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Joe Bob Briggs Keeps Decades-Old Promise and Films Movie Marathons in DFWEXPAND
Illustration by David Malan

Joe Bob Briggs Keeps Decades-Old Promise and Films Movie Marathons in DFW

When Joe Bob Briggs filmed The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs for the streaming service Shudder, he thought it would be the last time he sat in front of a camera as a host for a show.

“I’m going to do it one last time,” Briggs said at the beginning of the 13-horror-movie marathon that aired July 13.

It was to be a farewell to a medium he helped pioneer and popularize. The long-denied final encore that allowed him to be the smiling face who would introduce a film with a fact and a wink. A way to say goodbye properly. To do it on his terms as a thank you to his fans and a final bow.

Then, minutes after the marathon began, the Shudder servers began to crash. So many people were trying to watch that the streaming service couldn’t handle the volume. Briggs wasn’t saying goodbye. He was reintroducing himself to an audience relieved to see him. Just as Briggs was getting comfortable in his steer horn-adorned lounger in front of the camera, Shudder announced two new Briggs-hosted marathons. Dinners of Death to stream Nov. 22, followed by A Very Joe Bob Christmas, to air Dec. 21.

"I'm very pleased with the freedom [Shudder is] giving me to do the exact same show I did before," Briggs says to us jokingly.

The success of The Last Drive-In was surprising, but considering his career, maybe it was a forgone conclusion. Dallas native Joe Bob Briggs, real name John Bloom, started his career writing for publications like the Dallas Times Herald, where he adopted the much-loved character of Briggs to review horror and exploitation movies, which at the time weren’t taken seriously or given proper critical appraisal next to the wide releases starring marquee names. The reviews would regularly include breakdowns of how many breasts made an appearance, how many dismembered appendages became airborne and a description of notable action scenes as a play on the term kung fu. If a horny teenager met his untimely end with a bowling ball, it would be described as “bowling-ball fu.”

From there Briggs made a national name for himself by hosting Joe Bob’s Drive-In Theater on The Movie Channel. The show allowed Briggs to take the sensibility from his columns and apply it to a new audience staying up late to watch a triple-feature of campy sex and violence. Before Evil Dead started, Briggs would greet the viewer by simply chatting about something that might be bothering him, while also giving the horror fans some trivia about the film and things to watch for.

After a change in format at The Movie Channel, Briggs went on to host Monster Vision at the Ted Turner-owned TNT network. Monster Vision had, up until Briggs’ arrival, gone through multiple experimental formats, trying both voice-over narration as host and having magicians Penn and Teller take a stab at hosting duties. With Briggs came the review format he has been fine-tuning for years, and the audience soon followed. Briggs would go on to host Monster Vision for four years until, without warning, he was told by TNT management his services were no longer needed. Fans who tuned in the next week expecting to see Briggs were left confused at his absence and given no explanation. Months after his departure, Monster Vision was canceled, and the days of Joe Bob Briggs tipping his cowboy hat to late-night horror fans were over.

That is, until streaming service Shudder offered him a chance to do another version of the show.

Briggs was enthusiastic but remained skeptical about how much interest a show starring him would draw.

“Mainly I didn’t think you could sustain this, because it’s a 20-year-old format,” Briggs says. “When the two guys came to me and wanted to do the show, Austin Jennings, the director, and Matt Manjourides, who has produced a lot of movies, they came to me and said, ‘Do you want to do this show? We want to pitch it to Shudder.’ Over the years many people have come to me and said do you want to do a new show, and I always say yes, and I never hear from them again. And so I thought I was never going to hear from these guys again.”

Within weeks Jennings and Manjourides were back in touch, a deal was done and they began to produce the show.

The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs aired Friday the 13th in July and became the biggest hit Shudder had streamed since its formation about three years ago. Not prepared for the number of new subscribers who signed on exclusively to watch Briggs, Shudder’s servers crashed multiple times and Shudder staff were split trying to maintain the quality of the feed and calm down die-hard Briggs fans. Jennings recalls how quickly the demand overwhelmed the servers.

“We’re all waiting until the stroke of 8 when things start to play,” Jennings says. “About 7:45, 7:50 we started noticing that Shudder kept cutting out. We kept seeing the spinning wheel of death on our smart TVs and our laptops and our phones. So we thought, OK, well maybe they’re just getting ready for the premiere, maybe this is going to switch on at some point. And then I started getting texts from a lot of the Shudder personnel saying, ‘No, actually it’s down and we don’t know what happened.'”

The marathon in its entirety was made available for subscribers, and soon all involved discovered there was still life left in the format. By the following Monday, Shudder was ready to green light more Joe Bob Briggs content, and Briggs could finally make good on a promise he made years ago.

“[Manjourides] and I had talked to Joe Bob about bringing the show back,” Jennings says. “And one of the first things that he brought up, he was like, ‘Well if we’re going to bring it back, the only place to do it is Dallas.’”

They weren’t able to do it for the The Last Drive-In, but now with all future specials, such as Dinners of Death, the filming will be at Las Colinas studios. Briggs, now 65, had maintained if he was ever able to do the show again, he would include as much of the original Monster Vision crew as possible.

“During the original Monster shoot days, he just always shot in Dallas,” Jennings says. “It was one of the ways he could shoot the show very economically. They would do a few weekends in a row, knock out a lot of that material, and then come back. All of those guys are still out there. We actually brought on one of the camera guys, a lighting designer, [and] a technical director from the old show came on and helped us out with stuff.”

Briggs may have been missing some of his old crew in the first steps, but his irreverent point of view, his bold sense of humor that endears him to fans and makes him detestable to censors, never left. Even though the streaming nature of Shudder allows certain creative freedoms, Briggs does see similarities between collaborating with Shudder and a traditional network. Words that might be considered derogatory to women or special interest groups can cause potential red flags for suggested jokes on the Shudder broadcasts.

“Here’s what confuses me,” Briggs says. “When I was much, much younger and I first started writing my columns, at the old Times Herald, I would frequently be censored, and they would always say, ‘This stuff offends the older people, Joe Bob.’ And so we would have to take it out. And now I say stuff, similar stuff, almost the same type of tone, and they say, 'Joe Bob, this offends the younger people.'”

Saying things for comedic effect have proved to be a minefield for all level of comedy performers, and even when served as a palate cleanser, a break between murderous scenes, it reflects a level of sensitivity present in today’s audience.

“We’re not censoring exactly the same things that we censored in the '80s, but we’re sort of moving back in that direction," Briggs says. "And we’re moving back in that direction in terms of censoring violence as well. The two principle things that I celebrate — I celebrate exploitation movies. And exploitation movies are about sex and violence. Actually, mainstream movies are about sex and violence, too, they just call it romance and adventure. Increasingly, there’s these lines that are being drawn. The dangerous thing for guys like me is you don’t know where the line is. The line is shifting. The line is moving all around.

"However, having said that, I talk so much that this is one-half of 1 percent of what I say, in terms of what they want to change. It’s not like they’re watching me like a hawk.”

Who is watching Joe Bob Briggs like a hawk are his fans, happy to see him back in his chair, beer in hand, farewell speech crumpled and forgotten.

For Dallasites who can’t get enough Joe Bob Briggs in their lives, he’ll also perform at Alamo Drafthouse Richardson with his live show How Rednecks Saved Hollywood at 9:30 p.m. Dec. 13. 

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