Joe Bob Briggs is well-known as a lovable backwoods redneck critic of classic and not-so-classic exploitation films. But some people may not know that Joe Bob Briggs is the pseudonym for John Irving Bloom, a college graduate (from Vanderbilt University, no less) and well-regarded film critic first based in Dallas, Texas and later syndicated across the country. It wasn’t until the mid-1980’s that Bloom, who had a natural predilection for exploitation cinema, created his alter-ego in an effort to separate his viewing habits—and reviews—into two separate categories: the “regular” cinema (what he refers to as “indoor bullstuff”) and exploitation flicks (what he refers to collectively as “drive-in movies” even though drive-in theaters are, for all intents and purposes, dead).
In Profoundly Disturbing, Bloom’s alter ego Briggs tackles 15 films that changed the history of cinema forever due to their level of sex and/or violence. But even though the name on the book cover is Briggs, who is famous for ranking movies based on the number of breasts exposed, the number of sex scenes (which he euphemistically called "aardvarking"), and the number of decapitations in a film, the writing is clearly Bloom’s. Featuring 15 relatively long essays, Bloom excels at not only analyzing each film and its impact on American cinema, but does so in a manner that is accessible for both students of film as well as the merely curious. Along the way, we get highly engaging back stories on the making of each film, background on the major players both in front of and behind the camera, and extremely thorough filmographies of similar movies in case the reader wants to do any further exploration of that particular theme.
While the book is arranged chronologically, beginning with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in 1919 and ending with David Cronenberg’s controversial Crash (1996), you don’t have to read the book from front to back; rather, you can pick and choose what chapter you would like to read first. Some of the films discussed are obvious choices such as Blood Feast, The Curse of Frankenstein, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Ilsa, She-Wolf of the S.S., and Deep Throat. Others are more unique—and sometimes questionable, but always interesting—choices, like the sex education film Mom and Dad (1947), The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master, and Tarantino’s breakout film, Reservoir Dogs. The other films included are Sam Peckinpah’s excellent The Wild Bunch, the star-making Bridgett Bardot vehicle And God Created Woman, The Exorcist, and the blaxploitation epic, Shaft.
Each chapter begins with a wonderful two-page, black-and-white (or sepia-toned) reprint of the movie poster before delving into a wildly entertaining examination of the film. While there are few illustrations in this 250-page, oversized tome, the written content more than makes up for the lack of movie stills. The discussions are frank and can occasionally become explicit (especially when discussing Deep Throat and Linda Lovelace’s infamous porn loop called “Dogarama”…I’ll let you imagine the content of this film reel), so this isn’t necessarily a book for everyone. I also take some issue with the choices he made for these 15 "profoundly disturbing" titles. I can think of at least 15 more that could replace what I feel are some of the lesser titles in this book. In some cases, it feels as if Briggs is just trying to give the reader a well-rounded lesson in exploitation (we have a genuine film classic in Caligari, the first big sex ed film with Mom and Dad, the first gore film in Blood Feast, plus films representing exploitation subgenres such as nazisploitation, blaxploitation, and even kung fu films, along with foreign "art" films, westerns, and so on). But everyone has their own opinion and Joe Bob does make an excellent case for each film. Besides, who would have thought that Creature from the Black Lagoon was so subversive? I’ve seen the film–along with my young kids–dozens of times. Joe Bob has singlehandedly forced me to reevaluate what I thought was merely a campy sci-fi/horror classic. Now I have an explanation for what is wrong with my son….
This is a must-have book for anyone that is more than just a passing fan of exploitation films or even someone wanting to expand their viewing list from the typical Hollywood fare that is constantly pushed onto movie-goers. Briggs proves once and for all that exploitation flicks aren’t always "crap;" at their best, they can push the boundaries of what the viewing public finds acceptable and change the viewing habits for generations to come.