It is 1990s indie night at The Last Drive-In, and we’re here to cover the fun, COVID-be-damned. The review/recap this week might be lacking a little of the usual flair due to my being an incubator for a virus I dodged for two years, but the drive-in never dies, and neither have I. Tonight we get a little bit of east vs. west 1990s indie horror with Head of the Family (1996) and Habit (1997).
Head of the Family (1996)
The first film of the night was the 1996 black comedy Head of the Family, directed by Charles Band. The film was written by Benjamin Carr based on a concept by Charles Band. Adolfo Bartoli served as the director of photography. The music was handled by Richard Band and Steven Morell, which Band’s contribution mostly being the theme. The film stars Blake Adams, Jacqueline Lovell, and Gordon Jennison Noice. The freaky family is played by J.W. Perra, Bob Schott, James Jones, and Alexandria Quinn.
The 1990s indie film follows two lovers, Loretta (Jaqueline Lovell) and Lance (Blake Adams), as they scheme to rid themselves of Loretta’s criminal husband, Howard (Gordon Jennison Noice). Lance soon discovers that the local family of weirdos, the Stackpools, have been secretly entrapping and murdering people under the direction of the head of the family, Myron (J.W. Perra). Lance then tries to manipulate Myron and his siblings (Bob Schott, James Jones, and Alexandria Quinn) into killing Howard, with disastrous results.
Head of the Family is one of the many bizarre, wonderful films out of Full Moon Entertainment, and for a low-budget mid-1990s film is a pretty quality production. The movie is hilarious and probably the most significant asset to why it succeeds. The concept is weird, and the play of a southern gothic-style crime story with a mutant freak family works surprisingly well. The plot of two lovers planning to rid themselves of a significant other getting in the way of their romance is old hat, but how often is it done with four superpowered siblings, one of which is a giant, wheelchair-bound head?
Except for a little bit of an info dump around the end of the first act (am I legally allowed to refer to “acts” in a Full Moon movie?) by Myron, the writing of the film is whip-smart with fun lines and great back and forth between wildly exaggerated personalities. Even the largely silent Stackpools – Otis, Wheeler, and Ernestina – have their character moments, albeit mostly in silence. The best material, however, comes from Myron’s pseudo-intellectualism contrasted with Lance’s southern-fried con-artist huckstering and Loretta’s scheming hellcattiness.
J.W. Perra is the strongest actor of the bunch, and his long career is an excellent reflection of that. He makes Myron the most fascinating part of the film and does a fantastic job making the smarmy intellectual character my favorite in the bunch. Jaqueline Lovell is also quite fun with her husky southern voice and oversexed energy. As much as I liked Blake Adams as Lance, I think Lovell held her own better against Perra, and their scene is hilarious and disgusting in equal measure.
The film’s pacing is mainly solid, though it does fumble in the third act as Myron’s overly-elaborate “Joan of Arc” stage show scene drags a bit before giving way to a hilariously hasty conclusion. There is just enough B-grade weirdness and trash to keep you going. If there isn’t some funny dialogue flying, there may be a man with a giant head or a gratuitous shot of full-frontal nudity. Sometimes there are all three at the same time. It’s wonderful.
Visually, the movie holds up quite well (sort of), and the forced perspective shots of Myron, the titular “head of the family,” are among the best achievements in the film. Forced perspective can work wonders, and though there are moments when the look can falter, Myron’s introduction is one of the best-looking scenes in the movie. Now, this is also a mid-1990s Full Moon Entertainment movie, so it can also look pretty cheap. I found myself ridiculously entertained by the wall of the bedroom set shaking violently when Otis pins Lance against the wall. Also, the diner location is one of the fakest diners I have ever seen. It’s marvelous.
My biggest gripe with the film may be the music. Full Moon movies tend to have somewhat zippy, bouncy scores that blur together and often are a tonal mismatch with the film itself. Head in the Family is already a farce – it doesn’t need to sound like one, too. There were moments during the movie when I heard the score and wondered if tumblers and acrobats were just off-screen, plying their trade.
Joe-Bobservations on Head of the Family
This week was a double header of special guests, pun-intended. Both guests perfectly encapsulated the 1990s indie theme. Charles Band himself dropped by the show to share some of the histories of Head of the Family, the Full Moon Entertainment story, and his thoughts on film in general. Of course, there were plenty of fabulous factoids about the movie, but the real focus was, justifiably, an extended conversation with Charles Band.
Any time Joe Bob sits down and talks with a producer, you have something gold. Charles Band is a director and writer, but he is also a producer, and that may be where his influence is most significant. The role of the producer is sometimes neglected by film writers when it really shouldn’t be. Like Uncle Lloydie, Charles Band has created something special with Full Moon that fills a niche that has become increasingly vital in this world of megacorporate film production. Joe Bob taking the time to sit and pick the brain of one of these producer powerhouses is an excellent opportunity for any filmmaker to learn a thing or two.
With that being said, if you thought Joe Bob Briggs was loquacious, Charles Band can give him a run for his bolo.
Final Thoughts on Head of the Family
As a whole, Head of the Family is a great choice for a Drive-In feature, especially as a 1990s indie. It may be a bit lighter on the blood, but there are breasts, and I would say the Stackpools are technically beasts. For what is a 1996 direct-to-video feature, I was pretty impressed with the quality, and it helps that Charles Band films tend to dig into the camp and low-budget nature and just run with them. With this movie, you get a little sex, and little violence, and a big head. Not bad for a Friday night.
Joe Bob Briggs gave Head of the Family four out of four stars. I think that assessment is pretty fair. This is just that sort of drive-in cheese we need these days. While the film was a lot of fun, some minor issues here and there, mostly the grating music, tell me to be a little more conservative with my score. I give Head of the Family four out of five Cthulhus. (4 / 5)
Best Line: “What’s the point of murdering your husband if you can’t fuck in a bed?” – Lorretta
The night’s second half featured the 1997 New York indie vampire film Habit. The release date has been listed as 1995 and 1997 across different databases, but most likely, I would say 1997 is the more accurate. If I mention a mid-1990s New York indie film, you might already understand where this movie goes, and you’d be correct. This one is bleak.
The film was written, directed, and edited by Larry Fessenden, who starred. Fessenden is joined by cinematographer Frank G. DeMarco and Geoffrey Kidde handles music duties. The other performers include Meredith Snaider, Aaron Beall, Patrician Coleman, and Heather Woodbury.
Habit is a variation on Dracula set in mid-1990s New York that follows Sam (Larry Fessenden), a disaffected alcoholic who has lost a father and his long-time girlfriend. At a friend’s Halloween party, he encounters the mysterious Anna (Meredith Snaider), who pulls him into a world of kinky sex which begins to unravel his life, much like his other addictions have before.
Habit is a bleak film but also is an excellent take on a vampire story. There are some direct references to Dracula here and there. Still, the film ultimately strikes out on its own to deliver a fascinating story about a man substituting one vice for another and the self-destruction that comes with it. The metaphor is obvious but very well executed, and the real horror doesn’t come from the vampire but rather from watching a man self-destruct and failing to do anything about it until it is too late. Sex with Anna is too exciting, too addictive, and even though Sam sees the toll it takes on his life and relationships, he cannot stop, even giving in during a struggle for life and death.
Fessenden is a fascinating character who has been a staple of the New York independent film scene for decades, and this is the work of a seasoned filmmaker. He is also a naturalistic performer, and while one may smirk at him writing and directing a film where he has sex with a manic-vampire-dream-girl, he conveys in his acting that it takes its toll. He has a presence, and at times I found myself drawing parallels to Jack Nicholson in his performance. The vaguely-autobiographical choices in characterization and performance lend a rawness to the film, which it benefits from.
The beautiful and seductive Anna is the most critical role in the film. For all the importance of Sam’s self-destructive choices, we need to buy into the idea that this blood-sucking woman is worth it, and Meredith Snaider, in her only film role, absolutely pulls it off. Snaider’s androgynous appearance and the voracious physicality of her performance establish the danger and temptation of Anna. She can go from charming to menacing at a moment’s notice, but it doesn’t matter to Sam or the audience. Everyone has a little kink, and Anna might be enough to draw it out of most viewers. What is a little bite in the throes of passion, anyway?
The acting choices of the supporting cast are generally excellent and nuanced, lending the film a realistic feel despite the supernatural theme. With that said, only one performance of the bunch frequently frustrated and confused me, and that was Aaron Beall as Nick, one of Sam’s friends. With that said, I do not feel like Beall did a poor job, but I do feel he was the wrong choice for the role, especially given an absurdly on-the-nose monologue in the film’s final act. The minute he showed up in the movie, I couldn’t help but say, “ah, so here is the theater kid.” If you know, you know.
The writing is strong as a whole with good dialogue, but the last act falters with one of the most overwritten monologues I’ve seen in recent memory. The film had done such an incredible job laying out its themes and metaphor using the language of cinema that to have Nick just rattle them out to a strung-out paranoid Sam also felt insulting to me. It may be that the hamhandedness of this moment colored my perspective on Beall’s acting. It was a real sour spot for me.
The film’s best moments may be those removed from New York City, however, as the friends go to a beach house and we get a glimpse of a better, more free Sam. A lovely scene on the shore gives us a look at what Sam could be if he could kick his habit. Still, Anna’s menace in the background, combined with the most traditional horror scene in the film, illustrates the underlying inescapability of his addiction.
The film’s aesthetics are particularly appealing to me. The sort of grungy, gothic New York City, devoid of the usual landmarks, looks fabulous. For being a film draped in shadows, the film handles light far better than billion-dollar franchises today. The film has such tremendous visual quality that while it is in color, I would love to see a black and white version. That might make it the ultimate 1990s indie vampire movie.
Joe-Bobservations on Habit
The second half of 1990s indie night featured an extended interview with the charming Larry Fessenden, who is just a cool, kind of weird dude. He has such a low-key and professional attitude to the craft for someone so admired and ingrained in the independent film scene in New York. Whereas Charles Band has a more slick and west coast sensibility to his cadence, Larry exudes an east coast vibe.
The interview segment was fantastic, and Fessenden was appropriately cagey regarding interpretations of his movies. Much hay is made about meaning and analysis when it comes to films like Habit. Hell, I’ve indulged in that in this very review. But there is something exhilarating about having the filmmaker commit to no answer and just encouraging whatever interpretations are out there.
Final Thoughts on Habit
Habit is on my shortlist of truly great vampire films. This 1990s indie film’s quality extends far past the novelty of the setting and theme. The performances are strong, and barring a significant misstep, the writing is excellent. I really found myself drawn in by the exploration of vampirism and addiction. In a genre as overstuffed as vampire movies, Habit is a standout.
Joe Bob Briggs gave Habit three and a half out of four stars. I think he could have bumped it up a half-star, personally. I loved it, but that third-act monologue harshed my buzz, as they said in the 1990s. I give Habit four out of five Cthulus. (4 / 5)
Best Line: “I suspect that the less you know about me, the longer you’ll stay interested.” – Anna
Haunted MTL Drive-In Totals
As always, we have the official Drive-In Totals from Shudder.
We also have my totals. As I was sick with COVID (and still am as I write this review), I do not have as many notes to work from. Hell, I didn’t even live-tweet the show this week, either.
- 5 Question Digressions
- 11 Utterances of “Thee-ate-er”
- 12 Puppet Master Movies
- 24 Speaking Roles over 4 Days (Head of the Family)
- 30 Full Moon scripts by Benjamin Carr
- Gratuitous Sets
- Gratuitous New York Grunge
- Gratuitous Talking Heads Parody
- Surprise Yuki
- Surprise Horniest Drive-In Yet
- Banking Joking
- Necrophilia Joking
- Slurp Fu
- Clipboard Fu
- Full Moon Fu
- Head Rolls
- Darcy Cosplay: Loretta
- John Brennan Cosplay: Otis
Episode Score for The Last Drive-In S4E9 – Head of the Family and Habit
I think that 1990s indie night was a compelling theme this week, and it certainly helped that I loved both films for very different reasons. There wasn’t much in the way of gimmicks in the host segments either. Not that gimmicks aren’t hilarious and welcome, but sometimes Joe Bob just chilling with the mutant fam, talking about movies, is welcome enough. The film had a sub-theme of east vs. west 1990s indie double feature that was also pretty impressive, and I think that Head of the Family and Habit were good representations of these two different spheres of film.
Combine two good movies with two great interviews with two independent film icons, and you have a good night at the drive-in. I didn’t even get into the Talking Heads parody in the night’s first half. I would give this episode of The Last Drive-In four and a half out of five Cthulhus. (4.5 / 5)
And that is it for us this week. Did you enjoy 1990s indie night? Let us know.
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.
Dolores Roach, A Fillet of Left Cheek
The second season of Dolores Roach started with a bang. The first episode was dark, gristly and in a strange way whimsical. It certainly brought to light new elements of the character.
We begin our story with Dolores somewhere, talking to someone. I’d like to be more specific, but that’s all we know right now.
She tells this unknown person about her flight from Empanadas Loco. How Jeremiah killed Luis. How she, whether she meant to or not, killed Jeremiah. How she then set the building on fire by blowing up the fryer in the kitchen.
Scared and alone, Dolores then ran for the underground. Dragging her purple massage table she runs into a hole in a subway track and finds herself in a whole different world.
Almost at once, she finds a place where someone is living. There’s a hot plate, a kettle and several packets of ramen. Even better, everything has Jeremiah’s name on it, literally written on it. Exhausted and alone, Dolores makes herself a cup of ramen and goes to sleep on her massage table.
She’s woken sometime later by a small man named Donald. He knows her because he knew Jeremiah. Dolores proceeds to tell him an abridged version of events that led up to Jeremiah’s death. And by abridged, I mean she blamed Luis for everything, throwing him under the bus so hard I’m surprised she didn’t pull something.
Donald seems inclined to help Dolores. He tells her that if anyone messes with her she should go further down, down a stairwell that he points out for her.
Dolores thanks him, then tries to go back to sleep. She’s soon woken again by a young woman collecting Jeremiah’s things.
While Dolores has an issue with this, she’s willing to let it go. Until that is, this woman tries to take her table. Then, Dolores does what she does best. Because one thing is for sure. Dolores is going to take care of herself.
One thing I love about this series so far is that our main character, Dolores, is crazy. And hearing her rationalize her crazy is both terrifying and fascinating. I hate/love how sweet and soothing she can be. Even with the rat that she killed in this episode. She cooed at it, encouraging it to come to her, even calling it a subway raccoon.
Then she killed it and started crying.
I also love the underground community. It’s both horrific and whimsical. It reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, which is full of worlds most people don’t see but are all around us. It’s also horrific because there are so many people that our society has failed, that they’ve gathered underground and made their own little society. That’s not great. There just shouldn’t be that many people who need homes.
What didn’t work
Unfortunately, this episode did have two major flaws. And the first one is a personal pet peeve of mine.
In the last episode of season one, certain things were established. Dolores said she was carefully rationing her weed. She said she didn’t have anything to eat since coming down to the tunnels. She still had her massage table. This episode rewrote a lot of that.
Frankly, I hate when stories do that. It may or not make a difference to the story. It just strikes me as poor planning and lazy writing. This show has proven it’s capable of doing better.
All things considered, I thought this was a great start to the season. I’m invested in the story, curious about the new characters, and worried about the well-being of everyone Dolores comes in contact with. And that’s all as it should be.(3.5 / 5)
By the way, if you like my writing, you might want to check out my latest sci-fi horror story, Nova. It’ll be released episodically on my site, Paper Beats World, starting February 5th.