SEPTEMBER 21, 2011
I’ve only seen a couple of Herschell Gordon Lewis’ films, and haven’t really loved them, but I was still interested in seeing The Godfather Of Gore, a documentary about his career featuring many of the folks involved with the films, well known fans such as John Waters and Joe Bob Briggs, and even Lewis himself, who seemingly hasn’t lost any of his spark despite being in his 80s. Also, unlike the usual unknowns who helm these sort of things, it was co-directed by none other than Frank Henenlotter (who also appears as one of the talking heads), which suggested that this might be a slightly more interesting take on this sort of thing.
Unfortunately the film is geared more toward die-hard fans than newbies such as myself. While they do talk a bit about his pre-movie life (he was a teacher!), it’s not even five minutes in before his first movies are being discussed in detail. Prior to the gore films we all know him for, he produced and/or directed a number of “nudie cutie” films; most of which seem to involve little more than naked girls dancing around in between bits of lame comedy. They spend an awful long time on this stuff (well over 20 minutes) before getting to Blood Feast – which I found a bit odd for a movie called “Godfather Of Gore”. I understood the need for context, but as time went on I realized that this wasn’t so much a documentary about HGL but a long form retrospective about his most notable films.
And again, I haven’t seen many of them. So while it’s fun to see him and some other production veterans of Two Thousand Maniacs returning to the town where they shot the film and taking part in a makeshift parade, or hearing about a botched gore effect in Wizard Of Gore, most of the film consists of folks reminiscing about similar events on movies I haven’t seen, so after a while I started feeling like I was watching the bonus features on a DVD when I had yet to see the film. Indeed, you could chop any section out of the movie and put it on its respective DVD as a “30th anniversary reunion!” featurette. This is especially true of the Maniacs segment, where they devote some time to guy who played the little kid; at one point he tells a story about some Maniacs fans who were friends with him without realizing the connection – um, OK, that’s amusing and all, but can we get back to Lewis?
Thus, we get a lot of moments like this and precious little time devoted to his influence, his life outside of the movies, etc. It’s not even really clear why he more or less quit the business after 1972’s The Gore Gore Girls – hell they even skip over Blood Feast 2, which you’d think would make a logical endcap for the film since the first Blood Feast was his first foray into gore films. The remakes of Maniacs and Wizard aren’t mentioned at all, another thing that would seem obvious to me. There’s a quick shot of him talking at a marketing seminar, as that is what he does for a living now (and is even more successful in that field than he was in films, from what I understand), but that’s about it.
However, if you ARE a die-hard fan, this should prove to be a very entertaining film. I’ve never even heard of some of the films that they discuss, but comparing the doc to his filmography proves that they don’t really skip over much. Obviously the big hits are given more time than say, Suburban Roulette (a drama about swingers that he made in the late 60s), but it would have been very easy to just focus the doc on the movies that have some name value to casual fans – given the number of still-living participants of Maniacs, they probably could have made a full length doc about just that one film.
And even I took much delight at the insights from Briggs and Waters (Henenlotter is also pretty hilarious). For the most part they’re not under any illusion that these films are legitimately any good (at least twice we hear the sentiment that a film was released only because “it had sprocket holes and could run through the projector”), which is a blessing – I don’t know if I could sit through an entire movie of people trying to convince me that Wizard Of Gore is anything but a boring movie punctuated by ridiculous (and too-infrequent) kill scenes.
Some stuff, I have to wonder if even his biggest fan would find interesting. Henenlotter (and/or co-director Jimmy Maslon) has a strange fascination with showing “outtakes” that are merely crew members clapping the slate on the set of whatever film is being discussed – how is this interesting? I guess showing it once is a nice visual way of showing how everyone on these crews more multiple hats, but if that’s the only point, why show such sequences 3-4 times? And only someone with the Blood Feast logo tattooed across his entire chest would enjoy hearing that film’s obnoxious two-note “theme” playing over the ENTIRE segment on the film (15-20 minutes).
The disc has a lot of extras also geared more toward satisfying fans than “introducing” this guy to newcomers. An hour’s worth of deleted scenes are pretty much indistinguishable from what’s in the movie, so if you enjoyed the movie then by all means go right into watching these. There’s a pretty great anecdote about Charles Manson in here, and Henenlotter’s take on Miss Nymphet’s Zap-In (a Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In wannabe) is worth the cost of the disc alone. Less successful is Lewis’ short “Hot Night At The Go-Go Lounge”, which is literally ten minutes of nothing but girls dancing around. Then we get a pretty comprehensive trailer reel (with a “Play All” option for parties!) and a gallery of original art, which of course is hit or miss but a unique addition all the same. My only gripe is that the deleted scenes section has a few chapters but no index or chapter selection menu of any sort, making navigating it a bit cumbersome (on my player I couldn’t even fast forward for some reason), as folks might want to just see what extra bits there are on a particular film but would have to run through the whole thing to find them. I wish they had taken a cue from their own trailer page and let you watch deleted material by film or just play all if you wanted to take it all in at once.
Granted, few will be the folks who pick this up having never heard of the guy, so the fact that it has next to no real biographical information on him won’t bother the target audience – his biggest fans who already know all of this stuff. But I think Spine Tingler was more successful, providing more context for its subject (William Castle) and keeping die-hard fans and newcomers equally entertained and informed throughout its runtime. A nice collection of extras makes it an easy sell to the HGL faithful, but everyone else should probably check out a few (or a lot) of the movies and maybe read his Wikipedia page first - I think I'll hold on to it and give it another look after I've seen another half dozen of the flicks.
What say you?