Arrow Video's mammoth seventeen-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo boxed set of Herschell Gordon Lewis hits the street roughly a month after the gore auteur's September death, and hopefully allows the fans and the curious to assess his filmography as a near whole.
Although not the earliest Lewis film – and certainly not the earliest collaboration with producer David F. Friedman (SHE FREAK) with whom he had already lensed a series of successful nudist colony and nudie cutie films – the earliest title in the set is SCUM OF THE EARTH (1963) – not to be confused with the later S.F. Brownrigg film – which Lewis labeled in the BLOOD FEAST commentary as the progenitor of the "roughie" genre. Photographer Harmon (PLAYGIRL KILLER's William Kerwin, billed as "Thomas Sweetwood") and model Sandra (Sandra Sinclair, THE DEFILERS) are caught up in the pornography ring of businessman Lang (Lawrence J. Aberwood, LIVING VENUS). When Sandra tires of being roughed up by heavy Ajax (BLOOD FEAST's garbage truck driver Craig Maudslay), she begs for a way out which Lang gives her by recruiting other "fresh talent" in the form of college-bound Kim (DIARY OF A NUDIST's Allison Louise Downe). Prudish Kim is suitably smitten with Harmon to show off her legs for a supposed shoe ad and her bikini bod for a glamour calendar, but soon finds herself the object of blackmail when she takes off her top for lingerie test photographs and Lang's "teenage" cohort Larry (BLOOD FEAST's Mal Arnold) threatens to send prints to her father if she does not continue posing for racier material. Played like a vintage scare film (with moralizing narration left for the ending shot), SCUM OF THE EARTH's dramatic heft – apart from Aberwood's frothing monologue excerpted in the Something Weird Video promo – is carried entirely by Kerwin as the booze-addled photographer who tells Larry that the only person more disgusting is himself. The first half of the film is pretty coy about the prurient goings-on, saving some explicit for the time (outside of a nudist colony film) toplessness in the third act.
Sharing the disc with SCUM OF THE EARTH is Lewis' and Friedman's ground-breaking BLOOD FEAST. Egyptian caterer Fuad Ramses (Mal Arnold, VAMPIRE COP) has taken to serial murder, killing and taking limbs and organs from a string of female victims as offerings to the goddess Ishtar (a gold-painted mannequin with a rather perplexed look on her face). In spite of the messy nature of the crime scenes, detective Pete (Kerwin, billed as Thomas Wood) – who happens to be taking a night class with girlfriend Suzette (Playmate Connie Mason, MADE FOR EACH OTHER) on Ancient Egyptian history – has no leads to tie the victims together. Ramses comes into contact with Pete's and Suzette's world when her mother (Lyn Bolton, SWEET BIRD OF AQUARIUS) engages Ramses to cater "an Egyptian feast" for her daughter who Ramses plans to carve into the main course. Widely considered the first "gore" film – and it is perhaps the first film structured around a series of gore set pieces – BLOOD FEAST is as memorable for the bright Kaopectate stage blood spattered scenes of mutilation (mostly seen in aftermath) as it is for its more hyperbolic aspects like Pete's captain riding him to get answers and newspaper headlines like "LEGS CUT OFF" and for performances ranging from over-the-top (Arnold and the crying boyfriend of one of the victims) and passable (Kerwin) to the downright awful Mason who seems to have been written as a bimbo as she notes that the string of murders "takes all the joy out of everything" (of course, her mother remarks "the guests will have to eat hamburgers tonight" when the police confiscate the Egyptian feast as evidence").
BLOOD FEAST spawned a pair of unofficial sequels in Jackie Kong's BLOOD DINER (recently the second of Lion's Gate's "Vestron Video Collector's Series" Blu-rays) and Dean Tschetter's BLOODSUCKING PHAROAHS FROM PITTSBURGH (which only exists in the MPAA-gutted version originally released on VHS by Paramount), but Lewis himself tried his hand at a sequel in 2002 with BLOOD FEAST 2: ALL U CAN EAT which delivered more technically-proficient gore but annoyingly forced the comedy beyond the unintended absurdity of the original. More recently, German filmmaker Marcel Walz mounted a remake starring VAMP's Robert Rusler and TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2's Caroline Williams set in Paris. Lewis and Friedman (hosted on the commentary track by Something Weird Video's Mike Vraney) speak warmly of Kerwin but not so much of Mason (along with some perhaps unintentional swipes at others like "here is what would have been brains had it not been an actress"). They also mention some continuity issues like Kerwin sneaking in cigarettes and money-saving techniques like the manner in which they photographed the blood-spattered titled card and did the fades in-camera (although they had to pay the lab for a freeze frame because an actress could not hold her breath after being killed on camera), and their need to replace the pink-looking blood of LIVING VENUS with a redder alternative that turned out to be made with Kaopectate.
The South rises again in TWO THOUSAND MANIACS when a handful of Yankee tourists happen upon the town of Pleasant Valley, the denizens of which were massacred by Union troops a century ago and have reappeared to take their grisly revenge on the unwitting visitors (among them William Kerwin and Connie Mason). Victims are drawn-and-quartered, eviscerated, crushed by giant stones, and put through a particularly pointed take on barrel racing. Closer to feature-length than BLOOD FEAST, TWO THOUSAND MANIACS actually possesses something like build-up, but the over-the-top presentation is as hard to take seriously (apart from the first shock scene in which studly Harper chops off the thumb of an unsuspecting girl) as was Tim Sullivan's remake 2001 MANIACS (2005), which is as it should be as Lewis never meant for his gore films to do more than entertain. Lewis' and Friedmans' commentary (moderated by rights owner Jimmy Maslon and Something Weird's Mike Vraney) reveals that the location was a retirement community now owned by Disney World, the cooperative locals provided them a cherry picker to do a crane shot, the hotel used in the film was modernized but they still had the 1920's switchboard, and that Mason crashed a production car during the shoot. The ensemble nature of the film had the cast members tending to hang around after their parts were finished shooting. Upon release, they discovered that theaters that would not play BLOOD FEAST because of the title would play TWO THOUSAND MANIACS, and that it was this film more so than BLOOD FEAST that legitimized the genre for imitators.
In COLOR ME BLOOD RED, frustrated modern artist Adam Sorg (Gordon Oas-Heim, ANDY WARHOL'S BAD) discovers that blood offers the perfect shade of red needed for his macabre paintings when his nagging girlfriend Gigi (Elyn Warner) steps on a nail sticking out of one of his trashed canvases. When he literally puts his own blood into a canvas and it is hailed as a masterpiece by beret-wearing critic Gregorovich (MOONSHINE MOUNTAIN's William Harris), he stabs Gigi in the head and milks her for more inspiration and then sets about preying upon beach-goers who come out to the far end of the beach where he lives in seclusion. Sorg's secret is threatened when the daughter of one of Sorg's high society patrons April (TWO THOUSAND MANIACS' Candi Conder) picnics with her boyfriend and outré buddies near Sorg's cabin and asks to pose for him. Seeming like a lazy quickie take on A BUCKET OF BLOOD after the more ambitious TWO THOUSAND MANICS, COLOR ME BLOOD RED really only has Oas-Heim's performance going for it as the gore effects lack the flare of the earlier two "Blood" films. Lewis and Friedman reveal in the commentary track that a professional quarrel lead to the end of their working relationship with this film (which Friedman regards as his biggest mistake).
All three films were released to VHS with gory big box covers from Continental Video (their highlights also included on Continental's TERROR ON TAPE compilation) in the early eighties. When they resurfaced on VHS from Something Weird Video, these Friedman-authorized editions included the bonus of outtakes (quite lengthy in the case of BLOOD FEAST), and then as more fully-fledged special editions when Image released them on DVD. The "Blood Trilogy" of BLOOD FEAST, COLOR ME BLOOD RED, and TWO THOUSAND MANIACS did make it to Blu-ray courtesy of Image Entertainment and Something Weird Video on a dual-layer BD50 in 1.78:1 transfers with commentaries (see below) and short subjects. Opening with a Manson International logo not seen on the Image DVD, BLOOD FEAST's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC transfer is framed at 1.85:1 apart from the windowboxed 1.33:1 credit sequence (which looks like it could have sustained widescreen matting apart from the title card). Although shot on short ends, the image is crisp and colorful thanks to the flat lighting, often static staging, and the highly saturated blood and set decoration, with the widescreen framing imposing a sense of composition on shots that once seemed indifferently framed. Day-for-night scenes are less murky along with a couple night shots that seem to have been lit with car headlights. The LPCM 1.0 mono track has also been cleaned up, but it is not particularly dynamic apart from a little reverberation from the score's kettle drums. When Image released TWO THOUSAND MANIACS on DVD, they had to use a PAL video master which ran at 25 fps, throwing off the pitch of the score and the speed of some undercranked shots. Image came up with a better source for their Blu-ray, and that is presumably what has been used here for Arrow's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen transfer, although they apparently had to go back to the SD tape master for missing bits as Arrow's disclaimer before the presentation notes here. The image occasionally shrinks from 1.78:1 to 1.66:1 and becomes softer (sometimes for just a few frames). For COLOR ME BLOOD RED, the source of Arrow's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen transfer is on par or better than BLOOD FEAST (especially after watching MOONSHINE MOUNTAIN and TWO THOUSAND MANIACS), partially thanks to the elements but also the photography that favors flatly-lit interiors and bright exteriors (unlike most presentations in this set, Arrow did not seem to feel the need to start it off with a disclaimer). The LPCM 1.0 audio is without obvious flaws and optional English SDH subtitles are included.
Lewis provides brand new introductions to both films (1:12 and 1:32, respectively) while "Herschell’s History" featurette (5:18) has the director covering his move from school teacher to radio to television advertising to the movies, and defining SCUM OF THE EARTH as a transitional film between the nudie cuties and BLOOD FEAST. In "How Herschell Found His Niche" (7:15), Lewis discusses his nudie career and how Walter Bibo's New York censorship board win to show GARDEN OF EDEN lead to the string of nudist colony films during which Lewis and Friedman established their various roles in their filmmaking partnership. A 1987 Interview with Herschell Gordon Lewis and David Friedman (18:28) has the two expanding upon their "Carny Kid and the Professor" partnership, the stages of their filmmaking careers from nudies to gore, and some brief comments on some of their contemporaries like Russ Meyer and Doris Wishman. "Blood Perceptions" (10:55) finds filmmakers Nicholas McCarthy (THE PACT) and Rodney Ascher (ROOM 237) discussing the ways in which they first became acquainted with Lewis' BLOOD FEAST and the ways in which it offers a time capsule of "otherworldly Florida." The aforementioned outtakes (45:55) for BLOOD FEAST include some more gory angles (some not so convincing) and nudity, as well as some additional shots from the climactic scene. Alternate "Clean" scenes from SCUM OF THE EARTH (4:36) feature the girls in bikinis where they were originally topless. Also included on the first disc is the "Carving Magic" 1959 educational short (20:32) featuring Kerwin and LAUGH-IN's Harvey Korman, as well as the theatrical trailer (2:23), radio spot (1:01), and theater announcement (0:58) for BLOOD FEAST and trailers for THE ADVENTURES OF LUCKY PIERRE, GOLDILOCKS AND THE THREE BARES, and BELL, BARE, AND BEAUTIFUL.
Sharing the second disc with TWO THOUSAND MANIACS is MOONSHINE MOUNTAIN – directed by Lewis while Friedman did post-production on COLOR ME BLOOD RED – which delves farther into the Hicksploitation genre and carries over some of the same cast from the companion film. New York TV folk singer Doug Martin (Charles Glore) decides to take a sabbatical in hillbilly country in search of new material and quickly finds himself a fish out of water ("Can you break a twenty?") when he drives into Stewartsville and is knocked out and robbed of his fancy jacket by Raf (Ben Moore, MANIAC's Lester). After sorting things out with a long distance call and settling down in the town's only hotel, Doug stumbles upon Raf's family – patriarch Jeb (Jeffrey Allen, MANIACS' mayor), Raf's brother Hutto (DOCTOR GORE director J.G. Patterson Jr.), comely sister Laura (Bonnie Hinson), and gap-toothed sister Mary Lou (Gretchen Eisner) – and joins in a sing-along. They join the Basham family – Ed (MANIACS' Mark Douglas), hulking deputy Luther (Harry Hoffman), and cackling Ma (Karin March) – for some greens before the barn dance and Doug gets his taste of the local brew "White Lightning" the still of which is proudly co-owned and operated by the Bashams in conjunction with Sheriff Potter (COLOR ME BLOOD RED's Gordon Oas-Heim, billed as his character "Adam Sorg"). Waking up with a monumental hangover, Doug also happens upon the darker aspects of Stewartsville when he learns that three Washington federal investigators have disappeared while looking in the local moonshining. When Doug's girlfriend (Marilyn Walters, THE SPY WHO CAME) flies in to dump him and never returns to New York, Doug and new love interest Laura may pay the price for their snooping. Apart from some draggy passages – the musical bits which are sometimes catchy and perhaps more the point of the film than the third act suspense antics – MOONSHINE MOUNTAIN is a fairly engaging little film that starts off like a yankee's visit into a backwoods hell only to warm up in the middle and dispense a sense of "Southern Justice" to the real guilty party.
Besides introductions to both films by Lewis (1:59 and 2:05), the second disc also includes "Two Thousand Maniacs Can’t Be Wrong" (9:54) in which filmmaker Tim Sullivan recalls his friendship with Friedman and the producer's set vision and reaction to his remake. "Hicksploitation: Confidential" (7:15) is a visual essay that traces the roots of the genre to the association of the south and sex in Hollywood from poverty row quickies to Southern Gothics of the sixties. In "David Friedman: The Gentlemen’s Smut Peddler" (9:22), filmmaker Fred Olen Ray (BIOHAZARD), editor Bob Murawski (SPIDER-MAN), and Sullivan discuss Friedman's exploitation career and the impact of his departure from the partnership with Lewis. In "Herschell’s Art of Advertising" (3:33), Lewis – who went back into advertising when he retired from filmmaking – discusses his philosophies for hooking an audience. Also included on the disc are outtakes for TWO THOUSAND MANIACS (16:29), which are less interesting than those of BLOOD FEAST but reveal the shooting title to have been CENTENNIAL, as well as trailers for TWO THOUSAND MANIACS (2:14) and MOONSHINE MOUNTAIN (1:29).
COLOR ME BLOOD RED shares the third disc with SOMETHING WEIRD, the title (and title card and music stings from which Mike Vraney's label took its name). Horribly scarred and exposed to radiation in an accident, karate-kicking playboy Cronin Mitchell (Tony McCabe, SUBURBAN ROULETTE) suddenly develops strong powers of extrasensory perception. When doctors deem that plastic surgery will be useless to fix his face, Mitchell resigns himself to making a living as a dime store psychic hiding behind a mask until he is approached by an ugly witch who offers to restore his looks if he becomes her lover. He finds his scars magically healed and goes out on the town where he meets and seduces lovely Ellen Parker (Elizabeth Lee) only to discover that she is the witch and, from that point on, he is the only person who can see her for what she really is. Traveling the county as a TV psychic with Ellen as his secretary, Mitchell stops over in Jefferson, Wisconsin and offers to use his powers to find the murderer of seven young women. His powers and his claim have caught the notice of the government who send Dr. Alex Jordan (William Brooker) to Jefferson to assess Mitchell's psychic abilities, but Jordan finds himself more interested in Ellen (interpreting her hold over Mitchell as simple female magnetism). A potentially interesting concept, the supernatural aspect is let down by laughable special effects, no trademark gore for the few kills we see, and more emphasis on the love triangle than the case. On the commentary track, Lewis reveals that the film was made for hire for writer/producer/ESP professor Jeffrey S. Hurley, and that the final result varied greatly from Hurley's script "The Eerie World of Dr. Jordan." Dissatisfied with the result and remade it as THE PSYCHIC with Lewis as DP (the distributor released the film with sex inserts as COPENHAGEN'S PSYCHIC LOVES due to the association of sex and Scandinavia in the market). Designed as a B-feature, the best Lewis can say about it is that it did not detract from whatever it was paired with (he cannot remember the initial Mayflower double bill which might have been THE GRUESOME TWOSOME). Lewis only speaks for twenty minutes while the rest of the time focuses on Vraney's founding of his video and DVD empire with contributions from Friedman and Jimmy Maslon.
MOONSHINE MOUNTAIN seems to have only survived into a to-hell-and-back 35mm print (probably the source used for SWV's VHS and DVDr) full of scratches, lost frames, and buzzy sound, and Arrow has augmented this 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC pillarboxed 1.33:1 fullscreen transfer from a 2K scan with windowboxed inserts from standard definition video. The presentation resorts to these inserts more frequently than TWO THOUSAND MANIACS, sometimes for what look like single frames to keep the LPCM 1.0 audio in sync. The optional SDH subtitles are sometimes handy when a splice drops part of a line. Released theatrically by Mayflower Pictures and on VHS in the early eightes by Video Dimensions, Something Weird's somewhat faded and scratchy film source for SOMETHING WEIRD was overmatted to 1.85:1 but Arrow's 2K-mastered 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC presentation is framed at 1.33:1. The image is still a little faded but the red filtered dream sequence is no longer noisy and what damage remains is undistracting. The LPCM 1.0 mono audio is more uneven but only buzzy in a few spots. Optional English SDH subtitles are included.
Besides the commentaries, extras on the COLOR ME BLOOD RED/SOMETHING WEIRD disc include introductions to both films by Lewis (1:17 and 0:59), trailers for both films (1:26 each), and outtakes for COLOR ME BLOOD RED (9:36) which reveal the shooting title as COLOR ME RED. New extras start off with "The Art of Madness" visual essay (5:35) narrated by David Del Valle, tracing the artist as madman/murder motif from early adaptations of "The Hands of Orlac" (MAD LOVE, HANDS OF A STRANGER) to the wax museum films, the "gialli" THE BEYOND and THE HOUSE OF THE LAUGHING WINDOWS, and later works like THE DRILLER KILLER and MANIAC (with only visual reference to COLOR ME BLOOD RED and none to PLAYGIRL KILLER, a Canadian film in which Kerwin played a psycho artist). In "Weirdsville" (10:31), film scholar Jeffrey Sconce frames SOMETHING WEIRD as an opportunity for Lewis to try something different and evolve his style. Although he does not seem to know that the production was a work-for-hire, his appreciation of the film may convince the viewer to give the film another try. In "Lewis on JIMMY, THE BOY WONDER!" (2:10) reveals that the reason that he took on production of a kiddie film was because the producer wanted to make his wife (who ran a children's theater program) into a star. The short "A Hot Night at the Go Go Lounge!" (10:07) starts out with seemingly endless dance floor footage before switching over to a series of topless go-go acts. A trailer for JIMMY THE BOY WONDER! (1:39) is also included.
The fourth disc pairs Lewis' two hour magnum opus A TASTE OF BLOOD with another Mayflower production THE GRUESOME TWOSOME. A modern-day "sequel" to Bram Stoker's Dracula, A TASTE OF BLOOD finds Florida businessman John Alucard Stone (Bill Rogers, FLESH FEAST) bequeathed an inheritance from London of the estate of Baron Vada Khron that includes the property Corfax (sic) Abbey and a pair of vintage bottles of blood-colored brandy which he is to use to toast his ancestors. The wine, however, has a transformative effect on John that does not go unnoticed by his wife Helene (Elizabeth Wilkinson, SUBURBAN ROULETTE), secretary Hester (Eleanor Vaill, SHANTY TRAMP), and golfing body Dr. Hank Tyson (William Kerwin again), but his behavior changes soon become more physical as the blood of Dracula courses through his veins and he takes a sudden business trip to London to avenge himself on three of the descendants of the Count's slayers (staking each) before returning to the states to finish off the other three. Learning of the murders and fearing for his own life, Dr. Howard Helsing (Otto Schlessinger, THE GIRL, THE BODY, AND THE PILL) tries to convince Hank of the existence of vampires, but Hank is slow to believe until Helsing warns him that unrequited love Helene will be Stone's last victim and his vampire bride. Although possessed of greater production value, more considered lighting and photography, and the gore scenes are less set-pieces than ways to advance the story. The film's two hour length is do not so much to padding but Lewis' perhaps overstated appreciation of the production value available to him in the film (Gordon himself cameos as a limey mustachioed sailor, a last minute replacement when the hired actor did not show up and the longshoremen threatened to throw their equipment overboard if they did not finish shooting by the agreed-upon time). On the commentary track (in which Gordon and Vraney are joined an hour in by Friedman and Maslon), Lewis reveals that the script was brought to him by writer Donald Stanford who claimed to be offering him first shot at it before showing it to Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. He is proud of his achievement which may or may not be a slog for the viewer, but it is a nice change of pace and shows Gordon as being capable of more professional polish with the right elements. On the track, Maslon points out that K. Gordon Murray dubber Rogers, Schlessinger, and Vaill had all come of Joseph P. Mawra's SHANTY TRAMP (where Schlessinger played future offscreen bride Vaill's father).
THE GRUESOME TWOSOME finds unsuspecting potential tenants of the boarding house of dotty old Mrs. Pringle (Elizabeth Davis, PRETTY SMART) brutally scalped by her moronic son Rodney (SCREAM BABY SCREAM's Chris Martel) for her side business of a wig shop that highlights their use of real human hair in their products. After three girls disappear from the nearby college, student Kathy (Gretchen Wells) decides to blow off her boyfriend Dave (Rodney Bedell, BEACH BOY REBELS) to play Nancy Drew. Discouraged after getting in trouble with the police for accusing the janitor (Karl Stoeber, A TASTE OF BLOOD) of the murders after catching him with bones that turn out to be soup bones from the school kitchen meant for his dog, Kathy picks up the trail again when dorm mate Dawn (Dianne Raymond) disappears, having sought out new digs and fallen victim to Rodney and his new electric carving knife. According to the commentary track, THE GRUESOME TWOSOME was a more deliberate attempt to merge gore with black humor, and the already kooky Mrs. Pringle was made even more so when Lewis found a live cat a pain to deal with and swapped out her pet Napoleon with a stuffed bobcat. The scalping effects are lingered upon by the camera due to "advances" in the crew's effects know-how, and Lewis rightly points out that it is Martel's unhinged performance that keeps these sequences from becoming completely tasteless. He also reveals that the film had to be padded by ten minutes when they discovered that the film ran shy of seventy-minutes (the minimum length of an A-feature), including the extended opening sequence with the conversing wig bloods (footage Vraney reveals that he often sent out from his stock footage side business when TV companies requested something bizarre).
Long thought lost, A TASTE OF BLOOD made its VHS debut through Something Weird Video and received a new fullscreen transfer when Image released it on DVD in 2000. Scanned in 2K from the same materials – the original negative with inserts and a final reel from a less immaculate 35mm print – Arrow's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen encode looks spectacular for the bulk of the presentation with fine textures in the sixties décor, prominent reds in the blood, wardrobe, and those vivid carpet stair treads. A few negative scratches are evident throughout but the final reel is rife with green vertical scratches and overall softer resolution. The LPCM 1.0 track has been cleaned up but is still limited to the defects of the print materials. As with the Image DVD, THE GRUESOME TWOSOME's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC fullscreen transfer comes from a 2K scan of degraded source materials, but the heavy damage – including persistent orange stains on two sections of the image – is easier here to dismiss if the film is suitably engrossing. The LPCM 1.0 track carries a lot of hiss and buzz but the dialogue is always understandable and the English SDH subtitles are also helpful.
Besides the aforementioned commentaries, disc four also includes among its extras new introductions by Lewis (1:05 and 1:42, respectively) as well as "Peaches Christ Flips her Wig!" (9:54), an interview with transgender performer/filmmaker Peaches Christ who reveals that she grew up in a Catholic suburb in Maryland but was able to escape into cult movies and horror thanks to a video store that rented anything to her at a very young age (including CALIGULA and the Gordon films). She provides an appreciation of Gordon's films, particularly THE GRUESOME TWOSOME, and recalls meeting the director who almost gave her the title of her first feature which was ultimately released ALL ABOUT EVIL. In "It Came From Florida" (10:48), filmmaker Fred Olen Ray provides a portrait of Florida's filmmaking scene from industrial films and commercials to the empires of Lewis, William Grefe, and others. He also reveals the fate of COLOR ME BLOOD RED actor Jim Jaekel, the son of one of his high school teachers, who went out swimming in the ocean one day and never returned. In "Herschell vs the Censors" (7:53), Lewis discusses his experiences as well as what changing standards and audience sophistication mean to what is considered acceptable to be shown. Also included are a trailer (2:44) and radio spots for THE GRUESOME TWOSOME and a trailer for A TASTE OF BLOOD (1:24).
The fifth disc pairs Lewis' entertaining girl biker film SHE DEVILS ON WHEELS with his late 1960s JD genre film JUST FOR THE HELL OF IT. Karen (Christie Wagner) views with Queen (Betty Connell) for leadership in the Man-Eaters, a girl bike gang who races each other for top pick of their "Stud Line" of willing partners. When Karen becomes attached to stud Bill (David Harris), Queen makes her pick between the gang and the guy; that is, drag Bill behind or bike or take his place. The gang soon have more to deal with than in-fighting when a male biker gang lead by Joe Boy (John Weymer) challenges them for the ownership of their strip (actually the long-abandoned Amelia Earhert Field). After the gang soundly thrash the competition, the straight-laced brother (Rodney Bedell, THE GRUESOME TWOSOME) of one of Joe Boy's members warns Karen that the other gang is planning to wipe them out. When Joe Boy and the gang kidnap and gang rape the Man-Eaters' train-pulling mascot Honey Pot (Nancy Lee Noble, MEDIUM COOL), Queen and the gang terrorize the town in search of Joe Boy for a fateful final ride. Possessing an infectious verve despite Lewis' general audiences handling of its fully-clothed orgies and off-screen rape scenes (Lewis does provide us with a decapitation), SHE DEVILS ON WHEELS has personality beyond the limitations of its performers and makes one wish that Lewis had continued on with this genre. On the commentary, Vraney's appreciation of the film shines through and Lewis is proud of his achievements here (among them, discovering a chemical agent to get kaopectate blood out of his white trousers). He speaks highly of the female performers who were mostly bikers first and actors second, and that the film was distributed in some territories by American International on the bottom half of a double bill with Tom McLaughlin's THE BORN LOSERS (doing less business than in territories where it went out on its own).
In JUST FOR THE HELL OF IT, a gang of juvenile delinquents lead by Dexter (Lewis jack-of-all-trades Ray Sager) spend their days terrorizing the town (dunking whitewash on passersby, setting fire to laundry, stealing canes from blind men, smashing up homes and businesses). When straight-laced Doug (Rodney Bedell again) disrespects junior member Denny (Steve White, THE ALLEY TRAMP), Dexter vouches for Doug who once saved his neck. Doug maintains his temper even after Denny stabs him with a bottle and beats him up, but his girlfriend Jeanne (Agi Gyenes) becomes incensed when Doug is blamed by the police when he tries to intervene after the gang beat up a group of grade school kids. Meanwhile, the gang's violence has escalated into mutilation, rape, and murder. When the group start terrorizing Jeanne, Doug vows to hold Dexter personally responsible if anything happens to her. Frantic and violent without the overt Lewis gore, JUST FOR THE HELL OF IT is more audacious for playing like a straight-faced throwback to the 1950s JD films (although with a downbeat and cynical ending). SHE DEVILS's Honey Pot is back as Dexter's girl Bitsy, and the delinquency on display under the titles appears again in its entirety during a montage in the middle of the film.
Although Lewis mentions on the commentary that most of his films were framed for 1.85:1 with some shots misframed because he did not bother with a second take, SHE DEVILS ON WHEELS – previously released on a standalone disc by Image with the aforementioned commentary by Lewis – gets a 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.33:1 pillarboxed fullscreen transfer here that is crisp and colorful throughout, looking like one of the better-shot and –preserved titles in the set. Heavier grain creeps up during underexposed shots and there is some flicker throughout that has to do with the Mitchell camera shooting while coming up to speed and Lewis unwilling to sacrifice the film. JUST FOR THE HELL OF IT – released by Image/SWV on DVD in a double feature with BLAST-OFF GIRLS – looks a trifle softer with murkier colors on Arrow's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.33:1 transfer, probably due as much to the elements and processing as the shooting conditions. Besides new introductions for both films (1:24 and 1:59) by Lewis and a trailer (1:37) and radio spot (1:00) for SHE DEVILS ON WHEELS, the disc includes "The Shocking Truth!" (10:25) in which Grindhouse Films' Bob Murawski recalls how he became familiar with Lewis' works and meeting him at conventions, and "Garage Punk Gore" (9:12)in which filmmaker/musician Chris Alexander discusses Lewis' songwriting skills on his films and recalls the time in Toronto when he got to accompany Lewis on the guitar while he performed "The South Shall Rise Again" from TWO THOUSAND MANICS. In "H.G. Lewis on The Alley Tramp" (2:58), Lewis reveals that credited producer/director Tom Dowd was more interested in owning films than in making them (especially once Friedman spilled the beans about how little the films cost to make that he was renting for exhibition). A trailer for ALLEY TRAMP (2:34) is also included.
When one considers the titles in Lewis' filmography not included in this set, one can only assume that HOW TO MAKE A DOLL – sharing the sixth Blu-ray with THE WIZARD OF GORE – was included because it had never been released before on home video. A feeble late sixties sex comedy without any nudity, HOW TO MAKE A DOLL finds brilliant mathematician Percy Corley (Robert Wood) a "babe in the woods" when it comes to male and female relations. Although his overbearing mother (THE GRUESOME TWOSOME's Elizabeth Davis) that girls were only after one thing, she now finds it unnatural that he has never had a relationship with a woman. His research partner Dr. West (Jim Vance, SCREAM BABY SCREAM) hopes to rectify that by programming his supercomputer to create beautiful and willing women. The results are successful with West convinced enough to order Corley to permanently fuse his own consciousness with the computer and use Corley's experiences with the girls the computer creates – including his own dream girl (Bobbi West) – to feed his memory banks. Corley soon tires of the "virtual" encounters but real life presents other challenges and West is not willing to let him go. Working off a scenario in which his own ex-partner Friedman would have piled on the nudity and sex, Lewis' cheesecake does not even approach the level of nudie cuties and the comedy is way too worn out. Fortunately, THE WIZARD OF GORE is on the same disc.
THE WIZARD OF GORE is Montag the Magnificent (Ray Sager, BLAST-OFF GIRLS) whose live stage shows consist of him dismembering and disemboweling pretty volunteers from the audience. The women emerge unscathed from the experience only to "fall apart" later on, usually in public places. While TV host Sherry (Judy Cler) is fascinated by Montag's "illusions", her reporter boyfriend Jack (Wayne Ratay) believes that Montag is responsible and tries to convince Sherry and the police who are unable to catch the assailant they believe is copying the illusions after the stage shows. As the killings continue, Montag has been able to convince Sherry to feature him on her show where he can engage the viewing audience at large in one last mass illusion. Mining a somewhat similar metaphysical vibe to SOMETHING WEIRD, THE WIZARD OF GORE sports more excessive but never convincing and not always grueling gore effects, with the over-the-top Sager making up for the blah performances of the rest of the cast. Some of the more interesting subplots go unexplored; for instance, red-filtered scenes of Montag raising the dead and stealing bodies from the morgue for unknown purposes. On the commentary track, Lewis reveals that the film was mounted because Sandy wanted to impress AIP friend Samuel Arkoff, and that Sager was given the lead when the original actor (who looked the part without the exaggerated make-up used to age Sager) quarreled with Fred Sandy and walked out. Ratay was an IBM salesman who wanted to be an actor, and Lewis expresses his disappointment in the total lack of chemistry of the lead couple (which extends to some tame bedroom scenes). Lewis also clarifies what is meant to be seen by the screen audience and what is mean to be seen by the show's audience, and also reveals that the production used rugs and plastic covers to keep the kaopectate blood off the floors of the film locations. He also recalls that mourners discovered they were making a coffin rise from their relatives' fresh grave and chased them off, and also goes into detail about how he turned Bill Rebane's unfinished TERROR AT HALF DAY into MONTSER-A-GO-GO.
Although HOW TO MAKE A DOLL is preceded by a disclaimer about the quality of the 35mm print used for the 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.33:1 fullscreen transfer, it is only the opening credits that exhibit heavy damage. The image is fairly clean and always colorful with the expected scratches less of a distraction than the uninteresting visuals. The LPCM 1.0 track boasts clear dialogue and one of Lewis' less interesting library scores. THE WIZARD OF GORE's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen is taken from a 35mm print but also seems to have been in better condition in the first place (presumably because it had also been used for the SWV tape, DVD, and Blu-ray transfers and had been better-maintained than some of the other films. Besides introductions to the features by Lewis (1:48 and 1:56) and a lengthy trailer for WIZARD OF GORE (5:04), the disc features a new interview with actor Sager (19:33) who reveals that Lewis enlarged his role in JUST FOR THE HELL OF IT, how he bluffed his way onto the film by claiming to be able to drive and ride a motorcycle, and recalls some of the same anecdotes as Lewis behind THE WIZARD OF GORE. In "Stephen Thrower on The Wizard of Gore" (10:20), the author makes the same parallel as Vraney on the commentary between WIZARD's stage shows and the "Blood Shed" restaurant Lewis ran in Chicago in the late 1960s, as well as the film's Arkoff connection. In "The Gore the Merrier" (9:05), filmmaker Jeremy Kasten discusses his youthful discovery of the Lewis films and his remake. Most interesting is the inclusion of an episode of the Jonathan Ross-hosted "The Incredibly Strange Film Show" (40:33), a show that ran from 1988 to 1989 and made Lewis the subject of its second episode. Featuring commentary from Lewis, Friedman, Kerwin (billed as Roonie Kerwin), and John Waters, it is quite an affectionate look at films which were never screened theatrically in the UK or available there on video until later, even if Ross' usually follows up Lewis' recollections of his films by remarking that the film was "forgettable."
The seventh Blu-ray doubles Lewis' hicksploitation return THIS STUFF'LL KILL YA! with his final gore film THE GORE GORE GIRLS. Backwoods preacher Reverend Boone (TWO THOUSAND MANIACS' Jeffrey Allen) holds sway over his flock with his interpretation of the good book – which includes making a bride pull a train as part of a "Hosea wedding" – and his still of "White Lightning" (cue the MOONSHINE MOUNTAIN theme song again). When Oklahoma's state-licensed liquor stores refuse to stock and pay for his booze and the feds (lead by TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE's Tim Holt) try to shut down his business, he employs blackmail and violence (including the stoning of the aforementioned bride and the crucifixion of two female motorists he believes to be spies). Carter (Terence McCarthy), son of the church's previous reverend, finds himself having to choose between easy money running booze for Boone – after Turnip (Jack Garner, THE MAD BOMBER) goes up in flames fleeing the cops – and more honest work with a road construction crew belonging to the father of his girlfriend (Ronna Riddle, THE YEAR OF THE YAHOO). Meanwhile, the feds hit on an idea to hit Boone in the pocket by selling legal White Lightning. Overlong and rather skewed morally – it does not help that the young couple are uninteresting but are we really supposed to feel sympathy for Boone's problems after he has a gang rape victim stoned and has two other murdered – but there is little else to hold audience interest other than more of WIZARD OF GORE's Ray Sager as a booze runner and an early appearance by DARKMAN's Larry Drake (a few years before his other regional appearance in KIDNAPPED COED). Second unit camera operator Daniel Krogh (THE PSYCHIC), who authored the first book on Lewis, provides commentary, identifying the Oklahoma radio personalities doubling as actors (whose station served as the church set), the University of Oklahoma acting students, stories about Allen and Holt, and the shooting of the driving and pyrotechnic stunts on the property of the local undertaker.
Lewis returned to the gore film with the THE GORE GORE GIRLS which would be his last directorial effort until 2002's BLOOD FEAST 2. After a black-clad figure pulverizes the face of stripper Suzie Creampuff (Jackie Kroeger) with her own mirror, a local newspaper – represented by plucky Nancy (Amy Farrell, AIRPORT 1975) – approaches playboy private eye Abraham Gentry (Frank Kress) to catch a killer targeting go-go dancers before the police. As Gentry and Nancy troll the local establishments, they find plenty of suspects: from a brawling feminist group who turns up a the clubs to protest (including the leader who is of course jealous because she has a big nose and small breasts) and a college student, to a bruiser who draws faces on melons before crushing them with his fist (notable since the killer's escalating rage has him hacking and smashing the faces of his victims into mush). In between making quips about the victims ("She seems to have lost face"), insulting waitress Marlene (Hedda Lubin) who changes wigs and outfits by the shot, and observing much tame go-go action, Gentry hits upon the idea to draw the killer in with an amateur go-go contest using Nancy as the bait lest she fall in with the women's libbers. The gore effects are even less convincing this time around, but there is still something quite ugly, not so much about the audacity of the gimmicks – one victim's buttocks are tenderized and seasoned and another's snipped-off nipple dispense milk and chocolate milk into cocktail glasses – as the desire to completely obliterate the faces of victims, pounding and hacking mannequin heads into mush. Although somewhat better plotted, the film lacks he innocent absurdity of the original Blood Trilogy films. Comedian Henny Youngman cameos as the club's owner, and Lewis reveals on the commentary track that he got involved as the friend of the film's chief investor who was a professional fundraiser and father of the film's writer Alan J. Dachman (who cameos as a stoner). While Lewis notes the film's extreme violence and the how-tos of the effects, he sidesteps Vraney's attempts to get at the reasoning behind the approach.
Released on VHS in 1985 by Midnight Video (the label that put out the big box releases of Andy Milligan's films), THE GORE GORE GIRLS was later reissued by Something Weird Video on VHS using a print retitled BLOOD ORGY. When Image and Something Weird put it out on DVD in 2000, they relied on a darkish PAL master with the original title card; however, like TWO THOUSAND MANIACS, they were able to utilize a better-looking film source when they put out a double feature Blu-ray with THE WIZARD OF GORE. Those materials were presumably what the source for Arrow's 2K restoration, the 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen encode of which is a massive improvement over the dark and fuzzy Image DVD (I have not seen the SWV Blu-ray). I suspect that the film materials used were indeed the BLOOD ORGY print since THE GORE GORE GIRLS' title card looks softer and fuzzier than the rest of the credits. Lewis introduces both films (2:08 and 1:43) while "Stephen Thrower on THE GORE GORE GIRLS" (16:25) finds the author suggesting that the film's giallo-esque borrowings may reflect the hipper viewing tastes of writer Dachman, and "Regional Bloodshed" (12:06) finds filmmakers Joe Swanberg (24 EXPOSURES) and Spencer Parsons (I'LL COME RUNNING) offering different perspectives on Lewis as a regional filmmaker: Swanberg admiring his acumen as a small businessman and Parsons positing him as an outsider artist. In "Herschell Spills His Guts" (4:02), Lewis goes into a little detail about his post-filmmaking work in advertising, business marketing, and copywriting (with mention that he has written thirty-one books on the subjects). There is no trailer for THE GORE GORE GIRLS but one for THIS STULL'LL KILL YA (3:32).
The Lewis films not included on the set are the nudist colony and nudie cutie films LIVING VENUS, THE ADVENTURES OF LUCKY PIERRE, DAUGHTE ROF THE SUN, NATURE'S PLAYMATES, BOIN-N-G, GOLDILOCKS AND THE THREE BARES, and BELL, BARE, AND BEAUTIFUL, the children's musical JIMMY, THE BOY WONDER!, the sexploitation films THE GIRL, THE BODY, AND THE PILL, SUBURBAN ROULETTE, THE MAGIC LAND OF MOTHER GOOSE, and BLAST-OFF GIRLS, his political satire YEAR OF THE YAHOO (released by Image on a double feature DVD with THIS STUFF'LL KILL YA!), the Mayflower production MISS NYMPHET'S ZAP-IN (released by SWV on DVD-r and Vinegar Syndrome as a digital download), as well as the Tom Dowd films THE ALLEY TRAMP (released on DVD by Image and SWV) and the two Dowd softcores LINDA AND ABILENE and THE ECSTASIES OF WOMEN and hardcore BLACK LOVE that comprised Vinegar Syndrome's premiere Blu-ray/DVD combo release THE LOST FILMS OF HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS. The fourteen films comprise the first seven Blu-rays and seven DVDs. Disc fifteen features fullscreen transfers of BLOOD FEAST, SCUM OF THE EARTH, and COLOR ME BLOOD RED. Disc sixteen features fullscreen transfers of A TASTE OF BLOOD and THE WIZARD OF GORE. These are not different transfers but the original 2K full aperture scan restorations before the widescreen cropping done for the widescreen presentations, providing a compositional alternative that may be appreciated for those who first saw these films on tape or SWV's DVDs. Presumably TWO THOUSAND MANIACS was not given this treatment since it had to be augmented with SD inserts. Both discs feature optional English SDH subtitles but do not carry over the commentaries. The seventeenth disc is a Blu-ray – which the US and UK press materials misidentify as a "bonus DVD" – features the documentary "Herschell Gordon Lewis: The Godfather of Gore" documentary (106:18) in 1080i, lengthy deleted scenes from the documentary (64:18), and its trailer (1:48). All seventeen discs are available in two packages: the 2,500-copy THE HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS FEAST packaged with a 28-page H.G. Lewis annual filled with Lewis-themed activities and archive promotional material, and the already sold out 500-copy SHOCK AND GORE: THE FILMS OF HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS limited edition box set containing the 28-page booklet, a 92-page art book featuring an overview of the entire career of H.G. Lewis written by Stephen Thrower, a 160-page paperback of Lewis' original BLOOD FEAST novelization, a 7” vinyl single featuring select tracks from the BLOOD FEAST score, fourteen postcards featuring original artwork for all the films, an individually handmade “super gory” eyeball, commemorative barf bag, and newly illustrated packaging and books by The Twins of Evil. (Eric Cotenas)
BACK TO REVIEWS