The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs
Date: July 13th-14th, 2018
Presented by: Shudder
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
When Shudder announced a collaboration with Joe Bob Briggs earlier this year, it was cause for immediate celebration among cult movie fans. Many—including yours truly—consider the legendary horror host to be a pivotal figure that helped to legitimize their love for the sort of cinematic refuse that was traditionally dismissed by most critics. Now that the internet has legions of websites dedicated to such fare, it’s easy to forget just how marginalized this stuff was before Briggs and fellow grindhouse frequenter Bill Landis began taking it seriously. Even those fans that weren’t around for his run on Drive-In Theater and MonsterVision are certainly familiar with the legend of Joe Bob Briggs, further stoking the flames of anticipation for his long-overdue return to airwaves. For some, it would represent a nostalgic trip down memory lane with a familiar face; for others, it would represent a chance to actually experience the legend instead of living vicariously through other fans’ memories or Youtube videos.
Eventually announced as The Last Drive-In, Briggs’s return to glory took the form of an insane 26+ hour, 13-movie marathon that proved to be an immediate hit. In fact, the event will probably always be remembered somewhat infamously, as horror fans around the country bombarded Shudder’s servers in unforeseen numbers, effectively crashing the party. Logging on proved to be difficult—if not impossible—for many (I wasn’t able to access it until 45 minutes into the first film, with the stream proving to be spotty throughout the entire marathon), a gaffe that was admittedly frustrating at first. However, the overwhelming sentiment on my Twitter feed eventually helped me see the charm in it: here were a bunch of freaks, geeks, and outcasts—once affectionately dubbed by Briggs himself as “Drive-In Mutants”—turning out in droves to revel in one last ride.
Maybe it didn’t go off without a hitch, but even that almost feels right—in many ways, Briggs’s return also recalled an era when it was harder to see this stuff. In an era of instant access and gratification, The Last Drive-In unwittingly became a throwback to the days when you had to be there to truly experience something, whether it be the drive-in, the video store, or in front of your TV on Friday evening. Even though Shudder strongly hinted beforehand that The Last Drive-In would be available on demand at a later date, you could sense that so many folks just had to witness it first-hand. The swell of support and camaraderie that emerged made it impossible to give up: when Shudder outright confirmed it would put each movie on demand in the middle of the marathon to ease concerns, I admittedly thought about giving up and just watching it that way—at a later, more convenient, and less frustrating time.
I couldn’t allow myself to do that, though—something kept nagging at me, insisting that I had to witness this event as it was intended (or at least as much of it as my exhausted body could allow). Sure, Joe Bob’s commentary and the films themselves would still be just as entertaining in the vacuum of on-demand viewing, but it quickly became obvious that The Last Drive-In wasn’t really just about that at all. Yes, it was the legendary horror host’s return to glory, but it was also a gathering for the devoted, worshipping here at the altar of blood, breasts, and beasts in a communal event via Twitter. Arriving at the perfect intersection of nostalgia and modern, collective viewing experiences, The Last Drive-In became a celebration of the cult movie culture spawned in actual drive-ins decades ago. I’d say the only thing missing was the greasy food, but my feed was inundated with pictures of spreads (many of them featuring copious amounts of Lone Star, Briggs’s beverage of choice) from various viewing parties.
When The Last Drive-In was announced, I initially envisioned keeping a sort of running diary for this site to chronicle the madness; however, both the technical snafu and my desire to sleep for a few hours in the middle made that endeavor much less interesting. Not that Joe Bob didn’t program an incredible line-up, mind you, as The Last Drive-In boasted an eclectic mix of sub-genres and titles—some famous, some infamous, and some downright notorious. Legit genre staples (Rabid, Re-Animator, Blood Feast, Hellraiser) butted up against unsung treasures (Tourist Trap, The Prowler, Daughters of Darkness, The Legend of Boggy Creek) and completely unhinged brain-smashers (Sleepaway Camp, Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama, Basket Case, Demons, Pieces), ensuring that the night’s drive-in totals would be stuffed full of various rolling body parts, bare breasts, genre legends, and a wide assortment of drive-in-fu.
Whether it served as a sleazoid express crash course for the uninitiated or a revisit for the devoted, this marathon offered a little something for everyone: insane slashers, venereal horror, lesbian vampires, the rampaging undead, vintage New York City grime, peak Eurotrash nonsense, Ozark hicksploitation, and the most random kung-fu professor in the history of cinema. As someone who has meticulously curated our annual Halloween list for the past decade, I certainly appreciate the spectrum of flavors on display here, not to mention the nice threading of some of the pairings: following up Blood Feast with Basket Case proves to be especially inspired given Frank Henenlotter’s role in helping to rediscover and legitimizing Herschell Gordon Lewis’s work.
Briggs himself was quick to point out that connection, among many others. That’s always been one of his many roles as horror host, of course: providing historical contexts and anecdotes, enriching the audience’s knowledge and appreciation of the films in the process. The Last Drive-In provided another reminder of this particular anachronism: once upon a time, this was one of the few ways fans could glean this kind of information You had to be lucky enough to have access to the few books (including Briggs’s own tomes) written on the subject, Fangoria, fanzines, or you waited for Joe Bob to educate you on Friday nights. Our wider, modern access to this knowledge still didn’t preclude Briggs from resuming this role throughout The Last Drive-In and putting his own irreverent spin on each factoid. Let’s just put it this way: you might know the weird, complex history of the Demons “franchise,” but you’ve never really quite grasped the insanity until you’ve heard Joe Bob deliver a breathless, incredulous rant on the subject.
It wasn’t the only one he’d deliver throughout the night, as his signature, rambling style had him tackling everything from drive-in esoterica to contemporary political issues in between commenting on the films directly, blending high and low culture into an indistinct, gore-soaked blob throughout the night. Perhaps only in the company of Joe Bob Briggs will one find a reference to Aristotle to justify a critique of Re-Animator. What was especially striking was Briggs’s obvious comfort in slipping into a role he’d only periodically reprised during the past 17 years: between this and the pitch-perfect recreation of the host’s classic production aesthetic, you’d swear Monstervision never actually went off the air. His signature drive-in totals rolled off Briggs’s tongue with ease, as did his humorous—and, notably, loving—observations about the film, no matter how bizarre or questionable they might be. Joe Bob’s genuine, infectious enthusiasm for these movies has always been a hallmark of his shows, and The Last Drive-In was no different—you sense that he really reveled in sharing these movies, warts and all.
There’s also always been the comforting sensation that Briggs is one of us, a sincere devotee to this cast-off corner of cinema just looking for someone to talk to about it. The Last Drive-In recreated this, too: once again, Briggs have the impression of a guy just sitting in his living room, shooting the shit to whoever would listen: guests (like Felissa Rose), the off-camera crew, new mail girl (and fellow South Carolinian!) Darcy, and, of course, us, the audience. With his relaxed, controversial style, Joe Bob regaled us with personal anecdotes, trivia, and even a rendition of the infamous Travis Crabtree song from Boggy Creek. Hell, at one point, Darcy's heritage provided an opening for Joe Bob to acknowledge Clemson University, my beloved alma mater (for the record, Joe Bob, it’s definitely “go Tigers”). It might have been a moment that appealed only to me, but that, too, has been part of Brigg’s magic: somehow, it’s like he’s always been talking directly to you (I could go into an entire tangent about how his down-home, southern-fried intellectualism really appealed to me, a kid stranded in South Carolina with a thick, twangy accent that’s haunted me forever—but I’ll spare the details).
Given the finality associated with something titled The Last Drive-In, it’s no surprise that Briggs reserved some poignant moments, particularly when a feeling of valediction crept into the final couple of hours, incongruously bookending the insanity that is Pieces. A brief overview of horror hosting—highlighted by a heartfelt tribute to Shock Theater host John Zacherle—doubled as an acknowledgement that Briggs has always been a part of long, unsung tradition, here finally given its rightful credit as a crucial bit of cultural lore. Once again, here was Joe Bob sticking up for the outcast and the obscure, fittingly as a lead-in to what was arguably the most polarizing film of the marathon in Pieces, a truly deranged piece of work that Briggs was lambasted for defending upon its release.
In many ways, this final introduction—including one last, glorious drive-in total—to this particular film brought his career full-circle, eventually culminating with the striking image of the host sitting alone on a dimmed set, hat in hand, seemingly contemplating nearly 40 years of trash cinema mania. Only he would be able to reveal if his return to his seat after a brief exit from the set was done so out of reluctance, denial, or outright defiance, but it was certainly a poignant moment nonetheless, one that subtly echoed Joe Bob’s famous mantra that the drive-in will never die. The lights might go down, but the flicker of a projector will always be ready to whir back to life, so long as the faithful congregate like moths drawn to these particularly vibrant, peculiar flames.
It was in these closing moments that I again realized that The Last Drive-In was more than just one legend’s chance to ride off into the blood-red sunset; rather, it was an opportunity for him to reaffirm the vitality of a community that was once a bit more scattered to the four corners of the globe during his prime. Now more immediately united by social media, the devoted could gather together to ride shotgun alongside Briggs for his send-off, sharing comments, trivia, and personal anecdotes in real-time for a somewhat unprecedented event. Ultimately, The Last Drive-In wasn’t just about you, me, or even Joe Bob himself: it was about all of us who made this something truly special, perhaps even magical. While Briggs’s commentary will be preserved in Shudder’s archives, that magic can’t be replicated, and I’ll carry memories of sharing this experience with fellow genre connoisseurs for years to come, mostly because it confirmed the rich tapestry of vital, passionate voices that will carry on the spirit of Joe Bob’s drive-in reverence.
Taken in this light, Brigg’s recounting of horror host history wasn’t merely a tribute but also an implicit invitation for all of us to take the Lone Star baton and spread the gospel of dead bodies, bare breasts, explosions, car chases, monsters, madmen, and Kung-Fu City. The Last Drive-In isn’t a final chapter but rather something of an epilogue allowing devotees to celebrate their triumph in returning a beloved icon to the spotlight, effectively bridging the gap between Briggs’s career and a legacy that’s flourished in the guise of various websites, from the more official, major outlets to scrappy, upstart blogs (after all, where do you think we swiped our carnage count and skin scale from?). Even these aren’t completely necessary now, of course, with the advent of social media and podcasts that have only deepened the legacy by providing new avenues for it to thrive via communal live-tweeting and other collaborative efforts. Joe Bob may have hung up his bolo tie (though we horror fans are wary about anything being designated as “final”), but the mutants continue to spawn, eager to carry the banner for the sick and the disgusting, always prepared to party like jungle animals and to boogie until we puke. No, the drive-in never die; in fact, it's arguably never been more alive. comments powered by Disqus Ratings:
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