We head back to the drive-in with Joe Bob and Darcy this week to watch The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976) and Housebound (2014). Lock your doors and stay inside with Shudder, because this Friday the 13th double-feature is agoraphobic-approved.
We pick up from last week’s Walpurgisnacht fun to another creepy day for horror nerds, and along the way, we learn some cool history about superstition. But does the theme land, or does this week’s double-feature premise feel a little thin?
The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)
The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane is a 1972 “cross-genre” film with elements of a teen drama, thriller, horror, and character study. It is certainly no feel-good film, either. It is a dark satire of the worst fears of parents subverted by a protagonist who has lived more than most adults. Directed by Nicolas Gessner, the film stars Jodie Foster, Martin Sheen, Alexis Smith, Mort Shuman, and Scott Jacoby. The film is a Canada/French-produced adaptation of Laird Koenig’s novel of the same name. The film would be written by Koenig.
The plot is simple; a thirteen-year-old girl named Rynn (Jodie Foster) lives in apparent isolation in the town of Wells Harbor, Maine. Her apparent isolation draws the curiosity of the community, including that of a local pedophile, Frank (Martin Sheen), the son of Rynn’s landlord, Cora (Alexis Smith). Rynn’s privacy is repeatedly under assault by the larger community and the obsession of Frank as her father, a poet, is never seen by locals. A chance encounter with a young man, Mario (Scott Jacoby), nephew of local cop Ron (Mort Shuman), unravels the complicated and tragic circumstances behind Rynn’s apparent isolation.
This is not a pleasant film, not in the sense that it is not a good film, but in the sense the mood is oppressive and the world depicted is cruel and unfair. The film frustrated me several times because of what liberties adults take against a child in her own home, against her wishes. The writing in this regard is excellent, with several great moments of conversation. This is one of the “talkiest” films shown on The Last Drive-In, perhaps akin to The Changeling. The film itself is limited in scope as well, mostly playing out within Rynn’s house. The story’s limitations reveal the intent of Koenig, the writer, who originally sought to adapt his novel into a play. I would love to live in a world where The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane was a theater staple.
The film is tightly written with a fairly efficient run time, though two montages cause the film to drag a bit. This is also compounded by the use of Chopin’s piano concerto No. 1 in E Minor, as performed by pianist Claudio Arrau and The London Philharmonic Orchestra. Chopin’s composition overpowers the film score by Mort Shuman and Christian Gaubert. It feels odd to say, but the use of Chopin seems a little much and is used so frequently that having repeated through montages makes them feel longer due to simple aural repetition.
The film’s cinematography is fine, but René Verzier’s work does not do much to sell the film as needing a film adaptation. The quality and the cinematography are fairly rote. Most of the tension comes from performances with little added effect from Verzier’s camera.
The performances are largely excellent, and the critical praise of Jodie Foster, who was twelve as the production began and then turned thirteen during, is well deserved. Foster is one of the finest actresses to ever work in film and seeing her command the screen so readily is impressive. You feel anxiety for her and can’t help but feel broken at the end of the movie because of how wonderful she is.
Sheen is a revelation as well, only three years away from the role that would cement him as Hollywood royalty in Apocalypse Now. Frank as a character is so manic and aggressive in such a weirdly charismatic way. Imagine the worst person in the world with leading man looks and charm, and you get a sense of just how insidious and dangerous the character of Frank is. The truth is, we are lucky to see such a top-tier actor play such a horrific character.
Now, singing the praises of Foster and Sheen is not to say the rest of the cast does not deliver. Alexis Smith’s Core Hallet is an icy busybody who takes her sparring with a child personally, and her brief time in the film results in wonderful dialogue with Foster’s Rynn. Scott Jacoby plays the handsome and charismatic weirdo, Mario, who creates a bright spot in the overall dark life of Rynn. And not least, Mort Shuman’s Officer Ron Migliorti represents a gentle, good man who tries to help but is kept at arm’s length.
Joe Bob-servations on The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane
Joe Bob’s host segments were a lot of fun this week, especially with the recurring discussion on superstition. Perhaps the best of the night came early when he discussed the origins of The Thirteen Club. The whole history was quite fascinating, but also gave way to one of the best laughs of the night: when he cracked a joke about everyone in the club dying, catching Darcy off-guard. The whole night was filled with interesting little asides into the superstitious mind.
Regarding the film, Joe Bob was quite effusive with his praise, as the film deserves. Of the various aspects, he discussed, however, he was particularly vocal about how this film was very much lucky to cast who it had and the time it was made. You get the sense that maybe The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane couldn’t be made today and have quite the impact it did with the one-two punch of Foster and Sheen. Regarding Foster, Joe Bob made a very important point: by the time she was twelve she had already had a strong career as a child actress, so her professionalism in the film isn’t overly surprising as some make it out to be.
Final Thoughts on The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane
The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane is a largely excellent film, among some of the best of the ‘serious’ films that have been shown on the show. The nature of the film as being like that of a play may limit the audience a bit, given how dialogue-heavy it is, but for those who can manage there is a lot to love.
The film does drag at times given the overly artsy montages set to classic Chopin compositions, and the internal logic does frustrate at times given the number of privacy and property violations that seem to occur over the duration of the film. It gives one the impression that maybe the oppressiveness is a more heightened element than was necessarily true. It does certainly inspire a reaction, however. As I was not alive in the 1970s I would love to know the accuracy of how the characters would have behaved from someone who was.
Joe Bob gave the film 3 and 1/2 stars, which seems about right. I feel that perhaps the half-a-star deduction was due to the arthouse quality, as this is a drive-in show. Mutants can only go sophisticate for so long a stretch. As for me, I’d about where Joe Bob is regarding my assessment, giving the film 4 and 1/2 Cthulhus out of 5.(4.5 / 5)
Best Line: “School is having people tell you what life is and never finding out by yourself.” – Rynn
Housebound was the night’s second feature. This 2014 New Zealand horror comedy was written, edited, and directed by Gerard Johnstone. The film made its debut at SXSW where it quickly became an indie darling. The film was a New Zealand accelerator project where government funding was granted in order to assist in the production. The film stars Morgana O’Reilly, Rima Te Wiata, Glen-Paul Waru, and Cameron Rhodes.
Housebound follows a troubled young woman, Kylie Bucknell (Morgana O’Reilly), who botches an ATM robbery and is sentenced to house arrest for eight months under the care of her mother, Miriam (Rima Te Wiata). Stuck at home with an ankle monitor, Kylie and her mother discuss past instances of hauntings that seem to trigger an awareness of strange things going on within the house. However, Kylie uncovers more about the strange circumstances of the home with the aid of her parole officer, an amateur paranormal investigator, Amos (Glen-Paul Waru), and the guidance of her psychologist, Dennis (Cameron Rhodes).
The film is quite funny but is fairly light on the scares and gore, despite a particularly explosive death that results in a shower of blood. The film was quite critically appraised at the time of release and made waves in the American film industry, but today you do not hear much about it, nor do you hear much about the man behind it, Gerard Johnstone. Indeed, the film seems largely forgotten, which is a bit of a shame given the fresh approach it takes, but also a bit expected in that it doesn’t quite land the punches it throws.
The film’s approach to subverting the haunted house theme is clever at first until contrivances and dialogue dumps begin to drag down what started as a rather tight little haunted house project. The foundation that was so strong progressively begins to look like a tower of Jenga blocks the further on the film goes and the revelation within are clever, but I struggle to say they’re necessarily worth the ride. For example, the Teddy Ruxpin knock-off makes absolutely no sense in the context of the film when all is revealed. Having seen the film twice I am still failing to understand why the bear was able to do what it did, even if it had a “helping hand.” This may be one of the most glaring issues with the logic of the film, in my opinion. That being said, the film has a number of them.
My other big criticism of the film is that the protagonist is unlikeable. A protagonist does not need to be likable to be compelling, but there needs to be some reason to want to follow their journey. I think Morgana O’Reilly is fine as Kylie, but Kylie is such a shit that it is largely hard to root for her. Nor does there seem to be a real sense of growth in her character either as most of the decisions in the final act are largely driven by survival impulses and leave little room for a sense of growth. Rather, the film’s most appealing characters are Amos and Miriam. Amos because he is a weird, earnest dude, and Miriam because Rima Te Wiata does a fantastic job playing a mother abused by her child.
Simon Riera’s cinematography is effective, but nothing particularly outstanding. It is serviceable for the type of film this is. There is a fun moment where Dennis is menaced by the ‘spirit’ of the house and the sequence set across an entirely blacked screen flashes to a chilling reveal of the spirit hovering over the psychologist. A scene involving dentures is also suitably framed to be as uncomfortable as possible, which I appreciate as someone who has a particular fascination with teeth as a vehicle for horror. As for Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper’s score, I found it to be effective, but nothing that really pulled me in, either.
Ultimately, I think the description of “effective but did not pull me in” is an encapsulation of my overall attitude regarding this film. It was, for lack of a better word, fine.
Joe Bob-servations on Housebound
The survey of superstitious carried on into the second film of the night with digressions into rabbits’ feet and the potential origins of the term “knock on wood.” What felt lacking was a real example of the connection of either film to superstition. The connective tissue was the idea of refusing to leave the house, but neither film presented the shut-in nature of their leads as being tied to superstitious anxieties.
Of course, with any New Zealand-sourced film on the show, Joe Bob returns to beating his drum on the misappropriation of the terminology “Kiwi horror” as it relates to the film in question, just as he did back with Deathgasm. In case you missed it with previous horror films out of New Zealand on the show… “Kiwi horror” does not exist – it is not a distinct genre, it is just a label attached to films made out of New Zealand with incubator money during a period of time and there is nothing particularly of New Zealand about them.
Expect to hear that same point again the next time a movie from New Zealand is shown.
Final Thoughts on Housebound
Housebound is a fun mid-2010s horror film out of New Zealand with a clever play on the haunted house trope, but cleverness isn’t enough to win me over completely. Between a thoroughly unsympathetic protagonist, an overly convoluted series of backstory reveals, and the fairly limited amount of horror, I would be hard-pressed to claim this among my favorite on The Last Drive-In. I didn’t really feel a sense of shock or dread. Granted, I was entertained, but the film didn’t blow my mind. The same can’t be said for one of the characters, that’s for sure.
Joe Bob gave the film the 2 and 1/2 stars treatment. I think that is entirely reasonable. It’s worth a watch, but it doesn’t seem like one that will stick with me and other Mutants of my ilk. As for my assessment, I would give it 3 Cthulhus out of 5.(3 / 5)
Best Line: “You cannot punch ectoplasm.” – Amos
Haunted MTL Drive-In Totals
As for the official drive-in totals, we have the following.
We also have the Haunted MTL Drive-In totals…
- 1 Fangoria Chainsaw Award for Achievement in Non-Fiction
- 1 Dead Hamster
- 2 Moody Montages
- 3 instances of “Thee-ate-er”
- Clipboard Fumbling
- Superstition Tempting
- Heaven Joking
- Cocktail Joking
- Gratuitous Plot
- Gratuitous “Hello Moto”
- Child Rights Advocating
- Water Moccasin Anxiety
- Suprise Italian Racism
- John Brennan Musical Number
Episode Score for The Last Drive-In: S4E3 – The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane and Housebound
I had expressed some doubt about the theme of last week’s double feature, but I am happy to say this double feature’s theme was much more coherent, although admittedly a bit of a stretch. Friday the 13th is a day about superstition, and while that thread was woven in quite well through the host segments, the film selections were tangential – built around the idea of a “shut-in night” for the ultra-paranoid and superstitious.
The only problem was that neither film really dealt with being shut-in due to superstition. One was a girl living by herself trying to do her own thing as the world pushed back at her and the other is about someone under house arrest. The host segments were fun, but I am wondering if stating a theme outright is the right route to go down with these episodes. Perhaps if the themes were stated as being more open-ended the double features would gel a bit better through juxtaposition. However, setting an expectation of a theme and not really delivering on it feels like a misstep.
I am probably taking this sort of thing a bit too seriously, but I also think the past two weeks represent a stretch that could lead to misfires in the future. I vastly prefer the themes of the double features being more subtle or interpretative outside of the holiday sets. Soon we’ll find ourselves seeing an environmental awareness pairing where one film is set in the woods and one film has a beach… and that is about it.
The episode as a whole is still great, of course, and the host segments are as fun as ever. Yet, something about the loose associations between the last four films is rubbing me the wrong way.(4 / 5)
And that is it for Notes from the Last Drive-In this week. This has certainly been a little bit more critical than most of the reviews I’ve done, owing largely to the fact that the show is usually firing on all cylinders the majority of the time. Four seasons and multiple holiday marathons in, however, it would make sense that maybe there are some performance issues to be aware of.
What did you think, though? Why not share your thoughts in the comments with us about the show and the two films shown. Did you have a favorite?
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