By Alan Scherstuhl
By Mark Holcombe
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By Nick Pinkerton
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By Keith Phipps
By Alan Scherstuhl
Clinton-era cable subscribers might recognize the smirking, square-jawed mug of John Bloom, better known to channel-surfers and cult-movie aficionados by his sometimes-pseudonym, Joe Bob Briggs. As host of TNT's "Monstervision" (predated by the similarly styled "Joe Bob's Drive-In Theater"), he delivered sardonic observations and sidelong commentary on variously maligned B movies, bookending lowbrow horror flicks with highfalutin' references like some hayseed Dennis Miller.
"Monstervision" was canceled in 2000, but Bloom remains a brazen yet scholarly authority on pulp cinema. He's also a seasoned UPI columnist with deeply conversant views on everything from war and religion to affirmative action and the First Amendment. This past spring saw the release of his fifth book, Profoundly Disturbing: The Shocking Films that Changed History; on Halloween night, he'll appear locally to host the likewise obsessive "Profoundly Disturbing Film Festival" at St. Anthony Main, introducing such splatter-happy tours de force as 1963's Blood Feast and the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
Perhaps bracing himself for this schlocktastic five-screen all-nighter, Bloom/Briggs spoke to City Pages from his home in New York City.
CITY PAGES: What's your take on theTexas Chain Saw Massacre remake?
JOE BOB BRIGGS: I was going to boycott it, but everyone has been demanding that I go see it. I haven't yet, but I've received hundreds of e-mails. I don't know where they come from, but numerous people are writing to confirm where the original crime happened, wanting documented details about the actual crime. The truth, of course, is that it has a kind of distant relationship to two separate cases, and it's basically structured around "Hansel and Gretel." I guess the publicity campaign was effective in terms of making people believe that this stuff actually happened in 1973. The original plan of [cowriter] Kim Henkel and [cowriter/director] Tobe Hooper in the early '70s was to do a dark version of "Hansel and Gretel"; then they added the chainsaws. Hooper had family who lived very near Plainfield, Wisconsin, so he heard Ed Gein stories when he was growing up. There was also an Elmer Wayne Henley element. [Henley] was very proud of his crimes, so [Hooper] put this pride element into the movie; the family was proud of its heritage of killing. Kim went out to Hollywood with Hooper, but he got tired of it. Now he teaches film at Texas A&M in Corpus Christi. He's still a hippie after all these years. Texas Chain Saw Massacre was made with kind of a hippie aesthetic. It was the first movie to regard the countryside as menacing. Movies before that regarded the city as menacing.
CP: You appeared inTexas Chainsaw Massacre 2. How does that one stand up next to the original?
BRIGGS: Hooper didn't want to do a sequel. He didn't want to be tied to Chain Saw his whole career. He was trying to branch out. He did Poltergeist, Salem's Lot. Cannon Films basically offered him a huge amount of money and said if he would make a sequel, they would help him do two films that he wanted to do. Chainsaw 2 was written by Kit Carson, who wrote Paris, Texas, of all things. It was generally not loved by fans of the original, but people who came along later really do like it. It has a following. Chainsaw III is universally despised. It was made in California; it doesn't even look like Texas. They were too concerned with getting an R rating, so they had to tone it way down. Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre was not bad, but rumor has it that Matthew McConaughey's agent sabotaged its chances of ever getting a proper release.
CP: Do you even bother with opinions about non-cult, non-horror films?
BRIGGS: The last one I can remember feeling strongly enough to write about was A.I., because I thought it was a truly original film that goes wacky in the last 20 minutes. And then Unfaithful, which I thought was getting a bad rap. There was kind of a feminist attack on it, and so I defended that film. But in general I leave that stuff to Ebert and Roeper and the New York Times.
CP: On your DVD commentary track forI Spit On Your Grave, you discuss how Siskel and Ebert totally missed the film's feminist streak and unfairly condemned the film.
BRIGGS: Male critics and males in general have a problem with graphic rape scenes, more so than women do. It's considered worse than graphic murder in terms of how your mind turns away from it, how you want to walk out of the theater.
CP: There were similar arguments overStraw Dogs before that.
BRIGGS: Yeah, but that movie was destined to be reviewed by the New Yorker magazine. I Spit On Your Grave wasn't. It was the typical double standard.
CP: Some argue that B movies are actually more emotionally honest, dealing so directly and vividly with sex and death.
BRIGGS: B movies are always ahead of the curve. People assume that they're copies of A movies, but the opposite is true. Concepts generally start at B movie level and bubble up to an A movie. What begins as "sex and violence" gets recast as "romance and adventure." The Great Texas Dynamite Chase became Thelma & Louise, which won an Oscar. I Spit On Your Grave became The Accused, which won an Oscar. The very fact that Texas Chain Saw Massacre is being remade and released in all theaters is an indication of how concepts become accepted that way. For years, the original couldn't be shown on cable, not even premium cable, not HBO or Showtime, not even pay per view. It was too grisly for cable. That was true until very recently, maybe five years ago. It was still banned in England until five years ago. It's pretty remarkable that now anyone can go see it.
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