Archive for November 27, 2011

Around here at TFG, Ray Dennis Steckler is one of our (okay, my, who are we fooling?) all-time heroes. Seldom in cinematic history has one man accomplished so much with so little. And yet, I find his films difficult to review (in fact, in nearly three years of blogging this is the first time I’ve ever gotten around to writing about one of them) because, frankly, his “plots” are so uniformly paper-thin that there’s just not that much to talk about without delving into the minutiae of the production itself, which is rather redundant when it comes to Steckler because the DVD releases of his film Media Blasters/Shriek Show cover all of that so well already (in the case of today’s subject, 1971’s Blood Shack, for instance, there’s not one but two commentary tracks, one from Steckler himself and one from the always-awesome Joe Bob Briggs, an on-camera interview with Steckler about the making of the film, an extensive gallery of still photos from the production, an interview with the film’s star (and former Mrs. Steckler) Carolyn Brandt, a couple different versions of the trailer, and an alternate, 70-minute cut of the film (the “official” cut being a mere 35 minutes) under the title of The Chooper — the list is endless. Needless to say it’s a comprehensive and essential purchase) that there’s really nothing to be accomplished by my regurgitating any further behind-the-scenes information for the umpteenth time. And yet —

The hows, whys, and wherefores of a Steckler production are pretty much inseparable from any analysis of the on-screen “product” itself because there’s simply no way to appreciate any of this guy’s work without actively realizing what an absolute fucking miracle it is that any of these films were made in the first place. Blood Shack was made for $500 and stars his ex-wife and kids. Everybody else in front of and behind the camera was a friend of his and the bleak desert locale was property owned by an acquaintance. It’s truly a labor of love, and Steckler himself never harbored any illusions about getting rich off any of these flicks. All his stuff was strictly third-and fourth-billed filler material at the drive-ins and the fact that any of his films, much less all of them, even survive to this day is testament to this guy’s perseverance in the face of odds longer than those of picking the winning numbers for this week’s Powerball.

One thing you can certainly count on from any Steckler production is a raw and authentic sense of locale that the biggest Hollywood productions could never match in their wildest dreams. Case in point — the setting for Blood Shack is a dingy, abandoned, piece-of-shit Nevada desert lean-to that MGM could spend millions trying to replicate¬† yet never match because this is no fancy studio set dirtied up and trashed to give it an air of realism, it’s the actual fucking deal. And while it’s admittedly absurd to consider that some black-clad killer of local legend known as “The Chooper” can sneak around in a totally flat, arid and open landscape where you could see a wild coyote from ten miles off, you can’t let things like gaping plot holes and suspect (at best) “acting” deter you from enjoying a Steckler film because, hell, you couldn’t do any better with 500 bucks and a half-dozen or so friends and relatives and your finished product would never make it onto any screens at all, much less have a cult following four decades later.

Yeah, okay,¬† I just gave away the whole plot with a shrug — woman inherits a disused piece of land in the middle of nowhere and a mysterious (and supposedly legendary) killer called “The Chooper” shows up and starts offing people in an attempt to drive her off — but so what? Complexity isn’t exactly the name of the game here, either. On Planet Steckler, the normal rules of what makes for “good” cinema just don’t apply, and you’re either gonna appreciate what this guy was able to accomplish or you won’t, simple as that.

Look, I’m not here to convince you that Blood Shack is some unheralded masterpiece of low-budget horror. It’s got a complacent and austere vibe all its own that I enjoyed tremendously but that I can easily see many folks finding at the very least off-putting, if not downright dull. What is is, however, is a testament to the sheer bloody-mindedness of one lone individual who just wanted to make this movie because he could.

Call me crazy, but I’ll always have a healthy amount of respect for that.