Welcome back to another season of our favorite show on Shudder with our review column ‘Notes from the Last Drive-In’ – this week is tackling season 4, episode 1, featuring the long-overdue Night of the Living Dead (1968) and the weirdly Italian companion piece Antropophagus (1980). When we last left off, we were at the Heartbreak Trailer Park. Now we’re back to business as usual with season four.
It was an exciting premiere featuring the 100th movie shown on The Last Drive-In with two exceptional guests across both features tonight. We get a horror host crossover in the first half of the night with the legendary Svengoolie. Then, in the back half, we get reunited with Honey, one of the beloved mail girls of the Joe Bob’s Drive-In Theater era.
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Night of the Living Dead is a simple plot. Barbra and Johnny visit a Pennsylvania graveyard to pay respects to a relative, unaware that the world is falling apart around them. Soon, the pair are separated in tragic circumstances, and Barbra finds herself isolated in a house with other survivors as the living dead lay siege to the house. Soon enough, tensions flare between two survivors, Ben and Harry, which threatens the safety of all.
The film, directed by George A. Romero and written by the team of Romero and John A. Russo, which additions by various actors and producers, is a classic of independent cinema and horror. The film’s big three performances are the iconic Duane Jones as Ben, Judith O’Dea and Barbra, and Karl Hardman as Harry Cooper. Produced independently by a ragtag group of Pennsylvanians, the movie has become a focal point for discussions in the public domain for the unique circumstances which led to the film’s open distribution by anyone with the means; this would ultimately be the reason for the film’s overall success.
There isn’t much to say about Night of the Living Dead that has not been noted in the 54 years since the film’s original release. The film is a masterpiece in several ways and still carries incredible power today. It is as timely parable now as it was in 1968 and continues to shock and surprise modern audiences. In my day job as a teacher, I’ve assigned this film, and inevitably the feedback is excellent. Despite some minor quibbles here and there, the movie works. You could do no better for a 100th movie on Joe Bob’s show than this one.
It would be unfair to boil down a review of such an iconic film in a couple of paragraphs in this column, so I won’t. Instead of any potential 100th film run, perhaps the only other choice would have been The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. This movie is essential to horror and film as a whole.
Joe Bob-servations on Night of the Living Dead
Joe Bob brings up the point early on in the night that so much has been written about the film, and there have been so many interpretations that it is hard to bring anything new in about it. You could find any rhetorical angle for analysis and likely find plenty of scholarship to support it. My reading, pulled from other authors, is about property and capitalism, but it is certainly not the only game in town.
So, Joe Bob doesn’t spend as much time delving into the film behind the background. He’s less about interpretation here than context, which is perfectly fine. There is a lot of fun information about the circumstances behind the film, the cast, crew, and reaction. The potential downside lies in that much of this information for the film buffs who know and love the movie, especially horror nerds who watch Joe Bob Briggs, already know much of this. He also hammers home the collaborative nature of the film as Romero and Russo tend to get the lion’s share of the credit, which is fair, but that sometimes results in the other contributions being overlooked.
But that’s not what is most important here; this is a celebration, and that tone is palpable throughout the evening, celebrating a horror classic and the art of horror hosting. This is best exemplified by the gleeful fun of the legendary Svengoolie (Richard Koze( popping out of a cake and Joe Bob being pelted by rubber chickens. This, for many of the weird kids who grew up watching gimmicky hosts talking about B and C movies on late-night television, was an emotional moment.
Koze was, of course, a perfect guest. Able to keep Joe Bob on his toes with knowledge of film and compatible work history, the segments were less and interviews and more of just two work buddies shooting the shit most warmly and invitingly possible. Except one playing a cowboy and the other slathered in greasepaint – that was the funny little abstraction.
Final Thoughts on Night of the Living Dead
Look, we know the film is good. Maybe even close to perfect in a few ways. There is no way that Night of the Living Dead, a personally important film to me, is getting anything less than five-Cthulhus. Of course, the film also received the inevitable four-star treatment from Joe Bob.
We knew going in the first movie was universally praised. It’s not just film – it’s culture.(5 / 5)
Best Line: “Now get the hell down in the cellar. You can be the boss down there, but I’m boss up here!” – Ben, in one of the underrated lines that open a whole can of worms regarding readings of the film.
Antropophagus (also known as Antropophagus: The Beast and The Grim Reaper) is an Italian cannibal film that already lets you know what you are in for. Italian films have become the butt of a number of jokes on the show, and this because, generally, there is certain chaos attached to them. This chaos is found throughout the feature of the back-half of the evening. This 1980 film was directed by Joe D’Amato (an alias of Aristide Massaccesi, one alias of about a dozen) and co-written by D’Amato and George Eastman (Luigi Montefiori). The presence of multi-aliased stewards already gives us insight into the film. The international cast of Tisa Farrow, Zora Kerova, Saverio Vallone, Serene Granid, and Margaret Mazzantini also clues the film’s quality.
Okay, time to disappoint the Antropophagus-fans: It is not a good movie regarding production quality, storytelling, structure, or even logic. It is fun as hell, though. The film is a chaotic assembly of interchangeable characters and Italian location in lieu of an actually coherent story. In truth, the film is pretty hard to follow because the characters are so visually similar and the reason for moving from location to location is so abrupt and non-sensical. The plot involves a group of tourists exploring a nearly abandoned town, finding themselves in a series of escapes that eventually leads them to the home of a man driven mad in grief to consume human flesh.
What the film lacks in story and performances, it makes up for in effects and aesthetics. The film is notorious for being a strong contender as an escalation of the gore film and was so infamous it was considered one of the UK’s “video nasties.” The film also has a wonderfully strange score with dashes of Europop and heavily synthesized compositions by Marcel Giombini. However, that score was not heard in the film’s American release, instead replaced by the score of Kingdom of the Spiders (1977).
The film’s look is pretty muddy, and the cinematography by Enrico Biribicchi is at best functional, barring a few moments of visual fun. Ironically, this cinematography is strongest during the moments of extreme gore toward the film’s end. The emphasis on the body is a carryover from his work on Italian pronographic films.
The film’s direction is likely the largest contributor to the middling quality of the film; as we learn during Joe Bob’s host segments, Joe D’Amato’s workmanlike attitude meant he was generally a fast director and may have been less of an artist and more an assembler. His most significant contribution to Italian cinema would be his porn films, of which he is credits with about 120.
Joe Bob-servations on Antropophagus
Imagine the audacity of going from one of the greatest films ever made to… Antropophagus as a double feature with Night of the Living Dead. One of the most extraordinary things about The Last Drive-In has always been the usage of juxtaposition to pair what may seem unrelated films to create a larger whole for the episode. A great example of this was the pairing of The Changeling with Deathgasm.
With Antropophagus, the theme is established beyond cannibalization; the night’s theme appears to be one of “origins.” Just as the drive-in film culture owes a lot to the work of Romero and Image Ten, our foremost drive-in scholar Joe Bob Briggs owes a lot of his career to what is a mid-level Italian cannibal movie. The pairing works here… the milestone of Night helped formalize a whole culture that one John Bloom, under the guise of Joe Bob Briggs, would find a way to make his mark as a writer. Nobody was reviewing movies like Antropophagus, and that is where Bloom found his hook.
A lot of the back half of the night was the real celebration of Briggs. The first half would be considered a dive into the drive-in culture, but the second half was all Joe Bob. Antropophagus was the subject of his first published drive-in movie review and the origin point of what we enjoy today on Shudder on Friday nights. Not bad for a pretty meh cannibal film.
Of course, the Joe Bob content was fantastic, starting with his immediate cause for tracking down the film’s mysterious, workman-like director. This is one of the significant bits of the episode and is pretty much the main appeal of Briggs’ show – the whole “why-the-fuck-does-he-know-this”-aspect.
However, the real highlight for the back half of the night was the meeting of one of the original mail girls, Honey Gregory, and Diana Prince, the modern mail girl Darcy. The whole thing came off as lovely and affectionate as it dived into the old dynamic of Joe Bob being put in his place by two beautiful women. There was even a sweet little musical number woven in.
Final Thoughts on Antropophagus
So while Antropophagus is not the worst film featured on The Last Drive-In, it is certainly not among the best. All films shown are worthy of inclusion, and this one perhaps doubly so due to how much we know as The Last Drive-In owes its existence to it. Antropophagus is one of those films that audiences would have likely forgotten if some weirdo cowboy hadn’t realized that “hey, this should be talked about” and started a little newspaper column about Antropophagus and other movies like it.
The movie itself? It’s fun. Is it muddled, confusing, and ultimately more a loose assembly of time-filling moments to get to the money shots? Most definitely. But that’s also fine for us because we’re Drive-In Mutants.(3.5 / 5)
Best Line: “There’s evil on this island. An evil that won’t let us get away. An evil that sends out an inhuman, diabolic power. I sense its vibrations now. The vibrations are an intense horror. It will destroy us! The very same way it did all the others!” – Carol, really making it about here right now, you know?
Haunted MTL Drive-In Totals
As always, we have the official totals courtesy of Shudder.
As for our list, we have…
- 2 horror hosting legends
- 2 mail girls
- 2 darcy cosplay
- 10 producers pooling money for NotLD
- 40 years of Joe Bob Briggs
- 101 drive-in movies on Shudder
- 250 aliases for Joe D’Amato
- Gratutous usage of “thee-ate-er”
- Gratuitous musical interlude
- Gratuitous drive-in history
- Rubber chickens roll
- Eyes roll
- Cake popping
- Synthesizer Fu
- Tomb Desecration Fu
The Last Drive-In: S4E1 – Night of the Living Dead and Antropophagus Episode Score
The night was a huge success, not only examining the art and history of horror hosting but taking the time to acknowledge Joe Bob Briggs and his contribution to both rightly. It also helps that the movies themselves were genuinely fun as well. As far as season premieres go for the show, it may be hard to top the sheer, unadulterated joy of the original revival marathon, but damn if this one isn’t close.
Here is to 100 more movies if you feel like it, Joe Bob. I give the season four premiere 5 Cthulhus.(5 / 5)
Please let us know what you think of the review and recap. We would love to read your comments about the films as well. Please let us know what you think.
Until next time, Mutants.
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