Notes from the Last Drive-In: S3E10 – The Little Shop of Horrors and Humanoids from the Deep
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.
Movies n TV
The Beach House, a Film Review
The Beach House (2019) is a body horror film directed and written by Jeffrey A. Brown starring Liana Liberato, Noah Le Gros, and Jake Weber.
The Beach House (2020) is a body horror film directed and written by Jeffrey A. Brown. This film stars Liana Liberato, Noah Le Gros, Jake Weber, and Maryann Nagel. As of this review, this film is only available on Shudder.
Desperate to rekindle their strained love, Emily (Liana Liberato) and Randall (Noah Le Gros) escape to a beach getaway. They soon learn to find that family friends of Randall’s father, Mitch (Jake Weber), and Jane (Maryann Nagel), also had a similar idea. After getting used to each other, a mysterious fog engulfs the town. Unfortunately, they realize too late the danger they find themselves in.
What I Like
Body horror gets under my skin, and The Beach House certainly lives up to the standard. There’s something magical about creatures terraforming your body to their preferred environment, turning humans into nothing more than conscious prisoners in their own flesh. While I wouldn’t consider this film the most traumatic or unsettling example, it utilizes wonderfully grotesque scenes.
Aside from the body horror, the film drops a few Cosmic Horror–or Lovecraftian–vibes that go together perfectly. Another favored genre of mine, this combination ensures the odds are overwhelmingly against our human leads.
Beyond the grotesque, visuals might not overwhelm but certainly succeed in their goal. Several scenes provide an intentionally tranquil experience that contrasts with the grotesques and improves their effectiveness.
In terms of performance, each actor hits their mark. While some roles require less effort, each contributes to the plot as intended. The standout performance goes to Liana Liberato’s Emily, who acts as co-lead. She simply has the most to work with and lives up to the part.
Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings
As “body horror” should indicate, this film will hit hard for the more squeamish viewer. While horror by nature has some amount of grotesque, body horror brings that grotesque to the next level. While I don’t particularly find The Beach House hitting harder than its competition, it certainly respects its chosen genre.
What I Dislike or Considerations
A few scenic montages may hit or miss depending on your interpretation. While I have my own theories, that speculation goes beyond the scope of this review. Many of these scenes overlap more philosophical conversations and musings that may annoy or add layers. This strategy seems a common practice in Cosmic Horror, which forces characters to rationalize the irrational.
It’s hard for me to understand how secretive or known this event is supposed to be in the film’s world. Individuals know something outside of the town, with evidence implying governmental knowledge. This information creates a contrivance–perhaps, even a plot hole–because the characters had to reach this isolated town without any opposition.
One of the visuals didn’t exactly grab me. While I won’t go into too much detail, an effect looked too visually similar to a common animal that barely survives rain. It’s hard to be threatened by that. It also doesn’t exactly match up with some of the other visuals. Even the creatures that look similar to it still look different enough to provide a more alien assumption.
There are moments when the infected chase our main characters by crawling at them. While the context works, with injured characters helping to sell them, I can’t help but find these scenes amusing as opposed to frightening. Yes, it’s certainly visually different from the plethora of zombies out there, but it’s also less frightening than zombies that leisurely walk to their targets.
The Beach House combines cosmic and body horror to create an uncomfortable film that tests its characters. For those who enjoy these genres, it will certainly entertain you, but I doubt it will frighten you. I imagine the mood to watch it again might strike me, but I’m not entirely certain it will stand the test of time. (3 / 5)
If this movie suits your fancy and you want more, Honeymoon seems an appropriate recommendation.
Movies n TV
Every Secret Thing, a Film Review
Every Secret Thing (2014) is a crime thriller directed by Amy J. Berg and written by Nicole Holofcener, based on Laura Lippman’s novel.
Every Secret Thing (2014) is a crime thriller directed by Amy J. Berg and written by Nicole Holofcener. This R-rated film stars Diane Lane, Danielle Macdonald, Dakota Fanning, and Elizabeth Banks. Based on Laura Lippman’s novel of the same name, the film adaptation is accessible through MAX and DirecTV.
When a little girl goes missing, Nancy Porter (Elizabeth Banks) spirals into an all too familiar tale. As pressure mounts, Alice Manning (Danielle Macdonald) and Ronnie Fuller (Dakota Fanning) become the leading suspects. The strained frenemies unravel under the attention and reminders of their shared past.
What I Like
The film unravels in a non-chronological structure but makes it easy for the viewer to follow. It helps that the age difference clearly divides the younger actors, who change actors. One casting choice resembles their older counterpart, and the acting reflects a strong direction for their shared role.
Unreliable narration remains expertly communicated with scenes that change perspectives depending on whose perspective we view them from. This choice adds a reason to view the film twice, providing extra ambiguity for some of these events.
The camera gets up close and personal to an uncomfortable degree, which almost certainly presses the actors’ performances. This choice places the viewer in the character’s perspective and limits us from others’ perspectives to add extra credence to these biases.
Every Secret Thing provides a spiraling mystery that unravels with several twists and turns. Assuming the novel provided the outline, this film executes these points and keeps a consistently engaging experience throughout the runtime.
Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings
Child abuse and neglect remain the central plot points of Every Secret Thing. Little of this abuse appears in scenes, but there is no escaping the danger children are in throughout the film.
Self-harm and suicide are shown throughout the film (once in the case of suicide) through one specific character. It isn’t glorified or romanticized nor addressed with particular sensitivity. For those sensitive to these subjects, it might be triggering.
Racism, the assumed motive for the bi-racial victims, plays a small role in the film’s narrative. However, character motives remain more complex, but going further spoils some elements. This film decision does create the reality that bi-racial children are the victims of child neglect and abuse in the film with little additional context. It does invite uncomfortable speculation, but speculation it would be.
Sexual assault is another concern for viewers, specifically statutory rape. This issue seems particularly mismanaged, considering the survivor remains an antagonist. One can be both survivor of assault and an antagonist of a film without needing to discredit the assault. While little appears of this issue, and the manipulation angle can indicate a perspective shift, it’s hard to refute how the film wants to represent this attack.
What I Dislike
Loosely tied to the above point, one character seems mentally off and purposely so. This point doesn’t inherently create an issue, but there seems to be a choice to make this character a mastermind. Perhaps this is better addressed in the book, but the execution is far from perfect here.
A newspaper montage reveals essential information which feels oddly misplaced. Practically the entire setup for the film appears through this montage, which creates the necessity to read these headlines in the minimal time given.
As a horror, nothing but the events are haunting. Children being abused or kidnapped always haunts, but the terror of this remains secondary to the mystery. While the mystery is nice, this film won’t particularly scare the seasoned horror fan.
Every Secret Thing unravels a mystery of opportunism, selfishness, and deception. While the movie won’t haunt the viewer, it certainly unravels a mystery that shocks them. The nuanced and deceptive characters add a layer of engagement that creates a unique experience, but I doubt this movie will linger in my mind.
(2.5 / 5)
Movies n TV
Quid Pro Woe
We’ve now reached episode six of Tim Burton’s Wednesday. And after the last episode, this one did not disappoint.
We start with Wednesday attempting to contact Goody Addams. Last episode, if you’ll recall, Morticia explained the difference between a psychic dove and a raven. Since Goody Addams was the last raven psychic in the family line, it’s got to be her that trains Wednesday.
But her seance is a failure, and Wednesday is interrupted by a magazine note shoved under the door. It says to meet someone at a crypt for answers.
When she gets there, it turns out that her friends have put together a surprise birthday party for her. Before she can cut the cake, however, she has a vision.
Goody Addams tells her that she must find a specific gate. After some investigation, Wednesday discovers it’s the gate to the old Gates house.
Wednesday goes to investigate, but she isn’t the only one. She is nearly discovered by Mayor Walker. He is also investigating the Gates family, even though they’re all reported to be dead. He leaves a message for Sheriff Galpin and is almost immediately run over by a car.
This incident is enough to get Wednesday’s town villages revoked. Though this seems like an empty punishment since the whole school is on lockdown. Someone burned Fire Will Rain on their front lawn.
Wednesday isn’t one for believing the rules apply to her. She has it in her head that she’s meant to save Nevermore Academy, probably from whatever descendent of Crackstone who’s still around. So she has no problem lying to Enid and Tyler and convincing them to help her sneak off campus and explore the Gates house further.
This, of course, is an incredibly informative trip. The kids find a hidden altar to Crackstone, as well as the missing body parts from the monster’s victims. They also find evidence that someone’s been staying in the house. Someone who’s staying in what looks like a little girl’s room.
Before they can find anything more, the monster finds them. They barely escape, and go to the sheriff with what they find.
Of course, the house has been cleared out by the time Sheriff Galpin arrives. Furious that his son was almost killed, he tells Wednesday to stay away from him.
Because that always works, right?
Galpin isn’t the only one angry. Enid is fed up with the way Wednesday has been treating her. And so she leaves their room to bunk with someone else, leaving Wednesday alone.
This episode was well done. The discoveries at the house were exciting, and I’m almost sure I know who’s behind the murders at this point. Overall, this was a good ramp-up to the season finale.
Finally, this episode did something I was worried just wasn’t going to happen. And for that alone, it deserves praise.
Wednesday has been incredibly selfish and inconsiderate since the first episode. She’s been rude and demanding towards Thing. She’s ignored her friends’ needs and emotions while insisting they put themselves in danger for her investigation. She has respected no one’s boundaries, even while other people have at least tried to respect hers.
And now, it’s finally come back to bite her. All of the people who have been doing their best to show her kindness and support are finally done with her bullshit.
Yes, this is a good thing! Characters are best when they’re allowed to learn and grow. When they don’t come to us flawless. When they mess up and learn from it. Especially for a show aimed at kids, this is essential.
If you’d asked me at the beginning of the season if this character was going to experience honest character growth, I’d have assured you it would never happen. Much to my surprise, it’s happening. I hope that Wednesday is going to come out of this a better person. With two episodes left in the season, there’s plenty of time for that. (4 / 5)