Herschell Gordon Lewis (1929-2016), appropriately called the Godfather of Gore, is an incredibly important figure in the history of cinematic horror. He is most often credited with creating a sub-genre of horror, the splatter film. A splatter film is a movie that relies on over the top blood and gore and graphic violence to win over its audience. This post here will be a brief introduction to my three favorite Herschell Gordon Lewis films: Blood Feast (1963), Two Thousand Maniacs (1964), and The Wizard of Gore (1970).
HGL’s first venture into the land of splatter cinema came with 1963’s Blood Feast. Many consider this movie to be the first gore film. The story follows an Egyptian caterer, Fuad Ramses, who goes around killing people to use their mutilated remains for meals and offerings to the Egyptian goddess Ishtar. The movie gained a cult following, due to its excessive gore and extreme violence, which made up for its less-than-spectacular acting. The film gained its following due its very successful run in late night drive-ins. Although it may not be the best movie ever made, its importance cannot be overstated as the first ever gore film. A quote from Herschell Gordon Lewis, “I’ve often referred to Blood Feast as a Walt Whitman poem. It’s no good, but it was the first of its type.”
His next attempt at the splatter film is 1964’s Two Thousand Maniacs! The movie follows the story of the folks from Pleasant Valley that lure Yankee tourists into their beloved town. The northern folk find out they are the guests of honor for Pleasant Valley’s Centennial Celebration of when the northern army destroyed the town during the War Between the States. The tourists are then led to participate in strange games and activities which ultimately lead to their gory demise. This movie, like HGL’s previous film Blood Feast, is made famous due to its extreme gore and intense violence. Some of the more famous scenes include a woman being hacked to bits with an ax and then thrown on the barbecue, a man having his limbs ripped off by horses, and an odd version of the dunk tank, where a large boulder is hanging over a woman’s body only to be dropped when the target is hit. This film also gained a cult following due its late night drive-in run. The movie even spawned a remake in 2005 called 2001 Maniacs, which starred famous slasher Robert Englund.
In 1970, Herschell Gordon Lewis directed The Wizard of Gore, my favorite of all his films. The story follows a magician called Montag the Magnificent. His stage show includes rants about what is real and what is not. He then takes female “volunteers” from the audience to which he performs eerily realistic torture and mutilation tricks. When the bit is done, the women appear to be unharmed, only to drop dead later that night from what appears to be the same tricks performed in the show. Sherry Carson, the host of a local talk show, becomes increasingly interested in Montag’s show. When she invites him to perform a trick live on her show, he hypnotizes everyone in the audience, as well as all the television viewers. He then starts a fire, and attempts to kill Carson. I must end the summary here, as the ending is a pretty big twist. The gore effects in the movie were accomplished with two sheep carcasses, making the gore seem ultra realistic. Some of my favorite scenes included a woman being sawed in half, a woman pounded with a punch press, and a good old fashioned drill to the brain. This movie was also remade in 2007, with Crispin Glover playing Montag the Magnificent.
Back in 2010 I had the pleasure of meeting Herschell Gordon Lewis at Monster-Mania Con in Cherry Hill, NJ. After having my Wizard of Gore poster signed, HGL invited my buddy and I to the world premiere of his newest splatter flick, The Uh! Oh! Show! (only his second movie since 1972). He was incredibly nice and appreciative, certainly at the top of my list for favorite guest at a convention. HGL will always be one of my favorite directors, and I am incredibly thankful to him for his contributions to film. Like the tagline to Blood Feast, “there is nothing more appalling in annals of horror!”