Saturday, November 19, 2016

Herschell Gordon Lewis – Godfather of Gore, Part III: 1964-66


15 June 1929 — 26 Sept 2016

"He seen somethin' different. And he done it."

A seminal force in the world of trash filmmaking, he is considered the inventor of the modern gore film. (In theory, a position he holds with David F. Friedman, but when the partnership ended Friedman's true interest proved to be sexploitation.) To use Lewis's own, favorite and famous words: "I've often compared Blood Feast (1963) to a Walt Whitman poem; it's no good, but it was the first of its kind." And a truly fun gore film, too — which makes it "good" in our view.
Unlike Blood Feast (See: Part II) and his "better movies", many of the projects Lewis worked on are unbearable cinematic experiences; but more than enough of the others are sublime, otherworldly, like the best of Ed Wood, Juan Piquer Simón, or John Waters (the last, however, being a filmmaker of actual talent). Were it not for innovators like Lewis, A Wasted Life probably wouldn't be.
One of the truly great has left the building. A career review will follow — but first, a few films that may or may not have something to do with the Godfather of Gore.


Go here for Part I 
Go here for Part II



Two Thousand Maniacs
(1964, writ & dir Herschell Gordon Lewis)
 
Lewis writes and directs and does the cinematography and David F. Friedman produces their second gore movie, and together they create perhaps their best movie as a duo, a splatter hixploitation take on Brigadoon (1954 / trailer). And while David F. Friedman arguably went on to produce better movies later, one could also argue that Lewis was never this "good" again. For, despite featuring all the normal Lewis attributes — bad acting, crummy editing, sloppy cinematography, basic lack of any technical finesse — the movie is still an effective and humorous horror film. An amazing feat, if you get down to it.
Like Blood Feast (See: Part II), 2000 Maniacs! features both his regular lead actor William Kerwin (17 April 1927 — 27 October 1989, billed here as "Thomas Wood") as well as Kerwin's later wife, Playboy Playmate Connie Mason, whom Lewis famously found extremely untalented.
Trailer to
2000 Maniacs:
Over at the Worldwide Celluloid Massacre, Zev Toledano points out that when it comes to Lewis films, "Despite the obvious fakeness of his low-budget gore effects, they were shockingly extreme, imaginative, and wrapped in campy & dumb horror fun that demanded not to be taken seriously. […] [Two Thousand Maniacs!] features bad acting, campy horror, and splatter involving a barrel full of nails, a boulder, an axe, and the quartering of a man with horses."
Two Thousand Maniacs! was filmed in the little town of Saint Cloud, Florida, which, ironically enough considering the movie's plot, was originally founded as a retirement community for Civil War Unionist veterans. As is often pointed out, this film is one of the earliest to introduce the concept of the kill-happy, rural, Southern redneck verses Northerners and/or city folk. As Not Coming to a Theater Near You explains: "[As] a film that posits that the South is still so angry, 100 years after the Civil War (excuse me — War Between the States), that its citizens desire nothing more than to exact painful and humiliating revenge on any and all Yankees who happen to wander their way, Maniacs is a gleefully absurd and vicious social satire […] in the guise of an intensely gory horror film. The rednecks of Pleasant Valley, Georgia, are so hell-bent on killing the tourists they have lured to their town, yet they have so much fun doing it, that it is hard not to want them to succeed. The Yankees in the film are such drips anyway […] that one begins to take delight in the inventive methods of demise the rednecks think up for them."
To which Eat My Brains might add "It's a simple concept, but one that works terrifically well, especially as the tension mounts as each townsfolk member seems to be as deranged as the next one, from the sultry seductress (Linda Cochran) to the boy (Vincent Santo) who is obsessed with candy. The acting is pretty much universally terrible, but a lot of the amateur townsfolk have such an exuberance to their performance, you can't help be buoyed along with bustle. Particular mention must go to the Pleasant Valley Boys — a band of wandering musicians (well, two at least) who pepper the film with many moments of 'yee haa' Country-and-Western music. In fact, if their title tune doesn't get your toe tapping ('Yeeeeeyeehaaa – the South's gonna rise again!') you're clearly as dead as the inhabitants of Pleasant Valley themselves."
Mayor Buckman is played by Taalkeus "Talky" Blank (b. 1910 — d. 1991), an Illinois stage actor, credited as "Jeffery Allen" here in his feature-film début; Lewis subsequently often hired Blank to appear in many of his later films, including Moonshine Mountain (1964), This Stuff'll Kill Ya! (1971), and Year of the Yahoo! (1972).
The comic book Harper is reading in the hotel is Heart Throbs, issue 87, cover dated January 1964.
The South's Gonna Rise Again:



Moonshine Mountain
(1964, dir. Herschell Gordon Lewis)

"This is the place where white lightnin' flows jes' like water 'n your life ain't worth a plugged nickel if'n you wear a badge!"

Aka White Trash on Moonshine Mountain and Inbred Trump Voters from West Virginia. The vagaries of exploitation productions: Moonshine Mountain was Lewis's first solo production after the business relationship between him and David F. Friedman had soured and ended, but it was released before the third and final offering of their unofficial "Blood Trilogy", Color Me Blood Red, which was released the following year (1965). In theory, Charles Glore, who plays the lead character in this movie (using the pseudonym "Chuck Scott"), supposedly wrote the script to Mountain, but Lewis was always such a renaissance man we wouldn't be surprised if he had his finger in that pie, too. Heck, he even wrote and sang some the music in the movie, like the song Love That White Lightin', performed by (Herschell Gordon Lewis and) The Catalinas.
White Lightnin'
(from Moonshine Mountain):
Something Weird is of the opinion that "The first film made by Herschell Gordon Lewis after he split with partner David F. Friedman, Moonshine Mountain was shot in the hills of South Carolina. But what was supposed to be a family comedy ('A Rip-Roarin' Screenload of Cornball Action and Excitement!') actually comes off as something far more sinister and disturbing than Lewis' infamous redneck classic, Two Thousand Maniacs!" (Lewis later admitted that he regretted adding the two gory scenes as they weren't really appropriate for the audience for which the film aimed.) 
TCM has a somewhat off the mark plot description, but it's close enough: "Doug Martin (Charles Glore), a successful country-western singer, returns to the Carolina hills with the hope of restoring a country twang to his 'citified' voice. Accompanied by his socialite fiancée, Della Lawrence (Marilyn Walters), Doug takes part in folk-singing parties and meets the Carpenters, the Bashams, and Sheriff Asa Potter (Gordon Oas-Heim, 16 Sept 1926 — 5 June 2015), who together run a still which supplies the surrounding area with moonshine. Doug flirts with Laura Carpenter (Bonnie Hinson), a college student who is home on vacation, and Della, jealous of Doug's new interest, decides to leave, but on the way to the airport, Sheriff Potter stops her and forces her to follow him to a secluded pond. When she laughs at his clumsy advances, he kills her. Aided by the ape-like Luther Basham (Harry Hoffman), Potter then murders several federal agents and throws their bodies into the bubbling still. Doug discovers the sheriff's evil deeds and asks the Carpenters and the Bashams to help capture him. When Potter convinces Luther to dynamite the entire community, Luther bungles the job, and Potter shoots him to save his own life. Meanwhile, Mary Lou (Gretchen Eisner), Laura's retarded sister whom Potter once raped, arrives and kills the sheriff with an ax as the still explodes. After marrying Laura, Doug returns to the city with his bride, while the two families begin to rebuild the still."
Trailer to
Moonshine Mountain:
Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings, which calls the movie "extremely marginal" and says "the story is pretty bad, the acting is poor and the sound quality stinks", nevertheless gushes: "Still, there's something likeable about his movies and Lewis isn't without talent. For one thing, he has a nice ear for country music [...]. He also has a sense of humor that occasionally clicks; check out the hilarious beginning and ending credits in hillbilly lingo [...] and an amusing moment involving sound and a hangover. He also is capable of clever shots on occasion [...]. All in all, it helps to make his movies fairly watchable."
Interesting trivia about the "thespians" that took part: Gordon Oas-Heim later appeared in Andy Warhol's Bad (1977 / trailer). Credited in Moonshine Mountain as "Adam Sorg", in Color Me Blood Red Oas-Heim played the character named "Adam Sorg" (credited as "Don Joseph"). Marilyn Walters' only other screen credit we could find is "actress" in the literately titled flick The Spy Who Came (1969 / trailer). The character Hutto is played by "Pat Patterson", otherwise known as the sleazemonger J.G. Patterson Jr., who later wrote and directed The Body Shop (1972 / trailer), among other notable splattery Z-films.



Monster a Go-Go
(1965, dir. Bill Rebane & Herschell Gordon Lewis [uncredited])
Once Moonshine Mountain was in the can, Lewis was in need of a second feature to round out the bill. He stumbled upon an unfinished science-fiction movie by future regional exploitation filmmaker Bill Rebane, who had stopped filming his first and then still unfinished disasterpiece Terror at Halfday in 1961. "Taking what Rebane had already shot — mainly scenes of a tall guy in a shiny spacesuit, with oatmeal on his face — Lewis added a poppy theme song, sets approximating labs and police stations, long takes of actors speculating about what's going on, and a sonorous narrator to explain the action [The AV Club]." The result, Monster a Go-Go, is pretty much universally seen as one of the worst movies ever made — although "thrown together" probably applies better to the production process of the final product. The plot revolves around an astronaut, Frank Douglas (Henry Hite), who returns to earth as a mute, homicidal giant with a severe case of acne.
Trailer to
 Monster a Go-Go:
Uranium Cafe says, "The film then becomes a story of a radiation mutated astronaut — like Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster (1965 / trailer) — who wanders the countryside and city terrorizing sunbathing girls in bikinis and murdering making-out teenagers in parked cars. The story line is so disconnected and incoherent that I can hardly review what happened in any linear fashion. Characters are introduced and then vanish from the story without explanation. The narration adds to the confusion rather than clears anything up. At some point the monster has been said to have been captured and is kept in a laboratory, but we never see the monster even as a scientist goes into to study it. He goes in and comes out and reports to his associate his findings. I was really confused by this sequence. Later we are told the monster escapes from the lab but again we never see anything happen. The classically weird ending has the monster — who we have accepted is Frank Douglas from the film's beginning — being chased in underground sewers only to have the hazmat-clad pursuers come to surface to receive a telegram that the real Frank Douglas is thousands of miles away in fine health. What the hell!"
The screen monster, Henry Hite (7 ft 6¾ in ), born Henry Marion Mullens (1 May 1915 — 26 May 1978), was originally part of a vaudeville act called "Lowe, Hite and Stanley" with 'Lowe' (Roland Picaro [3 June 1901 — 27 Jan 1998]) and the vertically challenged Stanley Ross (1910 — 19 Dec 1961). The trio even appeared on screen together in Leigh Jason's forgotten movie New Faces of 1937. Low and Hite died in poverty, dunno about Stanley.
Lowe, Hite and Stanley:
Among those lost in the movie is former (and forgotten) B-movie actress June Travis (7 Aug 1914 14 April 2008) as Ruth June Travis, one of many who disappear midway through the film; she is the sister or wife or girlfriend or something to Frank Douglas. According to legend, Ronald Reagan almost got attached to the project, but the budget didn't permit an expensive has-been of his stature.
Director Bill Rebane, who was awarded the Wisconsin Filmmaker 'Lifetime Achievement Award' at the 2009 Madison Horror Film Festival, and has yet to make a movie about Ed Gein. Rebane's has numerous other projects of sublime note to his resume, including among others The Giant Spider Invasion (1975 / trailer), The Alpha Incident (1978 / scene), The Demons of Ludlow (1983 / scene), and — starring the great Tiny Tim! — Blood Harvest (1988 / first 45 min).
Tiny Tim
singing (?)
Do You Think I'm Sexy?



Color Me Blood Red
(1965, writ & dir Herschell G. Lewis)
Aka Model Massacre, somewhere, maybe. The vagaries of exploitation productions: Moonshine Mountain may have been Lewis's first solo production after the business relationship between him and David F. Friedman had soured and ended, but their final production, Color Me Blood Red, the generally unloved third film of their "Blood Trilogy", was released a year later (1965). Though filmed and completed in early 1964 in sunny Sarasota, Florida, it got held up by legal issues after producer David F. Friedman terminated his business relationship with Herschell Gordon Lewis.Among the most common complaints of the least-liked film of the unofficial "Blood Trilogy": not enough blood and gore — though ya gotta admit, the intestines scene is pretty OK.
Inspired by the more enjoyable Roger Corman horror comedy Bucket of Blood (1959 / trailer), Lewis's take on the crazed-artist-kills-for-his-art plot makes Corman look like a master director … which he was, in a way. Thirty years later, in 1995, T.L. Lankford used Color Me Blood Red as the inspiration for his directorial début Fatal Passion aka Portrait in Red (an NSFW edit of Lisa Crenshaw's love pillows from the movie) and was so amazed by his own film that he used a pseudonym, "Gib T. Oidi", an anagram for "Big Idiot", for the directorial credit. Did he, like Lewis, overlook the fact that when blood dries, it turns brown?
Trailer to
Color Me Blood Red:
Color Me Blood Red actually inspired Sex Gore Mutants to posit the sacrilegious but sometimes oddly justifiable query, "Do people actually like Herschell Gordon Lewis movies?" They also supply the plot: "The story, for anyone still interested, concerns an artist, Adam Sorg, (Gordon Oas-Heim) struggling to find the perfect colour of red, and it doesn't take a genius to figure out where he eventually finds the right tone of colour. Despite some admittedly funny moments (intentionally or otherwise) like a girl's body being dug up from a beach to have on the of the onlookers remark 'This is crazy driftwood', and the fact that painter Sorg has the artistic prowess of Stevie Wonder with his arms amputated, how anyone can enjoy this garbage is beyond me."
His wanna-be final victim, Candi Conder as April Carter, above, fills her cover-that-belly-button bikini rather nicely, doesn't she?
Whoever did the actual paintings, a few of which we find rather groovy (at least until they're smeared with red), has remained unknown over the ages. Anyone know?



Sin, Suffer and Repent
(1965, dir. Herschell G. Lewis) 

"This film is believed lost. Please check your attic."

In A Taste of Blood: The Films of Herschell Gordon Lewis, Christopher Curry writes: "Sin, Suffer and Repent is a wonderfully titled propaganda picture that HGL bought and modified as he had done with Monster a Go-Go. The film was originally a venereal disease (informational) reel. Lewis, knowing this was old hat, redefined the film through new narrative and re-editing. Magically, his genius transformed the picture's plot from infection to out-of-wedlock pregnancy. This was old hat, too, but inserting actual footage of childbirth was not. The former British road show, released in 1965, was converted to a grindhouse regular." None of the images here are from the movie; it would seem no press or publicity materials to the film still exist.
Theater of Guts has more info, straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak: "Sin, Suffer and Repent was owned by a guy named Jim Somebody out of Toledo, Ohio, and he was an old time exploitation film man. He had picked up a British film — the title of which is lost in obscurity — on venereal disease, and reached a point where he couldn't get it played anymore. It wasn't a badly made film, but it didn't make sense; it was a World War II-vintage kind of picture. And he came to me [HGL] and he said, 'Let's change this into a birth-of-a-baby film', and that is exactly what we did by judicious cutting, by shooting some hospital scenes and by removing some dialogue, sticking in some dialogue, over-dubbing other dialogue and sticking in a birth scene (chuckles). And that's all there was to that, and he had a very playable picture and he made a lot of money out of it."
In other words, Sin, Suffer and Repent was a movie made after the good ol' roadshow tradition of Howard W. "Kroger" Babb's (30 Dec 1906 — 28 Jan 1980) Mom and Dad (1945) — a version of which entered the National Film Registry in 2005.
A Version of
Mom and Dad (1945):



An Eye for an Eye
(1965, writ. & dir. Herschell G. Lewis)

"This film is believed lost. Please check your attic."

Often mistaken for Michael D. Moore's 1966 Western also entitled An Eye for an Eye (full movie) — poster above — but no: it is a totally different movie. Lewis's An Eye for an Eye starred Lewis's main leading man, good ol' William Kerwin (17 April 1927 — 27 Oct 1989), but seems never to have been released.
In Randy Palmer's Herschell Gordon Lewis, Godfather of Gore, HGL himself explains the plot: "It was about a man who wills his eyes to whoever can get them. It turns out that his eyes have special powers. He was actually part of a group that planned to take over the world, and his only way of getting out was to kill himself in an automobile crash and have his eyes go to somebody else who might then be able to break up this unholy ring."
At Theater of Guts, HGL explains what happened to the movie: "We sold that thing to Abbott Schwartz out of Minneapolis who moved it out of our cutting room, almost in a matter of an hour from the time the deal was made. That picture was in the middle of cutting, and that's the last I saw of any of it — footage, anything. And from that moment to now, I have no idea where the negative is, if the cutting was finished, if prints were made or what; I don't know."
Chuck Norris also did
a movie entitled
An Eye for An Eye (1986):



Jimmy, the Boy Wonder
(1966, dir. Herschell G. Lewis)
Aka Jimmy, the Wonder Boy. As everyone knows, you can make money from kids, too. Thus, it is hardly surprising that Lewis also eventually turned to cheap kiddy films — though the directional change was not an artistic choice: Lewis was a director for hire on this movie. (One wonders: Did Lewis ever actually make an "artistic choice" when producing his movies?) This was his first of two kiddy flicks, neither one of which is known for being any good. 
Jimmy, the Wonder Boy was written by "Hal Berg", and shot entirely in Florida in and around Coral Gables. It would seem that virtually no one that took part in this project ever made another movie — a fate shared by many that worked with HGL.
Trailer to
Jimmy the Wonder Boy:
Wikipedia has the plot: "Jimmy (Dennis Jones) is a young boy who is tired of the drudgery of his daily routine. One morning, Jimmy shouts out, 'I wish time would stop!' Somehow, his wish gets heard by the so-called 'master clock', and everyone (except Jimmy) is frozen in their tracks. Observing this catastrophe is a magical astronomer (Karl Stoeber), who sends his daughter Aurora (Nancy Jo Berg) to talk Jimmy into helping her undo the damage before the time freeze becomes permanent. As Jimmy and Aurora travel to a region called the World's End so that Jimmy can replace the magical Golden Globe in the master clock to set time running again, they are hounded by an evil wizard known as Mr. Fig (David Blight Jr.), who seizes the chance to take over the world for himself. Jimmy and Aurora's travels take them through various places which include 'slow motion playground', 'night and day land', encounters with green-skinned Indians calling for rain, etc. all the while with Mr. Fig trying to stop them at nearly every turn on their mission."
Mr Fig sings:
Over at All Movie, Fred Beldin explains how the movie came to be: "At various points in his career, exploitation director Herschell Gordon Lewis took on films for flat fees from outside interests, then washed his hands of the results. Jimmy, the Boy Wonder is one of these mercenary productions, a children's musical that was financed by a producer who wanted a wholesome starring vehicle for his wife (Nancy Jo Berg) that could play the then-profitable kiddie matinee circuit. […] Unfortunately, Jimmy, the Boy Wonder is crafted as crudely as anything from this director's oeuvre, resulting in a crass, slapdash kid pic that undoubtedly led to restlessness and boredom in children and angry parents at the box office arguing about refunds. Dennis Jones is the most unsuitable child performer ever forced in front of the camera, unable to sing in tune, recite his lines without mumbling, or stop fidgeting long enough for a take to be completed. The attractive (yet matronly) Berg is naturally enthusiastic in her only known screen role, as is villain David Blight Jr., who leaps about the set in a loud plaid sports jacket with all the subtlety of the Hamburglar. Though the songs are uniformly bad, the worst crime of all is the time-padding addition of a lengthy foreign cartoon about a boy who employs an enchanted globe and the magic of goodness to battle against an evil witch, dubbed into English with Lewis himself providing the voices for several characters […]."
Bleeding Skull is a rare voice of praise: "My goodness, I like Jimmy, The Boy Wonder. The first night I got a copy I watched it three times. Why? I don't know. It is, simultaneously, the most listless and the most fun demented kid's entertainment I've ever seen. Folks can put it down all they want. Jimmy doesn't care. Neither do I."
The cartoon that HGL edited into his movie, by the way, is a French one: Paul Grimault's La bergère et le ramoneur / The Curious Adventures of Mr. Wonderbird (1952). The thus-entitled version is actually an unfinished version released against Grimault's wishes by the original producer André Sarrut. Paul Grimault gained possession of the unfinished film again in 1967 and finally released his finished version in 1980, Le roi et l'oiseau / The King and the Mockingbird (French trailer). The newer, final version is considered one of the masterpieces of contemporary French animation. The Curious Adventures of Mr. Wonderbird, however, is available in the public domain in the US.
The Curious Adventures of Mr. Wonderbird:



A Hot Night at the Go Go Lounge!
(1966, dir. H.G. Lewis)
The Video Beat has the skinny on one of Lewis's rare shorts: "U.S. short film. Starring Linda and Michelle (who dance better than they dress). Bongos, shaking hips, high heels, hot legs, wigs, 'the twist', go-go cages, tassels, pinky rings, bouncing butts, blue eye shadow and 'the frug'."
You can find it on the 1986 video release, Film House Fever. The photos further above above were once upon a time available on ebay — and reveal that the actual name seems to be A Hot Night at Go-Go Lounge.
Trailer to
Film House Fever:

 

More to follow — next month


Thank you Scene of the Screen for most if not all newspaper advertisements used in the following.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...