It took a long time for Your Humble Reviewer to devel­op the aes­thet­ic that fuels this web­site.  A key part of that devel­op­ment came from read­ing about cult movies.  There were a lot of great writ­ers whose pio­neer­ing work made it pos­si­ble for me to find my own per­son­al path to schlock.

This is the first install­ment in what will be a six-part trib­ute to those writ­ers and crit­ics who helped shape my schlock aes­thet­ic.  The tomes cov­ered in this series are essen­tial for the book­shelf of any dis­cern­ing schlock afi­cionado.  If you are a neo­phyte, then beg, bor­row or steal to get the­se clas­sics.  If you are well versed in schlock and don’t have the­se, they’re still worth a look because they are the kind of  rare, tru­ly insight­ful guides that you can return to again and again.

First in this sur­vey is a round-up of three authors who form a per­son­al Holy Trinity of Crucial Schlock Influences.  They blazed the trail that I fol­low and their schol­ar­ship is a wor­thy basis for anyone’s schlock edu­ca­tion.

THE PSYCHOTRONIC ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FILM by Michael Weldon (1983 – Ballantine): This was the alpha and the omega of cin­e­mat­ic schol­ar­ship for me as a young schlock­a­teer.  Weldon was the first writer to cre­ate a main­stream book that embraced a mass of seem­ing­ly unre­lat­ed cin­e­mat­ic flot­sam, gave it a spe­cial­ized label and offered a col­lec­tion of cap­sule reviews to explain this self-made aes­thet­ic.  The result warped my young mind — and many oth­ers — in the best pos­si­ble way.  Over two decades lat­er, Psychotronic still impress­es. Weldon’s review­ing style makes him the Joe Friday of schlock review­ing: each cap­sule review offers a punchy syn­the­sis of facts and pithy opin­ions, deliv­ered with a min­i­mum of frills and zero pre­ten­sion.  The book is fleshed out with a series of cool black and white stills that often have cap­tions derived from United Press sto­ries detail­ing the unique pro­mo­tion­al schemes that often accom­pa­nied the­se flicks.  Readers should also take spe­cial note of the intro­duc­to­ry auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal essay that opens the book – it’s the pro­to­typ­i­cal account of the kind of youth­ful obses­sions that describe the upbring­ing of many a schlock fan.  In short, The Psychotronic Encyclopedia Of Film remains a great place for the schlock neo­phyte to begin their edu­ca­tion.

RE/SEARCH #10: INCREDIBLY STRANGE FILMS Edited by Andrea Juno & V. Vale (1987 – ReSearch): This is the next log­i­cal step after The Psychotronic Encyclopedia Of Film.  What that tome was to me in high school is what Incredibly Strange Films was to me in col­lege: in oth­er words,  the more ambi­tious, more cere­bral and (much) more eccen­tric big broth­er to Weldon’s book.  It’s a com­pre­hen­sive col­lec­tion of essays and inter­views that detail and explain schlock as an out­sider-cul­ture expe­ri­ence.  I dis­cov­ered so much beloved cin­e­ma with this book in hand – Larry Cohen, Russ Meyer, Jack Hill, the list goes ever on.  All the writ­ers, includ­ing many an ear­ly zine pub­lish­er, take a dead­pan approach the sub­ject that com­bi­nes an off­beat intel­li­gence with plen­ti­ful help­ings of sly, sub­tle wit.  Their writ­ing is wit­ty with­out being pre­cious and intel­li­gent with­out devolv­ing into col­le­giate intel­lec­tu­al wankery.  More impor­tant­ly, Incredibly Strange Films made it pos­si­ble for me to believe that I could speak about my love for schlock from a place of intel­li­gence instead of hav­ing to treat it as an embar­rass­ing, goof­ball hob­by.  In short, this is sem­i­nal stuff that remains every bit as vision­ary and mind-blow­ing as it was back in its day.  If you like to think about your schlock, this is the book to pick up.

JOE BOB GOES TO THE DRIVE IN/JOE BOB GOES BACK TO THE DRIVE IN by John Bloom (1986/1990 – Delacorte): The third (and most beloved) of my trin­i­ty of Crucial Schlock Influences is Joe Bob Briggs.  Said tough-talk­ing Texan is the alter ego of John Bloom, a gift­ed jour­nal­ist who real­ized the best way to cap­ture the essence of schlock was to rein­vent him­self as a char­ac­ter who could have only walked out of a schlock epic.  Thus, the great Joe Bob Briggs was born, a char­ac­ter that soon became pop­u­lar enough to host schlock-mind­ed pro­grams for the Movie Channel and TNT, super­vise dvd’s of clas­sic film flot­sam and even act in flicks like Casino.  These two vol­umes of film reviews from Bloom’s news­pa­per career cap­ture the char­ac­ter of Briggs in all his glo­ry as he barn­storms his way through vir­tu­al­ly every schlock flick made dur­ing the 1980’s.  Each film gets dis­cussed in a fun, free­wheel­ing style that dish­es out plot info, col­or­ful obser­va­tions on the style and per­for­mances and plen­ty of addic­tive Briggs-invent­ed descrip­tive expres­sions like “slime glopo­la”, “Spam in a cab­in” and “aard­vark­ing.”   Better yet, each review is thought­ful­ly capped with a con­tent guide that lists the num­ber of breasts exposed, gal­lons of blood spilled, the exact amount of decap­i­ta­tions or dis­mem­ber­ments and any oth­er spe­cial­ized bit of gra­tu­itous­ness (chop­socky, car stunts, ham­my act­ing, etc.).

However, the­se reviews are only half the fun of the­se books – Bloom also cre­at­ed an elab­o­rate alter­nate uni­verse that the reviews are couched in, set­ting the stage for each south­ern-fried cri­tique with a fun­ny tale of red­neck liv­ing that fea­tures such char­ac­ters as Cherry Dilday, Rhett Beavers and Wanda Bodine.  The style of the­se seg­ments is best described as “Lewis Grizzard on a ben­der” and they add a ton of invalu­able atmos­phere to the Briggsian expe­ri­ence.  Briggs also takes advan­tage of his fic­tion­al sta­tus to wage war on real-life fat­heads:  my favorite exam­ple is when he lash­es out at San Francisco crit­ic Peter Stack, who offends Briggs by writ­ing a smart-alecky “back­hand­ed compliment”-style review for his beloved fave, Basket Case.  The com­bi­na­tion of schlock insight and imag­i­na­tive fic­tion make John Bloom a peer­less scribe who has tru­ly carved out his own per­son­al cor­ner of the schlock uni­verse.  Thus, each Joe Bob book is a must-read for any seri­ous schlock fiend.