Reviewed by Evil Andy
Directed by Frank Henenlotter and Jimmy Maslon
Herschell Gordon Lewis’ contribution to genre cinema probably can’t be overstated, he invented the gore film, and his innovative late Sixties schlock paved the way for the seventies which produced some of the greatest horror films ever made. But his lack of progression in terms of budget and technique, and his post-filmmaking career as a direct marketing guru have always left genre-pundits a little conflicted about Lewis’ place in the annals of horror history. Fans generally see it more clearly – they love H.G. Lewis, and through aficionado directors such as Lee DeMarbre (Smash Cut) his films continue to make their influence felt to this day.
The documentary Herschell Gordon Lewis – The Godfather of Gore presents the elder statesman of cinematic grue’s early days, leading up to the present, taking a down to earth, non-critical approach, simply telling the story through the words of those who lived it, such as producer and friend David F. Friedman, actors Jerome Eden (John Miller), Mal Arnold (Fuad Ramses), and Herschell himself. Trash connoisseurs such as Joe Bob Briggs, and John Waters also spend considerable time chronicling the influence of H.G. Lewis, and pull no punches when describing both the utter lack of craft, and how little this reduces (and perhaps augments) their affection for Lewis’ particular brand of cinematic “excretions” (as Herschell likes to call them).
While the documentary doesn’t offer much in the way of critical assessment, it is clearly a labor of love, as evidenced by the fact that it was made by a crew of only three people over a span of five years. Shot and co-directed by Jimmy Maslon, a longtime H.G. Lewis fan, and producer of Blood Feast 2, produced by Something Weird founder Mike Vraney, and edited and co-directed by no less than modern day grindhouse god Frank Henenlotter. The film is more oral history than narrative documentary, and leaves one with the feeling of having had an epic talk over beers with Lewis, Friedman, and his cast and crew. All the best stories are trotted out, having been perfected through what seems like years of re-telling.
The most interesting parts of the documentary recount how Herschell got his start financing feature length films simply as a way to make money. At no point is artistry or creativity mentioned. He and Friedman began making “nudie cutie” pictures simply because costs were low, and the curious mix of banality and boobs sold well! Once others got in on the act, and nudist camp pictures became commonplace, the term and concept of a “gore” picture was hit upon simply because Herschell saw this as the kind of movie would “no one would make, or could not make.”
The films touches upon most of the H.G. Lewis catalog, with a focus on the most successful and influential (Blood Feast), and Herschell’s favorite, and the film he says he’d like to be remembered for (2000 Maniacs), even throwing in some newly edited footage of the never released An Eye for an Eye. Lewis’ real career as an authority and speaker in the field of direct marketing, and his home life is noted, but sadly never investigated. Also sorely lacking is Connie Mason, who sadly never makes an appearance, though this may have something to do with the longstanding animosity between her and Herschell.
Ultimately a feature length documentary about H.G. Lewis is long overdue, and it’s cool that it got made while Herschell was still around to enjoy (and perhaps profit!) from the attention. It’s clear that the man has a love of both the business and process of filmmaking, and his non-stop shuckster act is compelling and entertaining to this day. If you’re a longtime fan, or even if you’ve never been able to sit through more than just the trailers, H.G. Lewis – The Godfather of Gore is both a great introduction, and a fitting tribute to one of horror cinema’s living legends.
3 1/2 out of 5
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