Take my liver, please
After the unsatisfying release of The Wizard of Gore, Herschell Gordon Lewis took some time off from blood. The next couple of years found him dabbling in sex comedy (Miss Nymphet’s Zap-In), more hillbilly shenanigans for the Southern drive-in circuit (This Stuff’ll Kill Ya), and even political satire (Year of the Yahoo). Meanwhile, the world was catching up a little. Blood and Lace featured on-screen murder more brutal than any shown before. Italian director Mario Bava, from whom Lewis had borrowed the familiar giallo trappings (ala Blood and Black Lace) of the black-gloved killer in Something Weird, returned the favor by pushing the gore-meter further for the murders in Bay of Blood. John Waters assured his place in shock history with Pink Flamingos. In The Corpse Grinders, Ted V. Mikels did just that. It was time for Herschell to make his Grand Finale.
“Nothing has Ever Stripped Your Nerves as Screamingly Raw as The Gore Gore Girls!” shouted the poster for H.G. Lewis’ last feature. Though there was a lot of blood being thrown around movie sets in the early ’70s, nobody did it like Lewis. A gentle, intelligent and pleasant man by all accounts, one can’t help but think that there’s a sick little cretin hiding inside Lewis’ mind, waiting to come out and play when the camera rolls. By this time, even slickly produced horror films featured graphic violence, but most would give the audience a few quick shots of red stuff and cut to something else. Lewis had his camera linger on the grue.
The film begins with a very cold opening, in which an unseen killer wearing black gloves and a raincoat smashes a woman’s face into a mirror repeatedly, slashing it to jelly. After the ‘pop art’ titles, we’re introduced to our “hero”, foppish gentleman detective Abraham Gentry (Frank Kress), who is reading about the murder in the newspaper (which shows a photo of the victim too impossibly gruesome for any paper besides a Mexican tabloid). Gentry decides to lend his sleuthing skills to the mystery.
On his quest, he’s trailed everywhere by nosy girl reporter Nancy Weston (Amy Farrell), throwing the plot back to ’30s thrillers like Doctor X. The victim was a dancer who worked at Marz’s Heaven strip club, owned by Marzdone Mobilie (played by burlesque comic Henny Youngman, working for 500 dollars). Gentry goes to the club to investigate, picking up clues despite the attitude of surly waitress Marlene (Hedda Lubin — who wears a different wig in every shot).
Screenwriter Alan Dachman, playing a stoner sitting outside famed Chicago jazz club The Bulls, offers some evidence as well. Each time they visit a club, Gentry gets Weston drunk to keep her out of the way.
That night, another dancer arrives at home and is slugged in the head with a rubber mallet, knocking her unconscious (and filling her gum bubble with blood). The killer then proceeds to slit her throat and chop up her face with a butcher’s knife.
Back at the club, business — and Gentry’s inquiry — is interrupted by a group of Women’s Lib protesters. Gentry “rescues” a stripper and takes her home. Though the lady expects to reward her hero, Gentry leaves — prematurely. The killer strikes again, slitting the woman’s throat, then destroying her backside with a meat tenderizer! The mayhem doesn’t stop there: the killer goes to work on her face next, stabbing with a fork and popping eyeballs.
The police department cooperates fully with Gentry, despite the fact that his involvement makes him a suspect. Not surprising, as we can clearly see that the cops’ badges are only taped on their shirts.
The killer stalks another dancer that night, interrupting her housework. She gets her throat cut as well, her face burned with a hot steam iron, and — in one of Lewis’ most outrageous scenes — her nipples cut, spewing milk (regular and chocolate!) into champagne glasses. When an unlucky roommate walks in, she gets her face fried in a handy pan of boiling oil.
Though Mobilie keeps losing performers, business at Marz’s Heaven is better than ever due to the shocking publicity. Gentry asks Weston to accompany him to the club, this time as his date — but really to manipulate her into taking the stage, making herself bait for the killer.
Blood Orgy, as it was retitled in cities that would not allow the word “gore” in a newspaper ad (or in Southern locales where no one knew what a go-go girl was), is about the only slasher film I can think of in which the murders are a secondary thrill. The main event is the horrible mutilation of the bodies that followed. By mixing black humor with the outrageous gore, along with plenty of hippie-era camp, it’s easy to write off Gore Gore Girls as a comedy. However, despite the fact that it’s obviously fake, the gore-nography is genuinely disturbing, and stays in the memory longer than Henny Youngman’s one-liners. With today’s digital effects, one can make real just about anything on film, including graphic gore in a mainstream hit (see The Mummy). But they’re still trying to catch up with Herschell Gordon Lewis.
The acting is typical of a Lewis cast, with Kress’ stagy projection a high point. Amy Farrell fares a bit better, later showing up in Airport 1975. Henny Youngman went to his death in 1998 denying his appearance here. Like most of the cast, Hedda Lubin, who played the acid-tongued waitress Marlene, never appeared in another movie — but made her mark on stage history by playing “Frenchy” in the first production of Grease while moonlighting on Gore Gore Girls by day. Lewis’ regular crew members also got parts in front of the camera, including Ray Sager (the Wizard of Gore himself), who went on to become a successful TV and movie producer. Burly Andy Ameripoor has a memorable part as a guy who draws faces on melons and then smashes them with his fist.
Like the other Lewis DVDs, there’s an audio commentrak with Herschell Gordon Lewis and Something Weird’s Mike Vraney and Jimmy Maslin. Lewis tells how the film was made, why this was his last film (to date), and all talk about why his films have continued to live on in infamy.
The disc includes the same “Herschell Gordon Lewis Gallery of Exploitation Art” (Vraney is notoriously fond of long titles) that is on the Something Weird DVD — which tends to jam in my Pioneer DVL-909 DVD player at around The Girl, The Body and the Pill, but recovers on stopping and starting the machine. There’s also a hysterical 1m 43s clip from Love Goddess of Blood Island showing a sacrifice to the High Priestess of Gore. Unfortunately, a complete print of this gem has yet to be found. Let’s hope it turns up soon in the Something Weird warehouse.