Shudder’s Joe Bob Briggs’ Last Drive-In: Sledgehammer and Things

Shot-on-Video Horror

by Donato Totaro Volume 25, Issue 5 / May 2021 22 minutes (5496 words)

On June 4, 2021, I decided to watch the latest live installment of Texan film critic/host Joe Bob Brigg’s “The Last Drive In show”, which was a special tribute to the ‘glorious’ shot on video horror films of the 1980s to early 2000s (though the peak was 1982 to 1995). I had no idea which films would be featured, which made the ‘live’ event feel different from the usual streaming show (and you can’t pause during the event, just like the good old days!). In terms of cult cinema, the shot on video horror film (SOV for short) is a bonafide area for cult cinema because the SOV horror overlaps with fans who collect VHS tapes, of which there are many, but not enough to be mainstream. And like any cult, people on the outside, including those thousands if not millions of people who willingly threw away their VHS collections, can’t understand the attraction and may think these VHS fanatics are one cylinder short of a working engine.

But this “taste obstinance” is a characteristic of cult audiences, who remain passionate about films that are not what mainstream taste might call ‘good’. Aesthetic quality takes a back seat to entertainment value, esoteric value and, most importantly for SOV horror, nostalgic value. Nostalgic value is at the heart of the craze for VHS, which seems to be growing. And this includes people who share, exchange, sell and buy old VHS tapes online or at conventions. But another indication that these SOV films are sought after is that they are being released on Blu Ray or DVD in special editions with commentaries, making of documentaries, interviews, etc. And in some cases being re-released on VHS! The same people who purchase or hang on to their VHS copies of these films will buy the upscaled digital or Hi Def versions. Of course there are also VHS fanatics who buy exclusively VHS, meaning all their films not just horror or SOV horror, but the majority of VHS collectors are fans that gravitate toward horror, SF and exploitation cinemas. Horror geeks are notorious collectors. As an indicator of the rise of interest in SOV horror, search under “shot on video horror” on Youtube and see how many DIY videos come up of fans showing off their collection of SOV horror on VHS, DVD and Blu-Ray.

The conditions that led to the SOV horror were tied to the rise and boom of the VHS market, the video rental store and the sell-through market which hit its boom period in the early 1980s, jolted by the victory of VHS over Betamax in the first format war (digital technology would have its own format wars between Blu Ray and HD) and lasted until the new digital format of DVD took over in the early 2000s. But the VHS rental market was so huge in the 1980s that retailers were starved for new material to put onto their shelves and with the mass production of entry and commercial level camcorder machines by JVC and Sony (who marketed the first commercial camera in 1983, the BMC-100P) (Analog Nightmares, Richard Mogg, p. 3), filmmakers could afford purchasing a camera and make their own DYI movie which they could edit on any number of systems which ranged from simple two VHS machine set-ups to more complex post-production non-linear set-ups, come up with some exploitative cover art and then look for eager distributors to release directly into the VHS home market. There was no need for theatrical distribution since these films were intended to go straight into the rental or direct VHS sales market.

What makes the SOV horror particularly appealing and ripe for cult appropriation is that the phenomenon had a host of specific industry conditions that made it a movement which is essentially over, replaced by similar conditions today –films that are shot digitally and skip theatrical release to go directly to streaming services, VOD— that may recall the video era but are marked by a completely different industry landscape. Hence the corpus of SOV horror is done and dusted. It is self-contained. No one these days is going to go out and shoot a film on a camcorder. It is like a movement that is over when the set of conditions, economic, social, cultural or artistic, are over. We have an excellent book cataloguing the movement, Analog Nightmares: The Shot on Video Horror Film of 1982-1995 by Richard Mogg, 2018, and a dedicated website ( And the host of recent documentaries that reminisce or lament the VHS era, or try to contextual the period is another indicator of both the nostalgia for this form and the desire to grant it value and cultural agency; films which include: VHS Lives! A Schlockumentary (Tony Newton, 2018), VHS Revolution (Dimitri Koutchise, 2016), VHS Massacre: Cult Films and the Decline of Physical Media (Kenneth Powell, Thomas Edward Seymour, 2016), Rewind This! (Josh Johnson, 2013), and the fascinating account of one person’s obsession with VHS recording, Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project (Matt Wolf, 2019). In Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project documents the ‘rabbit hole’ life project of archivist-Communist Marion Stokes, who was a literal VHS obsessive recorder who starting recording television broadcasts off her television 24 hours a day in 1979, not hitting ‘stop’ until her death in 2012. The result is (according to the documentary) 70,000 VHS tapes collected across seven homes capturing the largest single individual media archive TV events, news items, commercials, interviews, shows, specials, etc.

Richard Mogg’s book Analog Nightmares: The Shot on Video Horror Film of 1982-1995 is an interesting blend of production and industry history, critical reviews, interviews, filmmaker and fan testimonials and fills an important void in the little-covered area of Shot-on-video horror and exploitation cinema.

In his book filmmaker and SOV fan Richard Mogg accounts for 260 films in this SOV period of 1982 to 1995, but what’s interesting is that we may have more come out of the woodwork since it is hard to gauge exactly how many might have been made. And if the interest continues to rise you can be sure there will be more of them discovered or at least re-released on Blu-Ray to take advantage of this growing interest and the collectability of them. Mogg’s book makes a nice companion piece to Stephen Thrower’s Nightmare USA: The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents (FAB Press, 2007).

The first SOV films chose that medium for economic reasons and would have shot on film if they had the resources. These films were transferred to film and targeted for theatrical. Some did get small theatrical runs but in many cases could not procure theatrical distribution and survived on video. Mogg identifies the first such SOV horror film as ¬Boardinghouse (1982, John Wintergate), which was shot on higher quality broadcast and did attain theatrical release before gaining more recognition as a video release through the outreach of Paragon Video company (Mogg, p. 12). But not too far behind is one of the two films programmed by Briggs on his Last Drive-In Show, Sledgehammer (David A. Prior, 1983), which started off the screening night. Sledgehammer was also shot with borrowed broadcast equipment and languished without theatrical distribution and eventually released on video in 1984 (Mogg, p. 30) and then solidified cult status through a DVD release by Intervision subdivision of Severin Films in 2011.

To complete this brief distribution genealogy, Blood Cult (1985, Christopher Lewis) was the first film shot on video that played to this in its marketing campaign, using its video origins as a badge of honor, instead of something to hide. The poster clearly states, “the first movie made for the home video market” (Mogg, 42). Even if this was not true, the gauntlet was thrown and dozens of films followed from 1986 to1989 that were made and marketed unabashedly for the hot video rental and sell through market. As a read through Mogg’s book testifies, the period saw the growth of SOV horror not only in the US but in Canada (Mogg has a special section on the Hamilton, Ontario based company Emmeritus Productions run by producer Lionel Shenken), Nigeria (Witchdoctor of the Living Dead, 1986) and boasts its own unique ‘auteurs’ and ‘leaders’ (Tim Boggs, Donald Farmer, John and Mark Polonia, J.T.Bookwalter, David De Couteau, Scooter McCrae, Tim Ritter) and fair share of oddities (like the outrageous blaxploitation film _Black Devil Doll From Hell (1984, Chester Novell Turner).

Back to Joe Bob Brigg’s The Last Drive-In Show

The SOV tribute night started with Sledgehammer and was followed by the far more bizarre and chaotic-looking second feature, the Canadian SOV (now) cult classic, Things (Andrew Jordan, 1989). As were quite a few of the “shot on video” entries, Things was actually shot on Super 8 and 16mm, and then transferred to tape for its VHS release. This technically disqualifies if from the pure SOV horror film. And in fact, Things does not feature in Moggs fairly complete book. Which means that Things (and other similar Super 8mm/16mm-transferred-to-tape films) has a different visual texture than most of the camcorder films, which have a more washed out, video resolution look.

And what a wildly entertaining double bill, for those who are inclined to failed art. I convinced my wife and son to join me, and while my wife only got through Sledgehammer, my son made it to the end with me. Sledgehammer is the less failed of the two and has some genuine moments of eerie claustrophobic horror, and a spot on original synth score by Philip G. Slate which on its own will satisfy the nostalgic seeker. Although the two films are quite different when watched side by side they share a loose structure in terms of the events (I am reluctant to use the word ‘narrative’ here). In both films a group (only two in Things) of people stop off at an isolated home. Once inside they discover an invisible or unseen threat, fight for survival against that threat, and then concludes with at least one character surviving.

Sledgehammer opens (like many slashers do) with a prologue which includes (Halloween style) a young boy (Justin Greer) who is locked in a closet by his nasty, cheating mother (Mary Mendez), to free her for sex with her lover (Michael Shanahan). Somehow the boy escapes and disposes the couple with a sledgehammer (the lover has his head cracked while being fellated, his cracked skull shown in graphic slow motion). The film flashforwards to the present where the same home becomes a vacation spot for a group of young adult couples, muscular Chuck (Ted Prior) and his partner Joni (Linda McGill), beefy, bearded John (John Eastman) and his partner Mary (Janine Scheer), reluctant couple Jimmy (Tim Aguilar) and Carol (Sandy Brooke), and single hang-along Joey (Steven K. Wright). Before long, after some awkward romantic interludes, lots of drinking, an interminable five minute food fight (capped off with long follow-up scenes of first the women and then the men cleaning themselves up from the food fight!) and a séance, the spirit of the sledgehammer wielding boy returns to shapeshift between a boy and a very tall, very intimidating, mask-wearing, plaid-shirted thug that stalks and kills the protagonists (played by 7-foot actor Doug Matley).

Chuck and Joni

According to interviews with the filmmakers, the whole film was shot in the apartment of director David and brother Ted’s Venice California apartment, and the exterior shots of the desolate “50 miles from anywhere” cottage were shot in Simeon Valley, California. To his credit, Prior manages to make this small, single level two room apartment feel like a big country cottage thanks to never clearly establishing the spatial configuration of the apartment and interjecting staircase shots filmed elsewhere. Prior pads out the 83 minute running time with copious slow motion scenes —pretty much every kill scene is shot in slow motion— repeating shots of a long, very narrow hallway, where the tall killer stalks victim after victim, and shots of people walking up and down a staircase.

The very tall Doug Matley

Director David’s brother Ted Prior, who was an avid body builder, stars in the film and takes every opportunity to shed his shirt to put his sculpted physique on display. Including a three minute slow motion panning shot at the beginning which simply follows the shirtless Chuck walking arm in arm with his girlfriend Joni (Linda McGill) outside the cottage area (the scene feels like a condom commercial from the 1970s). Many static, full frame shots with multiple characters in them have that “keep-all-together-to-stay-in-the-frame” feel.

The first half of the film alternates between the characters having their vacation fun intercut with ominous mood moments (hand-held POV shots, zoom shots to the boy framed in a window, one striking shot of a sledgehammer resting against the wall that dissolves into thin air, the first indication of the supernatural) that foreshadow the horror to come.

Chuck decides to host a séance which includes a repeat of the opening murder prologue (more resourceful length expansion). The séance is terribly staged with close shots of Chuck holding a candle against an all-black background and awkward panning shots across the faces of the listeners who are trying their best to look frightened. Meanwhile Chuck’s friend Joey stands out from the crowd with a goofy, smug expression which telegraphs that he is “in on the joke” (and soon enough we see Joey leave the group to play orchestrate scary ‘séance’ sound effects on a tape player). In Evil Dead style, the ‘fake’ séance turns real when the killer (Doug Matley) appears and garrots Joey in the neck. This leads to perhaps the most effective moment in the film, when the killer drags poor Joey out of the room by the knife extending through his neck. The killer is not given much to do other than walk slowly, walk up staircases, and thrash his sledgehammer about; but his lack of refinement along with the unsettling transparent mask which reveals only his features actually works toward making him more threatening, giving him a supernatural aura through his silent omni-presence. Like Michael Myers in Halloween he is often felled but never stays down. And his huge frame set against the tiny hallways accentuates the sense of claustrophobia. In fact, the image of the killer shot in a wide angle lens and murky colors recalls the gritty stalking scenes with the hammer wielding, mask wearing killer in (the far superior) Nightmare (1981, Romano Scavolini).


Roman Scavolini’s Nightmares

There are moments with more psychological depth than you might expect from this kind of film in the uneasy relationship between one of the couples, Jimmy (Tim Aguilar) and Carol (Sandy Brooke). Carol has difficulty in getting Jimmy to reciprocate her sexual advances, to the point where we wonder if Jimmy is gay or just unwilling to engage in sex, which in either case goes against the promiscuous nature of characters in the usual slasher/stalker film. Which might explain how awkward their sex scene is, where they lie on each other and barely move their bodies. The slow motion photography doesn’t help (during a movie-break Briggs likens them to a couple of slugs). But true to slasher film morality, the couple are killed right after sex by the lumbering killer.

The climax of Sledgehammer adds action with back to back fights between the burly John and the killer and then the muscular, shirtless Chuck taking on the killer. Although in both cases, the slow motion works contrapuntally to the natural rhythm of an ‘action’ scene, the lilting, swirling synth score gives it a madness that fits the supernatural elements of the story. With the killer lying bloody faced on the ground, Chuck and Joni leave the house into the bright, sunny outdoors, but the final kicker is the camera that tilts away from the freed couple and zooms in to the top window to freeze frame on a shot of the boy wearing the killer’s mask and holding a sledgehammer, with a growling great synthesizer stinger (a final shot that evokes Black Christmas (1974).

After the film the show returns to Joe Bob Briggs’ tasteful but price conscious set where he has a few laughs at the expense of the film. Brigg clearly enjoys his job and the self-deprecating banter with his co-host Darcy the Mail Girl, but even he doesn’t quite know what to make of his second feature, Things by Andrew Jordan and Barry J. Gillis. Objectively speaking, Things is far worse than Sledgehammer but in its more extreme descents into total annihilation of cinema decorum produces more “WTF” moments than Sledgehammer and a longer residual impact on your cine-psyche. It is a film which plays better on repeat viewings, largely because you have recovered from the initial shock of that first viewing, and things that just seemed bad the first go round on second or third viewing begin to seem avant-garde. It starts off slow but then picks up its lunacy of nonsensical action so that the accumulated onslaught of awful post-dubbed scenes (the film’s original score was unusable so Jordan had to crudely post-dub the whole film), the turn to garish red and bluish lighting, the onslaught of non-sensical dialogue, the soundtrack that shifts abruptly from one musical piece to another, and the dime store creature effects, turns the whole experience into a space as surreal as the Dali painting hanging on the apartment wall! I imagine if André Breton were put into a time capsule to 1989 and saw this film, he might refer to it as a (naïve) surrealistic ‘masterpiece’!

No doubt the single thing that will most alienate a normal viewer from the film is the bad dubbing. It this is not the bad dubbing you might find in a poorly distributed Hong Kong martial art film from the 1970s or a badly handled export version of an Italian giallo from the 1970s, but bad on another level. Clearly, whatever technology the sound person used to dub the film after the failure of the live shooting was nowhere near a professional level. Sound levels vary drastically from shot to shot, from silence to sound, or from quiet to static-filled. Sound effect levels make no sense. When a character uses paper towels to wipe blood off his body (which recalls the lengthy clean-up after the food fight in Sledgehammer) the foley of rustling paper sounds like two pieces of sandpaper rubbing against each other.

Things opens with an atomic explosion, explained five minutes later in one of the film’s many alienatingly removed “news report” breaks. Like Sledgehammer, the film opens with a prologue. In a dank basement the camera frames a thirty-something man shot from below as he speaks to an off-screen character about how his wife is unable to conceive and whoever is off-screen to bear his child. There is a cut and the camera tilts up the body of a nude young woman (Jessica Stewarte) wearing a transparent mask (oddly enough, not dissimilar from the mask worn in Sledgehammer). She undresses and then presents him with a carriage carrying a monster baby, which startles the man. We cut to the man waking up from this nightmare.

The abrasive, intrusive music in this scene establishes a pattern of a soundtrack with largely original music by a prog rock Indigenous band called Stryk-9 which is gratingly inappropriate to what is happening, but in this dissonance blunts the ugliness of the cinematography. The man waking from the nightmare is Doug (Doug Bunston), who gives medication to his ailing wife Susan (Patricia Sadler) who replies: “Thanks…I hope they work, I feel like I’m going to die”, and then five seconds later adds, “I’m feeling better already.” As throughout, dialogue lines are disconnected from any sense of corporeality, more disorienting even than the crudest early sound film.

We then cut to the credits, the lead title which looks uncannily like the credits for Stranger Things. Like in Sledgehammer a car drops off two men, Doug’s brother Don (played by co-director Barry Gillis) and Fred (Barry Roach). The film then cuts to the first of many wholly unnecessary scenes at a television studio, where porn star Amber Lynn, wearing a gaudy blue outfit and Farah Fawcett blond hair, plays television host reporting on current events but also on events happening to our protagonists, as they happen (Don, Doug and Fred must be transmitting their actions telekinetically to Lynn!). The story goes that first time directors Gillis and Jordan thought getting a celebrity would increase the film’s marketability (that it did), but the plan was for Lynn to feature nude, adding an exploitation angle (this same reason explains the opening dream scene in the basement). When they found out that Amber Lynn would not appear nude for the little money they were offering, they improvised with the few hours of time they had with her and came up with this ‘tv studio’ set-up, which they try to link up to the rest of the film as best they could. For example, one of her ‘reports’ makes a narrative link to the opening atomic bomb, when she invokes the Cold War (“we will be talking to leader of the Soviet Union concerning topics of the George Bush administration and the threat of a nuclear war”). To bear in mind, this film was shot in the same year as Gorbachev’s “perestroika” reforms, and the collapse of the Berlin Wall and Communism as it had existed since the end of World War 2.

Amber Lynn

Don and Fred enter Doug’s home after he does not answer (a shot from within looking through the dirty door window features the most hideous makeshift curtain prop you will ever see!). Based on the series of bizarre events to follow, they might just as well be entering into the twilight zone rather than Doug’s house! They scour the fridge for beer and instead find a novel and tape recorder in the freezer!

Narrative exposition comes from an Amber Lynn report about the groundbreaking medical discovery of one Dr. Lucas (Jan W. Pachul) who claims that “if the human brain is exposed to ultra violet light a human’s life span will double. Scientists all over the world are very happy with the discovery and that if…..”. The scene awkwardly cuts in mid- sentence to Dr. Lucas’ lab (it is unclear whether the lab is in the home of our protagonists?) where he is conducting grotesque experiments on living humans which would not look out of place in the notorious Category 3 Chinese film, Men Behind the Sun, T. F. Mou’s re-enactment of the infamous medical experiments conducted by the Japanese in Unit 731 concentration camp during the Sino-China war of 1937-1939.

Dr. Lucas’ Torture

Dr. Lucas’ Texas-inspired laboratory

We see the doctor (aided by a female nurse, both in civilian clothes) picking at a skeletal, bloodied hand, isolating a small slug like creature which is a tiny version of the many spider-like Xenomorph-faced critters that will soon invade the home of our protagonists. The “lab” looks more like the kill room from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, 1974) than a medical room –-indeed, a Leatherface-style mask along with other heads are clearly visible on the walls of the doctor’s “lab”. The ‘patient’ has his tongue pulled out, his arm cut off and his eyeball yanked out, all in loving close-up. The slowed down voice-over of Doug repeating, “I want you to have my baby……hah, hah, hah” establishes a connection between Susan’s imminent terrible pregnancy and Dr. Lucas. Meanwhile another victim is hog-tied waiting his turn (another direct reference to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre). And then the “experiments” conclude with the nurse decapitating the victim. How this all relates to the “life expanding ultra violet light” treatment is a mystery. The six minutes of graphic gore ends with an odd (or irreverent, take your pick) cut from Dr. Lucas holding a decapitated head and grinning at the camera, to a sound edit of Fred looking into a closet and closing the door, the match cut making it appear as if he is reacting to the medical tortures!

A few scenes later Doug “checks in” on his wife in their red lit bedroom and we get the Alien inspired moment with one of the creature ‘things’, a Styrofoam painted spider crossed with a Xenomorph head, comes bursting out of Susan’s chest (Doug yells to his pals, “Come, help, Susan is sick.”) Doug explains to Don and Fred that Susan was impregnated by (the very mad) Dr. Lucas and that, in the underestimation of the year, “something went wrong”.

The one trait that is common to many SOBIG (so bad it’s good) films is how the actions and behaviour of the characters have little correlation to how those things happen in the real world. Like Johnny’s interaction with the clerk at the flower store in The Room. This happens from the first frame to the last in Things! Take the “sandwich” scene, where Doug brings in a stack of 6 month old white toast bread with no apparent filling to make sandwiches with. Doug provides protein by squishing a spider and concealing it inside Don’s sandwich. Don eats the sandwich and comments on how good it is. Only in this alternate SOBIG universe can a sandwich made of 6 month old stale white toast bread filled with nothing but a squished spider taste “good”!

And then the piece de la resistance, the most bizarre and sublime moment in the film, the “bathroom” scene, which consumes about seven minutes of screen time while adding nothing to the story. Don is desperate for a pee but is afraid there may be critters hiding in the bathroom. So Doug and Don painstakingly examine the tiny bathroom with a flashlight to verify there are no creatures. Don then goes into the bathroom and Doug hangs outside waiting. Don exits from a room opposite the bathroom behind Doug. What do they do? They go back into the bathroom to examine it again! Only now they find one of the ‘things’ seated on the toilet seat scowling at them, which for some reason causes Doug to go into a spasmic fit. In some weird inversion of a comedy routine, Don pushes Doug into the bathroom, shuts the door and waits outside with ear glued to the door. We hear the off-screen sound of the toilet flushing and Doug exits the bathroom holding the flashlight under his chin to prank Don with the scary shadow face. They then go into the kitchen to get some fresh fuses and go to the basement in search of the fuse box. What happened to the thing on the toilet? We will never know! What makes this bathroom scene a welcome curio is the random changes in color, from red to blue to orange, and the grating, industrial like music and sound effects that accompany this mundane spatially incoherent venture.

Once in the basement Doug and Don are confronted by a bunch of the spider-like Xenomorph critters, which are stiff and can only move when they are pushed or jostled by someone off-screen. A shaky hand-held camera pans around the dark basement picking up snippets of the critters and cutting to Doug or Don’s shocked reactions. One of the critters appears on Doug’s back and Don comes to his rescue by smashing the creature with a hammer, cracking his brother’s head in the process (“Oh no, what did I do! I hammered your head in. Are you alright?”). Doug lies in a pool of his blood, maybe dead. Don tries to lift his brother but complains he’s too heavy, and takes back his remorse: “I should have hit you again for being in the way.” Things get worse for poor Doug when one of the creatures bites his hand off and Don performs a home-made cauterization with the lit end of what looks like a shingle. The music played over this scene is a wholly inappropriate upbeat 1950s style Bebop song.

With Doug apparently out of commission, Don locks him in a closet and takes on the hero role by venturing into the basement with a power drill to hunt down the creatures one by one, mutilating them, tearing them apart, pausing to vomit when he sees the mangled corpse of the pet dog. Don returns upstairs and begins to hallucinate, seeing Doug sitting on the couch. Don collapses onto the couch and what follows is a weird, non-sensical montage of empty house spaces (kitchen faucet, Dali painting, toy bird, door) underscored by distorted guitar, but just as the viewer may be digging the ambient vibe, the scene cuts to another Amber Lynn news report, this one telling us that Don Drake and Fred Lewis have been missing for 14 days but “may still be alive”. This report gives temporal bearing to the narrative, but it is hard to imagine how they could have survived for two weeks on beer and 6 month old bread!

Yes she’s dead

Don wakes up to the sound of a buzzing chainsaw and in enters a crazed Fred madly waving a chainsaw around killing one creature after another, blood splattering onto his face and walls. The slaughter of the creatures is a dizzying onslaught of jump cuts, yells, loud sounds, disembodied voice-overs, and jittery camera movements. Doug is reduced to a bloody pile of bones and flesh but still is able to talk to his brother, and pleads for help, “Take me to the hospital they can rebuild me there!”


Meanwhile, Doctor Lucas shows up at the front door for a social call, “How is Susan feeling?” Don blames his experiments for the root of all the horror, but the Doctor claims his innocence, pointing at the chainsaw and golf club at the front door as murder weapons. He looks at the remains of Susan and comments, “This is ghastly, horrible, insane, blood and guts that’s all that’s left of her.” Like any good doctor, he puts his hand into the pile of blood on the bed, tastes it and confirms, “Ummm, that’s human blood alright!” Nothing like good old empiricism. In another meta moment, Dr. Lucas yells at Don in response to his claim that the house was attacked by little monsters, “You’re watching too many horror films pal, this place is empty.” After Dr. Lucas threatens to take him to the authorities, Don gets his revenge and lucky for us, another bathroom moment! Don shoves Dr. Lucas into the bathroom and locks him in. We hear Lucas’ off-screen voice, “Creatures with no soul, they are devouring me whole…….AAAAAAHHHHHH.” Don takes refuge in the closet with his brother’s remains. He falls asleep. In a moment that recalls the final scene of Night of the Living Dead, where Ben falls asleep in the basement and wakes up to the sounds of a new morning, Don comes crashing out of the closet and exits the house into daylight. As Don runs through the forest, to a clearing, past a brook he meets a man on a bridge, who literally offers him a helping hand by pulling him up onto the bridge. A traumatized Don pleads to the stranger, “There’s creatures, everyone is dead and there is a doctor!” The stranger tries to comfort Don, “You’ll be alright. You need a doctor, I’ll take you to doctor Lucas.” This ending may just be a reference to the original ending of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Don Siegel, 1956), where the frightened doctor Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) runs through cars on a bridge, trying to convince people of the invasion, “They’re here, they’re here!” The ending drags on, panning to follow Don and the stranger as they eventually get into the stranger’s car to the side of the road. We then hear an echoey voice ask, “Are you sure this wasn’t all a dream”, and, yes, we cut back to the house and a bloody zombie attacking Don (a false dream ending that goes as far back as An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge (Robert Enrcio, 1961) and ahead to The Descent (Neil Marshall, 2005). The film ends with a haggard Don trying to convince himself, “I’ll be Ok….I’ll be Ok”, while the camera focuses on a creature just behind him about to attack. We then cut to an end credit that reads, “You Have Just Experienced…..Things“. Now I may be crazy, but could this be a reference to the end credit of Suspiria, which tells us, “You have been watching…..Suspiria“? Even the font style and placement of the lines is identical. Conscious or not, I just find this a sublime bit of irony: one of the ugliest and most incompetently made horror films influenced by one of the most beautiful and technically accomplished horror films ever made!

Shudder’s Joe Bob Briggs’ Last Drive-In: Sledgehammer and Things

Donato Totaro has been the editor of the online film journal Offscreen since its inception in 1997. Totaro received his PhD in Film & Television from the University of Warwick (UK), is a part-time professor in Film Studies at Concordia University (Montreal, Canada) and a longstanding member of AQCC (Association québécoise des critiques de cinéma).

Volume 25, Issue 5 / May 2021 Essays   canadian cinema   horror   joe bob briggs   shot on video