Of all the movie hosts who have come and gone over the years, one can easily make an argument that Joe Bob Briggs was the most prolific. As the king of all lowbrow media, John Bloom’s alter-ego authored a multitude of film reviews, newspaper columns, editorials, and books, while he starred in a one-man show, hosted horror movies on two networks, made cameos in several major motion picturesTM, founded the Drive-In Academy Awards, released his own brand of hand-picked DVDs, and was twice nominated for the Cable ACE award. Zacherle may have been the godfather, Svengoolie may have been the most likable, and Elvria was certainly the prettiest, but no one even came close to out-working or out-thinking Joe Bob Briggs.
For those of us outside the circulation zone of The Dallas Times Herald, our first exposure to the cosmic wisdom of Joe Bob Briggs came via The Movie Channel’s Joe Bob’s Drive-In Theatre (pronounced “thee–ate-ur”) which ran after 10:00 p.m. on Saturday nights from 1986 to 1996. Continuing in the 1950s tradition of midnight movies, the programming on Drive-In Theatre was entirely consistent with Joe Bob’s philosophy of what made for a great drive-in movie, namely “The Three B’s”; blood, breasts and beasts. The films shown were always of the drive-in/grindhouse/b-movie variety, running the gamut from cult horror, to the myriad exploitation sub-genres, and sex farce falling just shy of soft-core pornography. As a premium cable network, The Movie Channel was able to furnish more current films and show them in a completely unedited format, which gave Joe Bob a leg up on his horror host competitors. However, Drive-In Theatre also hosted some great retro fare such as;
- Destination Moon (1950)
- Invaders From Mars (1953)
- Robot Monster (1953)
- Bride of the Monster (1955)
- Carnival of Souls (1962)
- Bikini Beach (1964)
- Beach Blanket Bingo (1965)
- Night of the Living Dead (1968)
- Blood on Satan’s Claw (1970)
- As well as the conspicuously retro Lobster Man From Mars (1989)
The opening sequence to Joe Bob’s Drive-In Theatre was a flawless execution of retro-awesomosity. It depicted a man receiving a package wrapped in brown paper, which he promptly opened revealing a Joe Bob’s Drive-in Theater kit. Then he proceeded to assemble the kit complete with a fake dashboard, car door, window speaker, steering wheel, rows of classic automobiles, a miniature snack bar and a dusky sky outline which surrounded the TV screen. The end result transformed the man’s living room into a perfectly replicated facsimile of a Mid-Century drive-in theatre. This was an extremely effective introduction which perfectly set the tone in approximately 20 seconds.
Joe Bob’s Drive-In Theatre followed the same format each week. Perpetually clad in a cowboy hat, western shirt and bolo tie, Joe Bob stepped out of his mobile home, sat down in a lawn chair, cracked open a beer and introduced the next film while regaling the audience with his unique Texan blend of scathing wit and down home charm. As a true raconteur, Briggs always had several hilarious anecdotes about each film, actor/actress, or director, often bordering on the unbelievable. One of my favorites was his introduction to Carnival of Souls (1962) an offbeat zombie move that preceded Night of the Living Dead (1968) by six years. Joe Bob simultaneously explained the entire back story of one-hit-wonder director Herk Harvey, cited the film’s influence on George A. Romero and Brian DePalma (of Carrie (1976) fame), lambasted “egghead professors” as well as The New York Times film critic Vincent Canby, and still managed to work in a shout out to the Lawrence, Kansas Convention & Visitors Bureau. Joe Bob Intoned, thusly.
“So for all the people who watched Carnival of Souls at the drive-ins of America and didn’t need some gooney professor to tell ‘em it was a great movie, let’s reclaim this one for the good guys. It’s a zombie movie! It’s not about existential angst! It’s not a symbolic parable! It’s a zombie movie!”
During each introductory segment, Joe Bob tallied up the Drive-In Totals which always included the number of dead bodies and breasts shown in the film. He would call to the viewer’s attention anything particularly shocking or noteworthy such as decapitations and car chase scenes. For example the Drive-In Totals for Frankenhooker (1990) were as follows;
- 27 breasts
- 14 dead bodies
- exploding heads
- brain in a jar
- brain in a fish tank
- girlfriend-eating lawnmower
- candlelight dinner with a severed head
- spewing body parts
- explodin’ hookers
- cameo appearance by John Zacherele
- excellent Morton Downey Jr. impersonation
- heads, roll, arms roll, legs roll, everything rolls.
- Drive-In Academy Award nomination for Patty Mullen as Frankenhooker
- 4 stars, check it out
In my humble opinion, mankind will never create a more efficient and user-friendly system for the review of movies, drive-in or otherwise.
After the movie, Joe Bob reappeared to give the viewing audience his final thoughts on the film, reveal a few more anecdotes, and answer fan mail. In hindsight, it was Joe Bob’s familiarity with the legends and lore surrounding each film that truly set him apart from any horror host who’s come before or since. Briggs appeared to have a photographic memory containing an encyclopedic amount of information pertaining movies, actors, directors, producers, crew, sets and ephemera. Keep in mind this was well before one could just look it up on the internet. The man did his homework diligently, but I’d wager it was a labor of love. There were always myriad stories behind the story shown on the screen, and Joe Bob did a better job of telling those than anyone. Below is a link to a fantastic clip from 1992 where Joe Bob reunited the original cast of Night of the Living Dead (1968) and remembered details that even they seemed to have forgotten. This goes above and beyond how ridiculously cool it was that he reunited the original cast of Night of the Living Dead!!!
Toward the end of each show, Joe Bob read news briefs regarding actual drive-in theatres that had recently closed, or were miraculously saved from closing at the zero hour. These were alternately framed as either a “Communist Alert” or a “Republican Alert” to equally offend the political sensibilities of his audience of sleazy cinemaphiles. He always concluded the segment with the chilling reminder, “Without eternal vigilance, it could happen here.” Joe Bob always rounded out the segment with a couple of jokes, often dirty ones.
Q: Do you guys know what the Polish guy calls his zebra?
Q: Why did the pervert cross the road?
A: He was stuck to the chicken.
Q: Did y’all hear about the anorexic nymphomaniac?
A: she swallowed an olive and 5 guys left town.
Q: Did y’all know what 10,000 battered wives have in common?
A: They JUST! WON’T! LISTEN!
Finally, Joe Bob ended each night’s broadcast by stating, “I’m Joe Bob Briggs reminding you that the drive-in will never die.” Thus far, he’s been proven right. The drive-in was a quintessential part of mid-century culture, and Joe Bob fought to preserve it, for ourselves and our posterity. Perhaps his most important contribution was that he let so many of us know that there was a whole wide world of exploitation and cult films that we’d never even heard of just waiting to be rediscovered. And much like the super-cool big brother whom many of us never had, Joe Bob not only told us all about these films, but also made damned sure we got to see them uncut.
Furthermore, while watching these old clips of Drive-In Theater, I laughed repeatedly at the utter lack of political correctness. At the time, the 1990s didn’t seem terribly permissive, especially on college campuses. But I reckon the trite platitude “you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone” is a worn out cliché for good reason. Outside of a Comedy Central roast, I can’t imagine anyone on cable today getting away with the utterly hilarious rants Joe Bob rolled out weekly. The following clip speaks for itself. Enjoy.
Note to hardcore Joe Bob Briggs purists: Hold off on the hate mail. I intend to do follow up posts on Joe Bob Briggs – Monstervision, and Joe Bob Briggs – The Written Works.