Remember the movie Juno?
I can remember when Juno first came out, a lot of people were shocked when the character of Mark (played by Jason Bateman) suddenly started to come on to Juno (Ellen Page). (For the record, as a result of that one scene, I’ve always had a hard time watching Jason Bateman in practically anything.) Myself, I knew Mark no good long before he asked Juno what she thought of him.
Remember the scene where Mark asked Juno who her favorite horror director was? Juno, being intelligent, replied, “Dario Argento.” Mark smirked and replied that Herschell Gordon Lewis was better. As soon as Mark said that, I knew he was no good.
Now, I should make clear that’s nothing against Herschell Gordon Lewis, who was one of the pioneers of independent American cinema. Though I don’t think that there’s any way you can compare him to Argento, Lewis played an important and often undervalued role in the development of horror as a genre. Lewis may not be a household name but Blood Feast and 2,000 Maniacs are two of the most influential films ever made. Something Weird was one of the first films to feature an acid trip and it’s title inspired Something Weird Video. Speaking of Something Weird Video, the clip that they always play before their films — the one of the bald man shouting that “you’re damaged merchandise and this is a fire sale!” — was taken from Lewis’s Scum of the Earth. And finally, Lewis’s political satire — The Year of the Yahoo — pretty much predicted the current state of American politics.
If you want to find out more about the life and career of Herschell Gordon Lewis, the 1999 book, A Taste of Blood: The Films of Herschell Gordon Lewis, is a good place to start. The author, Christopher Curry, admits from the start that he is an unapologetic fan of Mr. Lewis’s. As such, don’t expect the book to be too critical of any of Lewis’s films. That said, A Taste of Blood contains not only interviews with the always articulate Lewis and some of his collaborators but it also contains a synopsis of every single Lewis film that had been released up until that point. As such, the book is not just a tribute to Lewis but also a fascinating record of what it was like to work outside of the mainstream Hollywood establishment in the 1960s. For that reason alone, it’s a valuable resource.
Now, it should be remembered that A Taste of Blood was written in 1999. At the time that it was written, Lewis had retired from filmmaking. Lewis, who passed away in 2016, would return to make three more films after the publication of A Taste of Blood. As a result, A Taste of Blood is not a complete look at Lewis’s film career. But it is a good place to start!
Finally, I bought my copy of A Taste For Blood at Recycled Books in Denton, Texas. As far as I know, it’s out of print but, as always, there are still copies to be found online.