Welcome back to Notes from the Last Drive-In, where we take in the message of the dark lord Satan in a double feature on our penultimate week. The first of the films is the 1981 Clint Howard classic Evilspeak, while the night rounds out with the Spanish film The Day of the Beast (1995). So how was this early Summer devil’s night on Shudder? Let’s find out together.
Opening: There are really only five college movies. Every other one is a variation on a theme.
What happens when you send Clint Howard to a military academy, bully the hell out of him, and connect with Satan using an Apple II? You get 1981’s Evilspeak. This charming, incredibly goofy film is an average film for the drive-in but definitely delivers on all three Bs: blood, breasts, and beasts. The film, directed by Eric Weston and co-written by Weston and Joseph Garofalo, stars Clint Howard as Stanley Coopersmith, a downtrodden cadent who uncovers an ancient book used in a black mass ritual. Naturally, He ends up using a computer to tap into the spells within and summon Satan himself to get his revenge on those who wronged him. The film also features R. G. Armstrong, Joseph Cortese, Lenny Montana, and Don Stark.
The film is every bit as goofy as you’d expect a 1981 Satanic horror film involving computers to be. It has plenty of blood, s surprising but welcome shower scene (the other one features Clint Howard, so your mileage may vary), and a group of feral hogs, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Hogzilla. The plot is ridiculous, but that’s not necessarily a strike against the movie. Creating a ritual site of rogue former Catholics on the California coast before the Spanish missions is ridiculous but at least plausible enough to work. The strange quasi-Christian-military academy is just as odd and yet consistent a choice with the film. The film is like that the whole way through, making what might seem like strange choices in narrative, yet they just kind of work because that is the sort of film it is.
There isn’t an actor in the film that doesn’t pull their weight – there’s no bad performance in the bunch. Clint Howard sells the abused and tormented outcast well with enough hints at the menace beneath that is unveiled fully in the film’s apocalyptic climax. His transformation from prey to predator is satisfying in the scope of the narrative and performance. Meanwhile, veteran western actor R. G. Armstrong chews the scenes as Sarge, a menacing groundkeeper. Perhaps most surprising for most audiences would be Lenny Montana, best known as Luca Brasi in The Godfather, playing the cook. It is a surprising and fun turn for an actor who filled in a role of such menace in the mafia classic.
Visually speaking, for a movie with a pretty low budget, it’s quite good-looking at times, thanks to the cinematographic eye of Irv Goodnoff. There is also some fun editing by Charles Tetoni with an incredible cut between a severed head and a soccer ball. The whole movie comes together with the only loose gear coming in the form of the sometimes strange sitcom-style score by Roger Kellaway. The oddity of the music does add its own charm, of course.
Joe Bob’s segments mostly revolved around the night’s guest, Clint Howard. Clint’s stint as a guest was fantastic, and he is certainly among the top three special appearances of the show’s history. He was affable, charming, and had some fascinating stories about his experiences in Hollywood, from Star Trek to The Andy Griffith Show, and of course, Evilspeak. One particularly fascinating factoid was the few brushes with a disaster that Clint Howard narrowly avoided, such as the usage of fuller’s earth on the set and the usage of rubber cement smoke – both hazardous substances in hindsight. That’s not even getting into the giant live pigs on set.
The host segments for the first half of the night reached their absolute peak, with a new musical number, “Clint Howard (Thank You)” by John Brennan. It was adorable and charming and even featured a surprise visit from Ron Howard.
Evilspeak is a solid drive-in film. While I disagree with Joe Bob Briggs’ four-start assessment of the movie, I think it is worth the ride. The story is pretty entertaining with enough of that 1980s style goofiness to add some unintentional laughs. It also has one Hell of a finale, pun intended. During the show, Clint Howard mentioned an interest in a follow-up or remake: I could see that happening with some significant changes, such as losing the computer used in summoning. Overall, Evilspeak is one I would watch again, so I am giving it four out of five Cthulhus. (4 / 5)
Best Line: “There’s my fucking crowbar!” – Sarge, upon having located his crowbar.
The Day of the Beast (1995)
Opening: Subs vs. Dubs: No longer a fight just for anime nerds.
The Day of the Beast (in Spanish, El día de la Bestia) was my favorite of the night’s films and one of the best of the season. The movie is also one of the funniest ever aired on The Last Drive-In. Directed by Álex de la Iglesia and co-written by Iglesia and Jorge Guerricaechevarría the film stars Álex Angulo, Armando De Razza, and Santiago Segura. The Day of the Beast follows a priest, Ángel, and he commits as much evil as he can to find his way into a Satanic cult, believing that the AntiChrist will be born on Christmas Eve. He is aided by heavy metal fan José and TV occultist Cavan who quickly find themselves in the center of a Satanic storm.
I cannot stress enough how funny this movie is. Humor can be extremely subjective, and this can be especially true with the language and cultural barriers. What is hilarious in one context can be puzzling in another, such as wordplay in the form of idioms. A line may be hilarious in its original language, but translating it may kill it. The Day of the Beast doesn’t seem to have these issues because the gags are seemingly universal. At one point, Joe Bob mentioned Álex Angulo has an almost Buster Keaton type physicality, and that is a perfect description. A lot of the humor is physical, broad comedy. People being hit, shot, stabbed, chasing one another through rooms, being tied up. It sounds ridiculous, but it works. The central performances are also fantastic, with the three leads forming a trio that reminded me of The Three Amigos and evoked The Three Stooges at times. The film also serves as winning satire, an incredible feat given the potential language barrier and the stick issue of religion, but it absolutely sticks the landing.
All of the story-driven humor is accomplished through great storytelling. Another insight Joe Bob Briggs brought to his read of the film, one that blew my mind when he mentioned it, is that the film is essentially a retelling of Don Quixote, that Spanish literary classic. Ángel is Quixote with José as Sancho, and the journey reflects the themes and structure of the book. It is an awe-inspiring feat. The film has so much depth I am certain I have missed many details in my initial viewing, between note-taking and live-tweeting. It is one I am going to need to watch again.
The film is also gorgeous at times, with cinematographer Flavio Martínez Labiano really making Madrid look like a dirty, sinful place, but with special effects that most definitely show their age. One particularly comical rear-projected fall evokes feelings of Mystery Science Theater 3000. The bestial, demonic Satan depiction is entertaining, but again, a bit dated now, at least given the effects. For the time, though? Impressive. The gore is a bit limited as well, but it works, such as an incident involving a shotgun and an ear.
Joe Bob’s insights were great and layered in some solid social commentary and a little history – such as how the movie would fit into the history of the Spanish missionary wave in California. One of the more fun moments was him talking about his own time in Spain in his youth. College Joe Bob seemed super fun. What the heck happened? Hearing about the works of a director that I had not seen before was very fun and part of why I enjoy having Joe Bob pop up during the movies. I came out of The Day of the Beast with another five movies to watch.
The back half of the night had what I would argue to be the superior film. I’ve been poking fun at Joe Bob throughout the season for being a bit generous with his ratings, but I found it unfortunate that the superior of the two films, The Day of the Beast, only took three stars. I’m not in agreement, I think The Day of the Beast is a tremendously funny horror film, and I give it four and a half out of five Cthulhus. It’s just so damn good. (4.5 / 5)
Best Line: “You must help me contact the devil.” – Father Ángel, spoken like a true man of God.
Haunted MTL Drive-In Totals
As always, here are the official totals provided by the show.
As for our own totals…
- 10 dead dogs this season
- 2 Yuki Sightings
- 250 Clint Howard movies
- 24-hour shoot for floating Coopersmith
- A Dozen Hogs
- John Brennan Musical Number
- Gratuitous Public Access Occultism
- Surprise Opie
- Buddhist Joking
- Farmer Joking
- Foot Crosses
- Burning Crosses
- Falling Crosses
- Digital Devilry
- Swine Fu
- Tron Fu
- E S T E B A N
- Darcy Cosplays: Ms. Heavy Artillery and Devil’s Night Darcy
- Silver Bolo Award: Bloodbath and Beyond
It was another fine night at the drive-in. I appreciate the show because I end up having a great time from week to week, even if the movies were awful. Such is the case with last week’s offerings, yet the whole night ended up being a blast. Sometimes I worry the reviews sound the same week to week because of this. It’s all Joe Bob’s fault for having such a remarkably consistent show.
It’s gonna be a bummer of a couple of months until we get our next, inevitable mini-marathon. (4 / 5)
Join us this Friday on Twitter as we live-tweet the season finale. Will we finally get Halloween III? Probably not! I bet that one of the movies will be Another WolfCop. Will it be fun? Most certainly!
Goosebumps Say Cheese and Die
Released in 2023, Goosebumps is the latest in a line of content based on the insanely popular children’s book series with the same name. And if you’re here, I’m guessing I don’t have to tell you a lot about Goosebumps. Most horror fans are at least passingly aware of the colorful covers, dark plotlines, and surprise twist endings. Some of us even have a few of the original books lying around.
With so many good and bad versions of the original stories floating around, I was unsure how to feel about this brand-new series. I was sure, however, that I had to watch all of it. Especially with the infamous Slappy appearing so prominently in the advertising.
So, how was the first episode?
We start this episode with a flashback to 1993, and a young man named Harold Biddle. We don’t spend a lot of time with him. He comes home from school and goes right to the basement. There he starts writing some concerning notes in his journal. This is interrupted when a fire consumes the basement, killing him.
We then flash forward thirty years to the real start of our story. The Biddle house has just been inherited by a man named Nathan Bratt, played by the delightful Justin Long. He adores the place but is less than thrilled when a bunch of teens crash it for a Halloween party.
The teens end up not being thrilled either.
Now we come to our real main characters, Isaiah, Margot, Allison, and James. It is the four of them that planned the ill-fated party.
While in the house, Isaiah finds a Polaroid camera. He starts taking pictures of his friends, only to find that they don’t come out right. One of them, Allison, shows her on the ground in the woods, terrified for her life. Another shows Margot in a panic next to a snack machine.
Of course, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that he eventually sees both of the girls in those exact situations. The real trouble comes when Lucas takes a picture of him, and it shows him on the football field, horribly injured.
All of these near-death experiences seem to be caused by the flaming spirit of Harold Biddle. And it soon becomes clear that the adults of the town likely know more than they’re willing to tell about what went down at the Biddle house thirty years ago.
For someone who grew up with the series, and is therefore of a certain age, the first scene of the episode was a lot of fun. It oozed 90’s vibe in a way that’s immediately recognizable to most, and familiar to my generation. Well, insomuch as wearing flannel and coming home to an empty house is the pinnacle of being a 90s kid.
It was also fun for the constant references to books in the original series. Blink and you missed them, but I saw the Cuckoo Clock of Doom, Haunted Mask, and Go Eat Worms. These make sense, as they each have their episode this season. But I’m sure I missed a few. Please let me know in the comments.
That was a lot of fun for someone who grew up with the series. But it wasn’t so constant and all-consuming as to distract from the story. Someone could have never read a Goosebumps book in their lives and just enjoy this episode of television.
More importantly, younger viewers can watch this and feel like it’s for them. The main characters aren’t the parents, they’re the kids. And it’s clear even in this first episode that, even if it was the grownups who caused this horror, it’s going to be the kids that fix it.
This is a series that is for kids. And that’s great. It’s introducing a whole new generation to a series in a way that feels like it can be theirs just as much as it was ours when we were kids.
What didn’t work
All that being said, the story also felt a little dumbed down. A little too predictable. There was one line that particularly irritated me in this regard. When Nora goes to see Isiah’s dad in the hospital, she just flat-out says, “The children will suffer for the sins of the fathers.”
Not only is that just a bad line, it’s also a lazy one. It’s awkward and unrealistic. People simply do not talk that way. And we frankly didn’t need this information dropped on us. It was pretty clear during the football game that at least some of the grownups in town were going to be involved with this when we saw Nora recognize what was happening to Isaiah and try to stop the game. Kids are smart. They would have figured this out by themselves.
It’s also a really tired trope. Freddy and Jason after all, are both killing young people for the sins of their parents. It was a big part of the storyline in Hide. And while I get that this might feel relevant to the next generation who are all paying for the mistakes of Boomers that Gen X and Millennials have not done enough to solve, it’s also a bit lazy. I just feel like, if this is going to be our main story, it could have been a better one.
But this isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy this episode. Overall, it was a fun start that left me with lots of questions. I’m excited to see where the rest of the season takes us.
(4 / 5)
If you’re a fan of my work, please check out my latest story, Nova, on Paper Beats World. New chapters every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
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.