Haunted MTL’s Notes from the Last Drive-In continues this week with S4E5, featuring Slaughterhouse (1987) and Tenebrae (1982). Does the show maintain the moment from last week’s brilliant Nosferatu double feature, a series highlight, or do we see another crack in the foundations this season?
How well does Shudder‘s premiere movie hosting program do this week, and does the “junk food” night theme work, or is the loose stitching of films that best not be paired? Let’s find out together, shall we?
Rich Roessler’s 1987 film Slaughterhouse is considered a slasher comedy. The movie follows an old man named Lester Bacon (Don Barrett) and his son Buddy Bacon (Joe B. Barton), who go on a killing spree when their dilapidated hog farm is being foreclosed upon in the interest of a more modern facility. Soon, community members, such as a group of local teens like Liz Borden (Sherry Leigh), meet gruesome fates as the local sheriff Fred Borden (Willliam Houke) investigates the deaths.
Rick Roessler wrote and produced the film with cinematography by Richard Benda and edited by Sergio Uribe, made for a budget of $110,000. The film has achieved a puzzling cult following, mainly on the back of actor Joe B. Barton, who proved to be the most exciting thing associated with the film.
This is a rough one. We’ve not been to such terrible movie depths since back during the infamous double feature of Sledgehammer and Things. Slaughterhouse, in many ways, can be seen as the poster child of the downfall of slashers, coming well after the genre had more or less declined in 1984.
The film is nonsensical; most of the kills are one-note, and the only character who amounts to much grunts like a pig for the movie’s duration. The film offers no shock, no sense of dread, and every beat is predictable. This is honestly one of the most paint-by-numbers slasher films I’ve seen. It doesn’t even have a solid musical identity, nor any real impressive shots. Even the kills feel lacking to a great degree.
There are a few gems in the pile of pig droppings, though. A loony sequence of the snorting killer joy-riding in the police cruiser is pretty fun, and a couple of the kills are worth adding to a reel, involving a grinder and another with a powerful blow to the abdomen. Beyond that, though, there isn’t much to love about it. Most of the charisma comes from actor Joe B. Barton as Buddy, and all he does is wield an improbably-large looking cleaver, grunt like a pig, and kill a few folks.
The film doesn’t even use the slaughterhouse setting and humans as meat substitutes to its advantage. So much of the movie creates motivation for the killers tied to the slaughterhouse industry, and it doesn’t add much to the proceedings. I think a more insane director with supreme bad taste could have done a hell of a lot more with this one. There is a decent slasher buried deep in this one, but the director must trim the fat.
Joe-Bobservations on Slaughterhouse
The highlight of the evening was a toss-up between Joe Bob’s torturing of resident vegan Darcy the Mail Girl with meat factoids or Joe Bob’s tepid praise over the film. There was a lot of hot dog history with some digressions into the nature of the hog slaughter process, which worked to give Joe Bob and Darcy some fun little argumentative bits. Darcy does have a point that the filming of the slaughter of the pigs (even if people ate them) seemed unnecessary. After all, critics could say the same thing about Cannibal Holocaust.
More subtle were some of the dunks Joe Bob had over the quality of the film. The film wasn’t great, and it was apparent to our host, but he delivered the relevant factoids we Mutants crave. The stories surrounding actor Joe B. Barton doing press tours as Buddy Bacon were hilarious, including an apparent meeting with President Ronald Reagan. How the hell?
The first half of the night closed out with Darcy in protest, dressed as a pig and singing the praises of the animals, as they are pretty adorable. She also presented Joe Bob with a package from Buddy himself with props from the movie, which was pretty sweet.
Final Thoughts on Slaughterhouse
I could not get into this one. It wasn’t a film that was so unpleasant that it put me off, but instead, I felt little to engage with during the run time. Virtually no characters worth caring about with some predictable kills and overly set-up plot result in perhaps one of the worst films shown in The Last Drive-In. Occasionally we need these movies, though, and there is some stuff worth celebrating within it, but as a whole, this probably would have made for a film better paired with something like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. It would have helped the movie go down better, especially given the evening’s follow-up, Tenebrae.
Joe Bob Briggs gave the film 2 1/2 out of 4 stars. I feel like he was maybe overly generous here. I would give Slaughterhouse 1 1/2 out of 5 Cthulhus. It could have been meatier.(1.5 / 5)
Best Line: “Buddy’s a good boy, but he has what you might call basic hygiene problems.” – Lester Bacon
How do you follow up on one of the most generic slasher films ever made? With one of the most Giallo and the Gialli in Dario Argento’s Tenebrae (1982). The film, written and directed by Dario Argento, features editor Franco Fraticelli and cinematographer Lucian Tovoli, frequent collaborators with Dario Argento. The film also features a soundtrack with three of the members of Goblin, Claudio Simonetti, Fabio Pignatelli, and Massimo Morante.
The film follows an author, Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa), who goes to Rome to promote his latest novel with his literary agent Bullmer (John Saxon), and assistant Anne (Daria Ncolodi). He is also followed by an ex-lover, Jane (Veronica Lario). Upon his arrival, a woman is murdered, and soon bodies pile up, all seemingly reflecting the author’s work. Who is the killer, and what is their connection to Neal?
While not the best of Argento’s output, it’s a quality film. It returns to a more classical form of the Giallo for Argento after the supernatural diversions of Suspiria (1977) and Inferno (1980). The film is also quite bitter in many ways, seemingly reacting to Argento’s feelings about critics toward his work and comments about women’s treatment in his movies. Of course, he would be cagey regarding these ideas in typical Argento fashion over the years. As with most of his work, the film operates heavily on dream logic and strange thematic elements that at times seem purposeful and at other times thrown in.
The story itself is fine, though the revelation and fake out feel arbitrary because the film needed some extra twist with the reasoning being fast and loose to wring out a little more mystery. The core idea of an author trying to figure out murders based on his writing is novel enough, at least for the time, but has been done more compellingly elsewhere.
The characters are primarily broad caricatures with strange Argento flourishes except for one or two. Anthony Franciosa is fantastic and makes the film work as well as it does, lending this Italian feature a little credibility. John Saxon is John Saxon, which is entirely appropriate. Saxon plays one or two types of characters – smarmy jerk and stern father – but plays them very well. He fills the smarmy jerk role here, but his presence is always welcome. Giuliano Gemma as Detective Giermani is good, but he’s a distant third in presence behind Franciosa and Saxon.
However, the women do not get as much to sink their teeth into here. Daria Nicolodi is a fine actress but primarily relegated to the role of assistant and hysterical screamer with little agency. Then again, Dario Argento’s treatment of Nicolodi is not surprising. Veronica Lario looks pretty and dies well. Eva Robin’s (her chosen name), the transgender actress who plays the girl on the beach in an erotically charged scene, is a refreshingly modern casting choice, looking just suitable for the role of the sexual beach siren who humiliates an essential character in their youth.
The aesthetics of the film are notable. Where Argento’s films may falter in writing, plot, and characterization as a whole (there are exceptions), his depiction of mood, his inventive framing, and his close relationship with the best Italian prog-rockers of the 1970s, Goblin, means you’re going to have a good time no matter how indecipherable his movies can get. The film has some beautiful shots and staging. One scene depicting an amputation splatters a stark white environment with arcs and slashes of bright red blood, an early kinetic and gorgeous moment. One scene in public space among the fascistic brutalist architecture of Mussolini’s Rome evokes Alfred Hitchcock with tight alternating edits and dramatic angles, bringing tension to crowded daylight.
Of course, the theme tune is among the best of the Argento and Goblin collaborations.
While the film falls apart structurally and logically, it is never dull and presents genuine moments of shock and surprise. It hits all the crucial hallmarks of Giallo and can be wildly inventive, sometimes to its detriment. A two-and-a-half-minute tracking shot up, over, and down the side of a house to the film’s theme song is one of the more puzzling examples of excess.
Joe-Bobservations on Tenebrae
Dario Argento is always a bit of a weird one when it comes to The Last Drive-In. The director is undoubtedly one of the most influential directors of horror in Italy and the genre worldwide, but his works tend to be hit or miss for our host. There was some of that ambivalence on display during the episode as, again, we are presented with stunning moments, but the film itself was rather loosely strung together.
However, what is always refreshing is when the ball is in Darcy’s court, and her knowledge of Italian horror is always welcome, especially when Joe Bob appears bewildered by it all.
As for insights into the film, I feel my favorites were the background of Anthony Franciosa, the lead, who was compelling and problematic. I also appreciate the reveal that John Saxon has no memory of making this film. Of course, the revelation of transgender actress Eva Robin’s and the nature of the sexy beach scene was also quite fun.
Perhaps the best moments of the show are when Joe Bob’s frustrations come to the surface and, as a result of this, his sheer annoyance with the tracking shot was quite hilarious.
Final Thoughts on Tenebrae
While Tenebrae is undoubtedly not the highlight of Dario Argento’s career, the film is one of the purest expressions of his aesthetics and logic. The structure may be a bit flimsy, but my god, does it look good. Tenebrae is an impressive house of cards, supported by a base of three or four strong performers, great music, cinematography, and some Italian Giallo weirdness.
Joe Bob gave the film 4 out of 4 stars. I think that is to be expected; as much as he grouses about some of Dario Argento’s impulses, Joe Bob has a level of respect for the guy, and the films are generally quite excellent. While Tenebrae is quite remarkable, I also do not feel it is worth a perfect score on my scale. I have some issues with it, but I’ll still watch the hell out of it. I’d give Tenebrae 4 out of 5 Cthulhus.(4 / 5)
Best Line: “I’ve been charged, I’ve tried building a plot the same way you have. I’ve tried to figure it out; but, I just have this hunch that something is missing, a tiny piece of the jigsaw. Somebody who should be dead is alive, or somebody who should be alive is already dead.” – Peter Neal
Haunted MTL Drive-In Totals
As always, we have the official drive-in totals from the groovy ghoulies over at Shudder.
And we have our totals for the evening.
- 62 vertical miles of elevated horror
- 76 hot dogs
- 5 German Hot Dog Fathers
- 350 Pounds
- 6 Dumb Teens
- Hot Dog Map Fu
- Celebrity Chef Name Drop Fu
- Pig Boy Joy Ride Fu
- Pork Pun Fu
- Letter Opening Fu
- Pig Disco Dancing
- Tiajuana Sluicing
- Thigh Stabbing
- Tower Tumbling
- Gratuitous Airport
- Gratuitous Dancing
- Gratuitous Latin
- Beach Gangbang
- Surprise Lumberto Bava
- Street Trash Defense Force
- Darcy Cosplay (Pig and Jane)
Episode Score for the Last Drive-In: S4E5 – Slaughterhouse and Tenebrae
I was pleased with how well last week went regarding the night’s theme. It certainly helped that both films were excellent, but the night felt far more cohesive overall than this season. The pairing made a lot more sense, and the movies worked together for something more significant. It was Nosferatu (1922) and the 1979 remake, but it worked.
Unfortunately, we are taking a step back this week. The stated theme was a junk food night, but unlike a hot dog, the connective tissue was absent between the films. I suppose the idea is that Giallo might be like the 1970s and 1980s junk food of Italian cinema, but it felt like a stretch, especially given how good Tenebrae is compared to Slaughterhouse.
I have been dinging the show pretty hard this season for what I feel is a mismatch in the juxtaposition of the films. That hasn’t been an issue before because it was expected, and the show hadn’t quite stated so explicitly what they were going for in episodes during previous seasons. It was more fun to interpret. Now that the show says, “this is [insert night here],” the pairing seems looser and less exciting.
Hell, The Cannibal Man (1972), one of the films shown in the mid-evening trailers, would have been a better pairing with Slaughterhouse. What’s going on?
Slaughterhouse was mainly terrible but could have been salvaged had it not been paired with a film that completely obliterated its quality. The evening’s theme completely fell flat as well. I feel like I can only give this episode of The Last Drive-In 3 1/2 out of 5 Cthulhus.(3.5 / 5)
With that, we are done until next time. Please join us again next week for another review and recap. What did you think, though? Why not share your thoughts in the comments about the show and the two films shown. Did you have a favorite?
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