Herschell Gordon Lewis, “the godfather of (direct marketing and) gore,” died today at age 87. As the director of Blood Feast (1963), Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964), The Gruesome Twosome (1967), The Wizard of Gore (1970), The Gore Gore Girls (1972), and countless others, his place in film history is secure. In 2012, I had the opportunity to interview HGL for an article I wrote for NPR. The occasion was the rediscovery of three long-lost sexploitation films he directed pseudonymously: The Ecstasies of Women (1969), Linda and Abilene (1969), and Black Love (1971), which were restored and re-released by Vinegar Syndrome. These were decidedly minor works, and HGL was less-than-pleased by their resurrection, but he graciously agreed to be interviewed (“I’m just happy NPR knows who I am!” he said, which floored me).
A precocious teenage movie buff is eager to show the maturity of his taste, but since he’s too young and inexperienced to have developed any real taste of his own, he often defines himself by what he dislikes. One of my proudest moments as a 16-year-old cinephile was writing a scabrous review of Roman Polanski’s Oliver Twist for my high-school newspaper. As I sat in the Varsity Cinema, my attention drifting from Polanski’s innocuous literary adaptation, I began plotting various ways to call out the Emperor with no clothes. With zeal worthy of Rex Reed, I proclaimed it “dry” and “redundant,” calling it too dark for kids and too dull for adults. To twist the knife, I took aim at its world-renowned director personally, saying it represented a sad “return to form” (implying that his entire post-exile period, aside from The Pianist, was undistinguished).
To live as a Jackie Chan superfan in the 21st century means travelling a lonely road, armed only with a cast-iron spirit and unconquerable soul. I made a decision long ago to stick with Hong Kong’s most famous export through thick and thin, ’til death do we part, and the journey has mostly taken me through rocky terrain. Though I’ve basked in the lukewarm breeze of The Karate Kid, The Forbidden Kingdom, Shinjuku Incident, and Little Big Soldier, and adapted to the damp, soggy conditions of New Police Story, Shaolin, and Dragon Blade, I’ve also suffered through the long winter frost of The Tuxedo, Rush Hour 3, The Spy Next Door, The Myth, The Medallion, Robin-B-Hood, and Chinese Zodiac (although, to be honest, that one was kinda funny), and the cataclysmic Biblical downpour of Chan’s politics (detailed in this powerful #longread by yours truly).