Shudder’s THE LAST DRIVE-IN and the Welcome Return of the Horror Host

It was during the infamous “shunting” scene in Brian Yuzna’s underrated critique on the Beverly Hills upper-class, Society, that I began writing this article on Shudder’s The Last Drive-In, having now completed its second in a nine-week series.

As I was watching wealthy aliens morph into gelatinous blobs of skin, literally sucking the life out of those deemed lower-class citizens and indulging in a truly disgusting (and slimy) orgy of twisted flesh and Stretch Armstrong-like contortions, three things dawned on me: Society is one of my favorite horror movies ever; (hopefully) thousands of horror fans have now experienced this film, thanks to Shudder; and bringing Joe Bob Briggs back to television was a stroke of genius.

Last year, when Shudder announced The Last Drive-In, which was then a one-off, 24-hour movie marathon hosted by Joe Bob, I was excited but, at the time, I didn’t foresee how necessary this event would be. It was 17+ years since Joe Bob hosted a show, and I questioned how relevant this style of broadcasting would be in the on-demand streaming era; but it was these elements that ended up making it so special.

For 24 glorious hours, Joe Bob, who hasn’t lost an ounce of his wit, candor and extensive movie knowledge, led us through 13 movies, all uncut with no commercial breaks. It brought back fond memories of my childhood watching “Monstervision” and reminded me why I loved that series so much.

It goes without saying Joe Bob Briggs is glue that holds this concept together, and, after decades of doing it, he’s become a master horror host, guiding us through the film together. He gives us behind-the-scenes factoids about the movie, its production and the actors, and he interacts with fans along the way with the aid from his “mail girl” (Darcy, in the latest iteration).

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I was initially concerned with how Joe Bob’s decidedly un-PC demeanor would play in the current social climate of near-nonstop outrage we live in, something he’s been reprimanded for in the past, but it would appear he’s somewhat immune to the ire of negative public discourse. Perhaps it’s because his show is largely fan-driven, or perhaps it’s his wry charm that allows folks to embrace his persona despite the crass jokes and defiance towards modern social trends. (His probiotics rant was some of the best television I’ve seen last year.)

It’s the sense of community Joe Bob creates around the show that really makes it shine. In a time where we, as a society, are more isolated and divided than ever before, here comes a show that forces you to watch it live with everyone else, and not only are the movies picked for you, often you’re not told what they are in advance. This concept may be a relic of a bygone era, but The Last Drive-In proves there’s not only a place for it but that it’s an important part of the movie-watching experience, especially with those in the horror genre.

The conclusion of the show brought a tear to my eye, and while it was a fitting eulogy for drive-in mutants everywhere, it was clear that indeed the drive-in never dies and we were clamouring for more. After the success of the original marathon, of which I’m not sure Shudder was prepared for given the numerous technical hiccups that occurred, a second marathon aired during Thanksgiving, this time featuring The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, Dead or Alive and Blood Rage. A third marathon would follow, which was comprised of four of the five Phantasm films.    

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Then Joe Bob announced a weekly show, which would feature two movies every Friday night for nine weeks, and I was ecstatic. There’s something magical about winding down in front of the TV after a long week and bringing Joe Bob into our homes as our sherpa, guiding us through this campy cinematic journey so many of us began to traverse years ago.

As nostalgic as the show is, there’s still a modernity about it, with one of the highlights being the live conversations taking place on Twitter between fans as they watch. This is a level of interaction that the “Monstervision” days couldn’t deliver, allowing viewers to not only have a shared experience of watching the same movie at the same time but now allowing them to discuss it in a public forum with many of the guests and Joe Bob himself no less. Going to the theater or a drive-in is always the most ideal environment for movie watching, and while I’m fortunate enough to live in a large metropolitan area that holds many repertory screenings, but this is also an incredible outlet for those who want to feel that sense of community.

Having the show on a streaming service like Shudder also has it advantages, mainly the lack of commercials and the ability to stream the uncut versions of all the films featured. This also gives Joe Bob the ability to present himself in an unfiltered form, never having to hold back for fear of network censorship.

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One small touch I appreciate, which speaks to the respect Joe Bob and crew have for the movies exhibited, is that the credits are always shown in their entirety. Too often on TV (and Netflix) the credits are either sped up, obfuscated to an unreadable size, or removed completely. Hundreds of people are typically involved in the production of the movie you just enjoyed, so let those credits roll.

As much as I appreciate The Last Drive-In for that warm nostalgia it brings me, I’m just as heartened to know an entire new generation of horror lovers is experiencing something that gave me so much joy as a kid.

The Last Drive-In is a place where we can honor the memory of Larry Cohen after his recent passing, a place where we can watch a candid interview with horror icon Barbara Crampton, and a place where we’re in good company with our shared love of campy slasher flicks and monster movies. Our modern world is mostly an ever-increasing hellscape, and The Last Drive-In is a bloody oasis in a desert of real life horrors that we can all take refuge in for a few hours every week. I hope it never goes away. Thank you, Joe Bob, and thank you, Shudder, for bestowing this on us.

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