Connect with us

Published

on

We are back to the drive-in for a final night until later this fall with S4E10, featuring Uncle Sam (1996) and Nightbreed (1990). How does this finale stack up with the rest of the season, and is the July 4th theme something that works, or is this another example of the theming mismatch that has plagued this season?

Let’s see what Shudder had in store for us on July 1st, 2022.

Uncle Sam (1996)

Specific names carry weight in horror, especially among the Drive-In audience. Uncle Sam, a 1996 black comedy slasher, features two names: director William Lustig and writer Larry Cohen. Lustig and Cohen should be familiar to fans of The Last Drive-In from Maniac, Maniac Cop, The Stuff, and Q The Winged Serpent – all films spotlighted on the show before. But those are not the only names attached to the film worth noticing, either. This low-budget slasher has some iconic character actors, including Isaac Hayes, William Smith, David Fralick, Bo Hopkins, P.J. Soles, and Robert Forster. Add in Troma-cinematographer James Lebovitz and frequent Sam Raimi editor Bob Murawski, and you have one hell of an assembly of talent.

It’s a shame, though, that the film is so mild.

Advertisement

Uncle Sam is a Gulf War-era story about the friendly-fire death of Master Sergeant Sam Harper (David Fralick), whose charred and re-animated body goes on a murder spree starting in Kuwait and taking him to his down of Twin Rivers during the yearly Independence Day celebration. The arrival of Sam’s coffin to his widow, Louise (Anne Tremko), estranged sister, Sally (Leslie Neale), and idolizing nephew, Jody (Christopher Ogden), begins to open up old wounds in the family. Thankfully, veteran Jed Crowley (Isaac Hayes) is there to help steer young Jody and aid in the fight as Sam’s sinister return takes Twin Rivers by storm.

Uncle Sam Theatrical Poster
“We want YOU… to DIE.”

The movie is not terrible, but it is also a far cry from previous Lustig and Cohen collaborations. The film tries to evoke the spirit of the 1980s slasher in the mid-1990s, but by playing fast, loose, and straight, the film feels like a pale imitation of more iconic movies. The holiday theme, a costumed killer, and a strange handful of dispatching methods that evoke the one-upmanship of other slasher series – all result in a slasher that feels pretty bland, especially when the genre would be re-invigorated and mastered by Wes Craven’s Scream, only a month or two later.

Slashers have never been high art, except for one or two films. Often it is a genre that makes strange logical leaps and constructs bizarre set pieces to find a novel way to carry a no-importance character to establish menace and earn a laugh and a thrill. The biggest problem with Uncle Sam is that, except for a kill or two, most of the murders are weak affairs. Sometimes the film even undercuts the inherent build-up of tension, suggesting one form of murder only to abandon it and go with something else to little effect. It doesn’t help that for a black comedy; the film is largely devoid of significant laughs – though one sequence involving a chase on stilts is peak absurdist slasher humor. If the misdirections in what the film sets up are on purpose, as a kind of joke or commentary, they primarily do not land.

The performances are fine. The veteran actors are suitably game with the premise and are why the film works. Child actors can be tricky to assess, and sometimes nuances in characters are hard to see play out: If Christopher Ogden was playing the character of Jody as an unstable kid going down a dark, violent path, he did well. If that was not the intent, then perhaps not. The film doesn’t provide enough depth for us to care one way or another. The best performance comes from Isaac Hayes, who has a semblance of an arc and gets to deliver some of the best lines of the film. His character has a sense of nuance and is generally charismatic – the role model Jody needs and the one who sets him straight.

I don’t necessarily want to belabor that I wasn’t a huge fan of the film. I think the editing, direction, and cinematography were solid. I especially loved the patriotic montage opening. I think the film has a good set-up, but I also feel that Cohen could have done a little more work to deliver something more substantial.

Joe Bob-servations on Uncle Sam

Joe Bob’s take on Uncle Sam was pretty fair regarding enjoying the movie but recognizing the flaws. There were several moments during the host segments where he pointed out some of the puzzling and somewhat lazy approaches the film took to sets-ups and motivation. He pointed out that the film is essentially a riff on the earlier Maniac Cop series.

Advertisement

Of course, the insights on the production, cast, and crew were excellent. But perhaps the most entertaining reflection of the evening was Joe Bob discussing his time spent with Robert Forster. Forster’s career at the time was on a downturn, just before Jackie Brown and Joe Bob’s own career path pre-Shudder was quite similar. It was a touching tribute to the departed actor with a bit of reflection.

Final Thoughts on Uncle Sam

Uncle Sam is a middling-to-fair entry in the late slasher canon that plays a little too straight with the tropes and trends to its detriment. With the amount of Drive-In talent attached, fans of the show may be expecting more than this film can deliver. In comparison and around the same time, Jack Frost presents a much stronger example of what Uncle Sam may have been aiming for.

Joe Bob Briggs gave Uncle Sam 2 and 1/2 out of 4 Stars. I can’t help but give Uncle Sam 2 and 1/2 out of 5 Cthulhus. 2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

Best Line: “Don’t be afraid, it’s only friendly fire.” – Sam

Screenshot from 'Uncle Sam'
Welcome to the Patriot Games

Nightbreed (1990)

Now Nightbreed (1990) is one hell of a selection to end a season on. This film has had a wild journey from a disappointing follow-up to Hellraiser to a much-beloved cult favorite that reflects a promising film career cut short. The film is a dark horror fantasy written and directed by Clive Barker, adapted from his 1988 novella Cabal. This film was the second of the three total films directed by Clive Barker, the last being 1995’s Lord of Illusions. Nightbreed re-unites Barker with cinematographer Robin Vidgeon, who handled Hellraiser, and features two editors, Mark Goldblatt and Richard Marden; the latter left the film in protest due to studio interference. The film also features a score by Danny Elfman.

The movie stars Craig Sheffer, Anne Bobby, David Cronenberg (yes, that Cronenberg), Hugh Quarshie, and Doug Bradley.

Advertisement

Nightbreed is set in Calgary and follows Aaron Boone (Craig Sheffer), a man consumed by dreams of a city of monsters called Midian. His girlfriend, Lori (Anne Bobby), asks him to visit a psychotherapist, Decker (David Cronenberg), who is secretly a serial killer who seeks to pin his crimes on Boone. Decker’s scheme is derailed as an injured Boone encounters a man named Narcisse (Hugh Ross), who also knows something of Midian. Soon, Boone finds himself on a journey to Midian, where he may share a vital connection with the monstrous residents, while Decker and Lori seek him out.

Nightbreed Theatrical Poster
The Breakfast Club meets the Groovie Ghoulies

Nightbreed, this restored version, at least, is one of those rare horror epics where the scope is so much bigger than a madman hacking up teens. There is a real sense of texture in the setting and a sense that there is so much more story to tell. The theatrical cut of the film featured a bit of that, but it took the ardent desire of fans to restore the film as closely to Barker’s intent to make these elements clear. The film’s story is good, but it does suffer from the feeling of being the first act of a longer, more complicated story, the resolution being a tease for an adventure ahead that we’ll likely never see. This ultimately leaves the film feeling a little empty in that regard.

Simultaneously, though, there is also so much going on in the film that can feel a bit crowded, and significant moments come off as more confusing or puzzling rather than beats in a larger conflict. The introduction of the Berserkers in the film’s third act, coupled with the motivations of the deity Baphomet, is an excellent example of this. There is something more to it, but the film just does not have the run time to devote to developing these angles. So too with the various forces that converge on Midian. The local police, almost sweeping in as the film’s true villains, are reduced to a stock and abusive militarized force without a chance to grapple with the implication of Midian and why its presence is so upsetting beyond “they’re different!”

If there were ever a story needing a streaming series adaptation, perhaps Nightbreed is the best choice.

I’ve spent a lot of time here discussing the film’s story, but that is because this film has something genuinely incredible that another take can bring to the surface. The rest of the elements in the movie are excellent, however. But they are a lot like a fresh coat of paint on a crumbling wall: the issues at the story’s heart persist, despite the technical and performance achievements. The film looks fantastic. The rich, gothic set designs, elaborate matte paintings, and detailed sets create an epic underground look. The Danny Elfman score is also equally epic.

The acting is excellent across the board. Craig Sheffer and Anne Bobby are effective as somewhat doomed lovers but could have had far more to sink their teeth into. What they do have works, however. However, the critical performance in all of this is David Cronenberg playing a sadistic masked killer. While his role would ultimately confuse the studio into thinking Nightbreed was a slasher, we can partially forgive them as Cronenberg is magnetic. Between his sinister plotting, disaffected personality, and masked presence, he is one of the more unique slashers introduced to film. It is enjoyable to watch his character change his goals and embrace the absurdity of the presence of a city of monsters under a graveyard. Cronenberg’s Dr. Decker is a chaos agent.

Advertisement

Joe Bob-servations on Nightbreed

Joe Bob’s praise of Nightbreed was effusive, especially given his admittedly cold reception of the film upon release. The host segments were a tribute to hardcore fans who loved the strange little monster film and recognized there was more to it. His relaying of the story was a lovely tribute to one of the more positive elements of fandom. These days we focus so much on toxic fandoms that it is such a breath of fresh air to cover a story of a fandom doing right by a creator.

The night’s final segment featured Joe Bob doing a riff on the infamous speech from Patton (1970) as a Lone Star General. It was a fun and inspiring choice to close out the season and the July 4th-themed evening. He may have worn his heart on his sleeves, but his shoulders had beer packaging cardboard epaulets.

Final Thoughts on Nightbreed

Nightbreed is an excellent film despite some significant issues. There is so much lost potential that I can’t help but appreciate what it was going for. While it doesn’t stick to the landing, the execution is strong, and there are some iconic elements worth praising. I hope that one day someone realizes the potential of Nightbreed and lets Clive Barker return to it to achieve what he wanted. It is not a perfect film, but it is a tantalizing glimpse at a missed opportunity.

Joe Bob Briggs gave Nightbreed 4 out of 4 Stars. I think that was a reasonable assessment as it featured blood, breasts, and beasts – the drive-in essentials. The man said he would give it 5 stars if he could. As much as I adore the movie, I do think it has some critical flaws. I give Nightbreed 4 1/2 of out 5 Cthulhus. 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Best Line: “You are a freak and a cannibal and you’ve come to the wrong town.” – Captain Eigerman

Advertisement
A still from 'Nightbreed'
Never let a Cronenberg flank you in the wild

Haunted MTL Drive-In Totals

Shudder has provided the official drive-in totals on their Twitter account.

As for our own totals for the season finale, we have:

  • 1 Wooden Leg
  • 2 Chart-driven Rants
  • 2 Instances of ‘Thee-ate-er’
  • 33 Houses in a Legal Entanglement
  • 200+ Monsters
  • 500 Boxes of 35 MM Film Strips
  • Gratuitous Flaggery
  • Gratuitous Doug Bradley Brief Appearance
  • Blind Groping
  • Self Scalping
  • Car Exploding
  • Absent Father Fu
  • Chart Fu
  • Tomb Defacing Fu
  • Montage Fu
  • Spray Can Fu
  • Cronenberg Rolls
  • Training Video
  • Patriotic Jokes
A still from 'The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs'
Mail Call!

Episode Score for The Last Drive-In S4E10 – Uncle Sam and Nightbreed

Again, we have a situation where the night’s theme was somewhat hollow, and only one of the films really hit the mark. I suppose there is any number of logical leaps and connections one could make to connect Nightbreed to the stated them, but that is far more critical work than should be necessary. So as has been an issue with season 4, the stated theme for the evening just doesn’t work. That is okay, though. It becomes less of a problem when the movie pairing is stronger, and though Uncle Sam fits the July 4th theme, Nightbreed was the night’s highlight.

Overall, season 4 was quite strong with the movie selection. It featured perhaps the most diverse array of movies with some wild swings in pairings since season 1. While I wasn’t a fan of tying movies to explicitly stated themes, they worked when they worked. Everything else, however, was excellent. I appreciated the rapport between Joe Bob and Darcy this season, and I enjoy the show taking risks by stitching music videos and skits into the fabric of the evenings. The show is still one of the best things Shudder has ever done, and with the recent announcement of season 5, it should continue to be.

I give this season finale of The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs four out of five Cthulhus. 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

And that is it for us here at Haunted MTL for The Last Drive-In. We’ll keep readers posted on announcements and news as it develops regarding future seasons and specials. We’ll also return to live-tweet the shows as well.

Sponsored Link

Want more Clive Barker in your life? Why not read Cabal, the novella that inspired the movie Nightbreed? Use our sponsored link to snag a paperback and help support Haunted MTL.

Advertisement

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Movies n TV

Goosebumps Say Cheese and Die

Published

on

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.

For nostalgia.

Cover for Say Cheese and Die, Goosebumps number 4.

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?

The story

Advertisement

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.

Zack Morris in Goosebumps

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.

Advertisement

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.

What worked

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.

Advertisement

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.

Advertisement

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 out of 5 stars (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.

Advertisement

Continue Reading

Book Reviews

The Dead Take the A Train Review: Queer Magic and Monster Mayhem

Published

on

“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.

Advertisement

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!

Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey on the 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. 

Advertisement

[USR 4.2]

Continue Reading

Movies n TV

Dolores Roach, A Fillet of Left Cheek

Published

on

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.

The story

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.

Advertisement

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.

Advertisement

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.

What worked

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.

Advertisement

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.

Advertisement
3.5 out of 5 stars (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.

Continue Reading

Trending