Between 1996 and 2000, fans of horror, B-movies, and general shlock flipped on TNT for MonsterVision, a weekly TV show hosted by drive-in film critic Joe Bob Briggs. In 2018, Briggs – the stage name of writer and performer, John Bloom – returned with The Last Drive-In, a successful MonsterVision revival on the Shudder streaming platform. He's also on the road with How Rednecks Saved Hollywood, a one-man touring show playing on Sat., June 29 at the Regent Square Theater.
Briggs spoke with the Pittsburgh City Paper about the show, his favorite new horror, and what he’d like to see from young filmmakers.
Pittsburgh still has a few drive-ins. Have you visited any of them?
I have not, but I regard Pittsburgh as the birthplace of modern horror just because of George Romero and [Monroeville Mall] and all that. And also, this show that I’m gonna do, How Rednecks Saved Hollywood, Pennsylvania in general, but also Pittsburgh are sort of part of the show. So it’s very appropriate that I do it here.
I’m familiar with redneck-sploitation [also known as hixploitation]. Is that what the event is touching on?
It’s actually broader than that. It goes into the whole history of the redneck in America and the whole history of how rednecks are used in films, both in exploitation films and in mainstream films. In exploitation films, they tend to be heroes, in mainstream films they tend to be the villains. But that’s overgeneralizing.
What happened is I was asked a couple years ago to do a presentation on the films of the South at a college in Mississippi, and after I did it I realized I’d chosen the wrong films. I chose all those antebellum plantation films and the riverboat films, and the Bette Davis films and all that stuff. And I realized the ones about the swamp people and the hillbillies were much more interesting, and so I redid the show and turned into a history of the redneck. I’ve been refining it for a long time
You have a new show right now on Shudder. What is the difference with the show now compared to when you were doing MonsterVision?
Absolutely no difference. When the producers came to me they said we want to do a show, and I said what kind of show, and they said MonsterVision, and I said “Well, ya know, it’s been a long time, I don’t think you can repeat formats on TV,” and they said, “Nope, we want MonsterVision, exactly the same show.”
I was thinking you could get away with a little bit more since it’s not on cable.
You can get away with more in terms of language, yeah. Technically you’re not subject to any restrictions.
You’ve been watching horror films and B-movies and exploitation films for a long time. What are some movies right now that you really enjoy within that realm?
Anything by Jordan Peele. Anything by Ti West. Often now the good horror comes from overseas, both from the English-language countries and the non-English language countries. On the recent series, we showed a movie called Deathgasm from New Zealand. That was a very fun picture.
I guess that’s one of the things that’s different from MonsterVision. There’s so many foreign movies, but often the foreign movies are apeing American genres and apeing American style –even the Japanese, which I don’t understand. If you interview these Japanese directors, like Takashi Miike, they’ll say, “Where do you get your inspiration? Oh, American horror films!” … It’s like American horror created this worldwide movement and it’s kind of interesting.
Is there anything you’d like to see more of in horror? Is there something you feel like it’s lacking in a little bit?
Yeah, I’d like to see fewer homages to the 80s. I’d like to see less horror comedy and more hardcore horror. I don’t know why young filmmakers always want to make horror comedies. I don’t dislike horror-comedy when it’s done well, but the right horror-comedy needs to be like 20 percent comedy and 80 percent horror. If you go the other way, or if it’s 50-50, it usually sucks. You know, like Basket Case, I consider that great horror-comedy, but it has very serious horrific elements in it.
But I wonder why so many young filmmakers look backward instead of forward. Instead of creating the new scary thing for 2019, they want to make an old sorority house massacre type plot or something that’s like 20, 30 years old. What I would like to see is more original horror ideas I guess is what I’m saying.
Is there anybody right now that you listen to or watch that you really like in terms of the way they talk about movies?
The most amazing thing to me is the academic interest in horror, the interest at the universities. I was at a panel on the New York Comic Con and I made my usual jokes about university professors who write about horror, and these two women came up to me after the panel – both of them university professors – who were virtually in tears. And I was like, “Oh my god, I’ve gotta quit bashing the university professors, I probably don’t know what I’m talking about.”
But you know, for example, somebody sent me a book-length treatment of I Spit on Your Grave that was published by Columbia University Press. And I’m like, “Really? They stopped studying Shakespeare and they started studying I Spit on Your Grave? What is going on here?” I take horror movies seriously, but some of these guys … you’re reading things into the works that don’t exist. I mean, I’m a nerd English major, I understand deep dives into works, but some of the claims made. I read a treatment of the films of Larry Cohen, and the guy ended up claiming that a particular episode of a TV series that Larry Cohen wrote in the 60s was superior to Schindler's List … These guys are sort of out of control.
On the other hand, there are some podcasts and blogs that really don’t get the attention that they deserve … One of the things we’re going to have in future episodes of [The Last Drive-In] is we’re going to recognize those blogs and those podcasts and give them a seal of approval so that they can expand their audience a little bit.
I mean, when I first started reviewing exploitation films, I was the only guy. Now an exploitation film comes out and there’s 100 reviews the next day.
So it’s good and bad, the serious treatment of exploitation films. On the one hand, it’s overdone, on the other hand, the people who are really taking it past a fan level, but not to an academic level, some of them are really doing a good job. The more criticism we have, the better, ultimately.