Welcome back to Notes from the Last Drive-In, where we discuss the 8th episode of season 3, featuring the cult “classic” films Sledgehammer and Things. I will be very critical of the movie selection for this episode – the films presented were amateurish, bad, and hard to watch movies. With that being said, though, they are also movies I feel I can treasure, and there is something genuinely valuable and charming about them, despite their flaws, like teeny, tiny diamond encrusted in a couple of inches of muck and dirt; unpleasant to dig through but ultimately rewarding. That’s kind of what you get with a VHS night, though.
Ultimately, it was a night of cinematic lows, but a wonderful night because of those lows. Thanks, Shudder.
Opening: The VHS Revolution and Joe Bob’s reason for VHS Night.
Bad slasher films far exceed the number of good slasher films, but Sledgehammer may be the reigning champ of awful in the genre. Written and directed by David A. Prior and shot entirely on VHS, Sledgehammer is, according to Joe Bob, said to be the first horror film produced entirely on VHS. Some argue it was 1982’s Boardinghouse, but our host suggests that because the taped film was transferred to actual film, the honor is dubious. The film stars Ted Prior, Linda McGill, John Eastman, and Jeanine Scheer, though most of the cast had minimal careers at best. Ted Prior is best known for the direct-to-VHS Deadly Prey (1988), a Rambo-knockoff, and bit-part in Surf Nazis Must Die (1987).
The film follows a group of friends who decided to spend their time partying in a house that was the site of a murder mystery a decade earlier. Before long, they participate in a prank séance that summons the vengeful ghost of a boy locked in a closet by his abusive mother shortly before her murder. Naturally, the bodies start piling up. However, the plot is a mess, and the story throws bizarre, inconsistent elements on screen. The killer has strange, arbitrary rules that are jettisoned in an instant. There is a suggestion of a Satanic ritual that serves no real purpose to confuse the overall story. Even worse, the film suggests the child who was locked in the closet went missing, yet his remains are found in that same closet ten years later during the course of the film.
The whole film has a pseudo-improvised quality to it. A story doesn’t so much unfold rather than exists as a series of moments, some of which suggest a possible narrative while others feel like ideas had on the day of the shoot, such as the infamous “food fight” sequence, which may be the most horrifying moment in the movie. Furthermore, the performances are amateurish and exaggerated. Every line read has an odd cadence that makes even simple lines sound unnatural. The killer, the largest draw of a slasher film, is a lazy trope, a masked figure with a common tool used to kill. The plastic mask makes no sense, either; perhaps if it was something the kid wore before he died, there might be a reason to include it, but it is an arbitrary and laughable choice in the film as it exists.
I could continue to criticize the film easily. However, something about it ended up being quite fun. It isn’t a good movie by any reasonable metric – yet I enjoyed my time with it. That begs the question of how we define a “good” movie, though, doesn’t it? Joe Bob’s commentary throughout the night articulates that idea to a degree. The film is not technically good, but it exists. It is the effort of someone genuinely having fun and making something, and we are partaking in that joy. It may not be in the way intended by Prior, but here we are, over 30 years after Prior’s friends made it, watching it as a community and pulling something from it. It’s not unlike The Room or that Monkey Christ incident where we see the earnestness of the intent and do find a kind of enjoyment in bearing witness to it, though the quality itself may be lacking or laughable.
Perhaps the highlight of the host segments was discussing the VHS form and aesthetic, particularly why there is something so comforting about them. Essentially, Joe Bob reasons that there is something about the “dot pattern that lulls you into a comfort zone” of familiarity. When we watch such VHS horror, we find ourselves reading them as home movies in a way, and can project people we know into the film. This is definitely part of that larger communal reading.
Among some of the other fun bits during the host segments, we learn a fun assemblage of the history of the film – in one of the more impressive feats, Prior shot it in a two-bedroom house. Yet, it ends up feeling much larger in the final film, mostly due to a baffling number of door opening sequences, I suspect. There was also a fun history of aerobic-themed horror films, which frankly sounds like a nice double-feature for season four. Of course, there was also some of that classic poking of fun at academia and horror, which I have grown immune to – it is always a fun time when Joe Bob mentions semiotics.
It is hard to rate a movie like Sledgehammer where the end product is bad, but you enjoy it. Joe Bob gave it two-and-a-half stars, even noting he was being “generous.” His rating, I feel, reflects that dichotomy of recognizing the movie is bad but still finding enjoyment from it. I guess if I had to force a food metaphor if most of the movies on The Last Drive-In are junk food, Sledgehammer is like that gas station taquito you can’t help eating once a month. So while I can only give this movie a one out of five Cthulhus when it comes to the quality of the film, it is certainly worth experiencing at least once.(1.5 / 5)
Best Line: “BLARGHARBLE.” – Chuck’s “Bill Murray” Impression
Opening: We’re about to go on a trip.
Muddy and dimly lit. Tinny and grating dubbing. Incoherent and minimal story. This is the infamous “classic” Things. But, believe it or not, The Last Drive-In can dig deeper and find an even worse movie for the back half of the night. This Canadian independent horror film, already a sign of danger, was shot direct-to-video – specifically on Super 8. Directed by Andrew Jordan, who co-wrote it with Barry J. Gillis, the movie stars Barry J. Gillis, porn star Amber Lynn, Bruce Roach, and Doug Bunston.
The film follows two friends who visit a friend’s cabin, only to uncover a horrific experiment… I think? The plot of Things is tough to discern for many reasons. Perhaps the best description of the intended plot I could find is on IMDB:
An impotent husband, driven by a fanatical desire to father children, forces his wife to undergo a dangerous experiment. The result: the birth of a multitude of monstrous THINGS.
There is a story to be found, but the film takes every opportunity it can not progress the story. First, long sequences of poorly dubbed conversations, cheese sandwich making, and wandering around darkened rooms with a flashlight. These long stretches are periodically punctuated by Halloween prop ants or some ham-fisted gore effect. Then, of course, there are the Amber Lynn sequences that have no plot relevance – where she plays a news reporter sitting in front of an A/V shelf, reading cue cards that are obviously off to the side of the camera.
The movie has so many problems that talking about them would just come off as bullying someone who cannot fight back. Such as the case with one character vanishing for well over a half-hour of the runtime because Bruce Roach couldn’t be on set. With that being said, I do feel I need to point out the absolutely hilarious dub. Much like that MST3K classic, Manos: The Hands of Fate, Things is entirely dubbed over. Unlike Manos, which the crew was unable to record audio when it was shot due to the lack of sound equipment, Things had to be dubbed over because of too much talking on set. This is important as to why Things, as bad as it is, is ultimately compelling. With that being said, the dub on Things is awful in the most hilarious way imaginable – line reads are frequently slurred, rushed through, or completely inappropriate to what is going on. Even better is when a line is spouted, which was obviously added in post, such as Don’s hilarious bitching about the weight of his friend or maple syrup references.
Joe Bob’s host segments featured a special appearance by a friend of the Drive-In and AEW superstar Chris Jericho, likely future recipient of his own dedicated land-line for Canadian horror. He’ll be the next Felissa Rose on the show, only consulting on canucks rather than mangled dicks. Jericho’s interview segment was by far the most naturalistic of the season, and his utter contempt for Things was quite funny. However, his attempts to disown the film as a product of Canada are not likely to pan out. Outside of this, most of the segments would begin with a series of questions attempting to parse the film’s meaning and what was seen on screen. Unfortunately, few of the answers were found. Some of the factoids worked their way in from the confused delirium: how exactly Amber Lynn became involved (they asked her) and who the nude woman was (a sex worker).
Joe Bob’s impassioned speech at the end of the episode is key to the night. Both films are rightly terrible, with Joe Bob giving Things a one-star rating. Things seems to be the only movie on the show so far that has earned that dubious honor. Yet, as Joe Bob says in the conclusion of the night, the evening was a celebration of the little guy. Things is a movie that exists, a tangible thing made by someone outside the traditional pipeline of film. It is far from competent, but at least someone poured their passion into it. It is easy to judge a film as bad, but it is quite another to actually make an independent film, which should be celebrated when it happens. As for my own rating from quality alone, I would only give the film one of five Cthulhus. However, much like Sledgehammer, I am glad to have seen it.(1 / 5)
Best Line: “Susan! They ate her down to the skull!” – Don, upon seeing the Things have eaten Susan down to the skull.
Haunted MTL Drive-In Totals
Of course we are going to include the standard Drive-In Totals, as shared by the Shudder Twitter account.
And as for our totals we have:
- 2 mailbag entries
- “$350,000” Budget
- The 8th dead dog of the season
- 4 breaks per movie
- 37 David Prior movies
- Gratuitous Canadian references
- “Creepy Neighbor” caps
- Tracking Fu
- Existential Questioning about what we are seeing Fu
- Yuki sighting
- Spontaneously disappearing actor
- Silver Bolo Award: SOV Horror
- Darcy Cosplay: Sledgehammeress and Blockbuster Darcy
The movie selection tonight was terrible, yet the episode is larger than the sum of its parts. I hope that VHS night becomes a thing every season as there are so many VHS films out there that could easily find their way into the show. I think a celebration of the earnest but incompetent is something we could benefit from as horror fans from time to time. With any luck, nights like this might inspire someone to make their damn movie. The average mutant carries an entire film studio on their phone these days. Perhaps a few years down the line, they will be talking about the Mutant Renaissance?
Anyway, one star movies but a five star night. I give this episode of The Last Drive-In five out of five Cthulhus.(5 / 5)
And with that, I am out. Join us on Twitter next week as we live-tweet the penultimate episode of the season. It’s gonna be a good time.