The Joe Bob Briggs Experience: Port Orchard and Shudder's The Last Drive-In
It was total happenstance.
I’d just come off of the BoneBat Comedy of Horrors Film Festival and, aside from the parking debacle [Detailed here. – Ed.] I’d enjoyed myself. I had been surrounded by like-minded folks and even though I’m pretty socially awkward and didn’t talk to a soul there (aside from Lowell Dean, director of motherfucking WOLFCOP!)…I felt like I belonged. It felt great.
Although I wasn’t out searching for another experience like that…well, events have a way of finding you when you need them. Sure, I could share that I was in the middle of being scammed by an individual on an internet dating site…explaining why there were very few posts in May and June (May I was all wrapped up in it and by June I finally realized I was being taken for a ride and was depressed as fuck)…but honestly looking back, none of that matters. You see, the main thing here is that in some strange way, I’d just been given the Golden Ticket: Joe Bob Briggs was coming to the Port Orchard Film Festival on May 5th.
Port Orchard is about a two hour drive from where I live. I didn’t care.
I was going to have to go through Seattle…and Seattle Traffic (yes, it’s so bad it gets capitalized). Still didn’t care.
I was going.
Cue the flashback sequence. As has been mentioned on this site before, I’m from Cleveland, Ohio…where there is, believe it or not, a proud television heritage. And yes, that includes horror movie hosts. My earliest memories are of Big Chuck and Little John, which I’d watch with either my cousin or my best friend, depending on whose house I was staying at that Saturday night. Chuck Shodowski and John Rinaldi themselves were the heirs to the throne of Ghoulardi…the legendary late night persona of Ernie Anderson who, in some ways, I’d spend my life chasing after; devouring every piece of information or video I could find. When we got a little older and started searching for breasts on late night TV, very fortuitously, my aunt and uncle got cable…with The Movie Channel, and while it wasn’t as known for late night soft core or Eurosleaze as Showtime or Cinemax, my cousin did introduce me to the man, the myth, the Drive-In Theater. We became fans instantly. Family BS and politics kept me from going over to my cousin’s as often as I’d like and so my exposure to Joe Bob on The Movie Channel was limited.
By the time a change in format landed Joe Bob at TNT hosting MonsterVision, my movie sensibilities had changed, or at least that’s what I told myself. I was trying to be a ‘serious’ student of film. Horror and Exploitation movies were either beneath me or guilty pleasures. But as I look back on it now, those impulses never died, as I still found myself watching movies like Puppet Master, Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-A-Rama, Satan’s Cheerleaders and so on. As for MonsterVision, I have to confess, I didn’t catch it very often…perhaps a little bit more while I was in college than when I was in high school…but when I did, it helped erode those pretentious walls that I felt needed to be erected for whatever adolescent reason.
As is always the case, it’s when something ends that you realize how much you missed it…and it was the post-college, newly-christened career me that sought out the guru nestled in his Texas Drive-In or busted up trailer home that was way bigger on the inside than physics would allow. [Major revelation: Joe Bob is a TIME LORD! – Ed.] With his website, I devoured the Advice to the Hopeless, Joe Bob’s America, The Vegas Guy, the Aardvarking List, the Breast List (and both of those SERIOUSLY need to be available again for a new generation to discover!) and with the advent of YouTube, I went back and binged everything I missed from MonsterVision.
From there, once again by happenstance, I saw the Elite Entertainment release of I Spit On Your Grave in, of all places, a WalMart. I’d seen that cover a thousand times, but this time, slowly re-embracing Exploitation films, I was just curious enough to check it out. And there, on the back, were the magic words: Commentary by Joe Bob Briggs. I rushed out of that WalMart $10 later feeling like I’d stolen a great treasure and I needed to get home before anyone found out. Sitting there listening to the commentary, it was indeed a treasure, especially as I was watching it mere days after the loss of my sister. I hunted down the other two Elite Joe Bob Briggs Presents DVDs, Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter and The Double-D Avenger (I was oblivious to the Media Blasters discs until much later) and figured, well…that’s about it then, isn’t it?
Fast forward five years and 1800 miles later and no, that wasn’t ‘it’. We hadn’t even gotten started. May 5th. Port Orchard. By this point, I’d started the site and while I in no way tried to lay claim to the horned La-Z-Boy throne, it felt necessary to spread the good word…about horror, about exploitation, about movies most so-called serious critics wouldn’t give the time of day: The Blind Dead, Coffin Joe, anything with Paul Naschy in it (we’re getting to those, don’t worry!), the works of Herschel Gordon Lewis, motherfucking Wolfcop…ad infinitum. With the announcement of his appearance, I felt it was finally time to pay homage at the feet of the master. I would make the trek.
Naturally, just like with BoneBat, I’d get there late…and as such I missed the autograph session. Saddened that I might not get my copy of Iron Joe Bob signed, I accepted what was ahead of me and took in some of the short films submitted to the festival…some good, some not so good, some I’d already seen at BoneBat. Whether it was short films or grabbing a quick bite to eat, my eye was on the clock…waiting. I get this all sounds a bit stalker-y…but really, it’s not. Long-time readers of the site will know that I frequently admit Joe Bob is the “patron saint” of what we do here: trying to be knowledgeable about film, being capable of going for the deep dives but never forgetting that in the end, we can’t be serious…there has to be fun. And as the man himself says, the only crime a film can commit is to be boring. [Okay, we have a few more than that up on the board, but that mantra’s a good place to start. – Ed.]
Now, two things. First, you’re likely asking ‘If this happened back at the start of May, why the hell are we only reading about it now? [Oh, oh, let me step in here…are you aware of the timeliness of this guy? I’m still waiting for loads of reviews this schmuck missed while he was wallowing in self pity! And didn’t we do podcasts a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away? – Ed.] Okay, yeah, so that’s one reason…but the other is that I’d been focusing on sitting down and reviewing the film he screened there, Basket Case, then interweaving my story into the review. After viewing The Last Drive-In marathon on Shudder, I realized I was going about it all wrong…it’s the experience, not only of Port Orchard but also of said marathon, that makes the story (although we’ll get to Basket Case, don’t worry). I’d be failing Mr. Briggs if I didn’t. Right…now the second thing: If you’re going to see Joe Bob live (AND YOU SHOULD!), make damn sure you’re carrying cash! He’s got shirts as well as copies of his out of print books…but he doesn’t take plastic.
So, the stage is set and we file into the small theater…and it ends up being only about 2/3 full…of what I’m guessing was 50-60 seats. And the opening is classic Joe Bob: “I hear y’all in Seattle are all about your ‘trigger warnings’ and ‘trigger phrases’…so for those of you who have not seen Basket Case, you WILL be triggered.” Or something to that effect. Gimme a break, it’s a 2 month old memory at the time of this writing. Not being a native here, I immediately laughed as these bastards here in the Pacific Northwest take themselves way too damn seriously. I was one of the few who did. And that was where things started to sink in somewhat: an audience that I felt to be too small, the slow and careful way he’d climb the steps up to the stage, the difference in his delivery from reading from a teleprompter on TV to reading from a tablet here…I was hoping against the fact that I might be witnessing a hero past his prime.
I needn’t have worried.
The show was great…making me forget all those worries by the time the first pause in the movie hit and it just kept going until its natural, though still sad conclusion. Or, at least it was sad until it was announced that Joe Bob would be hanging out in the lobby. From my seat, third row from the stage, I tore ass out to the lobby (well, it felt like tearing ass, I was really only walking at a brisk pace). There was a lot I wanted to say…telling him about the Midway Drive-In back in my hometown of Ravenna and how it’s still going strong or maybe even get into a conversation about the site here, what I’m trying to do and maybe even get a blessing from the saint himself. Of course, then my brain got in the way, chastising me for trying to hock my stuff while in his presence and how I was sure he gets that kind of crap all the time. This was not the place. For lack of better terminology, I was in church…no room for sacrilege here. The best I managed to muster from my starstruck brain was “My cousin and I have been huge fans from The Movie Channel days,” and then asked him for his autograph on my copy of Iron Joe Bob and a selfie. I don’t mind telling you, even toward someone with a short-circuiting brain such as myself, he was gracious and welcoming…the only rush coming from me as I wanted to get out of the way to let others have their chance. And he stood there and chatted with anyone that approached him, as easy going and affable as you could hope…truly an instance of where meeting your hero is not only a good thing but a great experience to boot. [Boot. As in cowboy. Yeah, I see what you did there. – Ed.]
But that wouldn’t be the end.
No, all of this happened under the shadow of something looming…its approach inevitable but when that would happen still in flux. You see, back in April, Shudder announced that Joe Bob was coming back to TV for a movie marathon. At the time of the show, we were still waiting for an announcement. Then came word that it would be a Friday in June. Then, one site let it slip that it might be June 22nd…and my heart sank. I would be in the middle of a stretch of day shifts…and on that day in particular I’d be teaching making for a 13 hour day effectively eliminating any chance for me to catch any of the proceedings. Fortunately, that date turned out to be incorrect. June ended and no word until…well, it only made sense didn’t it? July 13th. Friday. Of course. Even better? Sure, I was working, but it was an overnight shift with few assigned duties which meant PLENTY of time for a movie marathon.
What unfolded that night is what inspired me to change the focus of this article, not focusing on the films per se, but the experiences this one man brought about. For as anti-social as I can be, I found myself on Twitter following #TheLastDriveIn, reading others having the same problems as I had getting into the marathon itself (damn right folks, Joe Bob broke the internets!) and then all of the comments associated with the selected films. While this was happening, of course the maestro was doing what he does best: Drive-In Totals, commentary, deep dives, maps and sight gags, the Mail Girl, jokes that got live reactions from the crew on hand and a rant now and again. Sure, I can take the nostalgia angle and say that it felt like no time had passed between that last airing of MonsterVision and the kickoff of The Last Drive-In, but that grass is already well trod. And yeah, I could carry on with the creepy religious analogy I was using earlier. But this particular experience proved to be so much more and was exactly what I needed.
It’s exactly what nerd-dom needs right now too.
In this time of divided fandoms, whether it’s Star Wars, comic book movies, movies in general…just anything really…the internet has been a showcase of what is wrong with humanity: petty squabbles, yelling and shouting at and over each other instead of talking, sharing ideas and interacting respectfully. In this day and age of trolls and hackers, all caps shouting and faceless, anonymous attacks on anyone and everyone that either disagrees with you or doesn’t fit into your narrow view of how the world works or how you thought a movie should unfold, here was something special: a community of horror fans, who had just broken the internet, NOT calling for the heads of all those involved at Shudder, who instead made jokes and memes and then moved on. Here was a community who didn’t fight over which movies were chosen or why certain movies deserved to be there or got all butt-hurt when their favorites weren’t highlighted but instead lauded each reveal, even if they didn’t particularly care for it (in some cases ESPECIALLY if they didn’t care for it) because all of us were waiting on the nuggets we knew Joe Bob would deliver in each break. It was a first for me…a shared experience with thousands of others across the country (and it was thousands as #TheLastDriveIn trends on Twitter never dropped out of the quadruple digits for the time that I was online and monitoring) that not once turned negative or bitter. No one was shouted down, no one was called names. And in that brief moment, cheesy as it will sound, my faith in humanity was restored. Prior to this, my mind had been focusing on how to write an opinion piece on the fracturing fandoms we see today like I mentioned above. I wanted to compare microcosm to macrocosm; fandoms to the state of the country as a whole. I’d been tossing that around in my brain for at least the last half of June and into the start of July. The Last Drive-In marathon turned me…made me focus on the positive, the far more difficult path, as opposed to the easier and more apparent negative. And going back to my very first post on this site…it’s that shift that caused me to gladly re-affirm the core values I set out when starting this blog and, after a prolonged hiatus, finally brought fingers back to keyboard.
And all it took was, to copy from my Fright Rags t-shirt:
146 dead bodies.
37 undead bodies.
131 gallons of blood.
And one legend.
While it is my sincerest hope that this will not be the end of Joe Bob as a horror host, as the advertising and the man himself claimed, if it is…well, I can certainly understand. All good things must come to an end.
And man…what a way to finish.
A tip of the cap, sir, to a job marvelously done. Those of us that bore witness will carry it forward, telling the tales, making the jokes, sharing the links.
And the Drive-In will NEVER die.
PS: It feels only too appropriate to mention that the Midway Drive-In is still going strong. Built in 1955 by Jack K. Vogel halfway between the cities of Ravenna and Kent, Ohio on State Route 59, this drive-in would be among my first movie-going experiences with my last trip there being back in 1996 to see Independence Day with a bunch of my friends. You can learn more HERE and HERE.
As for the whole Joe Bob Briggs experience...well, the rating is all too easy: