Tag Archives: The Last Drive-In

Still a Dead-Eye 35 Years On: A CHOPPING MALL Interview with Kelli Maroney

When Season 2 of The Last Drive-In opened with a shot of CHOPPING MALL spelled out on the marquee over Joe Bob Briggs’ shoulder last April I nearly squealed. Okay, I might have squealed. But it was only because CHOPPING MALL is perhaps my favorite drive-in movie of all-time, and knowing that Barbara Crampton had already been on the show meant that we’d be getting a dose of Kelli Maroney had me straight up giddy with anticipation.

And judging by the reaction on Twitter, I was not alone. While it’s hard to believe that it’s been three-and-a-half decades since we spent the night with a group of horny teenagers taking on a gang of killbots, it isn’t difficult to understand why the film seems to grow in popularity the further it gets from its original release date of March 21, 1986. It hits the ground running and never stops.

With titles like FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (1982) and NIGHT OF THE COMET (1984) to her credit, Kelli Maroney is a bona fide queen of ’80s cinema, but CHOPPING MALL holds a special place in the hearts of many, including the star of the film.

“How could you not be delighted that people enjoy something as much as they seem to enjoy CHOPPING MALL? The appreciation and the gratitude is off the charts.”

Our appreciation and gratitude too is off the charts, not only for 77 minutes of awesome, but that Ms. Maroney shared a few moments with us over the phone in early February to discuss her memories of the shoot, her confusion over why no one ever told her Joe Bob was a fox, the status of a possible television series, and she even shared a personal tidbit about the picture that she’d never told anyone before.

Ladies and gentlemen, Kelli f***ing Maroney.

NIGHTMARE NOSTALGIA: Can you believe it’s been 35 years?

KELLI MARONEY: That’s what I always say. If you had told me in 1986 that in 2021 I’d be giving five interviews this week for CHOPPING MALL? (laughs) I would’ve said “What are you smokin’?” because it wouldn’t have been real to me. It used to be more NIGHT OF THE COMET but now it’s CHOPPING MALL. Even Joe Bob Briggs said “What’s the deal with CHOPPING MALL?” and his producer said “Dude, it’s the most popular thing.”

Even I said to (director) Jim Wynorski “Can you believe this? I can’t get over it. I can never get over it.” It never gets old, it’s always stunning. I’m tickled, I’m delighted and really touched because that’s the whole point of doing this is to connect with people and give them something that they enjoy. And this is beyond anybody’s wildest dreams to have done something that people like so much, but I had no idea it was going to be CHOPPING MALL.

NN: It almost felt like the anniversary celebrations began last year when CHOPPING MALL opened Season 2 of The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs. We’re not going to rehash that conversation, but give us a peek behind the curtain of being on one of horror’s biggest stages.

KM: It was amazing. First of all, I got a message from (Briggs) on Twitter and I thought “this isn’t really Joe Bob Briggs,” but it was, it was John (Bloom). He’s a lovely guy and he’s extremely smart. And Joe Bob is a character obviously, but it’s just heightened. If John was always in his sense of humor, and it was just heightened and a little more Southern, it’s still him. So, you get there and everybody is so nice. At first I met Diana (Prince) — Darcy the Mail GIrl — and my friend Felissa Rose had been on before, so I reached out because I was excited. If you’re on Joe Bob you’re a horror fixture in that community otherwise you wouldn’t be there.

First of all, I had never met him before, so when he was on MonsterVision I had never seen that so I thought Joe Bob, what is he a big, fat guy with a beer belly that talks about boobs all the time? I had no interest. I didn’t know what he was doing because I’d never seen it, but no one ever told me he was a babe (laughs). Seriously, no one had ever said anything to change that perception that I had.

He’s a very big supporter of the Chattanooga Film Festival, which is lovely, and they gave me an award once, First Joe Bob did a little riff on NIGHT OF THE COMET — well, it wasn’t a little riff because that dude gets seriously in depth and it’s never little, he always gives a full talk — but my award was a paper mache slice of pizza designed by a local artist who is told what the recipient means to the festival and then the artist creates it. And I said, pizza? And Chris Dortch, who owns and runs the festival and presented the award, said “Yes, you’re like pepperoni pizza. You make everything better that you’re in.” I said “awww, that’s adorable. That’s so sweet!” So, I took a picture with Joe Bob, and even with my huge high heels on I am half his size because he’s tall and I”m petite.

So, back to Felissa. I asked her advice on guesting for the show and she said “don’t tell him something you’ve already told everybody else in interviews” So, I took that as don’t tell the same old story about how I wanted to be an actor since I was a little girl. Don’t bore Joe Job. Be entertaining. And Felissa has no problem just saying things, so she set the bar so high.

Sometime as actors you get all serious about things and nobody cares, they want you to be fun. And as you can see, I’ll just talk as long, until you tell me to stop (laughs).

I love when fans feel like they’re a part of things, and that’s what’s so great about The Last Drive-In. The whole Mutant Family gets on Twitter and it’s a lot of fun. But I was extremely thrilled when I found out it was true. In fact, Darcy direct messaged me on Twitter saying “let me know if you’d don’t hear from them because I’m not doing CHOPPING MALL if you’re not there.”

NN: You’ve probably seen tons of CHOPPING MALL cosplay over the years, but has anyone done it better than Darcy?

KM: No. No. And we had a long girl conversation about “can you even find this blouse anymore?” and the shoes that were closest to what I had worn were $100 so we weren’t doing that, but in two million years I never thought I’d be having a set conversation about that outfit (laughs). She had it down. She even had the patch, and she even did the limp — like at the end when I was limping — it was a thing of beauty. You can really tell she doesn’t just do it because it’s in the movie and she sees what they’re wearing, she’s got the whole thing down.

NN: Is it uncomfortable maneuvering around with a flare in your bra?

KM: You know I forgot all about it. It fit perfectly in there and I forgot all about it (laughs). As did Allison, she almost forgot she had it, too! She looks down and she’s like “oh yeah, I’ve got a flare!” I don’t know, it just fit right.

NN: You never know what movies are going to resonate with audiences, and 35 years later we’re still talking about CHOPPING MALL as you said, but did your head kind of explode like Suzee Slater’s when Liam Carroll posted his piece for The Spool (which you shared on Twitter) outlining how the film had helped him through anxiety attacks and depression. When you read something like that about a drive-in , B-movie that obviously means something to people, how does that make you feel?

KM: Through the internet and doing conventions you hear these kinds of stories a lot and that’s why you want to be an actor. You put up with the lifestyle and the uncertainty and everything that goes along with it because we just have that driving need to connect with other people. It’s such extreme validation to hear that back, that something I put my heart and soul into and it comes back in a wave. I wasn’t out there acting into a void, it’s hitting people and it means something to them. I’ve given them something and they’ve given me something, and it means that I didn’t waste my life doing something that didn’t mean anything, people like CHOPPING MALL (laughs).

NN: There were some rumors a few years ago about CHOPPING MALL doing a television series, and unless I missed something, did anything ever come of that or something that might still happen?

KM: Wynorski’s in charge of that. We were getting set to do a tease, and then I’m not sure exactly what happened because I think he had several meetings with Lionsgate but as they say in the industry, put a pin in it, which means put a pin in it like on a bulletin board and save it for later. It’s just a risky venture I would think, so I don’t know I haven’t heard anything about it for quite a while.

NN: We’re not going to ask you what your favorite scene or line from the film is because I know you’ve answered those questions a thousand times, but I am interested to know what your lasting image is. When you’re thinking about CHOPPING MALL and not being interviewed about it, what comes back to you most?

KM: I’m going to tell you something that I’ve never told anyone.

NN: I like to hear that.

KM: Ready?

NN: I am.

KM: Sometimes that song, the CHOPPING MALL theme goes through my head when I’m doing my makeup or driving around (laughs). And that is true, it is absolutely true (laughs).

NN: I introduced a friend of mine to CHOPPING MALL and he appreciates it as a B-movie, but I refer to it as a classic and one day he said “you know what, CHOPPING MALL is not a classic.” So, I said I’m going to be interviewing the star of the movie and we’ll see. His name is Chad, so if you have message for Chad as to why CHOPPING MALL is a classic, I’d love to hear it.

KM: Hey Chad, sorry you got dragged into this, but since you are (laughs), you can like it or not like it but I don’t like THE SOUND OF MUSIC particularly, but it’s a classic so you’re just going to have to eat this one on CHOPPING MALL. I’m sorry (laughs).

Our Need for Joe Bob is Unmistakable

Folks of a certain age understand compulsion better than anyone. And 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).

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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 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.

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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 uniquely talented 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.”

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.

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From a late night horror film on WKBT to working with friends who’d called that station home, from 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.

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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.”

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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.

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