The Daily Horror Grindhouse: Zero in and Scream (dir by Lee Frost)


I have to admit that there’s one very simple reason why I decided to watch and review the 1970 thriller/horror/softcore/sniper mayhem film, Zero In And Scream.  And that reason was that the movie is only 63 minutes long.  Seriously, when you’re writing for 7 different sites while working during the day and living during the night, there are times when you simply have to say, “That 4-hour epic from the Ukraine looks like it’s a great movie but I’ve only got time for an hour-long, low-budget excursion into cinematic obscurity.”

Zero In and Scream (and that’s great title, by the way) is about Mike (Michael Stearns).  Mike has really impressive hair and a deep tan.  (Perhaps the scariest part of this film comes when Mike undresses and we are confronted with his pasty white tan lines.)  I was going to comment on the fact that Mike also spends a good deal of the film wearing a really ugly and really wide tie but then again, this movie was made in 1970, so I guess that’s to be expected.

Mike has some issues that go beyond questionable fashion choices. He simply cannot get a girlfriend.  Maybe it’s because he’s an extremely moralistic jerk who says things like, “When a man climbs on top of a woman, she becomes ugly!”  Or maybe it’s because he spends almost all of his spare time holding and stroking a very phallic rifle.  Whenever Mike spots a couple making love, he shoots the man and allows the woman to remain pure.

Mike spends his spare time at the local strip club where, for reasons that aren’t quite clear, one of the dancers (Dawna Rae) decides that she likes this weirdo and she invites him to come to a party at her place.  The party is tres decadent in a 1970 softcore sort of way so, as you can imagine, Mike freaks out.

Will Mike be able to control his homicidal urges?  Will he listen to the radio reporter who, at one point, begs the killer to turn himself in because, “It’s obvious that you’re not in control of yourself!”  Or will he just continue to just wander around with his rifle while having flashbacks?

For the most part, Mike’s issues are just an excuse to get as many naked bodies on screen as possible, with a good deal of the film’s 63 minutes being taken up by a surprisingly well-shot underwater orgy scene.  Zero In and Scream doesn’t really work as horror film or as a thriller but I’m still recommend it for all of my fellow history fanatics.  Like many a worthy grindhouse film, Zero In and Scream is a time capsule of the era in which it was made.  Until we get our hands on a time machine, films like this are as close as we will ever come to personally experiencing the 70s.

Add to that, Zero In and Scream is worth watching for its abrupt but clever final shot.  It may not be a particularly good film but it has a great ending!

(In case you hadn’t already guessed, Zero In And Scream is available from Something Weird Video.)

Embracing The Melodrama #15: You’ve Ruined Me, Eddie! (dir by R. John Hugh)

Patty and EddieFilmed down in Florida and originally released in 1959, You’ve Ruined Me, Eddie! was originally known as Touch of Flesh.  Of the two titles, I prefer You’ve Ruined Me, Eddie!  While I’m sure that Touch of Flesh, as a title, was good for convincing horny teenager boys at Southern drive-ins to contribute to the film’s the box office, it’s also a rather boring title.  You’ve Ruined Me, Eddie!, however, is properly histrionic and over-the-top.  It’s the perfect title for a perfectly pulpy film.

You’ve Ruined Me, Eddie! takes place in Dentonville, Florida, which is one of those small Southern towns where you can sit out on your porch and watch the mist hang over the bayous while you attempt to survive both the humidity and the crazy rednecks who apparently make up the entire population of the town.  Dentonville is the home of the wealthy Dr. Denton (Charles Martin), a casually corrupt man who rules with the help of a dim-witted sheriff.

Dr. Denton has a daughter named Joan (Jeanne Rainer), a spoiled and promiscuous hedonist who spends all of her spare time seducing boys from the wrong side of the tracks.  When Joan gets together with the dumb but decent Eddie (Ted Marshall), the end result is that Joan gets pregnant.  Joan announces that she’s going to get an abortion but guess who wants to both be a father and have an oppurtunity to become a part of the most powerful family in town?  Even after Joan tells him that she has no interest in getting “fat and sick and ugly,” Eddie demands that she not abort her child.

Dr. Denton reacts by having Eddie framed for a crime and thrown in jail.  However, Eddie’s friend Vicky (Sue Ellis) knows a lawyer who can get Eddie out of jail.  So, what choice does Joan have but to grab a gun and chase Eddie through the swamps while shooting at him?

You’ve Ruined Me, Eddie! is a wonderfully odd and sordid piece of Southern gothic.  Along with featuring everything that you might expect from a film like this — overheated dialogue, unapologetic overacting, and over-the-top plotting, You Ruined Me, Eddie! is distinguished by Jeanne Rainer’s ferocious performance as Joan.  Whether she’s taunting Eddie or dancing around her bedroom in her underwear or demanding that her father help her find the best abolitionist in Tampa, Jeanne Rainer turns Joan into such a determined force of nature that she becomes the unexpected heroine of the film.  By the end of it, you can’t blame her for wanting to get boring old Eddie out of her life.  He would only slow her down.

You’ve Ruined Me, Eddie! is not an easy film to find.  However, it has been released on DVD by Something Weird Video as a double feature with The Shame of Patty Smith, a film that will be reviewed in a future installment of this melodramatic series.


Grindhouse Classics : “She Freak”

Okay, so it’s not Herschell Gordon Lewis — but 1967’s She Freak is pretty close, at least in terms of style and tone (if not gore content — the only blood on display here is in a very brief screwdriver-through-the-hand moment that frankly isn’t even nauseating) , and why shouldn’t it be? After all, it’s the “brain”child of HGL’s old producing partner, the legendary David F. Friedman, and definitely has a Lewis-like bizarre-on-a-budget sensibility. Oh, and it’s also available on DVD from Something Weird Video (nice full-frame transfer, acceptable mono sound, extras include a feature-length Friedman commentary, a gallery of exploitation art, some SWV trailers, a couple of tangentially-related shorts, etc.), the label that handles more or less all of our guy Herschell’s stuff, so — yeah, there are some similarities, to be sure.

Unfortunately, it’s even closer to Tod Browning’s seminal exploitation classic Freaks — not that there’s anything wrong with Freaks, mind you, and if you’re gonna rip something off  I suppose you might as well rip off one of the all-time greats, but anyway, read on and my use of the term “unfortunately” will, hopefully, make sense. In point of fact,  to call She Freak a rip-off is probably being a little too harsh, since even though it pretty much tells the exact same story as Freaks, it does so from the point of view of the gold-digging damsel rather than her victim. So maybe it’s more a case of an inverse carbon-copy. Which still means it’s nothing too earth-shatteringly original, but I digress.

Our story here revolves around one Jade Cochran (Claire Brennen, who bears a rather uncanny resemblance to latter-day Russ Meyer starlet Pandora Peaks minus the surgical — uhhhmmm — “enhancements”), a simple country girl who commits the cardinal exploitation movie sin of wanting something better out of life (of all the nerve!), and isn’t afraid to step on a few toes on her climb to what passes for “the top” in her admittedly limited worldview. At the outset of our little shot-around-Bakersfield-for-$65,000 morality play, Jade’s slinging hash as a waitress at the greasiest of greasy-spoon diners, but when an advance man for a traveling carnival comes though one day, she has the temerity to ask him if there’s any work for a gal with no experience,no skills, no education, but a pretty nice pair of legs in his merry troupe. He tells her to stop by and see the owner of the show after they get the tents set up, she tells her lecherous married creep of a boss to go to shove it (granted, after he fires her first and tells her she’s headed straight to hell — he’s a real charmer, this guy) and the next day she shows up at the box office and quickly finds herself employed — as a waitress (again) at the carnival snack truck. Step one on the road to world domination achieved, I guess.

It’s not long,  though, before our gal Jade really does start her hardscrabble climb up the carnival ladder. First she gets in good with a gal named “Moon” Mullins (Lynn Courtney), the closest thing to a stripper the show employs. “Moon” makes Jade the kindly offer of letting her shack up with her in her motel room while she’s in town, and before you know it Jade’s pestering her for the names of any single men with potential attached to the show. Jade’s already taken a liking to a fella named Blackie Fleming (Lee Raymond), who runs the Ferris wheel, but “Moon” lets her know there’s no future in getting mixed up with lowly ride operators and suggests that Jade should set her sights on Steve St. John (Bill McKinney), the well-to-do widower who owns the freak show — why, he’s even got a house in Tampa!

Jade takes her gal-pal up on her advice and soon begins courting her prey  over coffee and donuts every morning at the snack truck. Cut to a montage of rather listless-looking dates than play out sans dialogue and show our supposed lovebirds going out to dinner, riding around town in his car, and walking around the carnival a whole hell of a lot (when you add in all the extraneous footage of carnival set-up and tear-down activities also included in this flick — hey, Friedman had an “in” with a carny operator and wanted to get his money’s worth — you begin to see why even at a slim 83 minutes plenty of people refer to it as being “padded”) and presto!, before you know it,Ms. Cochran is now Mrs. St. John.

There are, however, a couple of pesky problems she can’t seem to run away from. One is the freaks themselves. We never actually see any of them (until the very end, and I’m sorry to report there’s not a real “freak” in the bunch — they’re all extras in makeup and cheap prosthetics), apart from a garden-variety midget named — amazingly enough — Shorty (Felix Silla),  who seems to have a penchant for following his boss’s new lady-love around, but she makes it clear that she can’t stand the sight of them and that they creep her the hell out. Steve indulges in some painfully wooden dialogue about how they’re his friends, they’re people just like you and me, he’s not exploiting them he’s giving them a chance, etc., but it’s no use. She just doesn’t care for their kind.

Her second (and larger) problem, though, his Blackie. He gives it to Jade rough-and-ready and that’s just how she likes it. In fact, she can’t seem to keep away from the guy. One night the always-underfoot Shorty spies her sneaking out of Blackie’s trailer, and when he tells his best-friend/boss about it, all he gets is a slap in the fact for his trouble. Yes, it appears as though Steve’s truly got rose-tinted glasses on when it comes to looking at his new bride, but when he gets “home” to their motel room (we never do get to see that palatial Tampa estate) and finds Blackie on his way out the door and Jade with a big smile on her face, he knows he’s been had. A fight ensues, Steve gets stabbed, Jade stands above him without lifting a finger to help and then turns her back on him as he dies, Blackie flees into the night,  is caught by the cops, confesses, and goes to jail —and now the freak show is Jade’s property, free and clear.

For the next five minutes or so we see Jade in her new incarnation as super-bitch of the midway — she drives her big Cadillac around recklessly, tells “Moon” to take a hike, spends a lot of time counting her money — and fires poor old Shorty. Which proves, of course, to be her undoing, as Shorty and his fellow losers in the genetic lottery surround her as she’s getting into her car one night, brandishing knives and torches one and all, close ranks around her terrified and convulsing body, and move in for — well, not the kill. To be honest, I have no idea exactly what they do to her, but she ends up like this —

And needless to say, for a gal that got to where she is on her looks, that’s gotta be a career-killer. To complete the homage (how’s that for being polite about it?) to Browning’s earlier film, the whole story is presented between two framing sequences featuring a carnival barker who tells his audience of gasping onlookers (and us) at the beginning that there are two kinds of freaks, those created by God and those made by man , and then we return to hear the end of his spiel before the big “reveal” finale showing us Jade as she is today (or as she was in 1967, at any rate). All in all it’s not a half-bad little time-waster as far as completely derivative and frankly unnecessary “uncredited remakes” go, and Brennen, who was actually a pretty good actress in her day (sadly, she passed away at a fairly early age from cancer in 1977) turns in a deliciously slow-burn-sinister starring turn as Jade that she clearly relishes every second of, but if you’ve seen Freaks then you’ve seen this done a)before, b)better, and c) with real circus “freak” performers.

Still, since the entire exploitation movie business was literally born as a traveling roadshow racket molded on the carny model, it’s nice to see drive-in fare that openly pays tribute to its roots like this one does. And I really shouldn’t do this, but — since exploitation’s the name of the game here, I think it only fitting that I end this whole thing by repeating a particularly salacious rumor that’s been circulating around the internet for some time now : apparently it was revealed shortly after Brennen’s death that she had secretly been seeing Felix “Shorty” Silla on the side for nine years and even bore his child! I have no idea if this is true or just another tinseltown tall tale, but it seems strangely natural that a movie like this would give birth to such a, well — freakish legend, and just think : if She Freak itself were half as interesting as this bit of gossip, it would definitely be remembered as an all-time classic!

Grindhouse Classics : “The Gore Gore Girls”

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.


Grindhouse Classics : “Blood Feast”

Tell me, friends, have you ever had — AN EGYPTIAN FEAST?

It doesn’t matter how you answer that question, the important thing is in how you ask it. You’ve gotta get all bug-eyed, swerve your neck outwards like a crane, and pause dramatically between  “hand” and “an” before raising your voice for the final three words. Then you, too, can look and sound just like Mal Arnold, the decidedly non-Egyptian “actor” (and I use that term loosely) who plays Egyptian serial-killer/caterer in director Herschell Gordon Lewis’ 1963 classic Blood Feast, and know that you’ll be faithfully imitating a slice of movie history.

And no, I don’t take the phrase “movie history” lightly — but in this case it most certainly applies. Which is not to say that Blood Feast is in any way a good film — heck, in many respects it isn’t even really a competent one (wait, didn’t I just refer to it as a “classic?” — bear with me, all will be explained), but for what it did, and when it did it, well — like it or not, it really does represent a couple of important firsts.

And speaking of firsts — first, a bit of a plot rundown, not that such a thing is really all that necessary. A nubile young female strips down to take a bath while listening to a radio report about a series of brutal, unsolved killings in her area. She gets naked, opens up a book called “Weird Ancient Religious Rituals,” lays back in the tub —and is hacked to pieces by a freaky-looking intruder of vaguely foreign appearance, who leaves what’s left of her to  slowly bleed to death while he makes of with her amputated leg.

Cut to the catering shop of one Fuad Ramses, the killer from the previous scene (no mystery here folks, sorry!), who is conversing with a customer, one Mrs. Dorothy Fremont (Lyn Bolton), who is planning a birthday dinner for her daughter, Suzette (eventual 1963 Playboy Playmate of the Year Connie Mason). Ramses suggests an Egyptian feast (hence our opening quote), and Mrs. Fremont agrees that would be a lovely idea given that her daughter is taking a night class on Egyptian history and culture.

The cops, led by one Detective Pete Thornton ( Lewis regular William Kerwin, operating here under the pseudonym of “Thomas Wood”) are hot on the trail of the killer, of course. We’re informed that the “entire force” is working around the clock on tracking the psychopath down, and even though said “entire force” apparently consists of only two guys, they follow the leads they’ve got pretty well, and those leads —- uhhmmmm — lead them to the aforementioned Egyptian studies night class, where our good detective takes an instant liking to our Ms. Fremont The Younger. Of course, in between trying to make time with the wealthy young socialite, he’s still got a case to work, and a couple more bodies (of the female variety, naturally) pile up, one with its tongue removed, the other sans its brain (both shown in lovingly agonizing detail by Lewis, with the tongue scene especially being a standout for hardened gore-hounds to this day — and yes, the rumors are true, they used a sheep tongue procured from a local butcher shop), and of course both unfortunate ladies are connected with that apparently-cursed night-school class (which makes you wonder why everybody doesn’t just drop the course, but I digress).

Anyway, as events play out, clues finally lead the cops right to Ramses’ doorstep — or, more specifically, to the back room of his shop, where he’s got an impromptu shrine set up to the supposedly Egyptian goddess of death, Ishtar. The ever-enterprising Fuad is apparently attempting to serve up a bunch of body parts from different victims to people at the Fremont party as a cannibalistic sacrifice to his savage goddess  in order to facilitate her reincarnation upon the Earth into human form. Or something. And he’s got Suzette in mind as his final victim. Or to be Ishtar’s new human hostess. Or something.

I suppose none of it really matters because Fuad walks with a comically over-pronounced limp and isn’t gonna get too far once the cops show up (he makes it into the back of a garbage truck in his feeble escape attempt and is compacted therein, with Thornton intoning that he ended up exactly where he belonged because he’s nothing but human garbage anyway — whoops, sorry to give away the ending), and it’s not for its gripping and dramatic story that anyone cared — or, for that matter, still cares — about this movie anyway.

Nor, frankly, is it due its performances, most of which fall below even community theater standards,  that Blood Feast is still talked about to this day . Oh, sure, Arnold’s all kinds of fun if you can get past the blatant offensiveness inherent in the idea of a guy of course being a bloodthirsty maniac because he’s disabled, vaguely effeminate, and even — gasp! shudder! — an immigrant. He’s clearly playing the whole things for laughs (as is Lewis himself, for that matter), but the same charitable view really can’t be extended to the truly awful non-acting of Connie Mason, whose “talents” were best summarized by HGL when he famously said “I’ve often thought that if one took the key out of Connie’s back, that she’d simply stand still” — nor to Bolton, who, if anything, is even worse in her turns as Mason’s cinematic mother. Neither actress emotes in the slightest, nor are they aware enough of their own shortcomings to intentionally over-do things — they’re just basically reciting dialogue, and not even doing that very well.

So what does at leave us with? Why, surely the answer’s right in the title — blood, and lots of it (and specially-concocted blood at that — Lewis didn’t care for how any of the standard-at-the-time stage blood looked on camera, so he had a local Miami (like most of HGL’s flicks, this was lensed in the South Florida area) cosmetic company come up with a new blend just for this film that he would end up using on all his subsequent efforts — on the plus side it was entirely edible, on the minus side the base ingredient was Kaopectate) . And brains. And tongues. And entrails. And limbs. But mostly, just lots and lots — and lots! — of blood.

All of which is pretty much standard stuff these days, of course, but it certainly wasn’t back in 1963. This is well and truly the first “gore film,” and while that fact has been justly acknowledged by the horror community at large, what’s less talked about, but no less true, is the fact that Blood Feast is also the first modern slasher film. Oh, sure, Lewis and producer David F. Friedman make a big deal of pointing this out on numerous occasions on the occasionally-self-congratulatory-but-on-the-whole-pretty-lively-and-enthralling commentary track that accompanies this film’s DVD and Blu-Ray releases from Something Weird Video (it’s presented full frame with mono sound and also includes the standard “Gallery Of Herschell Gordon Lewis exploitation artwork” that all these come with), but for some reason the largely-self-appointed gatekeepers of horror-dom don’t seem to want to go there. It’s almost as if they’re willing to give Blood Feast some “props,” but not too many. You want us to admit you were the first gore flick? Fine. We can do that. But the first slasher? No way. We’ve gotta save that for a more “respectable” picture, thank you very much. It’s gotta be Halloween. Or Black Christmas. Or —

Well, folks, I’m here to call bullshit on that. Horror on the whole is already marginalized and ghetto-ized by the (again, largely self-appointed) arbiters of all that is right and good in “mainstream” cinema — to see the same thing done on a “micro” level within horror fandom itself as is done to the genre on a more “macro” level reeks of hypocrisy of the highest order. Let’s give Blood Feast its due. I’m not here to tell you it’s a great example of the slasher subgenre, or frankly even of the gore subgenre, but it did ’em both first, and everyone who came along later owes a debt of gratitude to what Lewis and Friedman did here, even if they didn’t necessarily do it all particularly well. Besides, numerous and readily-apparent flaws aside, this is good, solid, brainless fun. If more horror flicks were to put their various pretenses aside and just embrace the sense of good-time movie-making that Blood Feast positively revels in, maybe — just maybe — the genre as a whole wouldn’t find itself in the mess it’s in today. Just a thought.

Grindhouse Classics : “The Gruesome Twosome”

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.

6 Trailers In Search Of a Title

Without further delay, here’s the latest edition of Lisa’s favorite grindhouse and exploitation trailers.

1) Something Weird (1967)

I just had to start out with this because it represents everything that I love about these old school exploitation trailers.  It’s just so shameless and cheerful about it all.  This film is from Herschell Gordon Lewis and it features ESP, a really kinda scary witch, and a random LSD trip.  The title of this film also inspired the name of one of my favorite companies, Something Weird Video.  (I make it a point to buy something from Something Weird every chance I get.  My most recent Something Weird video is a film from the 60s called Sinderella and the Golden Bra.  Haven’t gotten a chance to watch it yet but with a title like that, how could it be bad?)

2) Fade to Black (1980)

This is actually a really, really bad movie and I think the trailer goes on for a bit too long but it does have a few vaguely effective moments — i.e., when Dennis Christopher stares at the camera with half of his face painted.  Plus, you can catch a young Mickey Rourke acting a lot like Michael Madsen. 

3) Monster Shark (1984)  

Now you may think that since this Italian film was directed by Lamberto Bava (credited here as John Old, Jr. because his father, Mario, was occasionally credited as John Old, Sr.) and has the word “shark” in the title that it’s yet another rip-off of Jaws.  Well, joke’s on you because, as they state repeatedly in the trailer, “It’s not a shark!”  Even if you didn’t know this was an Italian film before watching the trailer, it wouldn’t be hard to guess.  First off, there’s the dubbing.  Then there’s the scene of the film’s main character wandering around aimlessly.  (Most Italian horror trailers feature at least one scene of someone just walking around.)  And finally, there’s the fact that this is yet another trailer that uses a sped-up version of Goblin’s Beyond The Darkness soundtrack for its background music.  While I haven’t seen this film yet, I plan to just to find out who Bob is.

 4) Van Nuys Boulevard (1979)

Originally, I was planning on including the trailer for a Ted V. Mikels’ film called The Worm Eaters right here but I reconsidered because, quite frankly, The Worm Eaters is one of the most disgusting, stomach-churning things I’ve ever seen.  I’m going to wait until I find five other equally disgusting trailers to feature it with and then I’m going to put them all up under the heading: 6 Trailers To Inspire Vomit.  Until then, enjoy a far more pleasant trailer — Van Nuys Blvd.  This trailer rhymes!  I’m tempted to say that I could have written it but then again, I only write free verse poetry.  Anyway, where was I?  Oh yeah, Van Nuys Blvd.

5) Vice Squad (1982)

However, there was a darker side to Van Nuys Blvd. and here it is: Vice Squad, starring Wings Hauser.  Eventually, I’ll review this film but until I do, check out our new friend Trash Film Guru’s review.

6) Crosstalk (1982)

We’ll conclude with the only thing scarier than Wings Hauser in Vice Squad — a computer that has not only witnessed a murder but enjoyed it!