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October 4, 2011

The Mike's True Heroes of Horror (2/10) - Joe Bob Briggs

There were a lot of tough answers to be found as I whittled the list of people who represent awesome horror down to only ten names.  One of the toughest questions that I kept asking myself was "Hey, The Mike...can you really leave off a bunch of people that starred in and wrote and directed a bunch of great horror movies for a guy who was basically just an awesome horror fan?" And the answer I kept giving myself was yes.  Yes, I can.
Joe Bob Briggs
Who is Joe Bob Briggs?
Though his career began as a printed critic in Dallas, Texas born and Vanderbilt educated writer John Bloom gained his biggest popularity boost after inventing a redneck persona, Joe Bob Briggs, to review the "drive-in" movies that he loved to talk about.  He rose to prominence in the mid-80s, when both his reviews and his television appearances were at their peak.  He began working as a TV host for The Movie Channel in 1986, and inhabited our screens as America's number one horror host through the year 2000.  Today, he still keeps up with his fans at many conventions and Facebook, and occasionally writes haiku on Twitter.
Joe Bob is most known for....
Though he lasted 10 years on The Movie Channel's Joe Bob's Drive-In Theater, Joe Bob gained a new generation of fans - including myself - when he moved to TNT in 1996 and started to host MonsterVision.  Appearing in between scenes to spew nostalgia, interview guests, and - of course - share his infamous "drive-in totals", Joe Bob introduced some of the best movies cable could find to a lot of people who would grow up to be fantastic monster kids.
Other Horror Hits....
Though he spent nearly 15 years on TV, Joe Bob only made a few appearances in horror films - most notably having some scenes deleted from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and an appearance in the TV adaptation of The Stand.  He had a couple other big time movie credits - Martin Scorcese's Casino and John Woo's Face/Off - but it was his writing that kept him most busy throughout his career.  His books of reviews - Joe Bob Goes to the Drive-In and Joe Bob Goes Back To the Drive-In - live on despite being out of print, and Joe Bob has written a couple more books in the new century.  Joe Bob has also picked up a few gigs hosting and doing commentaries for some horror related DVD releases, a list of which can be found on his Wikipedia page
So, why's Joe Bob Briggs here?
Did you ever read Fahrenheit 451?  If not, I'm going to assume you're ignorant.  And also, I'm gonna spoil a crucial part of the book.  Sorry.

One of the key scenes in Fahrenheit 451 - which involves the burning of all books - involves a bunch of people getting together in a safe area and letting our main character know that each of them are responsible for the survival of one book.  With the books long burnt, these characters live to protect that work by literally memorizing the book in its entirety. Their goal comes from one simple truth - they love that piece of fiction and they don't want future generations to miss out on their chance to love it too.  You might wonder what the heck this has to do with Joe Bob, and I'm gonna start telling you right about now.
It was around 1996 that I started really getting in to movies.  I mean, I'd always watched movies - lots and lots of movies - but I can pinpoint 1996 as the year when I really became obsessed with cinema.  I was in to De Niro and Pacino and Hitchcock and all sorts of "classic" cinema that I could find.  But there was a slight problem that kept popping up in my impressionable young mind.  Whenever I looked through the movie books I'd been grabbing - like the collections of brief reviews by Leonard Maltin - or watched famous critics - Siskel and Ebert, naturally - on the TV, it always seemed like the people who love movies put less of a priority on preserving and promoting the horror genre.  And I'd always kind of loved the horror genre.

And that (somewhere between 1995-1997, the internet is hazy as my memory on this matter) is when Joe Bob Briggs and MonsterVision came into The Mike's story.  Here was a man - not necessarily the most proper man, but a man nonetheless - who was standing on my TV screen and telling me just why I should love these movies I loved.  Here was a man that was validating the things I had believed in.  He was bringing me horror movies - along with some of the best sci-fi, action, kung-fu, and western cinema out there - and he was telling me just what was right about them.
And the movies he brought me over the next few years were no slouches.  I saw Carrie for the first time through his eyes, and fell in love with both it and making fun of John Travolta's hair cut.  I saw Twilight Zone: The Movie for the first time, which fueled my love for the series even more when Joe Bob explained the film's connections to the show.  Sure, there were times when he showed me less competent cinema - Maximum Overdrive comes to mind immediately - but he didn't promote disdain for these movies.  Joe Bob's drive-in had a place for cheesy cinema. When he showed me movies like They Live, I knew that I wanted to get to that place too.

Maybe his movies were cut up - Joe Bob claims Ted Turner was trying to kill him after he called this out too often - but Joe Bob Briggs knew what was important about the movies wasn't the gore or the boobs.  It was the experience that the viewer could have with these films - the thrill of seeing the unknown and the pleasure of knowing it's all for fun.  Joe Bob Briggs was an advocate for the horror fan long before we all came to the world wide web (speaking of, MonsterVision's website was one of the first places I remember bookmarking in the internet's early days), and he set the tone for all of us who are here today to talk about just why horror cinema matters to us.
When I ask myself why I spend countless nights typing about movies that few people care about, there are two great inspirations that come to my mind.  One is that sequence in Fahrenheit 451 that reminds us that the things we love are the things we need to protect and promote.  The other is Joe Bob Briggs, who taught me that it was OK to promote these movies, and that everyone else could keep their "indoor bullstuff".

Thus, I'm incredibly happy to have been able to take this chance to promote and protect the name of Joe Bob Briggs.  I hope that horror fans of the future can find an advocate for horror who can inspire them, because if we work together Joe Bob's dream will come true.

The drive-in will never die.


Dorian Gray said...

Yay! So happy to see you spotlight Joe Bob Briggs! I was really bummed out when MonsterVision was cancelled (on a side note, I was also equally bummed when MST3K got the ax, but at least you can buy episodes of that show--for around $50 bucks a boxed set, that is). Anyway I always enjoyed Joe Bob's sense of humor and as you mentioned, the fun that he poked at the TNT censors. Would enjoy seeing old episodes appear on DVD, which seems unlikely. But hey if Elvira can make a comeback with a revival of her old show, along with those episodes popping up on DVD, then I guess that Joe Bob could do the can only hope :)

Stacia said...

Such a wonderful tribute, The Mike. It took me back to the mid-1990s and our own obsession with MonsterVision. I too first saw They Live on MonsterVision, and the remake of Night of the Living Dead -- we watched it entirely because Joe Bob said he liked the remake better than the original, and we ended up loving it, too. We always stayed up to watch 100% Weird right afterward which is where I first saw movies like Mad Love.

Remember the letters from people complaining about the show? I'll never forget the one from an angry man who called Joe Bob "Mr. Rigs." Joe Bob was the first movie host I ever watched, and he set the standard by which I judge everyone else. Sorry, everyone else!

The entire experience changed me from liking movies to becoming a movie fanatic. As much as I love TCM and Robert Osborne, it was Joe Bob Briggs who made the biggest impact on my cinematic life.

Some episodes of MonsterVision are available on torrents, but they're poor quality as you can imagine, recorded on old VHS.

JohnBem said...

A very inspirational post, The Mike. I loves me some Joe-Bob.

Michele (TheGirlWhoLovesHorror) said...

I can't believe I missed this post - I freaking love Joe Bob Briggs and have been wanting MonsterVision back on the air for YEARS. I saw so many bad and so many good movies on that show and Joe Bob was the perfect guy to introduce them to us, with trailer trash wit mixed with deep insight. It was wonderful!

Did I mention I have Joe Bob's autograph? Yeah, I've got his autograph.

The Mike said...

Michele, I'm still in awe of your Joe Bob autograph. Too cool.

Funny story I meant to add in the story that didn't fit: I had a chance to talk to Joe Bob when I called in on a Podcast a year or so ago. I was SOOOOOOOOO excited out of my mind when they took my call, and I said Hi and blurted out my question (Something about what inspired his reviews and the drive-in totals, I think) and he started talking.....and then my phone lost the call! And Joe Bob talked and talked and was like 'Does that answer your question?'....and then thought I hung up on him. SHAME.

Thanks for the Joe Bob love to you, and everyone else too. This one really meant a lot to me, glad to find more Joe Bob fans out there.