Svengoolie and Joe Bob Briggs' panel at Flashback Weekend '23 pt. 1
Two horror legends celebrate the 90th birthday of the drive-in!
August 2023 saw a historical horror summit as Flashback Weekend once more turned Rosemont, IL, into the spooky capital of the world. Fans who were lucky enough to attend were delighted by Q&A panels with horror icons like Dick Warlock (Michael Myers, Halloween II), Kane Hodder (Jason Vorhees, Friday the 13th pts. VII - X), and Rose McGowan (Scream, Planet Terror).
However, the highlight of the event, the crown jewel of Flashback Weekend, was a panel hosted by horror legends Svengoolie and Joe Bob Briggs. Together, the hosts regaled guests with tales of TV, from their onscreen lives to their hopes for the future of horror hosts. With attendance limited to seating capacity, the intimate conversation will be fondly remembered by everyone in the room. Luckily for fans who could not make it to Rosemont, the conversation has been lovingly recorded and transcribed here for posterity. Enjoy!
The evening's discussion began as the two hosts recalled Svengoolie's crossover appearance on The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs.
Joe Bob: What was your honest opinion of how Svengoolie came out of the cake?
Sven: Yeah, I should explain that. First of all, it was like a surprise — somebody was going to be coming out of the cake. Now, you've got Darcy (the Mail Girl) there, and you're gonna have me coming out of the cake? It was a surprise for Joe Bob.
They had this magnificently-built cake, and there was one problem. They hadn’t figured on me wearing a top hat, so they could close the top of it. They said, “Well, you can just bend down a little bit.” Now, I’m an old man. Let’s face it. My knees don’t work perfectly. And I’m trying to hunch down — and we couldn’t do it. The guys on his crew — just like that — they shifted things around, put things under it, and in under ten minutes, it was fixed! My knees were not, but it was cool, and it worked out, and it was a lot of fun. That was a great show; I had so much fun there.
Joe Bob: Should we take questions?
Sven: Well, we should bring up what they asked us to bring up, the anniversary! It’s very important.
Joe Bob: I’m the spokesperson for the 90th birthday of the drive-in!
Sven: I also think it’s the 90th anniversary of somebody driving off with the speaker still attached to their window.
Joe Bob: I’m sure it is! Although, at the very first drive-in, in Camden, New Jersey, in 1933, the owner, Richard Hollingshead, thought he could just put up a big screen, park the cars in front of the screen, and get the most powerful speaker he could find — some kind of military-grade, industrial speaker, and put it by the screen and just shoot it out at the cars. That was actually what they did for the first — I don’t know — at least the first year. And then they went, “Now we’re gonna have to try some other solution, this is not working with the romantic comedies.”
All across the country this year, the drive-ins are celebrating their 90th birthday. There are more drive-ins today than there were before COVID because COVID was the best thing that ever happened to drive-ins! Because when COVID happened, indoor theaters all closed, so there were several weeks when the only box office in the country was at drive-ins. You could say that drive-ins saved the movie industry, because there was no interruption of first-run releases, because the drive-ins were there. The very worst week of COVID, there was only one theater in the country that was showing first-run movies, and that was the Ocala Drive-in, in Ocala, Florida. So, the total box office gross for the entire country was $17,000.
Sven: For the entire country! Oh man, that’s unreal. And, we were talking about the fact that horror movies and drive-ins kinda mesh together. The popularity of a lot of horror movies started at the drive-ins. Especially the teenage crowd would come in for those. You’d get to see all the American International movies and the Roger Corman stuff. It was great. We were talking about all the different directors who got their breaks at drive-in movies.
Joe Bob: The big studios hated horror. You would think Universal would be an exception to the rule. No, even Universal; they had their classic movies, and they played those to death. But the big stars didn’t want to be associated with horror. The big directors didn’t want to be associated with horror. So, any time there was a horror movie that came out of a studio, it was an exception. There were a few, like House of Wax in the ‘50s. But, horror was a low-budget, indie film thing.
So, who would play those movies? Well, drive-ins would play those movies. Why would drive-ins play those movies? Because studios wouldn’t give their movies to drive-ins. They wouldn’t give their A movies to drive-ins, and so great entrepreneurs like Sam Arkoff and Roger Corman and others figured out that a steady diet of horror films, what they used to call “juvenile delinquent films,” and rock ‘n’ roll films in the ‘50s, would create an audience at drive-ins. That’s how drive-ins got their kinda tawdry reputation as the place you go to watch movies your mother doesn’t want you to see.
Sven: There were also other tawdry things that happened at the drive-in, but they had nothing to do with the movie at the time. We’re talking about great directors who got their start at drive-in movies. Francis Coppola with Dementia 13. So many great directors…
Joe Bob: Peter Bogdanavich with Targets.
Sven: Right! With Boris Karloff!
Joe Bob: One of Boris Karloff’s last performances. Roger Corman with Attack of the Crab Monsters and — I forget what the first one is called — Haunted Creature from the Ocean Floor, or something like that.
Sven: All the William Castle stuff. Which not only played in drive-ins but also in theaters so they could get in all his wacky, sort of, gimmicks that he would pull off. The popularity of horror movies really blossomed then in the ‘50s at drive-in movies.