Tag Archives: Herschell Gordon Lewis

1965 EXPLOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE: DIE MONSTER DIE, MONSTER A GO-GO, AND INCUBUS

After the bonanzas of 1963 and 1964, 1965 was a comparatively lackluster year for horror and exploitation flicks, with a few exceptions at both ends of the spectrum. , Nick Adams, Suzan Farmer, and Freda Jackson starred in Die, Monster, Die, directed by Daniel Haller, which was one of the first big screen attempts at an adaptation. Released by AIP for the drive-in double feature circuit along with ‘s cult fave, Planet of the VampiresDie, Monster, Die has more kinship to that studio’s product than to Lovecraft. It also has a distant relationship to : Jackson previously appeared in Brides of Dracula, and Farmer went on to do both Dracula, Prince of Darkness and Rasputin, the Mad Monk for the studio the following year. Additionally, elements of Die, Monster Die are clearly related to Universal’s Man-Made Monster (1941) and Columbia’s mad doctor series. With Universal horror icon Karloff and Rebel Without a Cause heartthrob Adams as the two leading men, Die, Monster, Die feels like a queer hybrid. The aged Karloff, suffering the effects of emphysema, is wheelchair bound (and will be for the rest of his career and life), but he evokes formidable English mystery from his blanket and chair. In sharp contrast is all that pent-up, pushy, youthful American angst from Adams, who is aptly vulgar and a standout in his Jersey accent.

Still from Die, Monster, Die (1965)Stephen Reinhart  goes to visit Susan Witley at her parents’ home in the English village of Arkham. Stephen had met Susan at the college they attended together in the States, but when he stops at a local pub, he discovers the entire village paralyzed with fear in regards to the Witley estate (calling to mind ‘s daffily delivered dialogue from 1955’s Bride of the Monster, “stay away from the old Willow’s place!”) Poor Stephen can’t get anyone to give him transportation and is forced to walk. Upon finally arriving at the Witley estate, he discovers that the surrounding plant life has all mysteriously died. He is greeted with hostility by Susan’s crippled father, Nahum (Karloff), who demands that Stephen leave at once. Nahum is interrupted by a beaming Susan and introduced to her mother, Letitia (Jackson), who is bedridden and hidden behind a veil. Letitia intercedes for Stephen and asks him to take Susan away from this charnel house. A short while later, Nahum’s servant, Merwyn (Terence De Marney) collapses and dies. After Merwyn’s late night burial, followed by a phantom-like figure appearing at the window, Stephen and Susan make their way into Nahum’s greenhouse and discover abnormally enlarged plant life and mutated critters. “It looks like a zoo on hell,” declares Stephen. After some Sherlock Holmes/Watson sleuthing, he and Susan unlock the dreadful secret: Nahum has been “experimenting” with radioactivity from a meteorite. Hoping to undo an ancestor’s evil deeds (whatever those were) Nahum plans to help feed the world with mutated plant life! Of course, things go awry and everyone who worked in the greenhouse has been either mutated or killed. The phantom figure turns Continue reading 1965 EXPLOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE: DIE MONSTER DIE, MONSTER A GO-GO, AND INCUBUS

CAPSULE: THE HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS FEAST BOX SET

“The Herschell Gordon Lewis Feast Box Set” (17-Disc Limited Edition – Blu-ray + DVD)

Sample DVD from The Herschell Gordon Lewis Feast Box Set

LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS (via the Arrow Video website):

  • “Fourteen of the Godfather of Gore’s finest attractions, newly restored from original and best surviving vault materials: A Taste of Blood, Blood Feast, Color Me Blood Red, The Gore Gore Girls, The Gruesome Twosome, How to Make a Doll, Just for the Hell of It, Moonshine Mountain, Scum of the Earth, She-Devils on Wheels, Something Weird, This Stuff’ll Kill Ya!, Two Thousand Maniacs!, The Wizard of Gore
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of the features and extras on 7 Blu-ray and 7 DVD discs
  • Brand new introductions to the films by Lewis
  • Hours of extras including newly-produced interviews and featurettes, commentaries, short films and much more
  • Additional 2 bonus Blu-rays featuring 1.33:1 versions of Blood Feast, Scum of the Earth, Color Me Blood Red, A Taste of Blood and The Wizard of Gore [limited editions exclusive]
  • Additional bonus DVD: Herschell Gordon Lewis: The Godfather of Gore documentary [limited editions exclusive]
  • 28-page H.G. Lewis annual stuffed full with Lewis-themed activities plus archive promotional material [limited editions exclusive]
  • Newly illustrated packaging by The Twins of Evil [Feast edition exclusive]”

COMMENTS: citing Herschell Gordon Lewis as an influence originally turned me on to the director. As a lifelong horror fan, it was Lewis’ horror titles I initially sought out. Blood Feast was my unforgettable introduction to the Godfather of Gore (a title the man earned)! They were not making films with graphic gore in 1963. The man was a pioneer.

Herschell Gordon Lewis has thirty-eight director credits listed on IMDB; I have seen twenty-five of these titles. Nudist camps, bikers, juvenile delinquents, rednecks, psychotic artists, mad magicians, cuckoo caterers: Lewis’ resume is a colorful one. Despite the “Godfather of Gore” moniker, only eleven of his thirty-eight films are horrors. This Arrow box set focuses on his horror films; nine of the fourteen titles are from the genre. Given the opportunity to put together my own H.G. Lewis box set I would have chosen every one of these titles with the exception of How to Make a Doll (I would have included Alley Tramp instead).

I own Something Weird Video copies of some of these titles, including a couple of their downloads. All are sketchy quality. Screenshot comparisons of the DVDs for Wizard of Gore, Blood Feast and This Stuff Will Kill Ya show that in all cases the Arrow Video discs had crisper images. This was particularly noticeable in facial features. The other big difference was in the color. The color differences on Continue reading CAPSULE: THE HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS FEAST BOX SET

1964 EXLPOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE: THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO STOPPED LIVING AND BECAME MIXED-UP ZOMBIES, 2000 MANIACS, AND THE CREEPING TERROR (WITH BONUS: STRAIGHT-JACKET )

1964 was nearly as productive a year for the cinematic horror genre as 1963 was. Coming from the barrel bottom was Jerry Warren’s improvement on 1960’s La Casa del Terror, Face of the Screaming Werewolf, starring (sort of) and Yerye Beirut (who later co-starred with in a string of Mexican films co-produced by ). Chaney was probably less embarrassed (although doubtfully any less sober) working for Hammer director Don Sharp in the relatively well-received Witchcraft. Fellow Hammer veterans Freddie Francis and collaborated on the actor’s only non- directed Frankenstein opus, The Evil of Frankenstein, which initially received poor reviews, but has since been reassessed in a more positive light (in some quarters). Without a star actor (or competent director) Hammer’s The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (dirMichael Carreras ) was as limp as its title character. However, the dynamic trio of Cushing, , and did their best work (despite a silly-looking title creature), as usual, for Fisher in The Gorgon. Lee didn’t fair as winningly in the Warren Kiefer/Luciano Ricci co-directed Castle of the Living Dead, despite having closing scenes directed by an uncredited . Lee downsized from a castle to a mere crypt in Crypt of the Vampire (directed by Camilio Mastrocinque), which was as pedestrian as its title, despite undeniable atmosphere. The icon of Italian Gothic cinema, (the last-living of the classic horror stars), was also at home in a castle setting in Castle of Blood (co-directed by and Sergio Corbucci) and teamed again with Magheriti for The Long Hair of Death (which we will be covering soon in a Steele triple feature). The final two Poe films from and , Masque of the Red Death and Tomb of Ligeia, were among their best received, although the latter features yet another ingratiatingly whiny, flowery performance from its star. Rounding out a busy year, Price starred in The Last Man on Earth (co-directed by Ubaldo Ramona and Sidney Salkow), the first of several big screen adaptations of Richard Matheson’s “I am Legend”—none of which, astoundingly, could get it right. Predictably, Blood and Black Lace became yet another cult film from , but even he could not compete with the legendary Kwaidan (directed by Masaki Kobayashi), which puts most Western horror anthologies to shame. Down several notches from those is the work of Del Tenney, who has an inexplicable cult reputation—but as 1964’s The Horrors of Party Beach proves, that status is undeserved for such a dullard (1971’s I Eat Your Skin would further confirm).

Still from The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-up Zombies (1964)Spiraling downward, ever downward, we come to ‘s biggest budgeted film, The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies, which is more famous for its title than for the film Continue reading 1964 EXLPOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE: THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO STOPPED LIVING AND BECAME MIXED-UP ZOMBIES, 2000 MANIACS, AND THE CREEPING TERROR (WITH BONUS: STRAIGHT-JACKET )

1963 EXLPOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE: THE SADIST, BLOOD FEAST, & THE WHIP AND THE BODY

1963 was such a productive year for horror/exploitation that even was involved in a better than normal effort. The Sadist is the film Hall Jr. will most likely be remembered for (if he is remembered at all). Here, Junior pivots away from the low-rent Elvis Presley persona that daddy  was crafting for him to instead play a cartoon psychopath inspired by the real-life sadist Charles Starkweather (in the first of several films loosely based on Starkweather’s infamous 1958 killing spree—to make sure we get the reference, writer/director James Landis names the antagonist “Charlie”). The Sadist is easily the best film of both this actor and this director, which is not to say that it’s great cinema. Surprisingly, the best thing about it is Hall’s energetic performance. Away from daddy, Junior bounces through the entire film with a near-perfect trash performance.

Still from The Sadist (1963)While Landis wasn’t quite the hack that was, he still hampers the production with rusty pacing and ill-conceived narration (supplied by Hall, Sr). The headlines of murderous mayhem proved to be the inspiration for the Landis/Hall Jr. team. They worked together in two additional features: 1964’s The Nasty Rabbit, about Russian spies smuggling killer bunnies into the U.S.A., and 1965’s Deadwood 76, which features Junior as a singing Billy the Kid. Both were written by Daddy Hall and again reveal a lead who clearly wants to be elsewhere. Junior seemed to reserve all of his enthusiasm and hammy tricks for The Sadist. He giggles. He slaughters. Once The Sadist locates Hall as its steam, it transforms into a model of creaky relentlessness. The small cast is exceptional, with Helen Hovey  memorable as Doris, who is pushed to the verge of victimization and fights back. Mother Nature serves Charlie his sentence.

At one end of the 1963 genre pendulum were productions from class directors, such as (The Birds) and (The Haunting). got his feet wet directing Dementia 13 for , and second-tier director Don Sharp helmed one of Hammer’s better non- opuses, Kiss of the Vampire. At the opposite end of the taste and quality spectrum was Blood Feast. Alternately (and arguably) dubbed the first splatter film and the first notable example of torture porn, Blood Feast catapulted horror into the art form for America’s white trash masses. Not surprisingly, is among the filmmakers who Continue reading 1963 EXLPOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE: THE SADIST, BLOOD FEAST, & THE WHIP AND THE BODY

CAPSULE: THE WIZARD OF GORE (1970)

Today also begins what we hope will be a long and fruitful partnership with the Movie and Music Network. M&MN will be providing us with a link for 366 readers to view one free movie from their library each month. They have licensing agreements with Something Weird, Cult Epics, Media Blasters, and the Russian Cinema Council, among others, and they focus on a bizarrely non-mainstream mix of 420-friendly original programming, grindhouse movies, and softcore sleaze that Netflix and friends wouldn’t touch.  The Wizard of Gore is first up: you can watch it for free by clicking here. (Due to insane levels of violence, you must be 18 or older to access this movie, sorry). If you decide to sign up, the service is only $5.99/month (at the time of this writing).

Beware

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Ray Sager, Judy Cler, Wayne Ratay

PLOT: Montag the Magnificent operates a grand guignol theatrical act where he appears to chop up female volunteers onstage before viewers’ eyes; they return to their seats unharmed, but then die of the same injuries later that night.

the_wizard_of_gore

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It may be the most psychedelic gore movie H.G. Lewis ever made, but despite its pretensions towards making us question the nature of reality, Wizard really only makes us question our decision to watch a crappy H.G. Lewis gorefest.

COMMENTS: “What is a magician?,” grand guignol showman Montag asks his audience (minutes before decapitating himself with a guillotine). “A person who tears asunder your rules of logic and crumbles your world of reality?” Well, no, that wouldn’t be my first stab at a definition of “magician,” but Montag is on a roll. He goes on to ask his audience “how do you know that at this moment you are not asleep in your bed, dreaming you are in this theater?” This got me to thinking: how do I know I’m sitting on my couch watching a ham actor in an off-the-rack tux act like he thinks he’s performing Shakespeare in the Park after partaking of some serious backstage doobage? “All your life—your past, your rules of what can and cannot be—are part of one long dream from which you are about to awaken, and discover the world as it really is!,” warns Montag. Perhaps reality is a bad H.G. Lewis gore movie, and I am merely dreaming that I’m watching a bad movie, when in fact I will soon awake to find I am living in one? Maybe in reality people’s insides look like pig viscera stuffed into a plaster model and smothered in Heinz ketchup. Maybe when a magician—excuse me, one who tears asunder my rules of logic—gleefully roots around inside the torso of a corpse for five minutes, the amount of blood splashed on his shirtsleeves changes from shot to shot. Perhaps reality is full of abrupt edits, and the background music changes drastically with each cut, and maybe in the world as it really is the sound sometimes drops out, and some people’s dialogue is dubbed in in post-production, while others remain eternally mute.

Actually, the incoherent editing and choppy sound mix adds a surreal edge to what otherwise would be a simple bad movie endurance test. Wizard’s plot exists only as an excuse to string together Montag’s dismemberment sequences, which if you’re counting at home involve a chainsaw, spike through head, drill press through torso, and sword swallowing. “Isn’t there one lady among you who is considerate enough to satisfy her fellow human beings’ lust for blood?,” complains Montag.

Besides its visceral concerns, Wizard also has philosophical issues on its mind, although they are admittedly limited to the “dude, what if your whole life up to right now has just been one long dream?” sort of rumination. There’s a ridiculous “twist” ending to prove the movie’s solipsistic point, and Wizard‘s take on metaphysics is every bit as credible as its grasp of anatomy. ”You fool, what makes you think you know what reality is?” Montag proclaims. I admit, I can’t prove I should necessarily trust the evidence of my senses, but I do know this: I’m bored, therefore I am (watching an H.G. Lewis move).

You want to know what’s really terrifying about The Wizard of Gore? It’s not the rivers of gooey red blood; it’s the orange couches and purple sports coats. Sadly, we have become immune to the kind of violent shocks Lewis was trying to create in 1970. The butchery of our fellow humans seems quaint and laughable, while the early 70s fashion sense is what horrifies us.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a sleazy, surreal treat.”—Bill Gibron, Pop Matters (essay)

Don’t believe The Wizard of Gore is as bad as we say? Decide for yourself by watching it for free.

DOCUMENTARY DOUBLE FEATURE: NIGHTMARES IN RED, WHITE AND BLUE (2009)/AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE (2010)

This post was written in contemplation of the Juxtaposition Blogathon at Pussy Goes Grrr.

In 2008 documentarian Mark Hartley scored an unanticipated film festival hit with Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation!, an examination of obscure Australian exploitation movies of the 70s and 80s.  (Striking while the iron was hot, Hartley rolled out a spiritual sequel of sorts with Machete Maidens Unleashed!, which braved the even more bizarre jungle of Filipino exploitation cinema).  2009 saw another surprise critical success in Best Worst Movie, the story of the disastrous making, and triumphant cult legacy, of the ultra-ridiculous vegetarian-goblin horror movie Troll II, which managed to score an astonishing 95% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer.  Whatever the reason (maybe its the flowering of seeds planted by Quentin Tarantino), at this moment in time mainstream critics seem eager to recognize, examine, and even embrace the pleasures of schlock.  Since the last horror/exploitation doc cycle—the duo of The American Nightmare (2000) and Mau Mau Sex Sex (2001)—came about a decade ago, it appears the time is ripe for another down-home survey of the dark and shady sides of American cinema.

Still from Nightmares in Red, White and Blue: The Evolution of the American Horror Film (2009)The thesis of Nightmares in Red, White and Blue, the 2009 examination of the American horror film, is that particular social conditions and historical anxieties shape the nature of the shock genre from decade to decade.  Brian Yuzna asserts that the variety of disfigured, limbless freaks specialized in playing in the twenties were inspired by the horrors of World War I and the sights of returning veterans maimed by modern munitions.  The viewpoint that American horror is strictly linked to American angst breaks down fairly early Continue reading DOCUMENTARY DOUBLE FEATURE: NIGHTMARES IN RED, WHITE AND BLUE (2009)/AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE (2010)

CAPSULE: SMASH CUT (2009)

DIRECTED BY: Lee Demarbre

FEATURING: , Sasha Grey, Jesse Buck, Michael Berryman,

PLOT: An incompetent horror director discovers he can make realistic gore effects by killing

Still from Smash Cut (2009)

his critics and co-workers and using their severed body parts as special effects.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: With Smash Cut, Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter auteur Lee Demarbre pulls back the weirdness and takes a step towards the conventional (to the extent that a comedic tribute to Herschel Gordon Lewis’ cheesy gore films, featuring a main character who considers a dead stripper in the trunk of his car to be his muse, can be considered mainstream).  The results are, frankly, a little boring, though camp gorehounds might find some entertainment here.

COMMENTS:  The one sentence plot synopsis tells you all you need to know; there are very few story surprises as Smash Cut unspools.  You can figure out that the diabolical director starts to enjoy killing as his megalomania grows, finds it increasingly difficult to cover his tracks as the bodies pile up, and is eventually thwarted by the clean-cut young heroes.  Since we know what’s coming, it’s crucial that Smash Cut deliver on the gags (especially the weird gags), and unfortunately this is where the movie falls down on the job.  The best parts are the two films-within-the-film, perhaps because they push their deranged style to its limits and stay true to their own madness.  The first is director and future serial killer Abel Whitman’s trashterpiece Terror Toy, featuring a ragdoll clown murdering a busty psychiatrist with an ink pen and one of the worst “dangling eyeball” scenes you’ll ever witness.  The second featurette is a silent art film created as a mousetrap to try to play on the felonious filmmaker’s sense of guilt.  In between those two highlights are some interesting, mildly absurd touches—for example, a “suicide” by harpoon and a minor character who sets army men on fire—and a lot of deliberately unconvincing, campy gore effects (though the scene where Abel extracts eyeballs with a box cutter delivers a significant cringe factor).  The acting is inconsistent, which is not necessarily a problem in the overall spoofy enterprise, but Continue reading CAPSULE: SMASH CUT (2009)