I’m not here to make any grand claims like “Joe Bob Briggs saved my life.” I’ve always been a bit wary towards statements like that—unless someone literally saved someone’s life. No, I didn’t go through any serious trauma where Joe Bob noticed my suffering and reached out his hand to pull me out of it. I first tuned into Joe Bob Briggs on Monstervision sometime during its late 90s run—was in middle school and it was around the time my parents were going through a divorce. I was in the somewhat awkward spot of choosing my own custody situation where the wrong choice could come off as if I was choosing sides. My mother was also going through serious depression and insecurity at the time, which meant she was more emotionally needy towards me than a parent should be towards their kid. So if anything, maybe Joe Bob helped ease me through that experience a bit.
For those unaware, Joe Bob Briggs is the stage name of film critic John Bloom; his persona was that of a Texan redneck covering B-movies and cult films. Bloom wrote film reviews as the character and Joe Bob eventually got his own column. From there he got his first hosting gig with Joe Bob’s Drive-In Theater on The Movie Channel, then Monstervision on TNT, and most recently returned after nearly 20 years off the air via the Shudder streaming service under the title The Last Drive-In.
I was too young for Joe Bob’s Drive-In Theater and I can’t pinpoint the exact week I started tuning into Monstervision; the show quickly became a weekly source of comfort. It was similar to the childhood tradition of us “weird” kids perusing the aisles of the local video store horror section, creating our own fantasies of what each film could be. Our ideas were based on the back of the VHS box until we convinced our parents to rent the movie for us to confirm how many of our suspicions were correct. I grew up feeling like an outcast— bitter towards all of the other seemingly normal people who seemed to possess all the right characteristics and like all the right things. As a fellow horror fan, Joe Bob Briggs made this “weird” kid feel less alone. It’s always easier knowing that you love something; it’s much harder to figure out why. Joe Bob helped put my scattered thoughts towards this horror genre I loved into words. His Southern and plain way of speaking also made him more accessible to this Kentucky native; he actually spoke like my grandparents.
I was already a huge horror fan by the time I started watching Monstervision but Mr. Briggs provided a horror history lesson that wasn’t otherwise readily available at the time as the internet was still relatively new. He somehow found this happy medium where he gave critical and historical respectfulness towards movies that were often dismissed by other critics. While a film can be “bad” by certain objective standards, Briggs helped enlighten me to the fact that “bad” movies have their own kind of merit. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve often wondered why I’ve become more critical or cynical towards other genres, but remain forgiving towards horror. I think Joe Bob (mixed with childhood nostalgia) helped with that by putting more emphasis on the entertainment factor.
There were also movies Joe Bob Briggs specifically introduced me to through Monstervision. The Stepfather, a great horror-thriller, with a great Terry O’Quinn performance (which is why I was excited years later when he appeared in the TV series Lost). Maximum Overdrive, the only movie Stephen King directed; an intentionally dumb movie with trucks coming to life set to an AC/DC soundtrack. Slaughter High, a trashy, April Fool’s Day-themed slasher movie that I have a morbid fascination with. Rock N’ Roll High School, a wonderful Roger Corman-produced low-budget teen movie that introduced me to a love for The Ramones as well. 1990’s Night of the Living Dead remake, directed by my favorite special effects guy Tom Savini. Howling III and Howling VI, bad sequels in a mostly-mediocre franchise. Even when Joe Bob covered movies I was already familiar with, I was still simply eager to see his takes on them. He also sometimes had memorable special guests such as Wes Craven, Roddy Piper (They Live), Tippi Hedren (The Birds), Linnea Quigley (Return of the Living Dead), etc.
I almost included a list of all the movies I loved that Joe Bob covered on Monstervision before realizing that we’d be here all day; for the curious, there is a complete archive online. I think a lot of Monstervisionfans most remember one Halloween when Joe Bob did a dusk-till-dawn Friday the 13th marathon (my personal favorite horror series, even though Halloween is my favorite horror movie), which featured parts 1-3, 5, and 6. As is fitting with that date, strange things happen as the marathon goes on into the late hours of the night. One of the funniest jokes is where Joe Bob claims they planned on also showing Friday the 13thThe Final Chapter except the copy “mysteriously” disappeared (we all knew they just weren’t able to get the rights).
I actually didn’t watch that marathon live as I was busy attempting a (failed) Halloween series marathon during a sleepover with a friend of mine, which ended up with my mom taking us two children to toilet paper my aunt’s and father’s (her then-recent ex-husband’s) respective houses out of some strange sense of nostalgia (perhaps mixed with a vengeance?) that she was feeling. I did tape Joe Bob’s coverage of the first Friday the 13th on a VHS tape, which I watched repeatedly before it got copied over with something else. I distinctly remember them showing Dracula: Dead and Loving It before the F13 marathon began, which started a short-lived tradition for me where I would also watch that vampire parody (and my favorite Mel Brooks movie of the ones I’ve seen) anytime before doing my own Friday the 13th marathon. Have I mentioned already that I was a weird kid?! Regarding the rest of the films in that F13 marathon, luckily the Monstervision website had written transcripts of the hosting segments and I probably still have that large stack of transcripts that I printed out whenever I missed Monstervision or simply wanted to have some form of a copy. Of course, when I printed them out was years before you could find many of his hosted segments on YouTube.
“Monstervision” even inspired me to check out a couple of Joe Bob’s previously written books from the local library, Joe Bob Goes to the Drive-in and Joe Bob Goes Back to the Drive-in, as well as going to his website to read his film criticism. Even though my ADD brain prevented me from reading his books in full, I still found great enjoyment in obsessively flipping around, mainly seeking Joe Bob’s takes on some of the films I loved— a habit I also found myself doing with Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guides or Roger Ebert’s movie reviews found on his website. Even if Joe Bob’s takes usually greatly differed from Ebert or Maltin, I still greatly respected all three in terms of film criticism. I remember being confused when, after Joe Bob’s coverage of Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice on July 8, 2000, we didn’t see him return to that beloved Monstervision hosting (lawn) chair and I even inquired about what happened via a message to him on his site. When he messaged me back, I was heartbroken as I learned that he had been let go from TNT without so much as an advanced notice. Joe Bob mentioned that had he known he would’ve at least gone out on a strong note, rather than simply being there one week and gone the next; his absence from my Saturday nights felt like going out into the wilderness alone.
I did see Joe Bob pop up from time-to-time over the years, appearing on such things as featurettes on the Jason X DVD or contributing commentaries to an obscure series of films that I haven’t listened to. Eventually, YouTube came along and I was able to go back through the Monstervision glory years (many of the Joe Bob’s Drive-In Theater segments can also be found there). I even got the pleasure of meeting the man a couple of times. The first time was in August of 2014, at the 8th Annual B-Movie Celebration in the small town of Nashville, Indiana (which felt very similar to Gatlinburg, TN to me). I found out about the marathon through Justin Beahm, a writer, and producer I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a couple of times as well, but mostly communicated with through social media. Justin was helping promote the marathon and also hosted a viewing of Silent Night, Deadly Night. I was only there for one day of the marathon, which was going through some cult movies from 1984, but I was still able to see five movies that day— a couple of which I had seen (The Last Starfighter, Repo Man) and three I hadn’t (Hardbodies, The Toxic Avenger, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension).
My whole reason for going is that Joe Bob Briggs himself was introducing most of the films in that marathon; he would mention it during his coverage of Tourist Trap on the first The Last Drive-In marathon. I only worked up enough nerve to ask to take a picture with him that time, but that whole marathon was a fun experience. I met him once again at The Scarefest horror convention in Lexington, Kentucky (my hometown) in September of 2018. I got an autograph and another picture with him; also had a slightly longer conversation that was nothing too remarkable. I’m extremely introverted with a huge heap of social anxiety, so I struggle with speaking words out loud. I did ask him during his panel if they ever talked about having a “mail girl reunion” (the mail girls are a traditional sidekick on Joe Bob’s programs) on The Last Drive-In; though I think Joe Bob misunderstood the question saying that Shudder wanted a new mail girl. I have no problems with The Last Drive-In‘s mail girl “Darcy”—in fact, I quite like her and follow her on Twitter. I just meant a special reunion episode or segment when I asked the question, but we’ll see if that might still happen on the weekly series.
Yes, I suppose it’s time for me to wrap this up with a little bit on The Last Drive-In. I experienced a specific kind of excitement I hadn’t experienced in years when I learned that Shudder would be bringing on Joe Bob Briggs to host a “dusk-till-dawn-till-dusk” 13 movie marathon on—appropriately—Friday the 13th. My preparation for the marathon went as far as taking off work Friday. This way I could stay up till dawn Friday morning, sleep up until the marathon, and then hopefully stay awake through all 13 movies— not an easy task for a 33-year-old to do. This was presented as the last time Joe Bob Briggs would ever do such a hosting gig, though I had my suspicions that could change if the marathon proved to be successful enough. It was indeed successful. I, as many, went through the experience of Joe Bob “breaking the internet”—even though I side with Joe Bob in that I would’ve more enjoyed actually being able to follow along “live” (though I’m sure most of us realize these are taped in advance, right?!)—but all is forgiven. I missed all of the first movies in the marathon (Tourist Trap) and roughly half of the second (Sleepaway Camp)—even though I was able to catch up with those later.
I’m happy to report that I only drifted a bit through Daughters of Darkness (though not due to lack of enjoyment of the film itself) and allowed myself a mini-nap during part of Re-Animator. I had seen that movie fairly recently and knew I’d be able to catch up with the hosting segments later. Besides that, I stayed awake for the whole thing; I also planned my time around the smaller, four-movie marathons that took place before Thanksgiving (Dinners of Death) and Christmas (A Very Joe Bob Christmas). The Christmas marathon covered the Phantasm series and not the Silent Night, Deadly Night series as I had suspected, though I’m well-acquainted with both. Through the three marathons, I was blessed to catch up with some movies I hadn’t seen before: Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama, Daughters of Darkness, Blood Feast, The Legend of Boggy Creek, Pieces, Dead or Alive, and Blood Rage. Those marathons proved that Joe Bob has still got it; he’s still taking me to unexplored territory and he’s still expanding my horror knowledge and love. I’m eager to discover what other movies Joe Bob Briggs might introduce to me through the weekly series. Also intriguing is the fact that Joe Bob has already mentioned via his Twitter account that on the first week he plans on ragging on one of the most-requested movies on Shudder. I’m eager to watch whatever he covers, whatever his views, and also excited to be a part of 25YL’s weekly The Last Drive-In coverage. Whether or not you also have a history with Joe Bob Briggs, I urge you to join me in watching week-to-week. Aaron says, “check it out.”