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.