When Dallas-born newspaperman John Bloom adopted the persona of redneck, Western-wearing movie critic Joe Bob Briggs more than 30 years ago — writing proudly un-P.C. reviews of B-movies and exploitation movies that would get syndicated in papers across the country — one thing he didn’t expect to do was bring families together.
But that’s exactly what he did when he started hosting the popular, long-running Joe Bob’s Drive-In Theater on The Movie Channel back in the ’80s. “It’s remarkable how many people tell me that they watched it in family units like that,” says a giggling Bloom/Briggs, 65, tells CultureMap. “You know, that it was a unifying thing with their dad or their uncle or their brother or their sister.”
Through championing and showing films that mostly traffficked in his love of the three B’s — blood, breasts and beasts — Briggs not only became a familiar face on many families’ living-room TV. He also became an influential figure in the film world — the Pauline Kael of the drive-in/grindhouse circuit, if you will.
If it wasn’t for Briggs, we wouldn’t have art houses programming screenings of cult films and midnight movies, exploitation-friendly film festivals like Austin’s Fantastic Fest and film critics who aren’t afraid to show love to entertaining genre films. (You could also say that Briggs is responsible for all the rabid fanboys who go nuts on the Internet whenever someone doesn’t care for a popcorn picture they like — but let’s not completely blame those psychos on him.)
Briggs is proud that cult films and B-movies are no longer held in low regard. “When I first started reviewing these films, I was the only guy reviewing these films,” he remembers. “For the most part, I was the only guy writing weekly, on a regular basis about — and we didn’t call them genre films; we called them exploitation films. They were considered disposable. They were considered trash. People didn’t even keep the prints. The mainstream media didn’t review them at all. And, so, it’s good that many of these films were sort of rescued from oblivion, because nobody really wanted to give them any attention.
“So, it’s a good thing that now, when one of them comes out, there are a thousand reviews of them on the Internet the next day.” He giggles again. “Because it means, at least, they get a fair shake in the marketplace. Maybe they’re only gonna be on Netflix for three months or something. But, at least, people are aware of them.”
Another streaming platform these films could go to is the horror/thriller service Shudder. These days, that’s where you can find Briggs, once again introducing classic, old-school, drive-in movies. It began when he hosted the 24-hour movie marathon The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs over the summer, which caused many servers at Shudder to break down due to fans clamoring online to see Briggs again. “Everyone got kicked off the system,” he says. “We not only shut down the Shudder servers, we shut down the Sundance Channel servers. I don’t know how they were connected.” (Shudder is owned and operated by AMC Networks, which also owns SundanceTV.)
Briggs just got through hosting a Thanksgiving marathon on the service, which means a Christmas marathon — titled “A Very Joe Bob Christmas” — is right around the corner on December 21. (A weekly series is coming in 2019.) He’ll also be having a yuletide celebration right here in Houston, hosting a holiday-themed double feature at Alamo Drafthouse LaCenterra on December 14.
The event starts with the 1974 slasher flick Black Christmas (which is already sold out), followed by the 1977 Satanic thriller The Sentinel, which Briggs calls “the lesser-known of the Catholic-themed horror movies of the ’70s.” “You can do things at Alamo that you can’t do anywhere else,” he says, “because they have that audience that sort of hunger for cult films and films that are out of the mainstream.”
So, don’t be surprised if you see whole families attending these films, as Joe Bob Briggs once again gives them some blood and gore to bond over.