Herschell Gordon Lewis: The Godfather of Gore: Film Review

This entertaining portrait of the legendary exploitation filmmaker is probably more fun than actually watching his films.  

An entertaining, if less than deeply analytical, portrait of the pioneering exploitation filmmaker and his producing partner David Friedman.

Clearly preaching to the demented choir, Frank Henenlotter and Jimmy Mason's affectionate, tongue-in-cheek documentary explores the oeuvre of pioneering exploitation filmmaker Herschell Gordon Lewis and his producing partner David Friedman, the duo responsible for such not quite horror classics as Blood Feast and Two Thousand Maniacs! Being presented at NYC's Anthology Film Archives as part of a Gordon retrospective, Hershell Gordon Lewis: TheGodfather of Gore is an entertaining if less than deeply analytical portrait of a filmmaker whose works were a forerunner of modern-day torture porn.

Featuring ample commentary by Gordon and the late Friedman as well as several members of their ragtag repertory acting company, the film details their checkered career, which began with such so-called "nudie cuties" as The Adventures of Lucky Pierre, films featuring generous amounts of female flesh presented in innocent contexts that were frequently filmed in Florida nudist colonies.

But it wasn't until Blood Feast -- with its infamous scene of a woman having her tongue violently removed -- that the pair found their true calling, resulting in a series of often banned films that were highly profitable on the drive-in and grindhouse movie circuit. Eventually they moved on to other genres (children's films, of all things) before pursuing other business activities.

Although there's plenty of entertaining onscreen commentary by the figures involved, as well as such contemporary fans as critic Joe Bob Briggs and bad taste aficionado John Waters, it's the extensive archival footage that will bring the most joy to Lewis fans. Besides many scenes from the spotlighted films, there are also numerous outtakes that reveal the ramshackle conditions under which they were made, as well as rare footage from the long lost, never completed An Eye for an Eye.

Such anecdotes as the ones involving a prop sheep's tongue that turned horribly odorous and an impromptu on-set appearance by Colonel Harland Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame -- the filmmakers were canny about arranging onscreen appearances of fast food restaurants in return for free grub -- provide plenty of merriment.

The filmmakers have no small amount of experience with the genre -- Henenlotter helmed such cult horror films as Basket Case and Frankenhooker and Maslon was the associate producer on the little-seen 2002 Blood Feast 2: All You Can Eat -- and this affectionate portrait is clearly a labor of love.

While unlikely to be of serious interest to anyone but dedicated fans of obscure exploitation cinema, the documentary, being presented by Something Weird Video, should prove a perfect bonus disc for the inevitable DVD box set of HGL films.

Opens: March 10 (Something Weird Video)
Directors: Frank Henenlotter, Jimmy Maslon
Producers: Jimmy Maslon, Mike Vraney
No rating, 106 mins.