We’re back for another round of Haunted MTL’s Notes from the Last Drive-In with S4E6, featuring The Monster Club (1981) and Hellbender (2021). I’ve been somewhat critical of the stated themes over the season. Still, I am happy to report that isn’t an issue this week as the show delivers on the stated theme of “musical horror,” which is fantastic. Plus, we get a horror anthology to boot!
The film quality is undoubtedly a step up from last week’s Slaughterhouse, that’s for sure. So, what was the night like for Shudder‘s premiere movie hosting show? Can Joe Bob embrace a horror anthology for a change? Let’s dive in.
The Monster Club (1981)
The Monster Club (1981) is a British horror anthology directed by Roy Ward Baker, which also was his final film. The film was written by Edward and Valeria Abraham and adapted from the works of horror author R. Chetwynd-Hayes. The Monster Club is also notable for being the last film of producer Milton Subotsky, best known for his association with Amicus Productions.
The horror anthology movie is a cult film owing to the cast and the soundtrack. Vincent Price, John Carradine, Donald Pleasance, and Stuart Whitman headline the film, with Price and Carradine featuring heavily in the framing narrative about the club. The film’s soundtrack is pretty iconic, featuring B. A. Robertson, The Viewers, and The Pretty Things. NFilms’lso appears in one of the most iconic sequences of the film.
The Monster Club follows a vampire named Eramus (Vincent Price), who is helped to some blood by a writer, R. Chetwynd-Hayes (John Carradine). Eramus thanks the writer by inviting him to a secret monster club, where he learns the genealogy of monsters and takes in the sights and sounds of the club.
What will catch most first-time viewers of The Monster Club off guard is the movie’s tone. The horror anthology framing narrative of Eramus and Chetwynd-Hayes is pretty goofy and upbeat. These scenes almost make the film a musical comedy and are filled with sight gags and nods to the Amicus Films’ history (though this was not a production of Amicus Films). However, this is contrasted by the serious and frightening nature of the horror anthology stories within the film, of which there are three.
The first tale of the horror anthology, “The Shadmock,” is a deathly severe story about a couple who attempt to take advantage of a reclusive estate owner, Raven (James Laurenson), who is one of the hybrid monsters called a Shadmock. The second tale, “The Vampires,” features a boy (Warren Saire) who has a vampire father. The story follows the boy accidentally leading a vampire hunter (Donald Pleasance) to the home, but the tone varies widely within the story. Lastly, “The Ghouls” is the most frightening of the stories. The final segment follows a movie director (Stuart Whitman), who discovered a village of ghouls while scouting for a filming location. He befriends a ghoul named Luna (Lesley Dunlop), but the tale is bleak.
The changes in tone may be challenging for some viewers to swallow, but the format evokes some of the classic comic anthologies such as Creepy and Tales from The Crypt. The mixture of horror and comedy is pretty standard, such as in the Creepshow, which would come out a year later, and is even seen in The Last Drive-In week to week. What helps ease casual viewers in is the glee by which Vincent Price and John Carradine play their roles and embrace the scenes among goofy monsters in plastic masks as ska-infused music plays in the background. The Monster Club is ultimately a lit”le goofy but might b” He’seat film to introduce people to horror and monster media. However, fans of horror, you’re likely to be left wanting.
The film is relatively average from a technical and aesthetic standpoint. Peter Jessop’s cinematography is fine, but visually the film shares many Hammer Horror hallmarks. The editing by Peter Tanner is effective but does not do anything particularly innovative either. The costuming and set design is probably a highlight because it is relentlessly silly for the club scenes. The horror anthology itself is pretty rote, but the wrapping is quite adorable.
Joe-Bobservations on The Monster Club
Joe Bob perhaps summarized the movie’s tone the best during the closing break for the first half of the evening, saying that the film is “so fucking charming.” He’s not wrong. It was a nice, joyous night’s first half with a cute movie. We don’t get many of those on The Last Drive-In, but when we do, they stand out. For example, I’d consider The Legend of Boggy Creek, Sorority Babes at the Slimeball Bowl-o-Rama, and Deathgasm among the cuter films shown on the show. Your mileage may vary, of course.
The lecture elements of the show here were solid, as usual. But British horror is also one of those topics that has been covered so much that insights and discoveries were few to be had. I do consider that the typical member of the Mutant Family has a great deal of awareness of horror films, so many revelations about the British horror scene were somewhat familiar. The background on Amicus Films was great, however. Also fun was Joe Bob being happy with an anthology film as he usually disparages them.
Also, one can’t help and smile at the monster dance party across two of the host segments. Much like The Monster Club, they were “so fucking charming.”
Final Thoughts on The Monster Club
Intensely silly and ultimately harmless, The Monster Club feels like an all-ages answer to horror anthology films such as Creepshow. The film is quite charming, and though the tone varies wildly, it is entertaining throughout. The film doesn’t aim too high and appears quite aware of what it is. While the anthology stories are hit or miss, with “The Ghouls” packing the most robust punch, they come off stronger when framed by scenes of John Carradine and Vincent Price being the icons they are. Their sense of glee elevates even the roughest aspects of the movie.
In his Drive-In Totals, Joe Bob Briggs gave the film 4 out of 4 stars. I think that is fair; The Monster Club is a classic at this point, warts and all. Had the stories been stronger, this movie would have fared a bit better. I give it 4 out of 5 Cthulhus. (4 / 5)
Best Line: “Can we truly call this a monster club if we do not boast amongst our membership a single member of the human race?” – Eramus
Hellbender is a 2021 horror film from the creative family behind 2019’s The Deeper You Dig. The film was written and directed by John Adams, Zelda, Adams, and Toby Poser. It also stars Zelda Adams, Toby Poser, John Adams, and Lulu Adams. This independent production is an exciting example of a family working together, and they are pretty prolific, with many films under their belt already. Truly a fascinating and unique example of independent cinema.
The film follows a teenager and her mother who lives in an isolated cabin. The teen, Izzy (Zelda Adams), is told she has an illness by her mother (Toby Poser) that prevents her from being around other people. In time, Izzy meets some locals, such as Amber (Lulu Adams) and a hitchhiker (John Adams), and learns that she may be isolated for the protection of other people due to her witchy heritage.
Hellbender is a solid film with a lot going for it but is not without its problems. The film’s highlights are the visuals and soundtrack. The movie makes the most out of consumer-grade digital video cameras and shows that fantastic cinematography is achievable with a practiced eye and affordable technology. Drone shots are also used frequently in the film to provide some distance and ethereal glimpses of the eerie woods of the Catskills as well. If that wasn’t enough, the film’s special effects are pretty impressive as well, between gore and trippy, dreamlike imagery. One particular shot with a key and a hand is genuinely remarkable.
The score, composed and performed by the band Hellbender, comprised of the same family involved with every stage of the film’s production, features an original score of atmospheric dread punctuated with performances of the witchy band and their original compositions. It’s pretty fun, and in many ways, the film could also be a series of music videos for an eventual album as the songs and the narrative seem to work in tandem.
The performances are solid. Zelda Adams handles her role as an increasingly bold and independence-seeking teen quite admirably. She also plays well against Toby Poser’s mother character, which is a necessity since most of the runtime comprises scenes between the two. If I had to give one of the actresses the advantage, I’d say that Poser has the more demanding challenge and the more complex performance. Her unnamed character has to deal with a complex series of fears and anxieties, and she does a fantastic job conveying them.
The most significant concern I have with the movie is that the middle section drags quite a bit as Izzy begins to explore her heritage. There is some beautiful imagery, and I feel the journey is important, but overall the pacing slows to a crawl. I had a similar issue with one of the family’s earlier films, The Deeper You Dig. The limited cast stretches the narrative too thin. I think the movie could have lost an easy 15 to 20 minutes and still worked quite well. On the other hand, if the film’s length was necessary, an additional narrative hook is needed to help introduce some more tension into the middle section. There is too much brilliantly shot narrative padding, which puts a damper on the film.
Though I also think the film’s plot is a bit barebones, and the ending makes sense, it feels abrupt and with minimal setup. The relationship between Izzy and her mother is never quite shown to be as bad as the ending would indicate it was, rendering the inversion of their roles seemingly arbitrary. The film would have benefited more from the introduction of more tension in the central relationship because, as it stands, it is relatively idyllic. The dramatic weight isn’t there.
Joe-Bobservations on Hellbender
For the second half of the evening, Joe Bob’s host segments mostly comprised a series of questions and answers with Zelda, John, and Toby. These sequences were a lot of fun, especially as they came out in greasepaint, evoking the musical sequences in the movie. Of the interviews, I feel the segment where it was Joe Bob and John Adams discussed the techniques and John’s surprising past as a model was most enjoyable. This is mainly due to the focus, as the couch filled, the conversation felt less specific. Then again, this happens with most multi-person interviews on the show.
Outside of the interview element, Joe Bob opened the second half of the night with a fun discussion about music in horror but found himself somewhat outclassed by Darcy, who raised several influential horror music composers. However, he did bring up a salient point about the usage of noise in horror films, suggesting a “best achievement in noise” Oscar. I can get behind that.
Final Thoughts on Hellbender
Hellbender is an impressive independent film project that evokes the steady hand of experience. The fact it is the work of a family that has built up this library of independent film is very admirable. The movie looks great and has a strong concept and soundtrack; however it suffers from a significant pacing issue. The film could also benefit from an additional plotline or further complications to pay off its exciting ending.
Joe Bob gave Hellbender 3 out of 4 stars in his Drive-In Totals. I think he’s spot on with it, as there are some admirable elements to the movie. I found the runtime bloat a bit too insurmountable myself, however. I give Hellbender 3 out of 5 Cthuhlus.(3 / 5)
Best Line: “You opened a door that once it’s opened can be hard to shut.” – Mother
Haunted MTL Drive-In Totals
As always, here are the official totals, straight from Shudder.
As for our totals, we have…
- 3 instances of “thee-ate-er”
- 3 dance parties
- 12 monster lineages
- $1.7 million dollar budget
- 200 short stories by R. Chetwynd-Haze
- Opening rant with 4 points and 3 digressions
- Familial vomit bonding
- Gratuitous Drive-In Academy Awards
- Gratuitous ghoulery
- Darcy birthday shenanigans
- Horror host verbosity syndrome
- Safe robbing
- Stripper Jokes
- Irish Jokes
- Clipboard Fu
- Whistle Fu
- Kung Fu Review Fu
- Darcy Cosplay: Skeleton Stripper
Episode Score for the Last Drive-In: S4E6 – The Monster Club and Hellbender
For me, this week’s episode would fall in line with an average episode of The Last Drive-In. The movies were entertaining, and the host segments were good. It’s not a bad way to spend five hours on a Friday night. I also appreciated the night’s stated them, “musical horror,” actually playing out across both films. Sweet, sweet unity.
I’ve been a bit critical of the themes this season because, in at least a few episodes, they’ve been weak and unsupported by the chosen film pairings. That’s not the case here at all. Everything is copacetic. We’ll see how next week goes.
I give The Last Drive-In season 4, episode 6, 4 out of 5 Cthulhus. (4 / 5)
What did you think of the films? Were you already a big fan of The Monster Club? Did you enjoy Hellbender? What about the music? Let us know in the comments.
Can’t get enough of The Monster Club?
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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.