Crowd sourcing is a pretty cool thing. Back in the old days, people needed to know someone with deep pockets to get their dream projects off the ground, but, thanks to the interwebz and social media and the Google-book-tweeting all the crazy kids are doing these days, one now simply need only to post their ideas for public financial consideration on a collection of sites dedicated to such things. If the idea’s a really good, widely appealing one, chances are it will get the funding required to become a reality whose failure or success can be shared by all who invested. That being said, there haven’t been that many ideas that have piqued my personal interests. However, had I heard of Vinegar Syndrome’s project to bring the “lost” films of Herschell Gordon Lewis to Blu-ray, well, that’s something that would have certainly parted this particular fool from his hard-earned money! Luckily for all of us, Vinegar Syndrome ended up getting the funding they needed in the end (and then some), and I now hold the fruits of their labor proudly in hand as I give thee The Lost Films of Herschell Gordon Lewis!
Folks expecting the guts and gore of Lewis’ better known movies will probably want to turn away now, as the lost films presented here cover the director’s sexploitation-era offerings. The three films presented here are 1969’s comedy/melodrama, Ecstasies of Women; the softcore pseudo-western, Linda and Abilene, and faux expose; Black Love, the sole hardcore XXX feature of the lot.
Ecstasies of Women is first up, and tells the tale of Harry, a fast-approaching middle-aged man on the verge of his second marriage. Harry and his pals go out for one last bachelor’s night out, visiting a strip club where the contemplative groom-to-be recalls his previous conquests while his friends tickle and tease the topless ladies who flock to their table. As the night carries on, and Harry imbibes more liquor, it becomes apparent that he’s not ready to give up his swinging lifestyle for another commitment, and he falls into the arms of sexy young dancer, Summer Frenzy.
Filmed in both industrial and crazy vérité style, with sets that look as though they were constructed in someone’s basement, Ecstasies of Women is a cheap, cheerful bit of softcore fun, filled with physics-defying love-making sessions, lots of creative blocking, and some of the hairiest man-ass you’ve seen this side of your local gym locker room. It’s more giggle-inducing than titillating, and what passes for a plot is about as compelling as the instructions on a box of Minute Rice, but one can’t help to be won over by its goofy charms and bargain basement aesthete, while the amateur actresses who parade about in various stages of undress possess a welcome authenticity sorely lacking from today’s plastic perfection pornography.
Gordon followed up Ecstasies of Women with the much more ambitious Linda and Abilene (1969). While it still features Lewis’ patented shoddy production values, the action goes beyond poorly constructed sets, and actually ventures outdoors, taking advantage of the picturesque Spanh Movie Ranch (fun fact: Charles Manson and family living there during production!). Linda and Abilene focuses on a pair of incestuous orphaned siblings, Todd and Abilene, and their intimate little ranch house. When Todd tires of his sister sexually, he ventures into town and takes up with local loose gal, Linda, leaving Abilene alone to be sexually assaulted by town baddie, Rawhide. Todd swears vengeance, and chases after Rawhide, leaving Linda and his sister to develop a…ahem…special bond of their own.
As with Ecstasies of Women, Linda and Abilene is an amateurishly acted and thinly plotted excuse to show naked bodies writhing against one another in simulated sex acts, but, unlike Ecstasies, this one moves at a snail’s pace, and has a bit of a mean spiritedness that detracts from its otherwise goofy and endearingly crude aesthete. Once again, the female flesh on display is quite fetching, while the men are...well…manly, and Lewis’ awkward handheld camera scans every inch of their anatomy (save for the truly naughty bits) with the cold detachment of a medical examiner carving into the corpse of a bloated hobo.
Speaking of lurid camerawork, Lewis outdoes himself in the third and final film in the collection, the faux-documentary Black Love (1971). As the title would suggest, this film focuses on African Americans and their sexual habits. Unlike the previous films, Black Love features full-on hardcore sex shot under unforgiving lighting and presented in the most un-erotic manner possible. Matters are made worse by some curious choices in “participants” as Lewis seemed to recruit his actors with nary a hint of concern for experience, body type, or attractiveness; a fact that is horrifically evident in the film’s final marathon sex sequence between two participants take the phrase “getting their freak on” to horrific new heights.
These cinematic curiosities won’t win Lewis new fans, but his legions of existing fans will recognize the importance of this release as it offers them a look at a decidedly different side of one of the most controversial cult filmmakers of the 20th century. Vinegar Syndrome’s presentation is wonderful, with lovingly remastered 2K transfers of each film culled from the original 35mm negatives. Each look exceptional, especially when one considers their low-budget origins, with vivid colors and surprising clarity and detail.
This 2-disc set features also includes trailers for all three films, extensive liner notes (written by exploitation guru, Casey Scott), and a collection of miniature lab card reproductions, all tailor made for the H.G. Lewis fan/completist!
The folks at Vinegar Syndrome are obviously serious about sleaze, and, with more projects on the horizon, we could very well be looking at the birth of a new exploitation authority!