This Friday the 13th, horror fans can tune into Shudder's The Last Drive-In, a 13-movie marathon hosted by none other than Joe Bob Briggs. Like many horror fans growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, Joe Bob Briggs was my conduit to a wide range of horror movies that aired during his marathons on TNT every Saturday, complete with candid commercial break commentaries and insightful interviews with some of horror's biggest stars. Following Shudder's announcement, I jumped at the chance to catch up with Joe Bob to talk about his start as a drive-in critic, his move to TV, career highlights from his time hosting MonsterVision, what we can expect from The Last Drive-In (which is expected to be Briggs' final time hosting a movie marathon), and more:
MonsterVision was huge for me growing up, and (along with my parents) is probably one of the big reasons I got into writing and talking about horror.
Joe Bob Briggs: Well, that's great. I always love to hear that, because when I first started writing about exploitation films, there were about two of us in the whole country. And so I love the fact that there's been this explosion of interest, and people that take genre film seriously and take horror seriously, or are just not ashamed of it, because there was a time when people were ashamed of it.
With writing about exploitation films being a non-existent career at the time, how did you get your start and what made you want to write about them?
Joe Bob Briggs: In the early '80s, there was no such term as "popular culture" or "pop culture." It had actually been used by some guys at Bowling Green State University. They wrote some papers about popular culture, but people didn't know what that was. And so if you were writing about exploitation movies, you were writing about trash—disposable trash that people looked down on. The fact that I was writing about those movies at all was kind of disreputable. You were embarrassing your mother.
But the way it started was, I just noticed that there was this certain type of movie that only premiered at the drive-in, and it only played the drive-in. The legitimate indoor theaters would not run these movies. They were considered disreputable. That's what intrigued me about them. The ad campaigns were over the top to draw you in. Of course, the ad campaigns were usually lies, and what was in the ad was not necessarily what was in the movie.
But I just started going to the drive-in every week on opening night and trying to review as many of them as I could. It was controversial at the time. But today, if a horror movie comes out, there's a hundred reviews of it the next day on the web, if not a thousand.
What was the first drive-in movie you reviewed?
Joe Bob Briggs: I remember the first movie I reviewed was called The Grim Reaper. If you look it up on IMDb, the original title is Anthropophagous. I guess they decided that in the United States they could not release a movie as Anthropophagous. But it's a cannibal movie, Italian-made, filmed in Greece. Of course, I didn't know that, because they would disguise the fact that they were Italian-made. They would put a lot of English names in the titles. But my review was the only review of it, according to the distributor. Nobody else reviewed it. It was a different world than today.
So, how did you make the transition from writing as an exploitation critic to jumping into television and, specifically, hosting? Was that something that was, at the start, very comfortable for you? Having hosted panels and events, I can say that it’s been very uncomfortable to me and it’s much more natural for me to type it out.
Joe Bob Briggs: No, it wasn't very natural. It was really a fluke, the first show that I did. The Movie Channel was looking for hosts. The Movie Channel was the fourth premium service. If you already bought HBO and Showtime and Cinemax, and you still had money left over, you would buy The Movie Channel.
They were trying to distinguish themselves. They didn't have the best product. They didn't have the best movies, and so they were going to hire four hosts, and the four hosts were going to be different genres. One of them was romantic comedies. That was an actress who was going to do that. Robert Osborne was going to do the golden age of Hollywood classics. And they wanted somebody to do exploitation films, late-night.
They happened to see an article that I had written for Rolling Stone magazine. I went down to the set of Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 to interview Dennis Hopper, who was coming out of rehab. They saw this article, and they said, "Okay, this guy, he loves these movies. Let's try him out." And so they brought me to New York to do four weeks. I just sat in the La-Z-Boy recliner and spoke direct to camera, and they liked it well enough that the next month they said, "Well, come back and do four more weeks." I came back, and I didn't leave for 11 years. I don't think we had a contract for the first four years.
They just kept inviting me back. That's how that happened. We used to shoot the show up in Spanish Harlem, the old DuMont. The DuMont Network. In the '50s, there were four TV networks, and one of them was the DuMont Network. Their studios were up in Spanish Harlem. That's where The Honeymooners was filmed and that's where our set was.
Over time, they got rid of the other hosts, and finally it was just my little set in one corner of this big huge DuMont Network studios. I said, "Let me just move this to a small stage in Texas," where I was living at the time. "It'd be much easier to do this." And so we moved the show to Texas, and that's where it stayed for most of the rest of my tenure at The Movie Channel, and then five years at TNT. Altogether, I was on 16 years, 52 weeks each year.
I've never done the math on that, but that's got to be like, what, 20 thousand hours of TV? Sometimes people are amazed that I can't remember certain things that we did, but that’s why.
With the jump to MonsterVision, it seemed like it was a little more unstructured, or at least they let you do more, right? I believe the restriction was you just had to be off the air by 6:00 a.m.
Joe Bob Briggs: Right, exactly. The fact that we had commercial breaks was a great thing for me, because it's one thing to talk about the movie before it starts, and then you can't do spoilers, and it's hard to talk about everything that's in the movie. But when you have those commercial breaks, you can talk about something right after it happens, so it's a critic's dream. I loved the commercial breaks, because it put me right up against the action in the movie.
We had no time limits, we had no restrictions at all. They were really not paying that much attention to the show, which is a good thing. Also, we never came on at any given time. If the basketball game ran long, we didn't come on till 11:20 or something, and then sometimes we'd be done at 3:00 a.m., sometimes 4:30 a.m. It was just completely unstructured.
I found in later years, people kind of liked that, because they just kept it on in the background. They didn't actually know when it was going to come on, but they would just leave it on and they would surf in and out of it, doing other stuff while it was on. People liked that loose aspect of it. And of course, that's what gave me the ability to do all the rants. If I had a time limit, I wouldn't have been able to do all the things that we did.
You’ve had a chance to interview many people over the years. What are some of your favorite or most memorable guest memories?
Joe Bob Briggs: Well, we had some guests that are people that I just revere. For example, I love character actors. One of the guys I admire greatly is Lance Henriksen, and he never gave interviews. He agreed to come on the show, and he was just great. He was just wonderful and I remember that interview very fondly. Robert Forster, same thing… he was great. We showed The Birds and had Tippi Hedren on. That was a wonderful, wonderful interview.
Of course, we always had the scream queens and Sally Kirkland was very interesting. If you recall, we had a bedroom as part of my set. Sally Kirkland and I got in that bed, and we did the interview in bed. She got kind of carried away, and was going off on all kinds of tangents. At some point, I think she said that she had sex with Muammar Gaddafi, the Prime Minister of Libya. I actually stopped the taping and said, "Sally, did you just say you had sex with..." And she didn't answer the question directly, but she says, "Well, you know… world peace!" She was very sheepish about it. And so we left it in, but not totally. I remember that very well.
I remember Gary Busey just being a basket case, and just being completely uncontrollable. I remember one moment where he made me feel the dent in his head to tell me about his motorcycle accident, to impress on me that he had actual brain damage. I'm like, "Okay, Gary, I would've believed that if you'd just told me. I don't really have to feel the dent in your head." We talked with John Waters at his house in Baltimore. When you enter his house, he has an electric chair, a real electric chair, in the foyer of his house.
Did you hear from a lot of people that were watching the show when you were filming it for The Movie Channel or MonsterVision, or do you hear from a lot more people now who grew up watching you?
Joe Bob Briggs: Then, I never knew who was actually watching the show. We would get mail, but it wasn't until years later that people would come up to me and tell me that the show was very important to them. See, it wasn't important to anybody at the network, so we didn't know the audience it had. We were just sending it out there and trying to do the best that we could. It's always nice when someone would say, "I had a terrible childhood, and you were my escape," or something like that. It's not that you can take credit for it, but I'll sometimes tell one of those stories to the crew and say, "That is why we stay late and try to get everything done right." So that they know that it's an honest show and we didn't just do it off the top of our heads and expect everybody to love us.
Yeah, it's great when people have these fond memories. I'm blown away by the reaction to the Shudder marathon. I thought we would get the hardcore fans, but apparently it's bigger than that. I'm very interested to see who tunes in for it.
I've found that there are a lot of younger horror fans that have kind of missed the drive-in experience and horror hosts. As you know, there are very few drive-ins these days, and the ones that are open tend to play more new movies than classics.
I’ve been fortunate that I have a few drive-ins within driving distance that have great classic horror marathons, including one near Pittsburgh, but I think that's really cool that we’re getting The Last Drive-In on Shudder. It gives that drive-in experience to people in the comfort of their own home.
Joe Bob Briggs: Well, that's true. There are about 350 left, and occasionally there are new ones that pop up. But the more urban you are, the farther you're going to be away from a drive-in. That's great that they still have them in the Pittsburgh area, because usually you’ve got to drive 50 miles out of town to find the nearest drive-in.
In terms of the Shudder marathon, obviously a lot of people are really excited about it. It looks like it's going to be over 24 hours of movies on Friday the 13th. Did you have your pick pretty much of anything in the Shudder catalog, and can you tease some of the films that people will be seeing?
Joe Bob Briggs: They have like 600 or 700 films, but some of them were quickly going out of license, and some of them had long license periods. Some of them that we wanted to show, they weren't sure the license was going to stick around long enough.
We tried to make it a mix of classics, cult movies, movies that have historical importance for horror, so-bad-they're-good movies. It's a mixed bag. Of course, that's what we had on MonsterVision. We always had a mixed bag. You never knew what you were going to get.
For the most part, it's going to be me straight to camera. It's just going to be me talking… you know, my usual monologues and rants, and commentary on the film and bad jokes. I continue to get flagged for tasteless jokes and politically incorrect rants and things like that, so we'll see how much of my stuff's made it into the final version.
Yeah, I'm very excited to see what titles you picked and talk about. I believe they teased Tourist Trap and Sleepaway Camp with the initial announcement.
Joe Bob Briggs: Yeah. I wanted to do Tourist Trap. I love that movie because it's a neglected masterpiece, in my opinion. It flopped when it came out. It came out in '79. It was a big disaster. Chuck Connors wanted to have this horror career, and because the movie failed, he didn't make any more horror movies. But to me, it's a very well-made, very intriguing, one-of-a-kind plot, and it has other important reasons. The effects that were used in that movie, that were invented for that movie, were later used in all the Puppet Master movies, so it's kind of a pre-Puppet Master film.
Obviously, I know about your love for exploitation and drive-in cinema, but what modern horror movies really excite you these days? What have you seen recently that you loved?
Joe Bob Briggs: Well, my list is not that surprising. I loved Get Out. I love Stephen King's IT. Consider this: that director came in, he was not the first choice and he comes into a troubled project where people aren't that happy to see him, and even the fans weren't that happy that he was taking over the project, and he works and he does that movie with a cast of child actors. Who can do that? Who would even risk that? That's an amazing feat, and he pulled it off. People complained that there were too many jump scares and that it's not as deep as it should be. He did as much as you can do with an all-child cast. So I thought that was a huge achievement.
And, of course, the best picture Academy Award went to a monster movie. This was a great year for horror. I can't say that The Shape of Water is my type of monster movie, but it's certainly a huge technical and artistic achievement. This can go in two directions now. You have a year—which I don't think we've ever had in history—where both artistically and financially, horror seems to be the way to go for any network or studio. Any network executives, any studio executives looking at the landscape, they’re going to say, "Find me some horror, guys. Find me some horror stuff."
This can go in two directions: We can have a lot of overblown, big-budget, crappy horror in the next three years, or we can have a lot of indie guys who've been trying to break in who will get their shot and will get to make that movie that they've been carrying around Hollywood for 10 years and nobody would make it, and now finally they'll get to make it. We could end up with a lot of crap, or we can end up with some really interesting stuff. Do you agree with me, by the way?
Oh, yeah. I think we're kind of in a golden age of horror. Not only are we seeing horror getting the critical acclaim and winning Academy Awards, but we’re also seeing it on TV more than ever. And then you have companies like Scream Factory and Arrow, and they're re-releasing these classics for a new generation to discover. It's a really cool place, especially for creators, because now they can feel a little more supported. Again, “horror” isn't a bad word. You can say it, you can talk to studios about your movie and say “it’s a horror movie.”
Joe Bob Briggs: Right. And when you get acclaimed for your horror movie, you don't have to say, "Well, it was really a suspense thriller. It's not really a horror."
Aside from The Last Drive-In on Shudder this week, what else do you have going on that you’d like to tell Daily Dead readers about? Any other appearances?
Joe Bob Briggs: You know, the thing that I've been doing that gives me the most pleasure is I have a live stage show that I do called How Rednecks Saved Hollywood. It's about 250 clips and stills. It tells the whole history of the redneck, from the first redneck and how he came to America, to rednecks today, and the ultimate redneck classics, as told through the movies. I used to just do it in the South, but I've recently done it north of the Mason-Dixon line and survived, and so I always put that out there, because any theater that wants to book me, I'll show up and do that show, because I love to do the show so much. I love the live audiences and the reactions that I get from that. That's the main thing, How Rednecks Saved Hollywood. Live, one night only, Joe Bob Briggs explains the cinematic redneck.
"On Friday the 13th of July, down-home horror aficionado Joe Bob Briggs is taking over SHUDDER, the leading premium streaming service for thriller, suspense, and horror, with a 24-hour marathon of 13 cult classic movies. The programming event, THE LAST DRIVE-IN WITH JOE BOB BRIGGS, is available exclusively to Shudder members on July 13 beginning at 9pm EDT/6pm PDT.
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."