The Gruesome Twosome / A Taste of Blood

Studio: Arrow Video

Mar 02, 2018 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Here, Arrow Video continues their exhumation of splatter hero Herschell Gordon Lewis' gruesome filmography with two films from his mid-1960s heyday. To appreciate Lewis' work, it's best to suspend standard expectations: if you go in looking for good acting, convincing special effects, or even a modicum of suspense or mystery, you'll be disappointed. Taken on their own level, though, his films are bizarre fever dreams from another dimension (or Florida, but what's the difference?), and chock full of low-rent visual splendor.

The Gruesome Twosome, for its part, is classic Lewis, full of verbose dialogue, pretty co-eds, and a plot which is given away in the first ten minutes. In a small Florida college town, girls are disappearing; strangely, at the same, wigs that look suspiciously like those same girls' hair keep turning up at a wig shop owned by the eccentric, elderly Mrs. Pringle. Coincidentally, Mrs. Pringle also has an ad out in the local paper, offering a room for rent for… college girls?!?! Of course, it turns out that the room is just a ruse to lure these co-eds into a back room with her son Rodney, who then murders and scalps the girls to sell their hair.

Yes, the plot is dumb as hell, and the film is constructed to prevent any guesswork whatsoever. The devil, then, is in the details: the bitchy styrofoam heads that introduce the film, the way Mrs. Pringle talks to her taxidermied cat, the extraneous romantic subplots. All of it serves to make The Gruesome Twosome truly engrossing, even if it is for reasons that have nothing to do with the actual story.

Most grindhouse double features start with the more entertaining of the two films, and this one is no different. A Taste of Blood is the story of Count Dracula's heir becoming a vampire, and proceeding to pick off the descendents of those who killed his legendary relative. A fine enough premise as far as these things go, but A Taste of Blood falters, paradoxically, by being ostensibly the better of the two films. The acting is a tad less stiff and amateurish; the camera work is a bit more deft. There's even a bit of genuine suspense, although never too much. It's also relatively epic: at two hours, it's almost twice as long as your average Lewis feature.

Unfortunately, these upgrades just serve to make its shortcomings more awkward. The murder scenes are silly, the vampire makeup is awful, and plenty of the acting is still piss-poor, and while none of that would be an issue in any of Lewis' other films, it wears thin when stretched to such lengths. In a taped intro to the film, Lewis (always charmingly self-aware about his place in film history) prides himself on A Taste of Blood being something that even average filmgoers would think is "pretty good", as opposed to what they usually thought of his quick-buck trash. That may be so, but they'd surely never say it was great, and it's always a bit sad to watch a kingpin of trash long for mainstream mediocrity.

The transfer for both films in this edition leave something to be desired, but this is not due to a lack of effort. No original negatives have survived, and some of the prints available were quite damaged. That said, if you're anything like me, the scratches and weird cuts add to the charm of the experience; it would hardly seem right to watch Lewis' films in a perfect 4k restoration. Barring a miracle, this is about the best these films will ever look going forward.

I've said it before, but it's a joy to enter Lewis' world with the right frame of mind. This might not be the best place to start for the uninitiated (Blood Feast, whose Arrow reissue I recently covered here, is probably the ideal jumping-off point), but if you've got the proper bloodlust, it's a good place to continue.



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