Like a warm blanket on a cold rainy day, movies can be a therapeutic treat. Today, you can basically access any film with the press of a button, but back in the 90’s, you were most likely at the mercy of network schedules or the limitations of your VHS or DVD collection. There was, however, a show that stood out as a movie buff’s reward for making it through the school week and that show was MonsterVision.
MonsterVision was a Friday night (later moved to Saturdays) showcase of eclectic horror films on the TNT network. And after spending the early 90’s getting its bearings, a more grounded format was established in 1996 and it was given new life with host Joe Bob Briggs, fresh from his hosting duties on TMC’s Joe Bob’s Drive-In Theater. Actor/journalist/comedian/author/critic John Bloom portrayed Briggs as a sort of pop culture cowboy that really made the show his own, often in spite of network censors. From Corman to Coscarelli, Harryhausen to Hammer, he knew it all and made it entertaining.
There was a refreshing honesty to his presentation as well; all films were not made equal in his eyes and he let the viewers know it – whether it be, for example, the drudgery of sitting through Halloween 3 or trying to figure out what on earth the plot to Nightbreed is, no words were minced on just how he felt toward the cinematic portions dealt him by TNT. The film selection spanned a wide gamut, keeping the show fresh and original, but always holding a strong emphasis on the campy drive-in fun.
All that being said, Mr.Briggs has taken a bit of time from his busy schedule and prep work for his upcoming film marathon on Shudder to answer some questions on just what the movies mean to him, what’s the deal with video-game-themed films, and how the spirit of the drive-in will never die.
JBB: “When I first started writing about movies, the exploitation films were totally ignored by the mainstream press. Not reviewed, not noticed, considered disposable trash. The only way you could know about them was to find the lurid black-and-white newspaper ads that were used to advertise them. I started going to the drive-in every week specifically to see these beyond-the-pale films, and everything evolved from there. My first review was a flick called “The Grim Reaper,” but that was the American title. I learned later that the real title was “Anthropophagous,” an Italian film made in Greece and intentionally mislabeled as American due to the starring role played by Tisa Farrow, sister of Mia Farrow. It wasn’t until the nineties that Italian-made horror became cool, much to the surprise of guys like Joe D’Amato, a/k/a Aristide Massaccesi, the director of “Anthropophagous.”
JBB: “A worthy drive-in movie can be anything except boring. The worst horror films are the ones made by people who feel superior to the genre—you can always tell, and you lose interest quickly because it’s just a series of clichéd ideas about “what these losers want to see on the screen.” Cult classics are made by true believers, they’re made with love. It doesn’t work if you intentionally set out to make a cult classic—hence “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes,” great title, mediocre flick.”
JBB: “Well, drive-ins never really went away. It takes a little luck for an old drive-in to survive—if the land values keep going up, it’s gonna become a Wal-Mart parking lot—but there are actually quite a few brand new drive-ins that have sprung up in the past decade. I was recently at the Apache Drive-In in Tyler, Texas, the last remaining X-rated drive-in in America. Still going strong after all these years.”
JBB: “As long as they’re not boring, I’m good with them. “The Howling 7”—also called “The Howling: New Moon Rising”—is one of the worst movies ever made, but highly entertaining. “Superbeast,” on the other hand, is just two hours of people wandering around in the jungles of the Philippines. And there’s no beast! Much less a super one.”
JBB: “I know many many people who love “Resident Evil,” “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,” “Silent Hill” and “Mortal Kombat.” If I had to take a guess at why many of them get bashed in the press, I would say, a) Uwe Boll based his whole life around making video-game-based movies, and b) memories of “Tron” (1982).”
JBB: “It’s gonna be so much fun to put on the bolo tie and the hat and do that 24-hour marathon for Shudder. We’re calling it “The Last Drive-In” as I expect it to be my farewell to movie hosting, but you’re right to say it’s pretty much a reboot of the old “MonsterVision” format. I think it’s 13 movies, so I hope I have 13 rants left in me. I’m amazed at how many people have gotten in touch with me about this. When I was doing “MonsterVision,” we were about the lowest priority show at that network—so I had no idea we had this following.”
JBB: “I still prefer to watch movies on the big screen and I made the rounds during Oscar season, trying to see everything getting raves. Loved “Get Out” but didn’t think it was as good as “It” if you’re ranking 2017 horror movies. Hated “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Midget rights? Really? Gratuitous scenes about abusive Catholic priests? Really? Woody Harrelson writing four letters from beyond the grave as a plot device? Really? Including a letter telling an unredeemably violent and racist redneck cop that he’s “probably a good person inside”? Uh, I don’t think so.”
JBB: “Becket, the 1964 film based on the Anouilh play with Richard Burton as Thomas Becket and Peter O’Toole as King Henry II. I’ll watch it every time it’s on tv. Two amazing actors at the peak of their careers. Peter Glenville directed. People don’t remember him because he was a stage guy.”
For those who fondly remember all the behind-the-scenes trivia, the southwestern charm of the rustic set, the drive-in totals tallying the gratuitous gore, the endless jabs at the TNT censors, the mail girl co-hosts, the constant breaking of the 4th wall, celebrity guests, and the numerous themes and marathons, MonsterVision was everything a cinephile could hope for. And as mentioned above, the cult following has spoken, and like a phoenix rising from the ashes of nostalgia, Joe Bob will be hosting a 24-hour marathon on Shudder, on July 13th, beginning at 9 pm EDT/6 pm PDT!
(Click HERE for more info on the upcoming event)
So grab your beverage of choice and nuke a lot of popcorn. Horror movies, nostalgia, epic rants, bolo ties – I give it a preemptive 4 out of 4 stars. Check it out.
Michael A. Jones firstname.lastname@example.org www.nerdsintheburbs.com
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