Friday, February 24, 2017

Herschell Gordon Lewis – Godfather Of Gore, Part VI: 1973-98


15 June 1929 26 September 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 his own, favorite 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 and his "better movies", many of the projects he 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. Were it not for innovators like him, A Wasted Life probably wouldn't be.
One of the truly great has left the building.
The films below are not necessarily presented in the order they were made and/or released.

Go here for Part I: 1953-60.
Go here for Part II: 1961-63.
Go here for Part III: 1964-66.
Go here for Part IV: 1967-68.
Go here for Part V: 1969-72.

Addendum: With The Gore Gore Girls (1972, see Part V), HG Lewis left the exploitation film world and went into "direct advertising", making good money as a successful junk-mail guru. Rumors abound of a three-year period in prison — according to our favorite newspaper, for example, The Guardian: "Lewis was a sort of cross between Ed Wood Jr, Roger Corman, Russ Meyer, Dale Carnegie and maybe even Bernie Madoff. […] Lewis was a formidable and unnervingly driven entrepreneur and compulsive wheeler-dealer who did three years' jail time in the 1970s for fraud, having conned people through crooked schemes, like a fake car rental company and — incredibly — a phoney abortion referral service, and for (nearly) all these services he borrowed money from the bank using as collateral the cinemas of which he claimed to be the un-mortgaged owner. It was a breathtaking and crazy illegality, but nothing dented his almost sociopathic self-belief and work ethic."
They don't document their sources, however, and Lewis himself was wont to downplay the rumors, as he did in the interview found in John Waters' book Shock Value (1981): "In the abortion thing, I was simply the advertising agency. There never was any particular legal action on that. I don't know quite where that came from but it refers to nothing. Where I lost my fortune, temporarily, was through an automobile-rental deal in which I was the principal investor. The thing went down the tube and everybody got nailed… The guy who supplied us with automobiles… didn't. It's one of the sad episodes of mankind." As for his going to jail, Lewis stated: "That didn't occur at all. I don't know where these stories begin. That [a jail sentence] was certainly the intent of the U.S. government at the time but… everything was averted very nicely."
Wherever he was, according to online sources (imdb, for example) he still had an occasional and usually extremely odd film credit on diverse projects before finally returning to the directorial chair in 2002 for Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat. Let's take a look at some of them, most of which are tenacious assertions at best, or only of the acknowledgement form.


National Lampoon's Lemmings
(1973, dir. Michael Keady & Tony Hendra)

The entry on HGL found on the French Wikipedia (accessed 29 Dec 2016) claims that HGL was "comme scénariste" — a screenwriter — on this forgotten and re-discovered & released (direct to video) HBO mockumentary documenting a live persiflage of Woodstock-type concerts; the show opened at The Village Gate on January 25, 1973, and ran for 350 performances. HGL's participation of this shot-in-NYC production was un-credited, it would seem. Do the French know something no one else knows? (Doubtful.) At the moment, the English Wikipedia entry on Lemmings overlooks HGL's participation.

If you bother watching Lemmings and don't understand the humor, that's OK. As MUBI states, "Showcasing legendary funnymen John Belushi, Chevy Chase and Christopher Guest before they were stars, this Woodstock parody from the minds behind National Lampoon magazine features inane musical numbers and spoofs sacred cows of 1960s counterculture." Like, who still remembers the 60s? 
Soundtrack to
"Woodshuck: Three Days of Peace, Love and Death":


Bridger
(1976, dir. David Lowell Rich)
 
Aka Jim Bridger et Kit Carson. "David Lowell Rich (31 Aug 1920 — 21 Oct 2001) was an American film director and producer. He directed nearly 100 films and TV episodes between 1950 and 1987. He was born in New York City [Wikipedia]."
More than one online source, including the all-powerful imdb, states that Herschel Gordon Lewis was not only the sound editor of this substandard TV movie, but also did un-credited work on the script by Merwin Gerard (The Screaming Woman [1972 / movie] and The Invasion of Carol Enders [1973 / trailer]). The latter assertion is echoed, oddly enough, by the entry on HGL found on the French Wikipedia (accessed 29 Dec 2016). Sure, why not? And we have a bridge to sell you. 
14 Boring Minutes of
Jim Bridger et Kit Carson:
Director David Lowell Rich is perhaps best remembered for the cheesy TV movies The Horror at 37,000 Feet (1973 / full movie) and Satan's School for Girls (1973 / full movie), and the equally substandard feature films Have Rocket — Will Travel (1959 / trailer, a Three Stooges* flick), Eye of the Cat (1969 / trailer), Madame X (1966 / trailer), A Lovely Way to Die (1968 / title track) and the disaster that is The Concorde... Airport '79 (1979 / trailer).
Bridger is not a masterpiece. TCM (which does not include HGL in its credits list) has the plot: "A true-life adventure of legendary mountain man Jim Bridger (James Wainwright of Battletruck aka Warlords of the 21st Century [1982 / trailer] and The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover [1977 / trailer]) who, with the fate of the Pacific Northwest at stake, is given forty days to blaze a trail through the Rockies to the California coast and told that failure means loss of the territory to England. This two-hour movie was cut to ninety minutes for its rerun and subsequent syndication."
* Are we the only ones in the world who can't stand the Three Stooges?


Wanted: The Sundance Woman
(1976, dir. Lee Philips [10 Jan 1927 — 3 Mar 1999])
 
Aka Mrs. Sundance Rides Again. The French Wikipedia, the imdb, and other online sources claim that HGL did un-credited screenwriting work on this, the second TV sequel to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969 / trailer). Most other sources simply credit TV scribe Richard Fielder alone. The plot, according to Christopher D. Ryan (cryan@direct.ca) at imdb: "The Sundance Kid's widow Etta Place (Katharine Ross) joins up with Pancho Villa (Hector Elizondo)."

The first BC&SK sequel, by the way, was the 1974 TV movie Mrs. Sundance (movie), with Elizabeth Montgomery playing the lead.
Director Lee Philips was also an actor, and long ago played the lead in the semi-cult Del Tenney produced thriller Violent Midnight (1963), aka Psychomania, which also features a young James Farentino. 
A murder from


The Shadow of Chikara
(1977, writ. & dir. Earl E. Smith)

AKA The Curse of Demon Mountain, among many names. Shot on location in someplace called Arkansas. More than one online source, including the all-powerful imdb, states that Herschel Gordon Lewis did the sound for this forgotten western horror, while the entry on HGL found on the French Wikipedia (accessed 29 Dec 2016) claims he did uncredited screenwriting work on the project. Sure, why not? And we have a bridge to sell you. 
The Curse of Demon Mountain:
The Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review, which claims "the twist ending comes as a genuine surprise," has the plot: "At the end of the American Civil War, the dying Virgil Cane (Slim Pickens) tells Southern Captain Wishbone Cutter (Joe Don Baker) about a cache of diamonds hidden in a cave along the Buffalo River and the route to get there. Returning home, Cutter finds his wife (Linda Dano) has left him for another man. He sets out with his Irish-Cherokee companion Half-Moon O'Brian (Joy N. Houck Jr.) and geologist Amos Richmond (Ted Neeley) to find the diamonds. Along the journey, they meet a young woman Drusilla Wilcox (Sondra Locke), the only survivor of a massacre by Indians, and take her with them. As they head up into the mountain, Half-Moon realises that it is the Mountain of Demons, which is cursed by the spirit of Chikara who promised to kill all who ventured into its domain."
The Shadow of Chikara, a regional independent production, is the only directorial effort of Earl E. Smith, a man better known for supplying the story to worst of all the Dirty Harry movies, Sudden Impact (1983 / trailer), and the scripts for Charles B. Pierce (16 June 1938 — 5 March 2010) regional films like The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972 / trailer) and The Town that Dreaded Sundown (1976), the latter of which was remade by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon in 2014 (trailer). 
Trailer to
The Town that Dreaded Sundown (1976):

Barnaby and Me
(1978, dir. Norman Panama [21 April 1914-13 Jan 2003])
 
The entry on HGL found on the French Wikipedia (accessed 29 Dec 2016) claims that HGL was a "comme scénariste" — screenwriter — on this, "a 1978 Australian TV movie about a girl and her talking koala who are pursued by criminals" generally attributed to the TV scribe James S. Heneson. But: Sure, why not? And we have a bridge to sell you.
The plot, according to Amazon: "The title character is a talented Koala Bear, who is to Australian fans what Benji is to Americans. Pausing in his escape from a vengeful mobster, American con artist Leo Fisk [a zonked-out Sid Caesar] falls in love with Jennifer [Juliet Mills], whose daughter Linda [Sally Boyden] keeps Barnaby as her pet. The kooky koala teams up with Caesar for a series of picaresque adventures. It's hardly The Sting (1973 / trailer), but it's easy to take."
Director Norman Panama once directed a psychotronic disaster known as The Maltese Bippy (1969).
Trailer to
The Maltese Bippy:


Old Boyfriends
(1979, dir. Joan Tewkesbury)

The entry on HGL found on the French Wikipedia (accessed 29 Dec 2016) claims that HGL was (an assumedly un-credited) "comme scénariste" — screenwriter — on this drama generally credited to Paul Schrader and Leonard Schrader. It was the directorial debut of the unknown director Joan Tewkesbury. 
First 13 minutes,
with a soundtrack that sounds as if it's from a thriller:
20/20 Movie Reviews explains the movie: "Presumably, we're supposed to feel some degree of sympathy for Dianne Cruise (Talia Shire), the troubled heroine of Joan Tewkesbury's talky — and rather tedious — drama, Old Boyfriends, but the overwhelming sentiment one feels is one of mild contempt for her perpetual state of self-absorbed discontent. She's an egocentric wrecker of lives who's destined to stumble from one doomed relationship to another, never able to find happiness or fulfilment, and always wondering why. Following the failure of her marriage, Dianne goes AWOL from her job as a psychiatrist (!) to travel around the countryside on a dull voyage of self-discovery, in the belief that once she can figure out who she was when she loved the important lovers from her past she will know who she is now, and maybe — sniff! — learn to love herself. Yeah — someone you really want to spend 103 minutes with, right?"
Personally, we've never understood movies in which women or men can only gain a sense of themselves and who they are through the relationships of their past, as if they themselves are nothing but empty shells that only become human through past fucks and/or heartbreaks. It would seem to us that people who do that must, in the end, be incredibly empty of anything that might be considered a self.
Talia Shire has been in better films, like this one
The Dunwich Horror (1970):


The Aliens Are Coming
(1980, dir. Harvey Hart)

The entry on HGL found on the French Wikipedia (accessed 29 Dec 2016) claims that HGL was a "comme scénariste" — screenwriter — on this TV movie, entitled Le Cauchemar aux yeux verts in France, which most other sources ascribe to TV scribe Robert "Bob" W. Lenski (11 June 1926 —19 June 2002). But: Sure, why not? And we have a bridge to sell you.
The unsold pilot, a semi-retooling of the 1967-68 series The Invaders (opening titles), premiered as a two-hour movie and went nowhere, and was followed by the revamp of The Invaders in 1995 (trailer). 
TV Promo to
The Aliens Are Coming:
Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings supports the thesis proffered by the French: "An alien spaceship lands on earth and the aliens on board start taking possession of various people. […] One of the working titles for this one was The New Invaders. I can find no evidence that this actually was a pilot, but it certainly looks like it, what with its open-ended ending and the hint that the heroes plan to continue fighting the aliens. If it was a pilot, it's just as well that it didn't make it to a series; our lead hero is supposed to be witty and cute, but I found him dumb and annoying, and the listless direction and a weak script (co-scripted by Herschell Gordon Lewis, of all people [italics ours]) destroy any chance of suspense and excitement. […] The cast also features Ed Harris."
Harvey Hart (30 Aug 1928 — 21 Nov 1989) was a Canuck director best known for the occult film The Pyx (1973 / trailer) and the lesser known Dark Intruder (1965). 
Trailer to
Harvey Hart's Dark Intruder,
starring Leslie Neilson:


Dream On!
(1981, writ. & dir Ed Harker)

The entry on HGL found on the French Wikipedia (accessed 29 Dec 2016) claims that HGL was a "comme scénariste" — screenwriter, assumedly uncredited — on this forgotten experimental drama, the only known directorial (and scriptwriting) credit of Ed Harker, pictured above, who went on to work on optical effects for the classic RoboCop (1987 / trailer) and the less than classic The Wraith (1986) before disappearing onto LinkedIn. 
Trailer to
The Wraith:
Dream On! was shot in 16mm film from 1975 to 1980, and was blown up to 35mm in 1984 [OV Guide]. Over at Artist Direct Hal Erickson of Rovi trashes the movie: "Dream On! is a tale of struggling LA actors seeking out an audience. This talented but impoverished troupe stages a 'guerilla theatre' production, wherein each actor takes on a variety of characterizations. Given that the actors include an ex-hooker and a pair of mismatched homosexuals, perhaps the troupe is using their production as a means of escaping the torments of their own lives. Perhaps, nothing — that's just what they're doing. Most of the unknown players in Dream On! have remained unknown, with the spectacular exceptions of Ed Harris and Paul 'Pee-wee Herman' Reubens." (Unknown does not mean unsuccessful: Luce Rains and Philip Baker Hall are busy character actors.)
Another connection to HGL: Dream On! is the last known feature-film credit of HG Lewis's second wife, Yvonne Gilbert, who also appeared in another movie HGL had nothing to do with, Chicago 70 (1970, see Part V), and is killed in HGL's classic Two Thousand Maniacs (1964, see Part III). She and HGL were still married when she made this movie…


Saturday Night Sleazies, Vol. 1
(1990, dir. Stephen C. Apostolof)

Not a documentary or collection of trailers as often assumed, this is simply the first of three Rhino double-feature video releases. And contrary to popular opinion and what imdb says, HGL's suburban wife-swapping drama Suburban Roulette (1968, see Part IV) is not one of the movies. The double feature presents two Stephen C. Apostolof (25 Feb 1928 — 14 Aug 2005) disasterpieces: Suburbia Confidential (1966) and College Girls aka College Girl Confidential (1968).

 First 15 Minutes of
Suburbia Confidential:

In any event, HGL has nothing to do with this video release… although, who knows: maybe some of his trailers are included. (Doubtful: all three Rhino video releases of the Saturday Night Sleazies series feature Stephen C. Apostolof films, and he never had anything to do with HGL but, instead, worked regularly with Ed Wood Jr.)
Stephen C. Apostolof was eventually the subject of a documentary, Dad Made Dirty Movies (2011).
Teaser to
Dad Made Dirty Movies:


Sorority Babes in the Dance-A-Thon of Death
(1991, dir. Todd Sheets as "Roger Williams)

Know your influences. The trashy direct-to-video — often lauded as one the worst films ever made by those who have seen it — gives "Special Thanks" to H.G. Lewis, or so says the imdb.
Todd Sheets is a highly productive regional trash filmmaker from Kansas City. (Where's that?) The Last Exit describes him as "A horror-movie and heavy metal fan who churns out very gory home-made b-movies for fellow fans. Hard-working, prolific, writes his own music and seems to have fun with what he does but, unfortunately, doesn't seem to have what it takes and has no original ideas of his own. Several of his movies are extremely rare or unreleased."
The Pit and the Pendulum says: "Obviously cashing in on the amusing title of Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama (1988 / trailer / VHS cover below) and bizarrely produced by the director of that movie, David DeCoteau, Sorority Babes in the Dance-A-Thon of Death is just awful in every way. The two movies have very little in common other than both being crap, but Sorority Babes in the Dance-A-Thon of Death takes the amateurishness to a whole new level."
P&P also has the plot: "Four sorority sisters conjure up a demon from hell from within an ancient crystal ball. However, one of the sisters is changed into a rampaging ghoul bent on raising hell through partying! Only two elderly antique dealers can rescue the gals (and sex-wanting frat boys) from certain doom, but not until they've taken their ghoulfest to the discotheque and turned it into the dance-a-thon of death!" 
Dance —
from
Sorority Babes in the Dance-A-Thon of Death:
It would seem that HG Lewis films are the prime examples of professional productions in comparison to Sheets' films.


Psycho-lettes
(1996, writ & dir Pedro Temboury)

This is an early short from z-moviemaker Pedro Temboury, a fan and disciple of Jess Franco. This Spanish-language short (no subtitles) was filmed in 1996, in Málaga. The plot is simple and trashy and obviously indebted to HGL and She-Devils on Wheels (1968, see Part IV), both of which get acknowledgement in the end credits.
Plot: A bunch of female cyclers go looking for men on the back roads of Málaga. Their mission: cut the balls off of as many men as possible, and use them — the balls, not the men — to make a psychedelic potion for the ultimate trip. The Guardia Civil tries to capture them. Filmed in 16mm. Music by the Pink Flamingoes. 
The Full Short:


Divine Trash
(1998, dir. Steve Yeager)

A documentary on the great filmmaker John Waters made by a man that actually appeared as a walk-on in Water's first masterpiece, Pink Flamingoes (1972). Kenneth Anger and Russ Meyer declined to be interviewed for this film, but H.G. Lewis did not — but then, his participation was surely paid for. Blood Feast (1963, see Part II) is mentioned, with scenes shown. Talking heads include Waters' parents and siblings; underground film stalwarts Jonas Mekas, Mike and George Kuchar, and Ken Jacobs; fringe filmmakers Paul Morrissey, Herschell Gordon Lewis, Jim Jarmusch, and Steve Buscemi; Mink Stole and Mary Vivian Pierce; and others.
Trailer to
Divine Trash:
At imdb, j.hailey (jhailey@hotmail.com) says: "The life and times of Baltimore film maker and midnight movie pioneer, John Waters. Intercut with a 1972 interview of Waters are clips from his first films and recent interviews with his parents, his brother, Divine's mom, actors and crew, other directors, film critics, a film curator, psychologists, and Maryland's last censor, who shudders at the memory of Waters's pictures. Also included is footage of Waters making his early movies, culminating in an up-close and in-depth look at Pink Flamingos: the script, the set, the filming conditions, its editing, its distribution, and its impact. In sweet ways, this documentary is also a celebration of Divine (1945–1988)." 
Trailer to the Classic
Pink Flamingos: 

As the New York Times points out, "Mr. Yeager's fine and fascinating biography of Mr. Waters pays scant attention to his Hollywood career. The movie […] follows his work only through the making and marketing of his 1972 underground succès de scandale, Pink Flamingos, which made film history with its notorious scene of Divine (aka Glenn Milstead) ingesting dog feces. As Mr. Waters demurely remembers that shattering moment: 'It was a magic day in our happy young lives'.


More to Follow … Eventually
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