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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Herschell Gordon Lewis: The Godfather of Gore (2010)

Herschell Gordon Lewis is a man driven by a burning desire to make money. He’s not worried about artistic integrity, moral opinion or even a decent camera angle; all he wants is to make viewers part with their hard-earned and by any means necessary. The fact that the man is very open about that makes it all okay; in an odd way, he’s giving us what we want by way of getting what he wants: everyone’s a winner. Frank Henenlotter is a filmmaker I respect greatly, he’s a man who can make a film about anything and make it work; dead hooker brought back to life? Check! Deranged Siamese twin-thing? Big Check! Giant killer penis vs multiple clitted sex kitten? Piece of cake! So what better man is there to chart the lows of one of American Grindhouse’s greatest players? Simply put: no one.

Charting Herschell’s entire career, starting with his early foray into film-making with titles like Living Venus (1961), The Adventures of Lucky Pierre (1961) and B-O-I-N-G (1963), it sets the tone perfectly. Lewis openly states he wanted cash and had little in the way of it himself, so collaborating with another Grindhouse legend, David Friedman, they produced numerous screwball comedies and nudie cutie movies to cash in on the boom created by Russ Meyer’s The Immoral Mr. Tees. As the market started to saturate and loose public interested the duo decided that something new was needed to part cash from their punters, hardcore porn wasn’t an option at this point; so what else could they offer a market that seemingly has it all? Hardcore violence the likes of which had never been seen!

It’s hard to believe that before 1963’s Blood Feast, gore didn’t exist in the horror genre. It’s so engrained in modern horror that its still hard to believe it has traceable roots! The duo decided that if they couldn’t show peoples no-no regions, then they’d show what guts and brains look like instead! Making the move from nudist camps to sleazy motels was clearly the greatest achievement in Lewis’ career and a move that has granted him immortality amongst the horror community. The documentary and the makers don’t shy away from the fact that during the filming no one had a clue what they were doing or how it would all turn out. Real entrails were used for the ‘money shots’ and naïve actresses were expected to play their 'character' while trying not to spew from the terrible smells emitting from the animal guts!

This could explain why the actresses are seemingly omitted from the documentary, plenty of the actors are on hand for questioning but as to where the leading ladies are is a mystery; though it’s made clear that Herschell was less than impressed by some of his actresses! The actors however have nothing but good things to say about their experiences, all had a rollicking good time making a small piece of trash history in their own right and aren’t afraid to critic their own, admittedly abysmal, work. The documentary also offers up all the goriest, sleaziest and most outrageous moments from each of Lewis’ gore sagas, so those unfamiliar with the levels of depravity found in his works may be in for a surprise! Others will relish the nostalgic trip of the gore effects of yesteryear!

Frank Henenlotter has created one of 2010’s must see documentaries for horror fans. It’s a passionate love note to one of genre cinemas true mavericks and a testament to the skills of low-budget filmmakers who have nothing but a desire to make their pockets a little fatter by capitalising on avenues that wouldn’t be explored by the mainstream, who can begrudge David for robbing Goliath? A must-see film indeed.

Herschell Gordon Lewis: The Godfather of Gore was given its UK premier at Sinister Sunday of Shock in the Glasgow Film Theater. A BIG thank you to Calum Waddell, Noami Holwill and Nick Frame for putting that together and to everyone who turned up for a great day of movies and Q&A's with the likes of Sergio Stivaletti and Francesca Ciardi!

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