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.
The Dead Take the A Train Review: Queer Magic and Monster Mayhem
“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.
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!
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.
Dolores Roach, A Fillet of Left Cheek
The second season of Dolores Roach started with a bang. The first episode was dark, gristly and in a strange way whimsical. It certainly brought to light new elements of the character.
We begin our story with Dolores somewhere, talking to someone. I’d like to be more specific, but that’s all we know right now.
She tells this unknown person about her flight from Empanadas Loco. How Jeremiah killed Luis. How she, whether she meant to or not, killed Jeremiah. How she then set the building on fire by blowing up the fryer in the kitchen.
Scared and alone, Dolores then ran for the underground. Dragging her purple massage table she runs into a hole in a subway track and finds herself in a whole different world.
Almost at once, she finds a place where someone is living. There’s a hot plate, a kettle and several packets of ramen. Even better, everything has Jeremiah’s name on it, literally written on it. Exhausted and alone, Dolores makes herself a cup of ramen and goes to sleep on her massage table.
She’s woken sometime later by a small man named Donald. He knows her because he knew Jeremiah. Dolores proceeds to tell him an abridged version of events that led up to Jeremiah’s death. And by abridged, I mean she blamed Luis for everything, throwing him under the bus so hard I’m surprised she didn’t pull something.
Donald seems inclined to help Dolores. He tells her that if anyone messes with her she should go further down, down a stairwell that he points out for her.
Dolores thanks him, then tries to go back to sleep. She’s soon woken again by a young woman collecting Jeremiah’s things.
While Dolores has an issue with this, she’s willing to let it go. Until that is, this woman tries to take her table. Then, Dolores does what she does best. Because one thing is for sure. Dolores is going to take care of herself.
One thing I love about this series so far is that our main character, Dolores, is crazy. And hearing her rationalize her crazy is both terrifying and fascinating. I hate/love how sweet and soothing she can be. Even with the rat that she killed in this episode. She cooed at it, encouraging it to come to her, even calling it a subway raccoon.
Then she killed it and started crying.
I also love the underground community. It’s both horrific and whimsical. It reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, which is full of worlds most people don’t see but are all around us. It’s also horrific because there are so many people that our society has failed, that they’ve gathered underground and made their own little society. That’s not great. There just shouldn’t be that many people who need homes.
What didn’t work
Unfortunately, this episode did have two major flaws. And the first one is a personal pet peeve of mine.
In the last episode of season one, certain things were established. Dolores said she was carefully rationing her weed. She said she didn’t have anything to eat since coming down to the tunnels. She still had her massage table. This episode rewrote a lot of that.
Frankly, I hate when stories do that. It may or not make a difference to the story. It just strikes me as poor planning and lazy writing. This show has proven it’s capable of doing better.
All things considered, I thought this was a great start to the season. I’m invested in the story, curious about the new characters, and worried about the well-being of everyone Dolores comes in contact with. And that’s all as it should be.(3.5 / 5)
By the way, if you like my writing, you might want to check out my latest sci-fi horror story, Nova. It’ll be released episodically on my site, Paper Beats World, starting February 5th.
The Golem (2019), a Film Review
The Golem (2019) is a folk horror film directed by Doron and Yoav Paz, starring Hani Furstenberg and Ishai Golan.
The Golem (2019) is a folk horror film directed by Doron and Yoav Paz. The cast includes Hani Furstenberg, Ishai Golan, Kirill Cernyakov, and Brynie Furstenberg. As of this review, the film remains available to Amazon Prime and fuboTV subscribers with additional purchase options on other platforms.
Set in 1673, a small Jewish community faces hardships from others as the Black Plague spreads. When these hardships reach a boiling point, Hanna takes matters into her own hands. Having secretly learned to read, she seeks to perform a ritual that would create a protector for her people. Yet, this act brings about a steep cost.
What I Like about The Golem
The film received three nominations in 2019. These nominations include Best Actress, Best Sound, and Best Cinematography from the Award of the Israeli Film Academy. While The Golem wouldn’t win these awards, the nominations indicate a strong film.
I won’t claim to know the accuracy and intricacies of the golem in relation to its religious origin, but the film certainly brings to life its concept. The effort to create such a creature and the toll it takes from the summoner create an emotional throughline for viewers to follow.
Hani Furstenberg’s Hanna and Ishai Golan’s Benjamin bring a complicated but realistic relationship to the film. Viewers see the love between them, even as their own society attempts to cast them from each other. They feel like a couple who understand the other’s wants and needs. However, we begin to witness the decaying of this relationship.
Hanna, specifically, provides a complex character that incentivizes the viewers to root for and against her at different points in the movie. Though she navigates blatant sexism and discrimination, she remains far from flawless. These flaws and ambitions establish Hanna as an interesting character.
The Golem can be brutal. This film provides a period-accurate look into antisemitism and systemic oppression, which certainly evokes a different form of horror. However, the golem itself brings brutality through its smiting.
Tired Tropes and Triggers
As the film deals directly with systemic issues of 1673, understand that antisemitism, sexism, and hate crimes remain important elements within the film.
An assault leads to a miscarriage, which seems a point worth mentioning for potential viewers who are sensitive to such points. Fertility and bodily autonomy, generally, also play roles within the provided film.
If any of these are potential issues for your viewing experience, perhaps skip The Golem.
What I Dislike about The Golem
Aleksey Tritenko delivers a wonderful performance for an interesting antagonist, but the role of Vladimir serves limited purposes. In many ways, he’s the representation of his societal antisemitism. While this remains perfectly valid, he somewhat disappears from the narrative until he becomes relevant. His marauders should be an oppressive threat within the society, looming over it with malice.
I can’t deny the lack of intimidation the golem’s aesthetic brings. While some films evoke an eeriness through silent children to horrific effect, this didn’t sit well with me. It should be eerie, but something was missing in execution.
The Golem focuses on a more human horror than the supernatural elements might suggest. While not a direct critique, prepare your viewing expectations accordingly. The Golem remains a folk horror film, using the folk story to represent human evil and flaws. It won’t particularly haunt you with the gore.
The Golem brings the old legend of the golem folk story to life. If you thirst for a human horror that shines a light on the flaws of the people within, The Golem might satisfy you. However, it’s not a particularly frightening film, choosing instead to tell a story of loss and overcoming suffering. (3 / 5)