The horror expert gives a guide to the correct etiquette when watching a film outdoors.

By Clark Collis
May 21, 2020 at 12:20 PM EDT
The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs
Credit: Shudder

With the coronavirus shuttering indoor theaters across the country film lovers have been making their way to drive-ins to satiate their hunger for the big screen experience. But how should one behave while watching a movie beneath the stars?

Joe Bob Briggs is an expert on drive-in culture as evidenced by his hosting of The Movie Channel's Drive-In Theater, back in the '80s and '90s. "My parents would pack the kids into the back seat in our pajamas and haul us off to the drive-in," says Briggs, the stage name of Texas-born journalist John Bloom. "We would try to stay awake for the second movie because the second movie would be the so-called ‘adult’ film. Of course, we never made it. We always fell asleep before the second movie. And so we never got to see the adult film."

These days, Briggs hosts The Last Drive-In With Joe Bob Briggs on the streaming service Shudder, which sets horror Twitter alight on Friday nights as he introduces, and interrupts, horror movies like C.H.U.D, Demon Wind, WolfCop, The Stuff, and Chopping Mall.

"It does make me very happy," says Briggs of the show's success. "I enjoy it a lot. Even though it’s a streaming service, people like to show up for the actual live feed. It’s a party every Friday night."

So, how should one act at a drive-in? Below, Briggs gives us his dos and don'ts.


"For people who really haven’t been to a drive-in in 40 years, and they’re just going out because of the coronavirus and indoor theaters are not open, automobiles today, it’s difficult to turn off their lights," says Briggs. "The lights come on automatically, they stay on. Most people don’t even know where the switch is to turn off the lights. You can always tell somebody who’s at a drive-in for the first time because they barrel into the place with their lights on, spoiling the movie for everybody else by shining the light on the screen. I would say that’s the number one thing that’s probably going to be happening all the time now, just because the last time people were at a drive-in many had a different sort of car. Nothing’s more annoying to the people already watching the screen than to have bright lights up on it."


"Drive-ins are wonderful, democratic institutions, similar to the Greek theaters," says Briggs. "You can come with your family and be in the car or you can socialize with people around the concession stand — you can be as public as you want to be or as private as you want to be. Which, of course, is the reason why drive-ins are still open, because you can do the social-distancing, you don’t have to be close to anybody if you don’t want to be close to anybody. The drive-in owners always portray them as ‘family entertainment centers,’ but the press has always portrayed them as ‘passion pits.’ As soon as a teenager gets a car, it’s the one place he or she can be alone with their significant other where there are no prying eyes. So, all sorts of things go on inside cars on the back row of drive-ins. This has been true since the beginning of drive-ins. Intimate things happen inside drive-ins. So, if you’re not interested in that, don’t get on the back row."


"Traditionally, drive-ins were despised by Hollywood and so they could only show independent films, because the studios wouldn’t give them the big-budget films," says Briggs. "That’s why drive-ins got the reputation for being the home of the horror film, the cheap sci-fi film, the softcore sex film — actually, in the ‘70s, the hardcore sex film, the naughty films that your mother didn’t want you to see. That has changed a little bit in recent years. But they basically got one prime viewing slot and so they can’t handle a contract that says you have to show this movie for four weeks. They have to change the movie every week, because the same people come to the same drive-in every week. Therefore, it’s a place for indie films. Three weeks ago, the number one box office film in the nation was an IFC film called Swallow, a psychological thriller — a very good film by the way. The reason it was number one was it was the only theater in the country reporting first-run box office was the Ocala Drive-In, in Ocala, Fl. All the indoor theaters were closed, many of the drive-ins were closed, and the drive-ins that remained were playing older movies. They were the only reporting theater in the country. So, they showed Swallow and for the second feature they showed Resistance, about the mime who saved the orphans from the Nazis. It’s a true story. I would say those are both in the vein of art films, but they’re also horror films, so they fit the historic role of drive-ins."


"The great thing about the drive-in is when the sound goes down on the picture, or something is wrong with the picture itself, there’s nothing more terrifying than a thousand car horns all going off at once," says Briggs. "And the only place you can hear that is at the drive-in. It’s the last place in America where the people can make more noise than the bureaucracy. And so, problems do not last long at the drive-in and that’s why — you’ve got that car horn. When something goes wrong at the drive-in, it gets taken care of pretty damn quick."

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