Herschell Gordon Lewis died peacefully, in his sleep, on September 26th 2016. He was 90 years old. He lived a full life, enjoying brief careers in teaching and advertising as a young man before taking the leap into independent filmmaking; a move that would, in time, turn his name into legend.
The beginnings were admittedly inauspicious. Nudie cuties such as THE ADVENTURES OF LUCKY PIERRE proved to be moderately successful at the box office. But they soon became tame as the censors grew more liberal and filmmakers flirted openly with far more graphic sexual material. Lewis knew that if he were to find an audience while working with limited resources, he needed to give them something the likes of which they had never seen before. In 1963, he and producer David F Friedman struck gold with the release of the worlds first fully fledged splatter film: BLOOD FEAST.
Of course, the likes of EYES WITHOUT A FACE and THE FLESH EATERS had already given us explicit onscreen gore. But Lewis raised the bar by several notches in terms of the lurid grisliness his film proffered. It was a drive-in smash: Lewis and Friedman knew the path they were to follow.
And so, the gore continued over several years, always outside of the Hollywood machine (Florida remained Lewis's stomping ground). Lewis made other, non-splatter films during this period too; including a brief foray into hardcore "educational" territory with 1971s BLACK LOVE. But then, following the release of THE GORE GORE GIRLS in 1972, he announced his retirement from filmmaking. Following a stint in prison for fraud, Lewis settled back into a career in advertising, writing numerous books on the subject over the next couple of decades.
It wasnt until 2002 he bounced back onto the film scene with the belated sequel BLOOD FEAST 2: ALL U CAN EAT (something he had been hinting at since the late 1980s). A popular presence at festivals since, it is sad that the affably self-effacing auteur has gone...but his legacy lives on.
Speaking of which, Arrow Video pay tribute to the Godfather of Gore with this limited edition: a huge 17-disc collection which, while not comprehensive (he has 37 directorial efforts credited to him on The Internet Movie Database; there are 14 films contained herein), is by far the most exhaustive review of his career to date.
There are two boxed set editions being released. Both consist of 10 extras-laden blu-rays and 7 DVDs.
THE HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS FEAST also contains a 28 page collectors booklet. The SHOCK AND GORE set includes a 92-page art book featuring an overview of the director's career written by Stephen Thrower; a reproduction of the original paperback novelization of BLOOD FEAST (written by Lewis); a 7" vinyl single containing music from BLOOD FEAST; 14 colour art-cards depicting original theatrical artwork for all of the films covered here; a commemorative barf bag; new cover art by The Twins of Evil.
I'm going to start with the films and their blu-ray presentations, all of which are (to my knowledge) presented uncut. I'll keep the synopses and reviews short where possible, as there's an awful lot of ground to cover and this review could easily become cumbersome (for you; I can gladly ramble) otherwise!
All films are presented as MPEG4-AVC files, with the benefit of full 1080p HD resolution. Easily readable and well-written optional English subtitles are provided in each case, for the hard of hearing. Text disclaimers appear before several of the films, Arrow alerting viewers to the fact that some of these presentations are composites of various sources, and that in some cases major print damage is going to be evident but unavoidable. These are low-budget exploitation films from 50-odd years ago in most cases, so expectations should be kept in check.
Disc 1 contains BLOOD FEAST and SCUM OF THE EARTH.
In seminal video nasty FEAST, young women are being food butchered with various limbs hacked off. Police detective Tom (Thomas Wood - or William Kerwin per his birth certificate) is baffled. Viewers know from the offset - an iconic opening scene in which a blonde is attacked while soaking in her bathtub; her eye is gouged out and her leg chopped off - that the culprit is limping Egyptian caterer Fuad Ramses (Mal Arnold). He's gathering body parts in preparation of cooking a feast in honour of the goddess Ishtar. Can Tom put the pieces together and foil Ramses before he has his wicked way with the detective's girlfriend (Connie Mason)?
Lurid in colour and content, FEAST is a fast-paced explosion of risible dialogue, barely competent performances (check out the police chief who has to read his lines from the palm of his hand) and primitive special effects - the budget was approximately $60,000.00. It feels like a bumper episode of a cheesy vintage crime show with added gore on top. But all of these elements combined are key to its charm. From the boyfriend's exaggerated sobs following the discovery of his lover's brains having been removed, to the climactic daylight chase which is a great slice of unintentional comedy, BLOOD FEAST is effortlessly entertaining. There's never a dull moment, dramatically or visually. Lewis's rudimental score is oddly captivating too.
For all its technical shortcomings I also think FEAST is the most fluid and engaging of Lewis's films. The gore is ludicrous (one girl has a sheep's tongue placed in her mouth so that Ramses can yank it out) but, combined with cartoonish performances and soap-opera pacing, it fits perfectly.
The film is presented in 1.85:1 for the most part (the opening titles are pillar-boxed at 1.33:1). It looks great: bold colours; stable blacks; a clean print; fine detail. It's an improvement on the Something Weird blu-ray's presentation, looking sharper and more naturally dark. English mono audio is clean and clear throughout.
SCUM is the only black-and-white film featured here. Darker terrain is explored here as naive young Kim (Allison Louise Downe) takes her friend's advice and models for sleazy photographer Harmon (William Kerwin). It turns out he works for a gang who sell photos of nude women being abused - and Kim is now on their books. Blackmailed into posing for further photographs, can Kim escape this Hellish ordeal?
Tame by today's standards, of course, this 1963 slice of sexploitation still resonates on a thematic level. Performances undermine a lot of the unease and Lewis's directorial style is very static, very workmanlike, but there's a grubby allure to this which sets it apart from most of what else is on offer here. Considering its budget was apparently just $11,000.00m it's a good little flick.
It looks decent here, the new transfer having been struck from a fairly damaged print. But blacks and contrast are strong, image detail is healthy...it looks like an old film mastered efficiently in HD, which is what it is. The audio, once again English mono, does a serviceable job.
Disc 2 offers TWO THOUSAND MANIACS! and MOONSHINE MOUNTAIN.
MANIACS! is Lewis's favourite film of his own, a simple yarn stretched to feature-length in which six travellers are hoodwinked into following a diversion to a Southern town hosting centennial celebrations. The town's mayor and his gurning cronies insist their guests stay for the festivities. Unbelievably, given the amount of manic cackling and annoying banjo music going on around them, the group - including returning actors Wood and Mason - agree. Which is a bad move on their part.
More thought has gone into pacing and script, with the exploitation set-pieces being more evenly spread out. We get limb-hacking, finger-slicing and a barrel which has been converted into a spinning Iron Maiden-type torture device. It's not as gory or as fun as FEAST and feels too long. Still, there are enough quirky characters and spirited musical interludes (including Lewis's infuriatingly catch theme tune - "Yeehaw! Oh the South is gonna rise again!") to ensure it's a worthwhile endeavour. It provides an interesting commentary on the bloody legacy of the civil war too.
The print used here is at times very scratchy and damaged, with instances of fading altering the colour here and there. When it looks good it looks very good - deep, true, textured - but it's worth pointing out that some scenes exhibit heavy wear and tear, and the aspect ratio fluctuates at times between 1.85:1 and 1.66.1. English mono audio is reliable throughout.
MOUNTAIN is a lesser film of the director's, a drama about country singer Doug (Charles Glore) returning to his Southern roots only to find himself caught in the middle of feud between the moonshining boys he grew up with and the local sheriff (Gordon Oas-Heim). Stripped of any of the violence, nudity or threat evident in even some of Lewis's dafter productions, this one feels more like a very personal project. It's dull, overlong and has little to recommend it save for an amiable lead turn from Glore and Lewis's quirky countrified score.
It looks horrible here (Arrow's disclaimer warns as much, and assures us they've used the best elements they could source). Vertical lines dance around a washed-out pillar-boxed picture for the most part. If you're familiar with some of the rougher prints used on old After Hours Cinema DVDs, you'll know the kind of picture to expect. The mono audio is flat but free from hiss or drop-outs.
The third blu-ray pairs COLOR ME BLOOD RED with SOMETHING WEIRD.
1965's COLOR ME BLOOD RED completed what is now considered "the blood trilogy", alongside FEAST and MANIACS!. It tells of a tortured painter (Oas-Heim) whose work is transformed when he discovers his hectoring wife's blood is the perfect shade of crimson needed to complete his latest work. Success grows as the killings continue, the local critics being wowed by the artist's striking red paint strokes.
Clearly indebted to Roger Corman's A BUCKET OF BLOOD, Lewis's film adopts a similar tone, flirting between comedy and violent horror with some skill. I used to hate this film but it grows on me more with each viewing: I appreciate the wayward way in which it exposes the vacuous nature of art criticism. Joseph's performance is a wonderfully sweaty, intense one; the humour works in its own crude manner; evocations of the swinging 60s are successful; Oas-Heim's beachside home is a perfect location. It helps that the film is less than 80 minutes long too.
The 1.85:1 transfer is generally very good. There's some print damage here and there but in the main this is a clean, impressively vibrant offering. The English mono mix on offer is reliable but unremarkable.
SOMETHING WEIRD is true to its name. This oddity opens to jazzy bass guitar as a prostitute is strangled in an alley. Then we meet Mitch (Tony McCabe), who's electrocuted by a live wire while trying to help someone else who's taken a tumble. He's rushed to hospital where he eventually learns the accident has left him with extrasensory powers. Deformed as a result of his mishap, he withdraws from public life to work as a private fortune teller - until a hideous witch (Mudite Arums) promises to restore his looks if he embarks on an affair with her. Reluctantly, he agrees.
And that's just the start of the madness in this fast-paced, enjoyable slice of hokum. The performances are iffy, the script's scientific explanations are hilariously iffy and the effects look like a child was responsible for executing them. But, like BLOOD FEAST, WEIRD makes its sense of fun seem effortless.
This is another transfer which is preceded by a disclaimer from Arrow forewarning that the original negatives are lost and, as a result, this 2K restoration has been struck from a damaged 35mm print. So, yes, you can expect more dirt and specks, plus occasional colour fading. By and large though, this is an impressive 1.33:1 transfer, bringing more detail and colour out of the film than I ever remember.
On to disc 4 and we get THE GRUESOME TWOSOME alongside A TASTE OF BLOOD.
TWOSOME is a comical take on a wig shop who get their hair by means of scalping unwitting victims with an electric knife. It begins with two model heads in the shop window, talking to one another. The forced wackiness endures as this one trundles on, some typically bloodthirsty murder scenes (echoing William Lustig's later MANIAC at times) punctuating a film that is otherwise rather slow and all too often padded out with length passages of - admittedly enjoyable - music.
The pillar-boxed opening scene is extremely battered and worn-looking, but things improve once the 16x9 main body of the film kicks in. Print damage and some fluctuation in source quality is undeniable, but overall TWOSOME makes a credible leap to HD. The English soundtrack is muffled on occasion but this seems true of all previous variants of the film. It's never too great to become a problem.
BLOOD was seen as an epic at its time of release, a 2-hour vampire film. John (Bill Rogers) is a rather nondescript businessman who like to host extremely polite dinner parties with his wife Helene (Elizabeth Wilkinson). All this changes when he receives a gift of brandy from England - upon drinking it, and the blood that's been mixed into it, he's transformed into a vampire. From then on he makes it his mission to trace all descendants of Dracula's killers and even the score.
Donald Stanford's screenplay brings a darker tone to this one than most of the films on offer here. Lewis takes his time, allowing his actors ample time to shine as best they can during drawn-out expositional scenes. Unfortunately these aren't great actors by any stretch of the imagination and the whole thing soon becomes tiresome. It's not a terrible film - in fact, it's technically one of Lewis's better ones - but it struggles with consistency of pace, thus shattering any notion of Lewis sustaining suspense. Gorehounds will feel short-changed by the largely anaemic nature of the set-pieces too.
Boasting one of the cleaner, more detailed and damage-free transfers, A TASTE OF BLOOD at least looks great here in a colourful 1.85:1 presentation. The mono sounds are highly dependable too.
Next up we get SHE-DEVILS ON WHEELS, which is doubled up with JUST FOR THE HELL OF IT.
SHE-DEVILS follows the exploits of all-girl biker gang The Man-Eaters as they ruck, fuck and race for kicks. Trouble brews when gang member Karen (Christie Wagner) shows signs of having fallen for regular fuck-buddy Bill (David Harris). Gang leader Queen (Betty Connell) says this is against the rules and Karen must pay for disobeying them. There's little to this one in terms of plot but the swinging music, garish colours of the gang's outfits and constantly moving camera are enough to compensate for the fact that, for a biker pic, Lewis appears to show no interest in the bikes themselves. It remains a fascinating snapshot of its era though, and you can't help but smile at how obvious John Waters' love for this film must be.
The film's transfer is excellent, correctly framing the picture at 1.33:1 and really accentuating those vivid colour schemes. A clean print helps this one become a most welcome proposition indeed - I last saw this on VHS, and the step-up to HD is quite remarkable, like seeing it for the first time. The mono audio track is decent, while I noticed the first error in the set's subtitles here - about 20 minutes in, when one male character says "let's get it on babe" but the subtitles say "let's on babe". Hardly the crime of the century, and it's not like I was watching the subtitles religiously, but at least it demonstrate that I have indeed sat through this beast of a set!
HELL OF IT was written by Allison Louise Downe and is one of the stronger films in this set. It starts with a group of youths busting some moves at a hippyish house party, before suddenly trashing the place in a protracted scene of wanton destruction. This introduces us to gang leader Dexter (Ray Sager), who directs his mob through the taunting, beating and humiliation of the small town they live in. It plays out like a series of vignettes which collectively celebrate a decadent time of partying, rock 'n' roll, free loving and violence. This is tonally grim as it plummets towards rape and murder, but never overtly graphic. It's a pretty well-made film.
Another 1.33:1 transfer serves this film well, with strong colours and deep blacks. Occasional print debris is minor, meaning this little-seen film from almost 50 years ago (1968) looks pretty fantastic, all told. The audio is a tad muffled at times and does suffer from instances of noticeable background noise.
The next disc serves up the double-whammy of THE WIZARD OF GORE and HOW TO MAKE A DOLL.
Lewis entered the 1970s with his most gruesome film since BLOOD FEAST, THE WIZARD OF GORE. In it, magician Montag (Ray Sager) hatches a dastardly plan to hypnotise the nation through their televisions. Prior to this, his stage act wows audiences by killing volunteers in gorily inventive ways (sawn in half; heads crushed beneath punch-presses etc), only for the participants to return to their seats seemingly unharmed moments later. But when these people wind up dead from identical wounds hours later, the police try desperately to connect the dots between Montag and the murders.
GORE was written by Allen Khan His script is tight and the storyline is unusually ambitious, taking in the manipulative nature of modern media while tossing in an audacious twist finale. Performances are pretty solid and there are even a couple of surreal dream sequences which don't feel like anything else Lewis produced. The gore is cartoonish in its luminous excess.
The 16x9 picture is a good one, the film looking to be well-framed and benefiting from a nicely filmic sense of depth. Light grain is natural, colours are robust, blacks hold up well and the print used, while very grainy at times, is generally free from signs of excessive wear. The print doesn't look as clean as the one used for Something Weird's HD master, but the 2K restoration here wins in terms of depth and detail. Mono audio is fine.
DOLL is a ropy sex comedy in which nerdy college professor Percy (Robert Wood) observes his students making out and has a sudden revelation: girls are more fun than text books. With the help of his lab assistant, he sets about making a female robot to sate his every whim. Cue lots (and lots) of whirring computer cogs.
As with a large number of these films, exposition is kept to a minimum by way of opening narration from Lewis which helps set the scene. But this is still a rambling affair, its obvious gags and strained physical humour rarely capable of raising a titter. It's an interesting snapshot into tamer times and does have an intriguing counter-culture element to it, but it's undeniably directionless for the large part. Too many moments are padded out with stock footage set to travelogue-type music, while a lack of charisma in the cast doesn't help.
A heavily damaged opening titles sequence doesn't bode well, but this restoration of a 35mm print soon improves: it's actually really healthy presentation - bright, colourful, true. English mono audio is slightly muffled-sounding but does its job.
THIS STUFF'LL KILL YA! and THE GORE GORE GIRLS follow.
STUFF is an enjoyable romp through crime cinema, redneck preacher Reverend Boone (Jeffrey Allen) delivers sermons to his Oklahoma followers in a small church, taking their money at the end of each service. He's a devout follower of prohibition - although, on the side, he runs an illegal moonshine racket, aided by right-hand-man Grady (Sager again). When the FBI close in on the Reverend's activities, he becomes resolute in protecting his lot - even if this means resorting to bloody murder.
It's a talky film (written by Lewis) but is punctuated by some violent deaths and a fairly consistent pace. A Hillbilly score and a host of quirky characters also help to keep things interesting.
The 1.33:1 picture is good, boasting vibrant colours and unwavering blacks. Detail is fine, grain is natural, print damage is minor. The mono audio does its job without cause for concern.
THE GORE GORE GIRLS capped the first leg Lewis's film career off. Airheaded newspaper reporter Nancy (Amy Farrell) teams up with seedy detective Abraham (Frank Kress) to investigate a serious of outlandishly violent murders at a go-go nightclub. The two leads share an enjoyable chemistry and Lewis appears to be enjoying their delivery of the often snappy, humorous dialogue. He doesn't hold back on the gore either: faces smashed into mirrors, an infamous scene in which a woman's nipples are sliced off (one gushes blood, the other - bizarrely - chocolate), knifings...None of it's convincing, of course, but it's certainly graphic. Alas everything else is pretty plodding. It's a long haul to the surprise reveal in the final act as a result.
The film looks very healthy here, in a 16x9 transfer which matches the sharp, clean offering on Something Weird's region A-encoded blu-ray. Again, English mono offers problem-free playback.
The next two blu-ray discs will delight purists who want to see Lewis's films in their original open-matte 1.33:1 ratios (though Lewis has specified that the 16x9 presentations are how they were intended to be seen in drive-in theatres).
The first gives us pillar-boxed presentations of BLOOD FEAST, SCUM OF THE EARTH and COLOR ME BLOOD RED. The second proffers A TASTE OF BLOOD and THE WIZARD OF GORE. Aside from the additional info provided by the unmatted framing, picture and sound quality are the same here - and English subtitles for the Hard-of-Hearing are once again provided.
One more blu-ray disc to go: this contains Something Weird's acclaimed feature-length documentary THE GODFATHER OF GORE.
This is a wonderful 106-minute love letter to Lewis's movies, and is the perfect complement to the films contained within this boxset. In fact, watching this first will probably - undoubtedly - enhance newcomers' appreciation of their subsequent viewing. With thoughts and anecdotes galore from the likes of Joe Bob Briggs, John Waters, Friedman and of course Lewis himself, this is indispensible stuff. Directed by BASKET CASE creator Frank Henenlotter, THE GODFATHER OF GORE couldn't be more fun. And, naturally, we get lots of key clips from films alongside a thorough, thoroughly engaging account of the late director's career.
THE GODFATHER OF GORE is presented in 16x9 widescreen and looks fantastic. Its 2.0 soundtrack is impressive too.
Each disc opens to a static main menu page. Scene selection menus aren't included among the pop-up options, but each film does have its share of chapter stops (the number of chapters vary between films).
Bonus features are plentiful.
These begin with recently recorded video introductions for each film. These are between 1 and 2 minutes in length, and have clearly all been recorded in one run - Lewis sits in front of the same curtain for each intro. He's in good humour and typically enthusiastic, as well as evidencing that agreeable self-effacing nature of his from the start. We learn that several of his films were great fun to make; he has enormous respect for Sager; he was obliged to make DOLL for a producer pal ... we learn loads, in fact, considering these optional intros are individually so short.
Next up are a collection of audio commentaries. These have all been made available previously, on DVD, but they remain worthy, illuminating experiences. Naturally the best of these are the ones which Lewis and Friedman recorded together for earlier works such as BLOOD FEAST and TWO THOUSAND MANIACS! Both men were wonderful raconteurs and not a second is wasted on any of the wonderful chat tracks proffered here. Camera technician Daniel Krogh offers some good thoughts on the shoot for STUFF, discussing the purpose-built church set (an uncommon extravagance for Lewis), the violence, the political nature of the film, the casting and much more.
Other archive features which return here include a plethora of outtakes (with music and/or dialogue from various Lewis movies to compensate for the lack of original audio). There's an hour's worth of outtakes for BLOOD FEAST; 16 minutes of outtakes for MANIACS!; 9 minutes of outtakes for COLOR; the 20-minute educational short "Carving Magic"; a 5--minute interview with Lewis from 2007 in which he describes his transition from advertising and into filmmaking, via working briefly in radio; a great 18-minute video interview with Lewis and Friedman, reuniting for the first time in a decade, in 1987. The mutual respect they had for one another is genuinely warming; 5 minutes of alternate "cleaner" takes from SCUM (culled from an SD source, but not looking too bad); numerous theatrical trailers and radio spots - it's nice to see the original trailers for obscurities such as THE THREE BARES, THE ALLEY TRAMP and BELL, BARE AND BEAUTIFUL included here too.
New stuff? There's loads. The 11-minute "Blood Perspectives" finds filmmakers Nicholas McCarthy (THE PACT) and Rodney Ascher (ROOM 237) discussing the impact Lewis's had on them as young men. McCarthy points out the revelation of seeing something like BLOOD FEAST after having been brought up on much tamer horror films of yore on television.
"How Herschell Found his Niche" is an enjoyable further 7 minutes with the great man, recorded earlier this year, in which he discusses his early work shooting nudies, and in particular THE ADVENTURES OF LUCKY PIERRE.
"Two Thousand Maniacs Can't Be Wrong" affords Tim Sullivan, director of the post-millennial MANIACS! remake, 10 minutes to explain how he was introduced to the madness of Herschell Gordon Lewis through Fangoria magazine, which led to him cutting his teeth working on films like THE DEAD NEXT DOOR and eventually paying the ultimate tribute to his hero.
We also get a handful of engaging visual essays which take a peek at the themes in some of Lewis's films and look at how they fit within a broader picture. "Hicksploitation Confidential" is a 7-minute visual essay which explores the history of how the South has been portrayed in exploitation cinema through the decades, paying particular attention to MANIACS and MOONSHINE MOUNTAIN. "The Art of Madness" spends an enjoyable 5 minutes exploring cinema's most murderous artists, through films like HOUSE OF WAX, MANIAC, SCARLET STREET and of course Lewis's COLOR ME BLOOD RED. David Del Valle narrates over a welcome array of clips and poster artwork.
"David Friedman: The Gentlemen's Smut Peddler" is a sincere 9-minute tribute to the late producer with Lewis, Sullivan and Fred Olen Ray speaking highly of him, both as a person and as someone who could make things happen. Friedman was unexpectedly handsome in his youth too, per the monochrome photos offered here.
"Herschell's Art of Advertising" consists of 3 worthy minutes in which Lewis describes the secret to selling movies. If anyone knew how to do such, it was him.
"Weirdsville" pits film scholar Jeffrey Sconce against WEIRD. Sizing Lewis's strangest feature up against his more popular gore fests, Sconce rightly declares that it "requires a whole level of commitment that the other films just don't", before going on to talk about how he found the film and why he's grown to admire it so much.
"H G Lewis on Jimmy, the Boy Wonder" is a 2-minute clip of the director talking a little about his 1966 children's musical. The clips shown look to be in great shape, though Lewis admits the script, like his other films, was "primitive".
A HOT NIGHT AT THE GO-GO DANCE is a previously-thought-lost short film from Lewis, which was shot back in 1966. The film is presented in pillar-boxed HD and looks pretty magnificent considering its scarcity until now. 60s dance music plays while people jive in this well-lit, keenly edited 10-minute affair.
"Peaches Christ Flips her Wig!" sees the San Franciscan performance artist celebrating the virtues of THE GRUESOME TWOSOME. He began as a closet Lewis fan, renting clamshell videos of his gore films behind his parents' back - and never looked back since. Christ comes across well in this spirited 10-minute offering.
The 11-minute "It Came from Florida" welcomes back Olen Ray to talk about making exploitation films in Florida. He's got a good memory and looks back on the early days of filmmaking with great fondness.
"H G Lewis versus the Censors" is 8 more minutes with the late auteur, here providing fascinating insight into his fights with the censors over the decades and the politics often incorporated into their decisions.
SPIDER-MAN editor and Grindhouse Releasing head Bob Murawski has the same enthusiastic beat to his dialogue as Martin Scorsese, meaning the 10-minute featurette with him at its centre - "The Shocking Truth!" - is enormously entertaining. We get footage of he and Lewis mixing together at film conventions, while Murawski describes his own introduction to Lewis's gore films and goes on to examine the difference between their individual approaches to filmmaking. Great stuff.
Filmmaker/musician Chris Alexander discusses the music in Lewis's films next, in the 9-minute "Garage Punk Gore". He makes some pertinent points about the era being reflected, and especially that to really appreciate Lewis's work both as a musician and filmmaker; we should view his body of work as a whole rather than evaluate the films individually. Yeah, yeah, I've done just that in this review, but ... is anyone actually still reading?! This comes equipped with some great sounds.
"H G Lewis on The Alley Tramp" finds the director discussing his little-seen 1968 film of the same name. "It was Tom Dowd's movie" Lewis insists, while the black-and-white clips included are very enticing indeed.
How about a new interview with Ray Sager? Yes, "Montag Speaks!" in an incredibly enjoyable 19-minute interview. He begins by apologising in advance if not everything he says in the ensuing featurette is accurate, but in truth his memory seems pretty spot-on. He looks very good, having barely seemed to have aged at all. There are plenty of good stories on offer here, not only from Sager's time with Lewis but also his career origins too.
Film expert and author Stephen Thrower is always good value for money. And that remains the case here, with two featurettes in which he offers his thoughts on THE WIZARD OF GORE (10 minutes) and THE GORE GORE GIRLS (also 10 minutes). For WIZARD we get a healthy amount of background info, while Thrower offers a convincing argument for GIRLS being heavily influenced by giallo cinema.
"The Gore the Merrier" is a 9-minute interview with Jeremy Kasten, director of the 2007 THE WIZARD OF GORE remake. He mulls over the alluring nature of horror films and then goes on to draw upon the influence Lewis's film had on him.
Fans of Jonathan Ross's legendary Channel 4 television show "The Incredibly Strange Film Show" will be delighted to learn that the full 40-minute episode dedicated to Lewis' films also makes an appearance here. Lewis and Friedman are interviewed by an unfeasibly fresh-faced Ross, as are John Waters, Bill Kerwin and many more.
"His films are so gruesome they have never been shown in British cinemas. Even though we've carefully edited some of the more gratuitous moments, you might still find them offensive" warns/promises Ross. Pure magic.
"Regional Bloodshed" invites filmmakers Joe Swanberg (V/H/S) and Spencer Parsons (BITE RADIUS) to discuss the phenomena of independent regional filmmaking that broke new ground in the 1970s. This is an interesting 12-minute appraisal of the world which Lewis inhabited, and the differences the industry proposes for wannabe indie filmmakers of today.
"Herschell Spills His Guts" finds Lewis discussing why he turned his back on filmmaking in 1972, and explain what he did between then and his return to the fray in 2002. This 4-minute interview looks to stem from 2007, similar to one of the previous extras.
An amazing 64 minutes of outtakes from THE GODFATHER OF GORE follow. These include more priceless footage from early nudies like LIVING VENUS and DAUGHTER OF THE SUN; a funny anecdote from Mal Arnold about taking an unwitting date to see BLOOD FEAST at the cinema; Henenlotter giving an animated account of how he became familiar with Lewis's works and so on. We even get rare footage - in great nick - of the 1964 gore curiosities FOLLOW THAT SKIRT, which looks fantastic (and actually looks a lot more perverse than BLOOD FEAST), and LOVE GODDESSES OF BLOOD ISLAND.
All of the new extras are presented in high definition (yes, even "The Incredibly Strange Film Show" episode).
What's on the DVDs? The first fourteen films and their extras, in standard definition.
Which brings me to the end of an exhaustive look into Arrow's HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS collection. I apologise.
But there was no real way of cutting this review down while doing justice, both to the singular body of work on offer here (and it's true: Lewis's films do demand to be seen collectively, where they make so much more sense than when viewed individually) and the efforts that Arrow have gone to.
True, some of the prints are in rough shape. But, as I've mentioned much earlier in this review, expectancies should be kept in check. This is the best I've seen these films look, easily, and no doubt the best we'll ever see them look. Whatever I've written about the presentations shouldn't be taken as criticism: they're simply observations. I've been honest. But I have no quibbles with them myself.
In short (hah!), this collection is amazing. The fourteen films on offer serve collectively as a perfect appraisal of a unique filmmaker. His movies have a fluency in terms of colour, music, fashions and - for the large part - tone. The bonus features tip this over the edge, managing to cover all other aspects of Lewis's decades-long career and pay fitting tribute to a true pioneer. An auteur. A legend.
The asking price for either edition is high, I understand that. But whether you buy the FEAST or the deluxe SHOCK AND GORE set, this collection is not only important, it's undeniably a thing of beauty.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Arrow Films|
|see main review|