Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Herschell Gordon Lewis, Godfather of Gore: The Films, by Randy Palmer

(hb; 2000: non-fiction)

From the back cover:

"Take your seat! Grab a barf bag! And get ready for a hair-rasiing ride through a world of filmmaking so bizarre... so gross.. and so low-budget that even its chief practitioner claims the films were 'excreted' rather than released.

"YOU'LL SHUDDER as lurid ad campaigns are recreated before your eyes!

"YOU'LL SCREAM at the bad jokes and tasteless anecdotes!

"YOU'LL RECOIL as filmmaker Herschell Gordon Lewis compares his work to classic poetry!

"And you'll love this detailed, delirious history of a (mutilated) body of work in which chicken guts were human organs, blood was concocted from Kaopectate, and a cow's skull was cast as a human head floating picturesquely on the water (except that it sank, ruining the shot). Here is Lewis's complete story -- rich, authentic, and hilariously told through extensive interviews with the filmmaker himself. Lewis's humor and gift for storytelling make this book a delightful read as well as the definitive work on his career.

"With photographs, filmography, and forewords by Lewis and his producer David F. Friedman."


This is a fun and informative read, not only about Lewis (aka, "HG"), but about the independent horror filmmaking scene, from the early Sixties to the Eighties. It also shows the Hollywood horror mindset during these style-shifting decades.

Lewis comes off as a nice guy (who's not a horror fan) who just wanted to make movies that were entertaining, and, just as importantly, made a profit. He didn't always manage this, but this wasn't always his fault. Outside elements -- shady financiers/business partners, theater employees who cut crucial (i.e., too gory, possibly "offensive") scenes out of his films while showing them, rush-job shoots, and other unforseeable mini-disasters -- sometimes checkered his twenty-plus film career.

Lewis is important, and worth reading about, because he was the originator of the "gorror" (gory horror) film (most of which he wrote, directed, produced and got distributed), where the camera "lingered," often for several excruciating minutes, over the blood, intestinal splatterings and messy violence, instead of just briefly showing it.

Lewis's ouevre is made more interesting because of his willingness to make films in various, wildly disparate genres: early "nudie cuties" (many of which would garner a soft R-rating today) in the early to mid-Sixties, which had lots of nudity (but no actual sex -- such titles included The Adventures of Lucky Pierre, Daughter of the Sun); children's films (Jimmy the Wonder Boy, The Magic Land of Mother Goose); action films (Moonshine Mountain; She-Devils on Wheels); and, of course, "gorror" films (there were were seven, including the seminal Blood Feast, Two Thousand Maniacs!, and two of his more underrated films, A Taste of Blood and The Gore-Gore Girls).

Lewis stopped making films in 1972, for practical reasons: Hollywood, which had ignored or decried his style and elements (explicit gore, action, nudity, with attendant heapings of schlocky humor), had co-opted them -- how could Lewis, with his small budgets, compete with that? In 1974, a highly-publicized lawsuit stemming from his interest in several small, and unbeknownst to him, shady, businesses bankrupted him. He started writing "direct-marketing advertising copy" a year later, and has been highly successful in various legit companies, at one point becoming vice-president of marketing; he also started writing specialty books about the workings of, and how to become successful in, advertising (the sheer number of available titles is staggering). He even, with his longtime wife, Margo, co-authored Everybody's Guide to Plate Collecting, and is co-author of another non-fiction book, Symbol of America: Norman Rockwell (this one without Margo).

Gem of a read, this. Check it out.

In 2002, Lewis returned to the director's chair with Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat, a direct-to-DVD film. John McConnell played Detective Dave Loomis. Mark McLachlan played Detective Mike Meyers. Melissa Morgan played Mrs. Lampley. Toni Wynne played Tifanni Lampley. J.P. Delahoussaye played Fuad Ramses III (grandson of Blood Feast's mad killer, Fuad Ramses). W. Boyd Ford scripted.

Fifteen years before (1987), a remake of Blood Feast was filmed and released. Titled Blood Diner, this Jackie Kong-directed, gleefully cheesy B-gem (which has the priceless tag-line: "First They Greet You, Then They Eat You") openly acknowledged its 1963 source film. Rick Burks played Michael Tutman. Carl Crew played George Tutman. Roger Dauer played Mark Shepard. LaNette La France played Sheba Jackson. Drew Godderis played Anwar. Michael Sonye scripted.

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