Just when you thought the coast was clear, I’m back with more Herschell Gordon Lewis! Between this little haphazard Lewis retrospective Lisa Marie Bowman and I are indulging in, and her exhaustively thorough, and highly readable, Friday The 13th series of recent days, Through The Shattered Lens is really becoming a gore-hound’s delight these days, isn’t it? Hell, even the music reviews around here lately have a bombastic and violent theme to them — Bathory? Hell, I’m impressed — Quorthon’s “Viking trilogy” is my favorite period in Bathory history, truth be told, and Twilight Of The Gods my favorite Bathory album, even though my all-time favorite song of theirs, Blood, Fire, Death appears on the album — well, Blood, Fire, Death. But it’s waaaaaayyyy too early for me to be getting this hopelessly sidetracked, isn’t ? So let’s get back to our guy Herschell.
Having spent my last visit here examining the alpha of Lewis’ “gore cycle,” namely Blood Feast, I figure now would be as good a time as any to take a look at the omega (not just of his gore flicks but of his filmmaking career in general, at least until Blood Feast 2 came along about 30 years later, but we won’t pay any attention to that — nor should you), namely 1972′s The Gore Gore Girls. Somebody a whole lot wiser than I am (though I’m not sure exactly who — truth be told, it was probably several “somebodies”) once said “if you’re gonna go out, then go out with a bang,” and this movie certainly makes it clear that HGL took that advice to heart.
Even by Lewis “standards,” the plot for this one is pretty threadbare — go-go dancers at a local (in this case “local” being the Chicago area) strip joynt are being murdered in downright awesomely grotesque fashion — faces smashed to pulp in mirrors before their heads are dug into, buttocks beaten and — uhhhmmmm — tenderized with a meat mallet before having salt and pepper added to the impromptu (and quite rare, it must be said) “rump roast” for seasoning, nipples clipped off with scissors to reveal squirting biological fountains of both white and chocolate milk, heads shoved into deep-fat fryers — clearly, Herschell’s pulling out all the stops on his way out. And just as clearly, he’s well past the point of even pretending that he’s taking any of this shit seriously. Not that he ever put much effort into such conceits in the first place, mind you, but in the case of this film it’s especially fortunate that his tongue was so obviously placed firmly in his cheek, because it really does help to take the edge off what, on paper at least, seems like a truly OTT-in-the-misogyny-department series of murders ( a well-placed subplot involving a local feminist group helps to lessen the impact, as well — even though said group’s inclusion amounts to little more than a red herring plot-wise, the surprisingly level-headed portrayal of them by Lewis comes at least somewhat close to an admission on his part that feminist critics of his work were probably right ). Think of this as Herschell doing what he did best — giving gore-lovers more of what they wanted than they could possibly have hoped for, while not-so-tacitly admitting that it was all crap, anyway.
Anyway, back to the story — this was Lewis’ one and only attempt at injecting a bit of mystery into the proceedings, and doing their best to sleuth out the identity of the killer, without murdering each other first, are the truly odd couple of gungo-ho (but hopelessly incompetent) reporter Nancy Weston (Amy Farrell), and fancy-pants private eye Abraham gentry (Frank Kress, who absolutely sinks his teeth into the role of the — ahem! — sexually ambiguous version of Phillip Marlowe and is, in true Lewis fashion, playing the whole thing not just for laughs but for hearty, full-throttle belly laughs from start to finish). Throw in comedy legend Henny Youngman (who must have been broke or something) as the ridiculously fast-talking owner of the strip club the unfortunate victims worked at, and friends, you’ve got a recipe for a winner on your hands.
To be sure, you need a strong (hell, a cast-iron) stomach to make it through some of the death and dismemberment on display here (all of which looks pretty darn good on the Something Weird Video DVD release of this film — they did a very nice job remastering the full-frame picture, the mono sound is good, and extras include, of course, a commentary from Lewis and, doubly of course, the “Gallery of Herschell Gordon Lewis exploitation artwork”), as the effects are, on the whole, somewhat-better-conceived than in the average HGL production, but there’s just no escaping the feeling of “the director’s not taking this whole thing too seriously, so why should I?” that permeates each and every frame of this film. It’s brutally honest in its intentions — “give the audience what they want one more time, rake up a bunch of money, and close the door behind me on the way out” is the best summation of Lewis’ aims here, and his willingness to have a few laughs as he says “thanks for the cash one more time, suckers” is just icing on the cake. Any movie that openly states that it’s proud that it’s over with (see the final screen cap below) is clearly imploring you to do anything other than take it seriously, and with that in mind, I gotta say, while The Gore Gore Girls falls absolutely flat in its attempt to wring anything like dramatic tension out of its poorly-thought-out (to be generous) murder-mystery premise, and while its absolutely appallingly brutal treatment of the female gender should be inexcusably offensive, and while it’s “fourth wall”-busting acting absolutely obliterates any chances the film might have had (not that it really wanted any) of being seen as anything other than a cash-in quickie, the fact is that it’s just about the most fun you can imagine having watching someone’s eyes being pulled out. And tits sliced off. And head deep-fried.
And that’s really the genius of Herschell Gordon Lewis in a nutshell, isn’t it? He could play you for a sucker, openly tell you that was exactly what he was doing, and make you chuckle at what a chump you were as you handed your money over to him anyway. God bless ya, Mr. Lewis — we could sure use more like you today. Thanks for this outrageous parting gift.