The story of “How Rednecks Saved Hollywood” and how one brilliant redneck, with the help of an innovative streaming network, is saving horror.
“Heads roll. Brains roll. Arms roll. Hands roll. Joe Bob says, Check It Out.”
I was born and raised in the deep South, in the great state of Texas. And while I currently reside in the liberal bastion of art, culture, and diversity known as Austin, I’m certainly more than passingly familiar with the good ol’ boy, stereotypical redneck sensibility.
I’m also a product of the 80s and 90s — old enough to remember a time before Netflix and easy access to 24/7 streaming entertainment. I remember a time when cable television dominated our public discourse and satisfied our demand for entertainment. It was a time when horror fans had far less access to so much choice, diversity, and independent content creators.
But one man was there to give us our horror fix and champion a communal viewing experience that made us ‘weirdo’ genre fans feel understood and part of a community.
Rarely do I get star-struck, but I’m often humbled in the presence of true innovators, influencers, and icons. And it was certainly hard not be somewhat overwhelmed in the presence of a real horror legend — fellow Southerner and Dallas, Texas native — Joe Bob Briggs.
It was 8:45 pm on March 11th, Day 4 of SXSW, at my home away from home, the Alamo Drafthouse Theater. There I sat giddily in the front row, just a few feet away from a man who had helped shape and define my childhood love affair with horror and the art of filmmaking in general. As he began to talk — regaling the audience with his trademark blend of humor, charm, and encyclopedic knowledge of film and world history — I thought, “Holy shit, that’s Joe Bob Briggs.”
For the next two hours, we were treated to a fast-paced, ridiculously informative and entertaining crash course in the history of rednecks in America as told through the classics of both grindhouse and mainstream movies. Using over 200 clips, we learned dozens of historical facts we didn’t realize we needed — things like the identity of the first redneck in history, how and why rednecks traveled to and settled in America and, as the title of the program suggested, How Rednecks Saved Hollywood.
I learned more about my sordid Southern roots in those two hours than I remember learning in all of my mandatory Texas History education throughout school. Or maybe, most certainly, Joe Bob just has this remarkable way of making me care about such history more than anyone ever has before.
Truthfully, Joe Bob manages to do what most history teachers we had growing up seemed woefully unable to — make history as interesting, entertaining and remarkably relevant as it truly is.
That’s a huge part of what has made Joe Bob such a lasting and influential voice in the genre. He doesn’t just celebrate films for their entertainment value, though there is certainly plenty of that as well. Rather, he celebrates the historical importance of film and the social and cultural significance of the films that have helped shape our genre and all of cinema over the years.
Remarkably, while he’s playfully counting the number of dead bodies, breasts, and gratuitous aardvarking (his euphemism for sex) in cult and B-movie classics and obscurities, he’s also helping elevate the status of the genre through intellectual discourse on the craft and context behind the art. If his impressive intellect was ever in question (it wasn’t), seeing Joe Bob speak live just cemented for me how much of a marvel this man is. He never slowed down for a second, never missed a beat, never let a moment go by that wasn’t utterly captivating and enlightening.
Though Joe Bob told us during an interview on Morbidly Beautiful’s The Calling Hours Podcast, he spends ample time researching and preparing before any show, he speaks in such an effortless way that you’d swear he was just born with a brain full of extensive knowledge on every subject. You’re convinced there’s nothing outside his vast purview, including the existential difference between Forrest Gump and Sling Blade and why God loves rednecks.
The Universe hasn’t always smiled favorably upon me, but that night in Austin, I felt like the luckiest girl in the world. I was in the presence of horror royalty. I was being taught by Professor Briggs, and it was worth more than the finest and most expensive ivy league education. I’m forever grateful for the unforgettable opportunity, made possible by Joe Bob’s triumphant return to the spotlight after being gone for far too long.
THE COWBOY RIDES AGAIN
When Shudder announced it had secured a deal to bring iconic horror host Joe Bob Briggs back to the airwaves for a one-night-only B-movie marathon in the Summer of 2018, children of the 80s and 90s lost their collective minds.
The excellent streaming horror network managed to lure the longtime film writer and television host out of retirement for one last time to host a 24-hour movie marathon, billed as The Last Drive-In With Joe Bob Briggs, featuring 13 movies and Joe Bob’s trademark witty and exceptionally insightful commentary throughout.
It turns out, the former host of Joe Bob’s Drive-In Theater and MonsterVision was more beloved and painfully missed by the horror community than I think even the programming geniuses at Shudder or the man himself fully understood — as evidenced by the fact that Joe Bob’s highly anticipated Shudder special literally broke the popular streaming service.
Thankfully, what was planned as a one-off appearance quickly expanded to include two more special events tied to the holiday season.
As incredible, and hugely successful, as those three big marathons with Joe Bob Briggs and Darcy the Mail Girl (the wonderful Diana Prince) were, horror fans were not satiated. In fact, these specials just helped remind us how much of a void had been left since July 2000 when TNT’s MonsterVision went off the air and Joe Bob retired from his horror hosting duties.
We hungered for more. We demanded it. Thankfully, the outpouring of love and support was enough to get this cowboy back in the saddle once again.
Shudder announced Joe Bob would be returning to the network for a new weekly series, beginning Friday, March 29th and running until May 24th. Each episode of The Last Drive-In will be a live double feature starting at 9 pm Eastern.
Joe Bob had this to say about his widely heralded return to the trailer:
“The double features we chose for the weekly series range over five decades and include everything from classics to obscurities to foreign cult offerings, with a handful of guests who have agreed to play around with us in our Texas trailer park. I don’t want to say we got carried away with the possibilities here, but we kind of got carried away with the possibilities here.”
THE TRAILER PARK PARTY
When we asked Joe Bob about the inspiration for his successful Shudder specials, he explained the importance of communal viewing — that shared experience of coming together to watch and discuss the same thing at the same time. It’s part of what I love so much about attending festivals like SXSW, watching incredible films with fellow cinephiles as passionate about film as I am. It’s why I still see as much horror as I can in the theater, in spite of the access to and convenience of VOD and digital media.
It’s an experience that has all but eroded away with the new age of digital streaming and content on demand. Netflix has built an empire by offering viewers the chance to watch anything at any time, publicly expressing that their model is the future and discrediting the value of the theatrical experience.
For me and others like me, however, nothing compares to the unique and immersive experience of watching a movie in a dark theater, surrounded by people I don’t know but who share a love of cinema and a desire to get lost in the healing escapism of film. It simply can’t compare to watching a movie at home alone on my couch, no matter how wonderfully convenient and comfortable that may be.
We no longer have appointment viewing. Those in younger generations don’t even understand what that means or what it’s like to schedule your life around some special programming event. They don’t understand the anticipation and unbridled excitement of sitting down to watch something you’ve been counting down the days and weeks to, while knowing all your friends and loved ones are watching and enjoying at the same time.
However, thanks to renegade Briggs’ desire to buck the streaming trend with a live show scheduled for a specific date and time each week, we’re all able to once again (or for the first time) experience the power of the collective viewing experience.
And unlike the last time Joe Bob was on air, we have social media to connect us all in real time. So, even if you are watching the show all alone from the comfort of your own home, you can still reap the benefits of community viewing. You can engage with horror fans from across the country while you watch — talking, reminiscing, and experiencing great genre fare in a way you may have never experienced it before.
THE GREAT ESCAPE
When we asked Joe Bob about why he thinks the demand for his return has been so great, he explained the need for so many of us to escape the real-life horrors we’re faced with — seeking solace in the presence of movie monsters and imaginary dangers. People are disgusted by things happening in the country, torn apart by political strife and perceived injustice. For a couple of hours, they want to disconnect from the chaos and the suffering. They just want to have fun and celebrate the art and the film that makes life beautiful, in spite of all the ugliness.
As dark, violent, bloody, and terrifying as horror can be, Joe Bob understands what so many other film critics don’t — what we all know as genre fans who have been judged and ridiculed for our taste in film — that horror is healing. It’s therapeutic. It’s a healthy form of escapism that allows us to confront our darkest fears and demons in a safe and non-threatening way. It’s an antidote to the toxicity we experience on a daily basis.
It’s true that we are living in dark times. But these are also remarkable times. While we’re bemoaning the state of politics and a world gone seemingly mad, let’s not forget that we are fortunate enough to be alive at a time when we have both a successful streaming network dedicated exclusively to the genre — providing convenient access to a massive library of genre films and original genre programming — and the triumphant return of the legendary Joe Bob Briggs.
If ever there was such a thing as must-see scheduled programming, this is it.
I hope you’ll tune in tonight for the premiere of The Last Drive-In series on Shudder. I hope you’ll join your fellow horror fans on social media talking about it and helping foster the community spirit Joe Bob champions. I’ll be there — with Southern bells on.
If you know what I mean, and I think you do.