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Welcome back to “Notes from the Last Drive-In,” Haunted MTL’s review and recap series for The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs, a Shudder exclusive. This week, the second episode of season three, Joe Bob sits us down for an Audition, and inducts us into the Class of 1984. How do these movies connect? Who knows? We’ll probably figure out something by the end of our journey together. What a long, strange trip it promises to be.

Audition (1999)

Opening: Dudes, don’t be creepy when trying to meet ladies, Meet Cutes are only in the movies.

Takashi Miike’s Audition, adapted from Ryu Murakami’s 1997 novel, is one of the leading films in what was the 2000s’ wave of J-horror, and stands out, 22-years later, as a horror masterpiece. However, with the film being subtitled, it feels like the movie never quite gets its due for more casual horror viewers. Thankfully, a year after Parasite took home an Oscar for best picture, perhaps a more casual audience’s hearts and minds are more open to world cinema horror. Audition stars Ryo Ishibashi, Jun Kunimura, and Eihi Shiina in a stunning international debut. The film follows a lonely widower, Aoyama, who is convinced to stage a series of phony auditions to find a potential new partner. However, as he sets his sights on a sad, strange woman named Asami, he spirals into obsession and madness… and not necessarily his own.

Poster of the movie Audition
I wonder where… the needle goes…

The film is a stunning exploration of obsessions and gender and cultural norms in Japan that I am not nearly remotely qualified enough to unpack. The film is complex and with every watch I have ever had, my opinions on the two leads change and morph. The film is so subject to interpretation that theories upon theories can be found online making various cases and arguments for just what it all means. Ultimately, the film becomes a personal experience, colored by one’s own history and perceptions. is Aoyama a victim? Yes and no. Did he really experience what he experienced after sleeping with Asami? Who knows? Definitive answers are impossible, and anyone trying to sell you one is just as lost as anyone else.

The film is stunning in a number of areas, particularly in the areas of sight and sound. The film subverts romantic comedy cinematography and uses the camera in several interesting ways to develop an unsettled and uncanny world. What we see through the camera is unreliable, just as the experiences of Aoyama depicted. As his obsession grows more skewed, so too does the reality of the screen heighten. As for the sound, the score is effective, especially as it shifts between romantic themes and the unsettling, but the best work comes in the third act, where every gross, violent image is accompanied with some of the best Foley work I have ever heard. The effect is terrifying.

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The performances of the two leads are magnificent, particularly Eihi Shinna as the mysterious Asami, who radiates an unsteady aura. This is helped by the cinematography but even on set, something about her still rattled Takashi Miike. During one of the segments Joe Bob point out that Miike avoided her between takes. Ryo Ishibashi is also fantastic, playing a handsome, vulnerable man who is initially sympathetic until the mask slips with each gradual and sinister allowance. As Joe Bob points out during one of the host segments, the camera focuses on Aoyama most times; Asami’s agency is supplanted by Aoyama’s gaze, a hint at the darker side of the courtship.

The segments surrounding the episode were informative, as expected from The Last Drive-In. Particularly of note were two moments. Before the movie Joe Bob discusses how we classify horror movies. Echoing Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart from Jacobellis v. Ohio in 1964, an important case on what qualifies as obscene or not, Joe Bob says of horror that “we know it when we see it.” Horror, much like pornography and all good things, is something that can be hard to pin down with words, but is in a state in and of itself. The second segment of note in the first half of the night was an extended gag poking fun at Joe Bob’s inability to pronounce Japanese words, with Joe Bob holding up a series of flashcards and Yuki read the names.

Joe Bob Briggs’ critical of assessment is spot on, giving the film the full four-stars. I am much inclined to agree with the perceived perfection of the film. While few films are perfect to me as I would argue that perfection is something that can be achieved, some get pretty close – Audition is one of those ‘perfect’ horror films and gets a full five-Cthulhu rating. 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Best Line: “Deeper, deeper, deeper, deeper.” – Asami as she shows how much she really cares for Aoyama.

Still from Shudder's "The Last Drive-In," S3E2
Uh… check, please.

Class of 1984 (1982)

Opening: Corporal Punishment in Teaching (the holes make the paddle faster)

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The second half of the night revolved around the 1982 high school crime thriller Class of 1984, directed by Mark Lester. The film is a satirical projection of anxieties regarding violence and crime in schools in the 1980s and would spawn two sci-fi sequels, Class of 1999 and Class of 1999 II: The Substitute. Class of 1984 stars Perry King, Merrie Lynn Ross, Roddy McDowall, and Timothy Van Patten. It also has one of the earliest film appearances of Michael J. Fox with an most unfortunate haircut. The film follows a music teacher, Andrew Norris, who is new to a troubled inner city school that is under the control of a group of “punks” who commit an extremely wide array of crimes. Eventually, Norris finds himself pushed to the extreme and must take action into his own hands to deal with these terror-teens… as violently as possible.

Poster of the movie Class of 1984
They’re not social distancing at all!

Most films on The Last Drive-In are just good fun for me. I love horror, but despite that, few horror films actually scare me – I walk through haunts laughing. I’ve grown up with the genre, watching violence and terror since I was a toddler. It probably did something to my brain. That being said, no film on The Last Drive-In has affected me quite like Class of 1984. For many, it is not really a horror movie, though, again, I defer to Joe Bob with “we know them when we see them.” The raw, visceral quality of the film, and the inhumanity on display by Tim Van Patten’s Peter Stegman and his merry band of ghouls is profoundly disturbing. I also work as a teacher, so the metaphor of systemic problems in education and the punishment of teachers who try their best to just fucking teach hits hard. Horror is all metaphor; the knife is a phallus, the zombie is a consumer, the chainsaw represents industrialized society – and the inhuman gang of teens of Class of 1984 are among these metaphors. I wouldn’t say that 1984 scared me, though but rather it woke something dark.

The film itself is competent, fun shlock with a lot of missed opportunities. But the key, here, is fun. The set piece in the final act is worth the watch alone. Performances are not subtle, but that’s fine because Roddy McDowall gnashes his way through his scenes, the best of the film, like the legend he was. Tim Van Patten is a cartoonish sociopath, but for a movie like this, it works. Perry King is serviceable, given the thankless role of being the vehicle of vengeance with little realistic development and forced to make dumb choices to move the plot along. His grimace has he murders teens, however? Fantastic.

The movie’s cinematography is pretty unimpressive. It’s competent and gets the job done, but it doesn’t “wow.” The music is better, featuring some solid punk music and a fun theme “I Am the Future” by Alice Cooper. But as a whole, the movie feels like a straight to video project, but lacks a low-budget surge of creativity. It is polished to the point of blandness – its saving grace is the story, some shocking excess, an iconic performance by McDowall, and its connection to Canadian horror.

Joe Bob’s treatment of the movie, I felt, was a little overly effusive. But again, our experience are our own – I do not always agree with his assessments. Three segments during the night were particularly fascinating. One extended segment featured the return of visual aids to a Joe Bob rant, where our venerable host covered the Van Patten family tree to an absurd degree. Absolutely hilarious. Another moment, earlier was a digression on the usage of “punk” in the film. As a fan of punk rock, and someone who is both in love and critical of the scene and its history, it is always a joy to listen to Joe Bob drop some knowledge of the scene. This time around, his focus was on the way punk is portrayed in the movie, and I particularly appreciate his pointing out a distinction between punk and new wave aesthetics. I’d be curious to learn more about his punk music knowledge, personally. The third segment I highlighted, was post-film, where Joe Bob expresses his concerns over how the ending was handled. he was appropriately critical, not disparaging the film, but I think being more honest about it. I would love to have picked his brain there, given his extended criticism, and asked him what his assessment of the film would have been then.

Joe Bob Briggs gave Class of 1984 the third four-star rating of the season. I worry he was a bit too generous. It is a fun movie – and it even got a particularly reaction from me – but it shouldn’t be rated on equal footing with Audition. As for me, the film earns a standard three Cthulhus. it is worth a watch, but temper your expectations.

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3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Best Line: “I am the future!” -Peter Stegman, teen of terror

Still from Shudder's "The Last Drive-In," S3E2
The best scene in the film.

Haunted MTL Drive-In Totals

Our official totals this week, as always, come from the Shudder Twitter account.

As for our totals?

  • 3 instance of Four-Star Feature this season
  • 2 Instances of “Thee-ate-er”
  • 2 instances of Darcy being Twitter Jailed
  • 2 Yuki Sightings
  • 100+ films by Takashi Miike
  • Casting Couch Vibes
  • Dead Mom/Wife
  • Gratuitous Various Severed Parts
  • Acupuncture Fu
  • Japanese Pink Film Referencing
  • Gratuitous Animal Murder
  • Brainfuck Dream Sequence
  • Second Polaroid Rape Sequence this season
  • Cheese Joking
  • Horse Joking
  • Silver Bolo Award: Zombie Joe’s Underground
  • Darcy Cosplay Count: 2 – Asami and Patsy
Still from Shudder's "The Last Drive-In," S3E2
Asami?!

Episode Score

The pairing of films was pretty unusual. I can usually find a way to link the choices thematically, but I admit I am struggling a bit here. If I had to hone in on something, I suppose it would be obsession, as both films feature unhealthy fixations, but it is also a little too easy. The other thought, more abstract, admittedly, is the idea of transitions – moving between states. An audition is a way to force a change from one, high school is a period in which an individual is transitioning from childhood to a perceived adulthood. These transitions, however, are only as good as the intent behind them. Two films depicting two social institutions meant to transition individuals from one stage of life to another, both corrupted. There may be something in that. 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

See you all next week for more Drive-In fun. I’ll be live Tweeting the show from Haunted MTL’s Twitter account, so be sure to give us a follow there.

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Movies n TV

Suburban Screams, Cursed Neighborhood

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Episode five of John Carpenter’s Suburban Screams was one of the best kind of horror stories. It is a dark, eerie tale of a mean house that is determined to destroy anyone who dares reside within it.

The story

Our story begins in 1682. A group of colonists are attempting to take over land that is very much not theirs. When the colonists are killed, they vow to curse the land.

Fast forward to modern times, and the land in question is a little suburban neighborhood. Carlette Norwood moves in with her husband, mother, and daughters. The house seems like a dream come true. Until, of course, their beautiful dream home becomes a nightmare. The curse of the colonists wrapped itself around the neck of each family member, turning them into people that they didn’t recognize. People who don’t exactly like each other.

What worked

While I wouldn’t say that the acting in this episode is flawless, it was several steps above what we’ve seen so far. Every actor seemed to understand their role and reacted in realistic ways. I was especially impressed by the young woman playing Angelique. She had the good sense to not overplay the role, giving each scene exactly the right amount of energy.

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Of course, there was one actress who way overplayed every scene. But rather than being terrible, it was terrific. And that was Chloe Zeitounian, who played the neighbor Stacy. Stacy the neighbor was creepy as shit. After an unnamed neighbor dies by suicide, Stacy shows up at Carlette’s house with a bottle of champagne, sipping coffee with a big old smile. Well, okay it probably wasn’t coffee.

Stacy was a fantastic character, and I hope there was a crazy neighbor just like her. I bet her house was haunted as hell, but she just decided that her ghost was like a stray dog that everyone else thinks is dangerous. She probably put a bejeweled collar on the colonist ghost and renamed him Kori spelled with an I on purpose.

Finally, I want to talk about the theme of ancestral curse and ancestral protections that this episode discussed.

Charles County was cursed by the colonists who took the land that rightfully belonged to the indigenous tribes. They took what their ancestors had given them, and left a curse in their wake.

At the end of the episode, Carlette talks about being protected by her ancestors. Ancestors that survived horrible things most of us can’t imagine. I am sure that their strength blessed Carlette, and helped her to save Angelique.

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What didn’t work

While this episode was certainly better than most of the season, it wasn’t perfect. The thing that most stood out to me as being frankly unneeded was the inclusion of maggots attacking Brian.

Paul A Maynard in Suburban Screams.

In multiple scenes, during which Carlette is narrating, Brian has maggots coming out of open wounds. Never once does Carlette mention a maggot issue.

It feels like there is a clear reason why the creators did this. This story doesn’t have a lot of blood, gore, or jump scares. And a core goal of horror content is to cause a reaction.

Stephen King has a great quote about this goal. “I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out. I’m not proud.”

The inclusion of maggots in this story admits that someone involved didn’t think the story was terrorizing or horrifying enough. But it was. The story was freaky all on its own without the inclusion of our wriggling friends.

Is it true?

This might be an unpopular opinion, but aside from the completely unnecessary maggots infesting Brian, I think this episode is the most honest and accurate one so far.

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The thing about hauntings is that they’re seldom what we see in the movies. Haunted houses don’t have glass vases flying off shelves and wallpaper peeling to reveal 666 painted in blood over arcane symbols. Haunted houses dig into the minds of those who live there, causing bad luck and bad vibes. And that’s exactly what happened here. There are no massive explosions. No spirits throwing people downstairs or demonic dogs chasing children from the attic. This house dug into the hearts and minds of a loving family, ripping them apart.

So yes, I do think this episode is likely true.

The further we get into Suburban Screams, the more I enjoy it. This episode was eerie, upsetting, and riveting. I hope that Carlette and her daughters are healing from this horrific journey. And I’m thankful to them for sharing their story. 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

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Happy Father’s Day Herman Munster!

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Herman Munster would be so proud, collage by Jennifer Weigel
Herman Munster would be so proud, collage by Jennifer Weigel

Today for Father’s Day I want to celebrate one the best dads in horror ever: Herman Munster! Herman Munster of television celebrity is a perfect example of a good father in a genre awash in epically horrible parents. He is fun to be around, cares deeply about family, and has a huge heart. He is essentially the naive and loving Frankenstein’s monster despite his horrific appearance, and is aptly employed at a funeral home.

Herman is lovable, hardworking, and always ready with the physical humor dad jokes, even if he is too naive to catch on to his role in the punchlines all the time. He is devoted to his wife Lily Dracula and son Eddie and will do whatever he can to protect them. His generosity extends beyond just his own, with the family taking in his niece Marilyn (who is painfully normal by comparison to the Munsters), and father-in-law Grandpa.

Portrayed by Fred Gwynne, Herman Munster is kind of the epitome of the good father in horror. Sure, he’s a brute, and can be a little dim sometimes, but he’s really just a big teddy bear at heart, and always ready for a good laugh. And apparently Herman Munster was even nominated by his son Eddie for Father of the Year in Season 2, Episode 25, so it all comes around full circle. If the show highlight doesn’t load, you can find it here.

And to celebrate more great Hollywood celebrities, here’s a poem for Ed Wood and an homage to Theda Bara

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Suburban Screams, The Bunny Man

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Someone is stalking the children of Fairfax, Virginia. He comes bearing an axe. He comes from the forest. He comes in the night.

He comes dressed as a bunny.

The story

In the 1970s, the sleepy town of Fairfax Virginia was menaced by a man dressed as a rabbit. He stalked kids and teens with an axe while they were playing in the woods, or ‘parking’. Children were cautioned to not play outside after dark. Parents were terrified. The whole community was rocked by the horrific killer who, well, didn’t kill anybody. And who might have been a whole bunch of people inspired by a truly sad tale?

Still from Suburban Screams The Bunny Man.

The story begins a hundred years earlier. A man whose name is lost to time is accused of stealing a cow. For this crime, he’s sentenced to death because things were a lot tougher back then. The man escaped but swore vengeance on the town. A few days later several children were found hanging from a bridge underpass, butchered and hung as though they were slaughtered rabbits.

What worked

The biggest thing to love about this episode, the one thing that sets it apart from the rest of the season, was the presence of Historian Cindy Burke. Finally, we have an actual professional talking about one of these stories. Yes, there are still first-hand accounts. But that is how these sorts of stories work best. We have the emotional retelling of evocative survivors. But we also have a professional who is emotionally separated from the situation backing up these stories with historical knowledge.

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This wouldn’t have mattered as much in any other setting. But Suburban Screams has been clear from the start that it wants to be seen as a documentary. This is supposed to be real. And if you’re going to claim that your ghost story is real, bring receipts. As many as you can.

If we’d seen more historians, detectives, and police reports through this series, it probably wouldn’t have the bad rating it does on IMDB.

What didn’t work

Well, it might still have had a bad rating. Because the acting in this episode was, for lack of a stronger word, terrible.

I don’t know if it was the directing, the casting, or just a weak talent budget. But not a single person except for the man playing the Bunny Man could act in any of these dramatic reenactment scenes.

The worst offender was probably the child playing Ed’s childhood friend. This character was way overacted. It’s as though the child had seen a parody of how little boys behave, and was told to act like that. As this was a little boy, he was likely a bit embarrassed.

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And I know, I’m trash-talking a child actor. I’m trash-talking all of the children actors in this episode. But children can act. There are lots of examples of kids doing great acting jobs. Stranger Things is an obvious example. Violent Night is another. The kid can act. These kids couldn’t act.

Is it true?

Unlike most of the other episodes in this series, The Bunny Man is a story I’ve heard before. It is a legitimate urban legend that blossomed from a few firsthand accounts of madmen doing scary things dressed as rabbits in Fairfax County, West Virginia. These events probably inspired others to do stupid things like dress up like a rabbit and run around with an ax. Much like the people who decided to dress up like clowns and scare the hell out of people across the country in 2016.

So, yes, the Bunny Man is very much real. He’s real in the hearts and minds of pranksters and West Virginia frat boys. And he is based on some very real, very upsetting, actual events.

I honestly wish the whole season of Suburban Screams had been exactly like this. Filled with facts, first-hand accounts, and proof of scary events. This was everything I wanted in a supernatural/true crime story. So if you’re giving the rest of the season a pass, I would suggest watching this episode.

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4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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