I Spit On Your Taste

Vidiot savant Joe Bob Briggs drops some scary science for Halloween

 

CP: How do you regard the view that movies are valuable as a respite from the cold, harsh truth of the real world?

BRIGGS: I don't necessarily think that's true, because most popular movies are kind of violent experiences. It's not so much an escape from a sordid world; it's [an entry into] a more sordid world, an exaggeratedly sordid world. The number one and two movies last week were Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Kill Bill Vol. 1, two extremely violent films.

 

CP: SinceKill Bill came out, the termgrindhouse has been all over the place.

BRIGGS: [Tarantino] is a sleaze postmodernist in that everything he makes refers back to the '60s and '70s. He's almost like a guy who was born out of time. He wanted to live in the '60s and '70s, so he idolizes those grindhouse films. But grindhouse films don't exist anymore because you can see those kinds of films anywhere. They were kind of destroyed by home video. Once you could bring it into your house, you wouldn't have to go into the bad part of town and sit next to some sleazy guy in a theater.

 

CP: So are audiences getting short shrift from modern horror cinema?

BRIGGS: Audiences are a lot smarter today, especially young audiences. They have access to everything, the whole history of film. When the Texas Chain Saw Massacre remake came out, you couldn't get a copy of the original anywhere: All the DVDs and videos were checked out. Everyone has a sort of historical point of view toward movies today, and that's a relatively recent thing. For most of the history of movies, they were considered a disposable commodity, like paperback books: You would read them and throw them away--there wasn't all this revisiting. So I don't think [audiences] get short shrift. I think they have too much information. It's almost impossible to make a movie that surprises anyone because the mechanics of it are explained everywhere.

 

CP: What distinguishes the films you cover inProfoundly Disturbing?

BRIGGS: They're films that I thought had been misunderstood in one way or another. Blood Feast is a terrible film, but it's an influential film. Its influence was almost entirely through the underground, the subculture, through punk bands and metal bands and fanzines. It developed a life of its own that bubbled up through the culture from the bottom. That was interesting to me. And there are films that sort of influence only filmmakers--like The Wild Bunch. Very few people say, "Oh, I love The Wild Bunch, it's my favorite film." But a lot of filmmakers say that--so that was also interesting to me. And then films like Creature From the Black Lagoon that just entered the culture through constant repetition on television. Especially with young boys, their whole sexuality was sort of defined by that film.

 

CP: Did you personally discoverBlood Feast as a member of that core underground, or as a critic and genre connoisseur? BRIGGS: I discovered it years ago before it was even available. You could only get it on pirate videos. The original audience for it was not a pop culture audience. It was a sleazy second feature on a bill, probably with a sex film at drive-ins and grindhouses. Starting in the late '70s, I guess, various people like John Waters and me and eventually Fangoria started writing about it. Herschell Gordon Lewis, the director, compared it to a Walt Whitman poem: "it was no good, but it was the first of its type."

 

CP: Do you think it's harder now for these underground figures to remain insulated from the mainstream?

BRIGGS: There always has to be a new underground being developed. That's why it's a waste of time remaking all those classic horror films. You can't recreate the climate and the conditions under which they were made. It's not gonna work. What you need is a new scare, a new dark side of America to come up with. The bad thing about a lot of young filmmakers constantly referring to film heritage is that they don't develop new ideas. They look at Tarantino and see how successful he is and say, "I just have to watch a bunch of old movies."

 

CP: Are censorship and free speech issues going to have any meaningful place in the new election cycle?

BRIGGS: They haven't appeared to be so far. I haven't heard anyone talking about that. Usually there's someone making an outcry against Hollywood and its values, but I haven't heard anyone do that yet.

 

CP: Does that say more about politicians' priorities or voters'?

BRIGGS: I've always thought it's a small minority that fastens on music or movies and says, "This is what's wrong with the country." One interesting thing is that John Ashcroft is starting a legal war on pornography. It started with the prosecution in Pittsburgh of four porn films. He hopes it will set a precedent that will make it impossible to ship films out of southern California. But does it have wide support with the general public? I don't think the general public cares that much.

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