Monday, December 17, 2018

"I Think I'll Just Worry About It Tomorrow" - Blood Shack (1971)

It should come as no surprise that we are fans of minimalist horror cinema at Senseless Cinema, and one of the finest examples of minimalism ever committed to film is Ray Dennis Steckler's Blood Shack (1971). This is a film which truly capitalizes on its title, including both blood and a shack, but does away with other distracting elements that make some horror films overly busy and complicated.

Of course, many of your universe's critics, for whatever reasons, do not have a positive view of minimalism. Reviewer BA_Harrison writes, "Not to put too fine a point upon it, it's crap!" Reviewer MartinHafer writes, "his film looks almost like a home movie. The camera work looks almost like it was done with a Super 8mm camera, the narration sounded like it was done in a tunnel and some of the director's family were in it because real actors cost money." Reviewer tocado5585 writes, "The acting is horrible and the setting looks like some makeshift buildings were put up in the middle of nowhere just for the sake of filming this. The murder scenes in this were like watching a Saturday Night Live skit."

The reference to Saturday Night Live is beyond the pale, and tocado5585 should be ashamed. Let us consider in detail Mr. Steckler's Blood Shack and see that it could hardly be further removed from a Saturday Night Live skit...

As the film shows a mountain range, a woman’s voice says, “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.”

Three twentysomethings drive to a cabin in the desert. “I hear it’s supposed to be haunted,” says one of the two men.

“There’s a legend behind it,” says the woman helpfully.

“What kind of ghost would haunt a place like this? It’s a dump.”

They are observed by a shirtless handyman, whom they ignore.

The two men drive off, leaving the woman with her sleeping bag. Then the shirtless man chases her out of the cabin. He tells the woman that the late owner’s niece is coming tomorrow, but the woman is insistent for no apparent reason on staying the night.

“Well, if the Chooper comes to get you, well you just deserve it,” says the man. “But I warn you: The Chooper will get you. And I know it.”

“If nobody’s going to stay here with me,” the woman says to herself, quite accurately, “I’ll stay here myself.” She beds down for the night, stripping down to her underwear.

In the middle of the night, she is attacked by a man wielding a sword. He chases her through the cabin, finally stabbing her repeatedly with the sword—turning the cabin into a Blood Shack.

In the morning, the still-shirtless handyman returns to dump the woman’s body into his pickup truck and steal her purse. He buries her body in the desert.

Later, Ray Dennis Steckler’s elementary-school-aged daughters run through the desert and ask the handyman if they can play in the Blood Shack. The handyman, Daniel, says they are not allowed to play in the Blood Shack. We watch them play improvisationally for several minutes with an old chair. Eventually, Daniel tells them, perhaps contradicting himself, “If you want to play around here anymore, stay away from this house!”

Eventually, Daniel arrives with Carol, the daughter of the deceased property owner, played by Mrs. Ray Dennis Steckler, Carolyn Brandt. They are accosted by Tim, a man who wants to buy the place, including the Blood Shack. Tim says, “You know the only history that place has got is about 150 years history of death in it. You know that.”

Carol asks about the legend of The Chooper. Tim says that people have been killed in the shack for 150 years, though the house looks to be less than 10 years old, if that.

Carol stays not in the Blood Shack but in the ranch house on the property (which also includes an old water tower and a quonset hut). When Daniel drives away on an errand, Carol decides to check out the Blood Shack. Before she steps inside, however, she is interrupted by Mr. Steckler’s daughters, who want to play in the Blood Shack.

“Go ahead,” says Carol. “It’s just an old house.”

The girls enter the shack. The younger girl says that Daniel told her the Chooper eats kids, and if they were to go inside, it would eat them. “It’s spooky in here,” she says. Nevertheless, the kids play in the house and jump on the bed—until they are startled by still-shirtless Daniel, who scares them and chases them off.

Later, Carol and Daniel—who now wears a crop-top—walk through the desert while Carol narrates through voiceover the story of how Tim believes the land is rightfully his because his great-grandfather lost it in a poker game.

At night, Carol continues her voice over. “I felt as if somehow the old house on the grounds was beckoning to me, whispering to me across the darkling [Note: Not a real word] hours of the evening. Luring me towards it. Luring me...into the unknown.”

After taking ten minutes to walk the thirty feet between the ranch house and the Blood Shack, Carol sees Daniel in the shack. He sends her back to the ranch house, and she says nothing, not even asking Daniel why he spends so much time in the Blood Shack.

The next day, Carol continues her narration. “This was the day the rodeo hit our area.” (Presumably, this is not as painful as it sounds.)

We are next introduced to Charlie, the husband of the woman killed by the Chooper in the beginning. Apparently, he has walked through the desert to find his wife. After being warned by Daniel not to go into the Blood Shack, Charlie walks to the front door. In a shock scene rivalling that famous hospital corridor attack in Exorcist III, the Chooper rushes at poor Charlie without warning.

Again, Daniel enters the house later and cries, “I warned you! I warned you the Chooper would get you!” Again, he loads the body into his pickup truck to bury it out in the desert.

After nine minutes of rodeo footage set to banjo music from The Beverly Hillbillies, Carol is interviewed by a policeman about the disappearance of Charlie and his wife. The police says the Blood Shack is the subject of local legends, and his father used to tell him all kinds of stories about that place. The filmmakers again highlight the nightmarish disparity of dialogue and image, as the shack itself is clearly only a few years old.

Carol thinks in voiceover: “It seems strange to have John Law checking over my ranch. Two missing kids. Son of a gun, there was a boy at the ranch yesterday, when I left to go shopping.” Despite this realization, Carol simply walks out into the desert to visit her friend, while the policeman investigates the Blood Shack. (Incidentally, the policeman never told Carol his name, so it is disturbing that she knows he is named John Law.)

The Chooper suddenly appears on the roof and kills the policeman with a sword.


To add insult to murder, the Chooper then steals the policeman’s car.

Later, the crop-topped Daniel explains his motivation, which results from his love of the Blood Shack itself. “They’ll never knock you down,” he tells the house. “That’s okay, Chooper. You keep knocking them off, I’ll keep burying them. They’re not going to tear this old house down. They gotta find the bodies first, and they’ll never find the bodies where I put ‘em. So you just kill all you want, and I’ll keep burying them. But they’ll never knock this old house down.” (During his monologue, Daniel reaches upward for no apparent reason, knocking off his hat. It is these kinds of character details that make Blood Shack so effective and innovative.)

Carol further explains more of the mystery. Her “spread” includes over 10,000 acres directly over an underground lake. “Drill down a couple hundred feet and there was enough water to irrigate not only my own property but about half the rest of the state as well.” (It is notable that the film was shot in Nevada and Arizona, which implies the underground lake must contain a great deal of water indeed.)

The film’s conflict is provided by Tim, who continues to badger Carol about buying her property. He tries to convince her she needs to put horses in the little corral, then in the next sentence tells her the horses would die because it’s too hot in the desert. This conflict leads to fisticuffs, as Tim attacks Carol and Daniel attacks Tim, in front of the young girls. After an exciting ten-minute fight during which Tim repeatedly tells Daniel to go out there and “sell your garbage,” Carol stops the fight by hitting Tim with a two-by-four.

After some more rodeo footage which uncharitable audiences might describe as “interminable,” there is another shocking scene—Daniel himself is attacked by the Chooper, though he did not enter the house.

Carol, wearing the most patriotic pants imaginable, searches for Daniel in the Blood Shack.

After she leaves the house, Carol is assaulted by the Chooper and his sword. Unlike the others, she manages to run away. The injured Daniel comes to her rescue, fighting with the Chooper the way he fought with Tim.

The Chooper’s mask falls off, revealing Tim. Daniel says, “I know he’s not the Chooper.” Then Daniel stabs Tim, killing him.

Daniel gives a classic dying speech: “That’s not the Chooper. He’s not 150 years old. That’s Tim Foster. He’s just trying to scare you off your ranch. Don’t let anybody ever tell you different. Don’t ever go in that old house or the Chooper will get you.” Then his head falls to the ground as he dies.

Carol thinks in voiceover: “Tim is dead. Daniel’s dead. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I think I’ll just worry about it tomorrow. If tomorrow ever comes.”


Running approximately 54 minutes long, Blood Shack hardly has a chance to outstay its welcome. Indeed, it is monomaniacally focused on its mission: to show quiet images of the desert punctuated with loud, sudden attacks by either the Chooper, a mythical Indian spirit, or Tim Foster, an equally frightening creature, though a less mythical one. Ray Dennis Steckler has fashioned a film in which nothing gets in the way of these two alternating experiences, and for that fans of the cinema should be eternally grateful.

In the spirit of minimalism, I will say little more about Blood Shack. I must point out, however, the shattering ambiguity of the ending. Was Tim Foster the Chooper all along, responsible for all the killings we viewed? Or was Tim simply impersonating the Chooper at the end of the film to get rid of Carol so he could (somehow) acquire the land and its water rights himself. The world will never know. Daniel's final words are chilling however: Don't ever go in that old house or the Chooper will get you. He still believes the Indian spirit is real, and murderous. I can only warn everyone reading these words not to go into that house in the middle of the desert. The consequences could be disastrous--and if you avoid the house, you have Ray Dennis Steckler to thank for your life.