Joe Bob Briggs: Thrivin’ With The Drive-In

  Television host, columnist, and B-movie buff Joe Bob Briggs is legendary among many cult film aficionados, particularly Gen-Xers with a love for genre filmmaking. Briggs is John Bloom’s witty, endearing alter ego — an amiable Southern redneck with a love for cinema usually considered contemptible by sophisticated urbanites and serious critics. He began his career falling into a position as a film critic at a Dallas newspaper in the early ‘80s covering foreign fare and B-movie pictures (which were often still called “exploitation films”). This lead to hosting a show on The Movie Channel called Joe Bob’s Drive-In Theater from 1986 to 1996. Over his decade-long tenure at TMC, Briggs introduced, from a trailer park set recreation, low budget horror, action, and other flicks and provided cheeky, racy commentary during planned breaks throughout the show, and he rated movies based on statistics from his tabulated index of “blood, breasts, and beasts.” He was even nominated for two CableACE Awards, and after his TMC gig ended, he took over hosting TNT’s similarly-structured MonsterVision between 1996 and 2000.

  While Joe Bob went on to pursue other ventures post-TNT, many people fondly remembered his hilarious rants and bluntly stated, off-the-cuff insights. But while many producers have failed to deliver on the promise of a new series, producer Matt Manjourides and director Austin Jennings successfully brought Briggs back to public attention by delivering him to horror streaming service Shudder this year. Their first online event together was entitled The Last Drive-In which aired for 24 hours on July 13. Joe Bob presented 13 wild genre pictures that the service could license for $30 or less, including the infamous Basket Case. Demand was so great that Shudder’s servers crashed at the beginning and end of the event due to unexpected viewer demand, ensuring that the host would return.

  That he did with The Dinners of Death, the recent Thanksgiving special on Shudder that featured “the best deadly-dinner movies in history,” and now A Very Joe Bob Christmas airing at 9 p.m. on Friday, December 21. The Xmas special has been teased by Briggs as encompassing “four movies in a single franchise that represent the spirit of drive-in Christmas, and since the movies don’t make a lick of sense, you’re going to need artificial stimulation, if you know what I mean.” A weekly Joe Bob series is also planned for Shudder in 2019.

  The Aquarian Weekly sat down with Joe Bob Briggs at a NY Comic Con roundtable to discuss his thriving drive-in television life.

You have noted that your style of humor plays better in different venues. How do you find it playing up here now as opposed to down in Texas?

  Well, I have a show that I do called How Rednecks Saved Hollywood [with 90 minutes of film clips] that I used to never do above the Mason-Dixon line. I would only do it in the South, and this theater owner [at the Coolidge Corner] in Boston specifically requested me to come and do it. I went up there [last year] and said, “Please make sure every redneck in Boston knows the show is coming up here because I think you’d have trouble filling the theater.” But I did it. I just started out by saying that normally I only do this in places that have Confederate monuments but I’m going to do it here. And they liked and appreciated it, the whole history of rednecks. It has a lot of Southern-based inside stuff. They got and appreciated it and didn’t walk out.

I’m a liberal, but I watch a lot of movies that many liberals probably wouldn’t enjoy, like Vigilante. I’m not into guns in real life, but I enjoy watching that movie. There’s this interesting, dark look in our psyches that numerous such films have that some people don’t always want to acknowledge. Do you find that interesting dichotomy with certain fans?

  Do you think liberals hated Dirty Harry? Do you think liberals hated Death Wish? I mean those were two of the most right-wing movies. They were gun movies, they were law and order movies, and everyone in the country went to see them. There’s something about doing it right… [like] The Fast and the Furious movies.

And the Marvel movies, which a friend of mine has pointed out are all about war.

  Yeah, although the comics-based movies will throw in the scene that softens the violence, that creates the noble purpose. Like that old show The Rifleman, where Chuck Connors kills 8 or 9 people in the show then tells this little boy, “Violence is never the way, son.” Then the next week he kills eight or nine more people. That’s kind of what they do with the superheroes.

Do you think that certain genre films are a tougher sell in the current political climate? They remade Death Wish this year and it failed miserably. It was a lot more cut and dry with good versus bad guys back in the day.

  They may have just gotten the wrong guy for the Death Wish remake. I would think a Death Wish remake would do well. Maybe you need a more subtle screenplay today than you did in 1974. I mean, would you consider Shaft a “liberal” movie? I consider it a hardcore, non-liberal movie. It’s got liberal sentiments in it. I think people like sex and violence, and if that bothers them they call it romance and adventure. Then it becomes a liberal movie. But every great movie has sex and violence. I don’t think there’s a big difference between a liberal audience and a conservative audience. In fact, guys that try to make either “liberal” or “conservative” movies for their specific audiences, those movies tend to fail.

What would be a good example for you?

  In the heyday of the slasher film, a lot of films were made in New York that were POV slasher. There was one that was called Nightmare in 1981 where you are the killer, and you’re going all up and down the East Coast killing people. People hated it. New Yorkers hated it. Texans hated it. Californians hated it. Everybody hated it because regardless of what you might think about people that dress up in Freddy Krueger outfits, they don’t want Freddy Kruger to win. You don’t make a movie where Freddy wins.

  When people who don’t understand the genre try to work in the genre or feel superior to the genre or feel they’re making a movie for “those people,” those movies are always crap. The only movies I’ve ever given zero stars or one star to are where people feel superior to the material. Like a bunch of dentists in Akron who put all their money together and say, “Let’s make one of these stupid horror movies.” And they make it and it’s stupid. You can always tell from the opening moment if they know what they’re doing or if they love the genre or if it’s some supercilious group of assholes.

What has it been like returning to television hosting on Shudder?

  It’s been wonderful. The idea was to recreate MonsterVision, which was a recreation of Drive-In Theater which had been on The Movie Channel. It goes against TV wisdom to do something three times in a row the exact same way and be successful. They said, “We want to do it exactly as it was.” I said, “Well, it’s something I know how to do. It’s been off the air for 17 years. I don’t think you can do it.” They really talked me into it rather than creating some new concept, so that’s what we did. We didn’t really have any money. The reality tattoo show “Ink Master” has a studio in Newark, and we shot it there. It was just a reproduction of MonsterVision, and I didn’t think it would be a huge thing. I thought it might be a nostalgic thing that we would do one time. But I was surprised when it became a thing, and believe me, I appreciated all that attention because I had moved on to another career. I never stopped doing things in the exploitation area — introducing movies and occasionally doing conventions and things — but it wasn’t full time.

  The other thing that was interesting to me is the number of people that were not really old enough certainly to have watched the first show and barely old enough to have watched the second show, but they had watched it on YouTube. Some of them were YouTube collectors, and they were saying, “I don’t have 1998. Do you know where I can get 1998?” It was interesting to me that YouTube could transfer from one generation to the next, which maybe is the difference of why you can repeat TV, whereas in the past you couldn’t. I’m very gratified.

Was there concern with the Shudder’s summer server shut down that you would lose casual viewers?

  The guy who was just turning in out of curiosity and had to fight his device for an hour and a half probably had to be coaxed back. But at the time that it happened I was kind of pissed off because the movies that I wanted everybody to see were the first one and the last one, and that’s where the two breakdowns were, at the very beginning and at the very end. A lot of people got kicked off again because people wanted to tune in for the very last one to see the ending of it. Everybody got to see Sorority Babes In The Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama, but nobody got to see the good rants.

  The other interesting thing to me is that from 1982, when I first started doing this type of reviewing and hosting, to the present, there’s always been somebody saying you can’t say that or do that. At the beginning, it was very difficult because the term “politically incorrect” had not been invented in 1982. It wasn’t invented until a New York Magazine article in the late ’80s. So you didn’t have a way to say to the person who was censoring you that it’s intentionally politically incorrect because the concept didn’t exist.

  Later, I was able to say, “I know it’s politically incorrect. I’m trying to be politically incorrect. It’s on purpose.” What’s interesting is that when I first started doing it, the comments would be, “You can’t do that because the older people won’t understand.” And now when I get called on something it’s, “You can’t do that because the younger people won’t understand.” It was like, I want my generation to get pissed off about something!

Does that kind of interference still bother you?

  I don’t mind it at all. As long as they say, “Don’t say this, don’t say that,” at the script stage at the beginning, then I have no problem with that because I can invent something that often sounds dirtier than the original thing. A lot of the nonsense words that I make up sound worse than if I just said “fuck” all the time.

You’ve worked in horror and exploitation for so long, and the world seems to be catching up with what we love to watch. Would we have believed 25 years ago that a movie about a woman having sex with a fish monster would win Best Picture now?

  Well, it was the year for that, wasn’t it? I got this book in the mail about two months ago. It was an entire book-length treatment of “I Spit on Your Grave” [by David Maguire] published by Columbia University Press. Now, “I Spit on Your Grave” was considered beneath contempt for even the New York Post. That’s how much the landscape has changed, to the point where sometimes they take the movies too seriously.

  A lot of these websites that do the deep dives into horror history and deconstruct modern horror, they adapt academic terminology and are going too far and turning apples into oranges. The claims they’re making for these movies are exaggerated, especially the older ones. All these movies made in the ‘80s that never got released [until now] are suddenly “forgotten gems” or “neglected masterpieces.” They never say, “Movie too crappy to get distribution in 1987, but now we’re releasing it anyway.”