Herschell Gordon Lewis was the writer and director of the David
Friedman produced 1960s-era gorefests
COLOR ME BLOOD RED, which comprise a
loose-knit trilogy. Lewis also wrote novelizations of the three films,
all published in 1964 by the now-defunct paperback outfit Novel Books.
In 1988 the BLOOD FEAST and TWO THOUSAND MANIACS! novelizations were
republished by Fantaco Enterprises, complete with extensive black and
white stills and newly penned introductions; COLOR ME BLOOD RED, alas,
didn’t get the same treatment.
Lewis’ attitude toward these books is
evident in his admission that “I had other projects (at the time) and
never regarded them as worthy of full time attention.” Yet all three
novels are enjoyable in their way, suggesting Lewis had a talent for
fiction that was never entirely developed. He’s authored quite a few
books in the ensuing decades, but all are nonfiction (for the record, a
fourth H.G. Lewis novel exists, an adaptation of his 1964 hillbilly
comedy MOONSHINE MOUNTAIN that even Lewis himself appears to have
BLOOD FEAST was the first and most
outrageous of Lewis’s novelizations, suggesting that the comedy of that
1963 film wasn’t as unintentional as it might seem. H.G. Lewis
admittedly went nuts with this book, which feels like a scattershot
parody of BLOOD FEAST rather than a proper adaptation. The overall tone
is set by the opening sentence: “It was a lousy day for Gloria…She
was late for work, caught a run in her stocking, got an overdraft notice
from the bank, lost her umbrella…And, at 9:14 pm, she was murdered.”
The underlying narrative, concerning Fuad Ramses, a
homicidal maniac who extracts peoples’ body parts for use in an Egyptian
feast, is more-or-less identical to that of the film, but Lewis insists
upon throwing in all sorts of extraneous elements that aren’t in the
flick. Examples include a school principal busted for assigning dirty
books to children, a talking cat(!), a woman who pays men to touch parts
of her body, and a rather involved coda involving a second, far less
Lewis’ sense of humor is decidedly oft-kilter, and
often downright surreal, as is evident in a passage where the cop
protagonist Thornton is threatened with a gun--whose barrel he promptly
bites off, inspiring the gun’s owner to exclaim “I didn’t know you liked
licorice.” As for the gore so integral to the flick, it’s been reduced
to almost nothing, with the film’s tongue-ripping, eyeball gouging and
dismemberments all left undescribed. The effect is funny at times, but
just often irritating, especially given the complete absence of anything
resembling narrative continuity.
The novelization of TWO THOUSAND
MANIACS! is more successful than its predecessor, as it actually
follows the events of its source film fairly closely. That film is
Lewis’ personal favorite of his own work, so it makes sense that the
buffoonery of the earlier novel is kept to a minimum.
The BRIGADOON inspired story involves six Yankees
arriving in the southern town of Pleasant Valley, whose residents are
having a centennial celebration and demand the Yankees partake. They
reluctantly do, only to find that their part in the proceedings involves
them getting killed in various elaborate ways to avenge the sins of
their Civil War-era ancestors.
That latter aspect is more concretely fleshed out here
than it is in the flick, with the concept of original sin introduced,
and also the specter of black magic--which is crucial in explaining how
it is that Pleasant Valley’s residents are still around even though they
were all slaughtered 100 years earlier! Another novel component is the
ending, which diverges considerably from that of the film--and is
frankly a lot better, as it doesn’t meander the way the movie’s ten
minute-plus conclusion did.
The adjective heavy gross-out passages are as graphic
as any gorehound could possibly desire. Standout examples include the
famous spiked barrel demise (“As the barrel reached the bottom of the
hill, it was flinging out gouts of blood with its churning motion, and
then it hit a block of stone and burst open like a ghastly, monstrous
egg”) and the climactic crushing (“The rock plummeted like a
giant meteor and fell directly on the screaming, struggling victim.
Blood shot from her ears and mouth, as from a geyser, and her screaming
ended in a grinding twisted gargle”).
Of course, this being a movie novelization--and an H.G.
Lewis movie novelization at that--it contains a lot of padding, evident
in Lewis’ insistence on transcribing the lyrics to the song sung
throughout the book/film, “The South’s Gonna Rise Again,” at several
points in the text.
When perusing COLOR ME BLOOD RED,
the last of H.G. Lewis’ novelizations, there are three pivotal things to
keep in mind: 1). The film it novelizes is, as Lewis himself has
conceded, not one of his better efforts, 2). It was not among the
Lewis novelizations Fantaco reprinted in 1988 (and clearly there’s a
reason for that), and 3). Lewis has subsequently admitted he
“spent less attention” on
this adaptation than he did the others.
Yet even allowing for those things, COLOR ME BLOOD RED is worthwhile
reading for horror buffs in a forgiving mood.
The premise, of course, is complete nonsense: Adam Sorg,
a pretentious artist, is having trouble finding the right shade of red
for his paintings. One day his assistant/lover Chi-Chi cuts a finger and
drips blood on a canvas, which of course provides the desired hue. Adam
wastes no time supplying himself with this new shade of red by slicing
open his own fingers and, when he can’t squeeze any more blood, killing
and draining Chi-Chi. But as the demand for his new blood-spattered
paintings grows among the patrons of a local art gallery, Adam realizes
he’ll have to find other sources for the color…
Lewis’ satire of the early-1960s art world is far
sharper here than it is in the film. Likewise, Adam’s relationship with
Chi-Chi is far more carnal (she concludes he’s a “real sex maniac”)
than it was onscreen. Also worth noting is an extended quota in which an
art dealer and a critic discuss vetting another genius painter in the
wake of Sorg’s demise.
If only it had a stronger story, COLOR ME BLOOD RED
could conceivably pass muster as an actual non-movie affiliated horror
novel. Too bad it’s currently all-but impossible to find!
COLOR ME BLOOD RED’S back cover promises
that “Novel Books will be novelizing the screenplays of all future
Friedman/Lewis films.” Unfortunately that partnership dissolved during
the editing of COLOR ME BLOOD RED, which may at least partially explain
why no subsequent H.G. Lewis novelizations appeared. That’s a shame,
because while these books are hardly masterpieces, they did leave this
reader wanting more.