is trying to determine our origins and went fossil hunting. He is greeted by his daughter Penelope. He also returns home to a letter from his brother James, played by Christopher Lee, informing him that his wife has died.

James is also a scientist and runs an asylum. Emmanuel’s wife was institutionalized there for decades. Unfortunately, Penelope was told that she died so when the truth comes out she is rather angry. Also, Emmanuel finds out that if you get the bones he brought back New Guinea wet they start to grow flesh! From that flesh and reading books about the superstitions of the region he determines that they are the source of evil and that it is a disease. He creates an inoculation that in his mind will prevent someone from doing evil. He is afraid that Penelope has inherited her mother’s madness so of course he gives her a shot. One that actually infects her and things go downhill from there.

James finds out about the bones and wants them for his own research. He also locks up Penelope when she goes on a violent rampage. When he steals the bones it starts to rain and of course evil is reborn! Emmanuel also postulates that because it would have taken a couple thousand years for them to be exposed had he not dug them out he is responsible for bringing evil back to the Earth on a massive scale. Might also want to mention this movie takes place in the late eighteen hundreds right before a couple World Wars! Is that a coincidence?

Evil gave him the finger!
I know from poking around after watching The Creeping Flesh that a lot of folks have issues with it. I understand that seeing Lee and Cushing in a movie directed by Freddie Francis immediately makes people think Hammer and honestly it isn't as good as those movies. But on it’s own the movie isn’t too shabby. The actors are perfectly cast and by this time Cushing and Lee had a lot of screen chemistry and played off each other very well. The pacing is solid though I’ll admit there are a couple slow spots, but they always lead to a decent payoff. The movie is best when one or the pair of our lead actors are on screen. These guys make the most predictable of dialogue fun to watch thru their own charisma and talent.

There are some decent kills, though many are offscreen. A maid gets strangled (off-screen), a coachman gets his throat torn out (off-screen), a throat gets slashed, a face gouged, and a lunatic falls to his death. Though the best gag is the one they use to “grow” the flesh on the bones. If I had to guess they had some sort of material that melted off the prop and then reversed the footage, so it looked like it was growing back. It is a simple trick but works well. The reveal of the evil monster after it has returned to life is a bit silly but for the time The Creeping Flesh was made it was a respectable creature. I honestly don’t have any complaints.

I highly recommend this entertaining and informative movie. How is it informative you might ask? Well, if you in fact find an evil skeleton and cut off it’s finger to grow flesh and then freak out and burn it… well it may come looking for a replacement digit! Heh… check this one out.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Friday, March 24, 2023

Grimoire (2023)

I pride myself on being transparent so before I proceed with this review, I will let everyone know that this move was made by a good friend of mine named Donovan. That won’t prevent me from being honesty in my criticisms, but I normally let you the reader know if I have any connections to the filmmaker. I’ve seen way too many reviewers heap praise on their friend’s projects while ripping on them in private conversations. I would never be that disrespectful and always promise both reader and filmmaker an honest review. With that out of the way lets dive into Grimoire.

We get a voiceover as a man arrives at an isolated cabin in the woods. Thru this we find out that something took his father and later the rest of his family. What is that thing? Not sure but there is a creature lurking in the woods peaking from behind the trees. The titular book sits on the desk, and he flips thru it looking for answers. This magic book has somehow let him track the thing that killed his family and will also let him finally destroy it. Along the way we see him track the thing thru the woods and find a nest full of eggs. Things wrap up with him preparing for the final battle and stepping off the porch. The screen goes black as we hear shots being fired.

Clocking in at eighteen minutes this short film makes it’s point and gets out quickly. The scenes of the man wandering around are used as background for the narration and therefore don’t feel like padding since it sets the story up. You might think that it is impossible to make a boring movie filled with unnecessary scenes when the run time is so short but trust me it happens more often than I’d like to remember. Here the character is established or at least what we need to know of them is with this neat bit of storytelling. The rest of the story is implied, which I dug. As long as you establish the basics, here a man seeking revenge, the rest the audience can fill in themselves. Which leads me to my next point.

I find myself making the same complaint about far too many independent movies. I appreciate that folks want to be ambitious but trying to shoot something that you don’t have the resources for guarantees failure. Whether it is budget, locations, or cast you need to acknowledge what you have to work with and then make a movie that fits those limitations. Grimoire is a perfect example of this being done right.

Shot composition is excellent
They had the cabin location to work with as well as the surrounding woods. Locations are huge when making an independent movie and this was perfect for the story being presented. We also have one actor with no dialogue and just the voiceover. That means not having to coordinate a cast, which can be a pain, as well as not having to worry about performances. The voiceover can be done after the fact and recorded in several takes to make sure it works. I even thought fading to black with just the audio of the big finale was a good choice. Action is hard to shoot correctly and almost always looks awkward in low budget movies.

From a creative perspective I also rather liked what I saw. The movie is shot in black and white, which I think more folks should do. In a neat twist ala. William Castle while the movie is in black and white the shots of the grimoire are in color. This isn’t so much jarring as it highlights the importance of the book to the story. This was a neat creative choice that showed the thought put into production. Additionally, the slightly skewed angles that the camera has in some scenes as well as the framing using doors and windows as foreground and background in shots was much appreciated. I don’t think folks understand how badly their projects are hurt with static shots. Here they put the camera in odd spots which makes for a much more visually interesting watch.

My only complaint was the decision to use the fake “scratched” film effect where they digitally add lines and defects to make the movie look like an old print. Not only does this not look natural it has also been done to death. Personally, I’m over it as it feels sort of cheap and trendy at this point. But other than that one minor thing I found Grimoire to be a fun watch. For his first movie Donovan clearly spent a lot of time and effort trying to make the best possible short film that he could. I know he is working on his next short and I can’t wait to check it out. Until then this one is playing a lot of film festivals. If you get the chance to check it out, I recommend you do so. If I get any updates on when and where it is playing I’ll post them here.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Throwback Thursday - Television Terrors The Spooky Special Episodes

note: This was written for Gravely Unusual three or four years ago. This was an excellent magazine that I think may still be in print. At the time I had the idea to dip into the annual spooky horror themed episodes that many shows had every October. Do they even do that anymore? Sorry I stopped watching television a decade or so ago… not to be cool but because I have too many shitty movies to watch. I hope you enjoy this and if so let me know. I may continue the series here or in one of the other magazines I contribute to. I also have another installment that I did for a later issue of Gravely Unusual that I can dig out of the archives.

Television Terrors: Growing up in the Warm Glow of the Boob Tube

The Spooky Special Episodes 

by John Shatzer

My name is John and I’d like to say hi to you, the readers of this fine magazine. I’m new to these pages so I thought the best place to start was with a brief introduction. I’m a true child of the ‘70s having been born at the beginning of the decade and spending my childhood soaking up the polyester fun. This means I can actually remember a time before home video when you had to watch what they were going to show on television when they (the stations) decided to air it. Sounds terrible doesn’t it?

Marty Sullivan aka. Super Host
Well actually it wasn’t that bad and as I get older, I miss the excitement of sitting down with the new T.V. Guide to plan out my week. In future installments of Television Terrors I hope to talk about my local horror hosts and the memories I have of watching them as well as some of the great made for television movies that were spawned by the big three networks trying to fill up their primetime schedule. For this inaugural article I thought it would be fun to talk about some of the special horror themed episodes of my favorite shows from the ‘70s and ‘80s. Yes, I’m including the decade of the ‘80s here as well since the last gasp of what I’m covering extended into it before being snuffed out by the home video market.

You younger readers might not remember that a lot of network shows would do a special “spooky” episode now and then for fun. Many times, this would break with the normal format of the program as they would veer away from the typical formula and add some supernatural elements that would then be ignored the very next week. I thought it would be fun to take a look at some of these. In an effort to head off any complaints about me forgetting classic television shows like Kolchak the Nightstalker or the Twilight Zone remember I’m specifically looking at programs that broke with their normal format. So those that normally featured the creepy or the supernatural aren’t eligible for this list. With those ground rules in place let us dive into the good stuff. Though before I do that I must warn you that to properly explain why they are on my list I must drop some spoilers.

Might as well kick things off with a quintessential ‘70s show, The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries. This program lasted for three years running from 1977 to 1979 on ABC. The shows always had that Scooby Doo vibe where at times you might think there was a ghost or some other supernatural element, but it always ended up explained away logically. That is except for the premier 2-part episode that kicked off the 2nd season of the series. These episodes are The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew meet Dracula parts I and II. They aired in 1977 on consecutive weeks specifically September 11th and 18th. 

Paul Williams has fangs!
The story has the Hardy Boys investigating the disappearance of their father Fenton, who was looking into some recent art thefts. They eventually track him down to a town in Transylvania where a big rock concert is taking place at Dracula’s castle. The boys tag along with a rock band which gives Joe a chance to sing in the episodes. Joe was played by Shaun Cassidy who lest we forget was a teen heartthrob and popstar at the time (hey it was the ‘70s!). Along the way they meet up with Nancy Drew for the first time. She was sharing information with their father on the art thefts and of course she ends up in Transylvania as well.

Also in the two episode arc are ‘70s icons Paul Williams, playing the rock star hosting the concert, and Lorne Greene as the soon to be retiring police inspector, Hans Stavlin. That is some serious star power right there! Things play out as one would expect for this series with some secret doors, dramatic freeze frames before the commercial break, and of course the big reveal at the end that explains everything. Here we find out that Hans had been responsible all along and had manipulated things so that it seemed supernatural forces were to be blamed. The stolen art was stashed in the castle in a secret room that he was using the Dracula legend to keep everyone away from. Very Scooby Doo right? I’ve included this on my list because of the ending. As the police are taking away Hans Joe spots the handcuffs in the mirror… but Hans casts no reflection! See what they did there? Hans must have been a vampire maybe even Dracula himself! That was a fun twist on the formula that left the audience wondering what the heck was going on.

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century was a science fiction/adventure program that as a kid I never missed. Although this episode aired on January 3rd, 1980, I’m still counting it as a ‘70s show. The episode that I’m covering here is, Space Vampire. It deviates from the normal content of the program as it deals with some darker stuff, though still in a cheesy form fitting body suit kind of way. I mean it was still Buck Rogers they weren’t about to go full horror on an audience of unsuspecting kids. Though I’ll freely admit that this one did scare the bejesus out of 9-year-old me.

Buck and his pal Wilma Deering, played by the lovely Erin Gray, are heading off for a vacation. Along the way they are stopping off at a space station to drop off Twiki, the robot, for some maintenance. While there an out of control shuttle crashes into the station. Checking it out they find the crew dead under mysterious circumstances. Thinking that a contagious disease is responsible the base is locked down and everyone quarantined. Of course, we the viewer know that it is really a space vampire and eventually so do our characters. A big fight ensues, and the vampire is sent into a nearby star. Being the kind of show that it is once the vampire is killed off all of the “dead” victims get better.

This one really did scare me as a kid. Not so much because of the space vampire, which was silly looking to me even at that age. What I found spooky was the look of the dead bodies with their pale grey skin and the black circles under their eyes. They had a very zombie like appearance which is only accentuated when they get up and start staggering around doing the vampire’s bidding. And while I find the possessed Wilma scenes to be a bit cringeworthy today, they worked really well for me then. As an older and wiser fan, I now recognize that the abandoned ship arriving with a dead crew, named Demeter, whose first victim was a bounty hunter named Helson, are all call backs to the original Dracula novel. That sort of attention to detail is fun and adds an extra layer of the story to be enjoyed. Who doesn’t love a little bit of horror in their science fiction?

It is kind of strange that this was shot in December and aired in January as you would think that would fit better closer to Halloween. But I decided to include it here because over the years as I’ve caught the series in reruns, I’ve noticed that they will play the series out of order to make sure that Space Vampire plays around Halloween.

Time to go a bit further into the ‘80s and hit up an episode of The Greatest American Hero titled The Beast in Black which originally aired on December 9th, 1981. Much like the previous Buck Rogers episode this one also aired a bit out of order in reruns to make sure that it played in October.

For those unfamiliar with the show, The Greatest American Hero follows the adventures of a high school teacher, Ralph Hinkley, who meets up with some aliens one night. They find him worthy and give him a super suit that grants him all kinds of amazing powers when he wears it. The red tights and cape should be very familiar to comic book fans without infringing too much on anyone’s copyright. Hinkley is joined by an FBI agent named Bill Maxwell as he attempts to use the suit to do good and earn his extraterrestrial gift. The running gag throughout the show is that Ralph has lost the instruction manual, so he never quite knows what powers he has and how exactly to access them. 

This episode has Ralph and his students trying to rescue some salvage from an old house before it is torn down. While checking out an old safe Ralph realizes he can see into the 4th dimension, which I believe for the purposes of the show means he can see ghosts and evil spirits. An accident happens and Bill is killed… but just for a few seconds as he is possessed by a very angry ghost. After some creepy stuff happens the pair end up back where it started, in the old mansion trying to force the cranky spook out of the FBI agent.

These shows normally had the pair running around solving crimes or helping people. There were deaths and murders, so this isn’t as geared towards kids as the previous programs, but it never ventured into horror before or after this. They even changed up the soundtrack and music cues to make the episode feel like a horror movie, which I thought was a nice touch. This episode came out of nowhere and was an unexpected treat. That is probably why almost 40 years later I still remember it. 

The last show that I’m going to cover is the Scott Bakula vehicle, Quantum Leap. This science fiction program had our main character, Dr. Sam Beckett jumping thru time setting right things that had gone wrong. Who decided what had gone wrong and why Sam had to fix it was a big mystery for most of the show. Though they do give some explanation in the final episode that borders on the fight between good and evil, so sort of in the supernatural genre. This allowed the writers and actors to jump around in location and setting leading to them exploring all kinds of stories, some of them firmly in the horror genre. There seemed to be at least one very cool spooky story each season. Though since most of the time the stories leaned into drama with a dash of science fiction, I’m counting the episodes that broke the normal format of the show. I’m including my favorite of the bunch here. Don’t agree? Well this is my article, so I get to make the rules.

A Portrait for Troian originally aired on December 13th, 1989. Seriously, what is it with these December air dates and spooky episodes? But I digress. Here we have Sam leaping into an investigator of psychic phenomenon named Dr. Mintz. He is working for a woman tortured by the death of her artist husband, thus the title. She keeps hearing voices calling to her to join him in the lake, seemingly to tempt her into drowning like he did, though his body sank to the bottom of the lake and was never recovered. There is a lot of atmosphere including a spooky old mansion and a creepy housekeeper. The episode does an excellent job capturing the feeling of a late sixties or early seventies haunted house movie like The Haunting or Legend of Hell House.

What I’ve always loved about this episode is that like every other Quantum Leap story up to this point we get a logical explanation for all of the events that transpire. But as you are ready for the credits to roll, there is a final twist just as Sam leaps out, that drops a supernatural gotcha. The episode ends with an earthquake that frees the bodies trapped at the bottom of the frigid lake including Troian’s husband and that of the housekeeper, who has apparently been a ghost the whole time! Add that last bit to the overall creepy vibe and I had to include this one here.

This wraps up my first installment of what I hope becomes a regular feature here on the pages of Gravely Unusual. Stop by next issue to find out what weird bit of classic television I decide to spend far too much time thinking about. Until then you can contact me at gutmunchers@gmail.com with any questions, suggestions, or complaints. I love hearing from people, even if it is just to tell me how wrong I am!

Ó Copyright 2023 John Shatzer




Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-o-Rama 2 (2022)

Sometimes the only thing I can do is rock and forth and mutter “Why dear God… why do they do this?” Okay that might be overly dramatic but it is how I felt after watching this so called sequel to Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-o-Rama (the title suddenly makes sense now, right?). In fact, it is more of a remake or rehashing of that flick, which I genuinely love in all of it’s cheesy glory. More on that later.

There are girls getting ready to pledge a sorority. To do so they must put up with all sorts of hazing, until the den mother Auntie Snake puts and end to it. If you are wondering Auntie Snake is the sister of Linnea Quigley’s character Spider from the original. Why is she the den mother when Spider wasn’t one of the sorority girls from the first movie but instead a thief who coincidentally was breaking in the bowling alley? Who cares because there is a shower scene and once again some dumbass fraternity boys are spying on them. Only being in the now they are using a series of cameras to catch them all naked and what not. But then why are they immediately outside the open window other than to be caught like in the first movie? Who cares because they do and then are forced to go to the bowling alley like in the first movie.

Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-o-Rama 2 eventually makes its way to the bowling alley after thirty minutes of runtime. Did I mention that the movie is only sixty two minutes long? So half the movie is them dicking around at the sorority house doing nothing and going nowhere. Cool… not really! It takes another seven minutes of a bowling/flirting montage before they knock the trophy over and the imp gets loose. Credit where credit is due, I did like the way they brought the imp back. Some stupid shit happens and then the movie is mercifully over.

Before I start my review let me get one thing out of the way. This is the argument that I always have with remakes and make no mistake this is in effect a remake. I mean they ignore the original plot and have a character die that didn’t (Snake wasn’t the only survivor movie…) and somehow tie the Snake characters sister into the sorority without any explanation. Since it is a remake then I fell completely justified comparing this to the original and making judgements based on the two side by side. I also don’t accept the idea that “because the first one was dumb entertainment” that I should automatically accept that this one can be terrible, and I should like it. I’ll explain more about that below.

This movie doesn’t need to exist, and I certainly didn’t need to waste an hour on it. My biggest issue is that it is clear that zero effort was put into making this sequel. I’ll admit that the original isn’t exactly a classic or an example of top notch filmmaking. But the overall attitude and the fact that everyone involved in front of as well as behind the camera is giving it their best effort comes across. The actresses, real scream queens Linnea Quigley, Brinke Stevens, and Michelle Bauer could act as well as take off their clothes. Director David DeCoteau keeps the action moving along and never lets the audience think too much about how silly the proceedings are. I haven’t even mentioned the funny dialogue and wisecracking imp. Finally, the special effects while on a budget are fun.

How does this compare to this one? The actresses were clearly picked for their willingness to disrobe on camera and not for their ability to deliver lines. That might be due to the lack of quality actresses to pull from here in Cleveland Ohio where this one was shot but still isn’t an excuse. Then again, they aren’t given much to work with as this is an abbreviated, again only sixty two minutes long, cliff notes version of the original. The dialogue at it’s best is recycled from the original with any updates coming off as being written by an aspiring high school drama club original. Brinke Stevens is back as director and the ghost of her character from the first, along with Michelle Bauer's character, but that doesn’t save the movie. In fact, her direction is uninspired. The camera never moves resulting in a very static and boring set of visuals. Say what you want about DeCoteau, but he could shoot a movie, even with no budget.

Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-o-Rama 2 is yet another example of Charles Band making a sequel/remake of one of his recognizable properties without putting any effort into it. He used to care about the silly shit Full Moon cranked out and that is why as a fan I cared. Please do me a favor and skip this soulless cash in on our nostalgia and watch the original instead. That movie is a blast and deserves to be in everyone’s collection. This one shouldn’t have been made or at a minimum been made better.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Devolution by Max Brooks

I’m a huge fan of Max Brooks, especially World War Z, and was excited to see that he had put out a Bigfoot book. Yeah, I know that I’m late to the game, but this is the hazards of not regularly going into bookstores anymore. Not because I don’t want to but mostly because I can’t find them anymore! I suppose I could set up an Amazon alert for my favorite authors but that isn’t as much fun as scanning the shelves. Okay time to stop being an old guy and get to the reviewing.

The book is set up very similarly to World War Z in that it is presented as a series of interviews as our author is doing some investigative journalism into the loss of a small high-tech community called Greenloop. Basically this was a bunch of hippy electric car driving city people who wanted to live in harmony with nature. That means not keeping a lot of food depending instead on constant drone deliveries of groceries. In addition their power is all solar and their heat is from biofuel aka. their own poop. Get the picture?

When Mount Rainier erupts, this book is set in Washington state, the roads are cut and the internet goes down. This leaves Greenloop disconnected from the rest of the world, including their weekly food deliveries. Because of the disaster being so close to cities their small community is also not on the radar of the authorities and their rescue teams. But they aren’t alone in their isolation as a family of Bigfoot creatures are trapped with them! If that wasn’t spooky enough these large primates are very aggressive and when their normal food sources dry up the humans are on the menu! Of course being so green and progressive the inhabitants of Greenloop never thought to bring guns or any other weapon to protect themselves. Cue the carnage!

I’m not going to go any farther with my synopsis because to do so would spoil it. This is a fantastic book that is a breeze to read. The story unfolds quickly and starts to setup the creepy stuff right away. Brooks knows how to tease the reader just enough to keep your eyes on the page without getting to the payoff too quickly. That makes for a neat build up and a satisfying yet open ended resolution.

I thought the manner that Brooks told the story was very clever and similar to the equally great World War Z. The journal entries from Kate let us know what was happening in small community which is important since it is quickly established that the authorities found the place abandoned. There are also interviews from her brother Frank, who feels guilty about letting his sister live in his place and has a crusade to find out what happened to her. It is thru this character that our author/journalist finds out about the place to begin with.

Then there is the park ranger who talks about the rumors and the history of the area as well as giving us the payoff of what they found when the rescue team finally arrived in Greenloop. There are also a few bits added in from other sources about the behavior of the creatures that serve to establish or tease what is about to happen in the next journal entry from Kate. This is such an excellent read I don’t know what else to say.

Devolution is a huge recommendation from me. My only warning is that it may grab you and keep you up way too late reading. I found myself doing the “just one more chapter and then I’ll go to bed” argument. I read the book in two sittings only because I did have to eventually put it down so I got some sleep before work the next day… or rather later in the morning. If you like cryptid stories you will certainly want to check this one out.


Ó Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Monday, March 20, 2023

Street People (1976)

This is a change of pace for me here at the site. I normally don’t cover crime dramas but here the cast and the fact that it is an odd US/Italian production caught my attention. The movie starts off with a Crime Boss, Salvatore, who insists he wants to retire and go legit. To that end he is working with his nephew, Ulisse, who is his lawyer to setup legitimate business ventures. He also has imported a crucifix from his hometown in Sicily anonymously. He had to since he and the priest have a history together and aren’t friendly.

The crucifix gets hijacked, and we find out it is full of drugs (heroin I think). This leads to Ulisse, who we find out works for the family and is keeping an eye out on his Uncle Salvatore, being told to find out what the hell is going on. The family was unaware of the shipment and has no idea who stole it. Both are big issues for them. Ulisse recruits a friend named Charlie, who is also a race car driver, to help him sort it out. After some twists and turns, the drugs are found, those responsible for the unauthorized shipment are punished, and a car goes over a cliff.

This movie is a mess but not terrible. This is an odd example of the whole not measuring the sum of its parts. What I mean by that is there are a lot of great scenes and decent performances that together should make for a decent movie, but don’t. Our lead actors Roger Moore (Ulisse) and Stacy Keach (Charlie) are both decent with what they are given. Keach especially is funny when he takes the hijackers car on a test drive and goes smashing it thru the streets of San Francisco. Together the pair do have good chemistry with Moore’s classy British attitude playing nicely off Keach’s crude American sensibilities.

We also get a cool car chase, some gunfights, a few fistfights, Roger Moore hanging out of the sunroof of a car wielding a shotgun, and lots more action. You would think that this movie was fun. But for a ninety minute long flick so much of it is slow and meandering. In addition to the good stuff there is a lot of talking amongst the family bosses about who is responsible. Then we get an inexplicable twist ending where it is never explained why Ulisse suddenly remembers what ends up being a very important plot point… spoilers he forgot his Uncle Salvatore killed his father! I mean that could happen right?

There is an extended bit with Ulisse going to Sicily to collect some information to figure out what is going on in San Francisco. It is obvious that this was shot because Moore was in England and could easily head to Italy to shoot so from a practical standpoint it makes sense. But when cut into the movie it becomes a distraction and doesn’t fit with the rest of the narrative. It feels tacked on and disrupts what should be us following the pair tracking down the hijackers. Oh, and in the end after spending time establishing the trio of bad guys they quickly dispatch them as the real bad guy behind everything suddenly becomes obvious. What was the point of them at all?

While doing research for this review I found an interview with Moore who stated that neither he nor Keach knew what kind of movie that the director and producer were trying to make. I think that is the best way to sum this one up. It had a lot of good ideas tied tenuously together with a paper thin plot that falls apart halfway thru. As much as I wanted to like Street People it’s bad. There are some great Italian crime flicks out there to watch. This is most certainly not one of them.   

© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Friday, March 17, 2023

Satan’s Slave (1976)

The movie opens with a guy in a goat’s mask doing some sort of Satanic ritual. There is a very naked lady on an altar… this becomes an indication of what is to come… and he sacrifices her to the devil or perhaps his evil mistress. I think they are trying to reincarnate a powerful witch named Camilla. Though I’m not entirely sure. Then we see a fella named Stephen romancing a lady before she gets very naked and then gets dead. This also includes a surprisingly explicit bit with some scissors and her lady bits!

Now we meet Catherine, whose first scene has her naked and in bed with her boyfriend. She is about to go on a road trip with her parents to meet an uncle for the first time. They get in the car and then there is a terrible accident on said uncle’s doorstep where the car hits a tree and explodes with only Catherine surviving. The Uncle, Alexander, takes her in and introduces his son who is the guy Stephen from earlier. This isn’t going to end well. The rest of the movie has Catherine seeing premonitions and dreaming of the past. This basically gives them a chance for more naked ladies. Also, her boyfriend back in London is hexed by Stephen and throws himself off a building. It all wraps up in a typical seventies’ bummer ending.

This is an odd movie that I suppose fits into the Satan worshipper’s horror subgenre of the seventies. The first fifteen minutes are interesting as are the last fifteen.  Unfortunately, the hour in the middle is painfully slow and boring. There are a lot of scenes that try to explain what is happening to Catherine, but in an effort to keep the big twist ending secret don’t really do much to keep the audience’s attention. I mean how many times do we have to see Stephen or some other hooded cultist stripping and killing ladies? No matter how well executed and sleazy those scenes are they get awfully repetitive and don’t move the story along.

What you doing with those scissors?
That said I did appreciate some of the gore gags we get. There is a bloody eye that is a neat visual, some stabbings including guts oozing out, a branding, and a nasty bit with some broken glass used to dispatch a duplicitous assistant. Though the two highlights are the boyfriend’s head popping from hitting the pavement and a cringeworthy nail file to the eyeball which is surprisingly front and center on the screen. I also liked much of the odd angles used in the camerawork as well as the shadows and lighting. It all adds to the unsettling creepy vibe to Satan’s Slave.

What really kills the movie for me though is the glacial pacing. The movie focuses so much time on them walking around and Catherine slowly realizing that her uncle and cousin are bad people. Oh, and I’m not sure if things in England are different, this is an English flick, but she is pretty quick to jump into bed with her first cousin. In case what I just said isn’t clear she and Stephen do the horizontal tango! Again, that adds to the sleazy vibe but isn’t she supposed to be our heroine? Toss in an odd twist at the end with her father and the final typically seventies implied bummer fate of our main character for a movie that makes you ask. What was the point?

While there are some cool bits here and there, I just can’t recommend Satan’s Slave. There are far better examples of movies with a similar plot that are far better executed and less sleep inducing.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Throwback Thursday - Is Physical Media Dead rant

note: This was written for Grindhouse Purgatory a few years ago. I'm not sure that I still agree with eveyrthing that I wrote below but at the time this is how I felt. It was also intended to generate conversation about the death of physical media and how that made collectors as well as general film fans feel. It was successful then and I hope will do that here again. 


Is Physical Media Dead?

by John Shatzer

Normally on the pages of Grindhouse Purgatory I write reviews about Blu-Rays that have been released and whether it is worth double dipping on them. I came up with the idea of reviewing new releases on Blu-Ray because of all the conversations I’ve had about it with other fans. Eventually it also got me to thinking a bit more about the idea of purchasing movies again on new format and if that was something that I wanted to do. I’ve gone from VHS to DVD and then to Blu-Ray with some dabbling in Laser Disc along the way. Each change provided better quality, more material, and generally an improved experience. What they all had in common is that they involved having something in your hands. With the internet and new technology that isn’t always the case now and I found it very interesting how my own views on the subject have changed over the years.

To answer the question I posed in the title we must first look at the alternatives to physical media. There are really two legitimate options that spring to mind. One is the ability to stream thru services like Netflix, while the other is to purchase a digital copy from a source like iTunes. Both have advantages and disadvantages which we should look at. For the record I currently use Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Shudder for streaming. To purchase digital copies, I use iTunes and Amazon Prime. I mention this because much of what I’m going talk about is influenced by my personal experience with these particular services.

Streaming is an interesting way to consume movies. With the advent of high-speed internet it has become very convenient to use it to watch movies from the comfort of your own home. You don’t have to go to the video store to browse the shelves for that new release or old favorite. Instead you just flip thru the catalog of available titles and hit the play button. No more “they are all checked out” nonsense making you fight over getting the hot new release on Friday night. You want to watch a movie and they have it on the service, you watch it. All of this is available for one monthly payment instead of a rental situation. Want five movies or fifty movies in a given month, it doesn’t matter. This has also had one noticeable effect on my movie watching.

Streaming has allowed me to find some obscure movies that I would likely have never checked out. I watch a lot of crappy movies, but even I have passed up spending money on something that looks unappealing. With streaming I still have the option to check it out. If I don’t like the movie, I shut it off without feeling guilty about spending money on it. The most recent example of this is when I caught a flick called Slice. I wasn’t sold on the plot synopsis and would likely have put it right back on the shelf if I were in a traditional setting. But it wasn’t so I gave it a shot and really enjoyed the movie. Here a case can be made that this sort of service allows the consumer to take a chance on something that normally we wouldn’t. The big disadvantage to this is the availability to movies changes as the various services update their catalogs. Things are added and removed on a monthly basis, so you can’t always count on it being there when you want to watch it. That can be annoying if you are in the mood to watch a movie and can’t find it anymore.

          Purchasing digital copies mitigates this and is also convenient if you are waiting for a new release. I’m a huge nerd when it comes to checking out the latest horror or science fiction flick. Do any of you remember the guys that would be waiting at the big box stores on new release day with their list of what was coming out that week? Well I was one of them! I knew what was scheduled and of those what I wanted. If it wasn’t something likely to be hitting the local store, I had it preordered and ready to ship the day it was released. That took a lot of time and honestly was a bit silly. Sometimes it took me weeks to get to a movie that I just had to have the day it came out. Let me give you an example of how it works now. Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich came out a few months ago. I was really excited to check it out, but the weekend it was released I was busy with family stuff. No big deal because I knew I could pop online and order a digital copy to watch whenever I had time. The process from purchase to opening credits took no more than five minutes. See the difference? I can add any new movie to my collection with a few clicks, so I never have to worry about them selling out or not being in stock at a later date. The idea that I could be missing out on something if I’m not in line the day of release is totally gone.

While I understand that not everyone is as obsessed with this as I used to be the point is that digital copies make it really easy to purchase and watch any movie you want at almost any time. The biggest downside to this is that in theory if the company that you purchased the movie from ever goes out of business you could lose your access to what you have purchased. That used to bother me until I realized that Amazon and Apple aren’t likely to go anywhere anytime soon. The one thing that does bug me is the cost of these digital copies. They cost almost as much as the actual DVD or Blu-Ray would! Considering that they don’t have the manufacturing or shipping cost it seems like a cash grab.

I’ve made the case for streaming and digital copies but what are the arguments for owning physical copies of your favorites? Like many of you I’m a collector at heart. The very idea of owning a movie meant that I had it in my hands or at the very least sitting on my shelf. It needed to be available for me to pop on anytime that I wanted to. Want to watch that obscure zombie movie? It is sitting right there ready to go. Want to see hours of special features on your favorite horror flick? Again, it is sitting right there on the super-duper new Blu-Ray that in many cases I’ve recommended here before! These are things that can’t be provided consistently from streaming sites.

But wait. We can always purchase a digital copy to watch anytime that we want. Some of those even come with the special features you can get on the DVDs and Blu-Rays. This is almost the same as owning a physical copy. Theoretically a combination of streaming and digital could replace all of our collections. I have been shocked at the obscure stuff that took me years to collect suddenly showing up on these streaming services. Hell, there are movies that used to be a nightmare to track down suddenly on YouTube for free. Damn it I just made another argument against physical media.

If I’m to answer this question with my head and not my heart the days of collecting thousands of tapes, DVDs, and Blu-Rays is likely coming to a close. You only have to look at the stores to see this reality coming to pass. The media sections in every big box retailer is shrinking as the sales dwindle and the valuable real estate is reclaimed for merchandise that moves quicker. Most of these stores sell iTunes or Amazon Gift cards where the shelves of movies for sale used to be. Then is the answer to the question yes?

            At my age I’m not fond of change, especially when it comes to my hobbies. A few years ago I would never have said this but streaming and digital are decent ways to find and enjoy movies. The times they are a changing and I’m willing to go along for the ride. Recently I sold off more than sixty percent of my collection. I had neither the space to store them nor the energy to move them. I still have over two thousand movies in my collection and with that comes the last point that I want to make. You don’t have to get rid of any or all of your stuff. I still have DVDs and Blu-Rays of my favorites or movies that I know I will revisit on occasion. I still upgrade old DVDs with new Blu-Rays that have special features I’ve not seen before. The collector in me is still alive as I have multiple versions of Killer Klowns from Outer Space and Dawn of the Dead on both DVD and Blu-Ray. I’m never going to toss or sell the stuff that I love. But that doesn’t mean I have to run out and buy a copy of the latest horror movie that comes out not knowing if I will like it or not. If I want to watch a movie, I can get a digital copy or check it out when it hits a streaming service. If I really like it, I can buy a copy for my collection. This happened last year when I caught The Void and dug it so much, I went out and bought a copy.

It is sad to see the hobby changing. I loved having my own version of a video store in my house where I could sit surrounded by movies. But if you really think about it there are some huge advantages to where things are headed. Waiting for stuff to hit a streaming service is much cheaper than buying a bunch of DVDs that you will likely not watch more than once. Not having to worry about getting a copy of a popular horror release on the day it hits the stores is another. These are just a couple of the many reasons I think as fans we should embrace this new world. My final advice to you is enjoy what you have and take advantage of the technology. It’s the best of both worlds.

Back to the question I asked at the beginning. Is physical media dead? The easy answer is no. There will always be a market for Blu-Ray and whatever new format comes along to replace it. Though I do see a world where that will be a niche market as most everyone moves onto easier and more convenient ways to watch movies. That isn’t a bad it’s just different and I’m okay with it. Hopefully I haven’t rambled on too much and bored you to death. I’ll see you next time where I’ll let you know what Blu-Rays have the best new stuff on them… just in case you still want to buy something you can hold in your hands. As always feel free to email me at gutmunchers@gmail.com to let me know what you think about this or anything else.

© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer