The legendary film critic and B-movie aficionado talks the next season of The Last Drive-In and his vision for the future of independent film distribution
Late February’s Days of the Dead convention in Atlanta represented something of a homecoming for Joe Bob Briggs, the iconic B-movie host and world-renowned drive-in critic. While the beloved host of The Last Drive-In may call Grapevine, Texas his base of operations, it was at 1010 Techwood Drive — the nexus of the Turner Broadcasting System juggernaut — where the illustrious writer, actor and satirist arguably reached the apex of his fame.
Which is odd, he notes, considering the TNT program Monstervision was never actually filmed in Georgia.
“It was always filmed in Dallas,” the 68-year-old recounted. “I had a show called Joe Bob’s Drive-In Theater on The Movie Channel and when it got cancelled, the programmers at TNT called and said ‘Hey, would you like to do another show?’ … so we just kind of moved over, we just kind of used the same sets that we were using on The Movie Channel.”
Still, the TNT gig frequently put him in Atlanta, mostly for meetings and filming promos. It was like a vacation, he said, considering they booked him at the same Midtown apartment complex the Turner Broadcasting titan purchased for fellow The Movie Channel alum (and longtime voice of Turner Classic Movies) Robert Osborne.
“That was back when Ted Turner actually owned everything,” he remarked.
In 2000 — in the midst of the tumultuous AOL Time Warner, Inc. merger — Joe Bob Briggs’ tenure with TNT came to an abrupt end. The last episode of Monstervision featuring his hosting duties ran that summer — despite a successful, nearly four-year run as the late night cable staple’s host, Briggs never had the option of filming a “farewell” episode.
Which is where a remarkable comeback story — 18 years in the making — begins.
“I had gone back to my writing career, my serious journalism career, and I would occasionally do the nostalgia convention or something,” Briggs described the almost two-decade-long gap between Monstervision and The Last Drive-In. “I wasn’t really planning on doing any more TV.”
Enter Diana Prince — a longtime Monstervision fan and horror blogger he credits with talking him into donning the trademark bolo tie and cowboy hat for one final rodeo, so to speak.
“She came to a book signing that had nothing to do with Monstervision or Joe Bob Briggs,” he recalled. “She came in a mail girl outfit.”
Consider that foreshadowing — Prince is better known today as Joe Bob’s right-hand co-hostess Darcy The Mail Girl on The Last Drive-In.
In June 2018, the online streaming service Shudder — a subsidiary of the AMC Networks monolith — aired an online 24-hour-plus horror movie marathon, which was essentially an 18-year late season finale for Monstervision.
“When the offer came from Shudder, it was assumed that it was just going to be a one-time deal,” Briggs said. “Just a nostalgia special.”
The positive feedback for that “one and done” special, however, was enormous. Indeed, so many people sought to stream Joe Bob’s “farewell” marathon that the volume crashed Shudder’s servers.
The marathon proved so popular that Briggs and Darcy were asked to come back for two smaller Thanksgiving and Christmas mini-thons later in 2018. When those two specials generated just as much fanfare the suits at Shudder decided to turn The Last Drive-In into a full-fledged, weekly program.
The third season of The Last Drive-In is scheduled to begin streaming on April 16.
“We do have one world premiere in this new season,” Briggs divulged. “We also have several guests, including some big names — but we have to do them by satellite because of COVID.”
Briggs also shared a few more details on the inaugural Drive-In Jamboree, a massive, three-day live event scheduled July 16-18 at the Mahoning Drive-In in Lehighton, Pennsylvania.
“We call it the ‘Drive-In Woodstock,’ or ‘The Gathering of the Mutants,’” Briggs said. “The first day is a film festival that’s a tribute to guerilla filmmaking, it’s a film festival to try to honor all of the guys around the country who put in their own money and make their own films.”
Day two will consist of a live version of the tried-and-true Monstervision/The Last Drive-In double feature format. “We’ll be doing the show, essentially, on the stage,” Briggs said.
The third and final day would entail a “Haunted Drive-In” attraction, highlighted by the screening of two classic monster movies.
“And all three days we’ll have bands, sideshows, all kinds of events during the daytime,” he continued. “We’ll have a tent where we can screen things during the daytime — it’s just a big festival of The Last Drive-In enthusiasms.”
If the festival proves successful, Briggs said he would certainly be ecstatic to host similar events elsewhere.
“That’s a big cause of mine, to sort of help these guys market their film,” he said. “What typically happens to a guy with a no-budget film is he makes the film, it’s a good film, and he has no marketing budget, so he ends up giving it away to Amazon or Netflix, essentially — it’ll run for three months on Amazon or on Netflix, nobody’ll see it, he won’t make any money and then, it’ll disappear.”
Briggs elaborated on his plans for a new marketing system for “the guys at the bottom of the financial ladder.”
“There’s not a level playing field, but I would like to level the playing field,” he said.
Naturally, Briggs said the revival of America’s drive-in theaters amidst the COVID-19 pandemic is at the heart of the matter.
“For a long time, a drive-in was the only place you could go to see a movie, other than streaming,” he said. “I think that enthusiasm for the drive-in will outlast COVID. And that’s a good thing, because drive-ins are mostly owned by individual operators, moms and pops — there are no big chains of drive-ins. So they’re able to program things that you won’t see programmed at the local multiplex, and so it’s a great resource for the indie filmmaker — because it’s a place where you can go and still talk to the guy and try to get him to show your film.”
Taking a look at the modern Hollywood industrial complex, Briggs said it’s apparent that diversity in content is hardly esteemed.
“I’m just as big a fan as everyone else of the Marvel films or the $100 million blockbusters that come out in the summer, but I can’t say I’m not happy that they took a hit,” he said. “And it opened up the marketplace for less-elaborate, less-expensive films.”
The Days of the Dead convention held Feb. 26-28 in Atlanta was one of the largest, big-name horror conventions to take place in the United States since the COVID-19 outbreak.
“The conventions haven’t changed that much and the people who come to the conventions haven’t changed that much,” Briggs said. “We just try to obey the rules and be safe. And most of the conventions are not back in operation yet, but there are a few around the country that are in a place that has liberal enough rules that they can survive.”
Briggs noted that he was diagnosed with COVID-19 last April. He considers himself lucky to only have a few “annoying symptoms” that didn’t require hospitalization.
“I don’t talk about it a lot, simply because I think people do need to wear masks until this is over and I don’t want to put the idea out there that you can get it and easily walk away from it,” he said. “Because a lot of people can’t, and you don’t know who can and can’t.”
Briggs said he loves making the convention rounds because it affords him an opportunity to have direct contact with fans with a wealth of knowledge regarding B-horror and exploitation cinema.
“When they walk up to the table and say ‘Have you seen this?,’ 90 percent of the time the answer’s going to be ‘No, I haven’t,’” he said. “There’s really no downside to the conventions.”
Still, Briggs said he’d like to engage in panel discussions that are a tad more elaborate and educational — “practical panels,” he describes them.
“One thing we’re going to do at the Jamboree next summer is we’re going to have a series of seminars for low-budget filmmakers, and it’s where we take people who work in the industry who have big budgets to work with, but we force them to do a seminar on how to do the same thing for no money,” he said. “So we have the guy with money teach the people with no money how to do it.”
Of course, there’s a “real” person behind Joe Bob Briggs’ sequin suits and country-fried witticisms. Whereas Joe Bob Briggs is an acclaimed actor and horror host, John Irving Bloom is a seasoned investigative journalist and author whose portfolio includes acclaimed true crime thrillers like the Edgar Award-nominated Evidence of Love and 2016’s Eccentric Orbits, which chronicles the rise and fall of Motorola’s ambitious Iridium satellite system.
Yes, the same beer-guzzling “redneck” film critic that espouses blood, breasts and beasts is the same man who has been nominated for multiple National Magazine Awards and whose writings in the wake of 9/11 were shortlisted for a Pulitzer Prize.
“Most of my life I’ve been a freelance writer and a freelance actor, and so as anybody who’s done that knows, I wouldn’t wish it on anybody,” he said. “Anybody who’s done it knows you’re basically just going to the next paying job wherever you can find it. So the idea that my body of work has any organization or plan to it, or any kind of overarching theme that people notice, I’m amazed.”
Over the years, Briggs/Bloom has written for well over 200 publications and made appearances on at least 50 television programs.
“For anybody to know what all that stuff is and find out, I’m in awe,” he said. “I don’t know where all of it is — I have a fan and a friend in Ohio who’s trying to put together everything I’ve written … some of it is in, like, a magazine I wrote for the U.S. Tennis Association, or the tabloid in Toronto.”
Briggs said he’s currently working on two books, including an updated and expanded version of his cult classic tome Joe Bob Goes To The Drive-In.
“There were a lot of things that were left out of the first one,” he said. “It was a collection of newspaper columns, but because it was done on the fly, a lot of the material from the columns was left out.”
It’s been almost 40 years since the world’s premier drive-in film critic debuted in the pages of The Dallas Times Herald. Approaching his 70s — and with the character arguably more popular than ever — Bloom said he has no intentions of retiring his Joe Bob Briggs persona.
“It actually makes me uncomfortable when people come up to me at the convention and refer to me as John Bloom, I don’t know what to say,” he said. “I’m fully comfortable with performing and going on as Joe Bob.”
Consider that a promise from the man himself, Mutant Fam. The drive-in will never die — and neither will Joe Bob Briggs.