Thank you very much for taking time to do this
interview, Mr. Lewis. Horror movie fans have been
bombarding me with questions they would like to
ask you themselves, but I’ll start with my first
question. How did you come to be involved with
I had met Jimmy and April and was impressed with their sincerity and
integrity – rare commodities in filmmaking. When
Jimmy asked me to appear in the film, I was
convinced he was joking. He wasn’t.
Did you have an
opportunity to meet fellow horror icon Gunnar
Hansen during the time you were shooting your
paths didn’t cross.
I have heard that
Mr. Gordon will be back in the sequel to “Chainsaw
Sally”. Will he have more screen time in the next
That’s up to the producer and screenwriter. I’d
like to see a slightly more crafty
characterization … one in which the hardware store
proprietor slyly massages the implements of death,
Who came up with
that little interplay Mr. Gordon and Sally have,
about “Who’d believe me?” Was there any
ad-libbing on your part?
It was entirely scripted.
For you, as a
director, how was it to be directed by someone
else? And how is JimmyO as a director?
Jimmy is an easy director, confident and
audience-aware. I had no negative reaction
whatever. Nor was I diffident about having someone
else in the director’s chair. In fact, on a set
it’s quite a relief to have someone else making
Your biography is
fascinating! How does someone with a Masters in
journalism and a PhD in English become arguably
the first sexploitation director? And at a time
when the Hays Code was so strictly enforced?
seem frighteningly educated on my education. So
you probably know I began my “career” teaching
English literature at a university. Gradually,
reality hit: If I wanted to enjoy the lifestyle I
envisioned, it had to be outside the cloistered
walls of academia. Describing how I descended into
the purgatory of advertising, marketing, and film
would eat up page after page, so I’ll condense the
history. When I began making movies, I recognized
the penalty faced by independent film-makers: The
chance of success one could anticipate, mirroring
the plots and scenes of major company films, was
close to zero. Zilch. Nada. That reality led me to
ask, “What kind of movies are the major companies
not making … but a kind that some theatres
will play? The answer to that question has become
a mini-point of history.
How is your former
partner, David Friedman, doing these days? I saw
that he was one of the producers of the new
“remake” of “Two Thousand Maniacs!” – Raw Nerve’s
“2001 Maniacs”. And what do you think about this
Dave Friedman is living in pleasant retirement in
Alabama. His wife died a few years ago, and we all
mourn her calm wisdom. I know nothing about “2001
Maniacs” other than they were supposed to have
negotiated with me to use the theme music from the
original (which I wrote). As of today, such a
negotiation hasn’t been completed.
It has been written that the reason your
partnership with David Friedman dissolved after
“Color Me Blood Red” in 1965 was “problems with
profit compensation, editing, and production
conflicts.” After all this time, would you like
to comment on this?
We had no such conflicts. The two of us were suing a third partner,
Stanford Kohlberg. Dave Friedman settled
unilaterally without telling me and moved to
For several years we were estranged. Then,
friendship and mutual respect overcame the
estrangement, and we now are the close friends we
When your films
were coming out, back in the 60s and early 70s,
did you receive a lot of backlash from the public
for the content of them? And are you surprised
that so many played at drive-ins, given their
They were intended for drive-ins. Breaking new
(and startling) ground, I wasn’t surprised that
the industry in general and the various censoring
organizations jumped on us. But theatre owners,
like everyone else, are greed-driven, and once
theatres saw how powerful word-of-mouth was, they
opted for box-office receipts over the
less-rewarding acceptance of controversy.
How did you respond
to your films being banned or any backlash from
the public or the Hays Office, if there was any
We ignored such situations. The Hays Office was
long gone. Individual censor boards were replaced
by the rating system even as we ground out our
gory product. Until the major companies began to
realize what a gold-mine we had discovered, we and
the rating system were strangers.
When the major
studios saw how well your films were doing, were
you ever approached to join the “studio system”?
And if so, why did you choose to remain an indie
Any invitations were either (a) phony, just to get
a mention in the trade publications, or (b) phony,
requiring a cash investment on my part. No sincere
nor genuine approach ever surfaced.
Do you still have
the 35-mm prints of your old films? So many are
considered “lost” – is that true?
Some, such as “Moonshine
one of my favorites, are lost. Jim Maslon, in
California, has most of the originals, and Mike
Vraney, of Something Weird Videos in Seattle, has
issued a number of my old films I thought were
lost, on videocassette and/ or DVD.
Have you done many
commentaries for the DVD release of your classics
– the “Blood Feast” trilogy in particular – and
how does it feel to watch those movies again after
all this time has passed?
It’s like welcoming home a lost child. As I
recall, I recorded commentaries for four or five
films. I certainly am available for others.
What is your
opinion on the state of horror movies nowadays?
Are you a proponent of all these PG-13 horror
movies or do you think that just “dumbs” the genre
I think the majority of contemporary “horror”
films are either derivative or un-horrifying.
How did it feel to
be compared to Ed Wood Jr. when “Monster-A-Go-Go”
came out? And did you ever meet that notorious
met him once. The idea that I produced
“Monster-a-Go-Go” is ludicrous. Anyone who knows
my history also knows I bought an unfinished film
titled “Terror at Half-Day” and retitled it, so
I’d have a second film to pair as a double feature
You have said that
“Two Thousand Maniacs!” is your personal favorite
of all your films and critics seem to think it was
your best. How did you come up with the idea of
taking the musical “Brigadoon” and turning it into
this horror classic?
I hadn’t even seen “Brigadoon” when we made that
film. But anniversary events related to the Civil
War were popping up, and it seemed a natural hook.
Yes, the hundred-year parallels are there, but the
story lines aren’t at all similar.
Did your time as a
Professor of English at Mississippi State have any
influence on using the South as your setting for
“Two Thousand Maniacs!” and having the Yankees be
I can’t answer that. I developed a fondness for
country music and a knowledge of the various
attitudes and prejudices that then existed.
How did it feel to
get back behind the camera for “Blood Feast 2” and
also be working with your old partner, David
In one word: Exhilarating. I enjoyed every minute
of directing that movie, even though I was just a
Are you EVER going
to retire and just take it easy? Or is that just
not in your nature?
The crystal ball is murky, but I don’t see any
pleasure nor benefit in retiring. I’m negotiating
with anyone who’s interested in “Grim Fairy Tale,”
which if produced certainly will rival “2000
Maniacs” in personal satisfaction.
How does it feel to
be known, and possibly forever remembered, as “The
Godfather of Gore”
I suspect that title won’t appear on my tombstone,
but certainly it’s preferable to “Anonymous.” Who
can object to being forever remembered as anything
spoken with who worked with you on “Chainsaw
Sally” has commented on how “courtly” and
“old-world gracious” you are. And I can see that
in your performance. Is this the way the
Herschell Gordon Lewis of the 60s was as well or
would you say you have “mellowed”?
I’d like to think I’m civilized. That always has
been a personal benchmark by which I gauge
individuals and choose friends.
Who working in the
horror genre today has caught your attention?
Director? Producer? Actor?
That’s one I prefer not to answer, because any
answer would seem competitive or prejudiced.
Compared to the
movie world back in the 60s, when there were still
drive-ins and people went more often to movie
theaters, is it your opinion that the problems
Hollywood is having today with its box office is
because of the quality of the films or something
Hollywood seems to have focused entirely on an
audience-fragment. Such a decision isn’t fatal if
budgets coincide. But when budgets get out of hand
and that fragment isn’t responsive, you have a
disaster such as “The Island.” One benefit of
low-budget horror films is that the very nature of
such entertainment, coupled with the multiplicity
of available outlets, prevents taking a
What is your
opinion on the state of current independent horror
films? Especially when compared with what the
studios are churning out.
I object to what seems to be a current syndrome:
Anyone and everyone who has a video camera regards
himself, herself, or too often itself as a film
producer, assuming that rounding up some friends
and relatives as cast and investors will result in
a product that can be released directly to DVD.
That’s a lot of mud in the water. These people,
too, have no clue about proper exploitation. In
moviemaking as in any other business,
superimposing one’s ego onto business judgment can
result in failure.
Would you consider
yourself a fan of horror movies and if so, besides
your own films, which ones are favorites of yours?
I’m no fan of any particular type of movie. My
wife and I watch a Netflix movie three or four
times a week. Sometimes we’ll give up after half
an hour of boredom.
Do you have time to
read any horror authors and if so, whom do you
I read a great deal. Even after half a century,
Ray Bradbury, whose output is more science-fiction
than horror, has my admiration. Formulaic vampire
stories are paperbacks I leave on airplanes. (I
enjoyed Lloyd Kaufman’s book, “Make Your Own Damn
How would you
define the label “exploitation” as it was back in
the 60s and as it is today with regard to film?
Exploitation is far more sophisticated now than it
was then because so many more outlets exist. For
the independent, the road is rocky because a
simultaneous national release just isn’t possible.
I prefer the word “showmanship” to “exploitation”
as a key to success in the twenty-first century.
What advice would
you give new horror directors today?
Leave your ego at the door and don’t hand-hold
What was the best
advice anyone ever gave you?
Pretend you’re watching the movie, not shooting
Just out of
curiosity, since you do hail from Pittsburgh, do
you know or have you ever met George Romero?
I’ve never met him, but I admire his ability to
maximize that word you use – exploitation.
there anything you would care to add that I
Great heavens, this is the longest interview I’ve
ever acknowledged since childhood.
What is one thing
you would like people to know about Herschell
Gordon Lewis that they probably don’t know?
After this interview, they already know more than
they should. I’ll add only that education is an
asset nobody ever can take away from you and
always is the most valuable of all lifetime
Check out More of Mr. Lewis in the film