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Welcome to Notes from the Last Drive-In. Normally these go up on Mondays, but some real-life engagements delayed my chance to view the films and write the review. This week we cover two 1980s films with 1989’s Bride of Re-Animator and 1982’s Next of Kin. Two wildly divergent films paired up, splattery pulp and an artsy slow burn, but welcome nonetheless. It’s another movie night on Shudder with the world’s greatest host. Let’s dive in, shall we?

This week’s tweets were handled by Payne and some of our other writers. Thanks for covering, gang! Give them a follow.

Bride of Re-Animator (1989)

https://twitter.com/evangeline_the/status/1388330074714214405

Opening: The character reversal of the City and the Town

With Bride of Re-Animator the luster of the original film shines brighter, but it’s not as though Bride is a dull film. It’s effective, technically sound, and features many things to love. But it is the first of what would be many lesser sequels – still fun, but incapable of quite capturing what worked so well with the 1985 original. Most of the pieces are there, and the film largely succeeds in its ambition to follow up on Herbert West and Dan Cain’s exploits. Yet something is missing. The film fell under the direction of Brian Yuzna and a script cobbled together quickly by Yuzna, Rick Fry, and Woody Keith. As a whole it is serviceable, but there is a distinct lack of the late Stewart Gordon. one wonders how things might have turned out if production wasn’t rushed to get a sequel made for a tax credit.

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Despite the quibbles one may have with the fairly obvious Frankenstein-riff of a plot and the lesser writing and direction compared to the first, much of the film largely works and works well. The performances are excellent, with Jeffrey Combs and Bruce Abbott returning as West and Cain, respectively, the comical and ridiculous return of David Gale, and the fantastic performance of Kathleen Kinmont as the titular “bride.” The film is also technically strong, with some interesting tricks behind the camera at Yuzna’s direction and masterful effects by Screaming Mad George. Yet… the compromises are one too many for the film to truly live up to the original. No Gordon, a rushed script, and a planned finale that would never be filmed. It’s frustrating, really.

Most of my enjoyment of the first half of the night came from seeing what Jeffrey Combs is up to, as he was beamed onto the set with the socially-distance mannequin. We really should see if the mannequin has a name, honestly. The interviews do feel a little flat as a whole due to social distancing – they certainly lack a certain spontaneity that we’ve enjoyed in prior seasons, but they’re still quite fun. It helps that Jeffrey Combs is a perfect Drive-In guest: a living legend with some surprises, such as his slipping in and out of his redneck roots. We also received a number of fun anecdotes about the shoot, Combs’ continued friendship with Bruce Abbott, and hints about where the series could have headed. Of course, Combs is still game to do another Re-Animator film. Who else could play Herbert West, really?

Joe Bob Briggs generously gave Bride of Re-Animator the four-star treatment. I think Joe Bob has been a bit generous as of late, perhaps slowly losing his mind from cabin fever. It’s a good movie, but is it a four-star film by Drive-In standards? I am not so sure – the original Re-Animator? Undoubtedly. Bride, not really. As for me, I’d give Bride of Re-Animator four out of five Cthulhus. 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Best Line: “He’s a wife-beater, Dan, use the gun!” – Herbert West being helpful

Still from Bride of Re-Animator
Ol’ Handsome Herbert has concerns…

Next of Kin (1982)

Opening: The Dyson Airblade

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Next of Kin is an obscure, slow-burn Australian horror film, and yes, despite the wishes of the director, it is horror. As Joe Bob said last week, we know horror when we see it. It is probably the slowest burn on The Last Drive-In, but as someone who enjoys when horror takes its time, I found myself enjoying it a great deal. It is not without problems, however, perhaps grasping too ferociously at prestige, the film ultimately offers short bursts of mood between needlessly labored plot revelations. It’s fine, a good effort for first-time horror director/writer Tony Williams. He wasn’t long for the movie industry, ultimately turning to the advertising industry, but Next of Kin is like a tantalizing peek at what could have been an impressive film career.

The film follows a woman, Linda, who inherits an old folk home who sees a series of deaths of the elderly residents that evokes something from her past. It is a film of family secrets and the threat of madness that muddies the waters of what is real and what isn’t, yet the film doesn’t really commit to the supernatural vs. reality angle much at all. It is a haunted house story where the haunting is all in the mind and the threat is a strange, not necessarily satisfying reveal. The performances are solid, with Jackie Kerlin selling her tormented character with much skill – only to leave the film industry altogether. A strange turn on what could have been a promising career, but one mustn’t begrudge her choices.

Ultimately, much like how Jackie Kerlin left the film industry and Tony Williams transitioned to the ad industry, the film itself feels like a strong start with a sudden stop. So much potential lays within the bones of the story, but it gets traded for plodding pace, a non-sensical revelation, and an out-of-place explosive finale. So much potential and style just sort of squandered. Joe Bob discusses this film in the context of a rediscovered gem, a limited release that was given a new lease on life after a name drop from Quentin Tarantino. Yet, I can’t help but think the value of Next of Kin is in some admittedly stylish directorial choices and the sheer curiosity of it all. It isn’t quite Ozspoitation, nor is it totally inscrutable for the art-house crowd. It’s an odd film from Australia, albeit one that causes me to ponder the question of “what if?”

Joe Bob’s assessment of the film puts it in the four-star territory. I find myself disagreeing, heavily. What works in the film works, in spite of the issues with the plot and what feels like a desperate bid for cultural excellence. I can’t see myself giving this film more than three out of five Cthulhus. 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Best Line: “Sex it up, baby!” – Joe Bob Briggs on making films, the AMERICAN way.

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Still from Next of Kin (1982)
Enjoy scenes of painstaking research at diaries, medical logs, and financial records for long stretches of time

Haunted MTL Drive-In Totals

As always, we have our own Drive-In totals to share!

  • 8 months later and 10,000 miles away
  • “30 Fucking Iguanas”
  • 4 Effects Companies
  • 2 Heads in a Bucket
  • 20 Appliances on Kathleen Kinmont
  • Dead Dog
  • Nudie Pen
  • Hitchcockery
  • Spontaneous Carpentry
  • Gratuitous G’Days
  • Cat Calling
  • Michigan J. Froggery
  • One-Act Frankensteinery
  • Lizard Stuffing
  • Gratuitous Calculation
  • Heartwarming Letter Reading
  • Super Bingo Hall Freakout
  • Superman Joking
  • Disney Joking
  • Yuki Count: 3
  • Season 4-Star Count: 5
  • Silver Bolo Award: The Losers Club
  • Darcy Cosplay: The Bride
It’s not quite on her sleeve, but she wears the heart just as well

Episode Score

Ultimately, not the finest night at the Drive-In, but still very fun. Who doesn’t love movie night? That being said, Herbert West carries the night, thanks to a game Jeffery Combs, who is as delightful now as he seems to have always been. 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

See you all next week for more Drive-In fun. I’ll be live-Tweeting the show from Haunted MTL’s Twitter account again (thanks for filling in this week, Payne), 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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