Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Herschell Gordon Lewis's prophecy

"If you live long enough you become legitimate," Herschell Gordon Lewis said sometime in the 21st century. By then Lewis, who died this week at age 90, had been canonized, after a fashion, as a cult film director whose pioneering, primitive gore movies from the 1960s had only grown more camp over the years. Lewis was in the "nudie-cutie" business until he and David F. Friedman realized there was less risk in over-the-top violence filmed in "blood color." In his heyday as a showman Lewis reveled in the establishment's contempt, though he felt some contempt himself toward his own amateurish auteurism. Yet he had, arguably, made history, inventing a subgenre of horror film in which the display of blood and fake dismemberment were ends unto themselves, while everything else about the show was open to contempt. History only embraced him with the advent of home video, long after he had quit movies to become a direct-marketing specialist. Inevitably, he could not ignore history and returned to filmmaking in the new millennium without really adding to his legacy. Many people consider his best film -- best being very much a relative term -- to be Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964), a redneck parody of Brigadoon in which the South rises again to avenge itself on the Yankee, a mocking promise of the eternal recurrence of the nation's congenital evil and an almost pitiless portrait of our cluelessness about the threat -- all without really bringing race into it. This film presaged yet another subgenre, that of the reclusive, murderous redneck, that in turn has shaped (or distorted) perceptions of the South and rural folk in general. For our purposes, let this preview, uploaded to YouTube by our old friends at Something Weird Video, serve as Lewis's monument, and a preview of a perpetual American attraction.