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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.

Poster for George A. Romero's 'Night of the Living Dead' (1968)
Movie art for the film ‘Night Of The Living Dead,’ 1968. (Photo by Continental Distributing/Getty Images)

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.

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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.

Still from The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs featuring Darcy as Svengoolie
Darcy stole our hearts and rubber chickens, apparently.

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.

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We knew going in the first movie was universally praised. It’s not just film – it’s culture. 5 out of 5 stars (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.

Still from 'Night of the Living Dead' (1968)
“Let us innnnn!”

Antropophagus (1980)

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.

Poster for Joe D'Amato's "Antropophagus" (1980)
Antropophagus Poster

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.

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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.

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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 out of 5 stars (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?

Still from 'Antropophagus' (1980)
That is why you wear a hat in overcast weather.

Haunted MTL Drive-In Totals

As always, we have the official totals courtesy of Shudder.

As for our list, we have…

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  • 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
Still from The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs featuring mail girls Honey and Darcy
Mail Girls Unite!

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 out of 5 stars (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.

Love Antropophagus? Check out Amazon!

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Movies n TV

Suburban Screams, The Bunny Man

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Someone is stalking the children of Fairfax, Virginia. He comes bearing an axe. He comes from the forest. He comes in the night.

He comes dressed as a bunny.

The story

In the 1970s, the sleepy town of Fairfax Virginia was menaced by a man dressed as a rabbit. He stalked kids and teens with an axe while they were playing in the woods, or ‘parking’. Children were cautioned to not play outside after dark. Parents were terrified. The whole community was rocked by the horrific killer who, well, didn’t kill anybody. And who might have been a whole bunch of people inspired by a truly sad tale?

Still from Suburban Screams The Bunny Man.

The story begins a hundred years earlier. A man whose name is lost to time is accused of stealing a cow. For this crime, he’s sentenced to death because things were a lot tougher back then. The man escaped but swore vengeance on the town. A few days later several children were found hanging from a bridge underpass, butchered and hung as though they were slaughtered rabbits.

What worked

The biggest thing to love about this episode, the one thing that sets it apart from the rest of the season, was the presence of Historian Cindy Burke. Finally, we have an actual professional talking about one of these stories. Yes, there are still first-hand accounts. But that is how these sorts of stories work best. We have the emotional retelling of evocative survivors. But we also have a professional who is emotionally separated from the situation backing up these stories with historical knowledge.

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This wouldn’t have mattered as much in any other setting. But Suburban Screams has been clear from the start that it wants to be seen as a documentary. This is supposed to be real. And if you’re going to claim that your ghost story is real, bring receipts. As many as you can.

If we’d seen more historians, detectives, and police reports through this series, it probably wouldn’t have the bad rating it does on IMDB.

What didn’t work

Well, it might still have had a bad rating. Because the acting in this episode was, for lack of a stronger word, terrible.

I don’t know if it was the directing, the casting, or just a weak talent budget. But not a single person except for the man playing the Bunny Man could act in any of these dramatic reenactment scenes.

The worst offender was probably the child playing Ed’s childhood friend. This character was way overacted. It’s as though the child had seen a parody of how little boys behave, and was told to act like that. As this was a little boy, he was likely a bit embarrassed.

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And I know, I’m trash-talking a child actor. I’m trash-talking all of the children actors in this episode. But children can act. There are lots of examples of kids doing great acting jobs. Stranger Things is an obvious example. Violent Night is another. The kid can act. These kids couldn’t act.

Is it true?

Unlike most of the other episodes in this series, The Bunny Man is a story I’ve heard before. It is a legitimate urban legend that blossomed from a few firsthand accounts of madmen doing scary things dressed as rabbits in Fairfax County, West Virginia. These events probably inspired others to do stupid things like dress up like a rabbit and run around with an ax. Much like the people who decided to dress up like clowns and scare the hell out of people across the country in 2016.

So, yes, the Bunny Man is very much real. He’s real in the hearts and minds of pranksters and West Virginia frat boys. And he is based on some very real, very upsetting, actual events.

I honestly wish the whole season of Suburban Screams had been exactly like this. Filled with facts, first-hand accounts, and proof of scary events. This was everything I wanted in a supernatural/true crime story. So if you’re giving the rest of the season a pass, I would suggest watching this episode.

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4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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The Girl in the Trunk (2024): A Tense Danish Horror-Thriller Led by Katharina Sporrer

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If you grew up in the 90s you will know one thing–ol’ Jimbo used to have ‘trunk rides’ through the north woods with people in various states of drink screaming for more. This Girl in the Trunk movie is a different type of screaming in the film and in the audience.

The premise at first glance is simple–a terrifying snatch and grab kidnapping. The modern day twist with cell phones, cell reroutes, and trunk escape buttons all come into play with just enough realism to have you wonder if this could happen to you.

The strengths of this contained thriller fall squarely on the shoulders of Katharina Sporrer, who carries the film with such abandon that I’m pretty sure she’s in traction as I type this with an overstrained back. Make no mistake — this Danish horror-thriller works because of Katharina. The end. Not the writing. Not the direction from Jonas Kvist Jensen. Not the edits. It’s her film and she does marvels with walking the tightrope of victim and vengeance as the thriller girl.

What Worked

This movie is a weird catch. What works is one actor. That’s it. Really. Katharina does a lot with little and this is something that can stand out in movies grand and small, especially in an understated Danish horror movie.

I did enjoy the filming style and the thoughts of a low budget gripping thriller. It goes to show that with a talented person you can make a movie with very little set switches, without many effects, and without multiple casts members feeding off each other. All you need is a good basic story of abduction of girl in a trunk–some solid tense pacing–and one amazing actress like Katharina. The rest of the magic is just getting out of your movie’s way.

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I think this is what works the best: The movie doesn’t sabotage itself. It knows its limits. It knows its strength and it plays to that strength.

Make no mistake — this film works because of Katharina. The end. Not the writing. Not the direction. Not the edits. It’s her film and she does marvels with walking the tightrope of victim and vengeance. Jim Phoenix on The Girl in the trunk

What Didn’t Work

When I saw this screener pop into my box, I knew there was just something about the setup I wanted to see play out. This could have gone extremely bad–but because of Katharina’s presence it swerves out of the ditch and into cinema gold.

I am not sure if this movie works only because of her acting, but I know it doesn’t work without her. The other cast members seem out of place–clunky at times. Some of the writing is a level of bizarre ‘I call bullshit’ that I haven’t seen this side of film school.

With that said, there really isn’t much of anyone else in the film for most of this mysterious true crime style film. This seems to work to its advantage, as we focus on the painful consequences for the kidnapped girl in the desert heat, with no bystander to help as she suffers heat exhaustion, bites, mental and emotional abuse, and deep uncertainty all in a very tiny trunk.

Final Verdict of The Girl in the Trunk:

The Girl in the Trunk is a story we’ve heard before, and sometimes in better ways. However, this film is worth the stream. The runtime is tight, the pacing works well, and, as I stated before, Katharina is an amazing actress who pulls this entire thing off. Almost on her acting alone, I give this 4 out of 5 Cthulhu.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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Dark Deviations: A Halloween Episode in May

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Smiling Friendsfirst Halloween episode aired in January 2022, so this May release isn’t completely out of character. The much anticipated second season of the bizarre Adult Swim show has, as of June 5,2024, delivered five intriguing stories about geometrically-distorted beings and blob-shaped humans. Episode four, “Erm, the Boss Finds Love?” is a truly terrifying sight to behold.

A Mission to Make the Boss Smile

Smiling Friends is a small company whose mission is to make anyone and everyone smile, per the customer’s request. Each episode consists of various missions the four main characters, Allan, Glep, Pim and Charlie, must accomplish. These tasks can range from saving the career of a homicidal frog to finding true love for a reclusive shrimp. Season two episode four’s dilemma is to save the Boss, a charismatic, unnaturally proportioned man and Smiling Friends’ CEO. We rarely get a glimpse into the Boss’ personal life, but now we are invited to his wedding, where he is marrying none other than Satan’s daughter, Brittney.

The Smiling Friends main cast at the Boss's wedding.
(Left to right) Allan, Glep, Pim, Charlie and a new friend at the Boss’ wedding.

Naturally, marrying Satan’s daughter comes with some major consequences, the biggest of which is losing all free will. Brittney has completely possessed the Boss and transformed the Smiling Friends business into Brittney’s Beautiful Demonic Flowers. It is up to the smiling friends must find a way to save their jobs and creepy, beloved employer.

The Scariest Smiling Friends Mission

“Erm, the Boss Gets Married” is one of the scariest episodes in the series. There are jump scares, Brittney’s hellish face is even worse when she smiles. The animation is enthralling, terrifying and hilarious. Creators Zach Hadel and Michael Cusack went out of the box for this Halloween special and were especially creative with the journey to the Boss’ exorcism. Britney’s screechy demise is abrupt, as most endings in Smiling Friends are. The show is wholly unhinged, and the final lines come from Pim shouting, “HAPPY HALLOWEEN EVERYBODY!!!!”

While the plot is similar to South Park‘s season three episode “Succubus,” this Smiling Friends episode still upholds its own uniqueness and is fun to watch. Stick around after the credits, and you will see a delightful scene: the Boss in the middle of a screaming match with his ex-father-in-law, Satan, over their personal property in hell.

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The Verdict

“Erm, the Boss Finds Love?” is a ridiculous May Halloween special that keeps the audience on their toes. It is one of the scarier episodes in the season. The creators have a knack for illustrating uncomfortable-looking characters and complicating the simplest of storylines. It would be exciting for Smiling Friends to do more than just one horror themed episode per season, especially with how good Hadel and Cusack are at creating terrifying creatures. However, since the seasons are short, these special holiday episodes are a fun once-a-year treat. The show is already weird and scary enough; it would be overkill if they did too many spooky specials.

(That said, if the Smiling Friends creators ever decided to make an entirely new horror animated series, I would be first in line to watch the entire thing.)

“Erm, the Boss Finds Love?” earns 4.5 out of 5 cthulhu. 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

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