Friday, October 7, 2016



(Originally appeared in The Draculina Fear Book 1992 By Hugh Gallagher).

When Herschell Gordon Lewis did the following interview with Kris Gilpin, he was at the peak of reborn interest in his work. With the release of Dan Krogh’s book. THE AMAZING HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS, and the advent of video -Herschell Gordon Lewis was in the lime light with horror fans, doing conventions and film festivals. He spoke of possibly returning to the director’s chair but, over six years later, such a return has yet to develop. In fact, this interview, first published in January, 1986, is still as up-to-date as it was when first published in DRACULINA #2. 

(Erok here, I'm very excited to present this rare interview which was taken from and emailed to me by Kris himself. We're all still reeling over the shock of hearing the news about Mr. Lewis' death, I've been an obsessive fan ever since I saw and was disturbed by all the hideous big box VHS's at Florida video stores in the 5th grade (1986 to give you some context). I even heard in an interview that his favorite chicken joint in Miami was Bojangles and I staked it out hoping to bump into him--what a weirdo I was and still am I guess. I hope everyone enjoys this incredible interview and keeps the legacy going by sharing your stories about HGL with us on the Twitter and FB page. He was one of a kind and will be missed).

From 1960 to 1972 writer-producer-director Herschell Gordon Lewis earned his reputation as
the man theater owners and other investors would turn to when they wanted their modest production dollars stretched furthest. Herschell, a brilliant businessman, produced nudies, Southern good-old boys epics and even children's pictures and, along with his partner David Friedman, invented the modem Gore Flick in 1963 with the infamous BLOOD FEAST. He followed that virgin viscera with, among other fun diversions such as SHE-DEVILS ON WHEELS, JUST FOR THE HELL OF IT and SOMETHING WEIRD, half a dozen more gore films. I laughed my adolescent ass off upon discovering Lewis's THE WIZARD OF GORE and THE GRUESOME TWOSOME at a Miami drive-in and on Saturday afternoon of June 29th, 1985, grabbed the chance to conduct a telephone interview with the Wizard himself in South Florida, where he now lives.

KRIS GILPIN: You made 37 films in only 12 years. Was there ever a type of film you wanted to make but never got the chance to?

HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS: Sure, but I never had the budget to even indulge myself in a fantasy of that sort. There was a script I had for years and years, I have no idea whatever happened to it called THE MUSIC OF MR. MUNDY. a children’s picture about a gentle old man who runs a grade-school orchestra and, like most grade school orchestras, when they get past "Old McDonald Had a Farm" they’re in great confusion, but to him it sounds like the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Well, one of the children in the group has a father in the recording business and he’s fascinated with the bad sound of this orchestra, so they make a recording and they’re an instant smash. But they're a smash in a way that Florence Foster Jenkins was a smash: they are freaks because the music is so bad. I found the thing completely charming, but never was able to get anyone interested in it, including myself; I was interested in it but I couldn't see it as a commercial enterprise. Really, it's the kind of story that would make a nice television special, but I never made it.

BAD MUSIC, Surely you can't be talking about garage punks The Faded Blue?!

KG: Did all your films show a profit?

HGL: I can’t answer that because I made a number of films for other people. My films tended to show a profit because we did lick the problem of inflated production costs. Those who hover around the periphery of the business could easily be astounded by the amount of waste involved, for example, the director who is insecure and whose most common remark is, "Let's make one more.” Or who shoots the entire scene through with a long shot and then a closeup on each principal, and winds up with hundreds of thousands of feet of film, And, obviously, there is the problem in the motion picture business of union featherbedding, which is a problem that pertains to most craft guilds, and there's also the problem of overpaid, under talented people and, in each of those instances, my films dealt in well-marbled space with a lot of fat cut off of them.

KG: How many shots did you average per take?

HGL: One point four.

KG: How do you remember the nudie era?

HGL: Those films were lots of fun to make. BOIN-N-G was my favorite film from that era because it had a sense of humor; it was a satire of that whole era of film making. THE PRIME TIME and LIVING VENUS [Herschell's first two pictures] were mangled in distribution; the distributor went bust owing the production company a lot of money. I had my entire fortune sunk into the pictures and I was literally out of business. So, when Dave Friedman and I made the next picture, THE ADVENTURES OF LUCKY PIERRE (chuckles) we were the whole crew; we had no film to cut out at the end of that shoot; we used every foot of film we bought. And the film was a smash. That can make you very cynical toward the whole theory of film making, because I felt LIVING VENUS was a good, well-made picture, with a union crew by the way, and it cost 6, 7 times as much as LUCKY PIERRE which was color. But look at the comparative results: LUCKY PIERRE supported Friedman and me for the better part of the year [1961], and for years afterward it was bringing in revenue. And in the entire life span of LUCKY PIERRE I think we only made eleven prints; we played them mercilessly; every print was in use all the time. Prints would come back as junk and we'd splice around the horrible tears and send it out again.

KG: Who did Karen Black play in THE PRIME TIME?

HGL: She had a minor role; I've forgotten the name of the character, but she played herself, literally. I notice she still does, she had lines and she had a screen credit as "Karen Black". That was her first picture; she was still a student at Northwestern.

KG: What was BLACK LOVE about, and what do you think of the way that film turned out?

HGL: Well, I have no comment to make about BLACK LOVE. I shot that for a fellow named Bob Smith who, as I recall, owned a bunch of Baskin-Robbins ice cream parlors on the south side of Chicago. I supplied only the technical aspect of film making; he was the producer. I also put the campaign together for him, which was irresistible; BLACK LOVE, from the view point of box-office draw, was an absolute smash, but I didn't own it; I was for a while, unwillingly really, the distributor. I paired BLACK LOVE with one of my pictures, MISS NYMPHETS ZAP-IN [a soft-core version of LAUGH-IN], which had a sense of humor and some production value, and the combination was irresistible, BLACK LOVE was startling, I guess is the word. We did well with that combination but ultimately, Bob Smith disappeared and that was the end of that deal. I had no regrets about it.

WAKE UP Mr. Softee!

KG: Your films were highly regarded in France for a while. When did this come about?

HGL: One day someone sent me a copy of a French magazine called IMAGE ET SON [PICTURE AND SOUND] in which there was a listing of classic horror films. BLOOD FEAST was in there bet-
ween PSYCHO and REPULSION, which I felt was rather stratospheric heights for a modest
picture like BLOOD FEAST. I think the French were the first to recognize the historic value of
BLOOD FEAST, which nobody else did; I know there was historic value from the viewpoint of
curiosity, but not from the viewpoint of actual film history. BLOOD FEAST was the first picture in
which people died with their eyes open, in which blood spurted, but that’s not like firing on Fort Sumter or Kennedy’s inauguration speech; it's not one of the milestones that one points to. But the French did; bear in mind that the French had the original GRAND GUIGNOL, the bloody [stage] show that ran for, I guess, the better part of a century, and ran to packed houses with their faked slashings of throats, and so on. And in France there was a recognition factor [of my films] which just didn't seem to bubble to the surface anywhere else. That was in the latter part of the 1960's; in this country, I vanished into oblivion during the 1970's.

Kramer, what do I know about baking a shirt? I got an Egytian pizza cooking!

KG: I find that today’s gore flicks take themselves too seriously; they lack the ingrained sense of humor which made yours such fun.

HGL: Absolutely correct, sir! And I think that's the difference: these films take themselves seriously, so that each one becomes "another one of those." It sounds like sour grapes; I don't mean it that way at all. I just today put in the mail to somebody a new script called HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS'S GRIM FAIRY TALES. and it isn't “another one of those." If we make that picture it will be (chuckles) a return to a different kind of film making. In all this time, with all the gore and all the horror and all the attention to prosthetic devices, and all the mechanical manipulations and money spent on special effects, nobody has attempted to penetrate into the happy philosophy of how the stuff makes sense to somebody sitting in the theater. They're more concerned with technique than frightening them, or drama.

KG: At the Drive in New York last November you mentioned an effect you always wanted to shoot but never had the chance to. What was that?

HGL: The Ultimate Effect. That’s where we simply rip somebody to pieces, starting with the outer skin and just work our way in until there’s nothing left but a pile of glop. I was going to do that in THE WIZARD OF GORE but we had mechanical problems and people didn't bring me the props they were supposed to bring, and we just didn't do it. But that's what I regard as the Ultimate Effect; where we simply tear somebody to pieces! THE WIZARD OF GORE was a jinxed film in production, by the way; everything that could go wrong went wrong with THE WIZARD OF GORE Fred Sandy, my partner, and our main actor had a terrible battle as we were rehearsing the first shot; the guy stormed off in a rage - a lot of guts for an out-of-work actor. So I took Ray Sager off the crew and he became the Wizard of Gore. Ray has the manual dexterity of a quadruple amputee; he was supposed to play the part of a mad magician, but Ray is a consummate actor so he brought it off. Also, we lost two days' shooting on the Mitchell camera. Plus, I always made the electrical hook-ups on location because I was quite used to it. So I was hooking this up and this fellow, Roger Strauss, came up and said, “I know how to do that! I’ve watched you enough times." So as he made the hook-up the whole box caught fire and they threw us out of [that person's house]. And many of the effects that I wanted didn't come off.

Well at least something went right today!

KG: What was it like directing Henny Youngman in THE GORE-GORE GIRLS (aka BLOOD ORGY)? Did he bring a lot of laughs onto the set?

HGL: No; hardly. Henny Youngman brought a lot of confusion onto the set. Nice, nice fellow, but he requires more direction than I was prepared to give, I was never - thank God - infected with this Celebrity Syndrome, where you use a celebrity because he’s a celebrity. Henny Youngman talks too fast; after 20 minutes of this, I said to him, "What we're gonna have to do is put English subtitles under your speeches." We finally got him to slow down; he could not have been more cooperative, but, for me and my crew, he was just another guy on the set. And we only gauged people by one criterion; did he know his lines and stand in the right place or not? And after an hour or two he knew his lines and he stood in the right place, so I have a profound regard for the guy (chuckles)

If my mother knew I did this for a living, she'd kill me. She thinks I'm selling dope (actual Henny joke!)

KG: What merchandising did you do on your films?

HGL: We novelized BLOOD FEAST, 2000 MANIACS! and COLOR ME BLOOD RED of those, I wrote the one on 2000 MANIACS!; I didn't write the novelization of BLOOD FEAST and I don't remember whether I wrote novelization of COLOR ME BLOOD RED. And we had 45 r.p.m. records of the theme music from 2000 MANIACS! and THE PILL/THE GIRL, the BODY AND
THE PILL, 1967, I wish I could come across some of those one of these days. We used to send them out to radio stations when our pictures would open up in town; I have no idea whether they were effective or not.

KG: Was writing the films as fun as, I take it, making them was?

HGL: Well, writing is not exactly fun; writing is a solitary, and very disciplined, proposition. Film making is a crowd activity, and often undisciplined. And for the person who is able to carry his discipline from the keyboard to the lens-my opinion is that great rewards are justified. Also, on our sets, everybody had a good time, but we knew at 10 o'clock Monday morning what we were gonna be shooting at 4 o’clock Thursday afternoon. Otherwise it's a waste, especially when you're using somebody else's money.

KG: The storyline for AN EYE FOR AN EYE sounds intriguing [a blind man gains ESP when he is given a dead man's eyes]; I understand the film was never released. Why is that?

HGL: I don't know. I have heard that too, and then I have heard from people who said they saw it. We sold that thing to Abbott Schwartz out of Minneapolis who moved it out of our cutting room, almost in a matter of an hour from the time the deal was made. That picture was in the middle of cutting, and that's the last I saw of any of it-footage, anything. And from that moment to now, I have no idea where the negative is, if the cutting was finished, if prints were made or what; I don't know.

KG: Was it fun to appear in front of your camera as well as being behind it?

HGL: Oh sure; anybody [gets a kick out of it]. I used the name Sheldon Seymour or, sometimes,
Seymour Sheldon, but not as [an acting] screen name, I don't believe. I appeared in THE LIVING
VENUS and A TASTE OF BLOOD, and that was because I had to have somebody [in British
accent] "with a limey accent, I did, and the fellow I hired didn't show up," and there was nobody else on the crew who could even remotely attempt a British accent. So we chopped some hair off of Bob Vercruse and made me a big moustache and I pulled a stocking cap way down over my face. It was not an attempt to play a Hitchcock; I wasn't trying to get a bit part in my own movie.

KG: SOMETHING WEIRD was an interesting, off-beat movie. How did that strange storyline come about?

HGL: That came' from a mixture of input from myself and Jim Hurley, who was [an ESP] nut. He had been involved with a man named Peter Hurkos who was, supposedly, a genuine psychic. So, Hurley showed up with the notion and, as I remember, also the backing for SOMETHING WEIRD, which was a pure exercise in clinical extra-sensory perception; and I convinced him to make the picture a little more commercial by adding the element of witchcraft. SOMETHING WEIRD was also, for me, an exercise in my mastery over the Mitchell camera, because just about all the effects were done in camera, such as a ghost walking down the aisle of a church, and a man disappearing through a wall; I simply did it in the camera. So I was very pleased with being able to meet the challenge of SOMETHING WEIRD. We paired that film with, I believe, THE GRUESOME TWOSOME, and they did very, very well together and, as I remember, after about a year of this, Jim Hurley became irritated with having his film "defiled" by having THE GRUESOME TWOSOME as its companion feature, and he withdrew his picture, and we simply went along with THE GRUESOME TWOSOME without SOMETHING WEIRD. But I share your view, I like that picture.

Corky on a very special Thanksgiving episode of Life Goes on.

KG: How did you manage to work an actual birth scene into SIN, SUFFER AND REPENT?

HGL: (laughs) SIN, SUFFER AND REPENT was owned by a guy named Jim Somebody out of
Toledo, Ohio, and he was an old time exploitation film man. He had picked up a British film - the title of which is lost in obscurity on venereal disease, and reached a point where he couldn’t get it played anymore. It wasn't a badly made film, but it didn't make sense; it was a World War II-vintage kind of picture. And he came to me and he said, "Let's change this into a birth-of-a-baby film", and that is exactly what we did by judicious cutting, by shooting some hospital scenes and by removing some dialogue, sticking in some dialogue, over-dubbing other dialogue and sticking in a birth scene, (chuckles) And that’s all there was to that, and he had a very playable picture and he made a lot of money out of it.

KG: I wanted to know some statistics, such as your most successful picture, longest and shortest
shoots and budgets...

HGL: Well, BLOOD FEAST was our No. 1 winner, I would imagine; I can't think of anything that came remotely close to it in terms of dollar gross. We were carrying money away from BLOOD FEAST in bushel bags. The shortest shoot was LUCKY PIERRE; we shot it in four days. Our shoots always averaged somewhere between 12 and 14 days of principal photography, and there may have been a couple of days of pick-up. As to which was the actual longest, it may have been A TASTE OF BLOOD, because that picture runs two hours. By the way, Jimmy Maslin told me that he knows somebody that owns A TASTE OF BLOOD [Herschell's vampire epicj and is planning to release it on video tape. The largest budget would either be THE GORE GORE GIRLS or A TASTE OF BLOOD, and the smallest would again have to be LUCKY PIERRE for (chuckles) a very low five figures.

KG: Speaking of video, have you gotten a cut from the recent video releases of your films (SOMETHING WEIRD, THE GRUESOME TWOSOME, THE WIZARD OF GORE, etc?)

HGL: Nope. People have sent me copies of BLOOD FEAST, 2000 MANIACS!, SHE-DEVILS ON
WHEELS and COLOR ME BLOOD RED, though. Someone also sent me a bootleg tape of
THE GORE GORE GIRLS, but there's a big hunk missing out of it; it's like Nixon's Watergate tapes. There’s a gap in it where the screen goes white for about 20 seconds.

KG: Why did your film making stop in 1972?

HGL: It stopped for a whole bunch of reasons. One was. we had run the cycle; the major studios were starting to make [bloody] films; it was harder and harder to get playing time. Then. I had all my assets put together in very complicated circumstances in an advertising agency, and my biggest client went bust; everything went. I got a divorce; the whole thing was a mess, and I wound up with very, very little, and it simply was not an opportune time to make pictures. Furthermore, I really felt that [gore] films had shot their bolt, which merely shows how cloudy the crystal ball can be.

KG: Were you happy with the book, THE AMAZING HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS?

HGL: It's not mine to be happy or sad about. I was stunned by the academic research involved in it. First of all, I never knew Dan Krogh [who worked with Lewis on some of his pictures] was keeping score; he apparently amassed a library of information and visual that far surpassed anything I ever might have had. Now, I had some very nice stuff, some 40 by 60s, one sheets and when I got that divorce in the late 1970's, in a fit of pique, I guess it was, my ex-spouse destroyed it all. At least I assume she did; I never saw it. I'm no longer bitter or bothered because I came out by far the winner in that deal; I am now far more happily married than I ever could have been [before], so shed no tears. But as the book goes, there are some factual errors in there, only because there was information to which Dan couldn't be privy. But I was certainly honored; imagine having a book about oneself. It's just not the kind of thing that anyone expects to have happen unless he’s a poet laureate.

The Prince of Puke meets the Godfather of Gore.

KG: What have you done since?

HGL: I am a direct-response writer; I write for a living - I am considered, according to trade
sources, "the Rolls Royce of writers.” And I live very well, and I spend my days on the tennis court or in the pool or sitting in the spa, or at the keyboard. I work with clients all over the world; I give speeches all over the world. And I regard it as leading the good life so, to the consternation of some detractors, I am not lying in the gutter, bleeding. But everybody keeps asking me, "Are you ever gonna make another movie?" The answer is always the same: maybe. But it seems to be getting closer; it depends on who comes up with a deal. Dave Friedman, my old partner, tells me he is talking to some major studios about [getting back together again]. There’s a young chap in Arkansas named Jeff Hogue for whom I have just finished the GRIM FAIRY TALES script; he has authorized and paid for the screenplay, and I may or may not direct that script. I've got my Ultimate Effect written into there, and there are some other gore scenes in there which make anything we've done before seem childlike. Whenever I make a film it's gonna have that effect, because I've been brooding over not having done it. Then there's Jim Maslin in California, the fellow who owns the videotape rights to many of the old films, who has a script he and Eric Caiden wrote called BLOOD FEAST 2, and they are talking to me about directing it. I don't think they've completed their financing, but he says they
may be within weeks of doing that. So I very well may make another picture, and it may go into production before the end of this year, but I make no flat statements as of today because, as of today, no deals have been set. All three projects would be shot in 35mm color for [in addition to domestic theatrical or videotape release] foreign release, which is far more important than it used to be. So you need 35 for that. And I have a book coming out from Prentice-Hall in New York in October [Herschell has also written bestselling books on advertising, including DIRECT MAIL COPY THAT SELLS, his bestselling title] which is a re-edited version of a book published about 5 or 6 years ago called HOW TO MAKE YOUR ADVERTISING TWICE AS EFFECTIVE AT HALF THE COST. And I have a contract in hand for one more book, which is gonna take me a year to write. It’s my magnum opus, and it may be the last book I'll write, but it's going to be a dilly!

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