In what is surely a coup for latest label on the block Vinegar Syndrome, this freshly uncovered archive of formerly "lost" H.G. Lewis films certainly arrives with loving care and expert handling on the part of everyone involved.
That being said, it's a shame that the actual films contained here on this high definition triple feature are so lackluster, given the obvious attention to detail placed by Vinegar Syndrome in the restoration of these late sixties/early seventies sexploitation flicks. Frankly, The Ecstasies of Women, Linda and Abilene-both released in '69-as well as 1971's Black Love are boring in their ineptitude, although this may not come as much of a shock to those who have seen Lewis' frustrating, yet undeniably important splatter pictures, Blood Feast, Two Thousand Maniacs and Color Me Blood Red.
Considered the director's "Blood Trilogy," all three films were some of the first to display explicit gore on the screen, something which shocked movie-goers to the gore back in the early sixties. That being said, however, their resonance as enjoyable films is debatable, as all three were severely hampered by flat pacing and uninspired acting by Lewis cast of characters.
Ultimately, all three of the pictures contained here within The Lost Films of H.G. Lewis suffer from a similar malady, with Ecstasies of Women literally following a cyclical pattern of "dream sequence-to house boat sex scene" interspersed with tedious, seemingly endless, nonsensical dialog pieces. Although the plot of this first film basically follows a bachelor on his last night of "freedom" before marriage, the actual results of said story isn't nearly as sleazy or salacious as it sounds. Despite the frequent sexualization of its female co-stars, The Ecstasies of Women often struggles to rise above its status as a more explicit "nudie cutie."
Linda and Abilene is even tamer by comparison, attempting to capitalize on the rising trend of such "sex westerns" as Lee Frost's Hot Spur or The Ramrodder. Whereas Frost's film actually works as a gritty, sleazy western-albeit with some awkwardly hemmed in nudity and sex scenes-Lewis' take on the obscure sub-genre is relegated primarily to, you guessed it, more mind-numbingly talky monologues, spliced with some jazz soundtrack nudity for the drive in crowd. It's a frustrating film which never even gets out of the starting gate.
In comparison, Black Love is exactly that: a hardcore pornographic effort which masquerades as an "informative sex film." Utilizing this description-indeed, there is a narrative disclaimer which sets this up right from the opening frame-Lewis was able to circumvent any such stigma attached to being a "director of porn films," while at the same time being able to rake in all of the money associated with the "raincoat crowd" who frequented triple X theaters to watch such films.
Black Love utilizes plenty of gynecological close ups in its photography, yet the end result is leagues away from erotic, instead almost coming across as some sort of perverse (some might say mildly racist) twist on the Italian mondo film-in its exposing of "previously taboo" footage and behavior-melded with the traditional American health class lecture. It's a cinema curiosity, for sure, albeit one which sadly doesn't translate into "enjoyable" for audiences.
This is the connecting thread which runs through The Lost Films of H.G. Lewis: none of the films are particularly "good"-Black Love is still a bit shocking, while The Ecstasies of Women has its moments of unintentional hilarity-yet their presentation here within Vinegar Syndrome's Blu-Ray and DVD presentation is nothing short of phenomenal.
Achieved in part to a Kickstarter campaign with fans, these "lost" films looks absolutely fantastic on both discs, with nearly every big of grain and dirt painstakingly removed from the original negative. The audio results are just as astonishing, with all three of these films looking as if they were proverbially released yesterday. Huge kudos are in order for those behind these scenes who took part in this restoration, for the end results truly speak for themselves.
Although onscreen extras are limited to the films' original theatrical trailers, extensive liner notes and lab card reproductions are included within this set, offering plenty of background info upon each of the films' respective histories and production.
Just as the famed films of Herschell Gordon Lewis have proven to be an acquired taste for horror and exploitation fans, so too are these "lost films" considered interesting footnotes within the life of this historic filmmaker. Yet this is really all they are, and, as such, can really only be recommended for diehard Lewis obsessives.
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