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Well, that is the second season of The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs. There were no signs of a sophomore slump this season as the show iterated on the first season in a few ways. We also were treated to some really historic moments in Drive-In history, playing off of things from clear back in the days of MonsterVision.

As of this moment, The Last Drive-In season 3 has not been confirmed but I think we can afford to be optimistic. Considering the show rising up the trending algorithm all nine weeks on Twitter and the larger profile the show has built thanks to a global pandemic, Shudder would probably like to keep up the conversation and subscriptions that the show brings in.

As for the season finale? We get two visions of hell by seeing the sights of Hellbound: Hellraiser II and taking a trip and checking out Hell Comes to Frogtown.

Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)

Opening Rant: The need for physical media in a largely corporate-curated world.

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Hellbound: Hellraiser II is a worthy sequel to the original Hellraiser, previously on The Last Drive-In during the original marathon. Some would argue that the sequel may be better than the first film, and it’s not hard to imagine why. Hellraiser II was a major film that set the trajectory of the series and also presents a real lost opportunity. The film takes place moments after the previous films and finds Kirsty (sans-boyfriend) in an asylum, having been treated like a madwoman given her sharing her experiences with the Cenobites. Sure enough, her warnings go unheeded and a manipulative Dr. Channard claims the mattress where Kirsty’s evil stepmother Julia met her end. Then Julia comes back and the movie gets nuts.

It’s a good movie. A bit familiar in a number of ways. The Cenobites aren’t quite as shocking, and the Leviathan is a conceptual misfire. The asylum elements remind too easily of A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors down to having a gifted patient in the mix. The Cenobites are kind of wedged in and don’t do much in order to prop up the concept of the Leviathan.

What works, though, are the performances by Clare Higgins and Julia and Ashley Laurence as Kirsty. The film is largely on the backs of these two women: a manipulative and monstrous Julia, more terrifying and assertive than Frank ever was in the first film, and shrewd and clever Kirsty who is in the upper-echelon of horror heroines who deserve way better.

Joe Bob addressed the odd and uneven nature of the movie surrounding Julia. Clive Barker intended Julia to become the major antagonistic force of the series but the Cenobites essentially stole her thunder, which is a real shame because Julia is probably one of the most compelling and interesting horror villains basically ever. One envisions another Hellraiser series in another universe where Julia remained beyond Hellbound and there becomes a dual-threat of Cenobites and Julia, fighting for control of Hell.

The highlight of Joe Bob’s host segments came down to Ashley Laurence and Doug Bradley, Kirsty, and Pinhead himself, taking time to chat with our favorite movie host. They each had a moment to speak to Joe Bob one-on-one, but they also managed to have a more delightful triad of discussion. Ashley, who can be found on Twitter, does some great painting and she got to hold Ernie (!) playing on her appearance in a GEICO commercial. Doug Bradley is wonderfully classy and doesn’t wear the Cenobite makeup lately, but he can be found reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein on YouTube.

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Of course, we can’t forget Hell Priest Ernie, chained Joe Bob, or Cenobite Darcy, either. It was a fun night.

I love Hellbound: Hellraiser II about as much as I love the original Hellraiser. I also think about the lost opportunity of Julia driving the franchise and while I cannot hold that against the series it does present an interesting “what if?” It’s still a good sequel, maybe not the sequel the series deserved, but a good sequel regardless. Joe Bob gave the film four stars, a well-earned four stars given the potential failure a sequel presents. I give Hellbound: Hellraiser II four and a half Cthulhus. 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Best Line: “It is not hands that summon us. It is desire.” – Pinhead

Never wear white after Labor Day. Or after your reanimation from a blood-soaked mattress.

Hell Comes to Frogtown (1988)

Opening Rant: Five reasons not to be a polygamist.

Ah, yes, Hell Comes to Frogtown. A slice of 1980s cheese I had always heard of but never saw. It’s a goofy film and while I don’t know if it was the best film to leave the season off with, it was totally worth watching and I am sure to check it out again, and again, and again. It’s not a movie that can be made today and elements of it are still particularly cringe-inducing, but as a relic of another era it’s completely worth preservation and The Last Drive-In seems like the perfect way to do that.

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Hell Comes to Frogtown stars the legendary wrestler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper as Sam Hell, a particularly virile man who is conscripted by the provisional government to impregnate women all across the wasteland of America. He travels with a pair of these warrior-nurses to the titular Frogtown to recover a group of fertile women who have been kidnapped as sex-slaves by mutant, humanoid frogs. It’s a classic story we’ve all seen before, but have we seen it with the delightful commentary of Joe Bob Briggs? Well, we have now.

The movie’s handling of women as sexual objects and the implications of forced impregnation are pretty horrifying to modern sensibilities and the movie plays it off as a hyper-masculine joke. The film really, largely works due to the earnestly goofy performance of Roddy Piper who makes Sam Hell are largely sympathetic and funny protagonist, dipping into the well of Kurt Russel’s Jack Burton-school of bumbling heroes. Piper does get to play the hero, particularly toward the end, but the film largely plays Sam as comedic and it works all the better for it.

The film is audacious in the world it builds, largely shooting in deserts and and a run down factory, the film makes the most of the post-apocalyptic setting and that money instead goes into the largely amazing frog prosthetic pieces. Some of the frogs are more hybrid and less impressive than others, but the major feature players are absolutely incredible for 1988 and a 7-million dollar budget.

Joe Bob appreciated the pulpy energy of the film. It also helps that it featured MonsterVision fan and friend, the dearly departed Piper. Among some of the knowledge, bombs dropped on viewers are the history and work of Donald G. Jackson and some Roger Corman connections (because who else?) Joe Bob was particularly enthused, saying Donald G. Jackson was a long-overdue director on The Last Drive-In. Perhaps one of his infamous rollerblading films may show up in season three? Of course, Jackson had a long career in the industry as some of these drive-in directors tend to do, having worked with Roger Corman and James Cameron. Most notable among Jackson’s associations, however, was his collaboration with Scott Shaw and the development of what they called “Zen Filmmaking” – a largely script-less form of movie-making.

Joe Bob Briggs gave Hell Comes to Frogtown the four-star treatment which is a pretty fair assessment with how well it fits into The Last Drive-In‘s wheelhouse. It’s not my favorite choice to end the season, skewing a bit too far from the horror genre, but it’s still pretty damn fun. I give Hell Comes to Frogtown three and a half Cthulhus.

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3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Best Line: “Hey, you try making love to a complete stranger in a hostile, mutant environment, see how you like it.” – Sam Hell

Better prosthetics than the Super Mario Bros. movie.

Haunted MTL Drive-In Totals

These are the last Drive-In totals of the season. Quite a lovely collection. Thank you, Shudder.

Our Totals?

  • 174 Sequels
  • 2 Jail sentences for Darcy
  • 7 Roller Blade films
  • 3 Frogtown Endings
  • Double Guest Fu
  • Censorship Fu
  • Chainsaw Surgery Fu
  • GEICO Fu
  • Glass Bottle Fu
  • Badass Name Fu
  • Brain Surgery Fu
  • Joe Bob Chaining
  • Lament Configurating
  • Demon Summoning
  • Ernie Holding
  • Teen Slapping
  • Teeth Chattering
  • Dick Beeping
  • Wedding Joking
  • Goopy Mattress
  • Frickassied Frank
  • Hellraiser Philosophy
  • Gratuitous Candles
  • Gratuitous Frog Burlesque
  • Gratuitous emotional Joe Bob Briggs solo song
  • Laser Floyd Finale
  • Tactical Lingerie
  • Extended Hallway Running Sequence
  • Bonus Yuki Cosplay
  • Silver Bolo Award: The Horrors of it All
  • Darcy Cosplay: Hell Priestess Darcy
BRB booking a trip to Hell.

Episode Score

The season finale did the job of providing a great episode should the show continue further while also creating a potential ending should the show not move forward. While this ending wasn’t as flash as season one’s prom for Darcy, there is something touching about what we ended up getting this time around: Joe Bob Briggs, voice cracking, singing the theme accompanied by a frog guitarist.

If this is the end of the ongoing series that’s a pretty fitting coda to what has been a great treat for the horror community in an especially hard time. We know a summer marathon is on the way and more than likely we’ll be seeing a third season of the ongoing show.

But if this is the final full season, I think it went out in a really appropriate way. 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

That’s it for the Notes from The Last Drive-In for a bit. Thank you all for reading these recaps over the past nine weeks. Let me know what you think. I write these things for us and I would love to know what the MutantFam wants to see out of them.

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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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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 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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Book Reviews

The Dead Take the A Train Review: Queer Magic and Monster Mayhem

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“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.

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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!

Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey on the 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. 

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