The Herschell Gordon Lewis Feast Box Set Review: Class-Ick

There will never be another Herschell Gordon Lewis in this world, ladies and gentlemen. And though some snobbier film aficionados may consider that a blessing, considering the course the motion picture industry has taken since the late independent exploitation filmmaker first succeeded in turning head whilst churning stomachs and all, there is no denying the legacy H.G. Lewis left behind. While his self-planted roots in the world cinema started with a variety of silly “nudie cuties” (which popped up in various “art houses” across the nation), Lewis didn’t strike gold until he struck nerves. And arteries. And major organs. And that is because, boys and girls, Herschell Gordon Lewis is widely credited as creating the entire splatter film genre.

Shortly before his passing, the articulate, intelligent, and well-mannered Mr. Lewis collaborated with Arrow Video in order to create an amazing box set highlighting his more notorious features (those of you in search of a complete filmography may be slightly disappointed, as the aforementioned pre-gore flicks are nowhere to be found here), beginning with the motion picture which would help Mr. Herschell to acquire his infamous reputation as The Godfather of Gore, 1963’s low-budget mess-terpiece, Blood Feast. As primitive to the splatter flicks of today as would be the Wright Brothers’ aeroplane compared to contemporary aircraft, Blood Feast tells the unbelievable tale of Fuad Ramses, maniacal Egyptian caterer, who butchers nubile young women in order to serve the goddess Ishtar.

While filled with wonderfully awful music (Lewis even scored many of his own films) some of the worst acting ever captured on film (Mal Arnold, as the antagonist, is particularly painful to watch; while the film’s marquee name, Playboy Playmate Connie Mason, is clearly reading her lines off of the furniture), it was the then unheard-of use of explicit blood and guts ‒ all in vibrant color ‒ that landed Blood Feast on the map. This permitted Lewis and his producing partner, legendary exploitation filmmaker David F. Friedman, to raise the stakes on their next two horror endeavors: Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964) ‒ wherein an entire Southern town of ghosts returns to life to torment and torture visitin’ Yankees via some of the most diabolical games ever devised ‒ and 1965’s Color Me Blood Red, which finds a frustrated painter (the quite good Gordon Oas-Heim) who accidentally discovers the perfect shade of red.

Several non-horror titles are also included in this set, beginning with the very sleazy Scum of the Earth! (1963), often credited as being the first “roughie” ever made. This one finds one of Lewis’ regular actors, Bill Kerwin (under one of his many aliases), looking very much like modern-day William Petersen) as a photographer churning out nudies, and whose predicament is an awful lot like the story behind Inserts (only much, much sleazier). If you ever so much as rented a DVD or VHS from the Something Weird Video label (which changed the lives of many cult movie enthusiasts, and deserves an honorable mention here) back in the day, you’ll be familiar with the film’s iconic soliloquy (if I may be permitted to refer to it as such) from its slimeball villain. Even Something Weird Video’s very name owed much to H.G. Lewis’ work, stemming from the 1967 psychedelic drug opus, Something Weird.

Dave Friedman’s departure from the picture in the mid ’60s left a huge gap in Lewis’ production values (if such a thing is possible), which can be spotted almost immediately in the awkward Southern fried musical comedy Moonshine Mountain (1964). I dare you to sit through this movie, and that’s about all I’m going to say on the matter. Friedman’s absence did not prevent Lewis from continuing to make gore films, however. In fact, the one-man movie machine dreamt up one hilarious and heinous nightmare after another, such as The Gruesome Twosome, wherein an old hag of wig-maker and her mentally disabled son murder young women for their precious follicles; and A Taste of Blood: Mr. Lewis’ lengthy, deranged, and quite boring take on the legend of Dracula.

Three strange variations from the horror genre, all released in ’68, still sport their fair share of violence (and other uncomfortable situations). She-Devils on Wheels is Herschell’s take on the exploitation biker craze that swept through the nation at the time; Just for the Hell of It is a contribution to the juvenile delinquent subgenre; and How to Make a Doll is an odd little story of people making humanesque robots. Two of the final three theatrical films included in the The Herschell Gordon Lewis Feast return to the world of gory horror: 1970’s The Wizard of Gore (a yarn about a mad magician whose live Grand Guignol-style shows have an undesired effect on its participants; and The Gore Gore Girls, from 1972, which was likely inspired by Italian giallo thrillers.

Stuffed in-between the latter two titles is 1971’s This Stuff’ll Kill Ya!, which is about as close as H.G. Lewis ever came to making an action picture. That said, this hicksploitation flick ‒ while admittedly better than Moonshine Mountain ‒ may require routinely administered stimulants (or better still, psychedelics) in order for some to make it all the way through it. But then, it wouldn’t be a Herschell Gordon Lewis film otherwise, now would it? Arrow Video’s must-have Limited Edition version of this set also includes Standard-Definition DVDs of the 14 included titles, two additional Blu-rays which feature Open Matte versions of Blood Feast, Scum of the Earth!, Color Me Blood Red, A Taste of Blood, and The Wizard of Gore, as well as a documentary entitled The Godfather of Gore on SD-DVD.

Additional special features spread throughout the set include introductions to each film by Mr. Lewis himself, a plethora of visual essays, interviews, featurettes, short films (check out Bill Kerwin hamming it up with a young Harvey Korman in a vintage educational vignette about carving meats!), commentaries, and just about everything you could imagine (although I must confess to being a tad disappointed this set didn’t include some of the classic introductions Joe Bob Briggs recorded for his limited VHS releases of select titles in the ’90s, but I’ll live). Each film has been restored to its fullest, sometimes incorporating footage from lesser-quality prints/masters in order to make them as complete as possible. A 28-page booklet and artwork by The Twins of Evil round up The Herschell Gordon Lewis Feast set.

An even plumper set from Arrow Video, dubbed Shock and Gore: The Films of Herschell Gordon Lewis, featured even more goodies, but sold out immediately when the pre-order gates were opened. But don’t take that as a sign Arrow Video’s just-as-impressive The Herschell Gordon Lewis Feast will be there whenever you decide to get it, for it is also a Limited Edition release. Or, in other words, get this Highly Recommended set now, just to pay your much-deserved respects to the late Godfather of Gore. You may regret it otherwise.

Now then, with that out of the way, what are the chances of a deluxe David F. Friedman set, Arrow Video?

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Luigi Bastardo

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