Herschell Gordon Lewis: Master Of More Than Gore
By John Saleeby
The first thing that comes to mind whenever Movie Fans hear the name Herschell Gordon Lewis is "Gore". And the first thing that comes to mind whenever people who have actually seen "Blood Feast" or "Two Thousand Maniacs" hear the name Herschell Gordon Lewis is "That dude SUCKS!!" I've always considered HG Lewis to be one of those guys who are a lot of fun to read about but whose work is to be avoided at all costs. You know, like Ralph Bakshi, William Burroughs, and John Wayne Gacy. Not that I have anything against Gore. That guy whose head gets blown off with a shotgun in "Dawn Of The Dead", that guy whose hands get bitten off in "The Thing", that guy whose foot I ran over in the parking lot . . . Oh, that was Real Life! Gore is AWESOME! But there is Good Gore and there is Bad Gore and if you can't tell the difference I don't want you in my Drug Crazed Hippie Killer Squad - You've got ten minutes to turn in your copies of The Beatles' "White Album" and get off of the Ranch!
But I've got a lot of time on my hands these days and with Booze and Drugs out of the picture and Marriage and Career yet to show up that means I've been watching a lot of Movies. I go onto the internet and I'm ordering DVDs without being aware of what I'm doing. A few weeks ago the UPS Guy brought me a Something Weird Drive In Double Feature DVD of HG Lewis' "Just For The Hell Of It"(1968) and "Blast Off Girls"(1967) "Oh, yeah!" I thought "I remember looking at this at the Something Weird site!" Internet Technology has eliminated all cognitive thinking between looking at something and receiving an exact replica of it at your doorstep. Any day now there will be a knock at the door and my brand new eighteen year old Chinese Wife will be there waiting for me - UH OH!!! But until then I've got nothing to do but sit around watching whatever crazy DVDs show up.
"Just For The Hell Of It" and "Blast Off Girls" are not a couple of HG Lewis' Gore Films. But, as those of you who have been following my work here at Acid Logic and my soon to be released album with Dennis Wilson of The Beach Boys are aware, there is more to John Saleeby than Violent Movies and screaming at people about how I'm going to put their head on the end of a stick. Hey, didn't I tell you to get the hell off of this Ranch!?! No, in addition to Violence and Bloodshed I am also interested in the subjects of the two Movies on this DVD - Juvenile Delinquency ("Just For The Hell Of It") and Rock And Roll ("Blast Off Girls"). Hey! This is a "White Album" cover with a Bob Newhart record in it! Get back here!
"Just For The Hell Of It" is kind of like "Lord Of The Flies" only the kids aren't English and they aren't marooned on a desert Island. They're American kids in an American town so when they go from acting like Regular Kids to Bloodthirsty Savages it's no surprise, I guess. Is there really any big difference between spraying a Housewife with a Garden Hose and attacking a Couple on the beach, beating the guy unconscious, and then gang raping the girl? Not, really. Bad Kids are just Bad Kids and this makes "Just For The Hell Of It" a terribly disturbing film. (Note To Acid Logic Editor Wil Forbis - Put a "disturbed face" Emoticon thing next to " . . . terribly disturbing film")
Lewis' Movies have never been known as a Launching Pad to International Stardom which is a real drag for Ray Sager who is very good as Dexter, The Head Delinquent (And as Gordy, the goofy Band Manager's Flunky in "Blast Off Girls"). Sager appears in nearly all of Lewis' Films in a wide variety of characters and is always great. As Dexter, Sager has this great bit where someone asks him an urgent question and then he very sloooowly does something of no interest to anyone but himself - Stretching and yawning or racking up the balls for a friendly game of Snooker - before finally bothering to answer. I'm gonna remember that next time I've got some Square breathing down my neck - "Hey, John, when are ya gonna come up with that fifty bucks you owe me?" Saleeby goes inside Roman Polanski's house, murders everyone inside, writes "HELTER SKELTER" on the wall in Sharon Tate's blood, takes a shower, and walks back outside. "Sorry, man, can't help you with that right now." How come Ray never got to be a Big Star? I guess a Resume full of Southern Drive In Splatter Movies didn't make that great an impression once Ray packed up and went to Hollywood. Well, SCREW THEM! Ray became a Big Shot Producer anyway! He's the Man who brought you "Prom Night 2", "Prom Night 3", and "Prom Night 4"! Make it an Even Five, Ray!!! Whattya say!?! "Wow, Ray! Where did you learn so much about the Movie Business?" "I owe it all to one Man, Bosco - Herschell Gordon Lewis." "The GORE guy!?!" Ray's hand shoots out and grabs Bosco's throat with the power of an anaconda "I'm going to tell you this once and it will be the only time I tell you this - If you call my close and personal Friend Herschell Gordon Lewis that again I will take you Wife and make a three minute film of me cutting her arms, legs, and head off and throwing them into a meat grinder!" "Okay, Ray! Whatever you say!" Ray Sager - An Inspiration To All Of Us Who Will Be Forever Branded As "Bad News" Because Of Our Life Long Dedication To Cheap Movies And Cheap Thrills!!! Do they worship Ray in France? I BET THEY DO!!! (Worshipping French Emoticon - With a beret)
When we first see Dexter and his Gang they are happily demolishing a suburban living room with the same attention to detail a horde of Zombies bring to tearing a Biker apart in a George Romero Movie. The crucial difference is that a Zombie has a REASON to rip a Biker into a hundred pieces. But why would these kids, who have been given everything they have ever asked for, destroy such a nice home? Guess you would need to have everything you have ever asked for to answer that one. At The End of the Movie all of these hoods are either dead or in jail - Except for Dexter, of course. The Final Scene - Dexter pulls up in a car with Lummox, The Jeff Dahmer-like Golem who carries an axe with him every where he goes . . . LUMMOX: Those guys are really in trouble.
DEXTER: Who cares? Heh heh!
Dexter slouches out of the frame leaving Lummox dumbfounded at the realization that he is DAMNED
The Big Question - Can we detect in HG Lewis' work the kind of recurring theme that represents genuine Artistic Vision? Well, I have given these Movies a lot of thought - Mostly after writing this article, unfortunately - and yeah, I think there might be. There is in HG Lewis' Movies a peculiar sharp eyed fascination in the People who populate them which has me in a constant state of "Get a load of THIS guy! Wow! Is he a character or WHAT? Uh oh! It's THAT guy again! He's kinda cool, but . . . Look out! It's that girl again! I'd sure like to see a whole Movie about her! What's her trip?" Really FUN STUFF and you don't need a big budget, a brilliant script, special effects or any of that other stuff. But the trick is that HG Lewis' characters are only so interesting because we are seeing them through the eyes of a Man who clearly likes and takes a deep interest in other people. Some Snot who thinks people are Trash tries to make a Movie and he's gonna need CGI dinosaurs, midgets wearing wacky Conquistador Helmets, and ten million jokes by Tom Lennon and Ben Garant. And once you've finished watching his Movie you won't remember a goddam thing.
"Blast Off Girls" ain't got nothing going for it but a bunch of Funny Guys N' Gals five of whom are a forgotten Sixties Garage Band called Faded Blue. After watching this terrific Comedy right after "Just For The Hell Of It" there were so many cool and crazy people walking around inside my head I had to install Male and Female Restrooms and build a Fire Escape. Like the Drummer of Faded Blue who turns out to the same guy that played Lummox! Weird! Turns out this guy was named Ralph Mullen. Whatever happened to Ralph Mullen? Does he still play the drums? Does he still carry an axe with him every where he goes? If he wasn't so scarey I'd look him up in the phone book. And how about this amiable Cop who busts the band in the middle of a Pot Party that isn't nearly as well shot as the rest of the Movie? If it wasn't for him the rest of the Movie would be that screwed up! Guy saves the Movie and it's probably the only Movie he was ever in! What about this Record Company President? He's HILARIOUS! Or this Colonel Sanders guy who gives the band a bucket of chicken for setting up and playing in front of his Kentucky Fried Chicken stand*? Where did HG Lewis come up with the idea for that character? Oh! Colonel Sanders was a REAL PERSON and he's making a Very Special Celebrity Guest Appearance! Thank God he was smart enough to stay away from "Just For The Hell Of It"! Those kids would have shoved his face into the deep fryer and sold it to the guy from "Blood Feast"! I don't know, I'm a Popeye's Fried Chicken guy, myself.
*Ralph fuckin' JAMS in this scene.
But before we get TOO carried away over Mister Herschell Gordon Lewis, remember that it would take a guy with a really deep curiosity in people to want to show how it looks when you chop a woman's arm off or scalp a guy with an electric meat carver. I have to admit that I have wondered what it would look like to chop a woman's off but it must have been my cold blooded Dean Martin-like indifference to others that got in the way of wondering about the "scalp a guy with the electric meat carver" thing. I'm just not that much of a Touchy Feely guy.
Who cares? Heh heh!
Saleeby slouches out of the article leaving the Reader dumbfounded with the realization that he is DAMNED (Dumbfounded Emoticon)
What do you think? Leave your comments on the Guestbook!
John Saleeby wrote for The National Lampoon while he was in high school, was a stand up comic in New York, and has contributed to the net humor zines Schmuck.com, Campaign Central, and the legendary American Jerk. He's on medication now so he's probably a little nicer now than he was when you met him earlier. Email - firstname.lastname@example.org
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