The Lost Films of Herschell Gordon Lewis Blu-ray Review
Directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis
1969 - 1971, Region A, 240 minutes, Not Rated
Blu-Ray released on January 8th, 2013
Walter Camp as Harry
Sharon Matt as Abilene
Kip Marsh as Todd
Roxanne Jones as Linda
Herschell Gordon Lewis is a filmmaker responsible for introducing a revolutionary approach to the horror genre. In the mid-1960s, he switched his talents from titillating works known as “nudie-cuties” to a series of films that showcased the shocking power of gore. With titles like Blood Feast, Two Thousand Maniacs and Color Me Blood Red, Lewis enjoyed a success low-budget filmmakers rarely accomplish and earned the moniker “The Godfather of Gore”. The movies were not known for their plots or any particular technical prowess and the less said about the acting, the better, yet each of his films are instantly recognizable to fans as an H.G. Lewis production. Over the following four decades his work took on a cult status that has inspired countless imitations and provided a benchmark for gore-hounds the world over.
Following his success in the horror genre, Lewis briefly returned to the world of sexploitation with a trio of pictures that disappeared not long after their initial theatrical runs. These lost titles were a holy grail for fans, as they were the only ones missing from his filmography, and yet despite years of inquiries, the director has essentially disowned them. Ecstasies of Women, Linda and Abilene and the “marital aid” Black Love have all recently been recovered from the cinematic wasteland by the fine folks at Vinegar Syndrome, and given a deluxe restoration that has to be seen to be believed. Are they any good? Well, that is a not really a fair question given the content, but they are definitely worth a look.
Ecstasies of Women (1969, 74 minutes) is a goofy little comedy about a lecherous anti-hero named Harry (Walter Camp), where on the eve of his wedding as his friends take him to a strip club. One drink leads to another and Harry reminisces about his sexual exploits as a strapping young bachelor. At the end of the night, the guys convince some of the dancers to join them on Harry’s houseboat for some wild and crazy sex. That’s pretty much the plot. The acting is uneven, the sets cheap and the dialogue laughable, but the film still manages to entertain. Lewis manages to feature at least one pair of breasts onscreen for about an hour of the total running time. The highlight of the movie is the trailer, in which Harry addresses the camera while banging a variety of attractive young women whose names he can’t keep straight. The selling point of one such girl is that she’s underage…awkward.
Linda and Abilene (1969, 94 minutes) is a salacious western tale of a recently orphaned pair of siblings who try retain a structure to their lives by honoring their parents’ memory and making them proud. The house is kept clean, they tend the farmland and live a quiet existence…until they get really horny and fuck each other. Once Todd (Kip Marsh) spies his sister Abilene (Sharon Matt) bathing in the river, it’s only a matter of time before they find new ways to work out their frustrations. The fun filled days of incest are soon over when Todd pulls out of his sister long enough to mosey into town where he hooks up with Linda (Roxanne Jones), a whore at the local saloon. Things turn ugly, leading to moments of rape, murder and random lesbianism for good measure. The pacing of the film is unapologetically slow and yet Lewis manages to keep things interesting with the third act plot twists. As an aside, the movie was shot at the Spahn Movie Ranch and members of the Manson family would hang out to watch the production.
Black Love (1971, 74 minutes) is the most interesting and notorious of the three. Masquerading as an “educational film”, this is a bizarre collection of vignettes filled with amateur hardcore pornography, explaining how black people express their love for each other. Black people it turns out are pretty much the same as us, coming in all shapes and sizes with a variety of skin tones. They like to read books, dance on a tiny overcrowded stage, slowly spin on giant turntables and have sex in vacant parking lots. I’m not quite sure who the target audience is, but I doubt the African-American community will treasure this cinematic offering. The film is highlighted by some awkward sequences of kids and teens discovering adults practicing “black love”. Each vignette offers cringeworthy close-ups of nooks, crannies and 1970s pubic styles that will have viewers cursing the hi-def clarity of the brain-scarring images.
Directors will occasionally use pseudonyms for lesser efforts (i.e. Alan Smithee) and in the case of this trio, Lewis used multiple aliases for each: Mark Hansen, R.L. Smith and Lewis H. Gordon. Black Love missed the porn chic movement by one year when the genre reached crossover respectability with Deep Throat (1972). Herschell Gordon Lewis’ directing career regularly alternated between the sexy sub-genre and gory splatter films before retiring from filmmaking altogether in 1972. He has since moved on to a successful career in business advertising and written many books on the subject. He returned to directing in 2002 with the splatter-fest Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat, and in 2012 penned the memoir The Godfather of Gore Speaks. With the remarkable efforts of the folks at Vinegar Syndrome proudly on display with The Lost Films of Herschell Gordon Lewis, everyone will be lining up to thank them for a job well done…except maybe Herschell.
Video and Audio:
Vinegar Syndrome has single-handedly raised the bar for picture quality in catalog releases. Many older titles appear on Blu-ray with lacking presentations, pleading the limitations of the source materials. This release presents three tragically low-budget productions, unseen for four decades, gathering dust in a lab, now given a full 2K restoration scan from the original film negatives and the results are nothing short of remarkable. Colors are rich without bleeding, black levels are solid and fine object detail is insane. The picture quality on display here is stunning and makes the release a solid addition for fans of film preservation.
Audiowise, all three titles offer no-frills 2-channel stereo that neither impresses nor detracts from the presentation, while the main menu receives a 2-channel DTS HD mix. Any muddiness found within the audio is a direct reflection of the conditions during the original source recordings. Music is tinny at times, but dialogue remains clear and free from distraction.
The discs are light on supplemental material, given the director’s continued dismissal of the films, so Vinegar Syndrome instead offers trailers for each.
There are a few tangible goodies offered for your consideration, including a trio of film lab cards with notes concerning color levels.
A booklet filled with an extensive set of liner notes from exploitation film historian Casey Scott provides additional information about these titles.
The Blu-ray is paired with a copy of the films on the DVD format.
*Note: The screenshots on this page are not a reflection of the Blu-ray image. They were captured using the standard DVD.*