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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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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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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