The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Friday, January 30, 2004

Good ol' Joe Bob Briggs (aka John Bloom). I thoroughly enjoyed his "God Stuff" segments on "The Daily Show" (pre-Jon Stewart). I was less enamoured of his mainline schlock-moviefest shows; they were ok, but I guess I've been spoiled by the Mystery Science Theater 3000 method of viewing such fare.

I haven't kept up with Joe Bob's doings lately; I suppose I could always check with The Joe Bob Report. But I see that he's written a new book (his sixth), "Profoundly Disturbing: Shocking Movies That Changed History!", and brought it with him to the Sarasota Film Festival to plug. The book is something of a departure for Joe Bob, in that it doesn't focus exclusively on the B-movie stuff. Among the films he profiles, along with their impact on the broader culture, are legit classics like The Wild Bunch and ...And God Created Woman.

But it wouldn't be Joe Bob without a smattering of slop! While at the Festival, he talked about his book and presented screenings of another two of those "shocking movies": Creature from the Black Lagoon and the notorious Blood Feast.

"In Peoria, Ill., on July 19, 1963, the slasher film was born," Joe Bob said in his preshow remarks. Blood Feast was the splattered brainchild of Herschell Gordon Lewis and David Friedman, two guys who made money on nudist camp flicks - "ugly, naked people playing a lot of volleyball," as Joe Bob recalled - filmed in the Sunshine State. They wanted to come up with an idea Hollywood wouldn't touch and found it in one word: gore.

Blood Feast is a sorry excuse for cinema. "It's one of those films that gets better the more you know about it," Joe Bob said. "In some ways, it's a little more fun to talk about than to sit through."

So he did, spinning a tale of cheap beach locations in 1963 before Miami was Miami. When innocence was in and lurid was profitable. When a Playboy Club waitress could be talked into a scene with a jellied sheep's tongue in her mouth to be ripped out in the film's most infamous moment. When Friedman bought a boa constrictor for $30 and stuck it in scenes just to get his money's worth. When the star had to read her lines off the furniture.

Lewis and Friedman dragged Blood Feast around the drive-in circuit for years, writing phony letters to editors in the next town on the map, posing as a minister complaining about the film's severity. Protests only sold more tickets. It worked, always, like a charm in Tampa. Things were different in Sarasota.

Friedman couldn't make anyone mad enough there to turn a profit. Then, an idea: He rented a motel room in Sarasota for a local address, then filed an injunction to keep Blood Feast out of "his" town. He got the publicity he wanted, and something he didn't expect.

The judge granted the injunction. Blood Feast could never be shown in Sarasota. Friedman hired an attorney to convince the judge that the plaintiff had seen the movie and had been wrong. This was, indeed, an educational film that should be seen. The injunction was overturned and Blood Feast made another killing.

I was just having a discussion with a friend about horror flicks. She's a fan of the genre, I'm not. But she's quick to point out that she only likes quality, nuanced horror flicks, versus splatter-gore dreck. I'm gonna guess that Blood Feast would not be to her liking.

The Sarasota Festival is the only sizable filmfest that's close to Tampa Bay (some consider Sarasota to be part of the Tampa Bay area, but at 45 minutes away by highway from Tampa/St. Pete, I don't). Tampa Bay itself doesn't really have any, although that may be changing. Orlando has a couple of festivals, but nothing notable, and it's even further away (about an hour and a half). The upshot being, as big a film fan as I am, I've never been motivated enough to haul myself down to Sarasota to take part in the action.

The one notable appearance in Sarasota this year (aside from Joe Bob's) was by Jennifer Love Hewitt, who was promoting her latest, If Only. I think her coming to a second-tier film festival says more about Hewitt's falling fortunes than anything else.