An Interview with Joe Bob Briggs: Indie Film, Horror, and “The Last Drive In”

Art by Justin Osbourn.

If you grew up in the nineties and had cable television, the odds are you were at one time introduced to Joe Bob Briggs and TNT’s Monstervision. With his assortment of movie trivia, gift of gab, and great jokes, “Monstervision” was a weekend treat that fans savored until its unceremonious end in 2000. Though Joe Bob has been a welcome presence in the horror and film world since then, fans have often clamored for his return to television. Wait no more. This Friday the 13th at 9pm ET, Joe Bob Briggs returns for one last hurrah, to bring his legions of fans a marathon of horror movies, exclusively to Shudder TV.

It’s twenty four hours, thirteen uncut horror movies, Joe Bob’s Drive-In Totals, and a brand new mail girl to boot. Joe Bob took time out of his hectic press storm to answer some our questions and suffice to say it was a thrill.

Hi Joe Bob, thanks for your time, you’re one of my personal heroes.
Well, thank you, Felix. Which of my many acts of heroism are you remembering? Was it that time I saved the endangered salamanders at the Akron Zoo, or the time I won the three-man pepper-eating contest in Bulgaria? Oh wait, yeah, you’re talking about movies—I’ve never owned one, I just act like I own ‘em all.

With the accessibility of filmmaking equipment and technology, do you think this is a new golden age for movies?
If cheap technology could bring about a golden age, we should have had one about fifteen years ago. Yes, all the traditional barriers to becoming a filmmaker have been eliminated, but do we have better films as a result? Unfortunately, no, and I’m not sure why. We should have a hundred great indie films a year due to the fact that production and post-production equipment and software are now within reach of anyone with a script and a dream, but instead we just have more and more random YouTubeification of the film universe. The classic two-hour movie as a form may be in danger of going away entirely. Without going into the reasons for this, narratives are getting much longer (web-based miniseries) and much shorter (short-attention span content designed for the phone) and the traditional forms are stagnating. Fortunately the demand for film is incredibly high right now—all those streaming services—and so I think this will ultimately bring about collectives of filmmakers who use the cheap technology more efficiently and with more dramatic artistry than we have now.

Beyond the community, do you think audiences missed out on anything with the drive-in experience?
The drive-in is the most democratic moviegoing experience ever invented. The drive-in is usually located right at the city limits. The people from the country drive in, the people from the city drive out, everyone mixes together at the concession stand, and it remains the cheapest ticket, pound for pound, of any venue. It’s like a pre-Internet chat room where you can watch the movie or not watch the movie or have it on in the background or jump into your car and deep-dive it, watch in a group, watch alone, although let’s face it, nobody’s alone at the drive-in. So yeah, if you haven’t done it, it’s like the state fair, you have to do it at least twice in your life. But there’s no reason anyone should “miss out.” There are 400 drive-ins and most of them are thriving.

Are there any movies that you’d love to see get a re-release or be re-introduced to modern movie audiences?
You can’t really say there any “forgotten” movies anymore, since there are 10,000 Internet articles about any given title, no matter how obscure, but there are some movies that are under-appreciated. Tourist Trap, the opening movie in the Shudder marathon, is one of those. It flopped at the box office in 1979, nobody thought it was scary, but hardcore horror fans know it as one of the true originals, and the reason we picked it is so that we can rehabilitate its reputation. It also stars Chuck Connors in what I think is a great performance. Most of the older movies that are being discovered for the first time are the ones made in foreign countries that never had a theatrical or DVD release over here. Germany, Spain, Italy, England, Russia, Japan, Korea, China all have rich genre-film histories, and there are gems that are still being unearthed. If I were still hosting a weekly show, I would focus almost exclusively on neglected foreign imports—that’s where the gold is today.

Is there a horror movie that’s especially nostalgic for you?
I can always find something new in Basket Case, and I’ve watched it dozens of times. I don’t think people realize how brilliant the acting is, because the style is over the top. One reason we programmed it for the Shudder marathon is so that I could tell some personal stories about the making of it and the moment in the early eighties when it was almost destroyed, but . . . saved by the drive-in!

Elvira loved most horror movies but not slashers. Is there a specific kind of horror sub-genre you consciously avoid?
Well, I’m not a big fan of torture porn or grossout porn where the sole purpose is to use special effects to make you vomit. Among other things, it gets to be really boring. I like all the sub-genres but my least favorite is probably dolls and puppets. Children’s toys animated by supernatural evil has never seemed that convincing to me.

Why do you think modern audiences, even horror audiences, still tend to be more thrown off by nudity and sex in film than gore and grue?
You’re absolutely right that, as a nation, the United States historically has been soft on violence and hard on sex when it comes to censorship battles. Other parts of the world, like Scandinavia, have always been tough on violence and easygoing about sex. If you’d asked me this question a year ago, though, I would have said we’re becoming more and more like Denmark, as Gen Xers and millennials become parents and start screeching about their children being exposed to macabre images, while remaining fairly unconcerned about bare skin. But lately I’ve been asked to dial it back when I simply talk about nudity and sex, so I have no idea!

A lot of those tired ideas from the eighties about slasher films targeting women have been revived lately. It’s not true and has never been true, and in fact Carol Clover at Berkeley long ago demonstrated the essentially feminist principles at work in slasher films, but the Puritans amongst us never quite go away. By the way, just to make it clear, I am violently opposed to the random killing and mutilation of women, unless it’s necessary to the plot.

What advice can you offer to blossoming independent filmmakers hoping to create the next horror classic?
Please stop imitating the eighties. Figure out what scares us in 2018 and dive into that. The reason most independent films fail is that the script lacks depth and is, in many cases, a cliché based on some famous horror film of the past. I’m tired of going to film festivals where all the directors say, “My film would have been better, Joe Bob, but I didn’t have enough money.”

I no longer accept that as an excuse. The technology is cheap and available to all. You don’t need a lot of money to make a great film. You do need a great story told by a talented team. Put that script into development, put that team together, and don’t give jobs to your friends just because they’re your friends. Find the best possible team of cast and crew in whatever town you live in, and then put your heart into it.

What inspired you to host “The Last Drive In” on Shudder TV?
What inspired me was that two fans of MonsterVision—Matt Manjourides and Austin Jennings—came to me last fall and said, “Hey, we would like to produce some version of the old show. Will you let us pitch it to the industry?” And so of course I said yes, and they went to Shudder and a few weeks later we got approval for it, and then when we were casting about for the format, I suggested a marathon. It’s amazing to me that people would want to see a format that I last used seventeen years ago, but it’s also gratifying, it kind of makes up for all the late nights and grueling production schedules and low pay and bad treatment surrounding the original show, which was kind of an afterthought at the network. I should probably be grateful that it was an afterthought, though, because that’s what gave us the creative freedom—no one at the home office was paying attention to us!

Was there a specific process for selecting movies to screen on “The Last Drive In”?
Not really. Shudder has a library of several hundred horror flicks, and the director, Austin Jennings, went through the list and marked his favorites, and I went through the list and marked the ones that I had personal stories about or knew stuff that is not generally known, and then we tried to divide it up among classics, cult films, so-bad-they’re-goodies, and films that have some historical importance, in order to get close to the bizarre mix of films we had on MonsterVision. You know what I always say? Anybody can die at any moment. And in the Shudder marathon, anybody can die at any moment in any sub-genre.

Was it a good experience working with new Mail Girl Diana Prince?
The new Mail Girl is an expert horror blogger, a low-budget film producer, and a hot model/actress, so she’s a little intimidating, she might know more about horror than I do. She’s promising to dress up in cosplay outfits for all of the movies. Or at least I’m encouraging her to do that and she thinks she can pull it off.

You’ve promoted “The Last Drive In” as pretty much the final marathon go around, do you think there’s ever a chance you may re-consider returning again?
This has been great, recreating the nineties, but would people really wanna watch me recreate the nineties on a continuing basis? I think it would have to be a new format.

Finally, what’s next for Joe Bob Briggs and where can fans find you?
I’m gonna concentrate on my one-man multi-media show, “How Rednecks Saved Hollywood,” which is being booked into several cities even as we speak, and I’m thinking about producing some films of my own. Not writing or directing—that’s too much work—but trying to influence the future of exploitation films. As to finding me, I’m easy—you can always email me directly at or get in touch through Twitter or Facebook

You’ve exposed me and thousands of other horror fans to a wide variety of genre films, and created an atmosphere that made them fun and accessible, thanks for that!
Yes, I’m the man who brought She’s 19 and Ready, the immortal West German sex comedy, to the masses.

Again, thanks so much for everything, and thanks for your time, it’s been an honor!
The honor is all mine, Felix. You were interested in my piddly little stuff, that’s amazing.

Long Live Joe Bob.