Herschell Gordon Lewis films are often far from from great films but they helped define a unique time in American exploitation cinema and films such as Blood Feast or The Wizard of Gore helped break new ground in what could be seen in film. In Herschell Gordon Lewis – The Godfather of Gore Frank Henenlotter and Jimmy Maslon, aided by interviews with Lewis himself, John Waters, Joe Bob Briggs and others, investigate the films of Lewis and the stories behind their production.
Herschell Gordon Lewis’ career began with a handful of films that fitted within a genre often described as nudie cutie pictures. These were films that featured a lot of female nudity but had a light-hearted tone and no actual sex scenes. After having a pretty decent hit with one such nudie cutie, The Adventure of Lucky Pierre in 1961, Lewis’ next significant foray into exploitation was also his first move into what could loosely be described as horror cinema with Blood Feast in 1963. Blood Feast is pretty badly written, very badly acted and the direction leaves a little to be desired but in just 67 minutes Herschell Gordon Lewis helped define the splatter/gore film. After Blood Feast, HGL’s career continued with films such as the enjoyable and equally iconic and gory redneck film, Two Thousand Maniacs! and the inventive and blood splattered Color Me Blood Red.
The Documentary, Herschell Gordon Lewis – The Godfather of Gore, takes a basic linear approach to the story of Lewis’ career peppering the story with talking heads from the key players and clips and outtakes from his films. The film paints him as a huckster capitalizing on whatever he thinks will turn a buck at the time and the tone of the documentary is very lighthearted without too much insight into his films. For a two hour running time I actually came away with very little information beyond a brief overview of his career. If this is all you are looking for though and are not familiar with his work then this may be enough.
Lacking a narrative hook that pulls the film together the documentary does not transcend simply being a basic retelling of Lewis’ career and I suspect the subject is much better served by Randy Palmer’s book of the same name. The film is perhaps an adequate introduction to Herschell Gordon Lewis for new fans or a welcome collection of interviews for hardcore fans but Herschell Gordon Lewis – The Godfather of Gore left this fan a little underwhelmed.
The above poster is for Herschell Gordon Lewis’ Two Thousand Maniacs, starring playboy playmate Connie Mason.