Joe Bob Briggs and The Bloodbath
When we came up with the idea for this year’s Halloween event, we wanted to make it bigger and spookier than the last. Given that all of us here at 12BB are film school grads and devotees of horror movies, the leap to add movies to the mix wasn’t a big one. We started pooling a list of our favorite horror films, and it was pretty much the list that you would expect. Which was very un-exciting. No, we wanted to offer up some forgotten or overlooked horror gems – late night treats and drive-in classics. The kind of movies that we remember from being kids or that we caught after hours on UHF. Once we settled on that, we came up with the really great idea: rather than pick the movies ourselves, why not ask the people who make and write about horror movies to pick the films for us?
Hang on, because that’s exactly what you’re going to get – over the next 13 days, ten films chosen by some very exciting guests as well as our own three choices. Each drink will be inspired either by that day’s guest or by the film they pick. So, get your popcorn ready, attach the speaker to the window, and snuggle up close to that someone special. It’s about to get gruesome.
I imagine finding Joe Bob Briggs down a dusty stretch of Southwestern highway, reclining in the doorway of his ’65 Airstream Overlander as he waits in what must be America’s last drive-in theater. In his Scully shirt and El Rey III boots – “A guy owed me”, he offers, as I glance down at them – he hands me an ice cold Pabst and glares into the setting sun, as if willing it to go down faster. When it has just about complied, he cracks a fresh beer and turns to me with a wiggle of his brow, “I’ve got something good to show you.” Without further command, the movie starts.
If, during the 1980s or ‘90s, you grew up a fan of late night, drive-in, or exploitation cinema, odds are you grew up watching Joe Bob on either The Movie Channel, where he hosted Joe Bob’s Drive-in Theater from 1986 to 1996, or on TNT’s subsequent Monstervision, which ran until 2000. Joe Bob’s approach has always been to never take his subject matter too seriously – how could he – but that sense of humor doesn’t betray the true love he holds for drive-in movies (as distinguished, he says, from “indoor bullstuff”). Perfect “B” movies must contain, he contends, “blood, breasts, and beasts,” and with more than thirty professional years spent at the drive-in – not to mention gigs writing for Playboy, National Lampoon, and Rolling Stone, serving as a featured contributor to The Daily Show (under his street name, John Bloom), and appearing on-screen in a range of films including Casino and Face/Off – the man ought to know.
So, what comes on the screen, illuminating the still southern night? What does the author of a half dozen books on drive-in movies that changed the course of cinema (a man who gets no one less than Stephen King to write his introductions) choose for us? The original (1974) Texas Chain Saw Massacre. He tells us:
“I have always loved two kinds of films: foreign films and gawd awful exploitation films. They’re the movies that your mother didn’t want you to see; they are a large part of the horror and drive-in classic genres. If you gave this list of movies to most people, many would say, ‘These are not the important movies.’ I say, even if they’re not important as movies themselves (or at least “good” movies), they’re important because of the way people reacted to them. Occasionally these films just come out of nowhere and don’t necessarily get noticed by the public right away. But they do eventually change the way we look at films. That being said, my all-time favorite movie would The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Now, I don’t mean the second one (which I was sorta in) nor the remake(s). The first Texas Chain Saw Massacre was (and is) an original film that changed American cinema.”
Following on the successes of films like George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Last House on the Left (1972) from Wes Craven, Chain Saw director and co-writer Tobe Hooper was pretty confident that he had a hit on his hands. “I knew when I was shooting it that it was special because everything that was happening led me to that conclusion, both in the shooting and in the genesis of the project,” Hooper told the Austin Chronicle in 1998. “Those feelings were based on what was in the marketplace and what I had seen (and I had seen practically everything). I had a good feeling about it at the time, about it being a film that would get lots of play dates and basically get another job for me. In that respect, I knew it was special because I knew that there was nothing like it.” Indeed, much as Craven’s Last House was inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s Virgin Spring, Chain Saw presented a bleak post-New Wave, Vietnam-era view of teenage fatalism. No longer hipsters and cultural leaders, teenagers had become fodder for unprovoked and unexplained violence. The Summer of Love was well in the rear-view mirror.
From the outset, Chain Saw was a galvanizing film. While Hooper was convinced that it would earn a “PG” rating, it received an “R” and Johnny Carson purportedly complained that the film should have received an “X”. There were reports of audiences racing from theaters to throw up (the kind of publicity you can’t buy), while Rex Reed declared it “The most horrifying movie I have ever seen,” which was taken as a positive review. Soon after its release, the film was invited to screen at the Cannes Film Festival Director’s Fortnight and at the London Film Festival, where it was awarded Outstanding Film of the Year. A copy is also in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art.
Truth be told, when I initially saw Chain Saw many years ago, I was revolted by it. I found it, as many had described it, sick and without redemption. Watching it again recently, with a greater perspective on the state of exploitation cinema of the day and appreciation for bootstrapped filmmaking, I can’t deny its importance and, more importantly, its downright scariness. Even today, 37 years after its release, it remains one of the most brutal and horrifying films ever made – much more so than the 2003 misfire of a remake, which complete denatured the intensity of the original. Rather than actually showing the intimate details of the violent acts, Hooper used brilliantly quick editing and sound design to convince us that we’ve seen more than we actually have.
“The ultimate test of a splatter flick,” Joe Bob tells us, “is that anybody can die at any moment.” There is a velocity to Chain Saw that makes this certainly true. Horror can come from anywhere, at anytime. For Hooper, the film was a cultural reaction to the violence of the civil rights movement and Kent State, to the de-legitimization of government by Watergate and the gas crisis. Specifically, the lying that defined the Watergate scandal provided Hooper with the rationale to describe his film as being based on actual events. If government could lie, why couldn’t cinema? (How post-New Wave is that?) In truth, the film took partial inspiration from the Ed Gein murders, which also inspired Psycho and, later, Silence of the Lambs. Still, with just a mere two ounces of blood shown on screen, according to director Hooper, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre remains one of the most terrifying, challenging, and important horror films ever made. “You take somebody to see Chain Saw who hasn’t ever seen it before,” Joe Bob confirms, “and you’ll know what I mean when I say: ‘Chain Saw’ is still the king.”
Muddle the raspberries with the orange juice and strain through a fine sieve.
Add all ingredients to a mixing glass
Shake with ice and strain in to a large cocktail glass
Featured Glassware: Bernadotte Claret by Villeroy & Boch
For Spiced Vermouth: Lightly pan toast two cinnamon sticks and a handful of cardamom pods. Add to a mason jar (approximately two cups) of sweet vermouth and let infuse for one day (The original recipe calls for three days, but one seemed to extract plenty of flavor).
Despite its apparent lack of blood (we’re still convinced there’s more in there), we couldn’t help picking the Bloodbath to pair with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Originally titled Bloodbath in the Bronx, this variation on the classic Bronx cocktail comes from Gaz Regan’s The Bartender’s Gin Compendium. The drink is a creation of bartender/journalist Simon McGoram from his days behind the stick at Mea Culpa restaurant in Auckland, New Zealand. McGoram’s ingredients remain similar to those in the Bronx, with spiced sweet vermouth taking the place of regular sweet vermouth and blood orange juice standing in for traditional orange. If you can come by blood oranges at Halloween, certainly use them. Here, we’ve approximated their color and berry-like flavor by spiking regular OJ with some muddled raspberries, which creates a similar, if not as deeply red, juice. To bring in a little more red coloring and add a touch of sweetness, if you’re so inclined, we find that the addition of a little grenadine doesn’t hurt.
What’s particularly unique and wonderfully autumnal about this recipe is the spiced sweet vermouth, which warms the drink up while rounding out its profile. Both cinnamon and cardamom, which can be found in the ethnic spices area of your market or at an Asian, Middle Eastern, or Mexican market, work beautifully with gin, and should you not use up your supply of spiced vermouth, McGoram heartily recommends it in a rye Manhattan.
Many thanks to Joe Bob for helping us get this festival off on the correct foot. Please give him a visit at joebobbriggs.com for reviews of more drive-in movies, old and new, than you can shake a chainsaw at. If you haven’t seen The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, might we suggest a stiff drink beforehand. If not, you may need one afterward.
Esoterica: The narration for both the original Chain Saw and the 2003 remake was provided by John Larroquette.