Horror fandom is a tricky thing. On some level, it’s a community separated by age groups, and the technology that was available to viewers from each group during their nascent years … their horror “coming of age,” as it were. A younger horror fan who came of age in the late 2000s might never have developed the nostalgia for things that older horror geeks take as a matter of course, such as the tactile delight of browsing a video store filled with dozens or hundreds of shocking VHS or DVD horror covers, arranged like a bloody buffet. They might likewise be completely unfamiliar with the concept of the classical “horror host,” those personalities who for decades reigned on local TV networks, introducing each week’s late-night horror feature to hungry audiences who had no other way to discover these gems of offbeat cinema.
And so, a younger horror fan could probably be forgiven for not knowing the likes of Joe Bob Briggs. But to a certain segment of horror geeks, Briggs is nothing short of royalty—a guide and friend who introduced them to countless classic and not-so-classic genre films in the ’80s and ’90s, first with his landmark series Joe Bob’s Drive-In Theater on The Movie Channel, and then as the host of TNT’s MonsterVision block until 2000. Along the way, he pioneered a new style of colorful movie hosting, harnessing the character of a streetwise Texas redneck who reveled in a sincere love of “drive-in movies” and presented them with both critical acumen and everyman appreciation for cheap thrills—an unusual combination that has been difficult for others to imitate in the years that followed.
But things change, and just as the rise of streaming services gutted traditional modes of video rental, they did the same to concepts such as the “horror host,” with the notable exceptions of those who moved online, to ever-nichier audiences. As for Briggs, he’s kept busy in the years since—primarily as a film writer under his birth name, John Irving Bloom—but there have always been fans awaiting a true return of Joe Bob’s Drive-In Theater. And now, thanks to the streaming service Shudder, they’ll get their wish … for at least 24 hours, that is.
This Friday the 13th of July, 2018, Briggs returns to the (streaming) airwaves to host The Last Drive-In With Joe Bob Briggs, a 24-hour (or more) marathon of 13 (or more) films presented by horror streaming service Shudder. All of the old, classic segments will be back, from the host’s famous “Drive-in Totals” lists, to the pin-up “mail girl” segments, so we thought this would be the ideal time to gather some opinions from Briggs on both the legacy of his series and his outlook on the modern horror genre. As it turns out, it’s a reprisal of the art form that Briggs has been anticipating for quite a while.
“I’ve done guest appearances on TV and live events, but I haven’t really hosted a movie in this way since 2001, so it’s been almost 17 years,” he said to Paste. “I thought it would happen again sooner, because almost every year a producer or someone comes to me and asks to do some kind of show—and I always say yes, but nothing ever comes of it. This was the first time someone actually followed through on the interest, so I was happy to do it.”
And yet, it’s hard to overlook that Shudder’s marathon is being billed as “the last” drive-in that Briggs will host, implying that the return won’t be a permanent one by any means. So if you were holding onto hope that the marathon would serve as a backdoor pilot for a new Joe Bob Briggs show on Shudder, we’re sorry to disappoint—but Briggs intends to make the most of the opportunity, performing the entire hosting routine in a single, live-to-tape take, something he describes as being “one last big shot of MonsterVision.”
“Originally we were going to do a 48-hour marathon, but I didn’t know if I could last that long!” he joked. “This is how I’ve always done it—we don’t do second takes and we leave all the mistakes in. The guests always get scared because I tell them ‘no second takes.’ They don’t always like that.”
To choose films for The Last Drive-In, Briggs was set free on the extensive Shudder horror library, consulting with the special’s director and producer to get a feel for what they wanted to see. Briggs was then able to make choices based on which films he knew he’d have anecdotes and stories to share about, in addition to keeping potential guests in mind. The final blend, he says, is heavy on “classics, ’80s stuff and cult so-bad-they’re-good movies,” which will probably carry the marathon onward past 24 hours and into the 25 or 26 range. Only three have been announced so far: Living mannequin thriller Tourist Trap, classic “WTF” slasher Sleepaway Camp and Frank Henenlotter’s famous, low-budget “monster in a box” film Basket Case. All three are titles that Briggs knows quite well—in fact, when I inquired as to how his relationship with the genre itself may have changed since the ’80s, he reaffirmed his devotion to what he always affectionately referred to as simply “drive-in movies.”
“What really changes is that over time I’ve come to know a lot of the filmmakers, which alters your perception,” Briggs says. “But no, in general I love the movies just as much as I ever did. This whole thing started through my friendship with Roger Corman, you know. Stuff like the drive-in totals, they came out of conversations with Roger about the elements that he puts into an exploitation film. When I started, those types of films weren’t anything people wrote about—a lot of them were considered in the same category as porn. That’s why I love when we can show something a bit lesser-known like Tourist Trap—with movies like that, we can sort of rescue their reputation.”
At the same time, though, Briggs defies what a horror geek might expect in the sense that he doesn’t exactly hold the tenets of the past as sacrosanct. In fact, he instead chides filmmakers who lean too heavily on past eras of horror, such as the enduring nostalgia for the ’80s, when trying to make modern features.
“If you’re making a low-budget horror movie today, don’t do a sorority massacre film like it would have been done in the ’80s,” he says. “Instead, find something new that we’re afraid of! It’s a problem that the reverence for the past is so intense in exploitation cinema. I go to these film festivals where the indie filmmakers are talking about their problems getting films seen and distributed, but the problem with the film isn’t usually the money—it’s the script!”
This isn’t to say that Briggs believes there to be no films of value in modern genre filmmaking—far from it. He cites Get Out as his favorite film of 2017, praising it as a “wonderfully conceived, executed and performed thriller,” although he says it probably shouldn’t be treated “like the Citizen Kane of our time.” He also says he was pleasantly surprised by Andres Muschietti’s It, particularly in the sense that the script stuck to the child’s perspective present in Stephen King’s novel.
“Six child actors for an entire movie; nobody does that anymore, and they pulled that off,” he says. “I thought that was an incredible achievement by the director, but because of all the jump scares and stuff, it’s not the kind of film that gets the same sort of accolades as something like Get Out. But in general, 2017 was quite the year for genre in the mainstream.”
From there, our conversation turned to a bevy of horror topics, including the way that the age of streaming (and services such as Shudder itself) have increased access to classic films, although Briggs does bemoan “the generation that has never seen a 35mm image on screen,” which he dubs as “a big loss.” We also touched on the growth of labels such as “elevated horror,” applied to films such as The Witch or Hereditary by first-time directors making splashy entrances to the genre. Again, Briggs bristles at the term.
“They’re doing the same thing that horror directors have done for generations, which is to say ‘I don’t want to be pegged as a horror director,’” he says. “It does make sense, because a guy like Tobe Hooper, he always wanted to make comedies, but no one ever let him direct a comedy. What I don’t like is the assumption that horror is cheap and fake, so if something isn’t cheap and fake, it can’t be horror. That’s also one of the things I like about Guillermo Del Toro—he says ‘this is a monster movie.’ He doesn’t say ‘this is a thriller with monster elements.’”
As The Last Drive-In draws close, Briggs can’t help but feel a little bit sentimental. Of all the aspects of the movie-hosting gig he performed for so many years, perhaps his favorite has been the fact that he was able to expose so many people to so many strange films they might never have seen otherwise. It’s something he’s been repeatedly reminded of throughout his career when making public appearances or meeting fans—the knowledge that his shows were the direct inspiration for a generation of horror geeks and future filmmakers.
“It’s very gratifying when someone tells me, ‘Hey, I was a misfit kid; nobody liked the same things that I liked, and you legitimized my interest in these movies,” he says. “I get that a lot, and it always makes me feel good. It’s hard for me to take credit because it wasn’t what we were specifically trying to do, but it still feels amazing when someone says ‘you changed my life, and I became a filmmaker because of Drive-In Theater.’ I’m always amazed by how many people were touched or changed by the shows, or by how many thought ‘I guess I’m not so weird after all.’”
The Last Drive-In With Joe Bob Briggs airs in a live feed on Friday, July 13, exclusively on Shudder, starting at 9 p.m. EDT.