Herschell Gordon Lewis passed away at the age of 90 on September 26, 2016 and America lost a true film icon. I wouldn’t say that he was a great director, or that his films were objectively good, but Lewis paved the way for horror filmmakers like Romero, Craven, and Hooper with the over-the-top gore – gore like had never been seen on film before – and a gonzo approach to filmmaking that is inspirational to this very day. Having gotten his start in the “nudie cuties” genre (nudist camp films and other justifications for showing naked women in non-sexual situations) Lewis and his producing partner David F. Friedman helped to expand the limitations of what could be shown on film in a system that is hard to even believe existed today. We’re talking independent movie houses essentially commissioning films for their specific marketplace, trading films with theater owners in other areas, filmmakers taking prints on the road. It was the Wild West, and Lewis figured out early on that naked ladies sold. After paving the way for nudist camp movies, Lewis and Friedman figured out the next big thing: Gore films. The big studios had to worry about the Production Code (established in 1888 and lasting until 1965) which kept an eye out for “morally objectionable” film content, including “explicit” sex and violence. In 1960, Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Psycho was released with no certificate of approval and still became a box office hit, which helped to weaken the authority of the Code. But Lewis wasn’t a big fan of Psycho, feeling that it cheated viewers by not showing the actual violence, just the aftermath, and developed the idea for Blood Feast, which would feature bathtubs of blood and gore. And because they worked the drive-in circuit, they avoided a lot of the public outrage that would have accompanied a mainstream film. A lot, but not all. The film would go on to star former nudie cutie veteran Mal Arnold as the machete-wielding madman, Fuad Ramses, intent on chopping people up and making an “Egyptian Feast” in order to resurrect the goddess Ishtar. And while some might question the racial characterization, the only real reason that Egypt is invoked is because the film was filmed over four days at the Suez hotel in Miami (where many of Lewis and Friedman’s nudie films were shot), which had a replica Sphynx out front. The female lead of Blood Feast was Playboy playmate Connie Mason as Suzette, Fuad’s final sacrifice and perhaps the worst actor in the history of bad acting (an opinion seconded by Lewis, thirded by Friedman, and fourthed by Joe Bob Briggs). But the performances weren’t what drove people to see Blood Feast. It was the gore. Sure, the blood wasn’t even close to real in color, being a vivid bright red, but the violence was more graphic than anything else on film, right down to a real cow’s tongue being “cut” out of a victim’s mouth and held up center-screen in all its shocking red glory. Lewis often compared Blood Feast to a poem by Walt Whitman: “It’s no good, but it was the first of its type.” Shot over four days with a budget of $24,000, the film went on to gross $4 million, and a subgenre was born. The film was quickly followed up with Two Thousand Maniacs in 1964, which saw a group of Northern tourists side-tracked to the Southern town of Pleasant Valley, where they are treated as guests of honor for the centennial celebration of the day Union troops destroyed the town. As one might guess, the Yankees are then brutally tortured and murdered. The production is more polished than Blood Feast, as they had a substantially larger budget and some breathing room for filming. It was filmed in two weeks for $65,000. And while the film looks better, it’s still a pretty bad film. But when discussing the films of Herschell Gordon Lewis, you have to keep in mind that quality isn’t determined on the same scale as mainstream films. These films had a sincerity that you usually only really get with low/no-budget films intent on pushing boundaries. They know what they’re working with and they know how to embrace the absurdity of their stories. Connie Mason returned for Two Thousand Maniacs and had improved greatly as an actress since the filming of Blood Feast, and Lewis wrote an original bluegrass song for the theme (performed by the Pleasant Valley Boys, who appeared from time to time as a variation on the Greek chorus). Unfortunately, thanks to the reputation that Blood Feast, Two Thousand Maniacs was, some might say, targeted by the censorship boards who felt that Blood Feast had slipped through the cracks. The MPAA demanded heavy cuts and it wasn’t very widely screened, playing mostly at drive-in theaters where it did very well – especially in the South. The following year, Lewis and Friedman’s partnership fell apart during the filming of Color Me Blood Red, the third film in the unofficial “Blood Trilogy.” This one centers on a maniacally eccentric artist who uses blood in his paintings. After his own blood proves too costly, he resorts to more violent means to create his art. This one features a few scenes that really disturb in their casual approach to sadism and gore, but is the least interesting of the first three of Lewis’ gore films. With the genre starting to expand, Friedman felt it was time to move on before the market was oversaturated, but Lewis stuck to his guns, filming Something Weird, A Taste of Blood, and The Gruesome Twosome all in 1967 (as well as the more diverse The Girl, the Body, and the Pill, Blast-Off Girls, and a children’s stage production, The Magic Land of Mother Goose). While he would also expand into less gory genres like the motorcycle gang film She-Devils on Wheels, which served as Lewis’ take on subject matter established by Russ Meyer in Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, and the anarchistic violence of Just for the Hell of It, nothing ever really brought in as much money and notoriety as Blood Feast, not even his ultra-violent swansong, The Gore Gore Girls (1972). But for those of us who love Herschell Gordon Lewis, it wasn’t about the objective quality of the films, it was about the embrace of everything that makes low-budget horror our favorite genre. It’s not about the polish, but the sincerity. It’s not about the believability of the effects, but the enthusiasm of the creators working with practically no money or time to create moments that shock and entertain. It’s about taking ideas to their extreme and capturing it on film. For all of these reasons, we bid a fond farewell to The Godfather of Gore, Herschell Gordon Lewis. Long may his memory live on. See larger image Herschell Gordon Lewis Feast, The (17-Disc Limited Edition Box Set) [Blu-ray + DVD] In 1963, director Herschell Gordon Lewis pulled a cow s tongue out of an actress mouth on camera, and in doing so, changed the landscape of horror cinema forever. That sequence was just one of numerous gruesome gags featured in Blood Feast, the film credited as being the world s first gore movie. It s no exaggeration to say that the modern gross-out movies of today owe their very existence to the pioneering efforts of H.G. Lewis. But whilst Lewis is most widely celebrated for his blood-and-guts epics (Two Thousand Maniacs!, The Wizard of Gore et al.), there s more to the prolific director than splatter. From tales of sordid photographers (Scum of the Earth) to sex robots (How to Make a Doll), from biker girl-gangs (She-Devils on Wheels) to youths-run-amok (Just for the Hell of It), and from psychic witches (Something Weird) to hard liquor-loving hillbillies (Moonshine Mountain), the filmography of H.G. Lewis reads like a veritable wish-list of exploitation movie madness. Now, for the first time ever, Arrow Video is proud to present fourteen of the Godfather of Gore s most essential films (including nine Blu-ray world debuts), collected together in a Limited Edition set (only 2,500 in the U.S.) and packed full of eye-popping bonus content. So put your feet up, pour yourself a glass of good ol moonshine, and prepare yourself for a feast H.G. Lewis style! LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS: Fourteen of the Godfather of Gore s finest attractions, newly restored from original and best surviving vault materials: Blood Feast, Scum of the Earth, Two Thousand Maniacs!, Moonshine Mountain, Color Me Blood Red, Something Weird, The Gruesome Twosome, A Taste of Blood, She-Devils on Wheels, Just for the Hell of It, How to Make a Doll, The Wizard of Gore, The Gore Gore Girls, This Stuff ll Kill Ya! High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of the features and extras on 7 Blu-ray and 7 DVD discs Brand new introductions to the films by Lewis Hours of extras including newly-produced interviews and featurettes, commentaries, short films and much more Additional 2 bonus Blu-rays featuring 1.33:1 versions of Blood Feast, Scum of the Earth, Color Me Blood Red, A Taste of Blood and The Wizard of Gore [limited editions exclusive] Additional bonus DVD: Herschell Gordon Lewis: The Godfather of Gore documentary [limited editions exclusive] 28-page H.G. Lewis annual stuffed full with Lewis-themed activities plus archive promotional material [limited editions exclusive] Newly illustrated packaging by The Twins of Evil [Feast edition exclusive] New From: $155.49 USD In Stock Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.