Friday, 5 August 2016

Blood Shack (1971) [Mini Review]

Director: Ray Dennis Steckler
Screenplay: Ron Haydock and Ray Dennis Steckler
Cast: Carolyn Brandt (as Carol); Ron Haydock (as Tim); Jason Wayne (as Daniel); Laurel Spring (as Connie); John Bates (as Charlie)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #11

What image stands out from Blood Shack? A man in full black costume called the Chooper suddenly materialising into camera frame to kill someone with what appears to be a sharpened stick. While the figure is connected to the titular shack, killing anyone who goes near it for over a hundred years according to legend, the abruptness of his appearances including jumping off the shack's roof at one point is funny for reasons I can't put my finger on. The Chooper's appearances feel like theatrical stage appearances than actually wanting to kill another character on-screen.

Blood Shack is an oddity. The seventies is growing as one of the best decades for horror for me both for the films being made in Europe and the US, and part of that is to do with the latter's independent productions and how strange and unique they could be. Blood Shack is a lesser example but it's my introduction to the world of Ray Dennis Steckler, most well known for Rat Pfink a Boo Boo (1966) and The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!? (1964), one of the most memorable and infamous titles for a genre film. One major trait of his career, documented in Jonathan Ross' The Incredibly Strange Film Show (1988-9) in an episode devoted to him, was his habit to not follow scripts at all and improvising the content, which is a likely explanation for how erratic Blood Shack is even at less than sixty minutes long. It starts off as a Southern fried horror story where a woman makes a bet to stay in the shack, the local ranch hand Daniel (Wayne) complicit in burying the bodies left from the shack if they don't heed his warnings. The tone jumps however when the female protagonist Carol (Brandt)  appears, the owner of the property who leads to the film suddenly being punctured by her internal narration that feels closer to an introspective art house drama about self discover than for a horror movie.

From here the result is a peculiar mix; a man called Tim (Haydock) continually pesters Carol to sell the property to her and people are randomly killed by the Chooper but Steckler starts splicing into this narrative with what was clearly him taking advantage of rodeo that was also taking place in the small town he was filming in at the same time. The rodeo footage is actually more interesting at points than the story itself, the characters weaved in abruptly to visit it multiple times, feeling like a time capsule unexpectedly threaded into a short movie to pad out the time. Seeing the real cowboys riding horses, and children riding ponies in competition is actually fascinating merely to see what this kind of culture was like in the US in the flesh. The resulting film in general, because of this but also Steckler's odd pacing choices, goes possess a weirdness to it in places - a murder is followed by the heroine describing the lovely pony given to two young girls in a way that's as ridiculous a tonal change as you could get. I also suspect the aforementioned young girls, as he cast relatives in his films constantly, were related to Steckler or a friend's children, sweet in how they play along to what they're supposing to be doing on camera, one merely a toddler, and acting out scenes like playing musical chairs with only themselves and one chair in a way that confuses whether they were play-acting or just playing around the set on-camera. The resulting film is less interesting as a proto-slasher it's plot suggests, too thread bare and assaulted by random tangents to work, but for its curio home-grown quality in aspects like this. 


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