The last time Joe Bob Briggs hosted a "live" special – this past summer's 24-Hour horror marathon The Last Drive-In – he literally crashed the servers at Shudder, as they didn’t anticipate the rabid demand for the MonsterVision host and famed redneck film critic's return to the airwaves. To make up for those lost hours, which primarily saw viewers missing out on his intros for and commentary on Tourist Trap and Sleepaway Camp, Joe Bob's returned to the curated streaming service with not one, but two specials this Holiday Season. First up: his dusk 'till Thanksgiving dawn marathon "Dinners of Death".
Four films were chosen for this go-round, each with a, uh, "meal" theme. In typical JBB fashion, the genre historian kept the titles under lock and key until the movies were airing, delivering drive-in totals for three rock-solid classics, kicking the shindig off with a bit of outlaw cinema he's personally deemed "the greatest movie ever made"...
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre  (d. Tobe Hooper, w. Kim Henkel & Tobe Hooper)
A good deal of Joe Bob's "Dinners" commentary on Texas Chain Saw comes straight from his book, Profoundly Disturbing: Shocking Movies That Changed History!, where he says of Tobe Hooper's masterpiece:
"Its very title has become America's cultural shorthand for perversity, moral decline, and especially the corruption of children. (It remains the favorite example of congressmen calling for the censorship of television.) Yet the movie's pure intensity, startling technique, and reputation as an outlaw film have brought praise from a group as diverse as Steven Spielberg, the Cannes Film Festival, the inmates of the Pennsylvania State Penitentiary, Martin Scorsese (Travis Bickle watches it in Taxi Driver), William Friedkin, the Museum of Modern Art, Paul McCartney, almost every metal band of the past twenty years, and the Colombo crime family of Brooklyn, which gleefully ranked it right up there with Deep Throat as one of their major sources of income in the '70s. The film itself is a strange shifting experience, part Grand Guignol and part gritty realism. Early audiences were horrified, later audiences laughed, and newcomers to the movie were inevitably stricken with a vaguely uneasy feeling, as though the film might have actually been made by a maniac."
Outside of surviving crew members (which there are fewer and fewer of with each year that passes), Briggs is possibly the foremost expert on Chain Saw (read his legendarily thorough Texas Monthly article on the picture's production here). Hearing Joe Bob discuss the minutiae of its legacy – including the premier place Marilyn Burns' original "Final Girl" holds in the slasher timeline – is always a treat, even when portions of the monologue are lifted verbatim from Profoundly Disturbing (a solid reminder that all his criticism doubles as performance art). Yet nothing was quite as a special as hearing Briggs get choked up when offering a final tribute to Hooper, whom he's labeled the "most misunderstood director in American history". Much how he delivered a moving remembrance of John Zacherle at the conclusion of The Last Drive-In, Briggs gets up on his soapbox to outline why Hooper never received the respect he deserved during life (including damning those who've perpetuated the "fake news" that Steven Spielberg helmed Poltergeist). You don't get horror history more passionate than this.
The Hills Have Eyes  (d. & w. Wes Craven)
The second film of the night was Wes Craven's sophomore "maybe civilized folks are the true savages" desert opus The Hills Have Eyes, which saw Joe Bob inviting the movie's iconic co-star Michael Berryman on to talk about his experiences filming the movie. It's an incredibly candid and insightful conversation, wherein Berryman illustrates a prank he pulled with Craven and producer Peter Locke while doing drive-in promotion for the picture. During the infamous trailer attack sequence, Berryman was asked to dress up as his mutant cannibal character Jupiter in order to try and scare some of the patrons at a seedy California lot. Unfortunately for Berryman, the window he knocked on belonged to a burly madman, who chased him back to Craven's van while wielding a baseball bat. Apparently, Locke's only response (in a Denny's, after a period of tense silence) was, "I think we have a hit."
Interestingly enough, Joe Bob admits that he thinks Alexandre Aja's 2006 redux is the better film (an opinion that "burns [his] bacon" because it was directed by a Frenchman). To be completely honest, this writer would have to agree. While Craven's second proper picture is leaps and bounds better than the director’s sadistic debut The Last House On the Left in every technical department, it doesn't pack the same visceral punch as that rather upsetting howl of Vietnam era anguish. Hills isn't a bad movie by any means, and is peppered with set pieces that are stomach-turningly tense. However, you can feel the MPAA's meddling in the film’s choppy flow (as it was cut to avoid an 'X' rating) and the abrupt ending leaves a little bit to be desired. Another note: there's really no "dinner" in this movie, so it's inclusion with the rest of the marathon is somewhat hilarious, as beyond a thematic tie-in of "cannibalism", it only loosely fits with the evening's theme.
Dead Or Alive  (d. Takashi Miike, w. Ichiro Ryu)
The evening's curveball – which some took issue with on Twitter during the marathon’s "live" airing – arrived in the form of Takashi Miike's hyper-kinetic, blood and semen-soaked crime epic, Dead or Alive, which Joe Bob informs us numerous times "makes no sense". Well, yes and no (though I'm going to refrain from sending Briggs my personal 2000-word essay), but our gracious dinner host's gleeful enthusiasm regarding the parade of perversity on display is rather infectious. Per usual, Briggs exhibits a nearly bottomless well of cult cinema knowledge, including extensive background on both of Dead or Alive's Japanese V-Cinema superstars (the incomparably cool Riki Takeuchi and Sho Aikawa).
As far as those disappointed by the selection, Dead or Alive's inclusion in the "Dinners of Death" program is a perfect illustration of what made this writer fall in love with Briggs' multiple serialized trips to the drive-in in the first place. You tuned in to The Movie Channel or TNT's MonsterVision to both hear Joe Bob rattle on about movies you already love, as well as introduce you to (or help you re-evaluate) a cut that maybe is not so close to your heart. Plus, Briggs is totally right: the "chicken" massacre that leads into Miike's audacious third act is easily the best and most insane "feast" of the evening, culminating in a body count matched by few movies in history.
Blood Rage  (d. John Grissmer, w. Bruce Rubin)
The final film of the marathon – John Grissmer's second out of two films (following 1978's lurid plastic surgery melodrama Scalpel) – was unknown to Joe Bob (just as it was to many of us) until it hit Blu-ray, courtesy of Arrow Home Video. Blood Rage (aka Slasher, aka Nightmare at Shadow Woods) missed his Dallas drive-in completely, before essentially disappearing in 1987 (after being shot in 1983), only to be rediscovered thirty years later. Honestly, it's the greatest Thanksgiving horror movie ever made (though not the only Thanksgiving horror movie ever made, despite what Briggs says) with its insane slasher body count, psycho twins storyline, copious early Ed French (Terminator 2) gore, and Louise Lasser's boozy, sleazy performance as the killer yuppie’s drunk, leftover-scarfing mother.
The skeevy Oedipal complex that dominates the killer's motivations combines well with Joe Bob's introductory rant comparing the massive ancient Greek Theater of Epidaurus to the open-air movie palaces of old, as Blood Rage is essentially a weirdo Greek tragedy, fitted for a merciless (not to mention mindless) '80s slasher mold. Yet it's Briggs extolling the virtue of watching movies with a crowd (as opposed to in isolation on your tablet/phone) that acts as a great reminder of why movies like Blood Rage achieve true "facemelter" status (and hosts like Joe Bob love doing what they do). Without the community experience, surrounded by fellow geeks (next to you in an auditorium or tweeting about the picture along with "Dinners of Death"), some of the genre's strangest works lose a bit of their power. As long as we all gather 'round the proverbial campfire (or purchase a ticket to this streaming Epidaurus), the drive-in lives forever, letting us all indulge in the joys of the communal viewing experience.
Joe Bob Briggs' Dinners of Death Marathon is available to stream now on Shudder.