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BLOOD SHACK (1971): Retro Review…Beware The Chooper!

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Blood Shack – 1971

Since I’m the guy that gravitates towards the forgotten, I thought I’d write about a film I’ve enjoyed for many a year. A film most people don’t know exists and if they are aware of it, they either really dig it, or would tear it to shreds at the opportunity. My copy is a mid-1980’s pressing, living in an over-sized box, with a hard-shell case as the immediate shelter. I certainly don’t watch this as much as other films, yet, when it comes out for a visit to the ole’ VCR, I treat it almost as a holiday. I would never play this film as background fodder, let’s put it that way. Folks, what we have here is a little odd, but still very fun! Strap on your cowboy boots, keep one hand on your hat, and prepare to get dusty, with 1971’s Blood Shack!

This is a Haunted House (or Shack, if you will) kind of Horror / Mystery. We enter the desert, where many strange things have occurred, and are brought up to speed on the legend of The Chooper. Now, here is where I will stop the review, just to share a bit of truth with you fine people. For the 15 or so years I have been a fan of this film, myself, and everyone else that I’ve been in company with while viewing, has heard this menace as “The Trooper”. I only know of this Chooper fellow, from reading a bit online about the film. This is something else that I find interesting, as a few years ago, I tried to look up any kind of detail on this film and could find absolutely nothing! My recent discoveries are of a few other details, but I’ll mention those later.

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I toldja it was “Chooper”…

So, the Chooper haunts the crummy little shack that sits on a ranch owned by the Craigs and apparently people have been dying in it for 150 years. This is despite the house, though run down, looking much younger than their provided timeline suggests. The Chooper just doesn’t like company apparently, as no murders happen unless someone comes into his Shack. I am sure this is why the Blood Shack was never torn down. Humans that live in extreme rural settings tend to carry an attitude that dictates not caring what a neighbor does, as long as they keep it on their side of the fence. That’s just my guess. The Chooper also has an accomplice, the caretaker of the ranch, Daniel (Jason Wayne). When the Chooper does his thing, Daniel is nearby to put the dumb carcass in the sand. I say dumb, as Daniel is usually there before the execution, warning anyone curious to stay away, or the Chooper’ll get ‘em. The film essentially opens with this scenario, so I’m not spoiling much for you. Actually, the first two minutes really have potential. The opening credit sequence is cinematically, very cool, and the musical accompaniment is most excellent. Even the narration we get from Carolyn Brandt, before meeting her in the film, is just right.

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You can almost hear the music, can’t you?

Everything after that gets questionable. But let us not forget an important element to human behavior. People are awkward around other people, especially in strange situations, and these are certainly awkward people and strange situations. On the point of strange: check out the evil, electric bird chirping sounds that blast through the speakers when the Chooper starts doing his thing. I really enjoy the abrasiveness of that! I bet it sounded killer at the drive-in! The ranch is inherited by the late, Mister Craig’s niece, the aptly named, Carol Brandt, and she comes along to live there. Her arrival is met with a visit by a fellow named Tim Foster (Ron Haydock), who would like, very much, to buy her ranch. Carol isn’t interested, even after Foster tries to spook her with the Chooper legend that she knows about, yet doesn’t “know much about it.” The rest of the film plays out pretty much how you would expect it to, though not completely. The climax throws you a bit of a curveball, which keeps the whole experience interesting and valid, rather than thoughtless. There is some genuine realism going on in this film that really gives it a special vibe. The two little girls (who, according to the internet are the daughters of the director) are clearly not quoting scripted dialogue and the scene where the younger of the two does her best to tell the story of the Chooper is awesome!

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The back cover of the old VHS…

There is also a moment where Carolyn Brandt accidentally nails Ron Haydock in the foot with a board and it drops him like a rock, which is executed by all involved, perfectly! Of course, a couple scenes of reality come across a bit funny. Mainly when Jason Wayne is having a talk with the Chooper and the wind blows his hat off, and he just keeps going! You have to admire the commitment to the scene!

There is an aura of the film-makers believing their audience would be thoughtless that I can’t quite shake, though, and in one certain scene it really bugs me. Our star, Ms. Brandt, takes a great deal of time with her narrations and sometimes it’s a simple little description that works, but it’s mostly annoying and a touch redundant. There is a specific scene, when she is describing not being able to sleep and feeling that the old house (Shack) was calling to her, is just done horribly, to my mind. All they had to do was shoot a few moments of her tossing and turning, cutting between her troubled sleep and the house, then, she awakens, dazed, and begins her slow walk to the house. No fucking dialogue needed! Good films are pictures of people thinking and this misses that here and there. My feeling on so much narration is they just didn’t trust us to put things together without our hands being held. That’s really my only complaint about Blood Shack, well, that, and the painful padding via an abundance of rodeo-footage. Even including these minor issues, Blood Shack fits right in to the weird, low-budget, independent cinema I dig.

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Does Peter Fonda know you stole his pants?!?

Now for praise to the artists that made this the enjoyable experience that it is! The cinematography and editing is done by Sven Christian and is pretty cool! I actually like the contrast between extreme light (sun-flare shots, washed-out desert shots) and extreme dark (night shots with little, to no lighting.) There are some really unique moments that just look amazing and combined with the editing, that at times is hypnotizing, a viewer that particularly enjoys such things will feel they got their money’s worth. Certain shots just flow so well. Then we have the music by Frank Coe, which is rather interesting, also. I already mentioned the chirping noises you will experience, but the actual structured music that is here is not to be ignored or down-played. At times it is light-hearted, others it is subtle and haunting. Here and there it gets a bit heavy, but it all flows with what is on screen, quite successfully.

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Cue the Ennio Morricone soundbyte…

Finally, the credits say this was directed by Wolfgang Schmidt, while the net says it is, Ray Dennis Steckler. Now, I understand that using aliases is a fairly common thing in Hollywood.  What bums me out is, when I read this information it shattered the ideas I had come up with in my brain that told the back story of how this film came into existence! I would like to share this fantasy with you all, as I think it just sounds cooler and in my mind, I will continue to lie to myself and keep the imagined origin alive!

 

To protect my ass, as well as the fine folks at Legless Corpse, let’s be very clear:

WHAT YOU ARE ABOUT TO READ IS ENTIRELY FICTIONAL! I MADE IT UP IN MY OWN HEAD! I AM NOT CLAIMING ANY OF THIS TO BE TRUTH IN ANY WAY!!!!

Enjoy!

Wealthy cocaine dealer, Wolfgang Schmidt and his right-hand man, Sven Christian have been living in the states for a while, keeping those sad, lost hippies wasted on those precious “mind-expanding” narcotics. Eventually, Schmidt meets Carolyn Brandt and decides he’s going to feed her the age-old line of “You should be in pictures”, while beginning to feed her heroin habit. Brandt falls for this hook, line and sinker, as she is rather fond of herself and always thought she should be famous too. So they put a few bucks together with the piles of drug money stashed away in their desert bungalow, buy a couple Super 8 cameras, a decent sound recorder, some black pajamas and some stars and stripes pants for Carolyn. They proceed to tell all their druggie friends, “We’re making a movie” and everyone shows up for their chance at Superstardom. After filming, they are convinced they have a drive-in hit on their hands. However, Brandt catches Schmidt in the middle of a fixing orgy with the skinny chick that gets in her underwear at the beginning of this film and comes unglued on him. Schmidt takes the film, his drugs and money and goes back to Europe. Several years later, Schmidt whores the film out to a French production company after he pisses off a few of his Soviet Mafia overlords and needs to appease their rage. This leads to Blood Shack being tossed into a large cardboard box and slipped into the bizarre Horror VHS craze that is beginning to pick up steam in the United States. Schmidt was later taken into an undisclosed area of the Eastern Bloc and hasn’t been heard from since. Those close to the situation will give no details, but speculation suggests he is being held as a sex-slave in Bosnia. Sven took the Super 8 cameras and moved to Beverly Hills where he began his career in the then blooming porno industry. He hasn’t been heard from since it was confirmed that he was the one responsible for John Holmes becoming infected with HIV. No one knows what happened to the members of the cast, as they all disappeared in their own drug addicted nightmares.

 

 

 

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Nathan Surface

Nathan Surface is an experimental musician, artist and writer. In 2006 he started Sephirotic Publishing and is the creator of Erotic Dismemberment Art-zine, Corrosive Altars Metal-zine and 24 Frames Cine-zine. He lives with his wife, two cats and thousands of books, films and albums.

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