Lost Films Of Herschell Gordon Lewis, The
Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
Released on: January 8, 2013.
Director: Herschell Gordon Lewis
Cast: Sharon Matt, Antoinette Maynard, Kip Marsh, Walter Camp, Bonnie Clark, Tom Thorn, Roxanne Jones
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As the liner notes included with this disc rightly point out, Vinegar Syndrome’s release of The Lost Films Of Herschell Gordon Lewis is a bit of a cause for celebration amongst fans of American exploitation and drive-in cinema. For with this triple feature, the first for the upstart label, every single finished film from the ‘Godfather Of Gore’ has now been found and released on home video. When you take into account that there are countless holes in the filmographies of many other filmmakers who toiled away in similar genres to those touched by the gentle hand of Mister Lewis, this gives fans reason to hold out hope that maybe, just maybe, some day those holes will be filled the in the same way. And if we get really, really, really lucky, they’ll receive the same care and attention to detail as has been afforded Lewis’ now no longer lost pictures.
So with that out of the way, yeah, these are rare and never before seen on home video – that’s great and all, but are the movies any good? Well, they aren’t likely to convert those who dislike Lewis’ work into fans, but for those with an affinity for his ‘style’ they’re absolutely worth checking out. Here’s a look at the three films that make up The Lost Films Of Herschell Gordon Lewis.
ECSTASIES OF WOMEN (1969):
The premise for this one is simple and formulaic, but it works. When the movie begins the camera pans across the marquee of a topless bar. The opening credits roll over top of a few buxom ladies shakin’ what the good Lord gave them as we meet Harry (Walter Camp) and his three pals – Gene (Forman Shane), Ted (William Vickers) and Fred (James Brand). It seems this is Harry’s last night as a single man and the quarter are out to send him off in style at the local ballet. As cute little waitress Kitty (Eleanor Riggs) takes their drink orders and catches the eye of randy Gene, Harry discusses some of his conquests from the good old days – it seems that being a travelling lingerie salesman who lives on a houseboat with a stocked bar and a bed has its advantages.
So we travel back in time with Harry to a bar in Los Angeles where he picks up a model named Annette (Janette Mills). They have a few drinks (Stuart Lancaster tends bar… which is rad) and hit it off as they make corny jokes about their hometowns: she’s from Horsehead, New York and he’s from Intercourse, Pennsylvania. One thing leads to another and before you know they’re back at the boat getting it on. From there, we see Harry at the beach catching some rays where a pretty young thing in a bikini named Sandy (Vincene Wallace) ask to borrow his newspaper. He obliges but wonders what she’s really up to – turns out she’s horny and wants the kind of love that only a tall, skinny guy with frosted hair like Harry can provide. They head back to the boat for more sex. After that we learn how Harry was driving around minding his own business one day when a Lolita-esque lady named Philomena (Sharon Matt) hops into his car. She too has dirty things on her mind, and it doesn’t take her long to convince Harry that she’s old enough to experiences the ecstasies of women herself.
Meanwhile, back at the bar, a stripped named Summer Frenzy (Bonnie Clark) has taken a liking to Harry. They’re going to go back to the boat for a little bit of fun once he’s off, but Gene’s got eyes on Kitty. Before you know it, Fred and Ted have hooked up with strippers Chris (Dee Howard) and Freddie (Antoinette Maynard) and everyone has their sights set on the U.S.S. orgy for a group make out session and some go-go dancing (hooray for white pleather boots)!
Produced by Tom J. Dowd, The Ecstasies Of Women is a lot of good, goofy fun. Even if it is stagey and stupid it remains completely watchable in its own dopey way. The four guys at the table seem more than a little in the bag and periodically screw up one another’s names and contradict each other in the midst of conversation, but given that this is often how a guys night out at such an establishment can be, what at first seems a mistake soon fits the film rather well.
Performance wise, Walter Camp is pretty funny as the male lead. Quick with a comeback and never wanting for snappy banter, he smooth talks his way from one easy lay to the next and if he’s maybe not the best casting choice for a cavalier Romeo type like Harry, Camp didn’t get that memo. He seems completely convinced of his own stud factor and the movie is all the better for it. His camaraderie with his three pals is believable enough but the other main reason to want to check this one out is obviously for the female talent. Every one of the ladies cast in the film is a looker, from dark haired girl next door type Jeanette Mills to the more exotic and unusual looking Eleanor Riggs to the statuesque tall blonde Bonnie Clark. Throw in petite and adorable Sharon Matt and Vixen’s own Vincene Wallace and you’ve got a pretty damn solid cast of ladies each as keen as the next to show off their birthday suits for the camera. Somehow, Lewis makes all of this seem reasonably innocent, probably because there’s such a corny sense of humor behind all of it.
Lewis’ ‘flair’ for fancy camerawork (that’s sarcasm) is on display here, with loads of static and non-moving shots of guys sitting at a table and people screwing in a room with wood paneling. There’s really very few sets, most of the action takes place at the club or on the boat, but we do go outside for a quick drive, a trip to the beach, and a visit to Lancaster’s watering hole – but if you’re in this one looking for scenery outside of the female kind, you’ll be disappointed. Thankfully there’s enough of the later to compensate. All in all, this one is an easy watch at seventy four minutes that offers up lots of fun and skin - a perfectly enjoyable slice of vintage sexploitation.
LINDA AND ABILENE (1969):
Shot back to back in California along with The Ecstasies Of Women, our next feature, Linda And Abilene, also made for Dowd, is an obvious attempt to cash in on the sexy western trend that was doing decent box office thanks to the success of films like Hot Spur. Shot at the Spahn Ranch (yep, the same Spahn Ranch where Charles Manson and his gang would call home – and they were reportedly on set while this movie was being made), it’s the longest film in the set at ninety two minutes.
Set in the days of America’s old west, the film introduces us to the brother and sister duo of Abilene (Sharon Matt again) and Tod (Kip Marsh). When their parents pass away, the pair takes over the family farm, at which point they have to grow up fast. Abilene takes the loss of mom and dad harder than Tod does and she spends an unusual amount of time at their grave site whenever she is able and it’s on the way back from one of these visits that Tod gets an eyeful when he catches his sister skinny dipping. Tod can’t help but like what he sees and the pair starts up an unusual incestuous relationship.
Eventually Tod grows confused by the situation and so he heads to a neighboring town where he hooks up with a bar maid named Linda (Roxanne Jones – is this the same Roxanne Jones who went on to work on countless movies as a sound editor? The same Roxanne Jones who worked on Star Wars and the mighty Ghost Dad?). In Tod’s absence, however, Abilene proves vulnerable and a cowboy named Rawhide (Tom Thorn) takes advantage of her loneliness and forces himself on her. When Tod learns of this he swears revenge against the man who hurt his sister, while Abilene and the promiscuous Linda grow ever closer.
Interesting, if a bit on the tame side for a later softcore entry, Linda And Abilene gives cute Sharon Matt more to do than the earlier picture. She’s not the world’s greatest actress but she’s got the right innocent look to make this part work for her and is at least committed enough to the part not to embarrass herself. She shows more conviction here than her male co-star, with Marsh sort of wandering around looking a little dazed, injecting random bits of enthusiasm from time to time. The movie needs more of an emotional backbone to make the incest story effective and it never quite finds it but the script throws in a few more taboo busters with the inclusion of the rape scene and the lesbian tryst that we all see coming once Linda and Abilene meet (and which is kind of given away in the title of the movie).
Not the best of Lewis’ sex films but enjoyable enough on its own merits, Linda And Abilene features slightly better than average camera work and production values for an H.G. Lewis movie. The California locations are dusty and arid and seem like the appropriate locale for a sleazy soap opera like this to play off against. The score is decent and it is fairly well edited. Lewis fans will be happy to have this and likely quite enjoy it.
BLACK LOVE (1971):
Last but not least we have what is Lewis’ only known foray into hardcore pornography, Black Love, directed under the alias R.L. Smith. A film he has both denied and confirmed involvement in, this seventy four minute skin flick, according to the narration, is not a hardcore sex film but a documentary exploring the importance of lovemaking between black people. Except that if the definition of a hardcore sex film is one that shows penetration frequently and in close up, then Black Love absolutely is a hardcore sex film, there’s really no getting around that one no matter how you want to dress it up.
There isn’t really that much of a story here, just a series of encounters of the X-rated kind that are put into a dubious context by the narrator, that same narrator who told us early on that we weren’t watching a porno movie. You can’t trust that guy. At any rate, when the movie begins we learn how an important part of learning about black love is how black children go around spying on black adults getting it on. One kid gets off his swing at the playground to watch a couple boff in the car and then later a little girl peeks through the open door of her parents’ bedroom to watch them screw.
From there we move on to less creepy fare as we see how black people of all shapes and sizes like to get together and boogie at clubs. The more they dance the more their clothes come off and we get to ogle fat chicks, skinny chicks and in the middle chicks with dudes to match each one of them. A few other scenes talk about the intricacies of black love between husband and wife, which leads into a few more vignettes where couples fuck on camera until we get to the big finish. This last scene shows us what happens when a black man comes home from work tired. At first he and his wife sit on the couch to chill out – she seems a little frisky, he’s just tired. Later one, however, once she puts the curlers in her hair? He’s on fire for her! She goes down on him while he glances nervously into the camera and then they go at it from a few different angles.
The soundtrack to this one is awesome if not overly repetitive and there are scattered attempts to make the movie a bit artsier than you might expect to it be. Case in point? Some nifty red lighting in one scene and an interesting segment where a black man and a black woman sit in the same room on separate revolving pedestals. The compositions in these scenes seem to be a bit more inspired than most of the rest of the film, which involves a lot of gynecological close ups and medium shots of men and women pawing at one another. The music helps give it a bit of a fresh feel and the film goes at a pretty good pace, though really, there’s not a lot to it. The sets are minimalist, even the club, but some of the curtains hung in the back grounds add some nice splashes of color to the filming locations. The narration is what keeps this one interesting. It’s so completely pretentious and ridiculous that you can’t help but love it. The narrator says ‘black love’ over and over again so often and with such intended depth and intensity that it becomes almost hysterical in its own bizarre way.
On an interesting side note, the IMDB credits James Chisem as a dancer in the movie. He’d go on to appear in Home Alone 3, quite a few TV appearances and a supporting role in the Steve Martin movie Novacaine.
All three films are restored in 2K from their original camera negatives and presented on Blu-ray in AVC encoded 1.37.1 fullframe, their proper original aspect ratios, and in full 1080p high definition. Some very light scratches are visible here and there but for the most part, the image quality here is excellent – far better than most are going to expect given the age, low budget origins and obscurity of the three pictures collected. Detail is impressive throughout playback, you can see all the pores on Harry’s face and all the fibers in his tighty-whities! The wood paneling used in the various locations in the first two movies has noticeable wood grain and you can make out the individual threads in the funky curtains and drop clothes that are placed behind the performers in Black Love. Colors are outstanding – they’re vibrant and bold without looking artificially boosted while black levels remain strong throughout. There are no issues with compression artifacts or edge enhancement to note nor are there any problems with noise reduction whatsoever. This is as close to eye candy as anything filmed by Lewis can probably ever get!
No lossless audio for any one of the three films on the disc but the English language Dolby Digital Mono tracks sound just fine for what they are. Yes, sometimes things are a bit on the flat side but it’ll be obvious to anyone who watches the movies that this is due to the elements and recording technology used at the time rather than with the disc. Overall though, the levels are balanced nicely and the dialogue is plenty easy to understand. No problems here, these movies sound just like the low-fi wonders that they are.
As far as the extras go, the disc includes menus and chapter selection for each film as well as a trailer for each one of the three features presented in high definition. The trailer for Ecstasies Of Women takes the cake as it features ‘Harry’ talking to the audience about his conquests and contains a recurring gag that wasn’t featured in the movie. As this is a Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack release, a standard DVD containing identical extras is also included with the Blu-ray disc.
Inside the keepcase are three lab card reproductions, one for each of the three movies on the disc, as well as a ten page booklet of liners notes containing an essay, disc credits and some notes about the transfers. The essay, written by Casey Scott, offers some welcome background detail on the films in addition to some interesting trivia about who appears in them and why, discusses the pictures’ theatricals play and provides some cultural context for them. Definitely worth a read.
The Final Word:
Are these three films the best of H.G. Lewis’ output? Nope. But they are each a lot of fun and absolutely worth seeing for fans of the man’s filmography. They’re chock full of clunky dialogue, bad camera work and clumsy editing but so too are they full of that zany quality that makes his work so endearing to so many people. Vinegar Syndrome’s inaugural release may not be jam packed with extras features but damn does it ever look good and they’re to be commended for not only bringing these legitimate obscurities to DVD and Blu-ray but for uncovering them in the first place.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!
ecstasies of women,
linda and abilene,
lost films of herschell gordon lewis,
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