Ask most people what their favorite Herschell Gordon Lewis flick is, and the common answers you’re likely to hear will be either Blood Feast, 2,000 Maniacs, or The Gore-Gore Girls, with the occasional vote for The Wizard Of Gore simply because it was mentioned in Juno, they saw it due to the fact that Diablo Cody gave it her “certified cool” stamp of approval, and they then proceeded to go no further in the “Godfather of Gore”‘s cinematic ouevre than that.
Fair enough. But for this armchair critic’s money, Lewis’ most fun — and most deranged (they usually go hand-in-hand with HGL) — work is 1967′s The Gruesome Twosome. The premise is pure genius, the humor is right up there at the forefront, and it’s as subtle as a hammer-blow to the forehead. What more could you possibly ask for?
Old Mrs. Pringle (Elizabeth Davis) is an eccentric yet hopelessly entrepreneurial senior citizen who runs not one, but two home-based businesses — a wig shop downstairs primarily catering to co-eds from the local college (yes, there was once a day when wigs were considered very hip fashion accessories by the under-65-and-without-cancer set), and a boarding house upstairs that pretty much rents rooms solely to — those same co-eds from the local college. It doesn’t take a seasoned exploitation viewer like myself or unobtainium13 vet Lisa Marie Bowman (who you can either thank, or blame, for getting me to start contributing to this site) to figure out at this point why Mrs. Pringle’s wigs have such fine-quality, completely-realistic-feeling hair, does it?
Well, okay, in case you’re slow on the uptake,the not-so-good Mrs. P.’s demented full-grown son, Rodney (Chris Martell), is taking the girls into the back room of the shop, scalping them, and then killing them — thus ensuring that their “room for rent” sign never has to come down, and that they never run out of wigs. And this is almost always shown in loving, close-up, excruciating, far-less-than-realistic detail. Truth be told, although Lewis had taken something of an extended hiatus from the gore genre he basically started single-handedly before returning to it with this film, he hadn’t been away so long that he forgot we wouldn’t have it any other way and he knew that his job was simply to deliver the goods. Sure, there’s a “plot” here of sorts — college student Kathy Baker (Gretchen Wells), a self-appointed “female James Bond,” starts doing the cops’ job for them and investigating the disappearances of all her classmates when one of her fellow residents of the all-girls’ dormitory doesn’t come home one night, much to the chagrin of her boyfriend, but as with any Lewis film, the payoff here comes primarily in the form of the ingenious set-up and the resultant heavy doses of viscera said set-up inevitably gives rise to — the rest is all filler.
And it’s the quality of that filler that sets The Gruesome Twosome apart. Whether it’s the truly hysterical conversation between two styrofoam wig-form heads at the beginning of the film (a scenario Lewis had to improvise quickly on the fly to pad out the runtime to 70 minutes when the original opening scene was inadvertently destroyed, thus making it a genuine example of necessity being the accidental mother to genius), or the extended slapstick-style sequence where Kathy sics the cops on the poor German- immigrant gardener/handyman who works at the school who just likes to bury bones for his dog in his back yard, or Mrs. Pringle’s constant back-and-forth (in her mind, at any rate) dialogue with her stuffed bobcat, Napoleon, the downright clever nature of the padding in this film marks it as a cut above (pun only somewhat intended) its contemporaries.
As is the case with pretty much every Herschell Gordon Lewis flick, The Gruesome Twosome is available on DVD from Something Weird Video in a “special edition” that features a remastered (and quite nice-looking) full-frame transfer, remastered mono sound, a full-length, and very entertaining, commentary track from Lewis himself, and the ubiquituous-on-these-things “Gallery of Herschell Gordon Lewis exploitation artwork.” Definitely an essential purchase either on its own or as part of the HGL box set that also contains A Taste Of Blood, She-Devils On Wheels, Something Weird, The Wizard Of Gore and The Gore-Gore Girls. If you haven’t got it, get it — and if you’ve got it already, there’s no such thing as a bad time to watch it again. Have fun — and don’t touch my hair.