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Herschell Gordon Lewis

Herschell Gordon Lewis

Lewis is credited with inventing the gore film with "Blood Feast" (1963). Shot in Miami in "Blood Color," the film told the absurd story of an insane caterer cum author who, obsessed with resurrecting the spirit of the Egyptian princess Ishtar, goes about hacking off parts of female victims to use as courses in a "Blood Feast" in Ishtar's honor. If the acting was as good as Lewis' gore effects, the movie would have been unwatchable. The canny inclusion of several Playboy Playmates in the cast only served to bolster box office. "Blood Feast" became a huge success on the drive-in circuit.Much of Lewis' target audience was based in the rural South. This may help explain the subject matter of his second Florida-lensed horror effort, the genuinely unsettling "Two Thousand Maniacs" (1964). Three vacationing couples from the North get detoured to a small southern town called Pleasant Valley and become special guests of honor at the town's centennial celebration. Unfortunately this entails all manner of grisly torture and murder because the villagers are actually ghosts from the Civil War intent on avenging the destruction of their town by the Union army 100 years before. Filming on a budget of less than $40,000, Lewis demonstrated considerable growth as a filmmaker with some good camerawork. Generally acknowledged as Lewis' best work--as well as his personal favorite--"Two Thousand Maniacs," while quite profitable, did not duplicate the success of "Blood Feast."Initially Lewis was the only filmmaker making this kind of entertainment but many others soon followed. Lewis did not limit himself to splatter; his subsequent credits include sci-fi ("Monster A Go-Go" 1965), juvenile delinquent dramas ("Just for the Hell of It" 1968), and some that defy easy classification ("Something Weird" 1966-68). He is even reputed to have helmed several cheapie kids' flicks! Lewis often wore several hats on his productions, serving as producer, director, cinematographer, composer and special effects man. A number of his films were released under pseudonyms and some never got north of the Mason-Dixon line. His final horror film, "The Gore-Gore Girls" (1972), which featured Henny Youngman as a nightclub owner whose strippers start meeting horrific fates, was one of the first films to receive an "X" rating for violence. After that film, Lewis retired from filmmaking for three decades, becoming an advertising executive. However, his fan base kept growing during the period of his retirement, spurred by the popularity of his films on the home video market. In 2002, Lewis directed his first film in 30 years, "Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat" (2002). This was followed by a quirky horror comedy about a TV game show, "The Uh-Oh! Show" (2009). Although Lewis was attached to a horror anthology called "Zombificador" in 2013, the film was never completed. Herschell Gordon Lewis died in his adopted home of Florida on September 26, 2016. He was 87 years old.
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