What is an "exploitation film?" The term has been applied to movies of so many different persuasions that it scarcely holds a meaning of its own without further definition. Perhaps it involves the use of a current "hot" issue--a promise that citizens concerned with the burning societal questions of the day will find the film in question "must" viewing. Perhaps it involves "forbidden" thrills being offered in the guise of serious "adult" education. Or perhaps it involves a pledge to provide the viewer with something they've never seen before--if they have what it takes to handle it, naturally.

From 1959 through 1972, writer/producer/director Herschell Gordon Lewis thoroughly explored every one of these avenues. His mission? To make films that made money--for himself and his partners, or for others who hired him out. And while cinematic "art" was the furthest thing from his mind, his foresight enabled him to leave an indelible stamp on the film industry--as the unquestioned "Godfather of Gore."

Lewis's no-nonsense approach resulted in a partnership with producer/distributor David F. Friedman. While Friedman came from a carnival background and was an well-versed veteran of the "roadshow" experience, Lewis had worked as a television director and brought this experience to the alliance. It was Friedman's Essanjay Films that distributed Lewis's directorial debut, The Prime Time (a "reckless youth" drama notable as actress Karen Black's first film). This was followed by such Lewis/Friedman collaborations as Living Venus (a serious, well-crafted drama--starring none other than Harvey Korman--which used the career of Hugh Hefner for inspiration), the nudie comedy The Adventures of Lucky Pierre, and a predictable string of nudist-camp epics.

But not even these could last. As so-called "mainstream" studios started taking more and more advantage of a new societal permissiveness, the innocent romps of Friedman, Lewis, and others quickly lost their drawing power. Rather than follow anyone else's trend, the duo decided to move in a completely different direction...and in 1963, the first full-fledged "gore" film was unleashed on a completely unsuspecting public.

A homicidal maniac descends upon a victim in Blood Feast.
(© 1963 Box Office Spectaculars. All rights reserved.)

Blood Feast was simple in story and often laughable from an acting standpoint. It was certainly no threat to the established classics of the horror genre in this regard. But the selling point was unique: never before had such lingering, full-color gore been displayed on any theater screen...let alone in such quanitities as Blood Feast offered. The result? An unqualified sensation--and the horror film genre would never be quite the same again.

Lewis and Friedman parted company after their third gore epic (the "trilogy" included Two Thousand Maniacs! and Color Me Blood Red), but both men remained active in various "exploitation" circles. Lewis continued making films in various genres through 1972 (most notably She-Devils on Wheels, The Wizard of Gore, and The Gore Gore Girls), ultimately retiring from movies and becoming a success in the world of direct marketing.

Today, the films of H.G. Lewis are more in demand than ever before. Ironically, it may have been his detractors who sparked this attention: the 1980 Medved Brothers book The Golden Turkey Awards nominated Lewis as "The Worst Director of All Time," utilizing graphic descriptions of some of his most outrageous scenes. However, instead of creating scorn for Lewis's films, they created curiosity--and the video boom of the 1980s quickly brought the Lewis/Friedman "Blood Trilogy" into a new level of availability. A book on the director and his work quickly sold out, becoming an instant collector's item; and Lewis himself soon became a much sought-after interview subject and convention guest, as well as the object of many a filmic tribute.

The year 2000 marks the debut of Lewis's work on DVD, as well as the publication of a new "Films Of" book--created out of sheer necessity by devoted fan Christopher Wayne Curry. Reviews of this volume and the first five DVDs in a series brought to you by Image Entertainment and Something Weird Video (itself named after a Lewis film!) follow. By all means, come along...if you have what it takes!


Go to:
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