This is not your standard Hollywood confessional. As a PR maven and film producer, David Friedman added inestimably to the genre of exploitation films that connoisseurs have come to call ”psychotronic,” for its demented cheap thrills. Inhabiting this merrily sleazy fringe of American filmmaking, Friedman coughed up indefensible grade-Z schlock: nudist-camp movies with their de rigueur volleyball games, teens-on-the-loose epics, and, most notoriously, director Herschell Gordon Lewis’ ”gore films,” three unbelievably depraved no-budget shockers that predated Jason and Freddy by 20 years. In other words, Friedman is either the person to thank for the delirious excesses of modern horror films or the guy to blame.
While the story of his early-’60s trash fests is a good one, you won’t find it here. A Youth in Babylon mostly concerns Friedman’s apprenticeship with such masters of sleaze as Kroger Babb and Irwin Joseph, fast-talking hustlers who toured such cheapies as Mom and Dad (a ”sex-ed” film with a reel slapped on the end showing a baby being born) and Reefer Madness from town to town throughout the ’40s and ’50s. Some of the anecdotes are wonderful (especially the ones about Babb, a minor-league Barnum who deserves his own bio). But Friedman, a carny barker at heart, seems too taken with his own pitch. He writes in the style of a circus poster, all alliteration and gaudy type, and it has the effect of making everything he says sound like a come-on.
Maybe it is. After stalling for most of the book, Friedman finally gets to his involvement with Lewis — and in a sketchy two chapters breezes through the making of Blood Feast and the other gore films for which he’s best known. He does, however, promise the reader real dirt in his next autobiography. ; Friedman unquestionably has his place in the scuzzier annals of filmdom, but he’s basically a con man — and his book is a con. C-