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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.

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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.

Poster for 'The Stepfather" for The Last Drive-In "bad Daddy" night
Pretty cool poster, honestly.

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.

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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 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

Best Line: “Wait a minute, who am I here?” – Henry/Jerry, seconds before disaster

Still of Terry O'Quinn in 'The Stepfather" for The Last Drive-In "bad Daddy" night
Terry O’Quinn: killing it in several ways.

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.

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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).

Poster for 'The Freakmaker' for The Last Drive-In "bad Daddy" night
It’s super freaky!

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.

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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 out of 5 stars (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

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Donald Pleasance in 'The Freakmaker' for The Last Drive-In
What is the rabbit for, Donald? Donald? Donald!

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
Screencap of Joe Bob and Darcy from The Last Drive-In S4E8
I guess the knife prop might be a mild spoiler?

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 out of 5 stars (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?

Please join us on Twitter next Friday as we live-tweet with the rest of the Mutant Fam during The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs

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Movies n TV

Goosebumps, Cuckoo Clock of Doom

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Named for the 28th installment of the original book series, The Cuckoo Clock of Doom has the least in common so far with its source material.

Thankfully, the story isn’t negatively impacted by this. I can honestly say so far that these episodes just keep getting better.

The story

After the last episode’s explosive ending, I’m sure we were all more than a little worried about James. I for one was worried we were going to have an example of the Bury Your Gays trope on a kid’s show.

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Cover of R.L. Stine Cuckoo Clock of Doom

Thankfully, that’s not the case.

We go back in time again to Halloween night, and this time we see what James was up to.

Mostly he was up to trying to flirt with his crush. Everything seems to be going well until James lies about being interested in football.

He tries to leave the house, but instead finds himself back at the basement door when Isaiah is trapped and the cuckoo clock is going off. James then shows a remarkable amount of genre savvy and tries his best to escape the house. Each time he does, we see another version of him walking away.

Eventually, he devises a plan to break the clock at just the right moment, but not before he gets some intel on his crush’s favorite team so he can score a date.

Back in the real world free of the time loop though, James finds that he has far more worries. Every time he tried to escape the house, a duplicate version of him was created. And all of those duplicates are waiting for him.

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Back at the Biddle house, though, there’s a surprise waiting. One of the James duplicates has brought Harold Biddle a box. A ventriloquist dummy-sized box.

An empty box.

What worked

The effects of this show so far have been wonderful. When the other characters hit a James duplicate, it doesn’t just die. It explodes in a Nickelodeon-style wave of slime. This is just fun, and I’m kind of sad there doesn’t appear to be more of the duplicates around.

I mean, I wouldn’t rule it out.

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Ana Yi Puig in Goosebumps.

Did I mention that these duplicates appeared to smell like watermelon Jolly Ranchers when they exploded? That was a visceral detail that was both alarming and terrific. They could have smelled bad. They could have smelled like rotting plants or people. But no, they smell like candy.

Of course, the characters continue to steal the show. Margot and Isaiah could be said to be the main characters, but everyone comes into this with main character energy. They are all funny, all capable, all smart. And they all seem to care about each other.

I loved that James and Isaiah talked about how they were feeling. I think it’s important that we’re modeling that for young men. They talked about what was bothering them, and they made up.

Finally, though, we have to talk about Justin Long again. His acting in this just keeps stealing the show. He dances like a cartoon and jumps from joyful to violently furious at a moment’s notice. The character doesn’t know how to act, and watching him fail to act right in front of people never fails to make me laugh.

What didn’t work

I honestly can’t say that anything didn’t work in this episode. But there is something about the show that I, at least, don’t like.

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There’s no real blood or gore. There’s more blood when I eat an actual jolly rancher because I always cut my tongue on them.

Now, this show is pretty clearly not for kids and young adults so there’s probably not a lot of need for too much gore and violence. But if the bloody stuff is more your style, like me, the lack of it might disappoint you.

Fans of the Goosebumps books will know that everyone ended with a twist. And the show so far has been no different. And the ending of this episode has been the best so far. The tension of Margot’s mom’s impassioned reaction, blended with the revelation that Slappy is somewhere in town is just too much. I can’t believe we’re only three episodes in and I am this invested. I hope you are too.

Viewer beware, I suspect things are going to get a lot worse for our characters before they get better.

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4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

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Movies n TV

Goosebumps, The Haunted Mask

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Episode two of Goosebumps was honestly more fun than the first. It was dark, funny, infuriating and wonderful. Best of all, it has a killer twist ending.

Let’s discuss.

The story

Based loosely on the 1993 story of the same name, The Haunted Mask begins sort of partway through the first episode.

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Cover of R.L. Stine's The Haunted Mask.

We’re introduced to a character we haven’t seen much of so far, named Isabella.

Isabella’s life doesn’t seem great. She’s all but invisible at school. She is responsible for taking care of her little brother. It seems like her only real joy is bullying people online. She was the person who tried to get Allison’s party canceled by sending the invite to her parents. Why? Because she is a very unhappy person.

Despite trying to get the party canceled, she decides to go anyway. At the Biddle house, a voice calls her down to the basement. There, she finds a mask.

The mask inspires her to do wild things. She wanders around the party, flirting with everyone. And she has a great time.

Several days later, after Isaiah breaks his arm, Isabella brings an expensive drone to school to get shots of the football team’s practice. Unfortunately, Lucas breaks it fooling around. And Isabella, tired of being ignored, says some awful things to him.

When her mother grounds her because she took the drone without asking, the mask compels her to do some awful things.

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What worked

I would first like to talk about the storytelling structure in this season. It appears that we’re going to be getting the events of Halloween night multiple times, from multiple points of view.

Ana Yi Puig in Goosebumps.

I love this structure. It’s unique, and it allows for more mystery in a shorter period. It’s also more complex, showing just how much madness was happening, while just showing one part of the story at a time.

Another thing I appreciated was the evolution of the character Lucas.

On one hand, it’s easy to be angry at Lucas. Even if he thought the drone belonged to the school, it’s still kind of a selfish move to break it.

But Lucas just lost his father. We don’t know how yet, but we know from Nora that his death caused Lucas to start doing things like jumping on drones and skateboarding off the roof from his bedroom window.

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We all mourn differently. Losing a parent as a teen is awful. So while we can all agree that he’s being a problem, he’s also being a sad kid working through something hard.

And the same can be said for Isabella.

Look, we still don’t know what the adults of this town did to make Harold Biddle haunt them. But we do know that these parents are messing up in all sorts of other ways. And Isabella is suffering from parentification. She’s being forced to play mom at home while being ignored by her classmates at school. Even without the mask, I could see her lashing out and trashing the house.

Finally, I love Justin Long in this series. His visual comedy was fantastic here, as he falls through the hallways. But he also manages to be scary as hell. His creepy smile and jerky movements are enough to make anyone’s skin crawl. I honestly can’t think of a living actor who could have played this better.

What didn’t work

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If I have one complaint about this episode, it’s the music. It’s not terrible, but it’s not great. Every song seems like it’s just screaming what the characters are thinking. Which isn’t really what I’d consider the point of a soundtrack.

Maybe it’s just a curse on RL Stine. None of his projects can ever have good soundtracks aside from the theme song.

Unlike the original Goosebumps series, there were moments in this episode that did startle me and unnerve me. Which is wonderful. And while it’s still clearly for kids, it’s something anyone can sit down and enjoy. I’m very excited for the rest of the season. But what do you think? Let us know in the comments.

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

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Movies n TV

Goosebumps Say Cheese and Die

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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