Bumper boxset celebrates exploitation legend with new restorations and plenty of bloody bonuses
A caterer specialising in exotic foods starts targeting buxom beauties in a series of ritualistic killings. An innocent student is lured into a world of smutty photography in order to pay her college tuition. Biker babes run amok. Yankee tourists stumble upon a strange Southern town where they are brutally murdered. Welcome to the world of the late Herschell Gordon Lewis and his particular brand of exploitation cinema.
Remembered primarily for essentially creating the splatter movie sub-genre with the sensationalist trio of Blood Feast (1963), Two Thousand Maniacs! (1963) and Color Me Blood Red (1965), Lewis actually had his hands in a number of exploitation cinema pies. He started out in so-called 'nudie-cuties', then interspersed his horror output with low-budget flicks about juvenile delinquents, bike gangs, moonshiners, the music industry, wife swapping and so much more. And every single one of them demonstrated his singular inability to coax a good performance out of an actor or give a damn about technical matters such as framing or focus.
In other words, he was a pretty inept filmmaker. But despite all of these issues (or, more likely, because of them) the films of Herschell Gordon Lewis stand apart from other exploitation-fests. Other films of this ilk and era can seem rather dull today; Lewis's continue to surprise and entertain, even if much of this may be a reaction to the shoddy sets, lousy scripts, terrible performances and clunky editing.
Arriving on shelves by some odd quirk of fate just a matter of weeks after Lewis passed away at the age of 90, this limited edition Blu-ray boxset from Arrow Video does not offer a comprehensive collection of his movies. However, excluding a few obvious candidates (none of his early 'nudie-cuties', not even The Adventures of Lucky Pierre or Goldilocks and the Three Bares, are included) the set curates 14 films that give a fine overview of the bulk of his career. It also surely includes all of the key titles fans would expect (plus a few surprise treats).
The complete list of titles (as they appear in the set) runs as follows: Blood Feast (1963), Scum of the Earth! (1963), Two Thousand Maniacs! (1963), Moonshine Mountain (1964), Color Me Blood Red (1965), Something Weird (1967), The Gruesome Twosome (1966), A Taste of Blood (1966), She-Devils on Wheels (1967), Just For the Hell of It (1968), How to Make a Doll (1968), The Wizard of Gore (1970), The Gore Gore Girls (1972) and This Stuff'll Kill Ya! (1971). Rest assured that each and every one lives up to its lurid title. And you'll never see anything else quite like them.
Picture: Apart from the existing HD masters of Two Thousand Maniacs! and The Gore Gore Girls supplied by Something Weird, all of the films in this boxset have been exclusively restored under the supervision of Arrow's in-house restoration guru James White.
Blood Feast, Two Thousand Maniacs!, Color Me Blood Red, She-Devils on Wheels, Just For the Hell of It and The Gore Gore Girls were all restored from original camera negatives and look far better than we could ever have expected. Colour reproduction and detailing are particularly strong, and there is very little in the way of dirt or print damage in evidence.
With original elements believed lost, Arrow had to restore Scum of the Earth!, Something Weird, The Gruesome Twosome, How to Make a Doll, The Wizard of Gore and This Stuff'll Kill Ya! from 35mm prints. Naturally, these tend to look a little softer and suffer from much more noticeable wear and tear (including heavy dirt, scratches and tramlines, not to mention significant colour fading).
Then we have a couple of piecemeal affairs. A Taste of Blood is primarily based on a restoration of the original camera negative, but missing sections had to be created using a faded 35mm print instead. Even more varied is Moonshine Mountain, which is not only based on a selection of 35mm prints of varying quality, but also uses some standard-def tape sources to replaces missing frames. This jigsaw-like approach may not make for the prettiest viewing experience, but does present us with the most complete version possible of this little-seen film.
The two titles supplied by Something Weird are presented solely in widescreen. All of the Arrow restorations are presented in 1.33:1, with Blood Feast, Scum of the Earth!, Color Me Blood Red, A Taste of Blood and The Wizard of Gore also getting alternate 1.85:1 versions.
Picture rating: 3.5/5
Audio: While a similar level of care and attention has been paid to cleaning up the films' soundtracks, the truth of the matter is that they were pretty limited affairs in the first place. Predominantly thin and flat, the best you can really say for the set's various LPCM mono mixes is that they are as good as the source material will allow. And no one is clamouring for Atmos remixes of this motley crew of movies...
Audio rating: 3/5
Extras: This premium-priced Blu-ray boxset describes itself as a 'feast' as that certainly applies to the collection of bonus goodies. Across the many platters you'll find intros to the films by Lewis; audio commentaries; new interviews with the filmmaker, his collaborators and fans; outtakes; video essays on a variety of related topics (such as the depiction of the American South in exploitation cinema); an episode of The Incredibly Strange Film Show dedicated to Lewis; and a wonderful 106-minute documentary about the explotation legend's entire career.
The set also comes with a 28-page 'Herschell Gordon Lewis Annual' packed with puzzles, activities and archival promo material. Fun for all the family!
Extras rating: 5/5
We say: An astonishing celebration of one of the genuine legends of exploitation cinema that was clearly a labour of love for all involved in putting it together.
The Hershcell Gordon Lewis Feast, Arrow Video, All-region BD & R0 DVD, £175 approx
HCC VERDICT: 4/5
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