Blood Feast is regarded as the first splatter film, which makes it hugely important in the history of exploitation cinema. It is just as famous for its on screen depictions of gore, as wild and fun as they are, as it is for its marketing. The producer came up with the idea of giving out vomit bags at showings and even went as far as intentionally taking out an injunction against his own film in Sarasota, Florida. With a budget of only $25,000, there isn’t much left for advertising
The film focuses on a caterer named Fuad Ramses who murders women and includes their body parts in his meals. He continually makes sacrifices to the goddess, Ishtar. The movie insists this is an Egyptian goddess, but a quick google search tells me that she was worshipped by the Mesopotamians and later by the Akkadians, Babylonians, and Assyrians. Either way, I had a ton of fun with this ultra gory, silly horror movie. At only 67 minutes, it never really has a chance to get boring and the effects are just bad enough to be funny, but its still understandable that audiences at the time had never seen anything like it.
It is likely that even without this film, someone else would have stumbled upon violence being an easy way to drum up box office numbers, but it pays to be the first. Herschel Gordon Lewis would go on to make dozens of other movies of varying quality, but he left his mark early with this film.
Scum of the Earth:
Much like Blood Feast, Scum of the Earth was also hugely influential on exploitation cinema. It is regarded as the first roughie, a genre that went beyond standard sexploitation by adding violence and sadism along with the sex and nudity. All I could think while watching this was just how surprisingly not bad the film was. It is directed competently and the acting is serviceable. Even more surprising is the sympathetic angle that is taken with the young woman who is coerced into posing nude on camera and then blackmailed into continuing to do so. The film would influence many more that were less redeemable.
I’m including this educational short film because I had a surprisingly fun time with it. It’s obviously funny to look back at this short film about carving meat knowing that Herschell Gordon Lewis would go on to make the gore film famous. Even more surprisingly, I actually feel like I learned something about carving meat, something most people have no clue how to do correctly. The short opens with a man carving a turkey perfectly after being made fun of for ruining it the last time. I found this especially funny since my dad and I always say the same thing about my uncle who insists on carving the turkey every Thanksgiving.
Two Thousand Maniacs:
Shortly after Blood Feast, Lewis went on to direct the second film of his “Gore Trilogy” in Two Thousand Maniacs. For my money, this is the best film he ever made. It doesn’t say anything interesting or new about the tensions left behind from the Civil War, but that was never the point of the film. Lewis uses the the situation of an undiscovered town deep in the south who convince northerners they are to be the guest of honor at their centennial. While not a shocking and historically relevant as Blood Feast, this is a better film technically with marginally better acting and a real story to hold it together. After watching, I found out that Herschell Gordon Lewis composed the theme song to this and Moonshine Mountain himself, which is hilarious to me.
The second film on disk two of the set continues the hicksploitation and makes an interesting double feature. While this is clearly the B movie in the double feature (as strange as calling another HGL movie and A picture can be), there is still some fun to be had. In this film a famous country western singer goes to a small town to get in touch with his roots, before writing a new album. The usual murder and mayhem occur, although this film was considerably less entertaining that Two Thousand Maniacs and was the most forgettable so far.
Color Me Blood Red:
The final film of Lewis’ “Gore Trilogy” is the least shocking, meaning the least interesting of the three. Color Me Blood Red is the story of a painter who discovers that the perfect shade of red for his art only comes from human blood. Predictably, he descends into madness trying to perfect his art, leaving several victims without much of their blood behind. However, I still had quite a bit of fun with this insane premise. On the surface, there could be some statements about Lewis’ use of blood to sell his own art, but he doesn’t seem to have much interest in tackling this any further.
This film was a little different than those that appear earlier in the set. It begins with two electrical workers being shocked by a live wire. One dies while the other is injured and his face is permanently maimed. However, he is also given the gift of extra sensory perception from the accident. He is faced with an interesting dilemma when an ugly witch promises to return his handsome face with the condition that he become her lover. Among other things, the film includes a seance, kung fu, ghosts, and LSD. It all sounds a bit more interesting than the final result ends up, but this is still a fun film that I thoroughly enjoyed as an alternative the the gore Lewis will always be known for.
The Gruesome Twosome:
This film just felt like it had too much filler to me. While clocking in at only 71 minutes, there easily could have been 10 or 15 taken from the final cut. The film opens with two mannequin heads having a conversation that is only tangentially related to the plot of the film. This is the first film of the set that I really disliked. Every other film had some historical relevance, entertainment value, or a combination of the two. This just comes across as dull.
A Taste of Blood:
What can I say about this film except that it’s way too long for it’s own good. I’m pretty confident that this will be in the running for the worst in the set when I’m finished. Herschell Gordon Lewis is just not the type of filmmaker to be able to justify a two hour runtime.
She-Devils on Wheels:
This film lives up to the Man-Eaters motto, “sex, blood, and all men are mothers.” Theres a scene pretty early on where one of the members is forced to drag her male lover around a track because the members thought she had feelings for him. They’re strong on their convictions to a fault but it makes for an entertaining movie. There’s a scene past midway through where the gang is able to fend off an all male gang that arrives in muscle cars, which shows a bit of a progressive bend. I liked this one but it does drag before that scene and a bit after. It’s still worth a watch though for a bit of a change of pace for the godfather of gore.
Just For the Hell of it:
In the introduction, Herschell Gordon Lewis admits he only made this move because it was time to make another. That tells you everything you need to know about this one. Theres a youth gang and they do whatever, I guess, just for the hell of it. The best thing about this film is that we’re treated to another theme song written by Lewis. It’s not great, but it has it’s fun parts and it’s still better than A Taste of Blood.
How to Make a Doll:
This one might overtake A Taste of Blood as the worst in the set. I’ll admit I wasn’t paying the closest attention after about halfway through. The film concerns a professor who builds a sex robot because no women want to be with him. I had a hard time finding anything that redeemable in this film and although it was less than 80 minutes, it felt much longer.
The Wizard of Gore:
The film begins with a wizard ranting about whether what you’re seeing is actually reality before he has his head cut off by a guillotine. That’s a very strong opening, but unfortunately the film does not quite sustain that kind of energy for its entire runtime. Essentially, the same setup is done multiple times. A woman is brought onstage for a trick and appears to be fine, but then dies after the show. I admire Lewis’ commitment to gore, and it almost works, this being probably his goriest film yet, but the relition does get old before the film ends. I think this could have been one of my favorites in the set had it been cut down to around 80 minutes like many of Lewis’ other films.
This Stuff’ll Kill Ya!:
This film was another that simply overstayed its welcome. It concerns a con artist who sets himself up as a preacher in a small souther town in order to run a moonshine distillery there. It could have been fun had it been shortened to around 80 minutes like many of the best films in this set, however at around 100 minutes it really drags.
The Gore Gore Girls:
I’m very glad the set was able to end on a high note. This film easily has the highest production value of any in the set. The opening is reminiscent of a giallo, with a black gloved killer smashing a woman’s face into a mirror. From there, a reporter recruits a private eye to investigate the murder of strippers working at a Chicago nightclub. The gore is outstanding as usual for later Lewis films, but what sets this one apart is the intentional comedy. All Lewis films have moments that incite laughter, but usually due to poor acting or ridiculous plot points. While the acting isn’t top notch here either, the film comes across as one of the most playful in the set.
It might seem that a lot of my reactions throughout the set were negative, but Herschell Gordon Lewis’ impact on the horror genre can’t really be overstated. Some of my favorites in the set were Two Thousand Maniacs, The Gore Gore Girls, and Scum of the Earth. While there certainly were some that I won’t be revisiting any time soon, this set was a lot of fun before even considering the historical impact of several of the films.