Director: Herschell Gordon Lewis
Arrow Video USA

Ladies, hold onto your scalps when THE GRUESOME TWOSOME goes wig shopping on Arrow Video USA's Blu-ray of Herschell Gordon Lewis' gory classic.

Unsuspecting potential tenants at the boarding house of dotty old Mrs. Pringle (Elizabeth Davis, PRETTY SMART) are being brutally scalped by her moronic son Rodney (SCREAM BABY SCREAM's Chris Martel) for her side business of a wig shop that highlights their use of real human hair in their products. After three girls disappear from the nearby college, student Kathy (Gretchen Wells) decides to blow off her boyfriend Dave (Rodney Bedell, BEACH BOY REBELS) to play Nancy Drew. Discouraged after getting in trouble with the police for accusing the janitor (Karl Stoeber, A TASTE OF BLOOD) of the murders after catching him with bones that turn out to be soup bones from the school kitchen meant for his dog, Kathy picks up the trail again when dorm-mate Dawn (Dianne Raymond) disappears, having sought out new digs and fallen victim to Rodney and his new electric carving knife.

According to the Jimmy Mason- and Mike Vraney-moderated commentary track, THE GRUESOME TWOSOME was a more deliberate attempt to merge gore with black humor, and the already kooky Mrs. Pringle was made even more so when Lewis found a live cat a pain to deal with and swapped out her pet Napoleon with a stuffed bobcat. The scalping effects are lingered upon by the camera due to "advances" in the crew's effects know-how, and Lewis rightly points out that it is Martel's unhinged performance that keeps these sequences from becoming completely tasteless. He also reveals that the film had to be padded by ten minutes when they discovered that the film ran shy of seventy-minutes (the minimum length of an A-feature), including the extended opening sequence with the conversing wig bloods (footage Vraney reveals that he often sent out from his stock footage side business when TV companies requested something bizarre). Producer J.G. Patterson would attempt his own gorefest by writing, directing, and starring in THE BODY SHOP AKA DOCTOR GORE and would also produce AXE.

Distributed theatrically by Mayflower Pictures – who would also produce SHE DEVILS ON WHEELS and THE WIZARD OF GORE before Lewis severed his relationship with producer Fred Sandy – THE GRUESOME TWOSOME would be one of the more widely distributed Lewis films on video with an early eighties release on Select-a-Tape's Midnight Video sublabel – which also included THE WIZARD OF GORE and THE GORE GORE GIRLS amidst a lineup largely composed of Andy Milligan flicks – a late eighties edition from Continental Video (augmenting the original Lewis trilogy of BLOOD FEAST, TWO THOUSAND MANIACS, and COLOR ME BLOOD RED), and a Something Weird Video clamshell VHS special edition featuring a newer transfer, the film's trailer, the short subject "Wigs-O-Rama", and one of their exploitation art galleries (Sub Rosa Studios would also release a limited big box VHS a few years ago). With the negative lost, Something Weird and Image had to resort to a degraded 35mm print for their 2000 DVD which added the aforementioned commentary to the VHS extras.

Arrow Video USA's Blu-ray reproduced the exact contents of seventh disc of their seventeen-disc dual-territory Blu-ray/DVD combo set THE HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS FEAST starting with the 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.33:1 pillarboxed fullscreen transfer which too was derived from two degraded 35mm print sources, representing a step up from the DVD in terms of detail but still subject to the all of the damage including vertical scratches, variable color, and some missing frames. The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono track was relatively clean but some of the print damage-associated audio defects could not be cleanly removed. Optional English SDH subtitles were also provided.

The disc's co-feature A TASTE OF BLOOD is marketed as a "bonus feature" on this solo Blu-ray release. A modern-day "sequel" to Bram Stoker's novel "Dracula", A TASTE OF BLOOD finds Florida businessman John Alucard Stone (Bill Rogers, FLESH FEAST) bequeathed an inheritance from London of the estate of Baron Vada Khron that includes the property Corfax (sic) Abbey and a pair of vintage bottles of blood-colored brandy which he is to use to toast his ancestors. The wine, however, has a transformative effect on John that does not go unnoticed by his wife Helene (Elizabeth Wilkinson, SUBURBAN ROULETTE), secretary Hester (Eleanor Vaill, SHANTY TRAMP), and golfing body Dr. Hank Tyson (William Kerwin again), but his behavior changes soon become more physical as the blood of Dracula courses through his veins and he takes a sudden business trip to London to avenge himself on three of the descendants of the Count's slayers (staking each) before returning to the states to finish off the other three. Learning of the murders and fearing for his own life, Dr. Howard Helsing (Otto Schlessinger, THE GIRL, THE BODY, AND THE PILL) tries to convince Hank of the existence of vampires, but Hank is slow to believe until Helsing warns him that unrequited love Helene will be Stone's last victim and his vampire bride.

Possessed of greater production value, more considered lighting and photography, as well as gore scenes that are less set-pieces than ways to advance the story, A TASTE OF BLOOD may be Lewis' magnum opus but it is not a particularly good film. The film's two hour length is due not so much to padding as Lewis' perhaps overstated appreciation of the production value available to him in the film. Gordon himself cameos as a limey mustachioed sailor, a last minute replacement when the hired actor did not show up and the longshoremen threatened to throw their equipment overboard if they did not finish shooting by the agreed-upon time. On the commentary track – in which Gordon and Vraney are joined an hour in by Friedman and Maslon – Lewis reveals that the script was brought to him by writer Donald Stanford who claimed to be offering him first shot at it before showing it to Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. He is proud of his achievement which may or may not be a slog for the viewer, but it is a nice change of pace and shows Gordon as capable of more professional polish with the right elements. On the track, Maslon points out that K. Gordon Murray dubber Rogers, Schlessinger, and Vaill had all come of Joseph P. Mawra's SHANTY TRAMP (where Schlessinger played future offscreen bride Vaill's father).

Long thought lost, A TASTE OF BLOOD made its VHS debut through Something Weird Video and received a new fullscreen transfer when Image released it on DVD in 2000. Scanned in 2K from the same materials – the original negative with inserts and a final reel from a less immaculate 35mm print – Arrow's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen encode looks spectacular for the bulk of the presentation with fine textures in the sixties décor, prominent reds in the blood, wardrobe, and those vivid carpet stair treads. A few negative scratches are evident throughout but the final reel is rife with green vertical scratches and overall softer resolution. The LPCM 1.0 track has been cleaned up but is still limited to the defects of the print materials. Optional English SDH subtitles are available.

Both films include their aforementioned audio commentaries as well as new introductions by Lewis (1:05 and 1:42, respectively) while THE GRUESOME TWOSOME's extras include "Peaches Christ Flips her Wig!" (9:54), an interview with transgender performer/filmmaker Peaches Christ who reveals that she grew up in a Catholic suburb in Maryland but was able to escape into cult movies and horror thanks to a video store that rented anything to her at a very young age (including CALIGULA and the Gordon films). She provides an appreciation of Gordon's films, particularly THE GRUESOME TWOSOME, and recalls meeting the director who almost gave her the title of her first feature which was ultimately released ALL ABOUT EVIL. Also included are a trailer (2:44) and radio spots (1:07) for THE GRUESOME TWOSOME and a trailer for A TASTE OF BLOOD (1:24). The rest of the extras are more generalized in their discussions. In "It Came From Florida" (10:48), filmmaker Fred Olen Ray provides a portrait of Florida's filmmaking scene from industrial films and commercials to the empires of Lewis, William Grefe, and others. He also reveals the fate of COLOR ME BLOOD RED actor Jim Jaekel, the son of one of his high school teachers, who went out swimming in the ocean one day and never returned. In "Herschell vs the Censors" (7:53), Lewis discusses his experiences as well as what changing standards and audience sophistication mean to what is considered acceptable to be shown. The disc comes with a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly-commissioned artwork by The Twins of Evil. (Eric Cotenas)