Direct-to-DVD: the low-budget horrors of Joe Castro

Joe Castro has been doing special effects makeup as far back as the 90s, on horror films such as Uncle Sam and Night of the Demons III. It didn’t take him long to start directing his own low-budget films. Aside from being a master of special effects, Joe brazenly puts tons of man meat into his horror flix so I totally wanted to see everything he’s done! While there were a few films I couldn’t hunt down, I was able to score a bunch. Joe has covered slashers, vampires, found footage, creature features, mummies, and more. I’ll get Joe’s roughest work out of the way and then move on to the stronger stuff.



Blood Sisters has that total low-budget, direct-to-DVD feel of the early 2000s. It also looks like it was shot on video. While it might look cheap, the cast is adorable, both boys and babes. I can’t deny it; the movie is kind of fun.

This new girl comes to Dunwich University and soon suspects that recent disappearances of students are the work of a trio of hot chicks in a 3-woman sorority. The good news—or bad news—is that they invite her and her roommate to join the sorority. The best part is that the roommates agree to bolt if anything weird happens, yet during the initiation, they don’t bolt when they’re told to drink a cup of blood….

blood sister still

The three hot sorority babes are, of course, vampires. Every time they bring a cute guy home they get him shirtless, suck his blood, and then do a strip tease for the camera. They also wear dark sunglasses during the day, which apparently protects them from the sun—without the sunglasses on, vamps fry. You’ll see several continuity issues with this, including the vamps standing at open windows during the day and not frying while other vampires do, and members of the vamp trio not wearing their sunglasses in the daylight at one point without a problem.

In the end, the final girl has to take on the sorority vamps all on her own….



Another shot on video movie, Evil Unleashed: The Mummy also has a charismatic cast of college students—and some giggle inducing moments.

The students, along with one of their professors, accidentally resurrect one nasty Egyptian queen be-otch. While she first appears to her victims as her former beautiful self, she soon shows her true colors as a killer mummy…a dancing mummy. I’m not kidding. She does a seductive strip tease for the victim and then transforms into her mummy self while dancing. And that’s not all; wait until you see this mummy run and kickbox.

evil unleashed still

So yeah. It’s really bad low-budget killer mummy action. But there’s a buxom blonde babe and the guys are so fricking cute and get shirtless. One of them even has both nipples pierced.



Near Death is a fun little movie about cannibalistic ghosts essentially. A group of ghost hunters comes to this creepy old house to search for paranormal activity. Little do they know that the inhabitants of the home are “half deads” who need human flesh and blood to stay alive and can never leave. Aside from the creepy cannibal ghosts, there’s actually a little mystery plot here as the ghost hunters unravel the clues to what went on in the house in the past.

near death still

I’m surprised this one doesn’t play on the Chiller Network because it has that kind of b-movie quality. The cast is pretty, the guys are hunky and show off some flesh, and the gore is nicely gross. There are some ghostly CGI apparitions, but Joe Castro shows off his real special effects techniques, particularly when one of the half deads leaves the house and fricking disintegrates. Great special effects…until his head explodes in a burst of CGI pixels. But the fun is just beginning. The half deads eventually get their faces torn off. Awesome.



This is Joe’s second film, and was released by Troma. It was also one of the early films to take on the found footage genre once The Blair Witch Project brought it into fashion.

In The Legend of The Chupacabra, a bunch of college students is in search of the mythical Chupacabra (which means “goat sucker”). The chick running the search mission believes a Chupacabra killed her uncle. Aside from the cameraman following them around, there are numerous interview segments with “professionals” on the mythological creature.

legend of chupacabra still

Along with the burly Black dude in tight jeans, my other favorite part of this film is the monster. The characters and plot (voodoo, witches, government cover-ups) don’t matter much because this is old school 1970s/early 80s rubber monster awesomeness! And the monster is all up in our face from pretty early on in the film. It’s a total creature feature in found footage format. There’s plenty of gore, some good jump scares, and a long gooey monster autopsy at the end.



The Jackhammer Massacre is a bizarre combination of drug movie and slasher. The first half is a gritty, disturbingly detailed story of a dude named Jack who goes on a downward spiral into hardcore shooting up. I’m not a fan of drug movies, so this part was hard for me to sit through.

Halfway through, there’s a huge shift in tone. Jack is hiding out in a building as he’s tripping out big time, and before long, he’s jackhammering the guts out of anyone who comes inside. Oh yeah. This is Joe showing off major gore effects in a straight up slasher. Yet the most cringe-worthy part of all has to be the scenes of Jack shooting up and his veins and arm getting all deformed during the drug segment of the film. Gnarly!

jackhammer massacre still

Along with the splatter fun in the second half of the film, EVERY guy is hot with a banging body, and there’s an excuse for each of them to take off their shirts and run around like that until they get jackhammered. There’s one female thrown into the mix closer to the end to serve as the final girl, plus Jack’s lesbian sister to play the hero.



While movies like Creepshow might give you that classic Tales from the Crypt comic book feel, The Summer of Massacre combines grindhouse, black comedy, and graphic novel craziness into celluloid using nonstop computer animation. Graphic novels can pull off heinous, absurd kills and horror images in a way that movies really can’t convincingly, so Joe Castro exploits CGI nonstop. It makes no sense to watch The Summer of Massacre and complain about it.

This is way beyond The Midnight Meat Train level GCI here. Blood constantly splatters all over the camera lens in that kind of self-aware manner, but we also get freeze-frame slaughter and still shots of overlapping 2D images to create visions of impossible murders that are basically panels in a graphic novel. You have to go with it in order for the movie to work for you. And honestly, if this same technique were used in a movie adaptation of a dark superhero comic book (and it has been), it would be considered artistic brilliance.

The film consists of four horror tales with a wraparound story about a group of serial killers. Now that I’ve warned of the unapologetic CGI, I might as well just get the other incessant issue out of the way immediately; this film is loaded with male nudity. We’re talking major hunky hotties showing EVERYTHING. And they are one thing that is not CGI.

summer ofmassacre men

The first story is the “fuck you CGI haters” tale with no obvious plot. This gorgeous dude goes jogging, gets beat up and sliced open by a gang of guys, and then goes on a killing binge with his eye hanging out of his face. He mutilates anyone he comes across using any nearby weapons: wrenches, razor blades, TV remote controls. As fake as it is, the relentless violence and raucous music could easily drive you insane.

The second story is a welcome change of pace. Brinke Stevens stars as a mother dealing with a mentally unhealthy daughter (played by a man in a wig) who is confined to a wheelchair. Her siblings think she’s evil so they try to take care of her. The bitch won’t die! But she makes sure everyone else does. Tales from the Crypt twists come into play, making this an evil little tale of revenge.

The third story is my favorite. It stars the hunky Jerry G. Angelo (from the gay horror short Nightshadows), who tells his girlfriend of his horrible past in some freaky and nasty flashbacks showing that he was conceived when his mom was raped by this big boogeyman thing. This is the most heinous boogeyman EVER. He looks repulsive and sings children’s songs giddily as he stalks and slaughters. This is really disturbing and creepy. And director Sean Abley fricking shows up in a cameo, hanging with a drag queen.

summer of massacre chains

The fourth story is also a goody, giving us a gay take on backwoods horror—kids, a campfire, a legend of gay lovers burnt alive in the forest, and then a freaky creature hunting them down one by one until there’s just one lone survivor cornered in its lair. Director J.T. Seaton plays one of the murdered gay lovers in this one.

Finally, the wraparound mixes the macabre and the erotic disturbingly; there’s a building filled with bodies hanging on hooks, the serial killers are walking around naked, there’s blood everywhere…and I repeat, the killers are walking around naked. I can see why straight dudes get off on all those misogynistic exploitation films. And I can see why we need more sicko gay horror directors like Joe Castro.



Now this is what I’m talking about when I want a camptastically absurd z-grade slasher. Terror Toons is one of my favorites from Joe Castro and seems to be his most appreciated in general—a third film in the series is already on its way. If you’re going to do a low-budget slasher, I’d rather you have fun with it and do something creative like Joe did here instead of making a pale imitation of a classic.

terror toons baddies

Two chicks are left alone when their parents go away (a dad and a drag queen mom!). One sister (with HUGE honkers that she shows off almost immediately) goes upstairs to watch a mysterious DVD she got in the mail called “Terror Toons.” The other sister and her female friend invite over some cute guys but can’t agree on what to do: Ouija board or strip poker? They come to a compromise…strip Ouija! Awesome.

This wacky flick features clips of the “Terror Toons” cartoon, in which freaky characters Dr. Carnage and his sidekick monkey Max Assassin kill and disembowel real people using some of the best classic cartoon violence techniques, such as a police officer getting handed a cartoon stick of dynamite that blows up in a cartoon exclamation burst.

terror toons gore

Before long, Dr. Carnage and Max Assassin get pulled into the real world—just as one of the cuties is about to lose his shorts in strip Ouija! Bummer. While combining zany cartoon graphics with real life actors and guys in cartoon character costumes, the movie also follows traditional slasher conventions and has some really gnarly gore.

It’s the perfect concept for a low budget slasher comedy.



A whole new pair of cartoon killers is on the loose! Interestingly, while the setup here is a kid’s birthday party instead of horny teenagers playing strip Ouija, Terror Toons 2 ups the hot dude count! Joe Castro knows how to cast them. Amongst the scream king cuties is Bart Barson, who is also in Joe’s movie The Jackhammer Massacre, Jonathan Kowalsky from The Legend of Bloody Jack, and Randy Wayne from The Haunting of Molly Hartley.

This time, Brinke Stevens plays an evil witch in cartoon land who turns Hansel (played by one of the dudes from the first movie) into a rat and Gretel into a rag doll with huge bug-eyes. Meanwhile, a little girl (who has the guest list of hot young men at her party) gets a Terror Toons DVD as a gift. She pops it in for the whole family to watch…and out pop the rat and the rag doll to wreak havoc!

terror toons 2 witch

This one is even gorier and more slapstick than the first, with some male nudity thrown in for good measure. And it’s a travesty what happens to one bare butt. To change things up, the kids don’t only run from the cartoon killers in Terror Toons 2. They go meet the devil himself!

terror toons 2 baddie

I definitely can’t wait for Terror Toons 3 and I give Joe Castro tons of credit for doing what he loves. He pumps out his horror films in any way he can. Sure, he could eventually score a budget for a film, but that could come at the cost of losing his wacky visions.

And finally, here is my vlog about Joe’s films:

About Daniel

I am the author of the horror anthologies CLOSET MONSTERS: ZOMBIED OUT AND TALES OF GOTHROTICA and HORNY DEVILS, and the horror novels COMBUSTION and NO PLACE FOR LITTLE ONES. I am also the founder of BOYS, BEARS & SCARES, a facebook page for gay male horror fans! Check it out and like it at
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