The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Gruesome Twosome

Herschell Gordon Lewis's 1967 exploitation flick The Gruesome Twosome opens with two Styrofoam mannequin heads “talking” to each other. This was the first sign that the notorious Blood Feast director was ready to mix some humor in with his patented blood and gore, the levels of which were unprecedented for the time. HGL was a unique filmmaker – a businessman who made ultra-violent fare because he thought it would be profitable, not because he was making any kind of artistic expression. Nevertheless, his work was game-changing. Arrow Video celebrates him with a Blu-ray release of The Gruesome Twosome that, as a bonus feature, also contains Lewis's A Taste of Blood.

The title refers to Mrs. Pringle (Elizabeth Davis), an overly theatrical wig maker, and her intellectually disabled son Rodney (Chris Martell). They run a small business selling wigs to the local college girls. To make their product, though, they also have to abduct and scalp those same students. (It's a flawed business plan.) One of the coeds, Kathy Baker (Gretchen Wells), tries to solve the mystery of why her friends are all disappearing. She, too, may be on the receiving end of the Pringle treatment.

The Gruesome Twosome has three or four supremely gory scenes, mostly involving scalpings. Generally speaking, Lewis was not only fearless in what he was willing to show, he also made sure to linger on it. That's definitely true here. The nastiest moments take on a freak show quality that dares you not to look away. Even fifty years later, these violent moments pack a punch.

Otherwise, the film is intent to be rather humorous. Laughs are mined from Mrs. Pringle's ornate manner of speaking, as well as her tendency to talk to a taxidermied pet. From a storytelling point of view, The Gruesome Twosome is a mess. At one point, for instance, Kathy and her boyfriend go to a drive-in, and we're subjected to way too much of the faux movie they watch. But such weird little asides are also somewhat funny. Perhaps the wackiest sequence finds Kathy endlessly following a local man, believing that he's the killer. The cops arrive, and we discover that his true motivations are far less sinister. Does this really have anything to do with the plot? No. Does it elicit chuckles? For sure.

Most of the performances are flat, except for those from Davis and Martell. The former's affected eloquence becomes downright creepy after a while, and the latter is – shall we say – fully committed to portraying a character with mental limitations. It sure isn't politically correct, but hey, this was 1967, so let's cut the film some slack.

Sweetening the deal are impressive Blu-ray extras. In addition to A Taste of Blood, there is a selection of theatrical trailers and a radio spot, plus HGL audio commentaries for both films. You'll also find three featurettes. One is an interview with Lewis, who discusses battling local censors throughout his career. He tells a few stories that are quite enlightening. The second has fellow exploitation director Fred Olen Ray providing a fascinating history of schlock film production in Florida (where The Gruesome Twosome was filmed) during the 1960s, thanks to a tax shelter. Finally, “performer/cult leader” Peaches Christ gets a segment talking about how Lewis' films, this one in particular, inspired and moved her. She demonstrates an impressive knowledge of exploitation fare.

Arrow Video remastered The Gruesome Twosome in 2K, from prints that admittedly were very scratched. To be honest, seeing those scratches and “cigarette burns” adds to the ambiance. This is not a movie you want to see in pristine condition. The grindhouse factor comes through.

On the whole, this is a solid package for fans of Lewis, or gore flicks in general.

The Gruesome Twosome is unrated, but contains extreme gore/violence and some sexual content. The running time is 1 hour and 12 minutes.

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