John Irving Bloom aka Joe Bob Briggs has become today’s answer to Elvira. The film critic and actor, who hosts The Last Drive-in with Joe Bob Briggs on Shudder TV, has built a loyal following for his unique deep-dive research into the horror and exploitation films he presents and his comical commentary, all with a “redneck” twist. He may not have Elvira’s cleavage, but he does have a sexy sidekick, Darcy the Mail Girl, and their banter, themes and guests make for a party-like experience.
From The Movie Channel to TNT ‘s MonsterVision to his current gig at Shudder, Briggs’ funny and factual way of celebrating film has made him beloved by movie fans. The fandom –called “The Mutant Fam” is so fierce in fact, that he’s been trending on Twitter since the new season debuted a couple weeks ago. The show runs live on Fridays, screening a double feature of horror that is then available for streaming on Sundays. All five seasons are available to watch on Shudder now.
We spoke with the menacing movie buff just as the season kicked off with two creepers from Italian Horror master Lucio Fulci. A celebration of Walpurgisnacht (the halfway to Halloween holiday) with witch movies followed and most recently, he presented a “Cinco de F*cking Mayo” show with scary Mexican movies. Season 5 is split into two blocks with the first five episodes debuting on Fridays through May 19th. After a brief hiatus the show will return in mid-June for five more double features. Coming up: Mama’s Day movies on May 12 and a Dysfunctional Family Jubilee on May 19.
LA WEEKLY: After four successful seasons and now, a season five of The Last Drive-in, how do you feel about the show?
JOE BOB BRIGGS: I’m feeling great about it because Shudder leaves me alone and let’s me do what I do. I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve had three shows and at all three networks there’s been no format or rules. When I was at the movie channel 1700 years ago, it was one of the first premium channels that you paid $10 a month for. The intro could be 10 minutes or three minutes or 17 minutes, they didn’t care. And then I was at TNT and I was on in the middle of the night. They said, as long as you’re finished by 6am, we don’t care. The show can be short. It can be long. That was a great freedom. And now I’m on a streaming service. I was actually surprised when we started that they wanted to interrupt the movie. The producers wanted to sort of imitate the format of what I’d done at TNT. I thought we might lose some people paying the monthly fee so I said we should be ready to change that. Then we launched it and people liked to be interrupted!
Sometimes I actually fast-forward the film just to hear what you’re gonna say about it.
The people that watch Shudder– boy, they are smart and well informed. And I hate that. I could get away with anything at TNT but now as soon as I make a mistake, 10,000 people tell me on social media. If one person disagrees with you, that’s one thing. If everybody is telling you that you screwed up, you screwed up. It’s like talking to filmmakers. Everybody’s a film expert so it’s very different from when I first started, but I’m grateful for the chance to do it again and deep dive into these movies. I learn things that I didn’t really know about these movies when I first saw them. We kind of live in the ’80s and the ’70s– ’90s too. Occasionally there’s a new movie, but the sweet spot for our audiences is the ’80s.
Do you have a research team?
Yes because I got to where I couldn’t keep up. You have to be really careful about what’s on the internet because it sounds right and it sounds like it should be true or plausible. But it doesn’t mean it is. Stuff gets repeated even if it’s wrong. So everybody that works on it, including me, starts with a healthy mistrust of the internet. You know, the best sources are books. If the director wrote a book it’s great. Books are triple fact checked. I probably have the most extensive exploitation film library around.
Journalists always have a lot of books. I saw you wrote for The Village Voice – this interview will run in the Voice and LA Weekly. What was your writing career like?
I wrote and worked for a lot of publications. I was freelance and all over the place– sports and entertainment. It’s been so long. I did smaller papers and magazines. I did movie stuff for Rolling Stone. I did some things for the film magazine from the Lincoln Center.
You became known as a film critic first. Is that when your persona as Joe Bob Briggs was born?
I became the temporary/fill- in film critic at the Dallas Times Herald. And the entertainment editor warned me, she said, ‘you know, you have to watch everything right? ’I said yeah. ‘Okay, all right’. So I quickly discovered that I didn’t care much for the Hollywood mainstream films. And I really liked the foreign and exploitation films. I was in Dallas and there was only two foreign films a week. You tend to get the best ones. And then I said, ‘where are the screenings for smaller independent films that only play the drive-ins?’ The distributors said they never screen the films for critics. So I was reviewing them on opening day, often going to drive-ins.
Then one guy decided I could screen his films beforehand. And that was Roger Corman. I became sort of friends with Roger, because he was a fan of the column. Anyway, I created the character of Joe Bob Briggs because I wanted a populist film critic who would review these films on their own terms. At the time they were considered disposable trash. I mean, nobody reviewed them. In fact, it’s amazing to me today that somebody like Herschel Gordon Lewis can die and the New York Times will do an extensive obituary when they wouldn’t even review any of his films when he was alive. They were contemptuous of him and they hated him. He would have relished even a terrible review.
So yeah, they didn’t review the films. At the time, I was the only guy doing this. There were fanzines. John Waters had written a book about exploitation films. But I was the only guy at a mainstream publication that was reviewing them.
And then I just continued to expand the scope of it. Another friend of mine was a guy named Sam Grogg who had been one of the founders of the Institute for popular culture in the ’70s. They invented the term ‘pop culture.’ Prior to about 1977, there was just culture, right? And no one thought exploitation films or comic books or pulp novels were worthy of serious attention. But I was the first guy at the family newspaper who, said, hey, look at these, these are fun. It was obviously something that the public embraced.
One of my favorite things about what you do is the ‘Drive-in Totals’ at the beginning of the movie. The roll call and listing of different types of kills, sex scenes, nudity, general tropes and what you call “fu’s”– expanding on kung-fu, and counting scenes featuring gunfights or car chases aka “gun-fu” or “car-fu,” etc.
A lot of it was based on conversations with Roger because he loved to talk about film formulas you know? For example, one of the things he loves is motor vehicle chases. Some of the drive-in totals I include came from that. He also loves Kung Fu.
You ‘became Joe Bob Briggs’ writing your column. But the guy that we see on the show today– is that acting or is it actually you?
At the very beginning, it was me trying to say outrageous stuff and make a lot of silly jokes. As time went on, it just became me. There’s certain things that you can’t talk about if you’re just a stunt persona. There are two ways of hosting late night movies. The original guy was [John] Zacherly. He went deep into the movie. Everything he said was based on the movie. That’s what I do. And that’s the tradition I’m in. The other tradition is Elvira, where you’re basically doing stunts around the movie. Rhonda Shear and Gilbert Gottfried, people like that, they’re doing comedy at the brakes of a movie that is sort of tangentially related to the movie, but not really.
And so in order to really talk about these movies, which I was growing to really love, I had to stop just doing silly stuff. But I’m not above a cheap joke. I’ll do a cheap joke. But, you know, it just became more and more the same voice. It’s just a little smoother on TV because I gotta be quick.
Well, you’re funny, but it feels natural. It feels real. I like the way you play off with Darcy the mail girl. How long has she been on the show?
She was on the very first marathon in 2018. She was a fan of the old TNT show. So she just wanted to be the mail girl. The mail girl on the old show would literally just come out and deliver the mail. I would hit on her, she would shoot me down and then she would walk off and that was that. As time went on with Darcy I said, ‘you know, you’re like a real fan. You have real knowledge so we should incorporate you more into the meat of the show, as opposed to just the mail part or the comedy part.’ So she’s the first one that really knows what she’s talking about.
It works as a co-host thing and you guys have a nice chemistry.
She’s very much a hardcore fan. Especially the blood and guts branch of horror. She was the first person I ever met who could talk about the difference between, Friday the 13th part five and Friday 13th part seven, and know which one is better and when the second lead changed and all of that stuff because her generation would watch all the films all at the same time. So they remembered what was in the previous film. When those films were written and directed, they didn’t assume that you remembered everything. I certainly didn’t.
So tell us what you have coming up this season and what we can look forward to.
Well we don’t reveal the film titles in advance because we like to have people guess on social media and it sort of makes the opening and live feed premiere like a big event.
I love the themes and holiday driven horror celebrations as do your fans on social media, obviously. The “Mutant Fam” seems very active. Can you give us some general tidbits then? The first week you had two Fulci classics and the second week you had your Walpurgisnacht show.
Yeah it is the second Halloween, only celebrated in Central Europe and Scandinavia. We decided we’re gonna bring it over again after last year. We’re always looking for something to do when it’s not Halloween, so we brought it over to America; it was all about witches.
The third week was Cinco de Mayo so we had two Mexican horror movies. I’m a big of Mexico and I’ve been wanting to do a Cinco De Mayo show for a long time. It’ll be the first time. Fourth week is Mother’s Day, which is always great for horror. You know you just find movies with angry bitches that have children. We always have a good time with Mother’s Day. And then boy, I can’t remember.
Well that’s a good start to tease the fans. How do you go about deciding which films to show?
Well, that’s a really complicated question, because it has to be a film that we can get the license for and for a certain period. You know, you can get like wonderful films that they’ll only give to you for a couple of months. We’re a streaming service, so we it want it to last. And so it’s a combination of films that we have access and that we really, really want. Like we wanted the original Hills Have Eyes, and we got like, a week away and we found out we didn’t really have the rights to it. The license was kind of weird. So Darcy went to the producers house somewhere up in the hills and took him a big basket for Thanksgiving. She asked can we please show it and he said okay, even after the entire AMC legal department had been unable to get the rights to the film.
I love that. So Bob where are you based these days? What about Darcy?
I’ve been in New York for years and years. Darcy is in Hollywood.
Other than the new season, what else do you have coming up? Any appearances or cons?
I do live shows. I do a show that I’ve done many times in many theaters, I’m about to retire it but it’s called How Rednecks Saved Hollywood. I did it at the Egyptian in Hollywood. I also do shows with the American Genre Film Archive in Austin. It’s a non-profit. Tim League formed it about 10 years ago; he’s the founder of Alamo Drafthouse. They find, restore and preserve exploitation films that are sometimes rotting in warehouses. And so I take stuff out of their library and we do these shows. I host double features and I try to take the shows to the smaller cities where they did not yet have a cult audience. The goal is to bring attention to these movies and bring people back to theaters for the theater experience.
Editor’s note: The disclaimer below refers to advertising posts and does not apply to this or any other editorial stories. LA Weekly editorial does not and will not sell content.
Advertising disclosure: We may receive compensation for some of the links in our stories. Thank you for supporting LA Weekly and our advertisers.