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Monstervision: The Saturday Drive-In

Monstervision: The Saturday Drive-In

“This is Joe Bob Briggs reminding you that the Drive-In will Never Die!” 262712_248102521873568_100000214655729_1213450_2519967_n

In 1993, Monstervision on TNT in America, was mostly a program that aired old horror movies and science fiction with the occasional hosting from magicians Penn and Teller. During the early nineties, many cable channels hadn’t yet solidified their formats, and horror hosts were still ways to fill late night television since most channels couldn’t afford original programming. During that time, esteemed and controversial film critic John Bloom (known by his pen name Joe Bob Briggs), finished his tenure at the Movie Channel, which had also began changing its format.

Briggs was unfortunately released from his acclaimed show where he introduced uncut movies for his fans with his color commentary book ending the movies. The prologues and closers often featured comedy with the Briggs character, when he wasn’t interviewing genre favorites like Linnea Quigley. He’d also supplied excellent interviews with the surviving cast of Night of the Living Dead during his screening of both 1968 and 1990 versions. After leaving The Movie Channel, though, Joe Bob jumped over to TNT in 1995 and took control of Monstervision.

From there on in, it stopped being a time slot for filler movies, and transformed in to a bonafide event that fans would tune in to every Friday and Saturday night. Donning the character of Briggs, all with his own set in a trailer parker, Joe Bob Briggs would take a trip with fans through many late night presentations of horror, and science fiction movies, filling them with knowledge, and even providing his own color commentary. While other shows on basic cable touted the movies they aired, Briggs was merciless with his opinions, and this made watching the movies so much more fun.

Sure, the tight wads at TNT would censor or edit the movies, but you know what? Briggs would often be just as outraged as fans were, and would even mock TNT for editing crucial moments in the movies he’d show. Though all of his interviews indicate that Briggs’ time at TNT was not the most pleasant, his irate often infuriated temperament just made Monstervision so much more worth watching. When he wasn’t groaning about TNT’s tight restrictions, he’d subscribe to the carnival sideshow attitude that made his character so entertaining.

During his screening of Red Dawn, he interviewed a World War II veteran who’d consistently undermine or confirm much of the scenes during the Brat Pack action film. He also brought on a pet psychic in one episode, and during the screening of Mannequin II, he taught a summer class about how to build their very own woman. And who didn’t love Rusty the Mail Girl bringing him fan letters to read, many of which were often sent from prisoners in local penitentiaries?

But Briggs often reveled in his love for movies, involving fans as much as possible with long and informative interviews with folks like Tippi Hedren, Clint Howard, and Roddy Piper. Hedren was filled with anecdotes about working with Hitchcock, while Piper discussed working with John Carpenter, and the grueling staging of the fist fight during They Live with Keith David. Briggs often used the format to have fun with the movie he was showing, carrying the tradition of the late night movie host, while also lending fans a lot of crucial movie facts, and witty barbs about the folks behind certain movies.

At a time where the internet wasn’t a common function in the household, Briggs’ information and discussion of productions behind certain films were engrossing, and Briggs always understood the films he viewed on some level. Even if he sat down to watch stinkers like The Howling: Rebirth, or Maximum Overdrive, you were assured a good time with another equally passionate movie fan. Sure, some folks preferred USA Up All Night (which held a much larger library of obscure and underground horror films) but host Gilbert Gottfried and Rhonda Shear never really engaged with the movies they screened.

You went to Monstervision because Joe Bob loved movies as much as we did. One of the rare events from Monstervision was the all night Friday the 13thmarathon where Joe Bob relayed the events of Friday the 13th parts one to five right in to the break of dawn. And we loved him for sacrificing sleep to celebrate Halloween. My favorite Monstervision involved Briggs screening The Warriors, and showing viewers a large map of New York, tracking the path of the Warriors as they attempted to make it home to Coney Island from The Bronx.

Often times TNT would delay Monstervision until late in the night thanks to their long legacy of playing NBA Basketball, but Joe Bob would always be there shortly after the game, no matter what, ready to gripe about some foible in society he found irksome. He’d then drop us in to a horror or science fiction movie with a specific theme. Briggs was never shy with his opinions and editorials, and often mocked the censors for banning a certain word he couldn’t say that week, often bantering with the camera man and crew on the set. As a final bid of farewell, he’d also discuss the movies during the closing credits and sign off with a few jokes that were often hilarious.

If you really want to see uncensored Joe Bob, watch the rare stand up special Joe Bob Briggs Dead in Concert where he literally pisses off a member of his live audience. Around 1999, TNT was instilling a huge format change like every other cable channel, increasing the class of their programming with more mainstream fare, and dumping out low budget and obscure films they played on a daily basis. Monstervision and the often raucous follow up program Joe Bob’s Last Call then transformed in to Joe Bob’s Hollywood Saturday Night where Briggs was implanted in to a different sound stage, and hosted a wider variety of films not strictly related to horror, science fiction, and fantasy.

It’s a shame, because while the set and format were just generic, Briggs kept his wit and rarely ever kowtowed to TNT. Even when they forced him to air movies like A League of Their Own, and Dragnet. Though the series ended in 2001, and Joe Bob went back to writing as a film critic for various magazines and newspapers, fans always remembered what Briggs brought in the form of late night entertainment and movie knowledge. For many he was the gate keeper to fantastic genre films, even if TNT only really gave us the PG-13 version of the influential movie critic. For Joe Bob the Drive In will never die. And for movie fans, Monstervision will never be forgotten.