October 8, 2016
Joe Bob Briggs remembers his friend Herschell Gordon Lewis
Joe Bob Briggs writes:
He made the first all-female motorcycle-gang movie, She-Devils on Wheels, and one of the most brutal films about juvenile delinquency, Just for the Hell of It, as well as a little gem called Suburban Roulette about wife-swapping. One of his strangest films, on a résumé full of strangeness, is Linda and Abilene, a nude lesbian Western shot at the Spahn Movie Ranch while the Manson family was still living there!
In later years, after Blood Feast became a cult legend, various writers would try to assess its place in film history by citing supposed influences on much better films made by much better filmmakers. All of this was bull. Herschell and his signature film would not be remembered at all were it not for two men who were (of course) not mentioned in the New York Times obituary. One is Jimmy Maslon, the co-owner of Hollywood Book and Poster, the fabled memorabilia shop on Hollywood Boulevard. Jimmy painstakingly searched for, located, and lovingly restored the rare prints of Herschell Gordon Lewis films that had been scattered to the four winds once Kohlberg passed away and Herschell retired. In some cases there was only one remaining print of the film, and it was usually found in the attic of someone who had bought it at a bankruptcy sale when a regional sub-distributor went out of business. The second man is Frank Henenlotter, the Greenwich Village exploitation director best known for his own cult classic, Basket Case, who brought Herschell out of obscurity in the early ’80s and celebrated his films at a special festival staged at the Waverly Theater on Sixth Avenue (today known as IFC Cinema). Without Maslon the films wouldn’t exist. Without Henenlotter the man would still be unknown. Both of them collaborated on the 2010 documentary The Godfather of Gore, which is the best way to enjoy Herschell’s career without having to actually sit through Herschell’s movies. The documentary was mentioned by The New York Times, but without credit to either Maslon or Henenlotter.
From the Guardian:
But he was more than just this. Lewis was a sort of cross between Ed Wood Jr, Roger Corman, Russ Meyer, Dale Carnegie and maybe even Bernie Madoff. Because as well as being a conveyor-belt of trash movies, Lewis was a formidable and unnervingly driven entrepreneur and compulsive wheeler-dealer who did three years’ jail time in the 1970s for fraud, having conned people through crooked schemes, like a fake car rental company and – incredibly – a phoney abortion referral service, and for (nearly) all these services he borrowed money from the bank using as collateral the cinemas of which he claimed to be the un-mortgaged owner. It was a breathtaking and crazy illegality, but nothing dented his almost sociopathic self-belief and work ethic. He cranked out dozens of books on direct marketing and salesmanship and to the end of his life kept his focus on this, producing how-to guides on making money from the web. In fact, he may well have seen in the internet the same kind of wild-west, anything-goes spirit that drove him in his film-making heyday.