For decades, Joe Bob Briggs has been showing film fans the way to drive-in nirvana. Now, the host—who is arguably one of the most beloved figures among the horror community—is going back to the trailer for nine weeks of double features as he presents Shudder’s The Last Drive-In. Horror Obsessive got a chance to speak with the man himself after the series premiere.
Horror Obsessive: It’s really great to speak to you.
Joe Bob Briggs: Thanks.
Horror Obsessive: Something really interesting growing up—I couldn’t understand why you would talk about the drive-in as dying because I grew up about two minutes away from a drive-in; my family would take me to the drive-in so much.
Briggs: I’m the one who always said it’s not dying though. We always had drive-ins in Texas where I grew up and in Arkansas. Where do you live?
Horror Obsessive: I’m originally from North Carolina.
Briggs: North Carolina, okay. Well, see you had one of the largest sub-distributors in the country in North Carolina. You probably had a couple hundred drive-ins in North Carolina. You had Earl Owensby… owned a lot of those drive-ins in Shelby, North Carolina and he was making movies directly for the drive-in. Plus, he was the center of that part of the country in terms of the distribution system. So—if you had a movie—if you had a low-budget independent movie, it would play North Carolina first in that region. So, a very thriving culture of drive-ins there. There were pockets around the country. It was strong there, in Florida, it was strong in Southern California, it was strong in Arizona, and it was very strong in Texas and very strong in Ohio, and in other parts of the country, the land was too valuable.
Horror Obsessive: Right.
Briggs: So cheap land…a lot of drive-ins.
Horror Obsessive: I used to hear these stories from my parents growing up about the drive-ins. The small town I was from had two drive-ins
Briggs: Oh, yeah.
Horror Obsessive: My parents would tell me that drive-in would show more adult movies and this drive-in shows…more of the family movies…and it was hilarious hearing about that. I just couldn’t understand what was going on with this; that’s how abundant it was, that they could genre program.
Briggs: Yeah, a lot of those drive-ins were going out of business in the ’70s and the ’80s were saved by porn; porn kept them alive. If a brand-new multiplex was built near the drive-in it usually hurt their business so bad that they had to turn to [adult films}. So that’s why there were so many [adult films] drive-ins.
Horror Obsessive: The [adult films] drive-in was doing good business for the time. So, let’s talk about the first episode of the Last Drive-In. Okay, you start off with C.H.U.D. What were you thinking Joe Bob?
Briggs: Well, my director is a brilliant guy from South Carolina named Austin Jennings. Austin is 32 years old—so he’s a millennial.
Horror Obsessive: Okay.
Briggs: Austin suggested that we do C.H.U.D. He’s been right in the past, but I was like why would we do C.H.U.D. It was bad in 1982 and it’s bad now.
Horror Obsessive: It’s still bad…
Briggs: “No, it’s got some wonderful things. Watch it again.” So, I watched it again and I called him up and said ‘Hey, it still sucks.” He said, “But it’s beloved and a lot people want to see it.” So, I said okay, “Yeah let’s take a look at it and see what people might like about it.” And so that was the idea is to reexamine a movie that has a lot of heat on it, but it’s not obvious why it has all that heat on it. So that was the idea there. When we did the very first marathon last summer he wanted to do, the same kind of conversation. He wanted the closer to be Pieces. I thought Pieces was one of the worst movies I ever reviewed and actually got in trouble when I did review; I got picketed by the National Organization for Women. Apparently, it was on their list of movies that were especially degrading to women; so, I kind of mildly celebrated it. I had all these memories of people trying to get me fired for reviewing it at all and then all these years later he wants to feature it as the closer. On the marathon. And the same thing…we went through the same back and forth. It’s so bad and he was like yeah, “it’s so bad in a wonderful way; it’s one of my favorite movies.” And I was like okay I’m never going to understand the millennial thing. So, we showed it and it was a hit. People liked the screening of it and the treatment we gave it. So, it’s a mix of true cult classics, really good films, really ‘so bad that they’re good’ films, and then these oddities. I call these the oddities. A lot of times people will tell you oh, but remember that box, the video box. You know I don’t remember the video box.
Horror Obsessive: Exactly.
Briggs: I just love that box. Presumably, you took the box home and you took the movie out of the box and you watched the actual movie.
Horror Obsessive: Exactly.
Briggs: But yeah it had that great box. Really? How can you be in love with a box? But they are, and there they are. Austin has proved to be right again. People loved that treatment of C.H.U.D. so I just go to social media…and I don’t know if I’m talking to the same 15 people over and over again on social media.
Horror Obsessive: Right.
Briggs: Or we get some new ones each time. But they really seemed to like the C.H.U.D. screening. The second film we showed, Castle Freak…I’m a genuine fan of that.
Horror Obsessive: I love Castle Freak. If you had paired that with From Beyond I would have been over the moon. I love From Beyond too.
Briggs: Yeah, other Stuart Gordon films. I do like From Beyond a little bit better than I like Re-animator—but all three of them are wonderful. I think the reason people are so much into Castle Freak is that it’s hard-core horror. It’s no comic relief, but I like that. It takes more talent make those. They’re more dangerous than the ones that have the comedy element with the horror and I think it’s a wonderful film.
Horror Obsessive: I do too and I was surprised at how many people the other night during the showing were saying that “I’ve never seen this film,” or “I’m not familiar with this film.” I was genuinely surprised by that.
Briggs: Yeah, I did get that from people—even though people love Jeffrey Combs. I would expect most hard-core horror fans would be watching it just for Jeffrey Combs. Yeah, I guess we discovered it’s a little underappreciated.
Horror Obsessive: Exactly. I find these films all the time and I’m mentioning them to people and they go “I’ve never seen it. I don’t know anything about it.” Castle Freak is one I’d actually been recommending to people before this. I was like go back and watch this. I’m so glad that you put this on and to have Barbara Crampton as your first guest, that was really cool. I was so happy to see her.
Briggs: I had never met Barbara before; we had corresponded and everything. She’s a great spokesperson for horror and women in horror—and for a long career in both television and film. She, I don’t know who you compare her to, she’s like the Jane Fonda of horror films. She starts out as the babe and then she matures into the dramatic roles and she’s forever youthful. Still doing a lot of work all these years later. It was great to have her on.
Horror Obsessive: Just to hear from her about Stuart Gordon’s directing style which I found very interesting. I would actually like to look more into that because when she said that line about if Stuart Gordon could play every character he would.
Briggs: I think she meant that in the sense of most theater people are like that. Most hard-core theater people are like that, but what was surprising to me is that she said he was very strict with the actors. Usually, when people come out of the theater it’s more of a collaborative thing when it comes to the acting and less collaborative when it comes to the technical aspects. Apparently, Stuart knows exactly what he wants and he gets it.
Horror Obsessive: Oh, absolutely. I wanted to bring this up because I was happy you devoted some time to Jonathan Fuller. So many times I think the person behind the mask, or the person playing the monster, gets pushed to the side…that nameless, faceless person, but he did an incredible job in Castle Freak with that character.
Briggs: He had a good costume because it allowed him to be expressive inside the monster makeup. A lot of times the monster is just the monster—that’s it. The costume is the role; there’s not much to do. In the film that’s a very expressive creature. Never quite sympathetic, although you could make the case that you could be very sympathetic toward that creature. It’s basically the ultimate child abuse. It is what made him what he is. You don’t have that King Kong moment or Frankenstein moment where you understand him; that you’re sort of fascinated with what he does the whole movie.
Horror Obsessive: And he does a really…like you said it’s the makeup partly. So many times, you go to people who’ve played Voorhees and things like that, well they’re behind a mask. You really can’t get into anything and with him you could really pick up expressions because, basically, his face is there. Something else I wanted to bring up is Joe Bob’s fascination with the penis…
Briggs: Well. no. This is a thing I did because people kept saying Joe Bob, you’re too obsessed with breasts. You’re too obsessed with the female anatomy. And I said we’ll do males; we’ll do penises and so we started talking about it. When we showed Sleepaway Camp, a story all about gender confusion. It’s also a story where the director for whatever reason chose to fetishize the males and not so much the females—and all the males are in these tight booty shorts the whole movie and sometimes naked. And so, we talked about that and then we brought Felissa on to be our “dick expert” because she’s like the actress…
Horror Obsessive: That’s qualified.
Briggs: So, we started looking for dicks so we could bring in Felissa.
Horror Obsessive: Yeah, exactly. Now she’s become a fixture. I’m just wondering, every episode, are we going to call Felissa about something?
Briggs: Well not every episode, but every time we see a dick on screen—it’s more times than you think. They never show that, they only show women’s front body parts.
Horror Obsessive: And being on Shudder, you can show everything. We’re not blocked anymore like we were with Monstervision. You can show anything and get away with it.
Briggs: Yeah, that’s true. Even though when I was back at The Movie Channel, it was premium cable they had lists of movies that were considered too grisly for cable. So, there was still some high-level censorship going on. So yeah this is kind of the streaming era. It’s the first-time companies can show anything. Do they show everything? No, they don’t. They have limitations on what they’ll stream but Shudder has been pretty liberal about what they’ll allow.
Horror Obsessive: Yeah, every edit I’ve seen on Shudder has been pretty close, if not, the actual edit that the filmmaker intended. Thank goodness for that.
Briggs: The lack of female nudity in C.H.U.D. is the result of the official print of the film being that way. They took out the female nudity in the shower scene. So, we showed it that way because that’s the official way to show it. There is another version that has the nudity, but they apparently chose not to do it.
Horror Obsessive: The first episode had a very interesting discussion about the use of shower scenes in horror films. Because a lot of people would just look at that as “that’s just an excuse to have the nudity or sexuality.” But you actually really did a deep dive. People may not have realized the aspects of vulnerability and getting the audience to perk up where the story in the second act isn’t exactly clicking.
Briggs: It was always two things. These were commercial films and they had discovered especially in horror that it was traditionally 90% male audience. It’s still predominately a male audience. There are more and more women that like horror. It’s still not 50/50; it’s far from 50/50. I go to the horror conventions and I would say one out of 10 people that come to my table are female. So, the really serious fans of the genre tend to be overwhelmingly male—therefore the exploitation producers making horror films they knew this. They knew who the audience was and not only were they males, adolescent males. They discovered that above the waist female nudity increased the box office. So, there was that exploitation element to it but it also wasn’t that hard to use it in a dramatic way in a horror film. Because it made them much more vulnerable including the woman who’s eventually gonna triumph as most of these films ended in the final act, usually, with a woman who triumphs. So, for a whole lot of reasons it was integral to the genre and then at some point, it just disappeared. So, we’re kind of going to explore that. I don’t know why. There’s a great movie titled; this great movie called House of the Devil. It’s probably eight years old. In the climatic sequence there’s a Satan-worshiping. They’re going to sacrifice a virgin. The virgin is strapped to a pentagram, but they had a little chiffon covering over her and I was like in any movie where you’re gonna sacrifice a virgin back in the sixties, seventies, eighties you would not have a chiffon covering.
Horror Obsessive: No, that would have been very different.
Briggs: What was that there for? What are they thinking?
Horror Obsessive: Exactly.
Briggs: So, it’s interesting to me these tastes change. It’s interesting to me that very young people, millennials and post-millennials… they’re puritanical. They’re puritanical about nudity and sex. And so, we’re kind of returning to the old photoshopping in these movies instead of encouraging it. It’s a reactionary generation.
Horror Obsessive: And something else very interesting that you picked up on your C.H.U.D. commentary was that the filmmakers seem liked they were above the content so to speak.
Briggs: I hate that…when you’re superior to your material.
Horror Obsessive: And that goes into that term now that’s been bandied about, “elevated horror.” Horror films can’t all exist on the same level.
Briggs: I have heard that term several times. I don’t really know what it is. The other thing that’s changed is if you talked to Roger Corman or you talked to Larry Cohen about their movies, they would have told you that they do have political points to make in their movies.
Horror Obsessive: Exactly.
Briggs: It’s always in the subtext and now a lot of times the political element of the film is being brought to the surface. Now, whether that will be popular, whether that will prevail, whether that will be a new sub-genre that leads us into the future…I don’t know. But for many, many, many decades it was if you have a message call Western Union, don’t put it on the surface of the narrative. That’s changing. We’ll see where that goes.
Horror Obsessive: And you know talking about Larry Cohen, who just recently passed away, I think The Stuff is right up there with any other horror film in terms of the subtext alone. I love that horror movie. So, when you talk about introducing political issues, The Stuff is a political commentary on a lot of things.
Briggs: A very political movie. I would say without a doubt it is… Q the Winged Serpent.
Horror Obsessive: I like Q.
Briggs: It’s Alive or some of the other movies that are not so quite on the nose. The Stuff is an anti-food industry movie and anti-cigarette movie, anti-big tobacco, anti-corporate America. It’s a little bit heavy-handed at times, but he gets the points across in much more subtle movies like, less explicit movies like Q, The Winged Serpent, It’s Alive and And God Told Me To and films like that.
Horror Obsessive: Yeah.
Briggs: It’s films like that.
Horror Obsessive: I’d seen recently that you’ve been talking about introducing more foreign horror and foreign horror titles into the Last Drive-In series, which really interests me. What was the decision to do that now as opposed to maybe back at Monstervision or TMC?
Briggs: MonsterVision we didn’t have any foreign titles. Ted Turner had bought the MGM library back in 1982 and then some other libraries. We didn’t really have much foreign. We would occasionally have a movie that was made in the Philippines, but it would be an American movie or made in Europe, but it would be an American movie or English movie. We didn’t have many opportunities to show foreign horror and foreign horror wasn’t as popular—there are exceptions though. We showed a lot of Italian horror. We showed Italian horror at a time when it’s not obviously Italian and those guys were not revered as they are now. Dario Argento, Joe D’Amato, Lucio Fulci and Lamberto Bava and even Mario Bava were basically considered hacks. People didn’t really know their names. When we showed their movies, it wasn’t a big deal. All the Emanuelle movies I think those were made by Joe D’Amato. It was only with the advent of the internet that people started to find these Italian directors.
It was only around the year 2000 that Japanese horror started to be revered and that was because the cheap direct-to-video Japanese horror of the 1990s. It wasn’t the classic Japanese ghost stories. It was these new more ultra-violent stories and things like that—and then Korea chimed in and then Thailand chimed in. Increasingly young foreign filmmakers saw it as a way to break into the business. We ended up with a lot of foreign horror. I like to show the Japanese because it’s so weird. And you talk to these Japanese guys and ask them why did you go there that’s such a weird place to go. And they’ll say I adore American films. I base all my stuff on American films. I was like “do you watch them backwards or something because we don’t have this stuff in American films.”
Horror Obsessive: It was so great during the Thanksgiving marathon to hear people who had never seen Dead or Alive.
Horror Obsessive: For the first time.
Briggs: We had some walkers.
Horror Obsessive: It’s not for everybody.
Briggs: Some people left us.
Horror Obsessive: And it’s very interesting you’re talking about Korean horror; there’s some great stuff coming out of Korea, J horror. I would be remiss if I didn’t end up our interview asking will Hogzilla ever be shown on The Last Drive-In?
Briggs: I don’t think so because first of all, it’s a really bad movie. Secondly, it’s in litigation…I think; it’s not clear who owns it. There’s a guy who has the clearest title to it and doesn’t want it to be seen. So, for a lot of reasons I’m not sure Hogzilla will see the light of day.
Horror Obsessive: I’ve got to say I’m intrigued. I will find this movie.
Briggs: I’m not sure it’s been fully put together. There were two giant pig movies being made at the same time. And I think the other one was released.
Horror Obsessive: Was it Razorback?
Briggs: No, that was years and years ago. I think about 10 years ago both of these movies were being made at the same time. The other one I think has been released, but Hogzilla never made it to the screen.
Horror Obsessive: We’ve got to keep our fingers crossed because I want to see this one with some Joe Bob commentary on it.
Briggs: You don’t really want to see it. No, it’s really awful.
Horror Obsessive: That hasn’t stopped you from showing a movie. Well, Joe Bob, I’m going to end up this interview. I thank you so much for taking time to talk to me today.
Briggs: Okay, thank you very much.
Horror Obsessive: An absolute pleasure. Thank you.
Catch Joe Bob Briggs every Friday at 9 PM EST/6 PM PST on Shudder and keep up with 25YL for our coverage of The Last Drive-In!