Joe Bob Briggs’s “The Last Drive-In”
Unlike most fans of genre film, who knew Joe Bob Briggs from the two shows he did on TMC and TNT, I knew Joe Bob Briggs from his two books: Profoundly Disturbing and Profoundly Erotic. These books treated genre film and exploitation with a degree of respect I’d never seen before. So I really didn’t know what I was getting into when I started watching the new Last Drive-In series on Shudder.
This series was originally aired as a marathon but is now conveniently broken up into thirteen movie episodes. None of these films are exactly good. Some of them are downright execrable. But they are all very interesting once you know why. Joe Bob provides the necessary context through an introduction – sometimes with many apparent side-tracks – then breaks into the movies multiple times in between story beats to comment on the action, explain the backstory, and provide context.
Sometimes the context is merely interesting, like when he’s explaining the unique characteristics of Canada’s “Maple Syrup Porn” during Cronenberg’s Rabid. For other films, like The Legend of Boggy Creek, these bits of context are vital to understanding what you’re seeing.
This is the important thing about Joe Bob Briggs. He’s a funny guy. And he plays a kind of good-old-boy intellectual film fan. But he is a genuine and insightful critic, and the most critical job of a critic is not to judge a film good or bad, it’s to explain why you should care. Joe Bob excels at this kind of work, and he does it in a way that really does make you feel like you’re discussing movies with someone who loves these movies just slightly more than you do.
And that’s what makes the most haunting moment in all thirteen of these films the credit reel of the last episode. Joe Bob gives an avuncular goodbye speech, jams his cowboy hat on his head, and walks off-camera. A few moments later he reappears, explaining he meant to throw his hat on the chair instead. Then Joe Bob says that’s terrible for the crease. It’s like he’s struggling to find something else to talk about now that all the movies are done. He sits, holding his hat. The stage lights turn off. And he stays there looking sadly at the camera as though his party guests have all just abruptly walked out.
It’s downright heart-wrenching. I wanted to hop on Twitter and ask if he was OK.
He is. Shudder announced a Thanksgiving Joe Bob marathon called Dinners of Death just a couple of weeks ago. There’s a lot of good stuff on Shudder, much of it not available anywhere else. But as long as they keep shoveling Joe Bob’s commentary my way, I’ll keep throwing them money.
One last thing: Joe Bob has shown these movies a great deal of respect. So has Shudder. All are shown high-definition, uncut, and apparently restored. If you don’t like the interruptions, Shudder currently shows each one without the Joe Bob wrappers as well. But where’s the fun in that?