Horror Movie Legend Herschell Gordon Lewis Dies at 87

The Godfather of Gore challenged celluloid conventions and invented the splatter film.

One of the most influential figures of the horror film, Herschell Gordon Lewis, died at the age of 87.

“Very sad news,” Something Weird Video wrote to their Facebook page. “We’re sad to report that Herschell Gordon Lewis has passed away. Herschell was a dear friend and colleague of ours and will be missed very much. Our deepest sympathies to his wife Margot and his family. RIP to the Godfather of Gore…”

Lewis proudly wore the title of the “Godfather of Gore.” He created the “splatter” subgenre of horror films with the low-budget 1963 “gore film” Blood Feast. Made in four days in Miami with a budget of $24,000, Blood Feast was Lewis’ response to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, which the producer thought cheated the audience of the action. Lewis didn’t skimp on the gore in Blood Feast. He used a real sheep’s tongue in a scene where a woman gets her tongue ripped out. Audiences were offered vomit bags before they were seated.

Lewis probed “the depths of disgust and discomfort onscreen with more bad taste and imagination than anyone of his era,” Allmovie wrote. He made horror classics like 2000 Maniacs, Color Me Blood Red, The Gruesome Twosome, and The Wizard Of Gore, but also explored exploitation films, juvenile delinquent movies, nudie-cutie movies like the science fiction spoof Nude on the Moon (1961)  and two children’s films.

Ad – content continues below

Lewis was born in 1929. Before he was a filmmaker he was an English lit teacher at Mississippi State University, a marketing copywriter, a radio DJ and an airtime advertising sales man. He hooked up with Chicago producer Friedman for the low budget The Prime Time (1960), a “Juvenile Delinquent” movie that featured future horror queen Karen Black.

The pair then produced the nudist nature films The Adventures Of Lucky Pierre (1961) and Daughter of the Sun (1962) before they conjured the Goddess Ishtar and made Blood Feast. The film changed the rules of the game with its vividly cinematic blood and guts. They followed that with the Southern Gothic film Two Thousand Maniacs (1964) and Color Me Blood Red (1965).

Lewis parted from Friedman and paid for his own movies. He sometimes cut costs by buying the rights to an unfinished film and finishing then himself, like Monster a Go-Go (1965) and Stick It in Your Ear (1970), but he also had a bigger horror ambitions. With a running time of almost two hours, Lewis’s A Taste of Blood, from 1967, is called the “Gone with the Wind of Gore.” He also made history for using an electric knife to scalp a victim in The Gruesome Twosome (1967).

Lewis made the exploitation films Blast-Off Girls and The Girl, the Body, and the Pill in 1967 and Just for the Hell of It and Suburban Roulette in 1968.

The Wizard of Gore (1970) told the story of a stage magician did more than give the illusion of sawing bodies in half.  After he made The Gore Gore Girls (1972), he left filmmaking, published books like The Businessman’s Guide to Advertising and Sales Promotion in 1974 and How to Handle Your Own Public Relations in 1977 and worked in copywriting and direct marketing as “The Godfather of Direct Marketing.”

“As a communicator in the sophisticated world of direct marketing, Herschell Gordon Lewis is without peer,” reads his official website.  “Nobody has written more books. Nobody has written more articles. Certainly nobody is more respected. But beyond that … the world’s best-known copywriter also is renowned for originating a type of feature motion picture that shows, graphically, the … well …”.

Ad – content continues below

Lewis released Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat in 2002, a sequel thirty years in the making. Since then, sequels and remakes like Tim Sullivan’s 2001 Maniacs (2005) with Robert Englund, Jeremy Kasten’s reboot of The Wizard of Gore (2007), and the postmodern remake of Blood Feast have shown that his influence lives on.