Layers of sagging wet clothes and a massive clump of disheveled hair weighing her down, the little old lady stood a mere 2 or 3 feet behind those of us huddled outside the locked entrance to the Texas Theatre.
It was a little before 7 p.m., Feb. 11, and the steady rainfall that soaked all 713 miles of my pilgrimage from Opelika to downtown Dallas at long last fizzled to a drizzle. Of course, the 40-degree air kept flexing its muscles, sending ripples of shivers across one person to the next.
All except the little old lady, who suddenly stood motionless after having spent some time bobbing and swaying her noggin rhythmically to a catchy beat, one totally exclusive to the thumpin’ surround system in her head.
But the music apparently stopped, and her beady eyes flashed, hawk-like, as she surveyed those of us gathered before her, readying for the kill.
“Any of y’all got a Camel?” she rasped.
Myself and maybe a couple of others shook our heads.
But the old gal was determined:
“EXCUSE ME! DO ANY OF Y’ALL GOT A CAMEL?!?”
This time there was an ensemble of responses:
“I got a Marlboro.”
Grumbling, the little old lady abruptly turned on a heel and disappeared down the street, Camel-less.
A real shame she didn’t share the same building anticipation as the rest of us, some of whom traveled far distances to enjoy the evening’s event.
We’d all embarked on journeys to Joe Bob.
That’s right. I’m talkin’ the One and Only Joe Bob Briggs, the legendary drive-in movie critic with a solid Texas drawl, a newspaper columnist-turned-cable-TV connoisseur of horror and B-movie masterpieces, such as “Night of the Living Dead,” “Basket Case” and “Motel Hell.”
Maybe you remember him from the ’80s and ’90s when he hosted “Joe Bob’s Drive-In Theater,” the highest-rated show on The Movie Channel, or “MonsterVision” on TNT. These days, he hosts a new horror series on shudder.com, “The Last Drive-In.”
Sporting a 4-star rating scale, Joe Bob’s criteria for critiquing flicks consists of three distinct elements: Blood, Breasts and Beasts.
The Three B’s.
Likewise, Joe Bob prefers that movies be devoid of plot, given the nasty tendencies of plots to hold otherwise good flicks hostage, and he’s particularly keen on whether sequels live up to their expectations in mirroring the “exact same” thrills and cheesy exploits of their predecessors.
In a 1984 column titled “Friday the 13th, Part 4 Had Better Be Good — They’ve Made It Four Times,” Joe Bob commends those responsible for continuing the hockey-masked slasher franchise, recognizing them as genuine sequel-making experts: “These people don’t just make up a new story. These people made the exact same movie four times in a row.”
I share Job Bob’s sentiment: Those folks got integrity.
This was a good part of the reason why I stood among other horror fanatics and drive-in mutants outside the Texas Theatre. In fact, I now realize that I took my very first step in my own journey to Joe Bob decades ago, long before I even set eyes on the Drive-In Messiah.
That first step, or at least the getting of the initial symbolic shoelace, was influenced by a kindergarten incident, when I was outside playing on the playground and noticed some other kids gathered near a corner of the school building. Moseyin’ on over, I saw what captivated their interest: a small entryway into a shallow crawl space.
Dares were being tossed around like steaming hot potatoes — “Betcha won’t go in there! Betcha won’t!” — and this prompted some kids to take quick peeks inside. A couple of braver souls crawled in momentarily, giggling nervously, before quickly shifting in reverse.
Suddenly, it was my turn, and I opted to crawl inside. But as I kneeled, I received a chorus of grave warnings: “You ain’t comin’ out! Chucky’s gonna getcha! Gonna getcha getcha!”
Now, I had no earthly clue who “Chucky” was, so I crawled onward, unfazed. This changed shortly afterward, however, when I came across the VHS box for “Child’s Play,” the 1988 horror flick about a red-haired, freckle-faced, knife-wielding doll possessed by the soul of a voodoo-chanting serial killer, at our downtown video rental joint.
That box gutted my ignorance, and my little hands trembled as I became eerily aware of how lucky I truly was to have not been a naïve victim to that 2-foot monstrosity.
What business Chucky had for being under our elementary school is beyond me. But knowing that joker could crawl out and strike at any moment was terrifying… and immensely exciting.
Thus, the seed of horror movie fanaticism was planted. As time went on, I sought after the necessary spooky nutrients needed to keep that wicked sucker growing, all while keeping clear of my mother’s restrictive radar, which only spurred my fascination even further.
What I needed was moral — immoral? — support. I found some from other kids in Sunday school class, the ones who shared similar enthusiasms for boogeymen like Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and Leatherface.
The older kids were great resources, but as the years went by and I finally managed to watch their recommendations, it became apparent that I’d reached the limits of their knowledge.
Somewhere out there, there had to be some guru, some wise authority who could dispense even greater doses of the straight dope about movies (the good, the terrible and the immensely terrible) that perpetuated the heebie-jeebies.
At long last, I found my savior while channel surfing one night, suddenly halting when I caught sight of a wisecrackin’ redneck wearing a crisp western shirt and cowboy hat.
Among many things, he gave me grand totals of things I’d be witnessing during the night’s B-flick: dead bodies and gallons of blood; vehicle chases and crashes; shootouts, riots, stampedes and brawls; various types of “Fu” (e.g., Chainsaw Fu, Machete Fu, Phone booth Fu, Coke machine Fu); and, of course, the Drive-In Academy Award nominations.
Joe Bob Briggs had me hook, line and sinker. That’s why, decades later, I waited anxiously outside the Texas Theatre, holding a special Joe Bob doll I’d bought from My Best Fiendz Studio, a crafty shop in Rockland, Maine, that specializes in making horror and cult figure art dolls, marionettes and soap.
An antique John Wayne doll is proudly displayed inside Pawpaw Jim’s gun cabinet. So I reckoned an autographed miniature Joe Bob could be propped, all noble-like, next to the Chucky doll on my bookshelf.
The wait was well worth it, folks. An original Picasso sells for millions. Joe Bob’s autograph cost me $10.
Man, what a steal.
Keith Huffman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.