Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Herschell Gordon Lewis R.I.P.

Herschell Gordon Lewis, known as "the Godfather of Gore" for introducing graphic violence into horror films, died on September 26 2016 at the age of 90.

Herschell Gordon Lewis was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on June 15 1926. He was only six years old when his father died. Afterwards his family moved to Chicago. He graduated from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois with a bachelor's degree in journalism and afterwards received a master's degree there. He taught communications at Mississippi State University before becoming manager of WRAC Radio in Racine, Wisconsin. He later became a studio director at WKY-TV studio in Oklahoma City. Mr. Lewis was teaching advertising at Roosevelt University when he started working for a friend's advertising agency in Chicago. It was not long before he was directing television commercials.

Herschell Gordon Lewis's first feature film was The Prime Time (1960), an exploitation film in the "juvenile delinquent" genre. Over the next few years Mr. Lewis directed nudie films such as Daughter of the Sun (1962) and Nature's Playmates (1962). It was in 1963 that his first horror film, Blood Feast (1963), was released. Not only was it Lewis's first horror film, but it is often considered the first splatter film, with even more blood and gore than the contemporary Hammer Horrors featured. Herschell Gordon Lewis followed Blood Feast with more horror films that pushed the envelope with regards to the screen depiction of gore: Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964), Monster a-Go Go (1965), Colour Me Blood Red (1965), A Taste of Blood (1967), and The Wizard of Gore (1970). In between these splatter films he directed more nudie films, as well as such exploitation films as Blast-Off Girls (1967) and She-Devils on Wheels (1968). He even directed two children's movies: Jimmy, the Boy Wonder (1966) and The Magic Land of Mother Goose (1967).

The Seventies saw Herschell Gordon Lewis direct such films as This Stuff'll Kill Ya! (1971), Black Love (1971), and The Gore Gore Girls (1972). Following The Gore Gore Girls he retired from filmmaking. He went to work in copy writing and direct marketing. He also wrote several books The Businessman's Guide to Advertising and Sales Promotion and How to Handle Your Own Public Relations. He returned to filmmaking in the Naughts with Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat (2002)  and The Uh-oh Show (2009).

I very seriously doubt anyone considers Herschell Gordon Lewis's films to be classics. Even Mr. Lewis himself would probably dismiss any thoughts that he was a good director, much less a great one. He was not creating art, but exploitation films on shoestring budgets that were simply meant to make a bit of money. That having been said, Herschell Gordon Lewis would have a lasting impact on cinema. It was with Blood Feast that he virtually invented the splatter subgenre of horror movies. After Blood Feast the amount of gore in mainstream films would slowly begin to increase.  Blood Feast not only paved the way for the more graphic horror films of the Seventies and onwards, but even for the use of blood in action films, Westerns, and yet other genres. While Herschell Gordon Lewis was hardly an artist, he would have an impact on other directors. There are many who claim to see his influence in the works of both Sam Raimi and Quentin Tarantino. He certainly had an impact on James Gunn, who has acknowledged his influence. Herschell Gordon Lewis's films may not have been classics, but they did have a lasting impact on film.

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