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Joe Bob Briggs talks West Texas, horror and "Love & Death"

MG Marshall Photography

Joe Bob Briggs is Texan, through and through. He sports a bolo tie and sips Lone Star Beer while philosophizing about horror films and whatever else is on his mind each week on “The Last Drive-In.” Two movies play during the show, and Briggs interjects with trivia, thoughts and interviews. Online, fans have their own conversations. It’s a unique viewing experience that’s evolved over three channels and three versions of the movie show.

Briggs is a character created by John Bloom, who has deep roots as a writer in Texas media. One of his classic true-crime stories has recently been adapted by two different streaming platforms, bringing new attention to the seasoned author.

Our News Director Sarah Self-Walbrick is a big fan and recently had the opportunity to talk with Briggs. “The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs” airs Fridays at 8 p.m. on the streaming service Shudder.

This interview has been edited for time and clarity. 

Sarah Self-Walbrick: I want to start with West Texas. I always feel so special when you bring up our little towns on “The Last Drive-In,” like Earth, which is close to the town I grew up in. Tells us more about your connection to our area. 

Joe Bob Briggs: I have such fond memories of being a little kid in the Panhandle. I spent time in Crosbyton, and Earth and in Springlake, where both of my parents were teachers at the Springlake School System. Actually, that's all that’s in Springlake - it's just the school. Lubbock was the big city, we only went in there, like, a couple times a year.

SSW: You’re now known for continuing the long tradition of hosting horror movies. First with “Monstervision” on TNT in the 90s. And now with “The Last Drive-In.” What makes the horror genre so special to you?

JBB: Well, I started reviewing not just horror movies, but all exploitation movies, back in the days when they were considered disposable trash and beneath the contempt of film reviewers. It just so happens that horror was the most despised of all the exploitation genres in the early 80s, when I started reviewing these for the Dallas Times Herald. Actually, I had a previous show to “Monstervision” called “Drive-In Theater” that was on The Movie Channel. What attracted me to it was the outlaw nature of it. It was films that your mother didn't want you to watch. And so, of course, I had to watch them.

SSW: My husband and I got into “The Last Drive-In” during the pandemic, when we were missing the communal experience of going to the movies. I know that aspect of the show is important to you. Tell us about the horror community and what you get out of being a part of it.

JBB: It's a great feeling because I've never felt this close to an audience before. There's one thing that makes that possible: social media. First of all, to hear all their stories. They want to tell me stories from their childhood, from the time they first watched “Monstervision” to the time that they discovered “The Last Drive-In.” They want to tell me stories about who in their family they watched it with, what it meant to them. During the pandemic, when everyone was shut in, a lot of people discovered the show during that time. And thank God they've all remained very loyal and stuck with us through subsequent seasons. I think that's when, we call it The Mutant Family, I think that's when The Mutant Family formed, was during the pandemic.

SSW: You’re also a professional writer, under your real name John Bloom, who spent many years in Texas media, including at Texas Monthly. Your 1984 story “Love and Death in Silicon Prairie” is one of my all-time favorites from the magazine. That true crime story has recently been adapted for television. What has it been like to see your work told that way? 

JBB: It's incredible. I mean, that was an excerpt from a book that my partner, Jim Atkinson, and I wrote called “Evidence of Love,” It came out at a time when nobody cared about true crime. And so for about 10 years, the book had very, very modest sales, you know, it really didn't move the dial. And then there was a TV movie starring Barbara Hershey. Barbara Hershey won the Emmy that year, around 1990. That was the first time that the book was made into a film and that caused a little bit of interest in the book. It would constantly turn up on these top 10 true-crime lists over the years. But then suddenly, I don't know what happened. But just in the past couple of years, it was a Hulu series called “Candy.” And then now it's an HBO Max series called “Love & Death.” Three great actresses have played that role; Barbara Hershey, Jessica Biel and Elizabeth Olsen have all played the role. It's very interesting to see how different it can be with different actresses doing that part. I especially like the one now, “Love and Death,” because they stayed really, really close to the book.

SSW: Last question. I'm curious to know how those true crime roots entangle with your passion for horror. What interests you in these kinds of stories?

JBB: You know, I've wondered about my brain, why I do like true crime so much. I mean, I watch it all the time. I've always been, even when I was a reporter at the Dallas Times Herald and other publications that I worked for, whatever the grisliest crime was that happened that day. That's, I want that one. Let me get let me go cover that one, you know. I was always that way. When I got the opportunity to do that true-crime book, I wouldn't say it was a pleasure, because yes, it was rough reporting, but it was in my wheelhouse.

Sarah Self-Walbrick is the news director at Texas Tech Public Media, where she leads the news team and focuses on underreported stories in Lubbock. Sarah is a Lubbock native and a three-time graduate of Texas Tech University. She started her career at the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.
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