The Gruesome Twosome

As many of you know, Ken is not a fan of gory movies, and he has been quite resistant to my posting of such reviews on his site. Anyway, I had a talk with him about his preferences.


Sandy:  Okay Ken, what kind of movies DO you approve of? Do you like Gladiator?
Ken: It was good, but nowhere near my top 20. There are so many others – Terms of Endearment, The Horse Whisperer , Bridges of Madison County, Places in the Heart.
Sandy: Places in the Heart?! That’s kind of a surprise.
Ken: Ooh, ooh, and Waiting to Exhale! And Prince of Tides! (giggles excitedly)
Sandy: Well, I guess …
Ken (interrupting): Ice Castles! Man, that was so sad … (starts to sniffle)
Sandy: I don’t think I ever saw that one. How about any movies featuring a male protagonist?
Ken: Purple Rain.
Sandy:  … err …
Ken: Oh, and The English Patient. It’s totally masculine. Even the title character is a man.
Sandy: I understand you like older movies, too.
Ken: Yes, Grease. But only Grease 1. Does Titanic count as older? How did I forget Titanic?

About this time I “accidentally” disconnected with Ken, and decided to fake the interview, in an attempt to make him sound more he-man than the reality. Anyway you can see my attempt to “connect with” Ken was a dud, but it did help to explain why he always brings films like The Harrad Experiment to T-Fest.

The slipshod title screen. Note how the title is incompetently placed so that it masks part of the words on the door.

And with that, it’s time for another of Sandy’s Herschell Gordon Lewis (HGL) reviews! Soon Ken Begg’s previously sanitary site will be bespattered with as much fake blood as a Quentin Tarantino set. For those of you who aren’t yet familiar with the background of myself and Sensei Lewis, I point you towards my previous review of Color Me Blood Red. For those too lazy to look it up, here are the minimal facts for you to know.

  • I like gore.
  • Herschell Gordon Lewis has a claim on the creation of the gore genre.
  • Nonetheless, he deserves scant respect as a filmmaker.
  • I am a leg aficionado.

Maybe that last fact wasn’t important, but who’s writing this review anyhow?

Now before our Fair Readers decide that I, your Humble Reviewer, am a complete Neanderthal, let me hasten to say that while I enjoy a good cinematic bloodbath, I am perfectly able to appreciate less physical horrors such as Ringu or Blair Witch. In fact, my preferences give me nothing but contempt for many modern attempts at “dark” films.

There is an actual dark heart lying within many of the older films that is lacking in most of the new. If you think Hostel was scary, you need to stay the hell away from stuff like Cannibal Holocaust, Say Yes, or Dead or Alive (the Takashi Miike film). Penniless foreign filmmakers as far back as the 1960s were light-years beyond the modern franchise-obsessed Hollywood monkeys. Unfortunately, Herschell Gordon Lewis’s movies are as shallow as they come.

In modern times, fans have tried to tag Herschell Gordon Lewis’s first three gore films with the moniker “the Blood trilogy,” despite the fact that these movies have nothing in common with each other besides the fact that people are killed via crappy special effects. HGL emphatically did not stop making gore films after Color Me Blood Red. He kept it up for several more movies, and the quality remained similar (low).

So why are Blood Feast, 2000 Maniacs, and Color Me Blood Red a “trilogy”?* The mystery of marketing, I guess. All based on the fact that J.R.R.Tolkien’s epic fantasy was marketed as a “trilogy” (which it’s not – it’s one long work divided into three volumes) has made “trilogies” all the rage.

[*Editor Ken:  Well, duh, because all three movies have the word ‘blood’ in the title.  Except the middle one.]

Well at least no one thinks that The Gruesome Twosome is part of a trilogy. This was Herschell Gordon Lewis’s fifth gorefest. When the genre was just getting going, he was bound to make mistakes. But by the time of this film, he ought to have had his act together.

To be fair, HGL shows some limited progress in the quality of his films over time. For instance, Two Thousand Maniacs has genuine humor, decent bluegrass music, and some genuinely shocking moments (not the pathetic gore scenes – but the lead-ins to the gore can be disturbing). Color Me Blood Red sucks donkey goober, but does again boast features which are improvements. For instance, the lead actor is actually able to act; a first for HGL. The script has moments of competence, such as the insane “justification” speech at the climax.

Now, in The Gruesome Twosome, shall we see further evidence of Mr. Lewis’s maturing as an artist? Or not? Well, by the fact I’ve posted this review, I bet you can guess the answer. But you won’t know for sure till you read on.

The last sentence in the previous paragraph is what’s known as a “tease”. It’s an attempt to trick you into continuing to read my otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative. Teases are often employed in films, books, or other artforms where the user has to invest a significant amount of time in the artists’ work. Book prologues, movie trailers, the opening credits for TV shows, all have been honed over decades to become as effective at the tease as their corporate masters can ensure.

Of course, there are missteps. Sometimes this is unavoidable – I mean, how can you do the opening credits for a Wanda Sykes show without inadvertently warning off potential viewers by showing her image or name? In one stellar attempt, the original trailer for Night of the Lepus actually avoids showing the idiotic title monsters, indicating that the movie makers themselves knew how stupid it was.*

[*Editor Ken:  More than that, Lepus‘ film poster and lobby cards carefully avoided the rabbits too.  I should know, as I bought a set of the lobby cards off eBay once.  Ten cards, featuring supposedly the ten most exciting and/or interesting images from the film, and not a single one of them even indicated the nature of the monsters.  Not exactly a vote of confidence.]

“So,” you wonder. “Why is Petersen going on and on about teases? Did he forget to take his medication?” The answer, Fair Reader, lies in the pre-credit sequence of The Gruesome Twosome, which I hereby dub the Worst Pre-Credit Tease in Cinema History. Let’s begin our bloodthirsty masterwork with … two talking Styrofoam heads?

Words fail me.

Yep. Styrofoam heads, with wigs, and paper-cutout faces have a conversation. How could this possibly be cool? Let’s examine the possibilities.

1. It might be cool if the paper cutouts animated in a stop-motion way. But they don’t. The two heads bob around like fishing floats. You can sometimes tell which one is talking by which head bobs more vigorously. Not always though, as sometimes one head bobs while the other one is supposed to be talking. Anyway, the cut-outs don’t animate, so Strike One.

2. It might be cool if the conversation was funny or entertaining. But it is banal beyond belief. The left-hand head boasts about how it’s been to college while the more sheltered right-hand head claims (wrongly) that she is less disheveled than her companion. The whole dialog is aggressively feeble-minded. I felt brain cells dying just listening to it. Strike Two.

3. It might be cool, in a “so retarded it’s cool” if it were just a weird intro. Off-putting perhaps, but perhaps getting us into the psychedelic mood necessary to enjoy an HGL movie. Mad Doctor of Blood Island did this with its Oath of Green Blood. The Oath is retarded, and boasts no cool cinematography, but it was so barking mad that before you’ve recovered from the surprise the movie is already underway. To this day, when I show Mad Doctor I make a pitcher of green kool-aid for the viewers. (Why take chances?) In the end, the Oath of Green Blood is only on-screen for a few seconds. HGL’s talking heads  stain the screen for four solid minutes of tedium. STRIKE THREE and HGL is out.

But not over, as we have more film.

The talking heads finally cease, and we never see them again, thank heavens. In passing, one of the heads is “killed” with a switchblade stuck into her bleeding cranium. It doesn’t help matters any, and just seems like a non sequitur.

Is it time for the movie yet? A brunette gets out of a car and strolls down the Longest Walkway ever to the front door of a possibly-palatial building displaying a sign reading “Rooms for Rent.” All we ever see of this building is the front door, the sitting room, the wig shop, and a sort of oversized storage closet. We never see the whole building at one time. I’m not complaining exactly, but I bet the reason is because the real building had some distinguishing sign or other feature which would be all-too-visible if we were permitted to view the whole thing.

This kind of paranoia is what watching HGL leads one to. Let my experience be a lesson to you. The end result is that we always have to do a little mental dance when we see this front door again. Remember in Psycho, where before we went into the Bates house, we always got a shot of the creepy old pile in its entirety? This is the opposite.

Suddenly, out of the darkness, looms a little old lady – Mrs. Pringle. The brunette ponderously explains that she needs a room. Mrs. Pringle dangles a Siamese cat under one arm and sports a completely bogus Southern-fried accent. No one else in the whole film has a Southern accent, including her son, Rodney. I’m not giving too much away when I tell you that Mrs. Pringle is the main villain of this flick (her son Rodney is just a stooge).

I had hopes before watching this piece of cinematic excrement that HGL had learned his lesson in Color Me Blood Red and that the main actor(s) would be half-decent, as was Don Joseph in the aforementioned flick. But alas it is not to be. Apparently the lesson HGL learned was that real actors are temperamental nutballs and THIS time he was having nothing to do with talent of any kind.

All the actors are so incredibly bad in The Gruesome Twosome that I am not going to bother drawing attention to their wooden deliveries, except when they go above and beyond the call of duty. Tragically, the actress playing Mrs. Pringle is hands-down the worst actor in the film, despite the fact that we see so much of her. How could a person have lived as long as she (clearly at least in her 50s) and be so untalented? Didn’t she pick anything up over the years?

I feel sorry for that cat.

Once inside, Mrs. Pringle chitters “Get away, kitty. Get away.” And the cat does. For good; we never see it again the whole movie. However, fear not, cat fanciers. The movie has a major feline displayed way too prominently throughout the rest of the film. This is none other than Napoleon, a large stuffed bobcat.

Disastrously, Napoleon is the butt of all Mrs. Pringle’s dialog from now on. For instance, when she sits down with the brunette, she says, “Napoleon, did you come to meet our pretty visitor? Such a lovely girl. And such lovely brown hair.” Well, Napoleon is dead and stuffed, so he doesn’t come to meet anyone. He just sits there on the parlor floor.

In order, left to right: Victim, Napoleon, Mrs. Pringle.

I’m not sure if Mrs. Pringle’s obsession with Napoleon is supposed to show that she’s crazy. Given the fact that Mrs. Pringle murders girls to steal their hair, I’d say that HGL doesn’t need a stuffed cat’s help in convincing us she’s crazy. Maybe it’s supposed to be funny. HGL’s sense of humor is opaque, at best. Those who read my previous review may recall that Ken Begg had to explain some of HGL’s jokes to me. You can draw your own conclusions about why it is that Ken is able to “get” these quips so readily.*

[*Editor Ken:  Years in the salt mines, my friend.]

Mrs. Pringle tells our brunette that Rodney will be delighted to meet her. When asked, “Who is Rodney?” Mrs. Pringle ominously replies, “You’ll meet Rodney soon enough. Yes, indeed.” She then leads the brunette (man, I wish she had a name) into her little wig shop, helpfully named The Little Wig Shop. Mrs. Pringle beams with pride at her wigs, periodically seeking Napoleon’s approval. “We’re very particular, aren’t we, Napoleon?”

The shop consists of a single room, with a half-dozen wigs, plus a mirrored dresser at which to try them on. Our brunette victim has time to drop one final bit of info, that she’s a college student at “the campus” (the college goes unnamed throughout), before Mrs. Pringle shoves her through a back door into what looks like Aunt Ida Rose’s overstuffed attic.

Ms. Brunette hammers unconvincingly at the door for a second with her open hand, then does that move only seen in horror movies. You know the one, where a frightened person (usually a girl) walks backwards through a scary place. When was that ever convincing? Who walks retrograde into the unknown? This is one trope I wouldn’t mind never seeing again. Suddenly Rodney looms out of the dark and grabs her from behind. What did she expect?

Rodney proves to be a inadequately muscular guy with an exaggerated “I’m retarded” expression like the one you mimicked at the age of nine when teasing Mary Jane Fendelman for missing a word in the spelling bee. I hope she smacked you one at recess later, you cad.

The characterization that sent discrimination against the mentally handicapped back 20 years.

Rodney takes a knife to Ms. Brunette’s scalp immediately and starts carving off her hair, using extremely fake special effects to achieve this process. The actress wears an obvious and bulky bald wig under the bloody hairpiece.

Now, in Lewis’s defense, a convincing scalping is one of the most difficult special effects to achieve. So much so that Tom Savini devoted a good part of his book “Grand Illusions” to how he pulled this off in his film Maniac. But HGL chose to show a scalping scene. He had other choices. So if the scene doesn’t look convincing, blame him.

Rodney saws nauseatingly at the brunette’s hairline while she screams and writhes vigorously. All of a sudden she goes limp, apparently dead (though periodic twitches of her eye amusingly betray the truth). Why did she die? Being scalped must be incredibly painful, but it doesn’t seem like it would be quickly fatal. She’s not bleeding very freely, either, so blood loss isn’t the problem. I’m not showing the image, because it would frighten Ken, but she’s being scalped atop a white cloth, and there is no blood on the cloth – only on her head. I guess she dies out of … director’s fiat? Like he said, “okay, now die.” And she did.

Well, she might be dead, but do we cut away from the scene? No. We keep watching it for another minute or two. I guess this is the big pay-off. Rodney keeps making incoherent “retard” noises. I’m starting to wonder if maybe he’s making fun of US for paying for this movie. Again these are the kind of sounds you made in 4th grade when cruelly mocking those disadvantaged mentally.

This scene is shot abominably. Among other features, in one of the cuts, Rodney (who starts out bare-chested) is wearing a shirt. Then he’s bare-chested again. Then while he’s fondling the girl’s detached scalp, he’s wearing a shirt again. Continuity.

These two shots are from the same attack sequence. CONTINUITY, H.G. Lewis style.

We move to the wig shop, where the girl’s hair gradually fades into existence on top of a Styrofoam head while (no kidding) the James Bond theme plays! During the masterful sequence of the hair fading into existence, the lighting and color of the background keep popping in and out and changing tint. HGL can’t even pull off this simple effect without bungling something.

Now at last, 10 minutes into the movie, the title credits begin. That’s ten minutes into a movie that’s only 72 minutes long, to put it into perspective. Let’s consider what we’ve seen ere now. Four minutes of idiotic Styrofoam head dialog. Three minutes of Mrs. Pringle capering before the camera. Three minutes of the brunette being scalped by Rodney in fake fashion.

Surely the function of a pre-credit sequence is to tantalize and excite the audience. Consider the pre-credit sequences in a James Bond or a Coffin Joe movie – those don’t advance the plot one iota, yet are fun all by themselves. But the opening 10 minutes of The Gruesome Twosome made me want to watch this film less than ever. Could the whole film be this bad?

Well, sadly the answer turns out to be that some parts are even worse!! (cue sinister music, of the type that HGL doesn’t use). This is going to suck big time. To quote Peter Lorre, “if you’re told to dive into a barrel of shit, you don’t ask ‘head first?’” Gentle Readers, hold your nose and jump in alongside me!

Comedy has a place in the annals of horror. But I for one only care for a horror-humor combo when it serves the plot. My favorite scene in Sean of the Dead is watching Sean bop around town failing to notice the zombie apocalypse. It’s not only hilarious, but, without being pedantic, shows the audience that the undead have taken over.

In Return of the Living Dead a great moment ensues when a zombie begs over the police radio, “Send more cops!” Again it’s funny, but also advances the story – making it clear that the main characters are on their own; the authorities are worse than useless, if the zombies actually want them to intervene.

Alas, HGL misses out on the “humor serves the plot” concept, and so his japes may as well take place in an entirely different universe. And they’re not funny anyway. This film has a LOT of HGL’s brand of humor and so I am going to whine a lot in the rest of this review. This time the humor is worse than I’ve seen before in even for HGL. At least in Color Me Blood Red the Komedy was confined to two “kooky but lovable” characters. This time we have a whole passel of kooks. I hope Mr. Lewis was entertained watching their antics, because I wasn’t.

The film’s credits feature more people than any previous HGL film I’ve seen. Sadly, Ray Sager is in the list –we’ll get into him if we ever do The Wizard of Gore. WOOT! The executive producer is named Fred Sandy! Hurrah for Mr. Sandy! This may be the high point of the movie for me.

The film now begins for real (I hope) on a nameless college campus. Our heroine, Cathy, stands outside a building, obviously waiting for a cue, while actual students stream by. An excitingly-coifed fellow walks up and greets her. She replies “Hi! Fine, Dave.” (?) Then she bleats “You’re late. We’ll both be late for class.” She grabs his arm possessively and hauls him down the sidewalk.

Despite his clearly standoffish body language, Dave’s script lines indicate that he’s her boyfriend. He stiltedly reminds her he’s going to pick her up at 8 o’clock, but no dice – Cathy’s promised to help a friend go apartment-hunting, and she breaks the date without a thought.

Dave is audibly (though not visibly) peeved, and points out that this is the third date she’s forgotten this week! Maybe you should take a hint, dude. Who goes out with a girl three times in a week on weekdays in college anyhow?! Is he a stalker? Whatever happened to Friday and Saturday night? His comment might have made sense phrased as “You’ve broke our last three dates.” But three in one week?

Cathy has a lame hairstyle, in my opinion, but girls have an excuse – their coiffeurs have to be more modish and thus are likelier to look out of date in old films (remember the page boy and beehive?). Cathy does have a nice reddish tint to her hair which is kind of interesting. Dave however has an aggressive ‘do that looks like a Monty Python actor who’s trying to make fun of the Beach Boys. Just look at it below.

Warring hairstyles! Only one can emerge victorious from this battle of the titans – who will it be?!

Returning to the plot, Dave starts didactically listing all of the reasons Cathy broke her dates with him – first she helped a friend find stolen earrings, which turned out not to be stolen. Then she searched for a parakeet that (Komedy Alert) Cathy thought might be in the pot pie. Why is Dave telling her this? Doesn’t she know? It’s exposition of the most cancerous type – we can’t care about this explanation, because these points never come up again.

Cathy reasonably retorts that she … ah what’s the use? You don’t care what she says in her defense, and neither do I. I can’t imagine Herschell Gordon Lewis did either – this is just filler. If it’s supposed to add background color to his stars, all I see is that It makes Dave into a gigantic prick – practically all he does is complain throughout the whole film about how Cathy isn’t focused enough on HIM. Yucko.

Anyway Cathy cajoles Dave by promising a date on the morrow, which she vows not to break. Dave shoves his hands petulantly in his pockets (there’s that standoffish body language he shows again. He clearly is uncomfortable being near Cathy. Did she have B.O. or something? His behavior would be consistent if she’s his (the actor’s) actual sister, but he’s supposed to pretend they’re boyfriend and girlfriend. Naturally such a situation would make it tough on the guy playing Dave.

Cathy gamely grabs his arm and off they head to class. The happy couple are almost immediately stopped by another co-ed, who starts talking about “those missing girls. The whole campus is talking about it.” Cathy finds this an engrossing topic of conversation and dives right in, forgetting about the whole “late for class” thing. Dave berates her again (what a dickhead) and tells her not to talk or think about the missing girls, “That’s all I need. Cathy Baker – girl detective. How’d I ever get mixed up with a female James Bond” I like him less and less. Dump him, Cathy!! He sucks! But she disobeys my heartfelt plea, and just puts forth a little moue. Fade to black.

Our next scene is in a girls’ dorm room, with several co-eds, including Cathy, all dressed up in little filmy nighties. As we all know from exploitation pictures, this can go in several directions. A pillow fight? A topless wrestling match? A serial killer breaking through the window? What will it be? The girls are eating out of buckets of Colonel Sanders chicken, which is probably what HGL actually fed his cast. Oddly, every piece of chicken they fish out of the bucket is a drumstick. I’m just saying. They talk some more about the missing girls, in case we’ve forgotten about this particular plot point. After all, it must be all of 30 seconds since it was last mentioned.

The fabled Dorm Room scene, unique among 1960s movies.

While three of the girls jabber pointlessly about stuff we already know, one turns on the radio, and some of the girls begin to dance. It’s not to real music either. Instead, the radio features that odd instrumental jazz saxophone stuff that is only EVER heard in movies. I think it’s supposed to symbolize hip tunes, but always sounds lame. I grew up in the 60s, and the only instrumental s that ever played on the radio were Grazing in the Grass and Green Onions.

But those songs were cool – nothing like what is playing here. Couldn’t HGL hire an obscure local band to do a real tune for them? Maybe that was above his legendarily tight budget. This jazz = rock trope lasted for a long time – even the late ’80s epic Zombie 3 plays this tripe masquerading as “rock”, and furthermore has a DJ vocally promote the tune.

Anyway, now we know where our scene is headed – it’s “Girls dancing by themselves”. Do girls do this? I’ve never been in an all-girls dorm room (the moment I walk in, it’s not all-girls anymore), so I honestly don’t know the answer. I know that guys definitively do NOT dance on their lonesome no matter HOW awesome the music is.

Two of the girls dance upright in the background. The three girls who were discussing the murders, including Cathy, just sit on their duffs and kind of rock-out as best they can without actually moving their legs. Cathy claps her hands out of beat with the music, which is entertaining. The two girls on their feet are doing a passable job (it helps that 60s dancing was quite simple). The dancing goes on for a long time, so I guess HGL thought it was a show-stopper.

Petersen’s leg jones is assuaged.

Suddenly the “dance” music is interrupted by an important news announcement. The cops have concluded that the three missing co-eds were (bum, bum, BUM!) murdered. They don’t’ have any hard evidence you understand, like a corpse or anything. It’s probably a safe assumption in an HGL movie.

The co-eds are horrified and surprised – what, none of them considered the possibility of murder? “I knew it” opines Cathy. “I knew something happened to those girls.” Well, duh. They disappeared, didn’t they? Obviously something happened. She tries to talk her friend Dawn out of looking for an off-campus apartment, but doomed Dawn is adamant. She then painstakingly asks to borrow Cathy’s “gold barrette”. Hmm. I wonder if THAT will make an appearance later?

[Future Sandy: It does, but not till near the very end, when you’d expect most of the audience to have forgotten about it. Surprisingly subtle for HGL. Or maybe just inept.]

Just like Han Solo, Cathy has a bad feeling about this, and warns Dawn, Dawn says, “if we paid attention to your feelings Cathy, we’d all be in the loony bin. Or in jail. Giggle” and the other girls giggle artificially on cue. I guess no one respects poor loony Cathy.

The next day, at the Chinese Drive-In, Cathy and Dave are having lunch together (see, Dave? She DOES care. I assume this is the promised date.) Cathy yammers at Dave about the suspected murders while he pooh-poohs her excitement. “Murders can happen in any city, Cathy.” She dismisses the police’s skills, and then invites Dave to help her do check on the murders. As you can imagine, this idea is as popular as a turd in the swimming pool. That’s the whole gist of the scene. She wants to investigate, he doesn’t want to. But the scene goes on for a loooong time as the two actors inexpressively deliver their lines as carefully memorized.

As they converse, Cathy notices a janitor walk by, and starts whispering to Dave. “You know Mr. Svenson the school janitor? Now there’s a mysterious man if I’ve ever seen one.” Oh no, it looks like Cathy is going to stalk the wrong target. Since we already know who the killers are (Mrs. Pringle and her son Rodney), the next sequence is devoid of posslble suspense, and instead will tragically be pumped for all the Komedy HGL is capable of. I.e., not much. The scene is not a total bust, however – when Dave gets up we see that his highwater slacks ride about halfway up his calves. They’re stupendous!

Nice floods, Dave.

Dave peremptorily orders Cathy to stay away from Mr. Svenson. Who is Dave, her dad? Drop him, Cathy, he’s no good for you! He’s a wife-beater for sure. But she doesn’t. She doesn’t obey him, either. Which bodes ill for Mr. Svenson. She starts following Svenson using the kind of exaggerated “stalking” movements familiar to fans of Elmer Fudd.

Svenson mysteriously pulls something out of a trash can and sneaks off with it. Hmm, so he IS up to something. Cathy is bemused and follows cautiously. During this entire sequence idiotic TV-sitcom music plays. Cathy hides behind cars, trees, etc. while Svenson suspiciously looks around, apparently worried he’s being stalked. Which he is, as he strolls homeward down a suburban road. He finally gets home, and takes a pickaxe to his back lawn, next to an oleander bush. He digs a hole and buries his mysterious parcel. What could it be?

Why, bones of course. The bones are manifestly of cow (or I suppose, horse) origin. He covers them up, proud of his cache. Cathy, who clearly is not studying Anatomy, sneaks to the hole and digs up the bones. She pulls one out, and squeals in horror. Didn’t she see the bones when Svenson buried them? She was standing behind a sapling about 10 feet away. Suddenly a big cool dog – the kind that Ken likes – shows up, and so does Mr. Svenson. Cathy is “comically” terrified and shrieks that she’s found the murderer and he’s going to kill her too!

Clearly a human bone.

Drawn by her squeal, a cop immediately drives up, and a rolling-pin-equipped neighbor lady makes her appearance. It only takes them about 10 seconds to arrive after Cathy’s fright. Mr. Svenson explains what was happening in a mock accent worthy of the Swedish Chef. Every year, he buries soup bones for his dog Odin’s birthday. Just a lovable eccentric. He insists, “Murder I dooo not doooo.”

This convinces the cop, who turns his ire on Cathy. When the cop learns her name, it turns out she’s responsible for other shenanigans. The cop snaps his fingers and awkwardly remembers, “oh yes, you sent in the report about a body in a closet at school. We sent three men out for that and they had to get new uniforms, because it turned out to be one of the student’s pet skunks.” What? How did Cathy mistake a skunk for a corpse? The smell? The scratching noises? Anyway she is in deep doo-doo with the cop now.

What was this movie anyway? Wasn’t it supposed to be a horror film? Maybe so, because we cut back to the Little Wig Shop, with the kindly Mrs. Pringle arranging a wig on top of a Styrofoam head. Napoleon the stuffed bobcat stands guard in the background. I guess she moves him around from room to room to keep her company. My heart palpitates as I hope for another murder of these execrable actresses.

Sadly it is not to be. Instead, Mrs. Pringle actually has a customer. A middle-aged woman walks into the shop (from Mrs. Pringle’s sitting room?) and wants a wig for her daughter. She admires the wigs, stating that they are “almost human”. I thought most good wigs were made from human hair. I guess HGL didn’t think his target audience would know that. But there is a problem – her daughter has dark brown hair, and of course needs a wig that color.

Mrs. Pringle is, in fact, stroking a brown wig, but enigmatically says she doesn’t have a wig of that color at the moment, and the woman is disappointed. What the hell? Didn’t HGL think we could look and see what was on the screen in front of us? That we’d just accept Mrs. Pringle’s statement?

Oh wait, the woman says the wig in front of Mrs. Pringle isn’t dark enough. But how was Mrs. Pringle to know that, and deny she had such a wig before the woman made that claim? There is a darker wig in the back of the shot too. Ah well. The woman says she’ll be back in a couple of weeks and leaves a lock of her daughter’s hair in Mrs. Pringle’s care, to match colors.

Mrs. Pringle can’t find a brown wig for the customer. I suspect she can’t find Waldo either.

So, murderless, we return to the dorm rooms while Cathy mistells her story about Mr. Svenson, placing herself as an endangered heroine. Her roomies are having none of it. After profoundly banal discussion, we view one of the girls trying on wigs. She switches between several shades of wig in a manner that suggests perhaps Mom didn’t really need to match her daughter’s hair color after all.

She then strips down and heads off for a shower scene, as required by federal law in every horror movie since 1964. Unfortunately for the prurient, it’s a late ‘60s shower scene, which means it’s filmed behind distorted shower glass, and all we see is her bare upper back anyway.
She carefully wraps herself in a towel before exiting the shower and gets dressed, back turned to the camera. Then it’s back to trying on wigs. She’s wearing a nightie though – is she planning to wear the wig to bed?!

Behold, cheesecake lovers. HGL’s idea of a sexy shower scene.

Apparently so, because she saunters into the dorm room, wearing her wig. The other girls are all agog at the human-hair topper. She vigilantly delivers her exposition on how awesome is The Little Wig Shop, and gives all the girls the address. With any luck, some of these demented dames will get whacked, purifying the gene pool.

The image flips back to Mrs. Pringle’s sitting room. She, Rodney, and Napoleon are rolling up a ball of yarn. No joke – Napoleon participates, as the yarn is threaded through his mouth. With HGL’s usual keen musical sense, the background is a sweetly-played version of Rock a Bye Baby on violin. (?)

She offers to tell Rodney a story, and Rodney wants to hear the tale of Rapunzel . But Mom wants Rodney to make a “special promise”. Rodney throws a tantrum and overturns furniture, but in the end agrees when Mom points out that “naughty boys get switches in their stockings for Christmas”.

The “special promise” turns out to be quite a let-down – he has “to obey Mom forever”. And after all that buildup. Mom gives him a gift – an electric knife. Thankfully, we don’t have to hear her story though I expect to see the electric knife again in the near future.

Komedy Alert! We cut to a drive-in movie theater, much like the very one we’re in right now, watching Gruesome Twosome! The movie at the drive-in pretty much summarizes HGL’s opinion of other people’s films, and consists of one guy stuffing his face with potato chips and fruit while his female companion archly asks him if he loves her.

This goes on for a really long time. Basically, what HGL is doing (I think) is trying to create humor by showing a bad movie, and thus mocking it. Art mimics life, eh? I will say that the snippet of film he created for his “bad movie” does seem like it might, in fact, be more painful to watch than an HGL gorefest, so I suppose he achieved his purpose.

Cathy and Dave are sucking face in the front seat of their car. Cathy breaks for breath in order to tell us that they are on a double date. But why would we care? Anyway this scene keeps cutting between the car and the movie and nothing happens to advance the plot. I guess I’m supposed to be kissing my OWN date during this sequence. My conclusion? HGL can kiss my ass. We’re 40 minutes into a “gore” movie; we’ve had one single shock scene in the pre-credit sequence. Here I am forced to endure HGL’s attempt to deride other movies.

ARGH – now Cathy embarks on a deep philosophical discussion. “What are all these people doing? How are they thinking? Are some of them nuclear scientists?” Holy crap. It’s as profound as the ravings of Bela Lugosi in Glen or Glenda and far less entertaining.

Meanwhile, the couple on the big screen drink Michelob, apparently HGL’s idea of a classy beverage. In the drive-in movie, we never see the actors’ heads. Just their hands, and sometimes the boy’s mouth while he’s disgustingly chewing. Probably this means something – maybe HGL is mimicking a specific directorial style that I’m not familiar with, since I only watch cheap exploitation flicks. Thank the Lord.*

[Editor Ken: Weird. I can’t think of anything he might be referencing. If I had to guess, I’d say he shot this at the same time with Gruesome Twosome cast members and thus didn’t want to have their faces appear onscreen?]

Finally this awful scene ends and they get ready to leave. Then (bum, bum, BUM!) Dawn, who is in the back seat, drops the bombshell that she has an appointment in the morning to look for an apartment. OH NO! Someone warn her about Mrs. Pringle! Oh … wait. This is actually good – perhaps something will progress the plotline. Maybe we’ll get to see Rodney’s electric knife in action. I can hardly wait.

In one last bit of lame byplay, just before they drive off, the kid in the back seat says “Oh, my coke!” and reaches onto the hood of the car to grab his soda. What purpose did this serve? Perhaps it’s stream-of-consciousness reality film. ART!! Or maybe the actor just really wanted his soda.

The happy couples depart the drive-in.

Back to Mrs. Pringle’s sitting room. Napoleon stands guard while she reads a book and eats a chocolate. I note in passing that Mrs. Pringle’s grand piano has a portrait or some damn thing sitting on top of the closed keyboard cover, so it cannot actually be played.

Dawn shows up. Little does she know that her hair is on the agenda! She does have nice long hair, so Mrs. Pringle eyeballs her delightedly, and discusses the girl’s beauty with that damn stuffed bobcat. Again we pause to admire the wigs in the Little Wig Shop. Then to my immense displeasure Mrs. Pringle pauses to make a speech and quote Longfellow. Kill me now.

At last Dawn is hurled inside the Death Attic (yeah I know it’s on the ground floor), and Rodney makes his move. Hmm. Rodney is wearing a green shirt –a mystery solved! Remember way back in the opening murder scene, I noticed that Rodney mistakenly wore a green shirt in one of the cuts. This is the scene from which the continuity error originated. Now we know. Rodney applies the electric knife to the neck of the curiously acquiescent Dawn (she just lays there) and she seems to instantly die, while he saws away in a desultory manner.

This murder scene is even less “satisfying” than the previous one. It’s shot so that the top of the girls’ head is aimed at us, so we can’t see any wound Rodney makes. Blood doesn’t spurt – or even ooze. She is lying on the white sheet Rodney apparently uses for all his killing and a few bloodstains are visible. That’s it. Red-tinged corn syrup soaks into sheets, but no wounds. What kind of lame gore flick is this? Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the special effects of craftsmen like Tom Savini and Rick Baker, but I didn’t go to see this turkey just for fake blood. I demand fake injuries as well!

Rodney keeps applying the knife, then stops to admire his blade. FINALLY we get an extremely brief moment of gore, which might even be a severed neck (presumably a goat or sheep, which is usually what HGL worked with). Don’t worry, animal activists – HGL used only pre-deceased animals, which he picked up dirt-cheap at the supermarket. I notice that the first girl was scalped. Here, the second girl has her head cut off. I wonder bleakly if is a progression, meaning the third girl will be chopped in half even lower down her body.

[Future Sandy – Yep.]

A cut to the beach where the kids are holding a mid-day shindig. Several people have guitars. The only skilled players are a pair of kids standing in the back, who look about 12 years old. Not sure why they’re hanging with college-age losers. This time at least boys AND girls dance together.

Cathy is playing with a pail in the water (?) She is without a doubt the least attractive girl here. Not saying she’s particularly homely, but the other girls are clearly better-looking, at least in swimsuits. This was also the case in Color Me Blood Red, where four different girls were swimsuit-clad, and the one who filled out her suit the worst was the heroine. I wonder if this means *shudder* that Cathy was, in fact, the best actress among them?! It boggles the mind.


Cathy pours water on Dave, and runs away like a little girl. He catches her and they lay down on the grass (instead of the nearby sand). Dave feels romantic, but Cathy worries about Dawn, who has gone missing. Dave gripes, and Cathy heroically tells him that maybe she’s made a mistake if he doesn’t care about anyone but himself.

Yay, Cathy! All Dave has done the whole movie is grumble about how Cathy doesn’t do what he wants and it’s about time she told him off. Unfortunately, I’m sure it’s only a temporary spat and eventually they’ll be friends again. For one brief moment I can dream.

Back at Mrs. Pringle’s, an unfamiliar girl appears. She wants to sell her hair for money so I’m thinking we probably should not get too attached to her. She has a bare midriff, which in other HGL movies has meant an upcoming disembowelment. It depresses me that I am able to predict the form a particular gruesome murder will take based on a girl’s costume.

Mrs. Pringle solidifies my depression by informing Rodney that it’s Thursday, and “Napoleon always has liver on Thursdays.” Then she shoves the hapless victim into the Death Attic.

The spacing of these murders is terrible. The first murder is 7 minutes into the movie. Second murder is a looong 40 minutes in. Now we have a third murder only a few minutes after the second.

At last T-Fest, the second most-hated movie was Big Man Japan. It was extremely dull, but every 20 minutes, the monotony was broken by giant monster action. The monsters showed up like clockwork, just enough to almost hold our interest. HGL could take a lesson from that –space your killings out so that we aren’t stuck with 40 solid minutes of cretinous actors befouling the screen. Break up the boredom!

The real victim is me, because I can see by the clock that I have over 20 minutes of movie left and if I know my HGL, this means no more murders. Instead, HGL will (finally) menace the heroine, but not kill her. Maybe Rodney and/or Mrs. Pringle will die in an exciting manner.

[Future Sandy – Nope.]

Well on to our last murder. Maybe it will be a show-stopper. Rodney jumps the girl, with an enormous machete – seriously, it’s bigger than Jason’s – and whacks her right across the belly button.

The girl grips her stomach, conscientiously squeezing fake blood out of the bulb in her hands, but forgets to scream. Rodney picks her up (she helpfully puts her hand on his shoulder to steady him), and then she is supposed to be dead, I guess. She left the hand with the fake blood on her tummy so Rodney has to move it out of the way while he’s pretending to slice with his machete.

So far I’m unimpressed. Rodney sawed away at her sideways. But the wound for the disembowelment is vertical. HGL did go to the trouble to manufacture a fake tummy from which to pull the animal guts, which is more than he did in Color Me Blood Red. The fake tummy makes our actress look much chunkier than before. Rodney plays in the guts and then remembers he has to get her liver.

The girl’s wound is just above the belt on her low-slung slacks. Rodney reaches into the wound, aiming his hand down below her belt – about the area that her “naughty bits” might be, except his hand is inside so I guess it’s okay. From here he withdraws what is obviously a liver. Anatomy 101, HGL style.

The girl, who has not struggled a bit (which is why I thought she was supposed to be dead), now squawks and grunts a little when the liver is pulled out. So now she’s dead. The liver is tiny, by the way. You call tell she’s no boozehound. Maybe it’s an emergency back-up liver, located in the position of a normal person’s bladder.

The girl is, again, atop a white sheet. My theory is that HGL had to promise not to get fake blood on someone’s wooden floor, so did all his murders on that sheet.

Cut me some slack.

Ladies and Gentleman, I present a full-grown human being’s liver.

The camera pans over the hapless girl’s piteous dead face. Awesomely, she blinks. Seriously, this is like the high point of the movie for me. Here we have a tasteless scene of grue, accompanied by continuity errors (wound changes shape), biology blunders (liver located below the belt), acting gaffes (blinking corpse), and aggressively bad special effects. People whisper of the legend of William “One Shot” Beaudine, but he’s got nothing on H. G. “One Shot” Lewis.

Suddenly the light around me darkens. I hear the flutter of celluloid batwings. I smell a fetid, popcorn-scented breath on the nape of my neck. Filled with dread, I realize the terrible truth … I am now dangerously deep within Jabootu’s lair. Jabootu’s dripping claws draw ever closer. AAGGH! I am forced to turn off the film. I’ll come back tomorrow and finish it.

[The next day]

For some time now the movie has followed a format. Basically, there is a non sequitur scene that has nothing to do with the rest of the film, then it cuts back to Mrs. Pringle. Sometimes we see a murder (not often). Then we cut back to a random scene, then Mrs. Pringle, and so forth. It’s like someone is inserting random clips into a film short about Mrs. Pringle’s family. One of the girls who was killed happened to attend the drive-in with Cathy, but that’s about the firmest connection we’ve seen so far. The girl who just got gutted, for instance, never appeared before her tragic and sudden demise, and is never referred to afterwards either.

So as Rodney just killed someone, it’s time for another random cut. This time we’re watching an evening NASCAR race, of all things. It’s kind of cool to see mid-60s cars racing around the track. A lot of the cars are yellow, making me wonder if they are converted taxicabs. We watch the cars drive around for a long time, but I’m not complaining – it’s far more entertaining than the rest of the film. Occasionally we cut to Dave and his buddies watching the race. In a feeble effort to clarify away his dateless situation (note that none of his friends have dates either) Dave explains that he has a “mutual disagreement” with Cathy.

To the tune of 60s sitcom music (it’s impressive how inappropriate it sounds), Dave wanders off to the telephone booth to ring his former girlfriend. Cathy’s not at the dorm, and no one seems to know where she went. This conversation is great, because we only see the dorm-side of it.

The girl who answers the phone pauses exactly 1 second between each of her responses to “Dave’s” supposed remarks, no matter how long and involved it seems “Dave’s” explanations had to be (quite long, in some cases). After Dave hangs up, the girls carefully elucidate to each other that Cathy must be seeking the murdered girls. And Cathy might be in trouble. Maybe she’s going to be killed. The girls call the cops.

Consider just how much exposition HGL foists on us here, and how much worse it makes the film. Instead of just showing us Cathy in danger, we listen to her roomies worry. How does that heighten tension? The girls decide to call the cops. How does THAT heighten the tension? If HGL wants to explain why the police show up later on, why not just have the girls say something like, “Maybe we should call the cops”. At least that way we would have some doubt, some worry about whether Cathy will be saved. This way we know for sure if Cathy can just last long enough she’ll be rescued. It’s like HGL is trying to reassure is that Cathy is in no real danger. What a lame-ass so-called thriller.

Cathy’s car drives up to Mrs. Pringle’s house, using exactly the same shot and time of day as the very opening scene.. I’d be worried for Cathy if in the immediate previous scene HGL hadn’t explained that Help Is On The WayI Cathy steps suspiciously up to the darkened front door, and then enters the Lion’s Den, so to speak. Or at least, the Bobcat’s Den.

The finest  thespian in HGL’s troupe.

Cathy clunkily explains to Mrs. Pringle about Dawn, who came to look for an apartment. She even shows Mrs. Pringle a note with her (Pringle’s) address on it. Wasn’t Cathy supposed to be a highly suspicious amateur girl detective? She was scared of Mr. Svenson.

Yet here she spills her guts to Mrs. Pringle at a moment’s acquaintance (sadly, only figuratively). Mrs. Pringle mewls and minces around the screen but I really don’t want to spend any more time on her antics. Every time she talks to that fool bobcat it makes my hackles rise on end.

Then Cathy vocally realizes that Mrs. Pringle was the lady who sold wig to Cathy’s friends. Cathy’s conclusion? Obviously she got her notes mixed up – maybe Mrs. Pringle wasn’t the apartment lady after all. Some sleuth. Mrs. Pringle stonewalls, and doesn’t seem interested in murdering Cathy at all. This despite the persistent “ominous” violin riff that keeps playing in the background.

I’m sure everyone has watched films where the background music and cues were just perfect. This is a terrific counter-example. I have literally not heard a single musical theme here that wasn’t trite or completely inappropriate. But this is not unique to The Gruesome Twosome. Really, it’s one of HGL’s signature touches.

Cathy gives up and actually leaves Mrs. Pringle’s place, but then she has second thoughts.. Is Cathy to be spared? It boggles the limited amount of imagination I have remaining.

Mrs. Pringle returns to the house and discusses (with Napoleon) the challenge she faces. “Whatever could have possessed that child to write our address down?” she wonders. Is it that unusual to write down an address? If Mrs. Pringle’s murderous plan depends on people never writing down her address, it would appear to have a few holes.

She has some more homely wit for us “If things go wrong, don’t go with them, I always say. Don’t I, Napoloeon?” Actually to properly reproduced Mrs. Pringle’s speech, take the last six words of the last quote, and append them to every single thing she says. You will have an excellent approximation of her speech, I always say. Don’t I, Napoleon?

Cathy is almost back to her car, but keeps looking over her shoulder. Then she puts the pieces together.” Something is wrong,” she thinks, “and I’m going back to find out what it is.” So she gets in her car (?) which is parked in the driveway. Then she drives it backwards literally six feet (!), and gets out. Her car is not one whit better concealed. Well, I guess the rear wheels are now shadowed, but the whole front of the car is still obvious.

This is almost aggressively inane – is HGL trying to rub our noses in how stupid he thinks we are? Or did the actress not understand her instructions re: driving the car and he didn’t bother to make her redo it? In full “sneaky mode” Cathy steals back to the house.

She picks her way gingerly through the weeds. Her idea of “sneaking,” by the way, is to bob up and down like a feeding duck. Despite the fact that the music when she was talking to Mrs. Pringle was ominous, now the music is jolly again or, at least, definitely not sinister. Go, go, HGL!

Cathy sneakily picks her way up the front steps. What is her plan? Surely she’s not going to sneak in the front door to the sitting room? Even HGL must know how stupid that would be. She doesn’t, and I breathe a sigh of relief.

Instead she snoops around the outside of the house, while the background lighting keeps changing almost randomly. She comes to a window which amazingly opens from the outside, and enters the Little Wig Shop. Snooping around the shop, she sees … bum bum BUMM … wigs. She opens the Death Door to Rodney’s lair, and sneaks inside. I can hardly wait.

It took me several viewings to determine why the next scene seems so weird – it’s because HGL is filming part of it in a mirror. So when he cuts between shots, the whole screen flips left-to-right. Well done, HGL.

Suddenly, Mrs. Pringle steps in and gloats over Cathy’s impending victimization. I share her joy. Mrs. Pringle jumps back out, shutting the door, while Cathy pounds helplessly like every other victim and we now await Rodney’s next move.

While waiting for Rodney, Cathy inspects a wig atop a Styrofoam head. It still has the gold barettes that Cathy loaned Dawn nearly an hour ago (in the film). Since we are too stupid to remember the scene, HGL helpfully provides a flashback voice-over for us.

Cathy’s face distorts with terror at this proof of her friend’s gruesome demise.

Rodney shows up with his giant machete, still stained bright red from the last murder. (I guess just like Color Me Blood Red, blood in HGL-land never clots or darkens.) Lest we panic, we now see a cop car roll up, siren wailing, and two of Florida’s Finest clamber out. Will they be in time? Judging by the speed of past murders, the answer ought to be “no”.

Oddly, Dave accompanies the cops, and in fact outraces them to the front door. When did he get involved with the police? Last we heard, the girls were calling the cops, and he was still at the NASCAR race. I’d complain that it makes no sense, but this film has way bigger problems than this minute mystery.

Another small enigma is the fact that only one of the two cops is in uniform – the other appears to be a plainclothesman. Did HGL only spend enough money to rent one cop uniform? The cops politely knock at the door, and wait for Mrs. Pringle to answer.

Mrs. Pringle tries to distract the intruders by offering them some iced tea, and then asks them to stay for a while, despite the fact that her son is murdering a girl right this second in the next room. I note additionally that NONE of the other murders have been silent, so what does Mrs. Pringle expect to happen?

Dave, showing that perspicacity that has made him so unloved by me, asks her if a girl with “long blonde hair” has stopped by. Cathy has reddish hair, by the way. So I guess he just forgot.

They walk into the sitting room, and Dave gets aggressive (verbally). The cops just stand around and don’t say anything for a while. I guess it’s SOP to let a random civilian do all the talking during the early stages of an investigation. Finally the cops decide it’s all a mistake, but suddenly a crash is heard in the next room. Mrs. Pringle says her son is “hammering” to defuse the cops’ suspicions.

Meanwhile Cathy is struggling with Rodney. And by “struggling” I mean they hold hands and twist back and forth, then move somewhere else in the room, then twist back and forth again. If it was set to dance music, you’d think they were rocking out.

Rodney has evidently dropped his machete, too, so it’s not clear how he plans to kill Cathy. He isn’t trying to strangle her or beat her, and he makes no real attempt to recover his blade. I guess he just wants to wrestle around and maybe cop a feel. It doesn’t seem like a very effective murder technique to me, but maybe that’s because I’m not retarded.

The commotion has awakened both the cops & Dave, and they make a break for the door, while Mrs. Pringle looks vigilantly for her next cue. Dave goes to the back door of the Wig Shop (Rodney’s lair), and … hey. Where are the cops? They were like one step behind him, but now he’s wrestling with the Death Door, and they are nowhere in view. Did they decide they wanted Mrs. Pringle’s iced tea after all?

Ah, NOW they come after a short delay. But their entrance is still bungled. When they left the living room to enter the Wig Shop, we clearly see the cops follow Dave, while Mrs. Pringle follows after a short delay – she even stops to pet the damn bobcat before giving chase. But now that we’re IN the wig shop, Mrs. Pringle shows up before the cops. Nice continuity, HGL.

Dave tries to open the door, but can’t. The cops helpfully threaten Dave, ordering him not to open the door. They are plainly on Mrs. Pringle’s side.

Inside the Death Attic, Cathy is squealing, but I guess it’s not that loud, because Rodney has his hand over her mouth. But Dave hears it anyway, after a moment in which he is clearly waiting for the camera to start. The plainclothes cop begrudgingly says, “well I guess we could take a look.” This after he actually hears a girl crying for help inside the room. What a maroon.

Cathy grabs a hairpin out of the wig and jabs Rodney with it – we see this from Rodney’s POV. At last the cops, Dave, and Mrs. Pringle head on into the Death Room (yes, the cops let Mrs. Pringle enter before them –I am inspired by their skill as police).

We see Cathy standing over poor Rodney’s form. He clutches at the pin, which unintuitively proves to have completely gouged his entire eye from the socket, so it’s hanging down on his cheek. Yuck, but also one last point to Lewis, for giving us some gore, even if minor.

Cathy gloats over her latest victim.

Mrs. Pringle feels no sorrow over Rodney, but is sad that her “lovely mattress is all ruined.” The one Rodney is bleeding on, I guess. Please someone shoot her. I think I said it earlier, but Mrs. Pringle is the very worst, most arch actress in this entire film – and none of the others are any good. Fade to black.

We’re not quite through yet though. We get to see the long arm of the law escort Cathy and Dave, who snuggle a bit – I guess they’ve reconciled. The cops apologize for not believing them right away. The cops then carefully explain that Mrs. Pringle and Rodney will go to the state mental hospital. Hold on here … there were only two cops on the scene. They are both stepping outside with Cathy and Dave. Where are Rodney and Mrs. Pringle? Weren’t they taken into custody?

Anyway the scene switches to daytime, and we see a pair of co-eds walking along the street to the sound of the ominous kettle drums that HGL usually uses for his “scary” music. Though not in this film, except now at the end. The girls walk up to the Little Wig Shop and are sad that it is closed. I guess the murders weren’t in the news.

They gawk at Napoleon, who is now the porch, and suddenly, with a terrifying musical blare of trumpets, we see a Styrofoam head stuffed into a garbage can. Huh? Then the camera pans up over Napoleon’s fixated snarl. I assume that HGL is implying that Napoleon will continue the murder spree.

And in a move cheap even for HGL, he doesn’t even feature the words “The End” on the final fade. What a guy.


This is a question worth exploring, in my opinion. Ed Wood has the name – he is a byword for badness. On the other hand, H.G. Lewis is experiencing a renaissance. His movies have had remakes (2001 Maniacs, starring Robert Englund, and Blood Diner are both based directly off Lewis’s films), and some madman has even started letting Lewis helm his own films again (Blood Feast 2, The Uh-Oh Show).

But Lewis is really stunningly bad. His works are poorly filmed and lit, demonstrate appalling acting, and are rife with continuity gaffes, nightmarishly bad humor, and unsavory special effects. In every way I can notice, Lewis is easily as incompetent as Wood, in his technical lack of talent, and his slipshod approach.

However, in the end, I must agree that the “worst director” prize, in fact, does belong to Wood, because of Wood’s inane viewpoint. H. G. Lewis was only ever in it for the money – he is strictly trying to separate southern yokels from their wallets at the drive-in. He has no pretensions, and no dreams.

So, I ultimately must agree that Wood’s retarded artistic “vision” puts him over the top in badness, but just barely! Ed Wood also has the advantage that people of any age and background can “enjoy” Wood’s oeuvre, but Lewis’s films are so violent that they need to be restricted to aficionados.


This film has the most cast members of any HGL movie I have seen. The main stars are Rodney Bedell, Patricia Davis, Chris Martell, and Gretchen Wells.

Rodney Bedell (Dave) appears in a couple other HGL epics. He perhaps is best consigned to the dustbin of history.

Elizabeth Davis (Mrs. Pringle) has two non-HGL film credits to her name, one of them 20 years later. Her other films are so obscure that even I had never heard of them.

Chris Martell (Rodney) is the closest thing to a “real actor” insofar as he made appearances in several other non-HGL movies over the course of the next few years. Eventually he dropped into well-deserved obscurity.

Gretchen Wells (Cathy) was only ever in this. Her last name is variously spelled Wells or Welles, but I’m going with the movie’s title credits, as I assume she would have seen them and been able to complain about any misspellings. Of course Lewis may not have repaired them.


Censorship works. Just ask Ho Chi Minh, Chairman Mao, Josef Stalin, or Fidel Castro. The population is controlled when the mind is controlled, and this is what lies at the dark heart of the will to censorship – the desire to control what other people are thinking.

I have had direct experience with this as a professional game designer. CSI:Miami has had shows which exposed the “evil” that is video gaming. Even Michael Medved, prophet of bad movies, once focused on the evils of video games for an afternoon show. My personal games have been condemned publicly by members of Congress.

Perhaps surprisingly, it’s usually the left wing that gets after me, complaining of the moral evil of my games. Medved (who is right-wing) didn’t care that the games were violent – he was concerned about their addictive nature.

Now, a new phrase has appeared which I detest: “torture porn”. Coined by David Edelstein, it is a phrase that both Republicans & Democrats can join in condemning. But “torture porn” is meaningless. I don’t get sexually excited when I watch Hostel. Who does? How is it “porn”? Even a movie like Saw is not really about torture – it’s about character reactions under pressure and plot twists.

And we have plenty of older movies which feature human pain as central themes. Are classics like Bava’s Baron Blood or the suspenseful Korean film Say Yes “torture porn”? In my humble, but experienced-with-censorship opinion the overarching reason to tar a film with the title of “torture porn” is to make it clear that the film has no redeeming value. That in your opinion the film is prurient and disgusting and fans should be ashamed for watching it. That it ought to be banned and no one allowed to see it. That it ought to be vigorously censored.

All too nearby, at the far end of the road of censorship, lies North Korea, its citizens only allowed on the internet in special rooms, with minders watching over their shoulders.

(Note to outraged readers – I am fully on board with restricting access to underaged viewers, and with banning films whose very creation involves criminal activity. Duh.)


Meet the Author:

Sandra “Sandy” Petersen, self-described in a letter to myself as “the statuesque Ms. Sandy Petersen,” is a game designer who created the Call of Cthulhu RPG, and was instrumental in developing the video games Doom, Doom II and Quake. She has her own Wikipedia page, although jealous gaming rivals sometimes mess with the pictures and info there. In any case, she thus is more famous than the people who made 28% of the movies reviewed on this website.

Sandy has also informed me, several dozen times while I’ve stayed at her house, that she also in fact invented the board game Mystery Date, but that Milton Bradley (not the supposed “ballplayer”) climbed in her window one night and stole her notes.

However, while telling me–and anyone else in the area–this tale, she tends to be rolling steel balls in her hand and muttering about strawberries (which apparently Bradley also stole). Also, her husband Wendell always rolls his eyes and makes finger circles next to his head during this. Thus I’m not sure if the story is completely true. Also, Mr. Bradley died in 1911.

You might consider the picture above (which Sandy provided) an affectation. However, it should noted that Sandy’s daughters are named Loana, Nupondi, Ahot, Tohana and Loana Jr. I’ve met them, though, and they’re all more or less sane and perfectly nice ladies anyway.

  • Brandi

    I have thought of the lousier ’80s slasher films as structured like porn films in the sense that plot and characterization take a very distant second place to getting the viewer to the money shot (penetration and ejaculation for porn, grisly and/or outrageous death for the slasher films).

    Sadly, I suspect that Sandy’s right about the use of “torture porn” now, though I hardly believe the Saw films are stellar examples of plotting and characterization (that said, a good “making of” article on the death devices might make interesting reading. I can find interest in gory effects even when the films they were featured in look completely boring to watch otherwise).

  • I once heard Michael Bay’s ‘Pearl Harbor’ described as ‘War Porn’ by some critics, despite the fact that ‘Saving Private Ryan’ was far more gruesome. (The violence in ‘SPR’ effectively showed the horrors of war in its unglamorous reality. How is that pornographic?) I guess the reason for the bias is that the former was by Bay and the latter by Spielberg. But really, I too don’t like it when films that are not porn have the word ‘porn’ attached to them by critics and naysayers.

  • A few thoughts: First, great review. I’ve never been able to understand Lewis’ appeal and the opening in this movie is the one where I really just shook my head in disbelief that this thing was shown on a *cinema* screen! His films are also uniformly awful and hard for me to sit through, especially the “acting”…

    Is he worse than Ed Wood? Yes. I’ve never been anywhere near as bored by anything he directed, and Lewis’ movies uniformly lack any sort of charm. However goofy Wood got, he was full of it (charm, that is).

    Lewis is, however, getting noticed again. On top of the other movies you mentioned, there’s an upcoming sequel (with Bill Moseley filling in for Robert Englund) and The Wizard Of Gore was remade in 2007 with Crispin Glover, Jeffrey Combs and Brad Dourif(!). There’s also a homage to his work this year called Smash Cut starring porn star Sasha Grey and David Hess, along with a cameo from Lewis himself.

    Torture porn? I don’t recognise the term itself. Most of the movies with that term applied are tame compared to 70s exploitation movies (I Spit On Your Grave, House On The Edge Of The Park, Cannibal Holocaust, etc). Their redeeming value is questionable, but it’s in the eye of the beholder and the term’s usually applied by those who haven’t seen the movies anyway. Saw, for example, has some very clever plot machination. Although recent entries are trying themselves up in knots, the first was excellent and it makes a change for a horror franchise to be too complicated! The subgenre’s playing itself out anyway, as the success of Paranormal Activity vs Saw 6 can attest to.

    Finally a couple of minor correctiong – it’s Shaun Of the Dead, not Sean, and I’m pretty sure the zombie in ROTLD says “send more medics”, not cops…

  • You are right about Shaun of the Dead. However, the zombie in ROTLD FIRST says, “send more paramedics”. Then, later on, after cops arrive, the zombie says,. “Send more cops”. Which I find funnier, really. So I get a point.

    And please I am not trying to say that the SAW franchise, despite its awesome success, is an epic series of awesome films. They are mildly entertaining psychological violence. But they are not a hundredth as disturbing as Buio Omega or House on the Edge of the Park.

  • P Stroud

    “Lewis is, however, getting noticed again. ”

    And if there ever was evidence of the impending apocalypse… this is it.

  • Reed

    And the Month of Gams at Jabootu concludes. I can only wait whistfully for next year.

    So long, gams. I’ll miss you.

    The term “torture porn” is, I believe, here to stay. I agree with Sandy’s points re: censorhip, but the term is just too damn useful. It’s absolutely perfect in it’s ability to evoke a reaction that is not tied to any specific definition.

    I do find it interesting to compare to the non-negative uses for the word “porn” that have appeared on the intarwebs. For example, I play guitar (badly). It has become quite common for people who are looking at pictures of guitars that they want but can not afford to refer to the activity as “looking at guitar porn”. The same can be said for any number of window shopping activities. I’ve also heard “gun porn” used both for movies with a lot of shoot out scenes and window shopping for firearms.

  • Eric

    Porn is the new Black apparently.

  • The Rev. D.D.

    RE: the all-drumstick buckets of chicken–maybe HGL knew that someday a leg man would watch and review his movie?

    OK, it was probably just cheaper to get all dark meat.

    You know, when you said the bad guys wouldn’t get a gruesome demise, I thought that meant they’d get a boring one, like being gunned down by the cops. I didn’t expect them to not be killed at all! I wonder what possessed HGL to not go with the traditional “horrific death for the villain”?

  • I find it very difficult to parse the intricacies of HGL’s mind. Why on earth he wuoldn’t kill of Mrs. Pringle is totally beyond me. Maybe he was hoping for a sequel? Maybe he decided he genuinely liked her character (seems impossible, I know)?

  • Dr. Whiggs

    Shame on you for claiming Cannibal Holocaust is worthy of anything but contempt.

  • Dr. Whiggs

    Also, is that a reflection of your house in the picture of the midriff whacking? Looks like a nice pad.

  • Sorry, Dr. Whiggs, but I feel that Cannibal Holocaust has a lot to say. That said I neither defend nor condone the animal violence.

    I do not see a reflection of my house in any images here? For what it’s worth, my house was designed by a very modernist architect.

  • Regarding the final Attic of Death scene. Was he filming in a mirror or did he just flip some of the prints? I would not doubt either one, but accidentally flipping prints, then being unwilling to pay to have the final print redone seems like a very common low budget error. (I have even seen inverted text left in a final print, which one would think might give a little clue before they made the final print, but no.) And, given the generally workman-like, tedious quality of film you describe, filming in a mirror seems excessively “artsy”. Accident just sounds more likely.

  • sandra

    About the line “Hi. Fine Dave”, it seems likely to me that the actress flubbed the line, which was supposed to be “Finally, Dave!”, and HGL was too cheap to do another take or dub it over.

  • re: whether HGL filmed in a mirror or just flipped his shots. You can actually see the mirror’s frame around part of the shot, which is another reason I was confused. What was this weird wooden structure obstructing my view?

    Maybe he filmed in a pair of mirrors and flipped the shots. I wouldn’t put any level of incompetence past HGL after watching this work of art. Seriously he stuns me every time.

  • Arthur

    Loana AND Loana jr. ?

  • Arthur, all I can say is that you have NO idea how weird the Petersen clan is.

  • Petoht

    I always thought the “porn” in “X porn” was used to designate that X was being done to the detriment of other aspects. Or that the film, book, whatever was created backwards, if you will. Thus, “torture porn” is something where the creator starts with torture, killings, etc. and then builds the movie around it. By that definition, it’s hard to argue that Saw or Hostel are anything but. I would be shocked if the gruesome deaths aren’t the first thing plotted and then the rest of the movie is hung on that bloody framework.

    Likewise, the Transformers movies would be “big robot porn”, as the plot (cough) of the movies is secondary to giant robots stomping around and kicking the tar out of each other.

    Sure, by using such a charged word, the phrase is designed to denigrate whatever is being described, but I don’t think it’s trying to claim that the movies are designed to sexually arouse the audience. I don’t know how I feel about the phrase in general, but it seems a convenient short-hand; it’s easier to say “torture porn” than “a movie where the gruesome kill scenes have been written first and the rest of the movie built around those specific kills”.

    And, just to contradict myself, I have to say that “torture porn” is almost exclusively used as a pejorative, while others (mil porn, tank porn, giant robot porn) seem to be more tongue-in-cheek. Linguistic drift?

  • Marsden

    Great review, I think you should do more.

    About “torture porn” I thought they were refering to how the people that might like that kind of movie would feel gratification, not necessariliy sexual, when watching that kind of movie as the perception is that there are more prolonged kills. To explain what I mean by prolonged compare a Jason style machette (or weed wacker, whatever is handy, right?) kill it’s mostly rather quick and sudden and then over where some recent features dwell on the person having repeated noleathal violence done to them over and over until they lose all their hit points and die. I really don’t know.

    You see Sandy? That’s why that last girl just fell over when Rodney hit her, he rolled a “20”

  • John Nowak

    >Once inside, Mrs. Pringle chitters “Get away, kitty. Get away.” And the cat does. For good; we never see it again the whole movie.

    I’ve got to wonder if the Siamese cat was going to have a bigger role, but Lewis wasn’t up to the technical challenges of cat-wrangling.

    That sounds facetious, but I don’t really mean it to be — it’s hard enough to put a film together on a tiny budget, so let’s throw in an animal which, by and large, will do whatever it darned well wants to do…

  • Dr. Whiggs

    The animal violence doesn’t bug me as much as it used to, since it happened a lot (to a lesser degree) in Italian cinema at the time, lame as that is. It’s that Deodato tried to claim that he was making a deep statement on exploitation while making a purely exploitational film. I just find him a nasty hypocrite. And I’m also kind of bothered that Sergio Leone apparently liked the film.

    The picture above the “cut me some slack” caption looks like it has the reflection of a window and part of a couch in the upper right corner, but maybe I’m imagining it.