Photo courtesy joebobbriggs.com

 

From the simmering plains of deepest, darkest Texas came an unstoppable force of awesome power! Taking the innocuous form of a wisecracking teenage boy, this visitor from another dimension set out to warp the minds of millions! The nation's editors were defenseless against the invader's merciless attack of witty newspaper columns–its dark influence spreading to books, cable television, and one-man stage shows!

Soon, it was all too late. The mysterious entity known as Joe Bob Briggs had completed its nefarious master plan: The complete supplication of wholesome movie-going Americans to the pleasures of B-movies!

Today, hardcore film lovers do not hesitate to revel in the splendors of blood-splurting slasher flicks, regurgitating-monster-from-outer-space pics, and karate-chopping-lone-hero epics. But there once was a time when these kinds of movies were considered to be merely drive-in material starring no-name actors. Now, of course, every major studio produces them for the nation's multiplexes, and every cinephile is an expert in the oeuvres of such film artistes as Dario Argento and Herschell Gordon Lewis. B-movies have gone utterly mainstream, and Joe Bob Briggs is partly to blame.

While publications like Psychotronic Video, Incredibly Strange Films, and Fangoria proselytized the cult movie to hipsters and fanboys, Briggs–also known as John Bloom–was probably the first to spread the word to middle-America. In 1982, at the age of 19, Bloom was hired by the Dallas Times Herald to write the weekly column, "Joe Bob Goes to the Drive-In." Although he was eventually fired (for daring to mock the "We Are The World" fund drive), his column was picked up by Universal Press for syndication. This led to a live concert tour in the mid-'80s called Joe Bob Dead in Concert and eventually fame as a TV host for B-movie programs like The Movie Channel's Drive-In Theater and TNT's Monstervision. And, of course, several books collecting his columns were issued over the years.

But with the release of his newest tome, Profoundly Disturbing: Shocking Movies That Changed History!, Briggs has reached a new apex in his movie-writing career. Putting aside his jokey persona (even if the pseudonym remains), Bloom delivers an informative volume of film criticism that has something important to say: Certain cult films truly changed the way we perceive cinema itself, creating iconic images, characters, or scenarios that are destined to be endlessly repeated in mainstream pictures. From the psychological horror of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1918) to the weird sex of Crash (1996), Bloom/Briggs makes convincing arguments for the influence of "shocking movies."

Here, Bloom briefly answers our pesky questions about bad movies, Joe Bob, and Profoundly Disturbing.

How did B-movies beckon to you as a Texas teen?

Well, the first thing is that your mother doesn't want you to see them. So they have an element of the forbidden. The other thing is that they deal with basic fears, thrills and fantasies. It's art for the working man.

What was the first movie to turn your head around?

The first movie that really scared the bejabbers out of me was something called Wolfen. It's actually not a very popular movie today, but it was the first movie to use the Steadicam.

How did you get to see such arcane titles?

At the drive-in! Most of them were either showing at drive-ins or at grindhouse theaters in downtown slum areas. Nothing like going into the bad part of town for an authentic movie experience.

What are the elements that make for a great B-movie?

I can't believe you asked me that question. Why, a child of eight knows the answer to that question. It's the three B's: Blood, Breasts and Beasts.

How did it get in your head to make a living writing about such cinematic efforts?

I was filling a void in the consumer market. There were plenty of film critics, but no film critics who reviewed anything the public cared about, in a way that was trusted.

How did the "Joe Bob" persona come to be?

It all comes from the movies. I just created the ultimate exploitation movie fan.

Has Joe Bob ever hindered you from being taken seriously for other projects?

I don't think so. If I want to be taken seriously, I just write as John Bloom. (Usually people are disappointed that I'm not making jokes.) I used the John Bloom name for my coverage of 9/11 in New York. We just couldn't figure out a way to wrap the Joe Bob style around that particular subject matter. I'm not so keen on being taken seriously in the first place.

Do "drive-in movies" of the sort you specialized in covering still exist anymore?
Or are they all straight-to-video products now?
Have we lost something in the process?

There are still "drive-in"-type movies released in theaters, but they tend to be self-referential, like Scream. Most of the rawest new horror films go straight to video, or are released on DVD. I don't think we've lost anything, we've actually gained something. It's much cheaper to release films into the video and DVD market, so we have many more of them.

How have B-movies changed since you first started writing about them?

B-movies never change in any basic way: Blood, Breasts and Beasts, that's the formula. It's actually the A-movies that have changed, by incorporating elements from the B-movies.

How did you come up with idea for Profoundly Disturbing?

Originally I was going to do a book of B-movie capsule reviews, kind of a guide to video rentals book. But I decided there are already enough of those. What was really needed was in-depth analysis of some of the great movies, or influential movies, that have been misunderstood.

Did publishers understand the concept of taking cult movies "seriously"
as cinematic milestones, or was it a hard sell?

My editor, Chris Steighner, was already a fan of this kind of movie, but it's a little bit of a departure for Rizzoli, an Italian company which owns Universe and is mostly known for high-culture art and architecture books. This is one of their first forays into pop culture.

How did you come up with your list of titles?

They were movies I wanted to write about because I thought they were under-appreciated or misunderstood. But they had to be movies that had a lasting influence, either on film or on society, either directly or through the underground.

Any particular titles get left out of the final cut?

Oh, there were at least a hundred titles left out of the final cut. We opted for complete treatment of a few movies instead of capsule treatment of a lot. I'm not ruling out a sequel!

Which movie remains fresh to you each time you see it?

Basket Case, Frank Henenlotter's 1983 classic.

Is there a certain quality that these filmmakers shared?

They were all monomaniacal outlaws, yes.

Are there filmmakers today with that kind of unique vision?

Sure, there will always be young filmmakers who work outside the mainstream. The digital camcorder world is full of them.

Will there always be movies that'll find "profoundly disturbing" subjects,
or have audiences become too jaded to be shocked anymore?

The number of truly shocking films has always been small. There will be more shocks in the future; we just won't know what they are until they get there.

 

Related website:

www.joebobbriggs.com: A complete compendium of the writings of Joe Bob Briggs/John Bloom, as well as information on his current whereabouts.

 

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