Today we bring you the sad news that Herschell Gordon Lewis, the man who pretty much introduced extreme gore into the horror genre with his exploitation cheapies in the 1960’s, the most famous being Blood Feast and Two Thousand Maniacs, has passed away peacefully at the Fort Lauderdale Hotel, Florida, United States, at the age of 87. Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1929, he was initially a journalist, and then a teacher, before he became the manager of WRAC Radio in Racine, Wisconsin, and then a studio director at WKY-TV studio in Oklahoma City. In 1953 he began directing TV commercial advertisements for a small production company called Alexander and Associates, which he later bought out half of with business associate Martin Schmidhofer and renamed it Lewis and Martin Films. His film directing career begun in 1959 with the juvenile delinquent movie The Prime Time, and then started a lengthy series of collaborations with exploitation producer David F. Friedman which often featured nudity which was still taboo in mainstream cinema.
Despite titles like Goldilocks and the Three Bares [a nudie musical], The Adventures of Lucky Pierre, and The Girl, the Body, and the Pill – plus even the odd children’s film – it was when Lewis and Friedman hit upon the idea of bringing extreme bloodshed to the screen, in particular to the drive-in circuit, that they achieved their greatest commercial success and notoriety. 1963’s Blood Feast, with its scenes of heart ripping, leg severing and tongue removing, made the films coming from Hammer seem quaint and tame, and it was followed by Two Thousand Maniacs, Color Me Blood Red, A Taste Of Blood, The Gruesome Twosome, The Wizard Of Gore and The Gore Gore Girls. In the early 1970s, probably feeling that films had virtually caught up with him in terms of bloody detail, he decided to leave the filmmaking industry to work in copywriting and direct marketing, a subject on which he published twenty books, though he briefly came out of moviemaking retirement to make Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat and The Uh-Oh! Show.
A man who once said: “Filmmaking is a business, I pity anyone who regards it as an art form”, Lewis wasn’t – to be honest – that great of a filmmaker, and his films are full of poor acting and writing, though they did improve. Despite some of them being banned by the BBFC for decades, they do have a strange kind of naïve charm when seen today which is quite appealing, while their childlike desire to shock with micro budget handmade special effects and animal guts probably wouldn’t shock many today weened on Saw films but certainly helps make them fun to watch. In particular, Two Thousand Maniacs, easily his best work, is very watchable with a wicked sense of dark humour and considerable invention.
RIP to the’ Godfather of Gore!’