Regular readers may remember I love So Bad They’re Good movies here at Balladeer’s Blog. Here are my favorites from the legendary H.G. Lewis. WARNING: Extreme concepts, despite the inept presentation.
TWO THOUSAND MANIACS (1964) – For people who’ve never heard of Herschell Gordon Lewis, I’ll point out that he’s known as “the Godfather of Gore.” And not even GOOD gore, but the obviously fake kind that makes you laugh. Add to that the inept acting, bland dialogue and quickie production techniques like you’d get in old black & white flicks and you’ll understand the man’s Bad Movie magic.
When it comes to horror films – good OR bad – I’ve always preferred those with supernatural menaces to those with mere crazed human beings doing ugly deeds. It helps if the premise has clever lore baked in, and Two Thousand Maniacs definitely has that, no matter how rushed and poorly made it is.
One hundred years earlier, during America’s Civil War, the fictional Deep South town of Pleasant Valley (population two thousand) was utterly wiped out by renegade Union troops who destroyed every building and massacred every man, woman and child. Once every hundred years now, Pleasant Valley and its undead inhabitants will rematerialize for a few days, lure passing Northerners into it, and slaughter them as revenge for the ghost town’s destruction.
This movie was banned in assorted areas and became almost as infamous as Lewis’ previous gore movie Blood Feast. Bad acting, poor pacing, hilariously unconvincing blood & gore, and a failure to make the interesting premise clear until the very end have made Two Thousand Maniacs beloved by fans of Bad Movies for decades now.
In my opinion, the remake with Robert Englund as the mayor wasn’t bad enough to be funny and not good enough to be interesting. However, if horror film producers in 2064 don’t make a movie about the SECOND time Pleasant Valley rematerializes for its blood-soaked revenge it will be a shame.
THE WIZARD OF GORE (1970) – Even with all the blood, gore and violence being blatantly fake, this movie’s carnage is a bit harder to take than Herschell’s earlier splatter flicks. Again, though, the supernatural nature of the horror saves it for me. Montag the Magician (Ray Sager) is sort of an American version of Brazil’s Coffin Joe in this film.
Montag is a stage magician who spouts the type of pompous “you cannot comprehend my power” performance patter favored by some magicians. The man’s evil nature becomes more apparent with the bizarre deaths of his hypnotized volunteers from the audience.
After tropes like pretending to cut women in half then putting them back together and having volunteers seem to swallow swords with no harm done, there is a mystic “delayed reaction” to the mock violence on stage. Hours after Montag’s performance, the ladies’ bodies suddenly suffer the gory consequences of what the magician only pretended to do to them during his show.
Police are stumped, since there is no tangible evidence proving Montag is responsible for the increasing body count. Female reporter Sherry Carson (Judy Cler) begins her own investigation as the dark wizard’s reign of terror continues. SPOILER: In the end it turns out Sherry is really a witch whose powers are superior to Montag’s and in the blood-drenched finale she puts him in his place.
A TASTE OF BLOOD (1967) – Less fake blood and gore revealed how boring H.G. Lewis’ movies could be, making this vampire film a bit of a chore to sit through. Viewers will get more of the usual Bad Movie elements this time around, with fewer hilariously fake blood effects to laugh at.
Bill Rogers stars as John Stone, a Miami businessman who is gifted with two bottles of brandy which turn out to be mixed with blood. And not just blood, but vampire blood. And not just ANY vampire’s blood, but Count Dracula’s blood!
Naturally, drinking Drac’s blood turns Mr. Stone into a vampire himself, and he sets out for England, where he preys on the descendants of Abraham van Helsing and others. Herschell himself makes a brief appearance with the worst British accent this side of Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins.
A Taste of Blood is way too long, but it’s the kind of cinematic ordeal that all true fans of Golden Turkeys will find irresistible.
SOMETHING WEIRD (1967) – No real blood and gore at all in this oddball effort from Herschell, but Something Weird is VERY strong on traditional Bad Movie Mojo.
When a man named Cronin Mitchell (Tony McCabe) has his face hideously deformed while trying to save a man from an electrical accident, he finds that the occurrence has brought out psychic powers in him. Masked to hide his disfigurement, Cronin becomes a paid fortune teller and psychic for hire.
Soon, a grotesque witch (Mudite Arums/ Elizabeth Lee) restores Mitchell’s good looks on the condition that he become a lover for her and only her. In fact, the one time Cronin tries to cheat on the witch he finds his disfigurement returning and abandons his attempted seduction.
Throw in LSD, a police department hiring Mitch and the witch to track down a depraved serial killer, a federal agency trying to recruit Cronin to help America beat the Soviets at psychic research, a ghost haunting a church and, of course, the unintentionally hilarious “attack by bed blanket” scene.
BLOOD FEAST (1963) – The granddaddy of them all! Like I said, I don’t really care for Lewis’ non-supernatural gore-fests but Blood Feast‘s historical impact makes it a must.
A Miami caterer, Fuad Ramses, is secretly a mad priest trying to conjure up the ancient goddess Ishtar. To that end, he covertly butchers assorted victims to remove their most perfect body part in order to – piece by piece – cobble together a female body for Ishtar to inhabit.
What does Fuad Ramses do with the rest of his victims’ bodies after removing their choicest part? He uses them in the meals his catering service provides, and the well-to-do in Miami can’t get enough of his culinary masterpieces!
Nothing looks real, nobody acts real or speaks real and the police work is bland and inept enough for an Ed Wood movie. The money that poured in from Drive-Ins WAS real, though, as was the nationwide controversy about the extreme content of Blood Feast. Herschell Gordon Lewis had found the cinematic niche that would make his name and his fortune.
If you prefer human menaces instead of supernatural ones in your horror films, Lewis also did Color Me Blood Red (1965), about an artist who mixes the blood of his murder victims in with his paint to get the perfect shade of red … The Gore-Gore Girls (1972), with Henny Youngman of all people in a supporting role … and The Gruesome Twosome (1967), about a mother-son team who kill off women to use their scalps in their wig-making business. That third one is awful beyond belief, especially the opening, in which wig busts “talk” to each other.
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8 responses to “MY TOP HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS HORROR FILMS”
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Logged, and thank you!
These do sound horrifying!
Yeah, Herschell’s movies were magnets for us men when we were teenagers trying to show we couldn’t be grossed out.
I feel these are sitting close to the bottom of the horror genre barrel! 😉
Oh yeah, VERY close!