FoF 2007: The Wisdom of H.G. Lewis

Festival of Fear: H.G. Lewis (click to see it full size!)Along with the expected sinking of spirits upon arriving in Toronto after departing from Montreal (it just happens), the Rue Morgue Festival of Fear being underway was a more than adequate foil. Off the train, straight into the Metro Convention center – for not only was the ultimate cornucopia of horror aficionados’ delights on sale in the massive vendors area, but “Godfather of Gore” Herschel Gordon Lewis himself was in attendance on Friday night and doing a retroactive career discussion and Q&A!

Turns out this elder statesman of screen mayhem didn’t have a clue he was revered as such. He packed it in after 1972’s The Gore Gore Girls and didn’t look back, figuring he’d had his fun but it was time to get into another line of work. Years later he was contacted by a horror festival in NYC to appear at a screening of one of his films and went thinking it would be a big joke at his expense (which, being a guy with a good sense of humor, he was prepared for and very much expected). Only after the screening and talking to the crowd did he understand that these crazy low budget shock films he’d made actually meant something to a lot of people.

His never-dull parlance with the crowd at the Q&A started at the beginning, how he breached the burgeoning “Nudie Cutie” film circuit through a clever filmmaking gambit of ruthless bargaining and guaranteed returns, right down to how long the roll of film was and how many minutes needed to be delivered to collect the paycheck. Sex sells and he sold it, plot and context be damned. One take for all scenes? No problem!

Festival of Fear: H.G. Lewis (click to see it full size!)This brings up a key point about H.G. Lewis; from listening to this guy, he presents himself as knowing the horror/exploitation film business far better than he knows the art of horror/exploitation. Good thing for those of us who watch and love his films that he didn’t get so lost in his budgets that he forgot to be creative. Say what you will about the films of H.G. Lewis – there’s a reason Something Weird has ‘em in stock and they keep selling and that reason has little to do with the more tedious business realities of how they were made. If he’d made films that were truly unwatchable you wouldn’t even be reading this page right now. This guy needs to give himself more credit on the creative side!

H.G. Lewis had some very comical comments about the nature of the acting in his films. Yes, someone could say that Connie Mason wasn’t the greatest of thespians. But, as H.G. pointed out, neither is Keanu Reeves. Has that put any kind of stop on his career or the entertainment incurred by those attending his movies? He thinks not; we are forced to concur.

Lewis indicated 2000 Maniacs as being his personal favourite of his own repertoire. He was asked about remakes and The Wizard of Gore being redone by Jeremy Kasten and his response was upbeat. However, it seems Mr. Lewis feels that the fatal flaw of Kasten’s version was that it tried to appeal to the critics, a mistake he claims to never have made.

H.G. Lewis states firmly and unapologetically that critics and fans are mutually exclusive. The critics don’t really know what people like. He doesn’t think critics have any bearing on what people go to see and enjoy. As an occasional critic myself, I feel the need to respond to this. Fair enough of a comment, in a sense – a critic’s voice when negative is only pretty much only his or her own – that’s the truth and there’s no way around it. However, a critic’s voice in the act of praise becomes something else altogether. It becomes a part of the marketing of the film in question. If H.G. Lewis were to argue this he’d be going against the very essence of what comprised the bulk of his latter career even up to this very day; Marketing. This man proclaims to be the single most effective “direct marketer” in history. He compared certain direct marketing realities to the film business, how to ensure a return at any cost no matter how low and so forth, even saying openly that if you send out thousands of sales e-mails, an angry response is still a response and that means someone is paying attention. Which is good (so he says, can’t say I agree).

Festival of Fear: H.G. Lewis (click to see it full size!)Anyway, thank God he made those crazy movies, because without him breaking the gore barrier way back when and pushing the envelope, we horror fans could very well still be looking at Disney-fied horror like The Watcher in the Woods as milestone classics in our collection rather than The Shining.

Overall the Q&A with Herschel Gordon Lewis on Friday night was definitely entertaining, but it revealed something about the guy that might earn him a dual moniker: this guy may be “The Godfather of Gore”, but if he is the all time god of direct marketing like he claims, he may also very well be “The Godfather of Spam”.

Paul McCannibal

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