Herschell Gordon Lewis is an exploitation cinema legend. He earned the nickname “the Godfather of Gore” for his disturbing colorful classics such as Blood Feast and Two Thousand Maniacs! He enjoyed splattering the screen with plenty of blood and organs like a slaughterhouse with a low sanitation grade. But not everything Lewis made was horrific in nature. The man understood that not every piece of flesh needed to be stabbed. He didn’t mind making sexploitation films since that’s what kept the Grindhouse crowd happy in the late ’60s and early ’70s. For the longest time three of his films from this part of his career were considered lost. In the low and nasty world of indie cinema, losing prints and negatives isn’t that rare of an event. After four decades gathering dust at a film lab, the negative cans for the trio were located. The Lost Films of Herschell Gordon Lewis spreads light on the cult filmmaker’s carnal offerings. Here’s the trailer featuring the more tame moments from the films.
The Ecstasies of Women (75 minutes) is a bachelor party gone into overdrive. Walter Camp is the man enjoying his last night of freedom at a topless go-go club in Los Angeles. He tells his buddies about a few of his past encounters. He once flirted up a storm while boozing with a barfly. He lures her back to his boat for wild wave action. There’s a lot of heavy petting on the screen. Another triumph involves picking up a lady at the beach and bringing her back to the boat. He even gets lucky with a blond hitchhiker. Her destination is his boat. After all these stories of victory at sea, the bachelor party along with the off-duty strippers retreat to the boat for a rather tame orgy. The film fits well with the topless epics of Russ Meyer from this era. One of the ladies is Vincene Wallace of Meyer’s Vixen. Women is rather well paced compared to some of the strained affairs of this era. Camp works well as a cad looking to score on the USS Lucky.
Linda and Abilene (92 minutes) is an erotic Western about the passions that no cowboy could lasso. Sharon Matt (previously seen in The Ecstasies of Women) is Abilene. She hooks up with barmaid Linda (Roxanne Jones) after working her way through a few of the rough and tumble men. Be shocked at the sight of boy-girl butter churning. There’s a romantic encounter where the cowboy won’t remove his blue jeans and boots. There’s also an unromantic encounter which leads to Linda helping Abilene recover. But will their lust be tamed by frontier judgments? The most interesting aspect of the movie is the location. The wild west town is the notorious Spahn Ranch. This film would probably have more historic significance if Lewis had hired the Manson Family as background extras. The infamous killers of Helter Skelter were living on the Western set. The movie wouldn’t have been lost since a copy would have been sitting in the police evidence room all these years.
Black Love (74 minutes) is much more explicit than the first two. This is a hard X rated production. There’s no real narrative to the action. It’s framed as an educational film eager to explore how the black community gains their carnal knowledge. The narrator does his best scientific tone. He barely can keep it together as he keeps repeating “Black Love” over the funk-jazz soundtrack. “Black Love is now a sex film,” the narrator demands. “It is rather a study of an important aspect of the black experience.” He does his best to sound informed while couples are hooking up at the playground, in the car and back in their apartment. There’s a creepy element when Lewis cuts together explicit bedroom footage with a young girl allegedly outside the room peeking through a window. Things go weird during a nightclub scene when the folks on the dance floor lose their tops to give the viewers a true sense of their body types. No matter how hard the film tries to be educational, it’s pure exploitation for a crowd looking to see more than the R-rated action found in Superfly and Pam Grier films made in the early ’70s.
The Lost Films of Herschell Gordon Lewis are a fine trio of grindhouse X-rated action. While he’s not going for the gore audience, these movies still have plenty of elements that will make you wince. Black Love isn’t going to please Spike Lee. Linda and Abilene isn’t a calm Western to show dad between episodes of Gunsmoke. Even though all three films were made on a shoestring, they have a better pacing and look than so many films that played the same theaters. This takes you back to the unclean cinema in the inner city of 1972. Ultimately it’s good that all of Herschell Gordon Lewis’ cinematic career is available.
The video is 1.78:1 anamorphic. Distributor Vinegar Syndrome is an off shoot of the film restoration lab Process Blue. They did an stellar job creating the transfers of the films. The color and details come out in 1080p. You’ll get an eyeful of odd hairs from a generation that didn’t believe in waxing. The audio is mono. The sound mix isn’t outrageous since this is low budget cinema. The jazz-funk themes on Black Love pop.
Trailers are provided for all three films. The Ecstasies of Women has Walter Camp talking directly to the camera.
DVD has all three movies and the trailers for when you want to watch the fun in standard definition.
Reproductions of Color Timing Card are a film geek’s treat. Want to know how they get the hues in a film?
The Lost Films of Herschell Gordon Lewis uncovers the carnal side to the Gore specialist. The Ecstasies of Women features the tales of a man who had no problem getting laid on his boat. Linda and Abilene is a Sexploitation Western that saves horses by having plenty of cowboys ridden. Black Love is a bizarre faux-health film. The transfers of the three films make the films bring out the elements that make Herschell Gordon Lewis beloved by John Waters. Vinegar Syndrome has done an fine job of making these lost films worthy of discovery.
Vinegar Syndrome presents The Lost Films of Herschell Gordon Lewis. Directed by: Herschell Gordon Lewis. Starring: Walter Camp, Sharon Matt and Roxanne Jones. Boxset: 3 Movies on 1 Blu-ray & 1 DVD. Rated: X. Released: January 8, 2013. Available at Amazon.com.
Joe Corey is the author of "The Seven Secrets of Great Walmart People Greeters." This is the last how to get a job book you'll ever need. He was Associate Producer of the documentary "Moving Midway." He's worked as local crew on several reality shows including Candid Camera, American's Most Wanted, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and ESPN's Gaters. He's been featured on The Today Show and CBS's 48 Hours. Dom DeLuise once said, "Joe, you look like an axe murderer." He was in charge of research and programming at the Moving Image Archive.