Welcome to “Notes from the Last Drive-In,” Haunted MTL’s review and recap series of The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs on Shudder. This December we received a Christmas treat in the form of a new special, “Joe Bob Ruins Christmas” which brings back the telethon format of the last Christmas special with a few fun surprises and two decidedly un-holiday films.

Nothing quite like spending the holidays with the Mutant Fam taking in the delights and horrors of Ice Cream Man (1995) and Gator Bait (1974).

Ice Cream Man

Ice Cream Man is a 1995 direct-to-video slasher produced and directed by Norman Apstein/Paul Norman. The film was written by Sven Davison and David Dobkin. It stars Clint Howard, Olivia Hussey, and David Naughton. David Warner, Jan-Michael Vincent, and Lee Majors II make brief appearances.

The plot of the film is pretty simple: a man, Gregory Tudor, is released from a sanitarium and reopens a childhood favorite ice cream factory. However, soon enough the secret ingredient of the ice cream “hardpack” is every other customer. As a result, a group of local kids, fueled by the story of the Pied Piper, seek to stop Gregory’s murderous sourcing of ingredients.

Ice Cream Man (1995) Poster
We all scream, for ice cream…

Ice Cream Man is not a good movie, but it is a fun movie. It is entirely possible to enjoy something while pointing out it is not very well made. The movie hits the sweet spot (pun intended) between awful and awfully funny, and it makes for a great selection for The Last Drive-In. I mean, any film you could reasonably define as a “Clint Howard vehicle” is pretty much going to have some laughs. The guy is fantastic and made some strange, strange films, such as last season’s Evilspeak. If there is peak Clint Howard, however, Ice Cream Man is it, and we’re all the better for it.

The film is very 1990s and direct-to-video. It doesn’t look particularly good. The quality of the lighting is muddy. Cinematography is virtually absent as well. At no point does the film introduce a shot that is unique or visually interesting. The music is budget for even 1995, cheesy synthesized plinks.

And yet it is a movie you can’t walk away from because of the sheer magnetism of whatever the Hell Clint Howard is doing with the character. Most of the performances are functional at best. The only real stinkers of the bunch are Jan-Michael Vincent and Lee Majors II as the one-note cops. David Warner shows up for about five minutes of screentime and does his thing (excellently), but beyond that, nobody stands out, especially when in a scene with Clint Howard’s Gregory Tudor.

The story can be non-sensical at times, the character motivations a mystery, and the film is full of strange, offputting moments. The special effects are low-budget mid-90s at the best of times. Yet something about this film is compelling. It’s exactly the sort of cheesy, direct-to-video material that horror fans will watch at 2 AM. The comedy, while largely unintentional, buoys the film and makes it a great drive-in movie.

Joe Bob-servations

This movie was Joe Bob’s gift to Darcy. He initially gave it three stars, but gave it an extra star bump due to the spirit of the season, making Ice Cream Man a four-star Drive-In movie.

Joe Bob did a lot to contextualize this movie for me. I had only seen it once before when I was a teen, and it didn’t really draw me in. Having watched it now with some guiding words from our venerable movie host, I have a better appreciation for it. The movie is very much a mess, as Joe Bob points out that the film was originally going to be a children’s film. That changed, however. That does explain the strange tonal shifts in the movie. It feels like a knockoff of The Goonies young cast set-up, only with Clint Howard manhandling the ice cream instead of treasure hunting.

Part of the odd tonal shifts in the film is also explained by the director, Norman Apstein/Paul Norman. A former pron director most known for Edward Penishands, he might be the last choice you would expect for a horror film, let alone what was to be a children’s film. But considering the amount directors who started in porn and moved onto horror, such as Wes Craven, this isn’t that odd. Regardless, the shift in tone within the movie stems from some of these elements, undoubtedly, as well as the fact that the director was going through a painful separation from his family during the production. It’s a pretty crazy story.

The film is just filled with some bizarre little moments that Joe Bob Briggs points out in the host segments. Whether it be the pillow stuffed under the shirt of child-actor Jojo Adams to make him look fatter, David Warner showing up to film for a day or two, or the rather bonkers nature of the scene at the asylum, which feels like another movie entirely. There are, of course, rumors that the asylum scene was a troubled shoot due to Jan-Michael Vincent being wasted. Plus, with Clint Howard being the focus we also heard a wonderful little bit about his screaming out the window of his car on the drive to the set to get that graveled voice for Gregory.

Final Thoughts on Ice Cream Man

Ice Cream Man is fun as Hell. It is not a good movie by any stretch of the conventional definition, but the Mutant Fam is not obligated to derive enjoyment based on the quality of a movie. In fact, collectively we tend to value the rougher films. Ice Cream Man was a lovely little treat for fans of The Last Drive-In, and the culmination of what’s been a fun little joke over the past couple of years regarding Darcy’s love for Clint Howard. While I did have a lot of fun, the movie does have some significant flaws. I can’t award it anything more than three Cthulhus.

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Best Line: “Trolling for Tuna!” – Ice Cream Man, grabbing Tuna from his bicycle

Clint Howard as the Ice Cream Man from the 1995 movie, Ice Cream Man
Clint Howard lends his own brand of menace to the film.

Gator Bait

The 1974 hicksploitation film Gator Bait was a special treat from Darcy to Joe Bob for the telethon. Gator Bait, directed by the married Beverly and Ferd Sebastian, is most famous for starring former Playboy Playmate Claudia Jennings. The film also stars Douglas Dirkson, Bill Thurman, and Sam Gilman. The film was written by Beverly Sebastian with Ferd responsible for the music.

Gator Bait is set in the swamps of Louisiana and follows poacher Desiree Thibodeau (Jennings) who lives in the swamps with her kin. One day, two men seek to rape her while trapping alligators and in the pursuit, one of the men dies. Soon the sheriff, the surviving, the serving deputy, and the incestuous family of the dead would-be rapist hunt her down for revenge.

Gator Bait (1974) Poster
Claudia Jennings had ’em gator batin’

Gator Bait is a rough film. It is pretty good, all things considered, but it can be quite graphic and disturbing for the unprepared. It is in many ways an ugly, brutal film. It is also a prime example of what a hicksploitation film is and makes wonderful use of the setting, which coincidentally was in the same area as another Drive-In favorite, The Legend of Boggy Creek. The violence of the movie, more specifically sexual violence is what will generally cause most people to reject it as too far, but it is worth powering through for a strong string of revenge sequences from Desiree.

The writing of the film is the greatest strength, crafting interesting characters that I found myself really hating or intrigued by. Specifically, T. J Bracken, played by Sam Gilman, is a fairly complex antagonist who leads a rather horrific brood that he can’t keep in check. While a great deal of credit goes to Sam Gilman, such characters are a collaborative art and Beverly Sebastian’s writing creates a compelling and ugly situation that spirals out of control. It’s a feel-bad movie that creates some genuine interest in the destruction of three families brought on by an attempted rape and a cowardly lie.

Claudia Jennings is also a strong performance. Largely silent, her dialogue is a bit childish and simple, constructed of short sentences in creole, befitting her nature as a child of the swamp quite effectively. It may take a moment to let that idea set in as you watch, but it comes across quite well. She also has a certain physicality in her performance as well. Obviously, there is sex appeal, but there are moments of genuine strength where her demeanor and the framing of the shot establish that she will have her revenge in no uncertain terms.

The movie is cruel, perhaps the cruelest that has been on The Last Drive-In since Cannibal Holocaust, but that cruelty does serve a point. Gator Bait, beneath the trappings of sex, violence, and the assumed stereotypes of swamp people is a morality tale in which nobody really wins. It’s worth a watch if you can make it through a couple of particularly brutal scenes.

Joe Bob-servations

When he wasn’t expressing utter shock and dismay at triathletes, Joe Bob regaled Darcy and the rest of the telethon crew with his love of Gator Bait. He is a fan of the movie for a couple of reasons, and at least two of them involve the presence of Claudia Wells. it can be fun when the show dives into the more exploitative nature of sex. Audiences love a sexy actor or actress, and it is one of those things that the show highlights as part of the Drive-In appeal. While this is mostly revolving around the male gaze, the show is as evenhanded as possible when it has to be.

The big punchline to this is that Joe Bob established the idea of Darcy replicating the iconic look of Claudia Jennings from the poster for the film, which does happen, of course. That’s not until after Darcy subverts the gag by wearing an alligator costume. Over the past couple of years, Darcy and Joe Bob have established a wonderful rapport and in my estimation, the show is very much equally Darcy’s at this point, as she serves as the sexy angel and devil on our host’s shoulders. The Last Drive-In makes good use of their back and forth as well as the expanding roster of the guests, such as Felissa Rose, and contributors to the show such as John Brennan and Yuki Nakamura.

The host segments for this section of the film were full of fascinating information, of course. One example includes a very funny, bizarre connection to Walt Disney that I don’t believe happened, but is just odd enough to be true. There was also a lot to discuss regarding the married team who made the movie possible, particularly Beverly, who sounds like a real badass. Beverly and Ferd Sebastian strike me as representatives of the drive-in spirit we celebrate through the show, so it was particularly fun for Joe Bob to give them their due and to put these two filmmakers on more people’s radars. This was my first experience with Gator Bait, and I am happy that Joe Bob’s show was able to put this challenging yet compelling movie on my radar.

Final Thoughts on Gator Bait

Gator Bait isn’t my favorite movie that has been shown on The Last Drive-In, nor is it my favorite movie that has been introduced to me through the show. But the movie has stuck with me quite a bit since I watched it. It is a visceral film, for sure, and likely to be as divisive with the Mutant Fam as Cannibal Holocaust. As far as shock pictures go, I’d argue Cannibal Holocaust is the stronger one and features a more compelling theme, but Gator Bait is quite good. Joe Bob, being a fan of redneck pictures, gave the film four stars. I am not as enthused by it, but I did enjoy it, rough spots and all. I give Gator Bait three-and-a-half Cthulhus.

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Best Line: “She ain’t got no choice. She either screws us, or she gets behind bars. Puttin’ a wildcat like that behind bars is bad.” – Deputy Billy Boy, immediately raising concerns in us all about the nature of law enforcement

Claudia Jennings in 1974's Gator Bait.
Claudia Jennings in one of the least practical swamp outfits you can imagine.

Haunted MTL Drive-In Totals

Here are the official tallies from Shudder.

As for our own tally, we have…

  • One Dead Dog
  • Two Darcy Cosplays
  • Four Causes Championed
  • Thirteen Items Auctioned
  • One Dozen Snakes
  • Christmas Joking
  • Jesus Joking
  • Incestuous Son Whipping Fu
  • Drunken Stumbling Through Asylum Set Fu
  • Zoom Call Yuki Fu
  • Gratuitous Holiday Musical Verses
  • Gratuitous Musical Number
  • Gratuitous “Reason of the Season” Lecture
Joe Bob Briggs, Diana Prince, and Felissa Rose on the set of The Last Drive-In.
A night of several stars!

Episode Score

I do appreciate the telethon format for the previous Christmas special that has carried through into this one. I also really like that the items up for auction were also a little more substantial than last year’s. I just wish I could have afforded to bid. But even then, allowing flat donations in exchange for merch was an excellent tough and with luck, the telethon has raised a substantial amount of money for each of the organizations and causes selected this time around. The selections were all themed around the nativity story of the three wise men, and throughout the night the show had a welcoming, encouraging atmosphere.

This was probably best punctuated by the recurring gag where everyone would burst into a line from a spontaneous Christmas song, to which Joe Bob would play the bah-humbug role. Of course, that led to Joe Bob taking us into a full musical ending, which is always welcome. I am always impressed with the show’s embracing of original songs and how good John Brennan and his crew are at putting them together.

After a long stretch of episodes dealing with the isolation that reflected the world struggling with COVID and all-around suck, this Christmas special felt like a great example of the togetherness that The Last Drive-In can bring for horror fans.

Plus, there was the Chili Bandit again. I love that little hog.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

And that is where we leave you until The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs returns to Shudder in 2022. I would love to read your thoughts on the special and the films chosen. I’d also like to read your thoughts on the reviews. Are they too long? Not long enough? Please, let us know.

Otherwise, please, have a Merry Christmas, and may all your gators be baited safely.

“There’s room for everyone at the Drive-In. Everyone pays the same price to get in. We’ll make room for you.”

Joe Bob Briggs
About the Author

David Davis is a writer, cartoonist, and educator in Southern California with an M.A. in literature and writing studies.

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