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Hello Mutants, and welcome back to the weekly recap of The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs. Remember that you can catch the double feature on Fridays at 6pm PST only on Shudder.

So, what did Joe Bob have in store for us this week? Well, how about perhaps the oddest pairing of films yet? It’s metal vs. classical this time, and yet chainsaws are always invited to the party.

DEATHGASM (2015)

Opening Rant: Tesla cars (Joe Bob is not a fan)

DEATHGASM is a 2015 New Zealand horror comedy film about a teenage metal band that summons a demonic entity by playing ancient sheet music. The film is the directorial debut of special effects artist and rotoscope artist Jason Lei Howden. The film stars Milo Cawthorne, James Blake, Kimberley Crossman, Sam Berkley, and Daniel Cresswell. What makes the film stand out in particular is the soundtrack, featuring the likes of Emperor, Axeslasher, Nuslaughter, Beast Wars and other great metal bands.

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Joe Bob was particularly glowing in his praise for DEATHGASM. The film, directed by Jason Lei Howden, earned 4 stars. There was a great deal of discussion on Joe Bob’s part regarding the metal soundtrack and the film culture of New Zealand, where the movie originates. In particular, the film was part of a New Zealand horror competition where filmmakers were able to pitch horror films and receive government money to film their projects. Joe Bob did address some of the similarities between DEATHGASM and Braindead, of course, while mentioning several of the other major New Zealand horror core films. Basically, all the other New Zealand horror core films as Joe Bob points out correctly that… there simply are not that many outside the ones we all know.

Yet, the most interesting insights Joe Bob provided in the episode were the parallels between DEATHGASM and 1983’s Trick or Treat. Namely how much DEATHGASM seems to borrow from and reference that classic film. Naturally, being a post-2000s New Zealand film, there was mention of the whole Hobbit-dominated production industry down there, particularly in that Howden worked on some of those very films.

This was a solid film and really had some insane, adrenaline-pumping energy that would get any horror fan excited. However, as good as it was, the film was just a bit too self-aware. Self-awareness is not an inherent issue, of course, as many great films have it, but in the case of DEATHGASM there are moments where the film’s cleverness cannot mask some issues with plotting. Just as Joe Bob points out during one of the breaks, it takes heavy plot to get the two leads to the record shop midway through the film. This self-awareness is also worn too easily on the sleeve, which tends to be a trend in a lot of 2010s horror movies and horror comedies. The film is hilarious as hell though and it has a very dry sense of humor that one can expect from New Zealand. Additionally, the gore is absolutely top-notch. Plus, it has demon zombies getting messed the fuck up by sex toys. Haunted MTL gives DEATHGASM 3 and 1/2 stars.

Best Line: “You’re pretty good at whacking those off, bro.”

Not the strangest scene in the movie, but still pretty up there.

The Changeling (1980)

Opening Rant: Craft whiskey (Joe Bob is not a fan)

The second film of the night couldn’t have been more differently in tone and pace from DEATHGASM. The Changeling is a 1980 Canadian psychological horror film about a haunted house. The story follows a grieving composer who, after the loss of his family, moves into a 30 room mansion to work on his music. Naturally, the man finds out he is not alone, and that something from the other side is steering him toward a chilling mystery. The film was directed by journeyman/auteur Peter Medak and stars George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, Melvyn Douglas, and John Colicos. Widely considered a slow-burn experience, The Changeling is a cult classic, but it also has a reputation of having pretentious fans. Naturally, this is something to be addressed in The Last Drive-In.

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Joe Bob’s assessment of The Changeling puts the film below DEATHGASM at a rating of 3 and 1/2 stars. Before fans of The Changeling get unnecessarily worked up, the film is definitely not drive-in fare and Joe Bob’s rating is very generous given then huge lack of blood and boobs that make up the usual diet of the drive-in mutant. Therein lies the challenge of showing a classic, moody ghost story in the drive-in setting. The Changeling is an excellently done film, as JBB indicates during the run-time, but it is so incredibly different from any of the previous films on the Shudder marathon, with the single exception of The Legend of Boggy Creek.

With that being said, watching such a movie with Joe Bob Briggs himself to guide us is a rare treat. Joe Bob’s encyclopedic knowledge of film, particularly when discussing the incredible breadth of work of Peter Medak, is invaluable. Some of JBB’s best bits in the episode, however, revolve around veteran actors George C. Scott (who was a real piece of work) and Melvyn Douglass. Perhaps most relevant to Haunted MTL, however, was Joe Bob’s assessment of Canada itself in relation to the U.S. film industry, as “Canada is like out sweet little brother” and acknowledging the role of “Canadian funny money” during film production in the 70s and 80s.

The best moment of the night, however, is Joe Bob’s take down of the pretensions of those in the horror fandom who suggest that films that are inherently lesser if they rely on a lot of special effects. This is naturally preposterous as The Changeling is loaded with special effects, but particularly this is more getting at a division of the suspense vs. shock distinction in horror. As JBB pontificates, it is all art, it is just different tools being used. You wouldn’t criticize a pointillist for not making their painting out of clay, after all.

I am going to get a bit personal here. In these recaps I try to avoid putting myself into the experience too much, but with The Changeling, one of my all time favorite horror films, I cannot help it. The Changeling is an important film for me in my development as a fan of horror and it stands out to me as one of the most effective and downright creepiest ghost stories ever made. That being said, the film is not without faults, but the same can be said about any film shown on The Last Drive-In. What the presence of The Changeling at The Last Drive-In means to me is a sort of validation that I am not the only one who admires this strange and very basic, slow-burn ghost story. I don’t feel the film was best serviced in a pairing with DEATHGASM, but the experience of the tonal whiplash between the two definitely added something I cannot quite identify… but I like it. The Changeling is a film I fully intend to write about separately in the future here at Haunted MTL, so for now let’s just leave with this assessment of the film: it is a 4 star movie.

Best Line: “That house is not fit to live it. No one’s been able to live in it. It doesn’t want people.”

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The greatest séance scene in film history

Haunted MTL’s Drive-In Totals

  • 1 blue shirt with white trim
  • 1 oval bolo tie with turquoise stone
  • 1 Darcy Cosplay (Medina from DEATHGASM)
  • 1 name drop of another Haunted MTL favorite (1981’s Ghost Story)
  • 2 Joe Bob Fact Checking Notices
    • It’s “Gimli,” Joe Bob, not “Grimli”
    • Coal carts exist independently from trains. How else do you get coal from the train to the rest of the town?
  • 2 Plot-relevant chainsaws
  • 2 Power Rangers mentions
  • 3 Twitter bans for Darcy (for being a tweet machine during the stream)
  • 3 Shakespeare in the park references so far (at least 1 every week so far)
  • 5 improvised sex toy weapons
  • Dry Kiwi Humor Fu
  • Sword Jerking Fu
  • Joe Bob Spoils Ending Fu
  • Skeptic Fu (take that “based on a true story” gimmicks)
  • Marriage Counseling Joke Fu
  • Fast Car Joke Fu
  • Felissa Rose Dick Consultation Fu

#cocktopus

As always, please share your thoughts with us about The Last Drive-In. Also, please check out our other great content here at Haunted MTL.

Let’s close out with Joe Bob’s wonderful assessment of Joseph, the spirit at the center of The Changeling: “The ghost takes no fucking prisoners in this film.”

Movies n TV

Goosebumps, The Haunted Mask

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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)

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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.

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Movies n TV

Goosebumps Say Cheese and Die

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Book Reviews

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

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“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.

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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. 

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[USR 4.2]

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