Before signing off on The Last Drive-In for what we believed to be the final time this past summer, Joe Bob Briggs noted that the Shudder marathon, as well as his Drive-In Theater and MonsterVision programs “tried to be the place to hang out for the weirdos and the misfits, and the people who felt left out of mainstream culture,” before touching on the myriad people who had shared tales of how he had saved their lives by giving them something to look forward to.
Some of it had to do with “horrible home” lives, and the ability to “lock the doors of their room when our silly show came on, and it would make ‘em feel able to face the next week.” Ever the gentleman, Briggs added that it was a “wonderful by-product” of shows intended to make people laugh and expose them to forgotten films. He then added, “I can’t take credit for that.”
I’m here to stump Joe Bob by saying yes. Yes, he can.
A common theme of both The Last Drive-In and Dinners of Death was the idea of communal experience, that stories were intended to be viewed together, to be shared and discussed with friends and strangers alike. In other words, like family.
The horror community is a small one, in many ways like a family, and that is exactly what I want to discuss here.
Be it because of depression or absence of actual family, the holidays can be a difficult time for people. I know—I fall under each category—and also know that I am not alone, not by a wide margin.
Whether direct or extended, Thanksgiving is a day for family, to gather around a table for a meal, to talk and laugh and love. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have that opportunity. Maybe they’ve moved and can’t return home for the holiday, they don’t want to burden their friends by “tagging along,” or their loved ones have passed away, or they simply don’t speak with family members anymore. Whatever the reason, it can leave people feeling worthless, and very alone.
But that’s where Dinners of Death and Joe Bob Briggs and Diana Prince come in.
The concept of giving folks something to look forward to still rings true, because for many (myself included), waiting for the clock to strike nine and Shudder’s Thanksgiving marathon provided those who were feeling alone something to hold onto, something to share.
As soon as Joe Bob opened the festivities with a crack about Wild Turkey only needing to be aged eight years and “do not make me tell you this again,” a smile found our lips, perhaps for the first time all day, and the stress of said day began to fade.
And as the drive-in Jedi began to regale us with tidbits about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and vehemently defended the career of Tobe Hooper, we felt connected to what he was saying (not just because it was true goddamn it), but because we too felt discredited and forgotten. All it took was a few short minutes of impassioned twang from a man we all adore to feel peace for the first time all day.
And it was shared. Not only on the screen, but on Twitter and Facebook. Not just with fellow fans who may or may not have been or felt alone that day, but thanks largely to Darcy the Mail Girl, otherwise known as Kinky Horror. She spent the entire marathon, nearly 10 hours, interacting with us as we watched. She laughed at our observations, shared images and stories (even the Drinking Game Fu I came up with while downing a turkey dinner at a restaurant by myself), answered questions, and just…kept us company as we enjoyed what was unfolding in and outside of Joe Bob’s “trailer.”
Many felt alone for most of Thanksgiving, but from nine o’clock on, we were anything but. Briggs and Darcy made sure of that. They gave us something to look forward to. Joe Bob and Prince gave us something to share. With a Drive-In Mutant family. They made what would have otherwise been a sad day one to smile about.
Briggs had said he couldn’t take credit for such things back in July, but to be honest, that burns my bacon. Yes he can. And he should. As should Prince.
A professor of mine once said that when it comes to art, if a person takes something away from it that its creator had never intended to be there, it’s still real. It still matters. Briggs and Diana gave something to all of us that can never be taken away, intended or not.
Maybe Joe Bob and Darcy hadn’t set out to give folks who were feeling alone a sense of inclusion and peace and family on Thanksgiving, but that’s exactly what they did. Something for which I, and many others shall be forever thankful .
For all those who feel as I feel — please — take credit for that.