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Tuesday, October 14, 2014


Rodney goes to work.

Was there ever a more unashamedly pure exponent of the horror movie as gross-out forum than Herschell Gordon Lewis? As a director, Lewis blazed the trail of graphic cinematic gore beginning in the early 1960's with such genre-codifying "classics" as BLOOD FEAST (1963) and TWO THOUSAND MANIACS! (1964), followed by subsequent lesser efforts, and without such an intention Lewis kicked down the doors of what was allowable to be depicted on-screen. In many ways, Lewis's works can be seen as the horror equivalent to hardcore pornography; every bit as visually shoddy and cheap, only with its visceral punch derived was swaths of goopy red rather than glistening pink. The man's movies wielded budgets that wouldn't buy a decent lunch from McDonald's, coupled with amateur hour acting, sound quality that brought to mind the acoustics of a junior high school play, and the most rudimentary of scripts, so the end product was always something of a mess. In short, Lewis's movies were never good, suspenseful, or even the slightest bit scary, but being good or presenting their horrors with artistry or subtlety was never their point. Their goal was to turn grindhouse and drive-in screens into charnel houses, bringing audiences the kind of up-close-and-personal blood and guts that Hollywood simply would not tarnish itself by providing (or rather at least not at that point in cinema history), and in that respect they were a resounding success. As long as the audience was happy to shell out their hard-earned cash to see drippy, glistening gore by the bucketful, artistry could go fuck itself in the ear.

Clocking in at a relatively brief/merciful seventy-two minutes (four of which come from a ludicrous opening bit in which two wigs have a conversation that amounts to nothing but padding) THE GRUESOME TWOSOME can succinctly be summed up as "Nancy Drew meets Jack the Ripper," only with the murderer's signature schtick being the forcible removal of young women's scalps as opposed to their viscera (though we do get treated to an ultra-fake evisceration). There's really nothing to it other than a college coed (Gretchen Wells) doing some sub-SCOOBY-DOO investigating of the disappearances of some of her fellow female students, all of whom have fallen victim to the demented Mrs. Pringle (Elizabeth Davis) and her simpleton son, Rodney (Chris Martell), who kills the young women and re-purposes their fresh scalps as stock for his mom's wig business. The celluloid equivalent to one of the lesser E.C. Comics efforts, all this movie cares about is the camera lingering in loving closeup upon the gory goings-on, with nary a thought in its mind for anything that could fairly be called a story, and when the nasty stuff isn't going on the audience is subjected to long stretches of un-interesting and surprisingly tame moments in collegiate life.

Though the film is never boring, per se, it does test the viewer's patience with its overall mediocrity and a lengthy sequence in which our daring amateur sleuth trails the college's janitor while incorrectly assuming he's the murderer, a plot contrivance made more annoying because we know for a fact that he's not the killer. There's also yet more padding with a ridiculous drive-in movie sequence in which a couple shares a romantic meal of potato chips, fruit, and beer while spouting insipid stock soap opera dialogue that has to be seen to be believed. All of this is accented with stock music, bad editing, and that queasy look that marks Lewis's body of work, and all save for the most ravenous of gorehounds will feel gypped since all we end up with is a scalping, a beheading, an ultra-fake evisceration, and a stabbing to the eye, all of which look like the effects could have been achieved in your mom's kitchen. But when all is said and done, an undeniable sense of self-aware humor is involved here, one that knows in no uncertain terms that this is the horror movie at its most base level and it aspires to be nothing more than that. It may not be pretty, but at least it's honest.

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