As part of a new feature here at SE&L, we will be looking at the classic exploitation films of the ’40s – ’70s. Many film fans don’t recognize the importance of the genre, and often miss the connection between the post-modern movements like French New Wave and Italian Neo-Realism and the nudist/roughie/softcore efforts of the era. Without the work of directors like Herschell Gordon Lewis, Joe Sarno and Doris Wishman, along with producers such as David F. Friedman and Harry Novak, many of the subjects that set the benchmark for cinema’s startling transformation in the Me Decade would have been impossible to broach. Sure, there are a few dull, derivative drive-in labors to be waded through, movies that barely deserve to stand alongside the mangled masterworks by the format’s addled artists. But they too represent an important element in the overall development of the medium. So grab your trusty raincoat, pull up a chair, and discover what the grindhouse was really all about as we introduce The Beginner’s Guide to Exploitation.
The Gore-Gore Girls
When a young stripper is found horribly mutilated, a local yellow journalist hires the incredibly fey Fire Island resident in transit Abraham Gentry – a kind of ambiguously asexual private eye – to solve the case. He purses his lips and hits the clue trail. As Abey Baby travels from one seedy strip club to another (all owned by the human goiter Marzdone Mobilie) he meets several suspects in training, some irate ERA feminists, and several liquid-lunching businessmen. He also sees a lot libido-deflating hooters. Nancy Weston, ace space case reporter, tags along to prove the age-old adage wrong: not every member of the fourth estate is a college graduate who can hold his or her liquor.
Several more droopy drawered dancers are hacked into little smokies by the butchering bad guy, while ulcerous Gentry battles the incompetence of the local camera-shy police, and the incontinence of the “can’t take a hint” journalist. In a last gasp effort to lure the killer to the quinine, or as a flimsy excuse to mildly entertain the almost asleep viewing audience, Mobilie and Gentry have an amateur strip night competition. After momentarily sniffing the bar’s cork coasters, a now completely inebriated Nancy takes the stage to shake her shorthand scribbler. Naturally, the killer screams “8th Amendment” and exposes his or her self (not literally).
The Gore-Gore Girls has got to be the most eccentric, bizarre gore film Herschel Gordon Lewis ever conceived or created. Looking at the insane, inspired list of actors, characters, and idiosyncrasies used to pad the storyline with comic confections, one becomes airplane glue goofy with unintentional delight. Would you believe Henny Youngman as a one-liner dropping flesh peddler? A fussy Nero Wolfe wannabe who is an ascot short of being straight? A fruit mashing ex-marine named Grout who pulverizes produce as a peacekeeping pastime? A snorting bartender who’s every word is accented with a sniffle? Or a daffy cocktail waitress who keeps Eva Gabor in wig merchandizing heaven? Together, they combine to make The Gore-Gore Girls Lewis’ funniest film. It is also one of his most brutal. In the long line of mutilations and murders Lewis has lensed, these are the bloodiest, most violent and visceral slices of carnage ever depicted.
Sure, many of the elements look faked, but Lewis lingers over them lovingly and pushes the maiming to such new disturbing heights that they evolve, becoming eerie and disgusting. Eyes are gouged out of sockets and skewered with carving forks, and then for good measure, the empty head holes are probed and pierced repeatedly with the same device. Faces are boiled in hot oil until they melt, and brains are splattered on city streets. Like many a typical slasher film, the mystery is merely the skeleton upon which the oozing hunks of human flesh are fitted, accented by Lewis’ weird wackiness. In many ways, The Gore-Gore Girls is the precursor to Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn. There is the same use of irreverent humor, odd camera tricks, gruesome effects, and broad characterization to produce a hilarious, hallucinatory, and horrific cinematic experience.
It’s too bad that Lewis dropped out of filmmaking after Girls (unless you count the paltry porn of his 1972 movie Black Love). He then went on to become one of the most highly sought after direct-mail consultants and a respected teacher of advertising copywriting. Still, this movie shows he was headed for another career renaissance, after The Blood Trilogy‘s success and his varying forays into numerous genre types during the late ’60s and early ’70s. The Gore-Gore Girls is an irreverent slap in the face of all the copycat filmmakers who thought they could out-massacre the master. Lewis proves once and for all that while some may have done it better, or cheaper, or more realistically, no one did it with more passion or perverse pleasure.
You can sense the smile on his broad face as a victim has her nipples clipped, only to have them produce regular and chocolate milk from the wounds. You can hear his devilish laughter as the killer salts and peppers a freshly pounded female rump…roast, filled to the fiendishness with fleshy goodness. Throw in a little nudity (this is a film about a killer who targets strippers, remember), some blatantly bad jokes, some marvelous under- and over-acting by the cast, and you have a truly original, disgusting diversion. Alongside Blood Feast and Two Thousand Maniacs, this is one of the best movies Lewis ever made. It’s a shame that, over the years, it’s been forgotten like a great deal of this madcap genius’ works.