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Herschell Gordon Lewis: The Godfather of Gore (2010)

Image Entertainment
DVD Released: 9/27/2011

All Ratings out of

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 9/29/2011

If done correctly, a documentary or biography should be informative and educational. If one of these movies isn't teaching you something, then it's not doing its job. (I don't know if I've ever seen a documentary which didn't teach me anything, but I'm sure one exists.) If you're lucky, you'll find a documentary which is entertaining as well. If you're really lucky, you'll find one which is just as entertaining as a narrative movie. That's what we get with Herschell Gordon Lewis: The Godfather of Gore.

Herschell Gordon Lewis: The Godfather of Gore examines the career of the director who invented the gore movie. However, but before Lewis shocked audiences with 1963's Blood Feast, he and his partner David Friedman made adult movies which were known "Nudie Cuties", "Nudist Camp Films", and "Roughies". After they felt that they'd exhausted this genre, Lewis and Friedman decided that they wanted to show what mainstream movies wouldn't and they settled on graphic violence. Blood Feast became an immediate hit, which prompted the duo to make two more gore films in quick succession (Two Thousand Maniacs! and Color Me Blood Red). Following this, the two had a falling out and Friedman moved to Los Angeles. Lewis continued to make movies in Florida and Chicago and he explored many genres, but he always came back to gore and sex. Lewis continued making movies until 1972, when he left the industry to go into advertising.

The documentary, which was directed by exploitation movie guru Frank Henenlotter, contains extensive interviews with Lewis and Friedman who comment on each movie. Crew members and actors who worked with Lewis in his heyday add their thoughts, as they discuss the unique experiences of working on these movies. Director Henenlotter (who sounds a lot like Stan Lee) also gets in on the act, commenting on the various movies. (His comments are rather astute. He clearly loves Lewis' movies, but he'll also criticize them and mock the especially bad ones.)

The beauty of Herschell Gordon Lewis: The Godfather of Gore is that the story is so interesting and the interviews so honest and raw. Lewis and Friedman pretty much admit that they were simply showmen who were looking for something which would sell. Many viewers may be unaware of the "Nudie Cutie" genre and this part is especially fascinating as, when viewed today, these movies come across as both explicit and tame at the same time. The anecdotes here are never dull, and it's amazing to hear how Lewis was able to cut corners on his movies. (He sang the theme song to Two Thousand Maniacs!) The comments from those who helped on the film are interesting, as their stories aren't always pleasant, but one gets the feeling that they don't regret the experience. Henenlotter has done a great job with his research, as we gets clips from Lewis' most obscure films. There is even footage from a movie which was never completed.

If you've ever seen one of Lewis' movies, most notably Blood Feast, you know that they can get a little slow and boring at times. This isn't the case with the documentary about Lewis himself. Even when the focus in on movies that no one's ever heard of, Lewis' enthusiasm (as age 81) is still infectious. Those who know Lewis are going to love this movie, and those who don't will be intrigued by the wackiness involved. (Unless you're easily offended, as the documentary doesn't hold back on showing the explicit images from the movies.)

Herschell Gordon Lewis: The Godfather of Gore shoots day for night on DVD courtesy of Image Entertainment. The movie has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. However, the movie features a variety of aspect ratios, as many of the clips are shown 1.33:1. The picture quality varies as well. The interviews look great, as they are very sharp and clear. The clips from the movies range from very good to grainy, scratched and barely visible. The DVD carries a Dolby stereo audio track which offers clear dialogue and music. There's nothing too exciting happening on this track, but those who are speaking are always audible and the clips from the old movies don't feature an over-abundance of hissing and popping.

The Herschell Gordon Lewis: The Godfather of Gore DVD contains a few extras. We get over an hour of DELETED SCENES, which plays like a whole separate documentary. This offers further information the movies presented in The Godfather of Gore, as well as new entries on more obscure movies which didn't make the final cut, such as Lewis' nudie version of Laugh-In. "Hot Night at the Go-Go Lounge" is a 10-minute music video of sorts which offers two scantilly-clad women go-go dancing. There's no credits, so I assume that Lewis directed this. We get a PHOTO GALLERY which offers a great selection of newspaper ads, posters, and stills for Lewis' movies. Finally, we get TRAILERS for eight of Lewis' movies.

Review Copyright 2011 by Mike Long