Saturday, August 15, 2009


Ray Dennis Steckler. What a director. You either love him or hate him, but even in his worst moments you have to admit that he has an excellent eye for cinematography and a whacked out, creepy, child-like (and very adult at times) take on life that he brings to his films. You know a Steckler movie when you see it. He made his movies the way he wanted to, without the backing of any major studio. All of his films are unique, and they are Steckler all the way through, take them or leave them.

The movie I'm about to review here is not one of Steckler's best. It is a film I'd rather leave than take. It is 1971's "Blood Shack", also known as "The Chooper". This movie has all of the intentions to be a very atmospheric desert horror film, but is cursed with too much filler, bad acting, and an almost comatose pacing. Normally Steckler makes these factors work work to his advantage, but in this film he falls short of the mark.

"Blood Shack" opens with high promise. An eerie desert landscape, and a haunted deserted old house where a mysterious killer has been running rampant. The caretaker of the ranch is an awkward looking cowboy, and speaks in a very thick John Waters-esque accent. He is always warning people to stay away from the house, but do they listen? No. They go on in, and the Chooper has his way with them. The Chooper's costume, like those of most Steckler villains is laughably simple. A hooded sweat jacket, some sweat pants, and a sharp object in hand. The Chooper is lacking in depth however. The strength of Steckler's villains, most played by the director himself by the way, is that they run about in broad daylight, are truly psychotic and menacing, and are very realistic. They could be any creepy guy you run into on the street. What is going through their heads? Will they snap? The Chooper lacks these depths. In place of menace, you have plenty of shadow to cover up the simplicity of the costume. He runs around screaming "Aargh!" with a long sharp object in hand, warning his victims well in advance that he is coming.

So any way, a couple of people go in the house and the Chooper offs them. The caretaker buries the victims in the desert. The inheritor of the ranch shows up, played by Carolyn Brandt, Steckler's first wife. We are treated, or cursed, with her extensive, hazy, voiced-over narration throughout the film. This kind of narration is one of Steckler's trademarks. It saves money when you can add the acting after the filming is done. There is someone wanting to buy the ranch very badly, too badly it seems. He is a member of the family that used to be part owner of the ranch. You see, the ranch used to be owned by two families, and it was lost in a high stakes poker game. The losing family has always wanted this land back because it sits over a huge underground lake. Very valuable property. What really happens here is this movie quickly digresses into an episode of Scooby Doo. I wonder who the Chooper is? It couldn't be the guy wanting to buy the ranch would it? Trying to scare people away so the property values will go down? It can't be...and yes, Scooby Doo style, our villain is unmasked in the end.

So we have a disappointing plot, but some eerie desert visuals are on display here. The whole ranch exhudes a vibe of eerie dilapidated decrepitude. There are some truly eerie shots of the house. It reminds me somewhat of an old, abandoned house I used to play in as a kid that I wasn't supposed to be in. All of this atmosphere is nearly ruined by endless rodeo stock footage and pointless footage of Steckler's two kids roaming around aimlessly (yes he stars his children in his films).

In the big picture, though, "Blood Shack" is not all that bad. It's a Ray Dennis Steckler movie for Christ's sake, so kick back, crack open some brews, and enjoy. Despite my complaints I liked this movie...just prepare yourself for a more mundane than usual B-movie ride and you'll be fine.

The version I have is on VHS and it contains two version's of the film, which was released with two different titles, "Blood Shack", and "The Chooper". The same movie, just edited in different ways. I understand that the version I have is also available on DVD with the added bonus of commentary by Joe Bob Briggs and other extras. Sounds like the DVD is worth checking out for the Briggs commentary alone.

On a more somber note, I did not know that Ray Dennis Steckler had passed away in January of this year. He will be missed, but his movies will live on forever.

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