Monday, September 26, 2016
H.G. LEWIS CATERED TO UNYOOOOOOOOSUAL AFFAIRS...
Something Weird video broke the news today that Herschell Gordon Lewis, the Godfather Of Gore, passed away at age 87. And with that, 2016 continues its stomping rampage across our hearts.
When I was growing up in the eighties I was obsessed with cult movies. It's hard to remember the days before everything was just a click away, but back then it required serious research and actual written letters to find out about anything that was hovering outside the mainstream. My three main resources were the library, the bookstore, and the many video rental places around Mankato. It was at the library at Mankato West High School that I came across Danny Peary's Cult Movies. Both volumes of the book served as a catalog of weird and wonderful movies that would go on to change my life. It was between the covers of these books that I discovered David Lynch, Russ Meyer, Ed Wood, and so many more. The analysis, good or bad, made me hungry for all of these films, and it became my mission to discover them.
Probably the most important essay in those books for me was one about H.G. Lewis' Blood Feast, the first ever gore movie. I had never heard of Herschell Gordon Lewis before, but everything about the way Peary described the film made me have to see it. The wooden acting and flimsy script were the icing, but the damn cake was ALL THAT GORE. Never before had a film been so drenched in crimson or draped in entrails and appendages. Today you can see that stuff on TV, but in 1962 it was gut wrenching stuff.
H.G. Lewis got his start in advertising, but decided that the best way to make money was to make a movie for next to nothing and get it into theaters. He already had the camera equipment from making commercials, so all he needed to do was round up some cheap film stock and starving actors to create something. His first movie, The Prime Time, was a bland affair, and the only thing that makes it memorable today is that it was Lewis' first film. He realized that in the world of low budget films you need something to make your project stand out, and for Lewis that one thing was nudity.
Lewis teamed up with notorious exploitation producer David F. Friedman for Living Venus, a film that falls under the category of "nudie cutie". It's not a complicated genre. Basically, Nudie Cuties feature nude men and women in setting and stories that really just exist to showcase barely clad or fully nude actors. Living Venus is the story of two guys that start a men's magazine, a la Playboy, and it features lots of scenes featuring nude models. It starred a young pre-Carol Burnett show Harvey Korman, and Thomas Wood, who became a regular Lewis collaborator.
Lewis and Friedman made several Nudie Cuties, many of which were shot at nudist colonies, but after a while the market became saturated. They needed a new gimmick, and that gimmick was extreme gore. Blood Feast became a sensation, and it cleaned up at drive-in theaters around the U.S. Lewis and Friedman went to a drive-in it was showing at when it first came out, and they were wondering what was going on, because there were cars backed up for miles. It turned out that it was people lining up to see their movie, and they knew they were on to something.
Lewis and Friedman followed up Blood Feast with 2000 Maniacs and Color Me Blood Red, completing what is affectionately known as The Blood Trilogy. The gore continued to flow throughout the sixties, with each film becoming more and more explicit as the market became flooded with gory competitors. During this period, Lewis struck out on his own and also made movies that cashed in on other genres. He made biker movies, rock and roll films, hillbilly exploitation, and even political satire. If there was money to made off of it, H.G. Lewis probably made a movie about it.
The Gore Gore Girls was Lewis' last horror venture. EVERYONE was making gore films at that point, so he went all out and made his goriest picture to day. After that worked as a hired hand on a few exploitation films, but his career in film was essentially over. He went on to become an internationally recognized expert on direct mail promotions, and it was in that industry that he worked until his death.
Even though his film career had ended, his legacy as an innovator and B-Movie legend grew over the decades. He was being recognized more and more for creating an incredibly popular horror genre, and eventually he was being called The Godfather Of Gore. He was thrilled with this notoriety, making horror convention appearances and finally cashing in on the genre he created. Eventually he returned to directing in 2009 with The Uh-Oh Show, an extremely gory (and tongue in cheek) game show movie.
When Shuffle Function began in 2001 we tried to get lots of station ID's from our favorite musicians and personalities. I immediately thought of Herschell Gordon Lewis, and I contacted him through the e-mail on his website. He agreed to record some for the show, and asked if I wanted to do them over the phone. I panicked at the thought of talking to him, so I sent him a cassette with a return envelope. He nailed them, of course, and they still get a workout every Halloween season.
A few years ago we were fortunate to get the opportunity to interview H.G. for the nighttime show. It was a funny and engaging interview, and he spoke like a man who clearly had told his stories a few times over the years. As Shelley said to me earlier today, he was one of the nicest people we've ever had the chance to speak to, and I agree. H.G. Lewis and Jandek are up at the top of the list.
We're looking around for a copy of the interview show so we can air it again. Hopefully it will run Tuesday morning. In any case, we hope you get a chance to listen, because he was a real titan. If I'm ever asked to list my favorite movies of all time it's always the same three movies: The Godfather, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Blood Feast.
Blood Feast is the friggin' Gone With The Wind of horror films.