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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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.