The Wizard Of Gore: Herschell Gordon Lewis Interview
“You must keep reminding yourself, it’s just a movie, it’s just a movie, it’s just a movie”Â¦..”Â Trailer for Color Me Blood Red (1965).
Last month, on 14th February 2011, 87-year-old veteran exploitation film producer David F. Friedman died. Friedman made numerous low budget films during his career, including the notorious Love Camp 7 (1969) and Ilsa: She-Wolf of the S.S. (1974), but he is best remembered for his work with the legendary exploitation film director, Mr. Herschell Gordon Lewis.
Lewis, born in 1929, a former teacher of English literature at Mississippi State University, a marketing copywriter, radio DJ and airtime advertising sales man, first teamed up with Chicago producer Friedman to break into movies. Knowing that their only chance in film production was to make their own financially impoverished pictures, Friedman and Lewis’ first movie was The Prime Time (1960), a ”ËJuvenile Delinquent’ flick featuring rebellious youths, a deranged beatnik artist and the first screen role for future Hollywood actress Karen Black. The Prime Time was not successful, so Friedman and Lewis turned to the ”Ënudie-cutie’ genre, in which Russ Meyer had struck box office gold with The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959). The Adventures Of Lucky Pierre (1961) and nudist saga Daughter of the Sun (1962) were hits for Friedman and Lewis but then as the ”Ënudie-cutie’ craze began to wane, the pair hit upon a genre that would alter the course of cinema: gore. With the 1963 picture Blood Feast, in which a berserk Egyptian caterer recreates an ancient feast for the goddess Ishtar with the severed body parts from various of his female victims in Florida, Lewis and Friedman created the whole gore movie genre that changed the horror film forever. Realising that audiences were eager to see films that the major studios could not and would rather not make, Lewis and Friedman knew that a vivid depiction of screen blood and guts was a rich seam to mine. With an estimated budget of just $24, 500 dollars, Blood Feast became a big box office smash. Lewis and Friedman’s subsequent gore pictures, such as the Southern Gothic bloodbath Two Thousand Maniacs (1964) and Color Me Blood Red (1965), further proved that the pair had a winning formula with guts.
The following previously unpublished interview with Herschell Gordon Lewis, conducted during September 1989 at the sadly long closed Scala Cinema in London, was to promote the Mondo Videos release of Lewis’ 1968 female biker epic, She-Devils On Wheels (not produced by Friedman). In 1989, no other Herschell Gordon Lewis pictures were then legally available on the home video market in the UK. Finally in 2001, Blood Feast and Two Thousand Maniacs were released on DVD, with only 23 seconds cut from Blood Feast by the BBFC. Other titles soon followed.
Herschell Gordon Lewis proved to be a most convivial interviewee, witty, intelligent and disarmingly charming, willing to discuss much of his career at length. Youthful and tanned, Lewis appeared to be a strange blend of an urbane, well dressed college lecturer and a prosperous, fast-talking real-estate salesman, rather than the infamous director who coloured the movie screen blood red.
Lux Interior and Poison Ivy were particularly enamoured with this master of exploitation cinema and Herschell Gordon Lewis’ films were as much a part of their artistic vision as Sun Records. On their 1983 EP Smell Of Female, The Cramps fittingly celebrated the bloody Lewis cinematic genre with their composition ”ËI Ain’t Nuthin’ But A Gorehound’. The band also covered the theme song to She-Devils On Wheels, ”ËGet Off The Road’, written by Herschell Gordon Lewis under the pseudonym Sheldon Seymour, for the B-side of their 1986 single ”ËWhat’s Inside A Girl’. When shown a copy of the single, Lewis promptly enquired, half jokingly, “Where are the royalties?”Â before adding,”Â My God, I can’t imagine why anyone in their right minds would want to cover that song.”Â
First of all, welcome to England.
Hershell Gordon Lewis: “Why thank you.”Â
I never thought I’d see the day when the great Hershell Gordon Lewis would be in London.
Hershell Gordon Lewis: “Well, life is full of surprises. For all of us.”Â
Are you surprised in the renewed interest in your films today?
Hershell Gordon Lewis: “Yes and no. The answer is yes I have been surprised but as of today I’m no longer surprised. It came as something of a shock. I thought these films had long since vanished into oblivion, along with me. The renaissance of them is only surprising because so many films, which cost more money to make, have been lost in time. These simply seem to be going on and on. They do have a historical position, I suppose. Sometimes I wish I’d had bigger budgets and better know casts, but that may have been it.”Â
Why didn’t you continue with filmmaking? I know certain problems that you don’t want to talk about but after those problems had been resolved, why didn’t you come back to filmmaking?
Hershell Gordon Lewis: “Well, by that time the industry had become nondescript. There was already a number of Fridays The 13th’s and Houses On Elm Street. The major trend of the industry had caught up with us. It was something that we began. And one reason for the existence of these films today is that they were the first of their type. When the mainstream moved in, there was no longer any purpose in my continuing. And as you may know, if you follow the history of these things, by the time we shot The Gore-Gore Girls (1972) we were already starting to parody our own types of movies. So I felt the industry was no longer in a position where an independently made film, independently released, could have a chance of playing time.”Â
Do have fond memories of making She-Devils On Wheels or was it a production fraught with difficulties?
Hershell Gordon Lewis: “Well, (laughs), when ever you shoot a female motorcycle gang you have fond memories and you also have a movie that is fraught with production difficulties. We ran a foul of individual egos. At the time, it was quite a breakthrough to have women actually riding the Harley’s, The Hog’s, the Norton’s and the BMW’s. Until She-Devils On Wheels women in motorcycle gangs were always shown clutching some greasy guy who was riding the bike. They never were the actual instigators and that’s why I felt that a movie of this type was due. American International had a picture called Born Losers, which was about a male motorcycle gang and the proof of the power of She-Devils On Wheels is in that combination, putting the two pictures together, She-Devils On Wheels was always the top feature and Born Losers was always the bottom feature. So the public interest was in She-Devils On Wheels. But it was a tough movie to shoot, yes.”Â
It’s unusual that the Man-Eaters gang at the end of the film aren’t punished for their crimes; unlike in other more mainstream Hollywood biker pictures of the period. There isn’t the usual moralistic ending. Why did you decide to do this? Was it just for commercial reasons or other ”Ëartistic’ reasons?
Hershell Gordon Lewis: “Well, the Man-Eaters, except for a certain amount of excitement they generate by riding through shopping centres kicking things over, weren’t really as vicious as the guys they wiped out. So it was retribution rather than crime. And the question that was always in our minds when we shot this picture was should something negative happen at the end. And we left it almost like the lady and the tiger; no one is quite sure. The picture closes ”ËThe End’ then superimposes ”ËIf You Think This is The End You Don’t Know The Man-Eaters’. Then we have that closing theme music. We are left almost in limbo.”Â
I thought that was maybe left open for a sequel?
Hershell Gordon Lewis: “That was the idea, it did cross my mind, yes.”Â
With films like Blood Feast and Two Thousand Maniacs, did you realise you were creating a new genre of film at the time?
Hershell Gordon Lewis: “Yes, we did, but we didn’t think it would have the profound effect it had. With Blood Feast, David Friedman and I set out to make a movie that the major companies either could not make or would not make. Half way through the editing of that picture I began to have doubts. I said, ”ËWe’ve gone too far. Where are we going to play this picture?’ I thought maybe on a Halloween night show. People were coming to the cutting room and here was this work print, scratched to pieces and covered with grease pencil, and they couldn’t watch it! Now they could, because we are almost a generation beyond and people are far more sophisticated. At that time there had never been anything like this. We opened the picture in a little town in Illinois called Peoria. The feeling was if we opened there people would know about it. And it was a smash. And everywhere we opened this picture it was a smash and that’s what started the entire genre of gore films, which were subsequently renamed splatter films. But I think splatter films isn’t as good a name.”Â
Yes, gore is better. Did you have any desire to make a mainstream Hollywood film?
Hershell Gordon Lewis: “Oh yeah, but that’s a mad desire that’s not anchored on the ground. That’s firmly tied up in the clouds. Every filmmaker has that dream and every now and again someone succeeds on having a capitalisation on the outside, but we were always on the lunatic fringe of the business and fighting for playing time in the theatres and it just never happened that way. But, yes, of course, those thoughts go on in everybody’s mind. Anyone who says otherwise is lying.”Â
What were your influences, other films or not, on making these bizarre movies?
Where was it all coming from?
Hershell Gordon Lewis: “ Oh, just wild imagination. We had no artistic master maybe the Grand Guignol in Paris. The notion was simply something that we felt might outrage without being obscene. That’s a very narrow line to walk. Even today, try to think of something that will outrage without being obscene. It’s difficult. So gore was the natural solution to that.”Â
Do you think She-Devils On Wheels could almost be described as a feminist movie?
Hershell Gordon Lewis: “A feminist movie, yes, possibly. But today I think people are far too sensitive about sexism in movies. People sometimes ask me, ”ËWhy did you kill women in movies? Why didn’t someone stab men?’ Well, in Two Thousand Maniacs I had a man pulled apart by four horses. In another scene, I had a guy roll down a hill in a barrel full of nails. It wasn’t as if we singled out women. That’s what the theatre audiences at the time wanted to see, just as theatre audiences of the time had become a little jaded by the typical motorcycle gang being a tough bunch of men. The ”ËWhat if?’ factor came to my mind when I saw, almost accidently, coming down a back highway somewhere, a tough looking woman on a motorcycle. In fact, I wasn’t sure it was a woman. And it turned out that it was. I said, ”ËGee, that’s an idea.’ And that’s what the germ of the idea was. Audiences revelled in it: a bunch of women beating up on men.”Â
Did you hire members of a biker gang?
Hershell Gordon Lewis: “Where did you hear that? No, I wouldn’t go near those people. No, what we did was this. We ran an ad in the Miami Herald, a small ad, two inches, asking for women who could ride a big motorcycle, not a little Honda, but a Harley, a Hog, something with some cc’s in it. And you should have seen what came out of the walls after that call. We had a hundred women from which to choose. We cared less about there acting ability, although some of them aren’t bad, they are all in character, you see, that’s one of the benefits of having dialogue which is in character. It makes no difference whether they can act or not, cos this is the type of thing that they would say anyhow. We cared about whether they could actually ride these bikes. The lead, Betty Connell, with that gorgeous Harley Davidson, that was her own motorcycle. Later I learned that in some of the major company products what they would do is put a woman on a bike for the close-ups. A man, in the exact same costume, would do exactly the same stunt. We wanted them shot as they were riding, so these women had to be able to ride these bikes and that’s what we wanted and that’s what we got. But we certainly didn’t have, not to my knowledge, any organised gang on the film. At least, not to my knowledge. That sort of thing can blow a movie out of the water. All you need is these fellas to say, ”ËI’ve had enough of this’ and start breaking up the cameras and the crew, for that matter.”Â
You shot She-Devils at the same time as Just For The Hell Of It, a very anarchic, violent type of movie”Â¦
Hershell Gordon Lewis: “They are two different types of movie. Just For The Hell Of It is a teenage rebellion picture, again which was ahead of its time. Bare in mind, you’ve seen these things a lot more recently than I have. Just For The Hell Of It, as I remember, opens with a party and some fella dumps a goldfish bowl over somebody’s head and he takes the bowl and throws it into a mirror and starts a general ruckus that doesn’t stop until there is hardly anything left of the room. We first titled that movie Destruction Incorporated. I felt, as we were editing it, that nobody would understand the title. We were masters of titles. I always felt that anyone could aim a camera but the titles and the campaign was something else. For example, the original title of She-Devils On Wheels was Man-Eaters On Motorbikes, that is the theme song of that, which I wrote under the name Sheldon Seymour. Later, putting the campaign together I realised that Man-Eaters was a title that some newspapers might reject. So we changed it to She-Devils On Wheels and I’m glad we did. But the two pictures, She-Devils On Wheels and Just For The Hell Of It are different types of picture. They were never intended to play together and as far as I know, they have never played together.”Â
The party scene at the beginning of Just For The Hell Of It is shot in one take, isn’t it?
Hershell Gordon Lewis: “Yeah. I’ll tell you what we did. We had three cameras: we had our Mitchell, which is a big heavy camera, which is like a Rolls Royce, nothing can ever go wrong. I shouldn’t say that! I once owned a Rolls Royce and as my wife will tell you everything went wrong! But the Mitchell camera was stationed, unmoving, to make sure we had the shot captured. Then we had an aeroflex camera, which moved around on a railway. But then, in the middle of the crowd, I had a fellow with a hand held eye pole, a little spring winding camera, which only held a hundred feet of film. He mingled with the group, just getting shots with his back always to the other two cameras, so it wasn’t visible to the following camera. We shot it in one piece. The instruction was to smash the place up until there wasn’t a stick of furniture left in the room. Had a good time with that. Afterwards we threw all the stuff out into the alleyway.”Â
It has been said that you had the same attitude to actors as Alfred Hitchcock. Is that true?
Hershell Gordon Lewis: “Alfred Hitchcock had a number of attitudes towards actors. I share some of his opinions. You see, actors, especially actors in the kind of movies we make, I thought were standard interchangeable parts. I have hard evidence to that effect, that is if an actor disappeared we simply replaced that actor, or actress, with another body. And unfortunately, I think it was an American President, Woodrow Wilson, who said, ”ËWhen I make a political appointment I make 99 enemies and one ingrate.’ When we would cast someone the people who didn’t get the part hated us and the person who got the part, who or she, or in the case of actors ”Ëit’, thought they were a star. And gradually we built a core around us of people around us with whom we knew we could work and discard those who I felt had temperament. The fellow who played the lead in Moonshine Mountain and Color Me Blood Red (Gordon Oas-Heim), a fine acting talent but an impossible personality, in my opinion. I felt I would rather have a lesser acting talent and a more convivial personality, because we always had a rollicking good time making the films. We always blew our brains out trying to cram as much as we could into the shooting day. Anyone who showed temperament was not our kind of person. That doesn’t quite parallel Hitchcock’s attitude but it explains mine.”Â
Did you ever hypnotise your actors like Werner Herzog once did?
Hershell Gordon Lewis: “Only once. I had an actor who could not learn his lines and I thought that under mild hypnosis he might learn the lines. I tried, because I was very much involved. I was a member of the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnoses. And it didn’t work. It didn’t work at all. It wouldn’t take on him. Fortunately he could read, that was a miracle too.”Â
How did you persuade Colonel Harland Sanders, founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, to be in your rock group drama Blast-Off Girls (1967)?
Hershell Gordon Lewis: “Yeah, he played Colonel Sanders. It’s all part of low budget filmmaking. We would shot a scene in a restaurant in exchange for that restaurant supplying food for the cast and crew. Now, those who know me well know that I’m a fried chicken fanatic. So whenever we could shoot in a fried chicken location, we did. So I contacted the people at Kentucky Fried Chicken to see if they wanted to make that swap. Well, they accepted with such alacrity I regret not having asked them for money! Three days before we shot that scene with Colonel Sanders, which was shot in a Fried Chicken place in Well Met, a suburb of Chicago. They wrote in and asked if I could write a part for Colonel Sanders. And I said, ”ËWell, it’s kinda difficult because this is about a rock band and doesn’t quite fit Colonel Sanders image.’ And they said, ”ËWell, figure something for him to do.’ Well, I wasn’t sure if they were going to have the man or some stand-in or what, I didn’t know. When I got there, he was there! He was already made up by his own make-up man! He had one of these aggressively jolly personalities that have always irritated me but that, again, is a personal prejudice. We arranged for him to serve the fried chicken to the band that was playing on the lot; a totally contrived scene. But on the other hand, we had fried chicken for the entire shoot, so it was all-worthwhile. And I think I gave him one line to say. He took it very seriously. We didn’t. For us it was a throw away, and we shot the rehearsal, which thoroughly enraged him because when he said, ”ËHow many more takes are we going to do?’ I said, ”ËWe got it!’ And he insisted that we shot one, with the camera not running, just to satisfy his ego. You like that? But we gave him a screen credit, in fact it showed his logo, not his name, just the thing with the little white beard, and opposite that the role he played ”â himself.”Â
Whose idea was it to turn to the subject of ”Ëglamour’ photography and sex for Scum Of The Earth (1963), you or David Friedman?
Hershell Gordon Lewis: “It was probably a committee decision. That was a transitional film. Scum of The Earth was shot in glorious black and white. One reason was we weren’t sure of the market of this. Actually, one frame in that movie was hand tinted red, at the very end of the film. It was an idea we had and I cut in a clear frame of film into the negative. When the evil man is chased into the surf at the end of the film on Miami Beach and puts the gun in his mouth and fires there is one frame of red. It was almost subliminal. I really don’t know whose idea that was, it’s lost in history.”Â
What happened with the ending of your partnership with David Friedman?
Hershell Gordon Lewis: “We parted company, suddenly, and it was a surprise to me. We had had a company”Â¦. We had four partners in a company that made three movies. The movies were Blood Feast, Two Thousand Maniacs and Color Me Blood Red. The four partners were Friedman, a fellow called Sid Reich out of Rochester, New York, Stan Kohlberg and me. We were the partners in these movies. Well, Kohlberg, who owned a theatre or a group of theatres, had the notion of forming a permanent production company. He said, ”ËLook, let’s let the money accumulate. We were making money by the bushel then, so we’d show a big bank balance and I’ll have my bank bonanza from the production company.’ And everybody agreed. Well, then it wound up that Kohlberg made off with the money and the other three of us were suing him. And I said to Dave, ”ËRegardless of the outcome of this lawsuit, let’s make a movie so we have some income?’ Because if you know the court cases in Chicago, there are two problems: One, it takes six or seven years to get it heard and the second is the people with political connections get the verdicts. I didn’t want to take that risk because I knew that Kohlberg was well connected. And so Dave and I agreed to make Moonshine Mountain (1964), because along with fried chicken I love country music, so it was my idea. About eight days or so before we were about to shoot, David Friedman disappeared. You couldn’t reach him on his phone, it was disconnected. And it turned out subsequently that he had settled unilaterally with Kohlberg. Leaving only Reich and I as the plantives, he made a deal with a man called Dan Sonney to move to California and go into business with Sonney. Dave didn’t have the courage to tell me and that really bothered me. So for over two years, Dave Friedman and I didn’t exchange a word. But then, subsequently, I felt, well, Moonshine Mountain was a very big success and I felt that here was no point in carrying a grudge. Today, David and I are friends again.”Â
You shot Linda and Abilene (1969) at the Spahn Ranch, notorious as the home of the Manson Family that year. How the hell did that happen?
Hershell Gordon Lewis: “We didn’t know what crackpots they were! We knew they were somewhat, ah, off. For example, they had a dog and it had a bell around its neck. And every time the dog would move the bell would ring. It must have driven that dog absolutely crazy! And here was this dog shaking its head trying to get rid of the bell and the more it shook its head the more the bell rang. I thought what a horrible sadistic attitude. So someone on our crew went to take the bell off the dog’s neck and one of the people there said, ”ËYou better not take the bell off that dog, you’ll get shot!’ And so we backed off but we had no notion of what we”Â¦it was really funny. When I read subsequently that this is where the Manson gang was I said, ”ËWell, it isn’t surprising, yet it was surprising being that close to those people.’ I was glad to get out of there. It was a strange place anyway. Here was a movie set that was supposedly a Western ranch. Someone had strung a bunch of telephone wires across the top of it. It was just terrible! And we always had to shoot down so we wouldn’t get the telegraph wires in shot. The fella who ran it was an old movie stuntman (George Spahn) who had a bunch of accidents and one hand was doubled over and he couldn’t stand up straight. He had a shirt that had emblazoned upon it ”ËRandy Somebody The World’s Greatest Stuntman’. He was just staggering around all the time. An odd place.”Â
Didn’t you run your own Grand Guignol production theatre in Chicago during 1968?
Hershell Gordon Lewis: “We opened a movie theatre, well it wasn’t a movie, it was partly, in an area of Chicago called Old Town which was, how can I describe it, a fashionable area of Soho. The reason I did, a fellow I knew had an empty building and he said, ”ËWhy don’t we show your kind of movies in this building?’ And I said, ”ËWhy don’t we?’ I figured it was a lark. And I had a pair of 35 millimetre projectors, which I wasn’t using. They were incandescing which didn’t require all the venting that the arc projectors required and we opened a little theatre and what we would do is shoot a show. It was a camp thing. We showed the original Dracula, with Bela Lugosi, then half way through the movie we would shut the projectors off, a couple of people would go out dressed in vampire costumes into the audience. One would slit the others throat and drag him off and then the movie would continue. It was quite the thing for a while.”Â
What was more popular, the show or the screenings?
Hershell Gordon Lewis: “Oh, I think people went there to see the live slitting of throats, which was the easiest effect to do. Again, it was something before its time. It went out of business because the neighbourhood changed. We were being vandalised, somebody ripped the seats and somebody tore the screen, we caught a young man with his hand in our Coca-Cola machine, cursing us as his hand was trapped as he tried to steal a coke. Somebody walked in the front door and stuck a stick into the neck of our cashier, really hurt her. It became impossible. After a long weekend we just pulled the seats out and left. We were glad to get out of there with our lives. It was a matter of the neighbourhood, not the market. ”Â
Was A Taste Of Blood (1967) a reaction to the Hammer movies being produced at that time?
Hershell Gordon Lewis: “I never really reacted. I always thought that the British Hammer films were very tame. They broke no new ground. They were well acted and handsomely mounted but at no time did I ever regard those as films that would blaze any kind of a trail. I knew She-Devils On Wheels would blaze a trail. It was the first time that women were in command of the motorbikes. Now A Taste of Blood, as you may or may not know, was my masterpiece. That picture was well acted, the locations are good, it lasts two hours, which was very long for me, because the laws of economics said that the longer the picture the more a print would cost. I loved that movie, I hated to cut it.”Â
Your films avoided the clichÃÂ©s of the Gothic horror movie, like those produced by Hammer”Â¦.
Hershell Gordon Lewis: “Well, that was a cold blooded determination to make the movies contemporary rather than bind them in to some mystic base. And the one exception to that might be A Taste Of Blood, which had a Dracula overtone to it. But even there we didn’t show old castles; it was all shot in a modern setting and clothes. I felt that that type of film had been played to death and, even in those days, was generating a reaction of historicity rather than horror. Bear in mind that a six-year-old child will look at Dracula today, which horrified audiences at the time. And that six year old will break into laughter. We have become sophisticated far beyond that type of thing.”Â
Your films always had terrific titles: BOIN-N-G (1963), Sin, Suffer and Repent (1965), The Wizard of Gore (1970), This Stuff’ll Kill Ya! (1971), to name but a few. Did your idea for a script ever just begin with a title and an ad campaign?
Hershell Gordon Lewis: “Well, we always regarded the title and the ad campaign with more reference than the movie itself. Our feeling was, this might be too irreverent for some people in the business, was anybody could aim a camera but the title and the campaign are what cause people to come into the theatre in the first place. So those aspects were our speciality. Although we didn’t always start with a title and try make a movie to match it.”Â
Did you conduct any market research into what title would appeal to a specific audience?
Hershell Gordon Lewis: “No, this was before the days of that. We lived by the seat of our pants. It was strictly a matter of trying to outguess the public. I don’t know if market research can result in apt titles. I see titles coming out of the major studios today, with the vast resources that they have for audience measurement, and I feel that the titles are absolutely inextricable and I’m proved right when these films bomb. They may be well acted and well done but who is going to see a movie with a title like that?”Â
Was there a specific ad campaign for She-Devils On Wheels?
“My partner on that film was a man called Fred Sandy, a much older man, who, sadly for me was a friend of a man called Sam Arkoff, the chairman of a company called American International Pictures. Fred wanted American International to release the picture, but their terms were impossible. They came up with a campaign that I would have vomited on. It was terrible. I said no. We finally arranged for American International, because we used a picture of theirs called Born Losers, as the bottom half of the double feature. We used them in some areas and in other areas we worked with independent distributors we knew, and it was our campaign all the way. Wherever American International handled it, it was a disaster. Wherever they didn’t, it was a triumph. I have never had much respect for many campaigns that major companies excrete. Some of them are good but many of them are done old advertising agency style.”Â
You mean they are too subtle?
Hershell Gordon Lewis: “Yeah, they are too subtle. They have no impact. They don’t have in them the seeds that cause people to go to the theatre and they’re at the mercy of the egos of the actors who demand a 100 per cent credit here; ”ËMy name must be above the title’. It’s very limiting in putting a campaign together. We didn’t have that type of restriction.”Â
Heaven only knows what your team could have got up too with the publicity budget that Batman has, there would be more novelties inside the theatre than on screen”Â¦
Hershell Gordon Lewis: “Oh my gosh. You bet, you bet. We had vomit bags and we had nurses and we had ambulances parked outside the theatres. It was showmanship, yeah.”Â
Did you enjoy breaking the taboos of violence on screen or was it simply a means to an end, to make money?
Hershell Gordon Lewis: “I don’t know if enjoyment was part of it. The perpetration of an act of violence by one person against another has never given me any pleasure, but from the viewpoint of showmanship I enjoy watching that effect taking hold, yeah. Obviously by today’s standards these effects were very primitive, but at the time they certainly were startling.”Â
Monster A Go-Go (1965) is an unusual film”Â¦
Hershell Gordon Lewis: “I didn’t even make that picture, I bought that picture. A fellow named Bill Rebane had made half a movie. He called it Terror At Half Day. He shot 80,000 feet of film. Well, I thought if there is 80,000 feet of film there has to be a movie in there somewhere. I was wrong. I simply bought it, the uncut negative. It turned out he’d cut the slates off which made editing very difficult. But with the entire movie he had there was no film there. We had to shoot a thousand feet of film of hands of opening telegrams, feet walking, trying to flesh it out with a little narration over it. He made it as a deadly serious picture. I thought it was a parody! That’s how we released it, as Monster A Go-Go.”Â
That’s amazing. Do you ever hanker after the director’s chair again?
Hershell Gordon Lewis: “Oh from time to time when the moon is full. There have been over the years, as I’m sure you know, any number of times people have called and said, ”ËLet’s make Blood Feast 2′, which is a logical step but having made that overture they tend to disappear. They want some article in Variety saying so and so is making Blood Feast 2; it hasn’t happened. If it does fine, if it doesn’t, that’s equally fine. Sometimes looking at some of the bad movies that have come out, films I feel are just a disgrace in every direction, I think, well maybe”Â¦”Â
In 2002, Herschell Gordon Lewis finally made Blood Feast 2, with the late David F. Friedman as executive producer.
Copyright ÃÂ© Ian Johnston 1989