H.G. Lewis: The Godfather of Gore

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Speaking of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, one might argue that Wizard of Gore was there first. Just as She Devils on Wheels paved the way for Easy Rider one year after. Or Just For The Hell Of It preceded A Clockwork Orange. I'm sure you didn't set out to be an influence on later generations of filmmakers, and yet that's exactly what's happened. Do folks step up and acknowledge that to you?

They do, yes, and it pleases me because in a sense it's a peripheral aspect of what we tried to do. If I'm saying I want to make the kind of pictures that nobody else is making, and then it takes some years before someone else does make one, that means I have at least succeeded in my original intention.

One young filmmaker who is being frequently referenced to you is Anna Biller, who openly pays homage to your dalliance with sexploitation films like Suburban Roulette and The Girl, The Body and The Pill. Do you know Anna and her work?

I'm sorry to tell you I don't.

She's someone you might want to keep an eye out for because she's purposely playing with the sexploitation films of the 60s. They're nuanced differently than yours. Her recent film Viva is like a parody of a parody, twice-removed, but interesting work nonetheless.

It's very nice to have people say that they felt that I was a positive influence. [Laughs.]

The last film you directed was Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat, which, other than the direct-to-video Blood Trilogy Outtakes, was your first feature since the Gore Gore Girls 30 years previously. Why the interest in making a comeback and revisiting gore? Don't you have enough money? Or was it just for the fun of self-parody?

It wasn't for the money. It was because somebody asked me. As I think you may be aware - you seem to be more conversant with my background than I am - I have always maintained that making movies is like having malaria. You think you're cured but it's lurking in your bloodstream and it will flare up when one least expects it. Over the years, since the original Blood Feast, at least two-three times a year, somebody would say, "Let's make Blood Feast 2," and it happened so often that I developed a defense mechanism. I said, "Put your deal together and call me." Well, sure enough, a fellow named Jacky Morgan put the deal together and called me. There were two - I won't call them problems - there were two circumstances that made it less-than-perfect. One was, it wasn't the script I would have liked to make and, second, I was a hired hand. I was hired to direct that movie. I think what they wanted, really, was the cachet of my name, which didn't bother me at all because I had a rollicking good time.

Dennis Harvey actually didn't give it a bad review in Variety. I mean, it wasn't a rave but it was respectful. So what's coming up for you now? You're doing this film Grim Fairy Tales? Dare I ask what it's about?

It's total black humor. Yes, it's crawling with gore, but it's also crawling with a kind of lightheadedness that everybody - I don't care what age, what background, what education - everybody has to say, "Hey, this is fun." As it opens immediately with a gore shot, the audience knows immediately that the whole thing is phony.

It'd be great if we could get San Francisco's Hole in the Head festival to premiere it!

Well, I have to make it. We haven't started Grim's Fairy Tales. I thought I had an agreement with a producer who came down here to my home several times and we were hammering out a deal to make it, but if you know the movie business, you'll know what I mean when I say he simply disappeared. He vanished!

Producers have a way of doing that. Well, Herschell, I really thank you for taking the time to talk with me. What a pleasure. I love your work and look forward to anything you do in the future.

The pleasure was mine because these were intelligent questions, most of which haven't been asked before. That's rare. So I salute you, my friend.

 

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