Some of my most vivid childhood memories revolved around the films of Herschell Gordon Lewis and his production partner David F. Friedman. Blood Feast, Two Thousand Maniacs! and Color Me Blood Red were taboo pleasures for a kid entering his teens. I grew up in the American south and exploitation flicks were standard fare at the sleazepit movie theaters in Norfolk, Virginia near where I lived. I was a connoisseur at an early age of the high brow horror of Hammer films but took particular delight in the blood-soaked thrills of Lewis and Friedman’s joint venture Box Office Spectaculars.
It all started with Blood Feast. In 1963 Feast for me was the kind of jaw-dropping experience that up until then had only been rivaled by the gory centerfolds of the National Enquirer, nudist magazines and Tijuana bibles. These were sights not intended for the eyes of innocent youth. But, by the age of 12, my innocence had long been pummeled into oblivion by my strong left hand. Lewis and Friedman had tapped into something that psychiatrists are still grappling with: the thin line between sex and violence. I was too young to get any tongue but not too young to watch young women having their tongues ripped out. I blame the movies for much of what made me into the sick fuck I am today.
My buddy Leo and I would scour the movie section of the local newspaper every weekend hoping and praying to see the Box Office Spectacular name attached to any new releases. If we scored, we’d take the 20 mile ride by bus into Norfolk and, along with a handful of sailors on weekend leave, watch the latest B.O.S. bloodbath. A matinee was fifty cents back then and a flick like Blood Feast delivered tremendous bang for half a buck. Short on narrative and plot, but long on explicit scenes of over-the-top gore, David F. Friedman knew exactly what his audience came for. Somewhere in Baltimore, John Waters was transfixed by the same blood red thrills as Leo and me. And later a film geek in L.A. by the name of Quentin Tarantino would discover a battered video of Color Me Blood Red, a tale of blood, guts and fine art, on a dusty shelf somewhere and feel a tingling sensation in his scrotum that later translated into a creative act.
In many ways, I credit Friedman for creating the D.I.Y. in-your-face energy that would later manifest in punk rock.
I’m not here to write an obituary or bio of David F. Friedman. There are and will be plenty on the Internet. I just wanted to share a few personal memories of seeing his films. The Deuce has a detailed bio on Friedman here. Also, Friedman wrote a wonderfully entertaining autobiography A Youth in Babylon: Confessions of a Trash-Film King . It’s out-of-print but Amazon has some reasonably priced used copies you can snag here.
The best way to honor Mr. Friedman is to share one of his Dixiefied gore classics with you. Two Thousand Maniacs! sent me stumbling out of the theater in 1964 with something resembling a religious experience. In its depiction of backwoods psychopaths in a frenzy of bloodlust it not only freaked me out for the obvious reasons, it touched a deeper nerve. I was beginning to wise up to the mob mentality that existed among the various factions in my school and neighborhood, the kind of group psychosis that lead men into wars like Vietnam. I was just a kid but I was already developing a distaste for the kind of cruelty people bestow upon outsiders and things they don’t understand and the glee in which they often display in treating the “other” with harsh injustice.
I may be giving David F. Friedman and Herschell Gordon Lewis credit for a political/sociological subtext in Two Thousand Maniacs! they never intended. But intentional or not, I think these two film makers were tapping into something in themselves that like all art, dreams and fairytales delve into universal truths. Two Thousand Maniacs! in its own bizarro way is a commentary on and critique of the conformity and narrow mindedness of the 1950s. Were the kings of trash cinema anarchists in disguise? Is Two Thousand Maniacs! a radical anti-war film? Or a situationist act of subversion that eviscerates the white supremacism that still prevailed in the American south in 1964—the year of its release and the year in which George Wallace ran for President?
Two Thousand Maniacs! in all its gory glory.