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THE GODFATHER OF GORE -- H.G. LEWIS! PDF Print E-mail
Written by By Franklin E. Wales   
Nov 07, 2004 at 02:00 AM
Miami, Florida, 1963. A handful of renegade filmmakers get together to shoot their latest exploitation flick, BELL, BARE, AND BEAUTIFUL. It was a paid job. Financed by the husband of Virginia Bell to showcase her bare and beautiful(?)...bells. When the shooting was wrapped, most of the crew, and some of the cast, (minus Virginia Bell) immediately begin work on another production with only a threadbare script, and a minuscule budget. The story involves an Egyptian shopkeeper's quest for the resurrection of an ancient Egyptian goddess. The Egyptian theme is used to make use of the Sphinx outside the Suez Motel where the crew was staying.
That film, BLOOD FEAST, and its creator, Herschell Gordon Lewis, would go on to change the way horror movies were looked at, forever.
"Today," Lewis points out, "they all have to look like Cindy Crawford. But then, it was, 'Oh My God! Look What They've Got On The Screen!' So we capitalized on that." Tame by today's standards (most would barely receive an R rating) they proved too hot for Hollywood to handle. For a while, that is.
"I felt that these movies were about to become a crowded field," Lewis explains. "One where we were just one more competitor. In fact, some people were beginning to pour considerable budgets into them."
By 1963, Hollywood could no longer resist the temptation of such high profits made from such a small investment. As always, nothing turns moral highbrows around faster than a dollar sign.
The draw to the exploitation field was to work in an area where one was not in direct competition with Hollywood's big budgets. "I didn't want to do that. I thought it was a perilous life, and I didn't want to be trapped in it." And so the search was on to find an area in which there would be no direct head to head competition against the major studios.
The answer came when Lewis was watching a picture where a man, pumped full of bullets, died peacefully with his eyes closed. "The answer was, in a four letter word, GORE," he explained. "I thought that if we concentrated in that area, we would have the field entirely to ourselves. Nobody ever made a movie like that."
Thus the genesis to the world's first Gore Movie, BLOOD FEAST. The film glorified scenes of murder, mayhem, dismemberment and disembowelment. When people died in this movie, they died screaming all the way. Though the effects are tame compared to the carnage of today's slasher fare, in 1963 it was a large gamble.
In fact, no one who saw the work print could stand to watch it all the way through. "The question that came to our minds," says Lewis, "was not one of whether or not we were disturbing people's peace of mind--But whether or not we would get this picture played anywhere!" It was because of this fear that BLOOD FEAST was premiered in Peoria, Illinois. It was reasoned that it could die there unnoticed, if need be.
To the surprise of everyone involved, the picture was an unprecedented success. By the second night, traffic was backed up five miles from the theater. This, it seemed, was the one movie everyone wanted to see for themselves. Herschell Gordon Lewis had tapped into the bloodlust that seems to dwell deep within the human psyche.
Lewis and Friedman went on to shoot TWO THOUSAND MANIACS and COLOR ME BLOOD RED, before splitting up. Where Friedman went back to the nudie-cutie world, Lewis ventured into other areas of exploitation -- including motorcycle pictures, teenage delinquent movies, and hillbilly features, to name a few. Often Lewis returned to the field that had dubbed him "The Godfather Of Gore", with such titles as THE GRUESOME TWOSOME, A TASTE OF BLOOD, and THE WIZARD OF GORE. In fact, his last picture as a director was the over the top splatterfest, THE GORE-GORE GIRLS.
It's impossible to say how many filmmakers today owe a debt of gratitude to H. G. Lewis. Many, like John Waters, are not afraid to express their thanks. "Hershell Gordon Lewis," Waters said when contacted for this article, "is a Gore-God that I've worshipped since I was a teen in turmoil. His fake blood, gory tongues, ripe livers and oozing intestines liberated me from a suburban life and gave focus towards a career immersed in trashy film. I'm eternally grateful."
Today Mr. Lewis resides in South Florida with his lovely wife, Margo. Far from you average retiree, Mr. Lewis runs a successful Marketing business which keeps him busy with speaking engagements worldwide. He is also the author of several books for the small business owner.
In regards to his "godchildren" -- Freddy, Jason and a host of Gore driven maniacs -- Mr. Lewis quietly downplays his role. Instead, he insists, that the idea had been there all along, waiting to be discovered. Like the explorers of old, he set out for the New World without realizing the significance of his destination. Upon his arrival, however, Herschell Gordon Lewis planted his flag.
That blood red flag still flies today.

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