Horror icon Herschell Gordon Lewis, who directed more than 34 movies between 1961 and 1972 and was affectionately known as the “godfather of gore,” has died. He was 87 years old.
A representative for the filmmaker, who rose to prominence after directing such titles as Two Thousand Maniacs and Blood Feast, told EW Lewis “passed away peacefully in his sleep” on Sunday evening. Lewis’ rep also confirmed the director had been suffering from congestive heart failure prior to his death.
Lewis is considered a pioneer in the movie industry for introducing the “splatter” subgenre with Blood Feast, a 1963 thriller which revolves around an Egyptian caterer who brutally murders women in suburban Miami, ultimately using their body parts to bring an ancient goddess to life. A remake of the film, directed by Marcel Walz, premiered at the Fright Fest Film Festival in the U.K. in August.
Following a successful career supplying his uber-violent films to grindhouse theaters and drive-ins around the country, Lewis took an extended break from filmmaking to focus on a career in marketing. He later returned to the director’s chair, releasing Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat in 2002. The sequel features a cameo from fellow filmmaker John Waters, in addition to hosting The Magnificent Seven actor Billy Slaughter’s first feature film role.
In addition to directing movies, Lewis published several books on copywriting, taught courses on English literature at Mississippi State University, and worked in radio throughout his early career.
In his collection of essays, Awake in the Dark, film critic Roger Ebert recalled spending an evening with Lewis in the living room of a boardinghouse in Chicago, where the director showed him films like My Darling Clementine, Bride of Frankenstein, and Yankee Doodle Dandy.
“Although Herschell Gordon Lewis was notorious as the director of violent and blood-drenched exploitation films, I remember only a thoughtful lover of the movies,” Ebert wrote of the filmmaker.
A private memorial service is planned for Lewis’ friends and family. The auteur’s final film, Herschell Gordon Lewis’ BloodMania, will be released sometime in 2017.