A Life In Blood: Tales Of A Horror Queen – A Tribute to Herschell Gordon Lewis
A true legend of the horror genre has left us. I am saddened to hear of the passing of the “Godfather of Gore”, Herschell Gordon Lewis. I was assured that he left this world peacefully at the age of 87. This horror queen is honored to have acted in his upcoming final film, “Herschell Gordon Lewis’ Bloodmania”. Today we speak with the producer of his final film, James Saito. Saito isn’t simply a producer though; he is also the Vice President of Development/Production for Diabolique Films, the film division of Diabolique Magazine, a lifelong horror fan, and was a close friend of Lewis.
Interview with Producer James Saito
1. What was the first Herschell Gordon Lewis’ film you saw and how old were you?
My Uncle took me to a drive-in where I saw, “The Wizard of Gore”. I would have been ten years old, but the film opened my eyes to a new kind of horror – very bloody horror! It was an epiphany for me, and provided me with an affection for splatter which has stuck with me all these years later.
2. How did you come to meet and end up working with Lewis on “Herschell Gordon Lewis’ Bloodmania”?
I was volunteering as a guest booker and head of marketing and promotion for a horror convention, and I received an email wondering if we would be interested in having Herschell attend. I was stunned. I stood looking at my phone trying to digest what I was reading, my hand began shaking. I called and spoke to Herschell about arrangements, and we ended up chatting for quite some time. I told him of my lifelong love of his films (he could listen to that sort of thing all day)…
He then proposed that we make a film together. We decided that we would produce a script he had written some years earlier entitled, “Mr. Bruce and the Gore Machine” A.K.A. “The Stainless Steel Butcher”. Things progressed, we had found investors but some interference from an outside source made these investors nervous. It was back to the drawing board. I thought I would let things settle for a few months, and approach it again.
One evening I was at a theatre for a Raven Banner one night screening of a film. They showed a short horror film before the feature, and it was not very good at all. “A guy has to be able to do better than that”, I remember thinking to myself – that was when the idea for an anthology film took hold.
3. How has knowing Lewis so closely affected your life? What wisdom has he given you?
Where does one start? From a business and marketing standpoint he was a wealth of knowledge. Herschell had a saying, “it’s called show BUSINESS, we are here to make money”. That may or may not be my own stance on the matter, but he is entirely correct.
During production I was guilty of watching his every move, trying to burn the experience into my memory. The man was being accurate when he stated in interviews, “Two words that you will never hear on my set – Take two”. He knew the shots he wanted, and he was usually satisfied with one take. By today’s standards this means no extra coverage which is an editor’s nightmare. You are left with very linear storytelling, but I wasn’t overly concerned, fans expect this, and indeed treasure this about his work.
I am writing this a day after his passing, so I am heartbroken and probably still in shock somewhat. There are so many wonderful memories for me to take to the grave with me:
Listening to Herschell recite a selection from, “A Shropshire Lad” by English poet Alfred Edward Housman:
“When I was one-and-twenty
I heard a wise man say,
Give crowns and pounds and guineas
But not your heart away;
Give pearls away and rubies
But keep your fancy free.
But I was one-and-twenty,
No use to talk to me.
When I was one-and-twenty
I heard him say again,
The heart out of the bosom
Was never given in vain;
‘Tis paid with sighs a plenty
And sold for endless rue.
And I am two-and-twenty
And oh, ’tis true, ’tis true”.
So moved was he that he wept during his recitation.
Herschell was a gentleman of the kind that this society rarely produces anymore. He was a kind and gentle soul. I always smiled when I was in his room late at night looking at dailies, before bed he would call his wife Margo and do that thing all of us guys do. At the end of the call he would lower his voice and say, “I love you” to her hoping that no one else would hear.
He told me about a time when he was around the age I am now. He was in a bad way, as men our age can be sometimes. He considered his film career over, there was no place to harness his creativity. He was working a job he didn’t particularly care for, and was admittedly at the lowest point in his life. Thoughts of suicide had even crossed his mind briefly, but he said he couldn’t do that to his children.
Then one day out of the blue a woman walked into the office where he worked and changed his life forever. He went on to marry this young woman Margo, and he said she was the best thing that ever happened to him. They shared everything together.
One day Herschell sat beside me, put his arm around me and said, “Jim, what I want most for you is to find a woman who can be your partner in life and in business just like Margo and I have”. He knew of a deep and abiding love that I had for a woman of our mutual acquaintance, and that we had recently gone our separate ways. He wanted so badly to play Cupid, but I kept telling him to leave it alone. Two days before his passing he was still inquiring about her and hoping for good news.
I recall a time that he asked me, “Do you know what made me want to work with you”? I told him I had no idea, but his reply was, “Because you have a command of the English language”. My response was, “Really, that’s all it took”?
Recording the opening theme to BloodMania which Herschell wrote entitled, “Gory Story” was an unbelievable thrill. I got to sing some backup vocals on the chorus. When we walked into the studio a band was waiting to record, we had lyrics and only an idea of the kind of arrangement we were looking for. 90 minutes later the song was in the can. The amazing part was watching Herschell sitting at a piano and basically writing the song on the spot.
He was an exceptional piano player, and believed that a home wasn’t a home without a piano in it. He made me promise to buy one, even if I never learned to play. I will honor this promise when I move into the home where I will spend the rest of my days’
Sometimes a situation or scene would have to be reworked for any number of reasons. One day an entire scene had to be scrapped and a new one written. The two of us wrote four pages in half an hour. The creative flow that we shared that day is something I will always treasure.
The last time I saw him in person he was in a wheel chair at the airport because his knee was giving him grief. The last words he spoke to me were, “I love you Jim”. I told him I loved him too, bent down and kissed him on the forehead.
Herschell once said to me, “Occasionally a person comes into your life, and they are an “Architect of Destiny”. He went on to explain that some people have a direct impact on a person, shaping and altering the rest of their existence. He has certainly been such an architect with me.
There were still so many things left unsaid. I hope he knew how much gratitude I had for the privilege of spending so much time with him, the difference he made in my personal outlook on many levels, and that for too brief a time I was able to be that ten year old boy again watching one of my heroes in action.
4. What can you tell fans about Herschell Gordon Lewis’ Bloodmania, the legend’s final film? Any idea when to look for it? Where can fans find updates?
Diabolique Films stance on this is that we were never in any rush to just get the film released ASAP. Behind the scenes there are a great many projects and planning that has been taking place. We are looking at becoming a horror film distributor ourselves. I think though that the decision about release has become moot with Mr. Lewis’ passing. I have been deluged by emails from interested parties all day, and we will make a formal announcement as soon as I sign the paperwork.
Updates on the film can be found at:
Official Website: www.bloodmania.ca
5. Any experiences on set you’d like to share with readers?
A great many, but they are going to have to wait until the release of the Special Edition Blu-Ray for those. We are getting ready to shoot new interviews, commentaries, and put together some behind the scenes footage that will blow fans minds. I promise every fan of Herschell’s work that this will be one bonus feature packed disc for the ages!
6. Any final thoughts on Herschell Gordon Lewis and the legacy he leaves behind?
As Herschell always said, “the crystal ball is murky”, it would be hard for me to predict how he will be remembered in generations to come. He did invent the “Splatter Film”, and is “The Godfather of Gore” no one can ever take that away from him. For those who knew him he will be remembered for his sagacity and his humanity. The world needs many more men like Herschell Gordon Lewis, not one less.
I want to say it was a huge honor to be an actress in “Herschell Gordon Lewis’ Bloodmania”. Thank you James for your time and words. May Lewis’ legacy and memory live on through us, the horror fans!
Also tune in next month for another chilling installment of A Life In Blood: Tales Of A Horror Queen and hear more about my life in horror!
Yours in screams, Genoveva Rossi
Check out my new website: www.genovevarossi.com 
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