Herschell Gordon Lewis dies

Farewell to the godfather of gore.

by Jennie Kermode

Herschell Gordon Lewis' Blood Feast
Herschell Gordon Lewis' Blood Feast

One of the most influential filmmakers of his generation, horror icon Herschell Gordon Lewis, passed away today at the age of 87. An advertising man who turned his talents to exploitation in the early Sixties and made a total of 49 films, progressing from nudie cuties to full on horror. He was known for his febrile imagination, his love of gratuitous gore and his habit of feeding his cast and crew members exclusively on Kentucky Fried Chicken until they were sick.

Lewis' most important film was 1963's Blood Feast, celebrated for its joyous ineptitude and widely hailed as the first ever splatter movie. Its impact on cinema was considerable, spawning literall hundreds of imitations, and it was recently remade by Marcel Walz. Other career highlights included Two Thousand Maniacs, Color Me Blood Red, The Gruesome Twosome and She-Devils On Wheels. Following his retirement from the industry, he wrote several successful books on advertising an ran a direct advertising agency.

Working with very low budgets, Lewis was endlessly inventive. His films may not have looked polished but they always looked interesting. The big breakthrough came when, chastened by censors for what he had sought to get away with in his nudie films, he realised that simply by making body fluids a different colour, he could get away with it. Gore took the place of sex and a whole new genre was born.

Lewis' screen career has been the subject of several documentaries, including 2010's Herschell Gordon Lewis: The Godfather Of Gore. Even in later life, he continued to find time for his fans, and just last month he attended a retrospective of his work in Philadelphia, where he led a Two Thousand Maniacs singalong.

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