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Welcome back to the Drive-In. This week Joe Bob joked about the lack of guests on the show and how this weekend’s feature would be received. Fans were fortunate to have an absolutely stacked back-to-back two weeks of fun guests, but there is something said to just having Joe Bob, Darcy, and the always vital Mangled Dick Expert Felissa Rose with us for the night. It’s another solid showing at The Last Drive-In this week.

This time we got two movies full of color, weirdness, and amazing music: Brain Damage (1988) and Deep Red (1975).

So, let’s dive in, shall we?

Brain Damage (1988)

Opening Rant: Joe Bob is not an Instagram fan.

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So, Frank Henenlotter’s Brain Damage is a pretty special movie. The movie is at least partially connected to the first marathon’s Basket Case (1982) by a fun cameo, but it is little more than a silly cameo. One of Henenlotter’s other films, Frankenhooker (1990), would be a nice future film for The Last Drive-In. Brain Damage itself would go on to add two sequels in 1990 and 1991.

The main thing about Brain Damage is that it is unbelievably fun. It’s a strange film that deals with themes of addiction by creating a golden-voiced brain slug monster that serves as the drug epidemic metaphor. Shockingly, it works well because it believes in itself enough to be goofy and still commit to the strange morality of it all.

It’s not a scary film, however. Sure, it is gory and hilarious, but the presence of a talking drug slug, whose origins are explained in an absurdly long backstory-bomb, just presents no real frights beyond vague feelings of anxiety around drug addition. The movie is cheeseballs, basically, but that’s fine because it is so entertaining. I mean, the movie plays its goofy card pretty blatantly by bringing in an (uncredited) John Zacherle as Aylmer, the mind-bending brain parasite.

Joe Bob gave this film a full 4 stars and I am inclined to agree that it is a very quality movie. The Aylmer puppet is a huge jump above Belial from Basket Case, and even then, the puppet is just goofy enough to let you buy into the movie in a way that a CGI Aylmer never could. The insights into the production provided by our venerable host were as great as ever, of course. In particular, though, the fourth break chronicles the origins of the tune of Aylmer’s little musical number. It proved appropriately historical, insightful, and slightly out of place like a good Joe Bob deep-dive, given the feature was about a drug slug. Another interesting fact dropped by Briggs, however, was the revelation of a “shooting subway” in NYC for film-production.

Brain Damage continues Joe Bob’s 4-star spoils this season on The Last Drive-In and it is definitely one of those films where I’d agree with him on a higher score. The film is not perfect but the movie is just too ridiculous and fun. I plan on re-watching it a couple more times as soon as I can. It’s that good. Brain Damage is a 5 Cthulhu film.

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5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Best Line: “Yeah, but when it comes to blood in my underwear, I want to know how it got there.” – Brian to Aylmer

The sound mixing here is on point, fitting, as it is all ear trauma.

Deep Red (1975)

Opening Rant: Joe Bob talks the Getty Fire in LA.

Dario Argento’s Deep Red (or Profundo rosso for you Giallo nerds) is one of those huge moments in Giallo film that has become legendary and is perhaps held up on a pedestal of sorts. When held at a distance like that, as some sort of art, it tends to have imperfections overlooked. So much has been written about Argento’s film. Even what constitutes the real film is up for debate and is storied. After all, there are so many different versions floating around out there and the film has been hacked up more than some Giallo women.

There is so much weight attached to Deep Red that it may come off as sacrilege among some of the horror community to label it as a fine movie. It is definitely up there in Argento’s creative works. The film is entertaining and stylish. But it’s also a significantly flawed piece. It’s very much style over substance. I liken it to an extended high-art music video, and given the origins of the band Goblin from this film, that seems fitting. Sequences are not so much organic expressions of the narrative but rather cool moments set to Italian prog-rock, albeit some amazing prog-rock. It’s got pointlessly strange setpieces inconsistent with the actual story being told.

This is very much a movie to have to play in the background of a party, or just maybe sitting back with something to drink with the volume way up for that amazing Goblin score. This is not a movie for a satisfying story. It’s just not good. It’s fine.

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I am a Dario Argento fan, one of those Argentophiles that has written papers on some of his work. I totally understand how exhausting people like me can be. Joe Bob really sort of tore into Argento and his fans throughout the feature, which makes it puzzling that he awarded Deep Red a full 4 stars. This is where I feel I need to diverge from our Drive-In scholar. I don’t feel Deep Red is that great, nor do I feel Joe Bob Briggs’ assessment of it felt entirely truthful. Part of his assessment, at least to me, felt as though it was the equivalent of sugar-coating the bitter pill. Perhaps giving the movie the full Drive-In tally is symbolic, recognizing influence and legacy, but giving him some room to be honest about how up-their-own-asses some Argento fans can be regarding the movie.

The bits poking fun at the scholarship surrounding the movie throughout the feature were equally hilarious and pointed. As someone who has been up-his-own-ass about Argento’s work I felt a slight sting, of course; pointed glances from my girlfriend didn’t help. But I also really recognized the truth there. Just as there are Argento’s acolytes who write endlessly about Deep Red, I am one whose tastes align more toward Suspiria. I also recognize that I am a bit crazy about Suspiria, so the ego check provided by Briggs was welcome.

However, I firmly believe that diegetic sound has its merits in the discussion of film and no amount of teasing from the redneck vampire is going to change that.

Largely nonsensical and aesthetically stunning, Deep Red is a tough review, especially paired with a movie like Brain Damage that is itself largely nonsensical and aesthetically stunning. What separates the two is that one has an actual, thought out story between cool moments, and the other is just cool moments.

I can really only give Deep Red 3 and 1/2 Cthulhus out of 5.

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3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Best Line: “Great! Really, that’s good. Very good. Maybe a bit too good… Too clean. Yes, too precise. Too… formal. It should be more trashy. See what I mean? Remember that this sort of jazz came out of the brothels.” – Marcus, the pretentious bitch-boy.

Thanks, I hate it.

HMTL Drive-In Totals

Shudder provides us with a handy recap of the totals for the two movies of the night.

But, what about our totals for the week?

  • 2 weeks of NYC subway scenes
  • 2 dirty bathrooms
  • 7 instances of brain listed in the drive-in totals
  • 7-million instances of “brain” being used in describing Brain Damage
  • 11 seconds (when the pre-show countdown ended and then relaunched at this point)
  • Surprise Eye
  • Surprise Robot Doll
  • Truck-Dragging Fu
  • Brat Smacking Fu
  • Drywall Scrapping Fu
  • Gratuitous Blue, Green, and Red
  • Gratuitous Goblin
  • Dick Mangling Expertise (thanks Felissa!)
  • History Lecturing
  • Ear Popping
  • Big Band Prostelyzing
  • Scholar Bashing
  • Cum Tripping
  • Door Bouncing
  • Butcher Joking
  • Polish Joking
  • Yuki Sighting
  • Darcy Jailing
  • Darcy Cosplay: Dungeon Girl
  • Silver Bolo Award: Dead Meat
Darcy has the weirdest boner.

Episode Score

Any Drive-In night is a good night, and this was very much a great, standard showing of the show. Perhaps relatively subdued in comparison to the first two nights with the amount of stuff that was going on, but those are exceptions and not the norm.

Tonight’s pairing was very interesting and I’d love to know more about why these movies were paired the way they were. It wasn’t as outlandish as last week’s double-feature, but there is something about seeing these two movies together that seems to be making a statement. 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Hey, see you next week during the double-feature, yes? Be sure to follow us on Twitter. I take it over on Friday nights during The Last Drive-In showing.

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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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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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