“Amazing Collection of Movies and Material From a Unique
Film-Maker No Longer With Us. RIP HGL. ”
You have to be a special kind of person to appreciate a film made by the (very recently) late, great Herschell Gordon Lewis. You have to be someone who isn’t put off by tatty film-making, writing, or acting; someone who perhaps revels in the sheer bad taste of his shoestring enterprises; and perhaps most of all, someone who can appreciate the work of a man who was actively thumbing his nose at a movie industry that, at the time, considered the output of Hammer Films not worth reviewing, let alone scenes of a foot long tongue being removed from the mouth of a Swedish lady.
I am an HGL fan, so welcome to a far lengthier review than usual as I delve into the contents of this massive set that provides a most fitting monument to this very singular film-maker. There are 17 discs in here, and even counting the fact that it’s dual format, that’s still pretty impressive. Also impressive is that HGL himself provides a newly filmed (and charming) introduction to every movie included. It’s quite a bit to cover, so let’s dive in!
Discs 1 (Blu) & 2 (DVD)
BLOOD FEAST (1963)
|BLOOD FEAST kicks off!|
The ‘classic’ that started it all, and still surprisingly watchable if you’re the kind of very forgiving horror fan who can excuse terrible acting, dodgy direction and editing, and crappy dialogue synching. Because BLOOD FEAST really does have something - the verve with which the ludicrousness is pulled off, the sheer outrageousness of the gore effects, and the music that should be terrible (and frequently is) but which somehow fits this jolly nonsense perfectly. I don’t think it’s a classic, and you really do need to be a special kind of horror fan to enjoy it, but if you are you’ll end up watching it again and again. This version has been restored but for some reason is presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio. I would, of course, suggest watching it in 1.33:1 and that version thankfully is on one of the two supplementary Blu-ray discs.
SCUM OF THE EARTH (1963)
|She also gave us the screenplay for BLOOD FEAST!|
“You’re damaged goods, and this is a fire sale!” I can’t say I’m at all familiar with the ‘roughie’ subgenre of American exploitation cinema. Knowing HGL, SCUM OF THE EARTH might not even be a reasonable example, but it is a piece of sleazy black and white fun as good girl Kim (frequent HGL screenwriter and general helpmate Allison Louise Downe) gets coerced into having nude pictures taken which are then used to blackmail her into performing ever further unspeakable acts. Interesting for seeing Mal Arnold not being Fuad Ramses (in fact watch this and then BLOOD FEAST and several familiar faces pop up) and some great trashy dialogue. Also presented in 1.85:1 but there’s a 1.33:1 version on the supplemental Blu-rays.
Extras include a Lewis & Friedman commentary on BLOOD FEAST, directors Nick McCarthy and Rodney Asher talking about the importance of the film, BLOOD FEAST outtakes (silent), archive HGL interview and another with HGL and Dave Friedman as well, CARVING MAGIC vintage short and HGL discussing his early work in nudie cuties (what a strange name for a genre).
Discs 3 (Blu) & 4 (DVD)
TWO THOUSAND MANIACS (1964)
Arguably HGL’s best film, which manages to combine BRIGADOON with politics, bluegrass country music and gore effects. More accomplished than BLOOD FEAST (and some of HGL’s subsequent offerings), this one’s actually quite unsettling because of its plot and acting as well as the splat. Like a low rent Twilight Zone episode but with blood and a worrying integrity on the part of some of its actors, this is probably the best HGL film to use as a gateway drug on the unsuspecting (as opposed to TASTE OF BLOOD because that wouldn’t be fair).
MOONSHINE MOUNTAIN (1964)
|You've seen the poster. You probably don't need to see the film|
Definitely one for the HGL / crap country music movie completist, because there’s no nudity or gore in this one to liven it up. There is, however, lots of hillbilly tomfoolery, drinking, and the mayor from TWO THOUSAND MANIACS. Maybe it’s not that bad. But then again, it probably is.
Extras: TWO THOUSAND MANIACS Friedman & Lewis commentary, outtakes and Tim Sullivan talking about it. A tribute to David F Friedman, visual essay on the American south in horror from David Del Valle, and Herschell’s Art of Advertising!
Discs 5 (Blu) & 6 (DVD)
COLOR ME BLOOD RED (1965)
|But is it art?|
Holy bananas! There’s a foot sticking out of the sand here! Don’t worry - it’s just HGL’s tale of a mad artist who discovers blood is just the right shade of red for his grisly paintings. Neither as amateur as BLOOD FEAST nor as interesting as 2000 MANIACS it’s still worth a watch as the final part of the Lewis-Friedman trilogy. Plus there’s some of the reddest swimsuit attire I have ever seen
SOMETHING WEIRD (1967)
|The aspect of this still is wrong, but then so is the entire film.|
HGL’s tale of ESP and a serial killer kicks off with three minutes of karate, then something silly happens and a man falls off a roof before we cut to a picture of clouds. A lecture follows and just as we are all falling asleep we cut to our man in hospital and flashing lights. Some doctors talk. The man attacks a nurse, then puts a sock over his head and starts telling fortunes. A pretend old lady appears. She has lips tattooed on her right knee. The porn boss from SCUM OF THE EARTH turns up. Everything turns red during an LSD trip. What on earth is going on? Why am I even asking? Is it SOMETHING WEIRD? Yes it is.
Extras: Commentaries on both movies. Outtakes from COLOR ME BLOOD RED, David Del Valle affects his best spooky voice (if there’s a better one I want to hear that too) to tell us about mad artists in the movies, Film Scholar Jeffrey Sconce defends SOMETHING WEIRD, saying you have to work up to that one (he’s right). HGL talks about his musical JIMMY THE BOY WONDER (not on this set - are we pleased or relieved?). A 1966 dance short HOT NIGHT AT THE GO GO LOUNGE ‘presumably’ directed by Lewis which plays more like the inside of John Waters’ head than anything remotely sexy. Never before in the annals of horror....
Discs 7 (Blu) & 8 (DVD)
THE GRUESOME TWOSOME (1967)
This is the one about the wig shop run by a batty old lady who is obsessed with her stuffed cat Napoleon. On the opposite side of the shop are rooms for rent. Every girl who comes inquiring gets locked in with the old lady’s son who scalps them with typical Lewis...style. Apart from the wacky ‘comedy horror’ plot, this one’s worth watching for the priceless drive-in scene (and the film being shown) that had me in tears. 72 minutes, quite a few of them serving nothing plotwise at all, but still a pretty good time. Especially those talking heads at the start that feel so post-modern they could be a youtube video.
A TASTE OF BLOOD (1967)
|…and a blob of gore|
HGL’s ‘vampire epic’ that features him as a sailor because the chap intended for the role never turned up. It’s a bit overlong at two hours but if you’ve been watching the discs in sequence you’ll probably be surprised at how competent this one is. A businessman inherits a couple of bottles of brandy from Dracula, basically. They turn him into a vampire & he embarks on a revenge spree for his late relative. Slightly better acting than usual and a nice print on the whole, except for some greeny spotty bits in the middle.
Extras: San Francisco female impersonator Peaches Christ talks about the film, Fred Olen Ray talks about filming in Florida, HGL commentaries on both pictures and a piece on HGL versus the censors.
Discs 9 (Blu) and 10 (DVD)
SHE DEVILS ON WHEELS (1968)
|An icon of grindhouse!|
A bit like the TV show THE BANANA SPLITS but with women bikers and no cartoons, HG’s second most profitable picture is brightly lit and features lots of ladies riding motorbikes while wearing the kind of clothes a young Divine must have drooled over. There’s a fair bit of violence as well (including the old head flying through the air gag) before a really abrupt ending. Stay after the credits, though, for some more of the biker ladies’ “poetry”.
JUST FOR THE HELL OF IT (1968)
|I put up the poster. Just for the hell of it|
Teens smash things up as four punks (Denny, Mitzi, Dexter and Lummox!) terrorise a neighbourhood. WIZARD OF GORE Ray Sager leads the gang. Possessing the same level of energy as (if not more than) SHE DEVILS this is juvenile delinquency HGL style. Just make sure if you watch this you also catch the Ray Sager interview on the next disc.
Extras: Chris Alexander talks about HGL and there’s a clip of the two of them performing the title song from 2000 MANIACS a couple of years ago that’s utterly endearing. Also an interview with Bob Murawski (editor on ARMY OF DARKNESS and SPIDERMAN), HGL on THE ALLEY TRAMP, trailers and a commentary for SHE DEVILS.
Discs 11 (Blu) and 12 (DVD)
HOW TO MAKE A DOLL (1968)
|No stills available for this one. There's a reason|
Oh good Lordy. Here’s one just for the HGL completists out there. If a group of schoolboys in the late 1960s had decided to make a sex comedy about a scientist building lady robots they would probably have done better than this. Worth seeing the bit with the computer about 20 minutes in, complete with special HGL sound effects that consist of him burping, groaning and playing what sounds like a swanee whistle to suggest the computer is going about its business.
THE WIZARD OF GORE (1970)
|Oh Montag, what are you up to now?|
Chris Alexander claims this is the apotheosis of HGL’s work and he may well be right. At his nightly stage show Montag the Magician does ridiculous things to people on stage and they somehow survive except they don’t really. It’s all to do with the audience being hypnotised. Or is Montag hypnotised? Or asleep? Or is the entire film a dream? Either ambitious (if you’re being kind) or a load of old random rubbish (if you’re not and if so why have you read this far?) it’s fair to say that there is no film on earth quite like THE WIZARD OF GORE. Not even that remake with Crispin Glover came close. Show this one to an unsuspecting friend and watch their face as their brain fries. Oh, and this is the 1.85:1 aspect version. The 1.33:1 is on one of the bonus Blu-rays.
Extras: Trailer and commentary for WIZARD OF GORE. Great interview with star Ray Sager, Stephen Thrower talks about WIZARD, Jeffrey Kasten (who made the WIZARD remake) talks about HGL’s movies, and we get the HGL episode of Jonathan Ross’ Incredibly Strange Film Show (which is a huge piece of 1980s nostalgia in itself).
Discs 13 (Blu) and 14 (DVD)
THIS STUFF'LL KILL YA! (1971)
|See my caption for MOONSHINE MOUNTAIN and apply|
Hillbillies, moonshine, lots of bluegrass fiddle music, two girls crucified and an early appearance by Larry Drake (DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW, DARKMAN et al). That’s all you need to know about this one, which is for HGL completists only.
THE GORE GORE GIRLS (1972)
|A rare non-gory, non-sleazy bit. Well, non-gory anyway.|
A mixture of giallo murder mystery and rather dull TV detective movie, this is the one that even Fangoria said contained ‘vomitous amounts of hard core gore’. Certainly the treatment of the (extremely amateur) effects verges on the pornographic. That, along with one of the darkest, grimmest-looking strip clubs ever committed to film as the main setting of this one, means you may want to have something else lined up afterwards as a bit of a palate cleanser
Extras: Stephen Thrower reminds me of my youth watching this stuff on very very blurry VHS and provides as erudite a ‘defence’ of GORE GORE GIRLS as anyone possibly could. HGL commentaries on both pictures, HGL talks about why he left the film industry at this point, and Joe Swanberg and Spencer Parsons discuss HGL’s movies in general and GORE GORE girls in particular.
Disc 15 (Blu-ray only)
Original aspect ratio transfers (1.33:1) of
SCUM OF THE EARTH
COLOR ME BLOOD RED
Disc 16 (Blu-ray only)
Original aspect ratio transfers (1.33:1) of:
A TASTE OF BLOOD
THE WIZARD OF GORE
Disc 17 (Blu-ray only)
H G Lewis: The Godfather of Gore - Quite possibly more entertaining than the films themselves, this is a 100 minute+ documentary on HGL with plenty of interviews, clips, and a healthy sense of humour about the whole thing. There’s also just over an hour of deleted scenes as well, so in all you get nearly three hours of people talking about HGL’s films, including John Waters, Frank Henenlotter and of course HGL himself.
So in summary, I loved this set. It's probably the most exhaustive tribute to HGL that's ever going to exist. There is so much stuff here, and so many extras, that it's going to keep grindhouse fans happy for a month and possibly forever. Arrow are releasing two sets - a standard version and a special limited edition that looks like this:
The postcards are especially nice. Right - I'm off to run my brain under a cold tap and chill out by watching something normal. Or perhaps I'll just watch WIZARD OF GORE again…
Arrow Films are releasing THE HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS FEAST and THE HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS FEAST - SHOCK & GORE EDITION (with all that extra stuff in the picture up there) on Monday 24th October 2016.