I’m an 80’s kid. Born in 1980, I had a decent upbringing and growing up in New York City, it meant the outside world was a scary place. At least what my parents told me about certain areas was scary, so I wasn’t really a ‘go outside and play’ type of kid. So even at a young age, I was watching weird movies, anything I could find in the TV Guide, in Leonard Maltin and Roger Ebert’s guides and suggestions from my uncle as to what to watch. I was looking for anything and everything to tantalize my senses. I just loved to watch all kinds of films. We even had a channel, WPIX Channel 11 here that would show plenty of movies, cut of course, but sneaking a watch late at night on my 13 inch black and white TV held my attention more than you could imagine.
Then came the early days of the internet. Back when AOL and Compuserve were the way to interact with people around the world, I found chat rooms. And being in my early teens, getting past all the instant messages that asked ‘A/S/L’ and if I wanted a good time, I would get my kicks out of finding out about strange and cult films in horror and sci-fi chat rooms. One guy told me about directors and their film library and what I should watch. Nothing sinister at all, except for trying to corrupt my already twisted brain.
This guy told me about a director named Herschell Gordon Lewis. He kept calling him ‘The Godfather of Gore’. Which appealed to me because I was always trying to find the most horrific and gore filled movies. Hell, everyday I used to go to the website Rotten.com, so I was a much more cynical person who wanted my eyes to be filled with blood. I wondered where I could find his films, so I went to the store Kim’s Video (R.I.P.) that used to be in NYC, and looked all over. When I found a few of his films, I was ecstatic. I had to buy them.
The price was right. Back when you could buy VHS (the Something Weird Video DVD box set wasn’t out until 2004, which I bought the first week it came out), I picked up the ones with the most lurid box art. 2000 Maniacs, The Wizard of Gore and The Gore Gore Girls. I jumped on the train, holding the tapes in the bag like I had some sort of pornographic material. I had that feeling that even though these were legally bought, that somehow I was going to get caught with something risque and get in trouble for having these tapes.
I got home, ran past mom and downstairs into my room. I shut the door behind me, my brother wasn’t home from his friend’s house yet. I popped in the tape and started watching The Wizard of Gore first, mainly because I loved the title. And my eyes lit up the whole time. Seeing Montag the Magnificent hypnotize people and butcher them on stage, I was enthralled. I of course knew it wasn’t real, but it had that feeling of a documentary style look. I loved it. I would pause the screen, take a picture with my old camera, and rewind it to re-watch the gore scenes. This was 1970?! I couldn’t believe it. I marathoned 2000 Maniacs and The Gore Gore Girls next, and was equally floored. I couldn’t get enough of HGL’s films. I had told a friend of mine he had to watch them. So I went over to his place and we watched them and he loved them as well. He told some friends they had to come over and watch these ‘sick old films’ I brought over.
And thus started a small Herschell Gordon Lewis cult, in junior high and then high school, amongst my friends and their friends. And through high school I would track down any film he made, such as Blood Feast (weird it took me a few years to finally watch it) and Color Me Blood Red. Followed those up with Taste Of Blood, Something Weird (why does that name sound so familiar?) and The Gruesome Twosome (which was always a favorite movie trailer for me to show people). And many years later, around college, is when I found out he did a bunch of softies, not hardcore pornographic films, but softcore nudity and exploitation elements.
I even tracked down his business books he wrote in the 1970’S and 1980’s. After The Gore Gore Girls, he retired from filmmaking and while he still had his advertising firm which he used the profits from to fund his films, he wrote these business books dealing with direct marketing, copywriting, public relations, advertising and self promotion, which are amazing books for any filmmaker who wants to make a stamp with their film, especially in this day and age of social media. I need to track down these books again because many were lost in a move from Ohio back to New York City many moons ago.
Shock came to me in the early 2000’s, when I was frequenting message boards and horror websites, when I read that Lewis was making his first feature in 30 years, which was going to be a sequel to his seminal Blood Feast. Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat, was a lot of fun. A film that seemed to fit perfectly in with his 60’s and 70’s output, and having that same sense of humor that always made me gravitate to him. And a John Waters cameo too! I was in gore and kitsch heaven. And then flash forward to even 2013 when Vinegar Syndrome put out The Lost Films of Herschell Gordon Lewis, containing 3 of his sexploitation features remastered, and films I thought I’d never get to see in such pristine condition.
A pioneer in independent films, in using gore and exploitation to tell a story and push the limit of bad taste, and always tongue firmly in cheek and in stomach, Herschell Gordon Lewis should be a name that is talked about by Hollywood and filmmakers everywhere. People scoffed that he and David F. Friedman did something with their films that most don’t think about, which is making films with the intention of making a profit. How else would they make the next film? And the next film? Roger Corman followed a similar approach, and it’s one that should be in the back of any filmmaker’s head, especially any independent filmmaker. He was a visionary, seeing how far you could go and pushing past that and just smiling through it all. As a fan of not only his films, but the man himself, I can’t think of any other way to honor the man except to watch a couple of his films and keep spreading the love for the one and only ‘Godfather of Gore’.