I’ve been a dad for just over 26 years. For me, it has been the one of greatest thing in my life. My two sons have been a constant source of wonder and amazement, as well as joy and laughter. Yes, there have been times when they drove me crazy or made me angry, but as a Father, it’s all part of the gig. You have to take the good with the bad. Fortunately in our case, it has usually been good.
I even did the Mr. Mom thing for the better part of a year. I quit my job in accounting and stayed home with our first boy. I learned to change diapers, cook and do laundry. I have stood in line at 3 am at the 24-hour supermarket to get Tylenol drops for a baby’s earaches. I also stood in line at Toys ’R’ Us one Black Friday to get the free “Pokemon” swag for the boys. I could also cite the midnight lines at Barnes & Noble for a number of Harry Potter releases, but I always bought two copies, one of which was for me. That really doesn’t count in the Fatherhood game.
Needless to say, the bond with my boys is very strong and it was one of the smartest things I ever did, second only to marrying the woman I did (No, she isn’t standing over me and did not make me write that).
There comes a time in every Father’s life when the kids ask certain questions. You know how it is. They get curious about life and its inner workings and begin to wonder. I remember my two boys and the day they came to me with “those questions” that often lead to The Talk.
My oldest boy was eight years old and his brother had just turned five when the two approached me bearing that look. I knew I was in trouble. My son drew a deep breath and let it out. He too was nervous, unsure whether it was the right time to ask. He likely wondered if he was still too young to know. He knew that his little brother looked up to him; he couldn’t show fear. He asked.
“Daddy,” he started. “Where does Gore come from?”
I knew from then on, that my sons were growing up.
“Boys,” I said, “I’m glad you came to me with this question. Many children learn about Gore on the street from older, less-informed peers who think they are experts on Gore after seeing “Friday the 13th”. But they aren’t. There is so much more to the subject than they think there is.”
I had the boys sit down, knowing that it could be a long discussion. I was glad that they asked me about Gore and not their Mother, who hadn’t even seen the original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” yet. I was the one to tell them.
“Now, boys,” I said. “Many people think Gore is new, but they would be wrong! Gore dates back hundreds of years, to the time of William Shakespeare and the Globe Theatre. In those days, the actors would carry a bladder filled with animal blood. During scenes where a character would be stabbed or run through in a duel, the actor would spray blood out of the bladder, hitting the stage, the other actors and the audience. As a matter of fact, it was very desirable to have a front row seat so you could be sprayed with blood during the play. And considering the lack of bathing and of laundry services, a blood stain could hang around for months, being a constant source of pride and conversation. This practice would die off though, only to be resurrected by Sea World in the form of the Splash Zone in the Shamu Show.”
My youngest looked at me, wide-eyed. “Do you mean like the duel that Pugsly and Wednesday had in the movie “The Addams Family”?”
My youngest son was very sharp for his age. “Yes,” I answered. “That is a great example. The bloodshed continued until 1644, when plays would be banished from Britain and the poor old Globe Theatre was demolished.”
My youngest looked like he was going to cry. Before he could, I started again.
“But all would not be lost, or forgotten. In 1897, the Theatre du Grand-Guignol opened in Paris, France and from 1898 to 1930 horror and gore would once again grace the stage. They spun tales of murder, madness and mayhem. People were stabbed, strangled or whatever horrible means necessary for death to occur on stage. Unlike the Globe, there was no blood to spew at the audience. No, the owner, Max Maurey, wanted people to faint. He even hired a doctor to be on call at the theater during performances.”
“It sounds like something that William Castle did by insuring his patrons at the movies,” remarked my oldest boy. “He would insure patrons against heart attacks during his movies. He claimed that they were that frightening.”
I really couldn’t be prouder of my boys. They know their stuff.
My oldest son looked at me. “That’s great, Dad. But we want to know about the Gore you find in movies! Where did that come from?”
He has always been impatient and he always wants to get to the point.
“Okay,” I began. “Let’s start in the 1930’s. In that period, the gangster was king. There were car crashes, knifings and machine guns. In “Little Caesar”, you hear shots ring out. Edward G. Robinson cries out ‘Is this the end of Rico?’ and then he falls over, mortally wounded. But, there is no blood. People are shot in other films, like “Public Enemy” and “The Roaring 20’s”, and still no blood. The only one to bleed in the 1930’s was King Kong. He bled when the planes shot him. I guess it was okay for an animal to bleed, but not a man.”
“So, when did someone bleed?” asked by oldest son.
“I figure the earliest was 1940. You see boys, there is this little film called “Son of Ingagi”. The film has an African-American cast, which means it was likely made for non-White audiences.”
My sons were aghast. “They did things like that back then?!”
“Yes, they did. But that discussion will have to be for another day.” I gave my boys a chance to settle back into the conversation.
“At the end of the film, the man/monster is wounded. As he goes up some stairs, we see the blood dripping from him and landing on the steps. This was something that audiences did not see at that time. They would not see something like that again until the 1960’s.”
“Do you mean “Psycho”, Daddy?”
“Well, there was blood in the shower scene. But that was the only real bloody scene in the film. Even the detective being killed wasn’t as bad. And the shower scene was in black and white, not Technicolor Red! Further, Alfred Hitchcock used Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup for blood because it had the right consistency.”
“But then, something sad happened in 1962. The Grand Guignol in Paris closed for good! Over the years, reality became more frightening than what they could put on stage. So people stopped coming. The very next year, in 1963, a man came forward and brought the Grand Guignol back to life, but not on the stage. He did it on the screen. His name is Herschell Gordon Lewis. He brought back the Gore that was so missing in the world of entertainment. He started by directing the first of his “Blood Trilogy” called “Blood Feast,” which heralded the rebirth of Gore.”
The boys looked at me, wide-eyed.
“You see boys,” I continued, “”Blood Feast” is the story of a chef who is also a worshipper of the gods of Egypt. In order to get in good with them, he has to prepare a blood feast consisting of human flesh. Mr. Lewis made this film in color with most of the budget going to fake blood. Many of his victims had their limbs chopped off. Blood spurted everywhere! It was amazing!
“Mr. Lewis followed it up with “Two Thousand Maniacs.””
“Like the band?” my oldest son interrupted.
“The band was 10,000 Maniacs. Natalie Merchant wanted to name the band after the movie, but couldn’t remember the exact title of the film.”
“Oh,” said the boys.
“So, in “Two Thousand Maniacs”, a town in the South re-enacts a massacre of the townsfolk during the Civil War, using unsuspecting tourists as victims. One of the better scenes is when they take one of the tourists, put them in a barrel with nails on the inside and roll it down a hill. No one survives that ride.”
The boys still listened intently.
“The final movie of his trilogy was “Color Me Blood Red”, about a bad painter who finds great success when he uses blood on his canvas, rather than red paint. Needless to say, he has to kill people and drain their blood for his art.”
“Were those all he did?” they asked.
“No boys. Mr. Lewis did a couple more, including “The Wizard of Gore”, where a magician dismembers, stabs and does other nasty things to various members of his audience.”
“Did people really like his movies?” asked my oldest boy.
“For a while, his films were not shown, and seemed somewhat lost. It wasn’t until the French rediscovered his films and raised them to a cult status that Mr. Lewis got the recognition he truly deserved. The French understood his work. And he really made his films in the tradition of the Grand Guignol, even to the point of adding comedy to his horror. That was method they used in Paris. They would alternate a horror play with a comedy play. It gave the audience release from one horror and allowed them to be unprepared for the next horror.
“Today, Herschell Gordon Lewis is known as the “Godfather of Gore.” It is a title that he earned and wears proudly.”
“So all the stuff we see today…” started my youngest.
“Freddie, Jason, Leatherface, even Jigsaw, all have Mr. Lewis to thank for starting the ball rolling. Without him, many movies would not have been made and many companies that make fake blood would be out of business.”
“Do you have these movies?” They asked, expectations showing in their eyes.
“Yes, I do. We can watch them after you Mom goes to work. But don’t ever tell her.”
“We won’t,” they chimed together.
Later that night, we sat together in the dimly lit living room of our row house, eating popcorn and laughing at the images on the screen. It was one of our best nights together.
On their way up to bed, my boys thanked me. As they headed up the stairs to their bedrooms, I heard my oldest say to his brother:
“Wait until I tell Billy about this. He thinks Gore is named after the former Vice President.”
Wishing all the Dads out there a very Happy Father’s Day!