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There are two themes that link tonight’s films, and both are messy. First of all, we’re all about the “body melt” genre with tonight’s two features. However, grocery store anarchy is another theme you’ll see in both movies as well!

We’re back with Joe Bob again this week at The Last Drive-In, exclusively on Shudder. It’s important to note, Mutants, that as of this moment Shudder has not committed to renewing The Last Drive-In for another round, so what I ask is that you take a moment to tweet @shudder with your desire for more episodes. Don’t forget the hashtag #TheLastDriveIn either!

Also, can we say tweet of the night?

https://twitter.com/hpkomic/status/1129572715784839168

The Stuff (1985)

Opening Rant: Where did all the “Man-sized” Kleenex go?

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The Stuff is a 1985 satirical science fiction horror film written, produced, and directed by Larry Cohen. Cohen’s name should be familiar if you’ve watched Q: the Winged Serpent, which was also in this season of The Last Drive-In. The story follows the discovery of a sweet, white substance that bubbles up from the ground and is later mass-marketed as an addictive and popular desert called “The Stuff.” A consortium of desert moguls who find themselves being pushed out by The Stuff hire a former F.B.I. agent and industrial spy by the name of David “Mo” Rutherford who discovers the danger and true nature of… The Stuff.

The film stars Michael Moriarty, Andrea Marcovicci, Garrett Morris and Paul Sorvino.

Review

Joe Bob is not the biggest fan of The Stuff only awarding it two and a half stars. On the other hand, Darcy is a huge fan and came out at the end of the episode dressed as a “Stuff” girl, so we have that to be thankful for. Yet, Joe Bob’s praise for the film was tepid at best. Mostly, he was confused by how many other people seem to love the film so much. To be fair though, he has a point. As great as Larry Cohen is, The Stuff is not his best work by a long shot. The story is filled with contrivances and as a whole the film is more of a collective of satirical sketches rather than a singular narrative

Yet, despite the issues with the movie, as always, Joe Bob Briggs delivers. In particular, as we’d learned a great deal about Larry Cohen during the airing on Q, Joe Bob spent time on Cohen’s TV writing career. However, the most interesting contributions provided by our host were outside of Larry Cohen in particular. For example, the discussing of the career of Garrett Morris, who plays “Chocolate Chip” Charlie in a great, hilarious performance. There was also a fond recollection of Robert Osborne at the Turner Studios. What was most important was Joe Bob’s introduction of the “body melt” genre of horror, which would be continued later with the second feature of the night.

Larry Cohen is a legend, of course, but we here at Haunted MTL can’t help but agree with Joe Bob in this case, awarding the film two stars. Though the very loose nature of the plot is a huge detriment to the film overall, what is in the movie can be very memorable. In particular, the goo effects are quite technically excellent for the time. What stands out most, however, is the sudden third act appearance of Paul Sorvino playing an Alex Jones-type militia leader. Paul Sorvino absolutely chews the scenery with aplomb that, frankly, overshadows the normally magnetic Michael Moriarty and the hilarious Garrett Morris.

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Hey… where’s the cream filling?!

Best Line: “Everybody has to eat shaving cream once in a while.”

Street Trash (1987)

Opening Rant: The Joe Bob Wellness Regimen!

Based on a 10 minute short film, 1987’s Street Trash is a black body horror comedy and probably one of the grimiest movies ever made. The film was directed by J. Michael Muro, written by Roy Frumkes, and features a cast of near-literal unknowns. The film revolves around a community of New York homeless who live in a Greenpoint, Brooklyn junkyard, including a pair of brothers and a crazed Vietnam veteran who establishes a “kingdom” in the yard. Complications ensue, naturally, when an 60 year old box of “Tenafly Viper” liquor finds its way into the hands of the local vagrants and begins to melt them into brightly colored goo.

The film stars Mike Lackey, R. L. Ryan, and Vic Noto. But the real star of the show is a severed penis in the infamous “penis football” scene.

Review

There is a lot to say about Street Trash, but Joe Bob only gave the film two stars. That being said, there are two major takeaways about the behind-the-scenes talent of the film. First, the director of the film, J. Michael Muro is best known as one of the premiere Steadicam operators in the film industry. Indeed, one of the better host segments of the night features Joe Bob’s discussion of the Steadicam work in the film which in many ways was ahead of it’s time.

A second major area of interest was Roy Frumkes’ connection to an all-time horror legend. Frumkes formerly taught at the School of Visual Arts in New York, but is best known for Document of the Dead, a documentary feature that traces the filming of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. He is also the screenwriter of all four of The Substitute films. Lastly, there was the revelation that Bryan Singer was production assistant on the film.

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Plus, we can’t forget the addition of Mangled-Dick Expert Felissa Rose on the other end of the red phone line. As always, her conversations with Joe Bob are a treat.

Street Trash is not a great movie. It has a lot of the same issues that The Stuff did and Haunted MTL can only award the film two and a half stars. The film plays more like a series of shock sketches and there are some very strange choices in the narrative, such as the ending involving the mafia guys. That being said, the movie is memorable as hell with some hilarious effects and what is likely the least flattering depiction of 1980s New York ever put to film. The scene with the severed penis alone needs to be experienced for the sheer insanity of it being committed to film. The amazing effects work, particularly the toilet scene and the exploding scene are also extremely iconic.

Not the oddest thing you’ll see in the movie.

Best Line: “Oh shit, he’s drippin’!”

Haunted MTL Drive-In Totals

  • 1 Clipboard Check
  • 2 Joe Bob Musical Interludes
  • 2 Michael Moriarty Movies this Season
  • 3 Smacks of the Drive-In Sign
  • 4 Credit-Sequence Wise Guys
  • 9 Twitter Bans for Darcy (twice in one night?!)
  • 128 “Fucks” in Street Trash (waiting for someone on Twitter to verify)
  • Dog Vomiting
  • Child Endangering
  • Head Splitting
  • Pope Joking
  • Real-life Stuff Eating
  • Goo Leaking
  • Toe Popping
  • Grocery Store Raging (in both movies)
  • Decorative Corpse Arrangement
  • #junkyaardvarking
  • Lady Chucking
  • Corpse Pissing
  • Vietnam Flashbacking
  • Horse, Elephant, Kangaroo, and Lion Joking
  • Street Punk Fu
  • Gloryhole Fu
  • Door Opening Fu
  • Ice Cream Truck Fu

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.

I’ll take twenty cartons.

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

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Movies n TV

Goosebumps, Cuckoo Clock of Doom

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Named for the 28th installment of the original book series, The Cuckoo Clock of Doom has the least in common so far with its source material.

Thankfully, the story isn’t negatively impacted by this. I can honestly say so far that these episodes just keep getting better.

The story

After the last episode’s explosive ending, I’m sure we were all more than a little worried about James. I for one was worried we were going to have an example of the Bury Your Gays trope on a kid’s show.

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Cover of R.L. Stine Cuckoo Clock of Doom

Thankfully, that’s not the case.

We go back in time again to Halloween night, and this time we see what James was up to.

Mostly he was up to trying to flirt with his crush. Everything seems to be going well until James lies about being interested in football.

He tries to leave the house, but instead finds himself back at the basement door when Isaiah is trapped and the cuckoo clock is going off. James then shows a remarkable amount of genre savvy and tries his best to escape the house. Each time he does, we see another version of him walking away.

Eventually, he devises a plan to break the clock at just the right moment, but not before he gets some intel on his crush’s favorite team so he can score a date.

Back in the real world free of the time loop though, James finds that he has far more worries. Every time he tried to escape the house, a duplicate version of him was created. And all of those duplicates are waiting for him.

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Back at the Biddle house, though, there’s a surprise waiting. One of the James duplicates has brought Harold Biddle a box. A ventriloquist dummy-sized box.

An empty box.

What worked

The effects of this show so far have been wonderful. When the other characters hit a James duplicate, it doesn’t just die. It explodes in a Nickelodeon-style wave of slime. This is just fun, and I’m kind of sad there doesn’t appear to be more of the duplicates around.

I mean, I wouldn’t rule it out.

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Ana Yi Puig in Goosebumps.

Did I mention that these duplicates appeared to smell like watermelon Jolly Ranchers when they exploded? That was a visceral detail that was both alarming and terrific. They could have smelled bad. They could have smelled like rotting plants or people. But no, they smell like candy.

Of course, the characters continue to steal the show. Margot and Isaiah could be said to be the main characters, but everyone comes into this with main character energy. They are all funny, all capable, all smart. And they all seem to care about each other.

I loved that James and Isaiah talked about how they were feeling. I think it’s important that we’re modeling that for young men. They talked about what was bothering them, and they made up.

Finally, though, we have to talk about Justin Long again. His acting in this just keeps stealing the show. He dances like a cartoon and jumps from joyful to violently furious at a moment’s notice. The character doesn’t know how to act, and watching him fail to act right in front of people never fails to make me laugh.

What didn’t work

I honestly can’t say that anything didn’t work in this episode. But there is something about the show that I, at least, don’t like.

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There’s no real blood or gore. There’s more blood when I eat an actual jolly rancher because I always cut my tongue on them.

Now, this show is pretty clearly not for kids and young adults so there’s probably not a lot of need for too much gore and violence. But if the bloody stuff is more your style, like me, the lack of it might disappoint you.

Fans of the Goosebumps books will know that everyone ended with a twist. And the show so far has been no different. And the ending of this episode has been the best so far. The tension of Margot’s mom’s impassioned reaction, blended with the revelation that Slappy is somewhere in town is just too much. I can’t believe we’re only three episodes in and I am this invested. I hope you are too.

Viewer beware, I suspect things are going to get a lot worse for our characters before they get better.

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4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

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, 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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