Review Date: January 16, 2013
Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
Release date: January 8, 2013
Codec: AVC, 1080p
Full Frame 1.37:1 | 16x9: Yes
Herschell Gordon Lewis may have quit filmmaking in the early '70s to pursue his main passion in life which resulted in a successful career in advertising, but during those earlier years he marked the drive-in screens with 35 feature films, up to that point, that redefined the nude cutie and sexploitation genres in the early and late '60s, and of course ushered in a new era of gore with the cult classic and groundbreaking Blood Feast
that solidified Lewis as the Godfather of Gore. Although not the most competent of filmmakers, often shooting his productions over 2-day periods that were quicker and dirtier than Roger Corman's money makers, you could immediately tell from the static master shot, basic 3-point lighting, and wooden acting that these were Herschell Gordon Lewis films. Often more than anything they may have been stuffed full of unnecessary dialogue to pad the running time, but there's undeniably a certain charm that no other director can duplicate that was all Lewis.
Up until now the majority of Lewis' films have seen the light of day on home video and off the drive-in screens, but a few have remained lost since their initial run. Of these lost films, two sexploitation films titled The Ecstasies of Women
and Linda and Abilene
as well as the infamous hardcore film Black Love
were expected to remain unseen. Black Love
especially, which despite clear indication he directed from numerous interviews and information that has surfaced, Lewis still continued to deny that it featured any hardcore scenes. These three were the Holy Grails of HGL, all but rumours in the exploitation film world, that no one thought would ever be discovered and see the light of day. But low and behold, the camera negatives were discovered and lovingly scanned and remastered in glorious HD, warts and all, by new genre label Vinegar Syndrome, who's company name is a nod to the process of film deteriorating from improper storage and the smell it gives off, with the help and support of a few fans from around the world backing the project. And so let us discover The Lost Films of Herschell Gordon Lewis
The Ecstasies of Women (1969)
Harry (Walter Camp
) , a lingerie salesman, is getting ready for his second time at the altar, but before the big event his friends Gene, Fred, and Ted, who all forget their own screen names at some point, throw him a bachelor party at the near by go-go joint. After more than a few drinks and ogling the topless dancers Harry begins to recount all of his previous sexcapades. First up is Annette (Jeanette Mills
), pronounced by Harry as Anne-Ette with emphasis on the space between the syllables, a fashion model who's talkative and easy going approach has Harry enticed, and so he offers her a job: to model his lingerie. Pretty soon things are getting hot and heavy in the front seat of his convertible while they are parked near the ocean view, then back to his houseboat for the main course of action. Annette is audibly a moaner.
After this flashback sexual encounter the boys order more drinks and a topless dancer who goes by the name Summer Frenzy joins them at their table. Summer (Bonnie Clark
) actually seems turned on and tuned out, eyes glazed over and slurring her words slightly. This is not acting, folks. She briefly mentions that her dad is a honey dipper, one who services out houses, and she's from Climax, Arizona. By the way, Harry is from Intercourse, Pennsylvania.
After succumbing to his apparent narcolepsy Harry is back in dream land, this time suntanning on the beach where he's suddenly disturbed by the lonesome ginger beach bunny Sandy ([i]Vincene Wallace[i], Russ Meyer's Vixen!) who immediately begins slipping him the tongue right there on the sand. But still parched, Sandy makes Harry take her back to his houseboat to wet her sexually aggressive appetite. Harry recommends that he'll have to give her some of his health juice. So Sandy disappears to the washroom to change and returns naked. Oh, and above the washroom Harry has a sign reading “Brothel” (later seen in Lewis' Miss Nymphet's Zap-In
). Sandy's also a moaner.
Back to reality, Summer hits the go-go stage as either Gene, Ted, or Fred completely flubs their lines and the boys continue to talk about women as they smoke and drink. And so Harry decides to doze off again. In these memories, Harry picks up the young Philomena (newcomer Sharon Matt
) at a stop sign on an afternoon drive. Failing to signal and driving around for a half hour, Harry makes his move. Phil seems to be in some trouble, but she doesn't want to talk about it. So to help ease her mind he pulls out the corny one-liners which don't go over well... But soon they are back to the houseboat. Rinse. Repeat. Well, almost... It fades to black and back to the go-go bar before Harry even takes off his drawers.
Now Kitty (Eleanor Riggs
), their waitress, invites herself to the join the party after they plan to leave the club. So with a few other dancers joining the boys, Kitty, Summer, and the gang adjourn to the floating brothel and all partake in a swinging orgy. All get naked on the seemingly solid as a rock houseboat and do the rocking themselves. And so with Summer now on his mind, Harry ditches his plans to get married and runs off with Ms. Frenzy.
The Ecstasies of Women
is your average 2-day Lewis production, featuring mostly master shots and very similar and safe angles for capturing all the action. The actors are all under prepared, constantly messing up lines and passing off their inability to memorize dialogue as drunken character ramblings. While female flesh is on constant display, it's never all that sexy with the constant talky dialogue overlapping and the repetitive sex scenes. The entire scene inside the go-go club was probably shot over one short afternoon of the 2-day shoot, since it's only covered by about 3 angles, all of which seem to have been covered in one take.
is fairly low-end sexploitation with the sex scenes pretty tame, although all flesh is exposed, with no variety between the scenes. Although good for more than its fair share of laughs because of how underdeveloped the entire production seems to have been there's still enough to enjoy despite how terrible and bland it is overall. Most of the actors and actresses never did anything else, which is a shame because most of the women in the film seem natural despite being constantly topless. Obviously there are a few exceptions, but most could have continued to work in the low-budget world.
Linda and Abilene (1969)
Opening on a rather long wide shot of the burial of their parents, Abilene Carter (Sharon Matt
returning to the screen) and her brother Tod (Kip Marsh
) retreat home. But Abilene isn't ready to move on and visits her parents' graves daily while her brother takes care of the farm. Tod becomes concerned for his sister however, since it seems she's not dealing with the loss all too well, and so through trying to console her the two become a little too dependent on each other. After the single most unbelievable storm ever committed to celluloid, with thunder that sounds like a muffled truck revving its engine and lighting that looks like someone was just turning that same vehicles headlights on and off, and an overly long montage complete with enough 'fade to black's to make a drinking game out of, the brother and sister finally schtup. And by schtup I mean Tod doesn't even take his jeans off! Then later, still wearing his jeans, they get down in the barn. And then we're forced to watch another overly long montage, this time of the various love triangles between sister, brother, and his pair of jeans.
By now we're already 56 minutes into the film... so where's the other title character Linda? Tod, getting sick of lovin' his sister, decides he needs to find himself another woman to get Abilene off of his mind. So Tod heads into the nearby saloon and orders himself a couple glasses of whisky. Here he meets Linda (Roxanne Jones
, who according to IMDb became a sound editor on such films as Kindergarten Cop
and Bottle Rocket
), a saloon girl looking for a man to buy her a drink. Meanwhile, overhearing their conversation, local brute Rawhide (Tom Thorn
) hears that Tod's sister is home all alone and pays an unsuspecting visit to Abilene where his outlaw ways are forced upon the helpless young woman. So while Tod and the busty Linda kick up their boots in the private rooms at the saloon, Rawhide rapes Abilene while his hairpiece falls off his bald spot. Not a pleasant sight.
Upon returning home to find his sister in distress, Tod gets the story out of her and heads back into town to rip Rawhide a new one. Meanwhile, Linda, while out riding around on horseback, runs into Abilene while out to surprise visit Tod. The two butt heads at first, but soon Linda seduces Abilene by talking her into receiving a massage to help ease her nerves. During this time Tod confronts Rawhide and they both die outside the saloon in an anti-climatic shootout that if you blink you'll miss it. It hasn't even been more than a week before that her parents were just buried, and now here poor Abilene buries her brother alongside their graves. At least now she has Linda to comfort her in more ways than one.
Clocking in at just under 95 minutes, Linda and Abilene
is longer than the average Lewis film. Its entire plot and story could easily have fit into 20 minutes of screen time, but as usual the camera lingers and montages go on forever. However, compared to most of his output up to this point, Linda and Abilene
is one of his more accomplished films as far as narrative structure goes. Most of Lewis' other films feel like a series of vignettes, where as here we are treated to an actual story arc. Shot on the infamous Spahn Movie Ranch the film features some great use of the exteriors at the Ranch, but interiors sets look cheaply constructed with all costumes looking straight out of a '60s Western boutique. The smooth jazz score also takes away from the time period, but does help spice up the sexploitation aspect a bit better.
Sharon Matt is actually quite natural in the role of Abilene, exhibiting a very cute 'girl next door' look and an innocence that works for her character, and tangerine golden hair that shimmers in the sun. Kip Marsh however never seems to grasp what acting is all about and seems like he's always thinking way too hard about the directions he was instructed to perform. Just as with Ecstasies
, the sex scenes here are fairly tame and uneventful, but are made entertaining by the sheer fact that Marsh never takes off or pulls down his jeans. There are a few exceptions, but that's besides the point. Lewis' directing is definitely more prepared here, but he still doesn't know how to pace the scenes. Linda and Abilene
suffers mostly due to the apparent lack of scissors in the editing room, but if you're looking for something different from Lewis that's somewhat along the lines of Russ Meyer's Wild Gals of the Naked West
this may be up your alley.
Black Love (1971)
“Black Love is not an erotic sex film. It is rather a study of an important aspect of the black experience – the act of making love.”
opens with narration explaining how this is not a sex film, but an educational tool. Well, I wouldn't really call it educational since the entire narration is written as if it were a horribly incorrect school teaching aid for those around the age of 8. The film starts by explaining to the audience how young black people discover sex, and apparently it is revealed that they all first encounter sex through seeing black adults making love. The first example of black love is a couple getting it on in a playground in their car in broad daylight as a youth looks on from the jungle gym, featuring plenty of up close and personal and out of focus penetration. Well, there you go, Herschell did go hardcore! Then a young girl returning to her bedroom hears a noise coming from their bedroom where, peeping through the slightly open door, she glimpses her parents in the act – very woodenly doing it. Of course these are all cut aways, so clearly the youths are not actually viewing any of this copulation in person on the set.
In the next vignette a young woman unconsciously flashers her “hairy vaginal area” whilst reading a book on a step outside as a young boy walks on by. After this “introduction to black sex” Black Love
exhibits the bodies of a male and female who sit on rotating pedestals in life drawing poses. The narrator spills a bunch of bull shit about the struggles of their day to day lives and how they are just aimlessly wandering until they find each other. They find each other after the lights cast a red glow and embrace each other before they get down and it fades to black.
Now onto recreation in the black world as we arrive at a happening club where various couples get down on the front stage. Now we are being “educated” with the information that black people also come in all shapes and sizes, with varying personalities. And these differences make black love different and distinct. Boom! Dissolve and their clothes are now gone as they continue to groove on stage. This scene, set to a funky jam that never ends (and the only song featured in the entire film on constant repeat), goes on and on and on and on. Not erotic, no hypnotizing, but could have used a pair of scissors and been cut by at least 5 minutes.
Next up is a young couple displaying the powers of black seduction. The man's reactions, showing his arousal, are hilariously over the top. Meanwhile the same jam is on constant repeat, since the young lady apparently owns the vinyl record of the film's score! So they boogie down in her living room. After a little dance they move to the couch, undress, and display some more black love. Again, this segment features some more out of focus penetration, but just as they are getting it on the girl's mother comes in and stops their joyful session.
Another couple, actually from the dancing scene from earlier, move the party back home as they go straight into arousing each other. “Our study of black love found that a great deal of emphasis is placed on foreplay.” The guy has some blingin' cufflinks in this scene. And to go with those cufflinks is a matching yellow mesh undershirt and mesh gotch! Pure class! This scene, showcasing foreplay, features some heavy petting and some oral sex. When this happens, the scene magically teleports to a completely different location where the headboard of the bed is now replaced by some funky green curtains complete with a visible C-stand of one of the crew's lights. Then some more awkward angled penetration. This scene even address a brief display of impotence from the man until he is re-aroused by his lover.
Finally we are introduced to a couple who've had a long and tiring day, with the husband fast asleep on the couch while the wife continues to mend her shirt. Upon the husband awaking, “sleep and dreams have a way of arousing and stimulating sexual desire, which can have a lingering effect” the couple heads off to bed to get frisky. To get her husband ready the wife performs some very toothy oral loving that looks pretty uncomfortable for both parties. They swap roles, again with an overly lit and shaky angle of the female oral stimulation. Then things get a little racier with “simultaneous oral stimulation” with even more teeth. But even more horrifying: as the husband gets on top he's still got his black dress socks on! This scene exhibits more sexual positions, including “dog fashion”. The narrator then concludes that “black love is black art” thus ending our education on the new and exciting world of black love making.
You can tell Lewis wasn't into making hardcore films since his shot selection tends to be a little on the awkward side with angles that, while exhibiting penetration, are never at their most erotic or flattering angle. Most of the hardcore action tends to be just ever slightly out of focus and often over lit. Interesting to note is that frequent Lewis collaborator Ray Sager, who played Montag the Magnificent in The Wizard of Gore
, worked as assistant camera man here, and may have also performed the duties of assistant director and crew chief. Despite continually denying he'd made the film, it clearly has Lewis' stamp all over it.
insn't terrible in the regard that it's a fascinating example of an ill executed porno film from a filmmaker who's sexploitation films were all quite tame for their time period. Black Love
is also not a sexy erotic film, nor is it the educational exhibit it tries to be, failing by flubbing its way at explaining the so-called truths of black love in such a political incorrect manner that's it's pretty outrageous. The couples engaging in the sex on screen all seem natural, despite a tad bit of awkwardness or camera shyness. It's hilariously bad, not the least bit titillating, but oh so entertaining in such a bizarre “fish out of water” way. A completely failed experiment produced by the owner of a couple of Baskin-Robin's who was trying to get into the adult film world, Black Love
is what it is, and that is a hardcore film that Lewis will still probably continue to deny that he had any real part of. Or at least that it isn't hardcore, which is hard to deny now.
All three films are presented in 1.37:1 aspect ratio, providing the full frame in open matte. The transfers, scanned at 2K and extensively cleaned up, provide a lovingly remastered image that probably looks better than the original theatrical exhibition of each title. With healthy grain and the occasional scratches, these are very film like with no DNR. Colours are vibrant and natural on all three films, with primary colours really popping. Linda and Abilene
does feature a bit of warping and jitter in some of the earlier scenes, but these are camera negatives that had been in storage for a very long time and were probably not in pristine shape upon discovery. [/b]Black Love[/b] also features one short scene with some very heavy scratches and some colour variation from scene to scene. However, to even be able to see these films at all, let alone in stunning HD, is impressive.
All films are presented in English Dolby Digital 2.0 and the audio tracks are adequate enough. These of course are by no means meant to sound extraordinary since the location audio has its pitfalls with varying degrees of sound quality throughout each production, but they are all fairly clean and clear. As mentioned above, the narration in Black Love
is pretty low in the mix with the music being a tad overpowering as well as the ADRd moaning in the forefront, but this is the fault of the filmmakers and not the digital cleanup. Overall the audio is probably the best it's going to sound.
Here we get trailers for all three films, each cleaned up as best as possible and also presented in high definition. The Ecstasies of Women
trailer features some hilarious orgasmic explosion sounds and Harry breaking the fourth wall talking to the camera about the various ladies he's brought aboard his houseboat. The Linda and Abilene
trailer runs a tad long just like the film itself. And Black Love
is chock full of extremely bad splices but somehow the narration manages to remain constant. That's it for actual supplemental features, but also included is a DVD edition of same content, three reproductions of the original colour timing lab reports for each film, and finally a booklet of extensive liner notes about the production of each film by film historian Casey Scott, which features some hilarious set stories from frequent Lewis' collaborator David F. Friedman.
The Lost Films of Herschell Gordon Lewis
is an impressive first release from Vinegar Syndrome, a label that looks to be specializing in bringing to life lost films and forgotten features from the drive-in era, be it exploitation, horror, or erotic films. While the films themselves are just average and somewhat forgettable productions from Lewis, they still tickle a fascinating curiosity, as well as contributing to helping to complete his available filmography. While the average horror or cult fan might find them repetitive or boring, any true Herschell Gordon Lewis aficionado will find something enjoyable, no matter how tedious these films can be at times, and this release will surely secure a spot on their shelves. Each transfer looks gorgeous in motion and the treatment is much better than these films probably deserve, but to finally see them and display them on my shelf is something I never would have dreamed of and is an early release that signifies that Vinegar Syndrome should have a hell of a year if they continue to dig up, restore, and release these forgotten films that deserve another audience after never finding a home when the drive-ins vanished. The liner notes are a fantastic companion that really put a story behind these films and at such a modest price The Lost Films of Herschell Gordon Lewis
should probably find its way into your collection.
Movie - C- [The Ecstacies of Women], C [Linda and Abilene]. C [Black Love]
Image Quality - A
Sound - B
Supplements - B+
- Running time – The Ecstasies of Women – 75 minutes / Linda and Abilene – 94 minutes / Black Love – 74 minutes
- 2 Discs (Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack)
- English Dolby Digital 2.0
- The Ecstasies of Women theatrical trailer
- Linda and Abilene theatrical trailer
- Black Love theatrical trailer
- 3 colour timing lab report reproduction cards
- Liner notes by film historian Casey Scott