Wednesday, September 22, 2010

An Eye for Carnage:

Anton Szandor LaVey
on the Horror Films of
Herschell Gordon Lewis

A few years ago, I acquired an old catalog. Someone I knew was probably discarding it; I forget. But I kept this white elephant because it struck me as a unique reference for my cinematic explorations. Audio Brandon Films 16mm International Cinema, 1978-79, contains well over 500 pages of films then available for rental by educational institutions, theaters, etc. Instead of a dull list, however, Audio Brandon fattened its catalog with striking stills and critical, even scholarly descriptions by educators, journalists, and other qualified aficionados. Among these contributors was Anton Szandor LaVey, who wrote about Herschell Gordon Lewis and two of his films.

When I discovered that this catalog, whose great worth was already apparent, included material by LaVey, I was all the more excited to have re-discovered this nearly discarded volume. Although this and other editions of the catalog have been quoted in academic works, it seems fairly rare. Especially because I was getting rid of clutter at the time, I felt that I had just narrowly missed losing a valuable bit of Satanic history. Not to mention a veritable encyclopedia of international cinematic history up until the late 1970s!

The following is LaVey’s contribution to this catalog. It involves horror films, as the average reader might expect, but offers keen observations that only the Black Pope himself could have penned. Of course, he could have also written illuminating pieces about many other films in the book, most of which are not horror, and some of which are recommended in the appendices of Blanche Barton’s
The Church of Satan. I, for one, would have relished a book of cinema criticism by the premier pioneer of contemporary Satanism! But at least we have this passage, which in itself includes enough history and insight for a creative manifesto.

Herschell Gordon Lewis

In 1963 ex-English professor Herschell Gordon Lewis decided that the skinflick market was waning, limited as it was to nudie films. Not wishing to make history nor waste time and money in courtrooms pioneering porn, he recognized an unexploited realm of living-color, perfectly legal blood-and-gore cinema that the big companies wouldn’t touch. Though horror and the supernatural had always been good box office, no one had really pulled all the stops. Lewis’ first film of the type,
Blood Feast, was received with such revulsion that it was yanked under protest from many theatres before its bookings expired. Yet it made money and made cinema history, inspiring and uninhibiting virtually every other producer and director with an eye for carnage. Later Lewis commented, “Peckinpah’s blood is much more watery than ours… Peckinpah shoots people. We dismember them!” The discerning viewer will find Lewis’ films to be much more than superficial gore; rather an eerie reflection of the repressed sado-masochism in us all that even the smallest voice inside seldom admits to. From Bonnie And Clyde to The Exorcist, from The Wild Bunch to Jaws, fragments of Lewis’ kaleidoscope radiate.

Two Thousand Maniacs (1964)

A horror version of
Brigadoon, this is Lewis’ tale of a Southern town which was savagely destroyed by Union troops and rises from its swampy site every hundred years. Overlooked by American critics because of excessive gore, it was praised by European masters such as Jean-Luc Godard and classed with Polanski’s Repulsion and Hitchcock’s Psycho. The musical score (also by Lewis) inspired Bonnie And Clyde’s and many other later films. Because, rather than in spite, of its low budget and unknown performers (Connie Mason was a Playboy foldout), amateurism transcends into chilling super-realism. The plot is equal to the best old-school  pulp thriller, combining suspense, kinky sexual innuendo and the supernatural. Made in 1964, Two Thousand Maniacs is rapidly achieving the stature it deserves, now that “respected” filmmakers have saturated the public with bloodier but less effective results. In the genre of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Night Of The Living Dead, the townspeople extras convey the feeling that this film is the Real Thing!

Color Me Blood Red (1964)

A temperamental beatnik artist who occupies a desolately situated beach house becomes dissatisfied with ordinary pigments and materials. Pretty girls become his source of supply in what must be the only
Grande Guignol treatment of the Frankie Avalon / Annette Funicello beach blanket theme. As with other Herschell Lewis films, this is not for the squeamish.


  1. You can detect a feeling of glee from behind the camera in HGL's movies; he was clearly having fun making these films.
    Yes, the effects were amateurish; but these movies were far more visceral (and for my part enjoyable) than today's quick cut CGI torture-porn crapfests that get cranked out in search of a quick buck.

  2. This is a little goldmine! Thanks! One of my fave HGL stories involves trading Col. Sanders for chicken to feed the crew of BLAST OFF GIRLS! in exchange for screen time for the Colonel.

    -Christopher M

  3. Beautiful¡¡¡¡¡¡