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We return to the Drive-In for a special night of fun, movies, and a lack of social distancing. In all seriousness, though, it was a lovely night with a surprising amount of talent on the set.

Slumber Party Massacre II (1987)

Opening Rant: Don’t body shame women.

1987’s Slumber Party Massacre II is a weird movie. It’s fun, but it is also like a lesser version of A Nightmare on Elm Street. Instead of exploring dream logic, Slumber Party Massacre II instead puts its eggs in the musical horror comedy basket to mixed results. Mind you, I am saying this as a fan of the movie.

The film follows Courtney, a survivor of the original Slumber Party Massacre, as she seeks time with her boyfriend while struggling with nightmares about the killer from the first film. Only now, inexplicably, he seems to be greaser and his drill is also a guitar. The movie is a comedy first and horror film second and while there is quite the body count, it also tends to be at the hands of a goofy, singing greaser.

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There are a number of elements of the film that do not age well. For a film about a teenage girl who is in a band, a film with such a musical focus, the music really isn’t all that great. The logic of the killer is largely nonsensical as well, never really committing much to the idea of him being a real person or a dream entity in any convincing way. The story is about as complex as most 80s slashers, so the writing isn’t necessarily doing the film any favors either.

Yet, for the most part, none of this matters because it’s such a fun movie. I tend to love movies despite their flaws. A lot of my enjoyment of this movie comes from an appreciation for a lot of the same things I criticize in the first place. I enjoy how ridiculous the killer is, I like the songs despite the fact they’re fairly lame as far as songs go, and the ending makes no sense at all. The killer quips his way through his murder-spree like a rockabilly Freddy Kreuger.

Hell, the two cops who show up and do nothing for the teens are named Voorhies and Kreuger. It’s not a film that thrives on subtlety. It is one where topless karaoke, food and pillow fights, and light fixture grinding are in ample supply.

JBB was pretty fair with his own assessment of Slumber Party Massacre II, giving it two and a half stars. Among some of the interesting bits regarding the movie was the revelation that Paul Rubens spent time on the set for who knows what reason. Perhaps the best bit for the first half of the night, though, was Joe Bob’s expression of exasperated crew members of a Roger Corman production at 5 AM. If you remember “Demons-Fucking-Five” from the original Last Drive-In marathon then you get the same sort of energy here. Of course, the bits with Joe Bob and Darcy in pajamas were welcome and adorable, but none of the eventual guests were present for the first half of the night.

Basically, the night began with slumber party cheese that was punctuated by Darcy forcing Joe Bob to wear adorable Halloween pajamas, and isn’t that just what we’d expect from a Last Drive-In “Summer Sleepover?” Slumber Party Massacre II may not have been a master class in movie-craft, but it’s the perfect sort of junk food for the soul when you want to spend a night with friends. I can’t really go higher than three Cthulhus, though.

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3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Best Line: “My… burger’s… weird.” – Courtney

“Oops, I did it again.”

Victor Crowley

Opening Rant: The Leggings Wars.

So, full disclosure, I have not seen the three prior films in the Hatchet series, of which 2017’s Victor Crowley is the fourth installment. This half of the evening was a Shudder premiere and also was, quite obviously, the main attraction of the night featuring a cavalcade of horror talent clad in their bedtime best. Based on what I saw, however, I will be seeking out the other films in the series. This is good stuff.

The film follows an amateur film crew and a plane of media figures who are going to the swampy remains of the Crowley house. Their paths converge after an accident causes a plane to crash and they are then stalked by the vengeful and murderous Victor Crowley. It’s a simply story, but it pretty much puts the pieces in place right away and then proceeds to break them in fun, messy ways.

The main appeals of the film are clearly outrageous violence and Victor Crowley himself. The film does present some particularly brutal kills, particularly one that turns a veteran horror actress into a human sleeve. As an unstoppable murder machine, Victor Crowley is very much in the mold of Jason Voorhees; hulking, tied to water, apparently undead, and mercilessly disfigured, and as a whole, he works. I am not sure how deep Crowley’s story is, but there is enough there to interest me in seeing the previous films. Truth be told, Victor Crowley is the best Friday the 13th movie I have seen since The New Blood.

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Perhaps the biggest weakness of the film is that so much of the action is locked to the single location of the downed plane. The film does a good job using the plane and the limited surrounding swamp, but I can’t help but feel that the film spending so much time within the limited location was motivated primarily by budget concerns. Another concern is that the characters were also a bit broadly drawn, skewing more towards cliched archetypes rather than fully-fleshed out characters to cheer for, with the notable exception of Dillon who more or less steals the film as soon as he is introduced. Though admittedly, I am coming into the series in the fourth film, I did find Andrew to be fairly compelling, particularly as he was presented as such a punching bag despite what appeared to be some massive trauma.

Joe Bob was particularly effusive in his praise for the film, which is fair given the level of talent attached to it and present on the set. He gave the film the four-star treatment, but he was not above poking fun at the title a bit. We again have a bit of a Demons situation on hand here. Are we going to see Victor Crowley 2, or will we jump to Hatchet 5? Who knows?

Most of the host segments revolved around the continually growing list of guests and the running gag was quite fun. The amount of talent present was absurd: Felissa Rose, director Adam Green, Kane Hodder, Tiffany Shepis, and Brian Quinn all had their moment to share their thoughts on the film, and there was a great amount of rapport between everyone. What was amazing is that it never got chaotic. It would be crazy to ask the team at The Last Drive-In to pull off such a feat again, but what is The Last Drive-In if not a tribute to excess?

Perhaps the best host segments of the night represented the show running on two different ends. The first was a very intimate and frank discussion on the craft of film with Adam Green. He clutched Ernie, the resident Drive-In mascot, and talked at length about the struggles of making a horror film like the type that the Hatchet series is evoking in spirit. It was a wonderful moment of vulnerability from a talent and a level of insight that seems to come easily around Joe Bob Briggs. This is the sort of horror-nerd end of the Drive-In experience when it comes to host segments, frank, sometimes ugly, sometimes emotional discussions about how the screwed up things we love get made.

The other end of the Drive-In experience was one of emotion and community when Darcy brought out an emotional letter from a fan about his own experiences sharing Joe Bob’s older shows with his father. As these things go, the father eventually passed, but the feelings of love remain even today, as the author describes sometimes talking to his dad when watching the show now. It’s all very powerful and is just another one of those examples of the sort of camaraderie that has sprung from the community.

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We know there is more of The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs coming, but the horror community as a whole would be well served if Shudder recognizes the show for what it is: a communal touchstone and institution. The smart move is to keep it running for as long as Joe Bob, Darcy, and the rest of the family feel they need to.

Victor Crowley was a great premiere. It’s a quality film and even if Shudder could not show the unedited version, it was still just the right amount of nasty for the night. I feel comfortable giving Victor Crowley four Cthulhus. I do have some issues with it, but for my first Hatchet experience, I am intrigued and wish to see the other films. 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Best Line: “Ten years later, you are like the O.J. Simpson of Honey Island Swamp. Wouldn’t you say?” – Sabrina to Andrew

Be like Victor Crowley, find joy in your work.

Haunted MTL Drive-In Totals

As per tradition, we gotta relay those Drive-In Totals. Thanks for providing them as Tweets, Shudder!

Also tradition? Our own totals! Let’s see what I have in my handy notebook, shall we?

  • 2 MST3K Alumns in TLDI (Baron Vaughn and Jonah Ray)
  • 5 Sleepover Guests
  • 6 Severed Heads
  • 9 names in Joe Bob’s list of the Greatest Texas Musicians
  • $12,000 Pimple Effect Budget
  • $400,000 Real Budget
  • Dead Bird
  • Suburban Terror
  • Swamp People
  • 80s Overload
  • Topless Boyfriends
  • Aborted Axe Throw
  • Surprise PeeWee
  • Killer Karaoke
  • MPAA Blues
  • Mangled Vagina
  • Verbal Massacre
  • Gratuitous Sing-A-Longs
  • Gratuitous Slumber Party Girl Fight
  • Gratuitous First Marathon Rememberances
  • Gratuitous Emotional Letter
  • Freudian Fu
  • Awkward Genitalia to Light Fixture Grinding Fu
  • Chicken Fu
  • Gratuitous First-Half Joking
  • Ernie Holding Fu
  • Aggressive Fisting Fu
  • Suicide Dive Fu
  • Yuki Sightings: 1
  • Silver Bolo Award: Cinamassacre
  • Darcy Cosplay: No cosplay, but a very open set of pajamas.
That zipper is in it’s final moment.

Episode Score

A fun night with a cult classic, a Shudder premiere, and the world’s tiniest pajama top. What’s not to love? 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

With any luck, we’ll be meeting up again for another event in October, but until then why not check out some of the other content here at Haunted MTL?

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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)

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.

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Book Reviews

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

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“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.

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Overall, I really liked The Dead Take the A Train. First off, the characters are fun and easy to root for. Julie is a mess in pretty much every aspect, but her bad decisions are understandable and she is charismatic. Her romance with her friend, Sarah, also serves to make Julie more likable. It helps that the villains are so easy to hate too. What’s not to hate about rich Wall Street assholes engaging in human sacrifice? Speaking of which, I liked the juxtaposition of corporate Wall Street and cosmic cultists. The actions taken were evil, but more importantly, they were just business.

The prose was flowery, but not quite as much as in The Salt Grows Heavy. So, if you struggled with Khaw’s other works for that reason this may be a much easier read. Personally, I enjoyed the prose in both. There is quite a bit of gore in The Dead Take the A Train, but I didn’t find it to be overwhelming. I think you could still enjoy the book if you don’t love gore, though maybe not if you have a weak stomach.

One of the largest issues I have with The Dead Take the A Train, is the lack of clarity in power levels of the various characters. Especially since all their forms of magic work in different ways, it is sometimes unclear the level of danger present. This can also sometimes create room for plot holes. For example, Julie has a friend who is tapped into anything and everything happening online. This is an absurdly powerful ability (and is used as such). But there were moments where the main conflict probably could have been avoided or solved using that power. It also felt odd that no one else in this thriving magic community felt strongly about stopping a world-ending catastrophe. Because of this, the magic underground of NYC could feel smaller than I think was intended.

Having been familiar with Khaw’s work previously, The Dead Take the A Train clearly feels like a mix of Khaw’s style with someone else’s. This could be a boon or a hindrance, depending on your view of Khaw’s distinct prose and storytelling. Either way, if you are interested in learning more about the process or the authors, check out the interview they did for SFF Addicts Podcast!

Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey on the SFF Addicts Podcast

I recommend The Dead Take the A Train, especially for those who are fans of modern urban eldritch horror. The book is an even bigger steal if you are looking for danger, gore, and queer characters. Check it out! And keep your eyes peeled for the next book in this duology. 

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[USR 4.2]

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Movies n TV

Dolores Roach, A Fillet of Left Cheek

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The second season of Dolores Roach started with a bang. The first episode was dark, gristly and in a strange way whimsical. It certainly brought to light new elements of the character.

The story

We begin our story with Dolores somewhere, talking to someone. I’d like to be more specific, but that’s all we know right now.

She tells this unknown person about her flight from Empanadas Loco. How Jeremiah killed Luis. How she, whether she meant to or not, killed Jeremiah. How she then set the building on fire by blowing up the fryer in the kitchen.

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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.

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While Dolores has an issue with this, she’s willing to let it go. Until that is, this woman tries to take her table. Then, Dolores does what she does best. Because one thing is for sure. Dolores is going to take care of herself.

What worked

One thing I love about this series so far is that our main character, Dolores, is crazy. And hearing her rationalize her crazy is both terrifying and fascinating. I hate/love how sweet and soothing she can be. Even with the rat that she killed in this episode. She cooed at it, encouraging it to come to her, even calling it a subway raccoon.

Then she killed it and started crying.

I also love the underground community. It’s both horrific and whimsical. It reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, which is full of worlds most people don’t see but are all around us. It’s also horrific because there are so many people that our society has failed, that they’ve gathered underground and made their own little society. That’s not great. There just shouldn’t be that many people who need homes.

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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.

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3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

By the way, if you like my writing, you might want to check out my latest sci-fi horror story, Nova. It’ll be released episodically on my site, Paper Beats World, starting February 5th.

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