The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs returned for its annual Christmas special on December 15th. As is tradition, the episode also serves as a charity fundraiser for four different charities. Special guest Robin Sydney joins Joe Bob and Darcy the Mail Girl for added late night entertainment. The Drive-In is available on AMC+ and Shudder.
This week on The Last Drive-In, the holiday spirit is in full force as Joe Bob and Darcy return to the screen to present their annual Christmas special / charity auction fundraiser. Cozied up next to a fireplace and in a blanket draped armchair, Joe Bob presents Edward Hunt’s The Brain (1988) and Charles Band’s The Gingerdead Man (2005).
Is this PBS?
Creepy Christmas opens ala Masterpiece Theater, with a soft spoken Joe Bob in a smoking jacket welcoming us into the studio. As he gently drones on, Darcy can’t help but interrupt. “Sir, what are you doing?” Turns out, Joe Bob is “trying to give the Christmas special a little class.” Points for effort.
As he transitions into his annual Christmas speech, his Masterpiece Theater persona drops away. “Once again, not a good year.” After getting sidetracked into a rant about mass-prescribing Floridians xanax, he eventually makes his way around to his main point. Speaking about Jaques from Shakespeare’s As You Like It, Joe Bob reminds us “It’s easier to be [a troll] than seek acceptance.” He goes on to say we should forgive and forget what the haters have to say because they “need the love more.”
Joe Bob’s desire for us all to come together and join hands around the Christmas tree singing forgiveness like those in Whoville forgiving the Grinch is understandable. It’s also probably easier to espouse this rhetoric because he does not (as far as I know) belong to any of the marginalized groups who have seen a disgusting ramp up in violent words and actions in the past year. The responsibility of reconciliation should never be placed on those who have been deeply wounded by another person’s actions.
It’s certainly not praxis
Despite my objections to the message on a praxis level, Joe Bob clearly feels strongly about forgiving and forgetting. He gets choked up and yells out “FUCK,” before taking a swig of brandy. Steadying himself, he goes on to introduce the various charities that are being supported throughout the night: The Wildlife Conservation Network, Every Mother Counts, Paralyzed Veterans of America and Solving Kids’ Cancer.
Moving onto the first movie of the night, Joe Bob reminds us, “There is no such thing as a nice disembodied brain.”
The Brain (1988) is about the mad scientist Dr. Blakely (David Gale) using an alien creature called The Brain to hypnotize and brainwash the masses through his TV show Independent Thinking. When a teenage boy named Jim (Tom Bresnahan) refuses to be programmed, he becomes determined to expose the plan for world domination.
The Drive-In totals include but are not limited to: 1 giant brain in a vat, tentacle stabbing, computer screen brain-nagging, bleeding milk tanks, chainsaw to the crotch, gratuitous beefcake photos, and brain wave fu. “Four stars. Joe Bob says check it out.”
Oh, Santa John
As Joe Bob attempts to give information on director Edward Hunt, Santa Claus (John Brennan) tumbles down the chimney to announce the first two auction items of the night. His appearance brings laughter from the set and slight annoyance from Joe Bob. Auction items this year are a mix of memorabilia, merch and in-person experiences.
Interruption over – Joe Bob gets right back into the history of the movie. It isn’t a holiday special until we learn about a tragic, real life death – and this one is no exception. The deal for the film’s distribution to video stores was made with the head of Live Entertainment, José Menéndez (the father and victim of the Menéndez brothers).
This film also has a connection to last year’s Christmas special through George Buza, who Joe Bob calls “the hardest working character actor in Canada.” Buza plays the character of Santa Claus in A Christmas Horror Story (2015). In The Brain, he plays the beefed up assistant to Dr. Blakely.
Santa John continually interrupts Joe Bob’s segments to announce more auction items, with increasing levels of irritation from our host. He takes to calling our host Joseph Robert Briggs and I can’t help but laugh each time. Despite the interruptions, Joe Bob powers through to give the audience background information.
He credits the creation of “the brain” genre of movies with Curt Siodmak’s 1942 novel Donovan’s Brain. According to Joe Bob, there are four specific sub-genres of brain movies: 1) I’m in love with the damaged brain, 2) whoops, didn’t mean to piss off the brain, 3) they saved Hitler’s brain, and 4) brains from outer space. He adds the caveat that there are two other sub-genres but they do not fit in with the drive-in exploitation genres: brain damage rocks and I’m in love with a funky brain.
As the movie ends, Darcy espouses her love for it. It’s “so fun and the brain design is super cute.” I’m not sure that I would call the design cute by any measure of the word, but the movie is a fun romp.
My rating for The Brain: (3.4 / 5)
Are these crimes, Kyla?
Our first piece of mail for the night comes from Kyla in Idalou, Texas. If you have no idea where that is, don’t worry. Joe Bob not only knows exactly where this small West Texas town is located, he also somehow knows what their highschool mascot is. Kyla writes a heartfelt and hilarious letter about potentially committing assault against a dead-beat stepdad who hated MonsterVision. Joe Bob has one response to her antics, “I love you!”
Don’t Santa, Open Inside
Slipping back into the Masterpiece Theater persona, Joe Bob introduces the second film of the night. The Gingerdead Man (2005) is a movie you either love or hate. It really seems like there is no middle ground for this one. Joe Bob talks about other movies he wishes he could have programmed for the special, like Lifetime’s Christmas on Wheels (2020). Darcy interrupts him and begs him to “stop saying things.”
Before the movie starts, we are treated to a quick lesson on “the vile satanic history of gingerbread,” from Joe Bob. As he delivers the lesson, Santa John slams back through the fireplace and Joe Bob chides him: “This is no longer funny or interesting nor even remotely polite.” Once Santa announces the auction item and blips back to the North Pole, Joe Bob finishes introducing the movie.
High in sugar, low in quality
The Gingerdead Man (2005) is about the spirit of killer Millard Findlemeyer (Gary Busey) possessing a giant gingerbread cookie to exact revenge on Sarah Leigh (Robin Sydney) for sending him to his execution.
Drive-In totals include but are not limited to: 2 mangled bodies, face whipping, and rolling pin fu. This movie actually has one of the shortest, if not the shortest, list of totals I’ve seen on The Drive-In. Joe Bob gives it three stars.
Pump up the energy
Robin Sydney is the guest for this special and she brings a much needed burst of energy into the second half. Joe Bob gets right to it with the interview questions and asks, “You actually met your husband during the filming of this movie, right?” She is, in fact, married to Charles Band. Their wedding was recent, and was officiated by Joe Bob himself. As she answers, it’s clear she is still rocking her honeymoon glow (despite having been engaged for 18 years.)
According to her, things were always “super profesh” on set. It wasn’t until the two began having business meetings to bring Sydney in to help with merchandise sales that the relationship turned romantic. As for the long delay between engagement and marriage? “I was, like, immature in my brain. But then, my brain got more mature-ish.” Sydney’s answer is hilarious and a little tongue-in-cheek. She has, after all, been running a toy company with her mother for decades.
As Joe Bob points out, The Gingerdead Man “barely qualified as a movie in Shudder terms,” due to its length. It is a quick watch (in the worst possible quality), which thankfully allows for more time with the hosts and Sydney.
The funniest part of the night comes when she and Joe Bob begin discussing Gary Busey. Sydney says that she only shot with him for one day. “I didn’t have to act at all that day. I was freaked out by Gary Busey!” Joe Bob cuts in to say that Busey owes him $900 and Darcy rolls her eyes. “Oh my god, he will not let this go.” I lose my shit entirely when Joe Bob recounts meeting Busey and him insisting Joe Bob feel the dent in his head. Apparently, “PTS-Gary” as Sydney puts it, is more common than I realized.
Santa John continues to interrupt the segments to announce auction items, except the booby trapped chimney forces him to use a door. Each entry he makes startles Sydney. I understand how filming The Gingerdead Man might have really scared her as she says.
Sydney’s sales skills are in full force as she models different auction items. She shows off the Fright-Rags exclusive beanie and one of Joe Bob’s cowboy hats and blows the Walpurgisnacht horn. She and Charles Band also donated two collections to the auction. Sydney does a great job showing off the different items in the Full Moon Features gift set.
Before the movie ends with the slowest credits in cinema history, Joe Bob and Sydney talk about the movie’s reception at release. She understands the reviews and says about the movie, “There’s not much logic. There’s a lot of holes.” It is a very time and state-of-mind dependent movie. If you aren’t watching it late at night and a few substances deep, you probably won’t have as good of a time with it as I did.
My rating for The Gingerdead Man: (2.3 / 5)
Cue the waterworks
The final piece of mail comes from Nick in Indianapolis (join us at a meetup next year, Nick!). Nick is a recent convert to the ways of Joe Bob, but reaches out for some good southern gothic recommendations. Joe Bob says Sling Blade (1996) is top tier in terms of movies, and Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner is the best novel representation of the genre.
Before the night ends, Brennan (no longer in character as Santa John) joins Joe Bob and Darcy on stage. He seems to be upset and says he felt like he was ruining Christmas. “I just wanted to have a good Christmas with you guys.” Joe Bob seems reticent as he allows Brennan to announce the final auction item of the night: Darcy’s tiara from her prom way back in season one.
The night ends with Joe Bob thanking the audience and saying how grateful he is for the community. “I have never in my life encountered such an amazingly supportive family of viewers.” He tears up and bemoans, “I do this every year.” Darcy replies, “Yes you do, you sentimental fuck.” At least he’s our sentimental fuck.
My rating for the special: (5 / 5)
You can continue to bid on the charity auction items on the auction website: joebobscreepychristmas.com through the 25th of December.
Joe Bob wasn’t the only person in a charitable mood last Friday, as we gave away four different items to followers of our account on the platform formerly known as Twitter. @thedivebard won a Fright-Rags exclusive #JoeBobsCreepyChristmas t-shirt, @Chicago7Charlie won a physical copy of our anthology collection 101 Proof Horror, @KimberlyLuffman won an autographed copy of The Walking Dead Vol 1 HC, and @CapnCosmo won a copy of Eyes without a Face (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray].
Goosebumps, The Haunted Mask
Based loosely on the 1993 story of the same name, The Haunted Mask begins sort of partway through the first episode.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 / 5)
If you’re a fan of my work, please check out my latest story, Nova, on Paper Beats World. New chapters launch every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Goosebumps Say Cheese and Die
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 / 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.
The Dead Take the A Train Review: Queer Magic and Monster Mayhem
“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.
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!
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.