This post first appeared on my old blog. I’ve revised it and added new thoughts.
Ray Dennis Steckler as Wolfgang Schmidt
Shriek Show DVD © 2004, Region: 1, Format: NTSC
~55 minutes, 38 seconds
The setting sun reflects off a zooming camera lens, a kaleidoscopic effect. A character we’re introduced to later on breathes a few lines of voiceover narration, setting the stage for this I-guess-supernatural slasher. “There is a legend about this valley, a tale carried across the winds of time. A legend strange and sinister. The legend of the Chooper.” And no, that’s not a mispronunciation, nor is it a typo on my part.
Three teenagers — two guys and a girl in a striped Freddy Krueger shirt — pull up to an old, abandoned shack on a barren stretch of desert. Off to the side, a bare-chested desertbilly named Daniel looks on, propped against a shovel. Daniel lives next door and is caretaker of the property. He takes his job seriously. The girl in the striped shirt explains to her friends that an “old Indian ghost” (the aforementioned Chooper) haunts the run-down dump before them. She tells them she intends to spend the night as a “challenge”. Hearing this, her guy friends take off. Alone but undeterred, the girl walks up to the building’s doorless entranceway.
Daniel the desertbilly caretaker runs over. He has no chill. “Hey! What are you doing here?!” he demands to know. “This is private property! Now get out!”
“Hey man, I’m gonna spend the night here…” the girl in the striped shirt replies. “I heard about your ghost and how it kills people. Well, I ain’t a chicken, not like my friends. I dare it to come get me.”
“Go ahead and stay, but if the Chooper comes to get ya, well, you just deserve it!” Daniel fires back. “…I warned you, the Chooper will get ya, and I know it.”
And that’s precisely what happens. That night, a figure dressed in black with a tight hood concealing its face materializes out of the shadows. “Rrraaawwrr, rraawr!” it grunts and growls while it chases the girl around the house with a flimsy dueling sword comically raised overhead, its free arm outstretched like a zombie’s. The girl is cornered. A series of stiff, over-pronounced stabbing motions. Her body writhes. A dollop of blood.
Daniel comes back the next day, finds the girl lifeless, buries her body and takes her money. “I sure am glad the Chooper couldn’t use this money,” he says, “cos I sure can.” Then, rebuking the corpse, “I warned ya. I told you that Chooper would get you. This is exactly what you deserve.”
A Carol later shows up to assess the property, having inherited it from her father some time ago. Then comes Tim, who’s almost obsessed, it seems, with buying the land in question. Tim won’t take no for an answer. Will Carol ever sell? In the meantime, who will survive the savagery of the Chooper? Is the Chooper even all it’s cracked up to be? Is someone exploiting its legend?
Thoughts (Possible Spoilers)
When asked what he thought his appeal was in an episode of a TV show fittingly named after his most well-known movie (that show being The Incredibly Strange Film Show, that movie being — get ready, it’s a mouthful — The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!?), cult crap director Ray Dennis Steckler replied, “I hope it’s originality. I hope when they see my movies they can say only one thing — that they’ve never seen one like it by anybody else, or anything even close.”
Rest assured, Mr. Steckler, in all my years on this earth, I’ve never seen anything quite like, well, what happens here
I mean… What? Why? How?
And why again?
Blood Shack is one of RDS’ attempts at the horror genre. It was shot on short ends (partial rolls of film leftover from what was undoubtedly a bigger, better production) for a total of $500. It has literally no effects to speak of, so little story the whole thing had to be padded with largely irrelevant rodeo footage (and still clocks in at less than one hour), a bewildering, supernaturalish villain dressed up in a dollar store ninja costume, and probably the most poorly choreographed, rib-ticklin’-est kill scenes ever committed to celluloid, including one of its blundering bedlamite “thundering” off a roof at a sheriff — err, constable — as a fellow lover of this movie put it. The graceless, cheapoid incompetence of this bad boy never ends.
Ok, ok, but you still haven’t told me… what the Hell is a Chooper? you might be asking yourself about now. The crazy part is that Steckler explains how he came up with the word in a special feature contained on the disc and I still have no idea what it means. The guy was a fascinating kind of eccentric.
He repeats himself to no end in the audio commentary, breaks out into song and makes lots of weird sound effects. He reminds me of me forty years from now. I’m pretty sure I have undiagnosed ADD. In addition to being an old guy, I can see myself acting like that down the road.
One of the guy’s trademark quirks, and he admitted this, was shooting movies without writing scripts. He preferred to show up and just let things happen organically. As a result of this, some of his movies shift greatly in tone, even genre (see Rat Pfink a Boo Boo), from one act to the next. While this unorthodox approach was just one of many to make Steckler’s no-budget home brewed productions so delightfully psychotronic, it also had obvious drawbacks, like making it difficult to ascertain just what in the blue Hell is happening. Blood Shack, I’m assuming, is narrated by its main character (Steckler’s then-ex-wife Carolyn Brandt) for this very reason. Steckler probably realized in the editing room that he’d failed to film enough dialogue to explain things. Luckily, voiceover narration is always an easy fix for that, and his wife was good at providing it. But Steckler never learned, and his ex-wife would dutifully return to narrate the majority of his work.
Another of Steckler’s trademarks was casting his family and friends. His lead here, as mentioned above, was his then-ex, Carolyn Brandt, the musical chair (no “s”, there was only one chair)-playing neighbor girls were their daughters, the unrelenting Tim was an old friend and regular, Ron Haydock (who’s also credited with co-writing the nonexistent script) — heck, the Steck even used his air conditioner repairman fifteen years later in The Las Vegas Serial Killer. With budgets like his, it was nepotism out of necessity, folks!
One thing that surprised me about this is that the acting as a whole is ok. I expected it to be horseshit, so either it isn’t, or I’ve lowered my standards too far. As I’ve already noted, the Chooper turns in the performance of the night, but the rest of the cast does a pretty good job. The only real exception would be the shirtless man-meat that played Daniel. His delivery is clunky and loud like he angrily adlibbed his lines, and his hat hilariously blows off his head at least three times throughout the movie. What a goofus.
I was also pleasantly surprised by how well the shack works. It’s ominous and iconic; there’s a definite, heavy atmosphere to it. For me, it ranks up there with the death house from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and the cabin in the woods from The Evil Dead.
But that’s where comparing this schlock to fan favorites — masterworks, even — like those has to end. Blood Shack just ain’t a good movie. Now, if you can look past that, accept it, embrace it for what it is, you’re in for a lot of fun. I assumed I would hate this the first time I watched it. I loved it. Check it out.
Blood Shack is on YouTube. Step inside if you dare. It’s some of the best fun I’ve had with a horror movie in recent memory.
My copy came in the “Midnight Movies II Collection” DVD box set with three other Ray Dennis Steckler gems — Body Fever, The Las Vegas Serial Killer, and The Hollywood Strangler Meets the Skid Row Slasher. These four are from his later, less celebrated years.
Extra features for the Shriek Show DVD contained in that set include trailers for Nightmares Come at Night and Slaughter Hotel, audio commentary by Ray Dennis Steckler, a fourteen-minute interview with the man, a ten-minute interview with Miss Brandt, an “exclusive photo gallery” made up of six images that plays twice, and last but not least, an extended cut of the film called The Chooper with an optional intro and “comedy” commentary track by film critic Joe Bob Briggs that’s well worth a listen. For some reason, the disc lists itself as Samurai Cop in my disc drive.
There are quite a few differences between the two versions of this film, but the long and short of it is that The Chooper has even more rodeo footage (!), and an alternate soundtrack, the highlight of which is the Ron Haydock ditty “The Chooper”. I seriously can’t stop listening to it. I’ve played it more than a hundred times, easy.
Til next review, keep on Choopin’.
5 games of musical chair out of 5.
I Got My Copy From
Start with the first Midnight Movies Collection and work your way up to the second. You won’t go wrong.
1. “Ray Dennis Steckler”. The Incredibly Strange Film Show. Channel 4. United Kingdom. 12 Aug. 1988. Television.
Blood Shack — Chooper Jubilee!