The Wizard of Gore Returns
Herschell Gordon Lewis releases his inner Herschell Gordon Lewis
It was 1963 when the first bloody human entrails splattered across the silver screen. As Fuad Ramses lured women into his clutches for a brutal massacre, the age of the nonviolent cinema was put to death. The drive-in audiences peeled back their eyelids to fully visualize director Herschell Gordon Lewis' maiden voyage on the sea of blood.
As the first gory feature ever made, Blood Feast cut the germinal jugular for any other movie you can think of that involves vivid murders and dismembered bodies. Before Lewis' business plan, characters died with dignity and famous last words, their fatal wounds always avoided by the camera's eye.
"I just flew back from Boston," Lewis says. "Every once in a while when I'm at a meeting, someone will approach me and say something like, 'Hey, did you know you have the exact same name as the guy who made ... "
At the age of 81, he sounds like he's just more than 40, looks like he's in his 50s, and lives like he's in his 30s. Traveling around the East Coast speaking at conventions, the platinum-haired, multicareering, genre milestoner moves on his feet as easily as he sprayed blood on the camera lens half a century ago.
Lewis doesn't inform the audience on how to start your own film genre or give tips on making it in the movie industry. Instead, he speaks about marketing and advertising, which are the subject matters of his 21 published books. That's the day-to-day Lewis; the inventor of gore is someone else.
"I'm living proof that if you live long enough, you become legitimate," he says. "I'd like to write a book about my experiences in the movie industry, but I don't think it would find a publisher."
Though Lewis is known for his film legacy, he doesn't consider himself a movie buff or a cinematic artist.
"Blood Feast wasn't an art film; it was a business venture," Lewis says. "I knew that many people would object to this kind of film, but I wanted it to affect enough people that wouldn't object to it so that it would turn a decent buck. I wanted to shock but not outrage, which is why there is no nudity or offensive language in Blood Feast. Trying to make an independent film at that time was difficult because there were only theatres, no DVD or VHS. That's when the marvelous four-letter word 'g-o-r-e' jumped out at me."
Lewis and business partner David Friedman "wanted to avoid censorship, which is what we ended up generating," Lewis recalls. "We really initiated censorship, because there were no regulations for this kind of stuff. There were organized protests, but that only brought more attention to the film."
Lewis directed, co-produced, and wrote the score for the film, as he did for Two Thousand Maniacs!, "which is my favorite film that I've ever made. It has substance to it, and I was more involved. I was behind the camera, wrote the script and the music. I even hung the lights. I used fake names for the credits, because I didn't want it to appear like it was a one man show."
Soon afterward, he got out of the gore game. He made a few children's movies and then turned into the Lewis that his co-workers know him as today: a marketing and advertising consultant. By the mid-Seventies, the slaughter spark that he'd lit turned into a bonfire, with movies like Rosemary's Baby, Carrie, and the like filling up the major theatres. But Lewis turned his back on the business that he'd started.
"At the time, I didn't care," Lewis says. "That meant that major companies were moving into my territory, and it was time to get out."
Lewis' absence has only intensified the audience's desire for his films. In 2002, Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat was made, and a remake of his film Wizard of Gore is in production. This weekend, the Alamo Drafthouse Rolling Roadshow will take a stab at a double feature of Blood Feast and Two Thousand Maniacs! at the H.C. Carter Longhorn Ranch Ghost Town. Lewis will attend the screenings and plans on resurrecting his old self for the event.
"I was told that they will have a guitar or banjo player accompanying the soundtrack, so I'm going to sing the songs I wrote during the movies," he says. "I thought I'd be done with films for good, but it's like having malaria: You're never really cured; it's always lurking in your system."
Alamo Drafthouse Rolling Roadshow: Blood Feast and Two Thousand Maniacs!
Saturday, May 26, 7pm
H.C. Carter Longhorn Ranch Ghost Town, Dripping Springs
Herschell Gordon Lewis in attendancewww.originalalamo.com