It was an evening of chills, spills, and colonial ills for the sixth episode of The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs. What a night. We had two divisive features: Dead Heat and Cannibal Holocaust. I think we can all agree that maybe there was a little too much Piscopo. That and filmed animal deaths are pretty terrible.

So, lets dive in, shall we?

Dead Heat (1988)

Opening Rant: Can one loiter in a Starbucks?

We all know how this goes, two cops are investigating a conspiracy, one cop dies in the line for fire, and then is revived as a zombie to continue his work with his smart-aleck partner. Welcome to Dead Heat: It’s like Lethal Weapon meets My Boyfriend’s Back. The first movie tonight was kind of a light, airy aperitif to Cannibal Holocaust‘s main course. Dead Heat was goofy, overproduced, but still pretty fun.

The movie is an interesting product of late 1980s Hollywood trying to ape the spirit of the kind of trash coming from low-budget indie projects. The elements are all there but not handled appropriately. The film feels like a Troma release with too much money and lazy execution. There is stuff in this movie to love, though, and even a more scaled-down one or two films buried in this overly-plotted mess of the movie.

It’s strange that what should be a momentous occasion, the presence of Darren McGavin and Vincent Price in the same movie, does not really wow as it should. That’s kind of the movie as a whole: it should be way better than it is. Less time spent on Joe Piscopo one-liners and an amusing but ultimately pointless reanimated Chinese butcher shop inventory and Dead Heat could have been really good.

That being said, Treat Williams hurling himself off a motorcycle through a glass door, guns-blazing was certainly worth the watch. The film is fun, but that is about it.

Joe Bob’s assessment of Dead Heat is pretty middle of the road for a film on The Last Drive-In, coming in at two and a half stars. Of course, our host had a lot to say about the film and a lot of it was interesting, but it also felt like Joe Bob just wasn’t feeling it. This might be the most ambivalent he has ever been on a movie since his debut on Shudder. Perhaps it is a recognition of squandered potential in concept and execution?

Then again, Dead Heat was definitely not the draw for the evening. Cannibal Holocaust stole the show even before the episode aired.

Dead Heat could have been a better movie. I can only give it two and a half Cthulhus out of five. If the film hadn’t been as crazy as it ended up by the end I would have rated it lower.

2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

Best Line: “God wants us to live forever. And even if he doesn’t, you could always buy him off.” – Loudermilk

Guess who the zombie is… you may be surprised!

Cannibal Holocaust

Opening Rant: Vegan Meat

The buzz around this week was already huge in the MutantFam as this was the rare time that Joe Bob revealed a movie early on. Cannibal Holocaust (1980) is a lightning rod of controversy and emotions in the horror community. I won’t say it is a “love it or hate it” film as my own feelings are fairly ambivalent, but it is most assuredly polarizing.

So, the thing about Cannibal Holocaust is, in my estimation, that any weight we attach to the film in the form of messages is in spite of director Ruggero Deodato’s efforts. The film is an exploitation piece, through and through, and it’s pretty good at that. It is a cannibal mondo and delivers some pretty gruesome stuff. Yet, the anti-colonial reading of the film is definitely more attributable to critics and viewers. Deodato has said a lot about the film since and has said the “right” things about intent, but the production of the film feels otherwise. I won’t relay the long, convoluted history of Cannibal Holocaust, but others have.

The film is largely ham-handed in messaging. Violence is swift, exploitative, and animal cruelty is a real issue. Joe Bob did verify that the animals slaughtered on camera were used to feed local indigenous actors, which doesn’t quite make it acceptable by any means but eases the sting of it a bit. Yet there are moments of brilliance.

The score is one of the haunting and iconic audio accompaniments to grotesque violence and exploitation shown on the screen. The score is downright beautiful and the juxtaposition of a romantic melody set against the slaughter of human beings works incredibly well in promoting unease in the whole on-screen enterprise.

This paragraph will have spoilers, so please skip it if you intend to watch the movie. I do not want to ruin two particular scenes. With that out of the way, it feels strange to say, but the best moment of the film could go to two scenes: In the first, the manipulative filmmakers burn down a hut full of trapped indigenous people and in the aftermath, the lead producer and his co-producer have sex near the smoking ruins in a scene of excess cruelty. So much interpretive work can be done based around this scene. It’s masterfully executed in establishing the Green Inferno-crew as the” real cannibals,” a sentiment delivered at the end of the film. The second scene is equally cruel: the three men of the camera crew rape and indigenous woman and the sole woman member of the crew protests, not about the rape, but the waste of film; after all, they can’t show this to the public.

These scenes of cruelty are intended as set up for why the events of the film play out, but they come off as so much more because of the cultural cachet of the film. Cannibal Holocaust is just one of those movies that carries a certain weight. Few people would straight up say itis their all-time favorite among certain company, though it certainly is an all-time favorite for some.

The problem is that, ultimately, Cannibal Holocaust just isn’t that good as a movie. It’s not exactly “fun,” though fun is not necessarily the be-all measure of quality. It’s not exactly deep, either, as it is a blunt metaphor that was sharpened by viewers after the fact. Most of the horror of the film stems from animal slaughter and barring a couple of moments, most of the gore is passable at best. The film’s most iconic shock is often displayed right on the cover of the DVD or on the theatrical poster. The film offers little besides novelty and is an interesting footnote in the debate of films and obscenity.

Yet, I firmly believe that any serious advocate for film should see this film. It is a strange contrast I must deal with; it’s not good, but it is also something to be seen.

Joe Bob’s assessment of the film, to me, seemed a bit mixed. There was a fair and justified amount of criticism regarding elements of the film, but what was interesting was the way he had handled the aspect of animal cruelty. Yes, animals were harmed in the making of the film and committed to celluloid, but those animals were also used as food. It’s an ugly bit of filmmaking but it is also something that has been overblown, to a degree.

The majority of the criticism revolved around the direction, and I definitely found myself in agreement in that regard. In my own estimation, Ruggero Deodato is an inconsistent center to such a touchstone in the horror community, and his on-set choices and antics are equally as problematic as the animal abuse. I cracked this joke during the live-tweet, but I think it summed up my feelings pretty succinctly.

Joe Bob has talked at length about the (hard “I”) Italian film industry of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. It was nuts. Imagine how crazy a person is to be considered too crazy for the Italian film industry.

The real highlight of the evening, however, was the sense of care for viewers that the crew of The Last Drive-In places into their show. The disclaimers were frequent, one at the end of the break between films, Shudder’s own disclaimer, the film’s disclaimer, the social media disclaimers in the lead up to the film, and Darcy’s own trigger-warning tweets as the film aired. It reflects well on Joe Bob Briggs and those with whom he has surrounded himself in this stage of his career.

Given the film, it is ironic that I can use the word heartwarming to describe the night as beyond the many warnings meant to protect those who may be unable to handle the content of the film there was something new. Something fans have wanted for a while: Host segments with timestamps, detached from the film. More are on the way for previous movies that have long slipped the grasp of Shudder, but rolling them out starting with Cannibal Holocaust is incredibly fitting. The ongoing BBQ gag throughout the host segments in the latter half of the night was incredibly cute as well.

Ultimately, Joe Bob’s score for Cannibal Holocaust is a reflection of polarization. It’s either four stars or one star. It just depends on how you approach it. As for me, the film scores three Cthulhus. It’s important but it’s not necessarily good.

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Best Line: “Ah, yes, that’s typical Western thought. Civilized, isn’t it? That’s what Alan thought and that’s why he’s dead. The Yacumo Indian is a primitive, and he has to be respected as such. You know, did you ever think of the Yacumo point of view, that we might be the ones who are savages?” – Monroe

A man who has seen some serious shit.

Haunted MTL Drive-In Totals

As always, Shudder shares those wonderful recaps. Cannibal Holocaust‘s are, as expected, pretty wild.

As for the Haunted MTL tally?

  • 2 Bolos
  • 2 Ineffectual Zombie Gimp Robbers
  • 2 Dead Monkeys
  • 3 Tribes
  • 3 BBQ Styles
  • 6 Yuki Sightings
  • 700 Cop Cliches
  • Trailer Opening
  • Twin Peaks Connecting
  • Darcy Jailing
  • BBQing
  • Lincoln/Kennedy Joking
  • Nun Joking
  • Woman Melting
  • Tactical Vincent Price
  • Mangled Dick Expert Felissa Rose
  • Course-Correcting Gunfights
  • Gratuitous One-Liners from Joe Piscopo
  • Gratuitous Character Actors
  • Disclaimer Fu
  • Lipstick Fu
  • Deli Fu
  • Launching Off Motorcycle Fu
  • Silver Bolo Award Winner: The Homicidal Homemaker
  • Darcy Cosplay: The Turtle’s Revenge
Darcy is the Turtle’s revenge…

Episode Score

While the energy felt a little lacking surrounding Dead Heat, the crew more than made up for it with the shenanigans surrounding the airing of Cannibal Holocaust. Had the discussion and host segments not delivered I very likely could have dipped below a four here.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

As always, join us for live-tweets for the remainder of the season.

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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