Thursday, April 11, 2013

Blu-ray Review: THE LOST FILMS OF HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS (1969-1970)

THE LOST FILMS OF HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS 
Blu-ray/DVD Combo
Region Code: Region FREE
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 92 Mins, 74 Mins, 74 Mins. 
Video: Fullframe (1.37:1) 
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
Director: Herschell Gordon Lewis 
Cast: William Vickers, Walter Camp, Stuart Lancaster, Eleanor Riggs, James Brand, Dee Howard, Bonnie Clark, Antoinette Maynard, Vincene Wallace, Sharon Matt, Kip Marsh, Roxanne Jones, Tom Thorn

Synopsis: ‘The Lost Films of H.G. Lewis’ three previously thought lost sexploitation features from the acclaimed master of exploitation cinema. All three films have been restored in 2K from their original camera negatives and are being released on home video for the first time anywhere in the world!


Blu-ray, DVD, Collector's Booklet and 3 Lab Card Reproductions 
Here in my hands I hold the debut release from Vinegar Syndrome which contain the Holy Grail of "lost films" by the "Godfather of Gore" director Herschell Gordon Lewis.A trio of sexploitation films so genuinely rare and unseen that they were heretofore not even available on the dingiest of VHS trading circuits, no grey-market releases, nothing, they just were not available and considered "lost" in a very true sense of the word. That is until now, the forensic film archivalists at Vinegar Syndrome have somehow unearthed 'em, that's right, so as of today every film in the H.G. Lewis filmography is accounted for and given a proper home video release.

Now with that outta the way let me just admit to you upfront that I have never watched any of Herschell Gordon Lewis's films in my life before setting down to view these filthy films. I say this with  no small amount of shame. Yeah, I know who he is and of his films, but the closest I've come to sitting down for a watch is during John Waters' Serial Mom (1994) when Scotty is watching Blood Feast (1963), Waters film itself was a tribute to the likes of b-movie masters like Russ Meyers and Herschell Gordon Lewis so I'm just as surprised as you might be that I've just never got around to giving at least Blood Feast a watch. Go ahead and judge me, it's okay.

So, let's dig into Vinegar Syndrome's The Lost Films of Herschell Gordon Lewis and see if maybe it's gonna make me run out and watch 2000 Maniacs (1964), Blood Feast (1963) and The Wizard of Gore (1970) anytime soon to rectify this gap in my cinema studies...  


The first film is a sex-comedy called Ecstasies of Women (1969) which features young swinging cat named Harry (Walter Camp) at a go-go-titty bar in LA with his three friends Ted (William Vickers), Fred (James Brand) and Gene (Forman Shane), it's his last night on the town as a single man before he gets hitched in the morning and his friends are sending him off in style - or at least get him drunk in a roomful of titties, and that's alright, too. Young Harry is a lingerie salesman by day, and by night (and by day too) he's quite the ladies man, seemingly able to snatch pussy straight outta the air.

While at the titty bar surrounded by go-go dancing nudies Harry and his horny friends flirt with the super-cute waitresses as he reminisces through a series of dream/fantasy sequences about his may sexual conquests through the years, this was very Schoolgirl Report sorta set-up. Most of sexed-up action happens back at Harry's bachelor-pad houseboat, it's fun softcore stuff with lots of groping, moaning and awkward writhing onscreen. If you love natural titties, thick woven snatches, softcore sex and groovy go-go dancing you are in for quite a treat. If on top of that you adore stiff acting and deliciously campy dialogue this is gonna be a vintage slice of late 60's schlocky sexploitation. Harry comes across as a fun guy, not a slimeball at all, his banter with his guy pals is fun, these guys are pretty sure of themselves and considering the way Harry has with women it would be hard to argue with 'em. The heroes here are the women of the film, gorgeous top-shelf actresses every one of 'em.

Ecstasies of Women (1969) is pretty rough around the edges and in the center, too, but in the end it's goofy sex-comedy with more than a few good moments. Porky's (1982) it certainly is not but it is an entertaining romp with plenty of groping, moaning and desperate dry-humping. 


The next film is the sexed-up western Linda and Abeline (1969) which sets out to combines the "savagery of a classic Hollywood western with sequences of intense eroticism". Notably shot at the Spahn Ranch, the very place the Manson Family called home, the films is set in 1969, it's the American Old West and a pair of siblings Abilene (Sharon Matt) and Todd (Kip Marsh) are dealing with the quite recent loss of their parents. The two do their best to comfort each other during this time of sorrow but it's difficult, especially for the grieving Abilene. Speaking of taking it hard... one day Todd gets a peek at his sister skinny dipping down at the creek and the sight spurs an unnatural attraction and before you know it the horny siblings really start churning the butter! Oh yeah, that's right, we're talking about the love that dare not speaks it;s name. Wait, the film is called Linda and Abeline, so where the Hell is Linda? Okay, we're getting there, at some point along the way Todd gets a bit confused in the aftermath of their forbidden love, as you do, and runs off to town to shack up with a strumpet named Linda. While Todd's away Abilene becomes entangled with sleazy cowpoke by the name of Rawhide and when he treats her shitty Todd comes running back to Abilene, and that's when we get some Abilene on Linda action.


Linda and Abeline (1969) is a sexy Western that skirts controversy with it's taboo subject but is a pretty tame affair, case in point Todd does most of his dirty work with his dungarees on but we get do get some nice exploitative elements; incest, rape and some nifty girl-on-girl action. Sharon Matt is quite easy on the eyes, all in all fun stuff even if the cast doesn't quite bring the story to life. A fun low budget Western, for a cheapie period set sexploitation flick it's decent, not nearly as fun a Ecstasies of Women, it's missing the camp and it's about incest, but if you're craving low-budget Western sexploitation flick H.G. Lewis has got it covered.

Now onto the what I would consider the main attraction. The sex-doc BLACK LOVE (1971) is HG's only known hardcore sex film, shot under the name R.L. Smith. It's said the Lewis himself will not confirm he made the film which I love. A velvet-voiced narrator walks us though this "documentary", that's right this is no erotic sex film, Black Love is a “a study of an important aspect of the black experience.”, an examination of how Black folks go about their sex on...  not to be confused with a sex film... yeah fucking right! Boom, right from the start you get a close-up of some black cock with an even closer-up shot of some down n' nasty penetration. There can be no doubt about it, this is a genuine fuck film ever-so-thinly disguised an an educational documentary but don't you believe it for a moment. 


Given the exploitative subject at hand I was surprised that the shenanigans onscreen never went quite racist, but they're definitely weird, the vignettes within are bizarre to say the least, you just gotta love it. The images combined with our narrator dropping sweet nuggets like “He sees the vaginal opening of the woman, looking like some hallowed chamber” are worth the price of admission alone, great stuff. The film never once bordered on anything erotic despite the hardcore sex acts, the scenarios preposterous and would make for great group-viewings along the lines of say Reefer Madness (1938), it's sure to be a crowd pleaser that will elicit howls of laughter, a film that once you've seen it you cannot unsee it!

Blu-ray: Vinegar Syndrome have restored all three films in 2K from the original camera negatives, they are presented with an AVC encode in their original fullframe aspect ratio (1.37:1) in glorious 1080p HD. There are some minor instances of print but considering that these were lost films I think that they look outstanding, the 1080p image is fantastic with impressive fine detail, vibrant colors and decent black levels. Quite surprised and pleased with the level of quality that Vinegar Syndrome have afforded these films, these are stunning transfers. You'll definitely appreciate the depth and clarity of the image during the penetration shots in Black Love, it's an uncomfortable degree of fine detail. 


Main Menu 
In the sound department we do not get PCM, DTS-HD, no TrueHD audio option, which I think is just fine, trust me when I say none of these films would never benefit from a sonic upgrade, the English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono audio suffices quite nicely. Dolby nicely handles the well-balanced effects, score and dialogue, it's a bit flat but were you expecting a surround mix with these titties... I mean titles? I particularly enjoyed the over-dubbed sex moans and grunting during the Ecstasies of Women. 

Disc extras are limited to trailers for each film, the one for Ecstasies of Women is awesome and features our main character Harry speaking to the audience about his many conquests. Be warned that the trailer for Linda and Abeline is pretty much a highlight reel for the film, so lest you be spoiled watch it after the film, not that you can really spoil it. We also get a 10 pg. booklet with liner notes by exploitation cinema nut Casey Scott that also includes information about the transfer. Worth noting, my edition had an error, the booklet was missing pages 2,3,8,9 and erroneously doubles a few of the other pages which means I only got half the notes which blows because they're quite interesting. Not an extra but worth mentioning are that the chapter stops are broken down into reels, very neat. This release also comes with three Lab Card reproductions, one for each films, it's yet another nice touch, like the chapter stops. For your pleasure the release also comes with a standard-definition DVD featuring the same films and special features. 



Chapter Reels for Black LOve (1970)
Verdict: So, did the content of The Lost Films of Herschell Gordon Lewis make me want to seek out the films of H.G. Lewis? Nope, these are poorly shot and edited films, the word amateurish comes immediately to mind, but I will definitely get to some of the films from 'Godfather of Gore" in the very near future, despite this trio of filth. I cannot say I loved each of these films, but  I thoroughly enjoyed Black Love for all the wrong reasons, I've watched it three times and it gets funnier every time. I think you really need to be an H.G. Lewis enthusiast or die-hard sexploitation collector to need these films in your collection, but what I do love is the appreciation and care that upstart Vinegar Syndrome have afforded these formerly lost films, I cannot wait to see what they do with a slightly higher caliber of film, Vinegar Syndrome are definitely a label to keep an eye on, a fantastic first release from VS for a few not-so-great obscurities. 3 Outta 5 



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