Joe Bob Briggs is not enjoying sheltering in place. “I hate it,” he says when The A.V. Club asks how he’s been holding up—the new “what’s up?” in that it’s a question to which you can reply politely, or you can reply honestly. And it’s true that Joe Bob himself is something of an invention, a character created in the mid-’80s by a young Texas film critic bored and frustrated with the movies he was assigned to review. But he’s a character that’s been around long enough, and is close enough to its creator’s actual personality, that we can say with confidence that giving a straightforward answer to a rhetorical question is a Joe Bob Briggs thing to do. His style is knowledgeable but accessible, direct and to the point, open to new experiences but unapologetic in what he likes. And what this proud self-proclaimed redneck likes is drive-in cinema, a.k.a. classic exploitation and B-horror movies, the most efficient cinematic vessel for enjoying life’s simplest pleasures.
A drive-in movie is best enjoyed with a cold beer in hand and a buddy next to you offering commentary, which is essentially what Joe Bob provides on his Shudder series The Last Drive-In With Joe Bob Briggs. (Not the beer, though. You have to buy your own.) The Last Drive-In began offering a virtual communal moviegoing experience long before COVID-19 drove all collective experiences online, live-streaming its movie marathons so everyone has to tune in at the same time and experience Joe Bob’s commentary on Blood Harvest or Sorority Babes In The Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama together. (They’re then archived on the platform for posterity, but again, that’s beside the point.)
For a generation raised on late-night horror double features—many of them hosted by Joe Bob Briggs, who had similar shows on cable throughout the ’80s and ’90s—it’s been a winning formula, and The Last Drive-In returns for a second season Friday, April 24 on Shudder. That’s only a few hours out of the weeks we have left inside, however, so until real drive-ins come to the rescue The A.V. Club asked Joe Bob to put together 24 hours of entertainment for our readers based on whatever theme he wanted.
He chose to bring us what he calls “24 hours of redneck joy,” composed of films about fast cars and big trucks full of manly moonshiners and headstrong country gals racing across the South with an abandon that seems even more reckless than usual, given the circumstances. Asked what someone who hails from more northerly climes might get out of such a marathon, he says, “They’re outlaw movies. All redneck movies are outlaw movies in one sense or another.” He adds that, for all its B-movie thrills, a redneck movie marathon can actually be an enriching cultural experience: “The redneck usually goes in two directions: They can be the idiot savant who saves the world, like Forrest Gump, or they can be the gap-toothed hillbilly predator, like the guys in Deliverance,” he says. “But there’s a whole world out there of this race of people who came from Scotland and Ireland and flooded down through the Appalachian Valley—and eventually took over a large chunk of our culture.”
The A.V. Club: We kick things off with White Lightning, starring redneck idol Burt Reynolds.
Joe Bob Briggs: This was Burt Reynolds’ first redneck role. He had been an actor for a while, but he was not making any progress [before this], really. This was his first redneck role, and it’s got all the clichés: It’s got the car chase. It’s got Ned Beatty as the evil sheriff. It’s got moonshine. In the era of the VHS tape, it was one of the most rented movies in history. So obviously rednecks love it.
AVC: What do you think about Gator? Because that one’s ridiculous.
JBB: Gator is the sequel to White Lightning. Burt Reynolds directed Gator; that was his directorial debut. So this was his first redneck role, and then that was his directorial debut. You could do a White Lightning/Gator double feature, but it is a continuous story. You might not be able to watch Gator if you didn’t see White Lightning first. And, you know, I was trying to limit this to 24 hours, so I had to choose one or the other.
JBB: Sling Blade is redneck against redneck. It’s the Billy Bob Thornton character against the Dwight Yoakam character. And the thing is, you identify with the crazy character. You identify with Carl, who is a crazy killer, and Yoakam is just this beer drinking slacker bum hanging around, but he’s the evil guy! It’s very twisted Gothic redneck, and Billy Bob Thornton must have known a truly crazy redneck to have to have gotten that characterization down so perfectly. It’s just an amazing performance.
AVC: Would you consider this movie to be hicksploitation?
JBB: No. I mean, it’s obviously set in the South—it was filmed in Benton, Arkansas, which I think is Billy Bob’s hometown. It fits the theme of redneck joy, because lot of stuff in it will resonate with rednecks.
AVC: This next one I would definitely call an exploitation movie.
JBB: Well, you just can’t resist Gator Bait. First of all, it was the movie that introduced us to Claudia Jennings, who was the greatest redneck heroine in history. “Half animal, all woman” was the tagline on the poster. [Chuckles.]
AVC: I love those exploitation taglines. They’re better than the movie sometimes.
JBB: And this one has an extended topless boat chase! Claudia Jennings is in one of those airboats, and she’s topless and she’s running from the sheriff. In my show How Rednecks Saved Hollywood, I talk about how with redneck girls, it’s all about the short-shorts, and nobody wore them better than Claudia Jennings. And it’s a great revenge movie, which is always a good redneck theme.
AVC: I was excited to see that Monica Gayle from the cult 1975 girl-gang film Switchblade Sisters was the star of this one.
JBB: This was her last movie. She retired from the business and was never seen again after this. This is probably the most politically incorrect movie that Roger Corman ever made. “She reached the top, but she paid the price with her body! To make it in the music business, she had to make it with the music business!” [Chuckles.]
Oh boy, I don’t what you would call it. It’s sexploitation, a nasty exposé of the country music industry. I think at the time they claimed that it was based on someone real. But even if I knew who that was, I don’t think I would say their name, just because I wouldn’t want to be associated with this movie.
AVC: Was this movie why she quit the business?
JBB: I’m not sure. I doubt it. But, you know, it’s definitely right on the edge of porn. It’s as much as you could show [at the time] without actually being X-rated. It’s a real oddity. It’s not often seen.
But the other thing about it is it has great music. [Monica Gayle] was a really good singer, and so the music in the film is really good. And it also features Johnny Rodriguez, who was a one-hit wonder. You wouldn’t think the name Rodriguez would necessarily be associated with Nashville, so I’m not sure why they picked him, but they make a big deal out of, “featuring Johnny Rodriguez!” I think that he just had a hit song, and they had the rights to it. So he sings it in the movie.
AVC: They probably spent a lot of money to get that all in there.
JBB: It’s a Roger Corman movie. They didn’t spend a lot of money.
AVC: You talked about how White Lightning set up a lot of these redneck stereotypes. Tucker And Dale Vs. Evil subverts them.
JBB: This is like payback to millennials for all the stereotypical images of rednecks. This is one of my favorite lines from a movie: “These college kids are coming out here and killing themselves all over the woods!” And that’s kind of what happens in the movie. It’s just comedy genius. And it was directed by [Eli Craig], the son of Sally Field, who’s a redneck icon in her own right. He grew up in Burt Reynolds’ house, and so he knows what he’s talking about.
AVC: I didn’t know that! He was in the epicenter of it all.
AVC: So, what is it with rednecks and cars? What’s that about?
JBB: Moonshine! NASCAR started from moonshiners working on their cars to make them more powerful. They’d add extra gas tanks and all this stuff, and learn how to do the bootleg turn. This particular movie is based on the real moonshiner and NASCAR star Junior Johnson, who just died in December. Junior Johnson invented what’s called slingshotting in NASCAR. That’s where you get into the airstream of the car in front of you, which is called the slipstream. You get right up on the bumper of the car in front of you, and it forms some kind of weird aerodynamic vacuum and you lean into it and then you—sling!—your car around the other car.
So Junior Johnson figured that out, and he had 50 NASCAR victories. And he became famous because Tom Wolfe wrote a magazine article about him in 1965 called “The Last American Hero,” and that’s what the movie was based on. In the ’80s, Reagan gave him a presidential pardon for his moonshining conviction in 1956 so that he could vote, and it was a big deal in the NASCAR world. So anyway, Jeff Bridges plays Junior Johnson in the movie and Valerie Perrine sleeps with everybody in the cast because she’s trying to end up with a top driver, and Gary Busey plays Junior Johnson’s brother.
AVC: It’s interesting, because you wouldn’t know about the illegal origins of NASCAR from watching it today.
JBB: A lot of the guys [today] are from California. They’ve never been close to a whiskey bottle in their lives. But in the early days of NASCAR, a lot of these guys were former whiskey runners.
JBB: How can you not love this movie? Merle Haggard [playing himself] takes down an international spy ring, and the members of the spy ring are Lon Chaney Jr., John Carradine, and Basil Rathbone. And it’s a musical!
It’s just a very entertaining cult movie. It was a box office bomb. Nobody watched it in the ’60s, but it attained cult status. I think it was on a double bill with Cottonpickin’ Chickenpickers, so you could see Hillbillys In A Haunted House and Cottonpickin’ Chickenpickers on the same afternoon.
AVC: I read that this was former Sherlock Holmes Basil Rathbone’s last film.
JBB: Basil Rathbone, at the end of his life, was in desperate need of money, and so he did quite a few films for Roger Corman for other low-budget producers. They would hire him for a day, or two days. He was in quite a few B-movies right at the end of his life.
AVC: When we were talking about setting up this marathon, you said you alternated the more serious films with the lighter ones. There’s a run here in the late-night block…
JBB: That’s because I don’t have that many serious films! So it’s two and one, two and one.
AVC: [Laughs.] Yeah, fair.
JBB: But The Gumball Rally is the Cannonball Run, the famous coast-to-coast illegal road race that was run five times in the ’70s, and is still run to this day. Now! You may have seen in the news that two guys—I think they’re from Atlanta, or Florida—they said, “This Coronavirus thing has probably got the interstates clear. We’re going to go for it.” So they put some extra gas tanks in their car, and they ran from New York to Redondo Beach and set the new record. They beat the old record by 45 minutes!
Now, this is controversial on several levels. First, people were saying, “Okay, you cheated with the extra gas tanks.” Then they said, “You cheated because these are not normal driving conditions, and the police probably aren’t even paying attention because they have other things to deal with during the Coronavirus crisis. You’re taking advantage of that, and you shouldn’t be doing that in the middle of Corona.” These were rednecks that saw the opportunity to sneak in a victory, and so they did it. And they verified the record. These guys now hold the coast-to-coast record.
Anyway, The Gumball Rally. This was the first movie to celebrate the illegal coast-to-coast redneck car race. You had to start at the Red Ball Garage on East 31st street, and you had to end at the Portofino Inn in Redondo Beach. The reason for it was they were protesting against the 55-mile-an-hour speed limit law, which was passed in the early ’70s when there was an oil crisis. It was two rednecks at Car And Driver magazine that invented it, and the rules of the original race still stand today. But The Gumball Rally was the first movie to immortalize the race. The more famous one is The Cannonball Run, but it’s kind of a bad movie.
AVC: And that didn’t come out until ’81! This one’s got a good five years on it.
2:00 A.M.: A Face In The Crowd (1957)
JBB: Andy Griffith plays a country singer, and is just the biggest sleazeball in the world. It’s a great movie. It’s actually one of the only movies about the country-music industry that’s any good. Country-music movies almost always suck. Hannah Montana: The Movie is the classic plot of a country-music movie: “I’m getting a big head in Hollywood. I’ve got to go back to my small town and rediscover my roots.” That’s the plot of the Hannah Montana movie, but that’s also the plot of 30 other country-music movies.
So yeah, A Face In The Crowd is one of the great Elia Kazan movies. Elia Kazan loved rednecks. He made a lot of movies in the South, including the greatest Southern movie, A Streetcar Named Desire. He spent half his career in the South—that’s where he also made Baby Doll, one of the sleaziest movies ever made.
AVC: Speaking of—Jackson County Jail. This one has Tommy Lee Jones and Yvette Mimieux.
JBB: One of the hottest movie babes of the ’70s. She’s driving through the South alone, and she makes the wrong turn in the wrong Southern town and she ends up in a small-town jail cell after dark. It’s one of those “don’t go into the South alone” movies, and a pretty good one.
AVC: There’s a real sleazy movie with a similar premise called Poor Pretty Eddie.
JBB: That one’s really, really sleazy. Leslie Uggams drives into the South, and she ends up staying at this rundown lodge run by Shelley Winters, and she gets raped. Slim Pickens plays the sheriff investigating the rape; there’s a scene where he goes, “Did he bite ya on the titty?”
AVC: Oh my God, it’s so sleazy!
JBB: That one is almost porn. In fact, it was made by a pornography guy from Atlanta. Jackson County Jail is a better movie; it’s got a better story. But yeah, depending on what kind of party you’re having, you could replace Jackson County Jail with Poor Pretty Eddie.
5:30 A.M.: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
AVC: I watched the Shudder marathon where you talked about The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and it was so good. I learned so much.
JBB: Well, thanks. I think I’ve interviewed pretty much everyone that was ever associated with that movie, so that’s partly why I was going on at such length about it. What can I say? It’s the ultimate movie that your parents didn’t want you to see. It was banned all over the place. It was considered reprehensible. Congresspeople would make speeches about how it indicated the depravity that this country had moved into, you know? But it’s Hitchcockian in its complexity, let me put it that way.
And it’s one of the first movies where fear of going into the countryside became a thing. In the early days of movies, the fear was going into the city. All the dangerous stuff was in the city, and so the bumpkin would go into the city and he would get in trouble and he’d get killed. But this movie, along with Deliverance, switched that around to where the city was safe. You’re fine there, but don’t go out past the city limits sign. That’s where the weird stuff happens.
And so this was this movie that sort of exported the fear of the redneck around the world. And it did it in a very satisfying way, because it’s a very scary movie. But it’s a very funny movie, too. It has some very comic moments. It’s one of my favorite films, and you gotta have it on any redneck movie list.
JBB: You have to have at least one Warren Oates movie if you’re going to do a redneck festival. Instead of being an alcoholic, Warren is addicted to fighting chickens. And so his girlfriend tells him, “It’s either me or the chickens,” and Warren chooses the chickens, you know.
AVC: [Laughs.] “Sorry, babe.”
JBB: Oh yeah. That’s a great film.
AVC: There are two Claudia Jennings vehicles on this list. Is that because of what you said up top, about her being the queen of the form?
JBB: I would say Claudia is the queen, and Burt is the king of redneck movies. Truck Stop Women is about a mother-daughter trucker brothel in New Mexico. It’s really the poster that wins me over on this one: “No rig was too big for them to handle!” [Laughs.]
“Double clutchin’, gear jammin’ mamas who like a lot of hijackin’ by day, and a lot of heavy truckin’ by night!” It’s got one of those cockamamie plots where the mafia is trying to take over the brothel, and the women have to fight for their rights to work there. It’s so redneck! [Laughs.] It’s a lot of fun, too. It’s a Mark L. Lester film, he was always fun.
AVC: The transition from car movies into truck movies is interesting.
JBB: Car movies go back to the early days of moonshine-running movies; you had Thunder Road and movies like that starting from the ’50s. Then the trucker thing happens in the ’70s. And then we’re going to talk here in a minute about the movie that combines with them both, at the end.
AVC: But first—Convoy.
JBB: Truckers were always rednecks. And so we have Convoy, the highest-grossing movie that Sam Peckinpah ever made. More than The Wild Bunch, more than—name a Peckinpah movie, Convoy’s got it beat. But Kris Kristofferson had a brief career as a redneck heartthrob, and he plays the lead character, Rubber Duck. Burt Young from Rocky plays Pig Pen, and Ali MacGraw is the love interest. So, you know, fairly big names for the day.
And the song “Convoy,” which I love, was written by a guy at an Omaha ad agency, William Dale Fries Jr. And William Dale Fries is not a very good redneck name, so he changed it to C.W. McCall. [Laughs.] People to this day think that C.W. McCall exists, and wrote “Convoy,” but it’s a totally fictitious name for William Dale Fries. But “Convoy” was a gold record, and a No. 1 hit. Not the first time they made a whole movie based on a song, but one of the more successful ones. They made Ode To Billy Joe—people still remember that song.
AVC: “Billy Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie bridge?” That one?
JBB: Yup, they made that into a movie, with Robby Benson. And they explain [in the movie] what happened on the Tallahatchie bridge, because it’s not clear from the song, at least to me. They explain that Robby Benson was secretly gay, and so when the people in the town figured it out, he had to kill himself. It was a weird explanation. And you had to watch the movie to get the explanation of what happened—I thought they were throwing a baby off of the Tallahatchie bridge.
AVC: That’s what I thought, too.
JBB: I thought it was an illegitimate baby, and they threw it off the bridge, and that’s why the song was so sad.
AVC: Those songs are always about illicit pregnancies. Always!
JBB: I know! But anyway, that film was a hit, but Convoy was a huge hit, both as a song and as a movie.
JBB: I had to end with Smokey And The Bandit, because as Billy Bob Thornton once said, “in the South, we regard Smokey And The Bandit as a documentary.” It’s a trucker movie and a moonshine movie, because is there’s all this illegal Coors beer in Texarkana, Texas. And in 1978, when they made this movie, you couldn’t sell Coors beer East of the Mississippi River. Why, I don’t know, but there was such a thing as illegal Coors beer at the time.
So they need Coors beer for their redneck party in Atlanta at the old Atlanta fairgrounds, and the two guys that can bring the illegal Coors beer from Texarkana to Atlanta? That’s Burt Reynolds and Jerry Reed. Burt’s driving a Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, and Jerry Reed has an 18-wheeler, and they have to drive 1,800 miles—900 miles to Texarkana and then 900 miles back to Atlanta—in two days so that they can have the Coors beer for the party. That’s the whole plot of the movie. It’s actually only 600 miles, they lie in the movie and say it’s 900 miles. So the movie’s based on a redneck lie. [Chuckles.]
But anyway, you’ve got all this illegal alcohol, you’ve got fast cars, you’ve got Sally Field as the bad girl in the cutoff shorts with a checkered past Burt picks up along the way. You’ve got Jackie Gleason as Buford T. Justice, the sheriff—he actually modeled much of his performance on Burt Reynolds’ father, who had been the police chief of Riviera Beach, Florida. You got twisted humor, you got the CB lingo so that the cops can’t understand what they’re talking about, you’ve got trucker convoys, you got the song “Eastbound And Down,” which was a hit song for Jerry Reed. You’ve got everybody risking their life rather than submit to the police. [Laughs.]
And there are so many car stunts that they rushed the TV series Dukes Of Hazzard into production after this movie came out in order to imitate all the car stunts. It just sums up the past four centuries of redneck history. It’s got everything.
If you’re going to watch redneck movies for 24 hours, you cannot be in a bad mood after watching Smokey And The Bandit.
The Last Drive-In With Joe Bob Briggs returns for a second season tonight, Friday, April 24, at 9 P.M. ET.