Herschell Gordon Lewis, Godfather of Gore, Dies at 87
For every cinephile interested in the worlds of horror and exploitation, it is a rite of passage: The first viewing of Blood Feast. Notorious in its day, infamous for decades for its extreme violence and graphic depictions of blood and guts, Blood Feast became one of the foundational movies of the splatter sub-genre. Sadly, its director, Herschell Gordon Lewis, the so-called “Godfather of Gore,” passed away Monday according to Blood Feast’s DVD distributor, Something Weird Video. He was 87 years old.
Lewis was born in Pennsylvania and spent years working as a teacher before transitioning to the world of advertising. His experience in marketing assisted his later career as a director of exploitation films; he gave the people what they wanted to see. Most of his early work came in so called “nudie-cuties,” the tamer predecessors to hardcore pornography. When the sexploitation field began to get too crowded, Lewis transitioned to the less competitive realm of horror, leading to his boundary-breaking splatter classic. Quite simply, there had never been anything like Blood Feast before 1963. More than 50 years later, even with its crude special effects, this trailer for the film is still very upsetting (and still very much NSFW).
Lewis’ follow-ups to Blood Feast included the evocatively titled Two Thousand Maniacs! and Color Me Blood Red; later works included The Gore Gore Girls and (my personal favorite, both in terms of title and content) The Wizard of Gore. His movies were never particularly slick (except with spilled plasma), but the rough technical edges lent his films an atmosphere of genuine transgression. Rules were being broken here, both in front of and behind the camera.
After about a decade in the film business, Lewis left for greener pastures in other fields, although he did return to directing in 2002 for a sequel to Blood Feast, Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat. In a career-spanning 2011 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Lewis refused to consider himself an artist. “Art is not a factor,” he said of his work. “I really have some compassion but also a good deal of contempt for people who make this kind of movie and regard themselves as artists. Art is really not even a secondary factor, it’s a tertiary factor. Showmanship, now that’s a different story.”
The showman may be gone, but his show will terrify and disgust many more generations of curious moviegoers.