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Wednesday, Feb 27, 2008

In celebration of the upcoming Gasparilla Film Festival in Tampa, FL, and the 1 March screening of Herschell Gordon Lewis and David F. Friedman’s Blood Feast (complete with an appearance by the exploitation gods) SE&L will focus on the movies made by these two living legends. Today, a brief overview of their individual creative canon.


After their profitable partnership dissolved, after their once amicable relationship started to fray (in part thanks to lawsuits, misunderstanding, and miscommunication), director Herschell Gordon Lewis and producer David F. Friedman were desperate to prove they could go it alone. Both knew that the exploitation game was still the most important genre in all of cinema. It was where the medium was truly testing the limits of its aesthetic. It was also where the easy money was. A little gore, some T&A, and a fine living could be made. Before coming back together to make Blood Feast 2 in 2001, both men made several sensational pictures. Unfortunately, when the time comes to write their bios, the same THREE films take front and center.


Yet there are many amazing movies as part of this duo’s individual oeuvres that get unfairly overlooked. While few have had the impact of Blood Feast, Two Thousand Maniacs, and Color Me Blood Red, they definitely deserve an equal amount of attention (and in the case of Color, much more so). Consider this list as a beginner’s guide so to speak, a starting off point for a further perusal of the considered works of two exploitation giants. While they are not the only names among the founding members of the genre, Herschell Gordon Lewis and David F. Friedman are truly artists among the raincoat rabble. Our overview starts from the production end of things:


From David F. Friedman



The Defilers 1965


The first true “roughie”, an exploitation subgenre that focused on violence as much as sex, this craven bit of carnality remains Friedman’s confirmation he could hack it without Lewis. Two spoiled men kidnap a gal and make her their perverted plaything. Unrelenting in its brutality and corporeal cruelty.



A Smell of Honey, A Swallow of Brine 1966


Friedman discovery Stacey Walker is the only reason to watch this otherwise routine ‘bad girl gets her eventual comeuppance’ drama. She primps and preens across the black and white screen, her Baby Doll like innocence swamped in gallons of sleazoid slime. Everything else is by the book and routine.



She Freak 1967


Using his status as an actual carnival owner to reimagine Tod Browning’s Freaks, Friedman digs up a deliciously seamy look at love and betrayal on the Midway. Much of the story stays the same, but with late ‘60s sexuality taking over, we get a healthy dose of dementia.



The Erotic Adventures of Zorro 1972


There’s much more than swashbuckling in this scandalous take on the Hispanic hero. Featuring the unflappable Bob Cresse as a corrupt officer, and a bevy of California beauties, this is the kind of softcore sex spoof that Friedman fell into late in his career. It stands as one of his best.



Johnny Firecloud 1975


In light of the success of Tom Laughlin’s Billy Jack character, Friedman found his own way to celebrate growing Native American awareness. The result was this action packed tale of bigotry, bravery, and the most irredeemable white people ever. Jack may have started the war, but this amazing artifact ended it.


From Herschell Gordon Lewis



Blast Off Girls 1967


Like A Hard Day’s Night gone gangrenous, Lewis lifts the lid off of rock and roll corruption and finds a talentless bunch of wannabe musicians and a cameo by Colonel Harlan Sanders? Let’s face it - any film with a character named Boogie Baker (who everyone pronounces “boo-gee”) has more moxie than most.



The Gore Gore Girls 1972


Strippers are being slaughtered and it’s up to a fey private dick to figure out whodunit. Featuring classic moments including the ground hamburger butt (complete with salt and pepper), the plain and chocolate milk giving nipples, and gratuitous Henny Youngman. It’s enough to make you scream…with deranged delight!



The Gruesome Twosome 1967


The local wig shop needs inventory, and guess who supplies the samples? Why, it’s the girls from the nearby college campus. Another in Lewis’ hilarious string of gore comedies, this one note nasty is far funnier than frightening. Even the blood is a little less festive than before.



How to Make a Doll 1968


Hoping to trade on the growing promiscuity of the sexual revolution, the Godfather of Gore decided to go robot. When a nerdy scientist realizes he’ll never get a real girl, he decides to build one. The results are like an outtake from Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In…only crazier.



Jimmy the Boy Wonder 1966


A rare non-exploitation spin for Lewis, this heartwarming family film has a horrid child actor in the lead, the producer’s wife as the singing female star, and enough sloppy psychedelic missteps to give the wee ones nightmares. The story centers on a boy who can stop time. He should have halted it before production began.



Just For the Hell of It 1968


Juvenile delinquents run ramshackle over a small Florida town, wrecking all kinds of ‘baby into garbage can’ havoc along the way. Really nothing more than a series of smash and grab set pieces supplemented by droning dialogue about all things antisocial, this stands as one of Lewis’ most unhinged efforts.



She-Devils on Wheels 1968


Female biker babes, riding hard and partying harder - that’s the premise to one of the ‘60s greatest grindhouse classics. The scene where the gals pick over the male members for their evening’s pleasure is a glorious goof on the long running battle of the sexes. In fact the whole narrative is one long feminism/chauvinism chopper tirade.



Something Weird 1967


Hoping to do something with LSD and ESP, Lewis lumbered into a crackpot combination of witchcraft, psychics, and supernatural possession. Toss in some acid, and the title speaks for itself. It stands as a benchmark in the director’s solo work, an ‘anything for a dollar’ drive that saw him finally returning to terror. 



The Wizard of Gore 1970


Montag is a magician whose splatter show acts somehow come to life hours after the performance. Unlike his later horror comedies, Lewis takes this material very seriously, and the resulting grue is quite disturbing. While Ray Sager’s sprayed gray hair is rather unconvincing, the rest of the film is unrelenting in its desire to disturb.



Year of the Yahoo 1972


An election time favorite, this outsider view of the political process is as vital today as it was 35 years ago, perhaps even more so. A country bumpkin singer is tricked into running for the Senate by a group of corrupt campaign chiefs. Oddly enough, his rube hick humility strikes a chord with the public.


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Wednesday, Feb 27, 2008
by PopMatters Staff

The Red Stick Ramblers
Made in the Shade [Video]


Here’s to Made in the Shade, a foot-tappin’, energetic standout by the Red Stick Ramblers. Midway through the opening title track, lead vocalist Linzay Young confirms what you already know—you are in a place where Texas swing, Cajun music, and N’awlins jazz mix and mingle (“it comes from Opelousas / and it’s made in the shade”). When he adds that “chances are / my back pocket’s got a little thirst aid”, you have no doubt that beverage is white lightnin’. The Red Stick Ramblers offer you a drink and tug you onto the dance floor.—Mark W. Adams


Nick Lowe
I Love My Label [MP3]
     


Panther
Violence, Diamonds [MP3]
     


On the Lam (Copy remix) [MP3]
     


Astrid Williamson
I Am the Boy for You [MP3]
     


Apes
Beat of the Double [MP3]
     


The Teenagers
Starlett Johansson [MP3]
     



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Wednesday, Feb 27, 2008

Not necessarily following the lead of the New York Philharmonic, EC’s management said that he has no plans to play in North Korea.  And so the isolation debate continues, just as it does with Cuba and Iran.  But is music really the answer to softening relations and bringing ‘rogue’ nations in line with American foreign policy (which itself is many times suspect)?


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Tuesday, Feb 26, 2008

I’m a dedicated reader, committed to finishing whatever I’ve started. Sure, there have been one or two notable exceptions, like the time I stumbled across Pasternak’s classic, Doctor Zhivago, my sophomore year of university in the central library and decided that since my namesake is derived from a major character, I should take the plunge. Never finished it, to my shame. I have a shortlist of books that I will read at some point, although I am more often too distracted by books that are right in front of me to go searching for titles on the list.


So how do you decide, especially when the book in question is something you’ve been looking forward to reading, when enough is enough and your time could be better spent reading something more gripping?


When Kate Mosse’s 2005 novel, Labyrinth (Penguin), first came out, I saw it everywhere. From magazine advertisements, to the shelves of every European airport bookshop (it was released in the US in 2006), I was mesmerized by the cover and the premise. Historical fiction is more accessible for me than actual history books, there is no doubt. It didn’t bother me that Labyrinth was yet another Grail legend; it involved a clever mystery, the roots of French civilization, strong female protagonists ... Perhaps this would be the next Da Vinci Code! (Yes, I did find Dan Brown’s story to be a page-turner.)


Although I was a student at the time (read: cheap!) and too distracted by other pretty volumes to actually purchase my own copy of Labyrinth, I figured I’d read it at some point. My chance came recently when a coworker asked the librarian in the high school library where I work for some recommendations. This came off the special hidden shelf, where books go to live when they’re deemed too steamy or violent to be catalogued in the general collection. When I spotted it changing hands I exclaimed out loud and it was immediately handed to me, my coworker protesting that she had plenty of other choices before her and did not care about this particular book. I took it home and started reading. I’d been looking forward to this adventure.


Although I was not immediately enthralled, I did not despair; sometimes it takes me several sessions to really delve into a historically intricate tale, especially one that alternates between parallel stories set 800 years apart. I brushed aside uninspiring descriptions of the modern-day heroine, Alice, as having hair “the color of soft brown sugar” and waited for her to learn a lesson from early mishaps, which largely involved being in the wrong place at the wrong time. No such luck. The alternate leading lady, circa 1200 AD, became far more interesting and I stalled on portions of the narrative set in modern-day France, even considering skipping those chapters and reading only about Alais, who chooses adventure rather than shying away from it.


My first inclination to fast-forward through chapters about Alice and read only about Alais should have been a big warning flag: put down the book and step away. If you’re not interested in half the subject matter of a particular book, at what point do you decide that there are too many good reads out there to waste your time on a story that doesn’t grip you and inspire you to keep turning the pages?


What was the last literary waste of your time?


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Tuesday, Feb 26, 2008

In celebration of the upcoming Gasparilla Film Festival in Tampa, FL, and the 1 March screening of Herschell Gordon Lewis and David F. Friedman’s Blood Feast (complete with an appearance by the exploitation gods) SE&L will focus on the movies made by these two living legends. Today, a look a the gorefest that started it all.


No one had ever seen anything like it before. As drive-in patrons lined up for a Friday night showing of a new horror film, little did they know that they were about to witness a cinematic milestone. It would be the creation of an entire genre of film, and the beginning of the end to a profitable filmmaking partnership. Those Peoria, Illinois customers got more than they bargained for as they pulled into the dirt parking lot and attached a tinny speaker to their windows, for what poured forth from the screen was seventy minutes of unbridled brutality. They witnessed legs chopped off, eyes gouged out, tongues ripped from throats, and brains spilled from skulls.


On that balmy night in 1963, the mighty Monarch of the Exploitation Film, David F. Friedman, along with King of the Nudies, director Herschel Gordon Lewis, redefined their careers (and their lives) with the release of Blood Feast. Over the course of the next two years, they would further refine this new form of cinema, creating a trilogy of gore-drenched classics. Two Thousand Maniacs and Color Me Blood Red cemented their legacy and eventually split their profitable affiliation. While dated and a little dippy, these films stand as a testament to these founding fathers of fear, the men who discovered that genuine terror - and a lot of cash - could be made by thoroughly grossing people out.


The ‘60s had just started. Producer Friedman and director Lewis were well known, highly reputable players in grindhouse filmmaking and distribution with such titles as The Adventures of Lucky Pierre and Daughters of the Sun to their credit. Taking a very basic premise - like an enchanted pair of glasses that allowed the wearer to see a person “au natural” - they would shoot nudist camp footage and incorporate it into the basic narrative. While fun and highly profitable, by ‘63 the market was literally flooded with breasts and bare butts. The duo needed to find another unwholesome subject to exploit. It needed to have the same immediate visceral impact on the audience that live childbirth footage had when featured in the moralistic Mom and Dad films. It needed to stir the imagination (and senses) the way acres of unclothed nubile young bodies had in the nudie cutie movie.


Like most acts of desperation, their idea was sudden and inspired: Gore! Total carnage! Unmitigated and realistic scenes of torture and murder! Remove the subtle nuance and cinematic trickery from past movie killings and show everything in graphic, gruesome detail. Within weeks, Blood Feast was on its way into the cinematic history book. Its phenomenal success mandated a sequel of sorts. Two Thousand Maniacs saw lightning strike twice, but only one year later, there was so much dissension built up between Friedman and Lewis that Color Me Blood Red was abandoned (to be completed by others), signaling the end of their era in gore films.


While Friedman and Lewis would both explore the horror film separately, they never did recapture the magic of Blood Feast or the trilogy, and with good reason. These were honest collaborations, the very essence of teamwork: Lewis on the camera, Friedman producing and operating the sound. After a dozen or more solo efforts, Lewis retired from film completely, and Friedman stumbled into a long stint with the soft-core sex farce. But it’s these films, with all their unrelenting bloodshed and gleeful butchery, that people remember. And it’s also the most passionate and playful of their work together (or maybe even separately). Historians and fans consistently return to these films to see where it all began—when horror finally grew balls and decided to show it all in unadulterated explicit detail.


Stylistically, Lewis and Friedman lifted a great deal from the horror comics of the time (like the ones created by EC). Their use of bold, vivid primary colors (as in Blood Feast) made the images feel like the dazzling panels of a cruel comic. Two Thousand Maniacs is a cornpone Vault of Horror by way of Brigadoon with its bizarre twists and shockingly sick set pieces. Even in Color Me Blood Red there is a clear cartoon-like conceit, with every action exaggerated, acting over the top and outrageous, and shots that mimic the best in pen and ink. The Trilogy allowed Lewis to expand his director’s language with unique angles, extreme close ups, and atmospheric lighting. The result was a set of cinematic sickies so drenched in dread and bloodstained bodies that audiences couldn’t help but be disturbed. And entertained.


They also marked the true origins of the modern horror archetype. Blood Feast was (and is) the prototypical psycho killer on the loose film, a blueprint for every other slasher/maniac movie to come. Two Thousand Maniacs was the perfect meeting of formula with fantasy. You can see the future fun killings of Freddy Krueger or the over-the-top torture tactics of a Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Evil Dead in its rednecked roots. Unfortunately, Color Me Blood Red stands for the eventual downfall of the genre, illustrating that when bound by parameters and convention, or when over-hyped or underdeveloped, a gore film could be tedious and pedestrian.


On its own, Blood Feast is the keeper. It is pure psychotic fun, a quirky assault on your senses and your tolerance for the disgusting. It makes its mutant merriment out of ingenuity, energy, and entrails. The film starts out strong and moves rapidly through its uncontrolled barrage of vivid thrill killings. However, at the end it sort of loses steam. The collection of body parts for an Egyptian blood feast/ritual is a novel and nutty premise and, in general, it works wonderfully. But once the killer is discovered and the pseudo mystery solved, the film degenerates into a laughably goofy foot chase that even the puffiest detective should have been able to win. First time viewers may find the initial half of the film shocking and grotesque, even by today’s standards. From the opening scene where an unfortunate young lady’s carved-open face is shown in full close up, the movie announces its intent to use graphic bloody images as a gigantic exclamation point to the proceedings.


The acting, unfortunately, is not consistent. As Ramses, Mal Arnold is wonderfully perverse, but Connie Mason’s Susan seems to be channeling Tor Johnson. Lewis is a tight, economical director, and not a shot or opportunity is wasted, and with classic set pieces like “beach brain bingo” and “the tongue tear” he creates, along with Friedman, a disturbed, demented (if occasionally imperfect) delight. Any fan of horror, then or now, should be required to watch Blood Feast, if only to witness first-hand where so much of what they now worship actually spawned. While they’re at it, a trip to Two Thousand Maniacs should be mandatory as well.


In the summer of 2001, in the sweltering heat of New Orleans, a pair of old men laughed and joked. They reminisced about old times. They imagined about what could have been. They buried their differences and embraced the experience of renewal. As 75-year-old Herschel Gordon Lewis called action, a brutal killing occurred. Blood flowed like an evil, if familiar, river. Still, surrounded by the fresh paint and modern technology, some things were the same; the stage gore was still the patented brew, and 78-year-old David F. Friedman was standing by his side. It had been over 40 years since they had conceived the genre they were now diving back into, and the two elderly entrepreneurs of exploitation were putting the finishing touches on Blood Feast 2: All You Can Eat.


Dozens of films, hundreds of bad reviews, and thousands of imitators later, Lewis and Friedman truly have nothing left to prove. Their legacy is cemented in a strange concoction of Karo syrup, red dye, and makeup base. They will always be known as the Godfathers of Gore, and people looking for the first true “video nasty” and its unhinged progeny can buy The Blood Trilogy and relish in the work of two true originals. Just like those first time customers in Peoria on that fateful day in 1963, they can bear witness to the graphic, squeamish birth of the gore genre…and the lasting influence of David F. Friedman and Herschel Gordon Lewis.


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