Herschell Gordon Lewis: The Godfather of Gore (2010)

Directors: Frank Henenlotter, Jimmy Maslon

There are some outstanding comments uttered in the delightful course of this film, one in particular pertaining to Lewis’ 1967 opus A Taste of Blood, where he says he had trouble with his cameraman because the latter “wanted to make a good movie”. If that doesn’t sum up Lewis’ whole filmmaking career, I don’t know what does. It’s quite appropriate that Something Weird should produce a doco about the man who gave them their name; the good people at SWV have an obvious affection for him and his films, and that’s communicated perfectly in the documentary. Henenlotter & Maslon survey Lewis’ whole career, more or less, with interviews with Lewis himself and a remarkable number of his collaborators, a generous selection of clips from the majority of his films (including one that was never actually finished; there’s even more in the copious deleted scenes on the DVD), though obviously it leans most heavily on Blood Feast and Two Thousand Maniacs!; along the way, not only do you get a very neat potted history of one of the more peculiar careers in film history (this is a man who got Colonel Sanders—yes, THAT one—to appear in one of his films), you get a fascinating insight into a kind of underground cinema that doesn’t really exist any more—not least because it was cinema, it showed on big screens rather than going straight to video like it would a couple of decades later—it was peculiar to a time when Hollywood had yet to latch onto sex and/or violence as money spinners in the way exploitation filmmakers like Lewis did. The documentary is also fairly blunt about its subject’s artistic shortcomings (there is a glorious moment in one of the deleted scenes where Henenlotter holds up a poster for a double bill of The Gruesome Twosome and Something Weird which proudly calls the latter “god awful”), but Lewis himself has never had any illusions about his own work; the films have no pretensions to anything and neither does their creator, and I think that’s why there’s something likeable about him even when you consider how much money-grasping and cynicism really underlies his work. There’s something kind of charming about the cheapness of these films and sometimes the inventiveness that resulted therefrom that almost redeems them. Almost. Terrific viewing.

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