Odd this day

15 June 1926

3 min readJun 15, 2024

Cinematic history was made on this day — or, at least, set in motion — because Herschell Gordon Lewis was born, and he went on to create what Matthew Sweet called “gleefully savage” low-budget horror movies.

He started out making ‘nudie’ pictures, like ~ahem~ this one:

Movie poster. Artwork of a rundown building with naked women covered in censorship bars in the windows. Tagline at top reads: “TIRED OF WATCHING THAT GREASY KID STUFF? THIS IS STRICTLY ADULT STUFF!” Other lines on the poster read: “The Show That Separates the Men from the Boys”, “The Howlarious Story of 2 Guys who Make a NUDIE MOVIE”, “THE PICTURE THAT TAKES OFF WHERE ALL THE OTHERS LEFT UP!”, “UNDRAPED Damsels Filmed in UNCONCEALED COLOR”

…but found they didn’t make enough money, because so many other people were doing the same thing. So he decided to invent splatter movies, beginning with Blood Feast, in which, Roger Ebert said:

a peculiar Miami Beach caterer murders hapless nubiles and prepares their organs and limbs as a tribute to the Egyptian goddess Ishtar.

Movie poster depicting a man with wild hair, carrying a cleaver, and looming over a prone woman in her underwear. Taglines include: “NOTHING SO APPALLING IN THE ANNALS OF HORROR!”, “You’ll Recoil and Shudder as You Witness the Slaughter and Mutilation of Nubile Young Girls in a Weird and Horrendous Ancient Rite!”, “AN ADMONITION — If You are the Parent or Guardian of an impressionable adolescent DO NOT BRING HIM or PERMIT HIM TO SEE THIS MOTION PICTURE”, “Introducing CONNIE MASON — YOU READ ABOU

It cost $24,500 to make, and made $7m. Or $30m. Or somewhere in between. Depends who you ask. Either way, Lewis (and the splatter movie) had arrived.

It came out not long after the groundbreaking, but comparatively restrained (and, crucially, b/w) Psycho. This was in colour, and one scene showed someone having their tongue ripped out – the actress in question apparently cast because she had a mouth big enough to hold the sheep’s tongue used for the ‘effect’. You can see the trailer on YouTube, with its COMPLETELY SINCERE warning about taking impressionable young people out before it begins.

And you can see the whole damn thing on Daily Motion…

…but I have to tell you, it contains not much more gore than the trailer. Lewis was ‘selling the sizzle, not the steak’.

Next came his favourite of his works, Two Thousand Maniacs!

Movie poster — a series of inset photos, one of which shows a screaming woman held down by two men, but which are otherwise largely mundane. Taglines: A TOWN of MADMEN CRAZED for CARNAGE! BRUTAL..EVIL..GHASTLY BEYOND BELIEF! GRUESOMELY STAINED IN BLOOD COLOR! INADVISABLE FOR CHILDREN UNDER 16. Starring CONNIE MASON Playboy’s Favorite Playmate

a rollicking tale of a confederate ghost town whose population rises from the grave every one hundred years to avenge the Yankee massacre of their settlement.

Some people took him seriously. Cahiers du Cinéma loved these two works, and declared Herschell Gordon Lewis “worthy of further study”. (“Yeah”, he noted. “That’s what they say about cancer.” He was, you may not be surprised to hear, more interested in money than art.)

In 1972, he made The Gore Gore Girls and then…

Movie poster. b/w silhouette image of screaming woman, plus taglines: THE MOST HORRIFYING FILM YOU’LL EVER SEE IN YOUR LIFE! NOTHING HAS EVER STRIPPED YOUR NERVES AS SCREAMINGLY RAW AS THE GORE GORE GIRLS. IN SCREAMING COLOR. NOTICE PERSONS WITH HEART CONDITIONS PROHIBITED FROM ENTERING THIS THEATRE. special effects by the same perverted madmen who brought you BLOOD FEAST. No one under 17 will be admitted unless parents accept responsibility
I’d include a plot summary for Gore Gore Girls, but if it doesn’t involve young women in peril, and probably in their underwear while in peril, and feature some unpleasant, exploitative, and clumsily staged deaths, I think we’ll all be surprised

…er, quit filmmaking for marketing. His gimmicks to promote his movies had included sick bags printed with

You might need this when you see ‘Blood Feast’.

…which he hired actors dressed as nurses to hand out in cinemas, so I think we can agree that it was in promotion that his skills really lay. The evidence does not suggest it was scriptwriting or direction.

Anyway, Lewis became a junk mail guru and public speaker, and what he knew about commemorative collectible plates could fill a book.

And, in fact, did:

Front cover: Everybody’s Guide to Plate Collecting (tagline: What’s Hot and What’s Not), by Herschell and Margo Lewis (his wife). Front cover features shot of commemorative plate with a picture of a steam train on it

So, basically, we have him to thank for the genre that gave us this:

A Diana, Princess of Wales commemorative plate, showing her in tiara and white jacket against a blue background — although the image does not strongly resemble her

So, you can argue among yourselves about whether it was a life well lived, but you can say he wasn’t boring.




Purveyor of niche drivel; marker of odd anniversaries