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Return of the Godfather: Herschell Gordon Lewis  by ED Tucker
MOVIE REVIEW
"Bobby"  by Mike Smith
ODDSERVATIONS
Horrorfest Report....Jack Palance Remembered....Robert Altman is Gone....Happy Thanksgiving  by Andy Lalino
MIKE'S RANT
A True Master....Now I Guess We'll Never Know....Kosmo, Kosmo....PS....'Tis The Season To Give....Happy Turkey Day.... My Favorite Films, Part 47: "The Wizard of Oz"  by Mike Smith
LETTERS
Nolan's Pop Culture Review
Established A.D. 2000, March 19. Now in our seventh calendar year!
Number 348  (Vol. 7, No. 47). This edition is for the week of November 20--26, 2006.

Herschell Godon Lewis
by ED Tucker



With a title like that you might well think this article involves Marlon Brando, the Mafia, or even a chain of pizza restaurants. The Godfather in this case, however, is the Godfather of Gore, H. G. Lewis, who irrevocably changed motion pictures forever in the 1960’s with a string of films that splattered over the top violence onto movie screens across the country. Mr. Lewis made an appearance last month at a local theater for a screening of one of his films. For many residents of Jacksonville and surrounding areas, this was their first opportunity to meet this film legend in their own town. For others of us though, this was a welcome return after a long absence.

In the fall of 1989, I was in my last year at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville. A good friend of mine, Dennis Reiter, called me with some interesting information. It seems he had read an article on horror movie pioneer Herschell Gordon Lewis and discovered he resided in South Florida. Dennis had even done some research and found out exactly where Mr. Lewis was located AND had his phone number. Knowing what a horror movie fan I was, he was prepared to share this information with me in return for a promise that, if I did indeed get in contact with Mr. Lewis, I would find out some details regarding a couple of his movies that were filmed in and around Illinois where Dennis lived now. That sounded like a very fair deal to me!

Armed with this contact information, I felt there had to be a better use for it than just a “hey, I’m a fan of yours” phone call. I quickly hit upon a plan to not only get to meet one of my idols in the flesh, but to also get the University to pay the bill! I approached the programming board with an irresistible deal to bring in a well known film director (he was well known to my friends and I at least) with a long and ground breaking career to give a lecture at a fraction of what some of their other speakers were charging. It may have been a deal they could not refuse but it was also one I had concocted on the fly with absolutely no basis in reality and I had no idea if it would actually work!

When the day finally came to contact Mr. Lewis, I held my breath as I pitched my deal (not easy things to do simultaneously). To my surprise, he readily agreed to the terms, it was only the timing he was concerned about. It was at this moment that I learned who Herschell Gordon Lewis really was. I only knew him as a maverick film director who had opened the doors for the splatter movie craze the current decade was so richly enjoying. In the course of that phone conversation, I realized he was also a master business man, world traveler, radio host, published author on a variety of subjects, and one of the world’s leading experts on direct marketing! Fortunately he was able to shoe horn the speaking engagement into his busy schedule. I returned to the programming board with an accepted offer and the evening that became known as “The Beginnings of Gore” was born!

On September 13,1989, the Godfather of Gore wowed a respectably packed auditorium at the University of North Florida and we even captured the lecture on video. Over the course of almost two solid hours, Mr. Lewis discussed his long and varied career and even showed clips from his films (many of which were very rare at this time). I was extremely honored when the board asked me to introduce our guest speaker (even if it was at the last possible moment and I was forced to call upon my new found talent of making something up on the fly!). I was even more honored during a question and answer session following the lecture when someone asked him how he came to visit UNF. Mr. Lewis pointed at me and said, “It was thanks to this gentleman right here”. I ended a successful evening at dinner with Mr. Lewis, his lovely wife Margo, and five of my closest friends – all courtesy of the University!

As the years went by, I kept in touch with Mr. Lewis off and on. He was gracious enough to sign some movie posters I acquired from his films and I even supplied him with a few of his original pressbooks after I learned he lost most of his personal souvenirs in a messy divorce. Aside from one brief reunion at the 2005 Screamfest show in Ft. Lauderdale though, we never crossed paths directly again. Then, for Halloween 2006, a film buff and entrepreneur brought the Godfather of Gore back for another appearance in Jacksonville!

Tim Massot, the manager of the San Marco Theater in Jacksonville, is no stranger to programming events. The San Marco holds regular midnight screenings of both popular and cult films and participates in the annual film festival held by the city. For a Halloween screening of the Florida lensed horror classic “2000 Maniacs”, he decided to try something a little different. After a traditional midnight showing of the film on Friday, a special presentation followed on Saturday night with the director in attendance giving a live commentary throughout the entire film!

The receptive audience was treated to a live rendition of the film’s theme “The South is Gonna Rise Again” sung by it’s writer and original vocalist, Mr. Lewis himself, and accompanied by a live banjo player. After an encore, Mr. Lewis gave an introduction to how the film came about and then proceeded to provide a scene-by-scene commentary for the next 90 minutes as it was screened. Afterwards, Mr. Lewis answered questions and signed autographs for appreciative moviegoers. To fans of low budget horror films it was an opportunity of a lifetime!

Mr. Lewis made one other mark during his brief return visit to Jacksonville. Local filmmakers Josh Townsend and Chuck Gramling of Empty Bottle – Loaded Gun Productions tapped him for a cameo in their latest movie, “Gainesville Ripper”, based on the murder spree of Danny Rolling, the “Gator Mutilator”. In this scene, Rolling, played by local actor Zack Memos, purchases a ticket from the manager of a movie theater (Lewis) after making sure the film has lots of “girls and gore”! The rough cut of the clip looks great with spooky lighting and Lewis exuding a sinister charm as he assures Rolling he would not play any picture if it didn’t have those elements!

After a seventeen-year hiatus, the Godfather of Gore finally made it back to the city of Jacksonville and we were reunited on my home soil. Hopefully his travels won’t keep him away so long again. If Tim Massot continues with his plan to bring more cult filmmakers to Jacksonville and the events continue to be well received, a return engagement for Mr. Lewis is most definitely in order.


"Return of the Godfather: Herschell Gordon Lewis" is ©2006 by ED Tucker. All photos in this article used with the kind permission of ED Tucker.

All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2006 by Nolan B. Canova.


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