We’re past the halfway point for season two of The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs and I am already feeling sad. Let’s not dwell on what is coming to an end, however. We already have confirmation of a summer special, after all. For now, let’s dive into two movies that cannot be more different.

Tonight’s double feature consisted of William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist III (1990) and Jim Van Bebber’s Deadbeat at Dawn (1988). I was back to live-tweeting the double-feature for the night, so apologies now for any awful puns and jokes you see embedded into this review and recap.

The Exorcist III (1990)

Opening Rant: Toxic masculinity and a poorly thought out razor ad.

The sequel to the sequel to one of the most culturally important horror films of all time had a lot that could have gone wrong. What is amazing is that The Exorcist III is actually damn good despite the awful The Exorcist II: The Heretic. A lot of that is the result of the tenacity of the strange and passionate William Peter Blatty, author of the original Exorcist novel. That’s not to say that The Exorcist III is without flaws, however. The film has a number of issues, but ultimately these problems are not enough to derail what turns out to be a strange follow-up to the alarming possession of Regan MacNeil.

The film is, foremost, a masterclass of acting. The acting here is so good that it sets George C. Scott opposite Brad Dourif and Scott is the one who comes off as subdued compared to Dourif. It is a very “talky” sort of film which seems unusual for a Drive-In feature, but it works. Most of the deaths occur off-screen, but it works. Like last season’s The Changeling, also featuring George C. Scott, The Last Drive-In makes room for something a little more measured and, I dare say, classier in its approach to horror. It is the film’s restraint in the visual excess of horror that allows what it does engage in to mostly succeed. Namely an amazing transition from Jason Miller to Brad Dourif via an editing trick and perhaps one of the finest jumpscares ever committed to film.

Yet, the film also has substantial problems. The murdering off of one key character sacrifices a fascinating homosocial relationship for cheap motivation. A strange dream sequence comes off as a budget Twin Peaks scene and is goofier than insightful. Lastly, a hasty attempt to include an exorcism into a story that didn’t need it ruins the ending to what was an overall creepily effective film.

So while The Exorcist III mostly does what is necessary of a good sequel, specifically for The Exorcist, too many issues mar it. As brilliant as some of Blatty’s choices were as the mind behind the film it is necessary to have a seasoned veteran to bounce off of when it comes to film.

Joe Bob’s assessment of the film is perfectly fine. Three stars is a fair score for the movie. He ultimately had a lot to say about it. There is a trend where the more mixed he is on a film the more in-depth Joe Bob’s analysis and discussion of the film usually come off. It makes sense because things we love sometimes are harder to discuss than things we can be critical of. The Exorcist III is just one of those films where it was a perfect storm of issues narratively and behind the camera while also navigating the legacy of the original film.

While the second feature of the night is definitely more fun and a better Drive-In movie overall, The Exorcist III provides viewers with the sort of material that drives them to watch the redneck horror host in the first place; an honest assessment of the film, both good and bad, with observations about the craft of film itself. It sounds dismissive to just say it is “typical Joe Bob,” but that is a good thing. This is a perfect example of the appeal of The Last Drive-In.

I like The Exorcist III. I think people who claim to like it more than the original are probably being contrarians. It’s not a bad movie and it is probably the best sort of sequel to The Exorcist that a fan can ask for, but the fact remains that it is a deeply flawed film. Ultimately, I couldn’t rate it higher than three and a half Cthulhus.

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Best Line: “This I believe in… I believe in death. I believe in disease. I believe in injustice and inhumanity, torture and anger and hate… I believe in murder. I believe in pain. I believe in cruelty and infidelity. I believe in slime and stink and every crawling, putrid thing… every possible ugliness and corruption, you son of a bitch. I believe… in you.” – Kinderman to what is clearly Pazuzu.

Pictures taken seconds before disaster.

Deadbeat at Dawn (1988)

Opening Rant: Poop coffee.

I think I first saw Deadbeat at Dawn at the end of my junior-high years. I recall it was a shitty VHS bootleg and it came from a kid named Eli who was super into Insane Clown Posse and bootlegged VHS copies of the hentai Dragon Pink and Golden Boy for all of the weird kids at my junior-high which turned out to be a lot of us.

I mention this because this sounds sketchy and grimy and is sort of the perfect way to experience the sketchy and grimy film that is Deadbeat at Dawn. The film is juvenile and punk in a fundamental way of just not giving a shit and indulging in such bizarre anarchistic impulses on and off camera that it becomes this sort of outsider art. I say this with love: Deadbeat at Dawn is an absolutely insane 81 minutes that probably should never have been released.

Deadbeat at Dawn is independent film-making at its most impulsive and punk. Cobbled together over four years by a director (Jim Van Bebber) who also plays the lead, the film was often shot without permits and resulted in a series of Jackass-style moments witnessed by unsuspecting people in the local community. It’s all dumb film students recording dumb, dangerous stuff and eventually managing to pull a movie out of it. Basically what every aspiring film-school student secretly desires to do.

It’s not a good movie but it is also a good movie. Deadbeat at Dawn is not well-written, the performances are amateur, and the story is just kind of non-existent. It features a sequence of the director/lead practicing his nunchucks and screaming in a Dayton, Ohio graveyard dealing with feelings about his budget-Satanist girlfriend. It’s an example of one of those films that know not to take itself too seriously and have fun with itself.

Yet, the film also is a gritty Kung Fu vengeance film, punctuated with moments of true despair with a simultaneously repulsive and sympathetic protagonist with one of the most insane last 20 minutes put to film. So much of this movie shouldn’t work but does. The film is just so grimy and textured. In another universe this would have been paired with Street Trash.

Joe Bob’s assessment of Deadbeat at Dawn is a full four stars punctuated by him saying “I loved it.” The film is pretty much perfect Drive-In fare and an example of something so beloved the conversation around it, while always insightful on the show, is also kind of dialed back. Perhaps this is in awe of the audacity of what Jim Van Bebber achieved. Regardless, several Sam Raimi references, including his own thoughts on the “punk action film” pop up in addition to referencing Joseph Campbell.

Perhaps the best part of all of this, however, is how Joe Bob Briggs highlights Van Bebber’s own philosophy: “Pain is temporary. Film is forever.” Our horror host points out just how crazy and punishing the assembly of this feature was. I know Joe Bob Briggs has written a lot of books, but I don’t know if he’s written one about Deadbeat at Dawn. If not, he should.

What impressed me most about Deadbeat at Dawn is how well it holds up. I’ve seen it maybe twice since junior-high, but goddamn does it still hold up. As a punk music fan, I think one of my livetweet riffs summarize my feelings on this film pretty well.

Deadbeat at Dawn is totally worth four and a half Cthulhus. It’s too audacious not to be.

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Best Line: “I hate people, man. I don’t care. I don’t give a shit. I don’t give a shit about nothin’. Man, all my life people have fucked with me. Don’t you fuck with me, man. I just fuckin’ hate people. I hate people and I don’t care. I just don’t fuckin’ care. I don’t care. I’m the baddest motherfucker you ever saw, man.” – Bone Crusher

Never let anyone tell you that your way of processing your feelings is invalid.

HMTL Drive-In Totals

So, here are the official totals, courtesy of Shudder. It was a good night.

As for our totals?

  • 4 Helicopters
  • $9-million in Reshoots
  • 20 Dense Minutes
  • 57 Weeks on the NYT’s Best Seller List
  • $10,000 Scholarship
  • Carp Monologing
  • Inexplicable Fabio
  • Spontaneous Dourif
  • Down n’ Dirty Catholicism
  • Awkward Crash Zoom
  • Joe Bob Confusing
  • Bible Versing
  • Actor Slapping
  • Hillbilly Joking
  • Graveyard Fighting
  • Graveyard Nunchucking
  • Raimi Referencing
  • Campbell Referencing
  • Snake Slapping
  • Dual Jocking
  • But Punching
  • South Carolina Joking
  • Ouija Fu
  • Creepy Confession Fu
  • New York The-ate-er Fu
  • Biblical Research Fu
  • Powerwalk Fu
  • Map Fu
  • Burp Fu
  • Sloppy Bar Pass Fu
  • Sommelier Fu
  • Car Fu
  • Poorly Dubbed Cat Fu
  • Darcy Cosplay: The Angel of Death
  • Silver Bolo Award: The Horror Movie Podcast
Pew pew.

Episode Score

Man, what a good night. These films could not be more different than one another. One is more literary and the other is more punk. It’s a strange combination that results in yet another great episode of The Last Drive-In.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

And remember, folks…

The Drive-In will never die.

About the Author

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

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