By Jerry Chandler
A bunch of horror fans spent part of this last weekend having a complete and total meltdown. Now, I don’t blame them for that. However, even as I suffered the same aggravations they did, I think they’re letting the thing that aggravated them cloud their vision a bit. Yes, what happened was annoying as hell when it was happening, and, yes, it was probably worse for the people who finagled the day off from work for a day-long event they were really looking forward to. But, guys and gals, there is a huge bit of great news out of last weekend’s aggravation that a lot of you need to open your eyes to and actually see for what it is.
For those of you who know what happened last weekend and haven’t guess and for those of you who don’t know at all; the horror streaming service Shudder planned an event that went all SNAFU on them and us. July was one of the months this year to have a Friday the 13th fall on the calendar, and to make something of an event out of this particular Friday the 13th, Shudder came up with an idea for a horror movie marathon.
Now, I can see some of you who don’t know what happened rolling your eyes out there already. Yeah, I know. Gee, you’re thinking, a day full of Jason whacking and stabbing. Well, nope, that wasn’t the plan. Shudder, already establishing a name for itself in horror fan circles as one of the best streaming services out there to scratch your horror, horror/sci-fi, dark fantasy, and urban fantasy itches decide to do something that was both cleverer than the ideas of the average cable TV program director and something that was a beautiful nod to fans of one of the great personalities in horror. The brought The Drive-In Theater back for one more run.
Movie critic, writer, and television personality Joe Bob Briggs rose to national fame in the 1980s with a series of writing gigs, live shows, and events that created pop culture buzz. When various cities sought to clean up and/or remove the famous exploitation theaters they had; he launched national ‘postcard-fu” campaigns through his syndicated column, Joe Bob Goes to the Drive-In, to try and preserve some of the legendary theater houses or, at the very least, preserve some parts of them as something akin to museum pieces. His most famous campaign of this type came about in 1990 when the State of New York took possession of a number of the most famous exploitation theaters on 42nd Street to remake some into more upscale theaters, remodel others for business use, and tear down any they couldn’t in their eyes improve or make more usable for other purposes.
During the 1980s, he also started performing in a one-man show entitled An Evening with Joe Bob Briggs. This was a huge moment in his career, becoming a successful touring act for the better part of two years, but he might not have initially known how big of a deal it was. The stage shows put him on the radar of executives at The Movie Channel right when they were looking for ways to make their (at the time) premium, pay-cable channel more competitive and desirable to movie fans than their primary competitor, HBO.
They offered Briggs a deal to do a late night show in the tradition of the classic horror hosts seen around the country on local television. Briggs would host a b-movie, adding his commentary on matters of trivia, general knowledge about the films and their relation to other films like them, and, of course, his classic lists and storytelling. Drive-In Theater became a massive hit for the network and they immediately offered Briggs a long term contract. The show, now called Joe Bob’s Drive-In Theater, went on to become The Movie Channels highest rated programming block, and it made Briggs an instantly recognizable national star during its nearly ten year run.
When the Movie Channel decided it wanted to change its programming format and remove its hosted blocks, they canceled the show. However, Briggs was quickly approached by TNT, and Briggs began a four-year run doing his thing once again as the host of TNT’s MonsterVision. When TNT went through programming changes and scuttled the show, Briggs continued his writing career along with doing special event shows and numerous appearances on television and radio.
But fans desperately wanted their Drive-In Theater or MonsterVision back. In 2018, Shudder finally heeded that call. They announced that Joe Bob Briggs would be coming to Shudder for a horror movie marathon of films (mostly) picked by Briggs and hosted in the style he had become popular with on Joe Bob’s Drive-In Theater and MonsterVision. As Briggs put it, you mad bastards actually made it happen, and the world’s foremost drive-in movie critic found himself preparing to be on television once again for a likely last dance with Shudder live streaming The Last Drive-in with Joe Bob Briggs.
To say that fans were excited is an understatement. People were getting time off from work to watch the marathon of Joe Bob Briggs hosted films on Friday the 13th, and very likely more than a few who knew they couldn’t get time off called in sick in order to enjoy as much of the Friday (and into Saturday) event as they could. People were even buying snacks and planning parties around it the way many do with major televised sporting events.
There was only one tiny problem with everyone’s planning. Shudder, even anticipating and preparing for increased trial subscriptions and simultaneous usage by subscribers, apparently underestimated the demand for the show by more than just a wee tad bit. Throughout most of the day, fans were being driven to, if you took social media posting at face value, madness. Why? The demand was so staggeringly high that the streaming service couldn’t handle it. The number of fans tuning in for The Last Drive-in with Joe Bob Briggs was so great they crashed Shudder. We crashed the service, guys and gals.
The amount of growing anger towards Shudder was reaching critical boiling points with many. Many people just jumping in with a 7 day free trial were declaring it a rip-off and the service nothing but cheap garbage. Others were furious over begging, borrowing, and stealing to get time off or swap days with coworkers only to have the entire reason for doing so unavailable to them. People were swearing off the service and swearing at the service in a social media tidal wave of unbridled fandom hatred, anger, and frustration.
Shudder immediately tried to make up for the error. They announced on their own social media and through Briggs on his social media and website that they would be posting the entire marathon, every movie just as it aired that day and complete with Joe Bob’s commentary segments, on their on-demand service. Fans would be able to spend the next week tuning into Shudder at their leisure to see any or all of the shows as they so pleased. This made some people happy, but many were still angry at Shudder for dropping the ball.
Okay, Shudder messed up. I’m not going to crucify them as some seem to want to, though. Why? Because they messed up by assuming a top end viewership based on all of the conventional wisdom of the last decade. Yeah, some have said, hosts like Elvira, Briggs, Gore de Vol, Svengoolie, and others have their fans, but if they were hugely popular they’d be on high end, cable television stations earning top hosting dollars and keeping their slots safe with solid ratings. Since they weren’t doing that (not counting Svengoolie doing the METV gig here) it was obvious they couldn’t. Since they couldn’t, why bother offering them the gigs in the first place? It’s been something of the network’s version of a self-fulfilling prophecy that largely worked to keep hosts off the airwaves for a very long time now.
So, of course, Shudder estimated “high enough” based on conventional wisdom and prepared for that. The problem they encountered was the conventional wisdom being more than just a little bit wrong, and they did it while bringing back a host who was hugely popular in his day.
So how are some horror fans looking at this all wrong? Because, guys and gals out there, that 24 hour SNAFA was one of the best things that could have happened.
Shudder, despite the posts by angry Briggs fans, is by no means a second rate or garbage service. They’ve been around a while now, they’ve been growing and improving every month, and they have proven themselves to be a solid service and then some to many horror fans who have been subscribers before just this last weekend. This is not the case of some cut-rate service who tried a get the cash and run con using a famous name. Not even close.
And we crashed their service by tuning into Shudder in numbers they couldn’t have anticipated based on the common, prevailing wisdom and they ultimately couldn’t handle it.
That’s f’n fantastic, guys and gals. We blew their expectations out of the water. We shattered the preconceived notions of how few people would tune in for a horror host. And this made news even with everything else going on in the world this weekend. It got noticed by a lot of people, and you can bet it got noticed by the right people.
We just showed the entertainment world that there’s still demand for hosts like Joe Bob and others. We just made the case for anyone who might still be occasionally floating the idea to a higher up in a network programming office that, hey, maybe we should have a horror host on TV on a Friday or Saturday night. We, hopefully, put the bug in the minds of some who don’t have that lone voice still floating this notion in their offices.
We just made the statement that hosts like Joe Bob and others are still wanted and can still bring in an audience. Damn it, guys and gals, that’s awesome. We should be clicking our heels and dancing over what happened along with seriously crossing our fingers and hoping that what happened with Shudder and Joe Bob will put the right eyes back on the classic hosts that are still around and the thought in the heads connected to those eyes that maybe they might want to give them a go again.
There’s a huge potential silver lining here. Cross your fingers and hope.
Okay, now you get the shortest movie review I will ever write on Needless Things. Why? Because the Netflix original movie How It Ends doesn’t deserve much, and hopefully the mostly short and to the point review will spare you, the discerning Needless Things reader, from giving up the just shy of two hours of your life you’ll never get back. This is a shame, because the early trailers made it look like a much better, much more compelling film.
How It Ends stars a bunch of people you’ll recognize and some you won’t. Who? Doesn’t matter, because they largely either phone it in or are given material they should have phoned it in on. You get to watch for almost two hours as people come and go, flee and/or die, and do things that you never get engaged enough by the movie to care about them doing all that much.
Even our main characters, a man traveling with his soon to be father-in-law while trying to get across the country to reunite with his pregnant fiancé during a mysterious nationwide or worldwide disaster, don’t ever really get you to care about them. Mind you, it’s largely no fault of the actors. The movie simply sucks. But here’s the thing that will make you hate the film. Yes, this is a spoiler, but, no, it’s not really a spoiler in any real way you’re used to spoilers.
The one thing that keeps you going when viewing How It Ends is the mystery. Occasionally, things happen and bits of information come out where you become at least interested in finding out what the hell is happening to the country/the world and what’s actually behind it. You kind of start hoping for an ending that makes the almost two hours of film worth it and that answers your questions with something kind of cool. We don’t get that.
Why do we not get that? Because How It Ends doesn’t really end. It just sort of stops. Boy finds girl, boy and girl hug, boy and girl get ready to face surviving in the face of this event, something big starts happening again, boy and girl hop in a truck and go tearing down the road as a cloud of dust starts the credits rolling. I mean, you might say the story ended because the main character did the achievement unlocked bit of fulfilling his level 1 quest. He found her. They’re together again. But the film is so poorly done that it doesn’t even build that up enough to feel like a proper ending.
You get the feeling after watching it that the point of the entire thing was maybe less about the standard narrative construct and more about showing the chaos that would unfold as modern man faces an unknown, cataclysmic event. It was maybe intended to be more about showing our characters fight for survival in first the face of their fellow man gone into wild panic and then in the face of the overwhelming event itself. However, the film never does this well enough to really make that a workable angle for the film. Most of the encounters and dangers we see are largely the cliché, paint by numbers encounters and dangers for this type of story, often nowhere near on the scale to make them truly threatening, and we never feel like the characters we’re supposed to be rooting for are truly facing end of the world dangers.
Unless you have a desperate need for sleep, I recommend you avoid How It Ends. It’s one of the more dull and uninteresting offerings to be made for the end of the world/survival/post-apocalyptic genres, the acting ranges from uninspired to trying hard with uninspiring material, and the ending will just leave you wanting to throw a brick at your TV/viewing device of choice.
By the way, if you're interested in checking out Shudder, head over to Gruesome Magazine and check out some of their recent articles and podcast posts. They have a deal going with Shudder right now where you can use their promo code for a full month of Shudder for free. A month for $0.00? It's worth the time to go try it at 10X that price.
Yes, I know about the whole X0 thing and how it works...
Jerry Chandler is a lifelong geek who, while enjoying most everything fandom has to offer, finds himself most at home in the horror, dark fantasy, and science fiction genres. When not wasting too much time on social media, he can be found writing regularly here at Needless Things, but has also written for websites like Gruesome Magazine as well as remembering to put up the occasional musings on his on blog. He’s been a guest on several podcasts from the ESO Network, Decades of Horror, and the Nerdy Laser. He has also recently become a regular cohost of The Assignment: Horror Podcast.