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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.

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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.

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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 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Best Line: “You try chopping Siamese twins apart with a machete and not change.” – Nancy

Literal warpig.

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.

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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.

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5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Best Line: “Furrrk!” – Nao

Picture taken seconds from disaster.

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
Can we get a two-hour special of these three just talking?

Episode Score

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 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

See you next Friday, and remember, folks… POM!

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Movies n TV

Suburban Screams, Cursed Neighborhood

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Episode five of John Carpenter’s Suburban Screams was one of the best kind of horror stories. It is a dark, eerie tale of a mean house that is determined to destroy anyone who dares reside within it.

The story

Our story begins in 1682. A group of colonists are attempting to take over land that is very much not theirs. When the colonists are killed, they vow to curse the land.

Fast forward to modern times, and the land in question is a little suburban neighborhood. Carlette Norwood moves in with her husband, mother, and daughters. The house seems like a dream come true. Until, of course, their beautiful dream home becomes a nightmare. The curse of the colonists wrapped itself around the neck of each family member, turning them into people that they didn’t recognize. People who don’t exactly like each other.

What worked

While I wouldn’t say that the acting in this episode is flawless, it was several steps above what we’ve seen so far. Every actor seemed to understand their role and reacted in realistic ways. I was especially impressed by the young woman playing Angelique. She had the good sense to not overplay the role, giving each scene exactly the right amount of energy.

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Of course, there was one actress who way overplayed every scene. But rather than being terrible, it was terrific. And that was Chloe Zeitounian, who played the neighbor Stacy. Stacy the neighbor was creepy as shit. After an unnamed neighbor dies by suicide, Stacy shows up at Carlette’s house with a bottle of champagne, sipping coffee with a big old smile. Well, okay it probably wasn’t coffee.

Stacy was a fantastic character, and I hope there was a crazy neighbor just like her. I bet her house was haunted as hell, but she just decided that her ghost was like a stray dog that everyone else thinks is dangerous. She probably put a bejeweled collar on the colonist ghost and renamed him Kori spelled with an I on purpose.

Finally, I want to talk about the theme of ancestral curse and ancestral protections that this episode discussed.

Charles County was cursed by the colonists who took the land that rightfully belonged to the indigenous tribes. They took what their ancestors had given them, and left a curse in their wake.

At the end of the episode, Carlette talks about being protected by her ancestors. Ancestors that survived horrible things most of us can’t imagine. I am sure that their strength blessed Carlette, and helped her to save Angelique.

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What didn’t work

While this episode was certainly better than most of the season, it wasn’t perfect. The thing that most stood out to me as being frankly unneeded was the inclusion of maggots attacking Brian.

Paul A Maynard in Suburban Screams.

In multiple scenes, during which Carlette is narrating, Brian has maggots coming out of open wounds. Never once does Carlette mention a maggot issue.

It feels like there is a clear reason why the creators did this. This story doesn’t have a lot of blood, gore, or jump scares. And a core goal of horror content is to cause a reaction.

Stephen King has a great quote about this goal. “I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out. I’m not proud.”

The inclusion of maggots in this story admits that someone involved didn’t think the story was terrorizing or horrifying enough. But it was. The story was freaky all on its own without the inclusion of our wriggling friends.

Is it true?

This might be an unpopular opinion, but aside from the completely unnecessary maggots infesting Brian, I think this episode is the most honest and accurate one so far.

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The thing about hauntings is that they’re seldom what we see in the movies. Haunted houses don’t have glass vases flying off shelves and wallpaper peeling to reveal 666 painted in blood over arcane symbols. Haunted houses dig into the minds of those who live there, causing bad luck and bad vibes. And that’s exactly what happened here. There are no massive explosions. No spirits throwing people downstairs or demonic dogs chasing children from the attic. This house dug into the hearts and minds of a loving family, ripping them apart.

So yes, I do think this episode is likely true.

The further we get into Suburban Screams, the more I enjoy it. This episode was eerie, upsetting, and riveting. I hope that Carlette and her daughters are healing from this horrific journey. And I’m thankful to them for sharing their story. 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

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Happy Father’s Day Herman Munster!

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Herman Munster would be so proud, collage by Jennifer Weigel
Herman Munster would be so proud, collage by Jennifer Weigel

Today for Father’s Day I want to celebrate one the best dads in horror ever: Herman Munster! Herman Munster of television celebrity is a perfect example of a good father in a genre awash in epically horrible parents. He is fun to be around, cares deeply about family, and has a huge heart. He is essentially the naive and loving Frankenstein’s monster despite his horrific appearance, and is aptly employed at a funeral home.

Herman is lovable, hardworking, and always ready with the physical humor dad jokes, even if he is too naive to catch on to his role in the punchlines all the time. He is devoted to his wife Lily Dracula and son Eddie and will do whatever he can to protect them. His generosity extends beyond just his own, with the family taking in his niece Marilyn (who is painfully normal by comparison to the Munsters), and father-in-law Grandpa.

Portrayed by Fred Gwynne, Herman Munster is kind of the epitome of the good father in horror. Sure, he’s a brute, and can be a little dim sometimes, but he’s really just a big teddy bear at heart, and always ready for a good laugh. And apparently Herman Munster was even nominated by his son Eddie for Father of the Year in Season 2, Episode 25, so it all comes around full circle. If the show highlight doesn’t load, you can find it here.

And to celebrate more great Hollywood celebrities, here’s a poem for Ed Wood and an homage to Theda Bara

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Suburban Screams, The Bunny Man

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Someone is stalking the children of Fairfax, Virginia. He comes bearing an axe. He comes from the forest. He comes in the night.

He comes dressed as a bunny.

The story

In the 1970s, the sleepy town of Fairfax Virginia was menaced by a man dressed as a rabbit. He stalked kids and teens with an axe while they were playing in the woods, or ‘parking’. Children were cautioned to not play outside after dark. Parents were terrified. The whole community was rocked by the horrific killer who, well, didn’t kill anybody. And who might have been a whole bunch of people inspired by a truly sad tale?

Still from Suburban Screams The Bunny Man.

The story begins a hundred years earlier. A man whose name is lost to time is accused of stealing a cow. For this crime, he’s sentenced to death because things were a lot tougher back then. The man escaped but swore vengeance on the town. A few days later several children were found hanging from a bridge underpass, butchered and hung as though they were slaughtered rabbits.

What worked

The biggest thing to love about this episode, the one thing that sets it apart from the rest of the season, was the presence of Historian Cindy Burke. Finally, we have an actual professional talking about one of these stories. Yes, there are still first-hand accounts. But that is how these sorts of stories work best. We have the emotional retelling of evocative survivors. But we also have a professional who is emotionally separated from the situation backing up these stories with historical knowledge.

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This wouldn’t have mattered as much in any other setting. But Suburban Screams has been clear from the start that it wants to be seen as a documentary. This is supposed to be real. And if you’re going to claim that your ghost story is real, bring receipts. As many as you can.

If we’d seen more historians, detectives, and police reports through this series, it probably wouldn’t have the bad rating it does on IMDB.

What didn’t work

Well, it might still have had a bad rating. Because the acting in this episode was, for lack of a stronger word, terrible.

I don’t know if it was the directing, the casting, or just a weak talent budget. But not a single person except for the man playing the Bunny Man could act in any of these dramatic reenactment scenes.

The worst offender was probably the child playing Ed’s childhood friend. This character was way overacted. It’s as though the child had seen a parody of how little boys behave, and was told to act like that. As this was a little boy, he was likely a bit embarrassed.

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And I know, I’m trash-talking a child actor. I’m trash-talking all of the children actors in this episode. But children can act. There are lots of examples of kids doing great acting jobs. Stranger Things is an obvious example. Violent Night is another. The kid can act. These kids couldn’t act.

Is it true?

Unlike most of the other episodes in this series, The Bunny Man is a story I’ve heard before. It is a legitimate urban legend that blossomed from a few firsthand accounts of madmen doing scary things dressed as rabbits in Fairfax County, West Virginia. These events probably inspired others to do stupid things like dress up like a rabbit and run around with an ax. Much like the people who decided to dress up like clowns and scare the hell out of people across the country in 2016.

So, yes, the Bunny Man is very much real. He’s real in the hearts and minds of pranksters and West Virginia frat boys. And he is based on some very real, very upsetting, actual events.

I honestly wish the whole season of Suburban Screams had been exactly like this. Filled with facts, first-hand accounts, and proof of scary events. This was everything I wanted in a supernatural/true crime story. So if you’re giving the rest of the season a pass, I would suggest watching this episode.

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4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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