Herschell Gordon Lewis: low-brow schlock horror director with a kind of horrible genius

Lewis was the master of bargain-basement splatter without whom we would not have the likes of Robert Rodriguez or Quentin Tarantino

One of the most extraordinary figures in the history of popular American moviegoing has departed the stage: film director Herschell Gordon Lewis was the godfather of gore and the sultan of splatter who in the 1960s energetically pushed the envelope of bad taste with low-cost, low-brow schlock-horror exploitation pictures. Lots of blood, lots of screaming, lots of nudity and lots of money.

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Photograph: Movie Poster Image Art/Getty Images

But he was more than just this. Lewis was a sort of cross between Ed Wood Jr, Roger Corman, Russ Meyer, Dale Carnegie and maybe even Bernie Madoff. Because as well as being a conveyor-belt of trash movies, Lewis was a formidable and unnervingly driven entrepreneur and compulsive wheeler-dealer who did three years jail time in the 1970s for fraud, having conned people through crooked schemes, like a fake car rental company and incredibly a phoney abortion referral service, and for (nearly) all these services he borrowed money from the bank using as collateral the cinemas of which he claimed to be the un-mortgaged owner. It was a breathtaking and crazy illegality, but nothing dented his almost sociopathic self-belief and work ethic. He cranked out dozens of books on direct marketing and salesmanship and to the end of his life kept his focus on this, producing how-to guides on making money from the web. In fact, he may well have seen in the internet the same kind of wild-west, anything-goes spirit that drove him in his film-making heyday.

Lewis came into low-budget movie-making in Chicago from a flourishing career in ad copywriting. After his softcore nudist-camp smutfests like Goldilocks and the Three Bares, Lewis found his true vocation in bargain-basement horror with his pioneering splatter film Blood Feast in 1963, about a cannibalistic caterer who kills women so that he can offer up their cooked remains in horrendous occult rituals. Lewis actually made a sequel in 2002 entitled Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat a title which had a kind of horrible genius. John Waters was always a fan.

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Photograph: Everett/REX/Shutterstock

After this, Lewis created A Taste of Blood and The Gruesome Twosome, which cemented his own cult reputation, and he was a master of films which appeared to have been created simply to justify the existence of outrageous titles and delirious posters: The Gore Gore Girls (aka Blood Orgy); Monster A Go-Go; Just for the Hell of It; Bell, Bare and Beautiful; The Ecstasies of Women; Alley Tramp; Sin, Suffer, Repent.

After his brush with the law, Lewis turned his hand to direct marketing and his book titles have a very similar gamey spirit to his mould-breaking splatter: Hot Appeals or Burnt Offerings (surely inspired by his masterpiece Blood Feast?), Sales Letters That Sizzle, and Open Me Now.

Lewis was a one-off, although perhaps his career is maybe a lesson in the fact that cinema has its origins in hucksterism and the fairground tent. But without Lewis, there would be no Robert Rodriguez, no Quentin Tarantino. Respectable cinema entertainment is Dr Jekyll; Herschell Gordon Lewis was its Mr Hyde.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/filmblog/2016/sep/26/herschell-gordon-lewis-schlock-horror-director-blood-feast

Horror film Don’t Breathe scares up $26.1m at box office

Performance more than doubles predictions for small-budget film, as latest inexpensive hit for Sony tops Suicide Squad

Audiences turned out in droves for the horror movie Dont Breathe, which brought in $26.1m on the last weekend of August, according to studio estimates released on Sunday.

That was more than double early predictions for how the film would perform and far above the modest production budget, which was reportedly less than $10m. Stage 6 Films produced and Sonys Screen Gems oversaw distribution.

Don’t Breathe is about a group of Detroit teens who chose the wrong house to rob that of a blind, vengeful veteran. It stars Jane Levy and Dylan Minnette and was directed by Fede Alvarez, who is known for the Evil Dead remake.

Sony Pictures marketing chief Josh Greenstein noted how rare it was for a film in this genre to resonate so deeply with critics its current Rotten Tomatoes score is 87%. It also continues Sonys summer of success with original films that cost very little to make.

This marks a string of very profitable hits for Sony with very modest budgets. The Shallows, Sausage Party and now Dont Breathe were all incredibly profitable because they were made for modest budgets and did incredibly well at the box office, Greenstein said.

Dont Breathe is also the latest horror success for Hollywood this summer, which has seen films like Lights Out, The Conjuring 2, and The Purge: Election Year thrive while bigger budget, spectacle-driven counterparts flailed.

As it turns out, horror is the least scary genre this summer, especially to the bean counters in Hollywood, said Paul Dergarabedian, the senior media analyst for box office tracker comScore. [They] can almost always be counted on to make money.

Horror films, Dergarabedian said, perform very well on home video too.

Dont Breathe effectively unseated Suicide Squad from its three-week run atop the box office. This weekend, the comic book film grossed $12.1m, bringing its domestic total to $282.9m.

Laikas Kubo and the Two Strings took third place in its second weekend in theaters with $7.9m. The $60m film has now earned $24.8m domestically. Sausage Party continued to have a ball, earning $7.7m for a fourth place finish and an $80m domestic total.

The poorly reviewed Jason Statham-led sequel Mechanic: Resurrection placed fifth in its opening weekend with $7.5m, according to Lionsgate. The first film opened to $11.4m in 2011.

Among specialty releases, the Barack and Michelle Obama first-date movie Southside With You launched in 813 theaters to an estimated $3.1m, while the Weinstein Companys Roberto Duran boxing biopic Hands of Stone opened in 810 theaters to $1.7m.

Overall, the box office was up slightly from this weekend last year, when Straight Outta Compton opened. Next weekend closes out the summer season with the release of the sci-fi film Morgan and the romantic drama The Light Between Oceans.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/aug/28/us-box-office-dont-breathe-suicide-squad