Connect with us

Published

on

Grab your bags of candy corn boys and ghouls, for it is time for The Last Drive-In: Joe Bob’s Haunted Halloween Hangout. Shudder’s horror host unveils two cult films this Halloween: Elvira’s Haunted Hills (2001) and Popcorn (1991). Even better, he invited special guests Cassandra Peterson and Jill Schoelen to enjoy all the fun. How does this special stack up to previous engagements?

Let’s find out what Shudder had on offer on October 21, 2022.

Elvira’s Haunted Hills (2001)

The first film of the Haunted Halloween Hangout was the highly campy 2001 pseudo-sequel to Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (1988) that takes the favorite horror hostess and puts her in a classic horror story set in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania in 1851. The film plays fast and loose with Elvira’s modern, bawdy affect contrasting with the relatively-straight players around her involved in a family conspiracy in a decrepit estate. The film stars Cassandra Peterson as Elvira and a secondary role as a departed Lady of the House. She is joined by Richard O’Brien, Mary Scheer, Scott Atkison, Mary Jo Smith, and an uncredited cameo from voice actor Rob Paulson.

Peterson co-wrote the script with recently-departed Groundlings alumnus John Paragon, whom she would often work with. Most of the cast is pulled from the Groundlings as well. Director Sam Irvin took to the Roger Corman pastiche nature of the film and did a fine job playing the narrative straight and allowing Peterson’s Elvira to disrupt what is a pretty solid Gothic horror story. For a budget film entirely self-funded by Peterson and her then-husband Mark Pierson, the film also looks great when it needs to and noticeably cheap when it is most funny. Thankfully, Cinematographer Viorel Sergovici, a native Romanian, knew precisely how to utilize the on-location landscapes.

Advertisement

Chewing the Cardboard

'Elvira's Haunted Hills' (2001) poster, featured in Joe Bob's Haunted Halloween Hangout

Comedy-wise, this sort of film appeals to me. Some horror-hardcores may grumble about an Elvira comedy taking up a “Halloween Special Slot,” as though such a thing even exists. The jokes are widely inspired by bawdy, campy stage shows and are nothing many have not heard before. The real joke is how we buy into the film. Such as Peterson’s iconic character hanging the lampshade on and chewing the scenery of the kind of technicolor late-night horror many of us grew up with. It’s why Mystery Science Theater 3000 refuses to die. The old stuff is beloved, whether it is a gothic murder house or a burlesque joke.

I need to mention the role of Adrian, the Stable Stud, an unintentionally collaborative performance that earns the biggest laughs in the film. The seriousness of Romanian actor Gabi Andronache playing a character utterly straight with Rob Paulson’s hilariously dubbed voice is some of the funniest stuff I have ever experienced on The Last Drive-In.

With that said, the satiric edge of Elvira: Mistress of the Dark is missing here. Elvira’s Haunted Hills trades essentially in farce and, while fun, is ultimately not as great as the first film. The first film has a little more heart. This one is more of a parody but doesn’t offer much more than some teasing of a genre and style. That being said, they tease it nearly as much as Elvira’s hair.

Joe Bob-servations on Elvira’s Haunted Hills

This year’s Halloween theme was the same as the past two Drive-In Halloween specials: namely, making up for the perceived lack of Halloween in previous specials. I think this has been mined a little much, but it still leads to some fun. I think the show is beginning to grow slightly referential instead of finding new angles. So much conversation between Joe Bob and Darcy was filled with things we’ve heard on the show a few times before. While I won’t say lazy, I would say undercooked. Ironically, spending a year in a cabin for “social distancing” produced some exciting material compared to recent forays back to the trailer set.

I also felt that the “airplane light” bit was slightly overlong. As fun as it was, the conversation could have been a bit tighter, and the director could have exercised more control in moving things forward. The breaks featuring Halloween trick-or-treat tips were neat and provided plenty of fun little Halloween references. Of course, the conversation with Cassandra Peterson was excellent, but I’ll discuss that further in the review.

Final Thoughts on Elvira’s Haunted Hills

Elvira’s Haunted Hills is an enjoyable farce of a film. The pastiche of the Roger Corman 1960s Poe adaptations creates an inherently limited audience, but this movie will land for them. The film skirts the line between gorgeous and budget where it needs to as well. Meanwhile, Cassandra Peterson’s Elvira does what is expected and decimates the fourth wall with jokes older than the castle where the film takes place. The film may lack the bite of her first film, but it is still an excellent watch for a Halloween party before you dig into the creepy stuff.

Advertisement

Joe Bob Briggs gave Elvira’s Haunted Hills three stars. I feel the film is a strong one, but it may have a more limited appeal and lacks a little edge, so I am giving it four Cthulhus. A fun opener for the Haunted Halloween Hangout. 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Still from 'Elvira's Haunted Hills' (2001), featured in Joe Bob's Haunted Halloween Hangout
Same, Elvira. Same.

Best Line: “Honey, when I spend the night in a man’s room, he’d better pay me.” – Elvira

Popcorn (1991)

The second film of the night, 1991’s Popcorn, is a somewhat debated cult classic with complex production history. The film follows a ragtag group of kids who put on a film festival full of William Castle gimmicks. Only to seal their doom as someone starts killing them off. It’s a fun set-up overshadowed by the short films seen in the theater with a raucous audience. It is this which the film is most memorable, which is a shame. Outside of the short movies and aside from some strange moments, there is a golden kernel worth acknowledging.

The film’s production history is incredibly troubled. You might best understand it by watching Joe Bob discuss it with lead actress Hill Schoelen. Yet there are still many questions surrounding it. While Bob Clark produced the film, he didn’t want to direct it and pitched longtime friend Alan Ormsby. However, Ormsby would be fired as he bogged down filming the short films. Porky‘s actor Mark Harrier replaced him. Around this time, the initial lead of the film was played by Amy O’Neill (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids) but would be replaced by Jill Schoelen for unknown reasons. All of this occurred as the film was shot in a dilapidated theater in Kingston, Jamaica.

With that said, the “final” credits of the film include Mark Harrier as director, with uncredited sequences from Alan Ormsby and even Bob Clark, funny enough. The story was written by Mitchell Smith and adapted to a screenplay by Ormsby. The film would star Jill Schoelen, Tom Villard, and Dee Wallace. Ronnie Taylor would handle cinematography in one of the strangest gets for the film. The same Ronnie Taylor handled cinematography on Gandhi (1982) and A Chorus Line (1985).

“Who are we looking for?”

'Popcorn' (1991) poster, featured in Joe Bob's Haunted Halloween Hangout

Popcorn is a mess; the issues in production would bleed into the film and confuse what is a decent enough premise. The three short films are excellent; the raucous reaction of the audience is a highlight. Yet, the connective tissue is lacking. The film does several odd things, and some are fun, such as a spontaneous reggae show. I have the impression that Bob Clark desperately tried to save the film, given the mess in production. However, he was also displaced enough from it to let Harrier take the credit. The film does try to course-correct a bit, but it is ham-handed. The hilarious scene depicting convenient newspaper clippings in chronological order comes to mind.

The performances are where the film shines. Jill Schoelen and Dee Wallace are great, though Wallace’s role is somewhat familiar and limited, given the movie. Schoelen was admirable as a lead, working with an already uncomfortable and awkward shoot. The actual performance that saves the film is Tom Villard as Toby. Villard’s work in the movie is excellent – his presence, when unleashed fully, is magnetic, and he takes to the prosthetic makeup incredibly well. Popcorn shows him as a talent taken far too soon by complications due to AIDs. He died just three years after the release of Popcorn at the age of 40.

Advertisement

The film has an offbeat quality to it that I feel would have paired better with The Monster Club, but it works for a more hammy, winking sort of Halloween special. I think the time is right for a Popcorn remake. The prop-skeleton is there; rebuild the tissue.

Joe Bob-servations on Popcorn

For the back half of the evening, Joe Bob switched from traditional trick-or-treating pranks to Samhain festivities (appropriately mispronounced, of course). These bits were fun, and the budget druid costume was a clever nod. The Samhain jokes were a nice addition and a fun way to get into the history of the spooky season.

With that said, the real highlight was the interview with Jill Schoelen, who had a lot of fun insights into Popcorn. There were also other important topics, but perhaps the best moment was when Darcy and Jill did their own smaller interview in the middle of one of the breaks. It very much felt like two friends talking. Joe Bob’s interviews can be hit or miss; he tends to do well when talking to longtime friends and old hands in the industry. He was good with both of tonight’s guests, but the ease at which Darcy and Jill spoke was quite illuminating.

Final Thoughts on Popcorn

I love Popcorn. It’s not a great film, but it is pretty fun. It is a little toothless, though. For being a 1991 film, it feels rather trapped in the 1980s. It is interesting to see this gasp of a dying genre before a reinvigoration by Scream. In many ways, it reminds me of Uncle Sam – a film out of time.

The film is fun to watch, don’t get me wrong. I prefer it to Uncle Sam. Still, it carries a lot of baggage that is never conducive to a strong film. I would give Popcorn three and a half Cthulhus.

Advertisement
3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)
Still from 'Popcorn' (1991), featured on Joe Bob's Haunted Halloween Hangout
A sinister plan comes to fruition.

Best Line: “Without memory, there can be no retribution.” – Toby

Haunted MTL Drive-In Totals

As always, here are the official totals direct from Shudder’s Twitter account.

And we have our Drive-In totals revolving around the show itself. This week we have…

  • 1 Yuki Sighting
  • 2 Guests
  • 5 Rounds of “Applause”
  • 7 Utterances of “Penis”
  • 8 Presentation Boards
  • 13 Instances of “Thee-ate-er”
  • Gratuitous Candy Corn Slander
  • Gratuitous Mispronunciation of Samhein
  • Gratuitous Airplane Light Bit
  • Gratuitous Halloween Decorations
  • Budget Costuming
  • Checklisting
  • Vampire Joking
  • Halloween Joking
  • Eyes Roll
  • Plot Recap Fu
  • Production Recap Fu
Joe Bob, Darcy, and Cassandra Peterson on the set of The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs.
Legend Meets Legend – a Joe Bob is there too!

Episode Score for The Last Drive-In: Joe Bob’s Haunted Halloween Hangout

Overall, the evening was fun, and the two guests did a lot for the experience. Cassandra Peterson and Jill Schoelen were absolute delights. Darcy has an opportunity to take a more active role in the episodes, at least when it comes to specific guests. her friendliness and charm proved quite the asset tonight.

As for the Halloween trappings, they felt decidedly more low-key than usual, but I think it worked. The “Trick-Or-Treat” and “Samhain” tips were a fun, punchy little gag. I’m not going to be one to complain about the movies not being Halloween-appropriate. That doesn’t bother me. The most important thing is that they’re fun; Elvira’s Haunted Hills and Popcorn are just that.

We have been spoiled as of late, especially in season four, with some creative gags and musical numbers on the show. I can’t justify them being able to deliver that every time, but I think this is the first time y felt that an aspect of the show was dialed in. There were a lot of recurring references in place of jokes. After years of doing this sort of thing, it makes sense, but I also hope that tonight was a one-off.

For this special, I have to admit the guests drew me in more than Joe Bob and Darcy – but that was bound to happen at some point. You can’t crank out hit after hit forever.

Advertisement

I give the Haunted Halloween Hangout three and a half Cthulhus. 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Darcy and Jill Schoelen have a discussion on The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs.
Darcy and guest Jill Schoelen have a fun rapport.

That is it for us here at Haunted MTL regarding Joe Bob’s Haunted Halloween Hangout. We’re looking forward to season five of The Last Drive-In and will continue to review, recap, and live-tweet the show. If you want to stick around for more coverage, look at our extensive coverage of Shudder, our favorite streaming service.

Please weigh in if you have some thoughts on the Haunted Halloween Hangout special. We’d love to hear them.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Movies n TV

Goosebumps, The Haunted Mask

Published

on

Episode two of Goosebumps was honestly more fun than the first. It was dark, funny, infuriating and wonderful. Best of all, it has a killer twist ending.

Let’s discuss.

The story

Based loosely on the 1993 story of the same name, The Haunted Mask begins sort of partway through the first episode.

Advertisement
Cover of R.L. Stine's The Haunted Mask.

We’re introduced to a character we haven’t seen much of so far, named Isabella.

Isabella’s life doesn’t seem great. She’s all but invisible at school. She is responsible for taking care of her little brother. It seems like her only real joy is bullying people online. She was the person who tried to get Allison’s party canceled by sending the invite to her parents. Why? Because she is a very unhappy person.

Despite trying to get the party canceled, she decides to go anyway. At the Biddle house, a voice calls her down to the basement. There, she finds a mask.

The mask inspires her to do wild things. She wanders around the party, flirting with everyone. And she has a great time.

Several days later, after Isaiah breaks his arm, Isabella brings an expensive drone to school to get shots of the football team’s practice. Unfortunately, Lucas breaks it fooling around. And Isabella, tired of being ignored, says some awful things to him.

When her mother grounds her because she took the drone without asking, the mask compels her to do some awful things.

Advertisement

What worked

I would first like to talk about the storytelling structure in this season. It appears that we’re going to be getting the events of Halloween night multiple times, from multiple points of view.

Ana Yi Puig in Goosebumps.

I love this structure. It’s unique, and it allows for more mystery in a shorter period. It’s also more complex, showing just how much madness was happening, while just showing one part of the story at a time.

Another thing I appreciated was the evolution of the character Lucas.

On one hand, it’s easy to be angry at Lucas. Even if he thought the drone belonged to the school, it’s still kind of a selfish move to break it.

But Lucas just lost his father. We don’t know how yet, but we know from Nora that his death caused Lucas to start doing things like jumping on drones and skateboarding off the roof from his bedroom window.

Advertisement

We all mourn differently. Losing a parent as a teen is awful. So while we can all agree that he’s being a problem, he’s also being a sad kid working through something hard.

And the same can be said for Isabella.

Look, we still don’t know what the adults of this town did to make Harold Biddle haunt them. But we do know that these parents are messing up in all sorts of other ways. And Isabella is suffering from parentification. She’s being forced to play mom at home while being ignored by her classmates at school. Even without the mask, I could see her lashing out and trashing the house.

Finally, I love Justin Long in this series. His visual comedy was fantastic here, as he falls through the hallways. But he also manages to be scary as hell. His creepy smile and jerky movements are enough to make anyone’s skin crawl. I honestly can’t think of a living actor who could have played this better.

What didn’t work

Advertisement

If I have one complaint about this episode, it’s the music. It’s not terrible, but it’s not great. Every song seems like it’s just screaming what the characters are thinking. Which isn’t really what I’d consider the point of a soundtrack.

Maybe it’s just a curse on RL Stine. None of his projects can ever have good soundtracks aside from the theme song.

Unlike the original Goosebumps series, there were moments in this episode that did startle me and unnerve me. Which is wonderful. And while it’s still clearly for kids, it’s something anyone can sit down and enjoy. I’m very excited for the rest of the season. But what do you think? Let us know in the comments.

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Advertisement

If you’re a fan of my work, please check out my latest story, Nova, on Paper Beats World. New chapters launch every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Continue Reading

Movies n TV

Goosebumps Say Cheese and Die

Published

on

Released in 2023, Goosebumps is the latest in a line of content based on the insanely popular children’s book series with the same name. And if you’re here, I’m guessing I don’t have to tell you a lot about Goosebumps. Most horror fans are at least passingly aware of the colorful covers, dark plotlines, and surprise twist endings. Some of us even have a few of the original books lying around.

For nostalgia.

Cover for Say Cheese and Die, Goosebumps number 4.

With so many good and bad versions of the original stories floating around, I was unsure how to feel about this brand-new series. I was sure, however, that I had to watch all of it. Especially with the infamous Slappy appearing so prominently in the advertising.

So, how was the first episode?

The story

Advertisement

We start this episode with a flashback to 1993, and a young man named Harold Biddle. We don’t spend a lot of time with him. He comes home from school and goes right to the basement. There he starts writing some concerning notes in his journal. This is interrupted when a fire consumes the basement, killing him.

We then flash forward thirty years to the real start of our story. The Biddle house has just been inherited by a man named Nathan Bratt, played by the delightful Justin Long. He adores the place but is less than thrilled when a bunch of teens crash it for a Halloween party.

The teens end up not being thrilled either.

Now we come to our real main characters, Isaiah, Margot, Allison, and James. It is the four of them that planned the ill-fated party.

Zack Morris in Goosebumps

While in the house, Isaiah finds a Polaroid camera. He starts taking pictures of his friends, only to find that they don’t come out right. One of them, Allison, shows her on the ground in the woods, terrified for her life. Another shows Margot in a panic next to a snack machine.

Of course, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that he eventually sees both of the girls in those exact situations. The real trouble comes when Lucas takes a picture of him, and it shows him on the football field, horribly injured.

Advertisement

All of these near-death experiences seem to be caused by the flaming spirit of Harold Biddle. And it soon becomes clear that the adults of the town likely know more than they’re willing to tell about what went down at the Biddle house thirty years ago.

What worked

For someone who grew up with the series, and is therefore of a certain age, the first scene of the episode was a lot of fun. It oozed 90’s vibe in a way that’s immediately recognizable to most, and familiar to my generation. Well, insomuch as wearing flannel and coming home to an empty house is the pinnacle of being a 90s kid.

It was also fun for the constant references to books in the original series. Blink and you missed them, but I saw the Cuckoo Clock of Doom, Haunted Mask, and Go Eat Worms. These make sense, as they each have their episode this season. But I’m sure I missed a few. Please let me know in the comments.

That was a lot of fun for someone who grew up with the series. But it wasn’t so constant and all-consuming as to distract from the story. Someone could have never read a Goosebumps book in their lives and just enjoy this episode of television.

Advertisement

More importantly, younger viewers can watch this and feel like it’s for them. The main characters aren’t the parents, they’re the kids. And it’s clear even in this first episode that, even if it was the grownups who caused this horror, it’s going to be the kids that fix it.

This is a series that is for kids. And that’s great. It’s introducing a whole new generation to a series in a way that feels like it can be theirs just as much as it was ours when we were kids.

What didn’t work

All that being said, the story also felt a little dumbed down. A little too predictable. There was one line that particularly irritated me in this regard. When Nora goes to see Isiah’s dad in the hospital, she just flat-out says, “The children will suffer for the sins of the fathers.”

Not only is that just a bad line, it’s also a lazy one. It’s awkward and unrealistic. People simply do not talk that way. And we frankly didn’t need this information dropped on us. It was pretty clear during the football game that at least some of the grownups in town were going to be involved with this when we saw Nora recognize what was happening to Isaiah and try to stop the game. Kids are smart. They would have figured this out by themselves.

Advertisement

It’s also a really tired trope. Freddy and Jason after all, are both killing young people for the sins of their parents. It was a big part of the storyline in Hide. And while I get that this might feel relevant to the next generation who are all paying for the mistakes of Boomers that Gen X and Millennials have not done enough to solve, it’s also a bit lazy. I just feel like, if this is going to be our main story, it could have been a better one.

But this isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy this episode. Overall, it was a fun start that left me with lots of questions. I’m excited to see where the rest of the season takes us.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

If you’re a fan of my work, please check out my latest story, Nova, on Paper Beats World. New chapters every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Advertisement

Continue Reading

Book Reviews

The Dead Take the A Train Review: Queer Magic and Monster Mayhem

Published

on

“Julie crawled onto the table, straddling her intern, both hands around the knife. She torqued it downward, cursing. Brad shrieked harder.” -pg 57, The Dead Take the A Train by Cassandra Khaw & Richard Kadrey

The Dead Take the A Train is the first book in a duology by authors Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey. It was published in 2023 by Tor Nightfire (like the Scourge Between Stars, which I reviewed here). I was not previously familiar with Kadrey’s work, which most notably includes the Sandman Slim series. However, I was introduced to Khaw through The Salt Grows Heavy (review here), which I absolutely adored in all its twisted, gory glory. Therefore, I was thrilled to pick-up The Dead Take the A Train, which promised similar heart in a modern cosmic horror package.

In The Dead Take the A Train, a magical fixer named Julie must hunt down eldritch monstrosities threatening the lives of those around her. To do this, she has to go up against her shitty ex, a questionable angel, finance executives, and her own sobriety. When an old friend shows up, Julie is terrified to find herself making a retirement plan that doesn’t involve getting murdered by a demon.

The Dead Take the A Train is reminiscent of N.K. Jeminsin’s The City We Became, with both featuring queer characters tackling eldritch horror plots in New York City. In the same way, the novel was reminiscent of a gorier version of Dimension 20’s Unsleeping City actual play series. However, it clearly carves out a space for itself among the droves of cosmic-horror inspired love letters to New York City. For one, it is mostly unconcerned with borough beef, which (not to sound like a curmudgeonly Midwesterner), is so refreshing. The book also has a relatively novel way the world works, which helps it stay memorable.

Advertisement

Overall, I really liked The Dead Take the A Train. First off, the characters are fun and easy to root for. Julie is a mess in pretty much every aspect, but her bad decisions are understandable and she is charismatic. Her romance with her friend, Sarah, also serves to make Julie more likable. It helps that the villains are so easy to hate too. What’s not to hate about rich Wall Street assholes engaging in human sacrifice? Speaking of which, I liked the juxtaposition of corporate Wall Street and cosmic cultists. The actions taken were evil, but more importantly, they were just business.

The prose was flowery, but not quite as much as in The Salt Grows Heavy. So, if you struggled with Khaw’s other works for that reason this may be a much easier read. Personally, I enjoyed the prose in both. There is quite a bit of gore in The Dead Take the A Train, but I didn’t find it to be overwhelming. I think you could still enjoy the book if you don’t love gore, though maybe not if you have a weak stomach.

One of the largest issues I have with The Dead Take the A Train, is the lack of clarity in power levels of the various characters. Especially since all their forms of magic work in different ways, it is sometimes unclear the level of danger present. This can also sometimes create room for plot holes. For example, Julie has a friend who is tapped into anything and everything happening online. This is an absurdly powerful ability (and is used as such). But there were moments where the main conflict probably could have been avoided or solved using that power. It also felt odd that no one else in this thriving magic community felt strongly about stopping a world-ending catastrophe. Because of this, the magic underground of NYC could feel smaller than I think was intended.

Having been familiar with Khaw’s work previously, The Dead Take the A Train clearly feels like a mix of Khaw’s style with someone else’s. This could be a boon or a hindrance, depending on your view of Khaw’s distinct prose and storytelling. Either way, if you are interested in learning more about the process or the authors, check out the interview they did for SFF Addicts Podcast!

Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey on the SFF Addicts Podcast

I recommend The Dead Take the A Train, especially for those who are fans of modern urban eldritch horror. The book is an even bigger steal if you are looking for danger, gore, and queer characters. Check it out! And keep your eyes peeled for the next book in this duology. 

Advertisement

[USR 4.2]

Continue Reading

Trending