Welcome to Notes from the Last Drive-In, Haunted MTL’s review and recap series, tackling a “bad Daddy” night with Joe Bob Briggs and Darcy the Mail Girl. This week we cover The Last Drive-In S4E8 featuring The Stepfather (1987) and The Freakmaker (1974). So how does Daddy’s night fare compare to Mommy’s night last week?
What delights and horrors were to be found on Shudder this past Friday, June 16th?
The Stepfather (1987)
The Stepfather is a 1987 psychological horror film that best matches the “Bad Daddy” vibe of the evening. Directed by Joseph Rubin, the film was written by Carolyn Lefcourt, Brian Farfield, and Donald E. Westlake, with Westlake taking screenplay duties. Patrick Moraz handles the film’s music, while John W. Lindley and George Bowers tackle cinematography and editing duties, respectively. The movie stars Terry O’Quinn, Jill Schoelen, Shelley Hack, and Stephen Shellen.
The Stepfather follows a serial killer, Henry Morrison (Terry O’Quinn), who takes on a new identity and family periodically, murdering them when he feels they have failed to live up to his ideals of a family. He ends up meeting with a widow, Susan Maine (Shelley Hack), and taking in her daughter, Stephanie (Jill Schoelen). Meanwhile, interested parties, including Henry’s brother-in-law from a previous victim, Jim (Stephen Shellen), threaten to unravel Henry’s whole scheme.
So, how does this “Bad Daddy” movie fare? As a whole, the movie is competent but doesn’t exactly stand out. The film has become a cult classic, but that is mainly on the back of Terry O’Quinn, the only actor in the film given a compelling character. O’Quinn is fantastic as Henry, tapping into menace, rage, and Conservative-Christian geniality within an instant, sometimes within the same scene. Though he is not officially the lead of the movie, O’Quinn is pretty much the lead by having a real presence. Though many talented people are involved at all production levels here, it seems like the only person who came out of The Stepfather with something to be genuinely proud of is the future John Locke from Lost.
Jill Schoelen is a picture-perfect scream queen, equally beautiful and strong, but she has little to do in the film, nor do we even find a reason to root for her. Her early anxiety surrounding the new father figure makes sense, only to be seemingly abandoned partially into the third act, where it comes out again. I don’t get a real depth from her performance. Nor do I get that from Shelley Hack, either. It’s unusual how two strong actresses offer little in this movie. Jim Ogilvie’s manic performance is interesting but feels out of sync with O’Quinn’s “Bad Daddy” and ends up puzzling by the film’s end.
The writing isn’t great. The film itself doesn’t sell the sense of menace all that well, and any tension we may feel is because of the acting choices instead of story beats and scenes meant to create depth. Only two moments struck me as surprising. One was a murder with a wooden beam sold mainly by an explosively violent performance. The other was the hilarious frankness by which one plotline, woven through the entire film, is resolved in seconds. The latter was an unintended result, but I think it is indicative of some of the storytelling problems within the story. A lengthy sequence illustrates the process of preparing for murder and skipping out for a new town, but it just takes up so much of the runtime that could have helped develop other characters.
Technically speaking, this film isn’t overly impressive. I think the cinematography is suitable but only does something special in the third act featuring a long-held shot where a character gets uncomfortably close to breaking the fourth wall. The editing is serviceable as well. I have no real complaints, but I did not feel particularly wowed by any directorial choices. The music was a downside to the film; however, often grating and inconsistent with the film’s tone, the juxtaposition rarely worked. There were some rare instances when it did, but not nearly enough.
Joe-Bobservations on The Stepfather
One of the more entertaining host segments of the night was Joe Bob dipping back into the injustices of childhood, discussing the cynical world of the newspaper delivery boy. Inspired by the idyllic streets shown in the film, Joe Bob spoke at length about the scam that was the paperboy job, and we even learn that he was a paperboy as a child. It is a hilarious sequence, and you get the sense that he is still pretty heated about it today.
The big topic, beyond the background of the film and cast, which is all very interesting, was the discussion of the true-crime story that inspired the film. The murders of John List are infamous for being some of the most significant and brutal family crimes in criminal history. In many ways, the brief summation of the tragic events by Joe Bob was even more compelling than the movie that pulled from the actual murders. It shows that Joe Bob and his interest in true crime is something that Shudder would be wise to tap into for a documentary series.
Joe Bob made much hay about the exploitation background of Joe Rubin, but the real story was, unsurprisingly, about how good Terry O’Quinn is in the film. His audition was supposedly fantastic and chilling, and I would have loved to have seen that.
Final Thoughts on The Stepfather
The Stepfather is one of the more below-average drive-in movies we’ve had on the show, but that isn’t entirely bad. However, most of my enjoyment came from the wrappings of The Last Drive-In as opposed to the movie for the night’s first half. With only one character with any real agency or interest, mediocre production values, and some comically puzzling writing choices, I don’t think I could recommend much with The Stepfather beyond “see it once.” It was not just a “Bad Daddy” movie; it was also just bad.
Joe Bob Briggs gave The Stepfather 3 out of 4 stars. I give The Stepfather 2 and 1/2 out of 5 Cthulhus. (2.5 / 5)
Best Line: “Wait a minute, who am I here?” – Henry/Jerry, seconds before disaster
The Freakmaker (1974)
The Freakmaker, sometimes known as The Mutations, is a seldom mentioned 1974 science horror film with an unusual pedigree and excellent, notable cast that ends up doing little to salvage this B-picture. It is a curious artifact of 1974 that, while novel, doesn’t prove compelling. Yet, Joe Bob Briggs does have his fascination for this weird little movie, but I doubt the Mutant Fam will take after it as well as they did with The Legend of Boggy Creek.
The film was directed by legendary cinematographer Jack Cardiff, who strangely hands the cinematography duties to Paul Beeson. The film was written by Edward Mann and Robert D. Weinbach, the latter who served as a producer. John Trumper steps in as editor, while the basic is handled by Basil Kirchin and an uncredited Jack Nathan. The film stars Donald Pleasance, Tom Baker, Brad Harris, Julie Ege, Michael Dunn, and Jill Haworth. The film also features a cadre of professional circus Freaks who lend their talents and authenticity to the sideshow setting for part of the film, including Willy “Popeye” Ingram, Esther “Alligator Girl” Blackmon, Hugh “Pretzel Boy” Baily, and Felix “Frog Boy” Duarte.
The Freakmaker features a group of students (Julie Ege, Jill Haworth, Scott Antony) and a visiting scholar, Brian (Brad Harris), who find themselves in the experiments of Dr. Nolter (Donald Pleasance) and his deformed assistant Lynch (Tom Baker). The two create genetic mutants combining human and plant characteristics, pawning off the failed results to a local Freakshow. Tensions arise between the experimenter, Nolter, the experimentees, and the Freaks, led by Burns (Michael Dunn), who rallies against the abuses of Lynch.
The “Bad Daddy” theme is a bit looser with this film but still pretty apt. The movie itself, however, is a mess. The film struggles between predictable plotting, homages that border ripoffs to stronger films, and a mixed bag of performances. Furthermore, the direction is stilted, which is odd from the director of Sons and Lovers (1960).
The story isn’t that good. Some ideas are interesting, but the way the concepts are delivered or developed is incredibly lacking. The film opens very slowly with what feels like a student film about the fungus life cycle as a metaphor as an understimulated Donald Pleasance recites memorized pseudoscientific lines. This is one of those rare instances where even I, a mighty reviewer who has managed to stay up for every movie shown on The Last Drive-In, felt my eyelids grow heavy. This is the most egregious example of the film’s ponderous, plodding, and talky nature.
With that being said, some of the ideas expressed in the dialogue are fascinating, but Donald Pleasance, usually an actor I am excited to see, doesn’t make it work. The cloning, genetic engineering, and the like theories are well ahead of their time here, even if they are couched in verbose nonsense. The film is at its best when it directly takes from Todd Browning’s Freaks (1932), but even then, it is a pale imitation. I’d rather be watching Freaks.
The other performances are fine, perhaps with Tom Baker having the most stirring of the bunch as a Freak who finds himself rejected in both worlds. He has a deeply sad scene with a sex worker that reveals his most significant insecurity, but it is a tantalizing tease and a more exciting story that does not get explored. Everyone else is just there to fill undercooked characters, and there is little agency for any of them to act upon. The ostensible protagonist accomplishes little, and the Freaks, fascinating that they are, only have a few moments before their sudden awkward action at the end of the film.
Even from a technical standpoint, the movie does not wow. I wasn’t overly taken with the direction from Jack Cardiff, nor were the editing and cinematography particularly interesting. The creature effects were decent enough, but ironically they looked to be on par with something in an episode of Dr. Who.
Joe-Bobservations on The Freakmaker
What became readily apparent as the film started is that Joe Bob has a soft spot for The Freakmaker. I can see why, too. Even if the movie isn’t the best I have seen on the show, it is a solid drive-in movie because it hits all the marks for Blood, Breasts, and Beasts. A lot of the apparent love for the film from our favorite horror host seems to originate with his interest in the subject matter of the Freakshow. During his host segments, he spent a lot of time talking about the people he interviewed and his love of the classic Freakshow. He also brought up an important point: if we are supposed to be body positive, is it fair to remove their opportunities for work?
Between Joe Bob’s discussions of the history of the Freakshow and the people who made them possible and his exciting stories about the cast and crew, there was also a hilarious moment of self-awareness as he just could not stop talking. It was charming to see Joe Bob break during one host segment, rattling off factoid after factoid, much to the chagrin of director Austin Jennings. I didn’t laugh quite as hard as the overly long Drive-In total for The Freakmaker, but it was a hilarious moment. Maybe the best part of the “Bad Daddy” evening.
Final Thoughts on The Freakmaker
I wish I could have enjoyed The Freakmaker more. It’s a strange little “Bad Daddy” movie, and had there been a bit more passion for the project across the board, I feel something fun could have really been found. Between a weak story, some overly-on-the-nose homages to Todd Browning’s Freaks, and curiously lifeless performances, there isn’t much to The Freakmaker that I enjoyed. I see the sketches of what I feel might work as a better film, but that’s not the point of this review.
Joe Bob Briggs gave The Freakmaker 3 out of 4 Stars. I can only give The Freakmaker 2 out of 5 Cthulhus. (2 / 5)
Best Line: “You’re a pretty one though, aren’t you. Look, spend a little extra, and I’ll be extra nice to you. Or shall I give it to you straight? Short and sweet. Two pounds.” – An intensely affordable sexworker to Lynch
Haunted MTL Drive-In Totals
As usual, we have the official Drive-In Totals direct from Shudder. Tweet #2 is particularly intense!
As for our Drive-In Totals for the show, we have:
- 2 “Bad Daddy” Movies
- 52 Weeks of Movies
- 65 Years of Father’s Day Legislation
- 12 Year Production
- Overly Involved Psychologist
- Assault and Daddery
- Holiday Ranting
- Evidence Dumping
- Childhood Trauma Regressing
- Gratuitous Bathing
- Plate Kicking
- Gratuitous Lifetime Movie of the Week Musical Score
- Gratuitous Fu Description Fu
- Leaf Fu
- 2×4 Fu
- Killer Quip Fu
- Clipboard Fu
- Freak Fu
- Reverse Time-lapse Fu
- Corpse Rolls
- Darcy Cosplay: Genderbend Stepdad
Episode Score for the Last Drive-In: S4E8 – The Stepfather and The Freakmaker
It was a night for the “Bad Daddy” at The Last Drive-In. But how was S4E8, featuring The Stepfather and The Freakmaster, as a whole? Not great, if I am being honest. It was still an enjoyable night, but the films took a sledghammer to the overall evening. The theme felt appropriate, and the film choices made sense, for the most part, but the quality of the films was a real sticking point for me. I guess I am glad I’ve seen them at least once in my life. I don’t think I’ll be seeking them out again.
With that said, however, the show itself put together by the cast and crew of The Last Drive-In was a quality one. The “Bad Daddy” theme introduced some interesting discussion topics, even if those topics were more interesting than the films themselves.
I would give this episode of The Last Drive-In 3 1/2 out of 5 Cthulhus. (3.5 / 5)
And with that, we are done for the week. What did you think of the movies? Did you have a favorite? Will you ever watch them again? Let us know in the comments. We’d love to hear your thoughts. “Do you have any “Bad Daddy” film recommendations?
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Wheel of Time, What Might Be
Episode three of Wheel of Time was easily my favorite so far. It’s dramatic, dark, and speaks to the growing concerns about evil invading the world.
Let’s begin with Nynaeve. After showing little to no progress, Liandrin thinks she’s ready to go through the Trial of The Arches. This is an initiation that all Aes Sedai have to go through to become a sister. It’s dangerous, not totally understood, and doesn’t have a great survival rate.
One would think some cooler heads would prevail and not let the very new person do this so early. Especially since Nynaeve seems to have some issues with impulse control.
But she goes into the trial, seeing first a scene from her childhood where her parents are attacked.
The point is to walk back through the arches, leaving her family behind. This she does, but doesn’t look very happy about it. Her second trial involves finding herself back in Two Rivers, where a horrible plague has ripped through the people. Again, she has to walk away from the people that she cares about and come back to reality.
The third test is a little more tricky. It appears that Nynaeve comes back covered in blood, with no memories of what happened.
Terrified, she runs from the castle only to find Lan waiting for her.
In the real world, where Liandrin and the others are waiting for her, she simply never returns.
This shakes Liandrin. She decides she’s done holding Mat against his will, and lets him leave. Excited, but also smelling a trap, he takes Min with him.
Still not sure why she had him to start with, but I guess it’s cool that she let him go.
Meanwhile, Rand is working with a familiar face at his hospital. It’s Logain, who we might remember as the false dragon from season one.
Rand would love some advice about channeling as a man. But it appears that Logain might really have lost his mind.
My favorite scene in the episode was the one involving Perrin and Lady Suroth. This scene was perfect.
First off, the character design for Lady Suroth was just perfect. Without moving more than a hand and the crook of her mouth, she manages to be terrifying.
The massively scary nails help, as does the headdress that is both beautiful and reminiscent of an insect. The sort of insect that seems likely to bite and lay eggs under the skin of a victim.
Her absolute authority was terrifying. Uno certainly learned that.
What was more scary, of course, was who was standing next to her. Does she think she’s the one in charge? Or is she perfectly clear on where stands?
What didn’t work
One thing that I don’t love about this season is, unfortunately, not likely to change. It’s true in the books, and it’s true in the show.
The ensemble cast structure doesn’t work for me.
It fractures the story in too many directions. It’s too busy, there’s too much going on. At the same time, there isn’t enough going on with individual characters for me to establish an interest in all of them.
I care what’s happening with Egwene and Nynaeve. I care what’s happening with Perrin.
I don’t care as much about Rand right now. And she wasn’t as involved in this episode, but I don’t care about what Moiraine is going through either.
That could be because the world is coming to an end and they’re refusing to be team players. But maybe that’s just me.
Overall, this was a fun episode. It feels like pieces are being put into place. The characters are getting ready for something big. Something that we can only see the beginnings of.
Something that they clearly don’t think they’re ready for.(3.5 / 5)
American Horror Story Delicate, Multiply Thy Pain
American Horror Story Delicate began last night, Killer Queens. And it was, well, a complicated episode. This makes sense because this season is about a complicated topic.
Just in case you didn’t know, this whole season is based on the novel Delicate Condition by Danielle Valentine. If you haven’t read it yet, you should.
Anna Victoria Alcott is an actress who just got her big break. She was in a horror movie that no one can stop talking about.
Except Anna herself. Because this career success couldn’t have come at a worse time. She and her husband Dex are in the middle of the difficult IVF process. It’s expensive, time-consuming and painful. Ironically, so is trying to win an Oscar.
But Anna has other things to worry about. Someone is messing with her. Several women are watching her in public. Worse, someone appears to be getting into her home, slashing notes she leaves for Dex, and removing her vital IVF medication from the fridge so it spoils. Her calendar is hacked to move her doctor appointments around so she misses them. Worst of all, someone broke into her home and crawled into bed with her.
Of course, no one takes any of these concerns seriously. Her agent, Siobhan, is focusing on getting her an Oscar. Her husband, Dex, doesn’t seem to give a shit about her except for when it comes to having a baby. He’s frequently dismissive of her concerns and only seems to want her around when it’s convenient for him. He goes so far as to kick her out of his show opening because she’s on edge.
You know, maybe because she’s clearly being stalked by someone who is trying to keep her from having a baby.
AHS Asylum had a lot of dark and important things to say about mental health care in America. AHS Coven had a lot of dark and important things to say about race and gender relationships.
Last season, AHS NYC wasn’t so subtle. Yes, there was a killer. But the real historical horror of the AIDs epidemic in the 80s was the focus of the season. And that worked very well.
This season, the story is clearly about female body autonomy. Anna is a woman struggling with so many issues that modern women face. The balance between our careers and our families. Feeling like growing old is the most unforgivable thing a woman can do. And of course, the fact that our bodies often feel like they don’t belong to us.
I was also pleased to see some AHS alumni. Denis O’Hare as Dr. Hill was delightful. Leslie Grossman and Billie Lourd will be involved soon, and they never bring anything less than their A-game.
This episode also did something I never thought could happen. It managed to scare me with a calendar notification. That was a special moment for me as a horror fan and calendar-obsessed person.
What didn’t work
Here are some things I didn’t love. First off, the main character Anna is a pushover. She can’t say no to Dex, Talia, Dr. Hill, or Siobhan. No one gets a no from this woman!
Anna didn’t act like that in the book. She stood up to everyone all the time, it was great. She wasn’t getting any support, but she was advocating for herself! That was such an important part of her character, and I’m sad to see that she’s lost that here.
I also hate the changes made to Siobhan and Talia. Now, please understand that this isn’t me complaining that the book was different. That’s not my point. Siobhan was a kind, loving woman who supported her best friend even while dying of cancer. Talia was a smart, business-oriented woman who was still kind. She was trying to start a family with her transgender husband, and bonded with Anna over their IVF journeys. These were vital characters in the story.
I feel like they’ve been railroaded.
All that being said, this was a decent start to AHS Delicate. It’s not the best start of a season we’ve had. But it’s okay. I’m looking forward to seeing what the rest of the season is going to bring. (4 / 5)
Wheel of Time, Strangers and Friends
Episode two of Wheel of Time, widened the divide between the show and the books. Things are happening out of order, people are acting out of character. Whether this is to the detriment of the show, however, has yet to be determined.
One character missing from episode one was Rand. You know, our main character. But we finally catch up with him now.
He’s living in a city with a woman named Selene. They don’t have what I’d call a super healthy relationship. She spends a bit too much time talking about her ex.
Yes, for those of you who didn’t read the books, this is going to be important.
Rand is also working at an insane asylum. He’s kind and patent with his charges, but not all of his fellow caregivers are.
Meanwhile, Lan and Moiraine are recovering form their Fade attack from last episode. Rather than taking the time to actually heal, Moiraine decides to head out to find Rand. Her team comes with her, which seems to really bother her.
While that little hissy fit is taking place, Nynaeve is causing issues. Not by anything she’s doing, but by what she’s not doing. As none of the regular novice teacher have been able to get her to use the One Power, Liandrin offers to try. No one, including me, is thrilled with this. But, the Aes Sedai are desperate. They know that The Dark One is around, and they need Nynaeve to be ready. So, they let the person who’s driven other students to their deaths and actively committed multiple hate crimes take over.
What could go wrong?
The special effects in this episode were really well done. I especially liked the dead fade nailed to the wall.
I was also pleased with the introduction of Elayne. Ceara Coveney is playing her, and doing a fine job. She’s warm, kind and sweet. I am thrilled that she’s around.
One of the greatest things about Wheel of Time is the friendships between the characters. Rand, Perrin, Mat, Nynaeve and Egwene legitimately care about each other. Elayne seems to care for Egwene right away. I really love that.
What didn’t work
One thing that bothered me in this episode, and frankly the last episode, was Liandrin keeping Mat in prison. I feel like this wasn’t adequately explained. Why does she have him? How did she trap him? What in the hell is she trying to get from him? Perhaps I simply missed something, and please let me know in the comments if this is the case. But it feels like some poor writing to me.
I also don’t love how Moiraine is portrayed in this episode. Really, in this season so far.
I get that she’s never exactly been a warm person. She’s not personable, open, or kind. Some (most) fans of the book would likely agree that she’s kind of a bitch.
But she’s not a bitch for no reason. She certainly isn’t the sort to lash out at the people who love her because she’s in pain. And that’s what she’s doing through this episode. She’s taking her pain out on Lan. And that’s just out of character for her.
It feels very much like a lot is being skipped over from the Wheel of Time books. But, so far at least, I don’t feel like anything vital has been missed. It feels more like the story is being streamlined.
Yes, I understand how this might go horribly wrong. I think we’ve all seen that. But as of right now, the changes make sense for the switch in mediums.
Now, let’s see if it stays that way.
(3 / 5)