Category Archives: Editorials

What Keeps Us Coming Back for More Joe Bob

How often do we hear Joe Bob toss a word out then immediately repeat that word and look to the crew to ask, “What does (insert word here) mean?” It’s all part of his storytelling, because he wants to be sure the audience is on the same page before he escorts them further down whatever magical rabbit hole he’s concocted for that segment.

The word I want to use is “sustainable.”

What does “sustainable” mean, anyway? It’s about upholding a rate or level, right? So, how does that word pertain to The Last Drive-In? It’s not about Shudder renewing for a second season or further marathons, because I think we can all agree they’d be fools to walk away from the gold rush of subscriptions they’ve sold because of the presence of Joe Bob Briggs. They have a very small crew that isn’t handsomely rewarded for its efforts, and they’ve already paid for the rights to broadcast whatever films Joe Bob chooses every week, so, I ask again—how does “sustainable” enter the equation?

Think about the anticipation and excitement that surrounded the long-awaited return of the Drive-In Jedi for the initial Last Drive-In marathon this past July and the holiday specials that followed. Mutants who had waited nearly two decades for so much as a morsel of drive-in totals were frothing at the mouth and it made sense because it had been so damn long. It’s no different than the fanfare that accompanied the teaser trailers and subsequent release of Blumhouse’s HALLOWEEN (2018) last October and the enthusiasm the horror community is now experiencing for IT: CHAPTER TWO. It’s easy to harbor that type of glee in the short term, even though short can mean a month or two months, and sometimes even a year. But inevitably the film drops, folks attend in droves and it’s all anyone can talk about for a week or two, sometimes more, but without fail it fades and we move on to the next thing. Time is funny that way, it always wins because that type of enthusiasm cannot be sustained for long periods of, well, time.

BeerTherein lies the answer to how the word “sustainable” pertains to The Last Drive-In. The first marathon came and went, but it didn’t peak, there was no Joe Bob fatigue. It carried into the “Dinners of Death” Thanksgiving event but didn’t plateau there either because the anticipation for “A Very Joe Bob Christmas” was even higher than the marathon that preceded it, and dare I say the original, as well.

Which brings us to The Last Drive-In’s Friday night double features that began on March 29. After 21 films and well over 40 hours, the fans still hadn’t gotten enough Joe Bob, and what’s more, their hunger had only grown more ravenous. The Last Drive-In, Mr. Briggs and Darcy the Mail Girl are the television equivalent of an industrial-sized tub of The Stuff. We’ve grown helplessly addicted, desperate for our next fix, like a collective dog that just can’t wait to get at Danny Aiello’s throat.

What other horror program can compare? Very few if any are old enough to remember the original run of The Twilight Zone, so it’s possible that show generated the same visceral response from its audience, but with the lack of social media to connect every single viewer to the festivities, that’s doubtful. Hannibal is universally adored, but only lasted three seasons and clearly wasn’t must-see because the ratings dictated its end (damn you, DVR), and The X-Files enjoyed a spectacular run for a few seasons before it too lost momentum. For a show to completely dominate the public consciousness year after year is rare, and Game of Thrones embodied that for nearly a decade until we’ve all recently seen (depending on your perspective) the unfortunate end to that story.

But not The Last Drive-In. Now, before anyone goes off about the fact that The Twilight Zone and Hannibal and The X-Files aired for years when Shudder’s extravaganza hasn’t even existed for 365 days, I’d ask that one not forget part of it is the mystery of what films will be presented, what guest might pop up, or what Felissa Rose has to say about the male anatomy–but more importantly, that word–“sustainable.”

Stuff

The buzz for Joe Bob and The Last Drive-In has not only failed to level off, it’s intensified, and the reason for that is that this crop of Briggs disciples has been blessed with social media. While that may seem obvious, take a moment to truly think about what that means. The number of people who would watch regardless may not be affected by Twitter or Facebook, but how many tune in because of social media? Because they can keep up with Darcy (@kinkyhorror) on Twitter or interact with fellow fans who are engaged in real time discussions? The days of viewing MonsterVision on TNT in what often times equated to solitary confinement are long dead. Whether one is having a party or quietly watching alone at home, we are all-in together. The pictures, the videos, the GIFs, the art, the clever observations are all captured minute-by-minute, film-by-film, night-by-night, and can be kept on phones and computers and pads to relive and share from Saturday to the following Friday when it all begins again.

It’s an event. Every week.

As Briggs said in the press release that announced the renewal of The Last Drive-In for a second season, “it’s about something larger than horror. Don’t ask me what that thing is, but it’s a source of great joy to me.” So, you see, the fans may come for Joe Bob, but they stay for each other. It’s that shared experience—the commentary, the new friendships, the laughs, the memories we know will last a lifetime—which make The Last Drive-In “sustainable.”

Perhaps things will change if Shudder renews beyond Season 2, but I doubt that very seriously. Sure, we’ve seen it before, but have we seen it with an insatiable army of Mutant minions armed with interweb devices counting the seconds to 9 o’clock every Friday night? I think not.

Speaker

A Year after ‘Ash vs Evil Dead,’ That Scene Still Resonates

“That’s the key,” Bruce Campbell noted on the DVD commentary of the Ash vs Evil Dead series finale, “give the actors something appropriate to do.” In the end, the lasting image of the EVIL DEAD franchise was not a one-liner or practical effect or or even gallons of blood, but the connection shared between a handful of performers and the audience which followed them on a journey that came to an end one year ago today.

Ash vs Evil Dead offered a surplus of splatstick, but over 15 hours of series life, it also provided a peek behind the curtain at who Ashley J. Williams (Campbell) truly was. Perhaps its greatest achievement, though, was getting a die hard fan base to fall in love with characters it had never known before 2015.

THE EVIL DEAD premiered in Detroit, Michigan on October 15, 1981, with origins that stretched back even further, but didn’t introduce Pablo Simon Bolivar (Ray Santiago) and Kelly Maxwell (Dana DeLorenzo) for 34 years, and it would be another two before Brandy Williams (Arielle Carver-O’Neill) entered the fray. By the time “Mettle of Man,” came to a close, however, they were just as beloved as El Jefe, a testament to the writing team that brought the show to life.

James Eagan was responsible for 11 episodes, while Nate Crocker, Zoe Green and William Bromell all had a hand in penning 10 chapters. DeLorenzo was and continues to be a champion of the team effort responsible for making Ash vs Evil Dead what it was, and never was that more evident than the series finale. Campbell, Santiago, DeLorenzo and Carver-O’Neill assembled in the back of a military truck, armed only with Rick Jacobson’s words (Jacobson wrote and directed the final two episodes), and provided EVIL DEAD fans with the farewell we needed, but didn’t deserve.

On that same commentary track, Campbell said “This is very potentially the last time you will ever see these characters, and story-wise, we’ve been through too much to give them short shrift, as they say.” A concept Jacobson understood as well as the most ardent of AVED fans.

With a six-story, Kandarian demon looming in the distance, the Ghostbeaters all remained true to character.

Amid chaos and gunfire, Pablo rushed to rescue a frightened little girl cowering on the street, Kelly picked up a weapon and defended the soldiers facing off with oncoming Deadites, and Brandy held tight to the ride or die stance that put her firmly at Ash’s side.

Ash vs Evil Dead Season 3 2017And as the Godzilla-like monster roared and the blades of a helicopter whirled overhead, the Prophesied One glanced at the faces of his family and “finally, for once, own(ed) up to who the hell [he] was.”

Brandy questioned what he was doing and Kelly barked “Ash, come on. Get in the fucking truck!” but Ash knew that nearly four decades on, the time had come. And Campbell, along with his partners in crime hit every note Jacobson had poured onto the page.

“My father always said I ran from my fights, Brandy. I’m not runnin’ from this one.”

As NYPD Blue methodically unveiled the soul of Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz) over 12 seasons, so too did AVED reveal that Ash was not only the hero we always believed him to be, but that he was no longer a caricature, rather a human being willing to lay down for those he cared about.

As Jacobson commented, “[Ash] knows that most likely, [his decision] was going to be a one way trip.” For the first time, it was not one-liner that left tears in our eyes, but the heartfelt emotion Campbell exuded saying goodbye.

Like a father stingy with a compliment, Ash picked the perfect time to show the Ghostbeaters how he truly felt about them.

“Kelly, people are going to need a strong leader. Someone they can depend on, someone they can believe in. That’s you.” Maxwell, the focused leader to Ash’s reluctant, fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants Chosen One, finally knew that she didn’t have to be like Ash, that who she was was exactly what the world needed.

PabloTurning to El Brujo Especial, “Pablo, you’re the Jefe now.” A quick cut to Ash’s right-hand man found his orbs moist with sentiment, but he said nary a word, just pursed his lips with a pained smile and nod of understanding. Nothing needed to be said. Perfectly written and perfectly acted. I’m not ashamed to admit that for all the times I had to pause Ash vs Evil Dead because I was howling with laughter, that reaction shot was the only time I paused it because I was overwhelmed. It was a good minute or two before the tears had stopped.

“You save them.” Once more, it was no longer about Ash or even those he held most dear, but the citizens of Elk Grove and the world at large, because the savior of humanity was finally ready to fulfill his destiny.

But not before parting ways with the daughter he’d only begun to know, but loved deeply.

“You said you wouldn’t leave me.”

Holding back tears, Ash responded “I’m doin’ this for you. I’m doing it for all of you.” Brandy placed her hand on the window, and Ash answered in kind, his head bowed, and a gentle, loving double tap of his fingers on the glass. As the truck pulled away, we saw Ash standing alone as the camera widened the distance between them.

“Now Rick, you know I’ve butchered dialogue before, I’ve butchered mercilessly,” Campbell said. “I didn’t change anything in that dialogue because I really liked it.”

It’s been a year since we said farewell to Ash vs Evil Dead, but much like Ashley J. Williams, those final fleeting moments when Rick Jacobson’s words were shared between the Ghostbeaters will stand the test of time.

DeLorenzo silhouette

 

 

 

It’s Time to Show Some Love to Darcy the Mail Girl

After Shudder raised the curtain on the first of The Last Drive-In, Friday night double-feature extravaganzas this past Friday, we are now twenty-three films into the return of Joe Bob. In other words, we mutants are invested in the Briggs renaissance, but for all the love we bestow upon the drive-in Jedi, it’s probably about time we offer some love to Darcy the Mail Girl.

This recognition is long overdue, but necessitated in a way because of a rather upsetting tweet that I noticed this morning. Granted, I’ve not seen any such tweets myself, but that someone else has noticed a few left me feeling compelled to address the matter.

Darcy (Diana Prince) handled the message that brought it to her attention with class, but let’s face it, it’s Twitter, so I’m sure she’s had more than her fair share of hate tweets and DMs since assuming the role of Mail Girl. However, as a lifelong Joe Bob disciple and avid fan of her role on The Last Drive-In, I wanted to review just a handful of ways that she kicks all the (as Joe Bob would say) heinie.

To begin, every job is more difficult that it appears. We have no real idea of the responsibilities Briggs and Shudder have bestowed upon Darcy, but rest assured, it’s far more than just sitting at a table next to the trailer and scrolling through social media and having the occasional conversation with Joe Bob.

That said, let’s stick with what we know.

Never has Briggs had a more knowledgeable Mail Girl. It’s been obvious from the beginning that Prince has a passion for and vast understanding of the genre we all know and love. While every Mail Girl has been tasked with tongue-in-cheek eye rolls directed toward our beloved horror host, I would venture to say that few if any have had the type of chemistry and rapport with him than we’ve seen from Darcy through the initial Friday the 13th marathon, or subsequent holiday all-nighters, nor the first double-feature.

We’re not allowed to forget Darcy’s delightful composure whilst conducting her “Stump Joe Bob” segments from last July. Even when Briggs wondered aloud if it would be impossible to answer one of her queries correctly, she shot back “Not if you know your horror,” which left Joe Bob looking to the crew and offering a dismayed “When did we start hiring intellectual Mail Girls?” And it’s impossible to forget how Darcy befuddled the host of hosts and mutants everywhere (to say nothing of the incredible GIF it created) when she admitted that she preferred the CHAIN SAW remake to the original on Thanksgiving.

Mail Girl v. Male GirlAs per usual, Prince chuckled but held her ground, all the more impressive because she’s made it quite clear that appearing on camera is still something that rattles her nerves because such endeavors rest outside of her comfort zone.

Her banter with Briggs is never lacking for humor or enthusiasm, and it’s clear that she is thrilled and honored to have been chosen for the gig by Joe Bob himself. And oh-by-the-way, that’s a little nugget of truth that should never be overlooked.

Never mind the fact that Prince tirelessly promotes the show on social media and at horror events throughout California (and the country), as well as while the shows are streaming. How many mutants have actually stayed up for the duration of each marathon? Because Darcy has. She tweets all night long, but more than that, she interacts with the fans. Not only does she retweet observations and funny takes from the Mutant Fam, she responds to as many messages as she can. And if we take a moment to truly consider what that means, it deserves our respect because we’re talking thousands of messages coming in, not only every minute the show is streaming, but the next day. And the day after that. Three days later. It never stops. She doesn’t complain, she doesn’t say she needs a break, she just keeps on. Happily, enthusiastically, with a smile on her face. Every day.

And we haven’t even touched on her cosplay, which Joe Bob has mentioned loving numerous times. Prince is playing a character, yes, but the cosplay just adds an element to the part that makes The Last Drive-In that much richer. Which character will she choose? What spin will she come up with to represent a film or character? Again, take a moment to consider the amount of time that level of preparation and creativity requires.

Then remember the way you smiled at the Fouke Monstress and the Ted Raimi condom vest, or her hilarious “got some mail for ya” interaction that gave us Mail Girl v. Male Girl from SLEEPAWAY CAMP, which if we’re honest about it, is one of the moments of the show thus far.

Darcy

And for The Last Drive-In’s recurring communal theme, it was Darcy who shared a bunch of @thestichkeeper’s crocheted figures lovingly constructed from flicks featured on the program, and offered a Michael Berryman figure to auction off to help raise money for Florida’s Seacrest Wolf Preserve, a place near and dear to Berryman’s heart, which had suffered extensive damage during Hurricane Michael.

For as invested as we are in Joe Bob and The Last Drive-In, so too is Prince. As she mentioned in her Twitter response, she’s just a fellow mutant who has been blessed to be a part of the magic, and her heart is in it, every second of every day. And that deserves our respect, because for as much fun as it is, it’s also far more work than any of us realize.

Darcy’s knowledge and banter, unrivaled cosplay and inclusiveness, and devotion to Briggs, the show, and the fans are a far bigger part of this than we often give credit for.

So if you notice a negative remark directed toward her on social media, don’t get into an argument because that’s silly and not worth your time, but do offer this simple response and leave it at that: The Last Drive-In is better because of Diana Prince. She is our Mail Girl, and we are damn lucky to have her.

Darcy support

Kim Greist: MANHUNTER’s Burning Source of Light

“What are you dreaming?”

Audiences spend the entirety of MANHUNTER (1986) in the wake of a dream world conjured from the imagination of a man who housed a genuine taste for killing, with only the briefest of glimpses at what danced before the closed eyes of his purposeful pursuer sprinkled throughout. Make no mistake, however, the dream world of Will Graham was every bit as integral to Thomas Harris’ story as the Tooth Fairy’s.

Francis Dollarhyde (played to steely perfection by Tom Noonan) envisioned the Leeds and Jacobis, Reba McLane (Joan Allen), and a third family who would never know they were spared; but for the fascinatingly intense Graham (William Petersen), it was a beautiful blonde sipping a Dos Equis on a boat deck in Florida.

Both needed their dreams to survive—to exist—but despite our long enchantment with the Harris universe and the exploits of MANHUNTER’s characters, the time has come to celebrate the incredible performance of Kim Greist, who was far more than just a beautiful blonde whose sole purpose was as muse for her husband.

Director Michael Mann has a history of devoting far more time, attention, and development to the men of his pictures, and MANHUNTER was no exception, but on its surface, it would appear that Molly Graham was nothing more than someone for Will to live for. While that’s true to an extent, one must delve deeper into the quiet strength Greist injected into the character despite limited screen time.

Though our first cinematic exposure to Will Graham didn’t find him manipulated by Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina), the man was driven by empathy, his conscience unable to erase the images of the Leeds and Jacobis, factors that allowed Graham to—as Dr. Sidney Bloom (Paul Perri) would say—“do a good job of getting [himself] all bent out of shape.”

Enter Molly.

Greist dreamTo say she was Graham’s moral compass would be an over-exaggeration because Graham held clear perspective on right and wrong, but he respected his wife’s enough to discuss helping Crawford on the case. Molly called Graham’s bluff—a recurring theme—pointing out that he had already made up his mind and wasn’t asking. When he posed it as a question, though, Molly responded that he should stay with his wife and son, but quickly noted that such a sentiment was selfish, and she knew it. However, Molly did offer that “we have it more than good,” planting the suggestion that there was not only more to life than hunting killers, but that once more immersing himself in that world could pull him away from all that mattered, his family.

Though Graham held tight to that family, his empathy had a tendency to plunge him into a sensibility where Molly and Kevin (David Seaman) fell into the landscape of his consciousness, so driven that he would lose sight of what it would mean should he never return home.

The beauty of Greist’s performance, the glowing intensity of her quiet strength, was that she never passed on an opportunity to jolt Graham out of his dream-state and back to reality.

Though Graham flirtatiously joked that hotel rooms “elicit romance” and “we have to stop meeting like this,” in MANHUNTER such locations also dripped of symbolism. An unfamiliar place one inhabits for a short while, just as Will found himself entrenched in the world of Francis Dollaryde, and to an extent, Dr. Hannibal Lecktor (Brian Cox) throughout the bulk of the film.

The first time we see Graham in a temporary home, he’d grown weary of watching home videos of the families slaughtered by Dollarhyde and moved to the phone to make a late-night call to Molly. Despite the fact that his wife was groggy (for the record, no one plays half-awake like Greist) and doesn’t even engage in a real conversation with his partner, just hearing her voice, reacquainting himself with the warmth of his love as she dreamed was all it took for Graham to have an epiphany about what fueled Dollarhyde’s fantasies, foreshadowing to “smell yourself.”

“What are you dreaming?”

Greist blue

Later, this time Molly sharing a room with her husband, she stared into his eyes with an intimacy and understanding that only those who know someone completely are capable, and declared “Time is luck, Will.” Molly sensed that her partner was losing the battle with his imagination—the empathy of his dreamscape—and needed a reminder that risking his life to find one man would come at an expense that they couldn’t afford to pay. The ferocity of Will’s gaze communicated that the message had hit home. Graham was once again centered, if only momentarily. Molly was that magnet to Graham’s core which drew him out of depths from which he would otherwise be helplessly confined, without whom he would be doomed to nothing more than the task at hand.

Attributes that culminated in the couple sitting on a dock to discuss what came next, where Graham revealed that he would go to Atlanta, alone. Molly again called him out, this time for doing exactly what he said he wouldn’t. Though Graham was forceful in sharing that the killing had to stop, Molly didn’t storm off or become demonstrably upset because she knew that Will’s heart was in the right place, so she simply poised herself in thought, eyes searching for words that would resonate. Disbelief, disappointment, and fear radiated from Greist’s expression before she opened her mouth, but in the end, she countered with a jab which she knew would register, “William, you’re going to make yourself sick or get yourself killed.”

Molly had a foot in each plane—the dream world and physical—and it was Greist’s character who fueled all things Will Graham. She provided him with nourishment of the body and soul, but also incentive and inspiration, and the one thing which no one else was capable: telling Graham what he needed to hear and immediately putting whatever chaotic situation he found himself into real terms, a much-needed reminder that decisions and their subsequent actions had consequences.

Molly was the antidote to the “ugliest thoughts in the world,” and the reason Will returned home—not as a shell of himself—but the same man as the morning he departed.

Kim Greist’s abbreviated yet amazing performance as Molly Graham was a dream realized.

Greist beach

Why 2018 was the Year of Joe Bob

I bought a bolo. That’s how much I adore John Bloom, affectionately known as Joe Bob Briggs. I’m old enough to (at least vaguely) remember his diatribes on The Movie Channel and wondered who the hell was this guy who could rant and ramble about obscure films at the drop of a hat. I was fascinated.

And then he took over MonsterVision on TNT, and I was hooked, completely taken. So cool and composed, funny and intelligent, he made spinning a damn fine yarn seem easy, when I know good and damn well it’s anything but.

He made good movies great and bad movies worth your time. He seemed to know every detail about production and the cast. With stories and experiences that took place in Texas and Arkansas and New York and everywhere in between, it seemed as though Joe Bob was the Alfred Pennyworth of the horror universe—a man who has lived what seems a thousand lifetimes.

Briggs was apt to say that when the network cancelled MonsterVision, the people must suffer, and he was right. For 17 years we missed him and yearned for someone to resurrect the finest of drive-in hosts. What did it matter that he was the only one, we never needed to lay eyes on a competitor to know that he had none.

JBB WhoaWhile Joe Bob still roamed the countryside doing film presentations and conventions, it just wasn’t the same. For all his travels, it would be impossible for one man to hit every town, or even come near enough for everyone who wanted a Briggs fix to get access, so still we suffered.

Then Shudder swooped in, the Jesus to Joe Bob’s Lazarus, and scratched that itch which had been tormenting us for nearly two decades.

The Last Drive-In fittingly arrived on Friday the 13th this past July, but for all the anticipation and publicity, no one could have expected what happened. Joe Bob broke the internet. Now, he commented at the time (a stance he still maintains) that the show didn’t work because there were so many who were unable to see the open or much of the first portion of the marathon as it was happening, but it was truly a moment where the communal experience wasn’t necessary to fully appreciate the magnitude of the event.

The Commodore 64 servers simply proved insufficient for all those who wanted Joe Bob. Though we knew he was loved by horror fans everywhere, it was the first time that we truly realized just how much Briggs means to so many. The demand was simply overwhelming.

The stories were as brilliantly weaved as ever, the jokes were fresh and just as funny, and the knowledge once again left us shaking our heads in disbelief, while we shared our observations and laughter and discussed it in real time on social media.

And that was before he asked Felissa Rose if her dick was deformed.

Briggs RoseIt was hyped as the ultimate last call, that the 13 flicks that began with Tourist Trap and ended with Pieces would be the final opportunity for us to share such time with Briggs. That we obliterated Shudder’s servers, however, and offered so many messages of joy and love and thanks (to say nothing of our Billy Idol-like cries of more, more, more), was all it took for Joe Bob to tweet through Darcy the Mail Girl (Diana Prince) that “The people have suffered enough. Assemble the squad. We’re gonna need more servers.”

Shortly thereafter came the announcement of a pair of holiday marathons—Dinners of Death for Thanksgiving, and A Very Joe Bob Christmas—and if that weren’t enough to leave us collectively giddy, word dropped that there would be a regular show sometime in 2019.

Dinners offered a glimpse of Briggs’ otherworldly appreciation for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and a passionate defense for its director Tobe Hooper, who horror fans are well aware has never gotten his due outside of our little community. Next was an incredible conversation with Michael Berryman that once again left us wanting more, and resulted in a signed figure that Prince auctioned off to raise money for Florida’s Seacrest Wolf Preserve which had been decimated by Hurricane Michael. Darcy even brought out some of the crocheted figures passionately assembled by Twitter’s @thestichkeeper, further demonstrating that the horror community is as tightly woven as one of Joe Bob’s stories.

BerrymanAnd this past Friday, we sat with drinks in hand and smiles on our faces as the Drive-In Jedi guided us through the Phantasm franchise, complete with an interview with the Ice Cream Commando himself, Reggie Bannister, as well as the oddest and most awesome version of the 12 Days of Christmas any of our ears have ever had the pleasure of hearing.

Before Briggs dug into Pieces for The Last Drive-In, he lovingly spoke about late and legendary horror host John Zacherle. Voice cracking with emotion, Joe Bob said “he knew the journey was not about the stage, it was about the life and the joy that you create while you’re standin’ on that stage.” Briggs added “So John Zacherle, I never got to say this to you, but wherever you are, this one is for you.”

For all the smiles and the laughs and the composure, that was the first and only time we’ve seen that type of sentimentality from Briggs. Though he was speaking about Zacherle, it was obvious to all watching that Joe Bob was also referring to himself. Clearly the joy that Briggs has brought to millions over the course of 30-plus years has never been lost on him, and the love he’s received from us has been heartfelt and appreciated. In that moment, Joe Bob truly believed that he was about to embark on the final film of his television career, and he—like us—was lost in the moment.

Thankfully, we (at least in part helped to) change his mind.

The absolute perfection of Briggs and Prince and Shudder will begin its regular program early next year, which is mercifully just around the corner. For this year, though, the glory that was Halloween (2018) and Mandy, the Oscar-worthy performance of Toni Collette (Hereditary), Robert Englund’s turn as Freddy in an All Hallow’s Eve episode of The Goldbergs, Jordan Peele’s victory for Best Original Screenplay, and The Shape of Water capturing Best Picture, the horror story of the year is, was, and ever shall be the return of Joe Bob Briggs.

And for someone who idolized the man growing up, and later got an opportunity to host an ode-to-Joe-Bob horror movie program for a television station, nothing could be better.

SignSo at the end of November when I traveled north for Briggs’ How Rednecks Saved Hollywood show at the Parkway Theater in Minneapolis, I did so wearing that bolo. The only other thing I had with me was the piece I’d written thinking (at the time) that The Last Drive-In was a farewell.

When my turn finally came to meet the only other man rocking a bolo, he smiled and shook my hand. We made small talk, and I asked if he’d be good enough to sign my article. He glanced at it and asked if he had read this before, to which I simply replied “You shared it on your Facebook.” He smiled and said, “If it made it to Facebook, I definitely read it.” As he leaned down to scribble a message, my heart soared at the memory of that share, because it was done with just a single word: “This.”

Writing has been a passion of mine for as long as I can remember, and in that moment, I knew that what had come from my heart had resonated with a man I’d adored my entire life, and had received the seal of approval from Joe Bob Briggs.

This is just one story, and one reason, why 2018 is the year of Joe Bob Briggs. All the other stories, shared and unshared about three marathons, 21 movies, and countless laughs and memories that brought us all together are why no other event from this year can offer even a meager challenge if you know what I mean…and I think you do.

Santa

Still Hooked on Teri McMinn Four Decades Later

It is perhaps the most iconic scene from one of the most iconic franchises horror has ever known. Yet the lasting wound inflicted upon TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE audiences forty-four years ago had more to do with a meat hook than a chainsaw.

While director Tobe Hooper and stars Marilyn Burns and Gunnar Hansen have enjoyed most of TCM’s notoriety since 1974, the most indelible images (and sounds) came not from Leatherface, but Pam, a character created by a then 22-year old actress from Houston, Texas named Teri McMinn.

What McMinn was able to accomplish in less than one minute is by any standard, underrated. McMinn went from sheer dread at the sight of Leatherface (Hansen) to crazed desperation in efforts to escape his clutches, before the horrified recognition of what was to come and finally (and as odd as it may seem to say), the subtle performance which followed Pam being plopped onto a hook designed for slaughtered animals.

That fleeting minute offered much to digest, and because its intensity was so unrelenting, it felt like a landed sucker punch that to this day, still takes this writer’s breath away.

Rather than over-the-top writhing shrills, McMinn communicated what our collective imagination was too frightened to conjure—incomprehensible pain—and as such, her reaction was almost one of disbelief.

McMinn hookDisbelief of what was happening to be sure, but also the agony that would have undoubtedly been coursing through Pam’s body. Truly study McMinn’s face and the whimpers which emanated from her throat and you won’t witness a contrived portrayal of misery, but rather an honest performance from an actress who dared to take a momentary glimpse at torture.

Hooper’s decision to deliver a quick, almost home movie style shot of McMinn’s feet as they hovered above a bucket to collect droplets of blood, then quickly panned to capture Pam’s excruciating and immobilized terror served as the icing on the proverbial cake.

It was heart-pounding and almost too real, and we have McMinn to thank for that.

For as much as Leatherface means to horror, memories of McMinn’s minute are what flood through this writer’s mind when conversations turn to THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE.

That we’ve lost Hansen and Burns over the past few years is all the more reason to embrace the fact that McMinn owned a scene like few before or since.

McMinn German

Joe Bob and ‘Dinners of Death’ Redefined Family

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.

DarcyThe 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.

JBB

Book Review: “AD NAUSEAM” Is The Holy Grail of 80’s Horror Newsprints

Once upon a time before the wild world of the interwebs, you had to turn to that black and white rolled up bunch of papers that magically appears in your driveway every morning to observe the latest movie premieres and listing showtimes. Plainly speaking, living in an advanced age of technology has spoiled us from giving in that extra effort as any and (almost) all information is literally at our fingertips. And with the entrance of Google, the exit of what is now considered a lost art occurred.

As with horror-based VHS art, newsprint graphics for film announcements became an entity in its own with not only promoting said picture but influencing audiences into seeing the movie with the alluring black and grey art attached to the information. Former Fangoria Editor-in-Chief and presently, one of Rue Morgue’s head-honchos’ Michael Gingold has taken this long-lost pastime and breathed new life into the forgotten advertisements with his new book, “AD NAUSEAM: NEWSPRINT NIGHTMARES FROM THE 1980s”.

I recently had the opportunity to gleefully gawk at the 245-page book and holy Nicolas National Treasure Cage- it is as glorious as the retro sunbeams beaming off a neon synthwave.

Book Review: "AD NAUSEAM" Is The Holy Grail of 80's Horror Newsprints

With all retro advertisements seen within, some extremely rare or never-before-seen all from Gingold’s personal collection, compiled into yearly chapters that range from 1980-1989, this truly is a must-have for not only lovers of 80’s horror, but ALL genre enthusiasts. From a historical standpoint, this nostalgic book certainly serves as an opened time capsule from a time where horror was both beloved and misunderstood by the general public- (If you’re questioning that last bit, check out this little diddy from 20/20). So whether you’re reliving that era or discovering it for the first time, the feeling you get as you flip the pages through these newsprint nightmares can easily be compared to watching your very first horror film. And that my friends, is such a rare experience to come across in the modern days of the interwebs.

Book Review: "AD NAUSEAM" Is The Holy Grail of 80's Horror Newsprints

In addition to the glorious spread of page after page of retro goodness, snippets of reviews are matched alongside select films. It goes without saying this was a time where Rotten Tomatoes and online reviews were years ahead in the future. That being said, in a time where horror didn’t harbor the respect it has accumulated from critics over the years, you’ll find a few of these snippets might just trigger your horror senses into a flight or fight reaction. As explained in the book, these reviews were posted at the time of release, and I’m just taking a shot in the dark here, from a few snooty film advisers.

However, I can overlook those very real reviews with an extensive introduction from Gingold explaining what had compelled him to save all these clippings to begin with. If you hadn’t already taken the hint or looked around at my website here, I kind of really love reminiscing about my journey in and around the horror genre and the influences it had on me as a child; but hearing it from the mouth of someone who is hugely respected here, and around the horror writing community is pure gold. And I highly urge everyone in this business that picks up this gem to resist the temptation and read what Gingold has to say before going balls deep into the ads. VERY IMPORTANT HERE.

Towards the end of the retro 80’s horror ad road, you’ll find an intriguing closing entitled “The Art of the Sell”- which includes conversations with Terry Levine (President of Aquarius Releasing), and longtime partner and artist Wayne S. Weil who dive into the drive of these ads and putting “asses in theater seats” via these said newsprints.

As you may have gathered already, this book is a definite must-have centerpiece for your house of macabre’s coffee table for any collector of physical horror media. It is both highly stimulating for your retro horror senses, and a wonderful journey of film history through the decade where horror shined like no other era. The book drops tomorrow on Amazon Prime and you can pre-order it here at a discounted price, or directly from 1984 Publishing to obtain a signed copy.

Upcoming Book "Ad Nauseam" Highlights Newsprint Nightmares from the 1980s

Sight Unseen — The Lasting Images of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

Tobe Hooper once said “I don’t believe in using too much graphic violence, although I’ve done it. It’s better to be suggestive and to allow the viewer to fill in the blanks with their minds.” The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) is not one of the finest horror experiences ever put to film because of on-screen slaughter, but rather the suggestion of bloodshed. The long-lasting effect of Hooper’s direction was borne from the simple presentation of a scenario, the resulting (and very personal) nightmares were conjured entirely within the headspace of whomever laid eyes on it.

The concept isn’t exclusive to TCM, but certainly applies to John McNaughton’s tense tale of a week in the life of a sociopath, 1986’s Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Though it made its way around film festivals for years, the Motion Picture Association of America’s inability, or unwillingness to give it a straight R-rating delayed its limited theatrical release for 4 years.

As legendary film critic Roger Ebert noted, however, “This film deserves to be seen,” and over the course of more than three decades, it has become essential viewing for horror aficionados everywhere. And not for overt violence, although like Hooper, it had its fair share, but rather for what wasn’t seen.

Make no mistake, the reasons for suggestion in this case were partially due to budgetary and time constraints. However, McNaughton wanted to truly explore the inner workings of Henry’s (Michael Rooker) mind, as well as his relationship with Otis (Tom Towles) and Becky (Tracy Arnold), which meant that on-screen violence would have to be dispersed carefully, but to offer a true glimpse at the danger housed within the protagonist, the film would need to be littered with other misdeeds.

And that is where the power of suggestion entered the equation, in part through the utilization of brilliant music cues strewn throughout by film editor Elena Maganini. Portrait of a Serial Killer’s main theme is composed of the simplistic yet powerful piano chords of Ken Hale, Steven A. Jones and Robert McNaugton that matched Rooker’s icy glare, begging the question, what truly resided beneath the surface.

The horrors left in Henry’s wake were revealed through a series of pan shots, offering a peek behind a veneer that should never come into focus. Again, the issues of budget and time factored into McNaughton’s decision-making, yes, but ultimately the road followed was that which would make the greatest impact, and that avenue was paved by sound editor Cory Coken and post-production sound mixer Ric Coken. The audible screams of victims blended with Henry’s angry commands to “shup up!” underneath ghastly visuals painted a picture that turned blood cold, as viewers were burdened with whatever terror played before their mind’s eye thanks to the macabre melody dancing through their heads.

All which set up McNaughton’s final stroke of genius.

BeckyAfter Henry returned to the apartment to find Otis raping his sister, and the ensuing scuffle that resulted in Otis’ death, Henry’s instinct took over and he dismembered his friend’s body in the bathtub before hitting the road with Becky.

In a wink to the audience, another music cue foretold Becky’s fate, as “Loving you was my mistake” sprang from the radio before the pair reached their roadside motel.

The following morning, pulling to the side of a desolate road in the middle of nowhere, Henry exited his vehicle and waited for cars to pass before he opened the trunk. When it had reached its apex, it was accompanied with a single, ominous piano chord. To that point, there may have been hope that Becky had already been in the car when the vehicle pulled away from the motel, but in that moment, the audience knew.

Henry waited for another car to pass, then glanced over his shoulder to ensure no others were coming, lifted Becky’s blue suitcase, now her tomb, and laid it at the top of a ditch beside his car. Once again, the terrified shrieks of one of Henry’s victims echoed as the luggage connected with the earth below. McNaughton had cinematographer Charlie Lieberman hold the shot, and slowly zoom to the blood-smeared bag, a grotesque exclamation point on a film that has always carried an unsettling tinge of documentary.

As Henry pulled away and the camera closed in, all that was left were the curdling chords of Henry’s theme, and the remains of the one person it appeared Henry may have had the slightest sentiment for. Uncaptured and unpunished, the sounds perfectly encapsulated the unknown of where Henry, or those like him—who unquestionably exist—would head next.

The visceral images of McNaughton’s masterpiece proved too much for many audience members to endure when it first reared its head at film festivals decades ago, and abandoned it to what Ebert described as “the purgatory between [an] R and X [rating].” The film was too powerful and too well done to be contained for long, but for the violence we witnessed, including the devastatingly difficult to digest home invasion segment, it was the intonations left unseen that made Portrait of a Serial Killer so indelible.

They were haunting in 1986, and haunting today.

Henry luggage

You Just Can’t Keep a Good Guy Down: Why the Child’s Play Franchise is Anything but Stale

All honesty, I’ve never been one for rebuttals when it comes to writing about horror. I respect the opinions of others and understand that we won’t all see eye-to-eye very often, if at all. Who’s to say who’s right and who’s wrong?

However, a recent article from 1428 Elm wondered whether the Child’s Play franchise was not only spreading itself thin, but if it was in danger of getting stale.

I cannot abide. So here we go.

Having recently spoken with Child’s Play 2’s (1990) Christine Elise, she used a phrase that struck me, “Don Mancini’s empire.” Though I had never thought of it quite so succinctly, it’s no less true, because it is Mancini who drives the franchise, not Chucky, he’s merely the vehicle.

The man not only created this universe we all know and love, but has written all seven installments, directed the last three, acted as executive producer for Bride of Chucky (1998), and as of this writing, is slated to, at the very least produce the television series.

Child's Play TV seriesAt a glance, it would appear that seven features and an upcoming TV project may appear to be a bit much, maybe even spread thin, but not when you consider that the original film hit theatres in 1988, and we have seen gaps of seven, six, nine and four years from Child’s Play 3 (1991) to the most recent effort, Cult of Chucky (2017).

What’s more, the last two films are the very reason Wade Wainio’s assertions are askew.

Mancini has always possessed perfect pitch when it comes to his franchise, not only in tone and atmosphere, but with what is or is not resonating with the fans. After Child’s Play 3, Mancini felt as though he was beginning to tell the same story over and over, and believed it was time to switch things up. And he was right, 3 didn’t have the same energy as the first two, which led to that first seven-year hiatus. Mancini made the decision to fully embrace the badboy one-liners and humor inherent in his demonic doll, and gave us the thoroughly enjoyable popcorn horror thrill ride that was Bride. And the fans loved it. That Jennifer Tilly entered the equation as Tiffany didn’t hurt one bit because Mancini realized that the time had come to give Chucky a wing-man, or wing-woman as it were. And make no mistake, Tiffany is adored by Child’s Play fans, so that particular call was a stroke of genius. And it wouldn’t be the last.

When Mancini attempted to build on the final frame of Bride with Seed of Chucky (2004), it seemed to fall flat, at least in this writer’s estimation, but as previously stated, I could be wrong, I’m sure there are many who dig the fifth film. That said, the injection of a humor focus worked for Bride, but not so much for Seed, so Mancini again took his time before unleashing the next chapter.

Nine years later, we would find Chucky venturing back to his darker roots with Curse of Chucky (2013), and though we would get our first glimpse of a new Mancini trick – the end credits tease – it wasn’t the hint of Andy’s (Alex Vincent) return that made the film, but rather the introduction of a new character, Nica Pierce. Beyond the rare slasher trait of continuity, something that has always set the Child’s Play franchise apart is the sense of family, not only on-screen, but off. Those who have built this “Mancini empire” truly appear to be a tight-knit group, and what could be more familial than casting Brad Dourif’s daughter to play the human lead? And as we all know, Ms. Dourif didn’t just get the part because she’s Brad’s offspring, she has added layers of vulnerability, strength, emotion and depth that has elevated the entire franchise.

Fiona DourifFrom Curse, the most recent foray was with Cult last year, and pound-for-pound, it may be Mancini’s finest effort yet. Not only was Chucky at his hilariously villainous best, he is now legion, complete with Hannibal references that warm the heart. Fiona again delivered a sensational performance, Tilly was involved, Tiffany made an appearance, and of course, Andy is back in the fold. The story was strong, the writing spot on, it had creative kills, and despite a clinical setting, it was visually pleasing, and the climax had fans aching for what’s next.

Truly think about that last statement. We are talking about a franchise’s seventh film. Typically with such scenarios, we’re off the rails, numerous writers and directors have veered so far from the original vision that it’s almost, if not completely laughable. But Child’s Play is not Hellraiser or Friday the 13th or Children of the Corn, because it’s always had Mancini.

The final few minutes of Cult were eye-bulgingly fantastic. Chucky’s chant finally worked, and when Nica rose from her wheelchair and Ms. Dourif gifted us one of the most spot-on mimics in cinematic history, we felt chills. What is Chucky going to do in that body? Where is he going to go? What awaits down the road?

Fiona as Chucky walked out into the snow to Tilly while Andy was stuck in a cell, most likely to be framed for the slaughterhouse inside the mental health facility, to say nothing of the small army of Good Guy dolls ready to wreak havoc at Nica / Chucky’s command.

The fun didn’t end there, however, because Mancini had one last face-breaking smile left in his bag of tricks. He sent a friend to pay a visit to Chucky’s head, left at Andy’s secluded cabin, and when the sliding door opened and Kyle (Elise) walked in, you could almost hear the squeals of delight from every corner of the country.

Kyle CultEvents, intriguing events, that will lead into the television series, and perhaps the next feature, whenever that might be.

When a franchise spreads itself thin, over-saturation is almost always the culprit. A new movie, shoddily pieced together to make a deadline focused less on quality than a cash grab. And if a television series were to be a thing, it would usually fall sometime during the height of its run, not more than three decades after it began.

Thirty years and seven movies on, that is where the Child’s Play franchise stands. It’s not only alive and well and thriving, but almost incomprehensibly improving the further it wanders from the night we met Charles Lee Ray.

And that’s as far from stale as it gets.

Chucky