Tonight a living legend (who isn’t Joe Bob Briggs) makes an appearance on the show as Roger Corman walks us through The Little Shop of Horrors and Humanoids from the Deep. Can you believe it? Another season of The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs is over and done. We are also leaving the cabin in New Jersey, where the show has been since the pandemic started. It was a great night with solid movies and a sense of transition that, as we have seen on the show before, may also work as a series finale until Shudder finally confirms season 4.
So, how were the movies? What absurd cosplay did Darcy whip up? How many dogs were killed on screen this week? Let’s find out!
The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)
Opening: There is only one type of gym that gets the Joe Bob seal of approval: a real shithole.
Shot in the tail-end of the 1950s over the span of two days, Roger Corman’s The Little Shop of Horrors is one of those important chapters of film history as a foundational independent project. Roger Corman directed the film, written by Charles B. Griffith. There is some suggestion the film could have been inspired by few other carnivorous plant stories floating around, but that is a murky debate. The film also should not be confused with the later Broadway musical, which was the foundation of Frank Oz’s 1986 film. All of this emphasizes the influence of this film, and more to the point, Roger Corman on the world of film as Drive-In fans and mutants have come to know it.
The Little Shop of Horrors stars Jonathan Haze, Jackie Joseph, Mel Welles, and Dick Miller with a very brief appearance by Jack Nicholson, which became a major part of advertising the film in the decades since release. The whole cast is filled with Corman’s regulars, who could pull together an incredibly tight production. The movie follows Seymour Krelboined, a gardener in Mushnick’s flower shop who raises a strange plant that blossoms when it feeds on blood. What follows is a black comedy with elements of farce, rapid-fire dialogue, and a little bit of then-contemporary spoof. The cast finds themselves learning about the hunger of the plant and sometimes succumbing to it.
As a whole, the film is great. It is worth every bit of praise it deserves, even without factoring in the incredible circumstances of its production and conception. And Roger Corman, more known for his latter role as a producer, has great directorial chops here, rounding up disparate elements into a workable and compelling story. With that being said, sometimes the lassoing of broader ideas is a little more obvious. The dental scene, a classic, feels like more of an aside than a pivotal part of moving the story forward. The entire movie has this quality to an extent, feeling very stitched together but done well. It is just that some of the seams are fairly obvious. Given the speed at which the film came together, even in scripting, this isn’t surprising and is a testament to the talent of everyone involved. These issues are largely ironed out in Frank Oz’s musical adaptation in the mid-eighties, such as dropping the detectives and their narration.
The film does look rough in spots, with an obvious set for the flower shop, but it is also ridiculously charming, especially the Yiddish-influenced, handmade signs. Any time the movie is set outdoors, however, the screen becomes a blobby, shadowy mess. This isn’t uncommon in black and white films, and The Little Shop of Horrors is another example of this reality of limitations in 1950s films.
The film’s draw is the dialogue and the cast that delivers it with an incredible level of old Hollywood energy. Joe Bob mentioned that during the show, and it is something any film fan would be aware of – the dialogue was just faster back in the day. As for the crew, the four highest-billed actors, except for Nicholson, given his minor role, deliver masterclass performances. Jonathan Haze’s Seymour Krelboined is a neurotic, easily bullied bundle of anxiety that plays off every other character. Much can be said about Mel Welles’ blustery, scene-chewing Gravis Mushnick, but his performance is strengthened by the work Haze puts in. Another example of Haze’s talent comes with nearly any scene involving his hypochondriac mother, played by Myrtle Vail. In those moments, hilarious jokes fly fast, and the energy between them is stunning. Of course, Jackie Joseph is also fantastic as Audrey, playing a charming woman, but not adding much else, fairly common for the time, sadly.
It is no shock that Joe Bob Briggs, a Roger Corman super-fan, has high praise for the film. He provided several great details about the production and crew, but the night’s theme was mostly a tribute to Roger Corman, who served as the final guest of the season. Corman stuck around for both films, and his interviews were fascinating, particularly when it came to the craft of film production. It just seems like further evidence Joe Bob needs a second show where he talks to talent.
One of the best bits from the host segment revolved around just exploring how influential Corman was. He is a modest man, so Joe Bob had to do a lot of the direction of the conversation in that regard, seeding stories for Roger to build on. The stories, though? Incredible, such as Roger’s experiencing taking acting classes and the ridiculous number of contacts he established by taking those classes.
The Little Shop of Horrors is a classic film and an important piece of film history. It is not without its problems, however. Those problems made the film a bit more charming and ultimately allowed Frank Oz’s later adaptation to do its own thing – and quite well. They’re two different experiences grown in the same soil, but each stands on its own. Joe Bob Briggs gave The Little Shop of Horrors four stars, which is a fair, reasonable assessment of the movie. I am more of a fan of the musical, but I can recognize the original as the art it is. I still have some hangups regarding the film’s structure, but it’s definitely an objectively great film. I give it four and a half Cthulhus out of five.(4.5 / 5)
Best Line: “Now, no Novocain. It dulls the senses.” – Wilbur Force, Jack Nicholson’s kinky dental customer.
Humanoids from the Deep (1980)
Opening: Building on the energy of The Little Shop of Horrors… we’ve slowed down as a society.
Ah, Humanoids from the Deep. We are firmly in the Roger Corman production era, and perhaps Roger at his absolute heights as a figure in the industry with this film. Is it the best of the films Roger Corman produced under New World Pictures? Not really. But it is enjoyable and a great slice of what ended up a career retrospective for this evening on The Last Drive-In. The film has all the ingredients necessary for a Drive-In movie and absolutely delivers on all three fronts: blood, breasts, and beasts.
Humanoids from the Deep (or, MONSTER!) is a 1980 science fiction horror film starring Doug McClure, Ann Turkel, and Vic Morrow. Like many movies that show up on the show, this one had a trouble production: the film is nominally directed by Barbara Peeters, but Jimmy T. Murakami’s uncredited contributions are the behest of Corman. The screenplay was written by Fredrick James, based on a story by Frank Arnold and Martin B. Cohen, who served as a producer as well. Another credit of note, the music was handled by none of than James Horner.
The movie follows the local fisherman and community of Noyo, California. They are menaced by brutally escalating assaults by mysterious assailants who turn out to be murderous, raping fish-men from a nearby fishing company. Also, there is a subplot about indigenous cultures being abused by settling whites, themes of environmentalism, and small-town toxicity. There is also a bizarre scene with a puppet. It’s a great movie for Drive-In Mutants. For the normals? Not so much.
The plot is pretty loose, really only stretching a thin story over a few scenes of monstrous encounters. Nothing about the story itself comes off as surprising, either. It’s all very much in line with other films with the same sort of themes, but coming into Humanoids expecting something revolutionary in the narrative is a fool’s errand. Instead, the appeal from the film comes from the discrepancy between the actors and the material, the effects, and the unique way the monsters are handled.
The performances in the film are good, generally, and great surprisingly often. Given the nature of the film, some level of trickery was employed to get the scripts passed from the agents to the actors, and Roger confirmed as much in the show. Specifically, the film was pitched as a “psychological drama,” which is fantastic because that is so not what this movie is. But because a payday is a payday, the actors put their all into it. The performances range from the oddly compelling, if not a bit basic Doug McClure, to the incredibly compelling in Anthony Pena’s Johnny Eagle, to the ridiculously cartoonish villainy of Vic Morrow as Hank Slattery. The fact these actors put so much effort into this movie about killer fish-men snatching up women and slashing up men is astounding.
Oh, and those fish-men are amazing. A sizeable chunk of the film’s $2.5 million budget was wisely spent on the monster costumed by the legendary Rob Bottin (The Thing, RoboCop, The Howling). The monsters are damn good, especially when they emerge from the water. They also hold up incredibly well in a few underwater scenes. They are inevitably a bit goofy looking, as they are bipedal mutant salmon, but the elongated arms and strange features are the scary sides of goofy.
The movie, really, is all just set up from the final twenty minutes or so, featuring a massive attack on a local festival by the fish-men. It is a tight little film at under 80 minutes, but the story is mostly treading water until the attack. The film also, and perhaps most novelly, shows the monsters early on. Most creature features obscure the monster until the end. With Humanoids from the Deep, you’ll have seen at least a couple of the monsters in full during graphic sexual assaults or bloody slashing by the end of the first third of the film.
Joe Bob’s host segments continued to pull great anecdotes out of Roger Corman, especially on whether people can still produce films his way in today’s industry. To summarize Roger’s exquisite point: it’s hard today but still possible. Most of the other segment highlights were the increasingly absurd “six degrees of Roger Corman” reveals that emphasize his importance to cinema as a whole. Gale Anne Hurd? Martin Scorsese? Roger had a hand in shaping their careers. It’s astounding, really.
Humanoids from the Deep isn’t what you could call a great film, but it is a great movie if we believe such distinctions exist. Humanoids is entertaining and has a certain limited cultural relevance, but it’s not for everyone. This one is for the Mutants. By that assessment, Joe Bob Briggs’ four-star rating makes sense. I swim in a bit of a different stream in my reviews, though. I think it is a ton of fun and one I’d watch again and again, but it’s not one I would argue is great. I’d give it about three and a half Cthulhus.(3.5 / 5)
Best Line: “Oh, come on, show me more than the head.” – Becky, talking about a ventriloquist dummy.
Haunted MTL Drive-In Totals
Our final drive-in totals of the season. I miss them already.
As for our totals:
- 2 day shoot
- 4 Yuki Sightings
- 6 Degrees of Roger Corman
- 9 gym rules
- 14 dead dogs this season
- 67 years of Roger Corman films
- Flower Eating
- Self Medicating
- Vulture Joking
- Rapid Fire Dialogue Fu
- Self-financed Fu
- Darcy Cosplay: Audrey (the 1986 version), and a Humanoid… from the Deep!
- Silver Bolo Award: Good Bad Flicks
Tonight seemed to be the end to what I hope will be dubbed the “Cabin in the Woods”-era of the show, which means I also hope we’ll have multiple eras of The Last Drive-In. I know my criticisms of the isolation of the cabin set and some remote guests have been a running theme through my reviews of the season and the previous specials. Still, I ultimately feel this will be a nostalgic chapter of our collective Drive-In experience. It’s interesting how seeing Joe Bob and Darcy (in Humanoid cosplay) evokes that nostalgia, which of course, is the overall reason why Mutants tune in week to week to watch the show on Shudder, to begin with. Nostalgia, whether drawn from movies we know, or even the comforting presence of a guy in a bolo tie drinking beer and waxing wise about a movie, is something that we needed to get through the last year or so.
So, I guess while I had my gripes with the cabin, I am ultimately going to miss it. Funny how that will work – there will be the inevitable nostalgia. I think we’re going to be able to continue building memories of the show for a while to come. The slickly-produced Drive-In Oath between the two films felt like something you would produce for a show you plan to keep around, not send-off. Time will tell. Regardless, as with every season and special, we come to a close with a wistful Joe Bob and something that can work as the last Last Drive-in.(4.5 / 5)
Lastly, if you want a little more Joe Bob while you wait for the next special, consider Join Darcy’s Patreon, The Lost Drive-In. I am a member and have already received a great Blu-Ray full of great Joe Bob bits from his previous shows. She also posts fun clips from the archives on show nights, so there is a ton of stuff you can enjoy.