A serious discussion of the films of Herschell Gordon Lewis. (Seriously)

First of all, for those who don’t know: Herschell Gordon Lewis was a director in the 60s, he made cheap and sleazy horror and titty movies for mostly southern drive in audiences.

While his movies are certainly not well made, they are fascinating. The most obvious thing to notice is that they had gore and or nudity at a time when no “real” movies would feature such content. What is fascinating to me, though, is seeing the south of the 60s in a different light. At a time when southern culture was something of a fad, yet many northerners were conversely afraid to go there (see the episode of the Andy Grifith Show with Danny Thomas as the guest star for a humorous portrayal of this) HGL was making movies showing a side of the south not seen on the Andy Griffith Show or in news footage of civil rights marches.
The sequence in Two Thousand Maniacs where the townsfolk shy away from killing one of the Yankees in horror at what they’ve done, only to be goaded on by the Mayor singing “Dixie”, is honestly chilling. The fascination with bluegrass music and fried chicken evidenced by other films of his gives a different view than seen anywhere else- this is the south of girls with big hair cooking fried chicken and listening to the neighborhood garage band. The lack of professional actors also adds to the atmosphere.

The films aren’t well made, but are still fascinating all these years later.

Nitpiking like a mad chimp!

It’s actually the other way around… .Andy Griffith was a guest on the Danny Thomas show, which came first. This is where the rough approximation of Sheriff Andy was created. So The Andy Griffith Show is sort of a bastard child spin off of Danny’s show.

I did not know that. I swear I’ve seen that show presented as an ep. of the Andy Griffith Show on TV Land. Thanks for the info, though, that’s interesting to know.

I think it’s great that HGL has returned with “Blood Feast 2”, more than 30 years after he made his last film and just short of the 40th anniversery of the original “Blood Feast”.

His output was pretty hit-or-miss, though. For every bonafide gore/sex/exploitation classic wrought from his hands, there’s 2 absolutely lousy toss-offs that even he admits were made just to fill a empty movie screen schedule. I’m referring, of course, to non-classics like “Just For The Hell Of It” and “Monster A Go Go”

His post-exploitation career is particularly fascinating; while most auteurs of his ilk seem to enjoy brief careers followed by public obscurity (except for cult fandom) HGL has made millions of dollars in the advertising field and is respected around the world as THE expert on direct marketing. He’s got quite a few books out on the subject.

Definitely hit or miss, his children’s films were atrocious.
But there is something about even his worst films that is fascinating- his films just seem so natural, as if despite the outlandish things that happen the “actors” are just walking around, having conversations and just happened to be filmed.
I recently watched the “Candid Camera” movie What Would You Say To a Naked Lady, and that is the only example from the time period that I’ve seen of people caught on film in tacky K-Mart fashions, talking naturally, being real. HGLs movies are more like a “window into another world” than anything but a documentary.

So… this fellow invented perfected spam and telemarketing as well? Where, exactly, does he live?

The naturalism is one of the most appealing things about his movies…he evidently never rehearsed his actors, and by his own admission shot no more than two takes of any set-up. The bad acting of his films is, well, pretty bad, but it does give a feeling of unpredictability.

It’s also interesting to note that HGL’s protagonists were always throughly average middle-class types who lived in houses that realistically matched their income and seemed to have the same problems that any one of us would. I’m sure the low budgets of his films were more to blame than any far-reaching social message, but it remains interesting nontheless.