Dissecting Herschell Gordon Lewis!

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

"He seen somethin' different. And he done it." HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS on his own epitaph!

Rest in Pieces Godfather…90 years is a hell of a run! Indeed, while the news two weeks ago about the Herschell Gordon Lewis passing away of natural causes at the ripe old age of 90 was surely saddening, it's hard not to celebrate the sheer longevity of a man who was at the forefront of independent splatter-horror cinema. Some might say he even invented the subgenre. After all, his first horror flick – BLOOD FEAST – was made way back in 1963, five years prior to the Hays Code being lifted in favor of more graphic onscreen carnage. Yet BLOOD FEAST is just that, a cornucopia of gore-laden horror tropes…shocking, upsetting, trailblazing. Nobody else was making that kind of film at the time, which even necessitated H.G. to create his own advertising company to promote this wild, underground, unbelievably salacious material.

And frankly, as the man grew into his own, the shackles of censorship were forever lifted and it seemed, with each passing film, H.G. Lewis upped the ante of unadulterated sleaze and unbound prurience to craft some of the trashiest movies ever assembled. Many of his films, even out of genre, were X-rated, and many more still were a nipple shy of being a full on porno joint. No doubt about it, H.G. lived and worked by the cut of his own jib. So much so that there's really no arguing that, through titles like BLOOD FEAST, SCUM OF THE EARTH, TWO THOUSAND MANIACS, COLOR ME BLOOD RED, A TASTE OF BLOOD, SOMETHING WEIRD, THE GRUESOME TWOSOME, SHE-DEVILS ON WHEELS, JUST FOR THE HELL OF IT, THE WIZARD OF GORE and more…H.G. Lewis rightfully earned the moniker of The Godfather of Gore.

So now, in memoriam, we salute the man's hallowed 50 year horror movie career. Let us perform a postmortem autopsy on the great Herschell Gordon Lewis!


Personal preference is always subjective, but you'd be hard-pressed to find two more influential H.G. films than his southern fried horror carnival that is TWO THOUSAND MANIACS, and perhaps his most famous movie of all, THE WIZARD OF GORE. Remember, the former was appropriated by Tim Sullivan and turned into 2001 MANIACS and 2001 MANIACS: FIELD OF SCREAMS. It also inspired the name of the band 10,000 MANIACS. The latter is not only an example of extreme 70s carnage, it too was canonized in the movie JUNO, hopefully in a way that introduced H.G. Lewis to a whole new generation of fans. But let's dig a little deeper.

TWO THOUSAND MANIACS really is a bold and ballsy movie, especially for being made in 1964. At that time, Hollywood musicals ruled the day, there was nobody – Hitchcock included – who was making brutally violent and graphically uncut horror in this visceral a manner. I remember clocking this flick on TCM a decade or so ago and being completely floored by what H.G. was able to get away with visually…and even more impressed when learning he shot the film, wrote the script and did all of his own promotion. More impressive yet, the film was shot in 14 days and considered by Lewis himself to be his personal favorite of his own movies. Please check it out if you've not, as it's about a redneck jamboree that six unsuspecting yanks attend, each gorily felled by different death-modes in what becomes a wild gala of gruesome fun and games. So wrong, but oh so right!


Same goes for THE WIZARD OF GORE, which due to the time it was made (1970), lent Lewis the opportunity to take even his exorbitant gore stylings to the absolute max. The story follows a seedy magician who performs exceedingly bloody tricks on stage, killing his subjects in the most vicious manners – impalement by swords, drills, giant meat presses, etc. He draws applause, but then finds himself investigated for the string of grisly murders by a dedicated female fan who frequents his performances. It's more than likely Lewis' goriest flick of all, which is quite a feat, and surely the one that cemented his official alias as, yes, The Godfather of Gore.

Made for a paltry $60,000 (cheap even for 1970 dollars), THE WIZARD OF GORE holds up decently despite the fact Lewis did not pen the script (Allen Kahn) and that the actor who played Montag the Magnificent (Ray Sager) replaced the originally cast actor the night before shooting began. Insane. Sure the chintzy effects render the excessive gore a bit laughable, but it does not detract from the sheer level of unbridled fun this movie, and all of Lewis' best, continue to be upon repeat viewings. Do wise and fall under the spell of THE WIZARD OF GORE if you've not already!



Whoa baby, H.G. filled up an ashtray of cinematic butts in his time. Comes with the territory. When you make no-budget, independent movies with full creative control and lean toward the pornographic, yes, there's going to be some real issues. Here's the deal. Of his 37 features, only about 12 of them were out and out horror/thrillers. Many others were sex comedies, crime dramas, sci-fi laughers and the like.

However, if you happened to see even a single frame of a movie he made in 1965 (uncredited) called MONSTER A-GO-GO, you might quickly call it his most inferior. It's essentially a 50s monster movie made with Lewis style, but madly disjointed due to the fact Lewis shared directorial responsibilities with Bill Rebane. Not the way H.G works best. In fact, even movies he doesn't script himself end up being lesser by his own standards. It's when the man authors the majority of his material, then realizes it onscreen, that H.G. excels most.



Blood. Gore. Grue. Hemoglobin. Excessive amounts of it. That is what proliferated the nickname "Godfather of Gore," and it's certainly one of the major staples of just about every H.G Lewis film. A perfect example of this is what he was most known for in the mid-60s, his "trilogy of blood." This technically includes the following three titles: BLOOD FEAST (1963), TWO THOUSAND MANIACS and COLOR ME BLOOD RED (1965). But since we already cut up the middle leg above, let us instead include the similarly titled A TASTE OF BLOOD (1967). A closer look, shall we…

About his feature horror debut, this is what Lewis was quoted as saying:

"I've often compared Blood Feast (1963) to a Walt Whitman poem; it's no good, but it was the first of its kind."

Indeed, few films were as unapologetically graphic in nature as BLOOD FEAST. The 67 minute movie follows an Egyptian food caterer who, intent on resurrecting an ancient Egyptian goddess back to life, starts slaying beautiful Miami woman whose body parts he plans on excising and repurposing for the Goddess' new life. Not terribly original story wise, but visually, BLOOD FEAST was truly the first of its kind. Not even his Italian counterpart, Mario Bava, had yet to mount such a level of onscreen violence.

Next up was COLOR ME BLOOD RED, a flick about a deranged painter who goes around killing nubile young women and using their freshly let blood to brushstroke his wide canvases. Killer premise, no? H.G. penned this script, which he did not do for BLOOD FEAST (Allison Louise Downe), citing Roger Corman's splendid A BUCKET OF BLOOD as direct inspiration. Of course, Lewis ramped up the grue-gala to volume 10 to give us 80 minutes of unrelenting splatter. And did so for a mere $50,000. Despite being an obvious Corman knockoff and the middle leg of a trilogy, it can be argued that COLOR ME BLOOD RED is the best of the bunch. How would you rank the three?

Speaking of the third, A TASTE OF BLOOD rounds out the Blood Trilogy, but does so in a way that feels less related to the others. It's a vampire film, for starters, and at 117 minutes, plays on way too long. Donald Stanford wrote the screenplay, which could explain for the incongruity of the first two films. Still, now 1967, a freer and more open filmmaking environment, H.G. was yet again able to spike the bloodiness. Dracula and Van Helsing are hardly H.G. creations, so it seems he had a bit of a rough time trying to appropriate such age old material in a way that felt like his own. Put simply, A TASTE OF BLOOD feels less like a Lewis film than the other two trilogy legs. That said, it's still worth a watch if you're an H.G. completist.



Speaking personally, I think THE GORE GORE GIRLS is probably my favorite Lewis joint. Why? Well, given the man's lewd, lascivious and utterly prurient sensibilities, you couldn't find a more accommodating time than 1972 to highlight everything he did well. The sexual revolution was in full throe, and given the graphic nature of movies all across the board, a more germane time frame for Lewis to show his goods was never more. Also, this is an X-rated horror-comedy, the first flick H.G ever submitted to the MPAA, which you just don't tend to see. The story of Lewis' swan song features a neophyte reporter who seeks the help of a greasy private eye to help uncover who is ferociously slashing a spate of Chicago strippers. Seriously, how can you get better than that? These nude vixens get mutilated, excoriated, eviscerated and left in bloody ruddy pile of pulp!


Guess what. Despite making only two films since 1972 – BLOOD FEAST 2: ALL U CAN in 2002 and THE UH-OH SHOW in 2009 – Herschell seems to have one last gasp in him from the grave. That's right y'all, H.G. lent his blessing and partook in a little Canadian horror anthology called HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS' BLOODMANIA, which has yet to be released. The film is co-written and directed by feature first-timers Kevin Littlelight and Melanie Reinbolt (PIZZA FICTION). Details are scant, but here is the logline for the flick:

A horror anthology comprised of four distinct segments that feature a raucous combination of satirical humor, horror, gore, and enough surprises to satisfy film enthusiasts and horror fans alike.

Little else is known about BLOODMANIA, save for the report the production used 18 gallons of film blood during the shoot. If that doesn't make you sold, what will? At least we know H.G. didn't bend to the whims of CG…dude went old-school with it…which is one of the reasons we love the guy now and forever. Stay posted for more on BLOODMANIA when it spills out.



Looking back, it's no mystery to see how Herschell Gordon Lewis became the unparalleled Godfather of Gore. This dude simply did it before most, or all, and did so completely on his own accord, with his own uncompromised vision, at a time when such a luxury was simply not afforded.

Movies like BLOOD FEAST, SCUM OF THE EARTH, TWO THOUSAND MANIACS, COLOR ME BLOOD RED, A TASTE OF BLOOD, SOMETHING WEIRD, THE GRUESOME TWOSOME, SHE-DEVILS ON WHEELS, JUST FOR THE HELL OF IT, THE WIZARD OF GORE, THE GORE GORE GIRLS and others demonstrate this time and time again. When most filmmakers were adhering to the strictures of the Production Code (until 1968), Lewis was bucking the law, making movies he wanted to see, and did them with a low-budget verve and over the top violence that made up for his budgetary deficiencies. A higher honor we cannot think of.

All this is as one large, collective Thank You to the Wizard of Gore himself. From the bottom of our bloody hearts, we appreciate all you've done for the horror genre H.G. Forever missed, never forgotten. Sleep eternally well Godfather!

Source: AITH

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Jake Dee is one of JoBlo’s most valued script writers, having written extensive, deep dives as a writer on WTF Happened to this Movie and it’s spin-off, WTF Really Happened to This Movie.