There have been many horror TV shows I have loved over the years. Elvira’s Movie Macabre, Tales From The Crypt, Tales From The Darkside, Supernatural, and Twilight Zone are among my favorites. There is one show, however, that is sacred. It had a profound effect on me as I began my journey into horror geek-hood. I saw many of my favorite films for the first time on that show. Of course, I could only be speaking of TNT’s Monstervision with Joe Bob Briggs. (insert heavenly choir sound effect here.)
Monstervision was a show on the TNT network that ran from March 1993 until September 2000. I discovered it in late 1994. Late on Saturday nights, they would show cheesy monster movies like the Godzilla flicks, The Blob, Them, etc. Sometimes Penn and Teller would guest host. Then, in 1995, Joe Bob Briggs took over as host. This brought along some major changes. They started showing all kinds of horror, drive-in, grindhouse, and cult films. It became a double feature each week. The main change though, was Joe Bob himself.
Joe Bob would sit in his lounge chair outside of his trailer, drinkin’ beer and talkin’movies. He’d set the flick up that they were about to show, and then chime in each time they came back from a commercial. He was a wealth of knowledge, giving you anecdotes from on set, stories about the release of the films, and adding his own brand of humor. He was absolutely hilarious. He would point out the ridiculous things about a flick. He would also gush about the gore, nudity, and everything else all of the horror fans watching loved. He would make fun of TNT, bitching about them censoring his movies and, when he had to show a movie that wasn’t quite Monstervision material, letting you know in no uncertain terms that he was showing it against his will. He would also have guests. He interviewed Linnea Quigley when they showed Return of the Living Dead and Wes Craven when they showed New Nightmare for example.
Joe Bob was a special kind of horror host. He wasn’t some ghoulish character, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Sure, his horror redneck persona was played to the hilt, but he was a rabid horror fan. I know this sounds maudlin and sappy, but he became almost a mentor figure to me. Some people had that one guy at the video store they got all of their horror recommendations and advice from. Some people had a cool big brother or uncle that showed them that kind of stuff. I had Joe Bob. Each week he showed me something or told me something new about horror. As a kid with a voracious appetite for horror, it was everything I could ask for. He also gave us the “Drive-in Totals” for each movie. He would whet our appetites for the coming feature by telling us what we would, or sometimes wouldn’t, be seeing, even listing them on screen. Here’s an example from a showing of Return of the Living Dead…
“We have Nineteen dead bodies, plus some fragments. Ten breasts. Shame on you, TNT censors! Two zombie breasts. One-hundred twenty-five zombies. Mummy dogs. One-half zombie dog. Ten gallons of blood. Brain-eating. Gratuitous embalming. Nekkid punk-rocker fondue. Gratuitous midget zombie. Torso S&M. One motor vehicle chase, totaled by zombies. Heads roll. Brains roll. Arms roll. Hands roll. We’re talkin’ 4 stars. Check it out."
…with a setup like that, who wouldn’t be chomping at the bit to see it?
I couldn’t begin to name all of the classic fright films that I saw for the first time on Monstervision; films like Phantasm 1 and 2, Return of the Living Dead 1 and 2, NOTLD90, The Omen, Salem’s Lot, The Serpent and the Rainbow, Troll, From Beyond, Creepshow, Carrie, Waxwork, Motel Hell, and They Live. That list could go on and on for days. They also showed great movies that didn’t fit into the horror genre, but appealed to the horror crowd. Movies like The Warriors, Red Sonja, Shaft, Beastmaster, Surviving the Game, Willy Wonka, and Spaceballs.
Monstervision was the reason that if I didn’t have anything to do that particular Saturday night, I wasn’t really all that concerned. When I was out partying, I taped it. Not with a DVR, with a VCR. Old school baby! I remember Halloween night 1998. I was 18. Joe Bob was doing a Friday the 13th dusk ‘til dawn marathon. As I got costumed up and did my makeup (I was a possessed priest that year), I watched Friday 1 and laughed at Joe Bob’s antics. After I walked into the house from making the rounds of the parties, or more accurately, when I staggered into the house, Joe Bob, me, and Jason hung out in Manhattan as I passed out. Good times man.
Sometime in 1999, the higher ups at TNT changed the format. It became “Joe Bob's Hollywood Saturday Night and Monstervision.” The first movie every night was Hollywood fare. Stuff like Tootsie, The American President, Top Gun, and Robin Hood: Men in Tights. The second was still usually a horror movie, but it wasn’t the same. The set changed to a living room, then a diner. Joe Bob was still the man, but they had gotten rid of his peripheral characters, like Reno and Dusty, the mail girls. I still watched loyally, but apparently the magic was gone. Joe Bob left as the host in July 2000. The show limped to a halt in September. It was the end of a great era.
One day I will write a complete retrospective about Joe Bob Briggs. Joe Bob had quite a career before and after Monstervision, but that show was an integral part of my adolescence. I highly recommend any of his books, particularly Joe Bob Goes to the Drive-in and Joe Bob Goes Back to the Drive-in. He also contributes commentary tracks to DVDs. Do yourself a favor and track one down. Talk to a horror fan in their 50s or 60s, and they will all tell you their interest in the genre came from watching Shock Theater or a similar show. For me, and a lot of other kids coming up in the southeast in the mid 90’s, that show was Monstervision.
Some people have commented about my blog always ending with the line “Nathan says check it out.” That’s not just me being a pretentious jackass and referring to myself in the third person. Joe Bob, in his newspaper column, always ended with “Joe Bob says check it out.” My variation on that tagline is meant as an homage to Joe Bob. Monstervision gets two severed thumbs up, and a special place in my cold, black heart. Nathan says go to youtube, type in Monstervision, and check it out.