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BOOK REVIEW
A Taste of Blood
Author Christopher Wayne Curry discovered the works of Herschell Gordon Lewis in the same manner as many a horror fan living in the mid-1980s did--via home video. The contemporary horror scene was at that time typified by the "teen slasher" film--Halloween, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and their sequels and ripoffs were the order of the day on the big screen, while the fairly recent videocassette phenomenon was offering up generous amounts of vintage competition. The groundbreaking gore films of H.G. Lewis (Blood Feast, Two Thousand Maniacs!, and Color Me Blood Red) were especially attractive offerings, as viewers too young to have caught them during their theatrical runs never had a chance to catch them on television, either. Here was something simultaneously historical and new.

Curry had seen screen gore before, but never anything like Blood Feast or its successors. His fascination with the films--and the man who created them--became an obsessive quest to collect any and all materials related to the subject. Curry's hopes were raised by the discovery that one Daniel Krogh had actually published a book on Lewis--but hope turned to disappointment when he learned that The Amazing Herschell Gordon Lewis And His World Of Exploitation Films was a long out-of-print collector's item, destined never to resurface. Wondering if the director even knew that he still had fans, Curry left him a telephone message--and Lewis himself responded! Not one to ignore a good omen, Curry determined to replace the unobtainable volume with a new Lewis book. The aspiring author found good fortune in his efforts--obtaining the helpful cooperation of not only Daniel Krogh but of many key players in the Lewis legacy.

Curry's new book is now available, and while it may not be the final word on everything that is Herschell Gordon Lewis (Lewis's self-penned novelizations of his first two gore films are never mentioned, for example), it is as thorough an exploration of Lewis's film work as one could hope for. The majority of the text is devoted to overviews of the individual works which remain available for viewing, as well as descriptions of those titles currently "lost."

Lewis's films aren't explored in strict chronological order. Curry chooses to group them in categories defined by seven sections: "The Bare Beginnings" (the early nudies); "The Roots of Gore" (the groundbreakers); "Sidetracked" (the first Lewis films made without the participation of producer David L. Friedman); "Back on Track"; "Back to Blood"; "The Second Wave of Nudity"; and "The Final Films." Curry's coverage of the films is detailed but casual. He freely admits in his introduction that he doesn't consider himself a professional author/critic; and this view is borne out by the conversational tone of the writing. Curry offers gut reactions. He frequently free-associates when reminded of other films he's seen, and he occasionally contradicts himself. He describes more than one scene as Lewis's "strongest ever," for instance; and Curry finds himself sufficiently disturbed by a rape scene in Just for the Hell of It (1968) to warrant a defensive commentary on its inclusion in the film--when, in fact, several other such sequences go by without further mention both earlier and later in the book. Nevertheless, this informal approach often seems quite appropriate when dealing with the films in question. Lewis never considered himself an "artist," either, and deep, probing criticism isn't likely to turn up crucial subtexts in works designed to make money by displaying the sensational. As a filmmaker, Lewis was a showman. By being ahead of the competition, and by possessing sufficient professional skill to bring his imaginings to life, he gave his audience the thrills they sought--and Curry's commentary is that of a more-than-satisfied audience member urging others to check out what he saw.

Lewis's films are put into historical and biographical background in the course of the text. It's an undeniably fascinating story, but huge portions of it will be awfully familiar to anyone who has read David F. Friedman's autobiography, A Youth in Babylon, which Curry draws from extensively. (Curry does in fact credit his source). The fresher material involves the years after the dissolution of the Lewis/Friedman partnership. (Though they never made another film together, they have since reunited as friends. They have also recently teamed up on the audio commentary of Something Weird's DVD release of Lewis's "Blood Trilogy"--Blood Feast, Two Thousand Maniacs!, and Color Me Blood Red.) But more interesting (and more detailed) are the interviews contained in the book's second section. Curry speaks with Lewis, Friedman, Bill Rogers (the star of Lewis's A Taste of Blood, which provided this volume with its name), Blood Feast star Mal Arnold, original Lewis book author Daniel Krogh, and Hedda Lubin, star of Lewis's last film, The Gore Gore Girls.

To complete the package, the book features a generous assortment of illustrations--publicity photos, movie stills, and advertising materials are in abundance, largely thanks to Krogh. And it should be mentioned that these stills are as sensational as the films they represent--be they the "nudie" films or the "gore" films (which get an extremely vivid, full-color section of their own in the center of the book). Those who could never look at such films had best not pick up the book, either. But Lewis fans (and there are many) and the curious uninitiated won't want to pass it up. This book, like the films it describes, delivers exactly what it promises.
 


A Taste of Blood: The Films of Herschell Gordon Lewis by Christopher Wayne Curry is now available from Creation Books. Paperback. Suggested list price: $22.95 (16.95 in the UK). For additional information, check out the Creation Books Web site.

NEXT PAGE »

Go to:
Introduction
A Taste of Blood (book review)
Blood Feast
Two Thousand Maniacs
Color Me Blood Red
A Taste of Blood
Something Weird
The Gruesome Twosome
She-Devils on Wheels
The Wizard of Gore
The Gore Gore Girls

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