Color, 1968, 81m. / Directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis / Starring Rodney Bedell, Ray Sager, Nancy Lee Noble, Agi Gynes, Steve White
Color, 1967, 82m. / Directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis / Starring Dan Conway, Ray Sager, The Faded Blue, Lawrence J. Aberwood, Col. Harland Sanders / Image / Something Weird (US R1 NTSC)

After his partnership with producer David F. Friedman dissolved, H.G. Lewis found his exploitation career spinning in a number of different directions. Two of the more compelling "unclassifiable" efforts from his wild late '60s period can be found in this 100% H.G. double feature from Something Weird, complete with the onslaught of nostalgic goodies which have made their drive-in collections one of a kind.

Our first walk on the wild side is the aptly named Just for the Hell of It, a study of juvenile deliquency that makes Rebel without a Cause look like a model for civilized teen behavior. A group of youths partying in an apartment turn to rampant destruction after one member gets a fishbowl of water over the head, with even the smallest piece of furniture winding up splintered and smashed underneath their feet. There's no reason for this, of course; they're just out of control and looking for kicks... just for the hell of it! Then they're off to trash a bar, terrorize innocent bystanders along the road, and pick fights at a coffee shop where the owner winds up with his hands sizzled to a crisp. The police are helpless to stop these hooligans, who even have the nerve to beat up a poor cripple with his crutches and toss a baby in the garbage can! Things get even more out of hand when the group is torn apart by that old dramatic standby, vigilante justice, when the hoods rape an innocent girl.

One year earlier, Lewis took a very different look at modern youth with Blast-Off Girls, a sort of low budget attempt to emulate the success of The Monkees and The Beatles. This time we're taken backstage to witness the rise and fall of The Faded Blue, a real life aspiring band rechristened as The Big Blast by manipulative manager Boogie Baker (Dan Conway). Thanks to the temptations of fast living and wild women (the titular Blast-Off Girls, who are hired to rip at the boys' clothes during their act), the Big Blast only gradually comes to resent their boss, who slips aside all of their hard earned cash for his own benefit. In one of Boogie's more amusing schemes, he pockets some money from the boys when they agree to sing for none other than Mr. Kentucky Fried Chicken himself, Col. Harland Sanders. When Boogie tries to lock them into a three year contract, however, things turn seriously nasty.

Though neither of these films really qualifies as horror, both display the characteristics which have endeared Lewis to generations of sleaze hounds. The nailed down camerawork, bizarre humor, DIY opticals and editing, and unpredictable pacing are all in abundance. Fans of The Wizard of Gore will be especially interested to see two sides of Ray Sager (a.k.a. Montag the Magnificent) in both films, smoking pot and raising hell well before his Lewis swan song in The Gore Gore Girls.

Both films have been available for a few years as part of Something Weird's H.G. Lewis collection on VHS, and the transfers look similar albeit sharper and more colorful. Just for the Hell of It is presented in fullscreen with extra headroom where matting would have appeared in theaters, while Blast-Off Girls is slightly matted at 1.66:1. The latter features some clumsy camerawork and film processing which causes a horizontal jittery in some scenes, but for low budget films which could have easily been lost altogether, they look just fine. The mono sound is serviceable and free of any undue distortion; the theme song for the first film ("Destruction, Inc.") and the numerous pop tunes in the second come through clearly enough to reveal their, um, musical limitations.

Of course the extras here threaten to steal away much of the thunder from the films themselves. The usual reels of Something Weird drive-in promos hawk everything from hot dogs to mosquito repellent, but you also get another taste of Lewis '60s madness ("Hot Night at the Go Go Lounge"), a facts of life book pitch, the usual lurid posters and radio come ons, and a host of Lewis trailers. Feast your eyes on the original promos for This Stuff'll Kill Ya, The Psychic, Alley Tramp, Suburban Roulette, Something Weird, The Gore Gore Girls, and that long lost country music/political rarity, Year of the Yahoo. The trailer menu also contains an easter egg for a trailer to the most terrifying, unspeakable project Lewis ever tackled, but only the hardiest of souls need venture there.

Color, 1967, 120m. / Directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis / Starring Bill Rogers, Elizabeth Wilkinson, Dolores Carlos, Otto Schlesinger, Thomas Wood (Bill Kerwin), H.G. Lewis / Image / Something Weird (US R1 NTSC)

Often discussed but rarely seen, A Taste of Blood remains memorable in cult horror circles both for its catchy title and its sprawling running time, a virtual miniseries by gore film standards. What lies within is perhaps the most ambitious project for director Herschell Gordon Lewis, who was trying to expand the parameters of the genre he kicked into mainstream awareness with Blood Feast. As uneven as the results may be, it's a fascinating artifact of its time and is perhaps the closest thing to a "real movie" in its creator's career.

The plotline, cleverly devised as a cloaked sequel to Bram Stoker's Dracula, follows the corruption of one John Stone (Bill Rogers), who receives a rare bottle of wine from England. However, the fluid inside produces some unexpected changes in John; for example, he feels an aversion to daylight and normal food. Naturally he traipses off to England, which puts an unbearable strain on his already shaky marriage to Helene (Elizabeth Wilkinson). From one shore to the other, John avenges the fate of Dracula by tracking down his killer's descendants and plunging sharp objects into their hearts. Back in the America, the police try to save his latest potential victim, Sherri Morris (Dolores Carlos), the descendant of the novel's Quincey Morris, but the crafty vampire convert proves to be quite a challenge. Will the officers have to use Helene as bait to lure in her bloodsucking husband? What do you think?

Considering its reputation, there isn't much graphic gore in A Taste of Blood. Sure, the red stuff flows readily and looks just as realistic as ever, but for some reason in this context it isn't much more shocking than your average mid-period Hammer vampire film. The real fun lies in those unmistakable Lewis touches, ranging from the searing colors of those interiors to a jaw-dropping cameo by H.G. himself as a salty seaman. Considering the huge amount of dialogue and plot contained in this film, it wouldn't be surprising to learn that Staten Island horror hack Andy Milligan got more than a little inspiration after seeing this.

Something Weird's DVD line has done a spectacular job of preserving Lewis' filmic legacy so far, and A Taste of Blood is no exception. The transfer is nothing short of amazing, making those older VHS versions completely obsolete. Even the most vivid hues of red are perfectly rendered, and the transfer boasts a pleasing film-like texture absent from many overly digitized recent films, with only a few passages marred by some jagged green spotting and streaking near the end. Top marks all around. Lewis and SW's Mike Vraney return again for a commentary track, this time featuring more detail than usual thanks to the longer running time of the film. Lewis offers a thorough history of this difficult period, during which he sampled different exploitation genres and tried to find his footing in one of the most volatile periods of American filmmaking. Along the way the guys also crack more than a few jokes to keep things lively, and you can learn all about the actors who, apart from Rogers and a supporting bit by the ubiquitous "Thomas Wood," seem to have vanished into the ether. The disc also includes the theatrical trailer (which gives a good indication of how bad earlier transfers looked) and an unrelated nudie-monster short, "Nightmare at Elm Manor," best described as a short-winded cousin to House on Bare Mountain. Mind-boggling and essential viewing.

Color, 1968, 82 mins.

Directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis

Starring Betty Conell, Pat Poston, Nancy Lee Noble, Christie Wagner, Rodney Bedell, Ruby Tuesday / Music by Larry Wellington / Written by Louise Downe

Format: DVD - Image / Something Weird (MSRP $24.99)

Full Frame / Dolby Digital Mono

There's nothing worse than a good girl gone bad, and it doesn't get much worse than a girl biker gang. Meet The Maneaters, a hellraising pack of distaff rebels whose newest member, sweet little Karen (Christie Wagner), has just turned on to the feel of hot metal tearing down the highway. The Maneaters, led by the ruthless Queen (Betty Conell), hold races and pick their sexual conquests from a stud line of willing male participants. When Karen picks the wrong guy, Queen forces her to drag the poor sap behind her chopper and render him bloody and battered. The Maneaters then lock horns with a rival male gang led by the rough, tough Joe Boy and terrorize the local town without fear of reprisals from the citizens or the police. Can these wanton hooligan girls ever be stopped? Will the gang warfare leave anyone alive? See the movie and find out!

This surprisingly extreme biker film marked Lewis' attempt to further reinvent the splatter genre after The Gruesome Twosome. Here the storyline controls the carnage, and the characters and performances are realized well enough to keep the viewer engaged even in the stretches without beatings and dismemberments. While it doesn't quite hit the delirious heights of Russ Meyer's Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, Lewis' opus comes in a close second and unquestionably delivers the exploitation goods. The snappy, often uproarious dialogue wouldn't look out of place in a John Waters movie, and it's no wonder the legendary Baltimore director holds a special place for Lewis in his heart. Kudos go out as well to the theme song, "Get Off the Road," which gives Two Thousand Maniacs' "The South's Gonna Rise Again" a run for its money. And believe it or not, this played many drive-ins as a double bill with the first Billy Jack film, Born Losers, and proved to be one of H.G.'s biggest moneymakers ever. Perhaps the generous flow of fake blood proved to be more acceptable at the hands of biker women instead of knife-wielding maniacs.

Something Weird's DVD of She-Devils on Wheels obviously outclasses previous VHS editions of this video store staple, and considering the film's touch and go theatrical heritage, the disc presentation is miraculous. Those vivid '60s colors Lewis had already demonstrated in Blood Feast are back again, this time punched up with some trippy color schemes that make the proceedings all the more surreal. Once again Lewis provides a commentary track in which he extols the virtues of low budget filmmaking and resourcefulness, prodded on by informative contributions from Mike Vraney and Jimmy Maslon. Extras accessible from the amusing menu design include the gut-busting theatrical trailer and a bizarre short christened here as "Biker Beach Party." Scary, scary stuff.

Color, 1967, 71m. / Directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis / Starring Elizabeth Davis, Chris Martell, Gretchen Wells, Karl Stroeber, Rodney Bedell, Ronnie Cass / Image / Something Weird (US R1 NTSC)

An unofficial return to gory form for director H.G. Lewis, The Gruesome Twosome found him once again rolling around in the ultra-realistic fake blood he had earlier devised for such "classics" as Blood Feast and Two Thousand Maniacs! Here more than ever before, comedy takes center stage as Lewis spins out what can only be described as a very low budget riff on The Addams Family, albeit with torrents of boldily fluid coursing across the screen.

After a completely bizarre six minute opener in which two styrofoam mannequin heads with phony Southern accents set up the storyline (concluding with one of them being knifed in the head), we meet our two tongue in cheek criminals, wig store owner Mrs. Pringle (Elizabeth Davis) and her mentally deficient son, Rodney (Chris Martell). As with all college towns, Mrs. Pringle has set up shop next to the campus to lure in all those young schoolgirls eager to sell their locks for a little handy spare cash. However, once inside the girls wind up on the wrong end of Rodney's electric knife, which he uses to remove their scalps (in loving detail, natch). Enter Nancy Drew wannabe Kathy (Gretchen Wells), who sniffs out the disappearance of a school friend to the door of Mrs. Pringle's wigshop and finds more than she bargained for inside.

After the groundbreaking explicitness of his Blood Trilogy, Lewis decided to tweak the genre a bit with Gruesome Twosome by subverting the carnage with goofy, non sequitor gags aimed at everything from sixties campus flicks to pretentious foreign films (at a drive-in, no less, in the film's oddest and most memorable bit). Probably not the best place to start if you're a Lewis newcomer, The Gruesome Twosome is so crazed and challenging to watch that it could be considered a final course in the H.G. Lewis School of Filmmaking. Something Weird's DVD looks much better and more vividly colorful than the impossible to find VHS version released in the '80s (which even popped up on a few shelves at Blockbuster Video, believe it or not) and later resurfaced on VHS from Something Weird. The colors are quite as hallucinatory as Blood Feast's, but it's darn close. Once again Lewis and Mike Vraney chip in with a lively commentary track covering the location shooting, the vagaries of financing a gore film in '67, and the various cast members. Lewis affirms that this is indeed a comedy, and unlike some questionable items like The Gore Gore Girls which dangerously tread the line, it's hard to disagree with him on this one, explicit bloodletting notwithstanding. On the disc you also get the amusing theatrical trailer (in rough shape and including the tacked-on theatrical warning from "Thomas Wood" used for the Blood Feast trailer) and a very unnerving '60s education short, "Wig-o-Rama," which... well, it's best to let adventurous viewers discover that one all for themselves.

Color, 1967, 80m. / Directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis / Starring Tony McCabe, Elizabeth Lee, William Brooker, Mudite Arums, Ted Heil / Image / Something Weird (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1)

While strong plotting has never been director H.G. Lewis' strongest point, in Something Weird he easily lives up to the title by spinning out a mad, drug-hazed string of events which will drive any rational viewer to contemplating some chemical relief before the 80 minutes are over. Of course, this is evidently what the film was designed to do, and at this it succeeds quite admirably.

After receiving a live power line in the face during his attempted rescue of a construction worker, Cronin Mitchell (Tony McCabe) winds up in the hospital with a permanently disfigured face and a peculiar gift of ESP. The local nurses don't take to kindly to his newly found talents, which he uses to exploit those around him and vent his frustration at the loss of his "beautiful face." In disguise he sets up a low rent fortune telling operation and is visited one day by a creepy old witch (Mudite Arums) who offers to restore his face if he agrees to marry her. She carries out her end of the bargain, and Cronin ditches her for better pastures. Unfortunately his next one night stand (Elizabeth Lee) turns out to be the witch in disguise; everyone but Cronin will see her as a beautiful woman. Meanwhile resourceful government agent Alex Jordan (William Brooker) snoops into Cronin's activities and falls for the "lovely" sorceress, with predictably disastrous results.

If this description sounds like your average linear drive-in movie, well, forget it. Something Weird tosses a number of wild and wooly surprises into the mix, ranging from an LSD freak-out showstopper to an unforgettable, truly deranged sequence in which Brooker is menaced by... well, you've just got to see it to believe it. With its weird metaphysical concerns and trippy plotting, Something Weird in many ways foreshadows Lewis' whacked-out Zen masterpiece, The Wizard of Gore, which would make an ideal viewing companion for this film.

One of the earliest Lewis films released on home video, this was never a huge box office hit but has become a highly familiar title, thanks in no small part to its application to Mike Vraney's formidable video company. Therefore it's only appropriate that Something Weird Video presents Something Weird, looking as good as possible. The first VHS versions were letterboxed at 1.85:1 (with the LSD scene featuring tinted widescreen bars, of course!), and the DVD replicates that framing, with mixed results. Lewis apparently wanted this to be his first "widescreen" film, but some scenes (especially the opening credits) lose some information from the top and bottom of the screen in the process. An open matte version has also circulated on tape, and the framing is at least partially more satisfying. With a Lewis film, though, visual composition is not exactly the main concern. Many scenes on the DVD look ideally framed, and the colors are amazingly punchy throughout. The avalanche of extras, though, confirms this DVD's status as the definitive presentation of this film. Producer David F. Friedman and Vraney provide the bulk of the commentary track, with Lewis popping in at the beginning but ducking out for the bulk of the running time. The comments become increasingly surreal as the film progresses, with some technical glitches and bizarre audio dropout only adding to the disorienting experience. By the end of the film, your confusion will be completely reflected by the commentary's participants as well, which is probably as it should be. Extras include some nice drug-addled treats, such as a freakish excerpt from Psyched by the 4-D Witch (available from Something Weird on VHS in its entirety), an LSD casualty from The Weird World of LSD (called "Monsterama Nightmare!"), LSD Psychedelic Freakout, and the usual thorough gallery of H.G. Lewis posters and ad art. If this doesn't make you cherish DVD, what will?

Color, 1964, 87m. / Directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis / Starring Connie Mason, Thomas Wood / Image (US R0 NTSC), Tartan (UK R0 PAL)

A quantum leap over Blood Feast in terms of filmmaking skill, Two Thousand Maniacs! trades in its predecessor's queasy laughs for a frightening, potent atmosphere of sunny dread. Instead of bombarding the viewer with splatter, Maniacs (whose title inspired the popular '80s alternative group, Ten Thousand Maniacs) allows the murders to grow out of the story, often delivering true shocks thanks to the agonizing build up and fiendish imagination of the executions. While wandering the backroads of Florida, three Northern couples wind up in the little town of Pleasant Valley. Populated entirely by stereotypical grinning Southern yokels, the town welcomes its visitors with open arms and offers them free room and board. The main couple, Tom and his hitchhiking acquaintance, Terry (Blood Feast's Thomas Wood and Connie Mason), begins to suspect something may be amiss, particularly when their fellow Yankees wind up disappearing-- often before a convenient town barbecue turns up. Sure enough, this town is actually filled with malevolent ghosts bent on revenge for their slaughter at Yankee hands during the Civil War, a tradition they intend to hold up every one hundred years when the town reappears.

While the story takes a while to get going, with the first murder withheld until almost thirty minutes into the film, Two Thousand Maniacs! makes for engrossing and often chilling, sadistic viewing. The gore effects are uncomfortably accomplished, particularly a thumb slicing that still leaves audiences howling in shock. More outlandish feats include a man being drawn and quartered (though not as graphically as one might fear) and one poor soul tossed down a hill in a barrel spiked with nails. Mason's acting is still a major liability, but her involvement and screen time have been wisely axed in favor of painting a broader, more effective canvas of countryfied terror which predates such efforts as Deliverance, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and The Town that Dreaded Sundown.

Due to its mostly outdoor locales, Two Thousand Maniacs! lacks the same punchy color schemes of Blood Feast but looks extremely impressive for a zero budget drive-in film. Because of its conversion from a PAL source, the film runs slightly shorter here than its previous NTSC incarnations. Something Weird has lavished the same loving care on this title found on Blood Feast. Vraney, Lewis, and Friedman appear once again for a commentary track in which they recount the film's more ambitious production and numerous weird little anecdotes along the way. Also included is the original trailer (which once again focuses on the gore highlights), a surreal alternate French language track (which alas doesn't feature redubbing for the unforgettable theme song, "The South's Gonna Rise Again"), and sixteen minutes of outtakes, mostly consisting of alternate versions of scenes already in the film. The Tartan disc includes a different set of extras (mainly trailers) and an option to play the complete isolated musical soundtrack, jukebox-style.

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