While most movie fans are thrilled that a number of streaming services make a wide selection of films available at any moment you are compelled to watch them, while there are many of us who still miss the communal aspect of watching something at the same time as people all across the country, an experience which Shudder and Joe Bob Briggs have brought back to the horror crowd in recent years. Thanks to his The Last Drive-In series and various holiday specials, including tonight's Red Christmas, Shudder subscribers can tune in to the platform to see the broadcast of select horror films featuring Briggs interjecting his signature brand of wit and wisdom into the experience.
Briggs and Shudder kicked off the tradition last year with a four-film event and, while many expected to see holiday-themed horror films, the event instead opted to show four Phantasm films, to the delight and surprise of audiences. Keeping in that tradition, neither Briggs nor Shudder has confirmed what titles will be broadcast, giving us extra incentive to tune in.
ComicBook.com recently caught up with Briggs to talk about the horror movie community in the age of social media, using the genre to address cultural and political issues, and what's in store for fans with Red Christmas. Tune in to Red Christmas tonight on Shudder, kicking off at 9 p.m. ET.
ComicBook.com: Whether it be for your weekly series or these various holiday events, how do you decide which movies you're showing?
Joe Bob Briggs: How we choose the titles is one of the most complicated things to explain. Basically, it's what I want to do and what my director wants to do, and what the producer wants to do. But we always run into problems of, "Well, we can't license that." Streaming is a crowded field and it's hard to get exactly what we want.
A lot of times it's a compromise. And sometimes it's a really big compromise, so that's a long answer to what you're asking me. But last year at Christmas, we wanted to show four Phantasm movies, and they let us show four Phantasm movies. They're pretty loose about what they'll allow us to do.
I liked seeing how many people were assuming you would show holiday-themed movies, theorizing about showing entries in the Silent Night, Deadly Night franchise or something, only to be totally surprised.
The tradition we've established of never announcing the titles in advance seems to work for the show, even though everything I've always been taught in TV is you tell people repeatedly what you are going to show. But this seems to work for what we're doing with The Last Drive-In.prevnext
Abundance of Information
Between Joe Bob's Drive-In Theater and MonterVision, when you first signed on to host these various events for Shudder, you likely were so familiar with the experience that it felt like riding a bike. Has there been anything that has surprised you about delivering this type of show when everyone has access to the internet?
Oh yeah, a lot of things take me by surprise. One thing that took me by surprise was the amount of research now that it takes to do one of these movies, because when I was doing these movies in the '80s and the '90s, there was not so much known about them. Now there are entire books written about some of these movies, and some of them are academic books. Some of them were published by university presses. There are thousands of things on the internet.
People have this desire for a really deep level of knowledge. And, of course, if I make one mistake, they're going to be all over me. And so the research on these things takes a little longer.
A lot of this stuff that's written about them and said about them is just a waste of time. It's just stupid. But there is a lot more known about the making of the movies, the personnel, the people involved, the actors, the crew, and the production schedule and all that kind of stuff. That was not known necessarily when the movies first came out.
And now you have real-time fact-checkers who are happy to let you know when you pronounce the last name of the second unit director of photography incorrectly.
Well, we had one with the first Halloween movie, where I said on the air, that five different people played Michael Myers in the original Halloween. And more than one person tweeted or emailed or something, and said, "Well by my count, Joe Bob, there were six." And they named the six. And, of course, one of them would be some prop guy's hand was Michael Myers in one of the shots.
It gets that detailed in terms of the deep-dive information, I actually like to be wrong because it sparks all this talk. It creates conversation. I like to be corrected, so it's not a bad thing when I don't get it right.prevnext
Social Media Fans
Thanks to social media, you can engage with fans immediately, whereas your old shows, you were putting it out there and there was more of a disconnect between you and the community. Do you wish social media was around during your old shows?
Well, definitely. When I was at The Movie Channel, it was like I was just in this concrete room and I was sending out this stuff into the void, and occasionally I would get some handwritten letters back, so there was very little interaction with the audience. When I was on TNT, and doing MonsterVision, we had a chat room back when they called them "chat rooms." And it was the TNT Chat Room, so people would get together in that online location as the show was on. So we did have sort of an embryonic social media presence with that show.
That was also the time when people stopped writing letters and started writing emails to TV shows. I've had all three stages; the original show was just getting actual snail mail, that was what the fan mail was. And then the second show was basically email and chat rooms. Now the third show is they just immediately call you on your bullshit on Twitter, on Facebook, anywhere they think they can get your ear.prevnext
One of your only film roles came in Martin Scorsese's Casino, and one of the biggest discussions in the film community this year stemmed from comments he made where he somewhat dismissed superhero movies. As horror fans, we're used to the movies we are passionate about being dismissed by people, so what was your reaction to seeing those conversations unfolding?
Well, you don't really have that much anymore with horror. You don't really have people dismissing horror as a second-rate art form anymore. You did for many, many years. You certainly did when I first started writing about the movies.
In fact, when I first started writing about these movies, they were not reviewed by mainstream media. They were considered trash. There's been a huge change to where now they're almost over analyzed. The guy who says horror is not a valid genre is so out of touch, we don't really have to deal with him anymore, because obviously horror has just become a larger and larger genre. It's a major genre. It's no longer a subgenre. It's a genre of its own. It has its own canon, and it has its own great figures of the past, and it has its own style and place in our culture.
The fact that there is a streaming service that's devoted entirely to horror indicates how important horror is. There's not a streaming service devoted to most genres. Most streaming services, they're not genre-based, but Shudder is.
It's a dream come true for most fans, as we don't have to settle for a dozen titles on one platform, we have hundreds of selections from all corners of the genre available to us.
And we'll see in the future what can be done with it. I think it can actually be expanded beyond what it is now. And I know [General Manager of Shudder] Craig Engler has plans to do that. So it's only going to get bigger.prevnext
Politics in the Genre
Earlier this week, I tweeted that The Exorcist III has the best jumpscare of the last 30 years, merely as a rhetorical question and, a week later, I'm still getting responses from people about what their favorite jumpscares are.
I agree with you. It might be the best one.
I had no idea that the community would interact with my post in that way. A few weeks ago, you shared a series of tweets about how you missed genre films of the '70s and '80s being more focused on a narrative over any political or cultural themes in regards to the new Black Christmas, sparking a huge debate among the horror community. Were you anticipating your comments would ignite so many passionate responses?
No, because it went in a hundred different directions, and I didn't understand why it was going in all those different directions. It was actually just clumsily worded. If I had just said "some movies," instead of implying it was all movies, it probably wouldn't have inspired that reaction. But I've had other reactions like that to things. Things that you say about horror, especially if you're talking about horror theory, tend to get those reactions. So, it's a good thing.
I recently spoke to director Sophia Takal about that discourse and she mentioned that, despite some reactions being disheartening, it was important to her to make a movie that sparked dialogue. So even if there was a lot of disagreement about the topic, it's clear that fans were passionate to have that discourse.
I wasn't trying to open up a discourse. Actually, when I wrote that, I was watching Chopping Mall, and I was thinking, "We don't really have Chopping Malls anymore. We have very serious horror movies. We don't have these extremely lighthearted [movies]." I've never asked [writer/director] Jim Wynorski if he has a political subtext to Chopping Mall, but I don't think he does. I would almost wager that he does not.
Maybe there's undertones of the status of the mall security conspiracy agenda against shoppers.
But he loves the robots. He loves those robots.
Since you mentioned that your intent was clumsily worded, is there anything else you'd like to say about the matter, since your intent can be lost within limited characters and nuance on social media?
Actually, I'm going to do an article about the whole thing. Because it's like, even the way you're phrasing it right now, it depends on what you're talking about. That thing went in so many different directions, to the point where there was name-calling and accusing me of things that were absolutely wild. They were just way out there, going back and quoting things out of context from my old articles. It left the horror audience and it went to some other level. And I'm going to write about it.
I have been controversial since the '70s, so it's not anything that I'm not used to. What's strange about this particular one is it comes from a random comment about horror subtext. I could give you a thousand things that I've written that I would put ahead of that [comment] as thinking, "This is going to be controversial."
If I made the list of a thousand things that I've written, and said, "People might really take offense to this," that one would not be on a list of a thousand. It would be later. It would be beyond the list. And so I'm not sure exactly what created that tempest. But I'm going to write about it, just because I'm basically a satirist. I'm not a movie theorist, and that's what a lot of this was about. It was about film theory.
I'm sure some of the off-color jokes you make on The Last Drive-In would occupy 999 spots of that list of thousand controversial things.
I have rules about what I do. I don't punch down and I always make sure that the main butt of the joke is me. And so, when people get mad about all the various causes that were brought to bear on this particular issue, they're not paying attention to the essential satirical nature of the whole game that we're playing here.prevnext
Between your holiday specials, The Last Drive-In, and your "How Rednecks Saved Hollywood" tour, you've had a busy 2019. We know a Season Two of The Last Drive-In is on the way, is there anything else we should be on the lookout for in 2020?
We're going to do some other material for Shudder that's not The Last Drive-In and we're possibly going to do a documentary. There are other projects that we're going to be working on in the next year. But the main thing that I enjoy and I like doing the most is The Last Drive-In so that'll be the focus of most of my efforts.
We spoke previously and you mentioned how, whereas a figure like Cassandra Peterson's Elvira, who could use being a horror host to launch her own movie and various other projects, and you never saw yourself doing anything like that.
Yeah, I don't like to go too far away from the movie. It's all about the movie.
Tune in to Red Christmas on Shudder tonight starting at 9 p.m. ET.prev