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The Gruesome Twosome

The Gruesome Twosome marked a return to notorious form for producer/director Herschell Gordon Lewis. Though Lewis had never taken a break from filmmaking, this would be his first full-fledged gore film since the days of the original "Blood Trilogy" and Lewis's partnership with David F. Friedman. The title refers to a mother-and-son team of wigmakers. Mrs. Pringle (Elizabeth Davis) is the kindly old proprietor of "The Little Wig Shop," while her son Rodney (Chris Martell) is in charge of procuring the genuine human hair needed to create the merchandise. It will come as no surprise to the viewer that legal means are not employed in Rodney's endeavors: once the charming Mrs. Pringle lures potential donors from a local college campus into her establishment (under the pretense of leasing rooms to them), the dimwitted, monosyllabic Rodney literally scalps them! The disappearance of one particular victim, however, sparks an amateur investigation by her co-ed friend Kathy (Gretchen Wells).

Factors of both the planned and the unplanned variety combined to make this one of the strangest films in the entire Lewis lineup. Mrs. Pringle and Rodney, on the surface, may inspire comparisons to a well-known mother/son combination in a certain Alfred Hitchcock film (they even keep a stuffed bobcat), but their personalities (and the fact that both of them are actually living) send the film in a completely different direction. The humor in the film is anything but subtle. Case in point: Kathy is initially suspicious of an old man she spies transporting and burying a mysterious cargo of bones. Lilting flute music more suited to a Bobbsey Twins adventure than a horror film graces the soundtrack as she follows her target in an exaggeratedly "sneaky" manner. Ultimately, this leads to a confrontation with the police, during which the suspect decisively refutes Kathy's allegations in a heavy Swedish accent: "...but murder I DO NOT DO!" But in direct contrast to this and the other overtly comic elements is the equally over-the-top gore. Intent on topping even his own previous excesses, Lewis didn't confine Rodney's murderous activities to the scalpings called for in the story: bodies are thoroughly gutted and rummaged through in unflinching closeup in an attempt to rattle any viewers who felt that they had already sufficiently "proven" themselves by surviving Blood Feast. Rodney's implement of choice, incidentally, was notorious in itself: the electric carving knife had just swept the nation and was currently the "in" gift from coast to coast!

Broad comedy and graphic gore proved a heady combination in terms of overall effect, but not even together could they completely compensate for the fact that the film was conspicuously lacking in the story department (the screenplay was credited to Louise Downe). So that The Gruesome Twosome could achieve feature length, Kathy and her friends are shown enjoying plenty of "filler" activity: a drive-in movie (the film-within-a-film clips were also shot by Lewis), a rock and roll show, and a demolition derby are all on display here. But despite all this, a timing error on the part of one of the crew still resulted in a film which fell several minutes short of its desired feature length. The situation was remedied with the last-minute addition of what may very well be the weirdest prologue in film history. For four full minutes, the screen is occupied by two styrofoam wig blocks--decked out not only with wigs, but with hastily slapped-on construction paper faces, as well. As the viewer's jaw hits the floor, the heads engage in animated conversation which ties in to the plot of the upcoming feature! This completely unplanned emergency add-on has now become an indelible part of Lewis lore. For many, it's the single most memorable part of the movie. Fair enough. Once seen, this footage can never be forgotten.

The strange circumstances under which The Gruesome Twosome was created are given a comprehensive overview in another entertaining audio commentary. Lewis is joined once again by Mike Vraney and Jimmy Maslon on this Something Weird DVD release. The film itself is well-rendered on the disc, which also features an amusing theatrical trailer hosted and narrated by Mrs. Pringle herself. (According to Lewis, Elizabeth Davis thoroughly enjoyed her role in the film and held continued hope for a sequel.) Also included is a vintage short subject (identified as "Wigs-O-Rama" on the DVD cover) that explores the art of making and selling wigs in France (the amusement value here is sufficiently complementary to the film), as well as the ever-present "Gallery of Exploitation Art." The Gruesome Twosome may not be Lewis's best film, but it may well be the best rebuttal of the argument that anyone who's seen one Lewis gore film has actually seen them all!


Go to:
A Taste of Blood (book review)
Blood Feast
Two Thousand Maniacs
Color Me Blood Red
A Taste of Blood
Something Weird
The Gruesome Twosome
She-Devils on Wheels
The Wizard of Gore
The Gore Gore Girls