Written by John Zanardelli
Over a year ago, I subscribed to Shudder—AMC’s horror-specific streaming service—after learning that Joe Bob Briggs would be returning to horror film hosting after 17 years off of the air.
Thanks to MonsterVision, which aired on TNT from ‘91 to ‘00, I was introduced to countless horror movies that quickly became favorites of mine, all thanks to Joe Bob’s special style of entertainingly informative hosting. With The Last Drive-In on Shudder, Joe Bob Briggs has returned to form without missing a beat, and while its format could’ve easily kept it a product of its time, the show’s resounding themes of community and inclusivity have been uniting during a time when the world feels more divided than ever.
While I’m still just scratching the surface of Shudder’s ever-growing film library (“My List” is rather extensive and continuing to grow), The Last Drive-In is what I keep going back to. Every episode is a wonderful introduction to a film, whether it’s one I’ve seen, intended to see, or have never even considered watching—and, delightfully, it’s usually a case of the latter two. Out of the 39 episodes so far, I found that I had only seen 13 of the films featured.
Of course it was great to see Joe Bob’s take on the movies I had seen before, but the ones I would be introduced to through the show (a circumstance that the new Mail Girl, Darcy, affectionately refers to on Twitter as having your “Drive-In Cherry Popped”) were the major highlights, running the gamut from fun ways to pass the time to newly adopted and passionate fandom. From the sound of the pulsating eggs in Contamination (1980) to the shower scene in Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (1987), each entry on this list gave me something new to experience, and because of Joe Bob, none of it was experienced alone.
Not only was I watching along with fellow Mutants all over the world, but my wife (an adamant non-scary-movie person) also joined me for a lot of these films. Before Shudder’s Joe Bob announcement, I had never known that she, too, was a MonsterVision fan. While there were still some movies she passed on, we got to experience many of them together—movies that, if not for Joe Bob’s contagious hosting style, she would’ve avoided entirely. In that way, Shudder and The Last Drive-In has become more than just a venue for enjoying scary movies in our household; it’s common ground that two people with vastly different feelings about the horror genre can enjoy together. And now, it’s as important to us as every load-bearing beam that holds our roof together.
I’ve reflected on all 27 of my newly popped drive-in cherries and distilled my favorites so far into a tight top 10. The movies that I had seen prior were not included on this list and are as follows: Tourist Trap (1979), Sleepaway Camp (1983), Hellraiser (1987), Pieces (1982), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), The Hills Have Eyes (1977), Phantasm (1979), The House of the Devil (2009), and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986).
Before we start, I also want to give a shout out to five honorable mentions that almost made the list: Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama (1988), the cornball direct-to-video movie that surprisingly had me invested in the budding relationship between the geeky college kid and the criminal gal; Rabid (1977), David Cronenberg’s unique take on vampirism; Wolfguy: Enraged Lycanthrope (1975), one of Japan’s early film versions of werewolf lore; The Stuff (1985), Larry Cohen’s satirical take on consumerism; C.H.U.D. (1984), the silly and often pretentious concept about mutated cannibals living underground.
With Shudder confirming a second season of The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs and JBB promising that we’ll be seeing more foreign horror, I’m more than certain that these won’t be the last Drive-In cherries I pop. But while we wait for more information on when we can expect that second season to air, enjoy this list of my top 10 favorite previously unseen Last Drive-In episodes.
#10: Castle Freak (1995)
From Re-Animator (1985) director Stuart Gordon, Castle Freak was a movie I overlooked due to its direct-to-video release in the mid-’90s. It’s the story of a grieving family that moves to a newly inherited Italian castle and eventually discovers that there’s a violent, disfigured monster being kept in the basement that’s actively breaking out of its shackles. What sets this movie apart from its direct-to-video ilk is the cast’s performances—particularly Barbara Crampton and Jeffrey Combs—as well as the almost Shakesperian levels of tragedy that the movie spirals toward.
#9: Q: The Winged Serpent (1982)
Days after the passing of its writer/director Larry Cohen, Q aired on The Last Drive-In and saw Joe Bob pay loving tribute to the late, great director and his wide body of work. Though it was a close race between this and the director’s 1985 release The Stuff (which gets extra marks from me because of how much I love satirical movies), Q makes the list because it feels more like a completion of its concept and an embodiment of Cohen’s trademarks. A cool creature feature about a dragon-like monster living in the Chrysler building in New York City, it’s a fun and original monster flick that’s actually quite amazing for what they were able to accomplish on such a small budget.
#8: Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (1987)
Full disclosure: I hadn’t ever seen a single Prom Night movie up until this point. Upon learning that this season would close with Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II, I decided to watch the first one first so that I’d be prepared. As you might already know, the prep didn’t matter a bit because HML: PN II has absolutely nothing to do with the first one—and for that, I’m incredibly grateful.
While the first one is your standard whodunit slasher, Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II becomes a pretty interesting satire on conservatism and popularity contests while also having a very unique supernatural aspect to its story and killer. Mary Lou makes for an engaging antagonist—a strange mix of a hypersexual body-snatching Carrie, complete with the supernatural powers and the hallucinatory insanity she bestows upon the young girl she’s slowly taking over.
The hosted segments of this episode also earn major sentimental bonus points for giving Darcy the Mail Girl the prom she never had in a way that only Joe Bob and his drive-in Mutants could. Night after night, a tireless Darcy lovingly interacts on social media with as many of the loyal fans she can, fostering and sharing in the spirit of inclusivity and community that JBB and The Last Drive-In embody.
#7: Phantasm: Ravager (2016) …and Phantasm III (1994) and Phantasm IV (1998)
I know, I know—it’s a bit of a cop-out to list three out of five films from a one-day marathon. But, in my defense, I had only seen one and two before the marathon last Christmas and now that I’ve remedied that, I can safely say that Phantasm is the most underrated horror movie series of all time.
This is solid, one of a kind world-building across the board, with each chapter adding to the sense of developing dread. While the scares begin to diminish after the first two, they’re aptly replaced by really interesting universe-building and mythology that I never knew I was missing in the horror genre. And, yes, I agree with Joe Bob: This series deserves to become a Christmas staple.
#6: A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2014)
This film had been on my radar for a while, having a place on my Shudder watchlist because of the good things I’d heard about it. Upon seeing the JBB episode, I wasn’t let down. I just dug everything about this movie, from its black and white cinematography to its amazing soundtrack to its awesome telling of a modern vampire western movie. When the lead actress skateboards down the street at night with her cape flowing in the breeze, I was completely sold. This is the type of low-budget, arthouse horror film that I dig. It went all out with its love of style, and every frame of this movie shows it.
#5: Daughters of Darkness (1971)
This was a bizarre one from the moment it began, but the atmosphere was uniquely eerie enough to set it apart. This was also my introduction to the Vampyros Lesbos-style subgenre, and holy crap did it spark my interest! From the cool look of the location to the psychologically complex relationships to the Marlene Dietrich-esque performance of the head lesbian vampire, everything about this movie is sleek, sexy, and stylish enough to captivate the cinephiles attracted to surreal, gothic horror stories with psychologically sexual undertones.
There’s so much to unravel in this movie’s subtext that is both intriguing and arousing enough to make it worth a revisit—even if only to appreciate the gorgeous locations and mise-en-scène. (Let’s see how many Mutants are still reading these after I used the phrase “mise-en-scène.”) Sadly, Shudder’s licensing contract with Daughters of Darkness ended and the service hasn’t indicated whether or not they’ll try and renew it again. I would hope they would, not only to keep the JBB marathon complete, but also to see that it gets the revists and new watches it deserves.
#4: The Changeling (1980)
When this episode first aired, I thought I had already seen the film—a story I thought was about an old man secluded in a house where he’s experiencing supernatural events. When I came back to it, I realized I had been mistaking it for Burnt Offerings (1976) and upon watching it, I found that The Changeling was right up my alley. I love this type of movie—the atmosphere building was superb, the performance by George C. Scott and Melvyn Douglas were captivating, and the ghost story was like an unsolved mystery from nearly a century ago. Come to think of it, isn’t that what every great ghost story is at its core?
The Changeling deserves to be remembered as one of the all-time greatest haunted house movies, one of the greatest ghost stories, and one of the greatest horror movies—definitely on par with The Haunting (1963) and The Uninvited (1944). On a personal note, this was also the episode I would constantly play as I rewrote one of my own supernatural feature film screenplays. Both the movie itself and the insight from Joe Bob Briggs just made it the perfect backdrop to rewriting on a gloomy overcast day.
#3: Deathgasm (2015)
How has this movie not been more successful?! If you were a fan of death or heavy metal in high school, wore (or wear) a spiked leather jacket, and had (or have) visible piercings in unusual places, this movie should be required viewing. It’s a movie that I’d immediately recommend to any fan of Shaun of the Dead (or any Edgar Wright movie, for that matter) who wishes the visuals and gore were driven up to 11.
Made in the suburbs of Australia, Deathgasm is the story of a band of heavy metal outcasts that unintentionally summon demons to their neighborhood and then must stop their final uprising. Hilarious and gory with a fantastic metal soundtrack worth seeking out, Deathgasm is a strong recommendation to fans all over the horror spectrum—case in point, my wife ordered the Deathgasm Blu-Ray before the Drive-In episode was even over.
#2: Society (1989)
I really wasn’t ready for this movie. I thought I would be, I thought my days of being shocked by a movie were long gone, but I really wasn’t prepared for where this movie went. And I don’t regret a single minute of it—I’m just kicking myself for not being bold enough to rent it back when I saw the box cover in the video store days.
Re-Animator producer Brian Yuzna slides into the director’s chair for his debut feature, which is an intriguing, inspired, and twisted tale of the social elite that takes a hideous turn. At first, the movie had my interest surrounding the story of a kid adopted into a wealthy family who begins to wonder what’s going on with those closest to him, why they’re making such a big deal about the exclusivity of the social gatherings they’re grooming him for. At first, the teen is just trying to prove he isn’t crazy. But when he starts getting the evidence he’s looking for…again, I really wasn’t prepared for where this movie went. If you like gory surrealism and classist stories of intrigue, Society is for you. I can’t heap enough praise on this rarely talked about gem of a movie, and I feel that its themes of social elitism actually stood the test of time and are still relevant today. That is, if the viewer can stomach shunting.
On that note, this was the second movie shown in the double-feature episode, and my wife had fallen asleep ten minutes in…only to then wake up mid-shunting. Let me tell you: The look on her face after waking up to what was happening on the TV was a one of a kind experience that I don’t think can ever be duplicated.
#1: Demons (1985)
There are fun movies, there are great movies, and then there are the movies you just can’t help but become obsessed with. Demons (or, as I prefer to call it, Demoni) is a movie I became obsessed with from the moment I saw it. This episode aired as part of the first 24-hour Last Drive-In marathon and is an Italian gem about demons (or mutant zombies, whichever) that are unleashed at a movie theater during a screening.
What unfolds is a fever dream of bright colors, nightmarishly unique gore, a kick-ass soundtrack, and even a dash of apocalyptic mania that is the embodiment of everything I love about a great drive-in movie. The fact that it takes place almost entirely within a movie theater is just icing on the cake. I can’t begin to praise this movie enough. There’s enough gore in it to satisfy the violence crowd, there’s music worth seeking out on the soundtrack, the atmosphere is fun, and the action pieces are great too—especially the final sequence that takes place inside the theater. I won’t give anything away, but I can say that I’ve played the music it’s set to during more than one workout.
To me, this is exactly what I think of as a true “undiscovered gem.” It’s the kind of movie almost nobody has heard of and is so far removed from anything that could be considered a pretentious think piece that anyone can enjoy it on the purely primal level we all share. How deeply and personally this film connected with me almost defies analysis. Maybe it’s the film’s subtext surrounding our response to violence in movies. Maybe it’s the fact that Demoni is an Italian production with Dario Argento attached and speaks to my Italian heritage. Maybe it’s even the fact that, at its core, Demoni is a survivalist film. All I know for sure is that if ever there was a movie that just got me, it’s Demoni.