Folks of a certain age understand compulsion better than anyone. I’m not talkin’ about overindulging in food or alcohol, or even aardvarkin’. No, this is far more specific: an absolutely animalistic compulsion to see a film based entirely on its video store cover art if you know what I mean, and if you grew up in the eighties,, I think you do.
As a lad, I just had to know what treasures lay beneath the fascinating covers of THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974) and THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN (1976), as well a film that for whatever reason always caught my eye, but my family had never rented.
For years as a child I spent weekends at my grandparents’ house. It was in the country, I could grab my baseball glove and tennis ball and toss it against the house steps and visualize owning my friends the next time we squared off (it never worked, by the way), and my grandpa would always let me drive the John Deere riding mower while their dog Pete followed me around the expansive yard. It was comforting to be there with them (and the hound), an unmistakable slice of heaven.
Neither of my grandparents were movie buffs, but my grandma always made a point to grab a bottle of Pepsi and glass of ice during the 10 o’clock news so she could get caffeinated and stay up with me.
Like clockwork, my grandpa would turn in right after that broadcast, then she and I would settle in to watch whatever B-movie fare the local affiliate had secured for that week. The only one I remember, however, was the one repped by cover art that had caught my eye but eluded my view — IT’S ALIVE (1974).
I remember leaning in as the screen transitioned from the WKBT nightly news to a quick preview for Larry Cohen’s weird tale of a killer baby. Thoughts of that cover art’s cradle with and a claw peeking out played through my mind as I watched in riveted terror (for perspective, I wasn’t quite 10 years old). But there was an odd comfort in that fear, because I knew that my grandmother was right there beside me and grandpa was sleeping in the next room. Though frightened, I was safe, and that sense of security was unmistakable.
In that moment, I knew that a lifelong devotion to horror was set into motion, which led to THE SHINING (1980) and FRIGHT NIGHT (1985) and later, midnight soirees with a cowboy hat-wearing, beer-guzzling smartass on The Movie Channel.
Drive-In Theater turned to MonsterVision and when I found myself working at a television station years later, I asked the high sheriffs if I could resurrect their collection of public domain films into a B-Movie homage to Joe Bob Briggs. They said yes, and for three years my delight was unmistakable.
As Briggs is apt to say, movies are intended to be enjoyed with an audience, a communal experience. A stance proven time and again through the connectivity of The Movie Channel and TNT, and the fact that two of the people that I worked with at the TV studio had previously labored at another — WKBT.
So, when Joe Bob made his triumphant return to Shudder with The Last Drive-In just shy of two years ago, that unmistakable sense of safety (and the nostalgia that came along with it) flooded over every nerve in my body.
What was supposed to be a last, 24-hour hurrah for the Drive-In Jedi quickly turned into Friday night double features that not only obliterated Shudder’s server, but unwittingly triggered a silent alarm that drew every Drive-In Mutant who had watched Briggs alone in their youth into a larger family that they never knew they had. That communal sense of acceptance and love was also unmistakable.
Shortly after the death of IT’S ALIVE’s writer and director Larry Cohen last March, Joe Bob selected Q: THE WINGED SERPENT (1982) from the Shudder library to celebrate the life and talent of one of the most unique filmmakers to ever walk the Earth. But before the picture rolled, Briggs shared something that has stayed with me every day since:
“You can be half-drunk and just woke up and turn on the TV and if it’s a Larry Cohen movie you instantly know it,” continuing “the characters talk in this rhythm, it’s just unmistakable.”
Cohen’s singular skill and the gorilla filmmaking that brought it to fruition, to say nothing of the millions who believed they were alone in their love for films like Cohen’s only to find that they were part of something much bigger years later. The experiences may have been individualized in our youth, but we later discovered that those memories were unmistakably shared.
From a late night horror film on WKBT to working with friends who’d called that station home, the compulsion of video store cover art to the Drive-In Theater to MonsterVision to Shudder, all experiences that were part of something much bigger, a larger safety net that only togetherness can create.
And now we find ourselves firmly entrenched in the quarantine-shelter-in-place-social-distancing of the coronavirus pandemic. Many of us find ourselves ripped from loved ones and the routine of our daily lives, feeling lost and lonely. We need our safety net now more than ever, and just as we feel our sanity starting to slip, we are less than a fortnight from the fright.
Joe Bob and Darcy the Mail Girl will give us Season 2 of The Last Drive-In on the evening of April 24 and it could not come at a better time. We need family, we need friends, we need the safety net of the loving acceptance that only a Briggs-led communal experience can provide.
When the curtain goes up on that first episode, whether it serves as a distraction or makes you feel normal again, however momentary, we will all be reminded of our own similar but unique late night horror movie experience that set our collective journey into motion.
We will be compelled to watch. It will be much needed. It will be therapeutic. But above all, every emotion it evokes will be unmistakable.
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.
The devoted and demented believers of the drive-in oath have patiently awaited the triumphant return of Joe Bob Briggs since the cancellation of MonsterVision nearly twenty years ago, and thanks to Shudder, that patience is about to be rewarded.
The Drive-In Jedi is set for one last gig as television horror host when Shudder live streams The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs on July 13.
Before life comes to a screeching halt for that 24-hour marathon complete with blood, breasts and beasts, drive-in totals and, of course, the new mail girl, Nightmare Nostalgia had the opportunity to conduct an email interview with the man himself to discuss memorable guests, Briggs’ thoughts on “post-horror,” and the selection process for the big night.
And Joe Bob had us laughing before we even got to the first question, noting “First of all, Landon, I appreciate your doing this, even though being featured in Nightmare Nostalgia makes me a Retro Guy. Retro Guy is one step away from Lifetime Achievement Award, which is the last thing that happens before you go to that Vincent Price crematorium in East L.A..”
The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs will live stream on Friday, July 13 at 9 p.m. EST, only on Shudder.
NIGHTMARE NOSTALGIA: Not unlike fans hounding Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell for more Evil Dead (which resulted in three seasons of Ash vs. Evil Dead), your followers had been clamoring for your triumphant return to television since MonsterVision came to an end at TNT. How did this 24-hour marathon come to pass, and why Shudder?
JOE BOB BRIGGS:Many clamor, but few have the key to an executive washroom at a TV network. Many producers, some of them quite mighty, have come to me over the years and proposed a new show, but it’s difficult to get people in television to repeat the past. After all, the show got canceled, there must have been a reason—or so goes the reasoning. (In my case the cancellation was caused by a re-branding of the network.) At any rate, one of those producers was Matt Manjourides, a Troma veteran who is also producing the final film of George Romero, and he approached me in the fall of 2017 and asked if he could promote a MonsterVision reboot to Shudder. I said yes, of course, as I always do, and promptly forgot about it. Then a Shudder executive showed up in New York, met us for lunch, and we were off and running with various ideas of how to do it. We eventually hit on the marathon idea, since fans of MonsterVision were accustomed to a long, unstructured show that kind of ran forever. (At TNT we had no restrictions on length or time, we just had to be finished by 6 a.m.) Hence The Last Drive-In, 24 hours, 13 movies on Friday the 13th, and actually it’s likely to run anywhere between 26 and 28 hours because I talk too much.
NN: Tell us about the selection process for the films. And can you tease any of the titles as appetizer?
JBB:Shudder has a library of about 600 titles, some of which are licensed for long periods, some not so long, and so the first pass through that library was made by myself and Austin Jennings, a South Carolina guy whose normal job is heading up post-production at MTV but he was hired by Matt to direct the marathon. Austin is eminently qualified as a) a pop culture maven, and b) an expert on MonsterVision. (He remembers things I did that I don’t remember doing.) I just marked all the titles that were either intriguing to me or the ones that had personal stories attached to them. (After all these years, I’ve met just about everyone.) Then we tried to make it a mix of classics, cult films, so-bad-they’re-goodies, etc. For example, Tourist Trap is an extremely odd supernatural slasher from 1979 that I’m very fond of, and I thought we could make an attempt to upgrade the film’s reputation. I will be talking about how star Chuck Connors’ plan to become “the modern Boris Karloff” didn’t work out, how director David Schmoeller’s innovative supernatural effects were the inspiration for the later “Puppetmaster” series, and how the performance of Tanya Roberts was completely eclipsed by less famous actresses. But mostly I’ll be talking about how it never should have flopped in the first place. Basket Case has always been one of my favorites, but I’ve never really told the story of how I helped save it from oblivion by sponsoring a world drive-in premiere in Dallas, an event that led to a lifelong friendship with Frank Henenlotter, the Greenwich Village mastermind horror director who calls himself –correctly– “a strange little man.” So the selection process was a combination of the personal and the curatorial, if I can be allowed to use that extremely fashionable but overused word.
NN: You haven’t enjoyed the luxury of unfettered “blood, breasts and beasts” since the days of Joe Bob’s Drive-In Theater at The Movie Channel, so how excited are you that there won’t be any “edited for cable” restrictions for the films you’ll be presenting for Shudder?
JBB:Well, fortunately we’ve moved beyond the era of heavy-handed editing of horror films. I’m more worried about the breasts than the blood or the beasts. There seems a ridiculously heightened fear of nudity—especially female nudity—among programmers, executives, anyone involved with television or streaming, and that’s a regression in a direction I could never have predicted. In a world where they’ve eliminated the bikinis in the Miss America pageant, nekkid bodies are considered “lewd” and gratuitous. We’re just three years away from the 400th anniversary of Plymouth Rock, and yes, the Puritans have never left us.
NN: Over the years, you had special guests stop by to chat about pictures that you were presenting – Tom Savini, Roddy Piper, Linda Blair, and a particularly memorable conversation with Brad Dourif – so, aside from guests’ fear of filming-as-live, give us an exchange that, whether it shocked you or cracked you up, you just didn’t see coming. And who might drop by this coming Friday the 13th? Because we know it won’t be Ted Turner.
JBB:Landon, you gotta go easy on me, that was an extremely complicated question and I’m a Retro Guy. By the way, that interview was not with Brad Dourif, it was with Chucky the Doll. But the most memorable interview, I would have to say, was Sally Kirkland, dressed in lingerie, and the two of us were in bed together—you may remember we had a bedroom in my set, and for this interview we were partially under the covers so you couldn’t see exactly how nekkid we were. And in the course of the interview Sally said something about sleeping with Moammar Quaddafi, but I wasn’t quite sure what she had said, so it was one of the rare times we stopped filming and I went back to her and said, “Sally, did you just say you had sex with the Libyan dictator?” And she never did quite answer the question but talked about doing her part for world peace. I was never sure with Sally because she tends to talk in these greats waterfalls of verbiage, run-on sentences that can end up confusing you. Gary Busey was another one. He forced me to stick my fingers into the giant dent in his skull so he could convince me that his motorcycle accident had altered his brain. And he was, of course, correct. As to the upcoming marathon, we programmed Sleepaway Camp so that I could bring on Felissa Rose, because I wanted to ask her some basic questions about gender confusion in that movie that, believe it or not, I don’t think have ever been properly addressed.
NN: You once shared frustration with critics who talk about dramas and thrillers with “horror elements,” and wondered why a horror movie couldn’t simply be a horror movie without qualifiers, so it’s clearly not a new issue, but with some suggesting that films like IT (2017), Get Out (2017), Hereditary and (2018) aren’t horror, however, we’re seeing it more and more. In fact, the term “post-horror” continues to surface, so why do you feel so many mainstream critics are so reluctant to offer a tip of the cap to the genre when executed exceptionally well?
JBB:I’m not exactly sure when academic jargon and elitist attitudes started taking over the field of horror criticism, but I hate it. I got a copy of a book on I Spit On Your Grave published by Columbia University Fucking Press. I have nothing against Carol Clover’s Men, Women and Chainsaws, published all those years ago. Carol is a Berkeley professor, which is about as elitist academic as you can get, but she was the first to explain how the transgender killer in slasher films allows the adolescent male to identify with a female heroine, and that single insight has helped to defend these movies against censorship. You mention Get Out. I loved it, but there was a completely ridiculous cover story in the New York Times Magazine essentially calling it the Citizen Kane of our times, and I was just “Really? You’re gonna ruin this one for us, too?” Thank god an out-and-out monster movie won the Academy Award this year, and Guillermo del Toro is not ashamed of calling it that. There’s no such thing as post-horror, just good horror and bad horror.
NN: Not to beat a dead horse about mainstream media, but the past few years have also found critics focusing on social commentary within the genre. Some proclaim such commentary has brought a depth to horror films that, to their thinking, hasn’t been there before. One need look no further than Frankenstein (1931) or George Romero’s Dead films or Saw VI (health insurance) and The Purge franchise of the recent past for societal analysis, so why does it appear acceptable that mainstream critics lack historical knowledge of horror?
JBB:Well, you’ve answered your own question. I would use another example. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was the first true counter-culture film, about the youth of America facing the darkness of the entrenched grown-up way of doing things. Leatherface vs. Sally, and neither of them win, they’re condemned to eternal strife. Without social context horror has no meaning at all, and so it’s kind of weird that they separate out the subtext and dredge it up to the surface and essentially disembowel the film when they talk about it. And after a hundred years they’re just discovering that—gasp!—Mary Shelley was a girl? Yawn.
NN: You’re not shy about presenting your political viewpoints in your columns, and I have no intention of splitting our readers into red or blue allegiance right now, but I am very curious to gauge your thoughts on how you believe those in our nation can actually begin to converse and view one another as countrymen and women once again?
JBB:I grew up in Texas and Arkansas, but mostly in Arkansas, and whenever I would go home to visit, I would always run into slackers from my youth who had benighted opinions because they’d never traveled anywhere, and so I would say, “Cletis, you really have to go to Europe once in your life, or just go to New York or Chicago or something—you need to meet a few Yankees.” And then we’ve had this complete reversal in my lifetime, because Cletis is no longer the problem. The problem now is that both coasts have no clue about why their fellow Americans became dissatisfied. So today I would say, you people on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and you people in West Hollywood need to get your asses out to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and educate yourselves about the rest of the country. We can’t go on like this, too much hatred on both sides, and the reason I’m called “controversial” is that I often write about issues as a moderate—the guy in the middle—and everybody hates the guy in the middle. One way we can start loving each other is to start calling ourselves Americans again instead of giving ourselves narrow labels like conservative, progressive, black, white, Hispanic, gay, pro-life, whatever, like we’re constantly saying to one another, “Okay, here’s what I am, what the fuck are you?” We’re all Americans. Stop sending me those polls about my race, age, gender, whatever. Stop labeling.
NN: All right, that’s enough of the serious questions. Your glee could be felt through the screen when you presented The Legend of Boggy Creek, which has always left us wondering, of all the films you presented for MonsterVision, how many were you thrilled to talk about, and how many were a struggle to keep interesting?
JBB:The only films I ever had a problem with were the cynical ones, films that seemed to be made by guys who had a contempt for exploitation. The hollowness at their core—just a bunch of kill scenes strung together—make them no fun for anybody. But a film can be totally inept and yet be made with passion, an example being The Howling 7, the movie that killed the Howling franchise but then became a minor cult hit when we kept rerunning it.
NN: Walk us through the process of your host script for a single movie. Did you watch it before writing anything or simply go off of memory from having seen and reviewed it in the past? From start to finish, how much time did it take for you to have a script that was ready to shoot?
JBB:I always rewatch the movie, no matter how many times I’ve seen it, and of course I need the commercial-interruption time codes to know at which points I’ll be talking. It’s a little bit more fluid process than what you’re describing here. I might spend a day and a half deciding exactly what I want to say—I do a lot of background research, and in some cases I know the filmmakers so I have information from them—and then what I end up with is an outline that I can depart from as the situation arises. So two days per movie, but of course I’m doing other things during those two days. I also try to be loose enough to go totally off topic if that’s what will be the most entertaining option. We’re really getting into the weeds here. One reason I hate writers’ conferences is that a) writers are boring, and b) writers talking about writing is boring even to writers.
NN: You once noted that Donald Pleasence made the Halloween movies work, so despite the absence of Dr. Loomis, there’s no way we can have this conversation without us picking your brain to get your impressions of Blumhouse’s return to Haddonfield, due October 19.
JBB:As you probably know, I don’t get too excited about remakes, sequels, or, in this case, a 40-years-later “reimagining.” I would assume that Loomis is dead and that there’s a new quasi-Loomis, but I don’t know anything about it except that there were three—count ‘em—three writers, so I have to assume it’s complicated.
NN: We know you have laughs in store for us, but dare we hope you eclipse your evisceration of the absurdity of Orca (1977)? Just a reminder of what I’m referring to, quoting you: “Richard Harris then gets out his harpoon gun, misfires, wounds the female killer whale instead of the male, hauls it up on the ship, witnesses a whale miscarriage, then washes the dead fetus overboard like a heartless abortionist, causing mommy and daddy Orca to both roar like wounded jaguars. Daddy Orca is so mad that he jumps up and eats Keenan Wynn, then gives Richard Harris the big killer whale evil eye before he swims away, signaling ‘I’ll be back,’ with his bloody, wounded fin. Does that about sum it up? Wouldn’t want to exaggerate or anything.“
JBB:Wow, you’re really dredging up the classics, aren’t you? And all this time I thought I would spend the rest of my life without ever having to think about Orca again.
NN: Finally, you busted out the Mountain Dew and Starbucks energy drinks for the Halloween dusk-till-dawn Friday the 13th marathon at TNT back in the day, so we have to know, will this Shudder marathon be highly caffeinated, or can we expect your coozie to contain Old Milwaukee Tall Boys?
JBB: We’re going with Lone Star for the full span. We’re sticking to the classics, on screen and off.
From Shudder’s press release for The Last Drive-in with Joe Bob Briggs:
Characterized by an outrageous worldview and trademark “Drive-in Totals” lists, Joe Bob’s film critiques amassed a loyal fanbase through his long-running TV series Joe Bob’s Drive-In Theater and, later, MonsterVision. For 14 years between the two shows, Joe Bob was the ultimate fan, a voice of authority with an unconventional, affable approach. Ahead of his time then, Joe Bob is now a legendary voice within the horror community, and THE LAST DRIVE-IN WITH JOE BOB BRIGGS reminds audiences of the host’s singular perspective on the genre.
THE LAST DRIVE-IN WITH JOE BOB BRIGGS is packed with 13 films curated to suit Joe Bob’s signature brand of color commentary. The following is a sneak peek of what’s in store for horror fans during Shudder’s exclusive programming event, with the rest of the line-up to be announced in the coming weeks:
Tourist Trap (July 13) Five friends are hunted by a creepy killer after stopping to visit a roadside museum in this slasher that counts Stephen King as one of its biggest fans. After car trouble, the doomed group goes to visit an odd attraction filled with eerie mannequins that seem to be alive. Tourist Trap is an off-kilter thriller that will have you rethinking any stops on your next road trip.
Sleepaway Camp (July 13) Angela Baker, a traumatized and very shy young girl, is sent to summer camp with her cousin. Shortly after her arrival, campers and counselors meet their ends in a series of grisly murders. This bloody “who done it” features a shock ending that stands the test of time.
Basket Case (July 14) In a tale of revenge with a demented twist, a young man and his basket-bound, hideously deformed twin brother seek vengeance on the doctors who separated them against their will.
“Joe Bob is a horror icon and raconteur whose signature wit and insightful commentary entertained viewers for 14 years on TV,” said Craig Engler, general manager of Shudder. “We’re delighted to bring him back for this exclusive Shudder event where new fans can discover him, and old fans can rediscover him, as he takes on some of the greatest low-budget horror movies ever made.”
Shudder members will be encouraged join the conversation with Shudder’s Twitter account @Shudder during the marathon, which will include special guests, surprises, and prizes for participation.
Other initiatives centered around THE LAST DRIVE-IN WITH JOE BOB BRIGGS include an upcoming Reddit AMA on July 10th, as well as screenings hosted by Joe Bob at the Nitehawk Cinema in Brooklyn, NY on July 11th and the Alamo Drafthouse in Dallas, TX on July 12th.