Welcome to “Notes from the Last Drive-In,” Haunted MTL’s review and recap series of The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs on Shudder. This is our second Joe Bob special in a month, but this time we cover the surprise special all about The Walking Dead. The Drive-In The Walking Dead special ran the first two episodes of the long-running zombie horror series. We not only were able to enjoy a visit from effects legend Greg Nicotero but had the distinct pleasure of seeing a raccoon buttplug (more on this later).
The Walking Dead – “Days Gone By”
Halloween night, 2010, over 5.35 million Americans tuned into a zombie television show on a cable network. Adapted from a comic by Robert Kirkman and directed and written by film legend Frank Darabont, the pilot was too big to fail. The Walking Dead – “Days Gone By” featured British actors Andrew Lincoln and Lennie James, alongside future heavy-hitter Jon Bernthal to tell a gripping story about a man who awakes from a coma into a world where the dead have taken over.
The combination of Darabont and Kirkman here is wonderful. Where Kirkman’s writing is effective and the ideas are strong, Darabont took the material to another level. The comic itself is the equivalent of beautiful inked illustrations. The pilot was Darabont applying shading and color to create a deeper and fuller picture. Also helping in that regard, cinematographer David Tattersall gives the pilot a timeless 16mm treatment, like a glimpse into a lost late 1970s zombie film derived from Romero‘s Night of The Living Dead.
Lincoln is deft with his portrayal of Rick Grimes, a man on a mission, and Bernthal is charismatic even playing the worst guy you know. The episode belongs to Lennie James, though. His character’s story is the heart of the episode and creates an important narrative through-line that ultimately gets jettisoned until seasons later. And Lennie James acts the *hell* out of this. One wonders what would have happened had the show decided to stray from the source material and had the character of Morgan catch up to Rick in Atlanta.
The Walking Dead‘s pilot episode, “Days Gone By,” to this day, is a monumental achievement and one of the finest zombie stories ever filmed. Is it without flaws? Not entirely, no. Characters make odd decisions, some elements, such as the “Don’t Open – Dead Inside” door are still very campy. As a singular story, up through Rick Grimes riding into Atlanta? There hasn’t been such fine, classic zombie storytelling since the 1990’s Night of The Living Dead remake. Had the episode ended with Rick riding into Atlanta via the highway on horseback you would have had a brutal, effective film. That is not to say the final moments of the episode are bad, though, it just takes what could be a singularly excellent product and makes it part of a larger series that ultimately would not live up to the standards set by the pilot.
The pilot, really, is lightning in a bottle and it could not last. The first season already had some significant issues as it wore on, but between “Days Gone By” and “Guts” the promise was there, and for a while, the show was the premiere zombie entertainment of the 2010s. I admit I felt off around season six, myself, but for a long time, this show was an obsession that hit almost everyone in the United States, even people not into horror. It was astounding, and so much of it is a result of the pilot episode.
I won’t spend too much more time on this episode, or “Guts,” the second episode, because I am planning to revisit the series as a whole once it ends, but for now, for the purposes of the review, The Walking Dead – “Days Gone By” is near perfection.
Joe Bob’s assessment of the first feature? Four stars. While the special does smell a bit of a company mandate (maybe more of a firm suggestion), it also just genuinely felt like an acknowledgment that The Walking Dead has an important place in horror history and one that is quite deserved.
Listening to Joe Bob Briggs break down the rules of The Walking Dead universe was quite fun, especially his observations about how cynical and dark the world can be. Also of great fun was one of those infamous Joe Bob Briggs lectures, complete with map and pointer. For me, personally, this was entertaining because every time he named a movie I was able to say “been there, saw that.” It made me feel like a real zombie expert, likely along with a lot of the other hardcore zombie fans watching The Last Drive-In.
Particularly great was having Greg Nicotero and series make-up artist Carey Jones at the drive-in. The heavy dive into the incredible effects work and crushing schedule of The Walking Dead was fascinating and slightly anxiety-inducing. The speed and scale of the work from season one are truly a marvel of production design. Of course, we also see the start of turning Darcy into a walker in the first half of the night as well. Being able to get schooled on zombies and the makeup process was quite a treat for a pre-Halloween show.
As far as new observations on the original season of the show and the masterful pilot episode, I didn’t learn much, but I also was a Walking Dead-head for quite a while, having read all the comics and been into the show for about 6 seasons or so. That being said, it was fun to be reminded of just why the pilot was so important to horror on TV.
Final Thoughts on The Walking Dead – “Days Gone By”
I could write a lot about The Walking Dead – “Days Gone By” because it is a cultural touchstone for zombie storytelling. That might be a topic best saved for another kind of article, however. As a feature for a Drive-In episode? It’s solid – maybe not quite doing things “The Drive-In Way” we are used to, but it is also just such a quality production. The Last Drive-In has been fortunate to deftly weave between the “trash” and “treasure” that makes up the horror scene – all of it wonderful, across three seasons and several specials. However, for some of the more hardcore mutants this episode might be a miss. Not for me, though. I would give “Days Gone By” the full five-Cthulhu treatment. (5 / 5)
Best Line: “Yeah. They get more active after dark sometimes. Maybe it’s the cool air or… Hell, maybe it’s just me firing that gun today. But we’ll be fine, long as we stay quiet. Probably wander off by morning. But listen, one thing I do know… Don’t you get bit. I saw your bandage and that’s what we were afraid of. Bites kill you. The fever burns you out. But then after a while… You come back.” – Morgan Jones
The Walking Dead – “Guts”
“Guts” is the second episode of The Walking Dead‘s mostly-excellent first season and is what served as the transition point of what felt like the first episode’s “movie” style to the larger episodic nature of the series. Directed by the brilliant Michelle MacLaren, one of the most accomplished television directors out there with some incredible series under her belt, the episode is strong. The second episode has a lot to do, introducing a very large array of new characters, and MacLaren’s directorial sense, combined with Darabont’s writing handles it pretty well. For example, the episode is big on the idea of show, don’t tell. We’ll cover that in a moment.
The episode fleshes out some of the figures introduced at the tail end of episode one. Notably, Lori Grimes (Sarah Wayne Callies), Rick’s wife, is having an affair with Shane (Jon Bernthal). We also have Rick’s son, Carl (Chandler Riggs). We also get to spend more time with survivors Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn) and Glenn (Steven Yeun) while also introducing a whole group of survivors in a besieged department store, including Andrea (Laurie Holden) and Merle (Michael Rooker). Everyone is solid here. Lincoln comes out a little stronger as a moral compass while not being overshadowed by Lennie James. Steven Yeun quickly establishes himself as the heart of the show through Glenn. Michael Rooker is Michael Rooker – pretty much the perfect deplorable bastard. I was surprised he didn’t just chew his way through the handcuffs as he did with the scenery.
The cast swells dramatically in this episode and there is a lot to establish in the world, too. One brilliant way in which that is handled is through the set design. Between Alex Hajdu and Lisa Alkofer, the world of The Walking Dead feels so much bigger and well-worn that most other horror shows would have managed to pull off, prior. Meanwhile, this episode’s cinematography from David Boyd gives the entire episode a gritty, sweaty, and grimey (pun-intended) layer, made even more horrible by the addition of dripping blood and guts from Nicotero’s team.
The second episode is largely great but does have some rather odd moments. Two examples: the lack of barricades used by the survivors for one, and the somewhat narratively pointless sewer jaunt to show us what we already know for two. None of that matters though because the survivors are dumbasses. It’s too early for them to be smart about any of this and they are still putting pieces together. This is exemplified from the best scene in the episode, where Rick and the survivors dismember a zombie to disguise their scents with guts and offal. It features a speech by Rick about the new world and a dark joke about organ donors by Glenn. It’s one of the most perfect scenes of the show that tells you everything important that you need to know.
The show absolutely had a difficult task ahead of it following the pilot, but it largely succeeds.
Our venerable host awarded the second episode four stars. There was a lot of great discussion with Greg Nicotero about the production of the show, following up on points established in the first half of the night. Joe Bob also made some quite salient points of The Walking Dead being a western, particularly given the frontier-like nature of the zombie apocalypse. Lastly, I appreciate the discussion on the lasting impact of the series. Despite the very vocal community of The Walking Dead haters, the show is still absolutely a top performer in horror television and spawned an entire, massive franchise, all derived from the comic book.
Of course, the highlight of these host segments was the journey of Darcy becoming the living dead through the efforts of make-up effect artist Carey Jones. Zombie Darcy sluggishly chewing the scene as a zombie was quite adorable. Plus… one fan sent in a raccoon-heat buttplug. What a great introduction to the show from curious fans of The Walking Dead.
Final Thoughts on The Walking Dead – “Guts”
“Guts” has some heavy lifting to do regarding the task of turning a film-like pilot into part of a longer television narrative and largely succeeds. Though there are some cracks that show in logic in order position characters in certain situations, the episode is strong. Much of the strength comes from the episode’s primary setpiece involving those titular “guts.” Overall, the episode is a four-Cthulhu effort. Not as sterling as the pilot, but certainly no slouch, either. (4 / 5)
Best Line: “If bad ideas were an Olympic event, this would take the gold.” – Glenn
Haunted MTL Drive-In Totals
We have our official Drive-In totals from Shudder, of course.
As for our own totals, we have –
- 1 undead mail girl
- 2 special effects makeup experts
- 3 rules of The Walking Dead
- 5 rules of the Romero zombie
- a bajillion car alarms
- Zombie BBQ
- Zombie schooling
- Gratuitious zombie history lecture
- gratuitous prop collection reveal
- Raccoon head buttplug
- Corporate synergy fu
- Walker makeup fu
- Cannibal jokes
- Lawyer jokes
I will never complain about new specials for The Last Drive-In and as far as I am concerned, The Walking Dead is right in the wheelhouse of the show. I know some fans were a bit negative about the focus being on The Walking Dead, but they let their perspective be clouded by what the show had become, and not what it was. This special also had the bonus of deep, insightful discussion about what the appeal of the zombie is, what makes a zombie look good, and even a few nods to how tight the show’s cast and crew had become. This show was a great reminder about what was so revolutionary about The Walking Dead, and Joe Bob Briggs is just the right voice to convey that to the audience.
This installment of The Last Drive-In was also quite a good introduction to what fans love about Joe Bob Briggs and the crew of the show, raccoon-buttplug and all. it is goofy, affectionate, but also knowledgeable and insightful. Where else can you get a glimpse of Greg Nicotero’s process and props without breaking into his home, really? Plus, the fun of turning Darcy into a walker is not something you see on most horror-hosting shows. Likely, for many viewers of The Walking Dead, this may be their first encounter with Joe Bob, and horror hosting outside of Elvira. Just be thankful we can show more people how things are done the Drive-In way.(4 / 5)
We’ll see you again with a new review and recap in December when The Last Drive-In returns with a Christmas Special. I confirmed this directly with Darcy on Saturday at the Victorville Scarefaire. So until then, mutants, please let us know what you thought of the night or the review for that matter. And please browse Haunted MTL for even more horror news, reviews, and fiction.
Movies n TV
The Beach House, a Film Review
The Beach House (2019) is a body horror film directed and written by Jeffrey A. Brown starring Liana Liberato, Noah Le Gros, and Jake Weber.
The Beach House (2020) is a body horror film directed and written by Jeffrey A. Brown. This film stars Liana Liberato, Noah Le Gros, Jake Weber, and Maryann Nagel. As of this review, this film is only available on Shudder.
Desperate to rekindle their strained love, Emily (Liana Liberato) and Randall (Noah Le Gros) escape to a beach getaway. They soon learn to find that family friends of Randall’s father, Mitch (Jake Weber), and Jane (Maryann Nagel), also had a similar idea. After getting used to each other, a mysterious fog engulfs the town. Unfortunately, they realize too late the danger they find themselves in.
What I Like
Body horror gets under my skin, and The Beach House certainly lives up to the standard. There’s something magical about creatures terraforming your body to their preferred environment, turning humans into nothing more than conscious prisoners in their own flesh. While I wouldn’t consider this film the most traumatic or unsettling example, it utilizes wonderfully grotesque scenes.
Aside from the body horror, the film drops a few Cosmic Horror–or Lovecraftian–vibes that go together perfectly. Another favored genre of mine, this combination ensures the odds are overwhelmingly against our human leads.
Beyond the grotesque, visuals might not overwhelm but certainly succeed in their goal. Several scenes provide an intentionally tranquil experience that contrasts with the grotesques and improves their effectiveness.
In terms of performance, each actor hits their mark. While some roles require less effort, each contributes to the plot as intended. The standout performance goes to Liana Liberato’s Emily, who acts as co-lead. She simply has the most to work with and lives up to the part.
Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings
As “body horror” should indicate, this film will hit hard for the more squeamish viewer. While horror by nature has some amount of grotesque, body horror brings that grotesque to the next level. While I don’t particularly find The Beach House hitting harder than its competition, it certainly respects its chosen genre.
What I Dislike or Considerations
A few scenic montages may hit or miss depending on your interpretation. While I have my own theories, that speculation goes beyond the scope of this review. Many of these scenes overlap more philosophical conversations and musings that may annoy or add layers. This strategy seems a common practice in Cosmic Horror, which forces characters to rationalize the irrational.
It’s hard for me to understand how secretive or known this event is supposed to be in the film’s world. Individuals know something outside of the town, with evidence implying governmental knowledge. This information creates a contrivance–perhaps, even a plot hole–because the characters had to reach this isolated town without any opposition.
One of the visuals didn’t exactly grab me. While I won’t go into too much detail, an effect looked too visually similar to a common animal that barely survives rain. It’s hard to be threatened by that. It also doesn’t exactly match up with some of the other visuals. Even the creatures that look similar to it still look different enough to provide a more alien assumption.
There are moments when the infected chase our main characters by crawling at them. While the context works, with injured characters helping to sell them, I can’t help but find these scenes amusing as opposed to frightening. Yes, it’s certainly visually different from the plethora of zombies out there, but it’s also less frightening than zombies that leisurely walk to their targets.
The Beach House combines cosmic and body horror to create an uncomfortable film that tests its characters. For those who enjoy these genres, it will certainly entertain you, but I doubt it will frighten you. I imagine the mood to watch it again might strike me, but I’m not entirely certain it will stand the test of time. (3 / 5)
If this movie suits your fancy and you want more, Honeymoon seems an appropriate recommendation.
Movies n TV
Every Secret Thing, a Film Review
Every Secret Thing (2014) is a crime thriller directed by Amy J. Berg and written by Nicole Holofcener, based on Laura Lippman’s novel.
Every Secret Thing (2014) is a crime thriller directed by Amy J. Berg and written by Nicole Holofcener. This R-rated film stars Diane Lane, Danielle Macdonald, Dakota Fanning, and Elizabeth Banks. Based on Laura Lippman’s novel of the same name, the film adaptation is accessible through MAX and DirecTV.
When a little girl goes missing, Nancy Porter (Elizabeth Banks) spirals into an all too familiar tale. As pressure mounts, Alice Manning (Danielle Macdonald) and Ronnie Fuller (Dakota Fanning) become the leading suspects. The strained frenemies unravel under the attention and reminders of their shared past.
What I Like
The film unravels in a non-chronological structure but makes it easy for the viewer to follow. It helps that the age difference clearly divides the younger actors, who change actors. One casting choice resembles their older counterpart, and the acting reflects a strong direction for their shared role.
Unreliable narration remains expertly communicated with scenes that change perspectives depending on whose perspective we view them from. This choice adds a reason to view the film twice, providing extra ambiguity for some of these events.
The camera gets up close and personal to an uncomfortable degree, which almost certainly presses the actors’ performances. This choice places the viewer in the character’s perspective and limits us from others’ perspectives to add extra credence to these biases.
Every Secret Thing provides a spiraling mystery that unravels with several twists and turns. Assuming the novel provided the outline, this film executes these points and keeps a consistently engaging experience throughout the runtime.
Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings
Child abuse and neglect remain the central plot points of Every Secret Thing. Little of this abuse appears in scenes, but there is no escaping the danger children are in throughout the film.
Self-harm and suicide are shown throughout the film (once in the case of suicide) through one specific character. It isn’t glorified or romanticized nor addressed with particular sensitivity. For those sensitive to these subjects, it might be triggering.
Racism, the assumed motive for the bi-racial victims, plays a small role in the film’s narrative. However, character motives remain more complex, but going further spoils some elements. This film decision does create the reality that bi-racial children are the victims of child neglect and abuse in the film with little additional context. It does invite uncomfortable speculation, but speculation it would be.
Sexual assault is another concern for viewers, specifically statutory rape. This issue seems particularly mismanaged, considering the survivor remains an antagonist. One can be both survivor of assault and an antagonist of a film without needing to discredit the assault. While little appears of this issue, and the manipulation angle can indicate a perspective shift, it’s hard to refute how the film wants to represent this attack.
What I Dislike
Loosely tied to the above point, one character seems mentally off and purposely so. This point doesn’t inherently create an issue, but there seems to be a choice to make this character a mastermind. Perhaps this is better addressed in the book, but the execution is far from perfect here.
A newspaper montage reveals essential information which feels oddly misplaced. Practically the entire setup for the film appears through this montage, which creates the necessity to read these headlines in the minimal time given.
As a horror, nothing but the events are haunting. Children being abused or kidnapped always haunts, but the terror of this remains secondary to the mystery. While the mystery is nice, this film won’t particularly scare the seasoned horror fan.
Every Secret Thing unravels a mystery of opportunism, selfishness, and deception. While the movie won’t haunt the viewer, it certainly unravels a mystery that shocks them. The nuanced and deceptive characters add a layer of engagement that creates a unique experience, but I doubt this movie will linger in my mind.
(2.5 / 5)
Movies n TV
Quid Pro Woe
We’ve now reached episode six of Tim Burton’s Wednesday. And after the last episode, this one did not disappoint.
We start with Wednesday attempting to contact Goody Addams. Last episode, if you’ll recall, Morticia explained the difference between a psychic dove and a raven. Since Goody Addams was the last raven psychic in the family line, it’s got to be her that trains Wednesday.
But her seance is a failure, and Wednesday is interrupted by a magazine note shoved under the door. It says to meet someone at a crypt for answers.
When she gets there, it turns out that her friends have put together a surprise birthday party for her. Before she can cut the cake, however, she has a vision.
Goody Addams tells her that she must find a specific gate. After some investigation, Wednesday discovers it’s the gate to the old Gates house.
Wednesday goes to investigate, but she isn’t the only one. She is nearly discovered by Mayor Walker. He is also investigating the Gates family, even though they’re all reported to be dead. He leaves a message for Sheriff Galpin and is almost immediately run over by a car.
This incident is enough to get Wednesday’s town villages revoked. Though this seems like an empty punishment since the whole school is on lockdown. Someone burned Fire Will Rain on their front lawn.
Wednesday isn’t one for believing the rules apply to her. She has it in her head that she’s meant to save Nevermore Academy, probably from whatever descendent of Crackstone who’s still around. So she has no problem lying to Enid and Tyler and convincing them to help her sneak off campus and explore the Gates house further.
This, of course, is an incredibly informative trip. The kids find a hidden altar to Crackstone, as well as the missing body parts from the monster’s victims. They also find evidence that someone’s been staying in the house. Someone who’s staying in what looks like a little girl’s room.
Before they can find anything more, the monster finds them. They barely escape, and go to the sheriff with what they find.
Of course, the house has been cleared out by the time Sheriff Galpin arrives. Furious that his son was almost killed, he tells Wednesday to stay away from him.
Because that always works, right?
Galpin isn’t the only one angry. Enid is fed up with the way Wednesday has been treating her. And so she leaves their room to bunk with someone else, leaving Wednesday alone.
This episode was well done. The discoveries at the house were exciting, and I’m almost sure I know who’s behind the murders at this point. Overall, this was a good ramp-up to the season finale.
Finally, this episode did something I was worried just wasn’t going to happen. And for that alone, it deserves praise.
Wednesday has been incredibly selfish and inconsiderate since the first episode. She’s been rude and demanding towards Thing. She’s ignored her friends’ needs and emotions while insisting they put themselves in danger for her investigation. She has respected no one’s boundaries, even while other people have at least tried to respect hers.
And now, it’s finally come back to bite her. All of the people who have been doing their best to show her kindness and support are finally done with her bullshit.
Yes, this is a good thing! Characters are best when they’re allowed to learn and grow. When they don’t come to us flawless. When they mess up and learn from it. Especially for a show aimed at kids, this is essential.
If you’d asked me at the beginning of the season if this character was going to experience honest character growth, I’d have assured you it would never happen. Much to my surprise, it’s happening. I hope that Wednesday is going to come out of this a better person. With two episodes left in the season, there’s plenty of time for that. (4 / 5)