A space planned for rewriting some obscure horror films as stories. Sometimes, I review them as well, or think about what works and what doesn't, or what I would instead with the material given. Updated whenever a terrible epiphany strikes.
The thought grows like the branches and roots of The Halloween Tree, nebulous and almost lost to time, but something always cycles back every year in the Fall. Ray Bradbury’s “Homecoming” was a short story I discovered by accident. As a child, I had this anthology called Alfred Hitchcock’s Monster Museum: one of the many hand me down books that my aunt would give me over the years. I didn’t realize, in the Eighties or Nineties, that Hitchcock hadn’t actually written those stories, nor had any hand in them really. All he’d done was written an introduction to the book itself, where he posits that anything can be a monster.
And this sentiment applies well to “Homecoming.” Ray Bradbury’s story is situated at the very back of the anthology, where I didn’t even look, until one day, in my parents’ third house, in the basement, near the family computer, I did. It must have been October, close to Halloween. I remember having no plans; I had only the memories of All Hallows’ Eves that I would never have again (many of my old friends had moved on, and most of the people that I knew were gone). I was feeling sorry for myself in that basement: sitting in front of my parents’ old Windows Vista computer, I looked at the nearby bookshelf, and discovered this old friend I’d barely even read as a child, sitting with the likes of the abridged and complete version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
But I did know Ray Bradbury. Fahrenheit 451 was required reading for high school, which is where I was introduced to his writings, and it just so happened to fit part of my goal to read all the dystopian literature I could find. I also continued on with Bradbury due to Neil Gaiman as he is also a tremendous fan of his, reading some of The Martian Chronicles he loved. I had tried – and failed – to write a story called “The Man Who Forgot Neil Gaiman,” in the vein he did for Bradbury before him. But in order to potentially forget something, you need to find out what it is. So I had to check out this story. And it is a tale about monsters and what they can be; Hitchcock describes the anthology’s publication date of 1965 as “the Age of Monsters,” and refers to someone starting a “Monster Pen Pal Club.”
The above is an appropriate choice of words when you consider the idea of a group of monsters coming together, acting like people even though they are clearly not human, but something different – though it doesn’t take away from their sense of solidarity with each other, or with the reader and viewer. Take the 1981 film Monster Club, for instance, with Vincent Price’s Eramus introducing John Carradine’s version of R. Chetwynd-Hayes to a whole underground social club world of different beings, and species, and cross-species with their own rites and rituals, after saving him with a bit of his blood. There is this sense of an old world of (if you will pardon the quotation from James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein), “gods and monsters” coming to an end; these beings no longer have the same level of fear or respect they once enjoyed.
There will be Spoilers. Reader’s discretion is advised.
Ray Bradbury published “Homecoming” in the magazine Mademoiselle back in 1946, and I found it ages later, reprinted in my weathered copy of the Monster Museum anthology. The story itself deals with the Elliot Family that has come to dwell in an old house in the Midwest, specifically in Illinois, who is preparing for an annual reunion. The main character is a member of the family, a boy named Timothy Elliot, who desperately wants not only to be part of the festivities, but to be accepted by his relatives.
It’s hard for Timothy to fit in. He’s been led to believe that he is ill or deformed: with “poor and inadequate teeth nature had given him,” and, as he tells his pet spider, appropriately called Spid in the Alfred Hitchcock’s Monster Museum reprint, and in later versions included in From the Dust Returned and The Homecoming apparently named Arach, “I can’t even get used to sleeping days like the others.” Despite this, he enjoys the prospect of his family’s nocturnal existence, “He did like the night, but it was a qualified liking; sometimes there was so much night he cried out in rebellion.”
In this, Timothy Elliot shares a lot in common with someone like Marilyn Munster: just as the latter has always been considered the “uglier” or “more unfortunate” member of the Munsters, the former is tolerated for his deficiencies, as he is always on his family’s side. The Elliots, a family “of ghosts and monsters,” are a lot like the Munsters, both supernatural beings living in modern America. In fact, they also have a lot in common with the Addams, who also attempt to coexist with American society. Indeed, Bradbury wrote a letter to Charles Addams wanting to make the equivalent of a Halloween Christmas Carol novel with Addams’ illustrations and collaboration; while those plans fell through, they eventually led to a fix-it fantasy novel called From the Dust Returned that links older Elliot Family stories with new ones to create a sense of continuity.
But while the Munsters have Lily, Herman, Grandpa, and Eddie – vampires, a Frankenstein’s creature, and a young werewolf, who are all kind – and the Addams Family have Gomez, Morticia, Wednesday, Pugsley, Uncle Fester, Cousin It, and Grandmama, also largely benevolent, with a few naturally violent tendencies here and there, their “creepy and kooky, mysterious and spooky” selves, the Elliots are more traditional monsters: more alien and predatory, and less inclined to interact with humans beyond bloody necessity.
If we go purely by “Homecoming” alone, the Elliots don’t have as many defined personages as the previous fictional supernatural or eccentric families. Even so, they have the following kinds of family members: Grandmère who is a thousands years old mummy and ancestor who barely moves, a Niece Leibersrouter who changes into a mouse and back, Timothy’s siblings: Ellen who seems to do something with collecting body parts, Laura “who makes people fall in love with her,” Samuel who likes to read eldritch books, and Leonard who “practices medicine,” and a host of uncles, aunts, and cousins. Aside from Timothy’s unnamed vampiric parents “Mother” and “Father,” the most notable members of the Elliots are his Uncle Einar and his sister Cecy, or Cecilia Elliot. Timothy’s Uncle is a large, bat-winged man that always favours his nephew, taking him on various flights, while Cecy is a girl who sleeps most of the time, and possesses the bodies of various beings throughout space and time. Cecy has one of the most inhuman mentalities: just as willing to change the life and abandon a woman she’s “living through” to drown in mud pits as she is to enter the body of a bird.
There are a whole host of beings in the Elliot Family, but Timothy has exhibited no powers of any kind like theirs. He goes as far as praying to “the Dark One” to “Please, please, help me grow up, help me be like my sisters and brothers. Don’t let me be different.” In a family of diverse supernatural creatures, Timothy is an ordinary human child.
He sees himself in a disquieting, disassociated manner: “Something huddled against the flooded pane of the kitchen window. It sighed and kept and tapped continually, pressed against the glass, but Timothy could make nothing of it, he saw nothing. In imagination he was outside staring in.” It is reminiscent of the unnamed protagonist of H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Outsider” escaping from their tomb, seeing the living celebrating, and wondering why everyone is scared of them. In this case, it’s a mortal boy knowing he’s different; in an All Hallows’ Eve family party of the undead and unnatural, a child wants desperately to belong, feeling like no matter how hard he tries, he will fail.
It is an interesting existential juxtaposition here. It isn’t just Timothy being terrified that he doesn’t fit into this familial multitude of witches, ghouls, and goblins, but there is a sense of impermanence within what should be an immortal tribe of nightmares. As the Elliots observe: “Dawn grew more apparent. Everybody was embracing and crying and thinking how the world was becoming less a place for them. There had been a time when they had met every year, but now decades passed with no reconciliation.”
It makes me think about what Ray Bradbury writes in “Afterward How The Family Was Gathered” in his From the Dust Returned that fleshes out “Homecoming” and other Elliot stories: he mentions that his inspirations for the family came not only from his own childhood Halloween experiences, but those with his family members now long gone. It is no secret that most beings, most families, are mortal; as older relatives will eventually decline, younger members potentially scatter. It is a spectre most of us face. As time marched on through the faded leaves of this world’s Fall, Bradbury dealt with this inevitable sense of loss and memory by writing about the Elliots, and other fictional characters.
But even Ray Bradbury himself is gone now. His memories of tricks and treats, and fun aunts and uncles only exist now in the words he’s left behind. “Homecoming” is written as a children’s story, depicting an old House and trees in constant motion, along with leaves, along with the darkness. The prose is poetic. Sad. Mirthful. It is transitory. Like the autumn wind it references, like another Halloween, another year, this story is magical, existentially scary, and all too brief.
Like Timothy’s life.
Imagine being that child who realizes not only is their family going to be gone one day- the same people they know deep down they are not a part of, and that even if they continue to exist, you are going to die. You won’t be there for Salem of 1990, or there is a good chance you won’t. And all your mother can say to you, in words that still haunt me, is this: “we love you. Remember that. We all love you. No matter how different you are, no matter if you leave us one day […] And if and when you die, your bones will lie undisturbed, we’ll see to that. You’ll lie at ease forever, and I’ll come see you every Allhallows’ Eve and tuck in the more secure.”
There is a reason why this story ends with Timothy crying all the way upstairs to his room. This part hits hard even as it inspires, in a terrible reversal of Robert Munch’s I’ll Love You Forever – where this time the mother is inured to her mortal child’s inexorable death. Certainly, the lyrical childlike prose combines with cold adult truth under the soft, dry, rasping blanket of dark fantasy, making “Homecoming” unique.
I also suspect this story inspired others. The Nightbreed from Clive Barker’s 1990 film of the same name, and its 1988 original novella Cabal, find beings hiding from humanity to keep themselves alive, originally under a cemetery called Midian. While the Breed have been persecuted for centuries, there are others – such as an old man tortured by a psychopath – who desperately want to belong to a people of such difference. It takes an outsider by the name of Boone, who becomes Cabal, to cause a further diaspora of his own people, already scattered from their former lands and holdings, to attempt to find something more, to gain something new.
Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book features a male child named Nobody Owens who is raised by ghosts in a cemetery along with a vampire, and a Hound of God, has shared traits with Timothy, who we find out in Bradbury’s other stories was adopted by the Elliots. And then there is the fact that while Charles Addams never collaborated with Bradbury on the Elliots, one of Neil Gaiman’s collaborators, Dave McKean of Sandman and Vertigo Comics’ medium fame, as well as his independent work, used his trademark abstract and Expressionist pastiche or collage art style to adapt Bradbury’s story into the illustrated novel The Homecoming.
It would be easy to leave this story on a downer note. However, Timothy Elliot has more stories to tell, and a bigger role in his family as time goes on: in From The Dust Returned, he is found helping others to maintain their beliefs and through keeping them in existence, becomes a storyteller in his own right, solidifying the idea of Timothy as an Elliot, despite his differences. I’ve already mentioned how the Elliots are parallel with the Monster Club, the Addams, the Munsters, and even the Nightbreed. Perhaps they can also be referred to as “the October people” in one Elliot story of the same name, or “the autumn people,” as Ray Bradbury described the carnival folk in Something Wicked This Way Comes, those who essentially live and breathe the Fall and Halloween.
But even without eternal life, how many horror lovers can be said to be similar? To be the same? Diana Prince, also known as Darcy the Mailgirl on The Last Drive-In has said that Halloween never ends (which is great for this article I’m writing in November). The show she co-hosts with Joe Bob Briggs identifies its viewers with the Nightbreed – with Mutant Family – and I’d argue even the autumn people. Blood, breasts, and beasts is the creed of that viewership; the acceptance of grisly death, darkness, alongside glorious celebration of childhood and the past.
While Timothy Elliot isn’t biologically immortal, as his mother said, in his heart he is part of the Family, and their stories that he tells will keep them alive. He even goes as far as to help save some of them: especially their central ancestor. Timothy remembers them, and we, as the readers, remember him. Family becomes more than blood; more than magic. It’s a place that never goes away. October Thirty-First ends, but will always live on in those that cherish it. Halloween, horror, and the stories we tell, will last forever. While Timothy and the rest of us are all mortal, autumn children who will one day be ready to be tucked into our cold, silent graves, we have some remembering, believing, and partying to do in the meantime. Our stories will live on, in the deep, colourful, and shadowy places that wherever we are, we will always call home.
I need to take a breather. It was an eventful night — both that fateful frightful Friday of Fuck, as the Angry Video Game Nerd would so eloquently put it on a good day — and the subsequent weekend where I rewatched Sledgehammer on the Ad-ridden Tubi as Shudder took its considerable time uploading Week Eight onto itself. As frustrating as that was, I can understand. I, too, would procrastinate before having anything to do with these artifacts deep from the bowels of the Iron Man Vaults, where the Necronomicon and the Lament Configuration would fear being held.
Just as I am procrastinating right now, as I’m writing this.
I can’t help but think that — by the standards of what I’ve gleaned from the standards of the old Iron Man Certification (or as I like to call it after going through a similar experience, the Broken Man — I would have been done by now. I would have been more than done. I summarized an entire terrible movie. I paused one movie, increment by increment, to write sometimes one or two lines. It’s amazing how you can spread an hour and twenty seven minutes into an eternity. This isn’t even covering the commentary segments, where I went back — once Shudder did post them — wrote shorthand notes, and tried to polish them into cohesive thoughts. That is the painstaking methodology that has formed, and we will be dealing with hereafter: minus Tubi.
I am inept in a lot of ways. I have never gone to film school, or studied film in an academic or professional setting. There is much terminology I don’t know, and words and descriptions for things and cinematic phenomenon that I can barely — and frustratingly — grasp.
Oh, I know what you’ve said about that before Joe Bob. You’ve called upon filmmakers towards the end of your One Cut of the Dead episode from Season Two, told them that Hollywood isn’t the place to develop your new work anymore, that there is far more accessible technology, and all one needs is the inspiration, and the drive to keep going: to keep learning on the way. Isn’t that part of what this infernal exercise into VHS Appreciation Night is about? To hit that point home? I remember what you said. I remember you said you wanted people to send you their films.
Just as you want people to send you these Iron Mutant Notes.
I know. I’ve had to learn along the way, adapt as much as I can with the resources that I have. I’ve written movie reviews before, in my own way. And in the end … sometimes you have to go to the greatest lows to achieve the most glorious heights. Sometimes you have to pursue damnation before you can achieve enlightenment. Sometimes you need to go into the depths of Hell to find your way to Paradise. And sometimes, the greatest obstacle to achieving what you want is your own procrastination: your own terrible freewill in which you realize that the only thing holding you back is you.
I remember what you said. I also remember what I said, at the beginning of my account, and testament.
I am not an Aspirant.
And I will prove it. Right now.
Part II: Things
If Sledgehammer, both narratively and cinematically, had issues with space-time distortions, Things is an exercise in a fragmented dimensional singularity.
Sanity Check: A Casio keyboard soundtrack. Thank you, Joe Bob. I didn’t have the words to begin to describe this bizarre soundtrack. But my question: there was a father looking the same age as his daughter in this film, never mind a father and daughter period? And were those good cheese sandwiches? I’m lactose intolerant. Also, with regards to the reason we watch bad movies, by the analogy Joe Bob uses, I will be a god after not only exercising the muscle that watched these terrible movies, but in writing about them — and this — as well. And on that note …
We get to it. What Joe Bob said about lighting generally being an issue with camcorder-made films comes back to me as Things appear on the screen.
But at first, there is some light. It’s Left Field Productions Presents being ushered in by an extremely appropriate nuclear explosion. It kind of blurred together from the beginning of Sledgehammer, but this is the real atrocity: the one that’s about to begin.
There are already screams, heralding the credits as “An Andrew Jordan, Barry J. Gillis Film.” You know, because it isn’t confusing enough that is shot on video in 1989 and I kept calling Sledgehammer a film interchangeably, but now this fine specimen is mixing its putrid metaphors together too. Right. Let’s get to the point, please.
It’s just as well it started as brightly with thermonuclear fire because after light, there is always darkness. Things shimmers and wavers into view, obscured by fluid shadows. Then, the title is clear with a gunshot to the head, putting me of my mis — No. Now, we are in a dingy basement. There is a woman in a white dress, and a devil mask hanging up laundry, presumably also ironed if we look at the implement behind her. There is tacky, weird synthetic music and reverberating laughter as a man who resembles R.L. Stine comes through a door.
Basically, he tells the woman he wants her to have his baby, because he and his wife can’t. And hell, he will even “Pay for love.” The lines sound like they are just read off a piece of paper with the enthusiasm of a corpse. But then the lady starts to slowly take off her dress, and undergarments as our bespeckled protagonist watches lecherously. That eerie faint giggling echoes through the background as this stripshow continues. She has a gorgeous, lithe beautiful naked body under her moustached devil mask. Hell, she even fits the Drive-In requirement of breasts all too well. Unfortunately, as with the aforementioned New York Nights, neither beautiful naked women, or great titties, or dark bush is going to save this movie: or our souls. I am just getting crude because my brain is melting, and I am already regretting my life.
Anyway, she almost goes into the shower, and the man says she doesn’t have to. The dialogue is … He insists on her having his baby. And it sounds like he’s having a stroke when he says this line. “I want you to have my bab-y.”
She bends down, laughing, and out of the shower takes out a carrier and states that she’s already had his baby. So now the man is going “Coochie coochie coochie …”
Shakespeare. I am going to be saying this a lot, throughout this film. I am afraid you will just have to deal with it. Something in the carrier, pink and indistinct — the lighting problem Joe Bob mentioned possibly — bites his annoying man’s hand. And he screams.
Then, he wakes up from his nightmare, but ours continues. Now, I have to say that this terrible and off-rhythm dubbing exceeds a lot of Kung-Fu and Dub-Fu films I’ve had the experience of watching, and this movie manages to do it in not even a funny way. It even translates to the sound abruptly disappearing as he screams and writhes silently. I am waiting for that Oscar, man.
Discordant music that’s supposed to sound domestic and comforting plays, but it is more of a cacophony than all the annoying teenagers in the world. Don’t worry, I will get tired of these smart remarks as the despair sets in again, but I wouldn’t bet too much on it. He gets off the couch, and presumably takes some crazy pills from the kitchen cabinet while walking to the bedroom. It reminds me of a silent film in muddled colour, and a demented musician or track playing in the background. The lighting keeps changing. Reality is fluid here. It’s like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari on technicolour drugs, and surrealism gone unironically wrong. I …
Right. So he gets to his wife in the other room. She is bedridden and in pain, and she tells her husband that “I hope they work. I feel like I’m going to die.”
Me too, lady. Me too.
So she takes them, the door closes for some reason, and she says she feels better already. Then we … see another title screen — THINGS — but this time it’s surrounded by darkness, and on fire.
That sounds about right. And we even see the “Things” theme and music credits displayed which, apparently, is created by STRYK-9. Two title screens, and now credit for a score that seems to have been made by the pipes of the Blind Idiot God Azathoth in pandemonious celebration. And … more credits. I am having a Sledgehammer flashback, but at least they did it at the beginning of the film and not after two scenes. So, there is also Familiar Strangers, and one Jack Procher. Did they all make the music? And we are also told that Andrew Jordan and Barry J. Gillis wrote the script for this movie. And they produced it too. It’s the Shot-On-Video miracle that Joe Bob has been talking about in action.
Now we see a train going by, reminding me of how we watched the van driving down the road in Sledgehammer, but more credits are happening, starring: Barry J. Gillis, Amber Lynn, Doug Bunston, Bruce Roach, Patricia Sadler — and also starring as we go down the road to grainy hell, Jan W. Pachul as Dr. Lucas. And this is all directed by Andrew Jordan. Then, thankfully, the credits are far less lengthier than those of Sledgehammer and we travel with the camcorder down the roads, into the woods where all modern horror seems to originate from Evil Dead, and its short film predecessor Within the Woods: that had a similar grainy quality but a straightforward, if simple story about violating a Native American burial ground and a young Bruce Campbell getting possessed, and killing his friends.
We will not be so fortunate tonight.
It turns out we have been following a car’s perspective, where two men — Wally and Doug — exit, allowing the driver to leave.
And now, a news segment with anchorwoman — and totally not pornstar — Amber Lynn, and also some man named Johnny Scott. They are the hosts of “today’s broadcast.” Amber Lynn is actually staring right at the camera talking about Cold War politics and thermo-global nuclear war. I am going to try to tie in these segments later as we go on with this, to see what the art of it is. There is also an oil truck crash that messed up electricity in an area that will not have power for up to three hours. Will this be where the shenanigans of this movie take place?
Doug and Wally are walking in the blurry darkness, perhaps in this place and a great excuse for terrible lighting, towards a house. What is weird is that they are looking for someone named Doug in this house with a barking dog. They talk about breaking in if he doesn’t answer the door. And then, they open the door like it was already unlocked after calling his name at the door and confusing me because isn’t Doug already with Wally, or was that a scene from before and Doug was the driver who was “the goof.”
Right. So the two men are looking for Doug in his house, who might be wasted out of his mind and if he’s a reality warper it would explain this film, as one of the characters claims that what they need is “a couple of hot women and a few beers.”
I hate to break to you, dude, but like I said: I don’t think that either women, or alcohol will save this movie.
So they raid the fridge and it turns out that one of the men is Doug’s brother. He reaches in and finds a book called Horror of a Thousand Ugly Brutal Cuts. Well, that sounds like a more interesting story. That book cover also looks like something you would find in the Bottom Feeder Section. I also didn’t realize it was a book until they pointed it out. And Don — which is Doug’s brother’s name, who also found the book in the fridge — finds a tape recorder in the freezer with a weird echoing recording stating “Get your hands off me.” Wally, the other man, jokes that he should turn it off as it could be possessed. No, no Evil Dead references please and thank you. That also won’t save this abomination.
But I take back what I said about the book being interesting. After all, did Aleister Crowley actually kill anyone? Historical inaccuracies for the sake of misusing occult references aside, and being told there are “sick diagrams” in the book well, what can I say. As this movie suggests by its very existence “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.”
Anyway, I am really hoping the “weird movie with the weird things” they are talking about, that starts with a Satanic tape recorder isn’t Evil Dead. But it’s hot in Doug’s place so Don decides to put his coat in the fridge, maybe to make it cooler, or because of a lack of space? Or, really just reasons. So finally someone — maybe Wally — takes the tape recorder playing Satan stoned out of his mind and turns it off, claiming that Susan — presumably Doug’s sick wife — is sleeping in the other room. Wait … weren’t they going to break in if Doug wasn’t home or available? How did they know Susan was there? Was that even Wally?
Anyway, it’s just Don and Wally, as Wally is looking for a “delicious cockroach snack” in the cupboards, and can’t see any of the critters. Is this … foreshadowing? In any case, they decide to watch some television: which according to Don has access to underground murder television networks and such. Another plot point, or an attempt to make this scene with the weird disjointed instrumental music more tense? You decide. Apparently, the television gets off the air stations, or they are from places that Doug doesn’t know.
Then we get back to the mainline news, totally undercutting everything these two chuckleheads were just talking about. Now Amber Lynn, looking perpetually to the right, is explaining how Dr. Lucas of Grizzly Flats has learned that the exposure of ultraviolet light to the human brain can double one’s lifespan: feeling like they are paraphrasing and just barely altering the plot of H.P. Lovecraft’s, and Stuart Gordon’s adaptation of, From Beyond.
Meanwhile, we see Dr. Lucas — who was introduced in the credits — torturing the hell out of a rotting skeleton man. We hear an echo of the words “I want you to have my bab-y” as he is doing so, making us think that Doug — and it is Doug at the beginning — and his experience with the devil woman is tied into this devil doctor. Perhaps the devil woman is simply a metaphor for the technique that Dr. Lucas used to artificially inseminate Susan … and, in retrospect, and if we borrow elements From Beyond, it might explain the end results later. Perhaps the Devil is supposed to be Susan or an amalgamation of her corruption and Susan in Doug’s drunken or fever-dreaming mind at the time. I like this explanation. It’s kind of cool, and probably not what they were going for. But it helps me, in a traumatic situation, to create order from chaos where none exists.
But seriously, the sequence with the woman in the Devil mask seems very surreal and dreamlike, and Doug does wake up. Perhaps it is that nightmare logic that gradually infests the entirety of this fragile, barely held together soggy cardboard reality that is this movie.
So there are some gross effects as he removes parts of his medical subject, the rot on his arm, his tongue, his hand, and then his eyeball. It’s kind of cool. The sound effects when he removes the eyeball sound like a deflating ball or water gun, and there is another man trying to hang himself, and there are decapitated heads everywhere. And the mad doctor snickers like a child, going “Nyeheheheeh …” which is as intimidating as a Cheeto. It’s a whole montage of Lucas and his female assistant cutting this man apart, her sawing at his throat, and him taking out his intestines. He even gets two more assistants in past the one that killed himself with a stretcher containing a severed head that he picks up, turns to the screen, and laughs.
Sanity Check: Where do we start indeed? One actor — Dr. Lucas — got arrested for soliciting and recruiting a sex worker for a role the porn actress didn’t want to be nude for because they didn’t pay her enough.
Does that sound about right? A nudity required application could have helped them. And her wearing the mask was to protect her identity or something to that effect. But like I said, no amount of women could save this.
So we get back to the two men. It turns out Wally isn’t the man’s name, but the driver that wisely left as the character I thought was Wally mentions. He does look at what he calls the infamous Salvator Dali’s The Devil’s Daughter painting, but it doesn’t seem to exist outside this film, or I can’t find it. It was “supposedly burned years ago,” and the clearly intellectual Doug somehow got a hold of it. But that leads us back to the imagery with the Devil mask woman and Susan at the beginning of the movie itself and all the dime-store occult hints here. Don tells his friend that Doug simply stole it when he was living in “a house on the left.” The left position is traditionally associated with the Devil. Yes. Yes guys. We get it.
Don’s friend is nosing around for a long time. He is always asking questions. He nearly burns his fingers on matches as he wants more light, and only seconds later turns on a nearby lamp in the living room. Genius. Don explains to him there is one weird painting that Doug apparently got from the Queen of England. Don’s friend gets the TV to work and tells him there is something interesting on. The dog makes her appearance.
Then Don insults the beer he is drinking and says something incredibly racist and xenophobic about how it “must have come out of a well in West Africa,” and then pays the US a backhanded compliment in saying he’s adding some “pure American water” to that. Yikes, dude. Even in the eighties, that’s pretty fucked.
Let me note, as we go on, that this movie so far and at many other points feels like a silent film, or a previous one that got dubbed over with murmured, drunken, almost incoherent commentary from people buzzed or stoned out of their minds. Keep that in mind, as I can’t cover all of that, and I won’t, but I will let you know if some parts in the continuing scenes stand out. Don is just humming now here, and it totally feels fake: like everything else. This is why I felt compelled to say something.
Now, what happens next? Well, the dog is lying down — and then promptly runs away — feeling me with nothing but sympathy. So Don and his friend are watching television and he says — and I fuck you not — “I saw this before. What a bunch of trash.”
Is Things … self-aware? Is there some metafictional winking going on here as they look at the blank hallway on that television screen playing a bad movie within a bad movie? My mind is blown. Look at it. Hell, Don even says “this company puts out the cheapest crap I’ve ever seen.” I mean … I didn’t say anything this time. Honestly. But interestingly enough, it could be a dig at the industry that looks down at DIY filmmakers: how they will generate complete garbage with more resources and it’s never original. It’s always derivative. Is Things saying it is derivative while at the same time making fun of the fact it is, and paying attention to how it uses the camcorder by “reliving old memories” and drawing from the power of nostalgia? That is ahead of its time given what we do with the eighties and its art — especially horror — nowadays. Or, like an augur, I am just trying to find meaning in the guts of dead … things.
So, the movie in the movie plays out with a knife attack and I wonder if this is actual film or something the creators of Things made? Oh, it’s called Groundhog’s Day Massacre (without the apostrophe). Let me see … oh wow. It apparently exists! It was directed by Harold Olminsky in 1986. It was SOV — Shot on Video. And I can’t find anything official about it. But it’s cool that Things used, and maybe homage to another SOV movie.
A lot of this is good to write about as a lot isn’t happening in the movie. But then the two men start watching porn. And I guess Doug was the one that came out earlier to tell them not to bother Susan, as he lives his … very red room, and goes into the kitchen. And I think we are coming to an interesting point. I’m serious.
Doug’s brother and friend — who after going back to the Joe Bob Commentaries I now know as Fred (what am I doing with my life) — didn’t bring any food. So he finds some six month old bread, and sets to work on … a sandwich. His brother Don is surprised that Doug isn’t more pissed off by them not bringing food. But he makes them cheese sandwiches. And after Fred wants more beers — and I imagine everyone did at this point if I didn’t make that clear, or Joe Bob didn’t already — Don gets up to get the drinks and complains about Fred’s laziness, stating that: “The next time you come with me, you’re staying home.”
Yes. This paradox, or koan aside, Fred sees a bug on a suddenly red table and squashes it. Foreshadowing?
Then Doug takes the bug — saying with “he might still be alive” and, “it will be crunchy for his tummy.” Shakespeare, my friends. Doug ends up putting the bug in a sandwich, sits down after some spectacular flatulence, just in time for Don to come back and eat it.
Doug and Fred find this hilarious, but then Don is bitten by a mosquito.” Foreshadowing again? Can I also mention that when Don drinks his beer he makes an obvious fake glugging sound not unlike what my great-uncle used to do to make my dad laugh? Yeah. Pure art. Don then compliments Doug on the sandwiches and Doug goes on about how he used to work at a restaurant.
Now, an interesting thing about sandwiches: both Sledgehammer and Things have sandwiches in common. Both are simple and crude to make and establish a basic function: to feed or be wasted as John in Sledgehammer eats a massive ham one and spits it out on a dare, and the cheese ones in Things are cheaply made: one even getting a bug put in it for gross spectacle? Perhaps it’s not creatures, or tools that are the central symbols of both movies, but working class honest-to-god sandwiches as metaphors for Shot on Video movies and production: on simple and direct messages often lost in messiness. Yes, I know. Order in the chaos. I should really be writing these meditations in my Sanity Check columns, but fuck it: just as reality is melding together in Things, it’s doing so in my mind from pure inspiration, and utter insanity. I hope you enjoy your semiotics, Joe Bob. Maybe put some “the medium is the message” in there too, by Marshall McLuhan while we’re at it, and it all goes back to your thoughts on SOV capturing working class thoughts on, and perhaps fears about, life and DIY folk art.
So Doug remembers he has a wife, and goes to check on Susan. And … oh man. Here we go now.
Susan is bleeding awkwardly in different frames, her screams out of sync with her mouth and reality. As Doug gets Don and Fred, freaking out, a bloody bargain bin xenomorph comes out of Susan’s body, and by the time they get back into the bedroom … She’s dead, Jim.
No. I will not confuse these names further. I apologize. Doug starts screaming, and then muttering like he’s lost his morning paper. And Don asks him: “What are you talking about?” I mean … Doug was talking? All right, so now we get the closest thing to straightforward plot that we will ever have in this disparate movie. Soon. He takes his brother, and presumably Fred aside and says he’s going to tell them … about it. Whatever that is.
The dog meanwhile is running through the hall and going behind a curtain. The place is all red and glowing. The dog whimpers and wails, and then growls and snarls. We see blood spray on the curtains. And even though we see a mutated bug afterwards, I choose to believe the dog went to another dimension after killing one of these creatures, barking the equivalent of “Fuck this shit.”
Sanity Check: Chris Jericho is this night’s guest and considered the show’s expert on bad movies. His high school-made Don’t Go to Uncle Earl’s Cabin For the Weekend with the Bag Man serial killer sounds bad ass for The Last Drive-In. I love how Things was shown in Montreal, and broke down twice. And the no drugs on set, but a lack of a no-alcohol policy says a lot about what happened.
Now back to the lovely Amber Lynn. Speaking of the dead rising, Amber Lynn is talking about George Romero — as the director of Dawn of the Dead and Creepshow, works light-years ahead of this construct, which isn’t so much the radiant of a dead star so much as it’s a blackhole — while explaining that he is taking his copyright claims to the Supreme Court of America: and Night of the Living Dead is getting pirated. I think the film is even playing behind Lynn.
I am trying to put these news segments together in my head. Is the area Doug in suffering from a blackout? Obviously we are going to get the tie-in with Dr. Lucas. But is this reference to Romero the creators of Things criticizing the establishment, and the common citizen, for ripping off independently made and produced movies? I told you my thoughts about meaning would bleed into Things. Literally.
Meta-commentary aside again, we get to the freaking plot. Basically, Doug explains that he and Susan wanted to have a baby, and they couldn’t naturally do it. They didn’t have the money to do it officially, and they couldn’t get money from Don as he was going to college. So they went to this experimental doctor, Lucas, for her to get artificially inseminated. It … didn’t go well. I’m assuming she was enveloped in pain and then these mutated insects came out of her body instead due to ultraviolet light, or some insanity like that. This could have been truly horrific, in a captivating way, as a man’s dream to have a child becomes a nightmare of mutated proportions … but instead, like this movie, like this whole VHS Appreciation Night it becomes a nightmare of unintentionally reality-bending proportions.
Don’s not happy about this. There is supposed to be a dramatic musical moment, and silence but it’s shrill like every sound in this production. And then, somehow, Don starts telling a story — a supposed weird science-fiction story — that is more captivating than this entire movie: all because it sounds like what’s going on in the movie, even though it only tenuously does as some teenagers bully a child named Harold in a small town, and then they kill him releasing some “serpentine bees” or something from his body to kill them and the town. Doug looks puzzled, like we all are, and says “This is really no time for stories.” You know, much like in this whole movie.
And what the hell, Doug? Your wife just died, consumed by your demonic children that might be yours, or not? You’d think you would be a little more distraught, and have no time for your brother’s inane recollections of a science-fiction he probably made up on the spot. Well, Don was only trying to “eeeeeazzzze the tension.” Yes, that’s exactly what it sounds like. This sound quality, my friends.
Yeah. Even Joe Bob acknowledged this, that VHS Appreciation Night. It must have been this, or another time that this horrible realization came upon me that they were very serious about this entire thing. I was, for a time, able to just think it was a mass hallucination happening and I would just get past it. But I think this part is what began to make me feel like I could qualify for a Broken Man Certification.
So they talk about what to actually do about this, the three of them. Fred suggests getting the police, but Don tells them they not only can’t let these insects spread, but they are in the wilderness, the phone isn’t working even though none of them have tried it — and if it’s electricity that’s the problem why are the television and the lights functioning? Also, Don has to point out that “This is a real creepy place, you know?” No. No really? So many excuses just to keep this trainwreck happening, and yes I remember the train at the beginning of this whole movie too.
So they plan to go to Grizzly Flats — after Don says he didn’t think he’d ever “have to live with the dead” when Fred asks what to do with Susan’s body, an attempt at a profundity that just doesn’t work — and use Dr. Lucas’ phone to call the cops the next day. You know: the man that made all these monstrosities, this swarm we barely see, possible. Someone mentions that the doctor is evil and should be dead, and I guess it was Don because Doug’s mouth isn’t moving, and it is just confusing. It is all confusing.
Oh but now the lights go off, and everything is red. Our intrepid friends need to find a light source after several excuses about the fuses in the house being messed up, and the gas lamp the other two needed to get to Doug’s house almost being used up. How convenient.
And back to the lovely Amber Lynn. Now it’s weird. It’s apparently been fourteen days since Don Drake and Fred Lewis — presumably two of our protagonists — by Brooklyn residents? What the fuck? Are they trapped in a singularity? Is my tongue in cheek coming true? A woman saw them apparently get killed by bikers though. And then we get the news anchorman Johnny totally going into gossip on Cher’s boyfriend being with ex-pornstar Tracy Lord — and then a woman goes in to sit on Johnny’s lap: not realizing they are still on the air. I guess some people are just plain lucky, because I know this fractured reality is still ongoing.
And speaking of singularities, Fred gets sucked into a mousehole in a cupboard. Just like that. All right then. This leaves Doug, with blood on his shoulder from the ceiling, and Don to face the horrors of this house alone. After the two brothers wish the blood off of Doug’s body, we have a jumpcut to some infernal-looking Kindergartner art on a door that the two have discovered for the first time. They are still trying to find the fuse box. Someone makes a joke, maybe Doug, about how he put up those sinister symbols and whatnot before “we tortured and ate her” and I have no idea what is going on with that.
Right. Okay. They don’t go down there as Doug says “it’s too dangerous now.” Then Don and Doug ruminate about how there is no beer in the house. But Don finds whiskey, and then Doug tells a joke. He asks how do you get paper children? The answer: you fuck a bag lady.
Hey, you two, while you’re telling jokes in this hell house with the cheery music going on, stop me if you’ve heard this one. What happens when you give a bag lady a crown from Burger King?
You get yourself a Paper Bag Princess.
See, I am trying to cut the tension now, and I don’t have the gracious Amber Lynn to help out with that either. They don’t have her either, or the Devil woman, so I guess Doug begins to flipout thinking he hears footsteps — or Don does — and while Don thinks Fred has escaped to get help, we get cuts to Doug in red light cackling and crying about how Fred is dead. Then Don pours whiskey on his head. My unintentional rhyming poetry aside, here we can hear dialogue dubbed over previous dialogue as Don realizes he has to go to the washroom, and is afraid of the bugs. Doug ventures towards the washroom in the dark, for some reason, but it smells bad apparently.
They have to go back to the kitchen to get a flashlight first, and that’s when we see another lazy monster bug motherfucker: this time roaring like the parody of what a child would think an antlion is on the stove. Don kills it with a meat cleaver — or “him” as Doug puts it — “real good” (in several awkward jump cuts between swinging and the bug just sitting there). Damn, Sledgehammer and Things use similar implements if you recall.
Unfortunately, the half-dead creature just so happens to be right on top of the flashlight, which coincidentally is on the stove. Don slowly reaches for it twice, as the thing twitches at one point and gnashes its needle-sharp teeth. Then, he snatches it and washes his hand of all the blood: suddenly having the tremors.
Sanity Check: None of the actors were there at the same time the scenes were filmed. Fred’s actor was not available the day they filmed the scene with the mouse hole, which explains his adventures in space and time. Oh yeah. Scarborough. It really is known as a skid area. As someone who lives in the GTA (The Greater Toronto Area), I have heard the stories. A funny thing: Barry J. Gillis responded to my thread on the Joe Bob Collective about Things, though I love Joe Bob’s take on Things being a filmic version of dementia. I also appreciate how Chris Jericho hopes it was intentionally made bad, and I respect his utter loathing of the … thing. And I agree: Winnipeg as a film production Province would never make something like Things, but it would embrace something like Phantom of the Paradise once again.
The brothers begin searching around the house, and soon get to the bathroom. Then, Don goes in to use it, and forgets he needs the flashlight. Doug has to knock on the door to remind him, and he takes it. Sometimes, and I think Joe Bob said this at one point, it’s like they tried to do a horror comedy sequence — or a series of them — and they just failed miserably. The prime example here is where Doug is clutching his throat and sticking out his tongue like a cartoon character choking as the room turns red, and he’s just joking: trying to prank his brother. Like, dude: your wife just died, your friend is missing, and there are monsters everywhere. What the shit?
So then his brother comes out again and after wandering around more, Don just shoves him ages later. Then they go to the bathroom again, I think, and there is a bug on the toilet. Doug starts wheeze-laughing like he’s a kid imitating a cartoon monster’s voice, and Don is losing patience with him. Maybe Doug is finally going insane. In the end, Doug goes back into the bathroom and … flushes the thing down the toilet? Then he comes out with a manic grin on his face and goes: “Eeeeeee …”
Seriously, this is just obnoxious now. But now everything is going red. There is a brief jump cut of Doug making that sound and it’s gone as someone is checking a drawer. They are looking for items to use as weapons and … oh man. One of them has a tiny sledgehammer! Well, damn.
Finally, they venture into the basement past the hellish mural art that says “Love Tessie,” or some weird shit like that. Now, in the basement and the piano playing a melancholy tune in the background, the creatures are coming down from the ceiling “like spiders in a haunted house,” as Don says. The brothers are trying to get to the fuse box, but apparently the creatures are everywhere as the camera pans around and sees a few scattered plastic insect toys made — and failing — to represent a swarm.
Then as Doug is looking towards the direction of the fuel box, some insectoid legs wrap themselves around his neck. Don smashes the insect with … the sledgehammer, but ends up knocking Doug in the back of the head. He falls on the ground, bleeding out of his mouth, a pool of blood gathering on the floor. He’s dead.
But he’s not dead. Somehow. Don tries to lift Doug, and the latter doesn’t bleed out. He reaches over to stab a bug, and blue ichor flows out. Then he finally finds the fuse box. He’s “not very good at electricity things,” though. The creatures just happen to be sleeping over in the corner, though, and he has time to replace wires and circuits and such. For some reason, Don imitates a “zapping” noise: though whether it’s him, or his attempt to make a legitimate sound effect on the movie’s budget is up in the air. I am not expecting much either way.
Then he bashes another bug with the sledgehammer — or is it a mallet — and takes his brother away up the stairs again. We get an almost Nineties action flick pun from Doug that this is not really how “he wanted to get hammered, man.” There is a cutaway to a man with glasses laughing, unconvincingly, on a television screen. Then, back to Doug, we see that he gets attacked suddenly by another bug that eats his hand as he’s trying to get some alcohol.
So playground Keystone Cops antics aside, Doug is pretty fucked up now. Not when he got smashed in the back of the head with a hammer, mind you. And this is where we see that, in an attempt to cauterize the wound by Don, an amputated stump gets set on fire. Then a brief flash of a television screen. But hey, we get Canadian representation — a shout out to the fact that this is a Canadian film — when Don says that the blood coming out of his brother “is just dripping like maple syrup.”
We stand on guard for thee.
Reality is melting as words from the past echo about what the three men were going to do, and Don’s whole statement about living with the dead are the last words Doug seems to hear as Don doesn’t get the morphine, in the toolbox, in the basement, And he finally dies.
Don is distraught and takes his body and puts it in a closet. He begins sealing doors with a drill or something. He then finds the remains of the dog, who didn’t escape I guess and proceeds to be sick on the floor for far too damn long a sequence. I could have seriously done without that.
He begins drilling the remains of a bug or something, I really can’t see in that light but he goes too far and the extension cord unplugs, and he gets fed up with it. Yeah. Riveting stuff. That pun was unintentional.
Don goes into the other room, where he sees Doug sitting in a chair, and he realizes he is hallucinating. He sees him laughing out of the corner of his eye, but it’s just in his mind. Then he falls onto the couch. This whole time, there is a drinking bird set at the beginning of the film still dipping into a glass of water. Then a closeup of the washroom and a dripping sink.
Sanity Check: The close ups for all the doors and facets struck me too. At least in Sledgehammer, it is all to set up the scene and the atmosphere of the killer’s house, the tension of the stillness accidental or not. I love how Jericho remembers Darcy’s birthday and not only wants to show Sleepaway Camp II, but Halloween III on The Last Drive-In. Joe Bob wants Jericho to be the show’s recurring Canadian and Bad Horror Movie expert. I agree with this idea as his presence would be an excellent complement to the Mangled Dick expert that is Felissa Rose. And on the subject of Andrew Jordan: him not considering Things a horror film, but a “postmodern film about filmmaking” is pretty asinine, but I can see him making this argument from the stereotypical view of post-modernist art as relativistic and without inherent meaning as well. I also appreciate the explanation about the dubbing: Jordan said they had to overdub the background noise of the movie. But to return to someone I don’t mind listening to …
Back to Amber Lynn. She basically states that after being missing for fourteen days — time dilation I suppose — Don Drake and Fred Lewis might still be alive. Is this an attempt at pacing? To show how much time has gone by? How fluid it is? Is the use of different media Jordan’s attempt to deconstruct and destroy sensical cinematic narrative? I feel like I had something profound, but exhaustion is dogging me now. I need to go on. The mission must be completed.
Don is surrounded by bugs. But we hear a chainsaw as Fred comes back from the ether and begins destroying some bug motherfuckers. Maybe he isn’t so useless after all. Don is bashing bugs as well, one even crawling from the ceiling. Fred is screaming with the chainsaw as a bug creeps up on him, No, dude. You are not Leatherface, but you get points for enthusiasm. I can honestly believe that scream of maddened rage. I want to make one like it right now. He does kill the bug though, and after saving Don they flee.
Now Amber Lynn really makes us question the nature of reality and not in the way one might like if you know what I mean, and I think you do. She says that Don and Fred were surprised to find out they were being sought after in a nationwide manhunt. They were apparently in a hotel in Dallas and an off-duty security guard found them. According to Lynn, they were going across the country to visit a relative. So did this happen before the events of Things, as they drove to see Doug, or is this in another timeline? I feel like there is a death of the author involved here as this starts to make so much less sense, and that is impressive given how little sense it already has.
Meanwhile, Don and Fred are in the bedroom and the bugs have eaten their mom Susan. Fred gets Don out as he continues to fight them off. Don finds some bugs still eating Doug’s fingers. But then … the bugs get smart. That’s right. They eat the cord of Fred’s chainsaw.
According to Fred, they are eating him and he is begging and threatening Don to help him. The music is just terrible. I can’t even describe it, like glittering instrumentals that have no place in this bootleg cardboard box universe made a reality warping manchild and whose existence only remains now on a VHS recording.
There are two sets of screams dubbed on each other, one actual scream and fake ones. Fred is calling for one “little fucker” to “give me back my eyeball!”
Shakespeare. In the Park.
So Don does come back, but gradually and in an attempt at comedy I guess, we see Fred strewn about like a bloody Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz: just a talking, one-eyed skull. I’m sorry Fred: but no amount of spare artificial parts is helping you come back from being eaten and becoming a bunch of Things.
And back to Amber Lynn. Apparently residents refuse to leave their homes, and there is an atomic explosion.
Back to Don. And guess who’s come to visit the house? Dr. Lucas. We almost forgot about him. He’s come to pay Susan a social visit apparently. Don is not impressed. He leads him through the house to show him the carnage. They find Susan in pulp, and Lucas sniffs the blood he picks up on his hand, and confirms it’s human. He blames Don for the massacre, gaslighting the fuck out of him, while Don says it was because his experiments “fucked up.” But there are no bugs and, awkwardly as the dialogue allows — making me realize just how many brain cells I’ve lost listening to it for over an hour — Dr. Lucas builds a convincing case that Don used a chainsaw, and other implements to kill everyone in the house, despite Don’s rapid “I-I-I-Is.”
The creatures are all gone, supposedly. Don thinks they were either eaten by their fellows, or taken away. Dr. Lucas says “You watch too many horror movies, pal,” being a little too on the nose.
Don is spending entirely too much time attempting to convince the madman that his experiments exist. The doctor mocks him. He says he is going to take Don to an institution, but Don has none of it and shoves him into the washroom: where the creatures happen to be. They consume him.
“Creatures with no soul! They’re devouring me whole!” Man, I thought I was the only one rhyming here tonight.
Don leaves and goes to the closet to bury his brother properly, and then loses consciousness. Then, the next we know he’s out and running out of the house and into the woods through a ravine. He’s shouting. “Help me!”
A man helps him up on a bridge. He is ranting and raving to the man. The man wants to take him to Dr. Lucas, but Don sets him straight and he just wants to get back to Sacramento and tell the police what happened. He goes off with the man, to safety. They finally get to his car and …
“Are you sure this wasn’t all a dream?”
Only for Don to wake up, and the Dollarama Deadite form of Dr. Lucas — perhaps also a callback to George Romero and the possibility of there being a larger infestation of creatures due to the mad doctor’s other experiments — to come at him. He manages to keep the cackling monster out, tying the door closed from the inside.
He sits in there, rocking back and forth, as a creature is on the shelf behind him, muttering. “I’ll be okay. I’ll be okay.”
Well, I’m glad to know that Don. Because I don’t know if I will ever be. Ever.
And when, the words “You have just experienced Things” comes onto the screen and the credits roll, this second time around, I feel blessed relief. It’s over.
The nightmare is finally over.
And at the end, after the credits and the thanks to all their fans and supporters, we have Amber Lynn being incredibly frank about doing “Fifty-Two Pick-Up” with Vanity. She talks about how she met John Frankenheimer for a show where she and porn star actress friends came as a joke, and he wanted her to be in his movie. I have to say, her having this conversation with the crew of this movie is kind of refreshing. It is the most animated and real recording in this whole production. I’m glad she was there. She was the only bright spot in that movie. And on that note …
Final Sanity Check and Observation: I agree with Joe Bob that everything is advanced — and improved — by the presence of a pornstar.
I could go into Things being the medium and the message of independent creators attempting to show how shallow media is through the ridiculous news segments, the television sets that inundated that time, a nightmarish realization that nothing has inherent meaning, and terrible things happen — and are created — all the time, and sometimes you know you will never be okay again, pornstars or no.
But there’s something in this Last Drive-In segment that I want to talk about: that I want to focus on.
It all started when Joe Bob mentions the complete earnestness and drive — the dream — these moviemakers had to attempt these creations. And how, in an Age of Irony, it’s to forget that. And then, there came on — jump cut through his speech, a remix of the “Tail-Spin” song. And just as it had that Friday night into Saturday morning, it hit me. In the feels. It reminded me of something I can’t completely put into words. It’s sad, and beautiful, and wistful all at once.
And then, I did write something about it. And, because you’ve read this far — or if you have — I am going to share it with you.
Here is a picture of me, at 11:40 am, having not slept, finishing my Iron Mutant Certification.
I am exhausted, but I did it. And I hope you can see that.
I wrote this in a series of Tweets after the show ended on Friday. Joe Bob’s words, and the “Tail-Spin” remix stayed in my mind. And then, I gathered them together and shared them on both the Joe Bob Collective and Slasher.
This is what I wrote, and at the end of this nightmare and my engagement of it — as one Iron Mutant to another — this is how I want to end my Certification.
I wrote some thoughts tonight on Twitter after Joe Bob’s words about …. Things, or as I like to call it now, Try Hard:
It’s after the show now. And I was thinking about it. Even before tonight’s entertainment. What was different about this season up until this point?
And I think … it was because of all the good movies we saw, or at least the quality, industrial production. We hadn’t seen, even with Audition, anything weird. Anything Wtf.
The Last Drive-In is about spectacle and enjoying or cringing through aspects of those films, but also understanding their context. Where they come from. What goes into them.
It is also a space to bond around those ridiculous premises. To look at the ridiculousness on a screen that we all watch at the same time every Friday /Sunday, instead of living it around us.
And there is something that Joe Bob said at the end of tonight’s episode, after the spectacle of Things, of the creator that never made anything after this film.
I thought about them, and their crew’s utter dedication to this: to throw it all out there, not knowing what they are doing, to see what will stick, and to … make something.
Yes. It was bad. But that enthusiasm was real. And I think about my friends, and how we tried to make things. Ridiculous things. Many of them lost with time. And you know … the creators of Things … at least they tried.
They Tried Hard.
How many people can say the same thing? How many of us can say the same thing?
I had fun ripping it apart. I won’t deny that. That’s part of the kind of person I am. But at the same time, I think about how they went out there with just the sheer primal impulse to … make something, even a mess. And they did it. And that is their memory. I feel almost ashamed, making fun of that sheer need to make something, to tell a story, even if it doesn’t come out right.
Like a child making that Devil’s Kindergarten art on the mirror in the film. But they did it. They made that.
And I realize I can still dislike, or even cringe, at something badly made, but still deeply respect the creative impulse and need to express it.
And I am crying a bit.
And not for the reasons you might think.
Because, for a few moments, I could almost remember. That spark, in Try Hard — as I call Things now, is beautiful.
That spark in Try Hard — as I call Things now — is beautiful. And I may take apart everything else around it, but I won’t tarnish that.
The point is, the people behind the camcorders of Things, and Sledgehammer never gave up. And there is a lesson in that somewhere.
It was Friday June 4, 2021. The days were getting brighter. America had a President. The Great Plague had been raging for over a year, with relief in sight as vaccines for one terrible mutation had been discovered, and distributed throughout various parts of the world.
Unfortunately, another mutation was about to occur.
We should have seen the signs. Season Three of The Last Drive-In had been … different. It was more than just the celebrities, literally, on TV above humanoid effigies, than the new cabin setting that had been established during the Specials after the Second Season. Nevermind the presences of Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Campbell, and the others.
It was the films, you see. The films were … different. Oh sure, it started off much in the way that Season Two had done from my time tuning in: with a funny and albeit disturbing spectacle like Troma’s Mother’s Day, and the grotesque and reality-warping Fulci’s The House By the Cemetery as though in counterpoint to Chopping Mall, and Bloodsucking Freaks the year before. But afterwards, the films were … let me be blunt.
They were good.
And while the Tweet-alongs still brought that sense of belonging, and the Lost Drive-In Patreon also let us see some of the Before Times of Drive-In Theater and MonsterVision, along with more Darcy — and there is never enough Darcy — something felt strange. Off.
I’ll admit, I knew something was coming, even before Week Seven. Audition wasn’t even enough, even with that terrible vomit-drinking scene that still gives me nightmares to this very day. No. No, first it was the theme of Week Seven. It was the glory that was Train to Busan — taking us on an elevated journey into pain and suffering — all the way … all the way towards the opposite of the ultimate, the high going towards the low.
Spookies was the harbinger. I see that now. The dead were barely even trying as they, themselves wished the warlock Kreon would just let the terrible horse-beaten rotting joke of them just die. But that’s when I knew. I knew something was coming.
And then, on Darcy’s Birthday weekend, the hammer fell.
More precisely, Sledgehammer slammed down, reducing those who stayed into incoherent, broken, gibbering Things. I have evidence, screen-shots from that night: that Friday night, Week Eight of what Joe Bob fondly called VHS Appreciation Night.
Yes, Darcy. I know. I was there.
VHS Appreciation Night. It sounds so innocuous. So educational. So … fun. Kind of like when the Muppets in The Great Muppet Caper went to the place called the Happiness Hotel. And we all know how that turned out …
It turned out better than this.
They said, in that childhood film to which I temporarily and mentally escaped while writing this report and account, if they were at the Happiness Hotel they’d sure hate to know what the Sad one was like.
Well, that night — on Friday, Week Eight of The Last Drive-In — many of us found it.
The Sadness Hotel.
But that is hyperbole, and a grand understatement for what actually transpired. Because, you see, the problem with intelligence, even moderate awareness like my own, is that you know just how fucked you are going to be. And I was waiting for it. Joe Bob wasn’t being subtle. He mentioned that at least one of these films was from the days of the Iron Man Certifications.
The Iron Man Certifications. A scene by scene summary of a film that is considered an abomination to humankind, sent in to Joe Bob during the days of his previous programs to prove that you watched through all of that literal cinematic horror, to which he would send you a piece of paper acknowledging your pain and suffering, and the Iron Cast stomach and sheer will needed to survive hell on earth, and become stronger for it. The Lost Drive-In Patreon, I thought it prepared me, you see. I thought I was partially inoculated against the mind-bending insanity that was about to commence: that I knew was coming.
I did the work, you see. I saw the New York Nights post. I hunted it down. I summarized scene by scene. I did it. I watched that bastard twice in all of its vapid, terrible, empty glory. Here it is, right here, publicly done by the Old Rules on my Horror Doctor Blog and nothing else to show for it on my part but pain and regret.
Joe Bob, if you are reading this, I bet you won’t click on that link: even if I think, deep down, that if I have to suffer, so do you. But that’s wasted, isn’t it? You’ve seen it before, many times, in increments, like Iocaine powder. You laugh at my miniscule misfortune, at my own petty self-destruction, purely brought on by my own hubris as you think about the many before me who have gone through worse. And I thought I was ready. I thought I trained. I thought I’d taken enough of that powder to get through this, and know that we would have the choice to do an Iron Man Certification.
But then I forgot the Creed. Mutants. This was all about mutations. And, sure enough, going on Darcy’s Twitter Feed I saw the terrible truth. I saw what I would have to do. What many of us would have to do. For the Iron Man had mutated, transforming, twisting, into something else, into a madness I didn’t see coming despite my sixth sense screaming louder than any beautiful blood-drenched Queen.
Two movies, the aforementioned Sledgehammer to my brain, and the Things left behind in its wake. I would need to watch them again. Not only would I need to subject myself to that madness once more, but I would need to comment on Joe Bob’s commentary, take some screenshots on my laptop to show me watching the films, and email it all in.
This new horror, this monstrosity, changed the game. The Iron Man Certification was over before it began.
In its place, was the Iron Mutant Campaign.
It is a hot night, and morning, and afternoon in June in Ontario, Canada as I undertake this trial: to pursue what I would be so tempted to call being an Iron Mutant Aspirant. But as a wise, cruel man in a cowboy hat and a Silver Bolo many would kill for once said:
Part I: Sledgehammer
I am going to write this as though it is happening in real time, for posterity’s sake, as I bring the remains of this wall of sleep and sanity down. Before we begin, let’s say that each time I get to the Commercial Breaks — or Joe Bob Commentary sections of our viewings — I call them Sanity Checks.
Armed with that grim cynical sense of Lovecraftian cosmicism — of an inherent meaninglessness or maliciousness of existence itself — let’s get to it and swing the hammer down.
In retrospect, I should have taken up drinking.
Sanity Check: Especially after that statement, I agree with you Joe Bob. 24-hours, and 24 beers in a case is not a coincidence. It’s just another bit of synchronicity. Sanity Check Addendum: Here we are at VHS Night. I like the term Camcorder Revolution of the Eighties — specifically the Shot-On-Video Era circa 1982-2005 — and I want to record these terminologies here for future use. The other things I’d like to remember, here, is a thought I wrote about in my Twitter feed with regards to Shot-On-Video being something of a renaissance: not unlike the Gutenberg printing press. Camcorders — such as the PV-610 or HR-C3 camcorder for VHS or Betamovie — shot movies straight to video, they were cheap to buy, and produce, and they were placed in the Bottom Feeder Section of movie rental stores: with crude box art. It reminds me of colportage: where tracts and texts could be made and distributed by people outside a traditional ruling or elite class. I can go further, and also compare them to the DIY punk zine phenomenon of the 1970s-80s: where you take the means of distribution and production, allow classes outside of the exclusive hierarchies to record experiences beyond an elite class. Interestingly enough, it was Joe Bob’s comments about the box art for some of the videos in the Bottom Feeder Section made from magazine cut-outs and collages that gave me that DIY link — along with the folk art connection — though I know later Joe Bob will talk about class and low and high art in what these video makers emulated. It’s fascinating to consider it: that VHS tapes are making a comeback like vinyl records, even though many of these Shot-On-Video pieces suffer from bad spectrum lighting, where a lot of background illumination is required, along with sound quality and even graphics as lines appear in the displays overtime. I grew up with this, however, and it is so strange to see how far we’ve come. And what we’ve lost. Such small worlds. And thinking about how many of them didn’t make it to DVD, and how many ceased to exist, and the devices to even play them now are far more rare: there is something to that twenty-three year old moment in time gone in the blink of an eye. But are some things best left forgotten? Or can you learn from the aftermath of those lost remains?
The faded white square font of Imaz Presents on a black screen leads to the weathered mountainous building blocks of SLEDGEHAMMER: the title crackling occasionally with static, dripping with moisture, and getting smashed into smithereens with a hammer though not unlike an atomic explosion: which pretty much summarizes the soul of this whole movie.
We get into faded, off-colour credit sequences displaying a … I wouldn’t say good cast that bears repeating, but a cast that is repeated at least once now, and a second time when this is all said and done: Ted Prior (who also made the special effects in this film, which is pretty cool to see that level of versatility), Linda McGill, John Eastman, Jeanine Sheer, Tim Aguilar, Sandy Brooke, Steve Wright, and with Michael Shanahan, Maria Mendez, Doug Matley, Ray Lawrence, and Justin Greer after a transition between ambiance-inverted figures, and a man in a puppet mask. It’s like attempting to watch a locked adult cable channel without knowing any better. We see this is written by David A. Prior, George Abouhabib is in charge of production in another scene, the electric synthesized organ title music is by Philip G. Slate in another blurry shadowy segment, additional music by Ted Prior and Marc Adams, it’s all edited by one Ralph Cutter, and Special Effects are by … well, what you do know: Blood & Guts. The Special Effects in this continuing Rorschach Test from Hell is Jacque Marrino, the Director of Videography down the stairs is Salim Kimaz, Lighting Director Michael Watt … all right — wish he could have done something with these long opening credit scenes, art director Laurence Mcelrea …
All right, the legs walked down the stairs finally, and on another blot screen we have Associate Productor Tom Baldwin, producer Nicholas Imaz again as a hand turns a door knob, executive producers Abdalla Itani and Chuck Malouf, and a reminder that David A. Prior not only wrote this movie script (more on that later), but he directed it as well.
Gott im himmel. Finally. The movie hasn’t started yet, and it’s already busting my balls. But hey, at least it gave me the excuse to write the credits down, so there is that.
We transition to an inverted and out of focus, but gradually distinctive cottage that wouldn’t look out of place on Little House on the Prairie. It even has trees, a mountainside behind it, and a white picket fence. Surely nothing atrocious will happen here. And after the beginning of a series of long, stationary establishing shots in which the camera operator seems to be contemplating existentialism for more than a breath, we pan forward towards the house as we hear a woman screaming at a small child.
A mother in an 1980s dressing gown argues with a boy, her son — who for some reason I thought was called Jimmy, I don’t know why — about him not ruining her evening, and throws him in a closet that, for some reason, has a lock on it. The scene goes into slow motion, trying perhaps to show this moment as something fateful, as though it says to the audience “And this is where she fucked up.” The past tense is intentional as we slowly pan towards the door, and I get some serious Pieces flashbacks.
A man is sipping wine in a bathrobe, as the mother goes in and they engage in what might be the best acting of the whole movie — and that doesn’t say much — in that it’s slightly less flat than the rest of it. He asks about “the kid” and she amps up from attempted sexy to she “took care of the little bastard” with such animosity and hatred you’d think he killed an entire species, or something. Child abuse apparently turns this man on as they kiss, giving exposition that they are having an affair with each other in a short exchange of sentences, and then she starts kissing his belly and the camcorder capturing this whole movie pans to the right as we … think she’s starting to give a blowjob? I really can’t see the angle either way.
But anyway, we see the shadow of a figure with — you guessed it — a sledgehammer — coming towards them and the whole scene freezes, and fades out. A great place to stop it, right? Of course not. Instead, we see the mother continuing to kiss the man’s belly button failing to simulate oral sex, and the camera scrolls up as the most half-hearted hammer blow hits the man in the back of the head. We see some pretty good practical effects of blood and viscera, with a watery sound as he falls down. The woman abruptly looks up, and — well — you’d think she would have noticed that he was falling over even in slow motion given that his penis was supposedly in her mouth. Instead, her mouth is open wide and she both mutely — and painfully — begs for her life. So right: Pieces. We see the shadowy outline of a hammer swing down like a metronome, staining the wall with little drops of blood … and it is caught in midswing as the visual of film seems to burn away into red darkness, and the next scene.
And now we see a beautiful sunny mountain countryside “ten years later.” A car slowly drives up the road in a long panning shot to the left until it gets to the house.
And then, the peaceful scenery is broken for what will be the obnoxiousness of the rest of the movie.
Teenagers come yelling out of the car, or people playing them. Names are called out as they fool around, but it’s so easy to miss it in the pandemonium. There is a whole lot of unpacking from the ride they’ve hired, and bantering and talking over each other that goes on for a long time. For too long. John is the large bearded man trying to make order among them. Jimmy — it turns out I remembered his name and not that of the kid — is a dark haired man exchanging a cooler with his blonde girlfriend Carol: and there is some tension there. Chuck is a muscular blond man played by Ted Prior, while his short brown-haired girlfriend is named Joni. Chuck and Joni have a conversation that seems to allude to something, without going into details. I want to believe it might be a “Hills Like White Elephants” situation, but my brain was probably attributing something more adult and deeper to the exchange than it actually is. There is a whole lot of back and forth between unpacking, the driver leaving, and Chuck attempting to roughhouse Joni to make her feel better: because, you know, putting a beer on your girlfriend’s head, giving her noogies, and tossing stuff at her to carry are the secrets to keeping a relationship alive.
So, where were we? Oh yes. Slow motion idyllic pastoral walking scenes, with gentle country music reminiscent of 1980s porn, or at least scenes from … New York Nights. And it goes on for quite some time. Well, after following Chuck and Joni around slowly panning to the right as they walk, he almost gets that beer can to balance on her head. This is a horror movie, I think?
Now that we have our romantic leads, we get to the next scene. John is messing around in a junk-filled area of the house as ominous synthesization plays, and he pulls out what might be the sledgehammer that killed the woman and her lover, but we don’t see it well and it ends with a freeze frame.
Next scene Chuck imitates some kind of macho action hero, or politician, and everyone gets drunk. I attempt to take the time to figure out who everyone is during this particular cacophony. So we have the bearded and large John, long dark-haired Mary who is John’s girlfriend, we have muscle man Chuck, poor short-haired Joni, dark-haired and bearded Jimmy, his blonde girlfriend Carol, and stripe-shirted short-haired Joey — also known as Hand Job. I think now I can keep better track of them,
Anyway, after Chuck’s attempts at acting — which is hilarious in an unintentionally metafictional way — we see John attempting to slobber on Carol — spitting “Tooey!” out afterwards as if he — and Chuck before him with Joni — are afraid of cooties or something. John then tries to prove himself to be “a real man” by making out with Joey beside them. Say what you will, but John is a man confident in his own sexuality, and I can respect that.
Chuck takes Joni aside for a talk. Joey leaves to start messing with the lighting or circuitry of the place. You can tell he is the shit-disturber of the group. Then we find out that Chuck and Joni’s troubles are that he apparently had been talking about marrying her and never followed up on it. Well. I guess there goes that plot point. So much for it being about abortion, or something Hemingway like that.
And then we get to a scene of Chuck — without his shirt on because, you know, he has muscles — playing on the guitar outside, and the music does this really cool thing: it is this melancholic folk string that blends into the creepy synthetic ominous “thrumming” that we’ve heard before as we pan up at the top window of the house in another scene. It’s as though something unseen might be looking down. There are a lot of interspersed shots between Joni sitting with Chuck as he plays and something — or someone — is sneaking around in the bushes near them on the property. The juxtaposition is fascinating, and it’s like Joe Bob said: the movie makers are finding their cinematic language. And now, I notice that we have an extreme close up of the window, and I can almost make out a shape behind it. That is pretty interesting.
Sanity Check: There are two discussions that stand out at me during this segment. First, there is the focus on synthesizer music — that slightly off-tune Trombone blat whose sound I couldn’t quite describe. I like how Philip G. Slate did the music but might have been David A. Prior: how he used many fake names to pad the numbers of how many he had working on this movie. But then there is the second part that truly gets to me. “You can’t make a beautiful movie, but you can make a statement in fictional form.” Joe Bob’s quote sticks in my mind. Before this, 16 mm film was the least expensive way to make a movie but the film itself is expensive and the camera to use it, and post-production. Video made things more accessible. It applies to how David Prior and his younger brother Ted — and how they made the movie. Their father was a standup comic, and their mother an assistant to Blackstone the Magician. Their parents divorced, and the two lived with their mother: making me wonder about some parts of Sledgehammer. David was obsessed with movies, and Ted was a bodybuilder. More specifically David just wanted to write, not direct, but he knew that some background in direction in smaller projects could get him into the industry. And after applying for Ads, he even got some small financial-backing, though not much. And he got his brother Ted to act because he was simply in the area. So basically, we have a director who didn’t want to direct, and an actor that didn’t want to act. I mean, what could possibly go wrong? Certainly, it was not very auspicious at first, but they evolved from this point. And then we go back to the first ninety years of film history, only the rich and elite could make films, or those with patronage, or corporate-backing: as happens with most art in history. For the first time, working-class men from Baltimore can make their own movies, and bring something to that kind of storytelling that someone emulating them might not. Perhaps that is where making a statement might come in: even though I know for a fact I’ve made a few statements of my own in these summaries so far. I think about how everyone in the movie had a beer, and was filled with manic energy. Joe Bob posited that to test a potential actor, ask him to portray not anger or sadness, but something profound like joy. And, looking at the people that were assembled then, as obnoxious as that energy might have seemed, there was something very real about it. Certainly, John Eastman as John seems legitimately drunk through most of the movie: and this drunken master technique is about to show.
Oh man. So now, we were warned about this, we have the sandwich scene. It’s one of the things, aside from hard to see lighting at times, that connects both Sledgehammer and Things to one another. Everyone is at a table, with a ton of junk food, and John stuffs a giant sandwich of meat into his mouth. It is enormous, messy, and really gross. Basically, someone smacks John and he spits pieces of his ham sandwich on Joni’s face. And while one of her friends wipes it for her, Chuck decides to pour mustard on her head. Remember: she wants to marry this man, though she also shoves a whipped cream pie in his face.
Seriously, as this degenerates into a food fight with alcohol all around I’m beginning to think that the ghost here is seriously being disturbed by the sheer amount of spirits already brought into this house.
The girls get the boys to “clean up their mess” and as all the women clean up in the other room after that food scene that goes entirely too long — another theme in this movie — we get some more character dynamics exposition. John is too boisterous and demanding for Mary, and Carol is upset that Jimmy doesn’t seem to want any sex and she doesn’t know why. Mary further elaborates that John can’t stop joking around in bed, and he likes to wear masks: but not on his face. All right then. So this juxtaposed with the boys talking about masturbation, and Chuck explaining that he was on the freeway having “a throbber” and he used his sandal. Damn. I actually completely missed watching this the first time. I almost wish I had.
The boys clown around and start to clean up their mess. Joey tricks Jimmy into letting him take a shower while he does his work. So Carol goes to take a shower and, in this painfully white hallway, we see on the side leaning against the wall Chekhov’s gun — the sledgehammer. She walks past it, and goes into the bathroom. The ominous synthetics blare out into sirens that almost sound like bad shower pipes themselves, attempting to create dramatic tension. And then, she pulls back the shower to see Joey faking his death with a noose around his neck, and blood: as if he couldn’t make up his mind which way he dies. They fight, and leave the washroom as we see the sledgehammer in the corner of the hallway … fading away as if it had never been there at all.
This will totally not be an ongoing theme.
Jimmy is searching for more alcohol in the next scene and he runs into Carol, and she asks him after he talks about “getting his clothes on” what’s wrong, and he denies that anything is going on with him. Carol leaves, fed up as well, as the camera focuses on a blank white wall until we transition to outside of the house again, panning away from it into an establishing longshot: this time at night.
The next scene we are back in the party and the loud raucous music, where Joey tries to pull down Joni’s pants … for some reason. This is when — finally — Chuck stops the record player and the generic loud and obnoxious music everyone is just so dying to listen to, and begins the plot. Oh, Joey suggests an orgy but Chuck wants to do a seance. I mean, the dead should rise in either situation, and perhaps John’s terrible misunderstanding with Carol about a seance being a scene isn’t that far off, but let’s finally act like this is a horror movie. Can we do that?
Right. I’m sorry, this is actually getting to me.
The scene — the real scene — slides away to the right, a nice segue, into Chuck sitting near a candle in the dark telling the rest of his friends a horror story. But what is it about, you might ask? Well, let’s get to it. He recaps what we saw at the beginning of the movie with the woman and her lover. This is where we see a black and white duplicate of the scene with the mother arguing with her son about him needing to go into the closet: with slow motion locking, and her leaving, and a close up of the closet door and all that. Then we juxtapose to Chuck still telling the story as we see an exact, but colourless duplicate scene of the woman and her lover with some Chuck narration, and it goes back and forth as Chuck explains their remains had been crushed and taken out of the house in bags: their bodies crushed by a sledgehammer. There is a pan out and rotation around each of his friends and their faces as they listen to the story.
Chuck explains that the adults did die, and how the boy was never found. Perhaps he fled and died in the woods, or the killer got him. But other people, other folks in the area, think he is still there: waiting. Waiting for his mother’s killer to return and get his revenge. Apparently the boy’s father didn’t do it as he had an alibi, and Chuck keeps saying that the boy will come back. Of course, at that point we have another scene of a close up of the closet where the boy had once been locked up, and a faint pounding sound for emphasis.
All right. This is interesting, information we didn’t see happen after the adults were killed. Now we are into the horror part of this movie.
So we find out that not only is everyone in the house where this happened, but they are in the same room where they all died as well, and Chuck’s states that it is his plan to call upon the spirits this night to find out just what happened to them: and to discover who killed them. Then Joey, in a totally non-suspicious way — as he is the only single guy and consistent prankster in the group — gets up and leaves as Chuck gets them all to prepare for what is to come.
Chuck calls upon the spirits to call upon the spirits that know what happened in the house, as though he is aware that spirits have a bureaucracy, chanting “Arise chicken — I mean, spirits, arise!” I will admit, when he shouts, “I command you to rise!” Chuck’s voice actually has a fierce tone behind it, and it sounds like genuine acting.
And then the rest of the events unfold. Ominous music. Establishing shots. An empty hallway again. An empty dining room and kitchen. And an angle of the room with the closet yet again. Do you think there is something paranormal going on there, ladies and gentlemen and other beings of the night? Oh, and an empty staircase that we saw foreshadowed — literally — at the introductory credits of the movie. And now a close up of the dead bolt at the closet …
Which suddenly unlocks.
Well, what swear word rhymes with Chuck? We are about to find out.
And as Chuck continues to invoke the spirits, Joey is messing with a stereo in another room. John is on edge. And then through different switching, from the seance to Joey and back, we hear a synthesized roar. Joey is too pleased with himself as the rest of the group thinks the spirits have arrived. They hear voices from the stereo that they don’t know about as the prank continues. Meanwhile, down the stairs, something wicked this way comes from the credits scene: a pair of legs … and sledgehammer that totally isn’t a stand-in for something else if you know what I mean, and I think you do.
Damn, the video loves its Jump Cut Juxtapositions, making a scene by scene summary an utter multifaceted nightmare. The scenes continue as the group hears that the spirit can tell them — in a reverberating voice — what happened, as Joey is still pleased with himself in the other room, and as a shadow darkens Joey’s room …
The spirit, as recorded, insists that it can only tell one person what happened that night — and it’s John of course. Fascinatingly enough, as the scenes jump between John standing and being told the spirits want to drink his blood, he holds his neck even as — in the other room — Joey gets slowly stabbed in the neck. Now, why the killer wouldn’t use his sledgehammer is beyond me, but I guess he is just getting into character for the sake of their little seance, or something. This is cut fairly well, actually, as we see the lead up with the killer walking behind Joey, John standing, then the killer having the knife at Joey’s throat, and John holding his own neck, and Joey getting stabbed through the neck. There is a definite language forming from this haphazard movie.
The people in the room are getting antsy with all of this going on, and they agree with John that they want it to stop. And then, we see the killer slowly dragging Joey’s corpse away. We finally have our first murder, and of course it is the archetypal horror jokster.
Sanity Check: According to Joe Bob, David Prior mentions the disappearing sledgehammer as indication of something supernatural involved. He was inspired by the Friday the 13th series, and this point leads Joe Bob into mentioning that many shot-on-video directors were inspired not by avant-garde or art house independent works, but rather mainstream movies and directors: minus their resources. It makes sense for those starting out in an artistic medium to emulate masters in their field, and the works that they genuinely love. While this isn’t entirely true, and there are those — who Joe Bob even points out later — are inspired by fellow “fanboys” and amateurs such as themselves, the best way to teach yourself an art I find — especially a literary one like text, or poetry, or film, is to go as close to the source as possible and not necessarily a gradation of that foundation. However, after that, I feel you should definitely see the variants of the fundamentals, even though that’s not all how to start out. I certainly didn’t when I began writing and I was inspired by Dragonlance as opposed to The Lord of the Rings, or Beowulf. Chester Novell Turner’s 1984 Devil Doll From Hell sounds fascinating: made by a man in the home remodelling business, and blaxploitation movie about a working-class woman raped by a ventriloquist dummy, and leading her to a sexual awakening. Another film, this one from 1985, is Blood Cult, It is about college students being stalked by a psychopath who is part of a human sacrificial cult. It’s something else that made it into stores, into that so-called plebeian Bottom Feeder Section, and had a brilliant piece of cleaver box art. From what I understand, it’s less important on its own merit, and more for the films it inspired and made way for in a seminal manner such as Blood Lake, Cannibal Campout, Twisted Illusions, Demon Queen, Video Violence, Phantom Brother, and others. Many of them are on Troma Distribution list. But back to art. There are Joe Bob’s words about a fan making horror or video folk art to consider. When you don’t have formal training, or the resources to do so — or if that education is something commercial to the elite — a person would be forced to invent their own film language. The printing press element of the camcorder, and video allows them access to devices and means — media — that can record worlds, even oral histories of real and fictional kinds that no one would have even considered preserving. It all comes back to that: the idea of high art possibly being a class-difference, but also something that a movie maker is inspired by but adapts to their own voice: culturally, or personally. That truly is beautiful. I feel like I am not doing that concept enough justice in this writing, and I really want to do so.
Sanity Check Addendum: All right. I am instituting a new rule. I can do that. You see, the way I figure it, the movie makers are just trying to figure out stuff as they go along, so I will do the same. Each scene shall henceforth be decided by fade outs. I will think of them as punctuation in this run-on sentence of a cinematic camcorder story. Otherwise, I will be here on this one movie forever. As an Iron Mutant Potentiate, I exercise that right, and will attempt to institute it for the rest of the near-future.
Next scene. We see the house outside at night again. John is denying that was scared as they all hang out, sans Joey. Jimmy and John almost come to blows as the former makes fun of the latter’s fear. Then everyone is surprised that it was a prank, as revealed by Chuck, with more roughhousing as a result. We have another scene of the killer materializing into existence again, carrying around his large, titular sledgehammer — showing it off like … Anyway, he hasn’t used it. Yet.
So we see the group playing a rousing game of charades. No one, by the way, has noticed that Joey is missing yet. We get a close up of Jimmy and Carol on the couch getting comfortable. She wants to go upstairs, and insists they don’t have to rush into sex. Jimmy looks profoundly uncomfortable, but gives in as Carol teases taking off her top in front of everyone. They go upstairs and for some reason Carol calls out for Jimmy as he is in the hallway, and I don’t know why. Maybe there was another scene there that got cut out.
We go back to the party now. Joni is wondering where Joey is (it’s so easy to get these names confused with all the names starting with J), and John (see what I mean) makes a crack about how Joey might be watching Carol and Jimmy go at it. This disgusts both Mary and Joni, and after Mary says “just you wait,” we realize that John has been waiting for sex with Mary for two years. So it makes me wonder what that whole mask not on his face was about, unless they haven’t had intercourse, and done everything else. Sexual speculations and drama aside, we see Chuck actually looking for Joey and going to the room where they prepared their prank, only to find it empty … with the exception of blood.
And now we come to the crux of Jimmy and Carol’s issues in the bedroom. The truth of the matter, as we find out, is that Jimmy has been lying to himself his whole life and seeing John kiss Joey made him realize that he is not into girls, as he thought he should be, and he tells Carol … No. That didn’t happen. Instead, we find out — as Carol surmises, that Jimmy is a virgin and this is going to be his first time: and she takes it in stride, and takes charge of the matter. Of course, now that the sex is going to be happening, we know what’s also going to occur next: that age-old trope.
See, it was back enough that they made fun of the deaths and suffering in this place for the sake of a prank. That’s what happened to Joey. But now two adults are going to have sex, in a place where a small child was locked in a closet so his Mother of the Year can kiss her skeezy lover’s belly button erotically. We see a slow moving perspective from the camera, presumably from the perspective of the killer, as he lumbers towards the bedroom where Jimmy and Carol are getting down to it. Then with the same ominous music, Chuck is still in the room where Joey used to be before being startled by Joni. I wonder if, like when Jimmy bumped into Carol in the corner earlier — definitely not a euphemism — the movie creators were attempting a jump scare that just didn’t work.
Movie-making speculations aside, Chuck voices his concerns with Joni about Joey. Joni wonders if they are attempting to pull another prank. But Chuck is adamant. He wants to look for him before thinking about telling the others that Joey’s been hurt: not even considering that this could be another prank of his. There is a freeze frame of his face — to capture sincerity or another happy accident — before we transition to the next scene. Jimmy is on top of Carol as they sinuously make love in slow motion. It seems to be anatomically correct, unlike The Room, and it’s definitely a little more passionate than the sex I unfortunately saw in New York Nights. There is a cut away to the door knob turning, which Freud would have something to say about I’m sure. We go back to the sex going on in a stagnated temporal field, possibly with its own altered gravity and Orgone energy attracting this killer ghost like chum to a shark as the door finally opens, and we finally get to see a Puppet Mask face — one of the few things in this movie that brings Darcy any joy, I’m sure.
Anyway, we transition away back to Joni as she just opens a door, and Joey’s body falls out with a knife stabbed through his neck: which is a pretty good effect for what this crew has been working with, and Joey falls exaggeratedly, but compellingly well. There is no warning. No preamble. It just happens. Joni freaks out, and Chuck comes in to see the whole grisly scene. He gets Joni to look for Jimmy and Carol, and not tell them what’s going on.
Poor Joni. I’ve said this a lot in this scene by scene summarization from hell, but I can never say it enough.
Surprisingly, Jimmy and Carol are both still alive: as that scene with the murderer would have been an excellent place to kill them off-screen. They are still in their little temporal loop, this time post-coitally, the killer showing us a nonconsensual closeup of his large hammer, then Joni’s coming up the stairs, and Chuck is going to John and Mary to tell them “they got big trouble.” Now, back to Jimmy and Carol … wow. They are still not dead yet. Anyway, the killer gently and graciously snaps Carol’s neck — or gives her a good crack — and then, gradually, Jimmy casually gets up only to be hit in the chest by the sledgehammer in slow motion, killing him in the warmth of the afterglow. I have to say, that is one of the most smug, satisfied and peaceful smiles I’ve ever seen on a corpse. But hey, he just had sex for the first time, so if you’re going to go at least get laid first.
Of course, Joni just came in on that part — the killing, not the sex — and runs for it as the killer slowly turns to go after her. Eventually. Back and forth down a suddenly dark and narrow hallway. We see the killer in a checkered shirt and jeans, and his puppet mask. Joni keeps looking back. She falls down. He tries to hit her with a hammer. But Joni didn’t just have slow-motion sex, or get pleased with herself over pulling an obvious prank, and dodges it: continuing to run.
Joni makes it to the other characters. Damn, can I tell you how much a relief it is to have fewer characters with which to keep track? It’s just Joni, Chuck, Mary, and John now. John goes to investigate what’s going on. John lets Chuck know he will tell them what he finds, but seems kind of dead-set on the idea that his “ass will go flyin’ through the first window” he can find. Then, we see a brief scene of a boy dressed like the man, even with the puppet mask, and the sledgehammer teleporting away into the ether.
Sanity Check: I disagree that what happened with Jimmy and Carol is a necrophiliac sex scene, or even a somnophiliac one as both participants are active and moving, and Carol herself is touching Jimmy and clearly responding to him. Anyway. We are always coming back into art, aren’t we Joe Bob? I love how it’s mentioned that David Prior made this movie in his Venice Beach apartment and was successful in making it look bigger than what it was: or bigger on the inside as some nerds might say. But it’s what Joe Bob said about his initial thoughts about Prior’s long establishing shots creating tension that got my attention in this segment, and Joe Bob’s mention of the Intentional fallacy: of always judging a work by the perceived or stated intentions of its creator as opposed to analyzing it on its own merit. Personally, I see art as an experiment, and even though David Prior wanted to “pad out the movie,” there was another gentleman — in the realm of painting — who mentioned several times throughout his career that there are “happy accidents.” Perhaps Prior was utilitarian in structuring his movie to conform to requirements of legitimacy, but art is also instinctual and this — combined with it also being a collaboration with his brother and others — could have grown this tension-filled dynamic, these paintings and frames that are almost punctuation in the movie, in an organic manner. I think I would love to see Joe Bob talk about literary theory. I love Northrop Frye and The Educated Imagination and how we make metaphors in an attempt to identify with the world outside of ourselves: and find, or create meaning in that. But anyway, onto more or less serious matters …
John finds Jimmy and Carol’s bodies. He arranges them, to give them some dignity. It’s the first time I believe we’ve seen breasts in this whole movie as John moves the blanket up over Carol’s chest to give her corpse some decency. You know, say what you will about these characters: they are loud and obnoxious, but they actually care about — and even love — each other, and I can see that. But then we see, in the corner room, a familiar item.
You guessed it: it’s the sledgehammer. Dum. Dum. Dummmm.
Anyway, John is smart and discards his makeshift bar and takes the sledgehammer. He returns to the others and tells them what’s going on, and a bit about the sledgehammer, how “the bastard tore them apart with it,” even though that is a pretty big over-exaggeration as the corpses are clearly almost intact. But pedantry aside, John and Chuck have it out. John wants to kill this motherfucker. So does Chuck, but he knows they have to remain calm. John is snapping at everyone, but Chuck warns John that they can’t split up — and cover more ground — as the killer will take them one by one. He even says, what if the girls find him? How will they deal with that?
More on that later.
So, Chuck’s plan is to stay in the living room together until daybreak when they can all leave. Joni is breaking down into hysterics, for obvious reasons, as she doesn’t want to stay in the Murder House a moment longer. But John is now using logic as well and wonders what difference daybreak will make in dealing with a killer, and how they are even going to begin hiking for fifty miles away from even the spectre of Walnut Grove. So, they decide to stay unless the killer comes after them, and after that it’s open season on him. So everyone falls asleep in the next scene, as John keeps watch with the sledgehammer that totally doesn’t represent toxic masculinity at this point in the game. There is a quiet beating sound-effect as we get shots of the house interior again: the kitchen, the stairs, the closet room, the hallway, the bathroom, the hallway… It’s as though we’ve been here this entire time. And we have.
Finally, at the hallway, the killer does his best impression of the Tall Man in terms of size, as he materializes back into existence, and begins stalking the night again, fading out of the material plane once again with his hammer in his hand.
John dozes off, and he wakes up: only to see that the sledgehammer is gone. John doesn’t like feeling emasculated, so he leaves the room to split up and cover more ground. He does pick up a knife from the kitchen sink, however. He goes in to look at his friends, and then we see a transposition of a flashback where Chuck tells them the story of how the illicit couple was brutally murdered in the room they are all staying in. This movie loves to repeat itself, like a ghost reenacting its own death, but you can see how badly this story has rattled John and perhaps he believes it’s more than just a simple physical killer coming after them.
John leaves. He goes up the dark staircase with his newly acquired knife. He goes into the room where Jimmy and Carol’s bodies are, but there is either a blanket over them, or they are gone. There is a transposition of Chuck telling everyone the state of the illicit lovers’ bodies, and then he leaves the room as Chuck recounts what may or may not have happened to the boy from that time. And, in the hallway, the boy appears behind John in his puppet mask. John confronts, and chases the boy to a locked room that he tries to open with his knife.
And then, we have a weird sequence. Chuck wakes up, right, and then we cut to John being teleported from outside to the room to which he’s trying to get in. And it’s that room: you know the one. It’s the epicentre of this entire debacle. The closet room. John goes to the closet. It’s lock is old and worn. There are cobwebs on it. And this is where I wondered if it wasn’t so much that the boy was killed, or escaped the house, or was kidnapped when his mother and her lover died, but if perhaps he’d been forgotten in that closet.
Perhaps he died behind that door, and they never found his body.
Space-time gets weird here, especially when you see John moving fairly slow. He gets to the closet, unlocking it, and then puts his hand on the cobwebbed doorknob. His hand is on that knob in that surreal space with its shrill, eerie piping music for what seems to be forever. The door slowly opens. And, finally, John looks in and sees a skull on the floor, blood underneath it, and a discarded puppet mask nearby. So I guess the implication is the kid died in that closet.
He jumps back, to see the corpses of the child’s mother and lover sitting at a makeshift table with an upside pentagram painted in blood over the man. He sees there is a crumpled newspaper in the man’s hand. John reaches out, and takes it: and it’s an article about the mother and lover being dead, and the boy not being found. I think we get what’s going on here by now, movie: you are almost literally as subtle as a sledgehammer to the face.
John finally wins the Captain Obvious Award when he states: “It’s the kid.”
And as if to say, “No shit, Sherlock,” the adult male killer with mask on face and hammer in hand appears at the doorway. They wrestle for the hammer in the killer’s hands. The killer kicks John to the ground. It is all in slow motion. But John somehow pulls out the knife he got earlier, and stabs the killer: so you got to give him that much. It actually seems to hurt him too as he slumps against the wall, but if you’ve seen any slasher horror films you know exactly how this goes.
Sanity Check:Joe Bob’s theory about the kid is similar to mine: that he can “transmogrify” from a spirit into a flesh and blood killer. One thought I’ve gleaned from this section is that Shot-to-Video movies subvert home movie mundane moving and acting aesthetics: using mundane dynamics to make a fictional story. What that does in a horror sense however, seems to be that it lulls you with a homey atmosphere, into a false sense of security until the terrifying elements jarr and subvert it. I find it interesting that David Prior moved away from horror into action films, his first love. You can see that love in a lot of the fighting and stylized violence even in Sledgehammer: barely keeping under the surface. Mankillers which is an all-woman Dirty Dozen sounds fascinating. And the fact that he created the genre of aerobic horror called Killer Workout or Aerobicide: a maniac who terrorizes a health spa with a safety pin is cool. I want to see it shown on The Last Drive-In. And I like that anecdote about Deadly Prey: a Rambo-homage where Ted Prior rips off a man’s arm and beats him with it in the film. Furthermore, I appreciate Darcy’s interest in Ted Prior’s centerfold in Playgirl, and a still of Linda McGill, Joni’s actress, from Shape-Up Sensational Sex. Blood, Breasts, and Beasts. Also, I can see a semiotic interpretation of the Sledgehammer, which is what I’ve been doing all tongue and check, and I believe other academics are totally reading into it in a less ironic way. That is hypocritical of me, in some ways, as semiotics is all about interpreting symbols, and I have definitely been doing it. I am still doing it — and going to do it — even as we speak.
Chuck, Mary, and Joni finally have enough, and go up the staircase to look for John. John is struggling to get to his feet, the killer apparently dead beside him. Then we cut to Chuck calling out for John. Somehow John is badly hurt, his abdomen having been wounded even though it seemed like all the killer did was kick him to the ground, and it was John that stabbed him. The others are still looking for him before John slowly stumbles out, and falls to the ground: the knife somehow in his own back. I don’t know what dimensional shenanigans were involved in this, but given what this move is like, I should probably not question continuity too much at this point.
“You bastard! You son of a bitch! Where are you!” Chuck cries as they crowd around John’s body, losing their shite. Mary, having taken the knife out of the man she loves, charges into the room with it out of pure rage. See, this is what I like: protagonists that actually give a fuck when their lover or friend dies, and wants to go medieval on their asses. But then the room turns invertedly red as she faces the killer, and realizes — belatedly — that she’s fucked.
The room door is shut again. Chuck and Joni are trying to get in, to no avail. The killer is slowly going towards Mary. Mary is begging for her life now. She manages to dodge some hammer blows. Finally, Chuck breaks down the door. And I guess the killer got tired and realized being a child increases his reflexes and agility as he decides to stab Mary to death instead.
So basically, at this point in the film my theory goes a little something like this: the boy was locked in the closet by his mother so she can have sex. He has been habitually mistreated by his mother, and forced to see her having this affair while his father is gone. He begins to associate adult sex with abuse, and the loss of his own freedom. That resentment grows until it manifests into a killer psychokinetic force. Perhaps the boy died in that closet, suffocated to death, and his resentment and hate manifests into this sex and love-hating killer. Sometimes he’s the adult he never got to be, warped and twisted, perhaps the absent father in his life, or the man that took his mother from him in his own messed up mind. And then, he is the child who never got a childhood, and he likes to play with masks and … sharp toys to also fulfill his sense of retribution. And when these Orgone-ridden teenagers come in, making fun of his suffering and demise, making sport of it, and just existing with hormones in his space, it activates him and makes this whole awkward, brutal romp possible.
So Chuck is slower on the uptake about what’s going on than John was, despite him having set up this whole visit — and seance prank — to begin with. He asks what’s going on, and who the child is. The child actually speaks, but he speaks fast, rushed, and almost incoherently, and it’s like his audio is muffled and he’s just half-heartedly memorized some lines. After reviewing it with some subtitles, he says: “Mommy was … I had to kill her. She took me away from Daddy. She was a bad mommy.”
I mean … he’s not wrong.
Chuck tries to take the knife away from him, blade first with his hand. He gets mad at the kid for his own bad decision, disarms him, and tries to take off the kid’s mask. Joni tells him not to do it. A jump cut happens as the kid grabs Chuck’s arms with superhuman strength.
Then, I fuck you not, the kid bitch-slaps Chuck away from him. I am actually somewhat impressed by this shapeshifting, teleporting, masked child slapping a grown man across the face, and downing him.
But it gets better. Chuck then gets up, and punches the kid in the face: only to hurt his own hand. I know it’s supposed to make this apparition look terrifying, but it is simply amusing at this point, and I need all the amusement from this film I can get.
Finally, the kid has enough. As Chuck is somehow curled against the wall with Joni in a missing sequential scene between them, the kid begins to grow into his adult killer self with menacing sound effects. He looms over them as, presumably, Chuck and Joni are astounded at these continuity errors that have them first facing a boy, and then a grown ass man over attempted supernatural child abuse. Chuck valiantly pushes Joni out the door as he struggles like Captain Kirk with the killer. Joni is crying out his name multiple times as we see more juxtaposition and Chuck getting the fuck smashed out of him in slow motion after the game of Wackamole just doesn’t work out for the killer. It seems he kills faster moving targets better without the sledgehammer. Who knew? Joni in the meantime runs down the stairs between perspectives.
But Chuck is bleeding from his mouth, and falls onto his body. The killer decides to slowly move after Joni. She runs to a door, only to find Joey’s hanging, stabbed corpse again. She screams, takes a baseball bat from some blankets, and runs away from the killer up the stairs.
And this is where Joni goes all Home Alone — or, if you prefer, 3615 code Père Noël — on his ass.
She’s gone up to a room, taken the blanket off a bed and wrapped it in the closet. She’s opened, or tried to open a window. The killer comes up stairs. Then he goes into the room, poetically looking towards the closet, perhaps even thinking Joni’s hiding in there. And that is when, in a continuous slow motion sequence, Joni slams her baseball bat right behind his knees, bringing him down. Then she smashes her bat into his back several times before turning to the closet, and doing something with the blanket she wrapped up there. She turns as he starts to get up, and she kicks him down while running to the exit of the room. Then time restores itself as she struggles with each and every door in the hallway, and can’t seem to open them, even as the killer starts to walk out, slowly, after her as if she had done absolutely nothing to him.
This is when Joni goes to the room with the extension cord to the stereo that Joey was using during the seance: the same room where the killer got him. She begins to do something with the cord itself as the killer lumbers toward her position, the shadow of his sledgehammer trailing down the wall as he comes down the staircase. Through several interspersed scenes, Joni wraps the cord around the door knob to the room, and struggles with an outlet to plug the thing into the wall: because I can tell you from existence that electric sockets are frustrating.
He comes down, and eventually gets to the room. He grabs the door knob, though why Joni is holding onto the cord and not getting affected is strange to me. Even so.
As the killer fries and jerks outside, sparks reflected through the knob, and flame even bursting out on the wire, Joni relaxes: thinking she got him.
He is suddenly in the room, and he demolishes an old television screen with his hammer. She’s run into the kitchen, and she’s scrambling for a weapon. Any weapon. Desperate. He corners her in the kitchen with the traditional slasher teleport. She strikes him with a meat cleaver and he literally doesn’t care. She slips past him, and skids into the living room. He swings his sledgehammer down and just misses her as she goes flying, looking like he’s hit a hole in one on a domestic-themed golf course in hell.
Joni is on the ground, crawling away. She gave this bastard a run for his money, but he cheats by merely existing. He is about to swing his hammer down in a purely non-Freudian way when ,.. Motherfucker gets tackled by Chuck, who’s not wearing a shirt, and is still alive motherfucker! They grapple and struggle after Chuck punches him in the face, and doesn’t in fact hurt his hand.
Chuck beats on him, and tackles him back into the room where Joey died. Then, he takes up the killer’s own sledgehammer, holding it like it was made for him, that it is a part of him and — phallic connotations aside, smashes the fucker in the face, bloodying him and letting him slump to the ground. Chuck goes to check on Joni, holding her in his arms as the adult form of the killer twitches, blood all over the wall … and lies still. The only thing that would have made … well, some of this better, would have been if Chuck had thrown him back in the closet, and killed him there. But poetry can only go so far.
And poetry ends. We are outside the house now. It’s daylight. Chuck helps Joni out, eventually just picking her up and carrying her away from this cursed place. But then we pan up, and up, as the killer child looks out the window: scowling malevolently at the grown people that have escaped his wrath. The sledgehammer is still his. They can never take that from him, as the image freezes into place, and fades to black for the last time.
Then credits, as the Dramatis personae are repeated with scenes of them acting, and several more credits, and the demolition is finally done.
Final Sanity Check and Observation: I am thinking about points of view. There is Joe Bob’s observation about there being many different perspective shots that shift away from that of the killer’s. I would argue that the house itself, and the land around it is a part of the killer. He is bonded to it: perhaps against his will, or maybe he doesn’t remember where his life ended, and his haunting began. I think about, and I’ve mentioned before the sledgehammer itself: of a thwarted masculinity. That boy never got to be a man. But he was also robbed of his father’s love. He is stuck in a place, in the middle of nowhere: a small, picturesque atmosphere hiding his trauma, and his undeveloped desires in a closet. I feel like there could have been more sexual experimentation with Jimmy, and even John and Joey but that wouldn’t have been acceptable in the eighties and nineties mainstream with which Prior still wanted to be a part, and might have mixed the messages of this story. But not necessarily. The boy never gets the chance to grow. His adult form is a parody of a man that enacts the violence he was powerless to undertake to defend himself when he was alive, and the lack of acknowledgement and respect about his space — his small circle of space allotted to him in life and death — brings out his rage. The sledgehammer could be the masculinity he never had, in his mind, and the desire to destroy all the rotting walls around him in this beautiful place, and these thoughtless people. I still think it was a missed opportunity that Chuck didn’t viscerally hurt him by throwing him, and injuring him with the hammer back in the closet. But I think the fact that the sledgehammer hurt him so badly, the thing he used to kill others, speaks volumes.
I want to keep in mind, again, that the name of a synthesizer score used in many 1980s horror films is the hum and shiver. But then we get back to fanboys. Sledgehammer became obscure for thirty years until a fan named Clint Kelly acquired the rights and released it on DVD. As a fanboy of fanboys, Kelly became a low-budget filmmaker in his own right as a result of this life-long passion. Such is the circle of life, and I am just as much a part of that, hopefully making my digressions on here come full circle.
It’s sad that David Prior planned a sequel to Sledgehammer at the time of his death in 2015. I know he said, when his movie got shown at film festivals that it bothered him: because now he could do so much better. Darcy admires that, in the words of Lloyd Kaufman, the movie makers made ‘their own damn movie.” Apparently, Doug Matley, who played the killer in the movie, said in an interview on the fascinating Silver Bolo Award-winning SOV Horror — that examines direct-to-video movies, and is a documentary series and podcast — that they didn’t focus a lot of time on character development. Notice my surprise. Even so, I am actually truly surprised that I found stuff I genuinely respect in this movie.
It’s been two years since I started The Horror Doctor.
I wasn’t sure what I was attempting to make here exactly: if The Horror Doctor was going to be something of a horror host moniker for myself, or a placeholder until I came up with a better name. It just … pretty much stuck, you know? It was going to be the blog’s prototype name: some dissected skeleton with sinew and nerve-endings that would eventually have a fleshly descendant.
But I suppose what I made, at the time, was less a ghoul from Night of the Living Dead to be replaced with vastly more improved Savini zombies, and more an abomination from Return of the Living Dead that simply can’t die, but can only be stopped through containment and neglect.
My other pastimes aside, it’s been a long road through Hell. Like most horror franchises, the origins of my love of horror and even the creation of this blog can differ. I’ve thought about it today, independently, completely forgetting that this is the anniversary of the day when it officially began.
I’ve mentioned before that my partner had passed away earlier the same month I eventually came back to The Last Drive-In: this time more permanently than the Halloween Special with which I visited on Shudder TV, and Twitter back in 2019. I’ve not always been good with time in the best of moments, and it kind of sank in that I found this series again, and the community around it, not long after she was gone: literally weeks.
I know I wasn’t sure how long I was going to stick around, but I needed something stable during this period of loss, sickness, and quarantine. I’d found Darcy, or Diana Prince, on her Twitter about a year ago after the platform had put her into jail for a horror burlesque photograph far tamer than the other stuff I’d seen on there, and we Followed each other after talking about how ridiculous that had been. But I wasn’t sure how long the Drive-In was, or even when I realized it was five hours if I could sit through all of it. The first episode of Season Two was rough for me, though I loved the spectacle of Chopping Mall. It really is a commitment to watch something for that long, but it also got my mind off of the hell of the real world, and put me into a place of ridiculous and entertaining films not unlike those independent films shown at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival. I think that was the key thing for me: that the event that Kaarina and I went to every year was canceled after her death and the Pandemic, and I wanted to celebrate it for the two of us.
I also remembered what my partner said about my writing, and she believed I could write something about horror films and that I had something important to say. You have to understand that before this point, I was writing my thoughts on Facebook, but also Twitter, and I was reaching out to the creators of these films so they could get that feedback. Sometimes, like Impossible Horror, I even wrote homages or fanfiction for them. And once I began really watching the Creepshow series, I wanted people to see my thoughts in a place that wasn’t the black gap into emptiness that is the Shudder comments section.
I’d been thinking about making something like the Horror Doctor for a while, and began making the thematics behind it. I was considering creating something that would stand out: that would be unique. I seriously wanted to rewrite Demon Wind, to the point where I have notes on what I would do differently. I was going to transmute it from a script into a story, and post it serially on this blog. The reviews were something that would happen every once and a while, along with insights into my writing process to buttress this experiment while the real work occurred.
That didn’t happen, of course. The reviews, the deep-dives, the grave-digging began to take more precedent along with my smaller fanfiction experiments. It was between the Drive-In’s showing of The Exorcist III and Deadbeat at Dawn, and Dead Heat and Cannibal Holocaust that I launched the Horror Doctor. I even posted it on Twitter where Darcy took note of it, and wished me luck in my endeavours. One of my new partners at the time had encouraged me to do all of this.
The Horror Doctor was a strange hybrid. At first, it was a place to hone my horror writing again past my original online writing: to perhaps one day pitch and submit something to Fangoria. Certainly, I took the opportunity to have the Blog featured after buying a spot for its showcase on Fangoria: even if I had very little content on it at the time. But The Horror Doctor was definitely a space where I wanted to have a place where I could be seen. Where I could be heard. I wanted people, like Darcy and others, to see I was intelligent and I had something to add to the discourse on horror and exploitation and the weird. It also didn’t hurt that by Season Three, I wanted to be a contender for a Silver Bolo Award, and I am big enough to admit it.
And it made me engage more with horror people on Twitter. It made me think more about horror and franchises and mythologies. But more than that, The Horror Doctor was a place where I could talk about weird shit without it being overshadowed by my other writing elsewhere. The Horror Doctor is pretty much my weird place here, or so it was for some time.
A lot went down since I made this blog. I participated in the Iron Mutant Citation Challenge for VHS Appreciation Night: the certificate of which I am still waiting to get in the mail to this very day. I met TheDude and Mia Chainsaw, the incredible horror couple whose endeavours attracted me as part of the MutantFam, and I have stayed with them ever since. I made more friends. I found The Lost Drive-In Patreon, and then the Discord where I got to know many more Mutants – including the brilliant Magi Savage who got me involved in a film roulette challenge, and made me a Moderator. I started some conversations on Moon Knight, and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. And because of Magi, I also realized that Letterboxd is basically Goodreads for film. That is one reason I don’t write on here as much anymore. I find that I like to just get to the heart and meat of something that I like, or I don’t – and many of the articles I write here, while I am proud of them, they take a lot of time and actual reading and research at times to make something approachably good.
It’s a strange thing: to be on that line between wanting to be recognized as a professional, and a fan. You know there are connotations to both, though I would love to be called an amateur or, if you will, a student of horror as the only thing that is missing is the established recognition. To have the skill, and the will, and the passion is what is often enough for me.
But I came a long way. To think that two of the actresses in Chopping Mall, Kelli Maroney and Barbara Crampton not only Follow me on Twitter because of some of the work I’ve written on the films they’ve had roles in, but that sometimes we interact, really puts it full circle. Yet I value the rest of it as well: the Fear Street films Mia Chainsaw, TheDude, and the rest of our friends have watched, The Lost Drive-In events that you too can be a part of should you want to become a Patron Saint on the Patreon, watching all the films with Magi Savage to become a better cinephile.
I know I’ve slowed down a bit, but only because I have gotten more social in these aspects. Perhaps it’s because of my Blog, and its part in getting me to put more of my stuff out there, and interact. Or maybe I did this more in lieu of those exchanges until those conversations began to happen. I don’t really know. It’s not always easy. Quarantines seem to be over, for now, and inoculations keep happening. There is a space of two years where so much loss occurred, but in all of that, I gained this, and that is more than nothing.
So I don’t know how long The Horror Doctor will continue. It has changed over time, along with my focus, but I have one or two articles I still feel belong here, and that I want to share with all of you. Thank you for following me, so far, into the darkness with all of its twisting roads, explosions, and blood and breasts and beasts.
I dedicate this day: to the fiends that I’ve made along the way.
The Last Drive-In came to Shudder back in 2018 as what was going to be a single twenty-hour movie marathon of weird, bloody, boob-filled, glorious, ridiculous films. It had been so popular that fans, encouraged to log on if they wanted to see more, and keep the showing going, pretty much — from what I understood — broke the Internet, or at least Shudder during that period.
I was in a different place in 2018. I’d recently gone through a breakup two months before, and I was just trying to find my way back to something: to some place where I would could feel a sense of solidarity and home again after losing that particular feeling of equilibrium. I’d known about Joe Bob Briggs, particularly his MonsterVision, through James Rolfe’s segments on MonsterVision itself, and his interview with Joe Bob. I also found out about The Last Drive-In, and I’d gained a Shudder account before then based on my love of horror being constantly supported by my time at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival.
There were a few differences then. In addition to my personal journey and struggles, I was still very much in a Netflix frame of mind. You know the one: where you hear about an interesting program, or a series and just wait for it to come out so that you binge the entire blood sucker that night, or for a few moons afterwards: to tide you over until the next ghoulish feast.
And then in 2019, after some specials — including one Halloween series one where I actually interacted more with Diana Prince, who had been responsible for me finding out about The Last Drive-In altogether on Twitter — the The Last Drive-In had its first season. By this point, I was going out again, meeting new people and making new relationships — or meeting new relationships and making new people as the case may be — and I wasn’t spending as much time at home anymore. Before 2019, I’d mostly stayed indoors as a borderline hermit, with the occasional trip to downtown Toronto or a Greyhound bus to the States, but by 2019 I was downtown a great deal more. One of the consequences of this was that my writing output, which had been considerable, fell by the way side. I used to write for GeekPr0n and cover the After Dark: writing smaller reviews as I went on. Those reviews of weird and odd independent films never left my mind, and while I grew to just enjoy watching the movies, and not having to apply my dissective brain to all of them, something felt missing.
I needed a place to put my thoughts about all those films, even when I attempted to ignore that impulse. At first, I would write some things on my Mythic Bios, but they just remained in my head. Waiting. Waiting for something.
And I thought one of the things I was waiting for was for Season One of The Last Drive-In to be all gathered in one place, and I could binge it at my leisure on Shudder. I hesitate in committing to something. When I commit to something, I put a lot of energy these endeavours until I either run out of that energy, or I just keep going with it. It can take a toll, to set aside that time and effort, to find that space. It also doesn’t help that I have anxiety, and when I don’t get something done, or I need to do something — or set myself to do something a certain way — it can affect me adversely. So I waited on it.
I waited, basically, until Doomsday. I’ve gone into it in previous Blog entries in various permutations as the mad science of grieving allows. The Pandemic happened. One of my partners died. My pet died. Some of my long-time relationships ended. It all went I-t’s Up, if you know what I mean and I think you do. These were things that defined my personality: my sense of self. And there were all gone. What’s more,, like many other people, I lost the ability to go outside as we were — and still are as of this writing — all in Quarantine. I discovered things during this time: finding truths about people and places that I really hadn’t wanted to know,. but also making new connections where I didn’t consider them before.
Twitter is a magical place, like Tahiti. But Agents of SHIELD references aside, I’d Tweeted before back in my GeekPr0n and comics scholar Sequart days. It is addicting to have your words shared and out there, and potentially made concise and clear: as cutting as a scalpel, but also fascinating tissues from the recesses of your mind.
I’m not sure when I found out, or when I realized the truth about Joe Bob Briggs’ The Last Drive-In on Shudder. I loved seeing the Halloween episode on Shudder TV, a nice glimpse into communal viewing again like we did in the old Cable TV days. And Tweeting along, then, while posing my Michael Myers theory about his supernatural abilities was fun. But I didn’t know how much I wanted to commit.
But I found out that many of the old episodes, with Joe Bob’s commentaries as commercial segments –as he apparently would also do in his Drive-In Theater show before MonsterVision — were deleted off of Shudder: both due to jurisdictional reasons, and those of copyright as Shudder (and AMC that owns it) eventually loses the rights to show some of those films.. Those shows I kept waiting to watch were, for the most part, gone and I realized that this had been — and it still is — an ongoing issue. I genuinely regret not seeing Daughters of Darkness, and Joe Bob’s take on it, even though it was because I knew he showed it in the program that I watched it to begin with. Unlife works like that, sometimes.
So one night, realizing that I had nothing else to do that Friday, feeling like I would never do anything again thanks to the hermitage of the Pandemic and everything I lost, I felt myself on a precipice of participation, on the edge of entertainment, an alliteration of awesome, in deciding to watch one episode live on Shudder TV in addition to doing a Tweet-along. It was like taking a breath and forgetting that I didn’t need to breathe anymore, but realizing that I still could. I didn’t know what to expect. I was wondering if this would be another 24-hour marathon of mayhem, and if I could take it. But it wasn’t: Season Two has six hour episodes each showing two films and having erudite and sometimes ridiculous Joe Bob commentary in-between. I found myself taken by his folksy mien, and fierce intelligence as well as Diana as Darcy the Mailgirl’s laconic tolerance but genuine fondness of it all.
The first episode was hard for me to get through, as sitting in one place can take a lot out of me. I didn’t actually feel well afterwards, but I liked it. And I came back the next week. And the next. My friends and I weren’t really gaming, and my other interactions were now long-distance. I watch some anime once a week with some friends, which can be a commitment of time again, but this is different as it is longer and there are so many more people involved.
I joined at an interesting time in more ways than one. Revelations about CineState went down, and Fangoria began distancing itself from its former parent company. I wondered if the magazine would survive. And then Joe Bob’s old articles, and even something he said the previous year came to the fore, and I saw that side of Twitter.
I know I might not look it, but I am not a stupid man. I have a Graduate School Education, a Master’s Degree in the Humanities. I’ve gotten work published in print and online. I’ve met a few people with differing opinions. Even with the pain I went through, I still had my sense of self. And I recognized that what was happening, as I was interacting with other people, as I was getting to know MutantFam people of the “blood, breasts, and beasts” crowd was that I was finding solidarity and a sense of safety in what Joe Bob and crew were constructing in this time of plague and death and real life horror. I also understood that there were people who didn’t feel this way, and felt like the show propagated aspects of their lives that weren’t safe, or represented. I’d seen a lot of personality revelations online, and I didn’t want to get involved. I didn’t want to believe in something just to see that it was worse than fake blood, but I also didn’t want to destroy something good because other people were crying about how the sky is falling.
A lot of things had been going down, then, behind the scenes that few of us knew about. At one point, slightly before the Twitter outrages and the usual cyclical nature of Diana Prince being sent to “Twitter Jail,” Joe Bob actually PMed me. It was after I was Tweeted about Diana’s role in Frankenstein Created Bikers (which I’ve finally seen, and think should definitely be a Last Drive-In feature) and he thanked me for my support and wanted my email so that he could “keep me in the loop.”
I think this, while it never got followed up on, was the seed for something else.
See, as Season Two was unfolding and I got caught in what ultimately became a wave of positivity, I kept having these thoughts about horror and its plasticity and its ability to vastly experiment with form and storytelling, and just weirdness. I realized that I was getting a lot of attention with some of the things I wrote about on Twitter, and I was being heard: which, for me, is a big deal. So I was going to send an article to a Joe Bob fanzine in response to some backlash that Diana was facing: to support her. But I was already thinking about something else.
Towards the end of the season, especially after the One-Cut of the Dead showing — in which I ended up writing “The Cut of my Jib” as an article that I even sent out — I created The Horror Doctor. It was partially in honour of my late partner, whom we’d always talked about writing, or collaborating, on something together. But I realized I needed a place for my horror. I’d written about Jordan Peele’s Us, and Ari Aster’s Midsommar in a few places elsewhere, but I felt I needed to streamline this. Create a home. A lab.
The Horror Doctor was also going to be a place where I would find ridiculous movies and rewrite them into stories that made more sense, at least to me. I have dabbled in it, but my grand experiment hasn’t happened yet. I wanted to something unique: something where my voice would stand out. And The Last Drive-In, and the fanfare inspired this.
As of this coming Season Three of The Last Drive-In, I now come into it with my Blog more firmly established. I don’t want to analyze episodes. I just want to have fun with them. The fact of the matter is based on all the above factors, I came to the conclusion that it’s far more satisfying to watch this show with others than binge it on your own: that Live-Tweeting brings a sense of community, and comradery during uncertain and even terrible times. Perhaps when I take about how being with likeminded people with something — or someone — to believe in, I could be talking about a cult. Certainly, it would not be out of place given the films we watch. But it’s more than that. There are dissenting opinions, and conversations, and that is more than okay. It’s not perfect but, honestly? I don’t want it to be: as it can’t be, and all we can do is acknowledge that while continuing to examine it, and even enjoy the spectacle.
I don’t know where I would be without having found, and taking the plunge to watch this show. I don’t think I really want to know, to be honest. I certainly have no idea where it will take us, where it might take me. I have a dream that one day I might create something worthy of a Silver Bolo Award, perhaps something on this Blog. It might not always be called The Horror Doctor. It might change.
But I don’t think the intent behind any of it will ever truly perish. For after all:
That is not dead which can never say goodbye, and even with strange aeons the Drive-In will never die.
I wrote this back in May of 2020 for MutantFam.com. The plan was to have it posted on there, and then work my way into creating The Horror Doctor. It was originally an appreciation letter for Diana Prince, or Darcy the Mailgirl from The Last Drive-In, but it became something else. It began to encompass my whole feeling towards The Last Drive-In and Joe Bob Briggs.I can’t even begin to overstate just how glad I am that I found, and made a point of watching it, and interacting with people in the horror community during this time.
If you’ve been following me, or this Blog, you will see many familiar — and some personal — things in this article. And some things have changed since. For instance, I did get to see Darcy’s beautiful Prom Night after all. But, like my Creepshow Commentaries, this writing belongs here, and I will give you all another cut of my jib, as it were. Take care, and Happy Horror Days, and Great New Fears to you.
It came together.
I’d been watching Cinemassacre for a number of years, mostly Angry Video Game Nerd videos until I ran out of those and began watching James Rolfe’s Monster Movie Madness series, and in particular some of his interviews. Both James Rolfe’s retrospectives, and his interview with one of his childhood heroes is how I was introduced to Joe Bob Briggs for the very first time.
I didn’t know what to think of him. He had the Texan stereotype persona on, and I knew he was a host for long-running horror and weird movie commentaries. I even had this sneaking suspicion I’d seen him in passing, once or twice, on his lawn chair in the dark with his cowboy hat, getting sass from the Mailgirl Rusty, on TNT but to this day I still can’t confirm it: much like how creepy stories and nostalgia all begin in half-remembered or even retroactively imagined memories. But I remember James Rolfe talking about Drive-In Theater and MonsterVision, and how it influenced his multimedia work of games criticism, weird film, and blood and guts gross 90s horror. I thought about all the people that watched these commentaries when they suddenly stopped one day on Cable television, and thought it was a shame: how would have been nice to watch horror films then, with some good, erudite and silly commentary. I thought nothing further about it after a while. I was on Twitter one day. That’s always a great sentence to start off another paragraph. I don’t know how I found it, but some Followers of mine were commenting on a person’s account. They were showing her great solidarity. Apparently, Twitter had banned her account due to nudity or breaking some other terms of service. And it had been a long-running situation. I came in and saw a picture of Diana Prince, looking at the Tweet that was banned, at a shot of her from the waist up wearing nothing but black skull pasties. I thought the picture was amazing, and I’d seen far more graphic things on Twitter that didn’t get any strikes at all. Then I went onto her website and realized this striking woman with the awesome skull pasties was an absolutely avid horror genre fanatic who liked really bad Crypt Keeper puns. Not only was I taken with her zombie pictures in red and black lighting that made me feel strange things, but I was fascinated with her takes on classical horror films, and by the fact that she was — or was going to become — Darcy the Mailgirl on Joe Bob’s Last Drive-In Show: what was going to be a one-shot revival of what he did years ago. A lot of things happened to me during that time period, and even though I got Shudder once it was released, I didn’t really get into The Last Drive-In. I always meant to come back to them later, to view them all at once, but I was too busy dealing with the loss of relationship, anxiety, depression, and going back out into the world again. That’s not completely true, however. One time, on Twitter, I live-tweeted a little bit during one showing of The Last Drive-In. They were showing one of the Halloween films live, and Diana asked us to provide theories as to why Michael Myers had supernatural abilities to resist pain and death when there was no explanation for them. She also mentioned how Dr. Loomis always creeped her out, and she thought he was almost as much a bad guy as Michael, or so I remember it. I remember that night because I tweeted to her, as she had started Following me some time before — which made my day — and I posited that Dr. Loomis was the one that made Michael: that he used someone with a psychological condition and experimented on him to the point of being comatose. And the real reason he was out to kill Michael was to cover up evidence of his crime of creating a psychopath from a tormented child. Diana apparently really liked this, and had been tempted to read it on the show. It didn’t happen, but the charm was already there. I lost track of the show after a while. I’d read about it in Fangoria, and all the effort it takes for Joe Bob and his crew to make the magic happen: to line the cameras up, to set the stage, and for Joe Bob to read through and communicate clearly his vast encyclopedic mind through long takes. In retrospect, looking back, the interview and article in Fangoria Vol. 2 #2 by Samuel Zimmerman and Preston Fassel — the second issue continuing the return of another horror staple, the magazine itself — it almost seemed like a prelude to the inspired Week Four of Season Two. But hindsight is 20/20. And it really is. As of this writing, it is May 2020, and I have been along with many others two or three months in quarantine. I always meant to catch up with The Last Drive-In, but episodes have disappeared due to AMC no longer having the rights to the films that Joe Bob and his crew review: something that will hopefully be remedied, or at least his commentaries can be saved, like the prom segment from Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II. I’ve always been attracted to horror. I would go into Hollywood Movies at my strip mall, and go through and just look at the covers of the films my parents wouldn’t let me watch. I’d hear my friends talk about them, and both ask questions, and retreat in terror at ever seeing them. I was always on the edges of darkness, reading the classics, watching films like Gremlins and Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight but not getting too close. My friends used to live above a store at Eglinton in Toronto called Higher Ground. They would invite me over, show me their endless library of zombie books and movies, and we would watch some of the more graphic horror films. They were my first experience with such films as the Lovecraftian Re-Animator — the Director’s Cut — and the weird movie with a suede heart Bubba Ho-Tep. The DNA foundations of me watching The Last Drive-In as an experience watching ridiculous yet detailed horror films with friends were planted there, at that time and place, and when they moved away it was never really the same. It wasn’t until I met Kaarina Wilson, however, that my true appreciation for horror evolved. Kaarina was my partner for a very long time. She was the one who, in addition to introducing me to Clive Barker, also brought me to the Toronto After Dark Film Festival: a dedicated gathering of fans that love to watch independent horror and weird films. Kaarina would go to this event every year whenever she could, and I would go with her on a few nights. I saw films riding the gamut between the epic Super Sentai sensationalism of RoboGeisha and the disturbing, twisted horribleness with moments of tongue and cheek comedy like The Human Centipede, and watching them with a crowd that reacted to everything with laughter and horror completely changed me. Before my friends at Higher Ground, and Kaarina at the After Dark, I always took things so seriously: especially horror. I didn’t think it should be silly, or multi-genre. I also wasn’t very much for crowds of people. But when Joe Bob, in an interview with Patrick Cavanaugh on ComicBook.com mentioned how there aren’t many Chopping Mall films anymore, nothing lighthearted or wacky in the mainstream horror cinematic medium in our time, it reminded me of the charm of events like the Toronto After Dark, and what I value about it. It is all coming together. I realized I was missing a few episodes of The Last Drive-In, especially the last one, but as of Fangoria and other magazines I knew the show was coming back for another season. And then, the pandemic hit. I began to miss my friends. I thought about the films I hadn’t seen yet. And I thought about Kaarina a lot. Kaarina had a series of autoimmune diseases. In the last years of her life, she was in and out of hospitals. She had eventually gotten a much-needed lung transplant. I hadn’t seen her — personally or at the After Dark — in a long time, but I was going to visit her the weekend before quarantine was officially declared. We hadn’t had a movie night in ages. The last film we saw together ourselves was Jovanka Vuckovic’s all-women horror XX anthology. When she had other surgeries, and was in a medically-induced coma, I bought her a Shudder account and curated a whole series of films: including ones we saw for the After Darks of many years. I was already watching many horror films on Shudder, thinking about her. I always hoped we could watch them together, or that she could enjoy them. Kaarina passed away in April. I couldn’t go see her. The slow encroaching diseases and illnesses in her body, her zombies, finally got her. There was more upheaval in my life too. My pet died, a relationship ended, and my friends and I couldn’t interact as much anymore because of their own personal tragedies all happening at once. Hindsight is 20/20, and 2020 is a stone-cold bitch. The long and short of it is that I needed something to focus me. To steady me. I needed a routine. And, one day, I’d heard that The Last Drive-In was coming in. So I did an experiment. I decided to try to sit and Tweet through a whole live show. It was hard at first. I have anxiety and I needed to move around, and there were no breaks then. But I got retweeted and loved. And I realized I could pace myself. I didn’t have to stay for both films if I didn’t want to. It’s now been four weeks. I’ve not only sat through the whole five hours each time, but I have Tweeted and interacted with the fanbase. I do take breaks, but I make sure to listen to as much of Joe Bob’s segments as I can. And I didn’t feel alone anymore. I feel like I accomplish something every time I finish a show, or make a witty comment, or realize I am more savvy in the genre than I thought I was. Kaarina always believed I could write for, and review horror. I didn’t believe her. I didn’t have the confidence then.
But after writing for the comics scholarship magazine Sequart, and the now defunct Torontonian popular cultural publication Geekpr0n where I covered the After Dark, here I am now.
The Last Drive-In is reminiscent of the days of watching television together where there were set times, and you could lose those episodes forever if you weren’t careful. At the same time, the online element has a sense of camaraderie to it, and sharing both my reactions and my thoughts in small sentences makes me feel important and that I am participating in something living: or something that we are, all of us, bringing to life. It also reminds me of the After Dark, of its Director Adam Lopez being our commenter, interlocutor, and guide like Joe Bob taking us through the pulp of horror and weirdness, of the sublimely mad and corny, but the literary and the sophisticated — through the guts of the thing like armchair augurs — and having us truly appreciate the ancient tragedy and comedy that is life that truly makes horror so multifaceted, and a shared experience. There is a reason these stories were told and performed around campfires.
I found it all fascinating. And in watching these films, knowing that Kaarina is gone, I feel like sometimes I am watching them for the two of us. But what truly won my heart? What impressed the most? Aside from the interview with the Kaufmans? It had been seeing One Cut of the Dead, and then the last segment of that episode with the jib — a moving crane or “arm” that moves the camera — panning out and Joe Bob walking around as everyone cleaned up that night, as Diana had make-up put on on another screen, and Joe Bob explained that there is no such thing as an aspirational creator: that you are a creator. That you don’t need industries or contacts. You just need to make something. “Fuck aspiring.” It’s funny how “fuck aspiring” is so inspiring to hear. Realizing that I was sitting through this — live — during a pandemic, during people afraid of speaking out, of losing what they love, of social turmoil, and upheavals we have yet to face, during all of this profound non-consensual suck, I realized I wasn’t just witnessing something special. I was becoming a part of it. I was a part of it. I am a part of it. With all of you. When I watch something like The Last Drive-In, and I engage with it, I’m not just watching it for me, or Kaarina, or the memories of my friends, or Joe Bob, or Diana Prince, or the people that love the show, or the people that love it but find the courage to criticize the parts of it and the industry and community of which it is a part because they love it and want to belong, I’m watching it for … something magical. Something unique. A thing that can be manufactured, but never truly replicated. For a moment.
And I got to be a part of a moment with all of you. Moments don’t last forever. They’re not supposed to do so. There is a lot of suck around them, and different perceptions. And simple things. But that makes the essence of them, despite or because of the suck, more valuable: because they happen. This is what The Last Drive-In means to me: a journey through different kinds of reality and weirdness, and inspiration. I’m mindful of the fact that I am not a longtime fan, and I don’t agree with everything being said. I mean, I love A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Joe Bob. Sorry, not sorry. I’ve been at the peripheries of many different communities, groups, cliques, and scenes. You can argue that I’ve aspired to all of them in some way, aspiring to life, even aspiring to be a horror fan. But yeah. Fuck aspiring. I am a horror fan, period. I am a creator. I am going to make something from all of this. I already am. And Joe Bob, and crew, and friends, despite everything and because of it, thank you for this space — even if it’s just another moment. I will treasure it with you all — Mutant Fam — for as long as I can, and I will make sure that it continues to inspire me.
I’d been curious about Castle Freak for a little while.
Part of the reason I’ve had interest in the film is because I am still catching up on the first official season of Shudder’s The Last Drive-In series, and then I heard that Barbara Crampton is involved with its remake. It’s strange, for me, being a Lovecraft fanatic that I never made the connection that, aside from being given a poster of concept art from which to work, director Stuart Gordon and screenwriter Dennis Paoli had been inspired — at least roughly — to make the 1995 film Castle Freak by H.P. Lovecraft’s extremely short story “The Outsider.”
I didn’t know what to expect from Castle Freak, beyond knowing it takes place in an old Italian Castle and expecting there to be a ton of gore and brutality: possibly by a group of monsters on an unsuspecting American family. At the time, I didn’t even know that Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton were even in the film, never mind its central stars: though knowing Crampton was being interviewed on The Last Drive-In episode of Castle Freak became another impetus in me having a look at it.
I’ll admit that watching Joe Bob Briggs’ segments did spoil aspects of the movie for me, but it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the film. I’ve heard that many fans of Gordon’s work don’t think as highly of Castle Freak as they might Re-Animator, and even From Beyond. A lot of it, from my understanding, is that while the latter two films — created in the 1980s — have heavily goofy and “camp” overtones, drawing close to comedy in horror, Castle Freak itself is played out seriously, and without laughs. Unlike the science-fictional and paranormal elements of the former two films, Castle Freak is a mystery horror film with obvious Gothic influence: complete with tropes such as family secrets, hereditary sins, a long lost, deformed and/or insane family member, and a scene of crumbling beauty and the price of pride turned into madness revisited on unsuspecting descendants.
Another element I can also argue is that while Re-Animator, and to some extent From Beyond — which I have written about and attempted to experiment on in this mad laboratory that is my Blog — are very clearly based from Lovecraft’s works, Castle Freak uses “The Outsider” as just a stepping stone, or a foundation to create an entirely different work. Re-Animator still follows the resurrection of the dead and the hubris of Herbert West, and From Beyond does illustrate what happens when you attempt to view and interact with dimensions beyond human perception, but Castle Freak? It isn’t like “The Outsider” in that the “creature” involved isn’t the protagonist or some possibly undead monstrosity that was once a human being realizing what he is, and fleeing from that knowledge.
Giorgio Orsino — the titular “Freak” of this film played by Jonathan Fuller — is a tormented man whose death was faked by his mother the Italian Duchess D’Orsino and, blamed for the sins of his American father in leaving her, spent the rest of his life chaining him in a dungeon and flaying him with a barbed whip. He is five years old when his death is falsified and forty-two years pass before his mother dies from a heart-attack after beating him one last time. He is practically a feral being by the time he manages to escape his bonds, though he seems to have a grasp of some rudimentary Italian when he does occasionally speak. However, unlike the protagonist of “The Outsider” who seems to be quite intelligent and has “many antique books” Giorgio is not only driven by a sense of loneliness — more visceral than existential — but hunger and fury over his torment and neglect. If anything, his skittering manner of moving through the corridors of the Castle, is reminiscent more of Lovecraft’s :”The Rats in the Walls” than anything else, and for more reasons than one when you realize just how famished he is. Giorgio is a living being that wants what he thinks is owed to him, and he literally wants his pound of flesh.
Lovecraft, of course, is no stranger to Gothic themes and tropes, especially considering how “The Outsider” and its narrative style is influenced by the prose of Edgar Allan Poe. The story of Castle Freak, however, follows not just Giorgio who is the monster — and I would argue one of the true victims of this entire film — but also the American Reilly family and in particular its patriarch John Reilly.
John Reilly, played by Jeffrey Combs, is an alcoholic and an unemployed professor. His father abused him during his early life, and it the echoes of it affect him all the way until the end of Castle Freak. He inherits the Orsino Castle after the Duchess, his aunt, dies and he takes his family there to claim and potentially sell the property. John’s wife, Susan (played by Barbara Crampton), despises him. There is really no other word for it. Due to his alcoholism he lost his employment, and because his five year old son J.J. dropped his video game in the car and tried to reach for it, the boy loses his life in a car accident when John tries to stop his son and simultaneously keep his eyes on the road: failing at both. This same accident blinds his daughter Rebecca, played by actress Jessica Dollarhide, and it leaves his wife to blame him for everything that’s happened to their family.
I think one element of this film that needs to be discussed is its use of connections, and how they all pay off. And when I mention connections, what I am really talking about are relationships. From the police officer who has a relationship with the sex worker that John takes him when his wife spurns him again, to the child they’ve had together, to the amoral Italian Orsino lawyer being the sibling of the housekeeper that warns the Reillys of the Castle and what her death causes, and John’s own tormented relation with Susan, the memory of J.J., and his attempts to protect Rebecca, Susan’s own resentful bond with John, and her over-protective and even obsessive relationship with Rebecca, and the Duchess’ own malicious and petty need to torture Giorgio, and Giorgio wanting to belong to this new family that he can somehow sense as his kin … it all fits together in a patchwork like the scars on Giorgio’s body, and the worn stones of the Castle that is their heritage.
This unity, or this twisted rhyme, can be seen in the form of J.J. J.J. is the child that shouldn’t have died. Giorgio, whom everyone believed dead, once looked the spitting image of J.J. Two dead children that are blood-related, and practically doubles or doppelgängers of each other: the former’s death indicative of an emotionally absent father whose alcoholism led, in part, to the car crash that took his life, and the latter whose father’s physical abandonment led him to having his very identity destroyed in all the ways the matter are central to this film. Families and children, unhealthy dynamics between spouses, siblings, and parents and children are what make Castle Freak.
And then, there is the matter of karma. We find out, and it becomes clear especially after Joe Bob’s talk with Barbara Crampton, that Giorgio and John both have the same American WWII soldier: the former being the Duchess’ son, and the latter being the bastard child of her sister that ran off with him, unmarried, to the United States. The Duchess dies before any justice or vengeance can be carried out on her from the boy whose life she ruined out of a sense of pride and, presumably, the American soldier is also long dead and gone.
Giorgio is John’s Shadow, another popular literary trope. He has abusive and neglectful parents like John, except taken to the nth degree. He was flagellated by a mother for his perceived sins, and tormented for things that were — unlike John — literally beyond his control. Even John’s sexual frustration as punishment by his wife and her anger, and inability to connect with those of his blood, or a disconnect from the sexual relations he has to have with the sex worker are mirrored horrifically in that Giorgio seems to be castrated, but his mother left him his testicles and the frustration of loneliness and an animal fury he can’t express in any other way: as we see with what he does to the poor sex worker. But mostly, there is a grief there. While John grieves, and is guilt-stricken by J.J.’s death, Giorgio mourns even the death of his tormenter and that fury needs somewhere to go.
And Giorgio, after killing the sex worker and the housekeeper sister of the man who could have saved John from being blamed for their murders, finds this outlet: in the form of the scourge that his mother used on him his entire life. It is this whip he uses on John who, in a way, represents the reason Giorgio had been rendered into a tortured being. To Giorgio, if he can think that far, John is the brother that his father left him for, and abandoned him to the cruelty of his insane mother. In a way, John’s existence is the reason his life is so ruined, and that madness is taken out on his hide.
Giorgio, his mother’s whipping boy, makes John his own. And Giorgio, who John once saw as resembling his dead son — the child dead by his own negligence — is something of a gross magnification of his own guilt flagellating himself. And yet, something happens with John that Giorgio is incapable of understanding, or undertaking. For all of John’s selfishness and self-absorption, he still loves his family. Perhaps, at this point in the film, after contemplating suicide, drinking, and undertaking actions that further hurt his family, John doesn’t want Giorgio — both a psychopathic monstrosity of his aunt’s torment, and a symbol of his own guilty conscience — to damage his family anymore. And with a noble moment of self-sacrifice, John tackles Giorgio and the two fall to their deaths: united in death in a way they could never have been in life.
At the end, Susan Reilly sees this — him having saved her and their daughter — and seems to forgive him, perhaps even seeing her own part in the torment that led to all of John’s own actions as they exchange their last words with each other. The Reillys live on, with perhaps the cycle of abuse and pain and recrimination broken by John and Giorgio’s deaths, and the understanding of what led to where they are now: and perhaps after mourning they can find a way forward.
The sins of the family, in this case, are not a blood related curse or a result of eugenics as Lovecraft’s stories and those of his Victorian predecessors often go, but of generational abuse and trauma. But there is one thing that bothers me in this otherwise relatively immaculate film.
Where is Giorgio’s coffin?
At the end of the film, we see John’s coffin being taken to his funeral, or his funeral endings, but we never see what they do with the boy who was supposed to have died decades ago. John is a sufferer of terrible familiar trauma, consciously or otherwise, but Giorgio himself is an even more obvious victim. What happened to his body at the end of the film? Did he even get the dignity of a burial? A real burial?
It gives me inspiration: to try something else.
I always try to say something in this Blog that is more than just a rehashing of something already said and done. So, in light of the upcoming remake by Tate Steinsiek and its more overt and cultish Cthulhu Mythos influences of which I’m curious to see unfold, I started to think to myself — and this was the only reason this article even happened — what if we went back to the roots of “The Outsider?”
There are obvious issues. “The Outsider” is a short story that functions well from a first-person limited perspective. The readers are limited by what he knows and perceives. It is hard to translate that into a film narrative, even with voice over narratives: though it would make for perhaps a good experimental short film, or animation. And I am sure it’s been done already.
So, let’s Frankenstein this fucker, my solution to almost everything in this mad lab. Think of it as following looking at the lives of two children traveling different paths through Castle Freak. First, let’s take Giorgio Orsino from Stuart Gordon’s film. Let’s say that he isn’t the only freak in the Castle, that Giorgio was used by his mother and her family to seal the rest of them away: namely, the ghouls from Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos and Dreamlands Cycle respectively. Imagine John and Susan Reilly as being completely unsympathetic or clueless and it is Rebecca who focuses on finding her way into understanding how the Castle works: on discovering that it is a weak place between reality and the Dreamlands. Consider that John was supposed to be the original sacrifice, but his father and mother left with him: perhaps even unknowing, and it was up to Giorgio to be offered as a perpetual whipping boy, his blood sealing the other creatures below the Castle into the Underworld.
But then the Duchess dies and Giorgio is freed. A lot of the events of the film continue, but Rebecca is more proactive and bitter about not only being blind, but having her mother constantly attempting to control her. I also like the idea that something comes of her learning some Italian, as she attempts to do in the film, and begins to understand Giorgio: even sympathize with him after she realizes how damaged he is. It may even be that there is something in his hoarse voice that reminds her of her lost brother J.J. I’d also be fascinating if we saw the film from Giorgio’s perspective, and there is a part of him that still thinks he is that golden-haired five year old child until he looks at a mirror, or he does something particularly feral and vicious: almost making him like two different characters and making the audience wonder who that strange child is who also resembles J.J. until the end.
I would have it that it looks like John is attempting to save his family, but he fails. Perhaps he and Susan kill each other, or the other beasts get them instead. Rebecca goes insane or perhaps begins to think that there is another way. It is Giorgio who after his killings of the housekeeper and the sex worker that actually opens the Gate and unleashes the beasts fully: taking Rebecca with him. It’s with Giorgio pledging himself to them that we realize the Reillys and the Orsinos they came from, have ghoul blood. And Giorgio and Rebecca become ghouls, slowly changing, mutating: with Giorgio eating the corpse of his mother who tried to consume his life and keep him in a stillborn stone womb of a prison, shedding the illusion of the child he used to be and wished he still was and the mutilated husk of a broken human to become something more. And Rebecca ends up devouring her own parents: those who controlled hers and emancipating herself to a whole new existence. They then leave with the ghouls — the last of their line here — to live in the depths of the Dreamlands and feast on the dead forever.
So, in this way I am marrying together “The Outsider” with “The Rats in the Walls” and “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath,” thereby adding a supernatural or low-key Cthulhu Mythos element into it — though not to the apparent extent of Tate Steinsiek’s work with something of a gross and twisted “happy-ending.” Instead of John’s redemption and reaffirmation of family and society, it could be a story about Giorgio, and even Rebecca’s dark salvation from the ruining influence of a mortal world, and the freedom of a bloody, supernatural one beyond human morality.
Conversely, there is the other “child” of my Mythos thought. We make a cinematic story with “The Outsider” traveling through his grave, to his ancestral castle and shying away from the truth of his undead nature, with only snippets of memory and perhaps he — and the audience — see him as a whole being like the youth of “The Quest of Iranon” as he travels through places like “Under the Pyramids” and even through a “Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” to finally realize what he is, and to come to peace with it as he joins the ghouls and night-gaunts in their revels. This would have more of a dark epic fantasy cinematic horror feel to it: a saga that expands out to a glorious Lovecraftian cosmic ending: romantic in the sense of it being sublime in unearthly Nature.
Even though I like the 1995 Castle Freak, and my original intent was to not attempt to alter films that I feel work in their own way, I also love the idea of an Outsider, of a supposed monster or a disabled female character — who is actually the central character in the upcoming Steinsiek remake — being the protagonist of their story and challenging a world view in being so. There are opportunities there, perhaps being taken in the remake to an extent. We will just have to see.
Originally, I was going to make something of a Toronto After Dark retrospective: specifically an account on how I was introduced to the Film Festival, and how it made me deal with the horror genre in a different way. And the person who brought me to this Festival in 2010 was Kaarina Wilson.
It always comes back to her.
I’ve talked about Kaarina before, and not just on this medium. I feel like sometimes that is all I ever do: talk, and write about her. Autumn, or Fall, is a time of year in many cultures where the veil between the material and the spiritual worlds, the living and the dead is supposed to be at its thinnest. The Harvest is often reaped in Fall, before Winter. And people go around wearing the likenesses of their favourite fictional characters, their celebrities, or their personal demons and their nightmares.
This was Kaarina’s favourite time of year. She got to dress up and be as unapologetically camp as she wanted. And she also got to wear her fears and terrors on the outside for a change, of the creeping, inexorable march of the body’s hunger and decay overtaking the rational and feeling human mind.
She was so much more into the horror genre than I was. Before her, I had read the Classics like Frankenstein, Dracula and H.P. Lovecraft’s main Cthulhu Mythos stories. I’d watched some camp and horror movies with my friends before they moved from their apartment to Barrie so many years ago. I learned, there, that horror is something that should be experienced in a group setting. I can’t even begin to tell you the difference between watching something terrible happen to someone, or an utter bastard of a character getting their comeuppance alone, and then hearing other people gasp, or applaud, or cackle beside you as it all happens on the big screen.
Kaarina cackled. That was how she laughed. It was this wicked, pleased with herself reaction of dark joy, and it was one of the reasons I was so insanely in love with her. It was her that had me read Clive Barker and made me realize that horror isn’t just a fear of the unknown, but also the realization that you often what scares you is — deep down — what you ultimately desire when you strip away human niceties, conventional morality, and common sense. It also set the stage for the fact that, aside for the potential of public catharsis — the purging of emotions caused by pity and fear often attributed to ancient tragic plays — horror can have its own twisted logic, an orange and blue morality that even in its own alien mindset still has a human component that makes sense.
I think about the fact that Kaarina was the one that made me read “Dread” and “The Midnight Meat Train” and then had me see the film adaptations, but not before we watched May together in the basement apartment she called her Wonderland — after Alice’s — or what I thought of at times was her Underground. Quaid just wanted to overcome his fear and help others do so. Leon Kaufman had a terrible need to fit into something bigger than him, to find an assured and foundational place in New York: to belong somewhere. And May, in the midst of humiliation and confusing and deceptive human actions she just wanted to make a friend.
I learned a lot, then, even as I related to it. I’d even read “The Forbidden” and got to see how that short story changed in the better known Candyman adaptation. It also helped that Kaarina had been taking a Ryerson course on Gothic Literature that gave me the excuse to read her online copy of H.P. Lovecraft’s “Supernatural Horror in Literature.” It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that a lot of what I learned about horror, which had been scattered between University courses, bored movie channel watching at my parents’ place, and the times with my zombie-fanatic friends, started from Kaarina. And she was definitely the one that encouraged me to write something about horror in film: to the point of her arguing with me when I didn’t believe I could focus enough to do so.
The truth is: I never thought I really fit into this genre. But Kaarina challenged that. She made me watch ridiculous films, weird films, creative films, erotic films, and enjoyable films. She showed me movies that made me use my critical brain, and others that I just sat back and enjoyed. I realized it didn’t always have to be serious, or stick to eclectic small things that were the result of my own crippling perfectionism.
It was actually okay for me to have fun.
This was important, especially given that when we met I was still struggling to finish off my Graduate Program. I didn’t think I could do it, get through my Program, write again for myself, or even engage with these weird independent movies, and have something to say. I know for a fact I used to drive her utterly crazy with my doubts, and my stubbornness.
Perhaps it hit a little too close to home, even as I encouraged her to write more reviews and stories herself. Like the seasons, like birth, death and rebirth, or life, death, and reanimation everything was a cycle. It still is.
For example, if not for the Pandemic this year would have been the first After Dark without her. And there is something almost fitting about the fact that on the year of her death, the Toronto After Dark Film Festival — her favourite event — didn’t happen. But either way, this is the first Halloween without her in it.
And grief is a cycle as well.
So I find myself, in the midst of 2020’s utter misery trying to compensate, to live twice as much as I can in these limited circumstances, to feel that abundant life force and need to live in the middle of so much death and stasis, and to enjoy horror for the two of us. I bought her a subscription to Fangoria while she was in the hospital which I had to cancel after she was gone, and I have to read that for her: to succeed this time, one day, in actually being able to submit something into its pages. I got her a Shudder account while she was in a medically induced coma to shave the damaged parts of her lungs away — and I curated the films in there to match the ones we’d seen together, or that were at the After Dark Festival, or anything I found interesting, but now that she’s gone it still exists there, having never had the heart to close it. Some part of me imagines, in some liminal space between sleep and the Internet, that a part of her watches those films to this very day.
I know there are some things, like this Blog, which she would be proud of me creating, but it’s hard to think about how she will never be able to tell me that herself again. So that is why I watch all these horror films, so many more than I used to. That’s why I want to celebrate Halloween with friends, to enjoy the movies with others and not be alone. That’s why I look forward to the Hallow’s Harvest table-top roleplaying game I’m playing with my friends before I have to return to this reality.
In the early summer, still reeling from Kaarina’s loss, I finally decided to sit in on a live watching of Joe Bob Briggs’ The Last Drive-In on Shudder. I’d only been there in passing when they were watching some of the Halloween series having found out about it through Diana Prince: or Darcy the Mailgirl on the show. When I watch the show on Shudder TV, and live-tweet with Diana, and the rest of the MutantFam it reminds me of all the times I watched horror films with my friends, all the moments I wished I had someone to watch them with in my house, every occasion I watched them at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival in the Bloor, and Underground Cinemas, and ScotiaBank Theatre.
Watching strange and weird films with “blood, breasts, and beasts” with the MutantFam of The Last Drive-In reminds me of all every night I watched movies with Kaarina, and it takes a little bit of that edge of the jagged Jack-o-Lantern hole in my heart off.
I had a lot of plans for this Blog. I was going to write alternate endings to films and stories. I was going to reconstruct one movie in particular. And I was going to write about weird things, unique perspectives and experiences and experiments. Most of this has been reviews, like the ones I would write for GeekPron or Sequart. But sometimes I can still get personal. Perhaps next time, I will tell you all about the writings that actually led to the making of this Blog: my proto-articles that tried to link themes and ideas together in a series I was watching which would provide the basis of what I do — or try to do — on this Blog. I wrote them when Kaarina was still alive, but she never saw them. But I think she would have approved.
So let me just say to you all, before adopting my Horror Doctor half-mask persona again, have a safe and happy Halloween. I will do the same. It is the least I can do now.
I first heard of Felissa Rose on The Last Drive-In.
Joe Bob Briggs had, during a “commercial” segment in his show, phoned her up and consulted her as a “mangled dick expert.”
Yeah. So, between her quips and her obvious charisma, I had to find out more about who she was.
I’ve mentioned on here before that I am not a horror expert. A lot of what I do here is me discovering the old classics for myself, or commenting on strange grindhouse, art, and mainstream movies and stories that speak to me in some way. Sometimes, I will just dissect, or reminiscence about my reactions toward them. Other times, I will create potentially bad revisions of the film stories for my experiments, or even outright homages (read: fanfiction).
But I was intrigued by Felissa Rose and her guest calls on The Last Drive-In. I figured out she was a legendary actress in the horror genre, and I had to check out the film in which she is most known: Robert Hiltzik’s Sleepaway Camp.
Now, before I continue writing, I just want to say the following. When I started this Blog, I was going to begin small. Originally, I would look at some older, perhaps more obscure works, and give my takes on them. And then, Cannibal Holocaust happened. It side-swiped me. It hid in the jungle and blew a dart in me with a complex substance that I couldn’t suck out of my brain, or ignore.
And, in that same spirit, so did Sleepaway Camp.
Yes. Even before this death-dealer loving film returned to Shudder, I watched it. And I felt like I got trapped in the sights of that point of view killer camera angle.
Of course, as with most old films the ending was spoiled for me. As Joe Bob mentions in his interview with Felissa Rose that I finally got the opportunity to see not too long ago, I too believed this is where the origin of the “mangled dick expert” came from. But I, too, was wrong: just differently. You know a word or a concept can mean something ages before, and as time passes it changes. Sometimes, it transforms so much there are legends attached to it, even mythologies or tall-tales? This seems to be one of those times.
See, I’m going to spoil the ending to this 1986 film. I’m not going to do it right now, but when I give you the warning, and you want to watch this, run. This article will deal primarily in looking at this issue, and how it relates to the film.
But before we do that, I just want to say I actually enjoyed watching Sleepaway Camp. Felissa Rose plays a quiet, shy, awkward, and terrified thirteen year old girl named Angela Baker who goes to a summer camp with her cousin Ricky, and proceeds to get humiliated and terrorized by both her fellow campers, and some of the counselors.
So, here is your first spoiler warning, with a side of violent trigger warnings.
Angela Baker proceeds to kill everyone that has wronged her in the most creative, and brutal ways possible. It is bloody inspiring. We only, for ages, see through the camera as a first-person perspective. I can just imagine it as a video game like Dennis the Menace or Home Alone, except instead of escaping Mr. Wilson, or planting death-traps for Harry and Marv, you get to pour grease on a pedophile cook, stab a malicious counselor in the shower, shoot a child beater in the neck with an arrow, create a death by beehive situation to a counselor on the toilet, Anakin Skywalker some little shits with a machete that threw sand at you after nearly drowning, and introduce a particularly mean girl — intimately — to a curling iron.
Somehow, I don’t think that by even today’s standards, that it would be a game for children, even if it happened to them in this film.
Yes, you can tell how much I enjoyed this movie. Almost every person that dies in it, deserves their fate. And those whose fates you have conflicting feelings about, you can understand why they are killed. You actually emphasize with the killer. You feel bad for Angela, and towards the end of the film and looking back, I know I can totally root for her.
And then … there is the other revelation. So, this is where I am going to put spoilers up, with another trigger warning.
So, in 1975, before the film begins Angela is seen with her brother Peter with their father who gets into an accident due to some careless teenagers. As a result, there are some injuries and Angela is the only survivor. This is not the spoiler, however. What you find out is that Angela’s aunt, one Dr. Martha Thomas — who is so much more terrifying than Angela will ever be — decides that she has a son already, and wants to raise a girl.
To get back to the end of the film, we discover that Angela — who is extremely aquaphobic, has issues with burgeoning relationships and her body image, and won’t even shower with the other girls in her cabin — is biologically male. Essentially, the movie ends with one of the counselors finding Angela — this young, sensitive, introverted child you’ve been rooting for — with the decapitated head of the boy she liked, naked, and grinning like a maniac, with a low animal growl in her throat following the man shouting: “Oh my god! She’s a boy!”
There is Angela, who had been, or is still Peter, naked with a demented grin of utter torment on her face, and her penis is fairly clear with a body possessing visible chest hair.
So yeah. I walked right into this. And I was so sure, like Joe Bob, that Angela — and it is unclear to me whether or not good old Aunt Martha made Peter take his sister’s name along with her appearance in some good old fashioned misgendering for her sensibilities — suffered injuries from that accident, and perhaps this is why her Aunt and family influenced her to transition. And, thus, the origin of Felissa Rose’s moniker.
It turns out, we were both wrong.
A lot of reviewers have mentioned that the twist ending of Sleepaway Camp has not … aged well. And I see their point. The transphobic elements from the 1980s are pretty clear. Certainly, the fact that Angela and Peter’s father had been gay, or involved in a gay relationship before their accident adds some homophobia and the implication of this arrangement affecting Angela’s sense of identity adversely to this mix.
I don’t think at this point I’m telling you anything that you don’t already know, or can’t read elsewhere.
Personally, between you and I, I like other takes on this film. Certainly, BJ Colangelo, and more extensively her partner Harmony M. Colangelo on their Dread Central and Medium articles respectively, look at Angela Baker as a young victim of misgendering in a social system of transphobia and bigotry. Harmony M. Colangelo goes as far as to say that Angela is something of a Frankenstein’s creature: a symbol of transgender rage against a social order that maligns her because of her sense of identity.
Colangelo isn’t the only writer that identifies Angela as such. Daniel Sheppard sees Angela as a supposed antagonist that he identifies with as an LGBTQ+ man who had been a fifteen year old boy struggling with gayness. In addition, he ascribes to Angela something not out of place in The Queer Manifesto and Queer Ultra Violence: Bash Back! but draws the idea from Sam J. Miller’s “Assimilation and the Queer Monster.” Sheppard argues that the “queer monster” functions as a symbol of anger, and pain, and radicalism to which LGBTQ+ audiences can relate their anxiety and fear: something that the “normalizing” queer identity can erase for the sake of assimilation and hetero-normative comfort. In other words, the “queer monster” or ” queer radical” isn’t all about “gayness” as “happiness” but as a symbol of every terrible negative feeling an LGBTQ+ person is forced to feel in a system that is supposed to be “natural” or “no longer an issue.”
It’s easy, the argument goes, to claim that representation has been achieved, and there is no need for the radical another, but often the image of the radical or the “monster” makes you look at just how flawed society truly is: even when it seems to be “fixed” — and often isn’t. So when you look at Angela in that light, and consider her utter torment, and the discomfort of watching a young human being in their formative years twisted into something that barely resembles a human anymore, having sympathized with her and — literally — seeing her actions from her perspective, perhaps finding themselves complicit in the impetus that forced her to this point, in a dual juxtaposition that all comes together traumatically at the end of the film, it hits home just how utterly fucked up this situation truly is.
Did Robert Hiltzik and his crew intend this reading — this subversion — of transgender and LGBTQ+ exploitation? I don’t know. However, I was curious to know what Joe Bob and particularly Felissa Rose — who played Angela in every scene except for the murder perspectives, and the nude display of the character at the end — had to say about the issue.
It is already complicated. You have a cisgender girl playing what seems to be a transgender character, but when take away the time period and prejudices of the time in which the film is made, and you really look at the film: just what is Angela’s identity? How does she identify? Is she still Peter in her mind? Is he still there? Are they, beyond arguably functioning as a symbol of both “the danger of the queer infiltrating straight spaces” as Harmony M. Colangelo put it, or the radical image of LGBTQ+ pain striking back against “the heteropatriachal norm” as Sheppard states even transgender? What pronouns would they have? Do they even know? Does this character even know what, or who they are at this age where their aunt has proceeded to “convert” them into her perspective of the female gender?
Does this character, does Angela, like Arthur Fleck in Joker except from a gender identity slant even exist beyond working as a cipher for what others project onto, or see reflected in her portrayal?
Felissa Rose seems to think, from her interview with Joe Bob, that in that scene when Angela and Peter are facing each other after seeing their father and his boyfriend together, they are exploring their own concept of sexuality: a situation that gets disrupted with their father and sibling dies. It isn’t about the genitalia of Angela, or however or whoever this character identifies. Felissa corrects Joe Bob, and says that the character’s body is intact, which leads Joe Bob into making her The Last Drive-In‘s resident mangled dick expert. Rather, I would argue that what’s mangled is Angela’s mind and soul from a lifetime of trauma, and gender projection and enforcement.
Joe Bob says it best, I think. He tells Felissa Rose that he believes that it had been totally unnecessary to state that “She’s a boy!” That image of Angela, if you can even call her transgender — beyond any idea she may represent to audiences — growling deep in her throat, her face twisted into a death-head’s grin, her adolescent body covered in hair and blood, cradling the head of a boy she had confused and conflicted feelings about, is an image that will certainly haunt me far more than any ghost or spectacle ever could.
I never, until very fairly, thought I would write something about a 2014 film literally called Hogzilla, but here we are.
This film, which had been incomplete for several years after being directed by Diane Jacques, was shown on second last week of Season Two of The Last Drive-In. I swear, I was even going to go into this earlier but as a student of horror rather than the Doctor that I have attributed to this Blog — much like Victor Frankenstein is called a Doctor by Hollywood but … less impressive than that — I have had some … remedial horror viewing to do. But I wanted to get here while it is still fresh.
I won’t go into the effort that was made to put this film together, to have it viewed on the show by Diana Prince — and presented with classy style as Darcy the Mailgirl — or how The Last Drive-In director Austin Jennings “restored it from previously existing cuts, since the old sequences and project were a mess” according to a Tweet he made on June 13th. I definitely will not be covering how this film was made, as Joe Bob himself and many others have definitely covered by now, I’m sure. There is even a Hogzilla Restoration Project involved and … I don’t know whether to commend them for their utter loyalty, or truly give up on the human race as sane.
This film is unique in another way for The Last Drive-In. As of recently, I discovered that while Hogzilla itself isn’t on Shudder, the Joe Bob episode that plays and comments on it, actually is. The only parallel I can find to that is the fact that there are two versions of The Last Drive-In showing of Cannibal Holocaust — with the film, and without it.
I don’t know how I feel about having watched this. But Horror Doctor, you might ask, speaking of Cannibal Holocaust didn’t you watch it not long ago? Didn’t that mess you up? Didn’t it leave you with a sense of guilt, but also some guilty-pleasure?
Oh, don’t get me wrong. Cannibal Holocaust left me feeling dirty, especially for loving it. I’m left to the auspices of my own conscience about that one. But you see, Cannibal Holocaust was well made. Hogzilla …
To give you an idea, based on Joe Bob verbs, it was like … Cannibal Holocaust is the dirty “aardvarking” that you regret, but you secretly go back occasionally because deep down it felt good, though societal norms tell you it should not. Hogzilla …
Hogzilla is just aardvarking. Dirty, bad aardvarking. There is just no saying otherwise. Like, Tommy Wiseau attempting an … aaardvarking scene bad except without that. And yet. It was a spectacle.
And that spectacle was held together by: the acting presence of Joe Bob Briggs himself.
Never mind the weird shirt that said “Marines” on it. The extremely slow pacing, and the unlikable and not even interesting news cast crew characters. Two sets of credits between two separate introductions. The character relations that just happen without any development. And a really … messed up mutant hog prop that isn’t even seen that much, and it’s mostly just a camera that sneaks up and kills, and very awkwardly. To be honest, I was just more transfixed by the absolutely vapid and horrible characters we had to deal with, after a jumpy two introductions, that took too damn long to die horribly, to notice the other things. It was so messed up, that it took Job Bob’s segments and the red carpet premiere treatment of The Last Drive-In itself to keep me from depression.
And yet …
Maybe I’ve just gone insane. It’s not the first time a fake mad scientist has claimed such a state. But here is the deal. You see, I have already begun some preliminary experiments for the Project that I want to host on this site. You have, no doubt, read some of them by now, those of you interested in such things from my “Strains and Mutations” area. Society and They Live … and they do, have been surprisingly cooperative under my ministrations. But, to get to the point: I want to take Hogzilla, and I want to explore how I would rewrite it.
As a story.
In the words of Joe Bob, as both himself, and Andy McGraw, “It’s gonna get nasty.”
The way I would write Hogzilla as a story — in prose or as a screenplay (if I could write screenplays, which I have never tried to seriously do) would go a little something like this.
It’d need to have the tone of something between a lampoon or a parody of human selfishness, and self-centredness with a production value and ideology similar to Troma’s War. This allows for a certain level of ridiculousness and camp, while genuinely displaying grossness and suffering in many of its forms. Telling or showing a story straight through this lens would be a fine line, but we can keep it in the pen I’m sure: until we need it to get momentum charging down that climactic trail.
So, our story would begin with a brief account of those Monster Pigs, or Hogzillas from the past. I would even place a very brief account, a newspaper heading like the one in the film about Joe Bob’s character Andy McGraw — a nice easter-egg — and the tragedy of his son, but we would really focus on the news cast crew.
The thing is, I agree with Joe Bob in that Diane Jacques should have edited out the beginning with his character McGraw, his son, the Hogzilla beast, and the police officer. I also understand, however, why it was kept in by Jacques and Jennings: Joe Bob is the main attraction in this film. Let’s be honest. And in terms of when the film was shown in the eighth week of The Last Drive-In, it had come right after Scare Package: with the last anthology film “Horror Hypothesis” actually featuring Joe Bob as well — also predating his reemergence at The Last Drive-In — so thematically, it would make sense to keep his appearance in the following film: the show itself just barely keeping Hogzilla cohesive, and watchable.
So, about that newspaper clipping with McGraw. I like the idea that the clipping of him with his photo looks old. Like 1950s or 1960s old. This story about a drunk father that accidentally killed his son happened decades ago, and you only see it on the side in passing with a headline like “Child Dies During Hunting Trip: Accident, Or Hogzilla? Father Still Missing.” It’s one of many clippings included with accounts of the Chris Griffin killing a wild boar-domestic pig hybrid in Alapaha, Georgia 2004 story, and the account of “Monster Pig” supposedly killed by the eleven year old Jamison Stone in 2007 at the Lost Creek Plantation, a commercial hunting reserve outside Anniston, Alabama. One of the reasons I think this film was made was to attempt to draw on a kind of “Monster Hog exploitation” that was going on in some news media at the time. It didn’t age well, but it is still something we can work with in its own story. Some of these clippings were already added by Jacques in the film, I just think we can streamline them a bit more.
Perhaps as we narratively transition, we realize these clippings are being held by one of the initial characters. These are a news and stunt crew with some models, as we do require the gratuitous boob shots for the Drive-In Totals. They are all in Central Florida, going to an old Plantation, a hunting reserve that has been used for decades until it was abandoned one day. There are legends, of course, that the place is cursed and there has been sightings of this beast called Hogzilla that attacks people. This way we establish a scene, and a history of animal exploitation and violence here. They are setting up deeper in the bush, preparing for something. They even have a cage with them. And then, we have a perspective from those bushes and the beginnings of an assault on this skeleton crew in the bushes near the plantation.
Now, we have our intrepid idiots. I would keep all of their personalities the same, except they are a safari team now: with some newspeople and hunters. I think most of them, with the exception of Frank and Dr. Laurie Evans should be unsympathetic as fuck. They are greedy, opportunistic, and they are used to getting their way. Frank is the assistant that is always the butt of their jokes, and Laurie is there as the veterinarian to know what they are dealing with. She believes they are going to capture Hogzilla for study, and has the appropriate tranquilizer equipment. It is going to be a big scene: tracking this beast down, and taking him, and smiling for the camera. Too good to be true, right?
I like the idea of McGraw appearing out of nowhere with his boar tusk-topped staff, like some grizzled Bruce Campbell/Ash Williams analogue with a one-thousand yard stare: much like the one Joe Bob wore that night at The Last Drive-In when his crew in an ultimate act of betrayal switched out a film he wanted to show in order to reveal this twisted monstrosity of a direct-to-video film upon the world at large.
He gives them the warning that they do not heed, because they are — again — stupid. McGraw’s line “There ain’t no hogs here. There’s demons and devils and creeping things, but there ain’t no hogs” is purely inspired, especially when delivered with that haunted stare of a man who has seen far too much.
So are you with me so far? Right. Right off the bat, like in the film, things go wrong. Our primadonna newsman, Brad Bennett, can’t get in contact with the team of people that were supposed to be here: though we don’t know that. He just seems to be bitching into his cellphone for the usual reasons, but there is some tension there, and it explains that he is actually contacting people that are nearby and not out of complete Wifi range. Then the elements betray them and they lose their tents. But it gets worse. During one night, something happens to their supplies as well. They are just destroyed. Gone. It looks like a wild animal went through them, along with with their tents. They see tusk marks on the tree trunks.
The character of Joanna immediately, like in the film, blames McGraw because she is a bitch. I like the idea that she is the former wife of a character in Jacques’ previous film Off The Chain, and I would keep that in for sure.
Now I would have them order Frank to go salvage the vehicles for anything to eat while they try to rough it in the Plantation, with what’s left of their equipment. They make fun of him for his weight and his penchant in eating Pork-rinds. Then, he is at the trunk when they hear a scream, and a squeal. They go, and find that Frank isn’t there anymore, but there is a whole lot of destruction and blood. Something got him.
One by one, I’d have them give into paranoia and blame each other. I would have Mitch — the marine guy — guarding Laurie, and they start to have a bond: her being attracted to him, and him being protective of her. Now, a few more of the crew get taken down, and are found gored to death, even mutilated. Eventually, the remaining crew come across a large hog. Our marine, as he calls himself, guns the pig down. And he seems to have dealt with the beast.
But then, the attacks continue. Eventually, Mitch and Laurie are the survivors. And Laurie … finds there is just something not right about this situation. About any of it. The attacks do not seem entirely consistent with a boar’s behaviour, hybrid or injured or not. And she genuinely knows something is wrong when the pig is killed, and she sees it is in no way large enough or powerful enough to have done any of this.
And then, Mitch gets messed up in an animal trap made of tusks. We find out that Frank didn’t die. He has orchestrated all of this. He explains to Laurie that the marine — who is not a marine at all like he has been claiming this entire time, but a weekend warrior buddy of an executive — and another of the crew arranged in advance to have a drugged-up pig sent here to the Plantation to be released and taken out so that they could make it look like they found, and killed, Hogzilla. They never intended to just capture it alive, but to make a spectacle for the views. He tells her that this is what they did to a pig named “Fred” back in 2007 at the Lost Creek Plantation. Frank reveals that this pig’s name is “Harry.” Laurie is disgusted with this, but then Frank reveals that the reason he killed everyone here is because he is tired of all the fat jokes, all the comparisons between him and something unclean, greedy, and disgusting as a pig: when it is human beings that project all of these qualities. And you have to admit, when you watch Hogzilla, it is absolutely shitty how they treat Frank and when he takes that gun and imagines shooting them, I can totally picture him doing it, and I almost wanted him to do so.
Of course, Frank isn’t a good guy. His plan has been to kill the whole crew and be the only survivor, filming the wreckage, and taking all the credit for the footage. He claims that the “marine” would die a hero at least, having died taking out Hogzilla, while Laurie was just an unfortunate casualty. He doesn’t listen to her appeals to his humanity, stating she barely even looked at him, never mind defended him the entire time against the others they were there. After mashing Mitch’s body a few times with a tusk in his hand, he is about to kill Laurie …
When a great dark horrible shape smashes out of the bushes and gores the hell of him. Frank is screaming the entire time as the real Hogzilla, his eyes piss-yellow with hate, continues to charge through, throwing him around, screeching. Laurie runs, only for someone else to push her out of the way.
It is McGraw.
McGraw charges forward, with a gun. He wields his walking staff with the tusk as well, which we see is actually a spear. His face is smeared with a line of blood, like warpaint. He launches himself at the great boar that is Hogzilla. And he actually manages to land a blow. But the beast is too strong. He looks like he is going to be thrown aside, or trampled. Laurie finds her tranquilizer gun that she remembers she has, the one they didn’t let her use on poor Harry as she wanted to capture Hogzilla alive. The darts barely do anything. Some miss. But then, before the beast comes for her, she lands a few more hits. The beast slows, just enough for McGraw to get the killing blow through its head.
McGraw is gravely injured, though he claims he has suffered far worse pain. Laurie tries to help him, to bandage his body, and get him out of that place. He tells her that he tried to warn the rest of the crew and models in the bush, had even spent his time trying to save them, but it was too late. He’d been spending the rest of his time tracking “the Beast.” He also tells her about his son, Robbie, and the whole sordid story about how he had been the local drunk: and how in just one moment of negligence he lost his son on this very Plantation, to this beast, forever. He has already added the other tusk the boar left behind to his spear.
Laurie says it’s all right. He avenged his son. They can go back, and prove that Hogzilla existed and clear his name. But McGraw just wearily shakes his head. He says that he committed himself a long time ago, that beasts like Hogzilla, like the Monster Pig, they are created from humanity’s covetousness and cruelty inflicted onto nature, onto animals. That they made Nature their own demons, and that someone — with nothing left to lose — has to deal with those demons in their own way. It is his penance. It is all he can do right.
They get out of the wilderness and McGraw gives Laurie directions to the nearest town. She walks on, but as she looks back to say something to McGraw, he is gone. She keeps walking until she meets the local sheriff. She tells him what’s happened and who she met. He tells her that’s impossible: as the whole incident with McGraw happened forty or fifty years ago. The man Laurie’s seen is nowhere near elderly, and realizes his hunt has only just begun.
Meanwhile, a trunk loaded with piglets — with men cursing and poking at them — bursts a tire. The trunk veers off. As the drivers and workers are trying to right it, one of the pigs — young, but large — gets out of the pen that crashed, looks with fierce eyes and feral anger, and runs off into the bushes.
So yeah. I applied some elements from Jaws, and Mononoke Hime into this rewrite. It’s not perfect. Neil Gaiman once said that when someone looks at a story and it doesn’t work, they are almost always right. But when someone suggests a way to “fix” it, they are almost always wrong. But then, I don’t think Neil Gaiman has ever encountered something like Hogzilla, or thought of working with it. So, I guess there’s that.
But yeah, this was so dirty to write. And it felt like bad Aardvarking. But I won’t lie. After a while, I began to feel happier than a pig in shit.