The Lost Films of Herschell Gordon Lewis

Herschell-GordonWhile the majority of Herschell Gordon Lewis’ films were unearthed and released to the public (by the likes of Midnight Vide, Palace Explosive and Something Weird Video) in the 1980s and early-nineties, three titles from his oeuvre continually eluded his loyal band of fans and collectors. Now, thanks to the efforts of Process Blue (a film restoration facility), the Lewis filmography is one giant step closer to being complete, with the discovery and subsequent release of three of the Godfather of Gore’s obscure and previously lost sexploitation films: Linda & Abilene, Ecstasies of Women (both 1969) and Black Love (1971).

The pick of the litter here is definitely Linda & Abilene, which features the lovely Sharon Matt and was filmed at the infamous Spahn Ranch in California, an archaic location that was the setting for many western movies and television shows, and was being used as a hideout by Charles Manson and his band of counterculture followers at around the same time that Linda & Abilene was being filmed there (in fact, Lewis has claimed in several interviews over the years that members of the Manson gang were spotted wandering around in a psychedelic haze at various times throughout the filming). This morbid little anecdote aside, Linda & Abilene is a western sexploiter, but unfortunately an overlong and not very exciting one, especially considering some of the rougher adult westerns that were doing the flea-pit rounds at the time (such as Van Guylder’s The Ramrodder). The highlight is easily the lesbian interlude between Linda (Roxanne Jones) and Abilene (Matt), though unfortunately this doesn’t come until ten minutes from the film’s so-called climax.

In Ecstasies of Women, sleazy lingerie salesman Harry (Walter Camp) and his three pals celebrate his last night of bachelorhood at the most sparsely decorated strip joint in town, watching a couple of bored women gyrating on stage (“They must have ball-bearings for bone joints”, one of his boozy pals comments). In between rounds of groping the topless waitresses, Harry affectionately thinks back to some of his more memorable female conquests, all of which take place on his yacht the ‘High Life’ (which remarkably has an interior at least four times the size of the exterior). By the end of the night, the whole gang (including the waitresses and strippers) end up back on the yacht enjoying a little group action, with Harry waking up the next day and deciding to leave his bride-to-be at the altar so he can continue his wicked, wicked ways. Filmed in Hollywood, Ecstasies of Women is basically a 1962 nudie film with some 1969 bush shots, and once again features Sharon Matt, along with some cool music (a mixture of guitar and sleazy lounge).

The final film on the disc, Black Love is essentially a ‘white coater’ (i.e. – a sex flick disguised as a documentary in order to get racy material passed the local censors). It is also the only hardcore sex film that Lewis is known to have directed (under the pseudonym R. L. Smith), and is a very grotty ‘document’ (complete with borderline offensive narration) of the sexual practices of African Americans, who apparently have different desires to other folks. Consider it the filmmaker’s contribution to the burgeoning blaxploitation genre, which was just starting to find popularity at the time.

While not amongst the highlights of Lewis’ career, it’s terrific to see these finally out there, and packaged together at a reasonable price. A definite must-have for Lewis collectors and fans of late-sixties skinema.

Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-Ray/DVD release of The Lost Films of Herschell Gordon Lewis features crisp, original camera negatives that have been scanned and restored in 2K. It obvious that the original negatives Process Blue discovered were rarely used and in remarkably good shape for their age. Also included are the original trailers for all three films, reproductions of the lab cards, and a 10 page illustrated booklet featuring liner notes by adult film historian Casey Scott.

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