When the pandemic hit, I wasn’t sure if I could keep watching horror movies. The genre has been my passion, my safe space, my religion for many years — but the early days of lockdown were too much like living through an actual horror film to find comfort, or even distraction, in them. Like the rest of the world, I was disconnected from everyone and everything, including those that brought me the most joy.
It wasn’t until The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs‘ second season premiered on April 24, 2020 — just a little over a month after the world shut down — that I received a much-needed reprieve from the everyday uncertainty that came with the pandemic. For a few hours every Friday night for ten weeks, joining Briggs, Darcy the Mail Girl, and the rest of the lovingly dubbed “mutant fam” that live-tweet along with the show gave me some semblance of human connection and a sliver of hope that I desperately needed.
I felt that connection exponentially upon seeing Briggs and Darcy live as part of Joe Bob’s Indoor Drive-In Geek Out at Brookline, MA’s historic Coolidge Corner Theater on June 28. The venture — which also featured stops in Dallas, TX, Portland, OR, and Chicago, IL — finds Briggs teaming with the American Genre Film Archive to rescue exploitation heritage, bring people back to theaters, and celebrate live events. DubbedCerebellum Night,” the program featured a 1988 brain horror double feature of The Brain and Brain Damage.
Doors opened an hour before the show, but the line wrapped around the venue long before that, with some die-hard fans traveling from out of state and arriving hours in advance to secure a good seat. Upon entering, they were treated to a curated playlist of songs related to the brain/mind — ranging from the Ramones’ “Teenage Lobotomy” and Suicidal Tendencies’ “Institutionalized” to Quiet Riot’s “Bang Your Head (Metal Health)” and Cypress Hill’s “Insane in the Brain” — while they had their first opportunity to meet Briggs and Darcy.
After setting the tone with Weird Al Yankovic’s “The Brain Song” music video on the big screen, Briggs took his spot at the podium in front of the 440-strong sold-out crowd. Darcy, cosplaying as a brain surgeon with an exposed brain, ran the slideshow that accompanied the presentation (“So if anything goes wrong, it’s her fault!” Briggs quipped). With his signature blend of astute wit and humor, the beloved host spoke for some 45 minutes about the history and evolution of brain horror as the audience hung on every word.
Briggs traced its origins to Donovan’s Brainthe influential 1942 science fiction novel penned by The Wolf Man screenwriter Curt Siodmak, before detailing a slew of examples of the subgenre, leaving attendees with a laundry list of obscure titles to seek out. He proceeded to introduce the first feature of the night, The Braina Canadian production that reunited Bloody Birthday director Ed Hunt and writer Barry Pearson. Re-Animator‘s David Gale plays a TV host who works with a sentient brain to control the minds of humans.
I’d be hard-pressed to call The Brain a good movie, but it’s nearly non-stop entertainment. It hits the ground running with a bonkers hallucination sequence that plays like a later Nightmare on Elm Street sequel on a fraction of the budget, and it rarely goes five minutes without another hallucination, death, or chase scene. The plot is thin (“Fuck exposition,” Joe Bob exclaimed during his intro. “Just have the brain eat someone and move on!”), but it played like gangbusters to the ebullient audience.
Following a brief intermission and meet-and-greet, Briggs returned to the stage for a Q&A, fielding fans’ questions about The Brain, his show, and more. He went on to introduce Brain Damage with a shorter speech, as he had already hosted the film on The Last Drive-In. It was a curious choice to repeat a movie, especially considering AGFA’s extensive library — but I’d never complain about more Frank Henenlotterthe delightfully deranged mind behind such cult classics as Basket Case and Frankenhooker.
Brain Damage is a thinly-veiled allegory for drug addiction featuring, as Briggs eloquently put it, “a creature that looks like a cross between a penis and a turd” voiced by John Zacherle (better known as horror host Zacherley). Like much of Henenlotter’s work, it’s an absurd blend of gore, humor, sleaze, psychedelics, and social commentary. It was fun to experience with an audience of horror fans, although the reaction wasn’t quite as vocal as that of The Brain.
Speaking of the capacity crowd, the mutants in attendance were fervent but respectful. They hooted and hollered for blood, breasts, and beasts but kept Mystery Science Theater 3000-style riffing that too often plagues repertory screenings to a minimum. Briggs and Darcy stayed late into the night to meet everyone who waited, armed with tables of merchandise ranging from shirts and posters to action figures and VHS tapes.
Joe Bob’s Indoor Drive-In Geek Out was a cathartic, communal experience; like watching an episode of The Last Drive-In (albeit in a slightly different format) with a live audience, complete with deep dives, drive-in totals, and lots of laughs. AGFA has some 6,000 titles in its catalog, and I’d happily watch Briggs host every last one of them. After all, as he reminded the audience when the night came to a close, the drive-in will never die.