It’s not uncommon for film directors to find themselves categorized into a specific niche, but it’s almost always interesting (and occasionally fun) to see their attempts at operating outside those expectations.
Herschell Gordon Lewis‘ career has seen him work in all manner of genres, but the perception of him as “the wizard of gore” remains. Films like Blood Feast, Two Thousand Maniacs, Color Me Blood Red, The Gore Gore Girls and others have made H.G. Lewis synonymous with goofy, technicolor blood baths.
But he also had a softer, dirtier side made evident through a series of T&A films produced both before and after his horror flicks. Fans are aware of most of them, but three were thought lost to history… until now.
Vinegar Syndrome is a brand spanking new specialty label, and their debut release is as important and well-crafted as any label could hope for. The Lost Films of Herschell Gordon Lewis collects three films from 1969-1971, all lovingly restored in HD, and while they’re not for everyone completists and fans of Lewis will find a lot to love here.
Ecstasies of Women (1969)
Four friends head to a strip club for an impromptu bachelor party, and while naked girls jiggle and gyrate around them the man of the hour (Walter Camp) regales the others with past debaucheries. Flashbacks offer up the softcore shenanigans, but much of the movie is spent in dialogue scenes filled with terrible puns and goofiness.
The movie offers up some laughs and some mild titillation, but it’s not necessarily all that memorable on its own merits. While the terrible wordplay leads to some chuckles the biggest laughs are unintentional and come from Camp’s disinterested and unfocused performance. The film’s trailer is also included and features scenes not in the film including him boning a nude woman who he tells us (the viewers) is only fifteen years old. “I’ve got a bottle of scotch that’s older than she is! She has a tighter cork too.”
Linda and Abilene (1969)
Abilene and Todd are siblings trying to run their parents’ ranch after their unexplained simultaneous deaths. The pair have a playful relationship, but when Todd sees his sister bathing nude one day… and then returns the next to see her again… the homestead becomes overrun with sexual tension. It’s not long before the two pair up for some nekkid canoodling. The sibling ribaldry can’t last forever though, and when he heads to town to fool around with a whore named Linda Abilene is left alone to be poked by a cowpoke. Time for some revenge… Old West style. (Which apparently means lesbian coupling.)
Did you know that “erotic westerns” were a thing once? Me neither, although I do find Bad Girls incredibly arousing. Like the previous film this is a softcore endeavor, and while it lacks the humor of that film it makes up for it with additional sleaziness. And horses. The movie is a bit darker than expected thanks to the rape and a third-act death, but it’s never really heavy. Overall it’s probably the least entertaining of the three films collected here.
Black Love (1971)
Have you ever wondered how sex between black people differs from the rest of mankind? If so, congrats! You’re probably a racist. But at least you’re not alone apparently as this pseudo documentary proves. A narrator walks us though the “black experience of love-making” by sharing the physical differences in body types, the specific way in which a black male’s buttocks clench when entering “the woman’s chamber” and how children in the black community first discover sex… “It is not uncommon in the black community for a black child returning from an errand like a trip to the store to discover black love.” We of course get to see all of these things play out before our bewildered eyes.
“Black Love is not an erotic sex film.” Never have truer words been spoken than these opening ones from the film’s narrator. The film’s cast is listed only as “People Who In Almost Every Way Are Exactly Like You,” and it jumps right into the not at all exploitative education lessons. It’s ridiculous in every conceivable way, and as a word of warning it’s also the only truly x-rated film in the collection. Extreme close-ups of the “black love” in question dominate the film, but they’re by far the least interesting elements here.
Who was the movie for exactly? None of it is sexy and most of it feels racist, but there’s a certain “what the hell?” element to it all that makes it highly watchable as a sociological throwback of sorts. The narrator celebrates the power and uniqueness of black love, or at least he pretends to, and the sincerity on display as it spends 15 minutes watching black people dance is mind-boggling… especially when the narrator intones flatly that the dancers were perfectly open to removing their clothes when asked. It’s educational and progressive! (No. It’s neither.)
Vinegar Syndrome’s debut release is a beautiful package. The combo pack includes both a Blu-ray and a DVD, and while the discs are identical in content the Blu takes the best advantage of the new 2K restorations from the original negatives. Such obscure and old films have rarely looked this damn good. The colors are incredibly vibrant, something Lewis’ horror films are often known for, and they come through wonderfully here. The downside to this kind of clarity though is that every imperfection and detail on the actors’ skin is visible… sometimes distractingly so. Hairs, blemishes, bruises… it’s not the pretty porn some
us you are used to.
Special features are limited due as much to films’ age and obscurity as to Lewis’ well documented disinterest in discussing them, but Vinegar Syndrome does come through with an informative booklet of liner notes, a trio of lab-card reproductions and extended trailers for each film.
The Bottom Line
The Lost Films of Herschell Gordon Lewis is already one of the best Blu-ray releases of 2013, and that’s regardless of three films’ varying degrees of artistic quality. Vinegar Syndrome’s debut serves to fill a gap in the director’s oeuvre and does so with obvious care and affection, and the value of that can’t be understated. There’s fun to be had with the films themselves, some more so than others obviously, but ultimately this is exactly the kind of area where a niche label should be focusing their attention.
Buy The Lost Films of Herschell Gordon Lewis on Blu-ray/DVD from Amazon.