Miami Movie Mayhem!

The works of B-movie moguls like Herschell Gordon Lewis and Doris Wishman are so bad they're good. And they've become a permanent part of Florida film lore.

Now an eerily well-preserved 68 years old and living in Plantation, Lewis looks perfectly at home talking carnage and cannibalism over lunch at the Fort Lauderdale Country Club. One has to wonder what his pastel-clad fellow members would think if they had seen him in his movie days, setting out from Chicago in a little VW bus crammed with cameras and gear, bound for Miami and new realms of unparalleled depravity. For his part, Lewis seems to enjoy his role as ghoul emeritus. He recounts his exploits with some relish, in the same broadcast-quality voice he uses for his Curmudgeon at Large commentaries on WFTL-AM (1400) in Fort Lauderdale.

"We were staying at a place in the north Beach called the Suez Motel," Lewis says. "I still know the address -- 18215 Collins Avenue. Outside the Suez Motel is a fake sphinx. It was only about six or seven feet high, but if you shoot it from the right angle, it looks like the [real] sphinx. After all, if you're shooting against the sky, size is of no consequence. And that, I will tell you, became the icon, the rationale, the whole motif behind Blood Feast -- which is about an ancient Egyptian caterer, Fuad Ramses, who wants to have" -- Lewis pauses to assume a solemn expression and an exaggerated Middle Eastern accent -- "an Egyptian feast."

Then, in the middle of the Fort Lauderdale Country Club, in between sips of iced tea, Lewis becomes his villain. With piercing stares and a sinister voice he replays Fuad Ramses's sales pitch to a housewife searching for a caterer with that extra-special something for a birthday party:

"Madam, have you ever had an Egyptian feast?"
"No, but has there been a party like that?"
"Not for 5000 years!"

"It turns out that an Egyptian feast is the parts of young girls cut up and cooked," Lewis says, returning to his customary cheerful demeanor. "And that is really the total plot line of Blood Feast."

The recipe was simple: Take gallons and gallons of custom-mixed stage blood from a cosmetics firm in Coral Gables; add sheep organs (kept in a small refrigerator in Lewis's room at the Suez) and a rented boa constrictor (one-time carny Friedman rode herd on the snake, which made the most of its film debut by escaping); throw in numerous voluptuous victims (sliced, diced, and chopped) and one garish silver statue of the bloodthirsty goddess "Ishtar" (not exactly Egyptian, but who'd know that at the drive-in?). Grind the whole thing up in an old 35mm Mitchell camera, and garnish with one more ingredient -- the smallest pinch of acting talent, the kind, Lewis likes to say, you found "under a rock." Total cost: $24,000.

Leading man Bill Kerwin was probably the most professional cast member. He hid behind the alias "Thomas Wood" to preserve his union status while starring in a number of Lewis and Friedman's decidedly nonunion pictures. Lewis prized Kerwin for a most unactorlike willingness to lend a hand when he wasn't in front of the camera. Kerwin's co-star, Connie Mason ("YOU READ ABOUT HER IN PLAYBOY," leered the posters), lacked his helpful nature, not to mention the ability to remember her lines. David Friedman's old Venice carnival buddy Scott Hall also had trouble with his lines, but that was understandable. Hall, a crew member with no acting experience, pitched in to play a police captain when the man hired for the job didn't show. His occasional glances at script notes hidden on his desk hardly hurt his performance at all.

And then there was Astrid Olsen, the girl with the tongue of a sheep. "That tongue scene in Blood Feast is a watershed scene," Lewis says. "The night before, we didn't have anybody to do that with. Dave went down to the Playboy Club with the instruction to find us a girl whose mouth is big enough to take that sheep's tongue. That was the sole casting requirement. That was her whole part. [He came back with] a girl named Astrid Olsen who was able to get that tongue in her mouth along with her own."

When David Friedman recalls the girl he brought back to have a bloody sheep's tongue "ripped" from her mouth, a tone of unholy glee creeps into his voice. "She shows up with her boyfriend, who was some Neanderthal type. He thought that this was gonna be a big starring part in a big Paramount picture, and it was one day's work!" he says, laughing over the phone from his hometown of Anniston, Alabama. (Friedman retired to Anniston after an illustrious career whose post-Blood Feast achievements included developing one of the top porn-distribution companies on the West Coast, movies such as Trader Hornee and The Erotic Adventures of Zorro, and a stint as president of the Adult Film Association of America.)

Friedman had a nonspeaking role as Olsen's drunken boyfriend, who returns with her to her room at the Suez. "I pantomime that I've gotta go get more whiskey, and then of course Fuad Ramses comes in and rips her tongue out. And then we said, 'Well, okay honey, we'll be in touch.'

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