THE LAST DRIVE-IN WITH JOE BOB BRIGGS
Appointment television isn’t really a thing anymore. Viewing habits are so scattered across interests and networks and streaming services that it’s much easier to find the exact type of show you want to watch than it is to find another person who’s watching it at the same time.
Week 3 of The Last Drive-In has made me think a lot about appointment television. It helps that the premiere of Game of Thrones happened the same weekend, and that’s arguably the last gasp of the communal watching experience. It’s fun to hop onto Twitter while watching the show and realize a bunch of other horror-loving goons are soaking up the films and the Joe Bob rants and enjoying them as much as I am.
They’re getting into the swing of things now, and this episode is a perfect encapsulation of what The Last Drive-In can do. There are some great history lessons and rants from Joe Bob — about the acting career of George C. Scott and whiskey, respectively — and the films couldn’t be more different while still being in the drive-in wheelhouse.
The first film was a first watch for me. I didn’t know what it was about, but I remembered hearing the title before. Because, well, how could you forget?
It’s unfortunate that Deathgasm, overall, didn’t come together for me. It has its moments, and it’s a fun, easy watch, but I kinda slid right off of it. I’m really glad I got to watch it like this, though, because Joe Bob’s gleeful appreciation of the film was infectious.
The premise is fairly simple: Brodie (Milo Cawthorne) is an outcast metalhead who moves in with his aunt and uncle. He befriends Zakk (James Blake), starts a band, falls for Medina (Kimberley Crossman) and plays “the black hymn” which seems to summon demons and zombify most of the neighborhood. Deathgasm definitely wears its inspirations on its sleeve, namely Evil Dead, Shaun of the Dead and fellow New Zealand comedy-horror Braindead.
It took me a while to get into the film, because I was so put off by the beginning. It’s overwritten and trying way too hard to be edgy and funny. That’s something that continues throughout the script. The only funny parts that work are either sold really well by the actors or gags that play off of the special effects.
Speaking of the effects, they’re the biggest thing to recommend about this movie. It’s actually impressive that writer/director Jason Lei Howden was able to make this on such a small budget — Joe Bob goes into the prize money they got from the New Zealand Film Commission — and the gore blows a lot of big-budget horror out of the water. Hell, we get a weed whacker castration scene, which means we get another phone call with Felissa Rose, The Last Drive-In’s resident Mangled Dick Expert.
Other than that, the leads are pretty good. Cawthorne is a Tom Holland/Tobias Menzies mix and anchors the parts I had trouble getting through. Blake and Crossman are playing fairly standard character types, but they do enough to make them their own.
Again, I didn’t love the film. I especially didn’t love it as much as Joe Bob (he gave it four stars!), but I lucked out by getting a classic that I do love as the second feature.
The Changeling (1980)
If you haven’t seen The Changeling, you’ve probably at least seen a handful of ripoffs of The Changeling. The ‘80s, ‘90s, and ‘00s are full of films that mix-and-match the concepts at play in this movie, but very few of them find the right combination.
The Changeling is a Canadian horror film — Joe Bob rightfully points out that’s because the Canadian government will basically throw money at any film production that shoots up here — starring George C. Scott. After his wife and daughter are killed, he moves into an old mansion that happens to be pretty damn haunted. We get spooky voices, eerie wheelchairs and toy balls moving at will, a seance, and Scott getting more and more unhinged. It’s a delight.
It’s a real slow-burn of a movie, with a car crash at the beginning and then a lot of time spent walking around a spooky Victorian mansion. But I love it a lot. I’m a huge fan of any horror film with a procedural element, especially when it’s an amateur and not a cop or a paranormal investigator, and especially when that amateur is George C. Scott.
As Joe Bob points out, Scott is a hell of a great actor who commanded the stage and the screen. Scott wasn’t well-known for horror films, but he did a handful of them, The Exorcist III being the best of them and Firestarter being … not the best. His performances never came off like he was slumming it, which is exactly what I want from a performer. I don’t want them to sneer at the genre or phone it in. Thankfully, Scott never does, and we even get a powerhouse scene near the end with both him and Melvyn Douglas acting their asses off opposite each other.
This week was a slight step-down from last week, but Society and Q: The Winged Serpent is a really hard combo to beat. But that episode also had some shuffling in the editing to honor Larry Cohen first, so this one felt a little smoother.
It’s an interesting choice to put The Changeling second in the lineup after Deathgasm. It seems like a long, slow come down. But it actually works. We get to see two sides of the same coin, two different ways to play around in the same genre.
That’s exactly what the drive-in is all about.