Welcome to ‘Notes from the Last Drive-In’ where we cover season 4, episode 2 of The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs on Shudder. This week we are talking about the horror classics Black Sunday (1960) and Def By Temptation (1980) and how they related to… Walpurgisnacht? Okay then!
We are back after last week’s season four premiere and the 100th and 101st films shown at the drive-in. You know you’re in for a treat when Joe Bob has a cause and the maps come out. So how successfully do the night’s films mesh with the theme of European witch lore festivals? Let’s find out together, shall we?
Black Sunday (1960)
Black Sunday, or La Maschera del Demonio, is the landmark 1960 Italian horror film directed by icon Mario Bava, which also happened to be his directorial debut. The stars of the film include Barbara Steele, John Richardson, Andrea Checchi, Ivo Garrani, and Arturo Dominici. Of the cast, Steele would become the most familiar to Americans, though Richardson, Checchi, and Garrani would be very familiar to Italian audiences and Italian film enthusiasts.
The film, very loosely adapted from the story “Viy” by Nicholai Gogol, is a lush, gothic fairy tale set in 1800s Moldavia about a land and a family cursed by a witch upon her death that would play out two centuries later. The film plays with multiple fairy tale themes and images and is unique in that it represents the foundations of post-war Italian horror, as Drive-In fans would come to learn throughout the night.
The story itself is very loose as a “Viy” adaptation goes, more or less borrowing tone above anything else. The narrative is simple with many scenes of melodrama, castle wanderings, and supernatural encounters that do not follow conventional logic. However, that is not necessarily a slight against the film. The events on the screen are like that of a dream. The film more or less meanders through the story to get to real meaty moments of witchy horror.
Barbara Steele owns the film in a dual role of the witch Asa Vajda and her descendent Katia Vajda. She is magnetic as Asa, a woman of erotic evil, and as her foil, the virginal and sweet Katia. The film would launch the English actress’ career as an Italian horror superstar, something she apparently had mixed feelings on. Regardless, she is the strongest performer in the cast, and that is saying something considering the work of other Italian cinema legends of the film, who are suitably game for what Bava throws at them.
As for Mario Bava, the film would serve as his debut as a director, having spent years as a cinematographer. His directorial work is a marvel here, and surprisingly modern given the influences of fairy tales and the gothic trappings of Hammer Horror that inspired the approach to the material. Between Bava and his camera, there is a sort of magic that unfolds on screen, and even today, over 60 years out, the film looks and feels astoundingly modern. Bava’s cinematographic eye does as much of the lifting of the film as Steele’s performance.
Joe Bob-servations on Black Sunday
Among some of Joe Bob Briggs’ observations on the film was a fascinating discussion on the nature of Black Sunday as a film for export. Specifically, the production company Galatea and their emphasis on genre films led to an explosion of sword-and-sandal flicks that proved moderately successful overseas, such as Hercules (1958) and Hercules Unchained (1959).
The issue, though, was that Italy did not really have a contemporary horror scene from which to draw. The history is of course tied into the years of fascism associated with Mussolini, which Joe Bob lays out. What we discover over the course of the film is how Black Sunday becomes the foundation of Italian horror and ends up leading to the staple of the Italian Giallo film.
This is, of course, between gags of a progressively hammered Joe Bob trying to bring back Walpurgisnacht. It was a fun night.
Final Thoughts on Black Sunday
While loose in structure and perhaps a bit too deep into the dream logic of fairy tales, Black Sunday is an iconic witch film and a foundational text in Italian horror. Between the direction and photographic eye of Mario Bava in his directorial debut, and the on-screen magnetism of actress Barabara Steele, there is something about Black Sunday that sticks with viewers. Joe Bob Briggs gave the film four stars. My hangups with the lack of focus and some pacing issues in the film leave me to give it four out of five Cthulhus. (4 / 5)
Best Line: “In life? What is my life? Sadness and grief. Something that destroys itself day by day, and no one can rebuild it. Here is the very image of my life. Look at it. It’s being consumed hour by hour like this garden, abandoned to a purposeless existence.” – Asa (a bit on the nose but she makes it work)
Def by Temptation (1990)
Def by Temptation is a fascinating 1990 black horror film starring and directed by James Bond III. The film also stars Kadeem Hardison, Bill Nunn, and Cynthia Bond with appearances by Samuel L. Jackson, Minnie Gentry, Melba Moore, and Freddie Jackson. Most of the cast would be associated with Spike Lee’s School Daze (1988) or the music management label Hush. The film would ultimately be distributed by Troma and even have Lloyd Kaufman help film the movie’s chaotic conclusion.
The film follows a group of men, a wannabe minister, an actor, and a cop, who find themselves involved with a succubus who is preying on black men on the streets of New York City. The late 1980s urban aesthetics and hip-hop and R&B score create a wonderful play on the vampire film.
Def by Temptation has a lot going for it. The story is well-paced and does a good job blending contemporary themes of masculinity with predation anxiety all wrapped up in a supernatural shell. The film does have inconsistencies with internal logic, but that doesn’t matter much when a succubus vampire is involved and a character gets Cronenberged into a television set. The film is fast and loose in borrowing from different themes and concepts and while that does result in a somewhat messy and scattershot story, the experience as a whole is quite memorable. A lot of that comes from Bond’s direction for what is clearly a passion project.
Part of the film’s appeal comes from the performances in which there is not a phoned-in performance in the cast. Each actor does their thing very, very well and can be praised for their timing, delivery, and presence. Some of these performances are so strong, however, that viewers may be shocked to discover that this film is one of the last films of two of the performers. James Bond III would quit acting and directing. He only recently resurfaced as a producer after 2009. Cynthia Bond, who is fantastic as the Temptress, would fill in a few television roles until about 1994, and would only resurface in the mid-2010s as the author of the best-selling book Ruby.
The film is gorgeous and among some of the best visuals in any film Troma has ever distributed. It helps that Spike Lee collaborator Ernest Dickerson served as cinematographer. His career would be substantial, with Def by Temptation being only one of many horror films in his filmography. As much as a cliche as this can sound, Dickerson’s framing and camera work turn the locations into characters themselves, be it a bar, apartment, street, or dream-like bedroom and jazz performance space.
Joe Bob-servations on Def by Temptation
If the theme of the night was witches, I would argue that Def By Temptation was a bit of a stretch. The Temptress of the film is more of a vampire or succubus than a witch, though she does bewitch men. It is a reflection of the loose rules established in the world. Regardless, it is a fun film and there was a lot to learn about it. Case in point, Joe Bob had a few things to say on the Troma-side of the film’s history, namely the fact that Lloyd Kaufman believes it to be the best film Troma ever distributed.
Another fun and surprisingly Troma-angle? Lloyd Kaufman himself picked up the camera to help film the chaotic ending as Dickerson had already moved on to another project.
Plenty of factoids were on hand as well, such as the strange case of Cynthia Bond who was a mystery to most of the cast. There were also other examples of the independent spirit running throughout the movie, such as the fact the apartment scenes were shot in the apartment of Laurence Fishburn, or that most of the funding of the film came from the cast and crew.
Final Thoughts on Def by Temptation
Def by Temptation is a fascinating movie that rides that line right between the 1980s and 1990s and should be considered a key text in black horror. The film may be inconsistent in its own rules and might be a patchwork of influences and excuses for gore, at times, but the film has some interesting things to say on the treatment of black bodies. The performances are well worth a mention as well, with every actor nailing their part. Joe Bob Briggs gave the film three-and-a-half stars. I found the film to be incredibly fun, so I’d give it four-out-of-five Cthulhus.(4 / 5)
Best Line: “Hey, baby, we had a good time – you can get an abortion now.” – Bartender
Haunted MTL Drive-In Totals
As always, here are the official Drive-In Totals.
As for our own totals, we have…
- 2 “Thee-Ate-Ers”
- 3 Types of Alcohol
- 3 Gilligan Cuts
- 8 Halloweens a Year
- 18 Beers
- Bat Shredding
- Orgy Proposing
- Cow Milking
- Tactical Sam Jackson Deployment
- Gratuitous European History Lessons
- Gratuitous Piano
- Gratuitous House Clattering
- Cane Fu
- Fainting Fu
- Binge Drinking Fu
- Banana Fu
- Darcy Cosplay: Asa
Episode Score for Notes from the Last Drive-In: S4E2 – Black Sunday and Def by Temptation
The theme of the night was, ostensibly about witchcraft, though there is a larger connection to demons given the origins of witchcraft which sort of explains how Def by Temptation fits in. What is important is that the wrapper for the show this week was one of the funnier and stranger ones the show has done, with Joe Bob sliding into a darker and darker drunken stupor as he tries to “bring back” Walpurgisnacht. The interplay between Joe Bob and Darcy was a great deal of fun, and with any “cause” our host takes one there was plenty of history involved.
With that being said, I do think the pairing was a bit stretched given the theme suggested by our host, here. I think the movies pair well, but in that regard, I think a stronger thematic hook would have been “dangerous women” rather than the return of Walpurgisnacht. There is an association between women and the festival, of course, but I just feel the execution here, as fun as it was, ended up a bit muddled.
Anyway, hopefully, they got Joe Bob’s stomach pumped after the combination of alcohol. You couldn’t pay me to drink mead. (4 / 5)
Please join us on Twitter next Friday as we live-tweet with the rest of the Mutant Fam during The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs. As always, thanks for reading, and please share your thoughts on the movies, the show, or even these reviews/recaps. We would love to know what you have to say.
Enjoyed Def by Temptation?
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Goosebumps, Cuckoo Clock of Doom
Named for the 28th installment of the original book series, The Cuckoo Clock of Doom has the least in common so far with its source material.
Thankfully, the story isn’t negatively impacted by this. I can honestly say so far that these episodes just keep getting better.
After the last episode’s explosive ending, I’m sure we were all more than a little worried about James. I for one was worried we were going to have an example of the Bury Your Gays trope on a kid’s show.
Thankfully, that’s not the case.
We go back in time again to Halloween night, and this time we see what James was up to.
Mostly he was up to trying to flirt with his crush. Everything seems to be going well until James lies about being interested in football.
He tries to leave the house, but instead finds himself back at the basement door when Isaiah is trapped and the cuckoo clock is going off. James then shows a remarkable amount of genre savvy and tries his best to escape the house. Each time he does, we see another version of him walking away.
Eventually, he devises a plan to break the clock at just the right moment, but not before he gets some intel on his crush’s favorite team so he can score a date.
Back in the real world free of the time loop though, James finds that he has far more worries. Every time he tried to escape the house, a duplicate version of him was created. And all of those duplicates are waiting for him.
Back at the Biddle house, though, there’s a surprise waiting. One of the James duplicates has brought Harold Biddle a box. A ventriloquist dummy-sized box.
An empty box.
The effects of this show so far have been wonderful. When the other characters hit a James duplicate, it doesn’t just die. It explodes in a Nickelodeon-style wave of slime. This is just fun, and I’m kind of sad there doesn’t appear to be more of the duplicates around.
I mean, I wouldn’t rule it out.
Did I mention that these duplicates appeared to smell like watermelon Jolly Ranchers when they exploded? That was a visceral detail that was both alarming and terrific. They could have smelled bad. They could have smelled like rotting plants or people. But no, they smell like candy.
Of course, the characters continue to steal the show. Margot and Isaiah could be said to be the main characters, but everyone comes into this with main character energy. They are all funny, all capable, all smart. And they all seem to care about each other.
I loved that James and Isaiah talked about how they were feeling. I think it’s important that we’re modeling that for young men. They talked about what was bothering them, and they made up.
Finally, though, we have to talk about Justin Long again. His acting in this just keeps stealing the show. He dances like a cartoon and jumps from joyful to violently furious at a moment’s notice. The character doesn’t know how to act, and watching him fail to act right in front of people never fails to make me laugh.
What didn’t work
I honestly can’t say that anything didn’t work in this episode. But there is something about the show that I, at least, don’t like.
There’s no real blood or gore. There’s more blood when I eat an actual jolly rancher because I always cut my tongue on them.
Now, this show is pretty clearly not for kids and young adults so there’s probably not a lot of need for too much gore and violence. But if the bloody stuff is more your style, like me, the lack of it might disappoint you.
Fans of the Goosebumps books will know that everyone ended with a twist. And the show so far has been no different. And the ending of this episode has been the best so far. The tension of Margot’s mom’s impassioned reaction, blended with the revelation that Slappy is somewhere in town is just too much. I can’t believe we’re only three episodes in and I am this invested. I hope you are too.
Viewer beware, I suspect things are going to get a lot worse for our characters before they get better.(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, 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.