Monday, September 26, 2016

Herschell Gordon Lewis, A Great Showman, Has Died


Filmmaker Herschell Gordon Lewis (born 1929), who went from being a Professor of English literature at Mississippi State University to the notorious "Godfather Of Gore" a few years later, has died, according to his friend, Something Weird Video head Lisa Petrucci.

Lewis was a very smart, funny and well read man who was making industrial films for a living when he caught wind of the audience demand for nudist and sexploitation films, he made a few of these in tandem with producer David Friedman - theirs was a dream team of witty, energetic showmen - and when the market for skin was more than satiated, they tried something new: the gore film. 1963's BLOOD FEAST was the first of these, a hysterically overamplified horror film that featured lots and lots of full color blood and entrails. This was truly something new, and the market responded, especially the drive-in audiences who demanded more. Gordon responded with many more of these including the ambitious TWO THOUSAND MANIACS (1964) and his masterpiece, THE WIZARD OF GORE (1970), which I think we can consider a true work of art.

It's probable that without Lewis we would not have had John Waters' forays into bad taste land, and his aesthetic helped to define a peculiarly American strain of weirdness that has permeated music and culture since.

Never one to take himself too seriously, Lewis, in later days, hosted screenings of his work preceded by hilarious anecdotes and played the banjo, leading singalongs of the theme from 2000 MANIACS. Genial and energetic into his eighties he always believed in giving the audience a show.

Here is the trailer for his breakthrough film BLOOD FEAST. Note the authoritative tone and shocking color. This really packed them in.

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