Monday, February 23, 2009

Herschell Gordon Lewis: Marketing and Massacring

According to his website, Herschell Gordon Lewis is ''the world's best-known copywriter'' and without peer in ''the sophisticated world of direct marketing''. You can put his expertise to work for your organization; he offers you ''prestige without big agency overhead''. All news to me; I just thought of him as the director of Blood Feast.

Lewis's first film as producer was The Prime Time, shot in 1960; but his first film as director was Living Venus, about Hugh Hefner. With David F. Friedman as producer, he shot a handful of nudie films, with great titles like B-O-I-N-N-G! and The Adventures of Lucky Pierre. But, when the nudie market started to dry up, Friedman and Lewis had the brainstorm of exploiting graphic violence instead of nudity.

And they created a sort of history. 1963's Blood Feast tells the stirring tale of an Egyptian caterer who uses women in his cooking after sacrificing them to Ishtar. It is not exactly Shakespearean; but it's hard to think of a ''gore film'' that came before it. Besides, Friedman and Lewis found that they could get ''splatter'' films into drive-ins that wouldn't show nudie cuties. They soon followed Blood Feast with Two Thousand Maniacs! and Color me Blood Red. They went through god-knows-how-much red poster paint.

These films had some of the greatest tag lines imaginable. ''An entire town bathed in pulsing human blood!''; ''Nothing so appalling in the annals of horror!''; ''It will leave you aghast!''; ''Nothing has ever stripped your nerves as screamingly raw!''; ''In devastating color!'' It's not surprising that Lewis found success in advertising.

All told, Lewis has directed at least thirty-six films. In addition to the gore classics and nudie flicks, he directed the biker film She-Devils on Wheels; children's films such as Jimmy the Boy Wonder, and sex dramas like Suburban Roulette. His most recent film came out in 2002; it was a sequel to Blood Feast.

Herschell Gordon Lewis is a cult favorite among weirdos and horror movie obsessives like myself. He frequents horror conventions as well as consulting companies about direct marketing; and I have to wonder if he ever gets his powerpoint presentations switched. One wonders how a corporation looking for advice on direct marketing in the age of the Internet would respond to scenes of a crazed Egyptian caterer ripping out girls' hearts. If anything though, Blood Feast is a story about how to make your business work for you!

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