Review: Joe Bob's Haunted Drive-In

Joe Bob's Haunted Drive is the best of the outdoor movie screenings we have attended this Halloween season. Like Sinaloa Screams, it offers a Halloween overlay, but the real point of comparison is the L.A. Haunted Hayride's Drive-Up Experience. On paper, the two events sound identical: a horror host curating a festival of short films while monsters prowl among the cars parked at a drive-in.

The difference is that, instead of an actor playing a cult celebrity horror host, Joe Bob Briggs is a actual bona fide cult celebrity horror host, and that's all the difference in the world. His patented brand of humor - which takes the form of passionate enthusiasm for the outrageous excess of drive-in exploitation films - sustains the event's 100-minute running time, which ranges not so much from the sublime to the ridiculous as from the ridiculous to the sublimely ridiculous.

Joe Bob's Haunted Drive-In Review: The Story

The conceit of Joe Bob's Haunted Drive-In is that Briggs and his cohorts, Darcy the Mail Girl and actress Felissa Rose, are hosting the evening live while the venue is under attack by zombies. (Their segments are actually pre-recorded, though Briggs and company are on hand to sign autographs before the film). Joe Bob does his best to stay focused on introducing the films while offering occasional advice to the audience, like: avoid zombies by staying locked in your cars.

Zombie Bride
Zombie Bride haunts Joe Bob's Drive-In.

The zombies (played by a handful of live performers) make several surprise appearances throughout the evening, sometimes clearly visible as they slowly approach, at other times sneaking up for a surprise attack. Few in number, they move from section to section of the parking lot, disappearing just long enough to make you think they are gone, then returning unexpectedly. It's an effective strategy, allowing viewers to become immersed in the films onscreen and forgetting about the "danger" lurking outside.

This little narrative thread ties the evening together and wraps it up nicely at the end. Eventually, the zombies attack the hosts onscreen, but Joe Bob maintains his laid-back demeanor, lamenting the loss of a beer when he breaks the bottle to gouge an attacker. He then calls for a little audience participation to dispel the menace.

Remember when I suggested that L.A. Haunted Hayride's Drive-Up should have ended with something like the scene in The Tingler, wherein Vincent Price calls on the audience to scream for their lives? What happens here is not quite that, but it's close enough, and it provides an entertaining climax that makes the event feel like an old-time midnight spook show - which involved the audience instead of letting them watch passively from the sidelines. This sense of participation answers the question: "Why am I paying to see this at a drive-in instead of watching it at home on my TV?" Because you feel like part of the action.

Joe Bob's Haunted Drive-In Review: The Films

Zombie invasion aside, Joe Bob's Haunted Drive-In consists mostly of short films, interspersed with the hosts making comments - some favorable, some humorous. Fortunately, the selection of films is perfectly calibrated for a drive-in, in spite of titles that suggest, in at least one case, a literal shit-show ("The Devil's Asshole). Filled with outrageous absurdity edging into camp, they manage to continually pull your eyes back to the screen even if you have lost the plot because the walking dead keep knocking on your car windows.

Joe Bob's Haunted Drive-In Review
Joe Bob Briggs, Darcy, and Felissa Rose keep the audience focused on the the screen (in spite of prowling zombies).

Things get off to a great start with "Snake Dick," a very slick looking piece that ratchets up some serious tension before summoning the titular character - the sudden intrusion of which is so off the wall that laughter is inevitable. Like several other titles on view, the film plays out in real time in a single location, allowing the filmmakers to concentrate their resources on delivering a film consisting of one great scene.

Also memorable is "Bad Vibes," about a customer support rep working for a literally Satanic corporation. The aforementioned "Devil's Asshole" is hysterically over-the-top, with a devilish pot of chili manifesting as a demon threatening to unleash Hell on Earth, while the female chef he is trying to threaten keeps distracting him with knowing comments on his apparent anal fixation.

The low point is probably "Playtime's Over," which is best described as "Home Alone if the kid did nothing but recreate his favor horror movie scenes." The problem is: the recreations don't serve much narrative purpose; they exist simply so that fans can recognize them - it might as well be a quiz or a drinking game ("knock back a shot every time you recognize a scene").

Saving the best for last, the evening ends with "Melvin and the Microphone," which portrays what happens when a heavily hyphenated metal-death-grind-core band winds up at a local joint on folk music night by mistake, crossing paths with the devil, who offers a microphone that brings to life any lyrics sung into it. The band sing a lot about death, demons, and devastation, and there's a wonderfully deadpan feel to the predictably apocalyptic results, which will leave you screaming with laughter.

The presentation also includes some fake movie trailers, such as "Gore-Illa," which apes the look of a bad '70s exploitation film.

Joe Bob's Haunted Drive-In Review: Conclusion

Joe Bob's Haunted Drive-In is its own animal. By its very nature, it does not include any of Briggs' extended tongue-in-cheek rants on social-political issues; instead, it keeps the pace moving while shifting attention between the zombies in the drive-in and the films on screen, with Briggs offering multiple iterations of his patented summations: "Four naked breasts, two splattered heads, one gratuitous Deliverance reference, snake-fu, flute-fu, and vomit-fu. Joe Bog says, check it out!"

Review Joe Bob's Haunted Drive-In
Joe Bob Briggs, Darcy the Mail Girl, & Dave Sheridan sign autographs at Roadium Drive-in.

It's a blast, to be sure. But what puts it truly over the top is making the live monsters not just gratuitous props but part of the onscreen show. This year's L.A. Haunted Hayride promised that their drive-up would offer a live "immersive and interactive experience" featuring an "original multimedia story." Though it might sound silly to make a highfalutin claim about something clearly intended as outrageous fun, Joe Bob's Haunted Drive-In actually delivers on that promise.

Joe Bob's Haunted Drive-In Rating
5

Bottom Line

Fun films, live monsters, audience participation, and of course the wit and wisdom of Joe Bob Briggs combine to create the best Halloween drive-in experience seen in Los Angeles this season.

Please note that this is a Covid-safe event. Although audiences are allowed to obtain signed autographs from the celebrities before the show starts, they are expected to remain in their cars during the screening, with windows up, and they must wear masks whenever outside their vehicles.

Joe Bob's Haunted Drive In review

Joe Bob’s Haunted Drive-In returns to the Roadium Drive-In in Torrance on October 28, then moves to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on October 31. Admission starts at $99 per car. For more information, additional dates and details on live signing appearances by Joe Bob, Darcy, Felissa and others, visit JoeBobsHauntedDriveIn.com.

Steve Biodrowski, Administrator

A graduate of USC film school, Steve Biodrowski has worked as a film critic, journalist, and editor at Movieline, Premiere, Le Cinephage, The Dark Side., Cinefantastique magazine, Fandom.com, and Cinescape Online. He is currently Managing Editor of Cinefantastique Online and owner-operator of Hollywood Gothique.

%d bloggers like this: