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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Herschell Gordon Lewis

One thing watching the movie Juno took me right out of it for a minute. That was a reference to Herschell Gordon Lewis. I shan't expand on that in terms of the movie.

Herschell Gordon Lewis is, more than anything, a businessman. He discovered that one way to make money is to make films filled with blood and/or sexual titillation that the major studios wouldn't get caught dead doing back in the early 1960s. Read this particular description by Steve Bissette, who knows a WHOLE lot more than I do:
"BLOOD FEAST (1963) Notorious Herschell Gordon Lewis shocker dared to go where no major studio would, crudely carving out brains, tongues, limbs, and its unique niche as the first true 'gore' film. This widely-imitated breakthrough hit of the 1960s drive-in circuit was filmed in and around the beaches of Sarasota, Florida."

I was working at FantaCo, primarily a comic book store, in 1983. Splatter Movies (1981), written by John McCarty, was, after we found a sales niche advertising in FANGORIA magazine every issue, became a huge success. So what do we do next? As I hope I made clear, it's not my genre, so I haven't a clue. But Tom Skulan, the owner, and John McCarty somehow team up with Daniel Krogh, cinematographer on Lewis' The Wizard of Gore (1970), and decide to put out a book called The Amazing Herschell Gordon Lewis, and His World of Exploitation Films by Krogh, with McCarty.

The book premiered at the 1983 FantaCon, and HGL, as I referred to him, was making an appearance. What kind of man makes these kind of films? Well, as it turns out, the guy was very much a gentleman, sweet, soft-spoken, at least in that setting. He was a natty dresser. I didn't spend a whole lot of time with him, but I did get him to sign my copy of the book, which read: "To my friend Roger". Daniel Krogh signed it "TO ROGER OF FANTACO". John McCarty, who I had gotten to know from Splatter Movies, wrote, "To Roger - Whose job I don't envy". That was in reference to the fact that my task, once the convention was over, was to ship hundreds and hundreds of these to the comic book distributors. Ultimately, we also sold directly to non-comic book shops and at retail. As FantaCo subsequently published scripts for 2000 Maniacs and Blood Feast, HGL dominated my life until I left FantaCo in 1988.

I started my new job as a librarian in 1992. Perusing the shelves of the SBDC Research Network, what should I see but a book on direct marketing by someone named Herschell Gordon Lewis! Could it be the same guy? It could, and it was - check out his bibliography and his filmography, right on his own website. He doesn't shy away from his past - or his present - there is a Blood Feast 2 listed for 2002.

So seeing the HGL reference in Juno brought it full circle for me.


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