The Last Drive-In and the Beauty of Building a Community

Horror is a bit of a misfit genre. It is also one of the most overlooked, misunderstood, beautiful genres out there. In horror, budget seems to matter less than the idea of “can we make this work” — the most important thing is how to make the vision come across, not how much money it takes to make it. Only recently have we started to see horror films get more attention and praise — and even that comes with a qualifier. If it’s been considered good enough to turn the heads of the Award Overlords, it’s probably been labeled something like “elevated horror”, or, as in the case of Jordan Peele’s Us, given a sort of hybrid label like “thriller-horror”. No other genre gets labeled like that, so why this one? It seems, in a magnificent twist of irony, the scariest thing about horror is that it might actually be good.

But there’s something even better than the films the horror community puts out — the fans.

I recently caved in and subscribed to Shudder, the horror/thriller/mystery streaming service run by AMC that had been floating in and out of my radar for about a year. I had been putting it off for one reason or another for a long time, until one day I just woke up, found it had exclusive Neil Gaiman content and a podcast the likes of which I had been dreaming of for months, and bit the bullet. Had I known the kinds of people I would get to engage with because of it I would never have hesitated in the first place.

While I have always suspected horror fans and creatives to be some of the best people (all the weird ones are), I had no idea the strength of the bond among strangers could be as intense as it is among the fans of Shudder’s The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs. Every Friday night, for four to five hours at a stretch, we gather at our respective spaces and watch a double feature in real time with Joe Bob as our host and commentator. We laugh together, gross out together, and try to free Darcy the Mail Girl from Twitter Jail. The more ambitious of us even make a piece of art along with the movie. We are affectionately referred to as the Mutants, and we revel in the masterpieces of mess we experience together.

I wasn’t able to catch most of the episodes over the course of the season in real time. Life got in the way, and if I wanted to see them I often had to go back in my own time and watch. But I was able to catch the last episode of the season, and it was a beautiful experience. The double feature was Blood Harvest (featuring Tiny Tim as the most horrifying clown I’ve ever seen) and Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (featuring one of the most creative kills I think I’ve ever seen). The best thing about it, I think, wasn’t even entirely the movies themselves. It was the enthusiasm and joy (and horror, and disgust) we all felt together. The misfit fans are always the most passionate, and nowhere have I found a more passionate group than in the horror community.

From the running jokes (where are Jill’s pants? How did the sheriff graduate the Police Academy?), to Joe Bob’s commentary, to Darcy’s Mutant Prom, it was a celebration not just of the films we watched together, but of each other. Whether welcoming in new viewers like myself who had never seen either film or reliving old favorites, we were all there to bask in the ridiculous glory of the genre and the passion of the people behind it. Whether we liked the films or not was way less important than getting to watch them all together. No one criticized anyone’s opinions, or tore anybody down. Instead, people painted and crocheted and otherwise artistically expressed their love for the films and the show itself every single week. It brought together fans and creators (who else can say they’ve live-tweeted with Barbara Crampton?) in a way I haven’t ever seen or felt before. It was like being in a big room with a big mashup family of the kindest, weirdest people you’ve ever met, passing around the snacks, laughing together, cringing together, and all agreeing to come back next week and do it all over again.

Joe Bob has been doing this kind of thing for a while, I know. He’s known for it and bringing him back for something like The Last Drive-In was a big deal for a lot of lifetime horror fans who have probably seen more than I’ll ever be able to. But finding a show like this anew, that fosters an experience like this, is something I will always be happy to have stumbled on. So thank you, Mutant Family, for taking in the weirdly passionate 26-year-old woman with CP who maybe doesn’t get out as much as she’d like to, for giving me an unforgettably positive experience, and for showing me how beautiful the horror community can be.

And may the drive-in never die.

Katelyn Nelson’s writing interests lean mostly toward pop culture analysis and representation. She tweets @24th_Doctor, mostly about horror.

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