Welcome back to the Drive-In. It’s been a great run of episodes for the show so far, but The Last Drive-In might have delivered an absolute all-time-best episode with the double-feature of Troma’s War (1988) and One Cut of the Dead (2017).
This week’s tweet commentary is handled by a friend to Haunted MTL, Isaac Thorne. Good stuff, Isaac. Read his story “Dead Rights” here on the site.
So, let’s dive in, shall we?
Troma’s War (1988)
Opening Rant: BoBo Rodriguez’s Cold Rememedy.
When I put together my season two wishlist for The Last Drive-In one of the items was a wish for Troma movies. Troma, that delightful independent studio of bad taste, has enough material to fill entire seasons of The Last Drive-In, and we’ve been fortunate as fans to have two films this season alone.
Tonight’s selection of Troma’s War is not one of the most iconic of Troma’s films, with it actually being quite divisive among fans of the studio, but it’s still bonkers and just right for the Joe Bob Briggs treatment. The film is a hasty, low-budget terrorist movie that reminded me of an unholy child of Lost, Rambo, Die Hard, and Red Dawn. Directed by the legendary Lloyd Kaufman, the film has all those hallmarks of Troma, the blood, the jokes, the boobs, but it also feels simultaneously more subdued and yet more pointed. It is an odd sensation.
The film follows a group of people whose Tromaville Air flight crash lands onto an island being used by a sinister cabal of nations and terrorist. These average Americans must then band together to basically kill all the terrorists in ridiculous ways.
It all sounds good, but the film is curiously tame for a Troma production, mostly due to the continual influence of the MPAA. The satire of the film, while still present, ends up feeling a little toothless. It seems that in working with the MPAA Kaufman and Troma ended up diluting the goal of lampooning the military-industrial complex. Ultimately, Joe Bob would give the film two and a half stars. It’s a fair assessment.
While the movie was ultimately not the best movie of the night or the season, the guest appearances of Lloyd Kaufman and Pat Swinney Kaufman offer perhaps the greatest guest appearances on the show, even factoring in Tom Savini. We know Joe Bob Briggs loves to talk and can keep other people on their toes, but Lloyd Kaufman is such a huckster that he kept Joe Bob on his toes. Lloyd’s film insights, when not completely hilarious, we absolutely fascinating. Lloyd’s discussion of the build of Troma across several of the breaks would establish a theme for the night that ran through the second feature of just… making films.
Lloyd wasn’t alone, however. Pat Swinney Kaufman is another guest that seems just right for The Last Drive-In. So many great movies are shot, in-part, in New York and Pat’s role as the executive director of the New York State Governor’s Office for Motion Picture and Television Development and deputy commissioner of Empire State Development has helped to ensure smooth productions in New York. Even completely ignoring the fact she’s married to Lloyd Kaufman, Pat is a Hell of guest with some pretty significant contributions to the types of films we mutants love. That being said, her being there with Lloyd was amazing.
This is a situation where what surrounds the feature outshines the feature itself. Troma’s War is not one of Troma’s best, but contextualized by the commentary of Joe Bob Briggs, and Lloyd and Pat Kaufman it becomes something else entirely. Unfortunately though, as a feature, I cannot give Troma’s War more than three Cthulhus. (3 / 5)
Best Line: “You try chopping Siamese twins apart with a machete and not change.” – Nancy
One Cut of the Dead (2017)
Opening Rant: Joe Bob drops some knowledge about the lengthy history of the deep fake.
I am honestly surprised that I have not reviewed One Cut of the Dead for Haunted MTL, which is odd because it is still one of the best films offered on Shudder and was available just shortly after I started writing on the site. Perhaps it is fitting that I am reviewing it now, attached to my passion project of reviewing The Last Drive-In.
A quirky Japanese horror-comedy is, at first blush, a strange film to pair with a Troma film, but it makes a lot of sense given the themes of One Cut of the Dead. The film is quite inventive and revolves less around zombies and rather the challenges and joys of filmmaking. The film is one that catches a lot of people off guard when they see it, as evidenced by the #MutantFam reaction to the film’s twist, which I will not spoil. Going in blind, you’re confronted with what seems to be a technically impressive, but narratively unimpressive one-take zombie film. But that is only the first part of the movie.
One Cut of the Dead is probably one of the oddest films we’ve seen on The Last Drive-In due to how heartwarming it is. The film is extremely cute and has a great many feel-good moments. It’s just a damn pleasure to watch. Joe Bob Briggs gave it the four-star treatment and that is pretty great considering the movie is just so far outside of the normal Drive-In experience. Maybe Joe Bob is getting soft. Who knows?
One Cut of the Dead continued a through-line established in the discussion surrounding Troma’s War regarding filmmaking at its most fundamental level with independent filmmakers. It all culminates with this wonderful closer, “Keep Rolling.”
It is probably one of the best sequences since Joe Bob started up on Shudder and is just damn inspiring.
Getting back to One Cut of the Dead, however, the film earns every single one of the 5 Cthulhus I am giving it. I’ll probably need to write a longer, more in-depth review of the movie because it is just that good. It needs to be discussed further than a couple of paragraphs I set aside in a Last Drive-In recap.(5 / 5)
Best Line: “Furrrk!” – Nao
HMTL Drive-In Totals
So, what were the official Drive-In totals this week?
How about our count?
- 368 Acting Credits for Lloyd Kaufman
- 1 Instance of Darcy Jail
- 1 Yuki Sighting
- 13 instances of POM!
- 2 badass Ax flips
- Troma Diploma Bestowing
- Critic Quoting
- Commando Darcy with Kung-Fu Grip (Cosplay)
- Day/Night Switching in the Same Scene
- Human Flotsam
- Tank Top Brigade
- Gratuitous German
- Battling Sexes
- Guerilla Garroting
- Yale Referencing
- Engineer Joking
- TROMA NOW
- Stormtrooper Marksmanship
- Tactical Farting
- Extended Countdown Fu
- Infomercial Fu
- Airboat Fu
- Clipboard Fu
- Pom Fu
- Method Fu, Improv Fu
- Non-linear Narrative Fu
- Jib Fu
- Silver Bolo Award: Monster Kid Radio
This is probably the best episode of The Last Drive-In we’ve had. It is an odd pairing and for me, personally, it’s like Shudder took a core sample of my brain to figure out what my favorite sort of episode would be like. The whole night was pretty much near perfect. A five Cthulhu sort of experience. (5 / 5)
See you next Friday, and remember, folks… POM!
The Dead Take the A Train Review: Queer Magic and Monster Mayhem
“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.
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!
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.
Dolores Roach, A Fillet of Left Cheek
The second season of Dolores Roach started with a bang. The first episode was dark, gristly and in a strange way whimsical. It certainly brought to light new elements of the character.
We begin our story with Dolores somewhere, talking to someone. I’d like to be more specific, but that’s all we know right now.
She tells this unknown person about her flight from Empanadas Loco. How Jeremiah killed Luis. How she, whether she meant to or not, killed Jeremiah. How she then set the building on fire by blowing up the fryer in the kitchen.
Scared and alone, Dolores then ran for the underground. Dragging her purple massage table she runs into a hole in a subway track and finds herself in a whole different world.
Almost at once, she finds a place where someone is living. There’s a hot plate, a kettle and several packets of ramen. Even better, everything has Jeremiah’s name on it, literally written on it. Exhausted and alone, Dolores makes herself a cup of ramen and goes to sleep on her massage table.
She’s woken sometime later by a small man named Donald. He knows her because he knew Jeremiah. Dolores proceeds to tell him an abridged version of events that led up to Jeremiah’s death. And by abridged, I mean she blamed Luis for everything, throwing him under the bus so hard I’m surprised she didn’t pull something.
Donald seems inclined to help Dolores. He tells her that if anyone messes with her she should go further down, down a stairwell that he points out for her.
Dolores thanks him, then tries to go back to sleep. She’s soon woken again by a young woman collecting Jeremiah’s things.
While Dolores has an issue with this, she’s willing to let it go. Until that is, this woman tries to take her table. Then, Dolores does what she does best. Because one thing is for sure. Dolores is going to take care of herself.
One thing I love about this series so far is that our main character, Dolores, is crazy. And hearing her rationalize her crazy is both terrifying and fascinating. I hate/love how sweet and soothing she can be. Even with the rat that she killed in this episode. She cooed at it, encouraging it to come to her, even calling it a subway raccoon.
Then she killed it and started crying.
I also love the underground community. It’s both horrific and whimsical. It reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, which is full of worlds most people don’t see but are all around us. It’s also horrific because there are so many people that our society has failed, that they’ve gathered underground and made their own little society. That’s not great. There just shouldn’t be that many people who need homes.
What didn’t work
Unfortunately, this episode did have two major flaws. And the first one is a personal pet peeve of mine.
In the last episode of season one, certain things were established. Dolores said she was carefully rationing her weed. She said she didn’t have anything to eat since coming down to the tunnels. She still had her massage table. This episode rewrote a lot of that.
Frankly, I hate when stories do that. It may or not make a difference to the story. It just strikes me as poor planning and lazy writing. This show has proven it’s capable of doing better.
All things considered, I thought this was a great start to the season. I’m invested in the story, curious about the new characters, and worried about the well-being of everyone Dolores comes in contact with. And that’s all as it should be.(3.5 / 5)
By the way, if you like my writing, you might want to check out my latest sci-fi horror story, Nova. It’ll be released episodically on my site, Paper Beats World, starting February 5th.
The Golem (2019), a Film Review
The Golem (2019) is a folk horror film directed by Doron and Yoav Paz, starring Hani Furstenberg and Ishai Golan.
The Golem (2019) is a folk horror film directed by Doron and Yoav Paz. The cast includes Hani Furstenberg, Ishai Golan, Kirill Cernyakov, and Brynie Furstenberg. As of this review, the film remains available to Amazon Prime and fuboTV subscribers with additional purchase options on other platforms.
Set in 1673, a small Jewish community faces hardships from others as the Black Plague spreads. When these hardships reach a boiling point, Hanna takes matters into her own hands. Having secretly learned to read, she seeks to perform a ritual that would create a protector for her people. Yet, this act brings about a steep cost.
What I Like about The Golem
The film received three nominations in 2019. These nominations include Best Actress, Best Sound, and Best Cinematography from the Award of the Israeli Film Academy. While The Golem wouldn’t win these awards, the nominations indicate a strong film.
I won’t claim to know the accuracy and intricacies of the golem in relation to its religious origin, but the film certainly brings to life its concept. The effort to create such a creature and the toll it takes from the summoner create an emotional throughline for viewers to follow.
Hani Furstenberg’s Hanna and Ishai Golan’s Benjamin bring a complicated but realistic relationship to the film. Viewers see the love between them, even as their own society attempts to cast them from each other. They feel like a couple who understand the other’s wants and needs. However, we begin to witness the decaying of this relationship.
Hanna, specifically, provides a complex character that incentivizes the viewers to root for and against her at different points in the movie. Though she navigates blatant sexism and discrimination, she remains far from flawless. These flaws and ambitions establish Hanna as an interesting character.
The Golem can be brutal. This film provides a period-accurate look into antisemitism and systemic oppression, which certainly evokes a different form of horror. However, the golem itself brings brutality through its smiting.
Tired Tropes and Triggers
As the film deals directly with systemic issues of 1673, understand that antisemitism, sexism, and hate crimes remain important elements within the film.
An assault leads to a miscarriage, which seems a point worth mentioning for potential viewers who are sensitive to such points. Fertility and bodily autonomy, generally, also play roles within the provided film.
If any of these are potential issues for your viewing experience, perhaps skip The Golem.
What I Dislike about The Golem
Aleksey Tritenko delivers a wonderful performance for an interesting antagonist, but the role of Vladimir serves limited purposes. In many ways, he’s the representation of his societal antisemitism. While this remains perfectly valid, he somewhat disappears from the narrative until he becomes relevant. His marauders should be an oppressive threat within the society, looming over it with malice.
I can’t deny the lack of intimidation the golem’s aesthetic brings. While some films evoke an eeriness through silent children to horrific effect, this didn’t sit well with me. It should be eerie, but something was missing in execution.
The Golem focuses on a more human horror than the supernatural elements might suggest. While not a direct critique, prepare your viewing expectations accordingly. The Golem remains a folk horror film, using the folk story to represent human evil and flaws. It won’t particularly haunt you with the gore.
The Golem brings the old legend of the golem folk story to life. If you thirst for a human horror that shines a light on the flaws of the people within, The Golem might satisfy you. However, it’s not a particularly frightening film, choosing instead to tell a story of loss and overcoming suffering. (3 / 5)