Joe Bob Briggs, a.k.a. John Bloom, is the nation's premier reviewer of B movies and exploitation cinema—the blood-soaked, sex-laden fare that turns off genteel critics while arousing moralizing politicians. His new book, Profoundly Disturbing: The Shocking Movies That Changed History (Universe) takes a long, lingering look at "bad" flicks such as Shaft, Deep Throat, and The Wild Bunch. Full of lively film lore, Briggs shows how such movies have actually thrived on disapproval and heavily influenced mainstream cinema.
Briggs, who is best known for having created the cable TV shows Joe Bob's Drive-In Theater and Monstervision, is now a United Press International columnist and the proprietor of www.joebobbriggs.com. Assistant Editor Sara Rimensnyder spoke to him by phone in February.
Q: What's so disturbing to people about exploitation films?
A: These movies are revolutionary, to many people in a bad way. They upset the prevailing taste arbiters by pushing the two great frontiers, sex and violence. Often these movies offer a new visual way of going deeper into some aspect of sex or violence. Of course, you call it sex and violence if you hate it. If you like it, you call it romance and adventure.
Q: How have they influenced mainstream movies?
A: These low-budget genres get copied dozens of times, and eventually get cleaned up in big-budget versions that are more mainstream. Movies that win Academy Awards are the ones you can take your mother to. So Texas Chainsaw Massacre became Silence of the Lambs. The Great Texas Dynamite Chase became Thelma and Louise. I Spit on Your Grave became The Accused.
Q: Ever had the urge to whip out your chainsaw after watching Texas Chainsaw Massacre?
A: The claim that movies about sex and violence cause aberrant behavior [got a new boost] in the early 1980s when several organizations supposedly did scientific studies proving it. I've been on panels with these guys, and I've said look, If there's any truth at all to what you're saying, you should hook me up to the equipment because I've watched more of these movies than maybe anyone in the world. If there's a direct connection, I should be in San Quentin.
Q: If you could show the moral nags one movie, what would it be?
A: Actually, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which 30 years after its release is still always used as an example of cultural decay and the depravity of mass entertainment. I'd have them tell me what about it revolts them so much. It's a comedy!
Q: What is the most obscene movie ever made?
A: A Chorus Line. Best horror film of 1985.