In 1963, a couple of Chicago based filmmakers, primarily known for their "Sexploitation" pictures, would single handedly change the course of Horror and Exploitation Cinema. The film was called "Blood Feast", and although it would be tempting to call it the "Blood Splat heard round the world", a more apt description would be the "Blood Geyser heard round the world".
Unlike the more sanitized Hollywood films of the time, Blood Feast poured on the blood in all its crimson glory. It was a brave move. As filmmakers, they were walking the fine line of early sixties censorship laws. At that time there were laws against nudity and obscene language, but not GORE!
The fate challenging filmmakers were producer David F. Friedman and Director Herschell Gordon Lewis. Together they would make some of the greatest Exploitation films of all time.
So without further ado, we present the Godfather of Gore- Herschell Gordon Lewis.
G&C: Wow, I can't believe I'm talking with one of my heroes- the one and the only H.G. Lewis! I saw Blood Feast at the old Edmondson Drive-in in Baltimore when I was in High School and it damaged me for life! Thank you for all the hours of enjoyment that you gave me. Now, my first question is this - With a handful of degrees and a brief stint in the world of Academia, what drew you to exploitation filmmaking? Especially at the age of thirty four when most people are pretty much set in a career.
HGL: Two factors dictated my decision. First, I had moved from academia to become the television director of an advertising agency and eventually bought an interest in a commercial film studio. Second, I was then -- as I still am now -- appalled at the lack of imagination and showmanship the major film companies exhibited when campaigning their movies.
G&C: You and your producing partner Dave Friedman made a lot of amazing films. The two of you couldn't have been more different as far as backgrounds go. Dave had a Carny and Sideshow background and you seemed more the Madison Ave Advertising type. When it came time to promote your films, did the two of you ever butt heads or did you co-exist happily, each bringing his own unique talents to the table?
HGL: Strangely, we coexisted happily, feeding off each other's experiential background and adding to our own. We never were competitive with each other, and that's a rare characteristic of any partnership.
G&C: What was film distribution like in the 1960's? Did you have to go from town to town and hustle your film out of the trunk of your car to the various drive-in's and movie theatres?
HGL: Sometimes that's exactly what we did. In most cases, we assigned territories to independent distributors.
G&C: Were your films censored at all? I can imagine, especially down south, that you ran into problems with the various municipalities. Did you ever have to make cuts to appease various theatre owners and then splice them back in when you left town?
HGL: That's a most astute question, and it is right on target. Because we were both pioneers and outlaws, we had to adjust, bob, and weave as specific situations demanded.
G&C: You broke a lot of taboos in your films. The most obvious being Blood Feast, which has the distinction of being the very first gore film. Was there anything off limits even to you?
HGL: Originally, nudity and four-letter words were outside our orbit. Eventually I introduced just a touch of mild nudity, but I never have seen a reason to lard dialogue with obscenities.
G&C:You made a nudie western in 1969 entitled "Linda and Abilene", and shot it at Spahn Ranch. A couple of months after shooting the film, that location became famous as the home of the Manson Family. That must have sent chills down your back when you heard about that. Did you ever wonder if Charles Manson himself or his followers were watching you shoot your film?
HGL: They positively were watching us. We knew they were nut-cases, and we suspected the trend to violence, so we avoided these people as best we could.
G&C: One of my favorite films of yours is "A Taste of Blood". You used that as a calling card to meet with Roger Corman. What was your impression of him? It seems that the films of the West Coast contingent of exploitation filmmakers (Roger Corman, William Castle) had a different feel to them than the Mid West or East Coast filmmakers. Did they have larger budgets or was it just a filmmaking esthetic?
HGL: Budget and being part of the "in-group" were major factors, bestowing cachet and personality on their films. I found Roger Corman to be a polite and well-mannered gentleman, but it was obvious that I came from a different planet. "A Taste of Blood" most closely paralleled West Coast product, but I never had intended to use it as a calling card... rather, an indication of production capabilities.
G&C: Let's play some True/False. I'll throw out some H.G. Lewis Trivia and you tell me if it's True or False.
1. You wrote a book about artist Norman Rockwell.
2. You used real corpses in your film "The Wizard of Gore".
False. We did shoot a scene in an actual mortuary, which had corpses on hand.
3. If you were on Death Row awaiting execution, your last meal would consist of Fried Chicken washed down with Orange Julius.
Oh, yes. The thought almost makes me consider a capital crime.
4. The father of actor Gary Sinise, worked on many of your films.
True. Bob Sinise edited several of the films.
5. You wrote the book "Everybody's Guide to Plate Collecting".
True -- co-authored with my wife, Margo.
6. You once owned your own theatre in Chicago, appropriately entitled "The Blood Shed Theatre".
7. You once owned a DeLorean, the car featured prominently in the film "Back to the Future". (Editor: I would like to see Herschell remake Back to the Future as a gore film)
True. It was a beautiful car that occasionally ran.
G&C: Herschell, you've lead a really interesting life. You made a fortune, lost a fortune, and then made a fortune again. You've written books on a variety of subjects, made films, you're an accomplished musician and songwriter, I could go on and on.. Is there anything you would still like to accomplish in your lifetime?
HGL: Yes. I've always dreamed of conducting a symphony orchestra.
G&C: I would love to see that. Maybe conducting Saint-Saens's Danse Macabre or maybe Liszt's Mephisto Waltz?
G&C: Any new films in the works? I loved Blood Feast 2 All U Can Eat. It was great seeing you back in the saddle again.
HGL: A producer in the Tampa Bay (Florida) area, Film State 51, has bought an option on my screenplay "Grim Fairy Tales." If their financing materializes I'll direct that one.
G&C: Lastly, with your background in marketing, what are your suggestions for Girls and Corpses Magazine as we proceed with our plan for world Domination?
HGL: Seek out material that has three irresistible components:
a. Information that hasn't been revealed elsewhere.
b. Information that titillates, entertains, and provokes targeted readers.
c. Negotiated editorial consultation... by me.
G&C: Thanks H.G. and as they say down at the slaughter house, "Here's blood in your eye".
Note: G. Noel Gross has written an excellent discography, or as he likes to call it "Goreography" of Herschell Gordon Lewis. In it he reviews all of Herschell's films that are currently available on DVD. It's an excellent resource, from an excellent writer: dvdtalk.com/cineschlock/hglewis